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Elizabeth is watching Jack silently. It makes Jack nervous, and Jack does not like being made to feel nervous. He would tell her to get out, but he's afraid she might listen. Silently.

Instead he unstrings each button, each bone, each trinket from his hair, and unwraps the bandana. He runs a brush, wetted, through the strands, tugging patiently when he hits snags. When it's lying limp, down over his shoulders, he folds it up, flush against his head and pins it there. He fits the powdered wig--a gift of the Governor's, words Jack never thought he would be able to even think without some level of sarcasm--over his head.

Jack puts a mirror up in front of himself, eyeing who he sees cautiously. The person looking back at him has eyes that are free of kohl, a clean-shaven chin and upper-lip, hair that is white and curly and fluffed. Setting aside the mirror, he checks the rest of himself--also generously gifted from Elizabeth's father--gilded and polished and well, noble. It's a vision of himself that Jack has never had, not once in all his travels, all his adventures, all his years. But there he is, a dandy with baubles that he didn’t take, nick, steal, or pinch.

Jack turns to Elizabeth, all extravagant manner--that seems to be the only thing that puts her even mildly at ease, Will being even more of a mess than she is--and flings open his arms. "'Ey luv? Like what you see?"

Elizabeth, her hair shorn and looking like a wound around her face, her eyes sunk in shadows and her cheekbones razor sharp, tilts her head. "Mannerisms."

Her voice rasps, still sounding unfamiliar even after having a month to get used to the change. Jack humors her, pulling himself up stiffly, heels together, lips closed over the ostentatious gold, hands neatly folded in front of him. "And now, madam?" It's been a while since he's used that voice, the one that suggests he had surgery at a young age to remove a silver spoon from the roof of his mouth.

"Now," she says. Her eyes, oftentimes blank or sharply defensive, soften slightly. "You really think-"

It's the fourth harbor they've docked in since Jack found Will, two harbors after Elizabeth. She'd only taken one. One of a kind, she was. Is. Will be again. "'E'll be here." Same voice, solemn and monied, confident.

"He wasn't in the last place."

"I've a feelin', 'Lizbeth." His own voice now, bred and spun and developed the way his persona is, comfortable as the sea under his feet. It's the only way he can answer her, knowing that Commodore James Norrington--the Governor tells him the Navy has rescinded the title, on the assumption that the man is dead, but Jack doesn't have the liberty of making that assumption, not when he's still looking--probably isn't in this harbor, no more than he has been in the last three. Elizabeth is digging her fingers into her own arms, though, asking him for faith and Jack doesn't have the heart to tell her anything else, anymore than he had the heart to tell her to leave. She might take him at his word, and Jack's been through that far too much in the last month. From her and Will.

Besides, he does have a feeling. He wouldn't be here if he didn't. It's been nearly half a year since Will and Elizabeth disappeared. Four months since Norrington followed. Three months since Governor Swann sought Jack out in a manner Jack wouldn't have suspected the older man capable of, one of the few underestimations Jack's made in his life. Him, and Barbossa. Jack is considering swearing off making decisions about people until he's known them six or seven or eight years.

Three months since the Governor found Jack, three months since Jack agreed to go find the three missing people and there's just one left. Elizabeth says, "A feeling," clearly unimpressed.

Jack gives her a wounded look. "Trust me."

Elizabeth fixes him with a flat stare. "I do."

*

Three months earlier

Anamaria--being up in the nest--is the first one to see the other ship. Jack isn't long in knowing about it, though, as she calls down to him, "Navy, three o'clock, still a ways."

Jack squints, but the ship is "a ways" enough that he can't see it with his bare eyes. Jack has excellent eyesight. Jack hums a bit, more a vibration settling in at the back of his throat, while he considers his options. It's been a while since he's had any fun of the Navy sort and his luck has been rather stellar of late. Still, despite the rumors, Jack knows when to let his luck rest on its own merits, rather than testing its boundaries. He calls up to Anamaria, "She seen us?"

"Headed straight for us."

They could run, of course. They've a head start and the Pearl is in beautiful condition, even when put against her normal state of being. There's enough wind, and Jack loves that feeling, that you-can-see-me-but-hell-if-you-can-catch-me feeling. So there's that option.

But it's so very rare nowadays that any Navy ship but one bothers coming near to the Pearl. Norrington never gives up. Which Jack rather enjoys. It definitely puts him in the number one spot of people whom Jack delights in annoying.

Jack sneaks a look behind him, trying to gauge exactly what his crew is thinking. It won't change his decision, not in the end, but it's not a bad thing to know, either. Conveniently, most of his crew looks to be waiting for him to make up his infernal mind. Jack does so, with a stealthily hidden grin. Stealth by way of facing the other direction, that is. "I rather like where we are at the moment."

Anamaria is making her way down the ropes. She doesn't stop as she says, "Evidently it's a coveted spot," in that tone she has, the one that always makes Jack think he wouldn't know how to add two and two if he tried right at that moment. Luckily for both of them, Jack is somewhat fond of this strain of roundabout disdain she carries for the world at large and him (he suspects) in particular.

Jack fingers his pistol, the one he finally found it in himself to load with a full round. His other hand falls to his sword. "Haven't even really done much of late for them to be comin' at me all in a rush," Jack says, now that he can see the ship's approach. There's a mock petulance to his tone. He hasn't done all that much lately, hasn't needed to, hasn't felt like it, hasn't had the ease of opportunity for one reason or another. All the same, it'd be a shame for Norrington to go easing up on him just for that reason.

Next to him, Anamaria grunts. "You be gettin' us hanged, Jack, and I'll sleep with the devil meself to make sure you're extra tormented all your long eternity in hell."

Jack doesn't bother insisting on his title. It rarely gets him anywhere when she's in this sort of mood. "I'm sure sleeping with the Commodore will get your pretty neck out of the noose just fine, dearie."

She snickers at that. "You're supposin' he'd understand the offer."

"Right ye are. Presumptuous of me."

"Wouldn't be expectin' you to change at this point."

Jack has a lot of great responses for that, but they're swallowed in light of the fact that the Pursuer is in its last league of bearing down on them and Anamaria is frowning into the looking glass. "Problems?" Jack asks casually.

"It's no' the Commodore."

"Perhaps he just en't on the deck. Mustn't be exposed to too much sun," Jack says delicately.

Anamaria gives him a look that is half-glare, half eye-rolling derision. "At that speed, coming right up on us? Besides, the Governor's standing where I'd expect to see The Scourge." She says Norrington's epitaph with the same feeling she put into her facial expression.

Jack holds out his hand for the looking glass. Sure enough, she's reported correctly. What's more, the crew of the other ship seems to be...unprepared to do battle of any sort. The whole thing lays funny in Jack's stomach.

It quits laying and does a nice little somersault when, moments later, and with no provocation that Jack can see or sense, the Pursuer raises a flag. A white one.

*

Present Time

Jack plays with one of the chains on the jacket he's sporting. He keeps his posture carefully arranged and his facial expression purposely bland but he can't help allowing his fingers something to do. They're restless little mites and Jack's never seen fit to tame them.

He's hidden the Pearl behind a cove far off shore, leaving Anamaria and Gibbs in charge of keeping her there. It goes against Jack's personal code to leave her in anybody's hands but his own, but despite his own actions toward the girl Anamaria's had yet to betray him and Gibbs doesn't much itch for leadership. Or anything but a good flask of rum for the beginning, middle and end of his days, really.

Jack would feel better having the Obviously Loyal Turners aboard the ship, only, the Obviously Loyal Turners are pretty useless these days, still not having gotten re-accustomed to the touch of freedom on their skin.

Jack rides the horse that some of the Governor's funds went to purchasing, a gorgeous dapple mare with power and yet just enough of a mincing step to be taken as some dandy's play-ride. Which is exactly what Jack wants.

She's taken to the sea nicely, a fact Jack appreciates. In his appreciation he's named her Diamond, and added her to his collection of things named after precious stones. His collection of two. So far, she's living up to the task.

She also keeps Will happy, something that very little else does these days. Something that makes Jack's life infinitely easier. At least, easier than it would have been without her.

So Jack rides into this latest port, looking for all the world like he's been traveling for days, packs slung over Diamond's saddle. This latest port is an island connected with several others by thin strips of land, which makes Jack's land approach plausible, something that wasn't true for the other ports. Once in town Jack immediately makes his way to the center, wherein commerce is most likely to be happening.

He's not disappointed. He works his way through stalls for meat, eggs, bread, vegetables, fruits, earthenware goods, everything except what he's looking for, when he comes to the stall he's seeking out. There's a woman up for sale right then, dark and small and Jack purposely doesn't look at her face. She isn’t the reason he’s here.

A boy approaches him, a boy who looks conspicuously like the man screaming out prices on the block. The boy manages a slight bow. "Señor."

Jack arches an unimpressed eyebrow. "Estoy mirando para un esclavo."

"Tenemos muchos, señor."

"Sí," Jack sneers, forcing a disdain that is about something else entirely into the word, "pero estos no son del tipo que busco."

The boy is careful not to look at him. "Algo especial?"

Jack twists his mouth cruelly, "Me gusto mios palidos."

The boy pales himself. "No vendemos semejantes, señor."

Jack notices the flutter of the boy's stomach though, the way his hands fly behind his back. "Que lastima. Vengo con sumas considerables."

Jack almost feels sorry for the boy, whose indecision is leaking out of him at the twists of his ankles. One glance back at the man still shouting numbers decides him. "Tenemos algo. Aunque, el había pasado mucho tiempo aquí. No lo tenemos bien entrenado, señor."

Jack fights the urge to close his eyes in something that might be a prayer. Might be if he was into the whole believing phase other people seemed to spend their lives following. He grins his best predatorial grin. "Precisamente que yo quiero."[1]

*

Three months earlier

Jack clicks the compass open and shut, open and shut. Once upon quite some time ago Jack learned that it’s all very well to be a kid in a candy store, but unless that kid has someone buying for them or a good exit strategy, he’d best keep his hands to himself. It is this lesson, burnt into him as surely (if a bit more metaphorically) as the P on his wrist, that keeps Jack from even considering boarding the other ship. Well, all right, maybe not the considering. Definitely anything more than that.

Jack is kept from having to plan out any courses of action by the screams of the Governor. Screams that form themselves into a plea. “Allow me to board your ship. As a hostage, if you so choose. I must speak with the Captain.”

Jack is self-aware of his own vanity. Faults are fine so long as one keeps a careful eye on them. The freely offered title runs with wild, soothing little feet over this particular fault of his. It’s enough for Jack to yell back, “Just you, mate.”

The Governor nods once. “Just me. These men are well aware of the fate they shall meet should any of them so much as think to cause damage to your ship or any aboard it.”

Jack narrows his eyes. He’s generally quite good at sussing out lies, and the Governor isn’t offering up any of the signs. The intense…honesty of it all sets Jack on edge. What looks too good and seems too good to be true… “Be that as it may, my crew 'as no such orders. Let that be on your mind as you make the crossing.”

Jack flicks an order with his hands for the planks to be slid across joining the two ships. The Governor makes his way cautiously from one deck to the next. True to his word, not a soul follows, or even so much as tries. Anamaria mutters, “Wind’s blowing the wrong direction.”

Jack agrees but it doesn’t seem necessary to admit it. Instead he smiles his most gracious smile. “Governor Swann.”

Now that he’s on board, Jack can tell there’s something wrong, not just with the situation, with the man. His wig has twinges of grey that have pulled out of the curls, and his gubernatorial dressings hang on his frame. Jack allows his eyes to sweep all the way down and then back up to the other man’s eyes. “Ye’ll be needin’ a favor, then?”

“Despite what you may think of me, I’m hardly such a fool as to ask that of a pirate,” Swann says. He keeps his hands neatly folded in front of him, but Jack can see the slight tremble this is meant to hide. “A business deal.”

“I don’t be a man as can be bought and sold, mate.” Then, “'Ave a seat?”

“No, I’d.” The Governor presses his lips together, “I’d rather stand. And I was under the impression that the only way to acquire your services was to buy them.”

“Ah, that statement has an underlying presumption that my services are available in the first place. Which they are not.”

“Then think of it as an adventure, with added incentive.”

In spite of himself, with an evidently harmless Royal Navy Ship sitting off his port-bow and a Royal Governor near desperate and alone on the deck of his ship, Jack’s curiosity is going to eat him alive if he doesn’t ask, “And what would this adventure be?”

“Finding my daughter, her husband, and Commodore Norrington.”

Jack is a man of very few things, but those things which he holds to grip at his stomach and never quite let go. His honor can be counted among those few. Not that he allows many to know this. He owes Will and Elizabeth his life. He even perhaps owes them his ship, which is possibly more of an issue than the former. As far as Norrington is concerned, well, Jack suspects there might be debt there as well. The Pearl was much farther out of the harbor than he would have expected her able to be when the games began again after his near hanging. It is something he has never asked, but has always kept on his mind. “Where exactly have you lost them to?”

“My daughter and her husband set sail for a visit to England six months past. The ship never reached the shore and yet there was no wreckage spotted, nothing. Some two months past the Commodore took a leave of absence to search for them at my request, but his missives stopped arriving after the first and I fear…” The Governor shakes himself. “I suspect it will take less than honest means to find them. I was hoping you might find it in yourself to shoulder the task.”

Jack looks at the man in front of him, weighs the possibilities of this situation. "I’ll need cash. A considerable amount. Have a crew to feed and since we won’t be doing our daily pilfering, substitute swag will be necessary. Also for bribes, and other such savory details of a search. You do realize-"

“If they are dead, bring me proof.” The Governor’s eyes bore into Jack, haunted and lost and determined.

Jack nods. “A pardon. For me and mine.”

“As soon as I have the paper to draw it up on. The cash is being held on the other ship. There will be more upon the safe return of those whom you seek. You can either send men over or my men will bring it over. Your choice.”

Jack’s breath twitches at the man’s easy capitulation. “I’ll jes' keep you here for a bit and send a few of me own over, if it’s all the same to you.” It’s better to keep up a show of wariness even if Jack knows, with a sickening roll of his insides, that all of this is real.

“As you wish,” the Governor says.

At the moment, nothing’s as Jack wishes at all.

*

Present Time

At first, Jack thinks he's found the wrong illegally-gained white slave. Which would be highly annoying. Norrington is so covered in filth--most of it, so far as Jack can determine, his own--so frail and feral looking, that it takes a minute for Jack to reconcile the creature presented to him behind bars with the replete, fastidious Commodore he's come to know. If Jack is good at anything, though, it is at seeing the truth of things, particularly of people.

He's well aware of the irony in that.

Jack makes a small clucking noise. "El esta casi muerto."

The boy shifts on his feet, looking nervously at the hands that Jack has casually wrapped around the bars. Jack wonders if the good Commodore has found the multitude of uses for his teeth. The thought almost makes him smile. That is, until the boy says, "El rechezca al comer."

Jack seriously doubts it. Norrington isn't the type. At least, not the type who starves himself. Then again, if they're giving him substandard fare, which Jack has no question that they are, it's entirely possible that for a long while the man refused to eat something that he saw as lowering his dignity. Daft bugger. "No pagaré tanto como un esclavo casi muerto. Necessitaré gastar mucho dinero en el ahora."

Also, Jack knows they’ve got to want this little trinket off their hands. White slaves aren't meant to stay in a trader's cage for a long time, too risky. Jack wonders what exactly Norrington has done up to now to keep potentially interested buyers away. The man is sleeping so soundly Jack's not even sure he'll be able to wake him for the trip back to the ship. Then again, the boy is still eyeing Jack's hands. Jack doesn't unwrap them.

"Treinta pesos," the boy says.

Jack doesn't even deign to respond. He does begin to unwind his hands.

"Veinte-cinco. Hai gastos, señor."

Jack can only imagine. Mush at least once a day and the hay that's in that cage must have been fresh at one time or another. "Quince." He feels he's being generous.

"Veinte."

"Quince."

"Diecisiete?" The boy's voice rises on a note of hope and Jack can't help noticing the fact that he's not in the best of condition himself. Jack has to wonder if he even has permission to be brokering this deal or if this is his way of ridding himself and his father of a problem that his father has yet to handle properly. Obviously.

Besides, it's not as though it's Jack's money. "Diecisiete."

Kindly, Jack ignores the sigh of relief from the boy, who says, "No hay papeles."

"Yo esperaba que no," Jack says dryly.

The boy hands Jack a set of keys. "Es suyo."

Jack fits the first key into the lock. If only things were that easy. [2]

*

Two months earlier

One of the many, many useful things about Anamaria, is that men will talk in front of women as though that half the species has no ears. Jack has long capitalized--at least so far as she has allowed him--upon the fact that Anamaria does have ears, and well knows how to use them.

She seems fairly willing this time, reporting back whenever some mention of a, "silver-blooded chit," is thrown about. Despite the lack of any real description, neither Anamaria nor Jack pretends that said chit isn't who they're looking for; the facts add up too neatly. Anamaria, who, for so long as Jack has known her, has never changed the pace of her gait for anyone, paces the ship with rapid flowing steps as though she's urging the ship to go faster.

More than when he had his lips to her nipples, his tongue against the inside of her legs, Jack now realizes something. Anamaria is a woman.

Jack spends some time with Gibbs and Cotton and Ben, the twenty-something half-native boy who hopped aboard ship two ports ago. Ben has a wicked tongue and an unobtrusive hero-worship complex regarding Jack, and the two converge to soothe away some of the sting of this latest revelation.

Pearl docks at Isla Verde. Or rather, she comes ashore there. Jack knows perfectly well the Spanish won't look twice at the Governor's pardon. That's fine, Jack's not going to be where anybody would bother to look at it once. Anamaria's off the ship at his side and some part of Jack wouldn't mind having her along as back up, but it's a bad idea all the same. Luckily she seems to get that, as she heads off in the direction of the nearest place to rummage up a pint. Jack bites the inside of his cheek in envy.

Instead Jack scrounges around Verde's slums, waiting until nightfall when he can slip into her largest whorehouse without much notice. Jack flirts with the madam, oddly hoping that this has been a wasted adventure, that Elizabeth isn't hidden away somewhere. She's not on the floor, not one of the painted tarts slyly hissing at each other any time one of them moves his way. It gives him an odd sense of relief.

The madam is charmed by Jack's flirting--as well she should be--and gives him what he wants, "Alga con poca ánima, si señora?"[3]

If what Elizabeth has is spirit in this place, her hair dirty and tangled, her posture stiff as though to hide what her bodice is already hiding for her, her eyes narrow and mean, Jack doesn't want to see the girls who are broken. Those eyes stare at him once he's in the room and he can tell she doesn't believe it. Jack wonders how many times she's seen rescue in these last four months, only to have it fade into more abuse. He nods his head. "Mrs. Turner."

Her laugh then is a bit hysterical and Jack moves to her, putting his hand over her mouth and subduing her when she struggles against his hold. He hits something--probably a rib--and she goes limp in his arms. Jack grinds his teeth. He's not getting paid enough for this.

There's a small pitcher of water in the corner and though it's warm, pitched at her face it does the trick. Jack smiles at her, "I'm going t'be needin' your help, if you don't mind."

"She'll have locked the door behind you and the window is soldered shut," Elizabeth tells him as though she's quoting the latest reports on the Times financial page. A Times that's well-outdated, as all the ones that eventually reach this place are. That's how Jack likes them best.

Jack saunters to the window, plucking a small vial from the inside of his jacket. Jack, after all, hasn't gotten out of a myriad of scrapes in his time without gaining some knowledge of how things work and a few swipes of vinegar and horse piss will do wonders for loosening what passes in the Spanish Main as a caulk. As there is no winter here, Jack is not much impressed by the substance. Jack supposes for what it needs to do here, the Spanish have got the right of it. For what that's worth.

Jack turns to look at Elizabeth expectantly. "The sheets, love."

She nods slowly and he can tell she still doesn't really believe, but he doesn't need her to. He just needs her to help. Since she does that, Jack doesn’t press the point.

When he's pushed the window up to its full height and secured it there, he holds his hand out for the sheet. He secures it to the bed, thanking the god of small rooms that this is one, and sends Elizabeth down first, following quickly in her wake.

As they're creeping away, Jack feels the slightest twinge of disappointment. Escapes this easy don't make very good stories. Sliding his glance to Elizabeth, Jack figures he can work in some embroidery later.

*

Present Time

Norrington startles awake at the press of Jack's fingers to his shoulder. His hands, shackled as they are, come immediately to his front in as much a defensive position as the fact that he's lying on the floor and bound hand and foot will allow. Jack says, "Easy mate," softly, keeping strong eye contact.

Norrington is anything but easy, however, striking out with the chains that connect his wrists. Jack catches them easily enough; Norrington's movements are slow, hindered by a body that doesn't seem to want to work with the commands of his mind. Jack holds the chains tightly, tugging at them just enough to get Norrington to actually look at him. "Norrington."

Norrington, recognizing his name, and the fact that this stranger should not know it, blinks. He blinks a few more times then, and when recognition finds its way past Jack's odd get up, starts to laugh. At first it's just a chuckle but then it flows into full hysteria. Jack smacks him once, quickly, and it's enough. Anger and something else that Jack doesn't want to think about flare in eyes that Jack does and doesn't recognize before intelligence crowds both out, and Norrington nods.

Jack nods in turn. "I've a horse, you'll have to sit her."

Norrington grimaces but all he says is, "Am I going to need to run?"

Jack smiles ironically. "You'll be glad to know I purchased your hide properly."

Norrington doesn't comment, just reaches out with his hands. Jack takes them somewhat carefully, as one looks to have been stepped on, possibly more than once. He pulls Norrington to his feet with a swift tug, hoping that's the best way to go about things. Not knowing what, if any, injuries Norrington's rags are hiding, Jack figures it's best to do everything quickly, both for the sake of ending the pain with haste and of getting them both back to the ship in the near future.

Norrington sucks in a breath at his ascent and his skin goes the color of fresh parchment, but he doesn't cry out. Jack rolls his eyes. Lord save him from the English. Conveniently, it does not bother Jack that he is, in some part, English. At least, that part of the world once housed the blood that was passed on into his veins. Jack's not sure that exactly determines what one is or is not.

Jack leans down to unlock the shackles on Norrington's ankles and then straightens back up to handle the ones on his wrists. There are sores festering under both, but Norrington flexes them regardless, working gently at their mobility.

Jack supports Norrington until they're within sight of others, when he takes to prodding the rigid, stumbling man. Norrington glares at him, but that's to be expected, so Jack doesn't let it get to him. When they reach Diamond, Jack goes to put his hands on Norrington's torso to assist him in mounting only to stop at the warning, "Do that and I'll be sick all over you."

"Ribs?" Jack asks.

Norrington nods. Jack lifts him at his hips, less than startled to find them sharp enough to create good handholds. Another one to feed up, then. Will and Elizabeth have yet to lose the vaguely shadowed skeleton look, so food is something the Pearl has kept in abundance, even more so than general. This, as well as the extra rations of rum, has helped to mollify the crew during the search. Well, this and the fact that most of Jack's crew is opposed to slavery on principal. The principal that at some point or another, most of them served masters they rather would not have.

Jack mounts Diamond, skillfully sliding between her mane and Norrington's body. They make an odd picture as they amble back through the town, he knows, the tanned English lord and the bedraggled white man. Never before has Jack been so glad of the authority that gilded clothing and powdered hair lend to a man. Want as they might, nobody is going to ask his business. Helpful, that is.

Jack keeps Diamond at a slow, easy gait, but each lift and drop of her hooves wrings small sounds from Norrington, and despite himself, Jack is somewhat impressed that the man hasn't either howled from pain or just given up and passed out. Which reminds him, "Put your arms around me midriff."

"Beg your pardon?"

"That'll warn me if ye're going to be fallin' off, then."

"I will not-"

But despite the convenience, the wig is heavy and scratchy on Jack's head and the hose are sticking to his legs uncomfortably and he's really, really not in the mood to argue about what he knows is for the best. "Put'em around me or I'll take Diamond's bridal and tie'em there, savvy?"

Norrington's arms circle as ordered to, but he holds his body stiffly free of Jack's. Jack sighs. He wouldn't want to be following orders in Norrington's position either. Jack can see the Pearl in the distance, or well, really he can feel her, but one's as good as the other. It makes him think, just a bit longer now, even if he's not really sure until what.

*

Half a month earlier

Will proves harder to find, and considerably easier to extract.

The difficulty in finding him arises from the fact that Will has been sent to a large plantation where he is one amongst many, many slaves. Also, despite the pale cast of his skin and the decidedly British lilt of his voice, it is apparent that nobody much has noticed Will is white. He has evidently been taken for a rather pale version of the natives the Spanish found in the Americas, and that species shows up on the slave-block with discomfiting regularity.

One look at the plantation convinces Jack that the best way of extracting Will is going to be the forthright one. Coincidentally, this is also the one that makes his skin crawl the most, but Jack has enough money to effect the transaction and he doesn't think that the Governor (nor Elizabeth, though she hasn't so much as looked in the direction they were sailing since her first, solitary, "Will?") would take kindly to Jack getting himself and Will maimed or killed just to have a good time.

So it is that he has Anamaria find him the solvent that helps sooth out some of the more ferocious tangles and clean out the more persistent grime in his hair. He doesn't know how Anamaria manages it (and he doesn't ask) but she's the one who coaxes Elizabeth off the ship to help look for apparel that will make Jack out to be the responsible owner of an honest merchant ship.

Gibbs finds Diamond. Jack hasn't asked for a horse, hasn't thought about riding a horse in longer than he cares to remember, but Gibbs shows up with this creature whose eyes can't look away from the sea, and the advice, "Never 'urts to 'ave a means o' gettin' away," and Jack can't deny the words or the horse's longing for the only place Jack's ever understood as home. It doesn't matter that horses aren't supposed to long for the water, this one does, and Jack's never been much for judging.

So it is that he rides to La Casa del Halcón, a name that Jack can only surmise refers to some sort of family crest, since he's haunted this corner of the world a long time and has yet to notice an abundance of falcons anywhere. With his hair neatly pulled back and his face scrubbed clean and his chest brocaded and enameled and his feet shoved into the World's Most Uncomfortable Pair of Shoes, the family maid lets him in without a second thought.

The lord of the house is otherwise occupied, so Jack meets with his wife, who looks like she probably wears pants underneath her voluminous skirts, despite her polite, thoroughly continental mannerisms. He chats with her about the price of silk, which Jack only knows anything about through Anamaria and Elizabeth's shopping excursions for the clothes on his back. Hence his choice of silk merchant. It was either that or rum runner, as these are the only two things Jack knows the price of at the moment. He's not much for valid legal purchasing.

Rum runner didn't seem the sort of thing to get him admitted into the big ol' house up on the Manor. So Elizabeth thought, anyway. Jack secretly agreed, despite loud protests.

When Jack is finally able to steer the matter around to his missing slave, the cabin boy he paid dear for back on the continent who ran away roughly three months hence, the señora confirms his suspicions about the state of her underclothes by clicking her fan open and waving around air that has no interest in being waved. "Es de gran valor para ustédes?"

"Pues, el conoce mi barco." Jack thinks for a second or two about playing the sly, "y otras cosas, tambien" card, but decides against it. He's pretty sure she's reading that into the situation as well.

"Yo conosco el muchacho que quiere. El es un buen esclavo."

If Jack knows anything about Will he sincerely doubts it. He manages not to roll his eyes. "Pues bien, entiendes por que lo quiero."

"El era costoso, no sé-"

"Veinte pesos." Jack stays low, since the bargaining is only going to go up, but it will hardly do to insult her.

He can tell it's a close thing, the way her mouth curves. "Ochenta, nada menos."

"Cuarenta."

"Seitenta."

Jack thinks that's a little unfair of her, him going up two notches and she only going one. Especially when he can read through the lies, knows that they're itching to get rid of their problem worker. "Cuarenta y cinco."

"Cincuenta." She snaps her fan shut.

Jack smiles graciously. "Cincuenta."

She frowns, keeps frowning even as he hands over the money. She snaps at a servant to fetch, "El cachorro perezoso," which, amazingly leads to him being brought Will. Jack files that away for possible taunting material later. The possibility is somewhat squashed by the infuriated burn of Will's eyes, the long red weals and cuts marking his back, the flagrant protuberance of his ribs. [4]

Luckily, Will, who is not generally a genius at these sorts of things, keeps quiet until they are out of the manor, Jack leading him none-too-gently toward Diamond. Rather than immediately mounting, Will brings tied hands up to her mane, giving her a long stroke with a soft, "Hey girl," before mounting, or rather, being thrown up by Jack.

On their way past the fields Will asks, "Elizabeth?"

"Dandy," which might be a bit of an exaggeration, but Jack feels it would be a pity to give up that habit at this point in his life, "can't wait to see you."

In or out of fancy clothes, Jack is a gentleman enough to pretend he can't feel Will's sobs against his back.

*

Present Time

Will and Elizabeth are waiting on opposite ends of the ship, both looking out toward land with their hands behind their backs, straining toward the sea. Jack's been in a position to have someone waiting for him quite a bit since he met the two of them. He's not sure it's something he enjoys. He's not sure it's something that bothers him, either, which means it's probably for the best just to leave it.

Jack can feel Norrington tense behind him. Jack can't imagine that's comfortable at this stage, but to each his own. He understands, though, when Norrington says, "You found them," with a mixture of relief and fury and frustration that Jack wishes he didn't sympathize with.

Without thinking, Jack says, "Just had t'know where to go lookin', Commodore."

The soft mew that Jack suspects has very little to do with physical pain has him regretting his flippancy almost immediately. Jack has well-worn boots for a reason, but he only kicks when the other man is still standing. Norrington's not, not really, and Jack knows better.

He urges Diamond up the extended platform and onto the Pearl with as much smoothness as possible in apology. It's not much of an apology but there's a lot of history between Jack and Norrington for things like, "I'm sorry" to be rolling off of Jack's lips. He was never very good at forming those particular words even in the case of people with whom he had good reason to develop the talent. Luckily, he's evidently imminently forgivable.

Except when he's not.

Jack isn't sure where Norrington falls down on that issue, and he figures that charm or no, now probably isn't the best time to ask.

Norrington dismounts by himself, well, slides off by himself, but Jack has to catch him lest he slide right along down onto the floor of the ship. It's clean enough, Jack doesn't allow neglect to Pearl's different parts, but he doubts that's where Norrington was actually intending to go. His doubts are confirmed by the painfully dignified nod Norrington manages to give Jack. Jack shrugs it off.

Elizabeth has approached them by this time. Will wants to, Jack can see that out of the corner of his eye. Probably for Diamond if nothing else, Will likes to brush her, feed her after she's been out. Elizabeth is there, though, so Will's not coming within spitting distance. Jack can spit quite some ways.

Forcing his attention back to this girl he knows and does not know, Jack gives her his best I'm-Captain-Jack-Sparrow (which he is) grin. "See, girl, did I not tell you I had a feelin'?"

"Don't call me girl," Elizabeth says, with the same forced apathy that mutes her tone whenever something reminds her of things she seems to feel are best forgotten. Jack has learned to heed that tone. She still steps forward, though, reaching out as though to touch Norrington, not quite doing so. "James."

Norrington draws himself up as straight as he can, and Jack sees the point he draws in on himself, giving into ribs that are most likely clamoring for attention. "Mrs. Turner."

There is betrayal so fierce in Elizabeth's eyes that Jack doubts he has ever known such an emotion, not even- Never. She repeats, "James," only this time it's torn and as jagged as the ends of her hair.

Norrington takes a step back. Then he regains his composure. When he responds, though, he says, "Elizabeth."

Still in the corner of Jack's eye, Will is holding to the railings, watching, listening. His expression is as broken as her words, and his reaction to Norrington's concession is merely to wait and see what Elizabeth will do.

Elizabeth runs.

Jack really is asking for an extra trunk's worth of gold when he reaches Port Royal.

*

Half a month earlier

One thing becomes immediately apparent: despite the fact that Will and Elizabeth have spoken of next to nothing but each other (and in Will's case, next to nothing) that concern does not extend to actually being able to interact with one another. Normally Jack's cure for this would be a case of rum and a night locked in the Pearl's belly, with nowhere to go.

The self-disgust in Elizabeth's eyes, the things she thinks she's hiding, convince Jack that isn't the best way to handle this situation. Will's self-disgust is something else entirely, Jack knows the look of the noble and needlessly-guilty, and Will's painted it over himself in bonfire hues.

Will's problem, Jack knows, can be solved with just a bit of old fashioned spit and fire from his one-time hellion of a wife. Unfortunately, for the moment, Elizabeth has burnt herself out, the effort of keeping up the stance of pride and rebellion when men were busy taking things they had no right to take cleaning her right out. Jack can see it in the way she won't touch herself if given a choice, the way her skin is always too red whenever the crew procures water for bathing, the way she prefers men's clothes for their overall coverage these days.

So, rum and locked hold being out, Jack ponders the efficacy of hanging Will over the open ocean again and giving him a talking to. It worked last time and all things considered, Jack senses there's considerably more at risk this time, for Will at least. The Pearl is safely underneath Jack's comfortably booted feet, sailing with an ease that only she has, and Jack hopes that's not blunting his motivation too much. Complacency tends to be dangerous.

The upside to the almost-drowning-Will plot is that it has a good chance of concerning Elizabeth into action. The bad part is that this ship is a good bit larger than the Interceptor and the whole thing's bound to come off awkward and possibly even messy, two adjectives that Jack simply abhors. Also, he's not sure the threat will work this time, what with him having gone out and bought Will out of eternal slavery.

Which brings up the issue of Jack's debts being good and paid in this instance. Meaning he really doesn’t have to do a damn thing to help them out, actually.

Except that--for no good reason--watching them dance around each other, awkward and messy, is driving Jack crazy. If Elizabeth is dancing, it's meant to be around a bonfire, wild and frenzied and drunk and alive. If Will is dancing, it's meant to be behind his sword, precise and smooth and skilled. Jack is offended at this perversion of things he has dictated as true.

Elizabeth pulls up beside him, her distance from him measured and full. Jack nearly grabs her, pulls her to him just to make her aware that the threat he presents is an empty one so far as she's concerned, but he doesn't. Somehow, that seems the wrong way to go about things. Jack wonders when the hell he began to care.

She asks, "You are. . . My father hired you on for James as well, yes?"

James? Ah, right. Norrington. Commodore Norrington. Jack can't help himself. "Why, there more to you and Will than meets the eye?"

Elizabeth looks as though she's considering leaning over the rail and vomiting. Jack sighs. No fun to be had around here. He needs to get himself a drink with Gibbs. Hell, maybe he'll lock himself and Gibbs in the hold. They can't get into any more trouble than he would up here. Finally, when Elizabeth's posture has lost some of its all-too-controlled stiffness she says, "He came looking for us."

There is that, although Jack suspects there's leagues more where Elizabeth and her not-quite-spurned suitor are concerned. Poor bastard. "Stop now and miss out on the chance to play more dress up?"

For the first time since he's pulled her out of a wayward whorehouse, since he's bought her husband back from the sun fields of the Main, she says, "Thank you."

The words grate, and Jack wanders off to find Gibbs.

*

Present Time

Anamaria has been carrying on with Joseph, Jack knows, Joseph who's twice her age, with lashes on his back that mark him as ex-Navy and a brand on his forehead that marks him as having run into a different set of East India cretins than Jack himself. Joseph came on board after their last stop for supplies on an island that Jack isn't entirely sure actually has a name but that the crew took to calling Second. As in "Tortuga The." Jack is willing to grant it this honor given that he lost two of his crew to just not showing back up in the morning there. Tortuga usually keeps four or so, but two is a pretty decent number and he hasn't been upset by the pick up of Joseph, what with his familiarity about the deck and, even more valuable, his basic medical training. Jack hasn't asked, isn’t going to, but he suspects the man assisted a ship's doctor while under the lash of the English.

Given that Joseph is not much to look at and doesn't--so far as Jack can tell--say much, Jack's been hard-pressed up until this point to figure out what Anamaria's getting out of it. And he knows Anamaria, she is getting something out of it. All that changes when Joseph volunteers to look at Norrington with a gruff, "See if I can do anything for the lad."

Jack's doubtful because as it is he's already had to admit silently to a grudging admiration at the fact that Norrington is even alive. For the first day onboard the man couldn't even keep down water and Jack knows it wasn't the feeling of the sea underneath him causing the upset. Jack's seen the man stand on the deck of a ship cutting through waves that well advised against it without so much as swaying.

There are wounds all over his body, wounds from what looks to be a cudgel, wounds from lying in one position too long, scabbed and bruised wounds that might date back to his capture, or might illustrate how long he kept fighting once they had him caged. Several of the wounds are festering and Jack is surprised he didn't notice the heat coming off the man during their ride back, especially now, when the red flush of his cheeks and forehead stands out so violently against the sick paleness of the rest of his flesh.

There are of course the things Jack can't see. The ribs, for one. Joseph finds these things, one by one by one, his hands large and gentle, his manner soothing. Jack wonders if Anamaria would mind his borrowing the man for a bit. Probably. She can be territorial when it comes to the people she sleeps with, particularly if she's actually interested in more than the sex. Jack can't say if that's what's happening here, but either way, it's not worth losing one of his best shipmates over.

Joseph keeps a vigil with Norrington, one that Jack doesn't understand given Joseph's history and that Jack himself can only stand to pop in once in a twenty-four hour time period. The third time he deigns to drop by he notices that Will has joined in on the vigil, which throws Jack every bit as much as Joseph, except that like Diamond, Norrington needs care. Will likes to take care of things, likes to be in control.

Jack doesn’t know that he expects Norrington to wake up, so when he sees Joseph back up on deck working in his silent, methodical manner Jack wonders if he's going to need to be breaking news he really does not want to break to Elizabeth. There's no good way to ask that question to a man who has been sitting up day and night with the man who might be dead. Luckily, Joseph does away with the necessity by approaching Jack and saying, "Fever finally broke. 'E should be fine."

Since Jack isn’t a big fan of dead people, this is a relief. "Thanks, mate."

Joseph nods but doesn't move off. Eventually he asks, "'E's Navy?"

Jack's a little surprised that neither Anamaria nor Will has explained all this, but then, perhaps it is his responsibility. Or maybe there is no responsibility, and it comes down to Joseph asking. "Commodore."

"I suppose there's a reason we're cartin' 'im back t'the Port?"

Jack waits a moment, trying to work through why it is that Joseph has waited until after saving the man's life to ask. No answers come to him, so he says, "Gettin' paid a lot t'do so."

"Mm." Joseph, clearly, is not buying this.

Jack thinks about leaving it at that. Decides, "It's complicated," will do.

"Complicated in a way 'at I should think about getting' meself onto another ship before reachin' the Port?"

"No." At least, Jack doesn't think so at this point. He thinks this changes thing. He could be wrong. Either way, Jack's got papers that keep him and his shipload of miscreants safe, so he's not scaring Joseph off. Anamaria'd pitch a fit.

"And you wouldn't be lyin' about that?"

Jack smirks. "No, not this time. Y'can ask Ana."

"I will." Joseph moves off to return from whence he came.

Jack doesn't doubt it.

*

Two Weeks Earlier

The only reason Jack sees anything is that Elizabeth hasn't come out of her cabin to eat in a good two days, and Anamaria's given the Look of Expectancy four times, Gibbs is refusing to share his flask, even Ben is looking at him askance. Will, predictably, is doing nothing. Oh, Jack has caught his worried gaze straying to the end of the ship that Elizabeth haunts, but other than that, nothing.

Jack takes the hint anyway, and because he's got nothing better to do, takes Elizabeth a tray of snacks. He knocks but doesn't wait for her to answer; she's not much on letting anyone in her space these days. Something twinges in Jack at ignoring that--there are very few things that Jack holds up as sacred, but a woman's right to tell him yes or no managed to put itself in there when he was too young to resist, courtesy of his mum and a few of her nearest--but he does it anyway. Anamaria's got her back to him and he can still feel the Look.

"'Lizbeth," he calls, "brought a little somethin' for y'to nibble-"

Her hands and her hair are covered in blood and it takes a moment for Jack to realize that none of it's serious, that he doesn't have a suicidal girl standing in front of him hacking away at herself. She is hacking away. Only it's at her hair, with a phenomenal lack of care that has translated to her hands being chopped nearly as much. She doesn't even stop at his entrance, or his words, so Jack sets the tray to the side and grasps both of her hands in his.

She struggles at that, screeching incoherently, yelling words like, "Get off," and "bastard," and moaning something that Jack suspects would translate to "Will" if he could decode it. He waits for the hysterics to pass, hoping against hope that they'll be left alone long enough. Amazingly, they are. Jack wonders idly if there's a certain Anamaria guarding the door.

Either way, when she's gone limp in his hands her eyes stray to all the red and she says, quite clearly, "Oh my god."

"Were ye thinkin' ye needed a new look, m'dear?"

She tugs lightly at one of her hands, the one without the knife, and Jack lets it go. She brings it up to her head, patting at the shorn locks. "I thought it would. . ."

Jack can think of about a hundred endings to that sentence, none of which feel terribly pleasing to him, so he lets it remain unfinished. Instead he pushes her to her cot and then down onto it, takes the knife from her and says, "This might 'urt a bit."

He ends what she has begun, evening out what he can without shortening the length any. Most of it is still ragged, but it will grow, and for the moment, that's all he plans on doing. He lifts her back onto her feet and says, "Come."

"Where?"

"Get those hands back to a more ladylike color."

She looks at her hands again, turns them over, flexes them with a slight wince. "They're fine."

"I’d like them to stay that way, all the same. I think the Guv'ner was lookin' to 'ave you back in full if possible, and as it is, well, I'll just oblige him, shan't I?"

"I don’t want Will seeing."

Jack senses that this whole episode has been about what Will sees and doesn't see, and he sympathizes at least a bit, but not enough to back down. "Keep'em tucked to your stomach, then. We're goin' on deck."

She tucks them against her so tightly Jack's afraid she's going to crack one of her own ribs. He isn't about to tell her different. When they find Joseph, Jack pries her hands from their position and says, "These need some cleanin' up."

"Indeed," Joseph says, and he doesn't allow his eyes to linger on Elizabeth's new hair, the way three-fourths of Jack's crew is doing. Jack lifts an eyebrow at those close enough to see. It gets them moving.

Assured that Elizabeth's being cared for, Jack moves right along with them.

*

Present time

Norrington appears up top in his own time, his bearing possibly straighter than Jack's ever seen it and his eyes toward the horizon, always, no matter where that horizon might be. He doesn't wait for Jack to come to him, which, though no different than their relationship has always been, is somewhat gratifying to Jack. It makes him suspect that Norrington's bruises tunnel less deeply than Will and Elizabeth's, or perhaps just in a different direction.

Norrington confirms the second suspicion with his even, "I've never noticed just how beautiful your Black Pearl is."

Jack thrills at the compliment as much as the railing underneath his palms does, but he also knows when he's being fattened up for the kill. Jack's just made sure this man was still alive to do the killing, so he's not much in the mood to be dead by his hand. "She thanks ye, I'm sure, mate. Although it's a little late, what with her bein' your salvation, and all. A girl knows when a compliment's been earned rather than freely given."

Norrington, to his credit, grimaces. "No, the compliment was sincere, I assure you. Perhaps influenced by my lack of sea travel these last months, what have you, but sincere."

There's something in the apology of sorts that makes Jack think he may have read the direction of this conversation incorrectly. "I can't be the first person ye're wantin' t'be talking with, now that ye've use of your legs back." And everything else, Jack thinks, but has the manners not to add verbally.

Norrington doesn't have an answer for that, and when Jack considers the man's choices, it occurs to him that he just might be first on the list. Not that that says much. Just when Jack is ready to move off, do things that need doing, talk to someone he actually likes, Norrington asks, "Did I thank you? My memories are a bit. . .lacking in dependability."

"I'll not be needin' yer thanks, mate," is Jack's only assurance on that score, because Norrington hasn't even come close, "Lizbeth's father did me a couple of favors in advance for this return."

"Free to roam, are you?"

Jack wants to crow about it; only the softness, the pain of Norrington's question brings him to a stop. "We can always play at Pirates and Navymen. I'd not be wantin' t'rob both of us of the joy in our lives."

"I think we've proven which one of us lays claim to the title of superiority accurately enough to lay aside games, don't you, Captain?"

For the first time in his life, the unequivocal granting of that title in respect and deference makes Jack's teeth ache, his skin try to flee from muscle and tendon and bone. "Don't be doin' that."

"I'm sorry, what is it I've done to offend?"

"You believe in your powers to police these islands, watchin' them day in, day out, with yer big ship and yer pretty 'lil wigs. This place, though, she don't take much to dominion, and there're things that someone with that same trait'll always be able to suss out. Yer kind en't like that. Don't make you lesser. I prefer m'way, but then, I'm me."

"Your way seems to be the one that works."

"Everything in turn," Jack says, and he knows it to be true. As much as he hates it, the Navy has its moments of shining success.

"Perhaps," but Norrington sounds to be saying that more as a mollification technique than a concession. "What are you going to do with your freedom?"

Jack catches that note of sadness from earlier and he thinks that maybe this isn't entirely about victors and spoils, but Norrington isn't bringing up cages except implicitly and it isn't Jack's job to fill in the blanks. "Pretty much the same as I've always done with it, I suppose."

"You plan to take it for granted?"

At this Jack smiles. "What makes ye think I've ever done such a thing?"

The look Norrington gives him is blank. "Ah."

Something inside Jack stops at the response. "What d'you plan on doing with yers?"

Norrington turns back to look at the ocean. "Perfect sailing weather."

Jack, in a moment of unexpected mercy, leaves well enough alone.

*

Jack had held vague hopes that Elizabeth might talk to Norrington, them having known each other for so long and all, but familiarity seems to have only bred distance in this particular instance. Or at the very least, a mountain of repression that Jack suspects only the ocean and a few thousand years might be able to erode.

Jack climbs the mast to the crow's nest and tells Cotton, who's paying all too much attention to the horizon, "Find somethin' else t'do, mate."

The parrot croaks, "Shiver me timbers" in a tone of such absolute boredom that Jack can't decipher any meaning to it. Cotton climbs down, though, and that's all Jack needs for the moment.

In the space between his skin and his fingernails, the spot between his eye and the lid that shuts over it, Jack can feel the storm that's creeping over them. The sea is telling no secrets, calm and rolling and luscious, but Jack knows. He should ask Joseph if Norrington is in any shape to help out. He should tell Elizabeth he expects her aid. He should corner Will and say, "Be of some bloody use, would you?"

He will. In an hour, maybe, when he's had time to get away from all of them, time to talk with Pearl about her own role in getting them past this storm. She'll listen, she's a good girl. Just like all the other women Jack has ever known (and, all right, quite a few of the men), Pearl has her own agendas and ways, but in the moments when he most needs her to stand by him, she's only once failed. And she's made it up to him, time and again.

If he'd had to search for her another ten years, he would have.

Uncomfortably, the thought of Norrington in that cage comes to Jack, the other man's admission of his own faults. Elizabeth isn't a ship, though, and she has failed Norrington far more than Jack would ever allow anyone the right were it him. That's where duty gets a body, Jack knows. Somehow, with Elizabeth, bright, cunning, canny, gorgeous Elizabeth the one at stake, Jack can't be as disdainful at this thought as he would much prefer to be.

Jack doesn't think about Will. Will is a bystander. Will is. . .Bootstrap's son and responsible for the fact that Jack is still alive and none of that matters. What matters is that if they manage this storm and don't get hit with another, they will be in Port Royal by the end of two weeks and Jack will have done his "duty" and be three times as rich for it as was in the beginning.

Below Jack, Norrington is working with his crew, more urgently, more frantically than anyone else Jack has ever had sail under him. Jack has decided this is Navy training, because the other option, that Norrington is trying to regain some sense of self through the trade of ropes and sails and decks, is none of Jack's business. Nor does he want it to be.

Jack knows that if he looks closely Norrington's hands will be torn from work that he hasn't done, not for himself, in what Jack can only estimate as ten years. Probably more. It's entirely possible, depending on the man's original social status, that he never actually saw that part of a ship. Only he is confident in his motions--they are the only thing he shows confidence in--and Jack reminds himself that underestimating the enemy only gets him dead.

And Norrington is the enemy. Of course he is. His place on this ship, his bleeding hands, the other things, things that Jack can't see, seeping red, none of that matters. An enemy is an enemy.

In the same way that Jack does not think about Will, he does not wonder at this sudden inflexibility of his. Wondering will do no one any good. Particularly not when Jack's wondering often takes odd turns, turns that have him thinking about the curve of Norrington's shoulders when he's leaning over the railing. Jack's bedded his fair share of trouble, but he's always known and calculated the risks.

Despite appearances, there are reasons why he's still alive.

Anamaria calls up, "What's she telling you?"

Jack's not sure if Anamaria means the ship or the waters on which she sails, but either way, "We're about to toss, love."

She smiles in anticipation. Jack really should see if Joseph and her will let him in on their bedtime antics. It would be infinitely less complicated.

*

They survive the storm relatively in tact. Nobody is thrown overboard and Pearl's vital organs come out only slightly the worse for wear. All the same, Jack sails her into port on an island that at first, second and third glance doesn't seem to be much inhabited. That's all the glances (and time) Jack feels he needs to spare, and they anchor there for the (mostly) minor repairs necessary.

Will throws himself into the work, doing whatever he's told, whenever. Jack would be bothered by this pliancy except that Will has always felt the need to take action, and Jack suspects his allowing other people to pretend at mastery over him has more to do with the fact that it gives Will more to do, rather than any sort of extreme psychological disturbance from his recent experiences.

Elizabeth works side by side with Joseph, who doesn't growl at her for not being as strong as he, and consistently "asks" for aid by way of body language, something that Elizabeth probably sees as less domineering.

Norrington, Commodore Bloody Norrington, finds his way to the sail Jack is mending, sits down, busies himself with a separate section of the damage and says, "She was well and away sea-worthy enough to continue on."

Jack files through the possibilities of what Norrington is trying to get at with this, gives up trying to guess. "Mayhap the way I treat m'ship is directly correlative t'her performance, mate."

"I've no doubt you pamper her endlessly," Norrington says, straight-faced and entirely serious. "But Tortuga is what? Even at a crawl I'd guess it a few days sail from here."

"En't takin' the likes of you into Tortuga." Jack doesn't give a reason though, because he's not sure whether this reluctance of his has to do with prioritizing his three guests, or the denizens of Tortuga. He's still giving himself the leeway of believing the latter.

"If Tortuga is close," Norrington continues as though he hasn't heard Jack and Jack realizes that Norrington had no idea if they were close to Tortuga or not. Jack tamps down on the urge to admire the clever little bugger, "then so is Port Royal."

The way Norrington says the words does not miss Jack's attention. Port Royal. Not the Port, not Home, full-titled, official Port Royal. He doesn't even drop a syllable. "Not anxious t'get back?"

Norrington just continues at his task, methodical and near-perfect. Jack relents. "'Lizbeth's father'll have saved you a spot at the table, Commodore."

Norrington looks up. "Table? Oh, metaphor, I see. Yes, most likely. I did, after all, lose myself to the horrors of these barbarian islands searching for his one and only precious pearl of a child."

Jack stays still under the barrage of bitterness that Norrington covers with a veneer of calm that could varnish oak. "Not reason enough for you, then?" Jack doesn't want to get into the barbarian comment, not when he suspects that Norrington didn't actually mean it. That's not something Jack needs to know about the other man. Such a fact might force him into considering the possibility that he could like Norrington as something more than an engaging nemesis.

"I prefer that badges of merit be earned; don't worry yourself as to understanding the concept."

Jack grins. That's more like it. "I won't, thanks." For all that, though, Norrington has repaired his section of the sail beautifully and Jack gets it, he gets it all too well. "Nice island, this one, eh?"

Taken offguard, Norrington blinks, and then looks around. "Yes, very."

"Think maybe we'll enjoy her hospitality for a few days."

Another blink, this one much slower. "Captain Sparrow-"

"Just nod and agree that sounds nice, mate."

Norrington nods, but words are evidently beyond him. That's fine by Jack. He enjoys the rough slide of Norrington's baritone all too much.

*

Jack accompanies the sunset with the parallel burn of rum. He feels a set of fingers pull the bottle from his and looks to see to whom the fingers are attached, ready to defend his right of ownership if need be. Only the fingers belong to Will, and Jack isn't entirely sure a good soaking in rum isn't exactly what Will needs. Will pulls back an impressive slug.

Jack takes back the bottle and sips, although not delicately. Still, he saves the majority for Will. Will nods his head with an appreciative tilt, taking the bottle back. "They had to break my hand to get the sword. It's still. . ."

Jack has noticed the way Will guards his right hand. He suspects it was set badly, possibly by Will himself, and that Will worries that it won't suffice when he's back in front of his forge. Jack takes another drink. "Functions."

"She's. . .like my hand."

For a moment, Jack considers being difficult and asking after the pronoun, as though Will thinks about anything other than Elizabeth these days. "You set the hand?"

"No. My captors. Slave without a hand is not of much use."

Jack just takes the bottle back. Waits.

Will watches. "Ah."

Jack wonders if it's time to jump in with some philosophy. Not that he really has any for the occasion. Luckily, Will finds it in himself to continue. "She needs rescuing sometimes, but never fixing. She's less breakable than I."

"Everyone has their point." Jack bids the sun farewell and allows himself a moment of early dark. "She loves you."

"She won't come near me."

"She's relearning t'make 'er own choices," Jack finally finds it in himself to explain, even though Will should already understand. Then again, women fight harder for things that men take for granted.

"I don't want to. . .interfere."

"Y'can defy British law, fight unto maiming and live under someone else's rule to save her life, but y'can't talk t'her?"

"My sword does what I tell it to do."

"It can also be parted from your grip by a few broken bones."

"So was she."

"Temporarily, lad. Ye'll have to make yourself a completely new sword. New steel, new pommel. With her, y'still have the basic parts, they just need a little bit of shinin' up."

Will finishes the bottle off. Jack pops open the contingency one he brought.

*

Norrington sleeps by the water.

While Jack hasn't been paying full time attention to the man, he's noticed in the amount that he has paid that Norrington, in fact, never leaves the water's side unless it's to relieve himself. Only reluctantly then as well.

Jack prefers and trusts the volatile nature of the waves far more than the staid one of dirt, but he appreciates both in their own way. Jack would have expected the same of a man such as Norrington, a man so bound to things that stay in place and don't budge for all the pushing in the world. Always before when Jack would watch Norrington on shores, familiar or otherwise, the man would seem to have reached an accord with the world under his feet, even a comfort. Now, though, Norrington's steps are preceded by a hesitancy and followed by a fleetness that tempts Jack to pin the man down and see what his reaction would be.

Instead Jack wakes up and uses the feeling of sleepy languor to propel himself into asking, "Swim, mate?"

Norrington looks down to where the sand is packed and nearly smooth in the wake of the tide. "Enough."

Most of Jack's crew is still sleeping. He can see Anamaria and Joseph down a ways, but they're as intent on being left alone as he is at this moment, so he strips his shirt over his head and tosses it into what will be the pile containing his breeches and boots soon enough. Out of the corner of his eye he notes Norrington not following and turns. "I won't be lookin'."

Jack watches Norrington's eyes sweep over his torso, the first of many maps of Jack's misadventures. They don't bother him one whit, but he knows they sour the image, so he keeps them hidden, an unseen part of the mythos. Norrington says, "Different sort, those are."

Jack shakes his head. "They're all about the things we can do."

Norrington bows his head at that before quickly tearing his top off, as though he might stop if he does it at a pace any slower. Whatever gets it done for him, really. Jack moves into the water to give the man some space as Norrington's fingers go to the ties on his breeches.

Jack feels the movement of the water admitting Norrington even through the gentle morning waves. Jack asks, "How far will enough get me?"

"To the ship."

It's a good distance. Jack starts out, and it's more a stretch than any type of exercise, just to be in the water, feel the grit of salt lick at his lips, the schools of fish that don't know any better pool around his ankles. Norrington stays at his side, working harder for it, but matching Jack's pace.

At the last moment Jack reaches his fingers as far as they'll go and lets himself glide to the Pearl, lets her catch him. She does, Norrington too, and they both hang from her, Norrington breathing heavily, Jack closing his eyes, letting the sun have its way with his face.

When he opens his eyes, Norrington has grabbed onto the ship with both hands, his back to her hull, his face turned into the waves. Jack sinks down under the water, moves the inch or so he needs, and comes up to meet Norrington's lips. Jack is nearly completely at his mercy, Norrington being anchored against Pearl and Jack clinging to nothing, not even the man he's kissing. Norrington doesn't shove, however, doesn't do much of anything except allow for the contact, not break it off.

When Jack has tired of wading he breaks it off in order to reach out for the ship. Norrington stops him with the release of one hand. "Is this-"

When it has become clear that Norrington isn't sure how to end that little interrogation, Jack says, "This is this. Does it need t'be somethin' else?"

Norrington pulls him in and supports him through the next kiss.

*

Jack sucks Norrington off on the deck of his Pearl, and there are splinters in his knees for his trouble, but the man with splinters no doubt in his shoulder blades is looking directly into the sun, his eyes reflecting the gold, and splinters, Jack knows, can be picked out. Jack puts his hand between the sun and Norrington's eyes, "Ye'll go blind. Didn't yer mum teach ye anythin'?"

"What order to use the silverware in, how to tie the perfect ribbon on my wig, what to say to a girl when I wanted to dance with her, and what the polite gift was for every social occasion. All before she died of consumption when I was thirteen."

"You wore a wig before thirteen years of age?" Jack realizes there are possibly more pressing matters to attend to in that little speech, but honestly, no wonder the man walks as though someone grafted a walking stick to his spine.

"No. My older brother did, though. Much older. I was a bit of a mistake."

"Where I come from, weren't nobody 'at wasn't a mistake." Weren't much of anybody who wasn't welcomed, either, but Jack figures that if Norrington doesn't know that, this isn't the time to start explaining basic socio-economic culture.

"She was perfectly cordial, all the same." Norrington turns his gaze, still under the shadow of Jack's fingers, to Jack. "I puzzled the sun thing out for myself. My commanding officer on the first ship I was assigned was quite common-sense oriented and infinitely more fond of me than either my parents, so I suspect he would have mentioned something sooner or later had it needed saying."

"Infinitely more fond," Jack echoes, adding his own lilt to it.

Norrington's mouth twists into a smile that somehow manages to scathe Jack. "Well, yes."

"The fine tradition of the British Navy, long upheld."

Norrington's face blanks at that. "I've never touched one of mine. And never been touched by someone to whom I didn't give tacit permission."

Jack knows all about tacit permission. He knows being at sea with only other men for months, maybe a whole year at a time and having a superior member of the crew who has the right to his gratitude for something or other. "'Course not. This yer tacit permission, then, mate?"

"You're not my commanding officer."

"No, I'm your saviour. One might think it held more weight, if one valued one's life."

"One might," Norrington says.

Jack gets his hands as far away from Norrington as he can manage. Norrington blinks and moves his head to the side. "You're still-"

Jack doesn't know whether to make this easy on him or not. Norrington makes the decision for himself and reaches out to wrap his hand around Jack's cock. Jack jerks away, which has the effect of making his mind blur for a second. When it clears, Norrington's staring at his own hand like he can't recognize it. He looks up at Jack, the same expression on his face. "I don't-"

"I won’t be makin' yer decisions for ye, not even by default."

Norrington uses the hand that is evidently his after all to push Jack against the railing. His lips come up to meet Jack's. "As you wish."

*

"Is there some angle t'this that I'm missin', Jack?" Anamaria asks. Jack looks at the browned arch of her shoulders, bared while they swim around the perimeter of the ship, checking for any unseen damage. Jack has always known before when there was something wrong but he's feeling a little off of late, and it never hurts to do a quick once-over.

"Suppose that depends on whether you've been nippin' out on Joseph for a small Commodore treat."

"I'm not denyin' the man's physical. . .gifts."

"Then what're we discussin', m'dear?"

"The fact that you took His Royal Navyness on your Pearl." Anamaria's voice is casual, but Jack can hear the hiss she wants to release. Jack doesn't wonder that she's noticed his aversion to dalliances on his ship, but for the moment he hopes desperately that she doesn't know that until today she was the only person before Norrington. He has a sinking suspicion she does.

"That or the middle of the water, luv. Complicated and likely t'attract rays." Actually, Jack doubts that stingrays care one way or another what humans are doing while wading in the water. Anamaria probably can't prove this either way.

"Or the island. Plenty of little hidey-holes."

Jack grins at her lasciviously. "As you and your brute well-found out." Even as he says it, he notices that Ana has not one mark on her, not so far as he can see. Her lips, which he has seen swollen and near-torn, has brought to that point, are slightly puffy, nothing more.

She quirks those lips in that way Jack knows, the way that tells him she has a secret, one she won't spill. Jack's glad he thought better than to ask in on their action. She wouldn't have taken to that well. "Don’t be changin' the subject."

"Subject?"

"Jack." The smile is gone. Anamaria pulls herself up into the boat they've harnessed to the side for purposes of getting back to the island. Jack flops himself over the side of the boat next to her. "He's Navy. Probably born to Navy if the bearing says anythin'. He's been willin' t'see you through the final dance. You've saved him from the worst that humans do t'other humans. Whatever debt there was, and I've a mind t'consider that all in your head, it's settled. Leave it be."

Jack is mildly offended, as he's never slept with anyone as a way of barter and has no intention of starting now. There have been far far better reasons in the past to do so than this broken (ex?) officer of one of the farthest arms of British law. Jack's body is his own, though, just as Elizabeth's is hers, Anamaria's hers, James's his. He doesn't frown upon the choice to barter one's self, just chooses personally to forego it.

Jacks is still trying to figure out what will serve best as his next response when Anamaria gives him a rather unexpected opening. "Why isn't it that simple, Jack?"

"Because it's. . .not."

Anamaria, being the friend and fellow pirate that Jack has always sensed in her the potential to be, nods at that and goes about rowing.

*

Jack has cause to regret his generosity in delaying their return to Port Royal later in the day when he sends Gibbs out to search for Elizabeth, only to have the man return empty handed. As Elizabeth is rather key to his triumphant return Jack is reduced to looking at Gibbs blankly and repeating, "The lass 'as gone missin'."

Will, of course, overhears. Jack wouldn't be surprised if Will followed Gibbs on his search. The next thing Jack knows Will has taken off on Diamond, which is just great, just brilliant as Will is actually quite important to that even farther triumph as well. Norrington, bloody useful man that he is, mutters something about not having axes thrown at him and asks Jack, "Which one are you off after? I'll take the other."

Jack sighs. It's dinner time and he's really not in the mood for these sorts of capers. "Neither."

Norrington turns to Jack, his features carefully schooled. "You're just going to- They're necessary, you realize, for that reward to be any good."

"Calm down, Commodore. Will's not half so hapless as looks would suggest, and if Lizbeth's lost, I've 'alf a mind to believe it's because she bloody well wishes t'be. They'll find each other." Jack will admit, while he would have chosen a considerably less dramatic way of going about it and embellished later, this will work as well as any other way for fixing that problem.

"But will they find their way back?"

Jack suppresses a groan. "Give 'em a few hours before we rush off after 'em. The island's not that big." Big enough, but if Jack puts all of his crew on finding them, somebody will. Jack's pretty sure there aren't any predators large enough to eat humans on the island at the very least, so they can probably make it through the night if not longer should they actually be lost.

After a long silence spent looking at the spot that Will crashed on into the trees at, Norrington says, "I do not envy them their re-entry into Port Royal. There will be whispers, and where there are not whispers there will be stares. It is too small a community for anything to be kept truly secret."

"Didn't fancy you the type t'fear whispers," Jack muses, only somewhat idly.

"Not for myself, no. But then I've no attachment to a lady. The whispers that surround them are always much louder, more full of spite."

"Then it's the jeers what leave ye tremblin' at the thought of leavin' this place?"

Norrington looks at Jack. His eyes are inscrutable and Jack is well-prepared for him not to answer. Finally he says, with no change in expression or inflection, "It's myself that has me doing such. The whispers of my own creation."

Jack knows those whispers, has heard them in a million different forms.

"They broke me," Norrington whispers.

Jack, however, has seen broken, recognized its face. He has at times laughed and spit at it, and once, just once, shortly bowed to it, but for all that, he knows intimately what it looks like. "Ye're mistaken in thinkin' that."

"I-"

"Norrington. They bent ye further than ye've ever twisted before. That's all."

"You haven't the slightest idea of who I am."

In a way Jack mourns for this man who has never been taught that a close enemy can be a better companion than the best of friends. In a way he envies him. "I most like have the best idea of who y'are. Wouldn't matter either way, I know broken like I know that ship in the waters, and y'aren't."

"You can hardly expect me to take your word."

"Whose d'ye plan on takin'?"

Norrington is evidently without answer for that.

*

Jack waits for Norrington to build them a fire. Where the man has learned this particular survival skill is beyond Jack--doesn't seem like something the Royal Navy would include in basic training, but perhaps Norrington merited some non-basic, or maybe he's just figured out that it's a good skill to have when one is constantly in danger of being stranded--but so long as he's going to do it, Jack has no objections to being lazy whilst Norrington handles the manual labor. Norrington, for his part, seems to expect no less of Jack.

When he's finished, muscles trembling from exertion that they still haven't quite re-accustomed themselves to, skin damp and salty, he starts to say, "I-" but stops whatever the thought was and kisses Jack instead. "Have any of that sugar candy you call drink?"

"You won't be gettin' yerself any that way, luv."

"No?" Norrington asks, before kissing Jack again.

Jack, however, has been trained--well, has learned from experience--to resist such nefarious techniques. "No. That's quality rum ye're callin' names."

Norrington plucks the bottle from Jack's largely unresisting fingers, uncorks the top and takes a sizeable and yet somehow polite swallow. He grimaces. "Sweet."

"It's made from sugar cane," Jack says wryly.

"Give me a simple ale any day of the week."

Jack shudders. "What, life in the Navy en't bitter 'nough? 'Ave t'add to it?"

Norrington shrugs and takes another swallow, this one larger and with less refinement. He's not drunk, Jack can tell, not even close. For a man whom Jack has never thought about in the same sentence as any type of liquor, it occurs to Jack that Norrington seems fairly capable of being able to hold his. Jack asks, "Where'd ye learn t'drink?"

"More of where I learned not to."

Jack is quiet at that. Either Norrington will say more or he won't, but saying anything just then will probably effect the latter immediately. Norrington continues, "Father had a problem with it. The drink. Very hush hush of course. Couldn't have anyone knowing. It was a rather thorough education in how to handle liquor. Avoid it when one can and hold it when one must."

"And this evening requires you to partake?"

"Yes, I rather think it does." Norrington looks off in the trees, harder even to see into now that it's dark. Jack doesn't think he's looking for anything, just to something.

"I see," Jack says, as he has lived through nights where drinking was more necessity than pleasure.

"Since my inhibitions might become slightly impaired, I should appreciate it should you not-"

"I take monetary treasure without given consent, not human," Jack clarifies, only slightly stung, and only that because well, he's been so good.

Norrington, nearing the half-way point in the bottle, tilts it back for another swallow. "Another thing to make you different from all the rest of the world, then, I suppose."

Jack slides minutely closer to the fire. "Mayhap." He hopes not.

*

Norrington's virtue--what there was of it when the sun set--is still intact with the rising of said sun. Jack awakes not nearly so hung over as he is used to and scolds himself roundly for not bringing enough rum for two. Really, the sex should have been a sign that Norrington isn't quite so proper as he makes himself out to be.

Elizabeth and Will tumble out of the trees just as Jack is getting around to plotting search party tactics, Elizabeth looking every inch the debauched Diana, Will wearing the expression of man hard-used. Jack looks mournfully at his empty bottle. "I'd offer ye libations as a celebration of yer re-consummation, but the Royal Navy 'as made 'way with all me most cherished liquids."

Elizabeth glances to where Norrington is sprawled on the ground. "Poor James. We should never have left him alone with the likes of you."

Jack nods in agreement. "That was very irresponsible of ye whelps."

Will touches the fringes of Elizabeth's haphazard locks. She doesn't flinch. Jack has always stood by the fact that there's something to be said for irresponsibility. Elizabeth sighs. "Oh really, Will. It'll grow."

Will grins. It's nothing close to the grin that Jack knew a short while before all of this. There are shadows and stories and Jack recognizes it in an odd manner that makes him suspect he would see something similar where he to look in a mirror. Will says, "I was just thinking how much it suited you."

Jack expects her to scoff, to say something sharp and soften it with her own grin, eager and frighteningly innocent. Instead she turns her head into the touch. "I doubt the denizens of Port Royal shall hold such an opinion."

"Burn them," Will says in a nonchalant manner. Jack can see in the stance of his feet that the boy--man--will back up the words in any way he sees fit.

Elizabeth does smile at that, a fleeting curvature of the lips, a look so secret that Jack finds himself struggling not to look away. She steps from Will then, her hair sifting through his fingers to fall free. Her lips on Jack's jaw and her, "thank you," are so transitory that Jack isn’t entirely sure that isn't his tendency toward story-telling coming up with a rather pleasing ending to his constructed damsel-in-distress tale. Luckily, Will's handshake and nod as he follows after her are more substantive.

When Jack can no longer hear their footsteps fading toward the Pearl he tells Norrington, "It's all right t'stop playing at sleep."

Norrington's eyes fall open. "They're not quite so comfortable in my presence as they are in yours. I had no desire to set back what progress had been made."

"They're t'be just fine, Commodore."

"Could you not-" Norrington pales as he realizes he's actually spoken.

Jack, however, is not much a fan of open ended sentences. Or quests. Or much of anything, for that matter. Closure is oftentimes underrated. "Not what?"

For a moment, Jack thinks Norrington will refuse to answer. He's proven wrong when the man stands, drawing himself up to his full military bearing to say, "Not use my title. They, the Spaniards, that is, they had quite some fun with my status. Not the actual title, I grant you, as either they couldn't pronounce it, or were somewhat lacking in knowledge so far as the chain of British Naval Command goes, but either way, it's- I'd rather not feel that you're mocking me constantly, regardless of the truth of our situation."

Jack wishes that he didn't have three or four or five too many marks on his own body, six or seven or eight on his own mind, not to press this advantage. If wishes were ships, though, Jack's fleet would be larger than that of the entire Royal Navy. "Norrington, then?"

"Or James. It has two less syllables."

"Wondrously pragmatic." Jack draws out the long syllables of his own choice in words.

"One of us must be, I suppose."

And while Jack has no desire to ever be accused of pragmatism, James is standing in front of him, fragile and brittle all at once, the two a dangerous mix. He allows, "Jack has three less syllables than Captain Sparrow," not one to pass over pointing out his obvious superiority.

"But not quite the flare," James says quietly, oddly gracious in the face of Jack's concession.

"Just don't be sayin' it so often in front of those 'at might think less of me."

"Have a list I could study?"

Jack turns to make his way back to the Pearl shaking his head. Pearl's a bloody woman and she isn't half so much trouble as the man who's following him, kicking up leaves and sand and lord only knows what else.

*

Elizabeth is running down the shore, the waves tiptoeing up to trip her. Will's on her heels, always just close enough to catch her, never enough to hold her. Anamaria asks, "Time t'be off, then?"

Jack is the captain of the Pearl which gives him the ultimate right not to answer to anyone. Not actually having an answer, he takes that right. "What say ye, luv?"

Anamaria tilts her head. "'At the Port will always be waiting for 'em and will never welcome 'em."

Jack thinks that might be the definition of "home." "Quite a bit of slag waitin' t'welcome us, though."

"So we've begun trade in humans, then?" Anamaria's question is sharp and though Jack has never asked the things of her that she's had the courtesy not to ask of him, she's the first girl with skin darker than his he's ever met not wearing chains. Her wrists tell ghost tales even more bitter than his brands and he hasn't the moxy to say, "why not?" the way he would with most anyone else, even if merely the thought makes his stomach play hopscotch.

"Drop 'em somewhere, then? Keep 'em? Commodore an' all," he reminds her.

Anamaria though, unlike some people Jack knows, (mostly himself) has principles stronger than fear or even gut instinct. "'E's a man of 'is word. Ye'd just 'ave t'pull the right one out of'im. I've faith." She throws out the last words so sardonically that Jack nearly doesn't believe her. Except that she sails with him still, and she's had more than a few chances to jump ship. Her own ship, even.

"Moot point," Jack says.

"Most like," she agrees. She looks at him, then, the first time since she began talking. "Ye think it cruelty t'ask."

"With Will and 'Lizbeth, no. Mere courtesy, perhaps, but not cruelty."

"And your Commodore?"

"He's nobody's anythin'," Jack says, a little too rapidly.

"He's the Navy's officer," she tells him, not ungently, at least, not for Anamaria.

"A man of his word."

"Words can 'ave so many interpretations," Anamaria muses aloud.

"'Is are black an' white. Blue an' red."

"'E's made ye 'is business. There's grey t'be found, Jack."

"My decision, Ana."

"'Course, Captain."

"You're ruining my title."

The wicked woman smiles.

*

James refuses Jack's offer of rum with a shake of his head. "Once in a very great while is quite enough. My thanks."

Jack is hardly surprised at the man's destroying his plans without even trying. Luckily, as Jack prides himself on being resourceful, he has thought up a Plan B. Plan C and D as well, should it come to it, although those are more loose than Plan B and infinitely less desirable. Jack kisses James. Despite the events of the other day, Jack lets a jolt of surprise seep under his skin at the fact that James accepts this offer.

Sand is not only messy but incredibly irritating so far as Jack is concerned, so he does what he can with James's back up against a palm tree, both of them fully-clothed. It's enough. James comes up panting and shivering and loose. Jack outlines James's ear with his tongue, "Mind stayin' there a bit?"

James closes his eyes again, tilts his head back against the bark. "Come no closer."

Jack is pressed all along James, as near in his skin as one man can be to another's, but James can breathe, and Jack knows that sometimes the simple facts of inhalation and exhalation can be the distance between sanity and madness. "The Port-"

"Don't."

"Must."

James's arms tense and Jack prepares himself to be thrown back. When he isn't, he ventures, "Pearl likes ye."

"Is it her that does?"

The question is canny and should be delivered with a breeziness that James evidently can't support at this moment. His smooth tones flounder and break over the "her." Jack pretends not to have heard. "'Deed, mate. Bossy, she is."

"We all have to learn that we don't always get our own way. Sooner or later."

"But must we never get our own way?" Jack asks, spinning the question out to make it sound one of whimsy.

"You may answer to no man, Jack-"

"Ye're too canny not to notice the parts of me fortune 'at 'aven't changed nigh well since we've met." Jack sincerely hopes it never gets back to Anamaria that he referred to her as part of his fortune.

"Then answer me this: would you leave them? Were you to be plucked off your ship, taken by men whose first intent is to profit off you and second intent is to have a rather jolly time of humiliating and degrading you while getting around to said profit, would you not do everything in your power to get back to them?"

James has gone so stiff that Jack is somehow worried that he's become part of the tree. It's dark now, nearly too dark and Jack can barely see to tell that he's still there. "They'd 'ave me back, luv."

James shudders at that, uncontrollably. Jack takes it as improvement, the movement. He says, "Three days. More if'n the weather's bad. Time 'nough for a decision."

He kisses James again, and James, once again, lets him. Jack wonders if there's more room for argument than he's allowed himself to believe. Then he remembers that belief is a dangerous thing and stops doing it. James' kisses are real enough.

*

Diamond swims out, right alongside Jack, to the Pearl. Will's already there, waiting to swing Jack aboard and work the rig that will carry Diamond up onto the deck. Jack has a sneaking suspicion Will feels more strongly about the latter. As Diamond was actually part and parcel of Will's rescue, Jack lets go of his notions about lecturing the boy on gratitude. Besides, she throws out her mane and stomps a bit and acts generally as though she deserves his attention, and Jack can appreciate a woman with spirit.

Across the deck, Elizabeth laughs as Diamond's self-drying techniques soak an almost-dry Will.

James is the last person on the boat. Joseph and Cotton are bringing up the anchor as he swings himself over the railing, more lithe than any man who wears starched coats and spent the better part of a week earlier in bed has the right to be. Jack thinks taking the man on deck in broad daylight might set a bad example, though. Not that he minds daylight debauchery. By all means.

He doesn't want anyone else bringing back their very own Royal Naval Officer. No, that just won’t do.

Jack does seek him out. Later, when Pearl's determining her own course and it's close enough to Jack's that he allows her to voice her opinions. He leaves Gibbs with the wheel and does his customary round, runs his hands over his lady's railings and ropings. Cotton's parrot calls out an, "Avast," and Jack tips his head even as he thinks that no, today isn't that kind of day. A smooth sea is its own type of treasure, one that Jack never tells anyone about, one that he has never overlooked.

He finds James overlooking it with careful eyes, his hands at his side, palms open. Jack thinks to sneak off before James can say, "I thought they would bury me in the earth."

Jack shudders. "Yer kind'll do that t'ya no matter, 'lessin' ye die out at sea."

James turns his eyes from the sea, and they are smiling, even if the rest of his face isn't. It's a smile that's more mystery than mischief, more mischief than mirth. "Indeed."

Jack, who makes it his business not to know others's unless he should accidentally stumble upon it asks, "Who d'ye serve what calls ye back so strongly that ye must listen?" Because he doesn't see anyone standing next to James. Nobody other than himself.

"Concepts I've no intention of explaining to you if you've yet to understand them."

"Honor?"

"Certainly." But he's paused before he's said it, and the -ly comes out just a second too late, as though he's forgotten how the word ends.

"Country."

"And Queen."

Jack sidles next to James. "Love?"

James casts him a look before returning his gaze to the (for-now) trustworthy sea. "I suppose. In some forms. At times."

"Ye're never on the list, then, I don't suppose?"

"It occurs to me, Jack, that you suppose all too much."

Jack moves slightly to the side, brushing his arm against James's, holding there for the longest of moments. "Do I, then?"

*

Jack blames the moon. In truth the moon is probably no more to blame than the rum or the Pearl or the ocean or Jack himself, but Jack has chosen that sliver of at-times preternatural light as his scapegoat for the evening's events and he's sticking to it. After all, things pretty much begin when James opens his eyes from their closed position, the two of them sprawling about the deck in the calm of midnight and says, "It's harder to sleep on board a ship. For want of being awake to this."

And Jack, of course, has no option but to look up at the pristine splotch of dark hanging above him and think, true, mate. Which by needs must be followed up with an, "Aye, but there are. . .pursuits other'an sleeping t'be indulged at such a time as this."

James mutters something that sounds suspiciously like, "Relentless bastard."

While Jack is only relentless when he senses victory, and only then when he truly wants the spoils of said victory, it's oddly charming to hear James curse, particularly in relation to him. Jack senses he is the kind of man who saves his curses for very special occasions. This suspicion has in no way been undermined by James's lack of cursing despite the state of his body and mind over the past fortnight. Jack rolls, slides, slithers near to James and takes a kiss for himself. "That a yes, mate?"

"Not on the deck," James bites out.

"My quarters have lovely windows."

"Not in the window pane either."

Jack sighs against James' lips. "No sense of adventure."

"Not of late."

Jack nearly winces at the fairness of that assessment. Adventure can, at times, get a body into trouble. So Jack has heard--from reliable sources. "Come then," and Jack pulls himself up, easy as though a string runs through his body and up the masts of the ship, ready to tug at a moment's notice. Jack gives notice.

He brings James up with him, hands finding James', guided by James' arms. Jack's quarters are close, and Jack knows every inch of this ship, where to step and where to stride, where to tilt and where to turn. Jack wants James up against Pearl's mahogany walls, but James shakes his head, that tight little shake, as though Jack is one of his Lieutenants. For the night, Jack is willing to play along. There are moments for everything.

There's less clothes by the time they both reach the bed, an advantage, certainly, and James' hands, refinding their sailor's form are just rough enough, just capable enough, against Jack's chest. James doesn't taste of rum, and Jack thinks, "huh," before giving up on thinking, because he'd rather just not.

He doesn't either, not until they're lying chest to chest, James's mouth pressing deep against the hollow of Jack's throat, and James takes a breath to say, "I'd like to take you."

The request is so formal that Jack laughs. It comes out breathier than he'd most like intended. "As y'wish." And then, because Jack concerns himself with going into situations informed, "'Ave ye 'ad a man like that before?"

"No," James admits, and only because Jack can feel the slight rise in heat of the skin splayed over his does he know what that admission is to the other man, "but I sense I have a fair understanding of the technical aspects."

"Inspiring," Jack drawls.

"I won’t hurt you."

While Jack has heard much more inciting statements before the sexual act, somehow those four words cause his eyes to nearly roll back in his head and it's a moment before he can say, "There's oil in the chest." It's used for keeping the leather of his boots soft, but it will do.

There's absence and rustling and Jack takes a look out at the night sky, still open to him out past the glass. Then James is back and busy not hurting Jack. By the time James slides in, slowly and yet not patiently, Jack is panting, moaning. He doesn't care. He's never particularly cared for being silent, sometimes not even when he should.

James's hand presses between them, around Jack, and it's not careful, not hurtful, not anything but oh between some more in-articulations. Jack lets go some time before James does, coasting on the sounds of James' own whimpers, low and bitten back. Controlled.

Jack says, "Please."

Afterward, James says, "Thank you."

Jack presses his fingers over scars, chosen at random, and does not say you're welcome.

*

Elizabeth brings Jack an orange and he takes a hand off the wheel to pluck it from her fingers. "'Mornin', Miz'us Turner."

She nods politely. "Captain Sparrow."

Her stance is fierce, more so than he's seen it since she climbed out of that second story window, less so than when he held manacles around her throat in a desperate bid for freedom. "Starin' en't ladylike, 'Lizbeth."

"Whomever you've been listening to on account of my habits has been telling you the most heinous of lies, Jack."

He grunts a bit at that. "Spit it out."

"Will and I return to the Port together, under the sheltering auspice of my father's title and the protective shield of Will's near monopoly. He's the only metalsmith in town worth seeing. James. . .his men, those who have served with him some while will still respect him and force the issue of respect with others when they are within hearing range. But they will not always be. And they have no influence over the society of the town, from topmost to bottom. I know that you gave him the same choice you gave Will and I and I know that he refused."

She hasn't come up here to give monologues, though, Jack feels certain. He takes his second hand off the wheel--their course is straight for the moment--peels a large swath of rind from the orange. "I won't be takin' 'is choices from 'im."

Her eyes flash mild horror at him. "No, I was hoping you could convince him to change his mind. Of his own accord."

Jack muses on how wildly out of control rumors of his prowess must be if she's even thinking to ask him this with a straight face. He keeps one as well, (although laughter is tempting) because he's hardly going to be the one to undo all that lore with a bit of uncontrolled emotion. "Commodores'll do as they will, m'dear. That's 'ow they get t'be commodores."

"Hardly. They get that way by following orders to the letter."

Jack feels it distinctly unfair that he of all people has to be the one to enlighten Elizabeth Turner to the actual nature of the British Royal Navy. "That type never goes anywhere. It's the ones 'at know 'ow t'subvert order while playin' at upholdin' it 'at go far and long." Jack's stomach twists at the words. He looks accusingly at the orange, even as he knows it is innocent. By way of reparation he pops a slice into his mouth.

"You'll do nothing, then." Elizabeth's look is considerably more scathing than the one he gave the orange. Jack feels she owes him an apology. Preferably not by way of cannibalism.

Jack says, "Seems t'be what 'e wants," because Jack's plans are just that, and not even the tension between Elizabeth's eyes can change that. Not where James is concerned.

She tilts her head to one side. "Mm."

Jack takes another slice and widens his eyes. "What?"

"You never do what you say you'll do."

"I'm a man of m'word," Jack says. "Persimmon. Lolligag. Maniacal. All good words."

"Indeed," Elizabeth says immediately before flouncing off.

Jack finishes his breakfast. Two days.

*

Jack, in a moment of less finesse than he would generally be willing to let on, asks, "Takin' out duty, what've ye got t'return to, mate?"

James' eyes are dark in the late afternoon sun and they don't flicker from the chess board on which Will has just thoroughly trounced him. Personally Jack wouldn't have imagined the boy with either the tactical skills or the patience for such a game. Then again, one of Jack's many amusements in life is underestimating Will Turner. He sees no need to stop now just because of more evidence to the contrary. "Tea. I rather miss tea."

Jack takes this in stride. "I can pinch ye tea. All the tea ye could possibly want. More 'an ye could ever dream. I've friends at the East India, y'know?"

"Mm," James hums noncommittally. "I've noticed."

"Y'don't fancy goin' back."

James leans a bit to the side, surveying the board from another angle, silent as a Protestant grave. Jack has reason to know that the ones here can be considerably less taciturn.

"Is it that y'don't fancy stayin' 'ere, either? I've weathered worse rejections." Jack holds back a wince even as the words slip past his tongue. He doesn't bed his partners on Pearl and he sure as hell doesn't give them ammunition with which to pierce the shell of his reputation.

"Logic reversal or no, Jack, the man you hauled up out of the waters and onto this boat for a bit of a morning. . .layabout, was and is British Naval Officer James Norrington. Same with the man you had up against a tree and in your bunk. A slightly battered version, I grant you, but you're being paid, rather than doing the paying, so I'm hard pressed to see how you can complain." James holds up a thoroughly unnecessary hand, as Jack has absolutely no intention of interrupting just then. "You're Captain Jack Sparrow, I know, I realize, but all the same. A bit tasteless even for you, wouldn't you reckon? Either way, the moment I stay with you is the moment I cease to be that man and then where would we be? I'd have given up tea for rum, which I don't even particularly enjoy and you'd be dropping me off at the next port. I haven't the spirit for that just now."

Jack sinks cautiously to the deck, hoping to look graceful, doubting that he does. "Yer title and the money 'ave nothing t'do with this."

"This?" James looks up from the board.

"With us findin' pleasure in each other."

"Ah."

"What would ye 'ave it be?"

"As you're the one extending an invitation to join your crew, perhaps you ought to be the one thinking that over."

"Allow me some bit of rope more lengthy 'an that which I can hang myself 'pon, Commodore," Jack bites out. "I pulled ye out of a bloody cage, would ye 'ave me stick ye back in another one?"

James blinks. "Perhaps I consider your choice of lifestyle, the constant deeds that can end in naught but the rope to be its own sort of cage."

"There're other options. Freedom is- She supports nearly a whole world, if y'can find it."

"I would still." James stops. Moves stiffly in a motion that Jack can't quite determine, a soothing of fabric ruffles, a sitting back.

"Aye?"

"Lose that which is still mine."

Jack stands. "Can't see as ye're terribly certain ye 'ave it now." Across the deck Anamaria is tying knots. Jack goes to offer her aid she doesn't need.

*

James pinions Jack up against the drawn curtains that evening, as though he can see through the heavy velvet, as though being this close makes the night tangible. He takes Jack with a degree of control and precision that Jack isn't familiar with, has never taken the time to become familiar with. Naval precision. Control.

When he's done, when Jack is just barely holding himself up by way of curtains that are protesting the strain heartily, James doesn't let go, doesn’t pull back and the illusion of control is shattered in that momentary hesitation that becomes ever so much longer than a moment. Jack stays still for as long as he can, as long as muscles too long trained into action will allow and then prays, "James."

James' hands fall free, the skin where they were cold under the onslaught of humid night air. Another inch or so backward and the two men are no longer touching, although Jack knows precisely where James is in relation to him. Knows just how much it would take to remedy the situation. Jack turns, motions to the bed.

James shakes his head. "Perhaps I'd best not."

"I'd say the. . .damage is already well done." Jack smiles his most lascivious smile.

"It is one thing, in the Navy, to partake of the pleasure of another man's company. That is. . .a necessity of the flesh, I suppose one might describe it as such. Lying in his bed, however, that is a sin, one punishable in the criminal courts, as I'm sure you well know. You've had your way. I'm as at risk for hanging as you. I'd prefer not to continue such action that brands me so."

Jack uses his only line of defense against the oncoming of the military into this man whom he has known for a very short number of days in any manner that counts. He smirks. "Say that t'my face and I'll be lettin' you sleep anywhere ye want, safe an' comfy with yer fancy ideology."

In fairness to him, James gives it a good go. He thrusts his chin up and lowers his eyes slightly so that the lids are near to closing but it's obvious he's looking at Jack with his best visage of disdain. He begins, "The actions we've been indulging in are-"

"Criminal?" Jack prompts.

James abandons his diatribe. "Is what I've done to you so unforgivable that you will leave me nothing by way of retribution?"

"There was that tryin'-t'-hang me business."

"That was hardly personal."

"Suggestin' this is?"

"I don't imagine it would be quite so much of a sin--nor half so much a risk--if it weren't. But maybe I have been mistaken in reading the situation. You are a difficult man to understand at times, Captain Sparrow." James's voice is soft in its broken dignity, the promise of command struggling against a need for rest, shelter, cessation of things at which Jack can only guess.

"Not so difficult as all that, luv."

"I can't stay."

"We both well know y'can. It's what y'will do that matters." Funny, Jack's never thought about that before, about the fact that he most likely could have walked away from Pearl. He just wasn't willing to live with the consequences. Jack waits now, to see if this man is willing.

James turns and walks to the door. Makes it all the way there. Puts his hand to the knob. Checks to make sure the locks are secure, turns back into the room and pulls himself into the bed, onto the exact same position that Jack has claimed. Jack doesn't move one muscle in protest.

*

Jack is all manner of entangled in body parts upon waking. It takes more than a moment for him to figure out where he ends and James begins. Having figured that out, he begins to slowly extract himself, hopefully without waking James.

James, however, has an obvious sixth sense that Jack is intent on inquiring after just as soon as the more mundane but pressing details of how the man plans to live his life from here on out are settled. James turns his head without moving the rest of himself, looking to the windows, which are still covered. Jack removes the rest of his limbs from their confinement and slinks across the room to remedy that fact.

Outside the sun is climbing happily, if a bit more lazily than Anamaria, into the crow's nest. Jack thinks she's got the right of it and moves to find his clothing. He knows he put it somewhere last night.

James rolls from the bunk, taking the largest covering with him to keep a cover around his waist. Jack pouts. James ignores him. James unintentionally distracts Jack from his quest for clothes by way of his unfolding his own neat pile of clothing and putting them on with a briskness and efficiency that Jack both defines by the word "commodore" and has trouble understanding in this man just at this moment.

Jack asks, "Was that always what y'wanted? Men salutin' t'ye? Callin' y'sir?" His tone has a bit of an affected lilt, a bit of jive to it, but Jack's deadly serious and if James can read that then Jack is more right about this man than he wants to be.

James buttons the top button on his shirt, obscuring a good part of his neck. "I always wanted to get beyond the walls of my mother and father's house."

For a moment Jack is back in the too-hot slums of his mother's domain. His mother who begat him of a man with higher birth than one William Turner but never climbed out of her second story window the way Elizabeth Turner did. Jack had often wanted back in those walls, where the women never jeered at him for his half-Spaniard skin and the not-quite cockney accent that his mother had brought from someplace London that she'd obviously thought worse.

The children on the street did more than jeer.

'Course Jack's mum had toughened him up, right through to when she nearly killed him with a dulled butcher's knife in the last days of the syphilis. Not a soft woman, she. Jack missed her when he let himself think on it. "The sea," he says, forcing himself not to.

"The sea," James agrees. "Nobody wanted this post. Too far from civilization."

"Is it so very far?"

"They tell me so."

"And ye?"

"It was a command. Lieutenant with promise of Captaincy."

"Nothin' so grand as Commodore in mind."

"Had I known it meant largely giving up the sea I'm sure I'd have found some way to destroy my career path."

Jack blinks. "My 'elp with the Interceptor notwithstanding?"

"My record until you was pristine."

Jack can't determine from where the bitterness in that statement derives. He steers away from issues of law and order, for once not because it benefits him. He has a letter for that. "Sea's a large place, mate."

"It's about more than freedom."

Jack doesn't say anything.

"I protect those in my care."

Jack's gaze flickers back to the window. Will is brushing Diamond, Elizabeth hanging lazily over the mare's back, directly in her husband's way. Cotton's at the stern, his back to Jack, and Joseph is attending to the sails, his eyes sweeping upward every once in a while to where Anamaria's hair plays at obeisance to the wind. "Them 'at ye protect. They return the favor?"

"Some of us-" James begins, but Jack's face whips back to where the man is standing, now fully dressed.

"Enjoy the pleasures of martyrdom?"

James' eyes narrow. He walks directly past Jack and out the cabin door, managing to avoid even the slightest hint of contact.

*

At dusk Jack is lolling about the deck, splitting his attention between Pearl and the magnificent light show the islands have seen fit to give this evening. Rarely able to stand the last few moments of sunset, either for their brightness or for the disappearance of the sun, Jack slips below deck where he finds James allowing Diamond to lick sugar cubes from his hand. Jack asks, "With what'd ye bribe young Mr. Turner?"

"The purchase of another sword."

Jack has seen James's hand steal to his side not in a motion of defensiveness but more of a man looking for assurance, more than once over the length of their journey. "Ye'd've ordered one all the same."

"It would be most appreciated if you could forego mentioning that to him."

"The lad knows. 'E's not half so feeble as 'e looks, 'at one." Which has been more the pity for Jack several times over.

"I thought perhaps the fact that he pities me could go unspoken between us. I see that I was mistaken. My fault."

Jack's jaw burns from a reflexive tension that he doesn't remember having until recently. "James-"

"You were right, of course. Seems that you often are when it comes down to it being between the two of us. Right and in the right place and next to the right people. I could possibly fit a few surplus examples in there, but if you haven't the wit to tease my meaning out then I don't think it will matter."

"'Leastways ye've found yer Naval vocabulary. Was it down 'ere in the hold?"

"You're the one person in the world that I've the ability to be disgraceful while in his presence. Indulge me."

That brings Jack up short. "Ye were sayin' something t'the effect of my bein' right, I do believe?"

"I do need my job, my purpose, to be something more than the honoring of my own desires."

"Somethin' more is one thing."

"You suggest, however, that my role in the Navy is something entirely apart from that, I presume?"

"I presume it's past time as ye were t'be makin' yer own presumptions."

"My brother died last year."

"Deepest condolences," Jack allows, rolling with the change of subjects, as James has proven himself not to be a terribly tangential man.

"Without heirs."

"Eunuch?" The word falls off of Jack's tongue before he has the chance to catch it.

Luckily, James takes no offense. "Couldn't say. We weren't terribly close."

"An' yet despite this lack of familial ties, 'e's left ye quite wealthy?"

James's smile is a flash of teeth in the ever-darkening hold. "Once a pirate."

"Always," Jack confirms. "And 'avin' no wife, ye've nearly anythin' t'do with this tidy little stash o' yers."

"Nearly anything," James says the words without tone, without any inflection as to just how promising they are.

Somehow, Jack knows better. "Ye've a day to think."

"No, it's back to the Port first. I'll not start out a new life by merely shirking the duty of the old. It would be-"

"Liberatin'?"

"I was going to say pointless."

Jack leans back against the wall of the hold. "Found yerself, 'ave ye?"

"No," James's voice comes nearer. "No. But someone. I've found someone." The voice is in Jack's ear.

*

Jack's in the nest with Elizabeth when the Port comes into plain's-eye view. She says, with neither inflection nor tone, "Home."

Keeping most of what the word brings to mind locked inside his head, Jack says, "Yer father's waitin', I'll warrant. By the window."

"He won't like my hair."

"Don't like mine either an' we get along all right."

Elizabeth looks sideways at him. "If by all right you encompass his having tried to hang you."

Jack whirls a hand. "All in th'past, m'dear."

"And you walked away."

Jack takes the same hand that has just stopped whirling and uses it to turn her face to his. "Ye shall too, 'Lizbeth."

"We've no Pearl waiting for us."

Unaccountably, Jack feels as though he's been slapped. Without good purpose. "She sailed 'alfway 'round these Islands for t'find yerself."

"If you think I've no idea of what my father paid, Jack Sparrow-"

"Yer father's not 'alf so pretty as y'are."

"If I didn't know better, I would think you were asking me to trust you."

"Lucky for both of us that y'do."

"Yes," Elizabeth says slowly. "Lucky."

"I'll jus' be-" Jack swings himself out of the nest and onto the rope allowing for his descent. He's two rungs down when her hand catches the one wrist of his still within reaching limits.

"Thank you."

"Ye've an idea of what the goin' price was, I do believe."

She doesn't say, "not for the rescue," or, "for the more current offer," or even, "impossible man." She doesn't say anything.

Jack nods. "'S'long way down. Fancy gettin' yerself pulled?"

She lets go of his hand.

*

James helps with the docking procedures, as at ease with each of the manual tasks as though he's been practicing every one of the long years that he's held commands which "privileged" him with the right to avoid such things. He disappears then, back inside Pearl. Jack finds this interesting, as the man has no personal items on board, nothing to gather and carry off the ship.

Jack locates James in his bunk, the curtains drawn so that only one daring enough to enter would know. Jack is, among other things, rather daring. He says, "Guv'ner's waitin' at the plank along with some mighty purdy Naval pups and everyone's hidin'. Some message I could relay? A point on personal hygiene, perhaps?"

James turns briskly to face Jack. "The Turners are hiding?"

"In Pearl's belly, with me other jewel, Diamond."

"Of course." James draws himself up even more stiffly than his carriage of a moment ago and Jack is afraid that should he brush by anything, one of the many trinkets that Jack has littered his space with, Jack's sun-and-wind roughened jacket, that the man will shatter. James manages to nod resolutely without his head breaking off, though, and say, "Right. I'm most likely failing in my duty by not offering an escort-"

"They can make it from the ship t'the bloody dock without ye holdin' their hands, James." Jack doesn't bother drowning his annoyance in charm or faux-effeteness. His days are up.

"I'm capable as well, but here you are."

"Ye make it hard for a man t'decide if ye're jus' stupid with enough polish t'cover it stunningly, or scared out of yer disgustingly well-trained wits."

James doesn't even give Jack the pleasure of a blink. "Perhaps it is both. If you'll excuse me?"

Jack thinks about playing that card, about standing in the man's way, forcing James to set his fingers to Jack and move him by way of raw touch. In the end, though, that option feels no better than tying James to the bed with ropes that will wear at his skin and pretending that the choice to stay is the bleeding man's. Jack steps out of the way. James tears past him in that contained way that Jack has only ever seen one man manage.

As the door is opening, as James is losing his ability to turn away from the things he knows, the things he fears, Jack opens his mouth to say, "Pleasure sailin' with ye, Commodore," and finds James pouring the words, "The pleasure was completely mine, I assure you, Sparrow," back into the cabin.

When Jack's opened his eyes from squeezing them shut against words that aren't visible in the first place, he lopes up to the deck and watches from the railing as Elizabeth and Will and James are received into the arms of a world that no longer has anything but customary politic greetings to give them.

*

"Interestin' time to be pickin' up a habit o' compassion, Jack." Anamaria makes the observation as though she's questioning something she read on a port manifesto. Anamaria can't read though, not words. She's all too good at reading the rest.

"The whelp an' 'is girl did save me neck a fine stretchin'," Jack points out. He's not terribly interested in discussing his choice to wait a bit before going into the governmental center of Port Royal looking for the rest of his reward. He's not terribly sure he has anything to say about the decision.

"Though t'was her father who thought t'see ye there in the first place."

"'Imself an' the Commodore." Jack isn't sure if he's reminding her or himself. Either way, it probably needs saying.

"Mm, and now one's paying ye and the other's. . ."

With a silent curse, Jack realizes he's walked into a trap of Anamaria's devising without even noticing that she was laying it in the first place. "I'm t'The Crooked Billet. Joinin'?"

Anamaria smirks. "Maybe later. When ye're drunk 'nough t'appreciate me company."

Jack doesn't insist as he normally would. Nor does he search out Joseph, who will no doubt smirk in that very same manner. Well, perhaps not. Joseph is amazingly discreet for a man who lives on a ship with others nearly all the days of the year. He doesn't even think to find Gibbs or Ben, just heads off to the pub most charitable to visitors of the less distinguished sort on Port Royal's shores.

It doesn’t take him very long to find what he's after once he's there. No sooner has he settled himself at a table, slumped back into the chair in what The Code deems The Stance of Ownership, does a pretty-enough young barmaid come up to him, lean over the table just enough to accomplish a little advertising, and say, "C'n I get y'somethin' t'drink, sir?"

"Rum," Jack says, with a peremptory sweep of his eyes that lets it be known what he's thinking about having with his rum. Later, of course.

Thankfully, she doesn't giggle. Jack appreciates girlish laughter as much as the next man, more if the next man is Joseph, who doesn't seem terribly impressed by that sort of thing. Tonight, though, it's not what he wants to hear. She flicks an appreciative smile at him and glides off, "Rum, then."

When she brings it back it's actually decent and Jack figures he should offer to bed more of the serving girls at this place. The usual is a watered down monstrosity that Jack can generally only force himself to drink one or two of, his loyalty to true rum overcoming his desire for the pleasant haze that will accompany anything with fermentation so long as he drinks enough of it.

Jack stops ordering after the second one, because the girl, "Bets is me name," gets the idea and just keeps bringing them, requested or no. Jack is just fine with that sort of initiative, particularly as it is a precursor to her coming and getting him when she's ready.

Jack's well past ready. There's been a group of Navy boys slumming it in the far right corner of the Billet and Jack hasn't been watching them, certainly, why would he watch them, he has a Letter of Marque, does he not? Still, when Bets lets the laces of dress go and Jack cups his hands around a breast that he appreciates on an aesthetic level, he's more ready than this moment in the proceedings would suggest as appropriate. He's hardly a lad of fourteen.

Bets doesn't seem to notice, or if she does, it's merely in a grateful manner, as Jack makes everything quick and hard and when he slides in that first time Bets brings her hand to her mouth and bites on the tender part of the palm, the only tender part of the whole hand, to stop her scream from going anywhere that isn't between the two of them. When she lets go her teeth there's skin parted from the whole on her hand and she moans, "'Arder."

Jack doesn’t ask if she's sure.

*

Bets, accommodating girl that she is, gives Jack a lovely blowjob upon waking. Jack throws his head back and keeps his eyes open for fear of what he will see if he closes them.

She leaves off with a kiss and a wink and no words. Jack would appreciate talking, her silence opens spaces he has no desire to step into.

Then she's gone and Jack has no reason at all not to head to the Governor's house. No reason not to pick up his swag, get back to his ship, be on his merry way. No reason. He pulls on his trousers, buttons up his boots good an' proper, and takes a stroll the long way around the Port. It can be a pretty town, after all. If one looks hard.

Ever so coincidentally, Jack's morning walk-about brings him to the front of young William's new smithy. Jack steps inside, wondering if maybe he ought to commission something. Sword like that could take a week, easy. . .

"Jack?"

"Captain Sparrow, if you please," Jack says from reflex before he remembers that the only person he's likely to be talking to in this shop is Will.

Who rolls his eyes at the eminently respectable pirate. "What's your business, Jack?"

"Bloody youngsters. Haven't yer elders taught ye nothin' better'an t'treat yer customers with respect?"

"Customer?" Will lifts an eyebrow.

"Ye think I wouldn't like me a Turner sword?"

"Everybody wants a Turner sword. Even those who whisper outside my door that I've been sodomized by the very devil and am currently impregnating my wanton whore of a wife with his seed, begotten to me through my arse."

Jack is careful not to wince at this careful recitation of charges. "Ye've only been back a day and that's what they've already imagined up? Busy little town, yer Port is." Not so terribly different from any other, at that. Jack doesn't have anything better to say. Except, "Then why shouldn't I want meself one as well, savvy?"

"He's already ordered one, commissioned before we were even off Pearl, and as I haven't yet started the work, I find it highly unlikely that you'll accidentally run into each other at this locale. Just on the chance that hits upon your purpose of being here."

"I really do want a sword," Jack says brightly. "Your father-in-law's well providin' the means, if that's what's keepin' ye."

Will exhales slowly. "What type of sword?"

"Strong but light, small, tricky, pretty but not fancy."

"I have orders ahead of you."

"Haven't got any 'mmediate business elsewheres. 'Ow long, ye suppose?"

"At least-" Will stops himself. "Oh. Two, three weeks, probably. Enough time for you to sail and come back. I'll keep it for you, of course. That I owe you."

For the first time in Jack's memory, the feel of someone else's debt to him is sticky, slimy, something that he wants to flee from and yet can't. "Think I'll stay any'ow. Close at least. There's things t'be done 'round these parts."

"You and your letter. A sure plan to drive the poor boys up at the fort completely crazy."

Jack smiles, his first real smile in days. Two. "Don't know what ye're talkin' 'bout, Will."

"And I don't know why you're staying." Will smiles back, his being more tight, structured. He thumbs through the very few swords laying around, mostly display models. He picks one out and tosses it at Jack. "Fancy playing at pirates and Very Young Blacksmiths With Moral Prerogatives?"

"C'n I be the pirate?" Jack asks.

Will strikes the first blow.

*

Jack loses four members of his crew to a nearby merchant vessel when he announces his intention to stick around a bit. Jack pities the poor merchant, but otherwise isn't much moved by this happenstance. Anamaria is staying--largely, Jack assumes--because she has caught on to the fact that she has near free reign to mock Jack and is hardly likely to pass on such a chance. Joseph stays because Anamaria's caught him well an' good. Jack's nearly envious. Were he to say so aloud, he would emphasize the nearly.

Ben stays because Ben enjoys land every bit as much as he enjoys water and is ambivalent as to which he'd rather be on at any given time. Also, there is something about a fisherman's daughter that Ben admits to in the throws of rum-induced ecstasy. To which Jack cautions, "'M not gettin' ye outta the muck should 'er father come after yerself."

Ben just grins his too-young-for-his-own-good Young Man's grin. And drinks some more rum.

Gibbs and Cotton stay because Gibbs and Cotton love Pearl with a devotion that comes close to matching Jack's and of all the reasons to stay, theirs is the one Jack appreciates the most; particularly as he senses the underlying thread of loyalty to Jack himself embedded in the justification.

The necessity of leaving thrown off for a bit, Jack goes up to the Governor's mansion that second day, strolls in and waits to be announced. Jack doesn't really need announcing so far as he's concerned, but there's something just a little grandiose in the tradition, and Jack appreciates the grandiose.

The Governor is even thinner than when Jack last saw him, although much more neatly attired. His bearing is regal, and Jack stands a bit to the side, just in case the buttons on the man's coat should burst in protest of the man's rigidly held breast. Jack, feeling like he can afford to be polite given what he's about to receive, bows in his most overdone fashion. "Guv'nor Swann."

When he comes back up to meet the man's eyes, he's smiling. "Captain Sparrow."

Jack, for some reason that he has no interest in pursuing, doesn't feel up to being made a hero. "There's the matter of-"

"Yes, of course. I thought it best if I had some men bring it to your ship? Later in the day, perhaps?"

"I'm headin' 'er way once I take m'leave." She's usually the first thing Jack attends to once docked in any port. He's been appallingly remiss, something he sees fit to remedy come this afternoon.

"They can follow you back then. I suppose that will meet your needs?"

"Swimmin'ly." Jack smiles the most charming smile he knows.

Either the smile or the situation causes the Governor to stutter. Jack wouldn't put it past either. "Would you- I mean, that is. Well. I'm having a dinner party this evening."

"Don't clean up very nicely."

"Elizabeth tells me differently."

Jack catches himself before letting the "interfering minx" that really wants to slip past his lips go. "No doubt some sort of gratitude on 'er part."

"All the same, it really would oblige me should you join us. My- William says you'll not be leaving any time in the immediate future and the both of them would be overjoyed."

Jack has an overwhelming sense of déjà vu as he inclines his head. It should be impossible, he knows, to still owe the Turners anything and yet, somehow, with this man that Elizabeth cares so very much for smiling like it is a lost art here in front of Jack's eyes, Jack can do nothing but ask, "Seven?"

*

In hindsight, Jack realizes, he most like should have asked what the technical definition for the term "us" was. Jack has a deep and meaningful acquaintance with the fluidity of words and is generally careful to chase at them until they sit still beneath his feet and behave as he wishes them to. Evidently, he's been preoccupied of late.

We, as it turns out, includes a certain Commodore James Norrington. Who, to Jack's mild pleasure, looks equally chagrined at his own lack of pursuit of the full situation.

There's no rum on offer, but there's brandy aplenty, and Jack intends full well to keep it flowing. James, unsurprisingly, will not touch the stuff and Jack wants to say, "Whoever yer father was, 'e weren't ye," but James walked off his ship without so much as a, "Perhaps we shall see each other. On these waters," and for all his flexibility, Jack knows his own breaking points. Has seen them once or twice more than he's cared to. Twice or three times more than he will most likely ever admit.

Elizabeth looks resplendent and shuttered in a dress that Jack would put money on being new, on having waited for her day after day as she didn't come back in the hopes that it would one day know the sensation of sliding over skin. The Governor can't keep his eyes from flitting to her, watching her move in ways that she never used to, more contained, more edgy, more subdued, more prickly. Jack takes her hand and kisses it rather inappropriately on the soft underside where palm meets thumb. She takes her hand back not so quickly as she should.

When the hand is free, Will takes it, eyes Jack. "Funny thing about swords. The worst ones always look the sturdiest. Until a fight, that is. Truth always comes out at the most disastrous of times."

Jack takes the hint. The one he chooses to take, rather. He discards the other one. The boy hasn’t the slightest clue of what he speaks, Jack is sure. Nevermind that Elizabeth stands with her shoulder to his, that her eyes speak an old language whenever he's near. Women are different creatures, and Jack surely compliments Will on his ability to meld to Elizabeth's needs, to have her respond to his, but blood-of-a-pirate or no, they are land creatures most days, land creatures with land ways. Neither Jack nor James is either, and the rules are not merely different, they are nearly abject from the point of view of those who do not live them.

The brandy is burning in Jack's throat, that spot that it should tickle at and pass. James has been safely commandeered by the Governor and Jack slips onto the terrace despite the fact of the dining room being quite adequately cooled by the night breezes wafting through the space. He can see Pearl from the verandah, would be able to feel her even if he couldn't.

In the second that it occurs to him that he can feel James behind him, obviously no longer being held hostage by polite pre-dinner conversation, Jack wonders what it means that this man calls to him like his ship, cruel and welcoming, indifferent and passionate, part and parcel of Jack's desire for life. Jack says, "Somethin' more ye thought of t'say, Commodore?"

James does not move closer. "There's been a commission-" and then, "I can't say it with you calling me that."

"'Tis yer title, is it not? Or did they take that, as ye feared?" Jack winces at his own cruelty. There's no dignity in attacking the forsaken, and Jack may not care a great deal for dignity, but he recognizes its occasional importance.

"I requested demotion."

Jack rests the brandy on the railing so as not to drop it. "Not very ambitious of ye."

"Jack."

Jack relents. He doesn’t want to, thinks he'll regret it, but this man is asking him, asking him with words that only Jack can hear, and like the call of the water under Pearl, of her unfurled sails in the black of night, he answers. "James."

"The Navy is intent on knowing Spain's secrets. The movement of her ships, her contacts on the islands, other issues of import."

"Commodores en't spies, now are they?"

"Duty and freedom." James breathes the words like pure oxygen. They sound like kisses, although Jack has no idea why they should. James tells him though. "I- I informed the Navy that I could find my own ship to work off of, a ship from which no Spaniard in his right mind would suspect the British Navy to be spying."

Jack doesn't say anything, don't turn around. He can't, the words haven't formed themselves into a semblance of sense yet, and he's afraid that if he says something it will come out in gibberish and James will walk away. Jack isn't ready to do that a second time. He's not sure when he will be ready.

James says hesitantly, "Of course if you refuse there are other options. I have, like I said, quite a personal fortune-"

"James."

"Jack."

"They're prob'ly waitin' for us, don't ye imagine?"

"Waiting?"

"Dinner. Food at a table, pleasant company, I realize it's been sometime away from the whirlwind of society that ye're used to, but I hardly think I should have to-"

"Punish me by saying no, Jack. Not by making me sit at that table and having to be polite while I wonder what judgment you shall bring down on me."

Jack walks to him then, brings his lips so near that they should be kissing. Should be doesn't mean they are. "I should tell ye no just fer believin' I would."

He walks into the dining room without touching James, without looking back. Elizabeth asks, "Have you lost James?"

Jack smiles his most merry-fool smile. "'E's lost 'imself, luv. 'E'll be in so soon as 'e finds it."

*

Will doesn't play around with Jack's blade upon giving it over, just says, "Made to your order," with a quick slide in and out of the scabbard before handing it to Jack, blade-side first. Jack can feel the sword even beneath the sheathing. It feels like the grain of Pearl's wheel, the hair of Diamond's tail, the lines of James' palms. His. Too powerful to be his. His alone.

Jack promises Will to be careful with it in words that aren't meant to reassure and that Jack senses somehow do all the same. Jack has been on land for weeks now, though, and there isn't time for regret, not when the waves are pulling at him as surely as they are the sand.

"My best to 'Lizbeth." Jack tips his hat. Will bows. Jack gets himself out of the shop, striding with each step further from where conventions mean anything into the arms of his ship and nearly those of Anamaria, who is seeing to all the last-minute preparations of leave taking.

She peers down at Jack's waist. "That's what we were all waiting for, eh?"

"Ye'll know why the first time we find ourselves in a bit of a scrape, m'dear."

Anamaria scowls. "Such as the one y'plan on 'avin' wit' the stowaway in yer cabin?"

Jack has to keep his feet on the ground, where they are. They want to prance. They want to run to his cabin. Somehow, despite the fact that James made it patently clear that he would be joining Pearl come her point of departure, Jack's feet were evidently unconvinced. Jack suspects this might hearken back to the reactions of his brain, but it's far easier to blame things on his feet. Their feelings aren't injured quite so effortlessly. "Now, now Ana. 'At's part of our crew ye're making insinuations toward."

"Part of our crew." For a large man, Joseph's movements are often deceptively quiet.

"Of sorts," Jack hedges.

Anamaria's eyes harden. Joseph's biceps tighten. Jack is immune to neither. "We're escortin' 'im, ye might say. And nones are t'know he en't part of our crew. Nor 'is name, possibly, but we'll be workin' at those details soon 'nough, I'magine."

"I don’t 'ave words for the foolishness 'at is ye, Jack Sparrow. An' if I 'ad any sense t'all-"

"If any of us finished the sentence the way I imagine you plan to, none of us would be on this ship, beautiful as she may be." James's voice cuts through Jack from behind him and Jack finds it impossible to turn, aware that if he does he shall do something unforgivable, such as smile at the man, make it clear how very glad he is to hear his pretentious, un-lilting speech.

Instead he says, "'At cultured tone of yers'll never do, Commodore."

"Lieutenant. But I would prefer-"

Jack turns to him, interrupts, "And ye most certainly can't roam the places we're t'go lookin' so well groomed."

"I'm certain you'll be more than pleased to destroy what's left of who I am in due time once this ship has made sea."

"Destroy ye, is it?" Jack asks softly, mockingly. He hears footsteps behind him, but he can't be bothered to see whether they indicate Anamaria and Joseph's leaving, or others coming.

James says, "Can you think of another name for it, Captain?"

Jack has a sudden memory of the first time he ever touched gold, his surprise at the way it bent beneath his fingers, his momentary fear that he had broken something so valuable, so luminous. "Reshape," Jack answers, "I plan t'reshape ye."


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile