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Bitterly Ever After

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Prologue: Stella Morae

Stella Bell was a witch and a bastard, and she knew it. When people called her a bastard, or a witch, it didn't bother her too terribly much—she was a bastard, and she was a witch. No sense getting vexed about the truth, her mother had always said.

So whenever some resentful person flung those epithets at her, Stella would smile... and then fling back a retort carefully crafted to drive the proverbial knife into whomever it was calling her names. Depending on the circumstances and her mood at the time, she might even fling a hex as well. Though "witch" and "bastard" didn’t bother her as far as name-calling went, she didn’t want to let people think they could get away with insulting her.

She was the latest in a long line of bastard witches, so she'd had her whole life to get accustomed to the idea and learn how to let the insults slide. Her mother, Eleanor Abernathy, was born out of wedlock, as was her grandmother, Esmerelda Laroche, and her great-grandmother, Isabella García Rodriguez. Isabella’s half-gypsy mother, Mirela (also illegitimate), had been the first to set out to the Caribbean after nearly being burned as a witch and a heretic by the Inquisition in Spain. But she escaped, and came to the Caribbean, and there her descendants remained.

In the proceeding generations, the line of Mirela o Washosko García began to grow in knowledge and power. Her daughter, Isabella started a grimoire that was augmented by charms, spells, potions, and remedies from all manner of witches, voodoo priestesses, and even some genuine doctors and midwives. This cache of knowledge passed down from daughter to daughter, each adding to the book. The book was what mattered—the book and the magic. These would get them respect in a world that scorned them as disrespectable. These would help them survive.

The men in their lives, after all, certainly wouldn’t help. Either Mirela's descendants had horrible taste in men, or there was some credence to the rumours of a curse. Whatever it was, Mirela, Isabella, Esmerelda, and Eleanor gave their lives, their hearts, and their bodies to men who gave them very little in return. Mirela, Isabella, Esmerelda, and Eleanor all eventually found themselves alone, relying on their wits and their powers and the history behind them to endure in a world that would all too easily see them crushed under the relentless march of the respectable and the rational and their thrice-cursed standards.

But they endured. Sometimes they even managed to thrive.

Stella Bell, however, was pretty sure she was not thriving.

Perhaps her ancestors had stored up a reserve of anger and bitterness at the world and Stella was the lucky recipient. Perhaps the stain and consequences of witchcraft and bastardy were catching up to them, and Stella was the one who tripped when fleeing. Perhaps her standards were just a smidgen too high. Or perhaps she was just naturally a sour, shrewish, dissatisfied little bitch. Whatever it was, Stella really did not understand how anyone who lived there on a permanent basis could possibly thrive in a place like Tortuga. And she had dwelt in Tortuga for the better part of nine years.

As each year passed, she grew to loathe the place just a little bit more. Loathed the mud that was equal parts dirt, water, spilled liquor, and other substances she didn’t care to think on. Loathed the stench of rum, and sweat, and too many unwashed people. Loathed the dull roar of drunken voices, shattering glass, splintered wood. Loathed the barbarity and anarchy that didn’t even take the trouble to hide itself.

As each year passed, it grew just a little bit more difficult to take solace in those things about Tortuga she did like. Grew just a bit bitterer to remind herself that she had nowhere else to go, and had to stay out of necessity. Grew just slightly harsher to be completely alone, save for when those few she could tolerate gracefully came to visit.

But she stayed. Stella stayed on that island, and waited. Waited, and listened to the faint promises of a better life that came on the wind and through the water. A better life was coming, if she would be patient and wait for it to arrive. If the spider would just wait on her web a little bit longer, soon the winds of fate would bring her a tasty fly.

So Stella held fast to that promise, and waited.

Chapter Text

Chapter 1: Stella Salutationis


 Though her foresight wasn’t as strong as some, Stella could still feel the anticipation quivering in the air. Change was coming; change for enough Important people that the indescribable something that wafted around her head was nearly vibrating with expectation, sharpening all her senses, mystical or not.

Thus, she wasn’t surprised when a knock sounded on her door. Nor was she surprised when she opened the door to reveal a familiar face.

What surprised her was the unfamiliar face, and what his presence portended.


 "Take what you can!"

"Give nothing back!"

With that, the two men toasted, bashing their tankards together and then drinking deep. They did this several times.

Finally, one of them stood purposefully. He raised his be-ringed left hand and settled a worn brown tri-corn hat onto his head. The flickering yellow light of the tavern danced across his handsome face and glinted against the trinkets woven into his dark hair.

The dramatic value of this whole pose was ruined by the slight sway in his posture.

"And now, to business!" he announced firmly, slamming the now-empty tankard down onto the rickety table.

His drinking partner—and older, stockier man with greying mutton-chops—gave a firm nod that wavered only slightly, and they both staggered out of the alcove they'd been drinking in.

"Whelp!" called the first man, beckoning to a slender young man standing awkwardly against the wall. "I've an errand to be running on the edges of town. Come along... unless you fancy staying here with the lovely company." This latter declaration was turned with a decided air of mockery, given the young man's stiff posture and the obvious way he was trying not to touch anyone else in the room.

Confident his companion would follow when he left, he turned his attention, slightly inebriated though it was, onto the man with the mutton-chops. "Gibbs, assemble the crew on the west docks by midday tomorrow, and we'll all off to fetch back my ship."

"Aye, Cap'n Sparrow," Gibbs said stoutly, and made his meandering, slightly-drunken way out of the tavern.

"Come along, whelp," Jack Sparrow commanded, as he sashayed confidently out into the streets, neatly ducking drunks and whores alike (though he took the time to leer cheerfully at the latter).

"I have a name, you know," Will Turner pointed out unhappily.

Jack Sparrow ignored that, and made a reasonably straight beeline out of the town.

"Where are we going?" Will finally thought to ask as they left the lanterns behind and ventured onto a narrow path, beginning to be overgrown with vines and palm fronds. The waning moon cast ghostly blue shadows onto the landscape, and the raucous sounds of the port nightlife became a little less grating as the quiet of the jungle night became more prominent. Will breathed a sigh of relief, glad to be out of cluster of buildings, full of stench and sound and people who got far too close. Even if it was slightly creepy out here, at least there were no whores rubbing up against him, no liquor being spilled on his boots, and no punches being thrown at his head.

The eeriness, however, increased substantially when Jack replied nonchalantly, "The graveyard."

Will nearly stopped dead; it seemed his relief to be out of the town was a little premature. "The graveyard?" he repeated incredulously. "What possible need could you have to visit a graveyard at this time of night?"

"Need to have a word with to Black Stella."

"Black Stellaaaaahhhhgggh!"  The unfortunate addition to Stella's name was the consequence of Will Turner walking into the edge of a spider's web, which sent the massive spider sitting on the web careening towards his face. Will quickly skittered to the other side of the path as the spider vanished into the darkness of the trees. As his heartbeat slowed, Will hurried to catch up with Jack, who had continued his progress down the overgrown path, heedless of all else. "Who's Black Stella, and why on earth does she live in a graveyard?"

"Black Stella happens to be a witch, and she lives in a graveyard because she's a witch, and witches love to make their homes in places that send shivers up the spines of them who come to seek their witchy services," Jack replied cheerfully, neatly dodging overhanging branches and spider webs alike.

Will nearly stopped dead in his tracks. "We're going to see a witch?"

"Aye!"

"What for?" Will demanded incredulously, picking up his pace as Jack continued on and left him alone in the dark.

Jack glanced over his shoulder at his younger companion, who was scampering after him. "Are you always this... chatty... when you're nervous?"

Will scowled at him. "I've just been told I'm being taken to see a witch who lives in a graveyard after 'commandeering' a ship from the British navy to save Elizabeth who has been kidnapped by cursed pirates. Please forgive me if I'm a little off-centre," he snapped back. The sarcasm absolutely dripped from his words; if he'd had a bucket, he probably could've collected it.

A smoky chuckle was the reply, followed by, "Good. Stella likes 'em scared."

Not sure how to respond to that, Will fell silent. As they went deeper into the jungle, the sounds of the town faded into the night. The babble of shouts and song were replaced with the rustle of plants and the calls of birds. The only illumination was the sharp, pale light of the moon. Will skittered along behind Jack, hovering even closer to the pirate captain as they emerged from the path into a clearing littered with headstones.

Jack didn't even pause, and continued his slightly weaving trajectory across the graveyard, seemingly unfazed about the fact that he was, in fact, trodding on the final resting ground of at least a hundred Tortugans. Will hesitated. Then the roar of some nocturnal animal echoed through the jungle, and he quickly rushed to join Jack.

Soon a sliver of yellow light became visible on the other side of the burial ground, between wide, serrated leaves and around the slender trunks of trees. As Will and Jack got closer, the light resolved itself into a square, and Will could see the faint outline of a small, squat house, lurking near the edge of the graveyard.

About five metres from the house, on the very fringe of the cemetery, Jack abruptly stopped. Will, not anticipating this, careened into the back of the pirate, and then staggered back into a tombstone, which he immediately cringed away from.

"Now, there are few guidelines one should always follow when visiting Black Stella," the pirate began, whirling to face Will, who was compulsively brushing moss and cobwebs off his back. "First of all, mind your manners. No touching her, no belching in her face, no boots on her table, no spilling rum on her floor, no filching her little trinkets..."

As the list went on, Will wondered how much of this was for him, and how much was a review for Jack's own benefit.

"Secondly," Sparrow continued, once he'd finished an extensive list of things he was not to do in Stella's house, "do not call Black Stella a witch, or mention her witchery, or insinuate that what she might happen to be practising could maybe possibly be classified as witchcraft. Nor are you to call attention to her illegitimate origins, hint that she is anything less than virgin-pure, proposition her, or say she's ugly. In fact, just tell her what you need, pay her, and leave." Jack winced. "Always pay her."

There was a rueful note of remembered pain in that last bit, and Will quirked a curious eyebrow. "What happens if you don't pay her?"

Jack leaned closer, weaving in and out of Will's personal space. The pale moonlight illuminated his tanned, unwashed features and cast stark shadows on his face. The amber glow spilling out of the house in the trees filtered through the leaves, threw slashes of light onto the left side of Jack's face, glinted on the charms in his hair, and reflected in his dark eyes. Like two smouldering coals in the dark, Jack's eyes burned into Will's as he lowered his voice and said, very seriously, "If you do not provide payment to Black Stella, she'll curse your very bollocks off."

Some scepticism must have showed on Will's face, for Jack's eyes got even wider, and he leaned in even closer, bringing with him a... unique... fragrance of salt, sweat, unwashed man, and rum. "I speak the truth, my young friend. The hexes of that viper-woman could put the fear of God into the Devil himself," he whispered. "Now, a moment of silence for Ned Murphy's bollocks." And he removed his hat and placed it over his heart.

Will wasn't sure if he believed the pirate, especially when, after a moment of still silence, Jack set his hat firmly back on his head, whirled around, beads and hair flying behind him, and continued his drunken swagger towards the house, stepping carelessly over the low stone wall of the graveyard. The moment of solemnity had passed like an afternoon thunderstorm, leaving little memory behind.

Nevertheless, he had heard actual fear in Sparrow's voice—fear from a man who could face Norrington's navy, the hangman's noose, and upset women without batting an eye. Yet Jack Sparrow seemed to be afraid of this Black Stella.

It was something to ponder, Will decided, hurrying to catch up with Jack as he approached the house.

He slowed to a halt behind the pirate as Jack knocked twice upon the knotty wooden door, and hung back, peering around Jack's shoulders as the door swung open.

Will was expecting to see something that matched the description of evil witches from childhood fairy-tales. He was expecting a bent old crone, wrinkled and deformed, perhaps with a wart on her hooked nose and a black cat twining around her feet. He was expecting coarse, tangled grey hair and eyes that would gleam with malice and magic, all garbed in rough black cloth. Maybe the skull of a small animal hanging around her neck and a knobbly wooden staff.

He was sorely disappointed.

The person who opened the door was a slender girl. Between the pale moonlight and the light of the candles inside the house, the girl was cast mostly in shadow, rendering it difficult to make out her appearance. From what he could tell, she was not much older than he was, and several hand-spans shorter. There were no obvious defects about her; no warts, no wrinkles, no hooked nose. She wasn't even wearing black—her gown was a faded greenish-yellow—and instead of animal bones around her neck, there was a string of tiny silver bells.

As a matter of fact, there was very little black about Black Stella. All Will could see was her long, sleek hair, darker than the ebony he'd once seen a Port Royal merchant bring from Africa.

Stella smiled. Will could see her lips curl upwards in the reflection of the cold moonbeams that shone down on her dress. "Good evening, Mr. Sparrow."

Will was surprised to see Jack remove his hat and deliver an approximation of a courtly bow. He was not, however, surprised when Jack returned, "That’s Captain Sparrow, love," with a smirk on his lips that Will could just hear.

Stella permitted a dry chuckle to pass her lips, and then she turned her face toward Will. Something about him must have startled or surprised her, since the younger Turner was fairly sure he didn't imagine the quick intake of breath on Stella's part. Then she stepped forward into the moonlight, turning her face upward to look him in the eye. "And who is this?" she breathed, nearly purring.

Suddenly, Will wasn't so disappointed.

The only things blacker than Stella's hair were her piercing black eyes, and they did indeed glimmer with something that made Will feel shivery and chilled. The moonbeams painted her in a strange, ghostly palette; her black hair and eyes seemed to swallow the light, whereas her white skin seemed to glow. Seeing her thusly, with her eyes devouring him and an eager, hungry smile playing around her thin lips, Will could easily believe this was a woman who would curse away the testicles any man who vexed her.

Recalling Jack's earlier admonition to be polite, Will fumbled for his manners, but realised that he had no idea how to address the woman in front of him. He couldn't very well reply, "My name is William Turner, and it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Black Stella."

The corners of Stella's lips quirked. "Bell," she said.

Will was confused, and looked over to Jack for assistance. The pirate just shrugged. He turned back to Stella. "I beg your pardon?"

"Bell. My surname is Bell."

Had she read his mind? Or was she just amazingly perceptive? "It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Bell. I am called William Turner, if it please you," he replied, falling back on etiquette.

Stella's dark eyes narrowed slightly. "Bill's son," she murmured, casting her eyes over to Jack, who nodded. That faint smile made a reappearance, and Will felt goosebumps raise on his arms. Something about that smile bothered him.

"I had wondered what a man such you would be doing with a man such as Jack Sparrow," Stella remarked, returning her gaze to Will and ignoring Jack's sulky protest of, "Captain Jack Sparrow." Then she nodded once, and stepped back, beckoning Jack and Will inside.

The interior of Stella's house was tidy, illuminated by a fire in a low fireplace and what must have been a hundred candles. The walls were lined with mouldering books; bunches of herbs and hanks of knotted yarn hung from the ceiling. There was a rickety table in the centre of the room with three chairs around it and an earthenware pitcher on top.

"Please, sit," Stella bid coolly, shutting the door behind them.

Jack sat down in one of the chairs, looking vaguely uncomfortable. Will followed suit. A tense silence descended, the only sounds the crackle of the wood in the fire and the soft swish of Stella's skirts.

Three cups were placed on the table, and Stella quietly poured what turned out to be cool water steeped with herbs Will didn't recognise into them, before seating herself primly in remaining chair fixing her eyes on him. Another humourless smile lurked in the corners of her mouth. "What brings you to my humble abode?"

"I need a wind," Jack replied swiftly, taking a swig of the water and setting the cup gingerly back on the table. "A strong wind. Tomorrow, when the tide comes in, for as long as you can turn it my way."

"What direction?" Stella inquired, still keeping her gaze pinned on Will, who was trying heartily not to fidget.

"Sort of south-west," Jack replied, after a quick peek at the compass in his pocket. Will didn't know what he was checking that for—the compass didn't work.

"To what purpose?"

"I'm going after her."

Stella finally stopped staring at Will, and turned her disconcerting gaze to Jack. He matched her, black on black. After a moment, the witch smiled. "You might even succeed this time."

"Good to have your vote of confidence," Jack said, grinning obliviously.

"However, there's a storm brewing down in that direction, which always interrupts the winds I call and may render useless whatever you get from me once you encounter it," the witch added coolly. "I can manoeuvre it to your benefit, but that is always difficult and rather exhausting. And it will cost extra, of course."

Jack said nothing, and reached into one the pouch at his side to remove a small leather bag. He tossed it onto the table with a careless flick of his wrist. It landed with a heavy thud and a faint jingling sound—a tell-tale sign of money.

Stella's black eyes didn't move from Jack's face, but her spidery white hand reached out and curled around the pouch, drawing it towards her and secreting it somewhere in the fullness of her washed-out skirts. That humourless almost-smile flickered across her face. "You will have your wind tomorrow, Captain Jack Sparrow, and I will turn the storm in your favour," she promised.

"Much appreciated, love," Jack purred.

The rest of the visit passed fairly quickly. As Will and Jack sipped their water, Stella stood and drew several strands of yarn from hank by the southern window, and another few from the west. All of them, Will noted, had a loose knot in the centre. She gave those knotted strings to Jack, who tucked them carefully into the pouch at his hip. Then they bid each other a simple farewell, and the men found themselves tramping across the graveyard again.

Will, who had been restraining his curiosity throughout the visit since he figured it would be impolite to gossip about the host when she was still in the room, started pelting Jack with questions.

"Did she know my father?"

The pirate snorted. "I doubt it."

"How did she know about him, then?" Will demanded.

Jack shrugged, neatly sidestepping a crumbling headstone. "Probably she pulled it out of me skull."

"She can do that?" Will asked warily, wondering if that was the reason Stella's eyes had disquieted him so.

"She's a witch," Jack replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

Will, sensing he wasn't going to get much more on that subject (probably because Jack himself didn't know), changed topics. "What are those strings she gave you?"

"These, young William, be the winds I asked for," Jack replied, sounding smug as he patted the pouch containing the yarn bits. At Will's uncomprehending look, the pirate elaborated. "Black Stella catches winds like other lasses catch butterflies, savvy? Snatches 'em right out of the sky," and Jack mimed, waving his hands enthusiastically around his head. "Then she puts those winds into these little bits of yarn and ties a little knot to keep 'em in. And when a sailor, such as myself, has a need to sail somewhere in a bit of hurry, he might go to her and request, for a fee, that she give him a little bit of string with a little wind inside, which said sailor will untie at his leisure to release the wind into his sails and send him sailing speedily off where he needs to go."

Will glanced down at the pouch containing the yarn with new respect, then back at Jack. "And it always works?"

"I wouldn't pay for it if it didn't, mate," Jack laughed, flashing a quick smile that caused the moonlight to glint off his gold teeth, before starting to meander down the narrow path that would lead them back to the streets of Tortuga.

"How much did you pay her, anyway?" Will queried as something occurred to him.

"Enough that she's willing to move a storm for me," Jack replied dismissively.

"She must like you."

"Black Stella doesn't like anyone."

Will could easily believe that—he'd never been so disquieted by anyone before. Well, maybe Elizabeth, but that was a different kind of disquiet. That was the kind of disquiet that made him feel like he could do almost anything, made his insides quiver and his hands sweat and his knees tremble. It was the kind of disquiet he would willingly—nay, gleefully—endure for the rest of his life. The discomfort that came from Black Stella made him feel like he was sitting in a bucket of snakes and about to vomit. If he ever felt that sensation again, it would be too soon. He'd never been so glad to leave a place before—not even that tavern in the port.

In fact, Will wondered if he might not have been better off staying there, rowdy crowd notwithstanding.

Then he shrugged. Jack had what he needed to speed them across the sea to wherever Elizabeth was, no one had been hexed, and as far as Will Turner was concerned, he need never again see the strange woman whose smiles never touched her glittering black eyes.


 "That was a fairly successful transaction," Stella remarked aloud, removing the pouch containing her payment from the hidden pocket in her skirts.

She tugged the strings open and allowed the contents of the bag to spill into her hand. The gold glinted in the firelight, dancing across the seal of the British Crown. Allowing herself a smoky chuckle as she realised where this gold had originated, Stella marvelled at Jack Sparrow's audacity. Paying a Tortugan witch with gold stolen from the British navy—specifically, from the H.M.S. Dauntless—was bold as brass, and typical Sparrow.

"And he didn't even put his boots on my table," she added, moving to secrete the gold into the inconspicuous—but very secure—chest sitting in the dark north corner of the room. "It seems he can be trained after all."

But Sparrow was not the one who occupied her mind as she doused the candles. It was Sparrow's companion, Will Turner—the handsome, lovesick, polite and good-hearted young man with hair and eyes nearly as dark as her own.

Oh, that handsome one was Important. As Tia Dalma, Stella's compatriot (of a sort), would remark later, William Turner had a touch of destiny about him, and that was glaringly apparent to anyone with the means to sense it. Stella Bell possessed those means, as did her foremothers, and the presence of the younger Turner had sent a richness into the air that was tantalising and intimidating at the same time.

"I should speak with her," she told herself, dousing the last candle. "After I recover from dealing with Sparrow's storm, I must speak with Tia Dalma."

That resolved, Stella started banking the fire for the night, mentally preparing herself for tomorrow's undertaking. Admittedly, she did indulge herself in the memory of William Turner's discomfort, chuckling as she recalled the way the young man shied away from her gaze, his discomfort, and his obvious relief at his departure. It was, after all, only fair. If his presence was intimidating in its promise, it was only fair that Stella intimidate him with the reality of her presence in return.

"I expect you will be quite something to behold when your promise is fulfilled," she announced suddenly, as though the young Turner was there to be addressed. Glancing out the window which looked over the graveyard and the path to the port, she smiled as one of her rare premonitions made itself known. "I greatly look forward to seeing that day, for we will meet again, William Turner," she whispered. "In the fullness of time, we will meet again."

Chapter Text

The storm had been turned, her winds released, and the price paid.  If Sparrow hadn't caught up with his wayward ship by now, there was nothing else she could do.  It was far beyond her power at this point, and she was in no condition to be doing anything anyway.

Stella always suffered backlash when she altered the storms.  It was like something she'd read about once in a book of physics by Sir Isaac Newton, about every action having an equal and opposite reaction.  When she exerted her will to change the direction of the storm, the storm exerted an equal amount of force on her.

It wasn't an exact analogy, but it was the best she'd been able to come up with after changing the course of a hurricane heading for her childhood home and then dealing with her hysterical mother, terrified after her daughter had spent four days hovering near death.  Stella had never been motivated to find a better comparison; she just knew that when she bent large storms to her will, she paid for it.

The storm she'd manoeuvred for Sparrow, though, was small, and only laid her low for a day-and-a-half.  By noon the next day she was able to get out of bed without feeling as though her head was about to explode.  She went gingerly, though, collecting from her garden the ingredients she would need to help her send her voice to Tia.

A direct conversation was always the easiest (and sometimes the only) way to deal with the voodoo priestess—not the least because Tia couldn't read or write very well, which ruled out an exchange of letters, and because she never left her swampy bower, and because even if Stella could find passage to Tia's island, it would be difficult to find passage back.  Stella had tried once, and after being stranded in Tia's treetop house for three months, she wasn’t eager to try again.

Though Tia Dalma had become one of the only other witches Stella knew after the death of her mother, and was the most important person in Stella's life for that same reason, the fact remained that two women who could see each others' souls stuck in the same small space for an extended amount of time became very uncomfortable with each other very quickly.  She loved Tia Dalma, as much as she could love anyone, but she sure as hell didn't want to live with her.  Tia felt the exact same.

But Stella did need to talk with her.  She knew, theoretically, how Tia's methods worked and could occasionally use them herself.  But the fact remained that the Creole had a much stronger premonitory gift and was much more accurate besides.  If Stella wanted precise, detailed information about the changes percolating in the air, she needed Tia.  Tia would know.  She always knew.

The next day, very early in the morning when the sky was turning light, Stella gathered the needed supplies—the herbs, oils, and powders, as well as a stick of chalk, a bowl, a feather, and a spoon—and placed them in a basket.  Then she set out, moving westward through the jungle and heading for the base of the mountains.  She reached the location about mid-morning—a flat plateau of rock, jutting out over the trees.  Stella called it the Table.

When she arrived, she sat down on the edge and ate a hunk of bread and a slice of melon, letting her legs dangle out into the air.  Faint breezes plucked at her worn yellow skirts as she let her gaze rest on the edge of the island and out over the blue ocean.   The sun sparkled off the water, and Stella fancied she could see other islands off in the distance as she finished her lunch.

Then she took out the contents of her basket and began.

First, she removed the bowl and began to mix things together.  She'd done this so many times she didn't even need to check the recipe.  Powdered insect wings, crushed bone of bird, pounded quartz and pulverised aquamarine, finely chopped bay leaves, and palm oil went in, stirred with a wooden spoon.  The result was a thick greyish paste.

Next came the drawing.  Stella took the chalk and knelt, facing north, before beginning to mark the designs on the rock.   The markings were first drawn as far from her as her arms could reach, but then they spiralled inward; symbols and runes flowered on the stone in a circular pattern around her.

When the necessary shape was completed, Stella picked up the bowl of paste and a blue parrot feather.  Coating the feather with the goop, she went over the chalk lines with a thick coating, careful not to smudge anything.  Then she uncorked a bottle of moonstone she'd crushed to a fine powder several weeks before, and scattered it over the entire design.

Finally, she removed the bundle of herbs and sat down in the centre of her design.  She and her foremothers did not need steel and flint to strike a spark; Stella simply pointed at the dried plants and willed, and they burst into flame.  As the herbs burned, they released a cloud of aromatic smoke, which remained solely in the circle Stella had drawn. It was as though a glass bowl had been overturned on top of her.

With the smoke curling into her lungs and the magic buzzing around her, Stella began the familiar chant, calling upon wind and stone to carry her voice across the sea to Tia Dalma.  Her words echoed at first, signifying that no one had yet heard her.  But soon the echo began to fade from her voice.  The smoke thickened around her as Stella closed her eyes and brought forth her memories of the location her words were going, speeding its passage across the clear blue water.

Tia Dalma lived in a swampy lagoon on the coast of Saint-Domingue, south of Tortuga.  To get to her home, one needed to follow the river upstream, ducking overhanging plants and water snakes, and always silently observed by the inhabitants.  Eventually the narrow stream opened up into a still pool, and the visitor could see the house through the mist.

Dalma's house stood on stilts above the murky water, embraced by the thin fingers of the trees.  It had a thatched roof and a beaded curtain hanging over the door, which the visitor would approach after disembarking at the dock and climbing the rickety stairs.

The inside was somewhat cluttered; full of the things Tia had collected over the years.  Some things were payment for her services; others she inherited or gathered herself.  All were valuable, in one way or another.

And in the centre of all these valuables was the woman herself.  Tia Dalma.

The last time Stella saw her, she'd been sitting at her table like a queen on her throne.  The firelight glinted off the gold and glass scattered around the room and gave Tia's smooth, dark skin a polished glow.  She'd had some wooden beads and golden trinkets woven through her dishevelled dreadlocks.  Her eyes were, as always, dark and knowing.  Her exotic face was painted with African tribal designs, and a grin danced about her full lips as she bid Stella "adieu".

Stella focussed on the memory and concentrated, telling the magic that this was who she wanted to hear her, this was the woman for whom her message was meant, this was the person to whom it needed to bring her voice.

Then, she spoke.


 

Tia Dalma had been expecting it for days.  She'd made sure to remain close to her stilted house, waiting for the wind to carry the familiar voice to her ears.  So when the soft, "Tia Dalma?" wafted through her door on the breeze, rustling the curtains on her door and stirring her loose brown dreadlocks, she was ready with a, "Bonjou, Stella Bell."

Stella didn't bother with pleasantries—Tia had no use for them—and delivered her opening right away. "I had an interesting visit not three days past.  Jack Sparrow came to see me."

Almost involuntarily, a smile spread across Tia's smooth, painted face.  "Ah?  'ow is he?" she inquired.

"He's going after the Black Pearl.  Our Captain Sparrow seems to have found some kind of leverage on Barbossa—a handsome fellow named William Turner, and the son of one of the Pearl's late crewmembers.  A most... significant... young man," the crisp voice informed her.

Though Stella's face was not visible, Tia could easily imagine the meaningful eyebrow raise that would have accompanied this statement.

"In order to break de curse, Barbossa be needin' every piece of dat cursed gold and a de blood of every man who took it," Tia Dalma replied, addressing the unasked question.  "But Bootstrap Bill, he regret de mutiny 'gainst Sparrow, and sent a piece of dat gold to his son... before Barbossa tie him to a cannon and throw him overboard."

"Loosing both the gold and the necessary blood in the process."

"Wi.  Now there is but one gold piece Barbossa be lacking, and but one source for de blood of Bootstrap Bill."

"His only child, William," murmured the voice on the wind.  "Does Barbossa know?"

"Him t'inks he knows, but what him knows is wrong," Tia chuckled.  She'd realised what was going to happen a few weeks ago, collecting dreams and readings and what was known about the characters of those involved into a coherent picture.  And then she'd laughed.  The quest for the Black Pearl was the start of an even greater adventure—one that would eventually reach out to touch both Stella Bell and herself.

The wind wound around Tia's hut, rattling the bottles and feathers and bits of juju hung on the ceiling.  If she squinted her eyes just so and concentrated, Tia could almost make out the faint outline of a woman wafted aloft on the breeze, reaching her arms out to touch that which interested her.

"Jack does indeed have a significant piece of leverage," Stella commented, sounding amused.

"And it will win him back de Black Pearl," Tia finished, supplying the other witch with the piece of information Tia guessed she truly wanted to know.

"How fortuitous... for him."

"We will both 'ave future dealings with William Turner," Tia said slowly, as if to taste the name.  "Until den, I cannot tell you more of 'im."

Then Tia Dalma grinned, displaying blackened teeth to the empty room, and waited.  She didn't have to wait long.  It still amused her that even after all this time she and Stella could merely hint at a question and the other would immediately understand and answer.

"He is a good man—perhaps tediously so," Stella's voice commented offhandedly.  "Still young, with stars in his eyes.  In love."

At those last two words, Tia's ears perked.  "In love?" she repeated, before emitting a smoky chuckle.  "Dat makes t'ings very... interestin'."

"Indeed it does," purred the voice on the wind.  "But he has her on a pedestal—had his father there too, before being told what old Bootstrap really was.  I wonder if he won't be disillusioned with his lovely lady before it's all over.  Might make for an uncomfortable awakening once he does, indeed, awaken."

Stella was always meticulously careful about the words she chose; if she spoke a word that had undertones, Tia knew the other witch meant for those undertones to be there, and be understood.  So when the word "awakening" and all its mystical connotations breezed into her ears, she immediately knew that there was something special about William Turner that went beyond his significance to Jack Sparrow.  "Ah..." breathed Tia.  "An awakenin'."

"Oh yes... the lad has promise—though that is all I can sense.  I do not have your gift for knowing details about the potential I see in people."

Tia didn't dignify that with a response, and instead glided to her table and gathered her oracle bones together.  She took a deep breath and concentrated for a moment; then, with a flick of her slim wrists, she cast the bones down.  The Stella-wind rustled through her hair as she leaned forward to read the casting.

A slight furrow creased Tia's smooth, bronze brow.  "We all be linked toge'ter," she murmured, passing a slender hand over the table.  "All around Jack Sparrow."

"Sparrow?" Stella repeated incredulously.

"He be the de one we all turn around," Tia confirmed, still gazing contemplatively on the bones.  "What he do touch all de rest of us."

There was a slight pause.  Then:

"I'm not entirely certain how pleased am I to hear that my life and its direction is affected by the actions of... Jack Sparrow.  Why Jack Sparrow?" the breeze asked scornfully.

Tia Dalma just smiled and replied with one word: "Fate."

The wind whirled off around Tia's house.  The bottles hung from the ceiling swung madly and the beads in the doorway rattled like a summer downpour.  Then the air swirled back to Tia; alternatively plastering the cloth to her legs and wafting it around her ankles, and making her hair lash her shoulders and arms.

She waited passively through Stella's show of temper. Eventually the whirlwind subsided, and the breeze became gentle again.  "Do you ever feel that 'fate' is overused as an explanation for these things?" the voice inquired, a hint of poisonous sweetness in her dark tones.

"I can't help de truth, Stella," Tia said evenly, standing from her table and sweeping the bones into their pouch.

"Truth?  Not so much truth as convenience.  It seems to be when there's no good explanation it's automatically fate," the woman on the wind said acrimoniously.  "Why Sparrow?  Oh, must be fate.  Why did a drunken sailor eat the cat?  Oh, must be fate.  Why the... Black Plague?  Oh, must be fate.  And why is Miss Stella Bell still cooling her heels on Tortuga after nine years, even after being assured her stay on this miserable island would only be temporary?  Oh, MUST BE FATE!"

Tia sighed faintly, and raised an eyebrow.  "'Tis temporary."

"After nine years?!"

"Dat's not so long."

There was another pause.  If Tia didn't know Stella as well as she did, she wouldn't have noted the soft whisper on the breeze; as it was, Tia could easily place it as an exasperated sigh.

"If you are going to be so very much older than I am, you could at least do me the courtesy of looking it," Stella drawled, voice as sour as lemons.  The breeze wound, catlike, around Tia's body. "Failing that, of course, you could kindly keep in mind that the rest of us do measure time somewhat... more rapidly.  Nine years may be a pittance to you, but it's quite a while for the rest of us.  I'm twenty-three years old, Tia Dalma, and I am running out of time."

"And patience, wi," Tia replied, grinning at her empty house.

"Oh no, I ran out of patience ages ago," Stella snarled.

"Den find more," Tia advised.  "You won' need it for too much longer, but find more."

"You said that three years ago, Tia."

"Dat was before Jack Sparrow entered de picture."

"Jack bloody Sparrow," Stella muttered.  "I do not feel very confident knowing that my future off Tortuga depends on that... that... pirate."

"I didn' say your way off de island depends on him," Tia said archly.

Silence descended on the room.

"Then thank heaven for small favours," Stella said eventually, a twist of macabre humour in her voice.  "Otherwise I'd be on Tortuga until I was dead, and Sparrow would be carting my coffin off to Antigua.  That is the only way he would consent to bearing me off this island.  He's far too afraid that I'll curse him into a eunuch."

Tia started laughing.  An admirer had once compared her laugh to bronze bells, and her laughter was indeed full and rich, like a thick spice cake or good rum.  Perhaps that was one of the reasons Sparrow liked her so much.  Of course, he would not have felt so amiable if he knew how much amusement she was finding in the prospect of his castration at the spells of Stella Bell.

"Wi, 'e be findin' dat a fate worse dan death," Tia chuckled.  "When will you be givin' me dat spell?" she inquired playfully.

"Can you get anything more... accurate... on the method and date of my departure from Tortuga?" Stella inquired swiftly.

Stella Bell: so changeable in some ways, and so utterly predictable in others.  Tia stifled a sigh.  "I try."

She made tea, and read the leaves.  She cast the oracle bones again.  She read the cracks of a tortoise shell.  Her tattered tarot cards were arranged and examined.  All the readings agreed; there was some actual information to bestow.  "De next t'ree years be your last on Tortuga," Tia predicted.  "A lost man come to take you away.  You will know de man when you see 'im."

"I will know him in the sense that I will have met him before, or I will know him?"

"You will know him, Stella Bell, when you see him for de first time," Tia Dalma promised.  Then she grinned.  "Now, de spell."

"I'm trying to imagine you using this spell, and I'm afraid I can't picture it," Stella commented.  "So if you do end up making use of it, you really must tell me all about it later."

"Den I'm sure you be hearin' bout it from Sparrow de next time he come to see you," Tia said, perfectly straight-faced.

There was a pause—the sort of pause in which people are thinking, 'did she just say that?'  Then, after a moment, Stella started laughing.  The wind twirled playfully around the hut as she cackled merrily.

If Tia Dalma's laugh was rum and spice, then Stella Bell's was black coffee, or the darkest of chocolates.  It was bitter and dark and harsh even in the throes of mirth.

"Oh, you wouldn't!" Stella snickered, jollity winding down.  "It just wouldn't be the same—Jack Sparrow the eunuch?  Hardly."  Her voice became arch.  "Besides, I understand you have a use for those parts of him yourself."

Laughter filled the house again—only this time it was Tia's deep chuckles.  "Wi.  'Twoud be a terrible loss for de women in de Caribbean if Jack Sparrow lost 'im cock."

"Tia Dalma!"  The voice on the wind was scandalised.  "That is why I cannot conceive of you ever using this spell."

An eyebrow went up, and a smirk played around Tia's painted lips.  "But it be good for threats."

"Indeed it is," Stella agreed.  "Very well. It goes something like this..."


 

The conversation ended shortly thereafter.  No sooner had the two witches bid each other farewell than Stella quickly opened her eyes, peering down at the stone around her.

"Damn!" she said petulantly.

It was a tradition, after all.  The nature of Stella's spell required that the caster's eyes be closed.  Sometime between the beginning and the end, the markings on the ground vanished; Stella's mother had likened it to a brushfire.  The marks closest to the caster flashed violet and evaporated, and then the rest followed suit like a stack of dominoes falling over.  The way Eleanor had described it sounded fascinating, and Stella had always wanted to watch it happen.  But Nell couldn't cast the spell, and Stella could never get her eyes open fast enough.  She had been trying for years, but had been thwarted in every attempt she made.

"Maybe one day I will see it," she commented to herself, wincing as she stood and the muscles in her legs protested.

The sun was beginning its long slide down to the horizon as Stella gathered her effects and began her trek back to her home.  She hummed quietly under her breath and swung her basket as she walked.  Had she not been a mature woman of twenty-three, she might have skipped a bit as well.  After all, the news from Tia Dalma was good, she had the mental image of Jack Sparrow à la eunuch to amuse her, and the passion fruit tree had produced several fruits that were waiting for her at home.

All in all, it had been a fair decent day.

Chapter Text

Life returned mostly to normal afterwards.  It was almost as if nothing had happened at all.  There were a few changes, though, that reminded Stella of what had come to pass.

Hector Barbossa never darkened her door again, for obvious reasons. 

In his place, however, came Jack Sparrow.  He was a guest at her house a little more frequently than before—now that Captain Sparrow had a ship to captain again, he had more of a need for favourable winds to push his Pearl along, especially since there was also the matter of the navy’s dogged pursuit.  Stella liked to think that the winds Jack purchased from her were the only reason he was so skilfully able to evade the fleet sent after him.

The last alteration was more of a personal choice than a result of circumstances: Stella began to frequent the port town near her home.  Previously, she’d only gone to the port once a week—on Mondays, to buy those things she could not make herself and deal with the customers too cowardly to trek through the graveyard to her home.  Now she went nearly every day, stretching her senses to the limit as she tried to find the lost man Tia Dalma predicted would come.  The lost man who would take her away from Tortuga within three years.

And preferably not as a corpse.

It was a morbid, but definite, possibility—one that worried her more than she was willing to admit.  Tia Dalma assured her she would get off Tortuga, but failed to mention in what condition. That lack of detail might make all the difference.  After all, Stella could die and then leave Tortuga in a coffin.  It was therefore technically a correct prediction (as if Tia Dalma made any other kind), but one that wouldn’t do Stella a lick of good.

That fear drove her to swallow her disgust and spend more time in town.  If she was to find the lost man, she needed to be around people.  Soon enough she became a familiar sight in the port, and no one batted an eye at the sight of Black Stella meandering through the crowds with a tattered parasol shielding her from the sun.

There had been the odd hitch at first, of course.  Men unfamiliar with her name and the tale of Ned Murphy attempted to proposition her as she strolled along the docks; women whispered behind their hands as she passed them in the streets.  She’d cursed more people in the first six months than she had in the previous six years.

But that show of temper had served her well.  No one jeered or catcalled now; instead, the people fell quiet whenever she passed.  The brave ones called out courteous greetings, wishing her health.  That was her triumph: she had forced the citizens to respect her, made them dance to her tune.  It somehow made the dirty little port that much more bearable.

Months passed, sinking slowly into the muck of the Tortugan streets.  There was still no sight of the lost man.  Stella continued watching and waiting.  A year passed; suddenly it was hurricane season again.

The one-year anniversary of her conversation with Tia Dalma concerning Jack Sparrow found Stella standing at the end of a dock, staring across the water at the horizon.  Another storm was passing by—not so close to Tortuga to be worrisome, but close enough to bring rain and make her head ache.

"Hurricane season," she muttered sourly, wrapping her black cloak closer around her shoulders as the wind and rain lashed at her face.  The best way, Stella found, to soothe the dull pain in her sinuses was to go out and let the storm overtake her.  The ache was then effortlessly ignored.  But the tingling in her otherworldly senses was not so easily brushed aside.

It was getting worse.  Well... worse, in the sense of very strong and very distracting.  That sensation had been in the back of her mind since that evening a year ago when young William Turner brought his promise into her home.  It had not waned.  Whatever Jack Sparrow had done (or was doing) continued to echo, and the anticipation of something was so potent in the air that Stella could taste it.

Really, she could.

Tasted a bit like lemon, in fact.

Stella remained on the dock until the rain began to slow and the rumbling clouds made their way north.  She was soaked to the skin, her black cloak waterlogged and her long hair plastered to her neck.  These annoyances were hardly noted at all as she took deep breaths, inhaling the scent of salt and rain and fighting the urge to start laughing at nothing.

Her time was coming.  She could feel it.


James Norrington, on the other hand, felt that his time was ending.  Things had slipped so rapidly out of his control that he wasn’t sure how to go about fixing them.  It seemed like he would just blink, and everything around him would have changed.

He had been promoted to commodore.  He was preparing to propose to Elizabeth Swann, after waiting so long for her to grow up.  Life was good.

He was commodore.  He had Jack Sparrow behind bars.  He had proposed—albeit he didn’t have an answer yet, but he was confident.  Life was superb.

Things started to go wrong.  That ghastly ship attacked Port Royal.  Elizabeth was kidnapped. Jack Sparrow escaped; the Interceptor was stolen.  These two events were directly related.  But he was still on top of things, oh yes.  Life was complicated, but would improve shortly.

Life improved.  There he was, engaged to Elizabeth, with Jack Sparrow’s neck in the noose and another forty-some pirates waiting to hang.

Blink.

He still wasn’t rightly sure what, exactly, had happened in that moment when his eyes were closed.  All he knew was that at the end of it Jack Sparrow went free, he was no longer engaged, and Elizabeth was kissing that blacksmith.

Now he was chasing Sparrow across the Caribbean, goaded by the knowledge that he might loose everything if he couldn’t remedy that one mistake.  The government was not amused by his explanations—he should’ve known they wouldn’t understand un-dead pirates, or comprehend why it seemed that letting Sparrow go was the right thing to do.  Most of the time he didn’t understand it himself, and kicked himself for his lapse in judgment.

That storm.  That terrible, wretched storm took everything away.  Sparrow was finally within reach of his fingers, after dodging him all over the Atlantic.  Honestly, the pirate had the most devilish luck.  Whenever he got close, the winds picked up and sent the Black Pearl dancing away.

He didn’t know it was going to be as bad as it was.  He didn’t.  If he’d any inkling of the fury that awaited them under the dark clouds, he never would have given orders to sail on through.

But he did.  The hurricane was terrible.  In the end, the ship floundered, and only eight men (including himself) had come out alive.

And now he was back in Port Royal, sitting in his office with a sifter of brandy, trying vainly to figure out when, exactly, things had gone so very insane.  He hadn’t quite put his finger on it yet, but he had a feeling Jack Sparrow was at the centre of all his problems.

Norrington sighed heavily, and took another drink.  He kept blinking, hoping that the situation would change again in the brief time his eyes were closed; change into something a little more hospitable.

A knock on the door jerked him out of his contemplation.  "Enter," he commanded.  The door swung open to reveal a man in the blue uniform and white wig of a naval officer.  "Ah, Groves," Norrington sighed, beckoning him inside.  "Brandy?"

"No, thank you, sir," the lieutenant demurred.  "I hope I’m not intruding...?"

"No," Norrington said, shaking his head.  "I was just writing the last of the letters."

He ignored the flash of pity in his subordinate’s eyes and took another sip from his glass instead.  Norrington had been writing a goodly amount of letters lately—missives to the families of those men who were lost in action under his command.  He’d written a rash of them after the fiasco with those  cursed pirates, and now he was composing another slough for the men lost when the Dauntless floundered.  The whole procedure was discomforting, but it needed to be done.  The families of the dead deserved to know that their sons had been lost because of his stupidity.

Of course, he never put it quite so bluntly in the letters.

"Does the admiralty know, sir?" Groves inquired after a moment.

"Yes," Norrington replied, suppressing a wince.  "The vessel that rescued us encountered a courier ship on our way back to Port Royal.  I should imagine the Crown is well aware of the circumstances by this point."  He stifled a sigh, before changing the subject.  "What do you need, Lieutenant Groves?  I assume you did not come to watch me wallow in self-pity."

"Of course not, sir.  The men and I were worried—you haven’t left the office since this morning," Groves explained.

"I’m fine," Norrington assured him tiredly, rubbing his eyes.

"Have you eaten anything, sir?"

"I had tea."

"You should come down to the mess for supper, sir," Groves suggested.

Norrington grimaced.  He didn’t want to be around people right now.  He didn’t want to see the disappointment in their eyes, or deal with their pity.  "When did it all go wrong?" he wondered aloud.  Then he chastised himself as Groves looked at him curiously.  It seemed the alcohol was loosening his tongue.

The compassion in Groves' eyes was painful—Norrington didn’t want to need it, but it was a pleasant change from the bafflement and displeasure from everyone else.  "Wrong, sir?"

"Never mind, Groves," he sighed.

There was a pause.  "It's not your fault, sir.  No one holds you responsible," Groves said quietly, breaking the silence.

"I never thought you were a man to lie, Theodore," Norrington remarked dryly, raising his eyebrows tiredly.  "Of course they hold me responsible—I am."

"Well, no one blames you for the way it turned out, then," Groves replied lamely.  "It'll all blow over in a few months."

"Dear God, I hope so," Norrington muttered, shuffling his papers into some form of order.  He rubbed his eyes and squinted at the script, trying to make out the words in the candlelight.

After a moment, he realised Groves was still there.  He looked quizzically up at the lieutenant.

"With all due respect, sir, you look terrible," the brunet announced, coming closer to the desk.  "Perhaps you should retire, get some sleep?  It will all look better in the morning.  At the very least, you’ll find it easier to concentrate."

Nodding, Norrington corked his inkwell and prepared to leave.  He mechanically collected his things and allowed the lieutenant to accompany him to his quarters.  As he laid his head on the pillow, clean and white and starched, he desperately hoped Groves was right.

After all, things couldn’t get much worse, could they?

Things got worse.  Much worse.

A month later he received a letter from the admiralty strongly suggesting that he should resign his commission and save himself the indignity and the government the trouble of having him dishonourably discharged on account of gross incompetence.

There wasn’t much to say to that.  Desperate to save what remained of his tattered reputation and his very battered honour, Norrington did as advised.  He resigned his commission, collected a few effects and several bottles of whiskey, and left Port Royal.  He couldn’t stand to stay there as it was, a fallen man with no life or livelihood and with Miss Swann engaged to William Turner.

So he left.  Got passage on a ship, without knowing or caring about the destination, and left, without bothering to bid farewell to anyone.  There wasn’t anyone who’d care, after all.

He hadn’t bothered to change out of his uniform; the blue brocade, gold trim, and powdered wig were still intact.  It made him stick out like a sore thumb among the scruffier crew of the Morningstar.  Trying desperately to find something good in the situation as he stood on the bow of the ship, wind against his face and the fire of the liquor in his belly, Norrington wondered how things could possibly be worse.

Upon retrospect, Norrington probably should have asked where the Morningstar was going.  Because he found himself disembarking at Tortuga.  Which meant he sailed with and was surrounded by pirates.

This was worse.  He felt unclean.

Liquor, however, was liquor, no matter where it was acquired.  And he needed some—his supply had been exhausted during the jaunt from Jamaica to Tortuga.  He wanted desperately to forget... everything.  Forget that he was disgraced, surrounded by the scum of the Caribbean, and that he’d lost two things he’d loved best.

So he wandered into a tavern—he didn’t bother to look for the name—and got himself a bottle of rum.  If he was going to be surrounded by pirates, he might as well drink like one.


 

Had Norrington been thinking properly, he would have realised this was a very bad idea.  However, he had spent the last two days in various states of inebriation, was deeply depressed, and was hence not thinking straight.

After all, it was a intensely stupid thing for a man known around the Caribbean as “The Scourge of Piracy” to walk into a pub in a pirate port wearing a naval uniform and sit down for a drink.  It was even more foolish for said man to get completely and utterly intoxicated, because he then became unaware of his surroundings, and oblivious to the threat to his life.

The navy was not a popular institution in Tortuga, nor was Norrington was a popular man.  A navy gentleman of obviously high rank was pretty much asking to be mugged, shot, or assaulted in a various manner of unpleasant ways—especially in the Faithful Bride.

There was no need for the men in the tavern to speak their intentions aloud.  Everyone knew what was going to happen.  Five of the largest stood, and made their way slowly through the crowd towards the table in the corner where Norrington was seated.

The ex-commodore was unpleasantly surprised when his drink was interrupted.  A meaty hand suddenly landed on his left shoulder and he was unceremoniously hauled to his feat.  Norrington blinked blearily at the man holding him up—a burly blonde who was grinning at him in a decidedly unfriendly manner.

That was the last thing he noticed before he took a fist straight to the jaw.  The pub exploded shortly thereafter.

In a normal bar-fighting situation, Norrington would’ve given just as good as he got (not that Norrington ever found himself in many bar-fights, of course).  However, he was currently intoxicated, without his sword, and outnumbered.  As such, he lost.  Thoroughly.

Thus, James Norrington came within a hair’s-breadth of being beaten to death on the floor of the Faithful Bride.  But as he was preparing to sustain another kick to the kidneys, the door of the tavern blew violently open.

The momentum of the wind slammed the door into the wall with a loud bang, before ripping through the crowd, knocking off hats and stinging eyes.  All activity—including the brawl around Norrington—came to a halt as the wind whistled back to the doorway and faded into nothingness, the only sound the faint chiming of tiny bells.

By this point, every inhabitant of Tortuga knew that sound and what it portended.  So as a slight figure swathed in a black cloak stepped lightly into the pub, every man who wore a hat doffed it respectfully, and a soft murmur of polite salutation rippled through the room.

Black Stella smiled the same faint smile that had so disconcerted William Turner.  "My goodness, it certainly appears that we have had some excitement here," she remarked pleasantly, stepping further into the room.  The patrons parted like the Red Sea before her as she moved, always keeping an arm’s length away.  "May I inquire as to the occasion?"

An awkward silence descended, broken only by the shuffling of feet.  No one seemed to be sure if Miss Bell was being sarcastic or in earnest.  Her thin eyebrows soon answered that question; they rose in dark arches over her cold black eyes—an impatient gesture indicating that she did, indeed, want an answer.

"Naval gent came in 'ere," one brave soul finally muttered.  "Lads wanted t'teach 'im a lesson."

"Really, a gentleman coming in here for a drink? How dare he?  The sheer nerve!  My God, he'll be wanting food next."  The scorn in Black Stella's voice caused several men to flush and rub their necks uneasily—when she said it like that, they sounded rather foolish.

Of course, not all the patrons were thus cowed.  "But 'e's a navy bastard, an' a Brit t'boot!" protested one of the men over by Norrington—the stringy one who'd been preparing to kick the man in the back, as a matter of fact.

The man—a gangly Spaniard with a ragged beard and a scar on his left cheek—was braver than most of the men in Tortuga: he actually stood his ground when Black Stella turned her gaze to him, features arranged in an expression that would've been polite curiosity were it not for the malicious glitter in her dark eyes.  "Really?" the witch inquired mildly.  "Perhaps I might see this naval officer who offended you all so heinously by entering the tavern for a drink?"

It wasn't really a request.  As Stella approached, the men surrounding the battered ex-commodore reluctantly backed away.   They weren't keen to leave the beating unfinished, but one did not deny Black Stella.

The Faithful Bride remained mired in uncomfortable silence as Miss Bell knelt next to the battered bundle of blue cloth, gold trim, and blood.    She reached out a hand to the officer's face, and the rest of the tavern took a quick breath in.  Was she going to curse the man?


 

"I know you."

This softly-spoken declaration was accompanied by a gentle touch on his face as a swathe of fabric wafted to rest on his hand.

Norrington raised his head at the contact, looking blearily up at the source.  He grasped the cloth lying on his hand, clutching it in a desperate attempt to gain some balance. His overall impression was black: black clothing, black hair... black spots dancing across his vision.  He was nevertheless fairly certain the person kneeling over him was a woman.  The hand on his cheek was smooth and cool, and the sheer amount of cloth clenched in his fist surely portended the presence of skirts.

"I know you..." the strange woman repeated.

He rather wished he could say the same.  Instead, he clung to the skirt, trying mightily to stay conscious.

Abruptly, the hand was removed and a fold of dark fabric brushed his nose as the woman quickly drew herself up and turned to face the room.  "Leave him be," Norrington heard her command.

The babble of talk spread through the room, and the five men closest—the ones who'd been giving him the most thorough beating he'd received since his early navy days—began to shout.

"D'ye mean—"

"Ye don' mean—!"

"That's not—"

"¿Está loca usted?"

"Vous can't do that!"

The sharp voice of the woman in black cut through the din. "I assure you, I can and I will.  You'll not lay another hand on this man on pain of my severe displeasure."

Apparently this woman's displeasure was a fearsome thing to suffer, since the patrons of the Faithful Bride were all nodding fervently.  The grimy Spaniard who had a tendency to deliver kicks to dishonourable locations, however, was not cowed at all, and pulled out a dagger.  He pointed it threateningly at the woman, ignoring the tugs on his arm and the urgent whispers to put it down.

"Ye meddlin' little trollop!" the man snarled.  "Get out o' th' way, or I'll cut yer pretty face t'ribbons!"

Norrington tightened his grip on the lady's skirts, tensing his muscles in preparation to spring to her defence, if needed.  That was the plan, anyway, until a foot clad in a leather slipper pressed down on his wrist.  The message was obvious, and he loosened his grip.

Meanwhile, the owner of the foot had started laughing.  "Really, how asinine," she chuckled.  "You'd better put that away, before I loose my temper."

The blond who had thrown the first punch resumed the tugging on the Spaniard's arm.  "Luis, leave 'em be—that's Black Stella," he insisted.

Luis jerked his arm violently away.  "I don' care if'n she's th'Queen o' all England!" he snarled, before lunging at the woman still resting her foot on Norrington's wrist.

Norrington shook the foot off and tried to sit up while fumbling for his sword (forgetting, of course, that he hadn't one).  He knew, deep down, he couldn't do anything but get stabbed himself, but he wouldn't have been James Norrington if he didn't at least try to protect her.

However, before Luis' grimy hands could make purchase around the woman's neck, she spat out a word (or it could've been several words) in a language Norrington didn't know.   The man promptly collapsed, screaming, to the floor.

A deathly silence descended.  The only sounds were the moans and cries of Luis, lying at the feet of Black Stella.  The entire tavern was looking at her expectantly.

Finally, she spoke.  Her voice was cold and crisp.  "This man is mine.  He is under my protection from this moment on.  I trust you all understand the ramifications of this claim, and the consequences if you should be found poaching?"

A murmur of agreement ran through the pub.

"Splendid.  I'm sure we'll all get along well enough now that this unpleasant business," punctuated with a disdainful nudge at the man still whimpering at her feet, "is out of the way."

With that, the woman turned back to Norrington—who was still clinging to the woman's skirts and quietly indignant at being classified as property—and the pub returned mostly to normal.  The men drifted back to their tables, the wenches resumed serving and laughing and dancing, and Luis was dragged off somewhere, leaving behind only a few drops of blood.

"I suppose I should thank you, madam," Norrington announced sourly, speech slightly slurred, once the woman's attention was back on him.

She looked at him for a moment, before chuckling darkly.  "Ah, I see I have wounded the delicate entity known as masculine pride.  Do forgive me for interfering with your manly scrapping, but since I have a use for you I was disinclined to see you beaten to death, which surely would have occurred had I not stepped in," she drawled.

Norrington scowled.  She was right, this woman who resembled nothing so much as a great black crow, with her black hair and garb and eyes and a voice harsh like the caws of those ruddy birds.

...He hadn't seen crows since he left England.  About eleven years, perhaps.  Maybe twelve.

"You're going to swoon shortly," the crow-woman announced, breaking into his thoughts.  "So I shall tell you now that I'm taking you to my home."

"I don't swoon," Norrington muttered.

"Really?"  And then she reached a thin white hand out and pressed firmly on his ribs.  The pain rose up like the waves that had swamped the Dauntless.  Then the world went black.


 Stella chuckled.  "Men."

Chapter Text

When Norrington woke up, he didn't know where he was.

This wasn't the normal waking-up-after-a-night-of-overindulgence disorientation; he was certain he had never seen this room before, nor had he any idea how he'd gotten there.  He blinked a few times, but other than sending his surroundings into focus, nothing happened.  The tableau in front of his eyes was the same, and still very unfamiliar.

He was lying on a crude pallet, made up mostly of blankets and a rather limp pillow, on a wooden floor.  There was a wall immediately to his back, a shelf of books at his feet, and several hanks of yarn above his head.  His blue brocade coat was hung over the back of a chair pushed up to a table in the centre of the room; he could see his hat sitting on the seat of the chair and his boots beneath it, resting against the meagre satchel of his belongings.  The sun was slanting in through a couple of windows to his left; the angle indicated that it was late morning, at least.   It made the room seem warm and pleasant, if a bit shabby.  Nevertheless, this home was obviously lived-in, which led him to believe that although he was alone now, such a condition would not last.

Gritting his teeth, James edged himself into a sitting position, relying heavily on the wall.  His ribs ached abominably, his head was throbbing, and it felt like he'd been pounded on all over.

Wait...

James scowled as memory returned: the tavern, the fight, and the woman.  It seemed he had been pounded on all over.

He wasn't entirely sure, however, how far to trust the integrity of his remembrances—after all, he seemed to recall the woman (who, to the best of his recollections, resembled a crow) dropping a man with only a word and commanding an entire pirate's tavern with her mere presence.   Nevertheless, he distinctly remembered hearing that he was to be taken to her home—which was where he presumably was now.

There was, however, no sign of his hostess.  A half-hour later, there was still no sign of his hostess, and he was bored and hungry.  But he couldn't see any food in clear sight (and was far too much of a gentleman to pilfer through a strange woman's cupboards) and when he'd tried to stand his ribs had protested loudly.

A half-hour after that found the ex-Commodore wedged into the corner of the wall and the bookshelf, slowly shimmying into an upright position.  The attempt to keep his spine ramrod-straight in order not to jostle his ribs or his head meant his hips and his legs were doing most of the wiggling, and James had a feeling he looked decidedly ridiculous.  At least there was no one around to witness it.

He finally got himself upright, and spent the next few minutes exploring the layout of the house (save the room behind a curtain of green silk embroidered with blue flowers, of course), peering through the windows (and making a mental note to inquire if that was actually a graveyard to the south), and trying (and failing) to put on his boots.  Eventually he pulled a book off one of the shelves (a collection of the plays of Sophocles) and sat down to amuse himself.

Oedipus was conversing with Jocasta and Creon when the sound of chiming bells made its way to Norrington's ears.  He looked up in time to see the door of the cottage swing open, revealing a skinny woman in a washed-out green dress.  There was a large wicker basket on her arm, a tattered lace parasol in her hand, and a huge straw hat perched on her head.

"Good morning," she bid him, with a hint of what was probably amusement in a voice that called black birds to mind.

"Madam," Norrington replied courteously, moving to stand.

Before he could do more than place his palms on the table, however, the woman waved a thin hand in his direction.  "You needn't bother to stand; I know your ribs must ache," she said nonchalantly, hanging her hat on a peg by the door and smoothing her black hair.  "I can make a... tonic... for that, if you wish."

"Thank you, I would be most grateful," was all he could think to reply.

Silence descended as the woman languidly unpacked her basket and placed the contents in various locations around the room.  James took the opportunity to study the person whose home he was currently occupying.

He knew her now—he was indeed in the home of the woman from last night.  James hadn't recognised her at first, but after she had removed the hat and spoken he remembered her.  However, he very much doubted his memories now—there was no way in heaven or hell this woman could command a pub full of pirates.

She was, after all, small.  That was really the best descriptor, James felt.  She was at least a hand's-span shorter than Miss Swann; the top of her dark head would barely reach his chin.  Added onto her dearth of stature, she appeared to be terribly fine-boned—birdlike, even.

In fact, James mused, watching the woman flit around the room, it seemed his initial assessment of her as a crow was more accurate than it had a right to be.  Her hair and eyes were as black as crow feathers, and her features were sharp.  The nose, in particular, was rather long and pointed.

She wasn't beautiful.  Couldn't hold a candle to Miss Swann, James concluded, savouring the ache as the beloved visage intruded on his thoughts.  Elizabeth was stunning—rich and ripe, substantial and real with her golden-brown hair and skin that, albeit pale, still glowed with health.  This woman was slight and stark and airy—he wondered if he could see her veins if she got close enough.  Definitely not the sort of woman who could order a single pirate around, let alone a crowd of them.

This of course left him with the question of what really happened last night.

As the woman (James made a mental note to ask her name) returned to the table with a variety of bottles in her arms, he gathered his thoughts together and inquired, "How did I come to be here?"

A thin black brow arched over a dark eye.  "The usual way, I assume."

James frowned—the usual way?  What sort of person was she that there was a "usual way" for men to appear in her home?  "And what is the usual way, Madam?" he demanded curtly.

A patronising smirk curled the woman's thin lips.  "Surely you know how babies are made."

"I didn't mean it like that," James snapped irritably.

"Then you must learn to be more specific," the woman replied sharply, sending him a quelling glare.  "Now, did you wish to know how you came to be on Tortuga in general or my home in particular?"

"The latter, if you please," he replied through clenched teeth.

The woman didn't reply right away, but retrieved an earthenware jug and a very old, very large, very battered book and set them both on the table.  As she flipped through cracked pages, she explained the situation in a cool, disinterested tone of voice.

"I found you in a prone position on the floor of The Faithful Bride last night, about to be kicked to death by some rather unsavoury men.   As I was reluctant to see you shuffle off your mortal coil, since that would have most likely rendered you completely useless to me, I intervened."

While speaking, the woman had apparently found the page she was looking for; it appeared to be a recipe, since she began to follow it, marking each line with a spindly finger.  James didn't recognise any of the ingredients she poured into the jug off-hand—then again, he'd never studied as an apothecary.

After adding a spoonful of a viscous, opaque liquid to the concoction in the bowl, she continued.  "You swooned shortly thereafter, and I enlisted the help of some... patrons... to carry you here.  While you are under my protection, it hadn't been long enough for word to get around to the entire town, and I didn't want you robbed or stabbed or inadvertently killed if I left you to your own devices in town."

Evidently that was the end of the story, since the woman not only ceased speaking, but also glanced at him, eyebrows raised in an expression of polite curiosity that seemed to indicate she was ready to accept questions.  This woman had very expressive eyebrows, James decided, before organising the list of inquiries in his head and firing away.  "Of what, exactly, was your 'intervention' comprised?"

An expression consisting mostly of a smug smirk flitted across her pale face and reminded him uncomfortably of Jack Sparrow.  "The usual."

"Which consists of what?" James pressed.  Honestly, talking to this woman was like trying to talk to... Sparrow, as a matter of fact.  Simple questions got vague and incomprehensible answers.  The only difference was that the woman was not nearly as loquacious as the captain of The Black Pearl.

"Intimidation and castration," she replied lightly, adding to the jug three cups of liquid from a kettle suspended over the fire.  Then she corked it and shook the whole flagon heartily.

It took him a moment to process what, exactly, she had said.  "Castration?"

"That is what I said."  She set the jug back on the table and looked at him for a long moment, making him inexplicably uncomfortable.  Eventually she smiled a smile that made him even more discomfited.

"I see you doubt your own recollections of the night, Mister...?"  She trailed off, raising her eyebrows in a silent inquiry.

"Norrington," he supplied, as expected.

The woman nodded.  "Mr. Norrington," she said slowly, turning to fetch a mug from one of her cupboards.  "You shouldn't.  Most of your memories, though dulled by drink, are fairly accurate."

How on earth could she know what he remembered?  "Forgive me, but I have trouble believing that you..." he trailed off, not quite sure how to express his disbelief.

"Can order hardened pirates around?" she supplied, with that disturbing little smile lurking in the corners of her lips.

James nodded, and she laughed.  Her laugh was almost as bad as her smile.  There was no mirth in it—just ridicule.  He felt the back of his neck flush red, and then scolded himself for caring that this strange woman was mocking him.

"Appearances can be very deceiving, Mr. Norrington," the woman informed him, once she'd stopped laughing.  She uncorked the jug and poured the contents into the mug—it looked like unappetising greenish sludge.   "Many things on this island are not as they seem.  Yourself, for one example.  And I, for another."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Surely it's obvious," she drawled, setting the flagon aside and focussing her entire attention onto him. "You are not among the usual ilk for this sort of place.  You were apparently a high-ranking officer in the navy—a gentleman, a commander.  Unless I'm very much mistaken, you had a bright future before you: wealth, renown, honour.  You were certainly not someone expected to end up among the scum of the Caribbean in a pirate port.   Yet here you are, the diamond in the dung-heap."

"And you?"  James met her black eyes unflinchingly, disquiet shoved aside in the wake of the bitterness and regret her words had raised.  "Are you another 'diamond in the dung-heap'?"

A strange, almost unhappy expression tightened the woman's sharp features for a moment, but smoothed out almost as soon as the tension had appeared.  "There really isn't a fitting metaphor for what I am."

She forestalled the inevitable question of what she was by setting the mug before him (after stirring the contents of the mug with some kind of carved wooden stick).  "Drink it," she commanded.  Correctly interpreting the expression on his face, she added, "It will help your injuries, though it will taste thoroughly wretched—most medicines do.  But plug your nose and do as you're told."

Wretched woman.  Who did she think she was, ordering him around?  He was an officer in His Majesty's Royal Navy!

...Or he had been, at least.  Now he was just an aimless wanderer.  Thus he supposed the woman could, in fact, order him around.  Especially since this was her house.  So James merely scowled and slammed the contents of the mug back.

It tasted as bad as it looked.

No sooner had he finished one mug than he was presented with another.  He drank it without complaint, as he did the one after that.  The taste did not improve upon repetition.  Thankfully, after the third mug there was no more.

"That tasted foul," he announced.

The woman didn't reply, but tapped him on the forehead with the same stick she'd used to stir the concoction she'd just poured down his throat.  Suddenly, he felt better—a lot better, as a matter of fact.  The dull throbbing in his chest and head immediately lessened.

James turned to stare incredulously at her.  She smiled again, a curl of her lips and a glitter in her eyes that spoke of secrets and shadows and actual amusement, for a change.  "What did you do?" he whispered.

"Helped you," she replied simply, before collecting the mug, the jug, and the stick.  "Your ribs will be tender for the next few days, so I would not advise doing any strenuous lifting... or getting into any more bar-fights.  I'm afraid my talents do not run to healing, as my mother's did.  She could've healed you entirely.  Nevertheless, what I did will help."

"But what did you do?" he insisted.

"I gave you a tonic to drink—honestly, I should think it would be plainly obvious what I did," she said, rolling her eyes and swirling away to put the dishes in a tub by the door.

"A tonic?"

"How many times will I be asked to repeat this?  Are you hard of hearing?  Did the blows to your head perhaps do you permanent damage?"  An eyebrow raise and a sneer painted her face as she added, "Or are you simply one of those 'enlightened' and 'reasonable' Europeans who doesn't believe in anything he can't see?"

The scorn dripping from her voice made him bristle, and he retorted with an equal amount of disdain in his own.  "And what, pray tell, am I unable to see, Madam?  Since you are obviously so very enlightened yourself."

In a flurry of black hair and green dress she was back at the table, nose to nose with him, resting her palms on the table as she leaned in.

"What do you feel here, Mr. Norrington?" she hissed, black eyes cold and intense as they held his.  "Something that makes the hairs on the back of you neck stand on end and your insides shiver—does that sound about right?  But you don't believe in superstition; your education has told you that everything can be explained scientifically, can it not?  So there must be some mundane, rational reason why I disconcert you so.  Perhaps it's my eyes, or my voice, or the way I carry myself."

She leaned even closer, forcing him into the back of the chair.  The very tip of her pointed nose was a bare millimetre from his as she went on.

"But deep down, in the visceral part of your soul that your proper British education wasn't able to touch, you know why it is I scare you.  You know, subconsciously, what it is you feel.  Some primal part of you recognises it, and cowers in awe and respect.  Your 'higher senses' don't understand that instinctive reverence, and thus you feel uncomfortable, because your reason tells you there's nothing to fear—that I am truly an inferior, weaker being.  But your heart knows that I am powerful, and strong, and this contradiction between reason and... 'superstition'... is the source of your shivers."

Said shivers were inspired by the way her spindly white fingers were trailing up his arms.  A strange breeze had sprung up, and was swirling in a tightly contained whirlwind around them—and only them.  The green curtain in the back of the room wasn't even stirred, whereas his eyes were watering from the wind.  The woman's long black hair had been pulled out of the knot she'd tied it in, and was being artfully wafted and tossed on the breeze, writhing like snakes around her shoulders.

The 'visceral part of his soul' was shaking in its boots, but James had long been accustomed to shoving the fear away and letting his 'higher senses' have reign.  This practise had served him well against Barbossa's cursed crew, and he'd been able to face them with a cool head.  After those fleshless skeletons that were systematically killing his men, this woman could not faze him.

Indeed, he felt stronger right now than he had in a long time.  This was a simple situation of attempted intimidation, and he could deal with it.  He was finally able to summon up what was left of his military steel and use it to gird his loins (so to speak).

And at this point, he felt that his loins were in a certain amount of danger, since the woman was nearly in his lap, pinning him to the chair.  Had it been anyone else, James would have wondered if she was attempting seduction.  As it was, he was wondering if she was attempting murder.

"So what you are unable to see, Mr. Norrington," she purred into his ear, "is that which you are told does not exist.  Powers and talents dismissed as superstition and old wives' tales, but which are as real as the books and science and technology of your world.  And for all its uses, your reason cannot erase my kind, or our powers, though you push us to the fringes of society and force us to hide.  You've burned us, exiled us, drowned us, and yet we endure.  We are bearers of a legacy far greater than titles or fortune or honour.  That is what you cannot see—my gift.  My mother's legacy, and her mother's, and hers."

He glanced dispassionately at her, forcing himself to be unmoved as tendrils of her dark hair reached out to caress his face.  "Magic?" he queried coolly.

"A blanket term, but functional for those with a limited understanding of the nature of my talents," she replied, just as cool.

He narrowed his eyes.  "You're a witch," James accused, finally understanding.

"Witch," the woman scoffed, chuckling deep in her throat.  "So trivial, so asinine... so stupid.  Honestly, I don't have 'congress with the beast' or drink the blood of children or sour milk with my mere presence.  I simply have... another sense, such as it is, and some rather unique abilities as a result."

There was a smug undertone in her voice, and James was immediately reminded of the man she'd dropped so easily last night.  "Like castrating a man at a word?" he asked sourly, feeling indignant on behalf of the new eunuch.

Her pale face hardened noticeably.  "This is Tortuga, Mr. Norrington," she pointed out grimly.  "Oderint dum metuant—let them hate, so long as they fear, if you are unfamiliar with the Latin.  This is not a place for the weak or altruistic.  If you don't make it known that you're either to be bargained with or feared the inhabitants will take of you until there's nothing left."

Suddenly, James felt tired.  "Is there no place for kindness, then?" he inquired dully.

"Do not think that what I did for you was motivated by kindness," the woman scoffed, retreating slightly so that their noses were no longer so close.

"Then what was your motivation, may I ask?"

Apparently feeling that her point had been sufficiently made, the woman moved away to a respectable distance and let the winds die down.  She seated herself gracefully in one of the other chairs, posture straight and hands folded demurely in her lap—an obvious pretence, after all he'd seen.

"I've been waiting for you for a very long time," she began after a moment, fixing an intense gaze on him.  "I hate this island, you see.  For many years all I've wanted is to leave.  I have, however, been quite unable.  Until now.  You, sir, are my way off Tortuga.  I don't know how, or when, but you will eventually take me off this island."

James blinked.  Then he blinked again, furrowing his brow in confusion.  "I'm going to take you off this island?" he repeated sceptically.

"Eventually.  It isn't as though you have to book passage this very moment," the woman replied dismissively, languidly flapping a hand.  "You are, of course, free to do whatever it is you came here to do."

"And I do so thank you for your condescension, my dread lady, because of course I am at your every beck and call," James drawled sarcastically in return.

A brief, surprised expression flashed across her face, and for a moment she was almost pretty.  "I suppose I deserved that," she admitted ruefully, her pale cheeks tinged slightly pink.  "Please forgive my presumption.  It seems my time spent away from polite society has been all the worse for my manners."

James got the feeling he'd somehow impressed her, since she struck him as the sort of woman who very seldom apologised for anything.  So he simply nodded, and said, "Of course, Madam."  Belatedly, he added, "And I never did learn your name."

"Miss Stella Bell," she replied.

"I am at your service, Miss Bell," he acknowledged courteously, but with a twist of bitterness he wasn't quite able to repress.  "Almost literally.  There is no purpose for my presence on this island—save, it seems, for finding you passage off."

Miss Bell tilted her head and regarded him for a moment.  The same discomfiture from before scampered up his spine, accompanied by an urge to flinch away from her eyes.  He wondered if that meant she was magicking him.

"Do you believe in fate, Mr. Norrington?" she asked suddenly.

"Miss Bell?" he queried, uncertain of her meaning and confused by the apparent non sequitur.

"Fate.  Destiny.  The idea that there is some grand and vast pattern out there in which we all have some part.  Do you believe it?"

James considered the notion—he hadn't ever really thought about it before.  "To an extent," he finally decided.

An eyebrow raised expressively over Miss Bell's left eye as she repeated scornfully, "An extent?  That is no answer, sir—merely the feeble demurral of a man who lacks conviction."

"It is an answer," he protested.  "It must suffice, for I can think of no better expression of my sentiments."

"Then elaborate, if you please," Miss Bell requested in that curt tone which indicated her request was more of a command.

"Surely there are events in the world that are so... so utterly strange and which change the world around you so thoroughly that they cannot be but fate," James began awkwardly, trying to order his feelings and thoughts into some semblance of coherence.   "In that sense, I believe in destiny, because there is no other possible explanation as to why the events could have occurred as they did.  Everything was stacked against them, but they happened nonetheless.

"However, that is not to say I believe fate to be some convenient scapegoat for when everything goes wrong.  Sometimes things happen because of one's own failings, and to place the blame on destiny is a weak man's attempt to avoid his own responsibility.  Fate cannot be accountable for every misfortune—occasionally the blame falls solely on the head of he who is the recipient," he finished.  "I hope that answer is more amenable to you, Miss Bell," he added dryly.

"Quite," she replied shortly.  "However, does your presence on Tortuga fall under the former, or the latter?"

"Are you always this... painfully blunt, Miss Bell?" James demanded incredulously.

The eerie half-smile had reappeared.  "On the contrary, Mr. Norrington, I'm attempting to be pointed.  My inquiry?"

"Why does it matter?" he snapped.

"This little exercise is not for my own edification, sir.  The answers we attain will only benefit you," Miss Bell snapped back.  "Why are you here, Mr. Norrington?"

"Because you brought me here when I was unconscious," James answered curtly.

Miss Bell rolled her eyes.  "Why are you here on Tortuga?" she elaborated, placing the emphasis where it belonged.

"You must learn to be more specific," James chastised mockingly, mimicking her tones as he repeated her words back to her.

Annoyance flared in her black eyes like distant lightning in a storm far at sea.  "Why did you come here, to this island?" Miss Bell demanded for the third time.

James shrugged.  "Because I had to make port somewhere, and this was the next place we stopped," he replied simply, deciding to humour Miss Bell before she passed from irritation to ire.

"Not so," Miss Bell corrected him intently, leaning closer.  "Everyone has a reason for coming to Tortuga, Mr. Norrington, even if they are unaware of it."

"Then what was your reason?" he inquired sharply, tiring of her hidden meanings and constant questions.  Couldn't she just tell him what she wanted him to know and let him be?

"We're not speaking of me," she replied coldly, "but of you, and the purpose for your sojourn on this little slice of hell."

"And I've told you, I have no purpose.  I didn't even realise this was where the ship was putting in until it anchored here," James insisted irritably.

Another eye roll.  "Did you not listen to what I said?  There is always a reason to come here, even if you don't consciously know it," Miss Bell said slowly, over-enunciating her words.

"Then how can I possibly tell you what you wish to know when I don't know it myself?"

With an aggravated little huff, Miss Bell subsided slightly.  Had she been a different person, she probably would've pouted a bit as well.  James rather wished she would—it would make her seem... slightly more human.

"Mr. Norrington... Mister Norrington," she repeated after a moment, as if tasting his name.  Then a cruel little half-smirk. "Or should it be Lieutenant Norrington?  Captain Norrington?" she asked, apparently undertaking a new plan of attack.

"Commodore, actually," he replied dully, wishing for nothing more than a full bottle of liquor to dull the memories and reminders of all he had lost.

This declaration apparently surprised his hostess, as a muttered oath reached his ears.  James imagined that Miss Bell's eyebrows were adequately expressing her astonishment, but since he was staring at the floor he couldn't see them.

"How in God's name does the ranking officer in the Caribbean end up being kicked to death on the floor of a pirate tavern?" Miss Bell demanded.

There was actual, incredulous curiosity in her voice when she asked that, instead of the detached, patronising tone she'd adopted when questioning him before.  Perhaps that was why he dragged his eyes from the floor, smiled a smile which felt as heavy as a cannon, and replied, "It's a long story involving my erstwhile fiancé, a hurricane, and one Jack Sparrow."

Miss Bell heaved a sigh and covered her eyes with her hands, as if pained.  "It always involves Jack Sparrow."

James barely heard her.  It seemed like those two words were echoing in his head.  Jack Sparrow.

Suddenly, it made sense.  His entire downfall could be tracked from the moment Jack Sparrow entered his life.  The pirate had effectively ruined his life—if not for Sparrow, he wouldn't have lost all those men to the cursed pirates, nor would he have lost Elizabeth to Turner.  If not for Sparrow, he wouldn't have spent a year chasing The Black Pearl, only to lose so many good sailors and the pride of the Caribbean Navy to a hurricane.  If not for Sparrow, he'd still be the commodore back in Port Royal, instead of a nobody in Tortuga.

"He ruined my life," James ground out harshly, clenching his fists in the fabric of his coat.  He looked sharply up to find Miss Bell's black eyes on him.  "This is a pirate port—does Jack Sparrow ever come here?" he demanded urgently.

Miss Bell gave him a very flat look.  "Of course he comes here—every pirate in the Caribbean eventually comes here."

He nodded as the vague outline of a plan congealed in his head.  "Then the next time he shows his face on this island, I'll kill him," James vowed.

Now that he finally had a purpose, he felt better—there was a clear plan and goal in mind.  Since his ribs were no longer as painful as before, he was able to get his boots on without further problems.

"The way back to the port is through the graveyard and straight south on the path," Miss Bell informed him as he shouldered his bag and jammed his hat on his head.  "It's the only trail there, and after a time you'll be able to follow the sounds of anarchy into town without any trouble."

They had migrated to the door by this point.   James offered her a curt bow.  "Thank you for your hospitality, Miss Bell," he said politely.

Miss Bell curtsied in return.  "You are quite welcome, Mr. Norrington.   Naturally, my door is open should you have need of me again."

He didn't say it aloud, but James privately thought that it'd be a cold day in Hell when that happened.  He was grateful to her for everything she'd done for him, of course, but he didn't like her.  Witchery aside, he found her abrasive, condescending, cutting, and abrupt.  He'd have to be in dire straits indeed to call on her assistance again.

But he said none of this, but bowed again and took his leave, carefully navigating the graveyard as he wound back to the port town and the search for Jack Sparrow.


Stella watched him go with a bemused smile on her lips.  He cut such an interesting figure, Mr. Norrington, with his reasonably neat appearance and his haughty posture.  His goal was equally interesting, but completely futile.  Did the man honestly think it would be so easy to kill Jack Sparrow?

Then she shrugged, and went to tidy up.  It wasn't any of her affair—as long as the ex-commodore did as he ought to and took her off the island, he was free to try and kill Davy Jones for all she cared.

So she folded the coverlets he'd slept on and placed them back in the blanket chest before turning to shelve the book he'd been reading.  However, the title gave her pause.  Oedipus Rex.  It was a tragic, rather depressing play about the caprices and inevitabilities of fate, and an interesting choice of literature for a man who had lost everything and didn't seem to believe in fortune.

"’Why should a mortal man, the sport of chance, with no assured foreknowledge, be afraid?  Best live a careless life from hand to mouth,’" she murmured, reciting Jocasta's ironic lines before shutting the book and returning it to its place on the shelf.

"We shall have to see what manner of life you lead, Mr. Norrington.  I must confess, I find you very curious indeed," Stella commented, resting a finger on the spine of the book.

Then she shook herself out of her contemplation and went to wash the dishes.

Chapter Text

It didn't take long for James to discover that Jack Sparrow wasn't in town, and this discovery left him at something of loose ends.  He didn't really have much of a plan besides "kill Jack Sparrow", and without a Jack Sparrow around to kill... he spent a lot of time in taverns.

He supposed it wasn't as bad as it could've been.  Oh, it was certainly bad.  The room he'd rented was small, smelled like sweat and vomit, had walls as thin as paper, and a lumpy mattress.  He frequently drank a little too much and ended up passed out in places to which he didn't quite remember walking.  His savings were nearly exhausted, and he'd soon have to start selling bits of gold off his coat.

On the other hand, he hadn't been assaulted since that first night, and he was developing a tolerance and a taste for rum.

James supposed a man could get used to anything.

Usually he started his heavy drinking when the sun set, and that November evening was no different.  The ex-commodore departed from the docks, where he spent his days watching for black sails, to a tavern he hadn't patronised the night before.  He ordered a bottle of rum, and sequestered himself in a corner as he prepared to descend into a liquor-induced stupor.

However, before he could get much beyond his first mug, a familiar feeling scampered up his spine.

Norrington heaved a sigh, and buried his unshaven face in his hands. Then he straightened and beckoned the bar wench to bring him another mug.  He wasn't going to be alone for much longer, and might as well prepare himself to be hospitable.  And sure enough, not two moments after the wench had brought him the second vessel did a visage that was becoming all too familiar appear.

As expected, a pair of black eyes immediately sought his countenance out from a position near the doorway, and James met and held them steadily.  Without dropping his gaze, he carefully poured a small serving of rum into the second tankard and set it vigorously across from where he sat, before gesturing gregariously to the extra chairs around the table.  The invitation was obvious.

A moment passed.  The sensation of fingernails dragging along his skin returned, which James took to mean he was being measured.  He didn't look away, but kept staring evenly at the woman in the doorway.

Finally, Miss Bell seemed to deem his invitation acceptable, glided gracefully through the rowdy pirates like a shark through the water, eyes focussed on him all the while.  In a rum-induced fit of whimsy, James wondered idly if her teeth would be pointed should she happen to actually smile.

"You've been watching me for the past fortnight," he accused without preamble as soon as the woman had seated herself in a flurry of black cloak and chiming bells.

"Just checking to see how you fare.  After all, it wouldn't do for me to take you under my protection and then fail to protect you," Miss Bell replied snidely.

"As you can see, Miss Bell, I am quite all right.  Your protection has been quite protective," he returned, giving the woman a sarcastic bow as best he could while seated.

He had tried to be angry about the fact that he was, essentially, cowering behind the skirts of a woman.  However, her influence with the inhabitants of the island was a little too beneficial for him to muster up anything more than faint vexation, and for the most part he was grateful that Miss Bell's intercession enabled him to be left, for the most part, alone.

"And the sight warms the very depths of my heart," she drawled, rolling her black eyes.  "Why the invitation, Mr. Norrington?"

"No reason," Norrington shrugged carelessly, taking another swig of rum.  "I felt as long as you were making such an effort to follow me around, the least I could do was entertain you for a time."  He took another slug.  "Jack Sparrow isn't on the island."

"I know."

"Did you know when I first mentioned wanting to go after Sparrow?"

"Yes."

"Why didn't you tell me then?"

"Would it have changed anything?"

James didn't bother to dignify that with a response—not the least because she was right—and silence descended on the little table.

The two of them made an interesting tableau, seated so gracefully with perfect posture when all around them raged chaos.  They looked like a distorted reflection of some aristocratic function, faded with time and pasted into the wrong background.  Despite being dirty and worn, the gentleman's clothing was of a superior cut and quality.  Despite being faded with age, the lady's gown had once been fashionable and well-made.  They were clearly trying to hold onto whatever remnants of upper-class elegance were left to them, and such sophistication was sorely out of place in The Mermaid's Purse.

"I must say, you aren't very entertaining," Miss Bell eventually remarked, after another ten minutes passed without a word from either.

"Drink your rum.  I'll become hilarious after about three more glasses," he quipped tartly, downing another swallow himself.  Miss Bell looked dubiously at the glass in front of her, then back up to the him, raising her brows sceptically.  "Admittedly, it isn't much of a lady's drink—then again, you're not much of a lady, are you?" James remarked casually, replying to the unspoken retort.

Miss Bell's black eyes flashed murder for one brief moment, but her features smoothed out into a sweetly quizzical smile that would have looked at home on the countenance of any society lady... were it not for the unmasked malice lurking in the shadows of her face.  Her companion saw none of this, focussed as he was on the contents of the bottle before him.

"Unlike your erstwhile fiancé—what was her name... Elizabeth?" she inquired in return, her crow's voice laced with poisoned honey.

James started violently—her name was something he honestly was not expecting to hear—and jerked his head up.  "How did you hear of her?" he ground out through clenched teeth.

A new smile was making an appearance on Miss Bell's pale face, and this one looked decidedly predatory due to the flash of teeth between her thin lips.  "The whores chatter like birds after the rain, Mr. Norrington.  I daresay half the port knows how you refer constantly to your... pleasurable company... by the same name: Elizabeth," she purred.

"How do you know she was my fiancée?" he demanded harshly, slamming the tankard down.

Miss Bell tossed her dark hair saucily.  The action would have been deemed flirtatious, were it anyone else.  "I didn't," she replied sweetly.  "But your actions have confirmed it beyond a doubt."

"Just because I love her does not necessarily mean she's my fiancée," James said coldly, trying to regain control of the situation.

"Ha," scoffed the witch.  "Aside from the fact that you just told me she was, you are not that sort of man, Mr. Norrington."

"And how, pray tell, do you have any idea about what sort of man I am, Miss Bell?"

The shark's smile morphed into her usual eerie smirk, and the cold sensation of fingers on his spine returned as her black, black eyes bored relentlessly into his.

James suddenly realised why her smiles were always so disconcerting: they never reached her eyes.  No matter how her lips curled, her eyes remained untouched—always watching, and measuring, and knowing.  They were blank and empty and utterly without compassion; so unlike the soft, sparkling brown eyes of they woman they had just been discussing.

"I know, Mr. Norrington," Miss Bell replied simply.  "I know, because I can see every nook and cranny of your starched and tarnished soul.  One of my talents," she added airily.  "I'm quite good at seeing into people—motivations, virtues, vices, flaws, habits, likes, dislikes... there's not a thing about you that I can't see.  Hence, I know you've only loved one woman in your stuffy, static little life.  Since you certainly wouldn't lower yourself to fall in love with some common trollop, Elizabeth must be a higher class lady.  And because she's one of the upper-class—and because you're such a prim-and-proper man—of course you'd propose to her.  But," she sighed dramatically, "just because you propose, doesn't mean she'll accept.  Did she accept you, former-Commodore?"

"I don't see how that's any of your business, Miss Bell," James snapped stiffly, trying to hold onto his dignity as her words struck him like darts.

Miss Bell just smiled.  "Since you refer to her as your fiancée, she must have accepted your suit," she continued thoughtfully, wilfully ignoring the clear indication that he did not want to discuss this.   "However, she is clearly not your fiancée now.  What happened, Mr. Norrington?  She leave you at the altar?  Run off with Jack Sparrow?  Is that why you pursue him so fervently—he stole your intended?"

"No.  Elizabeth's rejection had nothing to do with Jack Sparrow," James snapped, before realising two things: one, that he was talking about it despite his resolution not to, and two, that he couldn't be entirely sure that Elizabeth's rejection had nothing to do with Jack Sparrow.  He had seemed to have catalysed said rejection.

"Ah, so she did reject you!" Miss Bell crowed triumphantly.

"Brava, Miss Bell," James drawled acidly, "for arriving at a conclusion that everyone else is already aware of."

"It's entirely possible that she died," the woman shot back venomously.  "Perhaps it would have been better if she had."

A strange red cloud filled his vision, and it took a moment for him to realise it was rage.  James gathered his thoughts together and shoved them down into a box girded with steel.  At that point he realised he was clenching his jaw so tightly his muscles were cramping, and that he was clutching the rum bottle so fiercely his knuckles were white.

He took a deep breath in.  "Dead or alive, Elizabeth is twice the woman you'll ever be," he said levelly, with just a hint of a snarl.

"At least I keep my word," Miss Bell returned, just as level.

"And how much worth does the word of a witch carry?" he sneered scornfully.

Instead of blushing and looking properly ashamed, as James hoped she would, Miss Bell merely smiled poisonously.  "More than your Elizabeth's, I daresay.  I've never jilted a fiancé."

"She didn't jilt me—I released her from her promise," James replied hollowly.

"Now, I wonder what on earth could have inspired you to do that?" the witch said in false sweetness, widening her black eyes and adopting a mocking façade of curiosity.  "The fact that she loved someone else?"  Her eyes narrowed cunningly.  "A handsome young lad named William Turner, perhaps?"

By now, James no longer questioned how the sharp-tongued harpy acquired her information.  He assumed it was some mystical trickery that she'd wax unintelligible about if questioned, and instead turned his attention ending this conversation as soon as humanly possible.  He felt like his heart was being dragged over rocks and shoved through a meat-grinder with all the painful memories Miss Bell's cruel words were dredging up.

"The circumstances are inconsequential," he said coldly, mustering his strength for another defence.  "I released her, and our relations remained amiable."

"Because you still love her," Miss Bell supplied scornfully, hitting the name of the emotion with a particular venom.  "And because of that love you've ruined your life.  Congratulations, Mr. Norrington."

"Loving Elizabeth had nothing to do with it.  I ruined my life all on my own," James replied sardonically.

Miss Bell smiled.  "Liar."

"What?" James barked.

"Liar," she repeated, over-enunciating the word and narrowing her eyes as she cocked her head to the side and regarded him in a curiously birdlike way.  The prickly feeling returned, and James knew she was looking at him with something beyond her physical eyes. "Loving Elizabeth had everything to do with it, even if you won't acknowledge it."  The prickles increased.  "In fact, there's quite a lot you won't acknowledge—not the least about the nature of your erstwhile fiancée," she added snidely, sitting back in her chair.

James felt the rage bubbling up again, and clenched his hands tightly around the tankard of rum as he reined in his temper.  "Thank you for that undoubtedly impertinent assessment of me and mine, Miss Bell," he said frostily.  "Nevertheless, despite your sentiments about a woman you've never before met, Elizabeth Sw—Miss Elizabeth is a fine woman, and I won't have you impugning her honour.  I'll thank you to stop insulting her, before I have to rethink my policy against striking women."

"You're defending the honour of a woman who cares nothing for you, to the point of compromising your own moral code—how absolutely darling," the witch cooed disdainfully.  "My, it must be pleasant to have a champion—what a pity Miss Elizabeth doesn't appreciate what she has," she sighed.  "Poor ladies such as myself are forced to defend their own honour in the best ways they can."  James was favoured with a tight, curt smile and a significant eyebrow raise, before Miss Bell's voice hardened noticeably.  "And I should warn you that if you persist in impugning my honour, I'll do more than impugn your Elizabeth's.  I'm a hair's breadth away from hexing you."

"I thought you needed me," James sneered.

"I need you alive," Miss Bell returned, baring her teeth in that grim parody of a shark's smile.  "That doesn't mean I can't curse you in a variety of painful and non-lethal ways."

"Do you always curse the people who question your virtue?" he inquired scornfully.

"Usually, no.  I merely look to see what would hurt them most to hear and then speak it aloud.  You have proved yourself surprisingly resistant to that approach, so now I find myself forced to switch tactics."

Miss Bell's blunt reply caught him by surprise, and James just blinked blankly at her for a moment or two.  He could scarcely believe that such relentless verbal malice was the consequence for a couple off-hand remarks he scarcely recalled making.  Mustering his thoughts together, James could only voice the dominant impression in his mind: "You're a cruel woman, Black Stella."

"My cruelty was no greater than your own," Black Stella snapped back.

"I hardly think—"

"I very much dislike hearing my virtue and reputation questioned, Mr. Norrington, nor am I partial to being called a witch to my face," she interrupted sharply.  "It was hardly polite of you to do so, sir.  I fear the company you keep is having a detrimental effect on your once-quite-gentlemanly manners.  At this rate, I daresay you won't be much better than the rest of these pirates by the next fortnight."

James flinched.  "Touché, Miss Bell."  He took another swig of rum.  "You really do have a most terrible talent for saying that which causes the most pain."

"I've had many years to perfect it."

"Why?" he demanded.  "What kind of woman are you, that you would take the time to perfect such a malicious skill?"

"I told you, Mr. Norrington: life is hard for women without men," she replied icily.  "It's a sad truth, but that makes it no less difficult for women on their own.  We had no one, and I had to learn to protect myself as best I could.  I cannot wield a sword or a pistol, I have no father, no uncles, no brothers, and I'll be damned before I become anyone's whore.  That leaves me hexes and words.  I am so very sorry that my methods do not meet with your approval," she sneered scornfully.

James was surprised, and a little taken aback.  It appeared that Miss Bell was actually angry.  It was the first real emotion he'd seen unabashedly displayed on her face.  There was no façade now; her black eyes were burning, and her pale face had twisted into a snarl, and two spots of red sat high on her flushed cheeks.  And if he'd ever doubted her somewhat uncanny connection to the winds, he didn't now—even above the din in the tavern he could hear the wind whistling through the streets.

Perversely, he felt glad for it.  After feeling her darts make purchase in his battered heart all evening, he was glad at least one of his shots had found its mark into her thin, bony little chest.  "Don't like being judged, I see," he remarked lightly, pouring another mug of rum.

"By the likes of you?  Hardly," Miss Bell snarled.

"Why so touchy?" he taunted.

"Tell me about Elizabeth," she shot back. James winced.  Miss Bell nodded.  "You see, Mr. Norrington," she commented quietly, barely audible above the din, "we all have gaps in our armour."

He pondered for a few moments.  "Why show me?" he asked after taking another swig straight from the bottle.  "Why show me this 'gap in your armour'?"

Miss Bell shrugged her thin white shoulders.  "Thought I'd even the playing field," she replied nonchalantly.  "Otherwise it isn't any fun."

"I'd hardly call it even," James snorted.  "You seem to hold all the cards."

"I do hold all the cards," Miss Bell replied smugly.

James felt his hand twitch with the urge to slap that conceited little smirk right off her pointed face.  However, as had earlier been observed, he was not the sort of man to strike a woman, no matter how vexing she be.  So he did the next best thing.  "You sound like Jack Sparrow."

That did it.  The smirk fell right off her face—but to James' vast surprise, it was replaced by laughter.  Miss Bell actually laughed.  Her mirth was swift, like the wind through the trees, and tinkled like the tiny bells around her neck, and passed like an afternoon shower.  But he had seen her laugh—had seen it, and knew such a thing occurred.  "Touché, Commodore."

Then, surprising him again, Miss Bell picked up the untouched tankard of rum in front of her and took a surprisingly hearty swig.  Apparently such strong spirits did not agree with her, since her face twisted in disgust and she started coughing the minute the rum went down.  "Had to wash my mouth out, if I was beginning to sound like Sparrow," she wheezed in response to his confused expression.

"Rum's the drink for it," James agreed, raising the bottle in toast.  He'd long since forsaken the use of a cup.

"Why are you drinking, Mr. Norrington?" Miss Bell inquired after a moment, as though she hadn't pondered it before.

He smiled bitterly, and replied honestly, "To forget."

"Forget what?  Elizabeth?  Why should you wish to forget her?" Miss Bell queried, sounding sincerely bemused.  "You love her."

"And she loves me not.  Nor shall I ever see her again.  I trust you can comprehend my pain now?" James snapped.

She shrugged.  "Comprehend, if not emphasize.  Love is, thankfully, one storm I've managed to avoid." Then she laughed again, but this was not a laugh of bells and breezes, but one of bitterness.  "After all, it makes idiots out of even the most sensible of people."

"Cheers," James agreed glumly, lifting the bottle.

He paused when Miss Bell's spidery white fingers rested on his as he moved to drink.  They were cool and airy—he could barely feel her touch, though he saw her hand right there on his.  Lowering the vessel, he raised his eyebrows, trusting that she'd read the wordless query.

"You can't drink it all away, you know," she told him, her black eyes were fixed to his with a quiet intensity.

"They can," he said, gesturing to the other inhabitants of the pub with his free hand.

"You're not like them," Miss Bell replied with curious gentleness.  "She's imprinted on your soul, Commodore, and all the rum in the Caribbean can't erase her.  Only you can do that.  And not like this.  All you're doing is destroying yourself slowly."

James was deeply baffled by this turn of events.  The crow's voice had softened until it was more like molasses, and the harsh glitter in her black eyes was replaced by something more like candlelight.  He opened his mouth to speak, but realised he didn't really know what to say.  So he closed it again.

Miss Bell smiled—yet another new smile.  This one was rueful and amused, and caused a faint glimmer to dance through the depths of her black eyes.  "But you're not ready yet, I see.  Nevertheless, please don't drink yourself to death this night.  I still have need of you," she reminded him smoothly, removing her hand from his and standing in one swift movement.

Then she curtsied gracefully, skirts and cloak floating around her as she said, "By your leave, Mr. Norrington," before vanishing back into the chaos of the bar and out the door.

The former commodore wasn't sure what to think about all of this—about any of this, actually.  So he didn't bother.  He muttered something to himself about bloody witches, and drank himself into the oblivion he'd been awaiting all evening.

Chapter Text

The next morning, as she reflected upon the previous night's conversation, Stella had a feeling she'd thoroughly confused the current object of her attention.  To tell the truth, she'd confused herself.  She didn't make a habit of being kind to anyone, let alone to people who'd insulted her and whom she'd needed to insult back.

Still, she had to give it to him: Former-Commodore Norrington was made of stern stuff.  Quite against her will, she was impressed with him.   She'd been pulling out her most disconcerting tricks since the moment they'd met, and not once had he run.  Not once had he slunk away in defeat—indeed, most of the time he merely glared at her with those icy green eyes and sent back some barbs of his own.

Take last night: she'd taken the most intimate information she could see and crafted it into arrows which hit their marks in the most tender part of his heart.  But instead of backing down, Mr. Norrington had stiffened his spine and replied, pressing until he found something to craft into arrows of his own.

There was indeed something to be said for British education and military discipline: they occasionally produced men with steel spines and iron guts who could meet her head-on without flinching.  Unfortunately, said men were usually steel-skulled as well, and lacked a single iota of sense.

Norrington, however... Norrington seemed to be in a category all his own.  If he did turn out to have a brain with his steel spine and iron guts, she might actually be inclined to respect him.

She was, after all, already inclined to like him.

That was odd in itself.  Stella generally didn't like people.  Since she had the dubious talent of being able to see into their souls, she could always instantly tell what sort of individuals they were.  For the most part, she was consistently disappointed.  The world was entirely too full of scoundrels, scallywags, gits, prats, tarts, whores, and all other manner of unpleasant people—and she had known this from a very early age.

However, every so often she would run across a person whom she liked, despite being able to see every bad quality about them.  Tia Dalma was one; strangely enough, Jack Sparrow was another.  This Mr. Norrington was apparently the third.

And even without the indescribable liking that came upon her occasionally, Mr. Norrington was a decent sort.  For one, he was polite and well-bred, with the instinctive courtesy of the higher-born that Stella had so missed during her years on Tortuga.  He was intelligent, honourable, and generally a good man without being as naïve and insipid as William Turner the younger.

And he had the most fantastic green eyes she'd ever seen.

Stella absently took a sip of tea, then choked slightly when she realised it had gone cold.  Shaking her head, she decided she'd been pondering Mr. Norrington far too much.  He wasn't ready to take her off the island yet, and until he was, she really oughtn't be wasting so much of her time thinking about him.

"Get your head on straight," she told herself sternly as she went to wash the dishes.  "You've still got your own life, and if Mr. Norrington wants to drink himself into the muck of the streets, that's none of your to-do.  You don’t even know his first name, for heaven’s sake.  You've got three charms and a poultice to make, and you're running low on westerly winds.  Just because he's here doesn't mean you can neglect your work.  So get to it, my girl, and leave that man to his own devices."

And she did.  She kept mostly to her secluded house for the next three days, weaving spells and catching winds for her customers.   Her yellow dress needed some mending, the orange tree out back had a few more ripe fruits, and she was running low on palm oil; these and other such domestic chores occupied her time as she tried to fall back into the pattern of life she'd had before... before.  And if her thoughts occasionally wandered in the direction of the port town to the north... well, it was only natural to wonder if her pet navy-man was still alive.  The erstwhile officer probably wondered about her, as well—that was what happened when people were bound together by Fate's indescribable whims.

Even if they didn't want it to.

At least, Stella assumed Mr. Norrington didn't want to wonder about her, or think on her, or have much to do with her in general.  She knew that he found her disturbing; most people did.  She knew he didn't like her; few people did.  She knew she'd offended his pride upon their first meeting, and had done nothing to endear herself since; she never did.

Thus, she was fairly surprised when, five days after their last meeting, Mr. Norrington actually sought her out.

She'd planned to spend the day alone, as usual.  There were no appointments, and when she'd made herself tea last night the leaves told her that there would be no visitors at the house for another two days.  She knew there was no one coming.  But still something nagged at her, saying that she would have company this day.

Assuming "company" meant the storm that was blowing through, Stella shrugged the premonition off and made the walk to her favourite storm-spot: a little peninsula about three miles west of the port, where the rocks jutted out to sea, unshielded by land or trees.  As far as she knew, no sailors bothered with that part of the island, due to the aforementioned rocks; it was completely hers.  But she only came there when the storm promised to be especially exhilarating, due to the rather difficult trek through land alternatively swampy and stony to get to it.  But the end result was ultimately worth it.  When she went to the very point of the rocky outcropping, the overhanging vegetation would vanish from her peripheral vision, until it was only herself, the sea, and the sky.

Clad in nothing but a worn white shift and her voluminous black cloak, Stella made it to the tip of the point just as the first sheets of rain descended and the wind picked up.  The wind recognised her as its own, and several zephyrs broke from the main gusts and wound around her like contented cats, pulling her hair free from its braids and winding her cloak and skirts around her legs, before whirling off, greetings bestowed, into the maelstrom brewing northwest of the island.  The light dimmed as the ominous grey clouds rolled across the ocean towards the island, while flashes of lighting and distant rumbles of thunder accompanied the sweeping sheets of rain.  There was a sudden still at the coast, just before the darkest line of clouds intersected with the line where sea met sand.

And Stella laughed as the storm broke over her head.

The wind and water lashed her body, and swept away everything but Stella.  Black Stella, the witch of Tortuga; Miss Bell, the proper young lady; and even Nell's bastard—all fell away with the advent of the storm, and all that was left was Stella, who was only one step away from being a storm herself.

She threw up her arms and embraced the tempest, and the tempest reached down and enveloped her.  The rain poured down, soaking through layers of fabric, until Stella was soaked to the skin.  The deluge was compounded by the rolling waves, which thundered into the shore and crashed around her, drenching her legs in saltwater.  She could feel every inch of her skin, stretched too tight over the power within her that wanted so badly to burst her body apart and truly become one with the storm above her.

Perhaps one day, the winds would actually lift her off her feet and carry her away into the skies. Perhaps one day when nothing tied her to the ground they would collect their companion and bring her away with them.  Perhaps one day the inhabitants of Tortuga would find nothing left of Black Stella but a casing of pale skin and a laugh like black coffee echoing on the breeze.

But not this day.

The storm eventually passed, as all storms do. It spent its fury over Tortuga, and rumbled off into the distance to gather speed and spend itself anew over the island of Hispaniola.  In the wake of its departure, Stella ceased to become one with the storm, separated from its fury by a thin layer of skin, and was left as a sodden girl perched on an outcropping, arms raised toward the heavens as the waves lapped her feet.

Trembling slightly, Stella lowered her arms and absently brushed away a strand of black hair the rain had stuck to her cheek.  The sun was beginning to peer out from the patchy clouds left in the wake of the storm.  She turned to her right, and regarded the retreat of dark clouds, still flickering faintly as the lightning danced within them, before lifting her shaking arm and pointing.  The clouds shifted, and a rainbow streaked across the sky.

Stella remained on the tiny rocky outcropping until the chill from her wet clothing made her shiver, even in the heat of a Caribbean afternoon.  Then she carefully picked her way back towards terra firma, feeling quite pleased with life in general.

...At least, until a voice came from the palm trees to her left.

"I don't understand you."

Stella startled so badly she stumbled and nearly pitched face-first into the ocean.  Thankfully, she was still so charged from the storm that the winds quickly swirled around her and prevented such a spill, but her face burned red at being seen so undignified.  Furthermore, she was well aware of how she was—or wasn't—dressed, clad in nothing but waterlogged undergarments with her loose hair plastered to her neck and arms.  She felt a spike of irrational irritation at herself for not noticing his presence, and an even more irrational one at him for seeing her this way.  Thus, the glare she turned on the man could probably have peeled paint.

"I'm not surprised," she sniffed.

He stepped out from beneath the palm fronds, slightly damp and rather scraggly, and raised an eyebrow at her.  Stella felt foolishly perturbed—that was her expression!  "Is that meant to be some sort of commentary on my mental faculties?"

"Take it as you will," she shrugged, hopping off the last rock and onto the sandy beach.

Norrington walked out to meet her, and they stood together on the coast, where the sand mingled with the grass.  Stella was soaked through—now a much less impressive personage, with her too-large cloak dragging the wet sand and swamping her tiny figure and her glossy black hair sopping wet and tangled.  Neither was the naval officer a very impressive personage himself, now that the rich blue of his uniform was dulled by dirt and mud, the gold brocade coming off, and—

"Is... is that a wig?" Stella inquired incredulously, peering up at the curious white matted... thing... sandwiched between his head and his hat.

A slight flush was seen through the dirt on his unshaven cheeks.  "Yes," he muttered.

"What possible reason could you have for wearing a wig in a thunderstorm?" Stella demanded.

"What possible reason could you have for standing outside in a thunderstorm?" Norrington retorted, glaring.  "You could've been struck by lightning or swept away in the waves."

Stella snorted.  "Hardly.  The storms know me," she scoffed.

Norrington looked confused by this for a moment, before comprehension dawned and replaced his baffled expression with one of vexed resignation.  "Ah yes.  Your magic."

"Call it a gift, more like," Stella chided, grinning before she could stop herself.  "You're just jealous you don't have one."

He looked at her strangely, as though he'd never seen her before.  Actually, Stella pondered, pale cheeks flushing slightly, he never had—at least, not like this.

Eventually, Norrington shook his head (and Stella watched in horrified fascination as the queue of the wig, looking like a dead mouse tied with a black ribbon, swayed against his neck).  "I don't understand you."

"You said that already," Stella observed, sliding a foot out of her slipper and wiggling her toes in the damp sand.

"It doesn't make it any less true!" Norrington insisted.  "You're completely incomprehensible!  One minute you're insulting me, the next you're being kind—or at least your approximation of it.  You're normally as cold as ice and hard as stone, and now..." he trailed off, and just looked at her.

Stella followed his eyes, down to her wet hair, the sodden cloak, the nearly-transparent white shift, and her bare foot.  She merely shrugged, and said, "I enjoy storms."

"You would," Norrington muttered darkly.  "You're like the damn ocean."

"Hardly.  I'm a creature of the sky, Mr. Norrington," Stella replied nonchalantly, bending down to pick up her slipper.  "Not that there's much difference, really."

"What?"

"Not much difference between the sea and the sky," Stella repeated.  "Think on it.  The tides of the sea change like the direction of the winds, storms rock the ocean as waves rock the land."

"One will drown you," Norrington pointed out.

"And lightning could easily strike you dead," Stella retorted.  "And a storm can swamp you just as easily as the sea.  Ever encountered a hurricane?"

Norrington's immediate descent into melancholy and memories hit her in the face like a slap of sea water, and tasted bitter salty like the sea as well.  Stella immediately assumed he had encountered such a storm before, seeing images of darkness and death in his thoughts, overlaid by the coppery tang of desperation.

"So you do know," she murmured.  "The sky can be easily as furious as the sea."

The ex-commodore favoured her with another of his heavy, unhappy smiles which caused a tiny part of her shrivelled heart to ache in compassion.  "After meeting you, Miss Bell, well do I believe it."

Stella smiled.  "Flattery will get you everywhere, Commodore," she told him, kicking off her other shoe and walking back towards her home.  She knew without seeing that Norrington would follow her—he'd followed her here, after all.  Then she frowned and glanced back at him as something occurred to her.  "How did you find this place?"

"I followed you."

"Obviously.  How?  The walk is rather... arduous."

"When I lost sight of you, I followed sound."  At Stella's uncomprehending look, he gestured to his neck.  "The bells," Norrington explained, indicating the ever-present string of bells chiming around her neck.  "And I know that the walk—or trek, rather—is arduous.  Why come to such an out-of-the-way location merely to be rained on?"

"I like it," Stella said lightly.  "It makes me happy."

Norrington looked dubiously at the location.  "Is that why you're so... oddly cheerful?" he inquired delicately.

"Yes.  Well, that and the storm."

"I fail to understand how you enjoy being drenched to the bone."

"You fail to understand many things about me."

"Then perhaps my dread lady would be so kind as to explain them?" Mr. Norrington requested with faux sweetness.

"Ah, my dear Mr. Norrington, it would take far more than a three mile walk to explain every intricacy of my character," Stella replied in similar tones.

"Then answer me one thing—just one," he insisted intently.

The intensity lurking in his voice perplexed her, and Stella focussed on him for a moment, wanting to know the source of the feeling which would drive him to seek her out.  Again she knew the darkness and the fury of the hurricane, the death of British soldiers, and one word: Dauntless.  All of it was overlaid by a desperation to catch Jack Sparrow.

She quickly landed at an answer: in his desperation to catch Jack Sparrow, for whatever reason, Norrington had led his ship through a hurricane, and floundered.  Clearly, he was still carrying guilt for the incident.  But she wasn't entirely sure what he wanted of her.

"Only one thing?" she queried lightly, ducking under a palm frond and trying to stall for time while she figured out the question to which he was so intent on having answered.  "Perhaps you don't know this, Mr. Norrington, but it is generally considered unwise to make such ultimatums.  Sooner or later, you'll need my counsel again, and it would be such a shame if you limited yourself to one question."

"I think I find your modesty the most charming thing about you," Mr. Norrington muttered sarcastically.  Then, raising his voice, he amended, "Very well, Miss Bell.  In this encounter, I seek the answer to a query, but reserve the right to ask further questions."

"Consider the right reserved," Stella agreed.  "And what form of currency shall your payment take?"

"Payment?"

"Of course."

"You're going to charge me for asking a question?"

"Of course not.  I'm going to charge you for my answer."

"Why?"

"Because the questions I answer always involve the use of my powers.  The use of my powers is a commodity, ergo I request money or goods for their application," Stella explained coolly as she leaped over a small stream.

Norrington followed her, leaping somewhat more awkwardly and nearly landing himself in said stream.  Stella had a feeling he had already been drinking heavily, despite being quite early in the day, and felt a slight pang of worry she quickly squashed.  If he wanted to drink himself into a stupor, it was none of her business.

"If my question does not involve the use of your powers, do I still need pay you?" he asked.

Stella pondered this for a moment.  Then, in a fit of generosity (since she was in such a good mood), she said, "No.  I'll consider it a personal conversation and outside the boundaries of business."

"My thanks, Miss Bell."

"I'm sure.  Your query, sir?"

"You sell wind, yes?"

"In essence," Stella confirmed warily.  She still wasn't entirely sure where this line of questioning was to lead, but a niggle at the back of her mind warned that it wasn't going to end well.

"To anyone who asks?"

"To anyone who can pay, more like."

Norrington hurried to her side, and put a grimy hand on her arm, pulling her to a stop as he turned her to face him.  Stella allowed his touch, looking confusedly up at him as the power in his manner scorched her sixth sense, as though she'd stood too near a fire.  His passion was burning, and she still didn't know what he wanted.

"Answer me this, then, Miss Bell," Mr. Norrington asked, keeping a tight grip on her damp sleeves.  "Do you sell wind to Jack Sparrow?"

And suddenly, Stella knew.

"Yes," she said simply.

The hands on her arms tightened.  "Why?"

"Because he can pay."

"Don't you know what he does?  He's a pirate—a lawbreaker, a brigand and a thief."

"He's better than some who sail these waters, and you know it."  She couldn't believe she was standing here defending Jack Sparrow.

An ugly look spread across Norrington's stubbly face, full of anger, bitterness, and a loathing so strong he was ready to drown in it.  It changed his eyes from clear jade hue into a hard, poisonous green.  His grip on her arms was so tight that Stella knew she'd have bruises before sundown, and he shook her slightly.

"Then it's your fault," he accused her venomously.  "It's because of you that Sparrow was able to escape, because of you that my life was ruined and I’m living among pirates in this place.   You sold him wind, and he used it to escape!  If not for you, I'd have caught him.  I'd have caught him, and I'd still be Commodore—not wallowing with the filth of the Caribbean."  And it was clear from the way he looked at her and the tones in his voice that he considered her to be part of that filth.

"Liar," Stella spat back, indignant at the implication.  "You blame me because I'm convenient, but you know where the blame truly lies.  Pushing it onto my shoulders won't make the weight any less upon—"

"If you dare mention Elizabeth—" Norrington interrupted threateningly.

Stella halted him with a disdainful laugh.  "The only one who's speaking of Elizabeth is you, Mr. Norrington," she sneered.  "I was going to remind you that the blame for your fall belongs to you, and no other."

"You permitted him to sail away whenever I got close to him.  You interfered with something in which you had no part," he snarled.  "You're worse than a whore, Black Stella.  You sell something that ought not be sold to men who dishonour it."

‘You need him alive,’ Stella reminded herself as her hands automatically clenched into fists, her fingernails digging into her palms.  The languid breezes which had been wafting around since the storm ended immediately picked up, and blew angrily past the two people standing on the path as Stella poured her anger into the air to keep herself from unleashing it upon the man before her.

"You're a coward, Norrington," she spat through clenched teeth, when she was sure that the words from her mouth would be something other than a curse.  "All you're doing is running from the responsibility which so rightfully belongs to you.  So vent your spleen on me, if it makes you feel better.  Unload your bile, call me a whore, and have your empty victory.  But in the dark reaches of your soul, you'll know that it's still your own fault, and it will remain as bitter as bile."

"You gave him the winds," he accused.

"And you were the one who thought it'd be a good idea to chase him through a hurricane!" she snapped in return.  "Don't blame me because you made a foolish decision.  Or foolish decisions, rather," she added cruelly.

She leaned closer, ignoring the ache in her arms, feeling nothing but the roaring desire to make him as angry as he’d made her.  "You could've had him before it began," Stella hissed quietly.  "You could've ignored them, been deaf to their pleas, and clapped him in irons before he fell over the wall.  Then you would've had something for your superiors, something that they'd believe.  You could've stopped it then, but because you loved her, you let him go."

Norrington's hands went rigid, before turning slack and falling away to hang limply at his sides.  Stella stepped back once he released her, wanting to rub her throbbing arms but unwilling to show weakness.  Then she dug deeper into his mind, squashing the compassion that wanted to bloom at the sight of his miserable countenance with the reminder of the epithets he'd flung.  He'd learn not to bait her before she was done with him!

"And you could've halted it after that, as well," she went on relentlessly, taking the images she pulled from his soul and crafting them into finely-sharpened projectiles.  "You could've listened to your lieutenant, could've stopped before Tripoli, could've stayed away from forces of nature greater than anything men make.  But you didn't—pride drove you on, and you let it blind you to the truths of things.  Pride goeth before a fall, ex-Commodore, and so it went before yours.  So before you start blaming me, or Sparrow, or Elizabeth, best take a look at yourself."

She whirled and began to storm angrily down the path, but before she could go too far, his quiet words halted her.  "I know."

She turned, damp cloth swishing wetly around her legs.  The wind was still anxious and uneasy with her anger, and blew erratically around them.  Batting a strand of drying hair away from her eyes, Stella stared back at the dirty, drunken man staring off into the forest as though it could take him away from the nightmare his life had become.

Norrington remained where she'd left him, hands clenched.  "I know," he repeated.  "I know the majority of the blame rests solely on my shoulders.  I bear that weight every day.  But—damn you, Stella!—you bear a measure yourself!" he shouted, turning to glare at her.

"I do what I must to survive, Norrington," she replied icily.

"Dog-eat-dog world, eh?" he said bitterly.

"You always knew that it was," she replied pitilessly.  "And you're learning still more, where you are now.  You're not at bottom yet, Mr. Norrington, though you think you are.  There must always be depths to which a man is unprepared to sink, a level to which he knows he must not go.  For if he sinks below that, he knows that it will be the end of him.

"You blame me for selling winds, for aiding pirates.  You call me a whore for it.  But I'm not.  A whore would be the lowest I could go.  I'm not there—yet.  But could I not sell winds, I would have to turn to selling myself to survive.  And that is the absolute bottom; should I sink to that, I won't be Stella any longer, and there would be nothing more for me to do but die," she explained detachedly. "One day you will understand, Mr. Norrington, understand what it is to find the line you know you must not cross.   However, until that day, I believe we have nothing more to say to each other on this topic, or any other involving the manner in which I make my living.  Good day," Stella finished icily, before turning to return home.

She had almost reached the bend in the path when the soft breezes carried his voice to her ears.  "I was only trying to do the right thing.  Why did this happen to me?" Norrington asked quietly.

Stella didn't turn.  "Bad things happen to people who don't deserve it," she replied blankly, reaching up to finger the string of bells hanging around her neck.

There was a moment of silence, before Norrington spoke again.  "I hate you," he announced.

A faint, bitter smile crossed Stella's face.  "No, you don't," she corrected.  "You hate yourself, and it just happens to spill out onto everything around you.  Oh, you're angry with me—of that I have no doubt.  But hatred..."

She smiled again, viciously. "You haven't yet learned how to hate, Mr. Norrington.  You have much, much further to fall."

Chapter Text

"Wake up, Mr. Norrington."

James cracked an eye open, and then shut it immediately, groaning as the sunlight assaulted his retinas.

"Do shut up.  You brought this situation on yourself.  Although I must attest to a certain measure of awe—I had thought previously that consuming rum in that quantity would certainly be fatal."

Damndamndamn.  Why was it that Stella Bell was always finding him at the lowest moments of his life?  And it was her; while he couldn't be certain where he was, what time it was, or how much time had passed between his last memory and now, he was entirely certain that was Bell's voice.  No one else had the same polished accent with undertones of sneering disdain and biting sarcasm.  Would it kill her to at least pretend that she didn't hate everyone in the world?

"Oh, belt up, woman," James mumbled, turning towards the wall.

"Now really, Mr. Norrington, is that any way to speak to the person who saved your life... again?"

Cracking one bleary eye open to glare in the direction of the voice, James ground out through clenched teeth, "I didn't ask to be saved."

"Noted.  I'll just leave you to wallow with the pigs next time, then?  Even if you are face-down in muck and likely to drown?"

James grunted, and scratched at his neck, feeling dried mud flake off his skin.  "Would it matter if I said yes?"

"Truthfully?  Not much.  The state of affairs remains the same.  Your death is not part of it."

"Even if I wish to die?"  More dried grime flaked off his skin.

A sharp smile.  "You don't—not really."

Rubbing his dirty face tiredly, James straightened up from his prone position on Stella's floor and regarded the skinny woman sitting in the chair in front of him.  "Have you any idea how utterly frustrating you are?" he asked bluntly.

"I have an idea of how utterly frustrating you find me," Stella replied lightly, placing a spindly finger on her chin.  "And I know that you only find me so because you're unused to being in close proximity with someone of my talents."

"I assure you, there are plenty of other reasons why I find you frustrating," James sneered.

Black eyes narrowed.  "I find you to be quite frustrating yourself, you know."

"Why?" James snorted.  "It's not as though I'm nosy, or abrasive, or arrogant, or rude.  It's not as though I threaten you, or interfere where I'm not wanted, or truck with your worst enemy, or use memories and feelings which I ought not know about merely to hurt you, or... or... or take you to my house even if you don't want to go—"

"You don't have a house," Stella noted.

"That's hardly the point!"

"Ah yes, the point being that I'm a terrible person?"  She shrugged.  "Perhaps I am.  But I wouldn't need to be so terrible to you if you would stop wallowing in self-pity and regret."

"And there's the crux of the matter, Madam," James said tiredly, running a hand over his face.  "You have no right to dictate my behaviour.  If I want to wallow, I may; I'm a grown man, and my life is my own.  Perhaps our futures are connected somehow, perhaps we have some mystical bond which makes you feel you have the right to meddle in my life.  I don't know, I can't sense it the same way you can.  And since I cannot, as far as I am concerned, you have no right to order any part of my life, or to be beastly simply to change my actions.  You're not my mother, my wife, or even my friend.  Please, Stella, just... leave me be," he finished quietly.

Stella regarded him for a moment, before kicking out the chair across from her.  "Will you sit, sir?" she asked, her formal politeness at odds with the familiarity he had taken simply because he couldn't be bothered otherwise.  When he hesitated, she added, "Please."

James sat, wincing as the bruises on his body protested.  The past few days had not been kind ones.  Even with Stella's patronage, the denizens of Tortuga would occasionally take a swing or two—especially if they figured he himself started it.

"You are right," Stella said, once he was settled.  "In your view of the world, you're correct: I have no right to meddle.  I forget that, sometimes.  I've been... I haven't been in proximity to... those without my gift... for quite some time.  I forget what... how other people look at things.  I hope you will believe me when I say that I was—am—only trying to help you.  You were right when you said that our futures are connected; they are.  And seeing they are, I was trying to help you.  I don't want my future to be dependant on a bitter drunkard that spends his nights with the pigs."

Perhaps it was because he was hung over.  The filter between his brain and his mouth seemed to have vanished, since he never would have said anything had he been feeling less ill and unguarded.  "Always with the self-interest, Stella," James sighed sourly.  "For someone who claims to see souls, you really are terrible at dealing with people."

Stella glared.  "I do see souls," she replied stiffly.  "There's no 'claims' about it.  And I see yours," she added, looking him straight in the eye.  "I see your soul, and it's like seeing sunlight after years in shadow.  But you're letting the darkness and filth of this place cloud your soul, and I can't stand it," she ground out, slamming her hands on the table and standing abruptly.  "There is an extreme parity of souls like yours, and you're just letting yourself sink into the muck with the rest of us, ruining the light and the goodness and I can't stand it.  You despise me for trying to dictate your life? I despise you for so blithely ruining it!"

She was well and truly angry, James realised in wonderment.  Her face was flushed, her eyes were snapping, and her thin chest was heaving as the wind rattled the shutters violently outside.

"The path you're going down now will ruin you.  It will take every bit of your goodness and choke it 'till death.  And you don't even understand what a treasure it is!  To have that intrinsic goodness—you have it, Norrington!  That goodness, that solid core of decency that I see in so few people—you have it!  Why can't you understand? It's so rare, and you're just throwing it away," she said plaintively, fury suddenly leaking out of her as she sank back into the chair behind her.  "You're loosing that goodness.  You're just drinking it away on this island," she whispered.

Stella tried to laugh, but to James' vast surprise, it seemed more than a sob than a laugh.  "This island," she murmured.  "This island.  It takes all that goodness, until those that had it become as tainted as everyone here... or it kills them."

He watched, then, as she visibly gathered herself together and looked back at him.  "Perhaps I am a bad person, and this island is ruining me.  But I'll be damned before I let it ruin you too.  That's why, you know.  Why I... meddle.  Because you're drinking yourself away, and I don't want to see you go," Stella said simply.

James looked down, feeling quietly ashamed of himself.  "It makes the pain vanish," he found himself confessing.  "It makes me forget."

"Memories are both blessings and burdens, but they are ours to carry," Stella replied quietly.  "It is merely part of being human.  You cannot drink it away."

"I’m making a rather good go of it, though," he offered, smiling glumly.

"Yes," agreed Stella softly, "you are."

Green met black, and as they looked at each other, James and Stella seemed to come to a mutual agreement to speak no further on this subject.  Or rather, James thought wryly, Stella merely gave one of those ambiguous nods of hers and changed the subject.

"Dare I ask what precipitated last night's... dunking?" she inquired delicately.

James winced.  "I drank too much, said something... impolitic... and was soundly thrashed and thrown with the pigs," he shrugged with forced casualness.

"Any injuries you need dealt with?"

"No, just bruises."

A faint smile flickered across her face.  "Good.  I doubt you could afford it, anyway."

James looked at her oddly.  "You...?"

"Act as apothecary, surgeon, doctor, midwife, et cetera when needed," Stella finished.  "Yes.  Tortuga is not entirely pirates, and I help the families and unfortunates who come to me with injuries.  As did my mother before she... before."  Her black eyes beamed a keen look at him, taking in his dubious expression.  "I do have more... legitimate... occupations, Mr. Norrington.  If I could, I'd survive just on them—on healing, and hedgerow magic," she said quietly.

The unspoken, But I can't, hung in the air, along with an implicit apology for... everything he'd thrown at her during their raging row a fortnight past—for selling winds to pirates, for selling them to Sparrow, for her part in allowing the rogue to escape.

James wondered if he should worry about this increasing ability to hear the things Stella left unsaid.

But he put that away to think on later, and merely nodded.  "I understand.  It is an honourable profession—even without the magic," he replied, offering the witch an implicit apology of his own.  "You do them a kindness."

"It isn't exactly kindness," Stella remarked sardonically, with the twist of her lips that James was more familiar with.

"What is it, then?" he asked dryly.

"Whatever it is that prompted me to pull you out of the muck and sit you on my formerly-clean floor," she retorted, raising an eyebrow and deliberately cutting her eyes to the patch of dried muck where James had lain until his awakening this morning... afternoon.

"Insanity, then," James quipped.

The quick, surprised look painted Stella's face at the same time her bell-like laugher breezed its way out of her lips.  Both were gone soon after, but James had seen, and remembered.  Stella had been human for that brief instant, had been a girl not much older than Miss Swann who was laughing at his dry wit the same way Elizabeth used to.

And he realised that Stella was right: he didn't hate her.  He wondered, indeed, if the girl had once been much more like Elizabeth, had once been sweet, spirited, straightforward, and strong-minded before something happened to change her into a bitter, angry, snarling young witch who seemed to loathe everything around her.  Could the same thing have happened to Elizabeth, had her life gone differently?  Had she been left alone on a pirate island?

Pirate...

Probably not, James admittedly mentally, quashing the urge to smile ruefully.  Elizabeth would have been thrilled to pieces to see real live pirates close-up.

"You're thinking about her again," Stella remarked, glancing at him.

Startled, James blurted the first thing that came into his head.  "I thought I told you not to do that!"

"Actually, you just requested that I refrain from meddling," Stella pointed out.  "I can't help what I see, Mr. Norrington.  Especially not when you're shouting it for all to hear."

"I wasn't shouting."

"To someone with my talents, yes, you were."  She tilted her dark head to the side and regarded him intently for a moment, though the unfocussed look in her black eyes indicated that she wasn't looking at his physical body.  "She's marked your soul very deeply... very, very deeply.  You carry her with you wherever you go, and I suspect that you will love her in some capacity until your dying day.

"I can see her," Stella murmured.  "She's very lovely."   Then a slight smile quirked her thin lips even as her eyes went even more distant.  "And very... fiery.  I can tell she has spirit from merely looking at an echo in your soul.  Good heavens, Mr. Norrington, I don't think you could've handled her—she'd have run roughshod over you.  It will take a very special man to handle your Elizabeth—or perhaps she'll be stronger than most women, and won't let herself be handled at all.  Oh, I do hope so," she breathed, a trace of giddy excitement painting her voice.  "That would make everything so much more interesting."

James immediately started thinking of anything else—of ships, swordplay, his wig, rats, rum, pirates, Jack Sparrow in a dress... anything to get Elizabeth out of his mind.  While he seemed to have arrived at a truce with the witch, he didn't want her to see Elizabeth.  Elizabeth was private, and that area of his heart was still incredibly tender.

Stella's eyes cleared, and she laughed again, shaking her head.  "You know, that isn't how it works," she informed him amusedly.

"Excuse me?"

"I'm not a mind-reader, Mr. Norrington.  Thinking of other things won't change what I see."

"Then how did you know I was thinking of other things?" he challenged.

"Because it was fairly obvious."

And suddenly it was like the sun rising over the ocean.  "You merely guessed!" James cried, feeling a grin spread across his face.  "That's what you do—you guess!"

Stella seemed unimpressed with his revelation.  "Not quite, sir.  I have abilities that do indeed provide me with concrete information," she corrected coolly.

He raised his eyebrow, asking for more information.  A twitch at the corner of Stella's lips seemed to hint at hidden amusement, and she explained, "I don't see everything that runs through your mind.  I get... impressions.  Sometimes I see images of things imprinted on your soul—hence my viewing of your lady—but it has to be a very strong impression for that.  Mostly it's... it's..."

"Yes?" James prompted.

She paused, huffing.  "You're very challenging, you know," Stella informed him sourly.  "I've never had to translate these things before, and it's quite difficult."

"My heart weeps for you," he replied flatly, rolling his eyes.

Stella sneered at him.  "Liar," she retorted.

A shrug.  "You'd know."

A smirk.  "I would.  But I wouldn't... it's... it's like looking through the water, estimating distances and depths and interpreting what they mean.  I see something, and I know what it means, and it's like knowing how far away the window is," Stella fumbled, tugging on one of her black plaits in frustration.

James assumed his expression was completely uncomprehending, since Stella took one look at him and sighed.  "You have no idea what I mean, do you?  Never mind, then," she dismissed, waving a hand languidly.  "Simply accept that I can see things about you, and it's not mere guesswork."

Then a mischievous grin curled her mouth and made her eyes glint strangely.  She leaned closer across the table, and her voice dropped, as though she was imparting a great secret.  "But a lot of it is just interpretation and educated deduction.  Shh—don't tell anyone!" she whispered, pressing a finger to her lips.

James was so surprised he just... started laughing. His chuckles sounded rusty and out of tune, and by the time he was done his stomach and face ached.  He recalled that he hadn't laughed in... days.  Weeks.  And somehow it was this completely humourless woman coaxing it out of him.

A glance up at said humourless woman revealed a smile—a real smile that reflected in her eyes and everything, even though the expression in those eyes was still all too knowing.  But it was the kindest expression he'd had turned his way in ages, and James found himself unconsciously returning the smile.

At this rate, he thought ironically, I'll start actually liking her one of these days.

"Will you stay for supper?" Stella inquired politely.

"I'd be delighted," James replied.  And he would.  Despite the fact that his feelings towards Stella were only the barest shade of amiable, he hadn't eaten for nearly two days.

A quirk at the corner of her mouth indicated that perhaps Stella knew that, but she merely stood and suggested lightly, "Perhaps you might care to wash up, Mr. Norrington?  The well is just outside."

"Thank you," he replied, already heading for the door.  He paused there, and casually added, "My name is James."

Stella didn't pause.  "Well, James, don't forget to scrape the mud off your coat."

Or perhaps not.

Chapter Text

"Good evening, Mother."

The sun was beginning to slant through the trees and cast long shadows as Stella sat down in the lush grass beside her mother's grave.  She arranged her voluminous grey-blue skirts and set a heavy basket between them.

Smiling, Stella took a deep breath.  "It's quite a pleasant evening, though we shall have another storm tomorrow.  And look!  Your orchids are blooming," she announced, brushing her hand over the flowers twining around her mother's last resting place.

She started tidying their surroundings, pulling tools and handkerchiefs out of the basket, picking the moss and the lichens out of the carved letters on the tombstone and polishing the stone until it gleamed.  As she worked, she continued to tell her mother about the recent happenings in and around their little house.  Mr. James Norrington came often into her narrative.

"...and he's so vexing, Mama!  He doesn't do anything, just wallows around and waits for Sparrow to show up so he can try and kill him.  Hardly a life," she sniffed.  Then she shook her head and smiled slightly at the faint reprimand from her mother.  "Yes, I know.  I did promise not to meddle in his life—and I haven't—but surely you can't grudge me my complaints?"

Her mother indicated only that she did, in fact, grudge the complaints.  They were getting repetitive.

Stella laughed.  "All right, I'll try and cease my laments regarding Mr. Norrington.  But I wish I could... I wish I had great-grandmother's foresight, and knew something about what was coming.  I want to know how I'll get off this island when the man meant to take me is so lost.  I want to know whether James has only future at all, or if he simply intends to drink himself to death.  When will Sparrow come?  That would help him, I think... or get him killed.  Perhaps they're the same thing, now, in his mind," she remarked contemplatively.  Then she sighed lightly.  "I just wish I could give him something—hope, resolve, anything.  All I can give him is wind, and he has no need of that."

There was nothing her mother could say to that, but merely a hint of a question.

"I know he annoys me," Stella added quietly.  "But he's still the best man I've known in years.  I rather like him, when he's not vexing me to no end.  He makes me think.  And he often displays wits nearly as sharp as your old knives," she laughed.

A breeze twirled around her head swiftly, tousling her loose black hair and bringing the distant sound of a voice.  Stella smiled swiftly, then turned to her mother.  "He's also coming this way now.  Probably drunk," she added disapprovingly.

She could almost hear her mother's delicate, flowery laughter in the flash of amusement.

"You can't possibly approve, Mother," Stella returned dryly.  "I remember—you kept me sequestered from everyone for the better part of two years when we first landed here."

Her mother's reply was lost as she noticed the ragged form of one James Norrington staggering along the path towards her home.  She watched him totter through the graveyard, and noted that he apparently didn't see her there in the fading light.  Eleanor Abernathy's grave was tucked far into the corner, nearer to the house and the stream than the rest of the dead.  Stella hadn't wanted her mother grouped with the rest of Tortuga's ruffians, even in death.

"I'm not at home, Mr. Norrington," Stella called as James made a beeline for her front door.

She then had the pleasure of seeing the once-Commodore startle like a skittish cat before fumbling at his belt for a sword that was obviously not there.  Of course, he got himself under control very, very soon after, but she still enjoyed seeing the lapse.

"Miss Bell," he greeted as he tromped through the grass to where she sat.  He paused when he realised she was seated comfortably next to a tombstone.  "I trust you are well this evening?"

"I am, sir.  And yourself?" she returned graciously.

"A little worse for wear, perhaps," he replied honestly.

Stella inclined her head.  He looked dirty and frazzled and peeved, so she understood why he sought her out here.  It was always quiet out by her home, near the graveyard and the foot of the mountains.

"You are, of course, always welcome here," she said lightly.  Then she gestured to the stone beside her.  "May I present my mother?  Mother, this is Mr. James Norrington, a gentleman from Port Royal.  Mr. Norrington, this is my mother, the late Mrs. Eleanor Abernathy."  At James nervous, wide-eyed expression, she added, "She's dead and you can't sense her, so you needn't bow or observe any of the normal courtesies.  It was more for Mother's sake than yours."

He still looked unsure and a little afraid, so Stella merely patted the grass beside her.  "Would you care to sit?"

Looking rather like an awkward colt trying to figure out its legs, Mr. Norrington sat on the ground beside her, folding his long limbs under him.  He stared at her mother's grave for a moment, then turned to glance at her.  "Can you speak to the dead?"

Stella met his eyes in surprise, hearing the actual fear in his voice.  "Of course not!" she replied.  "Very few people can, and I'm not one of them."  Understanding dawned.  "Oh, you don't understand.  My mother is not here—she's not a ghost or a zombie or suchlike.  I cannot hold a conversation with her... however much I should like to," she added bitterly.

"Then...?"

"All that's left of her is a fraction of what she was... an imprint, of sorts," Stella explained slowly, trying to put it into words he would understand.  "She's gone.  She's moved on.  But she left a little bit behind to look out for me—many people do the same thing when they die.  And because I am what I am, I can feel that little bit."

"It must be comforting," James remarked, relaxing even further.

Stella pondered this for a moment.  Yes, it was comforting to have a little, tiny bit of her mother around... but most of it the time it just hurt.  It was a reminder that all she had left was that tiny bit, that the best parts of her mother had vanished beyond this world.  So she replied quietly, "It both is, and isn't."

The quick, sympathetic look that flashed across his dirty face indicated that he understood.  Stella wondered if she shouldn't be worried about this rapport they seemed to be developing.

"The people of the town seem to remember her fondly," he noted, regarding the flower-decked stone solemnly.

"She was a kind, gentle woman," Stella agreed.

"Was she like you?" James inquired.

"I did just say she was a kind, gentle woman, didn't I?" Stella returned dryly.

A rusty chuckle burbled its way out of his mouth.  "I suppose," he admitted.  "I meant, did she have gifts like yours?"

"Somewhat like, and yet not.  She had no talent with the sky; instead, Mother healed people.  Sometimes she could just touch them, and they'd be well," she said.  Then her expression turned bitter.  "Fat lot of good it did her.  When the epidemic came, she was killed by it.  She could've healed anyone else, but not herself," Stella said harshly.  "Nell Abernathy, the great medicine woman, killed by a disease she'd healed repeatedly before."

James' green eyes remained on the tombstone.  "1718," he read.  "That was almost six years ago."

"Yes."

"How old were you?"

"Don't you know that it's impolite to ask a lady her age?  And I am a lady, Mr. Norrington, despite my dubious surroundings."  At his surprised—and somewhat incredulous—expression, Stella glared indignantly.  "I am," she insisted. "My father was a plantation owner on Antigua, and I was raised a gentleman's daughter."

"How in God's name did you end up here?" James asked flatly.

"A sequence of events involving several deaths and some pirates," Stella replied tightly.  This was a road she did not wish to traverse.

"Pirates?" he repeated darkly.

"Mother and I meant to land in Port Royal," Stella said quietly, remembering the empty ache of lost dreams and hollow regrets that never quite went away.  "Unfortunately, our ship was boarded, most of our things stolen, and we were put to land not far from here.  We made do with the best we had—and it wasn't much."

"When was this?"

"I was... I believe I was only fourteen, so it was 1713."

"That was before I came to the Caribbean."

"I was glad when you did.  Pity it was too late for Mother and I."

"For what it's worth, I am sorry."

"It isn't worth much, Mr. Norrington.  You weren't here.  You had no influence on events, and thus have no need for an apology—though I appreciate the sentiment."

James just nodded, apparently thinking intently on something.   "You were fourteen in 1713.  You were only seventeen when your mother died," he stated.

Ruthlessly suppressing both the sharp grief of her loss and the urge to snap something impolite at Norrington, Stella merely nodded and replied, "Yes."

"You've been alone for almost six years."

"Congratulations, Mr. Norrington.  You have mastered basic subtraction," she sneered.  At his offended expression, she added sharply, "I do not need your pity."

"And I wasn't offering it," he snapped in return.  "I was simply trying to understand how and why your social graces degraded so badly from the standard I'm sure they were held to in your childhood."

"Now you know," Stella sighed, knowing the truth of his words even as they rankled.  "Nine years on a pirate island, seven of which were spent almost completely alone.  It's a wonder I remember how to speak at all."

"Self-pity does not suit you," James informed her after a moment.

An eyebrow raise.  "Shall I point out the irony of that statement, or merely allow you to be a hypocrite?"

James favoured her with a tight, false smile.  "I'd prefer if you didn't."  As she opened her mouth, he quickly cut her off.  "Both.  Either."  Then he recalled what, exactly, she'd said.  "Wait..."

Stella started laughing—he was so ridiculous sometimes!  "Would you like to reconsider your answer?" she asked.  "Or perhaps you would prefer to speak on something else?"

"The latter, please," he requested, hardly bothering to mask the relief in his voice.

"Any suggestions?"

James pondered this for a moment, a slight line creasing his brow.  "Tell me about your family," he eventually decided.

Stella froze for one brief moment, feeling all the colour wash out of her face.  She wondered if James saw it, cutting her eyes nervously to his face, then relaxing slightly when she noted that he was still contemplating her mother's grave.  Slowly uncurling the fists that had automatically clenched in the material of her skirt, she pondered what to tell him.

"I come from a long line of witches," she began after a minute of silence, deciding that her foremothers were the safest topic of conversation.

"Witches?" he repeated dubiously.

"I'm allowed to call myself a witch.  You, however, are not," she returned primly.

"Of course," James drawled.  "How many... ladies of mystical talents are there in your family?" he inquired, hitting the euphemism for witch with a measure of sarcasm.

Stella shot him a quelling look.  "I am the fifth of the line which emigrated to the Caribbean," she announced proudly.  "Before, there were—and are, I suppose—many of my line in the Mediterranean.  But the line begins with Mirela o Washosko García, who fled from the Inquisition in Spain..."

She chronicled the history of her grandmothers, telling him of their powers and lives as the sun sank below the horizon and dusk settled on the graveyard.  And though she could tell James was interested, and focussed on her words in order to block out the knowledge that he was sitting in a graveyard with a woman he didn't like at night, the tale of Mirela's children was not the one he had been wanting to hear.

"...And now, there's me," she finished.  "And you're looking rather nervous, Mr. Norrington."

"I'm in a graveyard at night," he replied tersely.

"And you have nothing to fear," Stella said smoothly.  "Rest assured, James, there is nothing on this island worse than I."

The unused laugh made another appearance, and Stella felt strangely cheerful about that.  "I come here to stargaze," she added.  "In most places, there's too many trees overhead.  Here, in the graveyard, the sky is mostly clear.  Although what I wouldn't give for an observation platform," she muttered.

James made a noncommittal noise, and they sat in silence for a few minutes, watching the last light fade in the western sky as the stars began to twinkle overhead.  "I can't see the north star," he eventually noted, looking upwards.

"The trees are in the way.  In another hour or so, it will rise and be visible over the vegetation," Stella replied calmly.

"I didn't know you knew astronomy."

"My father taught me.  He was interested.  So interested that he wished to name me Vindemiatrix when I was born."

"Vindemiatrix?" James repeated sceptically.

"It's a star in Virgo," Stella offered.

"I know where it is," he snapped, turning to glare at her.  "But Vindemiatrix?"

"I know," Stella agreed, grimacing.  "Thank heavens my mother had more sense.  She told my father absolutely not."

James was still looking at her dubiously, but when she turned to him and arched an eyebrow, he simply shook his head and said, "You don't look like a Vindemiatrix."

"It is quite a large name for such a small person," Stella smiled.  "That's what my mother always said when it came up.  She said that if Father must name me after a celestial body, it ought to be something I could say.  Hence, Stella," she explained, a faint smile tugging at her lips.  Her parents had bantered about the issue of her naming many times.  She could still hear the echo of their beloved voices teasing each other in her memories.

'Don't listen to your father, Stella.  He wanted to name you Vindemiatrix, after all,' Nell would whisper to her daughter whenever Father would tease them about their powers, like asking if they needed any eye of newt or toe of frog.

'And what's wrong with Vindemiatrix?' Father would ask, sounding wounded and stuffy at the same time.  'It's a star—a bright, shining star, just like my sweet girl,' he'd reply, reaching out to tug on one of Stella's coal-black locks.

'It's taller than she is, that's what's wrong,' Mother would point out, but she was always smiling.

'She'd have grown into it,' Father insisted.  'Would you not, my little star?'

'But I don't like grapes, Papa,' Stella would always giggle.

Father laughed with her.  'Then Stella ye be, my dear,' he would sigh.  'Stella nostrae.'

"Stella, stellae," James quipped, supplying the first two declensions of the Latin and breaking Stella out of her memories.

"Stellae, stellam," Stella continued.

"Stella, stella," James finished.  "I didn't know you knew Latin."

"My father taught me."

"He seems an attentive parent.  Why isn't he here with you?" James inquired.

"He's dead.  He died, and that is why mother and I left Antigua," Stella replied shortly.  Edward Bell had been dead for nearly ten years; the pain had plenty of time to fade.  And it had, save for a quiet ache that would never vanish.  So she raised an eyebrow at him and asked tartly, "Are you satisfied now?"

James looked startled.  "I beg your pardon?"

"You were fishing for something.  Have you caught what you wish?"

"I'm only trying to understand," he protested stiffly, looking vaguely offended.  "You make it difficult."

"It's a painful subject," Stella replied coolly.  "Something I believe you already understand."

"Yes," James agreed warily, as though he expected her to start asking pointed questions about his own parents any moment.

And honestly, she considered it.  But Stella knew her mother wouldn't approve, and truthfully, James had done nothing wrong.  So she merely looked back up at the darkened sky and commented, "Altair is rising."

"Denebola is setting," James returned.

Stella raised an eyebrow.  "Denebola?" she repeated.

"Yes, Denebola," he answered irritably.  "It's a star in Leo."

"I know where it is," she snapped, echoing his earlier words.  "I was merely remarking upon the fact that it’s a curiously appropriate choice for you, given its meaning."

"And what does it mean, pray tell?" he inquired acidly.

"Denebola is a star of swift judgment, misfortune from the elements of nature, and makes its people noble, daring, self-controlled, and generous—traits, I believe, that describe you quite well," Stella explained tartly. "Either preferment or fall are credited to it, as well as a quarrelsome nature, with a liking for legal action. It could also mean that this star is the cause of very exciting events.  An apt description of your nature, and certain events in your life," she added.

"You mean a star I chose to mention, on a whim, says something about me?" he asked incredulously.

"It does," Stella confirmed calmly.  "You feel the pull of a certain star due to its influence in your life.  I only interpret it for you."

"Hmm," said James.  "What did you choose again?  Altair?"

"I did."

"And?"

"Altair is part of the constellation Aquila—the eagle, associated with the sky and thus appropriate for me for a variety of reasons," Stella began, recalling the descriptions she had memorised from the almanack during her early years on Tortuga when Mother refused to let her more than ten feet away from the house and wouldn't let anyone talk to her.  "Aquila is also said to give great imagination, strong passions, indomitable will, a dominating character, influence over others, clairvoyance, and a keen, penetrating mind."

"That describes you to a T," James muttered.

"Thank you," Stella replied sweetly, knowing full well he hadn't meant to be complimentary.  "Altair promises a rise in life and honours.   We try with sincere conviction to reach out for our aims with utmost will-power.  We will avoid nothing in order to achieve them.  Altair is good for advancement of lawyers and military men."  She paused.  "And since I am currently connected to you, this is a good thing for your future," she added.

"Truly?" James asked, looking at her in surprise.

"The stars don't lie," Stella replied simply.  "They can be misinterpreted, but they don't lie."  The smile was still on her face, though hidden by the darkness.  "It seems both our futures are optimistic... despite, oddly enough, coming from parts of the sky quite distant from one another.  I shall have to do a more thorough reading tomorrow," she murmured to herself.

"But you think it's encouraging?"

"Yes, I do," Stella replied slowly, still trying to assimilate the new knowledge the stars had given her, trying to recall what was rising, which was in whose house, and other factors for which she needed the almanack in order to accurately understand what the stars meant.  "Prescience is not my gift, James.  But I think—I believe—that our fortunes are on the rise."

James pondered this for a few minutes, still seated on the ground with his neck craned up to peer at the sky.  "They haven't got much further to descend," he finally commented.  "The only direction left for them to go is up."

She snorted.  "Things can always get worse."

It was almost completely dark in the graveyard, so Stella was left to imagine the flat, faintly amused expression on James' face as he remarked sourly, "You're such a cheerful woman, Stella.  I honestly don't know how my spirits get so low when you're around."

Stella just cackled.

They sat in the cool grass for another half-hour, looking at the stars.  James would occasionally ask about the astrological properties of a certain celestial body; Stella would tell him what she knew.  As the darkness grew deeper, the mosquitoes grew more irksome; though they didn't bother Stella as much, James kept slapping at his neck.

"Perhaps you would care to adjourn to the indoors?" Stella asked, watching him scratch irritably.

"How is it they don't bother you?" James asked.  The crescent moon was rising over the treetops, and it only just illuminated his eyes, which were narrowed and peering intently at her.

"Witch," was all she said.

He sighed.  "It must be a wondrous lovely thing to be a witch.  Never bothered by biting insects, able to terrify men at a glance, control over forces mortals are merely buffeted with..."

"I enjoy it," Stella replied mildly.

"Of course," James said, rolling his eyes.  Then he stood, brushing dirt from the seat of his breeches (for all the good it did, Stella noted wryly; his clothing was still caked in filth) before offering her a hand.

Stella reached up and took it, allowing the man to pull her to her feet.  His hand was calloused and rough, but his fingers curled around hers with a curious gentleness, taking care not to crush her more delicate hand.  The warmth of his skin nearly scorched her, and Stella unconsciously looked up to meet his green eyes in the pale moonlight.  He was so much taller than she, looking down at her with a faint, wry little smile playing about his lips.

She quickly dropped his hand and whirled around, bending to collect her basket, knowing that her face was flooding with colour.  Profoundly grateful that her blushing cheeks would not be visible in the pale light, she accepted the arm offered her and allowed herself to be squired back to her home.  By the time she pushed the door open and went to light the candles inside, her skin was no longer so flushed.

But she remembered the feeling, and mulled over it as she boiled water for tea.  Stella had never thought to guard against that—against love, and such emotional twaddle, of course.  But against... against sheer physical awareness?  And awareness of James Norrington, the filthy, angry, sour, ex-commodore?  Had someone told her of it even yesterday, she would have laughed aloud.

Nevertheless, there it was.  She had taken his hand, and suddenly been aware of everything—of the warmth of his hand, the roughness of his skin, the smile in his eyes, feeling every single inch of her skin, the way the blood pumped through her veins, the coolness of the air and the soft breezes wafting through the trees.  It was like she was standing once again in the midst of a storm, but instead of a storm, it was a man.

It changes nothing, Stella thought savagely, gazing over to where the object of her desire was sitting casually at her table, sipping a cup of tea and rubbing his temples.  He will take me off the island.  I will keep him alive until then.  There will be no attraction between us.  I will never fall in love with him.

I will never fall in love with anyone, let alone James Norrington.

Chapter Text

James knew, when the pub went very silent for one brief moment, that Black Stella had entered the building.  If he strained his ears, he could just about hear the chiming of the little bells she wore around her neck.  He was three-fourths of the way through his first bottle of rum for the evening, and still had enough motor control to snag a chair from the table next to him, figuring that she'd come to speak with him.

He quickly spotted her, weaving through the crowd with her customary grace, making her way to the bar.  She was dressed in grey this evening, and wore a heavy bag slung over her shoulder out of which poked several rolled up papers.  Once she had secured her drink, she headed straight for his table.

Marvelling at her uncanny ability to find him wherever he was, James placed his hands on the table and stood to welcome her.  "Good evening, Miss Bell."

"Good evening, Mr. Norrington," she replied, and James fancied that there was a certain warmth in her tones as she regally sat herself in the chair.  "Drinking again?"

"As always," he shrugged, raising the bottle of rum.

"And not even using a vessel any longer—how delightfully uncivilised of you," she drawled, pouring herself a glass of what turned out to be red wine.

"What's in the bag?" James asked, nodding at the satchel she'd swung off her shoulder and placed on the floor.

"Many things," Stella replied vaguely.

He rolled his eyes.  "You hardly need play the witch with me, Stella," he said dryly.

"I thought I told you not to call me a witch," she returned, raising her eyebrows and taking a ladylike sip from her glass.

"I thought you might be persuaded to overlook it since I don't mean it in malice," James shrugged.  "It really is the simplest term for you."

"You could call me Stella," she suggested, smiling slightly.

"I already do that."

"Yes, but this time you have my permission."

"But it's not the same thing," he insisted.  "'Stop playing the Stella'?  You are Stella."

"And I am a witch."

"Not all the time.  Sometimes you're a witch, sometimes you're a lady with specialised talents," James said, gesturing with his bottle.

This statement caused Stella to set her glass down and turn her full attention onto him.  Her black eyes were full and liquid in the flickering light, reflecting both the candles on the table and the surprise in her flushed face.  It all made her seem... softer.

Yet her regard—and the ever-present remembrance of what she was actually doing when she looked at him like that—made him nervous.  "What?" he demanded gruffly.

"I'm... surprised you see the distinction," Stella replied slowly, still gazing intently at him.

"Surprised enough to tell me plainly what you brought in the bag?"

Laughing as she bent over to retrieve her things, Stella tossed the rolled up parchment onto the tabletop.  "I read your stars," she announced, tapping one of the rolls.

"And?"

She unrolled the chart in a swift, sweeping motion, moving it in front of him, and standing to lean over and point at various circles, arrows, and symbols.  However, in doing so, she unconsciously gave him an eyeful, straight down her dress.  "As you noted a few days back, Denebola is at the centre of your reading right now, and has the most influence.  It is in the house..."

Since he wasn't understanding a thing on the chart, his eyes were drawn to the expanse of her pale skin and the slight swell of her breasts.  The golden light made the flesh softly luminous, like a pearl in the sun—so different from the powdered and rouged skin of the whores whose wares he usually sampled.

"...and since Venus is moving into Sagittarius and Regulus rising..."

He really had no idea what she was saying.  Astrology was not among his oeuvre.  But one thing he did know: while he suspected that Stella knew he wasn't paying attention to her charts, if she knew what he was actually paying attention to, she would be quite unhappy.

Removing his eyes from Stella's petite breasts, James sat back and interrupted her recital.  "This is all very interesting and incomprehensible, Stella, but what does it mean?"

She sat back down, rolling her eyes and removing her breasts from James' line of sight.  "It means, my dear Mr. Norrington, that what I said two days past is correct.  Your fortunes are at a low ebb, but they will not remain so... hopefully."

"Hopefully?" James repeated dubiously.  "I don't like that addendum."

"Neither do I," Stella agreed, grimacing.  "Unfortunately, as it happens, you're in the same position I am."

"Which is?"

"Our fates are joined to that of Jack Sparrow," she replied, wrinkling her pointed nose.

"They're WHAT?!"

"I don't much care for it either, you know," she informed him sourly.  "But it seems that the rise or fall of your fortunes is dependant on how life treats Jack Sparrow."

James pondered this for a moment.  "What happens to my fortunes if I kill him?"

Stella smirked swiftly, then shrugged.  "I don't know," she admitted.  "Maybe things get worse.  Maybe things get better—maybe you're meant to kill him.  I honestly cannot tell you.  There's only so much I can know about you without knowing about Sparrow in turn."

"And I don't suppose knowing about Sparrow is as easy as just reading his stars?" James asked glumly, already knowing the answer.

"Of course not," Stella sighed, sounding just as gloomy.  "I'd need to have him in front of me.  Or at least know his birth date, or his star sign..."

"Which you don't."

"No."

"Can you discern when he'll next be here?"

"Not accurately, no."

"How about inaccurately?"

"Within the next year, Jack Sparrow will set foot on Tortuga again."

James pondered this.  "You're right, that is inaccurate."

"As I've told you, prescience is not my gift," Stella said, a hint of apology in her voice.  "However," she added, brightening, "I can try and tell you where he is right now, and thus we can estimate the time of his next arrive on Tortuga."

"How?"

"Common sense.  If Sparrow is anywhere in the Caribbean, you can bet he'll come to Tortuga sooner or later," Stella explained calmly, bending over to take five more rolls of parchment from her bag, along with a little black velvet pouch.

Whisking the star charts off the table, she replaced them with what turned out to be, cumulatively, a map of the world.  There was one of Europe, one of the Americas, one of China, another of China plus the Pacific ocean, and the last of Africa.

"This isn't the entire world," James noted.

"It's an approximation," Stella dismissed.  "What I haven't maps for, we guess."

"You know, Stella, the more I learn about you and your powers, the more I discover how large a part guessing plays in your calculations," James commented, helping her to roll out the maps and assemble them properly.

"If guessing wasn't a part of it," Stella returned tartly, shifting so that Singapore moved away from the Barbary Coast, "I'd be omniscient.  Not even Tia Dalma can get perfectly accurate results every single time.  It's an ability, like anything else."

"Who's Tia Dalma?"

"A very dear friend."

As he finished adjusting the maps (they had a vaguely world-like map, although the scale was off inasmuch that Europe was twice the size of Africa and they were missing massive chunks of the Indian and South Pacific), Stella opened the black pouch and tipped the contents out onto the table.  A variety of stones spilled out; black stones, white stones, grey stones—all polished to a high sheen.

The four grey stones were placed at the corners of their makeshift map, creating a rectangle even if the papers didn't make that shape on their own.  All the other stones were pushed to the side, save for one: a clear crystal hung on a tarnished silver chain.

"What are you doing?" James inquired, watching as Stella picked up the crystal and let it hang from her spindly fingers.

"We are going to scry for Jack Sparrow's current location," she replied, holding her hand over the maps.  The crystal dangled down over the surface, swinging calmly.

"We?" he repeated sceptically.

"Give me your hand," she commanded.

James complied, tentatively extending his arm out across the table.  Stella grasped it brusquely, and placed it on top of the hand which held the crystal.  Her fingers were soft and slight and cool, as always, and James wondered if the strange energy he felt where their skin was touching had anything to do with the magic they were apparently about to perform.

"Now concentrate," she ordered, jerking his attention back to the maps.  "Concentrate on Jack Sparrow."

"Should I close my eyes?" he asked as he watched hers flutter closed.

"If you wish.  It isn't necessary, though I find it helps me focus."

Giving a jaundiced glance to the buzzing activity around them, James shrugged slightly and closed his eyes.  He brought all his memories of Sparrow to mind—the drenched, cocky pirate who'd threatened Elizabeth; the brash, arrogant man who'd stolen The Interceptor right out from under him; the calculating bastard who'd led him to the Isla de Muerte; the smug, loquacious escapee who'd slipped out of his grasp.  He remembered the dark, kohl-lined eyes; the tanned skin; the cheeky, self-satisfied smirk; the beaded and dreadlocked dark hair; even his swaggering, swaying gait.

And over all these memories lay the driving need to catch him, banked but still burning, and a smouldering hatred that burned like acid through his heart.

"I'll thank you not to crush my hand, Mr. Norrington."  Stella's sharp voice broke through his concentration.

James opened his eyes to discover that, while thinking of Sparrow, his hands had unconsciously clenched into fists—including the one pressed against Stella's.  His grip was tight enough that he could feel Stella's birdlike bones grinding together, and her pale face was tight with pain she wasn't otherwise showing.

He immediately let go.  "Forgive me."

Stella dropped the crystal and shook out her hand.  "Hopefully, with all that emotion poured into the wand, I should be able to locate him without any further contribution," she said, wincing.

"I am sorry," he insisted.

"I know.  Quite all right," she demurred, once again closing her eyes and dangling the chain from her fingers and letting it swing over the map.

James just watched.  His eyes darted from the swaying crystal, to the rowdy pub around them, to the dark crescent of Stella's eyelashes as they rested against her white cheeks, back to the rowdy pub, back to Stella's lashes, then back to the wand.

The swinging was now centring around the Atlantic, the circle of its pendulous motion growing tighter and tighter.  Suddenly, the motion stopped, and the crystal was drawn to a point somewhere off the coast of western Africa like a magnet, where it stood quivering on its point.

Stella opened her eyes and looked down to where the crystal remained, balancing upright and unmoving.  "Success," she said, sounding pleased.  "That, then, is where Captain Sparrow is at this very moment."

"Where is he going, though?  Where is he coming from?" James wondered, peering curiously at the crystal.

"Mark that spot, please," Stella ordered absently.  No sooner had James put his finger next to the point of the crystal than Stella whisked it away, tucking it back into the pouch.  Then, she gathered the collection of white and black stones into her hands.  "Move now, please."

The moment his finger was free of the map's surface, Stella opened her hands and cast the stones out onto the table.  They scattered around the point in the Atlantic without any discernable pattern.  Still, the brunette peered at them as though there was, murmuring quietly to herself as she touched her fingers to the map's surface.

"He's going north," she eventually announced.  "North, along the African coast.  He's heading for the Mediterranean... for Turkey.  What on earth can he be doing in Turkey?" she wondered, almost to herself.

James scowled fiercely at the map.  "Something illegal, most likely," he muttered.

"He's a pirate, James.  'Something illegal' describes his entire life," Stella scoffed, scooping the stones back into her pouch and moving to roll up her maps.  But when she caught sight of his face, she paused, one hand hovering over Singapore.  "What is it?"

"I almost had him there, you know," James commented, staring fixedly down at the Mediterranean.  He tapped a point on the map.  "There, off Tripoli. I was within sight of that blasted ship of his—within cannon range, even!  I chased them out into the Atlantic, and I nearly had them—I was almost there!  Not even your winds could help them, then."

He looked up from the table to find Stella staring fixedly into her lap, apparently ashamed of her own part in Sparrow's escape.  He felt vindictively pleased at that, at seeing her actually remorseful for her actions, instead of defensive or defiant or annoyed or angry.  But once she felt his gaze on her, she straightened up, hid her emotions, and stared at him quizzically.

"Since you're here, you obviously didn't catch them," Stella remarked, the question hidden in her words.  "Has it anything to do with the hurricane I sometimes see in your mind's eye?"

Now it was his turn to look down into his lap.  "Yes.  It has... everything to do with that hurricane.  That hurricane..." he said slowly.  "It came upon us as we sailed out after them.  I... we were so close to catching them—so close!  I didn't want to wait... I knew we'd loose them if I did."

Stella winced.  "So you sailed through."

"I didn't know it was a hurricane," he insisted dully.  "I truly did not know.  I thought it was only a storm.  And once we were in, and I realised what we were up against, I tried to turn around.  But I couldn't—not that there was anywhere we could've gone.  We were too far into the ocean at that point."

"And you lost your ship."

"I lost my ship, my crew, my credibility, and my life," he said unhappily.

"You hardly lost your life, James," Stella snapped.  "You may have lost your social position and your career, but you're still alive and drawing breath.  Many are unable to say that—including most of your men."

James flinched, and kept his eyes trained on the table.  Thus, he only heard when Stella softened.  "I know how it feels, to loose everything around you and feel as though you've lost your life.  Truly, James, I do," she said gently.  "But life is a gift.  The mere fact that you're still alive is a gift, and one not granted to everyone.  Try to appreciate it?"  Then, perhaps knowing that he had no response to that, she changed the subject.  "May I ask you a question?"

"Didn't you just?"

She sneered at him.  "I wish to ask you another question."

"Fire away," James said dismissively.

"Why did you chase him?  What was so all-fired important about catching Jack Sparrow that you were willing to go through a hurricane to do it?" Stella asked bluntly.

James smiled bitterly.  "You know, I ask myself that question almost every day," he remarked, taking a hearty swig of rum.  That nearly emptied the bottle, and he set it down with a clunk.  "If you want to hear the entire tale of woe, I'll need more rum," he announced.

The rum was swiftly procured, and soon enough he had his fingers wrapped around the neck of a bottle as he prepared to tell a story he wished he'd never known to a woman he didn't much like in a place he heartily desired to leave.

He took a deep breath.  Then he let it out.  He took another, then exhaled.  Inhale, exhale.  This process was repeated several times.

"Are you going to actually speak one of these days?" Stella inquired acidly.

"I'm trying to find the beginning," he snapped back.

"Perhaps when you first laid eyes on our intrepid captain?"

"No," James immediately denied.  "No, not then.  I had him, then—I didn't need to chase him.  But then there was the debacle with the Black Pearl and Elizabeth's abduction and Sparrow's escape and so... other things took my attention," he said wryly.

"So your consuming desire to capture—or recapture, I should say—Sparrow did not begin with the events revolving around the curse of The Black Pearl," Stella prompted.

"Well, sort of," James frowned, trying to straighten it all out in his increasingly rum-soaked mind.

Stella briefly covered her face with her spidery white hand, before straightening up and regarding him with a bemused smile.  "I would ask you about it later, when you're sober, but I suspect I shall never find you so honest as I do now," she remarked wryly.  "Why do you need to find and kill Jack Sparrow?"

"Because I need my life back," he replied promptly, and took another drink.

"And how will killing Sparrow get your life back?"

"He's the one that ruined it in the first place!"

"Not that Jack isn't wonderful at ruining things, but how did he ruin your life?"

James sighed, and scratched his beard.  "I should shave," he remarked absently.

"Yes, you should, but focus, please.  How did Sparrow ruin your life?"

"He escaped.  It was the last straw, really, was Sparrow," he explained glumly.  "Between the attack on Port Royal, the kidnapping of the governor's daughter, the loss of The Interceptor, and the loss of nearly half my men at the Isla de Muerta, I was on very, very shaky ground with the Royal Navy.  When I let Sparrow escape... and couldn't capture him again... and then lost the best ship in the Caribbean... well, they suggested strongly that I resign my commission so they needn't discharge me.  I did," James chronicled flatly.  He took another large gulp of rum.  "If he hadn't escaped... if I hadn't lost The Dauntless chasing him... I probably could've regained my honour, in time.  But it was Jack Sparrow who finished my career."

"Is that why you chase him?  As a form of punishment, of self-flagellation?" Stella inquired quietly, barely heard over the din of the pub around them.

James snorted.  "I think it has more to do with revenge than punishment," he said honestly.

He was surprised when Stella merely nodded, took another sip of her wine, and replied, "Fair enough.  I suppose that's a decent reason to bend your energies to his death."  He'd been expecting a lecture on wasted potential or a snippy comment of some sort.

I think she gets more likeable the quieter she is, James thought tipsily.  He watcher her finish off her glass of wine, then pour another.  A becoming pink flush was rising in her sallow cheeks, and her smiles came a mite more readily and were a mite wider than usual.  Or perhaps the drunker she is.

They sat together for the next hour-and-a-half.  James worked his way steadily through his second bottle of rum; Stella downed three further glasses of wine.  She often drew forth his rusty chuckles; he was able to coax forward a caw-like laugh he'd never before heard from her.

Currently, they were chatting about Shakespeare—Macbeth, to be specific, since he'd made a throwaway reference to eye of newt and toe of frog and Stella had informed him that actually it was supposed to be eye of frog and tail of newt.

"You mean it's actually real?"

"Some of it, of course," she replied, apparently surprised that he'd doubted.

"But you mean the Weird Sisters actually exist?" James pressed, words slurring slightly in his enthusiasm.

She shrugged and took another sip of wine, finishing off the fourth glass of the evening.  "I don't know," she admitted.  "I've never met them myself, and if they were real—real like you and I—they were dead long before Mirela came to the Caribbean."

"What do you mean, real like you and I?" James asked confusedly.

"Real-mortal-human," she replied simply.  At his incredulous look, she laughed.  "Oh, there's more in this world than just mortal humans and immortal something else's... there's plenty of variants in between.  Immortal-human, pretending-to-be-human, human-once, almost-human, cursed, released-from-curse-but-still-lingering... and some things even I don't know about.  The world is a much more interesting place than most people ever suppose."

"So I'm beginning to understand," he murmured.  "Could you, perhaps—"

He never finished the request; a bottle was thrown in their direction, and he had to dive under the table to avoid being hit.

It was one of those destructive full-pub fights that occasionally broke out.  People were shooting and breaking bottles and throwing each other into tables and punching each other for the sheer fun of it.  He'd been involved in one of these a few weeks ago... it had ending in being thrown down the well.  Needless to say, James wasn't eager to experience the same again, and figured he'd just stay out of this one.

Stella slid out of her seat with an oomph and joined him under the table, black eyes wide as she clutched her bag to her chest.  "What on earth is happening?" she demanded.

"Fight," he replied succinctly.

A body was thrown on the top of their table, and it wobbled dangerously as people's boots scuffled on by.  Stella's eyes got even wider, and she inched closer.  "Thank you, James.  I honestly don't know what I'd do without your deductive reasoning capabilities," she said tartly, though the sharpness in her tones was somewhat dulled by the fact that her hand was clenched in the fabric of his jacket.

He rolled his eyes.  "It's a brawl, Stella.  A bunch of drunken pirates who decide to release tension by beating each other bloody.  They'll eventually finish and throw some unfortunate soul down a well or in the pig pen, and everything will be calm again.  We just need to stay hidden until it blows over."  He paused, glancing down at her huge eyes and parted lips.  "Didn't you ever wonder about all the noise that comes out of these places?"

"I had a self-imposed rule to be well at home before the sun went down."

"'Had'?  What made you break it?" he inquired, curious.

"A bottle of wine and some intelligent conversation."

"Ah."

Something broke against the table again, and broken glass rained around them.  It crunched as it was ground into the floor by the boots of the men who danced around it, throwing punches—James couldn't see them, but he was familiar with the smacking sound of fist hitting flesh.  After one particular hit, the table shuddered and something tiny bounced into their sanctuary, eventually finding purchase in the folds of Stella's dress.

"Look, a tooth," said Stella, plucking the object from her skirt and squinting at it in the dim light.

He was about to comment on the essentially disgusting nature of her new acquisition when her black eyes got impossibly huge.  A split-second later, her fingers were torn away from his arm as she was unceremoniously yanked out from under the table.

Over the din in the pub, James heard her shriek, and scrambled out after her, overturning the table in his wake.  "Stella!"

She was on the floor, and a man with a ratty moustache had hold of her ankle.  Her grey skirts had slid farther up on her leg, revealing a skinny calf encased in a worn stocking, and the cretin currently grabbing her was leering at the revealed limb.  He was so distracted, as a matter of fact, that he didn't notice two important things: one, that the woman he was ogling was a witch with a habit of castrating men, and two, that James Norrington was about to punch him in the face.

The moustachioed pirate let go of Stella's ankle right quick after James' fist impacted with his jaw.  He staggered back, wiping blood from his mouth and dropping Stella's leg before lunging for his attacker.  Thankfully, however, before he could even swing a punch, Stella's foot shot out and kicked him sharply in the shin, making him stumble and giving James the opportunity to hit him again.

Which he did.

The pirate staggered back into another knot of fighting, where he quickly became absorbed.  Immediate threat dealt with, James quickly leaned down and pulled Stella to her feet, intending to find the exit and get her out of the mêlée.

The door seemed a long way away.  James knew they wouldn't make it out unscathed—there were too many people in between them and their portal of deliverance.  The largest room in the pub, upon whose cusp they stood, was teeming with activity.  Punches, gunshots, broken bottles, overturned mugs... it was chaos.

Stella gasped, digging her nails into his hand and pointing with the other.  Her warning was just in time for him to notice a blonde man aiming a swing at his head.  Letting go of her hand, James ducked, before jabbing a quick hit to the man's gut, which bent him double.  Then, he tried to move further into the room, Stella on his heels, as they edged daintily around another throng.  Unfortunately, James and Stella didn't get five feet before they were waylaid by another man.  James lashed out; another hit to the face, a jab to the stomach.  This one, however, kept coming with a malicious intent in his butcher's blue eyes.

But before the man could get any closer, a bottle flew through the air and descended abruptly onto his head, impacting with a hollow thunk.  He went down, and James glanced at Stella to see a kind of prim satisfaction on her face, though her lips were pinched tightly together.

Her satisfaction, however, was short-lived; another set of brawlers was approaching, with swords in hand this time.  James didn't need to see Stella's face to know that it had gone chalky white, and he could feel her fragile fingers trembling.  He cursed his swordless state and spared a swift moment to long for his lost sword, left back in Port Royal, viciously regretting that he hadn't brought it with him.  At the time, he hadn't wanted any reminders of William Turner, and in a strange way, he hadn't wanted to shame the blade further by carrying it deeper into his disgrace.  Now, he surely could've used it; how was he supposed to protect the lady without a sword?

James looked down at Stella.  Stella looked up at James.  They seemed to come to an agreement and, in unison, made an about-face and ran.  Dodging and weaving, they eventually sought sanctuary under the stairs, squeezing into a tiny, dark bolt-hole.  They were breathing heavily and splattered with beer, rum, ale, and tiny glass shards.  Stella fit neatly under his chin, still clasping his hand and trembling.  Her hair had come loose from its bindings and fell to her waist, covering his hand and tickling slightly.

Suddenly, James was reminded of a small bird he'd had once—a starling, when he was a child back in England.  He had found it in the back garden, with a broken wing.  When he'd picked it up to bring it inside to his mother, it had felt as delicate in his hands as Stella felt now; it had trembled in his hold as she trembled now; and its feathers had felt as sleek as the black hair brushing against his fingers.

The starling had healed, eventually, and left the shelter of his hands, though it continued to dwell often in the tree behind his family's townhouse.  Sometimes it would come and perch near him when he sat outside; he would study, and the starling would watch and chatter at him occasionally.  He’d left it behind, though, when he’d left to become a midshipman, and never seen it again.  In a strange, inexplicable way, Stella put him in mind of that starling, and he wanted to protect her because of it.

He looked up, trying to judge how many men there were on the upper level of the pub.  The stairs, at least were mostly clear.  Then he glanced back out to the main room, which was still a massive jumble of fighting.

"We'll have to go up," he said to Stella, leaning down to put his voice closer to her ear.

"Then let us go," she replied, hitching up her skirts.

James clasped her hand and took a deep breath.  He felt Stella squeeze his hand slightly, which he took as an indication that she was ready.  As soon as he saw a clear path around to the front of the stairs, he lunged out of the nook, Stella in tow.  Before they managed to reach the foot of the stairs, someone dumped a cask of ale over the railing of the balcony.  Stella got the worst of it, judging by her indignant screech, and James’ coat was drenched in the back.

The impromptu baptism of alcohol didn't slow their progress up the stairs—however, meeting a set of leering, grinning pirates half-way up certainly did.  James stopped cold, nearly causing Stella to trip and fall face-first into the stairs.  Her grip on his hand became nearly painful when she noticed the men advancing on them.  Her other hand flew up, palm facing the impeding men.  James winced preemptively, already knowing what was coming and feeling sorry for the two soon-to-be eunuchs.

He was, however, quite surprised when, instead castrating the men, a massive gust of wind came from nowhere and blew them nonchalantly over the side of the stairs.  There was a vague sound of cracking furniture (or cracking bones), but it was otherwise lost in the din.

Stunned, he looked down at Stella, who raised a brow.  "It worked, didn't it?" she demanded.

There was, however, no further time to contemplate the ethics of death by wind, inasmuch as a man was about to be hurled down the stairs.  James quickly looped an arm around Stella's waist and dragged her out of harm's way, pressing back against the railing of the stairs as a portly man went rolling down, followed by a rowdy crowd of pirates who tore down after him, picking up the electrocuted men in their wake.

The minute the way was clear, James quickly finished ascending the stairs, Stella rushing along after him.  There were, of course, more fights up on the top level, but it was much less dense, leaving plenty of places for people to slip through.  Mostly, the pirates on the upper level involved themselves with throwing things down onto the lower floor.

Stella tugged gently on his hand, leading him towards a window overlooking a small lean-to and a palm tree.  They danced around a throng of battlers, ducked a flying bottle which shattered on the wall behind them, James had to punch several men who would have impeded their progress, and Stella hit with the bottle those who would have hit James.  Finally, they made it to the window.

"We're just going to jump out?" James asked as Stella flicked her wrist and casually blew out the window panes.

Both had to duck as another shot rang out.  It hit a casement about ten feet away, shattering the wood.  Splinters went flying, pelting their skin with little stings.  "Unless you fancy staying here," Stella replied quickly, removing the bag from her shoulder and tossing it out the window.

Another gunshot rang out, this time aimed at the ceiling.  James looked down, then quickly looked away as Stella squirmed out the window, baring her legs all the way up to her thighs.  Once she was out, James quickly slithered out after her, thanking his lucky stars that no one had noticed them leave.

The lean-to was rickety and rather wobbly and James worried that he was going to put a hole through and get his foot stuck.  Stella, with her lighter frame and steps, had already made it to the end and was peering over the edge nervously.  The port town of Tortuga was bustling tonight; it seemed that there were several all-pub brawls occurring, even aside from the usual fist-cuffs and anarchy.  Every so often pistols would be fired into the air; empty bottles were tossed around and occasionally shattered against a wall; men and women ran merrily (and sometimes not-so-merrily) through the streets, laughing and screaming.  The flickering torches and candles cast the town in a palette of yellow light and shadow, and it looked rather like James suspected hell might appear.

Without saying anything, he sat on the edge of the roof and lowered himself over, keeping a grip on the edge.  That diminished the distance between his feet and the ground to something manageable.  His legs wobbled upon landing, and he stumbled back and sat unceremoniously in a puddle of mud.  He quickly regained his feet, however, since a large, rowdy mob was beginning to spill out of the tavern and into the streets, and he didn't want to get in their way.

Gesturing to Stella, he opened his arms and braced himself.  The woman carefully launched herself off the roof, and James managed to catch her, though he staggered back upon impact and nearly fell into the puddle again.  Once he'd found his footing, he set Stella on her feet.  Her knees nearly buckled, and she clung to his arms, which automatically went around her thin waist to steady her.

A window shattered outwards behind them as a man was thrown through it—the fight was spilling out of the pub.  Green eyes met black in the dim light of a Tortuga evening.  Stella picked up her skirts and dashed off in a slightly swerving path.  James followed, wobbling in a different set of arcs, but basically in the same line.

Stella led him through the trees, shoving leaves and branches out of her way.  Sometimes she remembered to wait for her companion; other times James was hit in the chest by palm fronds.  He could still see the glow of the lanterns and hear the sound of shouting and gunshots, but it seemed that Stella was leading them around the town and towards her graveyard home.

What a night.

Then, with a surprised yelp, he saw Stella trip and fall face-forward into something that went "splat".  Unfortunately, at this point, James was so close behind her that he tripped over the same root, and fell face-forward onto her.

"Get off!" Stella gasped.

James rolled away, head spinning, right into the mud which Stella had landed in.  At least, he thought optimistically, landing on the witch had spared the front of his body from the full brunt of the mud.

He watched as Stella pulled her arms free from the thick sludge and used them to lever herself out of the mire.  He had to bite his lip to keep from laughing, feeling that if he did, Stella would loose her temper and do something very unpleasant to him.

Her front was absolutely caked in mud—face, hair, dress... everything.  She looked vaguely like some swamp monster come to eat his soul as she pulled herself out of the puddle and took a few steps back onto the dry path.  James stood up and joined her, futilely trying to wipe the mud off his hands.

They stood on the path in the weak moonlight.  Stella looked down at herself.  Her front was covered in mud—James couldn't even discern the original colour of her dress anymore—from top to toes.  On her back, she was drenched in ale, splinters, and glass fragments.  She didn't look a thing like a lady—in fact, she barely looked human at this point.  It was funny, but James didn't want to laugh, since he had a feeling Stella wouldn't find it quite so amusing.

Stella looked up at him—he could just about see the glitter of her black eyes through the mud.  Then she looked back down at herself.  Then she looked back up, and lifted a hand to scrape a handful of mud off her face... which she then threw directly at his chest.

It went "splat".

James scowled and opened his mouth to protest when Stella surprised him yet again: she simply threw back her head and started laughing.  It was a full-bodied cackle, the laugh that reminded him of crows, abandoned and slightly hysterical.   She bent nearly double, clutching her mud-covered stomach.

And suddenly the absurdity of the situation hit him as well, and James started laughing himself.  It was all so insane—he'd been involved in a tavern brawl with a lady-witch, they were both covered in drink and mud, and now they were standing in the jungle, slightly drunk, laughing at each other.

Eventually the hilarity wound down, and Stella straightened up, still wiping muck off her face.  "What a night," she gasped, unconsciously echoing James' earlier thoughts.  "I can confidently say that this is the first time anything of the sort has ever happened to me."

"I wouldn't make it a habit," James chuckled.  "You look terrible, Stella."

"You don't look much better yourself," she retorted, though with much less acid than her usual ripostes.  She sounded... almost teasing.  Fond.  Amused.   "I daresay we are both in desperate need of baths."  She flapped her sodden skirts once, before giving it up as a bad job and shaking her mucky head.

"I daresay you're right," James sighed, realising that there was no hope of a bath until morning, at least.

Stella's voice broke into his thoughts.  "Well, come on, then," she insisted, planting her hands on her hips and tapping her foot impatiently.

James rolled his eyes, offering his arm as she apparently expected.  They were, after all, both so dirty that a little more muck wouldn't hurt.  He didn't realise until the next morning, when he was bathed and rested and demanding that Stella give back his wig, that it was the most fun he'd had in months.  Even when involved in an argument about the state of his wig (which eventually ended with Stella agreeing to clean, mend, and re-powder it in return for the performance of several household chores that she wasn't strong enough to carry out herself), James found it impossible to forget the laughter in moonlight.

Somehow, when he wasn't looking, Stella Bell had strangely, inexplicably, and irrevocably become a friend.  And when she would roll her eyes at him, make pert comments, yet still bring him water as he made a game attempt to fix her roof, James had a feeling that she was aware of it too.

Chapter Text

When it happened, it happened subtly—so subtly that, on a chilly January day when she woke to find him in her kitchen, staring out her door at the rain, she was utterly confused as to how he came to become such an integral part of the house.

"How long will the rain last?" he asked, once he heard her behind him.

"Until the evening.  There will be stars tonight," she replied, moving to get breakfast.

"How is the roof holding?"

"No leaks yet," Stella replied, smiling faintly.

"I'm impressed."

"You're impressed with your own work?  Should I chide you for arrogance or worry about the integrity of the repairs?" Stella inquired, arching an eyebrow.

James just rolled his eyes.  "I'd never repaired a roof before.  Tarred a ship, yes—but never a roof."

Stella favoured him with a wry smile and a light laugh as she pulled a half-loaf of bread wrapped in paper out of her cupboards.  Together with some butter and a jar of preserves, the meal was served.  The two of them sat down at the table to eat.  Every so often, Stella would glance curiously at James, still perplexed over when he’d wormed so irrevocably into her life.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" he asked her after the fifth time he’d caught her staring.

"No reason," she demurred.

He snorted.  "Of course.  Because you always stare at your breakfast guests in confusion."

"You’re the first breakfast guest I’ve ever had," Stella replied honestly.  Then something occurred to her, and her black eyes widened in horror.  "Dear God... I’m becoming my mother."

Now it was James’ turn to look confused.  "Is that a bad thing?  I thought your mother was a good woman."

"In many ways, she was.  But in others..." Stella trailed off, then stood, absently making her way to the window and staring out at the rain, suddenly feeling cold.

How could she have let this happen?  She had always sworn that she would not follow in her mother’s footsteps... that she would never fall in love with a man who could not or would not marry her—actually, that she would never fall in love with anyone.  She had vowed to keep her reputation as pure as snow.  There would be no whispers and derisive glances following her path through life.

Yet here she was, living on a pirate island, known publicly as a witch, spending vast amounts of time alone with unmarried man.

Her reputation was not so pure any longer.

Oh dear.

"Stella?"

"Yes?"

"Something's troubling you," James stated bluntly.  Stella spared a thought to wonder just when, exactly, he became so very good at reading her.

...Probably around the same time he moved into the house.

"Well spotted," she noted sarcastically, sinking unceremoniously down onto the window seat and staring out at the dripping water.  Before he could take offence, she changed the subject quickly.  "We are friends, are we not?"

"Yes, although there are times I confess to wondering why," James grumbled, brushing crumbs off his breeches as he joined her on the window seat.

Stella made a noncommittal noise and stared back out at the rain.  James was silent beside her... for a while, anyway.  Eventually he prompted, "You were going to explain your distress."

"Was I?" she asked archly.

"Yes, you were.  And I was going to listen attentively and attempt to comfort you, inasmuch as this rain will last for days if you're upset," he replied matter-of-factly.

Stella snorted in amusement, marvelling inwardly at how... accepting he was nowadays regarding the more supernatural aspects of the world, and of herself.  I trained him rather well, she thought wryly, looking back out at the rain.

"Stella?"

"We are friends, are we not?" she asked again, realising that he wasn't going to relent until she explained herself, and trying to decide the best way to go about it.  Should she tell all?

"We have already established that yes, we are, in fact, friends," James replied dryly.

Stella shot him a flat look, and returned tartly, "Then perhaps the source of my troubles will become apparent when I tell you that I have recently come to the realisation that our situation bears an eerie resemblance to the circumstances of my parents."

James just blinked his green eyes at her, looked out at the rain, then down at his breeches, then back at her.  "I hardly think the situation is the same," he finally said.

"And I hardly think you are familiar with the particulars of my family, such as it was," Stella shot back acidly.  "Oh yes, the location has changed a bit... the circumstances I've sunk to, so to speak... and the feelings involved—or rather," she added wryly, recalling the steadfast love and devotion of her parents and contrasting it with the rather acerbic friendship between James and herself, "the lack of feelings involved.  Nevertheless, we but see through a glass darkly.  We could be my parents, such as it is.  The thought disturbs me."

Silence descended as James pondered this new piece of information.  Stella watched him out of the corner of her eye, observing as he slowly gathered the puzzle pieces together.  She had decided to lead him in the direction of one of her last secrets... but she wasn't about to make it easy for him and simply tell him.  The clues would be presented, and if he arrived at the correct conclusion, she would confirm it.

"We're not married," he eventually announced, looking evenly at her.

Despite the lack of humour, Stella couldn’t help but smile inwardly.  He really was quite sharp.  She merely raised a brow and replied blandly, "Neither were my parents."

His reaction was all she could've hoped for—though she would never, ever admit it, even to herself... in a tiny corner of her heart, Stella had been slightly worried that he would scorn her for the circumstances of her birth and that she would loose the best friend she had since her arrival on the island.

James simply nodded, remarking, "Well, I suppose that explains the similarities in our situations—your parents' to ours, that is.  It also explains some things regarding your particular circumstances that have perplexed me for some time."

"Oh?"  Stella's curiosity was piqued.

"I had wondered," he admitted, "as to why you were on this island.  Why did you not go to your other family upon the death of your father?  Why had you not left prior to now—I know for a fact that it is not because you lack the funds."

The last was added in something of a rueful tone; he had discovered a few weeks back that the only reason he was not in debt up to his elbows was because Stella had been surreptitiously paying his bills.  Furthermore, since he had come to spend more time in the Graveyard House, he had been exposed to more of Stella's customers, and thus had more information on her rather expansive income than anyone else on the island.  Suffice to say, Stella Bell was not a poor woman.  He now understood how she could come to hold more gentle standards than the rest of the island: she was very well-off.

"But I must admit to some continuing confusion about why, exactly, you need me to take you off the island.  You have enough to afford passage yourself," James added.

"Where would I go?" Stella asked.  "What would I do when I arrived?  What would happen to me on the way?  I have already learned of the dangers present for women travelling alone."  This last had a flavour of decided bitterness.  At James' quizzical expression, she elaborated.  "Remember?  My mother and I were moving to start a new life in Jamaica after my father's death.  We were... requested to depart the isle of Antigua, where the Bell plantation was located, you see.  But on the voyage there, we were attacked by pirates."

She paused for a moment, feeling the old ache surface and submerge.  But she continued gamely on.  "If such a thing could happen to two women travelling alone, how much worse would it be for one?  And as I have no connections, and God only knows where my remaining family is... where on earth would I go?"

After a moment, James spoke again.  "I... well.  Well."

"You think worse of me now," Stella conjectured coolly.

"I'm in no position to think of worse of anyone now, Stella," he replied, equally cool.  "I simply feel I should apologise."

"Apologise?"

"I... the waters here were unsafe for many years.  A pirate's playground—all travellers were in danger.  I worked so very hard to change that... but not soon enough to be of any use to you and your mother.  And for that I apologise."  Stella's surprise must have been visible—she could feel her eyebrows making a game attempt to escape her forehead—since he added defensively, "I know such feelings are irrational, but I feel them nonetheless.  And I should also apologise for the detrimental effect I'm having on your reputation," he added glumly.

"I assume you are referring the fact that the entirety of the island believes us to be paramours?"

"Yes, that," he muttered as his unshaven cheeks flushed crimson.

Stella sighed shortly.  "I suppose there wasn't much hope for my reputation, anyway.  After all, I've been living alone for nine years on a pirate island, even beyond being the bastard daughter of a plantation owner and a privateer's daughter... and a witch to boot," she recited bitterly.  She noted a slight slump in James' shoulders and felt suddenly, inexplicably guilty.  "James, it isn't your fault."

"Yes, but all these things could have been overlooked.  Rumours of a lover won't be so easily ignored," he said glumly.

That struck Stella as absurd, and she said so.  "Don't you think it strange that accusations of...er, amorous dalliances are more damning than accusations of witchcraft?"

He released a quick whuff of breath that Stella chose to interpret as laughter.   "I had never quite pondered it before... society really does hold women to some rather strange standards," he commented thoughtfully.

"Yes, it does," Stella agreed evenly.  "And it leaves us no choice but to follow them, lest we be cast from it."

She was quite surprised when James' larger hand closed around hers.  When she looked up and met his earnest green gaze, he gripped her fingers even more firmly.  "I promise that, should we ever find our way back into polite society, I will do all I can to help you.  I will not let your assistance to me have adverse effects on your future—not if I can help it.  I promise."

Stella was still taken aback that she smiled quite without thinking.  "Thank you," she said quietly, flushing and squeezing his hand oh-so-gently.  "You are very good."

"So are you," he informed her, green eyes twinkling just a little bit.

"Do be kind enough not to spread that around," she requested dryly, lips curving into a grin quite despite herself.  "It would destroy the façade I strove so very hard to construct."

"No one shall ever hear otherwise from me," he promised solemnly.

They fell into a companionable silence, broken only by the sound of falling raindrops... at least, until Stella pressed James' hand again, and whispered, "You are a good friend, James Norrington."

He merely laced their fingers together and placed his other hand over their twined hands.  They sat and watched the rain, and Stella felt something she had not experienced for the better part of five years...

Chapter Text

James watched curiously as Stella performed a strange ritual after making afternoon tea.  It began normally—the heating of the water and the infusing of the leaves carried on as usual—but then she had spun the cup three times left, drunk the tea with unseemly rapidity, and then overturned the cup into the saucer, the contents of which she was now peering at intently.

"What in heaven's name are you doing?" he finally demanded.

"Reading the tea leaves," was the absent reply.

Perhaps it was one of those witch-things she did every so often.  Though he found Stella to be the lady in almost all areas of life, she did have her eccentricities that never let him forget what, exactly, she was.   For example, she never needed to stir anything—the spoon moved itself.  When she was busy and needed something, she just extended a hand and the item flew across the room and to her hand.  (James had been knocked unconscious by a jug before Stella had gotten used to his presence and taken a little more care with her summons.)  The reason she didn't need a maid to help her dress was because the laces laced themselves.  She didn't bother with keys; the locks unlocked themselves at her gesture.  She didn't need steel and flint when she needed to light the fire; she just flicked her fingers at the grate and the kindling ignited.  Every so often he'd find her elbow-deep in some concoction, or scrutinizing the entrails of dead animals, or up on the roof peering at the stars or the clouds.  Reading tea leaves was new, though.

"What do they say?" he inquired after a moment.

"Change is coming," she murmured.  "With the spring."

He shrugged.  "That isn't for a while, yet."

"It always comes faster than you want, though," was Stella's surprisingly gloomy response.

A quick glance showed Stella looking as gloomy as her tones indicated.  He felt worried.  "Why... have you foreseen some calamity in the future?"

Stella looked up at him, shaking her head.  "No.  I couldn't, anyway.  My talent is not premonition."

"So what did you see?" he asked curiously, resting back in the chair.

"I didn't see anything," Stella drawled.  "For me, it isn't like that.  It's more like... seeing something, and interpreting it.  Like, for example, seeing a shape in a cloud.  That means something, and, judging from the question whose answer I seek, I can interpret the shape within those parameters.  Except it isn't a cloud, but tea leaves."

"Isn't that somewhat vague, though?"

"A little, yes—but only because I'm not gifted in this arena.  It's a little like... oh, like having a cannon fired at your ship.  You see where the shot is coming from, and the smoke from the firing, but you don't know where it will hit or what it will do.  You can just... guess," Stella explained, blushing slightly.

Her attempted use of nautical occurrences as metaphor was not lost on him, and James felt oddly touched that she was trying to make it more understandable for him.  He didn't entirely understand—nor did he think he ever would, lacking any and all talents in that area—but the basic gist was that Stella knew something was coming but had no real details otherwise.

"Well, what do you 'guess' is coming?" James inquired, feeling an answering smile grow on his face.  She really was the only decent thing on this island.

"Fate.  Destiny.  Something," she replied, looking intensely back at her saucer and the dregs of her tea.  "The sensation is like unto the one which afflicted me in the months before your arrival.  Almost like lemon, really," she added, almost to herself, tapping her lower lip with her forefinger.

James couldn't restrain a chuckle.  "Lemon?"

Stella made a face.  "It's the best metaphor I have," she insisted.  Then, to James' surprise, she lifted her head and sniffed the air with her pointed nose.  "Perhaps with a hint of orange, but mostly lemon."

"What does that mean?"

"I don't know yet... it's too far off."  She rested her chin on her hand and regarded him thoughtfully.  By now, he knew her well enough to discern the faint sparkle in her black eyes.  "What do you hope it means?"

James just furrowed his brow in puzzlement.

Stella rolled her eyes.  "What do you want from the future?"  At his incredulous look, she added defensively, "I'm not adverse to a bit of daydreaming, James.  Underneath all the magic, I am still a young woman."

Smiling sheepishly, since that had been exactly what he was thinking, James actually gave the matter some thought.  "I want... I want things as they were," he finally admitted.  "I want to be back in Port Royal... I want to be Commodore again.  I want to be engaged to Elizabeth.  I want Jack Sparrow hanged."

"But I asked you about the future, not the past," Stella chided gently.  "No matter how much you want it, you cannot go back.  What do you want in the future?"

Sighing unhappily, James mulled further.  "I suppose... I suppose it would be pleasant if I caught Sparrow... and took him back to Port Royal for justice.   The authorities would be so pleased that they would offer me a pardon and reinstate my commission—perhaps as a captain, not commodore.  Perhaps Elizabeth will have realised that Turner is beneath her, and will allow me to court her again..."

Even as he spoke, he realised the absurdity of that hope.  If Elizabeth was willing to face rifles and bayonets for William Turner, she would hardly be driven off by social inequality.  When he met Stella's gaze, her arched eyebrow spoke volumes on her thoughts of the matter.

"Yes, I know that is unrealistic as well," he muttered.

Her smile was crooked and rather sad.  "I did ask about what you wanted, not what you thought was possible," she pointed out.

"What do you want, then?" he queried.

She surprised him with something equally unattainable.  "I, too, would prefer to return to the past, when my parents were alive and I was living as a gentleman's daughter on Antigua.  But as that is impossible... well."  She tapped her forefinger on her lower lip again.  "I think I would enjoy meeting a respectable gentleman... being removed from this island... I suppose I should have to marry said gentleman... and living comfortably on another island.  Or perhaps somewhere in the colonies... even Britain, if I'm feeling adventurous.  A pleasant home, children..."  She shrugged.  "Equally unrealistic, I'm afraid."

"And entirely prosaic.  Honestly, Stella, haven't you got a single romantic bone in your body?" James demanded in exasperation.

Her answering laugh was surprisingly bitter.  "I learned very early on that romance has very few benefits."

James smiled wryly.  "I imagine that, once you fall in love yourself, you may change your mind."

He was surprised when her face twisted with an emotion he could not name... a mixture of sorrow, bitterness, and contempt was his best guess.  "May that day never come," she said vehemently.

"Why ever not?" he asked, confused.

Stella tried to elude the question.  "I confess a measure of shock at discovering your advocacy of that particular emotion," she remarked coolly.  "Since you have been crossed in love yourself."

"That doesn't make the emotion any less worthy," he returned mildly, determined not to rise to her baiting.

He had noted, after a few weeks, that whenever he stumbled across some issue that Stella considered too close to her heart to warrant discussion, she would needle at some painful area of his own heart in order to distract him.  It was a rather underhanded, dishonourable tactic, but he had eventually learned to counteract it.  He could do nothing more vexing to his friend than to refuse her a reaction and simply worry away at the original topic of conversation.

Which he did.  "Come now, Stella," he insisted.  "You told me there was a young lady under all the witchery... surely you don't mean to contradict yourself so soon afterwards.  Most young ladies have a dream or two of love floating somewhere in their heads."

That's the ticket... throw out a challenge.  Stella never can resist those, he thought cheerfully to himself.

A delicately lifted brow indicated that she was not unaware of the direction of his thoughts, but James was an astute judge of her character, and she could not indeed resist the challenge he'd thrown out.

"I thought you would have realised by now that I am hardly 'most young ladies'," she replied archly.

Touché, he thought, and asked calmly, "So there will be no love in Miss Bell's conjectured future?"

Stella sneered faintly.  "I hope not.  My ancestors have shown consistently poor judgment in their amatory selections," she admitted.

James raised a brow curiously.  "Really?"

"Really.  All my foremothers seem to fall in love with some man who either does not love her in return, or returns her love at the sake of her reputation," Stella explained delicately.  She smiled humourlessly.  "Sometimes both, in the case of my great-grandmother Isabella.  I can't even recall when the last one of us was born legitimate.  Certainly not since the early 1600's.  But strangely enough, not one of them ever learned," she added wryly, but not quite able to hide the bitterness underneath.  "They always chose their men poorly, heedlessly following their hearts, ignoring every claim of reason and morality.  And they suffered for it.  I swore when I was girl that their fate would never be mine," she finished intently, glaring down at her hands, which were fisted in her skirts.

James thought about it for a moment, then shrugged. "Well, that's fine.  I won't have to worry about you loosing your head if I introduce you to Lt. Groves."

Stella shot him a flat look as he first spoke, but the moment he mentioned introducing her to someone she tilted her head to the side in a curiously birdlike manner.  James was once again reminded of his childhood starling.  "Since your imagined fantasy future was quite lacking in both style and colour, I decided to elaborate," he explained.

"Imagined and fantasy mean the same thing," was Stella's light reply.

"I'm drunk," he offered in explanation.  This was not entirely true—he'd only had a half-bottle thus far today—but he found it was an easy excuse after saying stupid things.

The corners of Stella's lips quirked.  "Liar.  But do tell: what is your hope for my future?"

"Well, I shall catch Jack Sparrow, and you shall subdue him while we escort him back to Port Royal," James began.  He hadn't really given the idea much thought, despite his earlier quips.  "We will present him to Governor Swann... he will grant a pardon, and I will re-enter the navy.  Perhaps I might captain again.  Perhaps William Turner will have met a gruesome death, and I might console Miss Elizabeth and eventually win her heart..." he added wistfully.  "Meanwhile, you, as my devoted friend, will have been... been keeping house, or something," he fumbled, not entirely sure where Stella would be in this little picture.  "Since Miss Elizabeth is still in mourning, you agree to escort me to whatever functions arise... but your attention is caught by my dashing first lieutenant, who is equally charmed..."

He spared a brief moment to ponder how truly unsuited Stella and Theodore Groves were.  Stella would ride roughshod right over Groves, and Groves would let her.  He always did bend to the strongest wind blowing, and Stella was quite a strong wind (in more ways than one).  Now, if Gillette was still alive...

That pain and loss roared up like the waves that had taken Andrew.  James still hadn't forgiven himself for the loss of the Dauntless... not the least because he'd lost his best friend with the ship.

The sensation of Stella's delicate hand resting on his jerked him out of his grief, and he met her quiet black eyes with a sad smile that echoed on her face.  Yes, they both knew of loss... and it truly was a pity Stella wouldn't let him recreate the past, since she and Andrew would have been a match made in heaven...

Or Hell, he added mentally.  Andrew's rather caustic wit plus Stella's dry sarcasm?  Those two would have been terrible together... marvellously, wonderfully, fantastically terrible.

"It never goes away, does it?" he asked suddenly.

Stella instantly knew to what he referred.  "No," she admitted.  "You just learn to live with it as time goes on."

He sighed, and said nothing for a few moments.  "These fantasies... they will never truly occur," he said sadly.

"In hac spe vivo," was all Stella said in return.

James' mouth twitched in a weak grin.

They remained in silence for the rest of teatime—at least, until Stella tossed her head violently, making her black hair fly out behind her like a banner, expelling the doldrums which seemed to have descended.  "What a terribly depressing conversation to be having on St. Valentine's Day," she quipped, enough acid in her tones to convey her true feelings for the holiday.

"It's St. Valentine's Day?" James asked incredulously.  The last time he had checked the date, it was still late January!

"Yes.  I believe most whores on the island are offering discounts," she added brightly, smiling as though she thought she was being helpful and hadn't just startled him terribly.  There was something dreadfully wrong in hearing the word 'whores' casually tossed around in Stella's prim-and-proper accents.

"I hardly think that is proper teatime conversation," he protested.  Then, to wipe the wicked smirk off her face, he added (with a measure of wickedness himself), "Besides, hardly any of the whores will accept my money—they seem to think that you will hex them if you find out."

Stella burst out into her crow-like laughter, even as her sallow cheeks flushed scarlet.  "Then I shall have to send you into town with a note to assuage your... er, your chosen companion's fears regarding my reaction," she spluttered, black eyes coming as close to sparkling as he had ever seen them.

"Stella!"

"Really, James, I wouldn't begrudge you whichever type of company you would prefer," she drawled, rolling her eyes.  "You forget, my mother was someone's mistress."

"So young, so cynical."  James shook his head.  "Well, I will not require a missive of any sort, inasmuch as I plan to avoid the company of... of the... er, ladies of the night. "

That inspired another round of laughter.

Of course, nothing went as he'd planned.  He completely forgot about his resolve to avoid the streetwalkers after a few drinks.  He ended up being seduced by a very expansive... discount... when he was already rather maudlin in his cups (given the rather melancholy discussion he and Stella had partaken in that afternoon), which made him feel guilty about betraying Elizabeth, which was foolish and reminded him that he was nothing to Elizabeth anymore, which was even more depressing since it was St. Valentine's Day.  He had once wanted to marry Elizabeth on this holiday.  But it was not to be.   He also realised that he was probably disappointing Stella, who didn't approve of his drinking habit, even though she'd long ago stopped making sharp comments about it.

Because he was truly, very drunk at this point, he made his wobbling way back to the Graveyard House, determined to beg Stella's forgiveness.  If she forgave him, maybe she would still marry Andrew and stand up for him when he married Elizabeth.

Wait... he wasn't marrying Elizabeth.

Maybe he was standing up for Stella when she married Andrew.

Or maybe they were both going to throw bottles at Jack Sparrow's hanging.

James was in no state to be speaking to Stella at this moment in time, but this hadn't occurred to him as he knocked on the door.  When she opened it, brow raised quizzically, he announced, "Starling, I'm sorry for drinking."

And without any further notice or warning, he dropped to his knees and threw up all over Stella's shoes and the hem of her dress.

He vaguely heard her furious shriek, but even his liver was unable to compensate for the truly gargantuan amount of rum he'd imbibed that evening, and he passed out in a pool of his own vomit.


 Stella looked disgustedly down at the unconscious form of her friend.  "You will have to grovel most severely to earn my forgiveness after this, James Norrington," she snapped.  She briefly debated just shutting the door and leaving him outside...

But she knew she wouldn't.  "The things I'm willing to do for friendship," she eventually sighed, kicking off her ruined shoes and preparing to shove her friend's inert body back inside.

"Happy St. Valentine's Day, you ass," she muttered darkly.

Chapter Text

"I need more cloves," Stella announced one day in April.

James, still suffering from a hangover due to the previous day's libations, was lying under a tree, avoiding the morning sunlight.  He didn't even bother opening his eyes.  "Go get some," he suggested.

"The nearest tree is two miles up the mountain," Stella pointed out.  "You go get it."

"You need it."

"You threw up on my shoes."

Her friend cracked open one bleary green eye to throw a half-hearted glare in her direction.  She stared evenly back.  Finally, James groaned, clambered to his feet, jammed his hat on his head, and stormed into the house to fetch a basket.  Stella smirked.

It had, admittedly, been almost two months since the ill-fated St. Valentine's day, but Stella wasn't about to let James forget that he'd vomited on (and consequently ruined) her favourite pair of shoes.  Most of the time she didn't say anything, but it was a perfect trump card when she wanted to get him to do something he didn't want to.

We really have become my parents, she thought as she watched him stalk, grumbling, towards the mountain path.

Of course, she had an ulterior motive.  She wanted him out of the house today, since she knew she was going to get a customer—the broom had fallen over repeatedly for the past three days.  She also knew that this was a customer to which James had a personal connection, and she didn't want them in the same room.

After all, William Turner had stolen the woman he loved.

Stella frowned as she lost sight of her friend in the lush foliage, feeling suddenly apprehensive.  Things were moving quickly, after years of nothing, and it made her uneasy.  It was April... James had been here for almost a half-year... Jack Sparrow was coming closer to the Caribbean... now William Turner was seeking her out.  A shadow was spreading across the Atlantic... she didn't know what it sought, but she could feel it like the ephemeral breezes before the hurricane struck.

"Perhaps I might get some information from Turner the younger," she murmured to herself, in a habit that living with James had nearly broken—talking to herself, that is.  After all, he was around to speak with most of the time, and he laughed at her when she muttered to the empty air.

So she settled down to wait with some mending.  She didn't know when Turner would appear, but he would do so sometime today.  Hopefully it would take James at least that long to find her cloves.

It was a couple hours after midday, and she was squinting at a miniscule tear in the lace at the sleeves of her best brocade gown when she suddenly sat upright.  A smile curved her thin lips.   He was coming.

(She was never entirely sure how she always knew when someone was approaching her house, but she did.  It was like a psychic tap on the shoulder, and it came in handy as far as frightening customers went.)

Setting the dress back in her bedroom, Stella went to the door, and opened it just as William Turner stopped before it.  "Mr. Turner.   A pleasure to see you again."

He bowed uncomfortably.  "Miss Bell," he replied.  "I seek your advice on a matter of some urgency."

She smiled slightly—the eerie witch smile, as James called it.  "Won't you come in?"  He nodded, and followed her inside.  She left the door open... a small nod to propriety.  "May I offer you some refreshment?"

"Er... some water, perhaps, if you have it."

"Of course."   William took a seat in James' chair as Stella collected the jug of ginger water she kept in the cellar.  Once the two of them were seated and watered, Stella set her glass down and leaned forward.  "What need do you have of me, Mr. Turner?"

"I must find Jack Sparrow," was his intent reply, a frantic fire burning in his dark eyes.  In fact, his desperation was nearly a separate entity, tainting the air around him with its coppery twang.

Stella couldn't quite stifle her ironic laugh.  At Turner's confused look, she half-smiled and explained, "You are not the only man of my acquaintance who does.  One day I really must discover where the attraction lies."

"For my part, it lies in a compass that I must use as a bartering chip for my fiancée's life."

"The lovely Miss Swann," Stella said, smiling darkly.  Elizabeth truly did have a knack for leaving a mark on a man... she could see the lady's face reflected even more clearly in Turner's soul than it was in James'.  "But how can Jack Sparrow's compass save Elizabeth's life, pray tell?"

Turner looked a little uneasy at how much she seemed to know.  Stella spared a moment to be amused at the fact that her knowledge came from an actual person, instead of the mystical method William assumed. "It is the most important ingredient in a bargain to avoid the gallows," he said glumly.

"The gallows?" she repeated incredulously.  None of this scenario made sense.  "Is she not the governor's daughter?"

William sighed, and seemed to slump.  "Yes, for all the good it may do her.  There is a man—a lord—come from England with warrants for our arrest."

"Our?"

"Elizabeth and mine."  He added as an afterthought, "And James Norrington's, but no one knows where he is."

Stella froze.  "James Norrington?"

"He was Commodore... but he resigned his commission some time ago and no one knows where he went."

"I know who he is," she snapped, fear making her short (well, shorter).  "Why does this lord have a warrant for him?"

"We are all wanted for aiding the escape of Captain Jack Sparrow.  Miss Bell, I must find him," he insisted, placing his hands on the table.

"Of course.   I can help you do that, of course.  I can even tell you his exact location at the moment," Stella drawled, hiding the discomfort the young man's information had inspired.

"I sense a 'but'," William returned curtly.

Stella raised her eyebrows.  My, but this young man had done some growing up in the two years since she'd seen him.  The promise she'd felt around him had become more intense.  He was Important... even more than that, he was touched by fate.

She suddenly realised something: William Turner, as she had long known, was Important.  So was Sparrow.  Turner was looking for Sparrow, so these two would be involved in whatever it was that was beginning to happen.  Turner was doing it for Elizabeth Swann, and judging from her limited amount of knowledge concerning that young woman, Stella was willing to bet Miss Swann would somehow insert herself into the proceedings with her fiancé and Jack Sparrow.  James loved Elizabeth... would do anything for her, really... so he would be taking part as well.  And since Stella herself was currently bound to James, it stood to reason that the net these people were caught in was going to entangle her as well.

Oh dear.

"I do require payment, Mr. Turner," she pointed out, acting causal despite having a definite idea of what it was she wanted.

"Name your price," was his instant response.

"Ten shillings, and I will require you to explain the situation to me.  A thorough explanation, Mr. Turner, and I reserve the right to ask whatever questions I wish."

"Done."  Turner removed ten shillings from his purse and handed them to her.  He then told her a tale of an interrupted wedding, a powerful lord of the East India Trading Company, three death warrants, and a deal for a compass Stella knew was magical.

"What does this... Lord Cutler Beckett want with the compass?" she wondered when William finished.

"He didn't say," William admitted.  "He said I must bring it to him in exchange for Elizabeth's life."

"Sparrow will not part with it easily," Stella murmured.  "It was a gift from Tia, and it is magical as well."  Then she looked up at Turner, who seemed surprised to discover that it was a magic compass.  Idiot—why else would a sailor walk around with a compass that didn't point north?  "I sense no good things from this Beckett... whatever he plans to use that compass for, I doubt it will be benevolent."

"That doesn't matter to me.  If it saves Elizabeth..."

"Yes, yes," Stella sighed, rolling her eyes.  While he had done some changing, in essentials William Turner was much the same.  Still insipidly in love, and unwilling to consider that his dear fiancée might be able to save herself.

"What sort of man is this Beckett?" she asked after a moment.  The chill sensation she got whenever his name was mentioned boded no good; if she had to guess, she would imagine that he was going to be the chief nemesis in this little... fiasco.  She'd be willing to bet that he was the source of the darkness on the ocean as well.

William made a face.  "Short," was his concise reply.

That made Stella laugh.

"He's... smooth," Turner added on further thought.  "Powerful... has some manner of history with Captain Sparrow.  Ruthless."

"In all respects, then," Stella concluded during a pause, "a rather bad sort of gentleman."

"Yes."

"Unfortunate."

"Very much so."

"Since he seems intelligent as well, what does Lord Beckett offer in return?" Stella inquired.  "In return for the compass—a valuable artefact, I assure you—you get your fiancée's life.  What does he offer Sparrow?"  She smiled thinly.  "Or does Beckett simply intend you to walk up and steal it?"

William made a face—he seemed to agree that such a manoeuvre would be difficult, to say the least.  "Letters of marque... a full pardon.  Jack would be an English privateer."

Stella snorted.  "Hardly tempting for our dear Captain Sparrow," she noted.  "Especially if he and Beckett have a history.  Do you know what that history is?"

"No.  He said that both he and Jack have left their marks on each other... and I have a feeling that Beckett is responsible for the pirate brand on Jack's arm... but when I asked what mark Jack left on him, he didn't reply," William shrugged.

She fought back the urge to ask if William Turner was possessed of any subtlety at all, and contented herself with giving him a deadpan glare while she decided upon her next question.  She very much wanted to know if James was in any danger.  "These warrants... death is the penalty, is it not?  Straight-up death?  No trial... no pardons... no influence to the contrary?"

"That's the way of it," William replied unhappily.  "Governor Swann was unable to do anything.  Our fate, unless I can get the compass, is to be death by hanging.  The same fate from which we saved Jack."

"Poetic, in a morbid sort of way," she remarked darkly.  She did not like what this portended.  If Beckett was powerful enough to storm into the Caribbean and overrule the King's Governor to the point of hanging his only child, what else could he do before this was over?  She looked up and met William's dark eyes.  "Does he control Port Royal?"

Turner shook his head.  "No, Governor Swann is still in command."

She arched a brow.  "And how long do you expect that state of affairs to continue?"

The look on his face said it all.

"You seem to have gotten yourself into a fine situation, Mr. Turner," she commented.  "Welcome to the net."

"The net?" he repeated, perplexed.

"The net of people whose fates are somehow connected to that of Jack Sparrow," Stella replied glumly.  "Much like a massive knot."

"Knots can be untied," William pointed out.

"And what happens then to what the knot is supporting?"

The two of them shared a grim look.

"Well!" Stella announced after a moment, standing and moving to find her maps (a little worse for the wear after the massive tavern fight in December).  "I suppose there's no way to discover what this Beckett will do, save to find Jack Sparrow and let the dice fall where they may."

She handed William the quartz wand on a chain.  "Hold this, and think of our wayward captain."

While he charged the crystal, she arranged the maps, just as she had for James all those months ago.  "Beckett had a map," William noted.

"Had he?"

"A large one."

"I imagine he surrounds himself with many large things—probably a form of compensation," Stella sneered.

"He said the world is shrinking," William added contemplatively, indicating that this was a remark that had been niggling at him for a time.  "That Jack Sparrow is a dying breed."

Stella's movements stilled for a moment.  "He's right."

Once the stones were placed at the corners, she gestured for Turner to give her the wand.  Then she suspended it over the maps and let it swing.  Eventually it came to a stop, quivering on its point, on a Caribbean island a little south of the straits.

"That's where he is," Stella said simply.

William didn't remove his wide eyes from the inert crystal.  "That man was right, then," he muttered.  "Well, at least I'll know from whom to request passage."

"Be careful," Stella warned him.  "Be very careful.  Your path is fraught with danger—not only from Beckett—and more people will be affected by your actions that simply Miss Swann.  Some dark fate is fast approaching, and I cannot see what it is, or from which direction it comes," she whispered, almost to herself.  Then she reached out and tipped his chin up, forcing him to meet her eyes.  "Choose wisely, Mr. Turner.  You are more important than you know."

Then, all of a sudden, her lips started speaking without conscious control.  "Forgive him the whip.  He loves you."

Turner was nearly as surprised as she.  "What?"

Stella dropped her hand and sat back, startled but trying not to show it.  "Prophesy.  It comes, sometimes," she said lightly, appearing to brush it off, though she made a mental note to dissect the happening later.  "Rather like a sneeze, only not."

That seemed to satisfy the young Mr. Turner, and the manic energy buzzed around him once more.  When she showed him to the door, he gave her a courtly bow and said, "Thank you, Miss Bell.  You've been very helpful."

"Good luck, Mr. Turner.  You've been informative," Stella replied, trying to smile but failing miserably.  As he turned away, she called to him, "Remember, 'fate is not satisfied with inflicting one calamity'." At his uncomprehending look, she added, "Publilius Syrus.  A Roman author.  I have often found it to be true."

"With all due respect, Miss Bell, I hope you—and Syrus—are wrong," William replied.  Then he bowed again, and continued on his way back to town.

She watched him depart, through the graves, down the familiar paths towards the port town.  Yet it wasn't William Turner she was seeing... it was James Norrington.

Stella had known, the moment she'd touched him over her patchwork maps, that the coming of William Turner was the beginning of the end.  He brought changes in his wake, along with the tantalising energies he carried with him.  Normally she would not be adverse to change, but... she'd been content, these last few weeks—more content than she'd been since her mother's death.  Admittedly, she'd be even more content—happy, even—if she could get off the island and go somewhere else.

But James was going to leave soon, take himself off to meet his destiny somewhere in the vicinity of Jack Sparrow and William Turner... and she wasn't going to be with him.

A few months ago, it wouldn't have mattered to her.  Nothing but getting away from this place would have mattered to her, and the fact that James was the vehicle of that leaving would have been the most important factor in his significance to her.  But now?

James had become her friend—a true and faithful friend, who accepted her and her talents and her illegitimate origins.  That was the most important thing at this point, and it made his value to her inestimable.

Danger was coming.  Fate, destiny... change; all of it was dangerous, and the tension in the air along with the news of Lord Cutler Beckett hinted that the fulfilment of William Turner's potential would be even more dangerous than she had previously thought. There was no guarantee that, if James was away from her, he would emerge from the storm unharmed—especially not with some vicious little lord out for his blood.  And what good was a better life in polite society if her dearest friend was going to be hung once he re-entered it?

Feeling inexplicably wretched, Stella sat down, right on the threshold, and leaned up against the door frame, tucking her knees up underneath her as she stared unhappily out at the jungle.  She wanted James to come back, right now.

When he did return, he found Stella in the same position: sitting forlornly in the doorway, arms wrapped around herself, staring dully out at her surroundings.  She looked up when he approached, but she didn't seem any happier, even as her tense shoulders relaxed.

Setting down the basket of clove flowers, James sat down beside her and folded his long limbs under him.  "I got your cloves.  What's wrong?"

"It's going to rain," was her reply.

"That's not really 'wrong'," James pointed out, raising an eyebrow at her.  "More of an indication that you're upset."

Stella looked away.  "I had a visit today."

"And that makes you unhappy?  What, did you not get enough money?"

"No, it's not that... the majority of the payment was information."

"And the information you received distresses you."

"Yes."  She seemed to curl in on herself.  "Very much.  Although I can now put a name to the shadow which I had sensed previously, it doesn't change the fact that there is a shadow, it is growing, and it will impact me.  That, and the fact that this visitor was touched by fate, which can be—and generally is—depressing in and of itself."

"What does it mean, 'touched by fate'?"

"It means that he has a destiny... something preordained that he will do, or become," Stella explained dully.  "No matter what happens, or what he does or does not do, he will end up fulfilling that fate, one way or another.  If he knows about it beforehand, and tries to change it, he will find it fulfilled despite his actions.  No matter what, he will fulfil his destiny."

"Like Oedipus," James supplied quietly.  Stella nodded.  "That is, indeed, depressing."

"Especially since he's such a good man," Stella agreed glumly.  "I fear he won't deserve anything that happens to him."

She turned to look at James, and wondered if she should tell him that he would soon depart.  But she couldn't give him any details at all... she didn't know how or why or with whom he'd be leaving, just that he would.  Perhaps, given the lack of information, it was better just to leave be.  Though she was a great advocate of dealing with things as they were... she wanted to pretend a little longer that things would stay as they were.

"Are you safe here?" James eventually asked.

"As safe as anywhere,  I suppose," she replied.  "I'm tangled in this net, as well, so I'm not sure how many safe places there will be once the storm breaks."

"Should I go?   Would you be safer if I left?"

"What?  No!"  She glared at him in surprise.  "James, don't be absurd. I was a part of this before you arrived.  If you leave now, nothing will change... save me," she added softly.  "I don't think I could bear staying here if you left.  I absolutely despised it before, but you made it... bearable."

His dirty face creased in a melancholy smile.  "The feeling is mutual.  Had I never met you, this island would have killed me long before now," he said earnestly.

Stella laughed weakly.  "The island, and its inhabitants."

Silence descended for a moment.  "I never did thank you for saving me," he said softly.

She reached out and clasped his hand.  "I know."

James surprised her by putting his free arm around her shoulders in a loose embrace.  "Perhaps your storm will leave us be," he said hopefully, pulling her against him.

Stella was enjoying being comforted, so she didn't make a sarcastic remark about how very likely that was.  She just rested her head on his shoulder and resolved to cherish her friend for as long as he remained with her.  And they sat quietly, resting on each other, as they watched evening slowly fall.

Chapter Text

If he hadn't known both the lady in question and her feelings towards more tender emotions, James would've thought Stella was in love with him.

Ever since her fated visitor a week or so ago, she was acting very strangely.  She was secretive and evasive.  She kept looking at him with her black eyes hooded and soft.  She was as affectionate as she ever got—light touches on his shoulders and hands, as delicate as the breezes that hovered around her person.  She cleaned his wig without complaint.  She even stopped manipulating him into doing unpleasant chores by constantly bringing up his accidental upchucking onto her shoes.

"Stella, is something terrible going to happen to me?" he asked her one evening after she'd roasted a chicken for him.

"I don't know," she replied, clearly surprised.

"It's just... you're being... er, rather kind, especially for you."

"I can't be kind to you for no reason?"

James just looked flatly at her.  "Then you want something from me."

"Not really, no."

"Stella."

She looked down.   "You'll be leaving soon," she announced quietly.

All the colour washed from his face.  "Leaving what?  The land of the living?"

The scornful look in her black eyes calmed him only slightly.  "Don't be stupid.  Do you honestly think that if I'd foreseen your death I wouldn't fight the devil himself to keep you alive?  Or, at the very least, warn you," she grumbled.

"But what if there was nothing you could do?  If it was one of those... things related to an inescapable fate?" he fretted.

Stella rolled her eyes and grabbed his hand, turning it palm-up.   "For one, James, you're not touched by fate, so that sort of situation doesn't apply.  And for another... well, look."  She traced a line down the centre of his hand.  "This is your lifeline.  Yours ends here."  She tapped a point on the line near his thumb.  "And, if I had to guess—and we both know how accurate my guesses are—you are right here."  She tapped another point a little bit higher on the line.  "You have a little more life, yet."  She smiled weakly.  "I think."

"Your confidence is overwhelming."

"Life is a dangerous thing, James.  You could be caught by a stray bullet tomorrow."

"But you haven't foreseen my death."

"No."

"Oh.  Well, then.  That's good."  James recalled what inspired his anxieties.  "I'll be leaving soon, then?  The island?"

"Yes."

She didn't seem as happy about this as he would've imagined.  "But... that's good, isn't it?  I'm taking you off the island... if I'm leaving—"

"I won't be going with you," Stella interrupted.

He looked at her, startled.  "What?  Why?"

"It isn't time yet."

"Stella, don't be absurd.  You've wanted nothing more than to leave this place since you arrived.  Here's your chance," he insisted.

"Don't be absurd yourself," she shot back.  "If I left now, with whom you're leaving, I'd get killed."

"Do you know that for sure?"

"What have I told you about my propensity for knowing things for sure?"

"Then come with me!"  James rose from the table to take her by the shoulders.  "Starling, you told me once that I'd take you away from here.  I’m offering to.  If I have to leave, come with me.  We can look for a life somewhere else."

"And what would that do to my already-tattered reputation?  James, it's not time yet."

"Make your own time," he pressed, shaking her gently.  "Don't be bound by these... these superstitions and mystical pointers.  Grasp what you want with both hands."

Stella smiled sadly, and he was surprised to see her black eyes swim with tears.  "How piratical of you," she accused him playfully.

"Hush, you," he returned, releasing her shoulders.  They stood, less than three feet apart, facing each other in the middle of Stella's main room.

"Starling?" she eventually said, arching a brow.

James flushed—he hadn't meant for that to slip out, but since he'd been calling his friend that in the privacy of his thoughts for some time...

He shrugged.  "It suits you.  Just like a starling, you are birdlike and occasionally annoying," he quipped.  He didn’t feel like explaining his childhood pet at the moment.

Stella laughed lightly.  "As nicknames go, it isn't bad.  What shall I call you, then?  Jim?" she teased.

"Try it and I'll shoot you."

Silence descended again, James' offer still hanging in the air between them.  Both knew it would have to be addressed.

Stella was the first to break the quiet.  "I appreciate the offer, James.  I truly do.  More than you can know.  But I can't leave yet."

"Why?" he asked, feeling inexplicably disappointed.

"It isn't time."

"What does that even mean, Stella?" he demanded harshly.

"You wouldn't understand."  She apparently noticed that he was about to loose his temper, so she stepped closer and laid the palm of her hand flat on his chest.  "Trust me.  Please?  This is something you cannot understand, but trust me when I say that it is not yet time for me to depart."

"Does that mean you were wrong?  That I won't bring you off Tortuga?" James asked, trying to understand despite her words.

"No, you will.  My sense of that has never waned.  Besides, Tia told me that, and she's never wrong," she added, smiling wryly.  "And that's also how and why I can guarantee your life.  You haven't yet taken me away, but since you will, ergo you must live to do it."

"It sounds... woolly," he demurred sceptically.

"Sometimes these things are."

He placed his hand over the one resting on his chest.  "Then why do you depend on them?"

"Because they're what I know.  They've never let me down before."

"Neither have I," he insisted.

She smirked, and he instantly knew what was coming.  "No, but you did vomit on my shoes."

James rolled his eyes and turned away from her in exasperation.  "Oh, for God's sake, Stella..."

She laughed her light, bell-like laugh that came and went as swift as the wind.  He sensed her approach, and felt her place her hand on his arm.  "I do want to leave this place.  I do.  But now is not the time—not if I want to make land anywhere else."  She paused.  "When the time comes... you will return for me, will you not?"

James turned to look down at her, and met her clear black eyes.  "I will come back for you.  I promise."

"You are a good friend," she told him, smiling.

"As are you, though I confess that you vex me terribly at times," he replied wryly.  He paused.  "This is why you are so... er..."

"Yes," Stella replied, rolling her eyes and thankfully saving him from finding a suitable adjective.  Then she looked down, suddenly seeming very small and sad.  "I will miss you when you leave."

He couldn't think of any reply to that which wouldn't make him sound like an ass, so he merely gathered her into his arms and held her.


Later—much later—after the house had gone to bed, Stella padded out into the main room where James slept.  He had claimed the wall by the bookshelves; all his things (few though they were) were stored there, and she had made sure to string one of her sheets on a rope to make a curtain, of sorts, in order to give him at least the illusion of privacy.

It was towards that curtain that she silently moved; her feet were bare, so she made no noise.  Once she pushed the muslin aside, her friend was revealed, sprawled on his makeshift bed and fast asleep.  She knelt on the floor beside him, her white nightgown pooling around her as she reached out to place a gentle hand on James' unshaven cheek.

To be honest, Stella wasn't entirely sure what she was doing out here.  She had James had an unspoken rule that, once they decided to retire, Stella would remain in the bedroom, and James would remain in the main room.  It was one of their submissions to propriety—something she generally agreed with wholeheartedly.  So what was she doing here now?

She wasn't sure if she wanted James to awaken, or remain asleep.  She didn't know what she'd do if he did happen to wake.  She didn't know why she was touching him.  And she certainly didn't know why she was leaning closer, nearly touching their noses together.  Perhaps she meant to kiss him... she wasn't entirely sure.  All she knew was that she had an overwhelming desire to be near him.

But as Stella leaned closer, her loose black hair slid over her shoulder, and fell in a sheet around their heads.  Several tresses landed on James' face, tickling his skin and making his features twitch. He shifted slightly in his sleep, and murmured something, his breath mingling with Stella's as she hovered over him.

But only because Stella was so very close did she hear what he murmured...

It was "Elizabeth."

She jerked away, snatching back her hand as if burnt.  Before she quite knew what she was about (but after all, wasn't that the reason she was out there anyway, leaning over her best friend like a prince from a fairytale, lips a hair's-breadth apart, as though kissing him would change the world, make the sky melt and reform their lives into something like unto those silly fantasies they'd concocted one afternoon?) she was back in her bedroom, door shut, breathing coming quick after her dash across the room, and feeling inexplicably like she'd been hit in the chest.

"Fool," she whispered to herself (why not get back into the habit of talking to herself?  After all, he will be leaving, and she'll be alone in this house again).  "Fool.  What were you expecting?  He loves her.  Loves Elizabeth Swann, the lovely, spirited lady."

What was left unspoken was the comparison.  If Elizabeth Swann was the lovely, spirited lady, then Stella Bell was the unattractive, bitter witch, the foil to her perfection... and ever the second in James Norrington's heart.

For some reason, that hurt.  It stung and ached and cut all at once, and Stella was surprised to find tears spilling from her eyes.  She almost never cried—not unless she was in unbelievable pain.  She could count on her two hands the amount of times she had shed tears in the last decade, and usually there was a death involved.  Indeed, the last time she could recall weeping was the death of her mother.

But since the evening had already been full of strange and unsure actions, why not weep for no reason? she thought viciously, curling up under the bedclothes and allowing the tears to fall.

After all, Stella would never admit that she might possibly, maybe, perhaps be weeping over a man, and the fact that he loved another.


When in the morning, James was awakened by the sunlight shining through the wide-open curtains of his little partition, he was slightly confused; he always made sure to close them after retiring to sleep.  But he merely shrugged and supposed that either the wind blew the curtains open (not an unlikely happening when inhabiting the same dwelling as Stella Bell) or that he had perhaps kicked them open in his sleep.

And if Stella was a bit colder in her manner, he simply attributed it to his coming departure.  There was, after all, no reason to connect her to the open curtain.

Chapter Text

I shouldn't have told him.

This thought had been echoing in Stella's mind for the past few days—days in which James had been falling back onto his old habits of haunting the port town and drinking far too much.  Since she'd told him he'd be leaving soon, he was desperate to locate the means of his departure.

Not that she could blame him, really—she'd done the same thing when Tia had told her the means of her departure would soon appear.  She felt like a hypocrite, but she couldn't stop that selfish wish: I shouldn't have told him.

After all, Stella had known she was going to loose her friend... she just hadn't expected it to happen until after he'd left the island.

She sighed deeply, cocking her head to listen to a voice on the breeze.  99 souls...

"Jack Sparrow.  You ass," she muttered, shaking her head and going to collect her hat and gather a host of wind-knots for all directions.  She'd be going into town tonight to help sort out a mess of his own making... all the while getting even more tangled in the net.

99 souls...

And if he thought for one second that one of those souls was going to be her friend, he had another thing coming.


 

Before entering The Faithful Bride in an effort to purvey the souls needed to wriggle his way free of the betentacled grasp of Davy Jones and his equally slimy and horrible beastie, Captain Jack Sparrow pulled Pintel and Ragetti to the side.

"Now you two lads have a very important task," he announced.  Something occurred to him.  "Well, two tasks.  Most importantly, you have to get the rum."  They moved to dash off and fulfil his request immediately, but Jack snapped out, "Not at this particular moment!  Less important things first.  I need you to go into the jungle," and he pointed in the pertinent direction, "and bring Black Stella into town.  You do know who Black Stella is?"

Pintel nodded, but Ragetti looked confused.  " Y'know, the one what Cap'n Barbossa wanted to marry. Made us go all 'round the colonies to get her flowers or summat," Pintel explained to his one-eyed companion.

Ragetti suddenly looked comprehending, but Jack's kohl-lined eyes widened even as he furrowed his brow. "Hector wanted to marry Black Stella? Was he mad?" he asked incredulously. Something occurred to him. "Though that'd be one way to avoid castration."

"Oh, was she the little girl who... did the thing with the wind?" Ragetti asked in a confidential tone, as if the entirety of the island wasn't already aware of what Black Stella could do.

Jack felt perturbed at being ignored—he was the Captain, after all!  "And it is for that reason that I wish you to extend Miss Bell an invitation to come speak with me at her earliest convenience tonight, since I have need of her services but, seeing as we are lacking in the category of having a heading, will need her on hand before purchasing her wee breezes."  He paused.  "Only... make it sound... more polite than I... just did."

The two bumbling pirates stared at him in confusion.

Jack rolled his eyes.  "Just go," he said, flapping his hands.  "Get Stella into town by whatever means necessary.  Beggin', grovellin'... promise her the moon and the stars and half the swag in me holds if need be."  The joke would be on her, though, since he didn't have very much swag in his holds at the moment.

As the two started off, though, something occurred to him.  "Wait!" he called, as he fumbled in his coat pocket.  Pintel and Ragetti skittered to a stop.  He found the pouch he was looking for... it wasn't very full, but hopefully Stella would take it as a good-faith payment.

Captain Sparrow knew he was taking... something of a risk by attempting to persuade Black Stella into coming to him instead of the other way around, but he was on something of a deadline.

"Give this to her," he commanded.  "Just get her here, somehow."

With that, he whirled on his heel and sauntered into the tavern, prepared to save his neck by any means possible.


 It had taken Pintel and Ragetti almost an hour to find Stella's house.  While Pintel knew who Black Stella was, he didn't know where she lived, which put them into the position of having to ask for directions.  Eventually a toothless old black woman pointed them down the path through the forest and through the graveyard.

"Why's she live in a graveyard?" Ragetti wondered, looking at the graves as they edged around the clearing, toward the light shining through the windows of the little house he could just about see through the trees.

Pintel shrugged.  "It's nice and quiet out here," he offered.

Ragetti supposed his friend had a point.  They made it to the dooryard of the house without tripping on any of the gravestones—he'd made sure to go all the way around the edge, so's not to commit any sacrilege.  He wasn't entirely sure if it was blaspheming to trip on graves, but figured he probably shouldn't take the chance, either.

They came to a stop a few feet from the door.  Was there an etiquette to knocking on witches' doors?

They just looked at it, before Pintel glanced at Ragetti.  "You knock," he said, elbowing his companion in the back.

"You do it!" Ragetti hissed back.

"No, you do it!  You're taller!"

"So?  You knew who she was!"

"And I asked for the directions, so you should knock!"

The door they were arguing over suddenly swung open, startling them something terrible.  Golden light spilled out of the house, making seeing who was in the doorway a little difficult. "I daresay knocking is hardly necessary, with all the noise you're making."

Pintel rubbed his eyes a bit, but straightened up and said, "Are you Black Stella?"

The girl—it was a girl, Ragetti could see—smiled in a very cold sort of way and replied, "You must not be familiar with Tortuga."

"I’m a pirate, poppet.  Of course I'm familiar with Tortuga."

"Then you must not be very familiar with me, since otherwise you would know that I tend to castrate the men who neglect to show me proper courtesy."

Her voice had gone as sharp as a knife at the last bit, and Pintel made a nervous sort of whimpering sound and unconsciously reached to grasp at Ragetti's ragged sleeve.

Ragetti couldn't let her castrate his mate, so he plucked up his courage and stepped forward.  "'Scuse us, Miss.  We was sent to you by Captain Sparrow," he said softly.

The girl turned to look at him.  She was almost pretty, with long black hair and big black eyes, but something about her scared him a little.  "I do not believe I've had the pleasure of making your acquaintance," she noted, and her voice had lost the cruel edge.

Ragetti bowed his head—he remembered that sometimes fine captains and their ladies liked lip service paid to upper-class manners.  He didn't know much about etiquette or suchlike, but he could be polite.  "I'm called Ragetti, Miss."

She curtsied slightly.  "I am Miss Stella Bell, known to the more uncouth inhabitants of the island as Black Stella.  You may call me Miss Bell," she finished pointedly, glaring subtly at Pintel, who just smiled nervously and bobbed a little bow.  "And what does our intrepid Captain Sparrow want with me, pray tell?"

Ragetti jabbed Pintel in the chest with his elbow.  "He sent us here, Miss, to give you something..." which Pintel had finally produced from a pocket.  He handed it quickly to Ragetti, who presented it to Miss Bell with another bow.  "He also wanted us to... extend an invitation to come speak with him in town."

Miss Bell arched a thin black eyebrow over an equally black eye.  "He did, did he?" she drawled.

Ragetti wondered if this was what the mouse felt when a big, hungry cat toyed with it.  Miss Bell's black eyes were fixed relentlessly on his, watching and measuring.  He remembered Cap'n Sparrow's instructions to beg and grovel if needed—was it needed?  How should he go about it?

"You needn't beg." Miss Bell's voice cut through his thoughts like a draft through the outhouse door.  It was a little more gentle than before, and as he looked up at her face he saw the corners of her lips curve just a little.  "Never fear, I shall save my ire for the target it deserves.  Allow me to fetch my hat, and I will accompany you back to the town—if, Mr. Ragetti, you would be so good as to escort me."

"O-o'course, Miss," Ragetti stammered.

Miss Bell nodded regally, before turning and going back into her house.  Pintel and Ragetti shared another look in the dim light spilling from the doorway.  "Good job," Pintel whispered quietly.

Ragetti just smiled weakly.  "Bit scary, innit she?" he asked.

"Worse than that obeah woman, even," Pintel agreed.

Both shivered in unison at the memory of Tia Dalma, and her house with snakes and eyeballs and other unpleasant things.  Pintel figured that Tia Dalma had never threatened to castrate him, which made her better than Miss Bell by a long shot.  Ragetti had decided that Tia's charming, stained, gregarious smile and her mysterious yet sparkling eyes were much less frightening than Miss Bell's pale smirk and her cold black gaze.

"Bloody witches," he muttered.

"'Least this one's got no eyeballs in her house," Pintel offered, craning his neck to peer through the door.

"By that comment, I judge you've paid a visit to Tia."  Miss Bell's measured tones preceded her appearance in the doorway, having donned a black cloak and a straw hat and slung a bag over her shoulder.

Pintel and Ragetti stood at attention.  "Yes, Miss," Ragetti replied, looking nervously over at Pintel, who smiled weakly in encouragement, when she turned her back on them to lock her door.

"And how is the estimable Miss Dalma?" she inquired, wafting over to Ragetti's side.

"Er... she's fine," Ragetti replied, after a confused glance at Pintel.

"I haven't spoken to her in quite some time," Miss Bell remarked as she looked expectantly at Ragetti, who quickly (but apprehensively) offered her his arm.  She placed a fragile white hand in the crook of his elbow and led them around the graveyard and towards the town.  "I should remedy that.  But do tell, my good sirs, what manner of mad undertaking Captain Sparrow has entangled himself in this time."

"Er... summat with Davy Jones," Ragetti muttered.

The fingers on his arm tightened.  "Davy Jones?" she repeated, tendrils of incredulous horror sneaking into her voice.  "99 souls..."

"How'd you know about that?" Pintel blurted.

"Witch," she replied dismissively. "Do you mean to tell me that Jack Sparrow has made a deal with Davy Jones that somehow involves 99 souls?" she demanded, using her grip on Ragetti's arm to pull him to a stop.

"Aye, ma'am," Ragetti squeaked.

"And how do these souls enter into the bargain?" she demanded, digging in her nails.

Ragetti flinched back, trying to move away.  But her grip was tight.  "Er..."

"Cap'n Jack wants to trade 'em for his," Pintel supplied helpfully, seeing his friend's distress.

Ragetti got his wish; Miss Bell let go, spinning to face Pintel in a whirlwind of cloth and black hair.  "Does he now?  Mmm, I think Captain Sparrow and I are going to have words."  Her voice got very, very cold.  "Intent, bloody words."

Pintel and Ragetti gulped in unison.


 Her two escorts abandoned her at the door of The Faithful Bride, a tavern which had lately been torn apart by an extensive brawl, babbling something about rum and bobbing up and down like crazed birds.  Stella tried valiantly not to laugh—she had scared them but good!

James is right; I'm a bad person, she thought amusedly to herself.

Jack Sparrow wasn't in the tavern—he had been, but he wasn't now.  Stella grew even more vexed... he had the nerve to summon her to town, and then lacked the good manners to meet her there.  The words she intended to have with Captain Sparrow grew even sharper in her mind.

Sharp, pointed, painful words, Captain.

She eventually discerned that Sparrow had headed for the docks after the fight broke out, and that was the direction in which Stella turned her increasingly aggravated steps.  The townspeople scurried out of her way as she came, winds swirling about her she stormed towards The Black Pearl, wafting her skirts around her legs and slamming the shutters against the buildings as she passed.

The dock where it was berthed was bustling with activity; Stella couldn't pinpoint Sparrow in the throng.  But he'd called her...

"Jack Sparrow!" Stella hissed when she came to a stop on the bobbing pier.  A tendril of breeze carried her voice to his ears—and, apparently, to others', since the hustle and bustle of the masses paused for a moment.

His head popped out from behind a crate.  "My dear Miss Bell!" he cried joyously, swaggering over to where she stood.  "I'm so very glad you came."

He staggered back a step when Stella jerked her hand up to point an accusing finger at his face.  "You had the nerve to summon me here, Captain Sparrow," she spat, making his title a curse.  "What is it you want?"

"Wind, of course," he replied nervously, eyeing the finger warily.

"The usual procedure for the purchase of wind is for the customer to come to me," Stella pointed out coldly.

"Yes, well..." Jack hemmed.  "I didn't have a heading until recently, and I'm in something of a hurry..."

"Yes, I imagine Davy Jones is not the most patient of creatures," Stella drawled.

Jack attempted to smile charmingly, but the charisma was drowned in his unease.  "I don't know how you get your information, love..."

Stella rolled her eyes, but before they could fall back to Jack, she caught sight of a dishevelled figure standing at the rail.  James... you found Sparrow at last.

She stepped closer to Jack, and placed her index finger at the hollow of his throat.  "I have my ways... the same ways that informed me you intend to save your own soul by trading 99 others in your stead," she murmured, yet she knew that he would hear every word.  "Captain Jack Sparrow... I'll have you know that there's a soul very dear to me on board your ship right now.  And if you even think of trading him to Davy Jones, the Captain of The Flying Dutchman will become the least of your worries."  And she glanced significantly downwards.

Sparrow's tanned skin went pale under the protective layer of dirt, and he skittered backwards, trying to subtly shield his "bits" with a hand.   "Well, then... it's fortunate that the plan involving said souls is no longer... er, viable.  I've got a new plan!  A better plan!" he announced, trying for a smile that only really conveyed nausea.

"Which is?" Stella inquired.  At Jack's apparent reluctance to speak, she made her voice even colder.  "Bear in mind, Captain, that I will not bend the wind anywhere near your direction unless I am reassured that my friend is in no danger."

Jack gulped.  "Well, er... having sent young William Turner after the key, I intend to have his fiancée lead me to the chest in which is locked the heart of Davy Jones so I can use it as leverage in a deal to make him let me keep the Pearl and my soul and avoid being eaten by the Kraken."

"Kraken?"  Stella's arms jerked forward like a snake striking, and she grabbed his wrists, brining them up to peer at his palms.  "I don't see the spot."

"And I'm very thankful for that," Jack muttered.

She narrowed her black eyes.  "This plan, though it pains me to admit it, is slightly better than your previous one," Stella said icily.  "It is foolhardy and insane, but a little less extensive in the category of collateral damages."

"So, does that mean you'll give me wind?  Er... sell me wind?  Please?" he wheedled.

"Very well," she ground out through clenched teeth.  She wanted nothing more than to hex the selfish, scheming pirate until he bled, but she couldn't.  Well, she could... but she wasn't meant to. "In which direction would you like this wind to blow?"

He told her; she gave him a handful of the knotted yarn; he gave her money.  A goodly amount of money, for all her pain and vexation.  And before he could turn, she added, "And I also request a moment of time to say farewell."

"Farewell?" Jack repeated, looking confused.  "Um... farewell, then, I suppose," he said, offering her a ringed hand.

Stella just looked at him.  "Not to you," she sneered.  "To him."  And she gestured around the form of Captain Jack Sparrow to where the muddy, bedraggled form of James Norrington stood tentatively on the gangplank.  A smaller, more slender form hovered behind him—Stella knew her instantly as Elizabeth Swann.

Jack turned to peer over his shoulder, and looked surprised to she who she meant.  "Him?  He's the soul very dear to you?" he asked incredulously.  He leaned closer, as if to impart a confidence... then leaned back very quickly as Stella glared venomously at him.  "Er, you do know he's in love with yon bonny lass," he added, jerking a thumb towards Elizabeth.

"I know that," she snapped.  "I'm not in love with him, you idiot.  He's my friend—not, I expect, that you have any notion of what that is," she added poisonously.  "And I'd like to say goodbye before you drag him off on your madcap venture, so be a darling, Jack Sparrow, and sod off!"

Captain Sparrow didn't need to be told twice—Stella was in a rare temper tonight if she was cursing!  He turned around and swaggered very, very quickly towards his ship, muttering, "She wants to talk to you, mate," as he passed Norrington, who rolled his eyes and shook his muddy head, but after a nod to Elizabeth, walked down the gangplank and onto the dock.  He stopped before Stella, and they stood in silence.

Now that the moment was upon her, she didn't know what to say.


 "I don't I can fix your wig this time," Stella announced after a short pause.

James ducked his head ruefully, and scratched at the mud caked onto his face.  "Likely not," he agreed.  He paused, then said, "I understand why you're staying here, now, and I support you entirely.  Given a choice, I wouldn't want to sail with Sparrow either."

She laughed faintly.  "But you will—and are.  For her."

"Not only for her," James protested, but it sounded weak to his ears.  He braced himself for a scathing comment, and was surprised when Stella merely placed a spidery finger to his lips—the only part of him that was clean.

"My dear friend... though your destiny is entwined with that of Elizabeth Swann, it isn't joined," she told him gently.  "Do not forget this, or she'll break your heart again."

He smiled feebly, knowing intellectually that Stella was right, but still feeling the sting of her words.  "I'll remember," he promised.  "Any other pearls of advice?"

"Other than don't trust Sparrow, which I'm sure you already know?" Stella quipped dryly.  They had a slight chuckle, before she furrowed her brow.  "Be careful.  There's a warrant for your arrest."

That shocked him.  "What?"

"There's a warrant... for your part in Sparrow's escape, the East India Trading Company has a warrant for your arrest and death.  Avoid them, if you can," Stella explained.

James rubbed his face, causing the dried mud to crack and flake off.  "How lovely... I'm a wanted criminal."

"But if you play your cards right, you needn’t stay that way," Stella said pointedly, arching an eyebrow.  "This—Sparrow's venture—has the potential to be a great opportunity for you... or a grave mischance.  Choose carefully—but stay alive above all," she bid intently.  "Stay alive."

"I will.  And I'll return for you, I promise," he replied, equally intense.  "Somehow, I'll return.  Be safe until then.  Hold off the storm if you can, but take cover if you cannot."  Suddenly he remembered something, and put a hand into a muddy pocket.  "Here... I got you something... a memento, if you will," he muttered, feeling embarrassed but not entirely sure why.

He pressed it into her hand, and she used a corner of her cloak to wipe away the dirt his fingers had left.  It was a comb, carved of dark wood, set with three stars inlaid with mother of pearl.  James had seen it two days past, and immediately known that the shimmering stars would look lovely against Stella's dark hair.  A foolish romantic impulse, and one his friend would probably laugh at... but he couldn't think of any other way to thank her for everything, and she looked so desolate at being left alone on the island.

Had he been sailing with anyone but Sparrow, James would've made another case for her accompaniment—anything to take the miserable look off her pale face that she was trying very hard to hide.  But as it was... well, he was a little glad she would be remaining behind.  He didn't want her anywhere near Jack Sparrow (although he'd had a good laugh over how obviously intimidating Jack found her).

She reached up and tucked the comb into her braids, just above her left ear.  He'd been right; it did look becoming in her black hair.  "Thank you, James," she said softly, smiling a smile that didn't quite hide the sadness in her eyes.  "I'll miss you."

"And I you," he replied.

For a long moment, they just stood there, gazing at each other.  He wasn't sure what Stella was pondering, but he was thinking back to the first part of their acquaintance.  How much she'd changed!  Well, not changed—she was still an ice-hearted witch when it suited her.  However, it never suited her any longer to be thusly with him; perhaps that was the change.  Leaving that black-tongued bitch wouldn't have pained him one jot—he would've been glad to see the last of her.  But saying farewell to his sharp-witted friend, who happened to turn her bitter gall on others?

"You made it better," he blurted suddenly.  "I'd be dead but for you, Stella."

She smiled at him, warmly and openly, and for one fleeting moment she was beautiful.  "You were worth it," she told him.

"Vale, my friend," James replied, touching her cheek lightly with his dirty hand.

"Oi!  Ex-commodore!  Move it!"

The shout from the deck of the Pearl ruined the moment, and James closed his eyes in exasperation.  "I have to go," he said apologetically.

"Then go," Stella replied, stepping back.

As they cast off, he stood at the rail.  He saw his friend raise her hand in farewell, and the wind swelled to fill the sails and send them on their way.

"Farewell, and fare well," came a whisper on the breeze.

James remained at the rail until the dock had blurred into the night, staring back at a place and a person he hadn't ever thought he'd miss, until the port town of Tortuga was just a smudge of light in the darkness.

Chapter Text

It was every bit as bad as she'd thought it'd be.  Tortuga without James was hellish.

Rationally, she knew her circumstances were not different than they'd been before he arrived.  But after having a friend to ease the burden of her solitary life, and then having to bid him farewell while she remained behind (even though she had chosen to)... it hurt.  More than she expected it to.

Nor did the remembrance of his promise to return ease the ache in her chest; the knowledge that her time on Tortuga was ending helped a little... but not much.

Quite frankly, Stella was lonely.

It wasn't a new condition—she'd been lonely in one way or another all her life.  But never before had she been so utterly isolated as she was on Tortuga, and never before had she made a friend who was so very dear to her as James was.  Even beyond his acceptance of everything, he struggled to understand things about a world in which he had no part.  That struggle was both flattering and humbling.

And besides the profound appreciation Stella had for him, James was intelligent and witty, kind and noble—though those latter two traits were hidden cunningly under a layer of bitterness nearly as thick as the one that hid her better qualities (and she was fairly sure she still had some... somewhere).

She wondered how he was.  Was he safe?  Was Sparrow treating him well?  Had he fallen back in love with Elizabeth, or had he taken her advice and guarded his heart?

The usual distractions were attempted in an effort to assuage the empty ache his absence had caused.  Her clothing had never been in such well repair, her stores of herbs and oils were full to brimming, and she'd had a long chat with Tia.

Tia, of course, was aware of the net drawing ever closer around them and the niggling unease that was caused by Lord Beckett.  She was also blithely unconcerned about these things.  "T'ings will happen as dey happen," she'd said lightly.  "And dey will happen soon."  And even though she couldn't see Tia's exotically lovely face, Stella could hear the inky smile in her voice.  "Your love, he come for you soon.  Store up your bitterness and bile, Stella—you goin' need it."

"Heaven knows I have plenty of both, and a willingness to loose them on anyone," Stella had replied.  "James always said I was a little too free with my spleen.  And I don't love him," she'd added defensively.

Tia's carefree laugh was her only response in regards to that declaration.  "Farewell, Stella Bell.  I will not see or speak t' you again for some time.  Be careful, chile.  Our time be endin', and we need fight for a place in dis new worl'."


Elizabeth wasn't the same as he remembered.  Oh, she was every bit as lovely and spirited as his memories of her, but there was something... harder and more ruthless in her that she had gained since the last time they'd been together.

Though your destiny is entwined with that of Elizabeth Swann, it isn't joined.  Do not forget this, or she'll break your heart again.

Stella's words kept surfacing in his thoughts, but as they got closer to wherever the thing Elizabeth wanted most in the world made the compass point, he felt less and less in danger of a broken heart courtesy of Miss Swann.  The love he felt for her was like dried rose petals: brittle and dead, and with only a lingering fragrance to hint at what had once been a lush bloom.  Elizabeth was more pirate than lady now—and anyway, he just couldn't respect anyone who lusted so obviously after Jack Sparrow.

Jack Sparrow... James still hated him intensely.  But he was more useful alive than dead at the moment.  He was still waiting for the proverbial "opportune moment" in which to commandeer the pardon hidden in Sparrow's coat.  After all, Jack would hardly appreciate it properly—he'd said it himself: "As if I could be bought for such a low price."

But for James, the tiny leather folio was his ticket to getting his life back—or at least an approximation of it.

If he had that folio, and the pardon therein, the warrant for his arrest would be taken care of (it had been something that had worried him slightly, since he hadn't seen a way around it).  And though being a privateer wasn't as respectable and noble as a position in the navy, it was certainly better than being a drunk and dirty ex-commodore sailing under Jack Sparrow. 

But if you play your cards right, you needn’t stay that way.

If he was a privateer, he could achieve some measure of respectability again.  He could have a life back in polite society.  Those silly fantasies he and Stella had concocted weeks ago needn't remain solely in the realm of the imagination.  If he had those leaves of paper, he could make something real out of those figments.

But James wondered if he shouldn't worry about this increasingly willingness to think in Sparrow's terms and do anything and everything to get back his life... of course, he then reminded himself that he'd once worried the same way about his rapport with Stella—and look how well that had turned out!

 James missed her.  He hadn't expected to miss her as intensely as he did... but he had spent nearly every day for the past few months in her company, and he'd gotten used to her scathing commentary on life, her keen intuition, her equally sharp counsel, and having someone intelligent to talk to who wasn't completely indifferent or didn't wish him dead—indeed, someone who strongly preferred him alive and well.  She'd also opened his eyes to some of the more esoteric aspects of life, and he felt uneasy dealing with them when she wasn't around.

(The heart of Davy Jones and all associated with it fell under the heading of "esoteric aspects", and consequently most of his days aboard the Black Pearl were rather uncomfortable.)

More than anything, James wished he'd been more selfish and made a more emphatic insistence for Stella's presence at his side.  He wanted her advice.  He knew that he was going to make a play for the folio and Beckett's pardon (and anything else he could get), but his plan still had a few kinks and he wished Stella was around to help him work them out.  And if the Flying Dutchman turned out to be real... if Sparrow wasn't leading them all on a merry goose chase down to hell...

And as it turned out, he wasn't.  It was a historic moment: Jack Sparrow had been telling the truth.  (But only about some things; as usual, Sparrow had lied about a host of other things, so James was really only mildly surprised.)

The heart of Davy Jones was real, the compass did, in fact, point to what a person wanted most, and Stella had been right in warning him to guard his heart.  When William Turner staggered onto the beach and engaged in a passionate embrace with Elizabeth, he'd felt the old pain... the gnawing, empty ache in his heart and the curious sensation of his stomach dropping out.  No matter what he told himself, there were obviously some lingering sentiments for Elizabeth—quiet and hidden after all this time, but still tender and easily hurt.

He remembered Stella's words for what seemed like the hundredth time since he'd left Tortuga:  Though your destiny is entwined with that of Elizabeth Swann, it isn't joined.  Do not forget this, or she'll break your heart again.

Watching the woman he'd loved kiss the man she'd jilted him for, James knew that his friend was right.  Perhaps they were tangled in the net together, but that was the closest he would ever get to Elizabeth Swann.  She would never love him as he had loved her... or perhaps loved her still.  He wasn't sure anymore.

What he was sure of was this: the folio and the Heart of Davy Jones would get him what he wanted, and he'd be damned before he saw Turner or Sparrow take his chance at redemption.

Chapter Text

James felt... uneasy.

Actually, as far as adjectives went, "uneasy" wasn't really doing justification to how superlatively weird his situation had become.

Life keeps doing this to me, he thought sourly.  My circumstances used to be normal.

And now he was sitting in a battered dinghy in the middle of the ocean, being baked by the midday sun, while a heart that didn't belong to him thumped against his chest.

Well... at least he had the pardon, and the letters of marque.  He'd taken the leather wallet out of Sparrow's coat before he'd taken the Heart, and filled out his name with a stub of pencil he'd found near the dinghy before setting out to sea.  At least, that way, he wouldn't be immediately shot when he got picked up.

The plan was this: he'd go out to sea, and get picked up by a ship (he hoped).  Then they'd take him to Port Royal—or a port in which he could get passage to Port Royal—where he'd meet with Beckett (he hoped).  And then, with the pardon (and the Heart of Davy Jones as a bargaining chip), he'd negotiate for anything and everything he could get (of which he hoped there would be plenty).

...There was a lot of hoping involved in the plan.  But it was the best he had.  At least he hadn't been killed by those... things—those half-man, half sea-creature things that were, apparently, the crewmen on The Flying Dutchman.  It had looked to be an option, then, when he'd had the chest in his possession.  But he had the contents of the chest, so the chest itself wasn't really worth fighting (and, consequently, dying) for.

Stella's words had come to him, then.  Stay alive above all.  Stay alive.

Sound advice, that.  He'd taken it... he'd given up the chest to the Dutchman's crew.  James tried not to think about what else he might be giving up... truthfully, something had to give or he'd go mad.  He couldn't endure remaining as he was (that is, remaining under Sparrow's command) and still dwell in the realm of sanity.  He wanted to be back as he was, before Sparrow ever showed on the scene... wanted it so badly that every fibre of his being started to quiver when he thought about it.  It was so close that he could taste it, like lightning in the air.

That almost made up for the truly disconcerting sensation of having a surplus heart tucked into his coat.

He wondered how a person managed to cut out their own heart.  James thought about it for a while, and made a mental note to ask Stella about it the next time he saw her.  If anyone would know, it'd be her. And Lord, did he wish she was here now.

Well... not here, here—not sitting in a tiny, bobbing boat in the scorching heat.  But near enough to ask about all this magical weirdness he felt very ill-equipped to deal with, and near enough to have helped him come up with a better plan than the one he was currently stuck in the middle of.  And, most importantly, near enough to make it rain.

"I wish I had fresh water," he announced to the empty air.  "Fresh water, or rum."


 A day later, James discovered that his plan hadn't been such a bad one after all.  He was impressed.

It was a ship, flying the flag of the East India Trading Company, that had picked him up.  A man with a craggy, cold face met him on deck.  James tried to explain things without outright stating that he'd just come off The Black Pearl, but this man—Mercer was his name—was almost as good as Stella at hearing things left unsaid.  This Mercer knew that he was James Norrington and that he'd been most recently sailing with Jack Sparrow, and consequently his welcome on board involved a lot of muskets.

But, thankfully, once he produced the folio with the pardon, the bayonets were removed from his neck.  Admittedly, he was thrown in the brig shortly thereafter, but he had gleaned that they were on their way back to Port Royal, and that he'd have a chance to meet with Beckett after all.  And even though he was technically imprisoned, he was given food and water, and he wasn't sitting under the blazing hot sun.

Circumstances have improved.  Still weird, but better, he thought to himself as the heart went "thump-thump".  At least these people didn't noticed that.

James spent the next three days in the brig, propped up against the bulkhead, with nothing but his thoughts (many of which sounded a lot like Stella) and the Heart of Davy Jones for company.  It was entirely eerie and disturbing, and he was quite happy once they arrived back in Port Royal.

It wasn't the same as he remembered—it was busier, fuller... colder.  There was a sense of tension and nervousness, and considerably more soldiers than there had been previously; soldiers that were wearing the blue and gold of the East India Company.  There were new buildings and more ships, and all of them with the three-crossed company symbol.

He was led into the grandest of these new buildings—one with a proud clock-face on it—with Mercer and a couple of guards.  There were no shackles involved, so James assumed that he was being taken seriously as a  man with a pardon.

As he was brought through a doorway, he could hear Mercer's chill voice noting that, "...he had these."

Assuming that "these" were referring to the letters of marque and the pardon, James spoke up.  "I took the liberty of filling in my name," he supplied dryly.

Mercer moved aside, and James got his first look at the man who was pulling all the strings—a curiously apt metaphor, he thought, as the man beckoned him forward with a two-fingered tugging gesture.   Shaking off his "escort", whom he'd probably had under his command once upon a time, James did as commanded and came forward.

"If you intend to claim these," Lord Beckett said coolly, "you must have something to trade.  Do you have the compass?"

As if I could be bought for so low a price, James thought to himself, shaking his head.  "Better," he replied smugly.  I can do better than William Turner, or even Elizabeth Swann—I can bring you more.

He smiled humourlessly as he dropped the leather bag that had been thumping against his chest for the past three days onto Beckett's desk, unconsciously mirroring one of Stella's favoured expressions when encountering with people she didn't like, but knew she had to deal with nonetheless.

"The Heart of Davy Jones," James announced—somewhat superfluously, inasmuch as the bag was pulsing faintly on its own.  Judging by the surprised (nay, gobsmacked), pleased expression on Beckett's pale face, he knew exactly what it was, what it would do for him, how much it was consequently worth, and (James hoped) how much bargaining power the man who brought it to him possessed.

Beckett turned cold blue eyes onto him, and James was suddenly reminded of Stella.  She was dark where he was fair and far lovelier, of course, but they had the same disconcerting way of looking at a person: even, measured, and unblinking.  James imagined that he would've been much more intimidated by Beckett's stare if he hadn't spent the last six months with Stella; when she looked at a person like that, she was actually looking at one's soul, and it never ceased to make his skin prickle.  His friend could teach this Lord a thing or two about intimidation.

That's it.

Epiphany hit with the speed of a falling mast, but James was forced to shove it to the back of his mind as Beckett spoke.

"That is better," the Lord agreed, in measured, cool tones.  "In that case, the pardon is yours."

"Lovely," James drawled.  "But surely the object which will give you complete control over the seas is worth more than a mere pardon."

"Name your price," was the swift reply.

He won't give it straight off, a voice that sounded both like Stella and Sparrow (which was a disconcerting prospect) whispered. Don't start with specifics... give him something he cannot truly fulfil, and thus cannot refuse.

"I want my life back," he said firmly.

"And what, pray tell, would that entail?" Lord Beckett inquired politely.

Dear God, the man doesn't sound half like Stella, James thought amusedly.  "A high-ranking naval position—if I cannot return to the post of Commodore, I wish to be a Captain again, at the very least.  I have need of a new habitation, since I imagine my home has been long sold.  I suppose I shall need new furnishings as well, and I definitely need new clothing."

"You ask much," Beckett noted dispassionately.

"And I bring much in return," James riposted confidently, refusing to relent.  "Lord Beckett, I have delivered to you nothing short of complete control of the sea.  Surely I deserve a reward of equal measure."

"Indeed."

I daresay I'd be much more intimidated if I'd never met Stella, he thought, holding Beckett's cold blue gaze.  I shall have to buy her something very nice indeed, in thanks.  Jewels, perhaps... she'd look lovely with pearls and sapphires.

That Beckett would not deliver had never crossed his mind.  And when the Lord smiled faintly, James knew he'd won—for now, at least.  Whether or not he would remain triumphant was slightly more unsure, which necessitated Stella's presence at his side.

"A naval post, a new home, and all the fortune these things entail.  Anything else?" the executive of the East India Trading Company asked.

"I'll need passage to Tortuga and back," he added, thinking about the sugar-spun fantasy in his mind.  "There's a promise I need to keep."

His pleasant thoughts were rudely intruded upon when Beckett raised his brows and glanced to his left.  James wondered for a brief moment what he was looking at, but his curiosity was assuaged when Mercer's oily tones said, "Involving a Miss Stella Bell, perhaps?"

"Indeed," James echoed, plans forming rapidly in his brain.  The similarities between Stella and Beckett grew stronger with every passing moment—but with one crucial difference: Stella was on his side.  She'd help him, and he trusted her entirely.

And if Beckett had Mercer to dig out personal information about everyone around him, James felt it was only fair that he have Stella.

Besides, he had promised to return for her.

"Mmm... how very romantic," Beckett remarked, sounding as though he thought it was anything but (and it was for that reason James didn't bother to tell him that his relationship with Stella was the farthest thing from romantic in the entire world).  "Yes, do go and fetch your new beloved.  We will have organised the bargain by the time you will have returned."

Suddenly, the castle in his mind was no longer made of spun sugar.  It was made of something much more solid—like it could actually become real.  Though James had never considered it before (and would, in fact, deny for the rest of his life that Beckett had been the inspiration for the idea), it made a kind of sense.

While it was obvious that he needed to bring Stella to Port Royal (since she could probably intimidate Beckett into dying his own wig orange), James hadn't actually thought about how he'd explain Stella's presence in his life.  She wasn't his sister, wasn't his ward, and he didn't think Beckett would allow him to retrieve her if he thought for an instant that Stella would be working against him.  The rationale for her accompaniment was going to be one of those elements that would supply itself on the way—as would her living situation in Port Royal.  Oh, he'd once considered marrying her off to one of his subordinates (Groves was still single), but it would make everything so much more convenient if he just married her himself.

Marrying Stella would be a solution for... almost everything, actually.  It would provide an excuse for her presence (better than 'I want her here to protect me from the greedy E.I.T.Co. Lord'), it would enable him to take her off the island without raising any eyebrows, and it would also heal any wounds her reputation might have sustained due to him.  She would be with him to help manoeuvre the increasingly supernatural events in his life; he would take her off Tortuga and give her the status she'd lost upon the death of her father.  The two of them got on well, and had practised married life often enough during their time together on Tortuga... he and Stella could make a good marriage.  It wouldn't be based on love, as he'd hoped his marriage to Elizabeth would be... then again, that hadn't exactly gone over very well, had it?  He liked Stella, Stella liked him... there were often marriages based on much less, especially among those of their class.

"Of course, your Lordship," James agreed, snatching the bag with the heart off the desk.

"That stays here," Beckett immediately snapped.

James felt Mercer come closer behind him, and raised a brow sceptically.  "I don't believe that's how bargaining traditionally works," he pointed out mildly.

Blue met green, and the two men measured each other for a moment.  Then Beckett nodded.  "Very well.  To ensure your... safe return, Mr. Mercer will accompany you to Tortuga.  You will leave in three days."

"Thank you, Lord Beckett," James replied, feeling as though something had been won.  He bowed slightly, and left the room, the Heart tucked back into his coat.


 Three days later, the niggling unease was still there.  He wondered for a while if it was something magical to do with the Heart, before reminding himself wryly that the Heart didn't need magic to make him uncomfortable.  The mere knowledge that he had a severed heart in his pocket was eerie, but this was a heart that a very powerful man wanted very badly—several powerful men, actually.

The most pertinent one was, of course, the one closest.  James wasn't entirely sure what he thought about Lord Beckett.  The man was going to give him his life back, and he had shown signs that he was going to be honourable enough to do so properly.  But he was also ruthless and very cold—the fate of poor Governor Swann was testament to that.

James had been rather shocked to discover the fate that had befallen his once-prospective father-in-law when he'd gone to pay a call.  Swann was nothing more than a puppet now, dancing on Beckett's string in a sad effort to protect his daughter.  The governor-in-name had been pathetically grateful to hear that Elizabeth had been alive even a mere week ago, but James had been appalled at Beckett's (and Mercer's) behaviour.

Weatherby was just a pawn; was he going to go the same way?  Now that he was putting himself in Beckett's power, what guaranteed his autonomy?  He was hoping that it'd be Stella, but... was his chance for redemption just placing himself as a pawn on a chessboard?

The date of his departure for Tortuga couldn't come soon enough; James desperately needed to talk to Stella.

Of course, at the same time, he was a little nervous about the pending proposal.  The last one hadn't gone very well, and more elements than he cared to think about in his new life depended on Stella's acceptance.

His nervousness was compounded by his travelling companion.  Mercer was cold and watchful, utterly unscrupulous and totally devoted to Beckett.  If Beckett was the King on the chessboard he'd imagined, and Governor Swann was a pawn, then Mercer was the Queen.  He went everywhere and killed everyone.  (And in a morbidly curious sort of way, James wondered how he and Stella would get on.)

So as he and Mercer set off from Port Royal on an East India Company ship, James had never felt more uneasy.

Chapter Text

The broom fell over at the same time her clairvoyant proximity alert (such as it was) went off.  It shocked her so badly she dropped her teacup, spilling the contents all over her skirts.  Cursing softly, she stormed back into her bedroom, thinking to change her dress—it wouldn't do to meet her customers with tea on her gown.  That was hardly witchy and intimidating.

Of course, her gown became the very last thing on her mind as she heard the door open and a very familiar voice call, "Stella?"

She froze for a brief moment.  "James," she whispered.

Forgetting entirely to lace up her skirt, she threw aside her curtain and dashed out into the main room, hitching up the loose fabric in her hands.  And there he was.

He looked... better.  As a matter of fact, he looked better than she'd ever seen him.  His hair was clean and brushed neatly into a queue tied with a black ribbon.  The scruffy beard had finally been shaved—which, admittedly, left his handsome face with a strange sort of half-tan.  His clothing had improved: tan breeches, new boots, a very attractive sage-green coat and a brown waistcoat, all of which were clean.  And James was smiling in a way she'd never seen before—without the drunkenness, the angry bitterness, and with a kind of tired, wary contentment he'd never had on Tortuga—that creased his face and made his green eyes shine.

"James," she said again.  "You're all right!"

"I am," he agreed.  "And so are you."  He lifted her hand to his lips, but didn't release it after the perfunctory kiss.

She tried to ignore the way his actions made her heart pound, so loudly it seemed audible.

Then she realised that there was a thumping, and it wasn't her heart.

"James... there's a heartbeat..." she said slowly, her eyes inexorably drawn to a pocket of his coat.

Her friend winced slightly.  "Yes... that's actually one of the things I need to speak to you about."

"I'll make fresh tea," Stella offered.

"You may need something stronger," James said glumly.

Stella looked curiously at him, and noted that a great weight seemed to have descended onto his shoulders.  His brow was deeply furrowed, and he appeared to be very nervous.  The cheer she'd seen earlier had faded faster than the morning mists, and she suddenly felt troubled on his behalf.  "Is it that bad?"

"It's quite bad," he agreed.

Wincing herself, Stella went to the bookshelf and moved the heavy grimoire from its stand, reaching behind to fetch out the hidden bottle of whiskey she kept for moments when she needed it.

"So that's where you hid it," she heard James exclaim.

She laughed.  "It's hidden by more than conveniently placed books, James.  Even had you known where it was, you wouldn't have been able to find it."

"That's hardly sporting," he remarked petulantly as she turned to pour the alcohol into glasses.

She noted his eyes lingering on her hair, and realised he must be looking at the comb he'd given her.  It had graced her black locks every day since he left.

She smiled at him as she set the cups down on the table. "Perhaps you might begin by telling me why you have two heartbeats," Stella suggested.

"That would be because I have the Heart of Davy Jones in my pocket," he replied, sounding rather smug underneath the gloom.

It took a moment for that to register.  "I beg your pardon?"

"I have the Heart of Davy Jones in my pocket," James repeated, pulling a leather bag from his left pocket and tossing it on the table, where it pulsed in time with the thump-thump sounding in her ears.

Stella felt all the blood wash out of her face.  She stared incredulously at the bag—the Heart of Davy Jones was on her table.  The still-beating organ of the de facto Ruler of the Sea—his one weakness—was sitting, in a leather sack, in her kitchen.

"Stella?"

"I think I need to sit down," she said faintly.

She became distantly aware of his hands on her shoulders, and wondered idly when he had moved.  "You are sitting down.  Breathe, Starling."

She did, and, after a few more breaths, found that the strange fuzziness that had begun to overtake her vision was receding.  A cup was placed to her lips, and she automatically drank... and promptly started coughing as the burn of whiskey flooded her mouth.  Her eyes fell away from the beating sack on her table as she shuddered and wiped her lips.

"Better?" she heard James ask.  His hands were still on her shoulders, and she discovered that she liked the feeling.

"Yes.  James... that's the Heart of Davy Jones."

"It is."

"The Heart of Davy Jones!"

"Starling, you can keep saying it, with a variety of differing inflections, but it won't change the fact that there is a still-beating heart not attached to a living person resting on your table."

There was that dry wit she so adored.   Of course, that didn't stop her from giving him a scathing glare from over her shoulder.  Then she turned her eyes back to the bag.  "God in Heaven, James!  How did you get that?"

"I'll give you three guesses, and the first two don't count."

"Sparrow?"

"Brava."

"But how?"

"Well, when we left Tortuga a fortnight ago... dear God, has it only been a fortnight?"

"Yes.  Shocking, isn't it?"

"Entirely.  Well," James began, sitting back down, "when we left, our heading was determined by Elizabeth by means of Jack's compass and motivated by the thought that locating the Chest of Davy Jones would be the way to save her fiancée.  We did, eventually, discover the Chest, and Mr. Turner was kind enough to provide the key.  After some... negotiations," he said vaguely, "the Chest was opened, and during a battle with the Dutchman's crew, I took the opportunity to purloin both the Heart and the pardons, which I then presented to Lord Beckett in return for a yet-undisclosed naval position that will, hopefully, return my former life to me."

Stella knew he was leaving something out—he was leaving several things out, but he was flushing pink and apparently rather embarrassed about his descent into piracy, so she simply nodded and let him demur.  "How utterly... strange."

"So even you find it strange?" He sounded relived.  "That's comforting... I haven't been at ease in days."

"Were you expecting to be?" she inquired, arching a brow.

"I wasn't expecting to be this uneasy," he admitted, resting his elbow on his knee and placing his chin in his palm.

Both of them were avoiding any physical contact with the table upon which the Heart rested; Stella figured she was going to have to do some heavy scrubbing before she even thought about eating off it again.

Of course, James' next announcement knocked the table right out of her brain.  "I've met Lord Beckett."

She drew in a small breath.  "Have you, now," she murmured, lips curling slowly upwards.  "My goodness, you have been rubbing elbows with some very Important people."

"I could've done without it," he sighed.  "Stella, Beckett is..."

"Evil?" she supplied brightly.  She couldn't resist.

"No!" James protested automatically.  "No, he's not evil.  I think.  Perhaps."

"Your confidence is inspiring."

"Well... it's just that he reminds me of you," James blurted.  Before Stella could think to be offended, the whole story came spilling out.  "I can't think what to make of him.  He's elegant and powerful and seems to be honourable, but he's manipulating poor Swann shamelessly and I think his secretary might actually be an assassin.  And I can't decide if I want to put myself fully into his power—not that I suppose I have much choice, at this point—but I don't know if the man deserves my complete loyalty.  Yes, I probably should have thought this through before I took the Heart, but I wanted my life back—I still do—and Beckett is the only way to get it.  I don't regret that, but... I don't want to be a pawn, either," he finished meekly.

Stella frowned.  "And this reminds you of me?  James, I think I'm insulted."

"Not like that," her friend protested, looking incredibly nervous for some unfathomable reason.  "You're both powerful and controlled and have ways of knowing things about people that people don't expect you to know.  You don't smile with your eyes and you enjoy making people do what you want.  But you're more beautiful than he is," James added, smiling weakly.

Not once in their entire acquaintance had he ever called her beautiful—had he ever really commented on her looks at all.  That indicated, clearer than a stated declaration, that he wanted something from her.  Stella had an idea of what that would be—what was he worried about?  Did he honestly think she'd refuse when he asked her to come with him?   "Thank you," she replied.

"You're welcome."  He smiled in a way that reminded her of a puppy—a nervous puppy.  It was a very unsuitable expression.

She sighed.  "Just ask, James."

His green eyes widened in surprise, but he opened his mouth and blurted: "Marry me."

Her jaw dropped.  That wasn't what she'd been expecting.

Eventually she managed to collect her scattered thoughts—inspired mostly by the fact that James had gone very pale and was fidgeting anxiously.  "What?" Stella squeaked, staring at him incredulously.

"Marry me," he repeated.  Another torrent of words spilled forth from his lips.  "It would solve everything, really.  I need you to help me with Beckett, and you need a home off Tortuga.  We can live... live... bitterly ever after, such as it is.  You can terrify the citizens on an island that's not so... muddy... and I can sail off and either kill or steal under the protection of the British Crown.  It makes sense," the words came faster and faster now, blurring into almost incomprehension; perhaps after searching assiduously for the right words last time, and presenting them carefully, and being rejected nonetheless, he had decided that this time he'd go for verbal diarrhoea and hope for the best.  "We get along quite well, and although we don't really love each other—that is to say, in the eros type of love, since I'm sure we bear plenty of philia for each other—there are worse reasons to marry and I can't really think of anything else to explain your presence in Port Royal, and I did promise to take you off Tortuga and this is the best way I could imagine.  So please, marry me."

Stella had the feeling he'd practised variations of this speech all the way from Port Royal, and she had to press her fingers to her lips to keep from laughing aloud (a reaction which might just cause James to faint, he was so high-strung at the moment).  When she'd suppressed her mirth enough that measured speech was possible again, she merely remarked, recalling the drunken narrative he'd told her about his proposal to Miss Swann, "You're not really very good at proposing, are you?"

Her would-be fiancé buried his brick-red face in his hands, and Stella felt highly amused and very guilty for being so at her friend's expense, when he was trying so hard to be earnest.  She was also quite sure her pale skin could match James' blush hue for hue at this point.

This wasn't her first marriage proposal—a lady who could control the wind was a very lucrative commodity for sailors everywhere, and she'd lost count of the number of captains (mostly pirates) who had proposed marriage to her over the years in an effort to get her on their ships.  (The late Captain Barbossa had, as a matter of fact, proposed marriage to both her mother and herself, to those ends.)  Stella had actually been tempted by some of them, but had ultimately clung to her goal of marrying a respectable man (i.e, no pirates) and elbowing out a place for herself, her talents, and her magical descendants in the rapidly rationalizing world.

This wasn't her first marriage proposal... but, God willing, it would be her last.  James was right.  Marrying him would get her everything she wanted: she'd be off Tortuga, she'd be as close to respectable as she was, in all likelihood, ever going to get, she'd be permanently attached to a man—a friend, no less—she knew she could tolerate and cohabitate with gracefully, and she'd even get to observe Beckett before all hell broke loose.

Stella had just made up her mind to accept (out loud, this time) when James looked up at her, with an expression that would have been much better suited to Jack Sparrow's face—a kind of deranged, hopeful desperation.  She figured that he figured that he'd figured out an offer she couldn't refuse, and waited patiently to hear it.

"I'll bring you whatever jewels I come across, and I'll never vomit on your shoes again," James announced firmly.

She clamped iron-bands around the hilarity that was swelling up in her chest, arranged her features into something resembling solemnity, and replied evenly, "All right, then."

Her friend (or rather, her fiancé, she supposed; how terribly strange was that?  Having the Heart of Davy Jones on her kitchen table was nothing compared to the fact that she was now engaged to her best friend) looked vaguely unsure, and Stella rolled her eyes and said frankly, "Yes, James."

The look of bald, glorious relief that spread over his features was the final straw.  Stella released her control and started laughing, throwing her head back and clutching at her stomach.  Eventually she heard James' lower, rougher chuckles joining her cackles, and that set her off into another round, which made him go off again... they spent the next five minutes just laughing.

"I don't think that's meant to be the traditional response to a proposal of marriage," James finally gasped, once the hilarity had worn off.

"For that matter, I don't think that was a traditional marriage proposal," Stella pointed out, still wheezing slightly.

"You're right, though—I'm terrible at proposing," he admitted, wiping the tears out of his green eyes.  "Elizabeth—"

"Fainted and fell right off the battlements, I know," Stella interrupted, rolling her eyes.  She'd have to wean him of the tendency to compare every woman alive with Elizabeth Swann, lest she be forced to commit a violence upon him, which would be a rather ominous beginning to their married life.  "I think I'll take the laughter.  Not only is it less potentially fatal... well, we sealed our friendship in a like manner, did we not?"

James smiled again—the warm, wonderful smile that took years off his face and made something go squishy in Stella's chest.  "So we did... an auspicious beginning, perhaps?  For better and worse, and all that?" he inquired, in that lilting tone he always adopted when he was asking her, subtly, about something magical.

Stella wrinkled her nose.  "Let's hope it's for better," she muttered, looking down as her cheeks flooded with colour for what seemed the umpteenth time this afternoon.  "Seeing as I just agreed to go head-to-head with an extremely powerful English noble in order to save you from a mess of your own making."

He took her hand and squeezed it gently.  "But I'm taking you off this miserable hell-hole and making you respectable," he returned, mock-sweetness dripping from his tones.  Then he grew serious.  "Will it work, do you think?"

There was fear in his voice—well-concealed, but there.  Stella wished she could give him an assurance, but she knew full well how very dangerous the whole thing had the potential to be.  So she just bared her teeth in a parody of a shark's smile and decided that, since brutal honesty was the trend of the afternoon, she might as well follow suit.  "I have no idea.  We're sailing back into the hurricane—right into the heart of it—and where it will lead us, even I cannot tell."

Given James' history and the organ still thump-thumping on her table, some would have thought those were very tactless metaphors to use.   But Stella always chose her words carefully, and she wanted him to understand the measure of what he'd just gotten them into.  Previously, they'd been on the fringes of the spider's web, but now they were going to be plucking their way towards the centre and the spider itself—and worse, James wanted her to poke the damn thing with a stick.  Stella wanted him to know exactly how dangerous this was going to be.

Her point had been adequately received, James made a face and swallowed hard before replying thickly, "Well, I've got you at my side this time.  Though you can't control the hurricane, you can turn the winds."  His voice grew soft.  "I have faith that you'll carry us through to the other side."

His tender, trusting words made her want to melt—indeed, she had to actively fight off the tidal wave of warmth he'd had stirred up.  But now was no time for sentiment.  Right now, with the confrontation with Beckett in the very near future, they needed bitterness and ice.  She needed ice.  And what they needed most was a plan.

So she merely straightened her spine and started talking about arrangements.  And if her hand inexplicably found its way into James'... well, she hated having chilly hands.  The ice could stay in her heart, and her hands could bask the warmth her friend gave her.

Chapter Text

Beckett was sitting at his desk when Mercer discreetly entered the office from a side door.  "You made good time," he commented as his secretary approached him.

"The wind was incredibly favourable on the return journey.  We put into port last night," Mercer replied calmly, coming to a stop at the desk's edge.

"And our new acquisitions?"

"Mr. Norrington is at his new home.  The item in question is still on his person."

"And his fiancée?" the Lord asked, signing a document regarding port tariffs with a flourish.

"The rumours are true," was the simple reply.

Beckett drew in a quick breath before setting his quill down and turning his full attention onto Mercer.  "Indeed?" he inquired, feeling his stomach quiver in excitement.

"It was her power that brought us back so quickly," Mercer said.  "The wind filled our sails to bursting the entire way.  She sends her voice on the air—called me to her house more than a mile away."  And judging from the dark expression on Mr. Mercer's face, he hadn't much cared for that method of communication.

"How extraordinary," Beckett murmured, eyes shining.  "Mr. Norrington has a penchant for bringing me treasures... first control over the sea, and now over the sky. I shall have to reward him even more grandly than I had originally intended."

Mercer frowned suddenly.  "Mind her eyes, sir," he warned.  "She sees more than she ought."

Beckett raised his brows slightly.  "How much more?"

"Too much," said Mercer shortly.  "She'll wring your secrets out of you if you meet her eyes."

And of course Mercer had plenty of secrets.  Beckett wondered idly about which ones Miss Bell had plumbed from the depths of Mercer's mind, and (less idly) to what purpose she might put such information.  He then pondered what she might be able to see about himself.

A small furrow appeared under the widow's peak of Beckett's powdered wig.  "It seems our new treasure may have some unexpected drawbacks," he commented.

"That's the problem when treasures have minds of their own," Mercer agreed.

Beckett made a noncommittal sound in reply, and sat back in his chair for a moment, staring at the map on the far wall.  "Her value is nevertheless inestimable," he eventually concluded.  "I believe I will have to meet with her, and test the waters myself, so to speak.  Tonight, perhaps.  Where is the lady lodging?"

"She'll be staying with Governor Swann," Mercer replied promptly.  "For propriety's sake.  Though I should think she and Norrington will be aiming to get wed pretty quickly."  A slight curve at the corner of his mouth indicated what he thought about that.

"Don't be vulgar, Mercer," Beckett scolded lightly, though he filed the insinuation away with the rest of the information about the mysterious Miss Bell.  "Send a note to Swann informing him that I will be joining his party for supper tonight."


 "How charmingly arrogant," Stella remarked, once Governor Swann had relayed the contents of Beckett's missive.  She glanced sideways to where James sat beside her on the divan, noting his rather tense demeanour.  Patting his hand rather mockingly, she added, "Don't worry.  It simply seems that we'll settle everything rather sooner than anyone had anticipated."

"Joy," drawled her fiancé.

...No, that was still strange.

"Yes, and now I have to dig through my trunks to find something suitable to wear," Stella sighed.  She wanted to make a very particular type of impression on Lord Beckett, and she'd have to use every single tool available to make it.

"Elizabeth left behind all her dresses.  I'm sure she wouldn't mind if you borrowed something," Governor Swann offered, seating himself in a chair across from the loveseat.

Stella bit back her immediate retort that she was already taking enough of Elizabeth's leavings and she certainly didn't need to have any more, since it would hurt both James and her host, who had been nothing but kind to her thus far.  She merely replied mildly, "I thank you for the offer, but I believe your daughter is a bit taller than I.  I don't think there's enough time to have the hem taken up before dinner this evening.  No, I have gowns of my own."

"What is our plan of action, then?" James inquired softly, in case there were curious ears about.  Stella had performed a few benign tricks to discourage eavesdroppers, but a certain amount of caution never went astray.

"Plan of action?" she repeated innocently, turning big black eyes on him and batting her lashes sweetly.  The expression apparently looked as absurd as it felt, since James snorted with laughter.  She dropped the fluttering act and shrugged a shoulder dismissively.  "None.  Tonight is the first meeting, in which we feel each other out.  Further planning depends on what is discovered tonight—or not.  After all, we may not even need to plan.  Lord Beckett might be so impressed with all these unique things you've delivered to him that he'll make you an admiral without any negotiations at all."

"I hardly think you count as a 'unique thing'," James pointed out dryly.

That he actually believed it was testament to his goodness.  Stella ignored the warm glow that his words caused and simply returned mildly, "But Beckett and his pet assassin think otherwise."

"I knew that horrid man wasn't a secretary," muttered Swann.

"Oh, he's a secretary," Stella commented lightly.  "It's merely that he's other things as well."  And none of those things were pleasant.  Mercer was more twisted than a diseased vine, and after spending a few days on the same ship with him, Stella had wanted to scrub out her eyes.

Deciding then that the last thing she wanted to think about at the moment was Beckett's lapdog, Stella changed the subject.  "What colours will you be wearing tonight, James?"

He shrugged.  "I hadn't paid it much thought," he admitted.  "Have you a preference?"

"No blue," Stella said outright.  "Not that it isn't a lovely colour on you, but it is also the colour of the officer corps, and we don't want to dress you thusly until you have the undisputed right to be so.  No sense in Beckett thinking you're more eager than you are," she added, thinking aloud.  "Gold is out for that same reason.  Grey doesn't suit you, and we'll want a confident colour, anyway."  She paused once she realised that James was looking at her amusedly.  "What?"

"Perhaps you might find it easier to simply go to my house and choose my attire yourself," he said dryly.

Stella arched a brow.  "I want to make sure that every inch of our first impression on Lord Beckett is perfect," she insisted.  "I want to ensure that he knows we are a force to be reckoned with.  We are not supplicants.  We are equals making a deal, and we must carry that impression as well as we can, attire and all."  Her intended still looked sceptical, and she smiled lightly reminded him, "You did ask for it."

James just rolled his eyes skyward, before shaking his head and admitting, "I did.  Is pale blue acceptable?"

"How pale?"

Eventually they decided upon the colour of James' attire, under the benevolent but highly amused gaze of Governor Swann.  Stella was struck by how very cosy and domestic the scene was, but for two crucial elements.  For one, they were all very tense due to the upcoming dinner gathering; and secondly, Stella knew that both men were wishing she was someone else.

This was an element she hadn't truly anticipated.  Or rather, she'd thought on it, but decided that she could handle it in a foolish bout of optimism.  And she could handle it, of course... she just hadn't expected it to disconcert her the way it did.  It wasn't like Beckett and his schemes; those were handled with words and gestures and pointed looks (or so she hoped).  This was more insidious, and much harder to fight.

The problem was, everyone looked at her as Elizabeth Swann's replacement.

And as James adjourned back to his house to change, and the Governor stepped out to speak with the cook about the menu tonight, and Stella went upstairs to prepare herself for tonight, she decided that a short engagement would be best.  That way, she could enter into territory Elizabeth never explored, and leave the comparisons behind.


 His valet was no doubt reporting to Beckett.  As a matter of fact, James had a feeling that the entire staff of his new house were loyal to the Trading Company Lord.  It bothered him only slightly.  After all, the reality of the Heart and his deal with Beckett didn't seem so intimidating now that Stella was with him.  She had more experience with these sorts of things.

No, James decided, as he climbed out of the bath, if this Lord Beckett decided to honour his side of the bargain and return the rest of his life to him, he'd be content.

He was helped into the ensemble he and Stella had agreed upon—an emerald-green vest embroidered with paler green leaves shone under a black brocade coat dappled with simple wooden buttons, with a replacement white wig perched on his head.  A glance in the mirror as his valet tied his cravat showed a gentleman, clean-shaven and tidy.  There was no hint of the scruffy drunkard who had occupied the mirror for so long.  It was as if the last year had never happened.

Governor Swann's carriage was waiting outside, and James climbed inside.  As it rattled down the road, the feeling of unreality returned.  He could be driving up to the mansion to pay court to Miss Swann, instead of meeting with his fiancée and the man who held the reins of his unknown future.

Weatherby was in the drawing room when James arrived, and he joined the governor by the windows.  The older man spared him a tired smile.  "You look well, James."

"Thank you."

He wasn't sure what else to say.  James was well aware that Weatherby knew the source of his recent windfall (Beckett, that is—not the Heart), and James felt awkward about it for some reason.  He wasn't sure why; Weatherby had made a deal with Beckett, too.  Not that the older man had accused him of anything—indeed, James had been welcomed back with a warmth that made him feel deeply ashamed of himself.  He didn't think Weatherby would've been so welcoming if he knew everything James had gotten up to in the past year.

"It's strange, isn't it?" Weatherby said suddenly.  "All this..."

"Everything has changed, and nothing has," James finished, nodding.

The governor sighed.  "I hope your young lady knows what she's doing."

"I trust her," he replied quietly.

Lord Beckett arrived shortly thereafter, sweeping grandly into the mansion, garbed in rich red and bronze and carrying a silver-tipped walking stick.  "Governor Swann, Mr. Norrington.  Good evening."

"Lord Beckett," James replied, bowing.

"Welcome, Lord Beckett," Governor Swann said politely, but with little hint of any warmth.

Beckett left off any platitudes concerning gratitude for Swann's hospitality, since all present knew he'd invited himself and that Swann would rather play host to Jack Sparrow than Lord Beckett.  He simply nodded, before looking pointedly around the drawing room.

"Miss Bell will be joining us shortly," James supplied, as expected.

"How lovely.  I look forward to making her acquaintance.  Mr. Mercer spoke highly of her," Beckett said coolly.

That was a lie, as everyone knew.  Mercer hated Stella, and Stella didn't much care for Mercer either.  She had turned her sharp tongue onto him minutes after their first meeting; admittedly, Mercer had deserved it, but it hadn’t earned Stella any advocates, either.  It had been amusing to watch them snipe at each other for a few hours, but James had worried the entire voyage back from Tortuga that he'd wake one morning to discover that either there was a new eunuch on board, or that his fiancée had acquired a knife through her slight ribs.

James suddenly felt suffocated.  The room was stuffed full of polite lies and things left unsaid.  It had always been thusly, of course; no one spoke of things that Were Better Left Unsaid; no one mentioned that Swann was being manipulated, that James himself had been consorting with pirates, that he'd been jilted for a blacksmith by the governor's daughter.

It was even worse, now.  He knew Beckett had come to inspect his future wife, to see if her powers were everything that the rumours had portrayed.  Beckett knew that he carried around the severed heart of a mythical personage as a ticket to a better life.  They were neck-deep in magic and they both knew it, but it Wasn't To Be Spoken Of, not in Weatherby Swann's drawing room.  Though they could barter with the magic and its wielders in Beckett's office, when they entered into Polite Society, those elements of life were ignored and shuffled away and politely euphemised.  It was real, but it couldn't be accepted as such.

The whole situation was so hypocritical and false that, for a brief moment, James wanted to tear off his wig and scream at the top of his lungs, wanted to get a bottle of rum and fetch Stella and go sit on the roof to look at the stars like they did back on Tortuga, wanted to hurl himself full-tilt out the windows, breaking both the glass and the façade in a corona of shattered pieces.

But he'd spent a lifetime fighting off those urges, and so he suppressed this one with an ease borne of long practise, and steeled himself for an evening full of weighted words and unacknowledged realities.

He made polite small-talk with Beckett and Governor Swann about his voyage, about winds and currents and the pirate threats, until the faint chiming of familiar bells reached his ears.  Apparently Weatherby and Beckett heard it as well, since their heads turned to the door an instant before the footman outside pushed it open.

His jaw fell open.  In that instant, James took back every sarcastic thought he'd had this evening about Stella's nit-picky attention to detailing their first impression.  Every bit of it was worth it.

She swept into the room, head held high, black eyes hooded and mysterious with the empty little smile on her lips that James so disliked.  This evening, however, it suited her perfectly, and as she glided over to where the three men stood near the fireplace, James knew they would make an imposing pair.  His white wig was the perfect contrast to her black hair, swept up into an elegant twist with a single ringlet hanging down between her shoulder blades.  The star comb he'd given her shone in her gleaming hair, and pearl earrings he'd never seen before hung from her ears.

And her gown!  He'd never before seen her in anything but worn, faded, almost ragged dresses that showed the strain of Tortugan life.  But this... it was midnight blue and trimmed with silver stars, and in it Stella looked like a queen of the night.  She hadn't been made beautiful.  She was still small, and her features were still pointed and cold, her skin pallid and her sharp chin tilted with her particular brand of proud arrogance, but somehow, it didn't seem to matter when she came together as a whole.

Once she was within a few feet, Stella dropped into a curtsey, her dark blue skirts billowing around her.  "Governor Swann.  Lord Beckett.  Mr. Norrington," she greeted softly, every inch the proper young lady.

James noticed that, when Stella straightened, she was at a height to look Beckett in the eye without craning her neck, as she did with him.  And as their eyes met, he found himself watching avidly, searching for some sign of the impending clash.

Unfortunately, there was none.  Oh, perhaps they stared at each other for a moment too long, perhaps Beckett's polite smile grew a touch wider, perhaps Stella's pointed chin arched a bit higher, but there was nothing to indicate anything more than two curious people sizing each other up.

"You must be Miss Bell.  Charmed," Lord Beckett purred, taking the offered hand and placing a genteel kiss on the back.

"Of course," Stella replied mildly, taking back her hand and placing it in James'.  He placed a gentle kiss on her fingertips—he didn't want his lips touching the same area Beckett's had—before tucking her hand into the crook of his arm... which, coincidentally, was a prime position to display the sapphire engagement ring resting on her third finger.

Judging by the swift, amused glance Stella shot at him, she was not unaware of his manoeuvre.  James shrugged internally.  What could he say?  After loosing one fiancée, he didn't want to take any chances, and he didn't like the covetous way Beckett was eyeing his latest.

"You look lovely, my dear," Weatherby added pleasantly,

"Thank you, Governor," Stella replied sweetly, before gently pressuring James' arm and leading him over to the settee without making it look like she was leading him.  Once she had seated herself in a flurry of indigo silk, the men were free to do likewise, and James immediately claimed the seat at Stella's side.

"I trust your voyage was not too taxing?" Lord Beckett inquired politely, still watching Stella intently.

"Not at all," Stella replied, equally courteous.  "It was marvellous to see the last of that island," she added, with a delicate (and entirely false) shudder.

James had to stifle a smile.  Though the shudder was feigned, the sentiment behind it was not.  He remembered what she'd been like as they moved her things to the East India Company ship, practically quivering with energy as playful breezes whipped around them.  And though she'd been wearing a mask for Mercer the entire voyage, whenever he got her mostly alone (usually at the prow, or when they were on deck at night stargazing) she smiled and laughed with a freedom he'd never seen in her before, and declared vehemently that this was the happiest she'd been since her mother died.  It was the closest to jubilation he'd ever seen her; he had a feeling that, had Mercer been hundreds of miles away, she might've danced on the very air itself.

For a brief moment, James had the rising feeling of entrapment—but it wasn't on his behalf.  It was for Stella.  He wondered what it could've been like had he just brought her here, had there been no Beckett and he'd found a different way to regain his former life, had he just decided to honour his promise with no strings and take her off Tortuga.

But that was a candy-floss palace for another time.

James rejoined the conversation as Beckett made some comment about, "...Bell of Antigua."

He was sure he didn't imagine the miniscule amount of tension in Stella's body—then again, he knew what dangerous ground they were beginning to tread on.

"Only vaguely," Stella replied lightly.  "I'm afraid my family is much more interested in the female line, and its connections."  She smiled knowingly, even though only Beckett knew what she was knowing, and snapped open her sandalwood fan.  "Something I'm sure you're quite familiar with."

James guessed that Beckett was, indeed, quite familiar with whatever Stella was alluding to, since he smiled a smile as thin and colourless as a knife-blade.  "Of course," the Lord agreed evenly.  "And, after all, Bell is such a common surname."

Only the slight narrowing of Stella's black eyes indicated that Beckett's barb had hit home.  Her neck bent ever-so-slightly, acknowledging the point.  Beckett's head inclined in turn.  Two opponents, recognising each other as equals.

This could get messy.

Cry havoc and loose the dogs of war, James thought, sharing a nervous look with the governor.  He only hoped they were all alive at the end of the night.


By the final course of dinner, Beckett had made up his mind.  James Norrington would be the admiral of his fleet...

If, of course, he could get a private moment with Miss Bell (with whom he'd been verbally fencing all evening) to lay some things plainly on the bargaining table.

Apparently Norrington had been a frequent visitor to the Governor's mansion in the days of yore, since the two men immediately retired to the chessboard once the table was cleared, with a familiarity that spoke of routine.  Miss Bell stood behind her fiancé with her thin hands on Norrington's chair, watching the game without a hint of expression on her face.

He really did need to speak with her—and speak frankly, without any of the insinuations and veiled meanings they'd been dancing with all evening.  While Bell and Norrington were a partnership, at the moment she was the stronger of the pair.  The soon-to-be-admiral wouldn't bend unless she told him to.  Beckett wanted her to tell him, but she wouldn't unless given a damn good reason.

So he focussed on a painting of a lovely young woman who bore enough similarities to Miss Elizabeth Swann to be her mother, and bent his thoughts toward Miss Bell.  He thought at her intently—though he didn't have any powers himself, Mrs. Livia Beckett had plenty, and she'd taught him this method of getting her attention when he needed to do so discreetly.

Apparently, this mental summoning worked just as well on Miss Bell as it had on his mother, since the sound of softly chiming bells and swishing cloth reached his ears as the lady approached.  "Do you know whose portrait this is?" he asked once he judged Miss Bell to be close enough.

"I believe it is Governor Swann's late wife," was the reply.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her step up beside him.  "One of the few paintings to survive the attack of The Black Pearl, almost three years ago."

"I had heard of it."

"It was a terrible thing.  Apparently a cannon ball went straight through the house... I've yet to understand how that happened, seeing as the ship was down in the harbour at the time," Miss Bell added sardonically, "but it blew the front legs off the harpsichord."

Beckett just cocked his head to the side slightly.  Miss Bell smiled thinly, correctly interpreting his gesture, and suggested, "Perhaps you would care to see for yourself?  The repair work was quite good, but the damage is still slightly visible."

"I'd be delighted," Beckett replied pleasantly, offering his arm.  As she slid her hand into the crook of his elbow, he felt the usual shrinking-shiver sensation that happened whenever he got too close to someone with magic, wherein he wanted to crawl closer and slink away at the same time.  The old wanting was as strong as ever—stronger, even, since it was now a striking young woman, instead of his mother.

Once Miss Bell had steered them into the music room and left the door open to satisfy propriety, she seated herself on the harpsichord bench and ran her spindly white fingers across the keys, playing an absent arabesque.

"Do you play?" Beckett inquired casually.

"Not in many years," Miss Bell replied, equally casual.  She didn't turn; Beckett took this to mean that he was going to have to begin the conversation.

"You're a very powerful woman," he remarked, coming to lean up against the harpsichord.

"And you are a very powerful man.  Though with a different sort of power," Miss Bell returned swiftly.  Then she added, "I wouldn't lean too heavily on this instrument.  The front legs are still unsteady."

Beckett immediately pushed himself off, and went to sit in one of the chairs by the wall.  "I wish to speak plainly, Miss Bell," he announced, as she turned to face him.  He kept his eyes on her forehead; Mr. Mercer's warning had been in his mind all evening, and he'd made a point of never meeting her eyes.  He'd made a thorough survey of her chin (sharp and proud), her nose (long and pointed), her lips (thin and supple)... any feature of her face that would make it seem as though he was making eye contact, without actually doing so.

"I agree that it would make things easier," she replied calmly.  "So I shall state plainly that I am a witch who can summon breezes at will and my intended has brought you the Heart of Davy Jones."

"And you are a pair?" Beckett inquired, crossing his legs and resting his hands on his knee.

"We are to be married soon, Lord Beckett," Miss Bell pointed out dryly.

"And if I were to give you a better offer?" he suggested, raising his eyebrows significantly.  He wanted her.  He was repulsed by her and hated what she was, but he wanted her power.  He wanted complete control over her and every aspect of her life.  He wanted to see the approval in his mother's eyes if he were to bring her a magical daughter-in-law.

"Such as yourself?"  Miss Bell looked like she was actually giving his offer some consideration, tapping her lips thoughtfully with her delicate fan.

"You would be a Lady, Miss Bell—a member of the English aristocracy.  If it's power you seek, you would be far more powerful as my wife than as Norrington's."

"But it isn't power that I'm seeking, Lord Beckett.  What I want is a measure of respectability, and security for my descendants," Miss Bell replied coolly.

"I can give you that."

"Can you?  Forgive me, Lord Beckett, but I believe that your previous... encounter... with Jack Sparrow has left you unable to have any descendants whatsoever."  Miss Bell's eyes flicked significantly downwards, before moving back up.

Beckett's fingers tightened unconsciously.  "How did you find out about that?" he demanded evenly.  "I have not met your eyes the entire evening."

"I do not need eye contact to read people.  Though I did find your efforts to avoid my gaze all evening to be rather diverting."

Now he felt a bit of a fool—worse, even.  He was now both foolish and exposed, and he'd been made thusly by the same woman.  Beckett felt the sudden urge to hurt her, to wrap his hands around her slender neck and squeeze until she was arching against him and struggling frantically and agreeing to surrender entirely... but stamped it out immediately.  Witches never took kindly to physical violence.  Besides, Miss Bell was incredibly useful, and affianced to another useful person whom he didn't want to alienate.  He'd just have to deal with her.

"It seems Mr. Mercer's information was incorrect," Lord Beckett remarked after he'd smoothed himself back into serenity.

Miss Bell made a scornful scoffing noise.  "Mr. Mercer has no imagination."

Beckett refrained from pointing out that it was one of the reasons he was such an efficient servant.

"However, I suspect that your imagination more than makes up for it," Miss Bell continued.  Now that Beckett felt freer to meet her eyes, he found her gaze to be very dark and very intense.  "Very few would believe in things like the Heart of Davy Jones, let alone have the spirit to pursue it, and certainly not the bravery to use it."

He wasn't sure if this was a compliment or a chastisement, and simply inclined his head in acknowledgement.

It turned out to be a compliment, since Miss Bell added, "I would consider marrying you simply for that reason alone.  You are quite the rara avis, and I have the deepest respect for you.  However, I believe there are enough parallels being drawn between Elizabeth Swann and myself without the added condition of having jilted the same man.  I have no desire to induce further comparison twixt the lady and myself."

There was enough sneer added in her references to Miss Swann to surmise Miss Bell didn't think highly of her.  "Have you ever met Miss Swann?" he inquired idly.

"Not formally," Miss Bell replied derisively.  "Perhaps she becomes more likeable in close proximity."

"I shouldn't think it likely," Beckett muttered sourly, rubbing the underside of his jaw as he recalled the pressure of the gun Elizabeth Swann had pressed there.

Judging from Miss Bell's faint smirk, she knew what he was referring to.  Mercer was right about one thing, Beckett thought irritably.  She sees more than she ought.

He was glad, suddenly, for the fact that Miss Bell had refused him, albeit delicately.  Living with a woman who was too useful to kill but could see into his thoughts would have been hellish.  And anyway, he would be able to wield plenty of power over her... if he could get power over Norrington.  If Norrington was admiral, that would suffice for leverage; Miss Bell was willing enough to tie her future to the man.

Yes... they were more useful together.  One could be used as leverage over the other.

"When are you planning your wedding?" he asked, changing the subject.

"Soon.  We have not yet chosen a date."

"Soon would be best," Beckett agreed.  "After all, I will need Admiral Norrington to take up his duties within a fortnight."

"Admiral?  You do honour your bargains, Lord Beckett," Miss Bell murmured, as the corners of her thin lips curled into a smile.  "Very well... I believe James and I might manage a wedding in a week or so.  I trust you will grace us with your presence?"

"Of course, Miss Bell," Beckett accepted.

"But I really must ask: as Admiral Norrington's wife, where shall I fit into your grandiose plans?" she queried.  At his amused look, she delicately shrugged one thin shoulder.  "Your plans must surely be thusly."

"You are quite perceptive," Beckett acknowledged, deciding that there was no harm in telling her some of his plans, since she'd undoubtedly dig into his brain to discover them if he didn't explain.  "I mean to eliminate piracy from the sea."

Miss Bell didn't react.  "That is an ambitious goal," she said, after a moment.  "I approve.  Heaven knows I have no love for pirates."

"Though you spent the last ten years on a pirate island?" he needled.

"That was not by choice," she replied coldly.

"Then I'm sure you'll have no objections to doing your part."

"And what, pray tell, is my part?"

"You claim to be able to summon wind at will.  That is what you will do: propel the sails of the ships sent to hunt," Beckett announced.

Miss Bell inclined her dark head.  "As you will, Lord Beckett," she murmured quietly.

Yes, that is what I will, he thought hungrily.  I will your submission to me, Miss Bell.  Yours, and all of your kind.

That part of his plan, however, was best left unspoken and unknown, so Beckett tucked it safely away into the back of his mind.  And to test how submissive Miss Bell would consent to being... "Perhaps you might agree to being wed this Tuesday?" he inquired.

"Three days hence?  That is terribly soon, Lord Beckett."

"I can have Mr. Mercer assist in the planning, if you wish."

"I'd rather Mr. Mercer not be involved in any part of my wedding, your Lordship.  Friday is the very soonest things could be ready.  As is, I'm sure society will be in an absolute tizzy due to the rapidity of our ceremony," Miss Bell drawled, the proud tilt returning to her carriage.

I will have to bend your neck, Bell, his mind whispered, supplying a variety of marvellous ways in which her slender limbs could be twisted and bent.  When Norrington was admiral, he'd be sent off for weeks on end; plenty of time to cow his wife.

Yes, it would be good to have James Norrington made admiral.

"Then I look forward to seeing you wed," he said finally.  "And I greatly anticipate the benefits of our partnership.  Shall we return to the drawing room?"

As Miss Bell placed her hand in his, Beckett couldn't help but apply a bit too much pressure onto her slim fingers, wanting to cause her a measure of discomfort.  However, the minute her bones began to grind together, she dug her fingernails into his hand, causing him to flinch as they nearly punctured the skin.  The tight hold on her hand was immediately released.

He looked over at her, seeing her black eyes regarding him warily.  "I believe we understand each other, Lord Beckett," she hissed.


Something tight inside his chest relaxed once Stella and Lord Beckett returned to the drawing room, both seemingly intact and with no blood or tears to be seen.  The relief grew even more profound when the two of them separated without any further ado and Stella returned to her place behind him, resting her hands on the back of his chair.

The chess game was proceeding well; he had almost manoeuvred Weatherby into check.  But as he moved his knight to take Swann's rook, Stella interrupted his concentration as she inquired, "James, what would you say to being wed on Friday?"

He nearly upset the chessboard.  "Friday?!  That's only six days away!" he protested, turning around to look up at her.

Stella shrugged.  "Lord Beckett feels that a short engagement would be best."  She flicked her eyes significantly over to the seated form of the white-wigged aristocrat.

James turned a jaundiced eye onto Beckett, who raised his brows slightly.  "Indeed.  I will need my new admiral prepared for duty no later than Monday next.  We will have business with a new ship of the fleet," he said casually, despite the fact that his words had made James' heart stop beating for a brief instant.

If he'd heard correctly, Beckett was making him an admiral.  An admiral!  He'd never... the best he'd hoped for, when he presented the heart, was to be reinstated as a captain—maybe commodore, once Stella joined the fray.  But an admiral!  He'd been young for a commodore, at 26 when he'd first received the promotion... he hadn't hoped for admiral until 40 at the very least.  Not even in his wildest dreams had James expected to be promoted to admiral at the age of 29, and after an extended period of disgrace, too!

Beckett was watching him closely for a reaction, and James straightened in his chair and nodded crisply, turning shining green eyes onto his benefactor.  "I will be prepared for duty whenever you deem it necessary, Lord Beckett," he said precisely.

The man looked smug.  Perhaps he had a right to be, although it irked him a little.  "Of course, Admiral.  I'm glad to hear your devotion to duty has not diminished," he replied.  His pale blue eyes cut to Stella, still standing stiffly behind him.  "I do hope your future wife shares your sentiments."

"His Lordship can count on me to support my husband in all things," came her coffee-like tones, coupled with a fragile hand on his shoulder.

"Then I look forward to attending your nuptials on Friday."

Beckett departed shortly thereafter, after sharing a long, challenging look with Stella.  James hardly noticed; as it was, he was still floating on a euphoric cloud.  Admiral!

He whirled towards Stella, scooping her into his arms and twirling her around.  Her bells exploded in a flurry of chimes as he set her suddenly down, crowing brilliantly, "I'm to be admiral!  Stella, what on earth did you say to him?"

Her pale face was arranged into an expression of polite amusement.  "We had a candid exchange, and Lord Beckett decided that the two of us together was worth an admiralty," she replied evenly, with the hated empty smile on her lips.

The obvious lack of true happiness put something of a damper on James' celebration, especially when he glanced over to Weatherby and saw the same weak joy on his own face.

Stella reached up and patted his cheek gently, turning his attention back to her.  Her faint smile hadn't quite reached her eyes yet, but it was trying.  But she caressed his face lightly with her thumb and said, "Congratulations, my dearest partner of greatness.  But now, gentlemen, I find myself rather tired.  I believe I will retire and commune with my namesake.  Good evening."

She curtsied swiftly and was gone in a flurry of stars and chiming bells before James could even think to waylay her.

"What on earth did Beckett say to her?" Weatherby wondered, once she was gone.

James wondered that himself.  He sighed; the teeth of his delight had been pulled, and now he was left with a sense of foreboding and the knowledge that something had hurt his friend.

She said she was going to commune with her namesake—that meant, he assumed, that she was going to sit on the roof and stare at the stars.  He'd wheedle a bottle of something alcoholic out of Weatherby and join her as soon as he could.

Chapter Text

It had been easier to get onto roof of the Governor's house than it had ever been to scramble onto the roof of her own (not the least because she didn't need to worry that a misstep might cause a portion of the ceiling to fall through onto her bed).   And the view, given that the house was huge and they were on the top of a mountain, was spectacular.  She could see more stars now than she ever could back on Tortuga.  And she had to keep reminding herself of it, so she wouldn't get nostalgic.

How very ironic, that she should think longingly about a place she'd wanted nothing more than to escape.

The sound of the trapdoor opened, and she heard footsteps climbing the ladder from the attic.  She didn't need to turn to see who it was, and kept her eyes on the sky.

"The view here is better than the one from your house," James remarked, settling himself next to her.  Out of the corner of her eye, she noted that he still had his white wig on, but had removed everything but the loose linen shirt and his breeches.  It made him look less formal, but it was also a reminder that they were no longer on Tortuga, given how the pristine new wig reflected the pale light.

There was a hollow popping sound, and she turned her eyes to her fiancé, who had purloined a measure of brandy and was drinking directly from the bottle.

Some things didn't change.

The familiarity of the scene was comforting, and when James offered her the bottle she accepted, fortifying herself with a hearty swig.  "This is good," she remarked, taking another sip to savour.  "Pilfered from Governor Swann's stores, I assume?"

"I asked," James protested mildly.

"I don't think he was anticipating the consumption of the entire bottle," she smirked in return.

James just shrugged, and took the proffered jug.  "Do you miss it?" he asked her suddenly, after the brandy had changed hands once more.

She knew to what he referred: Tortuga.  "Oddly enough... yes," Stella admitted, ducking her head.

"Sometimes I miss it, too.  Things were simpler, there."  He laughed lightly.  "I'd been wishing that we could've been up here all evening, away from all the splendour.  You looked lovely, though," he was quick to add.

"I was your friend first, James.  Be honest," Stella said sharply.  She'd have to hurt him if he kept throwing insincere compliments around about her beauty and her charm, since they were both well aware that she didn't have either of these things.  "And I know I looked lovely.  There's a spell on that dress to make me look more impressive than I am."

That startled him slightly, though he grinned widely after the shock wore off.  "Very sneaky, Starling.  It worked quite well."

"I know.  I thought for a moment I'd have to retrieve your lower jaw from the floor," Stella teased.

James just rolled his eyes and poked her shoulder with his index finger.  "Whatever you did worked.  Admiral," her friend breathed.

That dampened her good mood.  Stella took the bottle from his unresisting hands and took a drink.  "Congratulations," she said quietly.  "You got what you wanted."

"You wanted it too, Stella," he pointed out.

"I know.  But that was before I learned what the price might be."

She drew her knees up towards her chest, as if to make herself a smaller target—not that such a move would ever help her.  She felt James' green eyes on her, weighing and measuring.  It wasn't exactly a feeling she cared for, but given the amount of those looks she'd turned on him during the course of their acquaintance, she couldn't really say anything without sounding hypocritical.

"What did Beckett say to you?" he eventually asked.

Here it was.  She knew it was coming, but she wasn't exactly looking forward to rehashing the entire evening, either.  Still, James deserved to know.

But first, more brandy.

"We spoke plainly," she replied, voice husky due to the burn of the liquor.  "Laid some things on the table.  He agreed to make you admiral—which I think he was going to do anyway—once he understood that we were a pair and would slide into his schemes where he saw fit."

"I don't think you're being entirely fair," James protested mildly.  "Lord Beckett seems to be an honourable man."

Stella just stared at him for a moment.  How could he say that?  Was he really that blind?  Had he been entirely oblivious to the danger contained in that short man, to the way Beckett watched her, and the veiled sarcasm of the entire night?  Would he really defend such a man?

It made her violently angry.  "Oh yes.  He's a very honourable man—honourable enough to propose marriage to an already-engaged woman," she sneered.

"What?!" James whipped around to look at her so quickly he might've done his neck an injury.

"Oh yes... Lord Beckett made me an offer," she replied casually, knowing that she was hitting him where it would truly hurt and not really caring.  "Pointed out the advantages of such a match—I could be Lady Stella. He wants me terribly, of course, and he's so very imaginative in regard to then more mysterious elements of life."

None of the statements she made were untrue.  Lord Beckett did want her and he was imaginative, but James was unaware that Beckett wanted to harm her just as terribly and that his imagination tended to run to the macabre and tyrannical.  And it was these omissions that caused the most pain, since she had phrased them in a way that emphasised his own weaknesses.

"But he is not 'an honourable man'," she continued, repeating James' phrase with poisonous mockery.  "At least when William Turner stole Miss Swann, he had the courtesy to do so to your face.   Your benefactor," another word loaded with venom, "would steal me behind closed doors, and still expect you to bow to him while I stood at his side."  She laughed, the facsimile laugh she used when she didn't really find anything funny but knew her false amusement would hurt whoever it was she was sniping at.  "And you call him honourable, hmm?  You really must define that for me one day, James.  I believe your definition might be different from that of the rest of the world."

James had gone very, very still, holding himself in the stiff, formal way that indicated he was hiding a good deal of turmoil beneath the surface.  His hands had clenched into fists so tight his knuckles had gone white. He turned slowly to meet her eyes, and said quietly, "You're so very cruel sometimes."

"And you're so very naïve," she retorted coldly.  "Any man who would sell a high-ranking naval position to anyone—never mind that it's what you wanted—cannot be entirely worthy.  For God's sake, James, the man has an assassin as his secretary.  And you call him honourable," she drawled scathingly.

He rolled his eyes, and her eyesight was good enough to see the tension in his jaw relax slightly.  "I take this to mean you did not accept his offer?"

Stella just stared at him for a moment.  After everything she'd just said to him, after once again using his deepest insecurities to hurt him and tearing the scales from his eyes in the most indelicate way possible, the first thing he wanted to ask her was whether or not they were still engaged?

James was a good man—too good for her.

"I did not," she replied, more gently.  "Even aside from the fact that I can't stand the man, I gave my word.  I said I would marry you, James, and so I will."

"You can't stand him?"

The hopefulness in his voice made Stella feel incredibly humble, and for the first time in her life she actually regretted using her powers to find things with which to hurt people—or rather, she regretted using it to hurt James.  "No.  He frightens me," she admitted quietly.

She didn't need to see her friend to know he was surprised.  "I didn't think anything ever frightened you," he commented.

"Some things do.  Not many, but some.  Unfortunately, Beckett seems to be one of them.  And I doubt I can conquer my fear of him the same way I did my uneasiness regarding drowning," she replied bitterly.

"What does he want, that he scares you so?" he queried gently, making a move as though to embrace her, but drawing back at the last moment.

"What do all men with power want?" Stella spat cynically.  "More power."

"So Beckett wants power?"

"Yes.  He says he's going to eliminate piracy from the seas—which is a worthy goal, I grant you," she added, before James could protest, "but he's doing it because he wants power.  He's not like you, James.  His motives are not nearly so altruistic.  He wants to serve his own goals."

"How does eliminating piracy serve his own goals?" he asked.

"He practically heads the East India Trading Company," Stella pointed out.  "If there are no pirates, then there is no one to steal his merchandise."

"But you can't just... eliminate piracy," James noted dryly.  "You can chase them away for a time, force them to move elsewhere, but destroying the practise altogether?  Piracy is a time-honoured practise that's been present on the seas since before the Roman Empire.  No matter how many ships you have, you can't just stamp it out." An ironic smile.  "Believe me, I tried."

"Point," Stella agreed, "but you're forgetting one thing."  At James' quizzical look, she tapped on her chest in a familiar thump-thump pattern.  "Beckett has Davy Jones.  Davy Jones has a Kraken.  Ergo, Beckett has a Kraken—or he will.  That's even beside the fact that The Flying Dutchman terrifies the life out of most sailors.  No, if anyone will succeed in eliminating piracy... for a time, anyway... it will be Lord Beckett."  She swallowed.  "And then he will turn on my kind."

Understanding began to dawn in James' green eyes.  Stella went on, slowly explaining out the crux of the matter.  "He... I think his mother might have been like me.  And he wanted to be, but isn't... and thus he wants power over us, since he can't be one of us.  Sort of a, 'if you can't join them, subjugate and control them' thing."

"I believe the axiom is, 'if you can't beat them, join them," James pointed out wryly.

Stella snorted.  "That isn't how his mind works."  She shivered.  "It's just... disconcerting, the way he looks at me.  It's like he wants to either consume me or destroy me, but can't decide on which he'd prefer.  I've no doubt that he'll soon enough devise a manner in which he can do both, probably with the assistance of that revolting Mr. Mercer."  Laughing harshly, she added, "I've had people hate me before, but Beckett's the first that desires and despises at the same time."

"If he so much lays a hand on you—!" James snarled.

She interrupted coldly, "You'll have to keep silent and bear it.  We're in his power now, James—you cannot offend him, especially not now that you've got so very fall to far."

"But what about you?" he insisted.

"You needn't worry.  I'm too valuable to kill," she offered dully, smiling glumly up at her friend.

He looked terribly guilty, with his broad shoulders slumping.  "I shouldn't have brought you here," he muttered.

"Of course you should have!" Stella snapped.

"But I brought you into danger!" he protested.

"And what makes you think I wouldn't have stumbled across this particular problem on my own?  At least now I've met it on my own terms, looked it in the eye, and dug my nails into its hand," she finished with a particular sort of relish.  James still looked uncertain and unhappy, so she patted his arm gently and said, "Dear friend, I'd rather face Beckett with you at my back than confront him alone."

"I'd rather you didn't need to face him at all," he returned tartly.

She rolled her eyes.  "You brought him a woman who controls the wind.  Did you really expect him to leave me entirely alone?"

He shrugged, and ducked his head, rubbing awkwardly at his neck.  "I... er, I'd rather forgotten what a lucrative commodity you are," he muttered sheepishly.  "I was merely thinking that you could disconcert Lord Beckett enough to expedite the bargaining process."

"Oh James," Stella half-sighed, half-laughed.  "Well, at least something went right."

"Perhaps you should go," he suggested.  "Flee... try to escape before he can hurt you."  He swallowed heavily.  "I don't necessarily want you to go, but if you're in danger here..."

"It won't do any good."  She'd never admit that she'd considered such a plan of action earlier in the evening, with Beckett's intense, hungry gaze following every move she made.  "He knows me, now—knows what I am, what I look like, and what I can do.  If I ran, he'd chase me down.  And there would be nothing pleasant about what happened when I was caught."

"Is your eventual capture truly so inevitable?"

"Now that Tia's left Saint-Domingue?  Yes.  I could've perhaps hid with her, but she's gone voyaging... and that tells me, more than anything else, that something rather significant will be happening soon.  She never leaves that swamp," Stella murmured, mostly to herself.  It had surprised her to realise how much she did tend to depend on Tia as a safe haven in the event of disaster.  And now that haven had been removed; the day her voice had failed to find Tia in her swampy bower, Stella had known she was completely and utterly on her own.

"One day I really must meet this Tia," James remarked, breaking her out of her musing and clearly attempting to lighten the mood.

"I hope you will, one day.  But I don't think it's very likely," Stella commented, before smirking.  "Pity.  Tia would eat you with a spoon."

A roll of green eyes.  "Not a guest we'll want at the wedding, then."

"I don't think she'd come, even if she was invited.  She doesn't like land very much," she noted.  "And though she is, essentially, the last of those I'd claim as family, Tia is... not the sort of person to have at a society wedding," Stella added delicately.  "I doubt we're going to have much by way of guests anyway.  Governor Swann, of course. Beckett can hardly be excluded.  The rest of the guest list is up to you."

James shrugged.  "Then it's going to be a very small wedding," he said apologetically.  "I never did have many close friends."

"No family, either?"

"Only a few distant relatives, back in England.  You?"

"My grandmother had a younger brother... I've only ever heard of him, though.  I don't know where he is or how I'd go about finding him—or if he's even still alive," she added morbidly, snatching the brandy bottle and taking a hearty pull.

"Well then, here's to deceased family members. May they be at peace," James announced, whisking the bottle from her hands and lowering the volume of liquid a little more.

"And to absent friends," Stella declared, stealing the bottle back and lifting it skyward.  "May the stars watch o'er them, and the wind speed their path, and bring them safely home again."  She thought of Tia and knew, for some reason, that Tia would never again be a permanent residence of the house on the Pantano.

She had no time to mull on that, since James snatched back the brandy and made another toast.  "To our wedding!  May it proceed unhindered!"

He passed the bottle to her without complaint, and Stella made another toast of her own.  "To Davy Jones, without whose heart said wedding would have scarcely been possible!"

James snorted with laughter, and his next salute was rather silly as well.  "To Jack Sparrow and his insane quests, without which finding the Heart would have been impossible!"

Once the barrier was breached, the silliness of the toasts got progressively more extreme (though the steadily decreasing amount of brandy in the bottle might have been a factor as well).

"To the Black Pearl!"  This one was Stella's.

"To the British navy!" And this, obviously James'.

"To Governor Swann's fine wine cellar!" came from an increasingly tipsy Stella.

"To Caribbean rum!" was concurred by an equally drunk James.

Stella giggled.  "To Davy Jones!"

"We already toasted him," James pointed out.

"Did we?  My mistake," she burbled.  "In that case, a toast to white cake!  We'll have white cake on our wedding day, I think," she added.

"With candied fruit," James agreed, waggling his eyebrows slightly.  He very much enjoyed candied fruit, Stella knew.  She'd bought him—at great pains and rather impressive expense—some candied apricots for his birthday (he had turned 29 on the first of March, which had given her two weeks to overcome her annoyance at him for vomiting on her shoes), which hadn't lasted him three days, so rapidly (and enthusiastically) did he consume them.

"I'll make sure to have the baker add plenty of apricots," Stella promised.

"You're a peach, my dear," he beamed.

They shared a look, before grasping the brandy bottle and toasting, in unison, "To peaches!"

Chapter Text

The day of the Norrington-Bell wedding dawned (or rather, pre-dawned, given the hour the bride awoke) rather grey and rainy, but the moment Stella awoke, she threw open the windows (much to the horror of her maid, Estrella) and made furious brushing motions with her hands.  The skies cleared less than an hour later (much to the horror of her maid, Estrella).

Apparently Estrella had previously served Miss Swann, which was a nearly-damning verdict in Stella's eyes.  She wouldn't have employed her save for the fact that she was one of the only available women on the island with any ability as a lady's maid.  The fact that their names were rather similar amused her, and she listened patiently as Estrella chattered on about the preparations for Elizabeth Swann's aborted wedding as she brushed out Stella's long black hair, still damp from her bath.

"...and it did just the opposite of today, Miss.  Dawned bright and sunny as anything, but it was pouring down rain by the time the ceremony was due to start."

"I hope this trend of opposites continues, then," Stella remarked as Estrella began to separate hanks of her hair and twist them up onto the top of her head.  "I have another for you: there are very, very few people at this wedding, and Lord Beckett is making his appearance at the beginning.  I can only hope that these contrary elements indicate a likewise contrary outcome, and that I will actually be married by the end of the day.  And to the opposite man in our study of contrasts, even!  Why, I daresay these are fortuitous portents indeed," she added wryly.

"And your gown's a different colour, too," Estrella added, sighing.  "A marvellous lovely gown it is, too—like a cloud."

"Thank you.  It was a... gift," Stella replied lightly, smirking faintly.  Actually, it had been payment; not all the pirates who came to her seeking wind paid in coin.  Captain Chevalle had traded her the wardrobe he'd stolen from an Italian countess in return for enough wind to propel an armada—the dark blue gown she'd worn for the first meeting with Beckett had also been part of that trousseau.

She'd chosen one of the richest gowns in which to be wed.  Though it was slightly out of fashion, the maids of the Swann household had been in a flurry of sewing and trimming to make it a little more current.  While Elizabeth's wedding gown had apparently been a striking confection of ivory silk, golden beads, and pearls, Stella's was a softer silken ensemble of soft blues and greys, trimmed with yards and yards of Valenciennes lace and subtle silver embroidery.

"Married in blue, you will always be true," Estrella commented as she finished the coiffure, with half Stella's hair pinned up, and half left to hang down her back in ringlets.

It was then that it finally dawned on her—really, truly dawned.  She was getting married.  She was off Tortuga, and she was getting married to a respectable man.  No more whispers, no more worries about reputation, no shadowy futures—she was to be wed in two short hours.  By the end of the day—by the end of the morning, no less!—she would no longer be Miss Stella Bell.  She'd be Mrs. James Norrington.

"Miss?"

Estrella's tentative voice broke into her increasingly panicked thoughts.  Stella shook her head slightly, feeling the hanging curls brush against her shoulders, and said, "Yes?"

"'Tis just... you've gone as pale as a sheet, Miss," the maid explained slowly.

Stella smiled grimly and shrugged slightly.  "The enormity of it has begun to dawn on me," she explained.

And it was enormous.  As Stella mechanically allowed herself to be laced into her wedding gown, she mulled over the cusp upon which she was poised.  Almost twenty-six, and almost married.  Strange, how things would change in an instant.  Twenty-six years of being Miss Stella Bell, and in the blink of an eye she'd be someone else.

Even more incredible, she'd be the first woman in more than four generations of her family to be married at all!  Her children would share their surname with both their parents; there would never be any whispers of bastardy surrounding them.  It had been her goal in life since the age of six (when she'd first had the epithet "bastard" hurled at her, and heard the label of "whore" attached to her sweet, beloved mother, and understood what both of these things meant) to marry a respectable man and bear his children.  And now, that goal was within hours of being achieved.

She gasped as the stays were tightened around her ribcage.  Yes, that was an apt metaphor for her nuptials... she was fond of James, of course, and didn't regret accepting him—indeed, she didn't suppose she'd want to marry anyone else alive—but the snare Lord Beckett had set for them was as tight and restricting as the laces around her waist.  Unfortunately, James and Beckett were a bit of a package at the moment.  Marrying one would necessarily put her in company with the other.  She'd just have to keep her head and her cool and avoid the frightening little man whenever possible—especially when James was out on the sea.

And... oh God... the wedding night!

She flushed, then turned pale again as she considered the one aspect of marriage she hadn't previously paid much mind to.  Stella wasn't a complete innocent, of course—after a decade on Tortuga, she was well aware of the mechanics of... er, consummation.  But she'd never... well, she'd never really thought she'd be in a position to practise them!  And with James, no less!

Although...

"I need to sit down," Stella announced suddenly, just as Estrella and the other maid—Hannah, was it?—finished fastening the dress.

A chair was quickly provided, and Stella sank down gratefully and buried her brick-red face in her hands.  It was all so overwhelming.  She was to be wed—married to her best friend under the eyes of a man who wanted nothing more than to break her into little pieces, and delivered into her husband's hands by the father of his former fiancée.

"Are you all right, Miss Stella?" she heard Estrella ask, as though from far away.

"I want my mother," Stella blurted unhappily.

She felt Estrella's gentle hands smooth her hair, and the maid crooned softly, "It's all right, Miss.  All girls want their mothers on their wedding day—'tis a shame yours can't be here.  But I'm sure she'd be proud of you."

Would she?  Nell would like as not chide her prosaic daughter for marrying a man she didn't, technically, love as a wife ought to love her husband.  But then she'd shake her head and support her child nonetheless.

Stella suddenly felt swamped by a great wave of longing for her family—any family.  She'd resigned herself to being alone years ago, and even the sting of her mother's absence was lessening... but this was her wedding day.  Was it so wrong to want her mother here to settle the veil on her head, to want her own father to give her away?  Mama would be teary-eyed and sighing, and would like as not burst into tears during the ceremony.  Papa would smile and joke, and offer to threaten James into treating her well, but his eyes would probably be damp as well, and he'd certainly have a handkerchief ready to offer Mama.

But Mama and Papa were dead.  Stella had known for years that she would never have her parents at her nuptials.  But being wed without any family at all—with no one there for her... hell, she'd settle for seeing the half-brother she hadn't seen since her exile from Antigua, or even the great-uncle whose existence she'd only ever heard about.  Someone... anyone!

There was something wet on her hands, and Stella was rather surprised to discover, when she lifted her hands, that the wetness was tears—she'd started crying.

"I am being quite foolish," she scolded herself harshly, wiping at her eyes savagely.  Estrella offered her a plain cotton handkerchief, which Stella accepted and used to dab at her face.  She realised, then, that they were alone in the room.

"I sent Hannah for some tea," Estrella said, as if anticipating the question.  Then, smiling, she added, "And you're not foolish, Miss Stella."

"Yes, I am," Stella sighed.  "I've had years to resign myself to the fact that I would be quite devoid of relations at my wedding.  I simply... didn't expect it to overwhelm me like this."

A tentative knock at the door drew both women's attention; it opened to reveal Governor Swann carrying a tea tray.  "I encountered the maid in the hall," he explained.  "If I might have a word, Miss Bell?"  Stella nodded; Estrella curtsied and departed, closing the door behind her.  Governor Swann set the tea tray awkwardly down on the dresser.  "Er... tea?" he offered, looking uncertainly at the porcelain tea service.

He looked so helpless that Stella had to smile.  "Allow me," she demurred.  It was a little bit strange, serving tea to the Governor in her dressing room a scant two hours before her wedding, but Stella felt that the surrealism of the entire situation went along with the general theme of her and James' nuptials.

"Are... are you quite all right, Miss Bell?" the Governor inquired, once they were both seated on mismatching chairs near the windows with cups of tea in their hands.

She assumed he was referring to the faint tear-tracks on her face.  "Yes, I'm quite all right," she replied calmly.

The Governor nodded, and opened his mouth to say something.  Then he seemed to change his mind, and took a sip of tea.  As Stella watched, he clearly stiffened his spine and gathered his courage.  "Miss Bell—Stella," he corrected himself, obviously uncomfortable but equally determined, "I am not reporting to that wretched little Lord—my loyalty is to my daughter.  I promise you, nothing that you say here will find its way to Beckett's ears through any means of mine." He took another sip of tea, and Stella waited patiently for him to marshal his words.  "I can see that you are troubled. Though I know you loathe the inevitable comparisons to Elizabeth, I assure you, I am not trying to replace her, or attempting to fit you into her place.  But I have been a father for many years, and when I see your distress I cannot but want to assist you in any way I can."

They'd had frank words on the subject a few days past, when Governor Swann had offered to give Stella away in lieu of her own deceased father.  Given that Lord Beckett was the only other option, Stella had accepted, but her reluctance was clear.  After some persuasion and an apology in advance for her words, she'd finally explained her position. Governor Swann had accepted her qualms, and promised that he'd try not to treat her too much like Elizabeth, though the expression in his eyes said eloquently that he didn't think her very like his daughter at all.  Stella had utilised her newfound resolve to bite her tongue and, in appreciation of his generosity, said nothing.

"I am not your father," Governor Swann continued, gentling his tone slightly.  "And you are not my daughter.  But neither of these people are here right now, and we are left with each other.  Perhaps we might... make do?"

Stella looked down at her tea for a moment, before reaching out to clasp Governor Swann's hand.  He set down his teacup and enfolded her hand in both of his, and she drew strength from his kindness.  "Thank you," she said quietly.

"What troubles you, my dear?" Swann asked softly.

"I'm afraid," she confessed.  "I'm afraid and lonely."

Governor Swann heaved a sigh.  "Lord Beckett has a penchant for ruining weddings," he commented sourly.

"He hasn't ruined mine—not yet, anyway," she added glumly.  "The day is young."

"Yes, he has," Swann contradicted gently.  "You've had to arrange things so rapidly that you're completely alone—the fact that people will talk for months notwithstanding."

Stella smiled weakly.  "Frankly, they'd talk anyway.  The once-disgraced James Norrington and his Tortugan bride?  And anyway, were I married in six months or six days, I still wouldn't have any family.  All Beckett took from me was the chance to resign myself to it."

"But had he given you more time, you could have perhaps formed some attachments—made friends?"

"Admittedly, yes," Stella sighed, acknowledging his point before straightening her shoulders.  "It would've helped, having friends here."

That she had only ever called about six people friend in her entire life (three of which were now dead, one of which was a voodoo witch, and the other she was preparing to marry) went unmentioned.

She finished drinking her tea, and straightened her shoulders.  It wasn't part of Stella's nature to dwell overlong on impossibilities—not the least because she was well aware that what most people thought was impossible was, in fact, not actually so, and that things that truly were impossible were thusly for a reason.  Her family wasn't here.  She had no friends but the one she was marrying.  Beckett was going to watch her like a cat watches a mouse.  But, she thought wryly, glancing down at her lovely gown, she would look pretty, at least.

"Will you help me with my veil?" she asked the Governor, setting the delicate china teacup back on the silver tray.

"Of course," he acquiesced, looking somewhat relieved.  Stella stifled a smile—no matter what, most men were terrified by emotional women.

First, though, she went to her jewel-box, and removed the baubles she'd be wearing.  The earrings with the tiny dangling emeralds, crafted of Spanish silver—they'd once belonged to great-grandmother Isabella.  Her sapphire engagement ring, of course—that had once belonged to her mother, and she'd worn it for the first time after James proposed, since he had no ring of his own to present.  The string of silver bells was ever-present around her neck (she wore them constantly, since they were a gift from her father for her thirteenth birthday—the last before his death), but they were joined by an ivory pendant, carved into a flower and hung on a blue ribbon, which had once belonged to her grandmother, Esmerelda.

No pearls, though—she would wear no pearls on her wedding day, and had insisted that no pearls be added to her gown, either.  After all, the saying went that for every pearl the bride wore, the groom would give her cause for weeping.  And, as Grandmama Esme always said, the men cause plenty of tears anyway.

And finally, the veil.  It was the oldest heirloom of all—a mantilla of black Spanish lace (probably stolen) that Mirela had carried with her to the Caribbean.  By now, the lace was tattered in bits and faded and aged to a dark brown, but it was still hers.  She would be the first since Mirela to wear it at a wedding.

With the Governor's help, she was able to fasten the lace veil into her hair, using the star comb James had given her, without upsetting the careful arrangement Estrella had worked so hard to achieve.  Then they stood, looking at their reflections in the mirror.

"You look beautiful," the Governor said tenderly, resting a hand on her shoulder.

"Thank you," Stella replied faintly.

Her skin was still the wan hue of milk—hardly the ideal of a blushing bride, and the Governor smiled compassionately at her reflection.  "Still afraid?" he surmised.

"Yes," she admitted, chewing absently on her lower lip in an attempt to bring some colour to her ashen face.   Then she met Governor Swann's gaze in the mirror's reflection.

He took one look at her wide, frantic eyes and said immediately, "I'll bring smelling salts." 


On the other side of Port Royal, in a pleasant townhouse not far from Fort Charles, James Norrington was settling the blue and gold brocaded coat of an admiral around his shoulders.  Like his intended bride, he was scrutinising his reflection in the mirror.  However, quite unlike Stella, James was feeling reasonably content and happy.  The pre-wedding jitters were mostly centred around Lord Beckett, and what he might do or inspire.

Stella knew his vulnerable points better than anyone alive, and her words on the Governor's rooftop six days earlier had flown straight into the most tender part of his heart where they still remained, causing him pain.  The fact was, James was not at all confident with women.  He never had been.  What courage he'd been able to muster up for Elizabeth had shortly thereafter been destroyed by her, and James was terrified that Stella was going to abandon him as well.   She'd assured him that she wouldn't, and he trusted her word, had seen the daggers in her black eyes whenever she looked at Beckett... but he'd also seen the greedy gleam in Beckett's eyes whenever he looked at Stella.  And the man was a Lord, after all.

But in less than an hour, these fears would be mostly for naught.  Oh, he'd still have to worry about whether or not Beckett and his wife (good God... Stella would be his wife) would tear each other to pieces, but in two hours, Stella would be his.  And he'd never have to worry about anyone stealing his woman ever again.

Then he amused himself with picturing Stella's reaction if she ever knew he'd referred to her thusly, even in the privacy of his own mind.

Attired properly, he descended to find Theodore Groves—now Captain of the Endeavour, Beckett's new flagship—sitting in his parlour.  Groves (who had agreed to stand up with him, despite the extremely short notice) looked up on his arrival and grinned widely.  "You look well and handsome, Admiral," he complimented.  "I daresay you'll make your lady-love swoon before she even reaches the altar.  At least she's nowhere near the battlements."

James smiled wistfully, but stopped that train of thought immediately.  "Indeed.  But please, Theodore, don't mention Miss Swann," he warned.  "I'm trying not to think of her, and I'll take it as a kindness to my wife and I if you'll do the same.  Stella... does not think well of her," he said delicately.

This was a polite way to gloss over Stella's odd antipathy towards Elizabeth, which had only increased since their arrival in Port Royal.  In fact, Stella had told him flat-out that if he made a single comment regarding Elizabeth on their wedding day, and if she saw that he was thinking on her during the ceremony, she'd be forced to do him an injury, and wouldn't that be a terrible beginning to their marriage?

I am not Elizabeth, she'd said to him.  I will never be Elizabeth.  And you, my friend, had best accept that, because I will sooner take up with Lord Beckett than spend my married life being regarded as the pale reflection of someone else.

He didn't take her threat very seriously, but James was trying heartily to purge any thoughts of Elizabeth from his mind.

It was difficult.

Groves nodded sagely.  "I can see how she might be unwilling to hear of her predecessor in your affections—especially on her wedding day."

James just shook his head.  Everyone thought that he and Stella were a love-match, that he'd met her sometime during his disgrace and fallen so much in love that he'd returned for her even after he was redeemed.  The two of them never said anything different, and no one else—not even Beckett—had any idea to the contrary.  Perhaps he would have liked to confide in Theodore—he'd been a good friend before... but now Groves was in Beckett's pocket, and James wasn't sure how far he could trust his subordinate.

It was sad, the way he almost instinctively distrusted everyone in Port Royal nowadays.  But even besides the fact that he wasn't sure who had sold out to Beckett (wholeheartedly sold out, that is; not the way he'd dealt with him), James knew that the majority of people wouldn't understand anyway.  How could he possibly explain the path that had led him and Stella to their current point?  How could he accurately portray all the things she'd shown him, the things that most people never saw?

Between witchery and drunkenness, pirates and Trading Company Lords, winds in strings and still-beating severed hearts... life had certainly taken a turn for the interesting since meeting Stella.  And now, in an hour (or less) he was going to permanently join his future to that interestingness.

Funny... he hadn't really considered what it would be like, married to a witch.  For such a long time, the fact that Stella was a witch had taken a lesser place in his mind behind the knowledge that Stella was... Stella, his sharp-tongued friend who'd seen him at the very lowest part of his life, and extended a hand to help him keep his head above the mire.  But the strange and supernatural was as much a part of her life as the navy was in his—more, even, since she'd been born to it.  And in marrying her, he'd be wedding those elements of life as well.  Not that he minded, of course—he found the subtle magic of the world to be as fascinating as it occasionally was frightening.

His life was going to be so much richer and stranger for Stella's presence in it.

He was jerked out of his thoughts when Theodore spoke again. "Well, I'll be glad to make Miss Bell's acquaintance—or rather, Mrs. Norrington's, since that's what she'll be by the time I formally meet her," he added jovially.  "She's been keeping mostly to herself."

"Not by choice.  She's been spinning like a cyclone, trying to get everything ready for the wedding.  Thank heavens Governor Swann offered to host the wedding breakfast, or I think poor Stella might have gone mad," James noted wryly.  "Lord Beckett was adamant that we be married before this Monday."

"Ah yes..."

The two men shared a look, both thinking about Beckett's plan to confront The Dutchman, set three days hence.

"Will she mind, do you think?" Theodore asked.

James didn't need qualification.  "She'll do as she needs to, but she isn't wildly pleased, either."  He sighed slightly.  "This is not the wedding we wanted."

"At least it stopped raining," Groves pointed out hopefully.

They made inconsequential small-talk about the weather for a while, which amused James heartily inasmuch as he knew exactly what the weather was going to do at least two days in advance.  Eventually, he got too jittery to remain in the house any longer, and they called the carriage to head for the chapel.

When I next return, James thought, glancing back at his house before he stepped into the carriage, I'll be a married man. He smiled faintly, then turned to duck in the door. Funny how everything can change in the blink of an eye


James and Stella were to be married at the same chapel that Will and Elizabeth were meant to have been wed.  James knew Stella hadn't been happy with the repetition, but it was the only suitable location.  However, in deference to her sensibilities and her pointed dislike of Elizabeth Swann, they'd decided to hold the ceremony inside.

The chapel was still buzzing with activity when James and Theodore arrived.  There were servants bustling around with garlands of flowers to string around the pillars which arched into the promenade to the doorway, more people rushing around to dust the pews for the few guests that the Norrington-Bell wedding had, and the vicar was standing near the altar, already decked out in his simple black vestments.  The slender white tapers hadn't yet been lit, but the quartet of musicians were adjusting their music stands to the right of the altar.

"All this activity... you'd never think that there were only going to be about ten guests in total," Theodore remarked, after nearly being run over by a flustered maid with her arms full of flowers.

James made a noncommittal noise and tugged nervously at the cuffs of his jacket.  Everything was coming into place—the chapel was prepared, the Governor's staff would be preparing for the descent of guests following the ceremony, he and Governor Swann had signed the marriage contract yesterday (with Weatherby in loco parentis for Stella, since Lord Beckett was her only other option and she would have sooner eaten live spiders before allowing him that kind of power), the guests were starting to arrive—there was Caroline d'Ascoyne, resplendent in coral-coloured silk and pearls, and behind her Mr. and Mrs. Robert Fitzherbert—and the weather was beautiful as a soft breeze chased the morning's clouds away to reveal clear blue skies.

Lord Beckett slid into the chapel like an eel five minutes later, and made a casual beeline for where James and Theodore and two other naval officers were clustered near the front of the chapel.  "Admiral, Captain, Lieutenants; good morning," he said calmly, nodding.  The officers bowed in return.  "Today is the big day, Admiral.  How are you feeling?"

From anyone else it would have been a polite inquiry.  From someone like Weatherby or Theodore, it would have been a serious inquiry regarding the state of his nerves (which were tense but otherwise all right).  But from Beckett, James knew it was a way of feeling out his weaknesses.  So he just nodded courteously and replied, "I'm quite well this morning, Lord Beckett?  And yourself?"

Beckett returned with a smile as thin as a knife blade.  "I'm overjoyed that the rain decided to depart," he said.

Only James knew that this was an oblique reference to the bride, and offered Beckett a thin smile of his own.

A quarter-hour after that, which James spent socialising uncomfortably with these people he had once known and been reasonably comfortable with but from which he now felt a distance, the Governor's carriage arrived.  He knew the moment Stella emerged—though he couldn't see her, he heard the chiming bells, and felt the soft breezes begin to swirl through the room, bringing a welcome coolness in their wake.

Not for the first time, he pondered the convenience of taking Stella as his wife.

The guests migrated to their seats, filling only two rows of pews.  James and Theodore stood to the right of the altar, the priest in the centre.  He could see Lord Beckett in the very front, on the bride's side.  Won't Stella just love that, James thought cynically, feeling irrationally angry at the man for intruding here.  Yes, he was the reason and inspiration and provider for most of what had happened recently, and as patron to the groom he had a right to attend, but neither James nor Stella liked him.

He forcibly ejected Beckett from his mind when the music began—of all the things to consider on this most important day, James didn't consider Cutler Beckett of ultimate importance.  Unfortunately, the thoughts supplied in lieu of Beckett made his nervousness increase tenfold, and by the time Anne Witcher (one of the only woman in Port Royal Stella actually liked, and who had thus been asked to stand up with her), looking cool and serene in a gown of sea-foam green, walked gracefully down the aisle to take Theodore's arm, James was almost perspiring, despite the breeze Stella had directed to flow through the chapel.  Discreetly wiping his sweaty palms on his breeches, James took a deep breath, reaching for serenity.

Of course, it was all for naught, since his breath wooshed out of him in a swift rush once Stella stepped through the door.

It surprised him; he'd always heard about grooms being struck breathless upon beholding their brides, and certainly the-woman-he-must-not-think-upon had made his air intake erratic in the past... but this was Stella.  Tiny, skinny, birdlike Stella.

But today, she'd come as close to beautiful as she would ever get, and James was... impressed.  Her gown was all soft shades of blue and grey, like the sky earlier this morning, full of frothy bits of lace.  She looked like a cloud as she floated towards him, anchored only by Weatherby's arm.  The comb he'd given her gleamed in her black hair as it tumbled down her back and mingled with the lace veil on her head.

Almost unconsciously, his eyes darted to where Beckett sat.  The Lord's expression was carefully bland, his facial features arranged into an appreciative smile... but it was his eyes that gave him away.  James felt a cold spike of fear through his jitters, but it was soothed when Stella glided calmly past him without so much as glancing in Beckett's direction.

That's my girl.

Though when he returned his gaze to Stella, James was surprised to notice that she was nearly as pale as the lace on her gown.  Her lips were quirked in that almost-smile that she wore in public, and her eyes were blank.  As she came to stand at his left, the breezes she wrapped around her tugged restlessly at his clothing as well.

She's afraid, his mind whispered.

But there was no time to ponder it, though, since the priest began to speak.

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man's innocence, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men's carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained."

James let the words wash over him.  He spared one brief, half-formed wistful thought about how he'd wished to have Elizabeth in this same position once, but then tucked it deep, deep down into the depths of his heart where it wouldn't hurt Stella. He could feel Weatherby glancing at him—perhaps thinking along the same lines, judging from the tension in Stella's jaw, and the restless nature of the breezes that whirled around them.  He wanted to reach out and grasp Stella's hand, give her what reassurance he could that he didn't think less of her, that he was happy enough to be marrying her... but this was a solemn occasion, and he couldn't just take her hand when he wanted.

“First, it was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name..."

Would they be gifted, like Stella?  Would there always be a part of their lives he couldn't touch?  Or was it just a peculiarity partial to the female line?  A swift, sweet daydream danced through his thoughts, of himself and a lanky young boy with Stella's keen gaze and imperious chin going down to look at the ships in the harbour as Stella and a pretty young girl with chestnut-coloured curls and bright green eyes bent over the battered old grimoire.

Perhaps having children with Stella would not be at all bad.

"Secondly, it was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body..."

James wasn't sure what he felt as he pondered this adage—anticipation, dread, fear... dear God, he was going to take Stella—Black Stella Bell—to his bed.  She was cold as ice most of the time, and castrated people, and surely still virginal.  Would it be awkward and awful, and always be awkward and awful, or would she thaw as time went on?

He devoutly hoped for the latter.

"Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity..."

Well, at least he was fully confident in this arena.  Stella was his best friend.  Even if they weren't going to be married, he'd have still wanted her near him.  He knew he could count on her for anything, anywhere, any time.  Drunk or sober, she had always helped him along.

He hoped he could one day repay the favour.

"Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can show any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace."

The fear returned, and James felt ever particle of his being quiver as the silence stretched.  Would Beckett say anything?  Would his patron stand and announce that he wanted the fey young woman beside him?  Would Stella agree, and vanish from his side like a wisp of cloud, only to bestow herself on another man?

For a moment that seemed like an eternity, the silence stretched, and it felt like his future hung in the balance.

But then, finally, the vicar turned to him. The moment was broken.  The wedding went forth.

"Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?" the parson asked.

"I will," James replied firmly.  And he would—he'd never approved of the casual disregard the marriage vows received from many upper class gentlemen.  He'd intended to be true to Elizabeth, when he'd asked for her hand, and his intentions had not changed with the bride.  Even besides the fact that Stella could curse him into an early grave, he had just given his word to be true to her.

Then it was Stella's turn.  "Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?"

Her "I will," was much softer, but the breeze no doubt carried her words to all the ears she felt needed to hear it.

"Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?" the vicar inquired.

"I do," Governor Swann replied tremulously, eyes faraway.

When Weatherby placed Stella's hand in his, James discovered it was cold and clammy, but since he now had a reason for having her hand in his, he pressed gently on her fingers and lightly moved his thumb across the back of her skin.  He was rewarded with a measure of warmth that sparked in her dark eyes as her expression became more of a real smile instead of a mask painted on for the witnesses.  It made it easier to say what he now needed to.

"I, James, take thee, Stella, to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth," he intoned seriously, looking down into Stella's black eyes.

The faint smile on her face grew warmer, and her voice got louder and stronger as she spoke the vows in return.  "I, Stella, take thee, James, to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey—" though he doubted that Stella would ever actually obey him (she was like a cat about it, really—she'd only obey him if it was something she had a mind to do anyway), "...till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth."

James released her fragile hand only for a moment, turning to take the slender silver band from Theodore.  He'd commissioned the ring from the silversmith almost immediately upon his return to Port Royal with Stella in tow, and the craftsman had finished it in time for the wedding.  He was glad of it—James wanted to make sure that the ring he gave her was his, since she'd provided her own engagement ring.

The band was simple, not set with anything, but was engraved in a simple pattern of swirling lines that had reminded James of the wind the moment he'd seen it.  And on the inside was etched a saying from Tertullianus which read: Certus Est, Quia Impossibile.  It meant "it is certain, because it is impossible"; it rather fittingly summarised the way Stella seemed to look at life.  Besides, the Latin language was something they both shared and enjoyed.

"With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen," James announced.

The rest of the ceremony went by in a whirl, and soon enough the two of them were kneeling, side by side.  A fold of Stella's silken gown fell across his leg as she sank to her knees, and James had to stifle a smile as he recalled their disastrous first meeting, when her skirts had fallen on his hands as he'd laid prone on the floor of a tavern and she'd castrated a man to save his life.  They'd come quite a distance since then.

Finally, the parson finished his prayer, and announced, "Forasmuch as James and Stella have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth either to other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a ring, and by joining of hands; I pronounce that they be man and wife together, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

"Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder."

And as he helped Stella to her feet and turned to face the congregation (noting as he did that Stella's face had, thankfully, gained a bit of colour), James thought smugly, I hope you heard that, Lord Beckett.


Unknown to Admiral and Mrs. Norrington, they were thinking along very similar lines.  Before they departed down the aisle of the chapel, both husband and wife turned, nearly in unison, to meet the eyes of Lord Beckett.  While James merely met Beckett's blue eyes evenly as he tucked his wife's slender hand matter-of-factly into the crook of his arm, Stella arched her chin in the proud manner Beckett had already come to despise and smiled.

As the newlyweds passed him, Lord Beckett nodded in acknowledgement to the Admiral's claim, but the sharp smile on his lips and the slow, deliberate nature of his applause as his pale eyes lingered on the bride indicated to any who cared to look that Lord Beckett had designs of some sort on Stella Norrington.

Very few, however, cared to look.

Chapter Text

It wasn't until after supper that the newly-married Norringtons had an occasion to relax.

"Thank goodness that's over with," James sighed, sinking into a chair in the sitting room and stretching his long legs out in front of him.

"I concur wholeheartedly," his new wife agreed, alighting gracefully onto the settee.

Stella had been particularly breezy today, James noted, watching the lace of her gown settle around her like morning mist—always rather distant and airy, flitting from place to place and speaking with everyone, harder to keep hold of than a fist full of cloud.  "Has it been very trying?" he inquired sympathetically.

She shrugged.  "A bit," she admitted wryly.  "But now it's over."

"It is.  And you've finally made your debut into Port Royal society—rather successfully, too," James noted.  "Everyone I spoke with found you entirely charming."  Indeed, the overwhelming admiration had confused him, and he'd had to stop himself from asking if it truly was Stella that was being spoken of.

"I was trying very hard to appear so," she replied, answering his unasked question.  "The majority of the town does not care much for Lord Beckett.  If I can get them to prefer myself—which, since I have Governor Swann on my side, is already nearly half-done—then I have something he does not."

He rolled his eyes.  "You are the most appallingly unromantic woman I have ever known," he informed her.  "You spent our wedding day plotting against Lord Beckett?  Couldn't you have called a truce?"

"He didn't," Stella pointed out.

James sighed again, and rubbed his face tiredly.  "You know, I didn't really expect you and he to start an outright war when I introduced you."

"Nor did I.  But he wants things from me that I cannot give, and if I don't resist him he'll take them by force.  I'm sorry if it distresses you," she added apologetically.

"Just... don't put me in the middle, please?" he requested tentatively.

"Don't worry, dear.  If Lord Beckett and I do decide to murder each other, we shall make a point of doing so in a location suitably removed so as not to be bothersome to you," she drawled sarcastically in return.

"Yes, I would be so very upset if you got blood all over these lovely new carpets," he quipped sardonically in return.

Stella laughed.  "That would never do!"

James just smiled.  He'd been gratified by Stella's subtle delight at her new home—their new home.  Since the reception had ended earlier in the afternoon, the Norringtons had adjourned to their new home, and Stella had spent the time acquainting herself with the household, the housekeeper, and the way everything was run.  She was constantly trailing her fingers over things and across the walls—a sign of acceptance, since James knew she tried not to touch anything in places she didn't care for.  He had every confidence that she'd keep everything organised, but was also greatly looking forward to seeing what kind of mark she'd leave on the house.

Her Tortugan residence had bottles and herbs and oils everywhere, along with charts and other paranormal paraphernalia on nearly every available surface.   And while he didn't expect she'd be so overt about her witchcraft now that she was a respectable married woman, he was curious about what little bits would overflow.  Would the spellbook take its place on the bookshelf?  Would her star-charts be kept in the drawing room?  Would the kitchen host the ingredients she needed for her spells?

At the very least, James expected that the house would always be cool and breezy.

Stella went on, after a moment.  "I believe we'll be having callers within a day or two," she noted.

"A guess, or a guess?" James inquired.

"The latter.  The broom fell over as I passed," she replied.  Then she smirked.  "Also, I invited several ladies to tea."

James just snorted.  "Of course."  Still, he couldn't but be glad that Stella seemed to like at least some of the inhabitants of Port Royal.  Having friends would be good for her, and it would give her something to do besides rattle around the house, do magic, and be at the centre of a new set of rumours.

"And you needn't worry," Stella said, watching him carefully.  "I can play the society lady when the time calls for it.  There will be no stains to your reputation."

Sensing that she was feeling defensive, James merely shrugged and replied mildly, "I wasn't worried.  I support you entirely—I think it will be pleasant to expand your circle of acquaintances.  The society on Tortuga was rather limited."

"It certainly was.  I think I will enjoy a wider variety of people, and few of the ladies are quite bearable."  She sounded surprised. "I enjoyed it.  The wedding breakfast today, I mean," Stella added.

"I enjoyed the cake," James agreed.

As discussed, the cake had been white with candied fruit (when the traditional fruitcake had been suggested, Stella had firmly declined, saying that she didn't care for it and wanted to enjoy at least one aspect of her own wedding).

He paused for a moment, then decided to soldier on.  "Did you enjoy the rest of it?  I noticed in the church that your hands were quite cold."

"Pre-wedding jitters," she said dismissively.

He rather doubted that was it, but knew her tone was meant to discourage further discussion on the subject.  Making a mental note to pursue the matter (or not, if appropriate) later, he nodded.  "You looked very lovely," he noted, feeling as though he ought to compliment his wife at least once.

"Thank you."  She stared off into the distance.  "And now we're married."

"Surreal, isn't it?"

"Entirely." 


 

Things got more surreal.  Since they'd been up early that morning, both James and Stella were tired, and retired early as well.  They did not look at each other on their way upstairs.  Both knew what was coming, but neither wanted to speak it aloud.

Stella sat in her dressing room, nervously playing with the tie of her robe.  Estrella had already left, after smiling at her mistress in a significant way, leaving Stella alone and in a state of both anticipation and dread.  Dread, because it would probably hurt quite a bit, and because it was James.  And anticipation... because it was James.

A glance in the mirror showed that her cheeks had flushed pink.  Since the night in the graveyard when she first recognised her physical attraction to her friend, Stella had carefully suppressed it, as she did with other sentiments and sensations she didn't want to feel.  Yet it was still there, lurking below the surface in a box she kept at the back of her mind.  And tonight, she could open the box and feel it—after all, she and James were newly married.  They were expected to share a bed (and if they didn't, she could bet that Lord Beckett would know about it soon enough, and use that knowledge for his own purposes).

No, Stella told herself firmly.  Lord Beckett won't be considered tonight.  You owe your husband that much.

The door between the rooms opened, and Stella pivoted in her chair to see James standing tentatively on the threshold.  His hair was loose and hanging around his face in gentle molasses-brown waves, and there was just a hint of stubble on his cheeks.  Gone was the blue-and-gold admiral's uniform, and in its place a simple green dressing gown and white linen nightshirt that made his eyes the deep green of the jungle at dawn.

He was terribly handsome.

The attraction made her stomach lurch with its rapidity and intensity, and instead of shoving it back into the box, Stella let it rush through her body.  She felt her cheeks flush pink, and then the blush spread down her neck and beyond, even as her hands began to shake slightly and fissions of fear ran up her spine.

James smiled tentatively.  "Good evening."

"Good evening," Stella breathed in return.

"You look... I've never seen you so informal," her husband stuttered slightly.

Stella raised a brow, and shoved the quaver in her voice away.  "Well, this is my bedroom," she pointed out.

Now James' cheeks were just as rosy as hers.  "I... yes.  I hope the decorations meet your preferences... if not, you may always redecorate... but I recalled how much you favoured green—"

It was true.  James had made sure that the furnishings of Stella's boudoir were all in soft shades of green and turquoises with faint hints of blues and yellows—it was entirely lovely, like a sunrise over the ocean. 

And interior decorating was the last thing she wanted to hear about at the moment.

"James," she interrupted, her lips curling in an indulgent smile.

James trailed off into silence, flushing a deeper red.  As she rose from her dressing table, he blurted suddenly, "May I touch your hair?"

Her eyes immediately darted to his face, before dropping to the floor.  "Of course," she replied.  She bit back the further reply that he was now her husband, and he could cut all her hair off if the mood so took him.   James has certainly made me into a paragon of restraint, she thought wryly.

But once James was close to her, the majority of rational thought was drowned out by the frantic galloping of her heart.  And when his large, gentle hands reached up and started stroking her loose hair, she felt like her knees were about to give out.  She'd never stood so very close to someone who wasn't related before, let alone a man who made her stomach fill with snakes and was slowly running his fingers through her hair.

"I always admired your hair," James murmured.  "It was so sleek and dark.  I wondered what it would be like to touch it."

"I imagine you thought more of pulling it out at the beginning of our acquaintance," Stella said, nearly purring and swooning and shaking, all at the same time.

"I would sooner destroy a stained glass window," James protested, gathering her hair into a loose bun, before letting it tumble free again.  "But I did give consideration to chopping off your head entirely. Then I could've enjoyed your hair without the rest of you..."

Stella just chuckled, eyes still closed as she savoured the feeling of his hands in her hair.  "I would've just picked up my head and gone after you with knives."

A moment passed, before Stella's eyes opened and met James' bright green ones. Then both of them burst into laughter.

"You're absurd," James informed her, hands still buried in her hair.

"I'm absurd?" she said, mock-offended, but still smiling.  "You're the one who apparently wanted to cut off my head!  What a thing to say to one's wife," she scolded.  She felt glad for the laughter, though—it had dispelled most of her nervousness.  Despite everything else, James was still her strange, silly friend.

His hands stilled for a moment, and Stella could see he was gathering his courage for something.  When he did pluck up his gumption, it was to make a request in a low voice.  "Stella... may... may I kiss you?"

She felt her cheeks pale, then flush with a vengeance.  It occurred to her that, though they were married, James hadn't ever had an occasion to kiss her, yet.   Now was as good a time as any... and it might make everything that would follow tonight a little less intimidating if they started small and worked their way up.

So she lowered her lashes and simply murmured, "All right."

One of James' hands went to her chin, and tilted it upward.  Stella lifted her eyes to his, then dropped her gaze again, made nervous by the intensity in his looks.  Her stomach gave a great, huge lurch when his lips finally pressed against hers, and her hands unconsciously went to the lapels of his dressing gown.

Stella had only ever been kissed once before—by a pirate captain who thought to woo her.  She hadn't given him permission, and she hadn't liked him very much, and she'd hexed him terribly immediately afterwards.  It had been wet and too close and she'd never thought much of kissing since.

But this was different.

James wasn't rough—he held her like she was a bird, tenderly and carefully, as though she'd flee or shatter if he was too rough.  The pressure of his lips was not unpleasant, and the slide of his skin on hers made her insides shake.  He smelled of soap, and salt, and James, and his lips were slightly chapped, and there was a hint of stubble on his face...

She leaned into her husband, and did something curious—for her.  She surrendered.

Surrender was not something usually found in Stella's proud nature, but she did know when she was outclassed, and she did know how to bend with grace.  Grace and style were far more important than even than her own pride.  She'd once told James that a person reached a point where if they surrendered one more thing, they would cease to be themselves.  The most important things about herself were her gifts, her pride, and her flair for elegance.  If she lost those things, she would loose Stella. Thus, she chose her moments of surrender with care, and this was one of the moments that wouldn't hurt her at all.

In fact, it might just make things a little more pleasant.

James seemed to sense the change in her posture, since the kiss suddenly became a little less... delicate.  Suddenly one of his hands was cradling her neck as he pressed his lips more firmly onto hers, and his other hand was at the small of her back, pulling her closer.  And then suddenly she was pressed against James from breasts to knees, her arms instinctively sliding from his lapels to twine around his neck as she rose on her toes to diminish the distance between their mouths.

Stella felt everything.  From the tickle of James' wavy hair on her hands and arms, to the drag of his chapped lips as they moved against hers, the warmth of the air from his nose against her cheek.  Their bare feet were touching, Stella's toes brushing against the toes of James on the left, and touching the arch of his foot on the right.  She could feel the folds of his garments and the faint heat of his body through her thin linen nightgown, and... and something else...

That "something else" was so very disconcerting to her that she, for a brief moment, lost her poise.  Her left ankle wobbled, and she nearly fell over.  Thankfully, her arms were still hooked around James' neck, so she didn't actually crumple to the floor, but she did have to break the kiss in order to steady herself.

James chuckled, hands sliding immediately to her waist to anchor her, and his voice was deep and perhaps a little rougher than usual.  Stella's cheeks flamed crimson, and she lowered her eyes to trace the pattern of her husband's dressing gown.

A soft "Stella," breathed almost like a prayer, drew her attention back to James, who rested his forehead against her once she turned her face towards his.  Their noses almost touched, and Stella peered up at him through her lashes, noting that his green eyes have darkened to the colour of the forest at dusk, when the very first stars were beginning to appear in the sky.

Her hands returned to resting on his chest; she felt his heart beating under the palm of her right hand.  His hands were placed on her shoulders, though they slid up and down her upper arms and glided through her hair every so often.

Stella wasn't entirely sure how long they stood there, holding each other and breathing in unison, but it was... not exactly peaceful, due to the fissions of something leaping all over her body, but pleasant.  She felt content.  The terrible nervousness that had sat in her stomach since retiring had vanished, and she felt she could face the coming activities with something approaching equanimity.

"James," she murmured.

Her husband gave her a smile, then scooped her up into his arms and placed her on the bed.  Stella made a noise that she was hesitant to call a squeal (because that was so very undignified), but settled herself serenely on the bed once she was set down, arranging her nightgown and her hair.  Then she looked up at her husband, still hesitating at the side of the bed, looking down at her with an expression that made something in the vicinity of her chest go squishy and warm.

"James," she repeated, turning to rest on her side, and beckoning him with a languid gesture.

And without saying anything, James removed his dressing gown and joined her in the bed.

The rest of the night became a blur in Stella's memory, a melange of feelings and sensations that, though she tried, she could never quite force into lucidity.  There were several moments seared with painful clarity into her mind... the mortification she felt when she was disrobed, the awkwardness of finding the correct arrangement of James' lanky limbs above her more delicate body, the terror preceding entry, the stinging, pinching pain of penetration, wishing they could stop but knowing that it wouldn't make any difference while the wind rattled the shutters outside.

He'd apologised, of course, for causing her pain.  But it hadn't been so very bad, she supposed; the time she'd fallen off the roof had hurt worse. And though the discomfort itself had never really gone away, it had been joined by a rather pleasurable sensation and the enjoyment of watching James come quite undone.

From maiden to matron...

The transition hadn't taken very long, Stella mused, wincing slightly as she settled down to sleep.  Perhaps she would add mother to that list soon. 


 

James awoke to discover himself alone in the bed.  Frowning, he pushed himself up onto his elbows to look for Stella—she was meant to be here, wasn't she?

Ah, there she was.  His new wife was standing by the mirror, in her white nightgown, with her glorious black hair falling loose down her back.  She turned to look at him, revealing seven lit candles reflecting in the mirror.

"James," she said to him, spinning around as her hair spread around her like a dark cloud.  She came towards him, and sat on the edge of the bed.  " Caelum videre iussit, et erectos ad sidera tollere vultus," she said.

Her black hair settled around her, revealing a child in her arms.  The baby had dark hair and a star on her brow—James knew the child was a girl.  He reached out, and Stella placed the child within the cradle of his arms.  And then he knew—knew like Stella always knew things—that this child was his daughter, his and Stella's daughter... 


 

His eyes snapped open, and James, for a swift moment, was disappointed that it had been a dream.

Shaking the cobwebs from his head, he glanced around the room.  Judging from the extremely faint light peeking in through the curtains, it was very early in the morning.  He looked back down at the bed—Stella was still sleeping.

James smiled, and lay back down next to her, gazing at her face.  He'd never been in a position to see her asleep before, but Stella was almost pretty when she was unconscious.  Every waking mannerism that made her more unattractive fell away, and her face was in a state of complete relaxation.

She'd surprised him, last night.  He hadn't expected her to be so... responsive.  Indeed, James had fully expected Stella to be as cold in the bedroom as she tended to be elsewhere, and had expected the wedding night to be rather awkward and embarrassing.

...Which it had been, of course, but mostly due to the fact that he was deflowering his best friend.

She was so delicate, James had feared the entire night long that he'd crush her.  When he'd pulled up the hem of her nightgown, he'd discovered that her legs were as spindly as the rest of her, and that her pale skin was almost translucent along her inner arms and along her neck and right under her petite breasts; he could see the shadows of her veins in the muted candlelight.

"You need to eat more," he recalled blurting.

That led to the discovery that, when Stella blushed, she blushed practically everywhere.  Her glares, however, were much less fearsome when she was mostly naked and brick-red.  "I'll make a point of it," she'd drawled sarcastically, rolling her eyes at him even as the flush crept down her chest.

Positioning himself for entry was another awkward moment, due to the fact that he was so much taller than she was.  After a good deal of wiggling around and tangled bedclothes in which Stella had nearly been strangled by her own nightgown, they finally arrived in a position that was not terribly uncomfortable for either of them.

"Er... shall we take it slowly, or all at once?" James had asked her, as a blush of his own crept up his cheeks.

"'If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly,'" Stella had replied, quoting from Macbeth with a crooked, trembling sort of smile.  Her spidery hands were clenched around the tense muscles of his arms, and she nervously worried her lower lip with her teeth.

He'd felt free to find her attractive, then; to marvel at her ability to quote Shakespeare in bed and fully appreciate her more feminine attributes—she was his wife.  Stella had never been a beauty, and never would be, but she was alluring when she was sprawled beneath him, undressed, with her long black hair snaking around her and looking as apprehensive as he felt.

(After all, James had been with many women (most of which had been Tortugan whores), but he'd never deflowered a virgin before—let alone a virgin who could curse him if she felt so inclined.  Some apprehension, James felt, would not go awry.)

So, he'd rested his weight on his elbows, squirmed into position, and thrust home.

Stella swore violently, and dug her fingernails into his shoulders before raking her them down his arms.

"Stella!" James had gasped, nearly overwhelmed by the combination of pain, pleasure, and the scandalised realisation that his wife could, when so inspired, curse like a sailor.

"Sorry!" Stella had winced in return.

He'd taken it very slowly after that, barely moving for minutes at a time.  Stella's hands remained clenched around his arms, her jaw clenched tight and her expression otherwise neutral.  Eventually, she apparently got tired, or bored, and moved her hands from his arms to his hips.

"Just move," she'd muttered, digging her fingers into his behind and summarily dragging him forward.

His eyes had gone involuntarily cross-eyed at the sensations she caused, but not so much to miss her hiss of pain.  "I am sorry," he'd whispered against her neck, transferring his weight down onto his elbows to bring their faces closer together.

Her black eyes were luminous in the darkness, reflecting the candlelight as they looked into his.  "It needed to be done," she'd murmured in return.  A mysterious smile.  "And now I am a wife."

"My wife," he'd added possessively.

She rolled her eyes and snaked her thin arms around his neck, muttering, "So possessive," in his ear before pressing her lips to his chin, his cheek, and finally his lips.

In the dim morning light, James took stock of things.  While Stella had scored a series of welts down his arms and drawn a bit of blood from his shoulders, she hadn't blown the shutters off the house or hexed him.  Indeed, after the initial discomfort, she actually seemed to be enjoying herself a bit.  She'd been rather reactive and willing to follow his direction; she hadn't laid prone and still, like some high-society wives were supposedly wont to do.

All in all, it hadn't been a bad wedding night.  Not at all.  He was quite pleased that his martial duties would not be as onerous as previously thought.

James ran his hand through her dishevelled black hair, separating a single lock and winding it around his fingers.  Stella made a quiet noise and curled closer against him.

James had always been fascinated by women's long hair, ever since he was younger, and had looked forward to the day when he would marry and could touch his wife's loose hair to his heart's content.  Once, Elizabeth's golden-brown tresses had enthralled him, and he'd wanted nothing more than to have her in Stella's place as he followed the path of the sunstreaks in her hair.  He still preferred golden-brown hair on women, as a matter of fact... but the smooth darkness of his wife's hair was intriguing as well. There were no golden lights in Stella's hair, no languid curls or wild, frizzing locks—just a sheet of black hair, shot through with some deep, dark browns.

Stella made a lazy muttering sound, and he watched as her eyes slowly fluttered open.  Her dark irises were foggy with sleep, and she blinked at him a few time before apparently recalling where she was.  Then she gave him a small, answering smile.  "Good morning, Admiral Norrington," she said, voice husky.

"Good morning, Mrs. Norrington," James replied, feeling a bright prickle of pride and smugness that he not only had someone to address thusly, but that (despite Lord Beckett's inclinations) the title belonged to Stella.

Stella pushed herself up onto one elbow and jerked her chin sharply toward the window.  The curtains sprang apart, letting the watery dawn light filter into the room.  "Early morning," she noted, glancing back at him and blushing as she struggled into a sitting position on the bed, forcing him to release his hold on her hair.

That amused him, for some reason.  "It's a little late for modesty, Starling," he pointed out wryly.

The blush grew in intensity.  "One cannot shed a lifetime's modesty in the span of one night," she sniffed.

"I think one did rather well," he retorted cheerfully, waggling his eyebrows at her.  The corners of her lips curled upwards, and Stella placed her spindly hand on his chest.  "Your hands are cold," he noted.

"My hands are always chilly," she admitted, lightly trailing her fingers up and down his chest, raking her nails gently through the coarse hairs that sprung from his skin.

The temperature of her hands didn't much bother him, though, as Stella curiously ran her fingers across his torso and arms.  She looked younger, with an expression of unbridled interest on her face as she perused his body.

"How did you get this?" she inquired, touching a long scar that ran across his ribs.

"Cutlass," he replied, after a moment of thought.  "It was a pirate attack when I was a lieutenant."

"It looks deep."

"It was.  They didn't think I'd make it, for a while."

Her hand fluttered to his left arm, and the scar there.  "This one?"

"Pistol shot when I was captain of The Interceptor.  I barely noticed it until Gillette pointed out that I was bleeding."

The thin scars on his right leg, faintly ticklish as Stella traced the straight lines.  "Those," he said, without having to be asked, "were splinters from a cannon shot.  It hit the rail, which splintered.  I got hit with several large splinters."

"It's a dangerous life," Stella noted, running her fingers up and down his leg.

"Sometimes," James admitted.  "Often it's long stretches of sailing punctuated by mad rushes of battles and chases."

"You enjoy it," Stella accused him, smirking.

James just smiled.

She placed her hand above his heart, fingers splayed out like a starfish.  He placed his hand above hers, and they sat in quiet repose for a time.

"We should get up," Stella sighed, after a time.

James shrugged as best he could while lying prone and reached out to claim another lock of Stella's hair.  "There is no real need.  We have no obligations today—or tomorrow.  It's our honeymoon, however short it may be," he noted.  A shadow passed across her face, and James pounced on it before she could shove it away.  "What is it?"

"I have a very bad feeling," she confessed quietly.  "I had a dream last night, that we stood on a beach as a storm rolled in.  And just before it broke over our heads, you walked away into the Kraken's maw, and left me alone in the rain.  I am not at ease with the idea of you leaving me to face Davy Jones with only Beckett and Mercer with you."

"We'll have the flagship—"

"And what is that against a Kraken?" Stella interrupted, raising a brow.

"That's why we're meeting in the shallows on the other side of the island."

"I still worry," she said after a moment.  "I suppose, then, that now would be a good time to give you your wedding present."

"Later," James insisted, tugging gently on the lock of hair he'd wound around his fingers.  He didn't want her worries to overshadow the gift he had for her.

There was still a slight furrow between her brows, and James reached out to smooth it with his thumb, inadvertently tickling Stella's pointed nose with her own hair.  She wrinkled her nose at him, but the worry vanished from her eyes.

"I had a dream last night as well," James remarked, attempting to further distract his wife.

"Really?"  Stella flopped onto her stomach and rested her chin on her hands.  "Of what?"

"I dreamed you brought me a baby, wearing a star on her head," he replied simply.

Stella's reaction surprised him.  "Really?" she breathed, unbridled interest shining in her dark eyes.  She pushed herself up and leaned closer to him.  "What else?"

"Nothing... you just brought me a baby," James replied, confusedly.

"Wearing a star?"

"Yes."

"What room were we in?"

"This one."

"Day or night?"

"Night... there were candles."

"How many?"

"I don't remember!  Why the inquisition?" he demanded confusedly.  "It isn't as though I have significant dreams, like you."

"Nonsense," Stella dismissed breezily.  "Everyone can have significant dreams."

"But I'm not... er, gifted."

"Admittedly," she agreed.  "But... magic, mysticism, the spirit realm, whatever... these things aren't the sole territory of those of us who are.  It's everywhere.  Everyone could sense it at one point in their lives, but as children grow they learn to ignore it.  Although it can still be present in some people as a form of instinct."

"Is that how instinct works?" James said, understanding.  "The more intuitive can still... still tap into this magic, or whatever it is?"

"Exactly.  And since people are most open to the spirit realm when asleep, I wouldn't be so quite so quick to dismiss your dreams," Stella said pointedly.  She tapped him gently on the forehead—right where the baby's star had rested, he recalled—and told him sternly, "Trust your instincts."

"Yes, dear," he replied, rolling his eyes slightly.

Stella poked him again, before sitting back and demanding imperiously, "Tell me more about the dream."

James just shook his head.  "There wasn't much to it," he said simply.  "I woke up—in the dream—and saw you standing by the mirror.  There were candles on the table.  You turned to come to the bed, and when you sat down you said something to me in Latin, and handed me a baby with a star on her forehead."

"What did I say?"

James thought on this for a second.  Usually he didn't remember many of his dreams, but perhaps Stella was right and this was a more extraordinary one, since he soon recalled exactly what she said to him.  "A quote from Ovid.  'He bid them look at the sky and lift their faces to the stars.'"

Immediately once the recitation had finished, Stella was out of bed and tugging on his hand.  "Come, we must go look at the stars."

"But the sun is rising," James protested, even as he allowed himself to be pulled to his feet.

"That will simply make them easier to count," Stella said dismissively.

"I don't think that's what it meant," James remarked as he came to a stop by the window.  Still, he humoured his wife and counted the stars he could see from the window.  "Eight," he said.

Stella shook her head.  "Seven," she returned.  "One of them is Venus."

That number rang a bell in James' mind.  "I think there were seven candles in the dream," he announced.

"That fits," Stella agreed.  "Seven is a very significant number."  She returned to the bed after tugging the curtains closed and seated herself grandly on the messy bed.

James had to stifle a laugh—Stella's dramatic nature was such a part of her, it seemed, that she acted like a queen even when she was wearing her nightclothes and sitting on the sheets they had enthusiastically soiled the night before.  "So what does it mean?" he asked, sitting next to her.

"We're going to have a daughter," Stella replied casually.

He didn't miss the flash of disappointment that crossed her face when, instead of being surprised, he just nodded and replied mildly, "Yes, I gathered that.  But your family produces daughters anyway—there's no need for me to dream about it."

"But it's telling us how," Stella replied.

James burst into laughter.  "Stella, I thought you already knew how babies were made," he gasped, recalling one of her first quips at the beginning of their acquaintance.

Stella flushed and nudged him with her elbow.  "If we want a child—and James... I want a child—then we'll have to copulate seven more times," she informed him matter-of-factly.

His jaw dropped open.  Stella, surprisingly, didn't laugh, but just smirked at him and raised her eyebrows.

She was serious.

After a moment, he managed to gather his thoughts together.  "Er... are you entirely sure?"

"Yes.  You saw seven candles and we counted seven stars with our eyes," Stella replied firmly.  "Therefore, seven somethings must past before the child can be conceived.  Since we haven't got seven days before you depart and break the continuous chain, therefore we must copulate seven more times in order to ensure her conception."

James pondered this for a moment.  He remembered the dream-child.  He remembered how much he'd enjoyed copulating, to use Stella's more delicate term.  But then he remembered Beckett, and his duties.  He did want children—he'd always wanted children, and had always intended to have some, once he was established and married.  He was now established, he was now married, but... "Are you sure now is the right time?"

Stella looked down at her folded hands.  "It might be the only time.  Life is uncertain.  I do not know whether or not we will have another chance to create that little girl, so we had best make hay while the sun shines," she pointed out quietly.

She was worried again, and since she was making discreet mention of his own death, she was worrying him as well.  James supposed he'd have to distract her—fortunately, she'd handed him the method with which to do so.  "Well then," he sighed melodramatically, "I suppose I shall have to do my marital duty and make some hay.  And I notice that the sun is currently shining..."  Then he waggled his eyebrows at his wife, leaving no doubt as to his intentions.

Stella went brilliant red and started laughing, ducking her head in embarrassment.  But she didn't protest when James kissed her again, and pressed her back onto the bed as he drew the hem of her nightgown up her legs.  Indeed, she arched up against him and purred, "This will count as number one," in his ear.

Chapter Text

It had gone too fast.

Their honeymoon—a grand title for a weekend off that the Norringtons had spent hidden in their home, scarcely ever leaving the bedroom—had ended with the sunrise on Monday morning, and now it was time for the Admiral to report for duty.  It didn't seem entirely fair that the newlyweds were going to be separated on what was only their third day of marriage, but both James and Stella were well acquainted with the intrinsic unfairness of life (and Lord Beckett).  Admittedly, James would only be gone for a day—perhaps two—but the seclusion was over, and they'd have to start entertaining upon his return.

James could tell that Stella was already fretting about him, and he hadn't even put on his hat.  Today was the day The Endeavour, the flagship of the fleet, went to confront The Flying Dutchman, Lord Beckett's newest acquisition, and Mrs. Norrington was clearly dubious about Beckett's ability to keep his men safe.  "If you keep frowning like that, your face will stick that way," he remarked.

Stella cocked her head quizzically.  "I beg your pardon?"

He shrugged.  "It's one of those time-honoured maternal axioms that mothers use when they want you to stop worrying."

"You're not my mother," Stella pointed out, quirking a brow at her husband.

"No, but I thought you might want some examples," James replied loftily.  "After all, you're going to be a mother in nine months yourself."

A swift, sweet smile flashed across Stella's face, and her hands unconsciously went to rest on her abdomen.  If his dream was correct—and Stella certainly seemed confident—then, even now, their child was growing in her womb.

But then the worry returned, sitting fixedly in the furrow between Stella's brows.  "Do try not to get yourself killed," she requested coolly.  "I'd rather prefer not to raise our child alone."

James rolled his eyes.  "Be calm, Starling.  Nothing is going to happen.  Lord Beckett has so much of an upper hand he may as well just hit Davy Jones on the head," he pointed out wryly.  "Besides, The Endeavour is such a fine ship he'll risk no harm coming to it, and even more importantly, you've woven so many protective spells into my uniform that it will likely turn away bullets."

It was true.  For his wedding present, Stella had given him another uniform for his new admiral's position—something he was rather grateful for, since officer's clothes tended to be expensive.  And the first time he'd shrugged the coat onto his shoulders, he felt the hair-raising sensation of magic.  Upon closer inspection, he discovered a myriad of arcane symbols embroidered on the cloth in fine, subtle threads, nearly invisible to all but those who sought the embroidery out.  Stella told him she'd put all the protection into the outfit that she could.

James hadn't known she could embroider.

"It might," she agreed, smiling faintly.  "But I'd rather you not test that theory.  If anyone is going to shoot you, it'll be me."

"I'll be sure to inform the pirates of this development," he agreed solemnly.  It wasn't until the two of them were strolling towards the docks as the sun rose over the treetops that James remembered to ask his wife something that had been bothering him for a while.  "Starling, how in God's name did Davy Jones manage to cut out his own heart?"

Stella frowned slightly.  "I'm not entirely sure.  If I had to make a guess, I'd wager he had an enchanted knife.  The chest was probably enchanted too, to keep the heart alive and beating—or perhaps not, since it remained living even when removed from the chest. I honestly don't know anything beyond that... it was probably a ritual of some kind," she replied.  Tapping her index finger thoughtfully against her parasol, she added, "I'd also wager that The Flying Dutchman is not a normal ship by any means... I think Davy Jones may have tied his life to it, in lieu of the heart.  Which means that the ship was out of the common way even before its Captain's impromptu surgery. How terribly curious..." There was a strange light in her black eyes, and a distant smile on her lips that worried him for some reason.

"No," James said immediately.

Startled out of her contemplation, Stella looked confusedly at him.  "I beg your pardon?"

"No," he repeated.  "Absolutely not.  You are not going anywhere near The Flying Dutchman.  I don't care how curious you find it, I don't want you anywhere near that ship."

She scowled at him.  "I don't want you near it, either."

"Yes, but the difference here is that going near the Dutchman is my duty, instead of some half-baked curious impulse."

Her voice dropped several degrees.  "James dear, do keep in mind that I don't tell you how to command your fleet," she informed him coldly.

"Meaning what, Stella darling?" he inquired, equally chilly.

"Try not to dictate my relations with matters you can't understand."

James sighed shortly.  "Forgive me for being worried about my probably-pregnant wife."

Stella's brow arched eloquently.  "You've been telling me constantly not to worry for you these past few days.  Don't you think that's a little hypocritical?  After all, I'm not the one off to face the devil of the sea," she pointed out sweetly.

This was not an argument he was going to win.  "Why don't we just agree that you won't interfere in my naval business and I won't interfere in your supernatural business, but with the understanding that we are both free to express our concerns and have them discussed when an aspect of that business distresses us?" he suggested tiredly.

"Agreed," Stella replied, nodding regally.

The subject was dropped, though James noted that Stella was still looking very thoughtful.  They turned a corner, and the docks came into view—beyond them, he could see The Endeavour, floating grandly out where once The Dauntless had been moored.  "You're still thinking about it, aren't you?" he said, mind shying away from contemplating his lost flagship even as he echoed his own thoughts.

"Yes.  I wonder if Davy Jones was ever like me," she replied, angling her parasol to block out more of the sun.  "Paranormal, I mean.  There are other ways he might have used to bind himself to his ship and carve out his heart, but barring divine intervention a measure of supernatural talent makes more sense.  Ockham's razor, and all that."

"Do you want me to ask him about it when I meet him?" James inquired sarcastically.

"Oh, would you, darling?" Stella returned, equally sarcastic.

Their eyes met, and both Norringtons started laughing as they strolled down the dock towards the longboat that would ferry James out to The Endeavour.

"What are your plans in my absence?" he asked.

"I intend to go into town and purchase some new dresses.  This afternoon, I shall pay a call on Madame d'Ascoyne—she extended me an invitation in the receiving line, if you'll recall.  Tomorrow I have invited Miss Witcher and Mrs. Fitzherbert for tea, so I do hope you will return in time for that.  And I really must speak with you about hosting a dinner or a ball or something in the near future—it really would be the done thing."  She smiled.  "Everyday plans of the everyday wife."

"And the fact that all of these 'everyday plans' are endearing you to the town and entrenching your position is coincidental?"

"Of course, dear!" Stella gushed, batting her eyelashes outrageously at him.

James snorted, taking her hand and planting a courtly kiss on the back.  "Do try and stay out of trouble, Starling."

Stella smiled in return, not quite hiding the apprehension in her face.  "Do try and stay safe, my dearest partner of greatness.  And I will want a full accounting of The Dutchman," she added pointedly.

"Yes, dear." 


 

Stella was perusing Dante's Inferno and preparing to retire when her husband returned home.  Hearing the clamour in the front hall, she marked her place in the book and placed it back on the shelf before quitting the library.  "That didn't take very long," she noted.

"We didn't go very far," James returned, removing the gold-trimmed tri-corn from his head and handing it to one of the servants.  "Just far enough along the coast to be off the beaten path, but shallow enough to avoid the Kraken.  Besides, Beckett had several of your strings, and the wind was with us all the way."

The grim notes in his voice were easily apparent, and Stella read tension in every line of his body.  And if she knew him—which she did—James would want the solace of a bottle; it seemed to be his way of dealing with the supernatural things in life he either didn't understand or couldn't control.  However, Stella was one of those things, and she had no intentions of being married to a drunkard.  So...

"You're hungry," she informed him, taking his arm and steering him towards the dining room.

"Actually, I'd rather just have a bit of port—" James demurred.

"You're hungry," Stella repeated, more forcefully, glaring up at her husband.  "I'll have the cook put together a cold supper, you'll eat something, and then you'll tell me all about it."

For a moment, he seemed as though he'd protest.  Then he just sighed a little and gave her a tired look.  "You know, I won't always let you run roughshod over me like this," James warned.

Stella smiled.  "Should you mind your health properly, I'll have no need to," she chided, and—on impulse—reached up to kiss him gently on the cheek.  James' sudden, surprised smile took some of the gravity from his shoulders—and most importantly, forestalled any objections he would have had to the implication of further interference, which had always been one of the things he hated most about her—and he allowed her to lead him into the dining room.

Soon enough, James had been plied with some cold chicken, a couple rolls, and some watered wine, which he was consuming with a gusto that belied his apparent lack of appetite.  "How was your day?" he inquired around mouthfuls of bread.

"Quite pleasant, actually," Stella replied lightly.  "I managed to place an order for several day-dresses, a visiting gown, and a travelling habit.  Tea with Madam d'Ascoyne was quite pleasant.  Beneath the gush and flutter, the lady is actually quite intelligent and has possession of an incredibly droll wit."  She raised a brow.  "And how, pray tell, was your day?"

James frowned slightly, and swallowed his mouthful.  He opened his mouth, then closed it, before taking a gulp of wine.  Setting the glass down firmly, he announced, "Davy Jones has a squid for a beard."

"I beg your pardon?" Stella said.

"He has a squid for a beard.  And a crab's claw on his left hand," James repeated, miming a series of writhing tentacles with his hands.  "His crew are slowly becoming strange, mutant sea-creatures, and his ship sails below the waters."  His green eyes were confused and muddled.  "I don't even know if they're still men underneath the detritus."

Stella's active imagination was unable to picture, with any justice, a captain with a tentacled beard ruling a ship that sailed under the ocean with a crew of creature-man hybrids.  Nor was the picture in James' mind anything more than vaguely threatening shapes and dark shadows.  "Fascinating," she murmured.  Oh, how she wished she could see it!

Her husband snorted.  "That's one word for it," he agreed sourly.  "Personally, I would favour 'terrifying' and 'distressing'.  I have no idea how Lord Beckett was able to face that monster without flinching."

"Beckett knows that he's stronger," Stella pointed out absently, still pondering what manner of enchantments must surely be necessary to permit a galleon to sail underwater.  Who had enchanted it?  Davy Jones himself?  To what purpose?  Before, or after he'd carved out his heart?  And his crew!  What magicks allowed them to breathe underwater?  What spells entwined their bodies with the creatures of the ocean?  Could she recreate those spells?  Oh, what she wouldn't give for an hour to pick the ship apart!  "It's very easy to face anything when you know you have power over it."

"I suppose," James muttered.  "And you're still not going anywhere near that ship."  At her mutinous look, he insisted, "It's not safe, Starling!  Jones submitted, it's true, but not gracefully.  I don't want to think about what he could do to you if you went out for a pleasure inspection.  It's very likely that he'd use you against us.  And I don't think he's a man like you've dealt with before.  I doubt threats of castration will have any effect on him at all, since he's already carved out his own heart to avoid entanglements with women," he said grimly.

"I wouldn't ask Beckett for it, anyway," Stella sniffed, concealing the sting of disappointment.  She knew that this was one thing James would not bend on.  Her ambitions to leave more in the grimoire than even Great-grandmother Isabella would have to remain unfulfilled for now.  So she changed the subject.  "But Jones submitted?"

"He's agreed to do Beckett's bidding," James nodded, adding forebodingly, "for now."

She arched an eyebrow in a wordless inquiry.  James took a deep breath and began to speak.

"We sailed east, out to an inlet west of Rocky Point, which we reached a little after midday.  Lord Beckett had the heart with him, and performed some ritual, once we were anchored, to call Jones to him.  There was a circle, some chalk and quartz, cloves, althea, and dandelion, and a large amount of symbols I didn't understand," he added, before even being asked.

"A standard calling," Stella replied, supplying the interpretation.  "But with althea to boost the heart's natural magic and actually call, since Beckett has no power of his own."

"Well, it was jolly alarming for the men," James grumbled.  "This gentleman—not even an officer and ordering all of us around—suddenly takes out this pulsating bag, draws arcane symbols on the deck, begins chanting, and not five minutes later this nightmarish ship just... just explodes from the sea next to us, full to brimming with monsters!"

"I can see how that might be distressing to the crew," Stella agreed mildly.

James grew quiet.  "I would have given my left arm for the Dauntless and her crew," he confessed, looking down into his lap.  "Those men—what were left of them, anyway—faced the Isla de Muerta with me.  After those damned skeletons, Davy Jones and his crew wouldn't have affrighted them so badly."

His regret bled into the air, as acrid as vinegar to her mental senses and tempered only by the bittersweetness of his longing.  Stella reached out and covered his hand with hers, pressing gently in a wordless show of support.  "It was that bad?" she asked.

"Only about a third of them held position, and those who did were shaking so badly I could see the muskets moving," he replied glumly, twisting his hand up to clasp her fingers.

Stella smiled, and tickled the palm of his hand with her thumb.  "Not everyone is blessed with your fortitude, my dear," she pointed out dryly.  At James' snort, she insisted.  "Truly, James, you have a most remarkable courage in you—more than I have ever seen in any other man in all my life.  I remember being quite impressed during the early days of our acquaintance that I could not scare you into compliance."

"Yes, but there's a slightly difference between being menaced by a skinny girl who can theoretically curse you, and being menaced by a six-foot amalgamation of squid and man who is pointing cannons at you," James pointed out dryly.  Before she could protest the adjective (yes, she was slim, but it was hard to feed oneself when one lived alone and had to fight with pirates every time one needed bread, and there was no theoretically about her powers), her husband continued on.  "Having scared the wits out of half The Endeavor's crew, The Dutchman seemed content to float beside us for a time.  Lord Beckett eventually opened the spyglass, and Jones... he..."  He shook his head.  "I have no idea what he did.  One minute he was on the Dutchman, and the next he was standing in front of me."

Stella's eyes went wide.  "That is a great feat!  I wonder at his skill to manage it," she exclaimed.

"No," James said.

"Must you keep repeating yourself?" she snapped irritably, her excitement doused before it even had a chance to flower.

"Your fascination with that ship makes me deeply uncomfortable, Stella.  I don't want you anywhere near it," he snapped back.  He withered slightly under her venomous glare, but rallied and added, "You told me to trust my instincts, and I have a very ill feeling about that ship.  And why are you so all-fired curious about it, anyway?"

"Because it's fascinating!  One of the most intricate magical workings in the world, if I'm any judge," she replied evasively.

"You've never cared about intricate magical workings before."

"I'd never had one so near to hand before."

"Stella."

Sighing shortly, Stella folded her hands in her lap.  "There is so little magic left in the world," she explained.  "This is the twilight of the supernatural, James.  Very soon it will have been pushed away into corners and niches with no place in the larger world.  This waning began many years ago—to the point where it's quite rare to encounter anything massively paranormal.  I have, at this point, experienced two very large magical presences in my life.  One was my mother.  The other is Tia.

"And now comes The Flying Dutchman, this huge magical thing.  The ship saturated with magic so much that it can defy the laws of physics; its captain can perform magical feats that I couldn't even dream of.  I'm terribly curious about it, yes.  I want to study it.  I want to record it in the grimiore, and take up even more space in the book than my great-grandmother," she admitted.  "But it's more than that, even.  I don't know when I shall ever encounter anything like it again.  Our time—the time of the immaterial and supernatural—is fading, and I don't know if I shall ever have a chance to see it if I don't take the chance now.

"And now that I'm married into respectable society, I've removed myself even farther.  I don't regret it," she added quickly, "since my position will ensure the prosperity of my descendants, but it's very likely we will never be in the presence of so much magic ever again.  I just... I just want to see it before it fades away," she finished quietly.

"I suppose that is understandable," James said after a moment.  "I suppose choosing between the two parts of your life is difficult—the respectable and the magical."

"There was never any choice," Stella replied sourly.  "Mother chose the magical, and I suffered for it.  I swore my children would never suffer for what we are.  And if that means we must downplay our heritage... well, if we chose otherwise, we'd fade with the rest of our world.  I suppose my desire to see The Dutchman is my way of saying farewell."

"I always thought you blended the two elements seamlessly," James remarked after a moment.  "I don't think you'll need to bid farewell—I fully expect to encounter the paranormal throughout our married life."

"Is that a subtle way of saying hell will freeze over before I set foot on that ship?"

"Yes."

"Why does it affright you so?  What happened?" she inquired.

James swallowed heavily.  "After Davy Jones arrived, he stormed right up to Lord Beckett and demanded the return of his heart.  Lord Beckett simply looked back and refused, saying that he was holding it as insurance for good behaviour—that Davy Jones could now consider himself, his crew, and his ship in the employ of the East India Trading Company."

"I imagine that went over quite well."

"Indeed," James agreed sarcastically.  "I believe Jones only just restrained himself from reaching out and snapping Lord Beckett's neck.  Only his ignorance of the location of his heart stopped him."

"Where was the heart, pray tell?" Stella queried.

"My pocket."  Stella's eyes went wide with horror as she realised the implications.  The grim lines on the handsome planes of James' face indicated that he was well aware of the implications as well.  "Beckett chided Jones for his impetuous temper, hinting that any misbehaviour would result in the destruction of the heart.  He then gestured to me, saying something to the effect of, 'And as you can see, your missing organ is well-kept in the hands of Admiral Norrington.'  Naturally, I had to produce the blasted thing, and if looks could kill Davy Jones would've made you a widow this very afternoon," he added cynically.

"That was unkind of him," Stella replied stiffly, trying to conceal the terrible spike of fear the thought of widowhood had inspired in her.  "Lord Beckett may as well have painted a gigantic target on your back."

"I thought Jones would run me through right then and there, when I pulled his heart from my coat," James confessed quietly.  "The look he gave me..."

Stella knew.  She could see the look reflected in his heart the same way she could see Elizabeth's—it had terrified him for a reason he couldn't quite name, and had marked him very deeply for that unnamed fear.  Davy Jones' electric blue eyes were full of a fury and impotent rage that promised revenge and painful retribution once he was in a position to enact it, underlain with revulsion and a pain as profound and dark as the ocean itself.

But, though James didn't understand why the glare disconcerted him so deeply beyond the threat of reprisal for having stolen the heart and held it in his keeping, Stella was willing to venture to guess.  Davy Jones, if the stories were to be believed, had only carved out his heart because he'd been crossed in love.  Though the offending organ was gone, the pain still lingered.  Her husband had been likewise pained by a woman as fierce and changing as the sea, and like Jones, the pain was still with him—blunted and dulled by time and distance, but still niggling at the edges of his heart.  The pain in Jones' eyes found a pale echo, every so often, in James'.

"We but see through a glass darkly," Stella murmured.  That was perhaps the reason the eyes of Davy Jones had left such a mark on James' soul: in many ways, the two men (and she used the term loosely in Jones' case) were not so different.

"I assume you refer to Captain Jones and myself?" James inquired, overhearing her comment and correctly surmising the direction of her thoughts.

"Yes."

Looking down at his hands, James confessed, "I wonder if she is still alive."

There was no need to clarify who the "she" in question was.  "I don't know," Stella replied evenly.  Then, grudgingly, like teeth being pulled, "I could scry for her, if you like."

"No," James declined after a moment.  "No.  I just... we should... I need to let her go," he said firmly.  "There is no hope anymore—I may never see her again, and even if I do, there can be nothing between us."  His voice grew quiet.  "I wonder, sometimes, whether I still truly love her, or if I'm merely infatuated with my image of her.  I don't suppose I ever really knew her," he finished wistfully.

Stella wondered how much farther her opinion of Elizabeth Swann could sink.  "Perhaps Davy Jones won't kill you, then," she said coolly.  "If he recognises something kindred in you..."

"Oh, he'll kill me," James interrupted, with a kind of morbid cheer.  "He all but promised to, the moment he gets his heart back.  Beckett is, of course, first on his list, but I fancy I've been flattered with the second spot.  That is, of course," he added dryly, "provided he doesn't kill me to reacquire the heart beforehand."

"Do you still have it?"

"No... when it's not on my person, it's locked in a cabinet in Beckett's office."

"The wretched little coward!" Stella spat.  "He'll take all the advantages of possessing such an object, but he foists all the danger off onto you!"

"I believe it's a test of some sort," James explained thinly.  "I don't believe Lord Beckett is entirely assured of my loyalty.  He doesn't seem to trust anyone but Mercer."

"And there's a very good reason for that," Stella muttered darkly.  "Mercer couldn't betray Beckett even if he wanted to—which he doesn't."

"I don't want to know," James decided after a moment.  "I don't want to know anything.  I just want to do my duty and keep my men safe.  I leave everything magical and eccentric to you—provided it doesn't bring you to the Dutchman.  For if Davy Jones discovers that you're my wife, he'll use you against me.  Or just kill you out of sheer spite, depending on his mood."  He took a deep breath.  "I don't want to talk about it any longer."

"All right," Stella agreed quietly.

"May I come to you tonight?"

"Yes."

The danger that had suddenly come to hover around them was sobering, and they were very solemn as they quit the dining room and retired upstairs in silence.  James came to her room and wordlessly took up the brush from her vanity, running it gently through her long hair as she sat at her table and watched him in the mirror.  The motions were soothing for both of them.

"Will you be remaining on land, now?" she asked.

"Mostly, yes," he replied, green eyes downcast and focussed on her hair.  "Generally, Admirals do not sail with their ships.  I'll be sailing a desk, for the most part."

"I confess the knowledge comforts me," Stella remarked.

"I'll miss being out on the sea... commanding a vessel and interacting with the men... but I'm afraid the sea does not think kindly on me at the moment," he returned, meeting her eyes in the mirror and smiling wryly.

Stella tried to return the smile, but she felt ill at ease.  "It will be a stormy season, I think," she said quietly.

"We'll weather it, God willing," James replied.

But even as they curled together under the bedclothes, the anxieties over their future never faded.  It would indeed be a stormy season.

Chapter Text

James idly wondered, one day, when the constant worry he was currently living with would turn his hair as white as his wig.

He worried about his position, about his fleet, about supplies and the men under his command, about Lord Beckett's effect on his orders, about his ability to reconcile Lord Beckett's demands with the needs of naval procedures, about Lord Beckett in general, and especially about the effect of Lord Beckett upon his wife... when he wasn't worrying about his wife's health.  And there was plenty to worry about on that score.

After nearly three months married, it was apparent to almost all and sundry that Stella Norrington was with child.  Admittedly, James had expected this—had predicted it, as a matter of fact—but somehow knowing in an abstract that his wife was likely pregnant was nothing to actually seeing the slight swell of her belly.

But there was a constant demand for her wind-strings, and since it was moving into hurricane season Lord Beckett was regularly requesting that Stella divert the larger storms away from his harbours.  That always exhausted her—sometimes to the point where she would have to spend several days in bed, recovering.  Such strain could hardly be good for her health, or for their child.  James had a feeling he was going to have to put his foot down and insist that Lord Beckett leave his wife alone as the pregnancy progressed.

Stella had noticed his worry, and tried to sooth his anxieties.  "Be calm, James," she'd said to him one day at breakfast, after diverting a large storm and spending the next 24 hours in bed. "If this is the worst Lord Beckett ever asks of me, I shall be content.  I am content."

James had to admit this was true.   Stella had taken to her new life like a fledgling bird to the air.  The house was constantly well-kept and open to the soft breezes that followed Stella wherever she went; the menus were simple but satisfying—and unless he was much mistaken, Stella had gained a bit of weight; he could no longer count her ribs at a glance when he came to her bed at night.

She'd settled into the social scene as well; oftimes she could be found in the company of Miss Witcher and Madame d'Ascoyne, or talking children with Mrs. Fitzherbert, and more than once he'd returned home to the sound of female laughter echoing from the parlour.  Governor Swann often dined at the Norrington house as well, looking strained and tired; Stella always served chamomile tea and cut gardenias for the flower vases on those evenings, and poor Weatherby left with a measure more peace than he'd arrived with.  When Lord Beckett descended on their house, Stella received him with cool civility.  They'd held a party a few weeks back to formally celebrate the couple, and the general opinion was that Admiral Norrington's wife was all that was clever and charming.

"Well, at least Mercer is gone," James had replied after a moment.

"That is a contributing factor," Stella had agreed, grinning slyly.  Mr. Mercer had set off nearly two months ago for Singapore, pockets full of wind-strings and a sour expression on his face.  His business in the Far East was supposedly confidential, but Stella hinted that he was hunting pirates—a special kind of pirates.

"Lord Beckett seeks the Pirate Lords," she'd told him.  "I do not know why, or to what purpose.  There is some plan in his mind, but I cannot divine it.  He is waiting for something..."

"One day you really must tell me about Mr. Mercer," James said idly.

"One day I will," Stella agreed.  "When I can be sure Lord Beckett will not mind."  The last was said with a definite air of irony—Stella was well aware that their entire domestic staff was reporting to Lord Beckett.

That had been several weeks ago, but James' worries had been in no way soothed—especially not now.  Stella had bid him tell Lord Beckett this morning, when he went to the Fort, that there was a very, very large hurricane charging towards the Caribbean, and which would likely arrive in Port Royal in a week, perhaps less.

"How unfortunate," Lord Beckett remarked upon receiving the news.  "Well, I trust in your wife's ability to steer the hurricane when the proximity increases."

"I had rather she didn't—this storm is larger than before, and she is always made ill by these endeavours," James said tightly.

"Stella knows her duty," Beckett replied dismissively, returning to his paperwork.

Perhaps it was the familiar way Beckett referred to his wife, compounded by his obvious disregard for her health that pushed him over the edge.  "Aye, she does," he agreed curtly.  "And her duty is to obey me, her husband.  You will have to weather this hurricane as the majority of the world does, Lord Beckett, for I will not have my wife risking her health and the health of our unborn child to cater to your whims.  This fleet has survived many a hurricane without Mrs. Norrington's power, and will have to do so again!"

With that, he bowed curtly and stormed out of the office, preparing to issue orders that the fleet set out to sea to weather the hurricane.


Had James Norrington understood what he was about to unleash... had he seen the shrewd glimmer in Lord Beckett's eyes and the way his fingers tightened around his pen and had but an inkling of the thoughts running through his mind, perhaps he would have been more temperate with his words.  But as it were, the impending hurricane was not the only storm about to break on Port Royal, and Beckett's plans were now expanded—and accelerated—to include the most recalcitrant Norringtons.

Beckett signalled to one of the footmen, wishing for a brief instant that Mercer, in all his cold efficiency, was here.  "Send Lieutenant Greitzer to me," he ordered.  "We are going to need to move faster than previously thought..." 


When James returned home, later that afternoon, it was the sound of laughter in the parlour.  Upon sticking his head into the room, he discovered Stella, Anne Witcher, and Caroline d'Ascoyne chatting merrily with their sewing in their laps.

Stella was bent over and pointing at something on Miss Witcher's embroidery hoop, and he overheard her saying, "...called the triple moon, and if you backstitch a bit here, then you can get a triple circle out of it as well."

"A symbol for our merry band," laughed Miss Witcher cheerfully.

Merry band? thought James confusedly.

Madame d'Ascoyne was the one who noticed him first.  "Why, Admiral Norrington!" she trilled.  "Good evening to you, sir!"

"Good evening, Madame d'Ascoyne, Miss Witcher, Mrs. Norrington," he replied, nodding to each woman in turn.  "What... what a pleasant tableau you present," he stammered, having suppressed the urge to blurt what are you doing here?

"My friends have been kind enough to assist me in stitching gowns for our child, given that my health has been uncertain of late," Stella announced, answering the unasked question.

Indeed, now that he had time to peruse the room more closely, it seemed the vast quantity of white fabric was assembling itself into a variety of baby things—a bonnet here, a smock there.  It gave him a curious thrill—he would be a father!  In slightly more than a half-year, there would be a little girl to wear these delicate garments, a tiny child to be encompassed in Stella's powerful embroidery like he was every time he wore his uniform.

"Dear Stella has been teaching us a variety of symbols for health and luck to embroider," Madame d'Ascoyne added, breaking into his train of thought.  "Such amazing skills!"

James took this to be an oblique testing of the waters.  He raised a brow and turned to Stella.  "You told them?"

"Of course," his wife replied serenely.  "I thought it would be rather less distressing if I told them myself, rather than having an unanticipated encounter sometime later."

"It's so entirely fascinating," Miss Witcher breathed.  "We're quite like a coven, I daresay. Maiden, Mother, and Crone."

"I'm hardly a crone, Anne dear," Madame d'Ascoyne protested loftily.

"And I haven't yet given birth," Stella pointed out pragmatically.

Anne Witcher huffed.  "Fine.  Maiden, Almost-mother, and Not-quite-crone," she amended.

"Woman, wife, and widow alliterates better," James remarked.

Stella quirked a brow.  "Yet so entirely prosaic."

"Says the pot to the kettle," he returned dryly.  Then, changing the subject, "How fares the weather?"

"Well enough for now," Stella replied, embroidering a sprig of rosemary into a circular pattern on the edge of a baby's shirt.  "The hurricane is gathering strength out in the Atlantic, but will likely stall a bit over Hispaniola.  However, we will probably be hit ourselves in a week or so."

Madame d'Ascoyne and Miss Witcher emitted various exclamations of distress.  "A hurricane?  How dreadful!" the maiden cried.

"Yes, I'll have to put to sea with the fleet to weather it," James said grimly.  At Stella's quizzical expression, he added sternly, "You are not to touch this one, Mrs. Norrington.  I'll not have you risking your health in your condition."

"Eminently sensible," lauded Madame d'Ascoyne.

"I won't claim that I am not relieved," Stella agreed, smiling slightly.  "I have had quite enough bed-rest during the past few months, and will no doubt have plenty more in the future."  Still, her black eyes met his, and James read the unease in their depths.  He knew she was wondering how Lord Beckett was going to take this news.

That wondering became the elephant in the room for the rest of the evening.  Eventually Madame d'Ascoyne and Miss Witcher took their leave of the Norrington house (by then, James had already sequestered himself in his study, ostensibly to escape the feminine fluttery in the parlour).  Caroline d'Ascoyne was to join Stella in the house once the hurricane hit—neither woman wanted to be alone, and Madame d'Ascoyne figured that it would be safer with a wind-witch than anywhere else.  Stella had extended a standing invitation for the Witcher family as well; Anne promised to put the idea forth to her parents.  Soon after, James and Stella sat down for a small supper.  The elephant went with them.  It wasn't until they had retired, away from the ears of the servants reporting to Beckett, that they were able to discuss the matter.

"While I admire your gumption," Stella said, after James outlined the day's encounter with Cutler Beckett, "I do have to question the wisdom of this endeavour."

"As long as we're discussing questionable ventures, why tell your friends about your... er..."

"Gifts?" Stella supplied.  "Because if I tell them first, then I'm pulling one of Beckett's fangs."

James pondered this for a moment.  "I believe I understand... if you confess, so to speak, you sway the description in your favour."

"Precisely.  It's one less secret of mine that Beckett has to use against me. What about this course of action do you find questionable, pray tell?"

"Well..." James couldn't think of anything to say that wouldn't make him sound like an ass.

Stella's smirk seemed to indicate she was aware of this.  "I've never tried to hide what I am, James," she pointed out.  "I'm not ashamed of being a witch.  And admitting to a measure of supernatural ability to a circle of trusted confidents is not the same as openly defying our powerful patron," she added sharply.  "He implied, when we were first married, that we had his protection and support only while we did as he asked."

"I don't care," James replied mulishly.  "He has no right to ask you to kill yourself.  You're with child, for Heaven's sake."

It had terrified him, these past few months, to watch Stella turn away the storms that encroached on their island, all at Beckett's demand.  She would go out to the balcony and stand there, quite still, perhaps fiddling with the bells around her neck as she stared off into the sky.  The air around her would grow restless and electrical, the wind roaring through the port town and across the sea.  And eventually, when her task was done, she would stagger, knees buckling as she grasped for the railing.  If it were a large storm, she would swoon entirely—simply collapse in a forlorn little bundle of fabric and hair if James were not swift enough to catch her.  She would always need his help to get back to bed, and then she would lie prone, like a doll, while faithful Estrella manoeuvred her into her nightgown.  And for the next day—or more, perhaps—Stella, would lie there quietly with the curtains drawn, with dark circles beneath her eyes and an ashen pallor to her skin.

He'd known, then, that if Beckett's demands didn't kill Stella outright, it would certainly weaken her to the point where she could no longer carry their child.  He couldn't let Beckett take that away from them.

"I suppose," Stella admitted, responding to his stubborn pronouncement.  "But I am stronger than I look—we all are.  Our powers help us along."

"That still doesn't give him the right to run you ragged," James returned firmly.  "You agreed to assist him as you could, but I won't have you risking your health for him.  And since you married me, mine is the voice you must obey."

Stella raised an eloquent brow, but didn't contest the statement—mainly because, James felt, she had a mind to do as he asked anyway.  "As you will, my dear," she replied, with suspicious mildness.  "I hope Lord Beckett understands.  I've been so happy, I don’t want him to ruin it."

Later, James felt his wife should reassess her proclamation that she had no gift for prophesy. 


When it happened, it happened quickly.

"In order to affect a timely halt to deteriorating conditions and to ensure the common good, a state of emergency is declared for these territories, by decree of Lord Cutler Beckett, duly appointed representative of His Majesty the King..."

Governor Swann, with a heavy heart, had signed Beckett’s orders, giving them further weight under the law. Not that it mattered.  And the speed with which the East India Trading Company troops established martial law in the town of Port Royal spoke of prearranged plans, and Stella mentally filed that fact into the puzzle of Beckett’s intentions.

"By decree, according to martial law, the following statutes are temporarily amended...

"Right to assembly, suspended."

She felt very alone.  Not only had James gone out to sea, but the citizens were being isolated from one another.  No one felt safe.

"Right to habeas corpus, suspended."

Beckett's men could enter into any home and simply cart away whomever they wished.  There would be no appeal, no protest.  It was turning into a witch-hunt, and Stella was understandably rather worried about this caveat in particular.

"Right to legal counsel, suspended."

She wasn't the only one; a heavy cloud of fear hung low over Port Royal.

"Right to verdict by a jury of peers, suspended.

Soldiers charged into and out of the homes of those suspected of piracy, or sympathising with piracy.  The sound of the tramping boots marching through the streets, and rattling chains as those arrested were borne to the fort had become common music in the troubled times.

"By decree, all persons found guilty of piracy, or of aiding a person convicted of piracy, or associating with a person convicted of piracy, shall be sentenced to hang by the neck until dead."

The fear spread to every household, both high and low.  After all, before the Governor had arrived the city had been a haven for pirates; almost everyone had, knowingly or not, interacted with a pirate at one time or another.  It was terrifying to wonder whether an exchange ten years ago would bring soldiers to the door tomorrow.

Though Governor Swann put his name to the orders, everyone knew that Lord Beckett had become the law in Jamaica.  The kid gloves were off, and he'd shown his hand for what it was.  Massive gallows were constructed in Fort Charles, and the cells were rapidly filling with the accused.  Thus far, they were mostly populated with the lower-class citizens—sailors, whores, tavern-keepers.  But Mrs. Norrington wasn't sure how long that state of affairs was going to last; she had a feeling that her time was running out.

James had been sent to sea, and so would remain for today and likely tomorrow.  He was out on The Endeavour inspecting the fortifications at Rocky Point and ensuring that the fleet was preparing for the impending hurricane.  He was stretched tighter than a fiddle string with fear for his fleet.  And he'd left just before martial law descended.  Stella didn't think this was coincidental.

She stood on the balcony that late morning and looked out to sea.  A faint niggling at the very edge of her senses heralded the presence of the growing tempest, coming closer with every passing day.

Whatever move Beckett will make, he will make it very soon, she thought as the breezes toyed with her cotton skirts.  He cannot afford to wait much longer.  The hurricane comes.

"Ma'am?"

Stella didn't bother to turn.  "Yes, Estrella?"

"Are you all right, Ma'am?  Shall I send for some tea?"

Morning sickness had, for the most part, been infrequent.  However, as the stress increased, so too did her discomfort in the mornings.  Stella hadn't been able to eat breakfast for days.  "Yes," she said, after a moment of contemplation.  "Yes, I think tea would be quite nice.  Perhaps with some toast.  I will take it in the parlour downstairs."

And that was where she was sitting when they came for her.

Part of her had expected it, had known they would come for her.  Part of her had known the moment it began to happen that it was Lord Beckett's hand reaching out to pull her into his power.  But she had hoped, hoped desperately that the tempest would leave her alone, hoped that the child slumbering in her womb would protect her mother from the rising tide of death and danger.

As usual, she had hoped in vain.

She closed her eyes and steeled herself as she heard the pounding on the door.  Her hands unconsciously went to rest on her belly, and she bowed her head for a brief moment.  But then, when she heard the butler open the door and the soldiers demand her presence, she tucked it all away.

Don't ever let them see your fear, she reminded herself.  Don't let them see.

"Lieutenant Greitzer," she greeted calmly as she heard the heavy tread of booted feet outside the parlour door.  Well aware that most soldiers would never dream of laying hands on a gentlewoman, she made sure to take refuge in civility and gentility. "May I offer you a cup of tea?"

"I'm afraid not, Madam," Greitzer replied coldly.  "We are here on company business."

"Company business?" Stella repeated sweetly, narrowing her eyes slightly at the officer in her parlour.  He was fully Beckett's man; there would be no reasoning with him.  But as for the others...  "What business can the East India Trading Company have with me?"

"Madam, you are hereby under arrest for crimes against the crown.  You are charged with associating with persons convicted of piracy, and we are here to escort you to a cell."

Stella gave a feigned gasp that probably looked real enough to the soldiers, and placed her hand on her chest to prominently display the rings on her left hand, reminding the lot of them that she was the wife of their superior officer.  "You surely must be joking!" she cried.

"We are entirely serious, Mrs. Norrington.  We have the writ right here," Greitzer replied smugly, gesturing to a very uncomfortable redcoat standing to his right.

"Then, if you please?" she requested, standing and gliding over to the man.  She extended her hand as she rang for Estrella.

Unfolding the writ, she perused it while listening for Estrella's footsteps.  It bore Governor Swann's signature, and she wondered idly whether or not he knew he'd signed the order for her imprisonment, or if he but put his seal to every document Beckett gave him.  Otherwise, it was just as Greitzer said: she was arrested for associating with pirates.  Beckett had her there, she had to admit: everyone knew she'd lived on Tortuga before marrying James, and it was nigh on impossible to live on Tortuga and not interact with pirates.

Even worse, she had a feeling that Beckett knew about her former source of income.  That information would be highly damning if it was spread around.  But it wasn't in the writ—Beckett might be keeping it quiet as something to dangle over her head.  Blackmail was, after all, essential for the standoff in which they found themselves.  Stella didn't think he was actually going to hang her—she was entirely too useful, and she was pregnant besides—but Beckett wasn't going to leave her any choice but to do as he wanted.

I would applaud your strategy, Lord Beckett, but I'm afraid I'm quite vexed with you, she thought unhappily as Estrella approached.

"Ma'am?" Estrella looked both baffled and afraid at all the soldiers in the parlour.

"Estrella.  Would you be so good as to bring me my hat, parasol, and cloak?"  She looked up to meet her maid's frightened eyes and smiled humourlessly.  "It seems I will be spending an indeterminate amount of time in the cells of Fort Charles."

"But... but you're the admiral's wife!  You're a lady!  You're with child!" Estrella protested, frowning at the redcoats.

Stella was vindictively pleased to see a good half of them flush and look elsewhere, and she gave a helpless shrug.  "I have no choice, I'm afraid," she said softly.  "My things?"

"Of course, Ma'am."

Soon enough, Estrella returned with Stella's cloak, hat, and parasol.  Stella was glad that Grietzer allowed her to fetch her things and hadn't just hauled her off to prison.  He was bold, but not that bold, it seemed—or perhaps he didn't think he could survive such an attempt.  If his own men didn't revolt, James would certainly be furious later.

Estrella touched her hand lightly as Stella accepted the parasol.  "Be safe, Ma'am," she whispered, smiling warmly.

"Thank you, Estrella.  Do tender my apologies to Miss Witcher," she replied calmly.  Stella had made sure Anne or Caroline were either over for tea or hosting her every day since the right to assembly was suspended so that, if she were arrested, her disappearance would be immediately noticed.  That, and she knew that whatever Beckett trumped up, Anne and Caroline were loyal to her.  Caro especially took particular relish in referring to Beckett as "that jumped-up parvenu."

The soldiers surrounded her as they brought her outside.  There were no other prisoners, for which Stella was grateful.  It would have made it harder to hold her head high were she chained to the line and forced to march through the streets like the other prisoners she watched pass through the streets for the past few days.  Nevertheless, she was still forced to endure the stares of the other citizens on her way to the Fort.  Some regarded her with pity, some with resignation, some with fear—if the Admiral's wife could be arrested, no one was safe.

She passed through the gates of Fort Charles; it was still bustling with soldiers.  In the centre bailey she could see the back of the gallows, and the line of prisoners waiting for their turn in them.  She was marched past the corpse wagon, where the dead were piled together, some faces already turning bloated and blue, and the pile of boots taken off the hanged men.  And in a niche across the bailey, facing the gallows, was the man who was the prime mover behind all the death and pain.

He sat at a collapsible table, bent diligently over some manner of paperwork, not even bothering to witness the deaths of those affected by his actions.  Stella glared across the courtyard at him.  These people are dying by your order, Beckett, she thought poisonously.  The least you could do is watch them do so.

As if sensing her thoughts, Lord Beckett looked up from his papers.  Their eyes met, Stella's icy and irate, Beckett's chill and confident.  And then Beckett smiled—just a small curl of the lips, but Stella saw.  Never before had she wished as fervently that her glares could kill as she did at that moment, right before she passed the gallows queue and descended into the prison block.

The darkness was jarring, after the late morning sun.  It took her eyes a moment to adjust, but she could see clearly once they emerged from the stairwell.  The cells were full of those convicted—save for the one in the middle of the row.  The majority of the prisoners were from the lower classes, and stared curiously as Stella was shown into the empty cell.  Then the door clanged shut behind her, and the lock slid into place with a terrible finality.

Stella sighed. This round most definitely went to Lord Cutler Beckett.  


Hers was the cell Elizabeth Swann had once inhabited, back when everything was only just beginning.  Stella could feel the echo of Elizabeth's presence when she sat on the bench against the wall.  He put me here on purpose.

The area was curiously chilly, despite the heat of the day.  Then again, the garrets faced toward the sea, and there was an almost-constant breeze wafting through, which plucked playfully at Stella's skirts as she went to remove her hat.  Otherwise, the stone was damp and beginning to go slimy in some places, and there was an almost palpable aura of fear and despair pervading the entire room, and something else...

She hadn't noticed it before, what with all her attention bent towards the approaching hurricane and the roar of its power in her mind.  But there was something magical on the breeze... words?  A tune, definitely—something that would surely get stuck in her head.  It was faint, but growing, swirling around especially among the condemned in the cells.  Could they hear it?

Stella seated herself gingerly on the stone bench ringing the walls, smoothing her hair mechanically and thinking profoundly uncharitable thoughts towards meddling Trading Company Lords—at least, until her fantasies of murdering Lord Beckett were interrupted.

"So, wot's a fine bit o' skirt like ye doin' in 'ere wiv the likes o' us?"

The query came from the men's cell next to her, and a tall, unwashed man wearing a floppy hat with ragged feathers.  Once, Stella suspected, he had probably been a fairly successful pirate.  No longer.

"I suspect I've been arrested to prove a point," she replied honestly.  "That, and I've been convicted of associating with those convicted of piracy," she added, mimicking Lieutenant Greitzer's stuffy tones.

A burst of incredulous laughter came from her other side—the female cell—and a woman not too much older than herself.  She had once been a whore; her clothing was dirty but gaudy, and her tired brown eyes were rimmed with makeup long since messed.  "You?  High class toff like you, convicted o' that?" the erstwhile whore scoffed.

Stella felt irrationally perturbed.  She'd once been the most feared woman on the entire island of Tortuga... not that it was something she wanted generally known around her new home, but still.  "Have you ever been to Tortuga?" she inquired lightly.

"Aye," replied the man, leaning against the bars.

"Have you ever heard of Black Stella?"

"'Oo 'asn't?  The wind witch o' Tortuga—afore she vanished."  Stella raised a significant brow and titled her chin upwards.  "You?"

"Me," she replied smugly, resting her hand on her chest.  "Before my marriage took me off the island, of course."  Her black eyes went to the whore in the other cell, and she smiled.  "I've associated with more than my fair share of pirates."

"And now you'll hang for it," the whore sneered.

"Not for at least another six months," Stella replied sweetly, patting her belly.

The whore huffed furiously, and stomped away to the other side of the cell.  Meanwhile, something of a scuffle had broken out in the cell full of men, and Stella glanced over to see a couple of large men roughing up a lad who probably wasn't any older than ten—he still had the shining clarity of spirit found only in children, and it stood out like a candle at midnight.

"Let go—it's mine!" the boy was shouting.

"Give it up, lad," one of them snorted, catching the boy on the scruff of his neck and shaking him.  "T'wont' be any use t'ye—ye'll hang come mornin'!"

Contrary to popular belief, Stella liked children quite a bit.  She was frigid and unpleasant to the majority of adults, but children were spared her bitterness, and she was quite gentle with all the children who crossed her path.  They were generally untainted by life's cruelties and hadn't had much time to loose their innocence—and if they had, they deserved her compassion, since it was so seldom their own faults.  So she grasped hold of the wind and channelled it into a tight funnel, which she used to shove the men away from the boy and slam them into the walls.

The prison went very quiet, and everyone turned to look at the gentlewoman sitting very genteelly in the middle cell.  "Leave him be," she commanded coldly.  "If he hasn't any need for whatever it is, then neither do you.  Leave him be."

The boy, sensing he had an advocate, immediately yanked himself away and scurried for the bars his cell shared with Stella's, curling up in the corner.  The other men congregated as far from him—and Stella—as they could.  They couldn't go far; the cell was very full.

"Thanky, Ma'am," the boy mumbled.  He was a skinny lad, with shaggy brown hair and a bit of a scrape on his forehead.

"What was all the fuss about?" Stella inquired gently, sliding over on the bench so she was closer to the boy she'd saved.

The boy opened one of his clenched fists to reveal a coin—a silver piece of eight, unless her eyes deceived her.  "Belonged to me Da," he explained quietly.

Her hand went up to touch the string of silver bells that hung faithfully around her neck.  "Then that's a good reason to keep it."  She smiled.  "How did you come to be here, pray tell?"

He shrugged.  "Me ship got caught by the navy, two days back.  Killed most of us... cap'n, first mate... took th' rest back here.  I was cabin boy—dint know t'were a pirate ship when I signed on, though.  I just wanted out o' Boston."

"What's your name?"

"John Osborn.  Most people call me Jack."  He smiled shyly at her, looking up through his fringe with clear blue eyes.

"Hello, Jack," Stella replied warmly, offering him her thin white hand.  He took it and shook it gently in his small, yet already rough one.  "I'm Stella Norrington."

"Norrington?  The admiral?"

"Yes."

His young brow furrowed.  "Did you make him mad?"

Stella laughed.  "No, not at all.  He's gone out to sea for a few days.  I did, however, make Lord Beckett mad," she remarked glumly.

"He can't hang you, though," Jack noted.

"No, but he can make me quite uncomfortable."

Jack looked down at the piece of eight in his hand.  "I’m going to be hanged."

She took a quick, sharp breath.  "But you're only a boy!"

"Old enough, I guess," he shrugged.  But underneath the bravado, Stella could tell he was terrified; his tiny hands were trembling.

She knew well enough how harsh the world—and the British—could be, and slid her hand through the bars to rest it on Jack's head.  "I'm sorry."

Jack swallowed heavily, and looked back at her.  "Will it hurt, do you think?"

Something clenched painfully in Stella's chest.  "There are worse ways to die," she said thickly.

'...Never shall we die...'

She ended up sitting in the corner of her cell, propped up on the bench between the bars and the wall, right in the next to little Jack.  She told him stories—myths and legends, as well as the story of Mirela o Washosko García—all through the afternoon to distract him from his impending fate and the steady beat of the drums.  She kept the gentle breezes swirling around them during the heat of the day.  When evening fell, and the air began to cool, she slid half her thick black cloak through the larger grated square, and wrapped it around Jack's thin shoulders.   As night descended, they curled up to share body heat, set apart from the rest of the condemned in their own little cocoon.

In the darkness, Stella suggested that Jack get some sleep.   The boy clenched his fists in the black fabric of her cloak, and his fear rose up in him like a cresting wave.  "I don't want to sleep yet."

"Fair enough," Stella demurred, smoothing back the boy's shaggy hair.

"Me mam used to do that," he mumbled softly, leaning into her touch.

"Where is she now?"

"Dead."

"My mother's dead too.  But she's waiting for me, on the shores of the other side.  Your mother will wait for you too," Stella said softly.

"Will she?"

"Of course.  I would."

"But what if she doesn't?" Jack asked forlornly.  Stella could see that he barely recalled his mother—a whore up in the thirteen colonies who'd barely had time for him when she'd been alive.

She brushed his hair back again.  "Then you go find my mother.  Find her, and tell her I asked her to look after you," Stella whispered to him.  "She'll see you safely to Fiddler's Green."

'...and the Devil to pay, we lay to Fiddler's Green...'

"I don't want to die," Jack whimpered, curling up against the bars.

"And you shouldn't have to," Stella replied fiercely.  "You... just got caught up in something larger than yourself."

Jack rubbed his piece of eight, and Stella's eyes watched it gleam in the dim light. The words on the air were growing stronger, and the tune was complete in the quiet desperation of the prison cells.  A faint ringing sounded in her ears.

'...Hoist the colours high...'

"Are you scared?" he asked suddenly.

"Yes," Stella replied honestly.  "Yes, I'm terrified.  I don't know what he wants from me, and I don't know what he'll do to get it.  I don't know what will happen to my husband, or my daughter.  And I'm afraid for you too."  She tightened her arm around his shoulders, drawing him as close as the bars would allow.

"Mayhaps I won't die tomorrow," Jack offered optimistically, though the tone of his voice indicated he was trying to appease her, rather than actually believing in Beckett's clemency.

"Perhaps you won't," Stella agreed, building another fantasy palace of things that could never be.  "Perhaps Beckett will let both of us go free tomorrow.  We'll both go back to my house... give James a bit of a surprise when he returns.  You'd stay there, and we'd get you an apprenticeship, or send you off to school where you'll be safe until Beckett falls."

"Will he?"

"He will," Stella vowed lowly.  "He will, even if I have to kill him myself."

"Mrs. Norrington?  Will... will you see me buried right?  When I'm dead?" Jack asked her haltingly.  "Maybe... say some words o'er me?  If you can—if you gets let out."

Stella felt her eyes water, but swallowed the tears.  She had to be strong for Jack.  "I will.  I promise.  Shall I plant you a bush or a hedge?  I planted orchids over my mother's grave."

"Somethin'... somethin' happy."

"Then I'll plant you hibiscuses, and make sure your grave is tended properly."  She brushed her fingers through his hair and started humming the song she'd been hearing since she set foot in the cell.

'...the bell has been raised from its watery grave...'

"What song is that?" Jack asked.  "My coin's shaking."

"May I see it?"  Jack handed her the coin through the bars; sure enough, it started vibrating as Stella hummed the tune quietly.  The silvery ring in her ears got stronger.  The words to the song floated into her mind, and they sprang from her lips without any input from her.  She was the vessel, the one who could hear the Song, and the Song would have itself sung.  It was time.

"The King and his men

"Stole the queen from her bed,

"And bound her in her bones.

"The seas be ours, and by the powers,

"Where we will, we'll roam.

  

"Yo-ho, haul together,

"Hoist the colours high.

"Heave-ho, thieves and beggars,

"Never shall we die..."

"That's a pirate song," Jack noted sleepily.  His head was beginning to loll onto her shoulder through the grate—no matter what he said about not sleeping, the poor lad was still tired.

"Yes, it is," Stella agreed, mind whirling furiously.  There was magic in the Song—strong magic.  It was a calling of some kind, to be sung as a summons.  But to summon who?  Pirates?  The mysterious pirate lords sought so earnestly by Beckett?  Was this why he was hanging anyone and everyone connected to pirates with such fervency?  To get this Song sung, and summon the Pirate Lords?

Whatever his plans, Stella would Sing anyway—perhaps if the Song was sung and the summons sent, the hangings would stop and little Jack Barber would live to see another birthday.

She tucked Jack's piece of eight back into his hand, and his fist curled slowly around it.  And then she brushed his fringe out of his eyes, wrapped her arm firmly around his shoulders, and began to sing softly.  The magic of the Song filled her voice, and though the words were quiet, it was heard throughout the prison.

"The King and his men

Stole the Queen from her bed,

And bound her in her bones.

The seas be ours, and by the powers,

Where we will, we'll roam...

 

"Yo-ho, haul together,

Hoist the colours high!

Heave-ho, thieves and beggars,

Never shall we die!

 

Some men have died,

And some are alive,

And others sail on the sea

With the keys to the cage

And the Devil to pay

We lay to Fiddler's Green!

 

"Yo-ho, haul together,

Hoist the colours high!

Heave-ho, thieves and beggars,

Never shall we die!

 

"The bell has been raised

From its watery grave...

Do you hear its sepulchral tone?

We are a call to all,

Pay heed to the squall

And turn your sail toward home!"

As her voice faded into silence, taking the Song with it, Stella glanced down to see that Jack had fallen asleep.  Smiling sadly, she tucked the cloth of her cloak tighter around his shoulders.  It was so unfair... he was only a child, still a pure soul.  It wasn't right that he should die for the mere crime of ignorantly sailing under the wrong colours.

"Please," she whispered to the darkness, and anyone who might be listening.  "Please, I beg you.  Spare him." 


 The whispering breezes woke Stella as dawn spread over the eastern horizon.  She'd fallen asleep with her head resting on Jack's, though her sleep had been troubled and uncomfortable.  The stone bench that served as her bed was harder than any surface she'd ever had to sleep on, and the chill of the night and the damp of the stone had seeped into her bones.  And the fear that permeated the atmosphere of the prison followed her into sleep as well.  Her dreams had been dark.

Jack was still slumbering, his fist curled around his piece of eight.  The Song was still wafting about, but it was quiet as well.  The early morning was still and peaceful, and Stella used the quiet to steel herself for the coming day.  It would be bad.

She brushed a hand through Jack's messy hair, her touch as light as the breeze.  He was going to die today.  Nine years old, and his life was about to end.  The unfairness of it sat like a block of ice against her neck.  The cunning, crafty part of her scolded her for getting too attached; the rest of her was already weeping for his death.

Soon enough, the sound of stomping boots filtered down into the cells.  The prisoners began to stir, and fear spread like a stink through the air.  They knew that death was coming at a fast clip.  Little Jack came awake as well; Stella could feel him stirring.

"Good morning, Jack," she said quietly.

"Ma'am," he replied shakily.  She reached out and took his hand; it was cold. "I'm scared," he confessed.  The soldiers' footsteps were coming closer.

"Don't let them see," Stella said intently, tilting his chin up to meet his blue eyes.  "No matter how afraid you are, don't let them see it.  It gives them power, and that's something they already have enough of."

The redcoats flooded down the stairs, carrying the shackles with them.  They opened the doors and started pulling people out of them, chaining them in lines to march up to the gallows.  Jack's eyes went impossibly wide, and filled with tears.  His hands were like two chunks of ice, and they were shaking like palm fronds in the breeze.  He clung to her desperately.

"Be brave," Stella whispered.  "I'll be with you."

And then the soldiers came, and tore him from her arms.

He was chained in the line with the rest of them, though the shackles were nearly too large for his skinny limbs and made it almost impossible for him to move.  Stella stood and went to the door of the cell, reaching through the grate to brush her fingers across his arm.

"Be brave," she whispered again.  And then they all marched away.

Stella stood in the same place, hands wrapped around the bars, for hours.  She was alone—everyone else had been chained and marched off to death.  She could hear the drums, and the creak-thump of the gallows.  The breeze curled around her, and she whispered encouragements and endearments to the breeze, which blew off to carry her words to little John Osborn.

"I'll be brave, Ma'am," came Jack's voice to her ears.

And Stella knew it was his turn.

Her hands tightened around the cell bars until her knuckles were white.  She might have been carved from ivory, so still was she.  Jack started singing the Song, the magical melody she'd crooned into his ears last night as a last lullaby.  The tune was taken up by the rest of the condemned.

"Yo-ho, haul together,

"Hoist the colours high.

"Heave-ho, thieves and beggars.

"Never shall we die!"

Stella could feel it resonating and travelling and doing what it was meant to do.  It went even further on the wind, through her own power.

And then it stopped.

Jack Osborn was dead. 


A few hours later, she was summoned to Lord Beckett, holding court in her husband's office.  And so she buried her grief under her fury and froze the lot of it in ice, and followed the soldiers out into the fort.

"Mrs. Norrington."

"Lord Beckett."

"I trust your accommodations are satisfactory."

"Quite satisfactory, my Lord... for a cell.  When may I return home?"

"You shan't.  You are condemned, and will hang once you are no longer with child."

"Come now, Lord Beckett.  You know very well how useful I am.  There is something you want.  What is it?"

They stood, facing each other—two people with daggers in their eyes and ice in their voices.  Beckett was immaculate in his russet coat and pristine white wig; Stella was looking a little worse for having spent the night in jail—her hair was simply braided and her cotton dress was wrinkled and smudged.

And now the bargaining began.  Stella's stint in prison was Beckett's way of making a point.  James had denied him what he wanted, and now he was simply finding a different way of getting it.  That he was simultaneously bringing her low was but a fringe benefit.

"I think you know what it is I want," Beckett replied coolly.

"It's too late for me to turn the hurricane away," Stella informed him.  "It's too close, and too strong."

Beckett merely pursed his lips.  "My desires are not nearly so minuscule.  I believe we had an arrangement regarding your usage to the East India Trading Company."

"We did," Stella agreed.  "And I have upheld my part of it.  I have provided you with wind in every direction there is, to every ship you have.  I have turned away more than one storm for you—which, I might add, has been quite detrimental to my own health."

"Yet you defied me," Beckett stated coldly.

Stella shrugged.  "I vowed to obey my husband."

"Ah yes... your husband.  The estimable Admiral Norrington.  Davy Jones quite hates him," Beckett remarked conversationally.

"I'm well aware of Jones' antipathy," she replied curtly.  "An antipathy that you have had no small part in inspiring.  Some discretion regarding your acquisition of the Heart would have been appreciated."

Beckett didn't bother to reply to that.  "Given Captain Jones' dislike for the Admiral, I have refrained from sending him out to the open ocean, where he would be... vulnerable."

"The Kraken."

"Just so."  Black met blue, and Beckett smiled thinly.  "I trust you understand."

Stella's hands clenched in her cotton skirts.  Oh, she understood.  If she didn't do as Beckett commanded, then he'd send James out to be killed by the Kraken.

"You're a rather dreadful little coward, Cutler," she commented idly.

"And you, Stella, are a miserable, sneering bitch," Beckett replied congenially.  He stared at her with a thin, humourless little smile on his face, apparently contemplating something.  Then, faster than a snake striking, he lashed out and slapped her across the face.

Stella cried out in shock and pain.  Nobody had dared to lay a hand on her for nearly fifteen years—in fact, the last person who had struck her was her father's wife.  Hence, Beckett's blow took her completely by surprise.  She staggered slightly, and Beckett took advantage of that.  She was slammed into the stone wall with his soft, aristocratic hands wrapped around her neck before her cheek had even stopped stinging.

"How I despise you," Beckett hissed into her ear, his breath hot against her skin.  "All of you.  You think you're so very superior to the rest of us mere mortals... but I've got the better of you, haven't I, Stella?  You'll do whatever it is I ask, or I'll tear everything you love away from you before I crush you beneath my heel.  You're at my mercy—I'm the one with the power.  You're no better than I tell you to be."

Stella merely gasped in return, and scrabbled madly at his hands.   Beckett tightened his grip.  "I'll destroy all of you," he crooned softly, his gentle voice at odds with his words.  "I'll bend you all to my will and have you all under my power—I'll be the superior.  And when I've tired of you, you'll be eliminated.  The supernatural has become superfluous.  You and your kind have no further place in the world.   You'll simply sink into legend and myth, until even those are forgotten."

Her vision was beginning to break up, and black spots filled her eyes.  Her hands still scratched futilely at Beckett's, but his grip on her neck was unyielding.

And then he let go.

Stella's knees buckled, and she collapsed to the ground, coughing and gasping for air.  She looked up at Beckett, horror shining unvarnished in her black eyes.

"However, you were correct," he commented, once again the impeccable aristocrat, picking up the threads of their conversation as if he hadn't just had a go at strangling her to death.  "You are useful—for now—and your death would run contrary to my plans.  Therefore, you will live.  You will do as I command, or Admiral Norrington will have an encounter with the Kraken.  Cross me, and I'll take everything from you.  Do you understand?"

Stella didn't think she could speak just now, and nodded her surrender.

"Good."  Beckett smiled again, and something terrible gleamed in his blue eyes.   "Pity... I rather like the sight of you lying at my feet."

She had never hated anyone as she hated Cutler Beckett just then.

"You'll remain in your cell until your husband arrives and releases you," Beckett went on, retreating behind James' desk.  "I trust you'll remember what we discussed?"  A nod.  "The fleet will be setting out to weather the hurricane tomorrow.  You will accompany us.  This is not a condition up for discussion, so do be sure to emphasise this to your husband when he arrives.  Until then, my dear."

If the guards thought there was anything amiss with the lady on the ground and the bruises appearing on her pale neck when they entered the room, they said nothing as they escorted her back to her cell. 


James anchored in the harbour of Port Royal in the early evening.  The forts on the east of the island were as prepared as they were going to get.  He could feel the approaching hurricane; it made his head ache.  And his nerves were already jangling—this would be the first storm he'd had to weather since the hurricane that had lost him the Dauntless.  He felt as though he had something to prove, not only to Beckett, but to himself as well.

He wanted to talk to Stella about possible plans for minimising the damage to the fleet, as well as what she thought of his chances of emerging reasonably unscathed.  But first, he had to report to Lord Beckett, who was probably in his office.

James was, however, gobsmacked when he re-entered the fort.  Who'd erected those gallows?  Who were all these dead people?  Why were they all being killed?  What in God's name was going on?

The sense of incredulity got stronger when he stepped into his office.  There was Beckett, behind his desk, and there was a contingent of leading citizens—Mr. Witcher, the landowner; Mr. Stanhope, the judge; Mr. Fitzherbert, Mr. Merriman, Mr. Lucas—even Madame d'Ascoyne.  Apparently, there was a disagreement of sorts going on.

"...bad form, Lord Beckett.  Really, the lass has done nothing wrong, 'cept make land in a bad place ten years ago," Mr. Lucas was saying.

Mr. Witcher agreed.  "My Anne tells me she only landed there because she and her mother were robbed by pirates in the first place.  And she is a gentlewoman, after all."

"Regardless, Mr. Witcher, she is clearly guilty under the current stat—"

"Oh really, Lord Beckett!" Caroline d'Ascoyne interrupted.  Her brother had a seat on the East India Trading Company Court of Directors, and that was probably the only reason she had the stones to interrupt him.  "You can't hang her—she's with child!  And there's no reason to keep her here—if you absolutely must hang her, send release her and let her enjoy the comfort of her own home before she dies."

James had a bad feeling about this conversation, and pinched the bridge of his nose.  "Lord Beckett, if I inquire as to the topic of conversation, am I going to hear something upsetting?" he queried, interrupting the conversation.

"Ah, Admiral Norrington.  Welcome back," Lord Beckett announced calmly, with a strange sort of smile on his lips.

"What's going on?" James repeated.

"Just a little housecleaning," Beckett replied lightly.

"He's put your wife in prison," Mr. Fitzherbert blurted.

"He's done what?"  James whipped his head around to stare at Lord Beckett.  "You did what?"

Beckett's eyes were gleaming.  "Clearly, it was a badly judged decision.  Gentlemen, lady: I have heard your concerns.  Mrs. Norrington will be free by nightfall."

The gathering was dispersed shortly thereafter, leaving James and Beckett in his office alone.  "You put my wife in prison?" James asked, breaking the silence.

"We made an agreement, when you first entered my service," Beckett said calmly.  "You would serve as Admiral, your wife would serve as our celestial benefactress, so to speak.  That was the bargain.  Yet you have refused to allow your wife to uphold her side of it.  Therefore, she steps out of the realm of my protection, and she will hang as will all those who sympathise with pirates."

"She's with child!"

"That doesn't protect her from the law."

"From you, you mean," James spat.

"As of now, I am the law."

That declaration hung in the silence, and James felt its weight press upon him.  "You said you were going to release her."

"And so I will.  Your better half has reiterated her commitment to assist my efforts to eliminate piracy; therefore I will set her free."  Beckett stood and meandered around the desk, coming very close to his admiral.  "But mark me well, James Norrington: do not think to interfere again in my business with your wife."

"She's my wife," he ground out between clenched teeth.

"And she'll be your widow if you keep her from doing her part," Beckett pointed out softly.  James had nothing to say to that, merely stared in dawning comprehension at his superior.  Beckett must have seen the growing horror in his eyes, since he smiled and bid him, "Go and release your wife.  I will expect both of you on the Endeavour tomorrow afternoon."

James had no idea what he meant, but didn't think he could remain in close proximity to Beckett any longer without hitting him.  So he merely nodded, and stormed down to the cells.

He found Stella sitting alone under the barred window in her cell, head bowed.  "Starling?"  She looked up at him; her face was very pale, and her eyes were rimmed with red.  "Come, Stella.  Let us return home."

The cell guards unlocked the cell, and the door swung open.  Stella stood and walked to the door, accepting his arm once she left the cell.   And so they walked in silence out the door.

"Wait," Stella said, before they left the bailey.  Her voice was curiously harsh.

James halted, and she took her hand from his arm.  He watched as she went and spoke heatedly to the soldiers manning the corpse wagon.  Then she slapped one of them, and stormed back.  "We're going to the graveyard," she snapped hoarsely.

"Why?"

"I made a promise."

"Stella—"

"No!" she cried, her voice more like a crow than ever before.  In fact, here in the sunlight, James could see a ring of bruises around her slender neck.  "I promised!"

"Your neck... did he do that to you?" he demanded quietly, reaching up a hand to touch the bruises delicately.

"It doesn't matter!" she insisted, and he was stunned to see her black eyes swim with tears.  "Now come with me, or leave me alone!"

Well, he wasn't about to leave her.  And so he followed her to the graveyard, where she once again spoke harshly to the soldiers.  He watched her search the bodies until she found the one she was looking for: the corpse of a small boy.

She had them bury him in a corner, away from the rest.  While the gravediggers dug the plot, Stella went into the jungle and dug up some flowers—hibiscus, James reckoned, but he wasn't a botanist.  They were large, bright flowers in shades of red and orange.  And when the boy's coffin had been buried, Stella carefully planted the hibiscus plants in the freshly turned dirt.

One of the gravediggers brought her a plank of wood; she whispered something, and used her finger to write the words on the makeshift headstone.  Smoke rose in her finger tracks, and James read the words burned into the wood over her shoulder.  "John Osborn, 1716-1725.  'Never shall we die.'"  He placed a hand on her shoulder.

"I didn't know his birthday," Stella said quietly.  "That date is only a guess.  All I knew was his name."

"Who was he?" he asked.

"A child in the cell next to me.  He was so afraid," she whispered.  "I sang him a lullaby to soothe him to sleep.  He clung to me all night long.  When they came for him in the morning, they had to tear him from my arms.  But he was so brave at the end.  I promised him I'd bury him, and speak over his grave, and plant flowers for him.  And so I have."

"So you have," James agreed.

Stella stood, and James helped her drive the plank into the ground at the head of the grave.  Then she straightened up, brushed a wisp of flyaway black hair out of her face and rested her thin, white hand on the top.

"'I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from?'" she quoted gently.  "'My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.'"  She smiled, and in the fading light, James could see a tear shining on her cheek.  "Turn your sail toward home, Jack, and lay to Fiddler's Green.  Your mother will see you there, and I'll be along myself one day.  You were so brave, little one.  I’m proud of you."

She didn't say much else on the way back to their house.  They had a silent supper, and then Stella was whisked off by Estrella for some coddling.  He came to her later that night, when they were both clean and smelling of lavender.  Stella's hair was loose around her waist, brushed to a fine, gleaming sheen, while the bruises around her neck were turning a livid purple.

"Lord Beckett informed me that you will be accompanying us to sea tomorrow, for the hurricane," James remarked, breaking the silence.

"'What fates impose, that men must needs abide; It boots not to resist both wind and tide'," Stella shrugged, her voice still hoarse.  "I literally had no choice."

"How hard did he squeeze?" he asked, low and angry.

Stella grinned wryly, though her eyes were sad and shimmering with tears.  "Quite hard."

James sighed, sitting beside her on the bed.  "And I can't do anything about it."

"That seems to be a recurring theme," she choked out, before she buried her face in her hands.  And James suddenly realised that she was crying.

It was odd; he'd seen her with tears in her eyes before, but he'd never actually seen her weep.  He hadn't even been sure she could.  Stella was always so poised and confident, crying didn't seem to be anything she had time for.  But she'd just had an incredibly bad couple of days, and the next few days weren't looking to be any better.  And if she couldn't drop her façade, which was apparently thicker than James had previously realised, in the privacy of her own chambers, where could she?

He suddenly felt rather selfish.  He'd been depending so heavily on Stella's strength since entering Beckett's employ, and he hadn't thought that perhaps Stella might need to rely on his strength as well.

So he tenderly wrapped his arms around her, and pulled her into a gentle embrace.  Stella clung to him like a drowning woman, resting her forehead on his chest, and started to truly sob, shoulders shaking with the force of it.  He could feel her tears seeping through the linen of his nightshirt.

And he could do nothing to soothe her.  There was nothing he could say to take away the grief of Jack Osborn's death, or the pain of the bruises ringing her neck, or the terrible knowledge that tomorrow she'd be forced to face a storm large enough to kill her for a man who'd hurt her terribly.  There was nothing he could do to protect her from the storm, from the danger, and least of all from Beckett himself.

On the eve of the second hurricane he'd have to face, James Norrington had never felt so helpless.

Chapter Text

The sky was cloudy and the wind beginning to pick up as James and Stella Norrington departed their home for the harbour.  They'd left orders that the shutters should be closed and the staff should pass the hurricane in the cellar if it got bad.  Stella tendered her apologies to Caroline d'Ascoyne regarding her inability to honour their plans to pass the storm together; in doing so, she also ensured that the majority of Port Royal would know that Stella Norrington had been forced to take to sea with the fleet.

The admiral of said fleet was so angry he could scarcely see straight.  Not only was Lord Beckett undermining his authority with the navy, he was also interfering in his marriage as well.  James didn't want Stella to do anything about this hurricane except avoid it.  And what were the consequences of his attempt to protect his wife?  Beckett went right over his head and got Stella to do as he wanted anyway.

"Are you afraid?" Stella asked him suddenly as they rode down to the docks in the carriage.  Her voice was still a bit husky from the Beckett-inflicted bruises around her throat.

"More nervous than afraid," James replied.  And more angry than nervous.

She patted his hand lightly.  "You'll do fine, James.  I'll steer you away from the more violent parts of the hurricane, and do my best to encourage the wind to avoid the ships."

"I wish you didn't have to do this," he sighed helplessly.

"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."

"Where's the hurricane now?" he inquired, changing the subject as he handed her out of the carriage.

"Hispaniola," she said after a moment, looking out across the ocean.  "I believe it will only graze Jamaica before it veers north.  Cuba will probably take the worst of it—not that Beckett cares, since it's Spanish territory."

"How did the Virgin Islands fare?

"There's a reason you summoned all the ships from the eastern islands to sail for Jamaica," Stella replied dryly.

"That bad?" James winced.  "Where do you think we'll sail?"

"I'd advise going south.  However, Beckett will probably decide to be contrary and order us to sail north," she quipped, lips twisting wryly.  James snorted.

They boarded a longboat which rowed them out to the Endeavour, floating in the increasingly choppy harbour.  A fine mist was beginning to fall, and the ribbons on Stella's hat kept brushing against James' arm as the wind blew them about.   When they boarded the Endeavour, the deck rocking slightly, and Stella, having not gotten her sea legs yet, staggered slightly and clung to James' arm.

Captain Groves met them on deck.  "Welcome aboard, Admiral, Mrs. Norrington," he greeted jovially, as though they had simply shown up for a pleasure cruise.  However, there was something strained around his lips and his eyes were wary as he gazed on the lady.  James didn't need to be able to read people like Stella did to know that Theodore was deeply uncomfortable with Beckett's handling of the situation.

"Captain," James replied mildly.

"Splendid to see you again, Captain Groves," Stella greeted.

Her voice was caw-like, as opposed to the rich coffee smoothness of her usual social tones.  James noted Theodore's brow furrow, and then the narrowing of his eyes as he noted the purple bruises around his wife's neck. "You'll be staying in the same cabin as you always do, Admiral," Groves informed him absently, still eyeing Stella's throat.  "And Lord Beckett wants to see you—both of you—as soon as you're settled."

James' usual cabin was on the starboard side of the ship, up near the main deck.  "You spent time here recently," Stella noted, once they stepped inside.  "Here."  And she walked over to the window.  "You worried."

"Yes.  I'm not at all confident about my ability to lead the men through this hurricane," James admitted.  "I have just as much—more—to loose this time."

"You'll be fine," Stella dismissed simply.  "You've got me on board."

"You're confident."  An oblique question, hidden inside a statement.

"As much as I hate to admit it, Lord Beckett's strategy is sound.  I can influence the way the wind blows if I'm out in it," she admitted.  "Your likelihood of floundering is much less with me aboard than it is without me—and that's the simple truth."

"And how tired will you be when it's over?" he asked darkly.

Stella grinned lopsidedly.  "I don't know—I've never tried this before."

James sat down on the bunk and groaned into his hands.

They hadn't brought much by way of baggage—just some extra clothing, a notebook full of some spells Stella thought she'd need (she didn't want to bring the entire grimoire if there was even the slightest possibility that the ship was going to sink), and some herbs and such.  Thus, it didn't take them long to prepare themselves to face Beckett once more.

He was holding court in the Great Cabin at the stern of the ship; When they entered the room, he looked up and smiled.  "Admiral, Mrs. Norrington.  Good afternoon."

"Lord Beckett."

Beckett strolled over to a desk upon which rested a map of the Caribbean.  "Tell me, Mrs. Norrington: where is the hurricane right now?" 

Stella tapped the island of Hispaniola with her finger, and the two of them were off. James took a back seat to these discussions, and spent most of the time hovering protectively around Stella.  Of course, Beckett didn't try anything—not with him right there.  While James had agreed to allow his wife to do as Beckett bid her, and while Beckett was technically his employer, both men knew that if Beckett hit Stella again, James would hit Beckett.  And James could hit a lot harder.

There was a slight argument about the destination of the fleet; Stella insisted that south would be best, since the hurricane was looking to veer north.  Beckett pointed out that those were deeper, open waters, and they'd be vulnerable; better to go north, and shelter between Cuba and Haiti.  Stella then raised a brow and inquired what, exactly, would they be vulnerable to?  After all, the hurricane was the largest threat facing them at the moment, and wouldn't the best course of action be to avoid it at all costs?  That meant going south, into the Caribbean.  Beckett's glare could have frozen the ocean, but he did give the command to sail south.

Later, when the sails were full and the fleet underway, Stella caught his arm and pulled him aside.  "Where is the Heart?" she demanded quietly.

"Beckett has it," James replied confusedly.  "Why?"

"His hold over Davy Jones is not so secure as he would like," Stella murmured, voice hardly audible over the wind.  "You recall his mention of vulnerabilities?"  James nodded.  "We're sailing into deeper waters.  With the distraction of the hurricane, Jones might try and take the chance to get his heart back.  I would," she added, smiling thinly.

"The Kraken?"

"Yes.  A distraction, while he takes back the Heart."  Stella's lips twisted.  "That is the vulnerability of sailing south.  Going north is worse, though.  I could kill myself dealing with the wind north of Jamaica, and when I was dead it would blow you into shore and you'd founder on the rocks anyway."

James heaved a sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose.  "This is going to be marvellous fun, isn't it?"

Stella chuckled darkly and stood on her toes to press a kiss to the tip of his chin.  "Look on the bright side, darling.  We might both die out here."

Rolling his eyes, James returned to his station. 


 

The winds grew worse as the light faded into night.  James and Stella retired to their cabin and tried to sleep. Tried. The energy of the hurricane was making Stella restless, and James was fretting so much over her that her restlessness made him restless as well.

She wagered it was very early in the morning when the hurricane's arms first reached out for their position.  She sat bolt upright in the bunk she was occupying and whispered, "It's here."

Her husband's sleepy voice came from the bunk above hers.  "Is it at the point where it starts to destroy the ship?"

"Not yet."

"Then go back to sleep."

She slept for a few more fitful hours, until the rocking of the ship and the roar of the wind—and the disquiet in her stomach—woke her.  James was already gone, and Stella smiled ruefully; she should've known he wouldn't be able to rest once the storm began, even with her aboard.  After the last one, his self-confidence was still a little shaky.

She got up and dressed in the dim light of a stormy dawn, feeling miserable.  Then she slipped silently out of the cabin and hurried up on deck.  She was awake long before Lord Beckett, and, thankfully, the only other people around were the sailors who had been on duty during the night.  The rain was beginning to fall in earnest, but it didn't impede her progress as she staggered and stumbled to the rail and puked, very genteelly, over the side of the ship.

"Seasick, Mrs. Norrington?" came the query from a sailor who appeared at the rail beside her, placing a steadying hand on her back.

"Seasickness, morning-sickness... either way, I feel horrible," Stella muttered, wiping the raindrops from her face.

"Better get back inside, Ma'am," the sailor advised.  A clap of thunder sounded overhead.  "Storm's getting worse."

Stella smiled thinly, and looked up into the clouds.  "I know."

She didn't go inside just yet.  She stood in the shelter of the sterncastle, and let the wind and rain lash her face and tear at her dress.  James found her there shortly thereafter.

"What are you doing?" he shouted over the wind.

"Listening," she called back.

"You're soaked to the bone—get inside!"  Once she was inside, James started fussing, trying to wring out her hair and dry her face with his sleeves.  "What on earth were you doing out there, so early in the morning?" he demanded.

"Throwing up," Stella replied honestly.

"Well, let's get you dry—"

"There's no point," she interrupted.  "The storm is getting worse.  I need to be out in it if I'm to do anything with it."

"Lord Beckett wants us in the stateroom for breakfast."

"Then I will go, and tell him so."

They found Lord Beckett by the globe.  He raised a brow when he noticed Stella dripping on the carpet.  "How fares the storm, Mrs. Norrington?  I assume from the state of your attire that you have already been outside to check."

"It grows worse, as I'm sure you've noticed," Stella replied calmly.  "By all rights, I should be out there right now."

"Then you had better go.  Keep the fleet safe," Beckett dismissed.

"Will you eat anything?" James asked her quietly, as she turned around to return to the deck.

"No.  My stomach couldn't hold it, not this early in the morning," Stella demurred.  She grinned weakly.  "The wonders of pregnancy."

"You wanted it," James reminded her, tapping a finger on the top of her pointed nose.

"You helped," she riposted, before dripping her way back on deck.

To her surprise, James went with her.  "I’m not letting you out there alone.  If something happens, I want to be out there to react to it," he explained.  "And, above all else, I don't want you going overboard."

To that purpose, he tied her to the ship.  Using a pair of silk scarves taken from Lord Beckett's stores, James lashed her arms to the rail of the sterncastle, just before the helm.   Stella managed an absent snicker, though the hurricane was already stealing her attention.

And then it swept her away.

She was with the wind, in the wind, on the wind—she was the wind.  She whirled and screamed and laughed and roared out over the ocean.  As the gale lashed the trees of Hispaniola, Stella was there.  As the wind tore at the sails of Beckett's armada, Stella was there.  She was the stabbing lightning and the pouring rain and the shrieking gusts.  She was the drive of the storm and the stillness of the eye.  The strength of the hurricane was her strength, and Stella was more powerful than she had ever been in all her life. 

If she wanted, Stella could have joined herself to the storm and sunk all the ships, destroyed that which Lord Beckett was trying so hard to build and drowned the man who'd dared to raise his hand to her.  But she didn't.  Couldn't.

A tiny thread, as thin as cobweb, kept her anchored in her body and linked her power to her conscious mind, reminding her that, though she was the storm, she was also a woman called Stella.  Only the child slumbering in her womb restrained her from letting everything go, and flying off to become one with the storm.

Had Lord Beckett taken her out into a hurricane at any other time, it would have been one of the last things he'd done.  The sheer power of the storm and Stella's affinity with it would have overwhelmed her, and there would have been no stopping her.  Not even her affection for James Norrington would have kept her from unleashing her fury on her enemy.

Speaking of James Norrington, there he was!  Stella-who-was-the-storm saw him climb the steps to the quarterdeck and approach Stella-who-wasn't-the-storm, and touch her hand, and brush away the hair that had plastered itself to her face.  Stella-who-was-the-storm gathered her friends and whirled down to swirl playfully around him, nearly blowing off his wig in the process (naturally, all the men had left their hats inside).

James smiled through the rain.  "Stop it, Stella!" he called.  "I need that!"

Laughing, she blew off elsewhere, to check on the other ships she was supposed to be minding.  Something familiar tickled her senses, and she was going to go look when a jangling chorus of wrong erupted from the ocean.

She didn't even need to look to know what it was: the other wind saw, so she did too.  So that was the Flying Dutchman.  Stella-who-was-the-storm gusted around it to take a look.  It wasn't much to look at physically, but she could practically see the enchantments around it.  Laughing gleefully, she scoured around the ship, letting her senses drink their fill.  The crew was not immune to her scrutiny; she blew several of them over in her haste to inspect them.  There was a man becoming one with a coral reef; another with the head of a shark.  Did that one have a head at all?  Oh yes, there it was—it was that of an eel, and he'd hidden it away to shield it from the driving wind.  And there... there was Davy Jones.  The master of this curious floating construct and all the weird amalgamations who inhabited it.

James was right... he did have a squid for a beard.

She swirled around him inquisitively, and was positively delighted when several beardy-tentacles curled around the brim of his hat to keep it on his cephalopodan skull.  Jones, however, was not delighted.  He glared at her fiercely, even though he couldn't see her, and snapped his crab-claw arm at the driving rain.

"Storm's getting stronger, cap'n!" yelled one of the beings—the one with the hammerhead crown.

"Douse canvas and keep her steady," Davy Jones shouted back.  His speech was oddly abrupt; he lengthened the sibilant fricatives and overemphasised the other consonant sounds.  It reminded Stella of the choppy seas after a storm has passed.

Then he raised his head to the sky and roared, "Let no joyful voice be heard!  Let no man look up at the sky with hope! And let this day be cursed by we who ready to wake... the Kraken!"

Stella-who-was-the-storm screamed, and spun back on the air to return to the Endeavour, missing the sight of the Kraken-hammer.  She felt it, though—felt the deep thump against the ocean, and the summons that went with it.  Desperation and terror drove her on, and Stella-who-was-the-storm slammed back into Stella-who-wasn't with enough force to knock her physical body off her feet.

James was at her side in an instant.  "Are you all right?" he shouted over the wind.

Stella screamed at the top of her lungs.  She'd meant to warn him, tell him Davy Jones was here and that he'd summoned the Kraken, but apparently coherent speech hadn't yet made it back into her body.  She kept screaming and screaming, trying to warn him.

She hated being right about things like these.

"What is it?" James asked frantically.

Words finally formed on her lips.  "Kraken!  Kraken!  Dutchman's here—get the Heart!" she shrieked.  All the colour washed from James' face.  Then the ship seemed to hit something—an impossible feat, since they were too far out to sea for that.  The Kraken was here. "Get it now!"

James immediately ran for the Great Cabin below the quarterdeck, stopping only on the way to order a sailor to ring the bell.  Its clanging sent the whole crew into motion as they scurried around the deck, going for cutlasses and spears.  More sailors poured out from belowdecks.  Panic was heavy in the air.

Stella was terrified—what would happen to them?  If Beckett gave up the Heart, Jones would kill him, and then he'd probably kill James as well.   If Beckett didn't give up the Heart—and this situation was much more likely—the Kraken might do untold amounts of damage to the ship, many of the people on board might be killed, and they might all sink in the hurricane, which was far from over.

She wanted to scream with frustration.  The Kraken was ruining everything!  If only it was put out of commission!

Something occurred to her.

No—no, it's foolhardy and dangerous, she scolded herself.

But it could be our only chance, she argued back.

You're not strong enough—

With the hurricane here?  Oh yes, I am!

Well, you won't be doing anything while tied to the rail!

"Captain!  Captain Groves!" she called, using the roaring winds to bring her voice to his ears.  Groves looked up at her from his position on the poop deck.  "Untie me, please!"

Groves made his way up to the quarterdeck; his sea legs were much stronger than hers, and his steps were steady.  When he reached her, he used a boot-knife to cut through the scarves securing her wrists to the rail.  She was almost knocked off her feet when the bonds came free, but Groves grabbed her arm and steadied her.  "What's going on?" he demanded over the noise of the sailors.

"Kraken!" she replied simply.  Groves swore, which Stella politely ignored. "I must find my husband!  He has to bring the Heart—it's our only chance!"

Groves took her arm and helped her hurry down the stairs of the quarterdeck, then aided her dash towards the inside of the ship.  It was hard; the deck was still swaying precariously, the wind was still gusting robustly, the deck had been soaked with rain and the occasional wave spraying salt water, and her skirts had become sodden impediments around her legs.

James and Beckett met them at the door.  In Beckett's hand was the pulsating red silk bag, and Stella nearly sobbed with relief.  It was probably the only moment in her life when she was actually glad to lay eyes on the man.

"What's going on?" Beckett demanded the moment he saw them.

His answer came in the form of a tentacle as wide as his whole body, which slithered up on deck and plucked one of the sailors off his feet and dragged him, screaming, into the roiling ocean.

"Kraken," Stella replied succinctly.

Beckett's eyes went rather wide, and he frowned nervously.   "I didn't think Jones would dare to try something like this."

James and Captain Groves shared an exasperated look, before Groves ran off to take command of the defences.  "Well, he is!" James shouted.  "Do something!  Call him off!"

Beckett's skin was as pale as milk, and he swallowed heavily.  Stella sneered at him—she knew he was powerless.  He couldn't Call without a ritual, and there wasn't any time for that now.  She knew it, and she suspected that Davy Jones knew it too.

He's planned all this out rather well, she thought fleetingly.

"Oh, give it to me!" she snapped, yanking the bag out of Beckett's hands.  Then she pressed it to her chest and shouted, "Davy Jones, hearken!  I summon thee!"  Turning to James, she yelled, "Open the spyglass!  The Dutchman is floating off the port side."

"No need!" came a cold voice.  And Davy Jones materialised before the mast.  With him came a host of his nightmarish crewmembers, even as the Kraken's tentacles began to snake up the side of the ship.  The sound of cannons firing came to her ears, but sounded as though it was far away.  "I'm here for my heart, weevil," he spat at Beckett, who was still standing, frozen, beside James and Stella.

James removed his pistol in one smooth movement and pointed it at the bag in Stella's hands.  "Stop right there," he commanded curtly, "or I'll destroy it, and you along with it."

Davy Jones just laughed.  "Ye do that," he pointed out amusedly, "and who'll stop the Kraken from destroying yer ship?"  He glanced over his shoulder to where the sailors of the Endeavour were trying futilely to beat the monster off.  Then he turned his electric blue eyes back to the trio in the shadow of the sterncastle.  "Give me back what's mine," he snarled, "and I'll let the rest o' ye go."

"Liar," Stella whispered.

There was no other choice—he'd backed them into a corner surely as anything.  Give back the Heart, and he'd kill her husband and scuttle the ship.  Keep the Heart, and he'd let the Kraken do as it willed, and the ship would sink anyway, and he'd have back his Heart.  There was no choice but to remove the Kraken from this standoff.  It had to be done.

She just hoped she remembered how.

So Stella pulled the Heart out of the bag, clasped it over her own heart, wrapped the power in the wind around her like a cloak, and warned her husband, "Whatever happens, don't let me go."

Then she locked eyes with Davy Jones. 


 

When his wife warned him not to let her go, James immediately grabbed her arm.  And not a moment too soon—her skin went very cold, and she suddenly seemed as inanimate as a puppet.  If he let her go, she would fall; since he was keeping her up, she stood.

Surprisingly, Davy Jones staggered at the exact same instant, before straightening up and bellowing curses aimed in Stella's direction.  A moment or two after that the arms of the Kraken, which had been picking sailors off the deck and winding around the ship, started acting erratically—flailing, twitching—before going abruptly still.

"What's happening?" Beckett asked shakily.  James spared a moment to glare at him—master schemer he might be, but it seemed Cutler Beckett was useless in a crisis.

Oddly enough, the answer came from Davy Jones. "Yer thrice-damned witch is possessin' my Kraken!" he bellowed.

James fought the urge to bury his face in his hands.  "Of course she is." 


 

When she was younger, and her mother kept her hidden away from the rough-and-tumble society of their new Tortugan home, Stella used to possess birds, and fly around the island in their minds.  Her mother had eventually discovered her pastime, and forbidden her from doing it again—it was too dangerous.  Stella could loose herself in the other mind, or exhaust herself through the effort until she didn't have the strength to return to her own body, or even die if something happened to the host while she was possessing it.

It was not a rare talent among the women of their lines (Grandmother Esme had been the best at it, and owned several cats she used to Borrow), but one which was not generally used.  It was too dangerous; so much could go wrong.  And if Stella hadn't been standing in the middle of a hurricane, with all that power at her fingertips, and with her husband next to her to guard her physical body while her mind was out on holiday, she never would have thought to try her hand at possessing something as massive as the Kraken.  Even though she was in her element, so to speak, there was still an absurd amount of danger involved in her endeavour.

However, she didn't have much of a choice.  Someone had to take down the Kraken, and she was the only one who could.

She kept Davy Jones' heart close; with that connection, she leapt into Jones' mind, finding his link to the Kraken and roaring through with all the power she could marshal, coming at last to the beast's consciousness.  There she spread like some kind of malevolent root system, pressing her will against its—her—instincts.

The Kraken was hungry.   That was the defining instinct that drove her on.  Currently, she was angry as well at the pain the men were inflicting on her.  And she was loyal—as much as she could be, with such basic instincts—to Davy Jones.

Stella used the power of the Heart to spread her will over the Kraken, commanding her to cease her assault, influencing her to calmness.  Because of the power of the Heart which made her seem familiar to the Kraken's mind and the wellspring of power available in the form of the hurricane, it wasn't long until Stella had control of the leviathan and ordered it to stillness.  She was able to keep her mind mostly apart from the beast, since the Kraken was seafaring and Stella herself was avian, but she felt everything the Kraken did. From the pain in her tentacles (did she have tentacles?) to the hunger gnawing in her belly (but James had fed her, not two hours ago) to the cool water all around her (but she didn't like the water), she felt it.  She felt the instinct to destroy and the promise to protect; she knew the sea and all its secrets the same way she knew the ways of the sky.  Her heart—hearts?—bent towards a being with tentacles like her, but equally—stronger?—towards a man with green eyes.

Was she a lady?  A storm?  A beast with a multitude of arms?  All of these things?  None?

Stella wasn't entirely sure anymore. 


 

An eerie hush descended on the ship.  The Kraken's tentacles stopped moving, and slithered back down into the water.  Even the wind ceased its shrieking howl, just... fading away before it struck the Endeavour.  James, who was still holding Stella steady, felt a strange energy passing through her body, and he wondered if she didn't have something to do with this unnatural quiet.

Davy Jones took a menacing step closer to the party of three: James, his insensate wife, and their equally insensate employer.  "Stop," James commanded, before Jones had even set his crab-like peg-leg back on the deck.  He pressed his pistol closer to the heart, wishing desperately for a sword.  "Don't move."

The squid-man just scoffed.  "Ye can't do ennathin'—not without killin' her," he pointed out astutely.

"Hardly."  The smooth voice inserted itself into the conversation like a well-placed knife through an enemy's ribs.  "At the very least, all he'll do is blow off her fingers.  And since he's her husband, I'm sure she'll forgive him... eventually." Apparently, now that all the urgent danger had passed, Lord Beckett had snapped himself out of whatever panic-driven paralysis had afflicted him, and was back to pulling all the strings of the people around him.

But considering the virulent glare Jones had turned on the Norringtons once he knew their relationship, James wished fervently that Beckett had stayed silent a bit longer.

"Really, Captain Jones," Beckett went on, strolling carefully forward to where James still held his wife erect.  "I had thought you understood your position.  Using your tools for such a purpose... I'm quite disappointed."  He removed a slim blade from an inner pocket of his jacket, and pointed it directly at the beating heart cradled against Stella's chest.  "Perhaps I overestimated both your rational powers... and your usefulness to me."

The look of loathing Jones gave Beckett could have peeled paint right off the hull.  "Then do it, and be done with it," he spat.

"And loose both my treasures?" Beckett inquired rhetorically.  "No, you shan't be escaping so easily, Jones.  Stella?  Escort Captain Jones back to his ship," he commanded, speaking over his shoulder to the inert Mrs. Norrington.

He was, of course, violently surprised when a tendril of Stella's loose black hair shot out like a bolt of lightning and curled around his neck.

Beckett started choking and scrabbling around his neck, but Stella's hair was wet and smooth like... well, like a Kraken tentacle, and he found nothing to dig his fingers into.  James started violently and nearly dropped his wife—the rest of her hair had started writhing and swaying a bit like Davy Jones' beard, and her skin had taken on a smooth, almost slimy texture—but for his recollection not to drop her under any means.  And Davy Jones started laughing.

"What fortuitous circumstance be this!" he crowed. "She may have possessed the Kraken, but the Kraken's got her hooks in too!  Well done!  Now, pet," he added, voice turning sinister, "kill him."

"No!" James shouted, as Stella's... hair... tightened around Beckett's neck, forcing the man to drop to his knees.  "Don't, Stella.  We still need him."  As much as it galled, this was true.   Beckett was the lynchpin around which the entire enterprise turned; without him, it would fall to pieces, and the middle of a hurricane with a Kraken underfoot was not the moment for such an upheaval.

"He hurt me," came the reply, torn from Stella's throat with a strange guttural flatness.

"Aye," Davy Jones agreed emphatically, "so take your vengeance!"

"Keep your guns on them, men!"  That was Groves, bringing another player into the standoff.

"You can't do this now, Stella," James hissed.  "They'll kill you if you kill him!"

"Finish the job!" Davy Jones bellowed.  "Kill him, and return my property!  The fleet's yours to destroy when he's dead!"

"Stand down, Captain Jones!" came the command from the soldiers.  "Release Lord Beckett and Mrs. Norrington, and return to your ship!"

"Kill him!  Finish—!"

"Stand down—!"

"Let go—!"

It was a step away from a total mêlée, with everyone shouting, and the wind beginning to scream, and the ship creaking, and the waves crashing against the hull.

And in the noise, James leaned down, brushed the squirming tentacles of his wife's hair away from her neck, and whispered gently against her skin, like a stone dropping into the water, "Starling, come back."

A moment, stretched as tight as corset stays, in which everything hung in the balance.

Then a soft sigh.  Stella sagged into James' arms, and her hair uncoiled from Lord Beckett's throat.  James breathed a sigh of relief himself, and slipped an arm around Stella's slightly swollen belly, spooning her drenched body against his.  Lord Beckett himself collapsed onto the deck, gasping for air.  And Davy Jones turned a look so hateful onto the Norringtons that James could feel it on his skin, and he unconsciously held Stella closer.

Stella used him as leverage and pushed herself as far upright as her strength would allow.  "Go," she commanded hoarsely, glaring tiredly at Davy Jones.  "Take your... creatures... and go.  Leave us, or I'll destroy your ship and you along with it."

"Witch," Jones spat at her, glowering hatefully.

"Monster," she retorted.  "Begone!"

"Not quite," Beckett corrected, having collected himself and stood.  He cleared his throat a few times, but the poisoned honey of his voice was absent, and his tones nearly as harsh as Stella's currently were.  It was curious form of justice.  "It seems I was unwise to allow your pet to continue on under your control..."

"Now is not the time for a soliloquy, Lord Beckett," James ground out.  Stella's hair was growing restless, writhing against his chest in a truly disquieting sensation, her breath was coming quicker, and her body was tense.  "I don't know how much longer she can hold it."

Beckett's cold blue eyes studied her dispassionately for a moment.  "Perhaps you're right, Admiral."  He turned to Davy Jones.  "Kill it."

"What?" Jones demanded, lowly.

"I believe I was quite clear," Beckett replied calmly.  "You cannot be trusted with the Kraken.  Kill it." 


 

However much time had passed, or was passing, Stella wasn't sure.  Her entire world had narrowed to the Kraken, and to herself.  Even the storm beyond had retreated to the fringes of her consciousness as she tried so hard to continue exerting her control over the Kraken.

She was tired... so tired.  Stretched so thin, pulled so tight, about to snap like a bowstring.    She had never possessed something so large for so long, and she worried that it was starting to take a toll on her.  She knew she'd have to let go soon, or she'd kill herself through the effort, but what would happen when she did?

A tickle in her mind—or was it the Kraken's mind?—called her away from the Endeavour.  Probably the Kraken's mind, then.  She glided through the choppy waters toward the Dutchman, and—

Pain tore through her—both of her.  She screamed.

Stella gathered herself and pulled away.  Tried, rather—the Kraken, afraid and wounded, wouldn't let her leave, and clung to her like a favoured toy, as though she had some power to drive the hurt away.  She didn't understand... she had come as Davy Jones had asked her—why was he hurting her?

Another explosion of pain.  Another terrified wail.  Was she screaming?  Was the Kraken?  Both?

She pulled and pulled on her mind, trying desperately to return to her own body.  The Kraken's pain was hers, and if she was dying and Stella couldn't separate her consciousness, Stella would die too.

Another wave of pain, more intense.  Pain was her world now; every moment was physical and psychic agony, and she could feel death approaching at a rapid clip.  Neither Stella nor the Kraken were unfamiliar with death, having both delivered it and fought it, and they knew.

The Kraken wouldn't let her go.  She clung to life tenaciously, and since Stella was alive she clung to the witch as well.  And Stella didn't have enough strength to tear herself away by force.

Perhaps this was a bad idea, she thought woozily.

One final shot, and pain gave way to a blessed darkness. 


 

The storm rallied itself again, now that Stella wasn't around to soothe it or take its power—whatever it was she'd been doing.  Davy Jones and his crew had walked into the woodwork of the Endeavour and thus vanished back to the Dutchman.  James was glad to see them go; perhaps then his wife would return to normal, and he could send her inside.

A cannon shot sounded.  A mere moment later, Stella went stiff in his arms, and screamed.

"What's happening?" Beckett inquired politely, watching as Stella began to shake.

James picked her up and brought her inside, away from the rain, and lowered her gently to the floor, kneeling beside her.  Her hair was still twisting and writhing of its own volition, her skin was still wet and clammy and strangely serpentine, and her eyes were wide and staring off at nothing.  Another cannon shot sounded, scarcely heard over the roaring wind, and Stella's blue-tinged lips opened in another bloodcurdling scream.

"God's blood, he's killing her," James realised in horror.  "Stella!  Stella, you have to get away from the Kraken!"  He wrestled the Heart of Davy Jones away from her rictus-like grip and thrust it back at Beckett.  "Stella, come back!"

"I don't think she can," Beckett commented over his shoulder, tucking the Heart back into its bag.

The cannons were firing with more regularity, and Stella kept screaming and scrabbling at the deck as her body twisted with pain.  Tears were beginning to leak out of her unseeing black eyes, and her pale face was warped with her agony.  James grasped her hands, knowing she'd harm herself if she kept flailing, and trying to offer what comfort her could... he didn't even know if she could feel it.  There was nothing he could do for her.

Then, one final cannon shot.  Thunder rolled over the ocean.   Stella took a deep, sobbing gasp... and went limp.  Her eyes rolled up into her head, and her hair went still as her face smoothed out into an expressionless mask.

James' hands clenched convulsively around Stella's as all his breath whooshed out of his body.  It felt like he'd just been punched in the gut. 

"No," he whispered, gathering her fragile body into his arms.  She was limp and cold, but had never looked so beautiful to him than at that moment, when loosing her was a very real possibility.  What will I do without her?

Then came the unwelcome query from Lord Beckett.

"Is she dead?" 


 

Stella floated on the tide, with the wind.  Her tears became one with the water, and she wept quietly as she went along.

The Kraken was dead.  Stella had been with her in her last death throes, as she hadn't been with Jack Osborn, offering comfort to the last.  She had to stay anyway—Stella couldn't escape from the mire of the Kraken's mind until she was dead.

Was she dead too?

Mama?  Papa?  she called.  Jack?  Mama?  Are you there—here?

She didn't know how long she blew along with the sea and the sky.  Time had no meaning.  Eventually, she found herself alongside a ship—a tiny, rather decrepit ship, and wafted up through the hull.  There were sailors—dirty, unkempt sailors.  Pirates.

In the Great Cabin, under the sterncastle, was an older man in a very large hat peering at a series of charts.  Stella recognised him.  "Damn!" she swore.  "I am dead."

The man—captain, rather, since he couldn't be anything else in such a pretentious hat—turned around, startled.  "What the blazes...?"

"I'm dead, you fool.  And I must be in hell, too—there's no other reason for you to be here as well, Hector Barbossa."

"This isn't hell, ye daft hyssop," Barbossa snorted, rolling his eyes.

"But you're dead."

"I'm not."

"Of course you are.  Jack Sparrow shot you."

A stained grin.  "Death didn't take."

At this point, Barbossa had apparently decided that Stella wasn't hostile, and had approached where she stood... floated... hovered.  He peered at her curiously for a moment.  Then he stuck his hand through her chest.

Stella shrieked indignantly, and went to slap him roundly across the face.  Her hand went right through him.

This seemed to please Barbossa.  "Aye, ye be a ghost," he concluded.

"I see death hasn't made you any less of an unmitigated ass," Stella remarked sourly.

A smoky chuckle interrupted what probably would have turned into a fairly inventive round of insults, and Stella didn't even need to look to know who it would be.  A smile spread across her face.  "Tia!"

"Bonjou, ma pitit," Tia greeted warmly, her voice providing the only heat Stella felt at the time, as sultry as a humid afternoon just before a rainstorm.

Stella wafted over, but realised that, just as she couldn't hit Barbossa, she couldn't embrace Tia, either.  "I miss you," she whispered.  Tia gave her an inky smile and placed the palm of her hand on Stella's ghostly cheek; Stella felt an echo of the sensation.  "Are we dead?" she asked.

"Non, cherie," Tia assured her.  "You 'ave but come to see us 'ere, on our travels."

"So I'm not dead?"  Tia shook her head.  Stella glared poisonously at Barbossa, who smiled mockingly at her.  "He ought to be."

"Stella..." Tia warned.

"Well, it's a valid point," Stella snapped.  "My mother—"

"Was at peace," Tia interrupted.

She scowled.  "It's still not fair," she muttered.  Then, collecting herself again, she sneered at Barbossa.  "Since I'm not dead, can I curse him?" she inquired, pointing at the captain, whose eyes went wide.

Apparently deciding that there was no shame in hiding, Barbossa skittered nervously behind Tia, who laughed her rich rum-like laughter.  "Better no' waste your strength," she advised.  "You still needin' to get beck t'you body."  She laid a hand on Stella's abdomen.  "Da pitit be all dat keep you livin', and dat's a heavy burden."

"My baby," Stella whispered, putting insubstantial hands on her belly.

"Her be strong one day," Tia promised.  "But only if her gets de chance to be born."

Before Stella could respond to that—or, most importantly, ask if Tia had any pointers on how to get back—the cabin doors burst open, and two sailors strode in.  She recognised both of them.

"Mr. Turner!  I'm surprised to see you here... or perhaps not," she greeted smoothly.  Gone was the vulnerable soon-to-be-mother, the uncertain ghost; in her place was Black Stella the witch.

Will did a double-take, staring dumbfounded at the apparition standing before Tia Dalma.  "Miss Bell?" he eventually said.

"Actually, it's Mrs. Norrington now," she corrected, taking perverse pleasure in the gasp this information wrung from Will's companion.  "I got married."

"To James Norrington?" Elizabeth Swann interrupted incredulously.

"Why, yes!  Jealous?" Stella queried.  And she smiled poisonously.

So, this was Elizabeth Swann in the flesh.  It was the first time Stella had actually laid eyes on her for an extended period of time.  She was beautiful—no doubt about that—though her hair was more golden than James apparently remembered, and there was something hard in her jaw and cold in her eyes.

Perhaps, if there hadn't been such history between them (though Elizabeth was rather unaware of this), Stella might have been disposed to like Miss Swann.  She was passionate, clever, and steadfast; she was also scheming, secretive, and willing to do anything and everything to achieve her goals.

Stella had once commented about seeing through a glass darkly; though she had been referring to Davy Jones and her husband, the same applied to Stella and Elizabeth.  The two women had many similar traits, though Stella was icy where Elizabeth was ardent.  Had James been asked, he would've rolled his eyes and made a comment about familiarity breeding contempt.  Had Stella been asked, she would have raised a brow and remarked that Elizabeth was far below her contempt.

Stella never admitted the real reason, even to herself.

"Yes, I married James Norrington, after his return to Port Royal," she replied more thoroughly.

"Traitor," Elizabeth breathed.

"To you?  You're a criminal—a pirate.  The best you can hope for is the hangman's noose.  In the eyes of the majority of the world, you're the traitor," Stella sneered.

"It's possible to be a good person and a pirate," Elizabeth spat back.

"Of course.  But somehow, you don't quite manage to carry it off," Stella said with mock-sympathy.

"How dare you—" Elizabeth gasped.

"How's your father?" Stella inquired swiftly, interrupting whatever else Elizabeth might have said.  "Hmm?  I daresay you don't know, do you?  You just left him behind when you fled Beckett to seek out your fiancé.  Fiancé... have you married him yet?"  Elizabeth's flush was all the answer she needed.  "I didn't think so.  I wonder, then, what's your father suffering for?"

"My father's suffering?" Elizabeth repeated, looking struck.

"He's under Beckett's thumb—of course he's suffering," Stella snapped.  "And all for his precious daughter."

Elizabeth's face had paled noticeably, but Stella wasn't done yet.  She glanced over at Will, where he hovered protectively around his fiancée, and plucked knowledge from him which she would use to hurt the woman he loved.  "His father is in his mind constantly; the elder Turner's suffering is his.  You, however, Miss Swann... you are not exactly a stunning example of filial devotion.  Weatherby hasn't stopping thinking about you since the moment you left.  I wonder..." her voice dropped lower, "how much mind do you pay to him?"

"You have no idea what I feel for my father," Elizabeth growled, glaring at the ghostly Stella.

"I know you good as forgot him the moment you left Port Royal," she returned sweetly.  "I suppose you hated your station so much throughout your life that you were eager to shed everything about it the moment you could—including your loving father, who'd never been anything but supportive of you.  You're all he has in the world, and he's sold himself to save you.  Yet you've all but forgotten him to gallivant around with pirates.  Such an ungrateful, selfish girl.  Or perhaps, just a..." She smiled—a slow, lazy grin that promised pain at the end and—though she didn't know it—made her look a bit like Jack Sparrow as she accused Elizabeth: "Pirate."

Elizabeth's face went white as milk as her dark eyes filled with tears, and she whirled around and nearly ran from the cabin.  Will shot Stella a look of loathing and followed her.

Stella smirked.  "James is right," she remarked amusedly, "I'm a bad person.  I enjoyed that far too much."

"Ye always were a viper-tongued bitch," Barbossa remarked idly.

Stella glared at him.  "Hector, I will hurt you."  Barbossa threw up his hands in surrender and subtly moved a bit behind Tia Dalma.

"Betteh save you power, Stella," Tia advised.  "Beckett's not done wit you yet."

She suddenly felt tired.  "Of course he's not."

"What's wrong with your hair?" Barbossa demanded.

Stella lifted a hand, before remembering that she couldn't feel anything.  "What is wrong with my hair?"

"It's movin'."

"Oh... that.  There was a... Kraken," Stella said haltingly, realising that an explanation would be almost impossible—and that she didn't trust Barbossa that much anyway.

She'd gobsmacked him, at any rate; he stared at her blankly for a long moment, before just shaking his grizzled head and plopping back down at his table, apparently deciding to pretend that she wasn't there.

Tia, however, sashayed over, and ran a hand over Stella's aura.  Her dark eyes widened.  "What did you do?" she breathed.

"What I had to," Stella replied stiffly.  "I didn't want to die, Tia."

"You nearly die anyway," she pointed out.

"It was a calculated risk."

"Veerry risky."

"I knew what I was doing."

"Did you?  Did you really?" Tia pressed.  "De beast, it die when you still wit it.  And now it survive in you."  She ran a graceful hand over Stella's hair—or at least, where Stella's hair would be if it wasn't insubstantial.

"What?!" Stella squeaked.  "Is it permanent?"

"If you live," Tia replied ominously.

Stella took that to be Tia-speak for 'get back to your body soon, or you won't get back there at all'.  But she didn't want to leave—she'd missed Tia, missed talking to her and taking counsel from her.  She'd felt safer when she knew that she could run to Tia on the Pantano if things went truly wrong.  But now things were truly wrong, and Tia was on this tiny boat in the middle of the ocean.  "I wish... it all got so complicated," she sighed helplessly.

Tia smiled compassionately.  "You stronger dan you t'ink, bijou.  For what it wort', t'ough, you 'ave my favour."  And she leaned over and pressed a gentle kiss on Stella's ghostly forehead.  Stella actually felt it—the warmth of Tia's lips and a strange tingling sensation.

She stared at Tia as though she'd never seen her before, realising that there was much more to her friend than she had previously.  The voodoo enchantress, correctly interpreting her expression, just smiled mysteriously.  "You go show dat liddle man what we are," she whispered.

Stella laughed—the full-bodied, caw-like cackle that only Tia and James had ever been able to coax out of her.  Then she closed her eyes and put her hands on her belly.  Tia's hands went over hers—again with the almost-feeling sensation—and she murmured, "I be wit you when you need me.  Now go."

Stella went. 


 

Is she dead?

James didn't answer—couldn't answer.  An answer would make things real.  But if he said nothing, he could still hold his wife in his arms and make the rest of the world would stay still for a little bit longer.

What would he do without her?

Beckett wasn't taking kindly to being ignored.  "Admiral," he insisted, "is she dead?"

"I don't know," James ground out through clenched teeth.

"Then check."

He didn't want to, and held Stella's body tighter.

Then, suddenly, her skin got warmer.  She stirred in his grip, and muttered something indistinct.

Something unbearably tight in his chest went slack, and he felt as though he could float away on the relief thrumming through his veins.  "She's not dead," he breathed.   Then, louder and more defiant, "She's not dead."

"Thank heavens," Beckett remarked, without any real feeling.  He bent over to peer at the still limp form of his admiral's wife.  "Mrs. Norrington, are you sensible?"

"Leave her alone," James snapped.  "She's exhausted."

"I need to know about the storm, for all our sakes," Beckett replied coolly.  "Mrs. Norrington.  Mrs. Norrington, awake!"

Stella stirred in James' arms again, mumbling faintly.  Her hair was going all strange again; James could feel it moving against his arms.  He rested his hand on her forehead and gently brushed his thumb across her wet skin.  Her eyelashes fluttered.  "Starling. Lord Beckett wants to speak with you."

"Lord Beckett," Stella muttered, her speech slurred, "can go to the devil."  At least, that was what James estimated she said.  Between the rain lashing the doors, the muted roar of the wind from outside, the creak of the hull, the shouting of the men outside, and Stella's own incoherence, her words were barely comprehensible.

"Mrs. Norrington," Lord Beckett repeated.  "I must know about the storm."

Stella's black eyes fluttered open, and she shot a dirty look at Beckett.  However, it was much less fearsome and powerful than her usual glares, given the bleariness of her eyes and the fact that she was teetering on the edge of unconsciousness.  "The storm will do as it wills.  I have no more strength to affect it," she informed him indistinctly.  "Besides," she added in a murmur, "it's almost over anyway."

"How close to almost over?" Beckett insisted.

"Give it a few hours after sunset," Stella replied softly, before curling in towards her husband and making clear that the conversation was over.

"I'm putting her to bed," James announced, lifting her up.  "Sunset will be in an hour or so—not that we'll see it—and there's nothing more she can do for you."  He paused a moment, to give Lord Beckett a very stern look.  "Everything you asked, she has done," he said lowly.  "Now let her have some peace.  I do not want her to see you until tomorrow."  And he turned to go.

Beckett's voice reached his ears.  "Be sure to tell her she did quite well."

Stella was shivering and hovering between waking and sleeping when James got a midshipman to open the door.  They were both soaked to the bone, and he immediately set Stella down on the table until he could get her into a dry nightgown and into bed.

However, he was stymied by Stella's dress, which was complicated and wet and the laces knotted... he'd never had to deal with ladies attire before.  "I apologise in advance for the damage I'm going to do to your dress," James said to his wife's body.  And then he took his boot-knife and sliced through the laces, nearly tore off the sleeves in an effort to get her arms free, and finally managed to get her only in her shift.  He dropped the sodden mass of cloth of the floor.

When she was finally unclothed, James briskly but gently towelled her off.  Her fingernails and lips were blue from the cold, and gooseflesh was popping up all over her body.  But he eventually manoeuvred her into her nightgown and tucked her into her bunk, piling all the blankets at hand onto her body.

After a few minutes, she stopped shivering, and slipped quietly into sleep.  James knew he should return to deck, but Groves had everything well in hand and he was still reeling from having nearly lost her.  So he moved a chair to the side of the bunk and seated himself.

Her hair was still... well, still acting a bit like Davy Jones' beard.  Perhaps this was just an after-effect of whatever she'd done to the Kraken.  James reached out and tentatively ran his fingers through her hair; it still felt like hair, still parted along his touch.  But it also gathered itself into larger locks, and twined gently around his fingers, slithering up to wrap softly about his wrist.  It felt like hair, but didn't act like it, and was a most disconcerting sensation.

James stayed with her for a quarter of an hour, until duty niggled and reminded him of his responsibilities.  Stella still slept deeply and peacefully, and her skin was warm when he brushed his fingers against her cheek—and a tendril of her dark hair came and curled itself lazily around his hand.  He rubbed the moving strand between his fingers; it wasn't solid, like a tentacle, but separated into all its varying strands.

"I wonder what you'll make of it when you wake up," James commented quietly.

But she didn't wake for two days.


The hurricane did indeed peter out after sunset.  The wind still blew, but with less ferocity.  The rain fell, but more gently.  Grey sunlight filtered through the clouds with the advent of the next dawn.

James met the day on the sterncastle, standing at the rail at the front of the helm where Stella had been lashed the day before.  His wife was still sleeping; a slight pity, since she could've given them an estimate of their position.  The hurricane had blown them God knows where, and there had been no stars the night before by which to chart their position.  North was the common estimate of Jamaica in relation to themselves, but otherwise no one knew where they were.

Theodore found him at the rail about mid-morning.  "Admiral," he greeted.

"Good morning, Captain," James replied, sparing Theodore a wan smile.

"I daresay the fleet survived the blow quite well," Theodore commented uncomfortably, shifting from foot to foot.

"Quite well indeed," James agreed mildly.  There was obviously something on his subordinate's mind.

"Er... how's your wife?" Theodore inquired, after clearing his throat.

James frowned.  "She's sleeping."

Theodore coughed.  "Right.  Right.  I... hope she's... well."

He certainly wasn't making any headway on whatever it was he wanted to discuss.  "Walk with me, Captain?" James suggested evenly.  They strolled in silence along the decks, stopping at the bow and looking off into the distance.  "Have you any idea where we are?"

"Off the coast of Mexico, I think, was the last guess."

"Mexico has a lot of coast," James noted.

"I never said it was a good guess," Theodore winced.  Then he finally seemed to pluck up enough courage to breach the subject he'd wanted to from the start.  "James, what in God's name is wrong with your wife?"

"At this exact moment in time?" James replied coolly, feeling the insult on Stella's behalf.  "She's sick and exhausted."

"That's... that's not what I meant," Theodore said haltingly.  He quailed slightly under James' icy glare, but rallied admirably.  "I like her, James—you know that.  I think she's charming, clever, and a good match for you.  But... well, she makes the men nervous.  They... they say she's a witch."

"Of course they do," James sighed tightly.  He pinched the bridge of his nose.  "Bearing in mind how useful Lord Beckett considers her, you think he'd be a little better at protecting her—or allowing me to do so."

"What?"  James just gave him a withering look.  Theodore understood immediately, and drew himself up indignantly.  "James, you can't think—?"

"I don't know what to think anymore."

There was a long, weighted pause, full of unsaid words.  Then:

"Do you remember that time, when you were still captain of The Interceptor, and we chased that pirate ship—what was it called?—all the way to the coast of Florida?" Theodore began.

"The Sea Lion," James replied, looking off to the horizon.  "Yes, I remember."

"I was shot.  I thought I was going to die, until you found me.  You dragged me to the surgeon by my coat."

"And you left a trail of blood all the way across the deck... it took ages to swab off."  James looked down, and to his clenched fists.

"You took a ball yourself."

"I didn't notice."

"I know.  And all the men noticed you not noticing," Theodore grinned.  "I remembering thinking you were the best officer I'd ever seen."

James smiled as well, but it was a sad smile. "That was a simpler time."

"Before Beckett came, and decided he knew more about running a navy than we did," Theodore muttered.  "James, I still think you're one of the best officers I've ever seen."  At his superior's bark of disbelieving laughter, Groves insisted, "I do.  I've never stopped thinking it.  You fought beside us in the thick of battle.  You never asked us to do anything that you wouldn't do yourself.  You care about the men—too much, sometimes."  What went unspoken was the comparison to Beckett, who commanded the navy with no prior experience and sat all the time in his stateroom.  "Were I to choose, I would choose you," Theodore affirmed quietly.

"You're a good man, Theodore.  A good man, a good officer, and a good friend," James said, looking down at his hands.  "I desperately need someone to trust."

"I won't betray your confidence.  Not to that," Theodore promised scathingly.  "I don't like him."

"I've yet to find someone who does," James muttered.  "Stella hates him."

"What's wrong with her, James?" Theodore asked.

"I don't know yet.  I'd have to ask her, but she's still asleep," James replied honestly.  "She's not a witch, Theodore, or possessed, whatever you've heard about her."

"Then how... what...?"

"She's got a gift," he said simply.  "She has an affinity with the wind and the skies, and a mind more powerful than a steel trap.  And Beckett wants to use them."

"Last night..."

"Last night she fought with a Kraken and won," James interrupted.  "For us.  To save our lives she nearly killed herself.  Once again, she nearly killed herself.  Have you noticed the suspicious mildness of the hurricanes this season?  Stella's doing.  Not that she gets any thanks for it!" he added, building up a head of steam. "Nor does Beckett pay any heed to her health, or her delicate condition, or my own preferences regarding my own wife's doings—!  No, he simply demands more, more, more from her! He counteracts my authority over this fleet, over my officers, and even over my own family!"

"I'd wondered why you brought her along," Theodore admitted.

"I didn't want to!" James exploded.  "I wanted her safe at home—she wanted herself safe at home!  I wanted her to sit around, eat bonbons, and do whatever it is pregnant women do.  I didn't want her out on the open ocean weathering hurricanes and controlling massive sea monsters!  But we have our orders," he spat bitterly.

"Why... I mean, I know the man is powerful, but how can he think to command your own wife?" Theodore asked incredulously.

"Because if she doesn't do as he says, he'll send me off to be killed.  If I don't do as he says, he'll hang her," James explained dully.  "It's quite ingenious, really, using us against each other.  And this position is, of course, all my fault... I begin to think I should have just let Jack Sparrow have the blasted Heart."  He sighed heavily.  "I wanted Stella to protect me from this kind of position.  I didn't think I'd be throwing her right into the line of fire.  I daresay Beckett treasures her talents far more than he does mine."

"I thought he hated her," Theodore said confusedly.

"He does.  He can treasure and hate her at the same time."

"Then... then those bruises..."  Theodore inquired tentatively, gesturing to his neck.

"She acquired those some time between entering the cells at Fort Charles and leaving them," James explained tightly.  "She was in a cell alone, and left it only to have a private discussion with Lord Beckett.  I'll let you draw your own conclusions as to the acquisition of her newest 'necklace'."

Theodore looked horrified.  "He wouldn't!"

"He did," James corrected grimly.  "And the worst part is that I can't even thrash him for it."

"Good God," Theodore breathed, shaking his head.  "I'd never thought... Lord Beckett!  Although I suppose that makes more sense than the other alternative."  James quirked a quizzical brow, and Theodore flushed slightly.  "Well, it is legal for a man to beat his wife," he muttered uncomfortably.

"I'd never—!" James protested indignantly.

"I know," Theodore interrupted.  "You love her—any fool can see it."

James grinned crookedly.  "Want to know a secret, Theo?" he asked.  Without waiting to hear the answer, he went on: "I don't love her.  Not like I loved Elizabeth Swann.  And she doesn't love me, either.  We're good friends, Stella and I, but we only married so I could bring her to Jamaica and so she could protect me from Beckett."

Theodore digested this declaration.  "Oh," was all he said.  "I take it things didn't go according to plan."

"Hardly," James sighed.  "I'd forgotten what a commodity Stella is to greedy sailors.  I didn't think that Beckett would want to use her.  I definitely didn't think they'd hate each other the way they do.  And I didn't think Beckett had as much power over us as he does."  He sighed again.  "Master tactician, I am not."

"That's not true," Theodore protested loyally.

"Oh, I can create naval strategy, win battles, outmanoeuvre pirates... that sort of thing," James allowed, looking pensively off at the horizon.  "But I can't plan for what people will and won't do in certain circumstances—that's why I needed Stella," he added wryly.  "She's very good at that.  But she can't protect me—protect us—from the results of my own folly."

"I have to give it to you, James," Theodore remarked after a long moment of silence.  "When you cock up, you do it on a grand scale."

James shot Theodore a flat glare.  "Thank you, Theodore."

Theodore grinned, before sobering.  "So, is she all right?"

"I don't know," James admitted.  "I don't know what kind of effort she has to expend to fulfil the orders of the company—only that every time Beckett demands something of her, it saps a little more of the strength she cannot afford to loose."  He clenched his fists again.  "God's blood, Theodore, he's killing my wife."

"The men are terrified of him," Theodore remarked.  "They think he trafficks with demons."

"He trafficks with Davy Jones—that's close enough," James muttered.

"No one likes him."

"Stella says he pays too little attention to the little people.  He gives no effort to making himself liked, and wields power with all the subtlety of a hammer," James noted.

"That's true enough."

The two men shared a long glance.  The question of 'for how long?' hung in the air between them.

It was true, what Theodore Groves noted.  No one liked Beckett; even those who liked him personally didn't like his behaviour.  They—James, Theodore, and all the other men in command of the armada's ships—were officers, trained from an early age to hold command of ships on the sea.  They worked hard for their power, put their lives on the line for it.  They did not take kindly to a civilian, no matter how powerful, coming aboard and telling them how to do their own jobs, and they liked even less that he was ignoring the chain of command. 

James Norrington had been a respected figure, even after his disgrace.  His promotion to Admiral had given a burst of confidence to the men—Old Iron Guts was back, and they'd go crush the pirates just like they used to.  As Admiral, he ought to have been in command.  Lord Beckett should have stayed on land, in his offices, and sent the orders to the Admiral, who'd execute them as he saw fit.

"He won't let us go," James announced quietly, after a long moment of silence.  "We're too tangled in the net to get ourselves out now."

"Then you'll have to cut yourselves free, somehow."

"Will you help us, Theodore?"

"In every way I can."  He clapped James on the shoulder.  "Send my compliments to Mrs. Norrington, when she awakes."

"I will."

Then Theodore grinned, breaking the solemnity of the moment and the serious air as he changed to subject to something much more innocuous.  "So, you're going to be a father?  Well done, James!  Well done!" he congratulated jubilantly, as the two officers meandered off the forecastle and back towards the helm.  "Perhaps you'll name the child after me?"

James snorted amusedly.  "It'd have to be something like 'Theodora', since Stella's certain it's a girl.  Would you want to inflict a name like that on any child of mine?"

"I'll have you know Theodore is a very noble name, Admiral Norrington..."

Though it was no longer spoken of, a seed of a conspiracy had been planted.  When and where and how it would flower was unknown.

Chapter Text

It turned out the hurricane had blown them nearly into central America, and it took Beckett's armada nearly a week to collect itself and sail back to Jamaica.  Lord Beckett was most displeased by the moderate pace, but Admiral Norrington made it quite clear that the ships had to rely on nature—and only nature—to get them back to Port Royal.  It was, he explained to the aristocrat, a matter of short-term gain versus long-term benefit.

If Beckett wanted them back in Jamaica now, then he could force Mrs. Norrington to make the wind blow them there.  Such an effort would surely kill her, which would negate any further assistance she could offer.  Furthermore, the Admiral had said with a thin, humourless smile on his lips, the fleet would also loose its admiral, since, if Mrs. Norrington died because of one of Beckett's orders, Admiral Norrington would do something to Lord Beckett which would, legally, require the government to hang him afterwards.  Hence, Norrington finished dryly, the gain would be very, very short term.

Or, the Admiral had gone on pleasantly, Lord Beckett could do as the commanding officer of the fleet and the husband of the "asset" in question advised, which was sail back without Mrs. Norrington's supernatural assistance, as countless ships had done for countless generations, and permit the lady to get her strength back.  Within a fortnight or so, she'd be feeling better, and would be able to provide her customary services.  Lord Beckett would then be able to retain both his influence over the sky, the admiral of his fleet, and his good health.

Lord Beckett, perhaps sensing that he had pushed Admiral Norrington as far as that gentleman was going to go without snapping, conceded.  He kept to his stateroom, his maps, and his papers, and left the Norringtons entirely alone.

Stella Norrington, thus left to her own devices, spent the majority of the voyage back to Jamaica sleeping.

The Endeavour anchored in Port Royal in the late afternoon, about eight days after it had first set sail. Admiral Norrington was down in his cabin with his wife.  "How are we going to do this?" he inquired.

Stella bit her lower lip thoughtfully.  "As much as I wish Port Royal could take an unvarnished look at my current state and what Lord Beckett has done to my health, I'm afraid the state of my hair may detract from the impression and raise a series of questions that I am disinclined to answer."

In unison, James and Stella glanced at her black hair, which was hanging loose down her back and squirming around quietly.  Her hair wasn't as active as Davy Jones' beard, but it was plain to see that her hair was moving of its own volition, in ways that hair did not generally move.  Stella had tried to braid it and tuck it out of the way, but the plait didn't take; her hair had wriggled its way free before she'd even tied the bottom.

"Do we know how long that's going to last?" James inquired after a moment of regarding the subtly writhing locks springing from his wife's head.

"I don't know," Stella admitted.  "I've never heard of anything like this happening to anyone before.  Tia hinted that the Kraken left something of itself in me when it died and I was still with it, and that it might be permanent."

"Might?"

"Well, she said 'if I lived'.  Clearly, I'm still alive."

James frowned.  "That's... ambiguous.  And when did you talk to Tia, anyway?"

"While I was out, I think.  I went and saw her.  I don't know... perhaps I dreamed it.  Perhaps it wasn't real.  After all, I also saw Hector Barbossa, and I know very well he's dead," she murmured, almost to herself.

"You haven't show any previous inclination for flights of fancy.  Perhaps it was symbolic.  Or perhaps it was something mystical you don't understand—surely you can't comprehend everything," James pointed out, kissing her forehead gently.

Stella smiled tiredly.  "Perhaps.  At any rate," she sighed, brushing her hair over her shoulder (and then scraping it off her fingers, since it had developed a tendency to curl around any hand that came close enough), "I suppose we will just have to wait and see.  And not allow anyone outside the circle to see me until I have it under control."

"Which limits your callers to Caroline d'Ascoyne and Anne Witcher."

"For a while, I suspect.  Why, were you planning to host a dinner party tomorrow?" she asked archly.

"Let's see if you can walk off this ship under your own power, first," James suggested dryly.

She couldn't, as it turned out.  Having never acquired a pair of sea-legs, Stella tended to stagger and weave on the ship's deck, the fact she was still shaky and ill notwithstanding.  To her credit, she made it out of the room and down the hall without assistance.  Then she quietly accepted James' arm, and leaned heavily on him as he led her out to the longboat.  He actually had to pick her up and set her in the boat himself, and once they reached the shore he had to carry her to the carriage.

The people on the docks and near the shore stared curiously as he passed, his wife in his arms.  The two Norringtons were something of local celebrities: James, the fallen, then redeemed Commodore-cum-Admiral, and Stella, his pirate bride, who'd become much more interesting since she was arrested.  Hence, there was a certain measure of craned necks and whispers as the Admiral and his wife passed.

Stella had anticipated this, and had wrapped her black cloak around her shoulders, revealing her somewhat worse-for-wear skirts but concealing her hair.  James had press-ganged a midshipman to carry their things, and soon enough they were pulling up to the Norrington house.

"Home..." Stella breathed, once the carriage rolled to a stop.  "I cannot wait to sleep in my own bed.  After a bath.  A hot bath.  With lavender."

The servants—including the housekeeper, the butler, and a rosy-cheeked Estrella—met them in the foyer.  Though the entire domestic staff was, technically, on Beckett's side, they were very low down in the hierarchy, and were not party to Beckett's plans.  The recent treatment of the Norringtons, thought to be staunchly behind the East India Trading Company, had taken them as much by surprise as the rest of Port Royal, and James fancied that at least some of them were worried for their employers—even if, as Stella thought, it was only worry for their continued employment.  Beckett wouldn't pay them if the Norringtons weren't around to be reported on.

Still, no matter to whom the servants reported to after hours, Stella was the undisputed queen of the house.  Beckett was a shadowy figure who paid them extra money for apparently trivial information—gossip, even—while Stella was the woman from whom they took their orders every single day, and who always seemed to have an uncanny knack for knowing exactly what they were up to.  And despite the fact that she was about the same colour as chalk and propped up against her husband, it was to she they turned for their orders.

James had no idea so much was involved in running the house.

When she was finished seeing to everything—meals, laundry, the ever-important baths, and a promise to inspect the budget later—Stella was nearly cross-eyed with exhaustion.  Between James and Estrella, she was manoeuvred upstairs.

"Oh, Ma'am," Estrella breathed, after Stella nearly tripped on the stairs.

"I must look as awful as I feel," she mumbled wryly.

Estrella was tugging slightly on the cloak, trying to unwrap it from Stella's head.  James grabbed the fabric, and shook his head when the maid looked at him strangely.  "Better leave it on, for now," he advised.  The look morphed from quizzical to befuddled, and James smiled tightly.  "You'll see soon enough.  I'm sure you'll be quite surprised."

"Mmm, indeed," Stella concurred drowsily  She was practically asleep on her feet.  "Tell me, Estrella... do you believe in magic?" 


 

Two hours later, Stella was deeply asleep.  She'd had her bath, attended by both James and Estrella to make sure she didn't fall asleep and drown.  (Well, she fell asleep, anyway, but James made sure her head didn't slip under the water.)  They were now the only two people in the house who were party to the unique nature of Stella's hair.

It seemed to enjoy the water; James supposed that made sense, since the animate aspect of his wife's hair had come about through some Krakenish witchery.  The Kraken was, after all, a creature of the sea.  And the hanks of Stella's long hair wiggled happily (at least, James assumed the... tentacles... were happy; they seemed to exude a general sense of merriment) whenever they were submerged.

Estrella had nearly fainted when James first unwound the cloak from Stella's thin shoulders, and laid eyes on the way the lady's hair writhed and curled completely on its own.  She'd had to stifle a scream when she went to brush her mistress' hair, and it had actually curled around her fingers, like a snake.

"What's... what is that?" the maid stammered.

"Harmless," James had drawled.   "Because of a series of events instigated by Lord Beckett and which I don't entirely understand, Mrs. Norrington found herself in the position of interacting rather closely with a Kraken—the after-effects of which are currently wrapped around your wrist.  It won't hurt you," he repeated, "it's just... animate."

By this time, Estrella had apparently grasped that fact, and had ceased to look so entirely terrified.  Indeed, she was sliding from fright to curiosity, gently stroking the wet lock wrapped around her hand.  "It's just like hair, only... moving," she breathed.

The bath had moved quickly after that, and soon enough they were shaking Stella awake and making her get out of the tub.  Both she and her hair protested at this; the woman muttered and scowled, the hair wiggled and writhed petulantly against Stella's wet skin.

"You must be getting very good at getting my wife into her nightgown while she's unconscious," James remarked quietly, impressed as he watched Estrella neatly manoeuvre Stella into her linen nightdress.

"It's all the practise, sir," Estrella quipped.

They tucked her in, her hair spilling over the edge of the bed and wriggling peacefully, apparently just as tired as the head from which it grew.  Then they crept out of the room.

"Take care of her," James requested of Estrella.  "Make sure she eats—she'll likely sleep through meals unless you wake her.  She'll need your help to get around for the next few days... I don't know where Lord Beckett will order the fleet tomorrow, so I may have to go away.  I'll trust you with her care in my stead."

"I'll see to her, sir.  She always gets so sick," Estrella frowned.  She seemed to consider something, then blurted, "She's not much like Miss Elizabeth."

James felt a chill, even in the fading heat of the afternoon.  "No, she's not," he allowed.  "But Elizabeth isn't here."

Estrella heard the snappishness in his voice, and immediately dropped her eyes.  "Beggin' your pardon, sir.  I just..."

"You miss her," James supplied.

"Yes," the maid admitted.  "And I worry about her.  She... they took her away on her wedding day, and put her in prison—the same cell Mrs. Norrington was in.  And then we never saw her again."

James hadn't known about that—either that Elizabeth had been arrested on her wedding day, or that Stella had shared the same cell as Elizabeth.  In both cases, it seemed a case of Beckett adding insult to injury.  "For what it's worth, Stella thinks she's still alive," he offered weakly.  Then, even more grudgingly, "And when I saw her last, she was with Mr. Turner."

Estrella nodded.  "Well, he'll keep her safe," she said, then looked nervously at him.

He arranged his face into an expression that he hoped looked impassive.  "Yes, he will," he agreed.  Whatever else could be said about William Turner (and James could think of several choice descriptors), he would certainly protect Elizabeth with his life.  "But I don't suppose we'll ever see them back in Port Royal—at least, not while Beckett is alive."

It made sense, but James wasn't sure he actually believed it.  He wasn't sure if he wanted to see Elizabeth or Turner again.  He knew he loved Elizabeth... or perhaps he had loved, in the past tense.  Again, he wasn't sure; he didn't seem to know his heart anymore.  But life was decent—life would be excellent, if Beckett would just push off and leave Stella alone.  James had his position, his reputation, his home, his wife, and a baby on the way.  Everything he'd ever wanted was his—except Elizabeth, and all she represented.  But he'd dealt with that loss, and was moving on without her.  James was fairly confident that he'd be able to forget her—mostly—in time, but only if he didn't have her before his eyes constantly.

And yet... a tiny, quiet, yet surprisingly noticeable part of his heart still longed for her.

Estrella, meanwhile, was scowling at the mention of Beckett.  "I don't like him," she muttered.

"Very few people do," James noted wryly.

"Most of the staff does, though," the maid remarked guardedly.  Her eyes flicked uncertainly up to his face, as though checking his reaction.

"Yes, well, most of the staff is on his payroll," James snorted, relieving her anxiety regarding the question of whether or not he knew about it.  "People generally like those who give them money."  Stella would've laughed; Estrella just looked a bit worried.  "Don't worry, Stella already knows."

"She's a quick one, is Mrs. Norrington," Estrella smiled, though her brow was furrowed.  "Quick, but not strong."

"She's strong enough when Beckett leaves her alone," James demurred.  "And she's not to have any visitors—not even Caroline d'Ascoyne or Anne Witcher—until she can walk downstairs, on her own, without any support."

"I'll see to her, sir," Estrella promised.

James nodded.  "Good.  She needs looking after." 


 

Of course, when James had delivered his ultimatum regarding Stella's movements, he hadn't anticipated the flurry of visitors that would descend on their house when word got around that Mrs. Norrington had returned.   Caroline and Anne, of course, came by and requested that they be informed when Stella was up to receiving callers.  The wives or sisters of every man James saw in Beckett's office the day he'd taken Stella from prison dropped by—Stanhope, Fitzherbert, Merriman, Lucas—left their cards.  Even people who hadn't interacted with Stella since the party celebrating their marriage—Edwards, Penrose, Protheroe—stopped by.  And one personage—a Captain Isaac Bell—kept knocking on the door and demanding to see Mrs. Norrington, though James had never met him, or even heard of him in Port Royal before.  But at least once a day, Captain Bell would come to the Norrington house.

Stella, however, spent most of her time resting in her room.  Sometimes she would take walks down the corridor, but she hadn't been able to manage the stairs yet.  Psychic trauma, she said to him when he visited in the evening, was a funny thing.

Several days after their return, James received a summons from Lord Beckett.  He was to present himself to Beckett's office in the E.I.T.Co. headquarters—the same place in which James had delivered the Heart of Davy Jones to Beckett in the first place and started this whole fiasco.

He was being summoned.

This wasn't the way the navy was supposed to work.

But he went.  Cutler Beckett had adequately demonstrated that if James Norrington (or Stella Norrington, as the case may be) did not do as he commanded, there would be a punishment delivered.  And the punishment wouldn't come to the transgressor; Beckett would strike at the other Norrington, the one who hadn't transgressed.  James didn't think Stella could survive another of Beckett's punishments.  So he went.

The office on the docks was bustling, as usual.  He could almost smell the money; commerce was in the air.  Commerce and conspiracy.  He stepped into the office; there was Beckett behind the desk, as always.  And curiously enough, there was Governor Swann, tucked away into a corner and bent over a pile of documents.  Beckett certainly wasn't bothering with any further outward shows; he was the power in the Caribbean now, and he wanted everyone—except the Crown—to know it.

Yes... and I wonder what the King and Crown would think about Beckett's activities?  That thought was tucked swiftly away.

Beckett looked up at his entrance.  "Ah, Admiral," he greeted smoothly.

James just turned a deadpan stare on his superior.  "You summoned me, Lord Beckett?" he inquired, putting enough colour into the word to convey his true feelings regarding the matter.

"Yes.  Something for you there," Beckett announced in what he probably thought was magnanimity.  He ruined the impression when he smiled an unkind smile that set off warning bells in James' head.  He knew that smile, and what it portended: Beckett had set something up that would likely dredge up uncomfortable or painful emotions, and was looking forward to observing his reaction.  Stella used to do that, too.

Beckett gave him one more tantalising hint.  "Your new station deserves an old friend," he said, glancing significantly over at a table under the map.

James followed his gaze, and found a familiar dark blue box on the table.  He wouldn't... it wasn't... could it be?

He approached the box slowly, feeling that strange sensation that had become rather familiar, in which it seemed that everything had changed, while nothing had.  Was he Admiral Norrington, serving under Beckett and married to Black Stella Bell, or was he Commodore Norrington, serving no one but the King himself, looking to marry Elizabeth Swann?  Either way, James had a feeling he knew what was in that box.

Thankfully, his hands were steady as he unlatched the box and lifted the lid.  But he needed to press his fingers against the lip of the box when the contents were revealed.

He'd never thought to see this sword again.

But here it was—there was the deep blue of the handle, laid in with filigree.  There were the golden tassels.  When he picked it up, his hand remembered the exquisite balance.  It was the sword—the sword made by William Turner.  The sword he'd carried during his disastrous tenure as Commodore.  The sword he thought he'd left behind.

James looked away, needing to think about something else for a moment.  His eyes found Governor Swann, bent industriously over his desk.  Weatherby wouldn't meet his gaze, and looked studiously down at his paperwork—which had multiplied.  A marine had just given him a new ream of documents.  "Not more requisitions," Swann sighed unhappily.

"No sir," the soldier replied, with the air of one who thought he was going to be helpful.  "Executions."

One of those could have been Stella, James' mind whispered as his fingers tightened on the hilt.  If Beckett told him to, Weatherby Swann would have signed the death warrant for my wife.  Would he have even looked at the paper he was signing?

Feeling vexed about the whole situation, he unsheathed his sword and stared at the blade.  He could see his green eyes reflected in the steel.  Twisting his wrist slightly, he watched the morning sunlight dance across the polished metal.

He wasn't sure what to say.  'I could've used this several months ago,' was a thought.  So was the similar, 'I could've used this a fortnight ago.'  'Why give this to me now?' was also an option, along with, 'Couldn't you have given me any other sword?'  All of this, however, was overlaid with the thought 'You're a nasty piece of work, Cutler Beckett.'

There wasn't anything he could say, really.  James looked up from the blade and found his eyes drawn over to Governor Swann.  The sword was fraught with memories for him as well; one potential son-in-law made it, another received it.

Weatherby was staring at the shining blade.  Then his eyes flicked up and met James' for the first time since he'd stepped foot in the room.  They shared a moment of perfect harmony, thinking about the man who'd made the sword and the woman who'd loved him, whom both of them had loved, and anger towards the man who'd driven her away.  There was also a sense of foreboding.  Beckett was toying with them, and they both knew it.

But an instant later, Weatherby looked away, dropping his eyes back to his death warrants.  James, feeling stung, slid his sword back into its sheath and turned back to Beckett.

"Thank you for returning it, Lord Beckett," he finally said, when he trusted his voice to be steady and impassive.

"I realised that you had need of it.  I imagine the events of our most recent tête-à-tête with Davy Jones would have perhaps gone differently had you a sword at hand.  We don't want you to be without it should the situation arise again," Beckett replied, eyes gleaming.

James knew he was referring to Stella, and smiled tightly.  'The best way to ensure that it never does would be to use this sword to stab you through the heart,' he thought poisonously.

Aloud, he merely commented sourly, "Indeed."

Later, in his office in Fort Charles, James had a visitor.  A tentative tap on the door didn't even draw his attention from his paperwork, and he curtly bid them entry without even looking up.  "Yes?" he demanded.

"James?"

The quiet, nervous query made him look up with a jerk.  "Governor Swann!"  James stood immediately, and gestured him to a chair.  "Come in—sit down!"  He shut the door behind them.

"Thank you," Swann said, settling himself tiredly in one of the chairs.

"Are you all right?" James inquired.  He'd never seen Weatherby look so old.

Swann just smiled weakly.  "Shouldn't I be asking that of you?"  James was shocked to see Weatherby's tired blue eyes fill with tears, and a torrent of words burst forth.  "James, I'm so sorry—I didn't know Beckett would do that to Stella—I never meant her any harm.  But Elizabeth... I have to protect Elizabeth... I sign what he tells me to, write what he tells me to, and in return he'll save Elizabeth. I never even bother to look at the names anymore," he added softly.  "I didn't realise that I'd signed Stella's arrest warrant until after you were already at sea. I wanted to apologise, but... but... James, is she all right?  People say she's on her deathbed."

"That's what they're saying?" James asked incredulously.

"Well, people haven't seen her for days—"

"Because I want her to rest!"

"Is she terribly sick?"

'She looks only slightly worse than you,' his mind whispered, as he took in Weatherby's haggard face; the bags beneath his eyes, the unhealthy tint to his skin, the wealth of wrinkles that had appeared in the past few months, the defeated set of his shoulders.  "She's getting better," James replied impassively.

"Is... is she terribly angry with me?" Swann inquired sadly.

"She's angrier with Beckett, when she has the strength to get angry at all."   Swann seemed to wither, but James placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder.  "She understands, Weatherby.  Truly, she does.  Beckett has us all tangled in his web—we're all doing things we'd really rather not."

"I'm still terribly sorry she got caught up in this," he sighed.  "Please, James, tell her I'm sorry."

"Tell her yourself—she won't be angry."  Weatherby still looked downtrodden, and James insisted.  "She's going to be a mother.  She'll understand."

"Perhaps I'll wait until she's stronger..." Swann demurred.

"She'll be strong enough to see you when she's receiving callers at all."  James grinned.  "I told her she can't have any visitors until she's strong enough to walk downstairs without any assistance."

Weatherby smiled weakly in return.  "And how did our Stella take that?"

"She was too tired to protest."

Of course, when Weatherby's face fell, James knew he'd said the wrong thing.  If Stella was too weak to protest a heavy-handed order like that, it meant she was very weak indeed.  "What have I done...?" he whispered.

"We don't blame you, Weatherby," James assured him quietly.

"But perhaps..." the governor said slowly, looking off at something beyond the physical, "Perhaps you should."

Chapter Text

James wasn't sure how surprised he was when he returned home and found that there was a visitor in the parlour.  "Who's here?" he inquired of the butler.

"A Captain Isaac Bell, sir," the butler replied.  "He insists on seeing you immediately."

Again?  "How long has he been here?"

"Several hours, sir."

He felt a headache coming on.  "And how is Mrs. Norrington?"

"I believe she was able to traverse the upstairs corridor today, sir."

"Will she take supper in her chambers again?"

"I believe so, sir."

"Well then," James said, taking a deep breath, "I had better go see what this Captain Bell wants.  Otherwise he'll keep coming back," he muttered.

James strode into the parlour, noting the slender man standing at the windows.  He wore the blue and gold of the armada's colours, and a powdered wig on his head.  "Captain Bell, I presume?"

Bell turned, bowing politely.  "Admiral Norrington.  I've waited some time to meet you," he remarked.  There was a peculiar sort of bite to his words.

"Yes, I'd noticed," James replied, smiling dryly.  "Well, here I am."

Bell came closer, staring intently at him.  His eyes were a clear agate grey, and surrounded by very dark eyelashes.  It made his eyes look even larger than they were.  He stopped only when he was mere inches from James.  Bell was much shorter, but the air of barely restrained energy about him made him seem taller.

"Where is my sister?" Bell demanded quietly.

James stared at him blankly.  "What?"

"My sister," Bell repeated intently.  "Stella Esmerelda.  Where is she?"

"Your sister?" James parroted incredulously, still trying to process this turn of events.

"Yes, my sister!" Bell snapped.  "Black hair, dark eyes, pale skin?  They say you've married her—well, where is she?"

The headache he'd felt threatening earlier was now pounding behind his eyes.  He sat down on a chair and rubbed his temples slowly, wondering why he hadn't considered that Captain Bell was related to Stella—she had, after all, been a Bell before he married her.  A bastard Bell, perhaps, but a Bell nonetheless.  On the other hand, Stella had never mentioned a brother—or any living family at all, for that matter, save for a mythical uncle she'd never met.

"You claim to be her brother?" James finally asked, looking up at the potential brother-in-law standing in his parlour.

Now that he was looking for it, he could see some similarities.  There was Stella's pointed nose, and there was her thin, angular face, though much less delicate and pale.  There were her thin, expressive lips and her proud, pointed chin.  Stella must have taken after her father.

"I am her brother," Bell snapped defensively.

"She never mentioned a brother."

"I haven't seen her for eleven years."

James raised his eyebrows.  "That's a rather long time.  Have a falling out, did we?"

A pink flush crept up Bell's cheekbones.  "I didn't have a choice," he muttered.  "She's my... natural... sister."

Well, he looked like Stella.  He had her maiden name.  He knew she was illegitimate—and was discreet enough that he didn't mention which one of them was the bastard.  But all of these things could have been ferreted out by Beckett, or by Mercer before he'd left.  James wasn't sure yet.

"How did you find her again, after eleven years?" he inquired mildly.

"I'm the captain of the Raven," Bell replied curtly.  "I was out in the hurricane with the rest of the fleet.  It was the strangest storm I have ever seen; it didn't act like a normal storm.   When I heard her laughing on the wind, I knew it for certain.  I asked around, when I got back into port.  Everyone knew Stella Bell—or rather, Stella Norrington, since she got married a few months ago," he amended bitterly.  "James Norrington's pirate bride."

Bell's grey eyes were burning as they fixed themselves relentlessly on James' face.  "They say she's been sick.  They say that no one's seen her since her husband took her to sea during a hurricane.  They say she's dying, even now."

In a surprisingly fluid movement, Bell reached into his coat and drew a pistol.  He had it cocked and pointed steadily at the Admiral before James managed to do more than stand up.  "I want to know: where is my sister?" he demanded, voice hard as steel.  "Where is she, and what have you done to her?"

"I haven't laid a hand on her," James replied lowly, anger building in his chest.  How dare this man—how dare anyone—think he'd harm his wife?

Bell sneered at him, and the resemblance to Stella was startling.  "Then why does everyone in the town seem to think she's a sickly creature?  My sister was never sick a day in her life, yet within months of marrying you she's apparently on her deathbed."

"She's not dying, for God's sake!" James exploded.  "She hasn't been receiving callers because she's ill!  And I had nothing to do with her illness—the blame for that belongs to two people: Lord Cutler Beckett, and Stella herself."

The pistol didn't waver.  "I want to see her."

James rolled his eyes.  "Fine," he grumbled.  "If you'll permit me to ring for a servant, I'll have them check and see if she's awake.  If she is, I'll assist her down to see you.  If she is not, you will have to wait until she is."

"Fair enough," Bell agreed.

He kept the pistol steady on James' body as he went and rang for a servant.  He was more stealthy when the footman entered and James asked if one of the maids could check with Estrella to see if Mrs. Norrington was awake, please?  But the gun remained.

"Perhaps you might sit?" James offered sardonically, after the footman had left and the gun was out in plain sight again.

Bell did.  But his aim didn't waver.  "How did you meet her?"

"I was stranded on Tortuga, like she was," James replied, rolling his eyes and sitting down across from Captain Bell.

"Tortuga?  That's where Stella and Eleanor ended up?" Bell asked incredulously.  "I thought they were bound for Jamaica."

"They were.  I understand there were pirates along the way," James shrugged delicately.

"Ah.  This would explain the 'pirate bride' label."

It was possible that James hated that label even more than Stella herself did.  "Stella's no more pirate than you are," he grumbled.

"I didn't think she was."

The two men glared at each other across the room.  In the silence, a footman entered, and Captain Bell quickly concealed his pistol.  "Mrs. Norrington is currently awake, sir.  Shall I tell her that you wish to see her?"

"Yes," James replied, not moving his gaze from Bell.  "Please have Estrella help her downstairs.  Tell her," he added wryly, "that Captain Isaac Bell has come to call and renew the acquaintance after eleven years of estrangement."  That should take care of the gossipmongers for now; he'd ask Stella how they'd spin this after he didn't have a pistol pointed at his head.

Once they were alone again, Bell hissed furiously, "We weren't estranged!"

"Oh?" James inquired, raising a brow quizzically.  "Correct me if I'm wrong, but you haven't seen or spoken to each other in eleven years?"

"Correct."  It sounded like Captain Bell was clenching his teeth.

"That implies estrangement to me."

"Never mind!" Bell snapped.  "I just want to see my sister!"

They sat in hostile, uncomfortable silence for a long time, until the quiet chiming of Stella's ubiquitous bell-necklace was heard.  Bell drew in a sharp breath and stood, his steady aim faltering for the first time since he'd drawn the gun.  Then the door opened, and Stella appeared.

She was relying on Estrella's arm to keep her balance, and her hair must have still been giving her problems, since it was tucked under a white linen cap.   Her dress was simple—one of the ragged Tortuga gowns she kept for God knows what reasons; he recognised it as the yellow-green dress she'd often worn before he married her (James was always on her to get rid of those dresses, but Stella insisted that she would find a use for them, even if it was only as work dresses; personally, James thought it was a leftover habit from her years on Tortuga, where clothing was hard to come by, and guessed that Stella would always keep her clothing until it was nothing more than rags)—and she was wrapped in a light, grey merino wool shawl that James had bought her for her birthday (which had, regrettably, come but two days before her stint in prison; a strange birthday gift from Lord Beckett).  Her skin was still almost as white as the cap on her head, and her pale face (thankfully, no longer ashen) was arranged in the coolly polite expression that James had learned to interpret as wariness.

She blinked slowly, and arched a brow.  "May I inquire as to why you're pointing a gun at my rug?"

Bell blushed brilliant red, and fumbled with the hammer, clumsily un-cocking the gun and shoving it back into his coat.  "I just... it wasn't... it's a nice rug," he stammered.

"Yes, it is," Stella agreed mildly.  "The Witchers gave it to us as a wedding present.  Anne Witcher is one of my dearest friends."

"Good.  That's... good.   You were always so lonely as a girl."

"On the contrary, Isaac.  Just because I didn't have many friends didn't mean I was lonely," she corrected calmly.  Then, without looking, "James, stop smirking."

James did stop smirking—instead, he grinned outright.  He could easily picture a little-girl Stella, all wide black eyes and childish pride, amusing herself with only her family.  "My goodness, Starling, did humanity disappoint you so early on?" he inquired teasingly.

Stella sniffed, and tilted her pointed noise upwards.  "Just help me to a chair, darling," she commanded, hitting the endearment with a heavy amount of sarcasm.  "Estrella, could you procure some tea, please?"

"Of course, ma'am."

Soon enough, they were all seated, and James was sure to tuck Stella's shawl snugly around her arms.  He not only wanted to make sure she didn't take cold, but he was also making a pointed gesture for Isaac Bell, who'd dared to think that James Norrington would harm his wife.  Stella was, as always, well aware of these undercurrents, and smirked at him as he tugged her shawl higher on her shoulders.

"I trust the proper introductions have been made?" Stella inquired of Captain Bell as they waited for the tea.  Then a knife-sharp smile curled her lips.  "Or did you simply march in and point a gun at your superior officer?"

Bell's face went beet red.  "You know about that?"  Stella just gave him a flat look.  "Oh.  Well, you always were dead clever."  The look didn't move; Stella wasn't blinking.  Bell's flush deepened.  "Well, he wasn't letting me see you," he muttered.

Stella sighed.  "My rash, foolish Isaac," she remarked tiredly.

"You never told me you had a brother," James interrupted reproachfully, feeling rather left out of the conversation, and the familial loop.

"You've never told me about your family, either," Stella pointed out.

"Yes, but my family is substantially less likely to show up on the doorstep and point a gun at you," James replied dryly.

Bell shot him a dirty look, and Stella rolled her eyes.  "He always was impulsive," she commented pointedly, glancing sternly at her brother, who went red again.  "But, in order to forestall any further confusion," she added dryly,  "James, this is Isaac Bell, my younger brother.  Isaac, this is my husband, James Norrington.  If you intend to shoot each other, do it where you won't get blood on my carpet.  Estrella, would you mind pouring the tea?" she called as the maid entered the room, bearing the porcelain tea service.  "I'm afraid my hands are not at all steady."

"Your hair is coming out the back of your cap," James muttered, as the clinking of the china covered up his voice.

"Damn," muttered Stella, shoving the wiggling black tentacles back under the white linen.

When tea was all poured and served, Stella dove right into the conversation.  "Which ship of the fleet do you captain, Isaac?"

Isaac didn't even start, and replied swiftly, "The Raven.  We weren't within sight of the Endeavour during the hurricane."

"I felt you anyway," Stella remarked slowly.  "I felt someone familiar when I was the storm, but then the Dutchman, and... well, things happened," she demurred.  She took a sip of tea.  "How have you been?  How's Antigua?"  A decidedly unfriendly twist of the lips.  "How's your mother?"

Isaac snorted into his tea.  "Mother is... mother.  She's tickled pink since George married some chit from England who's somehow related to some viscount.  She has no neck, though," he commented absently.

"Isaac's mother is my father's wife," Stella explained quietly to James, who was looking baffled.  "George is their eldest son, and the heir to the plantation."

His brow was still furrowed, though, and Isaac noticed.  "Didn't you tell him anything, Stelly?" he asked.  "Or did he think you fell to the ground with the rain?"

"Stelly?" James repeated, raising his brows at his wife, who had pinked faintly.

"Hush, Jamie," she retorted.  Then, returning to Isaac's query, "He knows some.  I told him a little about Mama and Papa."

"Yes, where is Aunty Nell?" Isaac wondered.

James immediately reached for Stella's hand, and gave it a reassuring squeeze as her expression grew grave.  "Mama's dead, Isaac.  She's been dead for almost seven years," she said quietly.

Isaac had gone pale, and he set his cup down slowly.  "Oh.  I... oh.  Well... I-I'm sorry," he stammered.

She smiled bitterly.  "Well, only the good die young."

Changing the subject, James remarked, "It appears that Stella has brought me more in-laws than previously thought."

"Not that anyone other than Isaac with recognise the connection," Stella added acidly.

"So, there's you, and Isaac," James began to list, "and your other half-brother George—"

"Who's hated me since I was born," Stella added sourly.

"Then there's your father...?"

"Edward," Isaac supplied.

James went on with the list, "Stella's mother, Eleanor, Edward's mistress, and Edward's wife?"

"Sarah," Stella supplied, her lips twisted eloquently.  James raised an eyebrow, and Isaac rolled his eyes.  "Yes, she was going a little heavy on the biblical allusion, wasn't she?"

"I suppose that makes you Ishmael, then?" James inquired amusedly.

"I suppose," Stella agreed dryly.  "Either way, I suspect that Isaac is going to be the only relation of mine that you will ever meet.  Those that aren't dead refuse to acknowledge my existence."  She must have seen something that gave him away, since she arched a brow and added, "Much like yourself?"

Despite the lilt at the end, James knew it wasn't really a question, since she already knew and just wanted more information.  "Rather," he confirmed dully.  "Dead parents, a dead brother, two dead sisters.  They were killed by pirates when I was a midshipman.  My mother married far below her—all my father had left to him was a small income and a derelict name—and her relatives prefer not to acknowledge me, either.  I'm the proverbial poor relation," he explained ironically.

"At least you're legitimate," Stella remarked.  Her black eyes flicked to Isaac.  "Speaking of legitimacy, Isaac... perhaps you could do me a favour and treat our relationship with a measure of discretion?  No one knows, here, and I have much more to loose.  We have much more to loose," she added, glancing at James, and then patting her belly.

Isaac's grey eyes got even wider.  "You're expecting?"  Stella nodded.  "Well, congratulations!  When?"

"February or March, provided neither of us dies before then."

"But... but I thought you weren't dying!" Isaac protested.

"I’m not.  That doesn't mean I won't be some time later.  Lord Beckett is unfortunately imaginative," Stella shrugged.

"I didn't tell him," James muttered out of the corner of his mouth.

Indeed, Isaac looked very surprised.  "What?"  He apparently noticed the look James and Stella shared before glancing back at him.  "What is it I'm not being told?"

James and Stella shared another look, before Stella decided she would take point.  "Have you heard any of the rumours around town?" she inquired.

"Quite a few—it's how I found out where you were," Isaac replied, looking confused.  "Why?"

Stella ignored him.  "And what do they say?" she prompted.

James rolled his eyes.  She was doing that thing she always did—making the questioner answer their own questions.  It was rather Socratic, but it often annoyed him.  Couldn't she just answer straight?

Isaac looked just as annoyed.  "Stella—"

"What do they say?" she repeated sharply.

"Well, according to the rumours, your husband was engaged to be married to the governor's daughter, Elizabeth Swann," Isaac recited.  "But she threw him over for either William Turner the blacksmith or Jack Sparrow the pirate... accounts vary.  Heart-broken and seeking vengeance, the noble Commodore Norrington goes to hunt the pirate who ruined him, but looses his ship and flees, broken-hearted.  According to most, Norrington meets you on Tortuga, falls in love, and marries you when he's redeemed after stealing something of value from the said Sparrow.  Some people, though, think that you were desperate to snag a respectable man, and blackmailed him into it, and that he hates you for not being Miss Swann."

"I’m in the room, you know," James said sourly.

"I'm just repeating what I heard," Isaac replied defensively.

"James is sensitive about the Miss Swann issue," Stella explained soothingly.

"Well, her name is often connected to his," Isaac said, hitting the pronoun with a measure of disdain.  It was plain that Captain Bell did not much care for his new brother-in-law.

"She isn't here," Stella pointed out, her tone a warning.  "What are the other rumours?"

Isaac shrugged.  "A few think you're a witch... as usual... and that you've bewitched either your husband or Lord Beckett.  Some think that Lord Beckett wanted to marry you, but when you rejected him his love turned to hate and now he wants you to be miserable.   Other people think you've got blackmail material on him, and that he's trying to kill you off.  Some figure that Lord Beckett wanted make you his mistress, but your husband forbid it and now he wants both of you dead.  Another interesting rumour says that Norrington traded on you to regain his position, and that you're with child by Beckett."

"And after hearing these rumours, you came after James?" Stella said incredulously.  She shook her head and buried her face in her hands.  "You're such an idiot, Isaac."

"I was worried for you!" Isaac protested, wounded.

"James would never hurt me," Stella snapped.  Her lips curved upwards.  "He's not that stupid."

"The fact that I'm actually fond of you notwithstanding, of course," James added sarcastically.  "So, those are the rumours?  They don't even come close to the truth!"

"We were very careful about that," Stella murmured in return.

"Well, what is the truth, then?" Isaac wondered.  "You still haven't told me anything."

However, both James and Stella knew that their delaying hadn't done what they wanted, yet.  They still didn't know anything about Isaac's loyalty.  Yes, he was Stella's brother, but they hadn't seen each other in eleven years; Beckett may have gotten to him first.  James was content to leave the inquisition to Stella; it was, after all, her brother, and James didn't like Isaac any more than Isaac liked him.

"For one, the truth doesn't involve any blackmail," Stella said, wrinkling her nose.

"Actually, there's that titbit of information about Mr. Mercer that you haven't told me," James corrected, feeling free to offer that bit of information in the event that Isaac was a spy, since Stella already knew Beckett knew that she knew.  "That might count as blackmail."

"No, it's not blackmail," Stella insisted, rolling her eyes playfully.  "I'm not getting anything out of it."

"And you haven't bewitched me recently, either," James added.

"What are you talking about?  I never bewitched you at all!" Stella protested.

"You gave me something to drink, that first morning..."

"That wasn't bewitching!"

"Fine—you would know," James conceded.  "You've never bewitched me at all.  I married you under my own free will—God alone only knows why," he added dryly.

Stella sniffed, and looked back to Isaac, who was still looking confused.  "For Heaven's sake, Isaac, are you naïve, deliberately obtuse, or just plain thick?" she demanded sharply.

"I'm not the one who refuses to answer a simple question!" Isaac protested, wounded.

"You asked what the truth was," Stella chided.  "The truth is rarely simple."

"Semantics!" Isaac retorted.  "Stella, what's going on?"  Something seemed to occur to him, and his face fell.  "You don't trust me."

"I haven't seen you for more than ten years," Stella pointed out quietly.  "I don't know who might have gotten to you first."

"Nobody 'got' to me," Isaac insisted.  "I just... found you, finally.  What are you so afraid of?"

"Someone who has more power over me than I'm comfortable with," Stella replied quietly.  "But I won't tell you his name, since we're not enemies, per se.  Uneasy allies is perhaps the best term."

"You don't need to tell me," Isaac said after a long pause.  "It's Lord Beckett."  Another pause.  "Isn't it?"

"Well done, Isaac," Stella praised tartly.   "Perhaps there's some hope for you after all.  And thus, I hope you understand my uneasiness."  Her piercing black eyes rested on her brother for a long moment, and Isaac met her scrutiny calmly.  "If you ever betray me, Isaac, I'll destroy you," she finally said quietly.

"I won't ever give you cause to," Isaac promised.  "Father wanted me to look after you."  Stella titled her head to the side inquisitively.  "Do you remember that day when you came back bleeding after one of the children in the town had thrown a stone at you?" Isaac asked.

Stella nodded, but James interjected in horror, "They threw stones at you?"

"They thought I was a witch," Stella replied simply.  She brushed the edge of the linen cap away and touched a thin white scar at the edge of her scalp that James had never noticed before.  "Actually, I think that day was the same one that gave me this," she remarked idly.

"You were bleeding pretty badly," Isaac agreed.  "Father took me aside later and told me I'd have to look after you, because no one else was going to do it."

"I miss him," Stella said suddenly, sounding very lost.  Her fingers caressed the silver bells around her neck.

"Me too," Isaac agreed quietly.

James felt deeply uncomfortable, intruding on this shared family moment, and their longing for a father long-dead brought his own longing to the fore.  His entire family had been killed en route to Jamaica; the Norrington family had wanted to start a new life, and decided that since their eldest son was posted there, the Caribbean was as good a place as any.  But the ship had been destroyed when the powder magazine on their ship was ignited by the pirates who had boarded the ship.  (James had wondered, during the Black Pearl fiasco, whether or not it had been that ship that had murdered his family, given their partiality for such a tactic.)  He hadn't known that he was an orphan until months later, when he was back in Jamaica on leave and his family wasn't there to meet him.

He missed them.

Isaac was speaking, again.  "I couldn't do anything when Mother drove you away," he was explaining apologetically.  "I tried to find you again, when I went into the navy, but it was like you and Aunty Nell disappeared into thin air."

"Thin air, Tortuga... it amounts to the same thing," Stella quipped sourly, then yawned widely.

"You shouldn't have meddled with that hurricane," Isaac scolded her.  "Aunty Nell always told you not to."

"Mama's not here," Stella replied, faintly bitter.  "And I didn't have any choice.  It was that or hanging."

There was a moment of silence.  Then Isaac shook his head.  "I'm glad I found you again.  Hanging, hurricanes... you definitely need looking after," he sighed.

"I believe that's my responsibility," James pointed out stiffly.

"Well, you're not doing a very good job, then, are you!" Isaac retorted hotly.

"At least I've tried—where have you been for the past eleven years?"

"That wasn't my—!"

"Boys!" Stella interrupted.  Her voice wasn't any louder than normal, but all the dishes on the table were lifted up and dropped with a clatter.  At the sound of the rattling china, James and Isaac fell silent.  "Shout at each other later, after I've gone to bed."  She turned to Isaac.  "Will you stay for supper?  It won't be much."

"Of course."

"Will you dine with us?" James asked her quietly.

"I think I can manage," Stella replied, half-smiling at him. 


Supper was simple and quiet, but Stella's hands were trembling a little by the end and she was obviously tired.  "I grow so very sick of being sick," she sighed as James helped her upstairs.  Isaac had retired to the study to await his brother-in-law; James had a feeling they'd have a screaming row the moment Stella was safely upstairs.

"Give it time, Starling," James chided her gently.  "You haven't been home yet a week."

"Yes, but I've been bedridden longer than that," she lamented.  "I want to go outside... I want to walk in my garden and watch the tide come in."

"I'd have thought you'd be sick of the ocean by now," James commented pertly.

She laughed tiredly.

Once she was tucked into bed and well on her way to sleep, her hair coiling and uncoiling idly behind her, James descended to the study.  Isaac was peering at the bookshelf, and commented, when he heard James enter, "Some of these are Stella's."

"I know."

Isaac drew his fingers across the spines of Stella's collection.  It was surprisingly substantial, though somewhat ragged and worn, and James had spent many hours on Tortuga perusing her collection.  She had many Greek and Roman classics—the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid, the poems of Catullus and a collection of Cicero, both in the original Latin—and a taste for epic poems; all of Dante's Divine Comedy was there and both Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.  There was a very tattered copy of the works of Shakespeare, and a collection of Chaucer and Boccacio.

"I gave her this one, for her tenth birthday," Isaac remarked, his hand resting on Dante's Paradiso.  "Aunty Nell—Eleanor, Stella's mother—gave her Purgatorio.  Father gave her the Inferno."

"Strange choices for a ten-year-old girl," James commented.  Yet how entirely Stella.

"She never had any friends—except me," Isaac added pointedly.

"Had," James repeated, equally pointed.  "She acquired a couple more during your separation."

"Including yourself?" Isaac sneered.

"We were friends before we married," James replied evenly.  "Very good friends.  Between myself, another... supernaturally inclined personage called Tia Dalma whom I've never met, Miss Witcher and Madame d'Ascoyne, Stella does not lack for companionship."

"She's not happy," Isaac countered.

"She could be happy enough, if a certain somebody would leave her well enough alone," James snapped back.

Upon later reflection, James felt that statement was ill-phrased.  It seemed to imply that Isaac was the 'certain somebody' impugning Stella's happiness, when he'd of course been referring to Beckett.  Isaac, however, apparently didn't see it that way.

So he walked over and punched James Norrington in the face.

The two naval officers spent a few minutes hitting each other.  When they were finished, James had a split lip and a bruise blooming on his side, and Isaac was nursing what would probably become a spectacular black eye in the coming days, and a nosebleed.

"I wasn't referring to you, you know," James grumbled, dabbing at his lip with a handkerchief.  Isaac glared at him with his one good eye.  "I wasn't," he insisted.  "I meant Lord Beckett.  I certainly didn't have any quarrel with you until you impugned my honour and pointed a gun at me."

"Impugned your honour?" Isaac repeated dubiously.  "I did no such thing!"

"You insinuated—nay, outright stated!—that I would dare harm my wife," James snapped.

"She's my long-lost sister and I heard she was dying," Isaac growled.  "What was I supposed to think?  I didn't know you from Adam!"

"Stella's right: you're terribly impulsive," James remarked acidly.  "I'm your Admiral, for God's sake.  Out of curiosity, what would you have done if I had been hurting Stella?  Shot me?  You'd have been court-marshalled and hanged the next day, leaving your sister a pregnant widow at the mercy of the world.  Well done," he finished sarcastically.

"All right!" Isaac shouted.  "So it wasn't a very good plan!  I just wanted to protect my sister!  She's so... she looks so tired, like the life's been bled out of her."

"She's sick.  What were you expecting?" James asked, rolling his eyes.  "Sunshine and flowers?"

Isaac snorted.  "More like clouds and nettles."

"She's always been like that, then?" James inquired, curious to hear about what Stella was like as a child.  He already had a picture of a solemn, lonely little girl who preferred her books and her family to anything else, a child who'd learned early on how hard the world was going to be towards a person of her dubious parentage and uncommon talents.

"Yes.  But she was always softer with the family."

Implying, of course, that James was not counted among that august number.  It seemed there would be no little-Stella storytime tonight, and that there would be something further to have out with his brother-in-law.  "I sense that the air is not yet clear between us," James commented sardonically.  "What, pray tell, is eating you?"

Isaac looked at him for a long moment.  James didn't move.  This Bell just didn't have the powerful stare his sister used so well.  "I don't like you," Isaac finally said.

"So I gathered," James replied sarcastically.  "And you are, of course, entitled to such dislike.  However, I would appreciate it if you would at least try for civility in my home."

"Stella lives here too," Isaac retorted.

"And it's for her that I'm asking," James snapped.  "She has enough to worry about without her husband and her brother at each others' throats."

"Do you love her?"

The question caught James completely by surprise, and he stared as Isaac blankly for a moment.  "Of course I love her!" he finally sputtered.

"You're lying," Isaac spat.  "You don't love her at all!"

James rolled his eyes.  "There's more than one kind of love," he said coldly.

"Don't give me that rot!" Isaac shouted.  "You married her—you should love her!"

"Now who's spouting rot!" James snorted.  "That's a highly naïve sentiment, I feel.  You know well and good that marriages among our set are just as often based on economics or status or any number of material concerns.  You need look no further than you own parents, am I right?"  Isaac, with two spots of colour high on his cheeks and an angry glitter in his grey eyes, nodded.  "How much better, then, that I actually happen to like the woman I married?"

"That's not good enough," Isaac stated heatedly.  "That's not nearly good enough!  Not for Stella.  Not for my sister."

"She has no complaints," James noted sharply.  "She doesn't want me to love her, any more than she wants to love me herself.  She scorns the feeling, and believes her family is cursed in love anyway."

"That's ridiculous!"

"Well, that's what she thinks."

"But... she always wanted to get married!" Isaac protested.  "We used to talk about it.  I hadn't quite started to like girls yet, but she said she'd marry someone as cunning as Odysseus and as eloquent as Cicero and have three children and—"

"And didn't you think to ask her about whether or not she intended to love this person?" James inquired dryly.  "I asked her, once.  She didn't want to love anyone.  She said she learned early on that there were no benefits to the emotion.  She didn't want love at the expense of her—and her children's—reputation.  She just wanted to marry a respectable man and bear legitimate children."

"That doesn't sound a thing like my Stella!" Isaac protested.

"She's not your Stella any longer!" James snapped harshly.  "You may not realise this, since you've been absent from her for more than a decade, but she's had a difficult go of it.  She lost her father, her home, and finally her mother.  She was left alone in a place she despised with people who could never hope to relate to or understand her—there were times when she wouldn't speak to another living soul for weeks!  It made her cynical, bitter, suspicious, vindictive and—"

"And I wonder that you married her at all, if that's what you think of her," Isaac interrupted acridly.

"Oh, I hated her at first," James admitted, smiling at the memory of those early days.  "But there's a good woman in there... somewhere," he added, sotto voice.  "My point being, of course, Captain, that Stella grew up into a woman rather different than the girl you remember, and that she is entirely content in our circumstances."

"Oh?  Are you content?" Isaac sneered.  "Do you think Stella minds that her husband loves another woman?"

"She's always known that I loved someone else," James replied evenly.  "And if Stella doesn't mind, I don't see that you should, either."

Isaac regarded him with eyes as cold as ice.  "She deserves better than you."

James had to bite his tongue to keep himself from retorting something along the lines of, 'My maternal grandfather was the younger son of an earl, and my fortune, while small, is more than your sister could ever hope to have.  And what did she bring me?  Only her admittedly considerable wits.  She's a landowner's bastard and a witch to boot—I daresay she got the better end of the bargain.'  If Stella ever caught wind of that diatribe—and if he said it aloud, he had no doubt that Isaac would carry the tale gleefully—she'd be justifiably furious with him.

Instead, he replied mildly, "I think that's for her to decide."

There wasn't much more Isaac could say to that, and he left the house shortly thereafter.  Stella didn't comment on James' swollen, bruised lip in the morning; she just mixed up a batch of the same tonic she'd given him on Tortuga.  The day after, she'd gained enough strength to walk downstairs on her own power, and the house was opened to callers.  Soon enough, the rumours that Mrs. Norrington was on her deathbed dissipated.

Of course, they were replaced with rumours about the relationship between Captain Isaac Bell of the Raven and Mrs. Stella Norrington, née Bell.

James and Stella had expected it, of course; the resemblance between Stella and Isaac was plain to any who cared to look, and there was plenty of opportunities for the citizens to see.  Though Beckett's prohibition on assemblies was still in force (and making him no friends among the upper echelons of Port Royal), intimate teas were still allowed, and with the number of callers passing in and out of the Norrington house, it was inevitable that the rumour would spread with fair rapidity.

And having spread across Port Royal, it was inevitable that the rumour of Stella Norrington's long-lost relation (depending on who one asked, Bell could be her brother, bastard brother, legitimate brother, cousin, uncle, or even son (but that rumour was started by someone who'd never seen Stella and apparently couldn't add, either)) would reach the ears of Lord Cutler Beckett. 


Cutler Beckett wished Mr. Mercer was back from Singapore.  If Mercer was here, he could have ferreted out the truth of the rumours regarding the connection between one of his captains and his least favourite client.  Instead, he himself was left to sift through the morass in pursuit of the grain of truth.

Apparently, Mrs. Stella Norrington had gathered another ally.  This was nothing new, of course; Cutler knew that practically the entire population of Port Royal was on her side.  However, since he had the entire population of Port Royal terrified of him, that balanced out.  But her new ally was an officer of the fleet.  This was slightly more troublesome.  And the fact that she was related to said officer by blood made the connection nigh impossible to sever.

Captain Isaac Bell of the Raven.  The younger son of Edward and Sarah Bell of Antigua.  He had some relation to Stella Norrington, née Bell, Cutler was sure of it.  He'd seen the two of them around town (or rather the three of them, since Admiral James Norrington wasn't keen to let his wife out of his sight nowadays), and there was a strong resemblance.

According to his informants in the Norrington house (who were, unfortunately, much less effective than he would've hoped; Stella had, of course, known immediately, and done some witchery to ensure her conversations were never overheard), Bell had been a frequent caller to the Norrington house.  He hadn't been able to actually meet with either Norrington until a couple of days before Mrs. Norrington re-emerged into society; apparently, he'd bullied his way inside and later gotten into a fistfight and a shouting match with the Admiral.  They'd called a truce for Mrs. Norrington's sake, and she was often placed between the two of them at teas and such as a peacemaker.

One of the Norrington's servants insisted that Bell was Mrs. Norrington's cousin, and had wanted to marry her before her exile on Tortuga, and that was why Captain Bell hated the Admiral so. (Cutler made a mental note to delve further into that matter; why had the then-Miss Bell been forced to leave her childhood home, wherever it might've been, for Tortuga?)  However, one of the footmen hinted that the relation was closer, that Bell was Mrs. Norrington's bastard brother who'd been looking for her.  But Cutler was willing to bet that, out of Isaac and Stella, it was Stella who'd be the bastard.

But he needed to confirm that rumour before letting it be spread around.  It was obvious that Captain Bell took a healthy interest in the well-being of his sister, and alienating both him and Admiral Norrington with an unfounded (or rather, unproved) rumour regarding Mrs. Norrington might split the fleet.  That was something Cutler knew he couldn't afford.

Blast!  He wished Mr. Mercer was here; Cutler was no good with all this rumour-mongering. With the death of the Kraken (unavoidable, but a rather galling loss nonetheless), he'd had lost a rather significant piece of leverage over Mrs. Norrington, and he rather worried that the diminishing of the threat he was able to hold over Admiral Norrington would inspire a measure of misbehaviour from his wife.  And if Stella was going to misbehave, she'd do it much more subtly than her husband's flat-out defiance.  Cutler knew he was sharp, but was honest enough to admit that Stella Norrington matched him wit for wit.  Without Mercer to be his eyes, ears, and hands when need be, it was possible that Stella could pull one over on him.  That was a highly distasteful prospect.

Cutler huffed quietly and tapped his spoon lightly on his saucer, enjoying the chink of the china.  He'd already lost a possible source of information in Captain Bell.  He'd met the Norrington-Bell party out on the shore a day or two past, as Captain Bell made an effort to point out his ship to his... relation.  Though the resemblance was noticeable, Captain Bell did not have Stella's iron control, and his feelings were easily visible on his face.  And Bell was wary.  Stella got to him first.

And she was binding Bell and Norrington together.  It was obvious the two men didn't care for each other one jot, but they were tolerating each other for Stella's sake.  Cutler was rather jealous of that ability of hers—she could make people love her or hate her with just a few words, and no matter which one she chose to inspire, there was always a healthy respect generated as well.  He himself was a perfect example; he hated her violently, but respected her power like he might that of a poisonous snake.

Indeed, that is a particularly apt description, he thought, sipping his tea.  She is the viper at my breast.  And Admiral Norrington and Captain Bell are her fangs, poised right above my heart and ready to strike, should she give the word.

Cutler knew, then, that he was going to have to do something about Stella Norrington, until Mercer returned and was able to ferret out something to draw her venom.  He set down his teacup and wandered over towards the veranda.

But what to do? he wondered as he gazed out across the harbour and all the ships—his ships—gathered there.  She's marvellously useful; more so than her husband, even.  But her husband does command my fleet... many of the men are far more loyal to he than I.  Together, the two of them are formidable.  Stella commands the town, Admiral Norrington commands the fleet.

He turned to return to his desk, and his eyes fell on the chessboard next to the cabinet.  Inspiration niggled, and Cutler strode over to ponder.  He reached out and rested a fingertip on the black bishop.  Stella.  He placed the other on the other bishop.  NorringtonOf course, in chess, the King never need worry that his bishops are conspiring against him.

Insight dawned.  Of course!  The king never need worry because his bishops—indeed, the entirety of the pieces—cannot meet!  Cutler slid the Stella-bishop a few black squares forward, then moved the Norrington-bishop an equal amount of white squares.  They were close, but did not touch.

I will have to scheme up such a scenario, Cutler decided.  Something that will separate them, but without inciting rebellion in the wife or completely unhinging the Admiral.  Norrington's insistence on protecting his wife was beginning to edge into the neurotic.

Sitting down to further regard the inanimate chessboard in lieu of their living counterparts, Cutler Beckett began to plot.

Chapter Text

"I could get used to this," James remarked one evening.

"Hmm?" Stella inquired lazily.

"Your hair being... animate.  I could get used it," he repeated.

The hair in question was quiescent for the moment, since James was slowly running a brush through it.  It had become a nightly sort of ritual while Stella was sick, and had continued on when she got better: just before retiring, James would come to Stella's room and brush her hair while they talked about the day's happenings.  It was a precious morsel of private time—at least, when James was on land—and helped to quiet Stella's hair, who seemed to enjoy the brushing as much as Stella herself, to the point where it would sometimes curl around James' wrist and refuse to let him leave.

Stella laughed.  "That's convenient, seeing as I don't think it's going to go away.  I've rather gotten used to it myself," she agreed.  "Of course," she then added sourly, "we only say this because I finally got it under control."

Indeed, once Stella had started to gain her strength back, her hair grew more and more active.  It refused to be tucked under caps and hats, and Stella had needed to retire to her chambers for several days until she learned to control it.  James had needed to bite his lip more than once during that time to keep from laughing as muffled curses sounded from his wife's bedchamber, followed by shrieked vows to simply shave her head.

However, there was very little that could stand up before his wife's strength of will, be it a hurricane, a sea-monster, a poisonous British aristocrat, or an unruly mop of hair cum sea-monster.  Within four days, Stella was not only able to coax her hair into a braid and under a hat, she was also able, with minimal help from Estrella, to coil it up on top of her head in the more intricate society styles.  She could use it to pick things up, open doors, turn the pages in her books—even unbutton his waistcoat, when she was feeling cheeky.

Nevertheless, the secret of her Kraken-infused nature of her hair was still kept to a small number of confidents.  There was, of course, James and Estrella; Caroline d'Ascoyne and Anne Witcher had been included, and Isaac Bell as well.  Lord Beckett might suspect, but he didn't know for sure.  Stella's friend Tia Dalma probably knew as well, but since she was, as Stella noted, on a boat in some ocean, her inclusion wasn't going to have any effect on their lives.  And James knew from the wistfulness in her voice that Stella missed this Tia Dalma person.  He wondered what she was like.

"I find, Starling, that there is very little you cannot have under your control soon enough," James noted wryly.

"Flattery will get you everywhere, my dear," Stella retorted playfully.  Then, changing the subject, "For whence do you sail tomorrow?"

"I have no idea," James replied, continuing to run the brush through Stella's long hair.  "Nor do I imagine that it's very important.  I believe Lord Beckett is simply sending me off to polish the doorknobs."

"Mmm, yes," Stella agreed.  "He has shown a rather vested interest this past month in keeping us apart."  Though James was sitting behind her, he could still hear the lazy smile curling her lips.  "I think he's afraid we'll conspire against him."

"I hate to point this out, Starling, but we are conspiring against him," James noted dryly.

Stella just cackled.

It was true: there was a conspiracy against Lord Beckett in the works.  James had been leery at first, and still wasn't entirely certain this was a good idea.  But Stella was adamant.  "He isn't done with me, yet," she'd told him.  "If we don't move in retaliation, who knows what his next demand will be—or how well I'll survive it?"  James still balked, but Stella was persuasive.  "We just want him to leave us alone," she coaxed.  "His goals are both admirable and viable, and we will maintain them and work towards their fulfilment.  But he simply cannot go along hanging everyone, and he ought to leave the navy to you, and he needs to let poor Weatherby alone, and he really must leave me be.  We'll leave him alive, of course.  But we must act now, before Mercer returns."

There wasn't much else he could say to that.  He'd just said resignedly, "You've got Lucifer's own tongue, Stella."

Of course, she'd licked his ear in retaliation, and then he'd laughed, and they'd gone from there.  The conspiracy was still in its infancy—just making lists of names and contacts—and grew very slowly due to the amount of time Beckett was keeping the Norringtons apart.  But it was growing.

The town already belonged to Stella; they hated Beckett for his heavy-handed wielding of power, for ruining their daily lives, for making them live in fear, and would side with anyone who ousted him from their lives.  But they would do it quietly, subtly, and would desert like rats from a sinking ship should Stella be found out.  The fleet-side part of the conspiracy was much smaller; James himself and Theodore Groves, of course, and the newly-converted Isaac Bell were the most influential members—Isaac had thrown all in with Stella after having a meeting of some sort with Lord Beckett (after which he'd stormed back to the house and announced that he didn't want to talk about it).

Yes, Stella's brainchild was growing—just like her other child.  Their child.  The one threatened by Beckett, instead of the one threatening.  Stella was now almost four months pregnant, and her belly had grown visibly.  She'd had to put in some extra panels in some of her dresses, and had a few more made with larger pleats in the front.  She was also starting to gain back the weight that she'd lost after the hurricane, a little more than a month ago now; her features were not so sharp and her eyes no longer sunk in her face.  This, however, did not stop James from hovering around her when he was home, and fretting about her when he was not.

Life was settling down again, and James was thankful.  He only hoped things would stay so serene.

"At least hurricane season is almost over," he commented, setting the brush down and leaping backwards before Stella's hair could wrap around his wrists.

"Thank God for small mercies," Stella agreed.  "Of course, this will mean that Lord Beckett will have to search for a new method of visiting calamities upon our household."

"Don’t say that!" James groaned.  "Now it'll come true."

Stella rolled her eyes, before she stood, brushed her hands down her chest three times, turned in a circle, and spat on the floor.  James looked at her blankly.  "What, pray tell, was that?"

"It's meant to chase away bad luck," she told him flatly.  "Since you're so worried about it."

James thought about it for a moment, then copied her actions. 


 

He set sail the next day, for somewhere in the Virgin Islands.  Ostensibly, he was to gather more ships for the armada.  Truthfully, he was just being shuffled out of the way, and he'd had a variety of things to say about it before he left in the morning.

"I'm the Admiral, dammit," James had muttered.  "And I'm being sent out to do something that ought to be delegated to the vast selection of subordinates I have to choose from.  I've got reams of paperwork to wade through, supplies to requisition, and repairs to anticipate for these new ships.  And am I staying to get these things done?  Of course not.  I'm going to go be useless on someone else's ship because Lord Beckett is paranoid.  Wretched little son of a..."

"Who's the someone else?" Stella inquired.  James looked confused, and she elaborated.  "Whose ship are you using?"

James shrugged.  "The Diamond.  Thank heaven for small favours, I suppose.  If Lord Beckett sent me out on the Raven, only one of us would come back alive." 

Stella started laughing.  "I have no idea why you and Isaac don't get along.  I wish you'd try," she chided amusedly.

"I'm not the one who needs that advice," James muttered.

Once she'd seen him off, she went back to the house and saw to the household accounts and the menus (which would be much simpler for the next week, since it was only she in the house).  After lunch, Anne and Caroline came over, and were joined a little later by Isaac.  Theodore Groves dropped by for teatime, since James had apparently asked him to make sure Stella was all right.

"What does he think is going to happen to me?" Stella asked incredulously.

"I have no idea," Captain Groves replied brightly, taking the chair next to Anne Witcher.  "But he's the Admiral.  Are those macaroons?"

Stella rolled her eyes, but rang for the servants to bring another cup.  As Groves helped himself to some biscuits, she inquired, "How go the repairs on the Endeavour?  I didn't think the Kraken had enough time to do too much damage."

Groves stopped chewing, and his eyes moved nervously to the other two ladies.  But when they just looked at him inquisitively, followed by a reassuring gesture from Isaac, he swallowed and replied haltingly, "The repairs go well.  There... er, wasn't much damage.  We're technically seaworthy, but we're missing some rails and a lot of the cannon ports won't open.  Some are missing—er, cannon ports, that is.  Not the cannons."

"Yes, I don't suppose she was terribly interested in cannons," Caroline sniffed.

"She didn't like them at all, really," Stella remarked, reaching up to touch the hanging curl on her shoulder, commanded to stillness.

"Poor creature," sighed Anne.

Isaac snorted.  "That 'poor creature' would've killed us all."

"Nevertheless," Stella replied primly.

The extra teacup arrived, and Stella poured Captain Groves a cup.  The quintet involved themselves with inconsequential conversation for a time, until Stella suggested that they have some music.  Anne volunteered to play, and Caroline, after a significant look from Stella, went to turn pages, leaving the three personages most connected with the navy around the table for private conversation.

Once the harpsichord notes began to flow in earnest from Anne's nimble fingers, Groves leaned in closer and asked, "How are you, really?"

"I'm quite all right, Captain.  Truly," Stella assured him.

"No... er, unwanted intrusions?"

"No.  Lord Beckett has left me entirely alone.  We can't quite say the same for poor James," Stella commented wryly.

"Indeed," Groves muttered.

"His place is here—should be here," Isaac agreed.

Stella picked up the teapot to refill his cup.  "It should.  He gets very upset when he's gone."

"He worries for his fleet—and for you," Groves acknowledged.

Isaac snorted. "You know, he frets a terrible lot, given that he doesn't actually love you."

Stella froze.  All the breath whooshed from her lungs, as though she'd been hit in the gut.  The teapot slipped from her nerveless hands and crashed into the tray, upsetting the cups and spilling tea all over the table.  The loud clattering of porcelain against silver interrupted Anne's playing, and caught her and Caroline's attention.  Her hair, freed from her iron control for a moment, tumbled out of the style she'd arranged it in this morning and started setting the tea table to rights.  Groves yelped, and skittered backwards, overturning his chair and sending himself spilling over the floor.  Anne and Caroline immediately stood and hurried over; Anne helped Groves off the floor, Isaac went for a towel, and Caroline took the teapot from Stella.

"Good heavens, Stella dear!  What did he tell you?  You're white as a sheet!" Caroline cried.

"I... nothing.  It's nothing," Stella said, voice growing stronger—almost savage—even as she remained frozen in her chair, her hands clenched so tightly her knuckles were white.  Anne came and stood behind her, combing soothingly through her hair in an effort to calm it down; sensing Stella's internal turmoil, it was writhing energetically around her body.

And not a moment too soon, since a servant (Alice, Stella's mind supplied detachedly) came in and tidied up the spilled tea.  She came back in with a fresh pot and new china while Anne and Caro were still fussing over Stella.

Once Alice was gone, Isaac apologised.  "I'm sorry—that was tactless.  I just... I didn't know you didn't know."

"What?" Anne whispered to Caroline.

Stella overheard.  "James doesn't love me," she said, still sitting rigid and unmoving in her chair.  Her friends gasped, horrified.

"No, that's not true," Groves broke in, with a kind of maniacal desperation.  "He does love you—he told me."

But not how he loves Elizabeth Swann—not the way a husband loves a wife, that painfully truthful part of her mind whispered, making something near her chest cringe in agony.

However, it was not in Stella's nature to display emotional turmoil before anyone, even her closest friends and family.  Isaac's declaration had taken her by surprise, but now she wasn't surprised, and it was time to tuck it quietly away until she could deal with it later, alone.

"Of course," Stella agreed mildly.  Then she concentrated for a moment, coaxing her hair back into the curled arrangement it had been in before she was surprised by Isaac's pronouncement.  "Forgive me.  My moods swing wildly nowadays—a consequence of my delicate condition," she explained, patting her belly gently.  Everyone looked dubious.  Stella rolled her eyes.  "I'm quite all right.  It was simply the way you said it, Isaac.  You made it seem as though he didn't like me at all.  Tact, my dear—perhaps you should look into it," she chided gently.

That seemed to satisfy the others that she wasn't heartbroken—except for Isaac, who still watched her warily.  But though he was tactless, he wasn't stupid, and Stella knew he was biding his time.  They'd have an unpleasantly emotional conversation after the others left, she was sure.

Stella managed the rest of the visit with admirable composure.  She smiled at the right times, laughed at the right times, supplied the correct dry remarks.  But only half her attention was on her guests.  And perhaps they sensed that, since the party broke up shortly thereafter.

Isaac was sitting at the harpsichord when Stella returned, plucking out notes in no particular order.  "You used to play," he remarked when he heard her re-enter the drawing room.

"I still do, albeit much worse than before," she replied distantly, sitting back down in her chair.  "So many years with no practise..."

Her brother came over and sat on the chair directly in front of her.  "He said you didn't love him.  He said you didn't want to.  He said you don't even like love."

"I don't.  He's right," Stella replied.

"Stelly, what's wrong?" Isaac asked plaintively.

Stella swallowed heavily, and looked down to her lap.  "Everything," she said quietly.

"Stella—"

"I didn't want to love anyone," she snapped harshly, interrupting him.  "I didn't want to end up like Mama, or Grandmama, or any other of my ancestors who loved so heedlessly and paid for it with tears and heartache and anguish!"  She laughed bitterly.  "I thought I'd learned better, but it seems pride truly does go before the fall.  I've joined the ranks of the foolish: I love a man who doesn't love me.  Well done, Stella.  Well done."  The anger and the self-loathing in her words were so thick she felt like she was choking.

"I didn't think it was a choice," said Isaac tentatively.  "Doesn't it just... happen?"

Her eyes snapped up and her voice grew savage.   "No, it doesn't," she snarled.  "I was supposed to be watching for this!  I should've been more vigilant.  I don't want to love him—I don't!  I wish I didn't!" she cried.

But the tragedy of it was that she already did.

With everything that had been going on—Beckett, pregnancy, hurricanes, Krakens—and the fact that Stella had achieved her goal of marrying respectably, she'd completely forgotten to guard her heart.  Living in reasonably peaceful domesticity with James had been slowly and unconsciously peeling back the layers, and now, when she finally realised she was in danger, it was too late.  The danger had come home to roost and Stella loved him.

She loved him—his dry, sarcastic sense of humour, his clever wit, his keen intelligence tempered with his complete awkwardness during any interaction with ladies.  She loved his devotion to duty and his fervent insistence on keeping her safe, contrasted with his slapdash disregard for his own safety in pursuit of higher goals.  She loved his wry grins and his open smiles and that soft, tender look he got when he rested his hands on her pregnant belly.  She loved his sharp green eyes and the wicked eyebrow waggle that always coaxed a snicker out of her and the tiny hint of a cleft in his chin.  She loved the way he called her Starling, but threatened to shoot anyone who called him Jim or Jamie or any sort of pet name.  She loved his deeply ingrained sense of honour and the well-hidden, subtle, but still-present piratical side that enabled him to steal the Heart of Davy Jones from Jack Sparrow, go head-on with Beckett, and finally muster up the courage to defy him.  She loved that he was confident in his abilities, but still humble enough to know that he couldn't do everything.  She loved that he was mannered and courteous and proper, but would still sit on the roof with her and look at stars.  She loved everything about him.  She loved him beyond hope and reason...

And would give anything to make it not so.

Isaac reached out and grasped her hands in his.  "There's nothing wrong with being in love, Stelly."

"Yes, there is," she replied desperately.  "I don't want it. I don't want to love him—it'll ruin everything!  I don’t want to—I don't!" she cried.  She straightened up.  "I have to fix this.  There must be something I can do... some kind of spell."  She stood up and immediately made a beeline for the study where she kept the grimoire.

Isaac kept to her heels, and watched her as she dove into the tattered old book with a single-mindedness that had only intensified during the years they had been apart.  He watched her as she paged through the tome, muttering to herself, watched as her brow furrowed and her lips grew thinner with frustration as she reached the end of the book.

Eventually, she slammed it shut and placed it back on the shelf, tension in every line of her body.  She glared at the book for a moment, and then swore pungently.

Her brother startled.  He didn't just... she did not... where had she learned those words?

Stella whirled around, and caught sight of his gobsmacked expression. She rolled her eyes so hard Isaac was surprised they didn't pop out of her head and roll across the floor.  "I lived on Tortuga for ten years, Isaac," she snapped.

Isaac just held up his hands in surrender—he knew this mood well enough, and, like with a wild dog, it was best to make sure one wasn't making any aggressive signals.  Stella would strike out without thought or remorse when she was like this.

He kept quiet as she started pacing, still talking to herself.  "There's nothing in there... honestly, though, were you expecting there to be?  Not in this family, and its history with men.  Oh no, let's not use our reason, let's just throw ourselves headlong off the cliff.  Not that I did any better... I didn't even see the sodding cliff.  But of course my mothers would have put nothing in there about avoiding the cliff if they were so eager to leap from it.  So... I have to do something else," she mused quietly, skirts swishing behind her.  "Goddammit, I wish Tia was still here.  She's the only person I could think to ask, because the only other option is..."

And then she stopped moving.

Isaac suddenly, inexplicably, felt worried.

Stella spun to face him in a cloud of linen and dark hair.  "Isaac, I think you'd better leave," she announced crisply.

"What?  No," he replied instantly, shaking his head.  "Why, what are you planning on doing?"

"Something potentially dangerous.  If it goes wrong, I'd rather you were able to tell James honestly that you had no idea what I was doing and that you couldn't have stopped me," she replied breezily, as if it wasn't something to worry about.

Isaac wanted to protest—he honestly did—but Stella glared at him with that look in her dark eyes (Eleanor's eyes, and yet not Eleanor's eyes; Eleanor's eyes were never that hard) and pointed a bony finger at him.  "I will do this, Isaac.  You can help, or you can leave, but you cannot stop me."

So Isaac sighed, and prepared to jump in over his head.  Again.

It was strange, how many things had changed, yet how some things remained the exact same.  As usual, Isaac had no idea what Stella was doing.  As usual, he wasn't willing to let her do it alone.  And as usual, he tagged along like a leaf buffeted in a windstorm.   It was like he was twelve again, cooking up some concoction with his thirteen-year-old sister, instead of being twenty-five and a captain and trailing along after his pregnant, married sister as she once again did something headstrong and stupid.

Stella was right: the women in her family certainly were eager to throw themselves heedlessly off metaphorical cliffs. 


"What, exactly, are you going to do?" Isaac asked.

They had moved outside, since that was the best place, into the back garden, where Stella grew most of the herbs and flowers she needed for her charms and poultices and spells.  There was a little clove tree and palms and a little bay plant and chrysanthemums and marigolds... it was a marvellous little plot, and it was Stella's pride and joy.

"I'm going into the river," Stella replied simply, continuing to write her words on the bay leaves she'd just cut from the plant.

Bay leaves for protection, for psychic powers, for strength and healing.  That was what she wrote on the leaves: her prayers for protection as she did this undeniably foolish thing, for the strength to find her answers and keep herself, herself, and healing for her wayward heart.  She would bind them together with a string she spun herself (hair would have been best, but as her hair was currently hosting the remnants of a Kraken, Stella wasn't sure she wanted to try cutting it), and burn them after.

"Which means what?" Isaac pressed insistently.  "How is it dangerous?"

"The river is hard to explain," Stella said absently.  "It's... everything is part of the river, and yet not part of the river.  It is in the river, but it cannot affect the river.  The river holds all the knowledge in the world, because everything is part of the river, but certain things can be hard to find... and if you find it, you might not understand it, or remember it when you get out of the river. It's not really a river at all; that is but the name we choose to call it, for in many ways it is like a river, with a current and a flow and the same power that can easily pull you under.  That is why it's dangerous.  Because you can get lost... pulled under, and find yourself unable to find your way back."

That had been how great-grandmother Isabella died.  She had gone into the river because she wanted to know something—Stella had come by her burning curiosity honestly—and gotten lost.  She hadn't been able to find her way back to her body, and nobody, not Grandmama Esme, a very young Eleanor, or even Tia Dalma, had been able to call her back.  Eventually Isabella had wasted away.

Eleanor had never forgotten, and never entered the river herself, nor allowed Stella to do so (which isn't to say Stella never had).  She would be furious if she knew what her daughter was about to do... and Stella wouldn't do it under any other circumstances.  But this was as optimal as she was going to get.  She was with child, so she had something strong anchoring her to the world outside the river; like in the hurricane, her daughter would keep her tethered to her body.  (Later, Stella would realise what a burden she had placed on her unborn child, and feel terribly guilty.)  She had her brother here as another anchor, someone safe to love, since love was one of the best anchors there was, and as someone who could deal with things if it went wrong.  (Later, Stella would feel remorseful for placing the burden of her life—or death—in Isaac's hands.)  And she was wanted one answer, and one answer only, which would make it harder to be swept away on a current.  (Later, Stella would realise she was being driven by fear to act like an idiot, and feel ashamed.  But this was all later.)

"Why are you doing this, again?" Isaac asked, rubbing his temples.

She finished writing on the bay leaves, and went to tie them together with one of the un-dyed cotton strings she used to hold the wind.  "Because I need to know how to fix this," she replied.

"Stella, nothing is broken," Isaac insisted irritably.

"I'm not getting into this with you right now, Isaac," she snapped.

Her younger brother subsided with ill-grace and an annoyed sigh, glaring mutinously at her.  But he subsided.

James wouldn't, her heart whispered.   She ignored it.

"What the hell am I supposed to do if this goes wrong?" Isaac demanded as Stella went to the centre of her garden and seated herself on the lawn.

"If it goes wrong, it means I'm lost," Stella replied after a moment, clutching her bay leaves close.  "Give me twelve hours, and then try to call me back.  If I don't come, get James to try when he returns.  I will still be alive... I will simply be absent.  Ensure that I'm fed and watered; there is little else that can be done."

"I still think this is stupid," Isaac muttered, and Stella could taste the acidity of his fear for her on the air.

Stella knew that she was still the most important woman in his life; she could see it.  Isaac had never gotten on with his mother; he was Edward's son, and George was Sarah's.  Sarah had hated Eleanor and Stella from the moment they stepped into her life, and tried so hard to keep everyone she felt was hers away from them.  She didn't succeed with Isaac, and resented him for it every day of his life.  Isaac, sensing that umbrage, had clung to Edward Bell's alternate family: Edward, Eleanor, and Stella.  Stella and Isaac had been inseparable from childhood until Sarah finally threw Eleanor and Stella off Antigua, after Edward was killed from being thrown from his horse.  And Isaac never stopped thinking about Stella from that moment until he found her again on Jamaica.

And that, Stella knew, was why Isaac didn't like James.  Isaac had finally found her again, but he'd found her as someone else's wife.  He wasn't the most important man in her life anymore; it was someone else.  Someone that Isaac didn't think deserved her, or loved her as he thought she should be.  And, unfortunately, Stella herself had just ruined the fragile peace.  Now, Isaac figured that Stella wanted James to love her.

She didn't.  She didn't want to love him, either.  She just wanted to go back to the way things were.  And for that, she needed to go into the river and see if there was any way to reverse things; maybe she could pull the emotion out of her heart, or something.  She didn't know of anything she could do, which was why she was going into the river.

"Quiet, please," Stella requested coolly.  "I will need to concentrate." 


 The way into the river is through yourself.  That was what was written in Stella's grimoire.

Stella sank down into her mind, breathing evenly.  She went deeper, down where the power dwelled, and then deeper still, where the power connected to the world around her.  She sank into those connections, and was suddenly part of the world around her.  She could feel the trees and the flowers and the grass, the insects in the air, and the life of the wind; there was Isaac, hovering protectively behind her.  He glowed like a torch inside her mind.  Her daughter twinkled like a star inside Stella's own body.

And then Stella went deeper.  Down through everything, to the faint tethers that tied everything together, to where the gateway to the river was.  It wasn't a real gateway, and Stella didn't think she could describe the feeling to anyone who hadn't experienced it.  But one moment she was still part of the world, and the next she had fallen off the cliff and she was in the river.

There was a moment when she was everything and everything was her, when she knew everything and nothing and was almost lost.  But Stella had hedged her bets well, and she managed to keep herself.  And so she swirled off through the river.

She had to keep focused.  Even idle thoughts could send torrents of information rushing around her and bear her off to places she didn't want to go.  All she wanted was to know how to stop loving James in this horrible, enveloping, consuming, destructive way.  It was fine to love him as a dear friend, but these feelings she was unwillingly feeling had little to do with friendship.

Images rushed through her hair, accompanied by knowledge that Stella knew she would forget later.  It was strange, that though you may know many things while you are in the river, few remained with you once you left.

She sought fervently through the past and the present for any clues.  She was reluctant to search the future, just yet; that was the easiest place to loose oneself.  Eventually her attention was—inevitably—drawn to Tia, given the sheer amount of magical knowledge that woman had.  But it was there that she learned something strange: Tia was currently in Singapore with Hector Barbossa... whom she'd raised from the dead not five months ago.

She saw Tia return the man to life, and felt a stab of bitter anger—she'd begged Tia to resurrect her mother after Eleanor's death, but the other witch had refused.  And here she was, resurrecting this pirate?

But she knew why soon enough.  Barbossa was a Pirate Lord, and Tia needed him for something.  That must be one reason why Mercer was sent to Singapore, and the moment her thoughts turned in his direction she could see him prowling the alleys and bridges of Singapore, seeking the Pirate Lords fervently.  Worried, she turned her thoughts to Tia, and saw her safely ensconced in a room at an inn that the pirates had taken as their own after their ship sank in Singapore's harbour.  The only other occupant of the room was Elizabeth Swann, who was also deeply asleep.

And then suddenly, Tia's eyes opened, and before she knew what was happening, Stella was half out of the river and in the room.  It was a very strange feeling, made even stranger by the fact that Tia had apparently pulled her out of the river—how?  How had Tia even known?

The voodoo witch frowned at her.  "Stella, what you doin' here?" 


Tia knew that someone in the spirit world was looking at her.  It drew her from her sleep, and she came to awareness in the darkness of the muggy evening.  A quick glance showed that it was Stella cavorting around in the spirit realm—a dangerous place for little mortal witches.  Stella had no call to be putting herself in that kind of danger, and so Tia pulled her attention out of that world and into this one.  Had she not been bound, she could have done more than this, could have pulled Stella's spirit entirely into Singapore and then sent her back safely to Jamaica.  But she was bound and her full power was not accessible.  However, she was attempting to remedy that situation.  And little Miss Stella had a part to play in that, and had no business dying before this affair was over.

"Stella, what you doin' here?" Tia asked chidingly.

"I wasn't here," Stella replied, trying (and failing) to keep the petulance out of her voice.  "I was in the river."

"Dat be mighty dangerous," Tia chided, knowing that 'the river' was what Stella and her ilk called the untrammelled spirit world, where past touched future and everything was connected.  "And you bein' wit child, pitit... what drive you into de river?"

Stella, if she had been in her body, would have flushed slightly and perhaps fidgeted a bit.  As it was, Tia could see the patina of awkwardness, reticence, and consciousness of a slight foolishness that coloured Stella's spirit as she hovered in the room.  "I... need answers."

"Wi, if you be in de river," Tia agreed patiently, with a wry grin curving her painted mouth as she went out into the common room.  It was empty and dark, but Tia didn't need lights to see.   "What bother you so?"

"I love someone and I want it to stop."

Tia sighed.  "Stella, dere ain't no magic goin' change what you feel," she informed her plainly.

"There must be something!" she cried.  "I refuse to simply lie down and let this feeling ruin my life!"

"You goin' have to," Tia retorted sharply.  "I tol' you: dere ain't no magic goin' change what you feel."

"What about... what about what Davy Jones did, carving out his heart?" Stella asked desperately.

"Him still feel it," Tia replied warningly, her face becoming stormy and tense and wistful and longing and angry all at once.  Thankfully, Stella was too terrified to pay any mind.  "Dere nuttin' you can do, bijou.  It's too late."

If she'd been in her body, Tia was sure poor Stella's heart would've stopped.  As it was, the terror that overcame her spirit was nigh visible to Tia's eyes.  "No!" Stella cried.  "It can't be!  There has to be something I can do... some spell, some potion, something... anything!  I won't feel this, I won't!  I won't let it ruin my life!"

"Hush, pitit, hush," Tia soothed gently, moving towards her, reaching out to touch the spirit with hands and mind, wishing she was unbound and her full powers were at hand.  Poor, scared little Stella.  "All you life, you fear love, Stella," Tia remarked quietly, once the spirit had calmed.  "You t'ink it destroy you, when it come, and you run from it.  Fear's no' a sensible t'ing.  But don't let dis fear make you act de fool."

"Any more than I already have?" Stella asked dully.  "Tia, I watched my mother grieve for my father.  I watched her wither without him, without his love.  That can't be me.  Not ever," she confessed.  "Love... it's a bad idea.  I want nothing to do with it."

"Dat's beside de point, now.  It come, and now you got to deal wit it.  Nuttin' goin' change your heart.  And you fight too hard, you just hurt youself," Tia warned.

"Because of course I'm not in any pain now!" Stella grumbled.  "And I only foresee it getting worse.  Why did this have to happen?!" she cried angrily.  "Why couldn't I control myself?  Reckless, foolish girl!"

Tia sighed a little, and shook her head.  Little Stella had a curious blind spot regarding her own emotions; she thought she could control them, or ignore them, and that there wouldn't be any repercussions for doing so.  And now, when something had grown that she didn't want, she was going to fight with all she had against an enemy that had already conquered her, and no one could convince her otherwise.  The battle had already been won, but Stella wouldn't admit defeat until she was good and ready.  Tia found it incredibly amusing, and at the same time incredibly sad.  "So, what you goin' do?" she inquired, leaning back in her chair.

"Nothing," the Stella-spirit spat.  "If I can't make it stop... then I'll pretend it isn't there.  He mustn't know.  If there's to be pain, let there be pain—I will bear it.  But I won't have his pity in lieu of his love.  That shame I cannot stand."

"Always wit de pride, Stella," Tia sighed.

"In many ways, Tia, it's all I have.  I loose that, I've lost it all."

"You 'ave more dan you t'ink, Pitit," Tia warned.

"So do you, I expect," Stella remarked pointedly.

Tia laughed.  She should've known Stella would take her chance in the spirit-realm to look for more things than simply a way to fall out of love.  She and her family had always been curious ones—Stella's burning curiosity was so much like Isabella's, and when added to Stella's intellect, which was actually rather impressive... "'ave we been clever?" she asked.

"I think we have," Stella replied.  "Barbossa's a Pirate Lord, isn't he?"

"Aaaah, we 'ave been clever," Tia purred.

"What do you need him for?" Stella wondered.  "You need him for something, otherwise you wouldn't have brought him back from death.  You're very stingy with that particular ability," she added sourly.

"I do need 'im, but for what I cannot say to you," Tia replied, ignoring Stella's particular bitterness.  It was nothing new.

"Is it because you don't trust me, being in such close proximity to Beckett?"

Tia made a disdainful noise.  "Beckett.  I seen 'im kind afore," she scoffed.

The Stella-spirit was silent for a minute.  "What are you, Tia?" she finally wondered.  "You're not human.  You've got powers beyond anyone else I've ever known.  You see the future effortlessly and accurately.  You never age.   You need the Pirate Lords for some reason... that song.  That song I sung, when I was prison—it was a summons.  Summoning those Pirate Lords—Beckett wants them, too."

She was becoming more and more incoherent and disjointed as she went on.  Tia just sat back in her chair and smiled, knowing that Stella would put the pieces together eventually—not only was she was one of the cleverest little witches Tia had ever known, her metaphysical feet were still in the Spirit Realm.

"'The King and his men stole the Queen from her bed, and bound her in her bones... others sail the seas with the keys to the cage and the Devil to pay...'" Stella was quoting feverishly.  "Tia... you're the Queen in that song.  You aren't human, but you're in bound in human form.  And... and it was the Pirate Lords who bound you.  You must need all of them to break the binding, which is why you needed Barbossa.  Is there another one in Singapore?  That must be it—why else would you come so far?"

"Veery good, pitit."

"Why the song?"

"Dat's de summons—got nuttin' to do wit me," Tia dismissed.  "Dey sing dat song when de pirates feelin' t'reatened, so dey—de Bret'ren Court—can band togedder and fight de t'reat."

"Somehow that doesn't strike me as very... piratical.  I find it surprisingly organised."

"Dey are organised—organised enough to bind me!" Tia snarled.

"Who are you?"

Tia changed moods swiftly, and smiled sultrily.  "Now, dat be tellin'," she chided.

"Tiaaaaa," whined Stella.  Tia just laughed.  "That reminds me," she said suddenly, "I want to warn you.  Beckett sent his henchman to Singapore.  He should be there now, and he's looking for the Pirate Lord, just as you are.  Be careful.  Mercer is... not entirely human himself," she finished delicately.

"Non?" Tia inquired.

"No.  He's... well, demonic, frankly.  I haven't yet been able to accurately discern whether he's sold his soul, or whether he's merely a demon in human form, or if there are bits of him that aren't human... I haven't been in his company enough to tell.  Beckett controls him, after a fashion—not that Mercer needs controlling.  He's psychotic and fanatically loyal to Beckett and if he's looking for your people—and since Barbossa is a Pirate Lord, he is—Mercer will find you eventually.  There's no hiding from that... thing.  Be careful."

"Danger be comin' from all sides," Tia murmured.

"That is the common theme," Stella agreed.  "Have a care, my friend.  Mercer is dangerous.  Warn the others, if you must.  Although if you could engineer an accident for Miss Swann, I'd be much obliged," she added wickedly.

Tia burst into chortles, and dipped into her pocket for her crab claws, which she then cast upon the table.  "Have care youself," she warned the wind.  "Danger come at you soon."

"The worst danger I could have thought of has already arrived.  Only death can be worse, and Beckett values me too highly to see me dead—for now, at least," the spirit murmured.

"Dere be anodder danger—an' you goin' walk right into it," Tia warned.

"So... I shouldn't?"

"No, he goin' leave you no choice.  You go, but you walk light."  Tia reached out a slender brown hand to touch the crab claws lightly.  "Veerry light."

"I shall," Stella promised.

"Now, you get back to youself, and you stop leavin' you body.  Ain't good for the pitit," she scolded.  But before Stella's spirit sank back into the spirit world, Tia called out in addition, "It cross."

The wind paused, rustling the bamboo curtain.  "I beg your pardon?"

"Jus' a clue for you," Tia replied mysteriously.  "It cross 'twixt life and deat'.  Bonne chance, pitit."

"Good luck yourself, Tia.  Be careful of Mercer."  And then the spirit sank back into the Spirit Realm and was gone. 


Stella sank back into the river, but didn't move back to her body just yet.  There were too many questions she wanted answers to.

Unfortunately, many things you see in the river do not remain with you once you leave, save perhaps as dreamlike images or a sense of déjà vu.  This is even more true for those who look into the future, which was what Stella was doing.  So while Stella learned that her friend Tia Dalma was actually a bound goddess, knew the way to release her and Tia's plans for doing so, saw Cutler Beckett's plans and Will Turner's plans and Hector Barbossa's plans and knew how all these plans would meet and clash, learned of the Destiny of William Turner and the fate of James' beloved Elizabeth, and took warning from the dangers she and James were going to face after Lord Beckett forced them apart... unfortunately, she did not remember any of it when she came back to her body, save for a few images that would haunt her dreams for several weeks.

Eventually she came out of the river and opened her eyes, back on Jamaica.  The sun was setting, and Isaac was sitting on the ground in front of her.  Her brother visibly relaxed when her eyes opened.  "Thank God," he breathed.  "You were gone for hours."

"Time passes differently in the river," was all Stella said, wincing at the stiffness of her limbs after so being so long immobile.

"Did you get the information you wanted?" Isaac wondered, offering her a hand up.

Stella took it, and stood, hissing in pain as blood began to flow back into her extremities.  "After a fashion."

"And?" Isaac pressed.

She sighed.  "There is little I can do about my wayward emotions, save to hide them and hope they go away.  There is no magical solution... nothing I can do but bear it. And if you mock me for this, Isaac, I will curse you, and your ship, and your entire crew," she added savagely.

Isaac took her hand and squeezed it.  "I'll never mock you for anything," he promised.

Stella smiled weakly, and allowed him to hold her hand.  "However, at the moment I'm afraid we have larger problems to deal with.  Somehow, I ended up speaking with Tia... in Singapore.  It was very strange—I would have thought it impossible—but she warned me that danger was coming."  She neglected to mention that Tia also warned her that she was going to walk straight into said danger, knowing that if Isaac was cognizant of that fact he'd tie her down so that she couldn't walk anywhere, let alone into danger.

There was a pause as Isaac digested that.  "Well, what else is new?" he finally asked tiredly.  "There seems to be danger all around you."

Stella nodded, acknowledging his point.  Life certainly had been considerably more uncertain since she had left Tortuga.  After a moment, she broke the silence.  "Isaac.  Promise me something?" she asked, looking out across her garden.

"Anything within my power."

"Don't tell James."

"What?  Why?  He should—" Isaac protested.

"No!" she hissed.  "He's not to know.  He'll pity me, and I don't want that.  Say nothing to him.  Promise me!  Promise!"

Isaac sighed unhappily, and looked off at the horizon where the sun was beginning to sink down below the sea.  "Why'd you marry him, Stelly?  Why?"

"Because he'd take me off Tortuga and make me respectable," Stella replied coldly.

"It's a high price for respectability," Isaac noted.

"You only say that because you already have it, because you've never needed to fight for it, or live without it," Stella snapped.  "I have made my choice, Isaac.  I do not regret it.  But in order to continue on with no regrets, James cannot know.  Do not tell him.  Promise that you won't!"

"I promise," Isaac finally submitted.  "You're my sister.  He's just some man who doesn't deserve you.  I'd shoot him, if you asked it of me."

"Nothing so dire," Stella snorted.  "I want him alive.  All I ask is your discretion."

"You have it," he sighed.

Something tight in Stella's chest relaxed.  "Look at the sunset," she  said, glancing off towards the west.  "It's lovely tonight."  It was—the sun was a deep red-orange as it sank down below the horizon, painting the clouds deep purples and pinks.  "Shall we go in to supper?"

Supper was, as always when James was gone, quite simple: a roast chicken, some vegetables, and some bread baked fresh that morning with fruit for dessert.  After supper, they adjourned to the drawing room and started up a game of chess.  Stella was manoeuvring Isaac into check when Mr. Parker, the butler, entered the room and announced, "Lord Beckett to see you, ma'am."

"Lord Beckett?" Stella repeated.  "At this hour?  Hmm.  Well, show him in, of course."

"What's he doing here at this hour?" Isaac demanded quietly.

"I suppose we'll soon find out," Stella replied, surmising that he was come to deliver the danger Tia had warned her about.  "Check."

"Blast!" Isaac muttered, bending assiduously over the chessboard.  "How do you do that?"

Lord Beckett entered the room, and Isaac and Stella rose to bow and curtsey, respectively.  "Good evening, Lord Beckett," Stella said graciously.  "How do you do?"

"Quite well, Madam," Beckett replied, taking a seat near the chessboard.  "And yourself?"

"Very well, sir."

"Captain Bell."

"Lord Beckett.  Good evening."

"Good evening."

You could cut the awkwardness with a particularly blunt knife, Stella thought dryly.  She didn't know what had passed between the two of them a few weeks previous, but they were pointedly Not Looking At Each Other.  Both had their eyes focussed on the chessboard.

"Who's playing black?" Beckett wondered.

"I am," Stella replied.

"You've made a credible showing.  By all means, Mrs. Norrington, finish trouncing your... cousin," he suggested, gesturing at the board.  The general consensus in the port town was that Isaac was Stella's cousin, though, going by the significant pauses, Beckett obviously didn't believe it.  "I daresay it won't take long."

It didn't; Isaac capitulated about ten minutes later.  "I don't know why I still do this," he muttered.  "You've got an unfair advantage."

"What, a working brain?" Stella inquired wickedly.

Isaac made a face.  "Well, I shan't let you trounce me again," he announced.  "I think I'll go and steal some of your husband's fine port and peruse one of your books."  He paused, and glanced over at Lord Beckett.  "Perhaps you'd care to join me, Lord Beckett."

"No, thank you," he demurred.  "Though I would not be averse to some stargazing on your fine observation platform."

'Fine observation platform' indeed.  It was essentially just a rail on the roof.  Beckett was using it as an excuse to get her alone; he must have something he wanted to speak to her about.  It must be the danger Tia had warned her about, that danger she would have no choice but to avoid walking into.

"Of course," Stella agreed pleasantly.  "I believe we'll be in time to see Andromeda."

Normally, she wouldn't allow Beckett up to her observation platform.  It was hers, hers and James', a place untainted by politics or unpleasantness.  Now, however, it had been tainted by the awareness of her own feelings.  She'd ruined it anyway; why not let Beckett up there?

As they climbed the stairs up to the attic and the observation platform, Beckett observed, "You seem much improved since August, and the hurricane."

"I couldn't very well get worse without dying," Stella replied tartly.  "And whatever I did to the hurricane has of late forestalled any other major storms... though I know not how long that shall last."

Then they were at the door in the attic, and she pushed it open to reveal the tiny observation platform.  Stella went to one corner, Beckett went to the other, and there was still only a foot between them.  It really wasn't a big platform; more of a glorified terrace.

They stood in silence and gazed up at the sky, spangled with twinkling stars. The platform faced south.  "Betelgeuse," noted Lord Beckett.

"Signifying calamities, danger, and violence," replied Stella.  "Not a happy choice, Lord Beckett."

"But relevant, I'm afraid.  What do you know of the fleet's business?"

Stella looked across at him.  "Very little."

"And of the Flying Dutchman's part in it?" Beckett inquired.

"Even less."

"But you know I'm building an armada."

"Of course.  It's rather difficult to miss."

"I want this armada to be the largest assembled since the Spanish Armada in the time of Elizabeth I—larger, even!  I want sailors to quake in fear from the mere mention of it.  With the Flying Dutchman at the head, it will be unstoppable," Beckett said intensely, his blue eyes gleaming in the starlight.

"The fact that the Flying Dutchman is at the head will do more to sow terror than the size of the armada," Stella pointed out pragmatically, looking back up at the night sky.  That gleam in his eyes made her nervous.  "And regarding the size of your fleet... I believe King Philip had 130 ships, most of which were actually merchant vessels."

"Correct as always," Beckett conceded.  "It's a brilliant way to gather a fleet.  I have no need to build ships for the armada—indeed, there is neither the wood nor the money for such an endeavour.  Instead, I will reclaim the ships of those whom I seek to eliminate. However, there's a slight problem."

"If I were a wagering woman," Stella said languidly, staring up at the constellation Orion, "I would wager that the problem lies with the recalcitrant captain of your prize vessel."

"Perhaps it's a pity that you're not a wagering woman, Stella, since you're so seldom incorrect," Beckett remarked.  Stella tightened her grip on the rail; she disliked how informally he treated her when they were alone, as if he had some right to her in a private capacity.  "Yes, it is Captain Jones who is creating a tangle in my plans.  I gave strict orders that the pirate ships the Dutchman encountered were to be stripped of their crew with the actual structure left intact.  Jones, however, has been sinking them outright."

"Have him bring them back up," Stella suggested.  "I believe he has that ability."  Indeed, since James had forbidden her to have anything to do with the Dutchman, she'd been collecting stories in lieu of the actual thing.  Apparently Davy Jones could raise ships that were the sole subject of his domain (i.e. the sea).  She wondered if his power had always been the sea, the same way hers had always been the sky.  What would she become, were she consumed by her element as Jones was his?  Would her hair be made of feathers or clouds, as Jones' was octopus tentacles?

"Yes, but the ships he raises are still damaged," Beckett pointed out.  "Given the amount of money involved in repairs, I could simply build brand new ships.  Besides, the point is not the loss of the ships, per se, but his wilful disobedience."

"Of how many ships is the fleet now comprised?" Stella inquired, changing the subject.  She knew that Beckett already had a solution for their most mulish betentacled sailor, but he wanted her to discover it.  But she took a perverse pleasure in thwarting him, and considered it a small repayment for the danger he was undoubtedly going to place her in.

"One hundred twenty," Beckett replied.  "Only ten less than the Spanish.  It would be one hundred fifty, were it not for Jones' continuous insubordination."

"I daresay you'll outstrip the Spanish soon enough."

"Only if I can get a leash on Jones.  I shall have to have someone supervise him.  He quite lacks the trustworthiness to be left to his own devices, I am convinced."

Stella finally realised what he was about.  Had Tia Dalma not warned her, she would have immediately assumed that James' next posting would be on the Flying Dutchman as Davy Jones' leash, and she would have been terrified for him.  As it was, she knew that it was she Beckett wanted to place on the Dutchman.

The thought filled her with both exhilaration and apprehension.  She could see the Dutchman.  She could go and see it and touch it and study it, and James would have no issue with it because Beckett was going to make her do it.  Beckett was going to hand her one of her deepest wishes, and all she need do was submit and accept it.  But after the interaction during the hurricane, she'd made an enemy of Davy Jones, and she didn't imagine he'd take her interference in his domain with kindness, grace, or any equanimity at all.  James would be rightfully furious, as well—but Stella was not at all adverse to the idea of some time apart.  If Beckett wanted to serve his purposes by keeping them apart, Stella could take the opportunity to exercise some control over her wayward heart so that she would be able to once against coexist tranquilly and indifferently with her husband.

"I would have thought you'd realised that after the incident with the Kraken," she remarked, shoving her excitement out of her voice and her brain and straight into her hair, which began to rearrange itself.  She imagined that it was dark enough outside to conceal the movement of her equally dark hair.

Beckett didn't respond to that.  She supposed he didn't like to be reminded of his own errors in judgment.  He surprised her, though, by remarking warily, "Madam, it appears that your hair is... moving."

Lord Beckett was more observant that she'd given him credit for.  Stella hadn't imagined he'd notice such a thing without Mercer to point it out for him.  "Indeed it is," she agreed lightly.  "I'm afraid it gets rather lively after a day of quietude."

She could practically hear him wondering whether or not her hair had always done that, or if it was recent—she had, after all, tried to strangle him with her hair while on the Endeavour, and that was hardly something a man like Beckett would easily forget.

But he contented himself merely with remarking, "That's rather singular."

"Quite," Stella agreed solemnly.  Come now, Beckett, offer it to me.

"Am I correct in supposing this... talent... is of recent acquisition?"

"You are."

"Perhaps attained because of extended interaction with a Kraken?"

"Rather more because the Kraken was killed while I was still attached, so to speak."

"Indeed," Beckett murmured.  "So, you are in possession of the last vestige of Davy Jones' Kraken left on the earth.  I should think that will incline him more favourably towards you than any other client under my patronage."

"Possibly," Stella agreed, though she personally thought hell would sooner freeze over than Davy Jones ever regard her with anything but loathing.  She had, after all, ruined his plan to retrieve his wayward Heart, and she was married to the very man who had stolen it.

A small part of her noted that putting herself in the power of a being who hated her husband and herself so heatedly with only the protection of an uneasy ally who liked her little better was a very stupid thing to do, especially for a lady four months gone with child.  However, Stella had been doing a variety of stupid things today, and the rest of her was squealing excitedly, "The Dutchman, the Dutchman, we'll go and see the Dutchman!"

Apparently Lord Beckett finally realised that he wasn't going to be able to manipulate the desired suggestion out of her, since he nodded and announced, "Very likely.  I should think, Stella, that you are the only person aside from myself who could exercise even a modicum of control over Jones.  Because you embody the remnant of his beloved pet, he shan't kill you outright."

"Insinuating that you'll allow him to do so if he conquers his sensibilities?" Stella interrupted dryly.

"Of course not," Beckett replied, rolling his eyes.  "There will, of course, be adequate protection.  Will you go?"

"Go?"

"Will you serve as my proxy on the Flying Dutchman, and at least attempt to rein in Jones' excesses?" Beckett requested, though it looked like he was clenching his jaw.

"This is a highly irregular request, Lord Beckett," Stella demurred modestly, knowing that she had to make him work for it.  "I'm not an officer, or a soldier—I'm a pregnant gentlewoman who's been having issues with her health, and who's married to one of the men Jones hates best.  I honestly don't think—"

"You're the only witch I have at my disposal," Lord Beckett interrupted.  He must be getting desperate for her agreement.  "You're the only person I can count on to keep their cool on that ship.  You're the only one who could possibly relate to Jones, and can thus bend him to more productive efforts.  Stella, it absolutely must be you."

Flattery will get you everywhere, she thought.  Of course he made no mention of his private agenda, of which Stella likely only knew parts.  She figured, though, that she'd make him work harder for her consent.  "But how shall I serve the company if I'm on the Flying Dutchman?" she inquired innocently.

Lord Beckett appeared to ponder this for a moment, but she had a feeling he already had an idea.  "We'll set up a rendezvous, every fortnight or so.  You'll make the wind-strings as usual, and pass them on to the captain of whichever ship meets you," he suggested.

"Can you ensure my safety?" Stella pressed.  "Will you make certain that Jones cannot do me harm?  And can you guarantee that I will be off that hulking vessel by February?  I have no intentions of giving birth to my child on the ocean.  James has already contributed enough salt to her veins without circumstances adding more."

"I will make it perfectly clear to Jones that you are not to be touched," Beckett promised.  "And should I still require a presence on the Dutchman come February, I will make a point of choosing someone else."  He smiled thinly.  "I fully expect you to have cowed him admirably by then."

"I wouldn't be so sure," Stella murmured warningly.  "Hatred is often more powerful than fear, especially when, like Jones, the personage has so little to loose that fear becomes a rather moot point.  But I will, of course, do my best to be as intimidating as a short, skinny, pregnant woman can be."

"Then you will go?"

"I will," Stella acquiesced, allowing a smile to curl her lips.  "Provided you tell James."

"I will deal with your husband.  Can you be ready by midday tomorrow?"

"It will be a stretch, but I believe I can manage."

"Very well.  I'll send a carriage for you tomorrow at ten o'clock."

Beckett departed shortly thereafter, and Stella went into the study.  Isaac was sitting in one of the chairs and paging idly through Dante's Inferno.  He glanced up at her entrance and grinned bemusedly.  "Well, there's an expression I've not seen in a while.  What's got you so happy?"

Indeed, she was beaming so brightly that her cheeks hurt.  Now that Beckett was gone, she could be as excited as she wanted.  "I'm going to see the Flying Dutchman!" she squealed.  Then she jumped up and down and clapped her hands.  "I'm going to see it—I can study it!  Oh my, I need a blank book—two blank books!  No, three!  I'll need to write down the spells I could need—I'm certainly not bringing the whole grimoire—and I'll probably need some herbs and suchlike that I can't get on the ocean.  Ink, I'll need ink and quills—no, too fussy.  Pencils!  Isaac, I must get pencils!  And I'll need my glass—Grandmother Isabella's glass, do you remember?  The one that sort of bends everything a bit?"

"That trinket always scared the shit out of me," Isaac said blankly.

"Language," Stella chided, still riding high on the breeze of her enthusiasm.  "I suppose I can leave my maps—they won't last much longer if they keep getting beat up, and I shouldn't need to scry for anyone anyway.  But I'll need my rune stones, I think, since I can't expect tea on the Dutchman.  Hmm... I wonder if I can expect food?  I'll pack some, anyway.  Perhaps some things that can double as magical components, if needed.  And a knife—the silver athame, perhaps?"

"You have one of those?"

"Of course I have one of those," she replied dismissively, rummaging in James' desk for paper to make a list.  "I'll have to have one of the servants run down to the Stationers tomorrow—I need blank books and pencils."

Isaac watched her for a moment, and his brain finally seemed to catch up to the rest of him.  "Wait, you're going to study the Flying Dutchman?!  Are you insane?" he demanded.

"Yes, and no," Stella replied, flipping open the top of the inkwell.

"Is this what Beckett wanted to talk to you about?  He's sending you to... to that monster?!" Isaac exploded.  "I should've belted him one!"

"Is that your solution to everything, brother?" she inquired tartly, jotting down her notes.

"He has no right—"

"I agreed!" Stella snapped, slamming the quill down onto the desktop and causing ink to splatter haphazardly onto her hand.  "I want to do it, Isaac!  I want to go look at this... this marvellous magical construct!  I want to pick it apart and write it down and save it, because we are living in the twilight of an era!  Our children and grandchildren will be living in a world that has lost the grandiose supernaturalism we have known—and it's been fading even in our lifetime.  Soon there will be no more wonder left in the world," she sighed.

Isaac was unimpressed.  "The last time I recall you saying anything in that tone of voice, we tried to make Greek Fire in the back garden, and we accidentally burnt down the gardener's shed," he said flatly.

"I'm not trying to make Greek Fire and I think the Dutchman is too wet to hold a flame."

"Yes, but the point I was trying to make is that your life is still in danger."

"Admittedly," she agreed evenly.  "But Beckett was going to force me into it regardless.  I may as well enjoy it."  She closed the lid of the inkwell and arranged her notes.  "He's sending a carriage for me tomorrow at ten.  We'll meet the Dutchman around midday."  And she smiled again at the thought.

"What's your husband going to think about this?" Isaac queried, still sounding unhappy.

"He's going to be absolutely furious," Stella replied with particular relish.

"Is... is this some kind of passive revenge on him for not returning your feelings?" he wondered.

"Hardly," she sniffed.  "If I were to take revenge, it would be more direct and far more obvious.  I'd want him to know what he was suffering for.  No, I'm merely anticipating his reaction to discovering that Beckett has once again superseded his authority not only in his fleet but in his own home as well.  I imagine it will be magnificent," she breathed reverently.  "You must watch, and tell me all about it when I see you again."

"This is a bad idea," Isaac warned her.

"I know," she replied breezily.  "But as I've told you, I haven't a choice.  Beckett wants me on the Dutchman, and if I don't agree to go with him now, he'll do something to James and force me.  Acquiescing is so much more pleasant for everyone."

Isaac finally seemed to realise that there was nothing to be said or done that hadn't been already, and threw up his hands.  "Fine.  Just... be careful?"

"I always am.  You be careful as well, and try to get along with James?" she asked.  "Keep watch on the conspiracy... try to think of a better name."

"Yes, 'the conspiracy' isn't exactly subtle, is it?"

"No.  We're only getting away with it because Mercer isn't here.  But if we don't have a better name and a bit more organisation before he returns, we're through."

"How much time does that give us?" Isaac wondered.

"He's in Singapore now.  That gives us three months, possibly more.  And I don't know for how long I'll be indisposed.  It's up to you and James—God help us.  I won't be around to arbitrate your little spats," she added in a mutter.

"We're not that bad," he protested.

"Yes, you are.  But feel free to prove me wrong," she offered sweetly.

"You know, the last time you said that—"

"Greek Fire, I know."

Chapter Text

Davy Jones was not a happy bunny.

He had not been a happy bunny for several months now, but as time passed he grew unhappier and unhappier, as he was forced to be at the beck and call of a domineering aristocrat of small stature who was, most unfortunately, in possession of his heart. Because of this unfortunate turn, little Lord Beckett had automatically ordered Jones to submit as a subordinate.  But Davy Jones bowed to no man.

Oh, Beckett spouted his orders, but Davy Jones would only pay lip service to them.  He'd fulfil just enough to avoid Beckett's wrath (Jones had no idea what Beckett did to his heart to cause the pain he felt every time he defied too obviously; perhaps a spell of some sort... or, given that Beckett was about as magically powerful as a garden-variety rock, merely a pin, inserted every so often—not enough to kill him, but enough to hurt), but otherwise go his own way.

And now Beckett came again, for yet another chastisement which would make Jones snarl and spit for days.  After which, Jones would toe the line for a few weeks, but eventually backslide until they came to this point again.  It was a vicious sort of cycle.

Captain Jones mused upon it as he smoked his pipe, watching the longboats row out from the beach towards his ship with a fierce scowl on his face.   "What the devil does he want this time?" he grumbled to Maccus.

"Prolly the same old, sir," Maccus replied darkly.

It certainly started out as the same old; red-coated soldiers scrambled up the side of his ship, forming a line of muskets.  This part of the ritual always amused Jones—what did they think those guns were going to do?  Not a whole hell of a lot, that's what.  It'd be bothersome to be shot, of course, but it wouldn't really have any long-term detrimental effects on any of his crew.  They'd get up again in a couple of hours.

Then came the hauling of the longboat up to the level of the deck—heaven forbid Lord Beckett exert himself and actually climb up the side of the ship like everyone else.  No, the pompous little man always had to make an entrance.  If Beckett couldn't stride masterfully across the gangplank between the Dutchman and his substitute penis (because surely no man secure in his manhood would have a ship so large with that many cannons) then he had to make a great stride out of his longboat onto the deck.

Jones would have laughed, if Beckett were someone else.

Instead, he found himself standing on the quarterdeck, smoking his pipe and glowering and wishing he could just slaughter the man messily.  Of course, he nearly choked when he saw a lace parasol.

There was a moment of disconnection in his mind—Beckett with a lace parasol?—followed just as swiftly by a moment of sheer hilarity—Beckett with a lace parasol!  But before the amusement could bloom into disdainful laughter, the owner of the parasol appeared over the side of the deck... and it wasn't Beckett.

Jones knew her immediately, of course.  His introduction to her was the sort that tended to stick in one's mind, even if the power that hovered around her didn't tickle his mind the moment she set foot on his deck.  He knew her, all right.  But what the blazes was the Admiral's witch doing on his ship?

The Captain of the Dutchman remained on the quarterdeck until he felt a sufficient amount of time had passed to make his point that he was not at Beckett's beck and call, ignoring the red-coated soldiers and the grumbling of his crew.  Then he stumped down to the main deck with the intention of demanding to know why that creature was on his ship.

"What is that doing here?" Jones growled in lieu of a greeting, once he'd pushed his way through the throng of his crew and the line of soldiers.  He pointed his pipe at the dress-wearing demon, so that no one could mistake his intent.

Both Beckett and the witch raised their eyebrows in tandem, but Beckett stepped forward to talk with him, while the wretched creature simply shook her head and turned to peer at the rail.  Jones could feel her prodding at the ship with her powers.  He wanted to snap at her to stop (actually, what he wanted was to snap her neck, but with Beckett here that was unlikely, at best), but instead he had to pay attention to the tiny tyrant infringing on his territory.

"I am disappointed in you, Captain Jones," Beckett announced, without preamble.  Jones rolled his eyes.  "I had thought that we had gotten past these... childish tantrums of yours after the incident with the Kraken."

Jones went still for a moment, hiding his wince.  He didn't much care for anything or anyone nowadays, but he had been fond of the Kraken.  Maybe that was why Beckett had brought the harpy with him—Jones could feel the last remnant of his pet lingering on in her.  It stung, a little bit, to sense the bit of his Kraken inside something that he hated so much.

"Your behaviour continues to be unacceptable," Beckett was saying.  "Clearly, you can no longer be trusted with this vessel—"

That was unacceptable.  "It's my ship," Jones spat out venomously.

Beckett nodded calmly.  "But your ship is a member of the East India Trading Company Armada.  You are part of a whole now, Captain Jones, contributing towards a greater good.  In order for the whole to thrive, ever piece must contribute.  However, you have been shirking your contribution, and disobeying your orders," he said coolly, allowing a shade of annoyance to filter into his tones.  "Therefore, if you insist upon acting like a child, I am resolved to treat you as one."  And Beckett dropped the hammer.  "The command of this vessel is no longer in your sole possession—I cannot trust my prize ship to one whose judgement has shown to be so obviously faulty, or whose temper gets away with one's better sense.  You will henceforth be monitored by a person of my choosing."

And suddenly Jones knew exactly why Beckett had brought the wretch with him.  "No," he breathed, the tentacles comprising his beard beginning to writhe in agitation.

Beckett ignored him, and gestured behind him.  The sour vixen broke off from her prodding and came over, her pointy nose in the air, bold as brass and wearing his Kraken's aura like a fur mantle.  "May I present Mrs. Stella Norrington?" the aristocrat said, the corners of his lips quirking upwards the barest amount.  Jones felt his beard twitch, and his crab-claw hand itched with the desire to reach out and snap that slender neck.  "I believe you are acquainted," Beckett added diffidently.

The saucy bitch had the gall to curtsey to him, as though they were being presented at some society to-do.  "Captain Jones," she said mildly.  Her voice reminded him of the cry of a gull.  He hated gulls.

Jones was still so gobsmacked by the unwelcome turn his life had just taken that he was unable to do anything but stare at the hated entity.  Beckett took his silence as acquiescence and kept talking.  "Mrs. Norrington will monitor your behaviour as my proxy on this ship.  Every fortnight a ship of the fleet will rendezvous with this vessel, and she will report.  She is to be treated with all the honours due to a lady of her position, and all the privileges of a deputy of the East India Trading Company.  Am I understood?"

Gobsmacked had morphed into fury, though Jones was still unable to speak.  How dare he... how dare she—how dare they!?

"Captain Jones?" Beckett prompted, raising his brows.  "Am I understood?"

He started sputtering angrily, tentacles twitching (along with a muscle near his eye).  "Absolutely not!" he managed to choke out.

"I am not understood?  Shall I use smaller words?" Beckett inquired sarcastically.  The wench took a step backward, perhaps sensing the impending outburst.

She didn't have to wait long.  Jones was finally able to speak past the rage in his gullet, and he veritably roared, "Shove those smaller words right up yer lily-white arse, Beckett!  You—and she, and your whole damned company—can go straight to the devil!  I'll not have this wretch on my ship—I'll see her dead, first! I'm the Captain here, I say who stays on this ship, and I'll not have her here!  Sod you, and sod your orders!"  This was then followed by several anatomically improbable suggestions as to what Beckett, Mrs. Norrington, a few divine and infernal presences, and several of Beckett's relatives might get up to once they were off the Flying Dutchman.

Jones was spitting by the end of his tirade, and the vixen's black eyes were wide, but Beckett looked curiously unmoved, and merely removed a scrap of lace-trimmed linen from his pocket and dabbed Jones' saliva off his face.  "I'm sorry you feel that way," Beckett remarked mildly.  "Do you not fear death?"

Hearing one of his favourite phrases used so blithely by a person he hated more than anyone else brought Jones up sort, shocking him into a facsimile of calm.  "What?" he said.

"I believe our bargain was simple: you served in my fleet, and continued to... live," Beckett replied, though his eloquent pause and swift, disdainful glance showed what he thought of the circumstances of that life.  "However, you seem inclined to break our agreement.  If you are that desirous of death, Captain, simply inform me that our contract is void, and I will have you dispatched to whatever afterlife awaits you post-haste.  I'm sure I can find a replacement captain with little trouble—perhaps Mrs. Norrington's husband would be inclined to command the ship."

Jones snarled and gnashed his teeth together.  Damnation!  He was in a bind.  Beckett had just told him, in his oblique, stuffy way that if Jones defied him, his period of captaincy would come to an end.  And he'd be buggered before he led Beckett or any of his mealy-mouthed subordinates take control of his ship!

He turned his eyes back to the unwanted presence, looking her up and down.  Not much to look at, but he could feel the coiled power in her.  Nothing like... like Her power, but the harridan was strong.  Strong... and not alone in her body.

Jones was surprised; he supposed the Kraken in her had hidden the presence of her unborn child until he looked at her more closely.  And, in turning a gimlet eye onto her middle, he could just about discern the swell of her belly.  Wheels started to turn in his mind—what was Beckett about, putting a pregnant lady on the Flying Dutchman?  Perhaps there was trouble in paradise... perhaps the admiral was looking to have his little wife put away?

The potential for amusement and the harpy's future suffering assuaged his feelings slightly, and Jones subsided with ill grace.  "Fine," he snapped.  "I'll keep the wretched creature aboard—as per your orders."

It occurred to Davy Jones that there were a variety of things he could do to make things miserable for the little wretch while still following the letter of Beckett's orders.  This cheered him even further.

"Marvellous.  I knew you could be reasonable, Captain," Beckett said, smiling thinly.  He stepped closer and lowered his voice.  "If she dies, Jones, so do you.  Do you understand?  Little else matters as long as she lives."

Jones narrowed his blue eyes speculatively as Beckett stepped away.  It... it almost sounded as though Beckett was giving him a carte blanche to make things difficult for the witch, as long as she was alive at the end of it.  That would make things... even more pleasant.  He was almost happy to have her on board now.

He glanced at the she-devil, whose black eyes were narrowed and whose thin lips were pursed so tightly as to nearly disappear.  Apparently she had heard as well, and the same implications had occurred to her; whatever other qualities she possessed, stupidity was not among them.  That would make it even more fun.

Jones caught the bitch's eye and smiled.  It wasn't a friendly expression.  He then had the pleasure of watching her sallow face go even paler.  Oh yes, she knew.

Within a short order, now that his dominance was once more established, Beckett took his men and left, leaving only the wretch and her trunk behind.  Jones stumped up to the witch and loomed over her; she craned her neck to look up at him, eyes wary but unafraid.

What exquisite control she must have, Jones thought idly.  Breaking it will be an accomplishment to be proud of.

"Welcome aboard, Mrs. Norrington," Jones purred, hitting her name with a measure of scorn.

"Thank you for your... hospitality, Captain Jones," she replied evenly, hitting the word with an equal amount of scorn.

Blue eyes met black, and they shared a moment of understanding.  They were both at the mercy of Lord Beckett's whims, forced to do his bidding despite their own desires.

Jones looked away first—it didn't matter to them if they were stuck in the same fix, she was still a woman.  Still a miserable harpy in his way.  Still an awful creature.  He didn't want any feeling of kinship with her.

"She thanks us for our hospitality, gents," Jones called to his crew, who guffawed.  "Pity we don't intend to provide any!  Take her to the brig!" he commanded.

He saw the resignation and the lack of surprise in her eyes as she was shoved and pushed and otherwise borne along towards the brig, and it angered him for some reason.  Impertinent, venomous little bitch, to think she knew how this was going to go.  He'd show her.  He'd show her who had the power here, show her he wasn't to be toyed with.  She'd wish she'd never been born by the time she got off this ship.


 

If she'd been asked a half-hour ago, Stella would have expressed her surprise at Davy Jones' actions.  However, once she heard Beckett's aside to Jones, she'd known.  His orders had loopholes large enough to drive a carriage through, and she'd seen the moment Jones realised it.  Beckett wanted her alive, but didn't care how much she did or did not suffer in the meantime.  And she was going to suffer; she knew enough of Davy Jones to know that.  She only hoped her suffering would not adversely effect her studies of the ship.

Jones' crew of monsters led (using a loose definition of the word) her down belowdecks, into a damp and dim series of cells.  They shoved her into the largest, tossing her trunk in behind her (thank Heaven for small favours), before tromping back above, laughing raucously as they went.  Stella didn't miss them.

She sighed, and looked around what would surely be her home for a while... a long while.  It was... wet.  Very wet.  There was coral growing on the walls and the bars, and some... sort of reef on the bunk in the corner.  A far cry from her Port Royal house.

She sighed again.  "Damn and blast."  She bent to drag her trunk against the wall; it was heavy and she didn't make much progress.

"Let me get that," came a voice from the back.

Stella straightened instantly, spinning to face the voice with a gasp in her throat.  The reef in the corner—it had a face, and eyes!  Then the reef stood, and it turned out it wasn't a reef at all, just another of Davy Jones' crewmen.  He had a starfish and a variety of mollusks on his face, coral growing on his shoulders, his hair had become straggly bits of seaweed, and his skin was blue and cold.  But there was still something of a man in him—he hadn't been on this ship long enough to loose all of his humanity.  It was leaking away, but he clung to it with the desperation of a drowning man.  And there was a face, a face burned on his soul that she recognised...

"Thank you," she eventually said, as he came close to her and bent to move her trunk.

"Where d'you want it?" the man-creature asked.

"Against the wall, if you please," she requested.

He pushed her trunk against the wall.  "Din't think Jones took women on the crew," he remarked.

"He doesn't.  I am... let us say that I am an unwanted cargo," Stella said sourly.  She glanced at him again, looking with her metaphysical eyes.  His soul was curiously flat—perhaps because he'd signed it away to Jones.  But that just made the image of William Turner shine all the brighter.  "And you?  Why are you here?"

"Punishment."

"So I gathered—this is, after all, a prison," Stella drawled.  "But what did you do to earn this punishment, Bootstrap Bill Turner?"

That caught his attention, and he lifted watery blue eyes to her face.  "You know my name," he breathed.

She smiled.  She liked being right about this, since she'd been wrong about so much lately. "Yes, I'm acquainted with your son."

"William," Bill breathed, as if a prayer.  "My son... you know my son."  His blue eyes sharpened.  "Elizabeth?  Are you Elizabeth?"

Stella laughed, her quicksilver laughter that was here and gone and not actually amused.  "Hardly.  I am Mrs. Stella Norrington.  And I've only ever met your son thrice."

"William," Bill whispered again.  His face fell, and his despair was a stink in the air around him.  "He's dead, now."

"No, he's not.  He's not dead.  He was in Singapore, the last I knew of him—alive, in Singapore," Stella said quietly.  She had no love for William Turner, but his father's anguish had the tang of her mother's after her own father's death.  She hadn't been able to do anything for Nell, but she could provide what comfort to Bill Turner that was in her to give.

"Not... not dead?"  The hope in those blue eyes was painful.

"Not dead," Stella confirmed.

"How... how do you know?"

She smiled—that mysterious not-smile that James had always hated.  "I'm a witch, Mr. Turner.  I know."

Stella let him think on that for a bit.  She opened her trunk and got out one of her blank books and a pencil, and started jotting down what she'd gleaned.  She was rather pleased that there was actually a member of the crew here, and one who would probably be willing to talk to her, once she got around to asking questions.

She pulled Isabella's glass out from the chain around her neck and looked through it, scrutinising her surroundings.  Her great-grandmother had always waxed incomprehensible when asked how she acquired the glass; Stella always figured that it had been a gift.  If Isabella had made it herself, the spells would have been in the book.  Whoever had given it to her, however, remained anonymous; their identity was a secret Isabella carried to her grave.  Eleanor thought it was an heirloom Mirela had brought from Spain; Stella thought it was a gift from one of the old gods; when asked, Tia had just smiled mysteriously.  It was entirely possible that the glass had been a gift from the witch on the Pantano—especially given what Stella now knew of her.

Her surroundings were cleaner when regarded through the glass, and she could see the enchantments in the wood.  It seemed... skewed, almost—they lacked the purity of most enchanted objects she'd seen.  She'd have to spend more time picking it apart later.  Pity Jones wouldn't be letting her out of the brig for a while... she'd have liked to look at other parts of the ship, and see if the enchantments varied at all—if the curiously twisted nature of the magic in the brig was an anomaly or a trend.

Bill Turner had gone back to his corner, where he was sitting with an expression of confused joy.  Stella went over, and peered at him through the glass.  The oceanic detritus melted away, and she found herself looking at a man whose weathered, fleshy face was marked by grief.

"What are you doing?" he asked her.

"Seeing what the glass shows me."

He smiled a little; it made his face crinkle in a way she suspected it didn't do much anymore.  "What does it show you?"

"Right now?  You, as you once were."  Behind him, there came a woman, beautiful and slender with Will Turner's dark eyes and strong cheekbones.  Though there was much of his father in him, Will also took after his mother.  "What was her name?"

"Whose name?" Bill asked, though by the pain rising in his blue eyes that question did not need to be asked.

"William's mother.  The woman I see in the glass, behind you."

"Kate," came the quiet reply.

"She's very lovely."

"William has her eyes."

"Yes, he does."  The woman then vanished, and she saw him as he must have been under the Aztec Curse—a rotting skeleton with the same haunted, sorrowful blue eyes.  Recalling what she'd heard about the circumstances of Bill's undead life, she moved the glass and her line of sight down to his ankles, which were—sure enough—chained to a cannon.  "Interesting," she remarked, before spinning around to regard the door to the cell.  Perhaps the glass would show her another way out, so that she could go and look at the rest of the ship, while the crew slept?

"What does it show you now?"

"The enchantments on the ship, still.  No alternate exit, regrettably.  Still, it's all utterly fascinating.  I've never seen work like this before.  It's... well, quite beyond anything I've ever seen or done before," she replied absently, lowering the glass from her eye.  Using it for too long tended to give the people who were using it horrible headaches.

She made a few more notes in the blank book before placing it back in the trunk, closing the lid, tucking Isabella's glass back into her dress, and sitting on the trunk lid—it was the cleanest spot available.  "Hopefully this state of affairs will not last too terribly long, Mr. Turner.  Although I suppose there are worse... cell-mates," she remarked breezily.

Bill gazed at her as though he'd never seen anything quite like her.   He smiled faintly.  "You're right about that," he agreed.  "Aren't you afraid?"

"Of course," she replied.  "I'm not a fool.  I'm in an uncomfortable position between two men who wish me harm.  To escape the wrath of one, I must put myself in the power of the other. I shall need all my wits about me to survive, and fear would dull them, so I shan't feel it."

Indeed, she'd shoved her fear into the box in the back of her mind where she kept everything she didn't want to feel.  Her love for James was there, too, along with grief new and old.  But she had a nervous feeling that there wasn't much room left in that box, along with the foreboding that things would get much, much worse before they got better.

Bill smiled at her again, but this time it was with a patina of worry.  "You're very strong.  Be careful—Jones hates that in women."

"Jones hates all women, strong or not," Stella retorted.  "He's been forbidden to kill me—"

"That won't stop him from hurting you," Bill warned.  "You seem a sweet lass... I don't want to see you hurt."

Stella clenched her hands in her skirts.  "Then you had better close your eyes."

Chapter Text

It was early November by the time that James Norrington made it back to Port Royal from his mission to polish the doorknobs.  He'd been gone for nearly a month, inspecting the varying parts of the fleet berthed in islands around Jamaica and seeing to the refitting and repair of the once-piratical ships.  Valuable work, but nothing he needed to see to himself.  He could've done just as well behind a desk in Port Royal.

Still, there was nothing for it, and James was glad to be home.  He would have quite a bit of work to do up at Fort Charles, having been away for so long.  And he wanted to see Stella.  He'd rather missed her, more than he'd expected to, with a quiet ache that grew stronger every day.  He wanted to see how she fared with pregnancy—would the child have quickened inside her, yet?  Would she have that happy, healthy, glowing look about her that so many pregnant women seemed to acquire?  At the very least, he expected that she would have a variety of witty, sarcastic things to say about the happenings in Port Royal.  Perhaps, if he were particularly lucky, Isaac Bell would be at sea, and he'd have Stella all to himself.

Unfortunately, James Norrington was not lucky.  Not only was the Raven in port, but Stella was gone.

He noticed something off in the house the moment he stepped inside; it was... less breezy, and the air was quite still.  There was no faint scent of gardenia and allemanda, and the house itself was very, very quiet.  There was an ineffable something missing, but it didn't occur to him that anything other than a faint niggling in the back of his mind was wrong.

However, upon asking the housekeeper about the location of his wife, James was treated to an uncomfortable look and informed that Mrs. Norrington had left him a letter in her boudoir.

The faint niggling bloomed into a deep unease, and as James climbed the stairs he wondered what had gone wrong now.

Stella's rooms felt empty.  The air was still—the air in her rooms was never still.  He went to her dressing table and found the letter she left, and opened it with a feeling of foreboding.  Her delicate, spidery writing covered the page, but it was uneven, as though she was composing the missive in a great hurry.

My dear James,

You are no doubt going to be very upset with me.  By now, I imagine you have returned home to discover my absence.  This was not precisely an absence of my choosing, but that does not follow that the destination was entirely displeasing.  Nevertheless, I would not have left if I did not think I had no other choice.

Yester eve, after your departure, Lord Beckett came to the house.  He requested that I take a temporary posting on the Flying Dutchman, as Davy Jones had proved himself an untrustworthy sort and in need of a minder.  Apparently, Beckett believed that the Kraken lingering in me would render Jones somewhat more kindly disposed towards me as opposed to anyone else.   I realise Beckett's reasoning is flimsy, but I do not wish to tempt fate and see what other calamity he would visit upon us should I defy him.  He is bound and determined to see us apart, and I am of a mood to oblige him, lest we suffer the fruits of his imagination once more.

You would likely challenge my reasoning; you know full well of my fascination with that vessel.  I will not lie and say that Lord Beckett's request was unwelcome; there are worse places he could put me.  However, please believe that I would not have disregarded your preferences unless I did not feel that I had no other choice.  There is much to loose, and I cannot—we cannot—afford to aggravate him.  He has promised my safety (however much that is worth) and that I should be back in Port Royal by February and in time for my laying-in.  If he is true to his promises, every fortnight there will be a rendezvous with the Dutchman and a ship of the fleet.   I hope to see you during one of those rotations, for five months is a long time to be without you.

My dear friend, please do not be too terribly vexed with me.  'What cannot be cured must be endured,' and this is simply another of Beckett's intrusions into our lives.  See to our brain-child in my absence, try not to let Isaac upset you, and I will do my best to remain as safe and well as I might.

Until we meet again, I remain your affectionate friend and wife,

Stella

The parchment crumpled as James' hands clenched involuntarily, too many emotions running through him to be calm.   He felt fury and fear and aggravated fondness... mostly, though, he felt angry.  Burning, impotent rage at the presumption of Lord Beckett and—admittedly, irrationally—at Stella as well.

She knew he didn't want her near that ship!  She knew!  James felt betrayed, as though she, like Lord Beckett, had gone over his head to get something she wanted.  Yes, Lord Beckett's orders were Lord Beckett's orders, but she should have told him to go to the devil!  He was her husband, his was the voice she vowed to obey, and anyway, he could take care of himself—what danger was he in now, anyway, now that the Kraken was dead?

Part of him knew this was unfair, that Beckett held more than enough power over the both them... but it was like the hurricane all over again.  James explicitly forbid Stella to do something, and Beckett went over his head and made her do it anyway.  And he was deeply afraid that, once again, the outcome of such orders would be a near-dead Stella.

And what in God's name did Beckett think he was doing, putting a pregnant lady on the Flying Dutchman?!  Jones hated women—especially Stella.  He'd seen the way Jones had looked at her, on the Endeavour during the hurricane.  Apparently Stella hadn't—what was she thinking, willingly putting herself in that thing's hands?  For such a clever, intelligent, terrifyingly shrewd woman she sometimes did incredibly stupid things.

There seemed to be surprisingly little thinking being done, in a general sense.  Was he the only man in the fleet who was disposed to use his brain?

James heaved a sigh and flopped back onto Stella's bed, breathing in the faint, lingering scent of Stella's gardenia-water and letting its fragrance calm him.  He wouldn't speak with Beckett until tomorrow, when he wasn't still fuming with frustrated fury.  After all, he wouldn't want the man to send him out to polish the doorknobs again—or worse, order him to remain on land.  He meant to go and see his wife the minute he found a ship that could take him.


 

The next morning, nearly the moment the sun was up, James was off to the offices of the East India Trading Company.  The soldiers let him through immediately, and he was ushered into Lord Beckett's office.

"Admiral Norrington," Beckett greeted mildly, focussed on the papers on his desk.  "I was expecting you earlier."

James paused.  "I beg your pardon?"

"You arrived yesterday evening, did you not?" Beckett returned.  "I assumed you would be here the moment you discovered Mrs. Norrington's absence."

"I thought it would be prudent to wait until my temper cooled," James replied icily.

"Mmm.  Quite sensible of you.  I do appreciate it.  Impassioned histrionics are hardly to my taste."

"I would like to ask what the blazes you were thinking, however," James added darkly.

Beckett finally looked up, and sat back in his chair.  "I was thinking that your wife is strong enough—dangerous enough—to give Davy Jones pause.  When added to the Kraken lingering in her... hair... I felt that she had the best chance of moderating his behaviour," he explained calmly.

"I'm sorry, did you somehow miss the seething hatred with which Jones regards the both of us?" James asked incredulously.

"He hates everyone," Beckett dismissed, turning back to his papers.

"But her most of all—it was she who thwarted him, during the hurricane... did you think he would forget that?  Or forgive her for it?" James demanded.  "Even beside the fact that she's a hated woman, she's also my wife, and we all know he despises me.  What could have possibly made you think this was a good idea?"

"Honestly?  I thought that she was one of the only people both cunning enough to match wits with Jones and willing to actually be there," Beckett replied, sitting back and looking back at him.

"'Willing'?" James repeated disbelievingly.

"She went, didn't she?"

"Because you ordered her to!"

"That's willing, after a fashion," Beckett noted.

"No, it's not.  When will she return home?" James demanded.

"When I can be assured that Davy Jones in under control."

"And what provisions have you made for her safety?"

"Jones knows not to lay a hand on her.  Every two weeks a ship meets with the Dutchman.  Stella reports and provides her strings, and the captain of the ship supplies her with provisions and checks that she is in good health."

"I want to be present at the next rotation.  I want to see for myself."

Beckett paused, and regarded James for a moment, perhaps weighing his likelihood to make trouble on the Dutchman should he find Stella in peril, versus the stink he would definitely raise if Beckett forbid him to see her.  Apparently deciding that there was a better chance for avoiding an unpleasant scene at sea, given the slight possibility that Jones was treating Stella well, as opposed to the definite eventuality of an outburst on land, Beckett gave him a curt nod.  "Very well.  I trust you can see to the arrangements?"

"Of course."

"Then go to it, Admiral," Beckett dismissed.  "But mind me, Norrington: you're not to take her off that ship until I say."

"If I find her unsafe—"

"You'll tell me, and I will chastise Jones."

"If you have to chastise him, does it not imply that Stella is an inadequate minder, and should be replaced?" James inquired tartly.

Beckett gave him a sour look, and turned pointedly back to his papers.  "Give Stella my regards."

James whirled on his heel and stormed out.  Obviously, Beckett had no real reason to keep Stella on the Dutchman aside from his desire to keep her away from her family, and the man's own hatred for her.

Oh yes—if my logic destroys your pathetic fallacy, simply ignore it, he fumed.  Hang you, and hang your orders, Beckett.  If she's suffering, I'm taking her away.  I'll hide her if I must, but if she's miserable... if she's miserable because of his commands, I'll kill him.


 

When he arrived back home, Isaac Bell was waiting for him in the parlour.  The minute he was informed of this, James buried his face in his hands and groaned.  There was no situation so bad that his brother-in-law couldn't make it worse.

He straightened immediately—Stella had asked that he try to get along with her brother—and went into the parlour.  "Captain Bell," he greeted tiredly.  "Stella's not here."

"I know that," Isaac retorted grumpily.  "I was with her when Beckett informed her of her next posting.  How could you let—"

"Spare me, Isaac," James snapped.  "My hands have been very thoroughly tied, and I'm just as unhappy as you are.  And," he added grimly, "if we're going to be pointing fingers... you say you were there when she left?  Why did you let her go?  Why didn't you stop her?"

"Stop Stelly when she's got her mind set on something?"  Isaac let out a bark of laughter.  "That's like trying to stop a hurricane.  She's a force of nature."

"And so is Lord Beckett," James pointed out darkly.  "Worse, he's a force of nature with an axe over all our necks, so kindly spare me the recriminations for not performing a duty which you neglected yourself!"

Isaac's expression was mutinous, but then he sighed and threw himself into one of the settees.  "Fine, so we'll just agree that we're both incompetent at protecting Stella from that awful clotpoll and get on with it," he suggested glumly.  "I didn't actually come here to fight with you, but Stelly wanted me to talk to you about the... er 'Greek Fire'."

"Greek Fire?" James repeated blankly.

"She figured that we needed a euphemism for 'The Conspiracy', and that was the best we came up with," Isaac shrugged.  "She said we should come up with something and get in the habit of using it easily and discreetly before Mercer gets back from Singapore."

"Good thinking," James agreed absently.  "Mercer has a revolting talent for sniffing out these sorts of things... no sense in making him overtly suspicious.  Why Greek Fire, though?"

"Er... childhood hijinks."

James was about to arch an eyebrow and wonder sardonically how a mythical offensive weapon could possibly be connected to any childhood hijinks when the butler entered and announced Captain Groves.

"Show him in," James said, and thanked the Lord for Theodore's good timing.  He didn't know how long this entente cordiale between Isaac and himself would last, but previous encounters had shown that it was better that James and Isaac not be left alone together.

"James, Captain Bell," Groves greeted once he was shown into the parlour.  "I suppose you know already?"

"About Mrs. Norrington's current location?" James supplied dourly.  "Yes, I've had that displeasure."

"I am sorry, James," Theodore apologised.  "She was brought out there on my own ship... there was nothing I could do—not with Beckett present and watching us the entire way."

"It's all right, Theo," James assured him.  "It seems all the men in her life are thoroughly incapable of protecting her from Lord Beckett's whims."

"What the devil is he thinking, putting a gentlewoman with child on that... that floating hell?" Theodore grumbled.

"Something I have recently wondered myself."

"His judgement is incredibly faulty where my sister is concerned," Isaac remarked sourly.

"That would be because he hates her," James offered sarcastically.  "Hatred does tend to impair one's judgement."  He took a deep breath.  "I'll be going to see her with the next ship that makes a rendezvous with the Dutchman.  Depending on how I find her, I will act accordingly.  Until then, the best we can do is see to the Greek Fire.  I believe the only way to keep her safe from Beckett is to limit the amount of power he has at his disposal."

"Greek Fire?" asked Theodore, looking confused.

So they explained things to him, and the three officers spent the rest of the day sorting out their conspiracy in the Norrington's parlour—it was the safest place to do so, since Stella had placed spells to thwart eavesdroppers the minute she got into the house.  They talked about using the euphemism of Greek Fire as a code as well; Isaac suggested that they pretend that Stella was once again trying to concoct that mythical substance, and her pretend recipes could be used as a code—"She tried 25 ounces of sulphur and 15 spoons of saltpetre," was his example, with the numbers standing for captains or ships or whatever was needful at the time.  James sardonically agreed that anyone acquainted with Stella's damnable curiosity would easily believe her capable of attempting to make Greek Fire and using anything and everything to accomplish it.  They could probably say she was using butter and people would believe it.

...James wasn't bitter.  Not at all.

An awkward silence descended after that, until the ever-tactful Theodore suggested that they concoct some kind of symbol—perhaps a Greek letter or two, since their code was Greek Fire?—so that members of the conspiracy would be able to discern each other.  Isaac was dubious—if everyone suddenly started sporting Greek letters, wouldn't that be a massive sign that they had a secret, and invite an investigation they didn't want?  The two of them went back and forth for a bit, before James stepped in and indulgently ordered that they'd discuss it later.

There was a pang in his heart as he intervened; Theodore had debated with Andrew just like that, once upon at time, and he'd always broken up their little repartees in the same tone, once he got tired of listening to them go around and around.  He still missed him—Andrew Gillette, that was—with a hollow sort of ache.  He'd been a dear friend for years, and James still regretted the circumstances of his death.  He probably always would.

Putting the ache away (and resolutely shoving away any likeness between his late, dear friend and his hated brother-in-law), he suggested that they make a list of every captain in the fleet that was already on their side (there were about 25, by this point).  They then discussed who they thought would be amenable, and how they should go about converting them now that Mrs. Norrington's quicksilver tongue was ensconced on the Flying Dutchman.

Theodore pointed out that merely mentioning her absence would be enough for many of the captains; Beckett's obvious antipathy for the Admiral's wife had been raising many eyebrows amongst the sailors in the fleet, and his dubious decisions where Mrs. Norrington was concerned would surely fuel much outrage among the fleet.  After all, Groves noted, if the Admiral's wife could be sent away on the flimsiest of pretexts, their own families were at risk as well.  That was the sort of thing that hit a man right where he lived.

"You'd think this would occur to him," Isaac remarked, after Theodore had finished his theory.  "Beckett, I mean."

"He thinks he's too powerful to be bothered by the disapprobation of his subordinates," James grumbled.

"Surely he doesn't think that he is immune to... well, to exactly what we're doing?" Theodore wondered sheepishly.

"I believe it is usually Mr. Mercer who deals with these sorts of things, and he does so quickly, brutally, and finally," James replied darkly.  "It is only due to his absence that we are getting away with it.  We will have to be much, much more discreet when he returns."

"That's what Stelly said, before she left," Isaac agreed.  The tightness around his mouth indicated that he was not unaware of his accord with the man who had married his sister.  "We have to have gone fully to ground by the time he returns."

"Isn't that a little too... he is just one man, isn't he?" Theodore asked confusedly.

"I don't think so," James replied.  "Stella... has not said outright, but dropped enough hints to lead me to believe that Mr. Mercer is not entirely human."

"Oh."  Theodore had gone a bit pale.  "James, I hope you don't mind me saying this, but things have gotten dashed strange since you returned to Port Royal," he said, clearly still a bit bewildered.

James chuckled wryly.  "One thing I've learned, Theo, is that things have always been dashed strange," he remarked honestly, sitting back and crossing his hands over his stomach.  "The only difference is that now we're more willing to notice."

Chapter Text

Stella was beginning to fray.

It was, perhaps, inevitable; she had been imprisoned on the Flying Dutchman for four weeks and five days, now, and Davy Jones had been hammering at her composure for three weeks and five days.  She had never before been the target of such unrelenting malice.

Her first week had been undisturbed by anything (except for the dreams that always hounded her after she went into the river, of course.  She was often awakened by images of Tia dissolving into a mass of crabs, or of dying in a massive conflagration, or (worst of all) of James being stabbed and dying alone at the rail of the Dutchman).  But aside from that, she had been left to herself in the brig, with nothing more than a dearth of provisions to vex her.  Thank heavens she'd thought to bring some of her own food, or she would have been quite hungry that first week.  (Jones fed her, of course—he was under orders—but the fare was nothing she was terribly inclined to eat.  Raw fish was not a favourite of hers.)

Still, compared to what came after, the first week was a paradise.  Yes, the accommodations were substandard; she was almost constantly chilled and the bunk she slept on at night was hard and uncomfortable.  Yes, it was cold and dirty and she felt unclean constantly.  Yes, she was horribly seasick for the first few days.  And yes, it was awkward to share space with a man she wasn't married to, that she had only just met, who had been a pirate, and who had barnacles sprouting on his face.  But she'd been left alone to study the ship to her heart's content, which was just what she wanted.

She had picked the entire brig apart, and desperately wanted to go elsewhere and see if her theories were correct.  She thought that there were two people involved in the enchanting of the ship (if you could call them "people"): the personage who had done the original spell-castings (she was beginning to think it was perhaps an old immortal of some kind) and the personage (probably Davy Jones) who had made slight alterations to the originals.  Whether or not he had done the same outside of the brig was anyone's guess.

She had also asked many questions of Bootstrap Bill Turner, who seemed quite happy to speak to her of anything and everything she asked him.  He was, Stella noted, quite starved for company—he'd have to be, to put up with her impertinent inquiries.

 

"What was it like, to swear yourself to Davy Jones?" she asked him.

"Relief," Bill replied, shrugging a little.  He had cleared much of the coral and other detritus off the bunk in the cell for her, and insisted that she take it.  He'd be fine on the floor, he said.  Stella appreciated his chivalry, even if she'd been surprised by it.  She did not generally expect manners from pirates.  "I'd been chained to a cannon and thrown overboard.  It wasn't pleasant, under all that water."

"I can't imagine," Stella murmured, shuddering a little.  As a child, she'd been terrified of drowning—probably an effect of her affinity with the air.  As an adult, she hadn't much cared for submerging herself.  Being trapped leagues under the water was as close to hell as she could conceive.  "But what did you feel?  Anything?"

Bill shrugged again.  "Did I notice as I sold my soul away?  No.  I was under a curse at the time and frantic to escape the weight of the water... I couldn't feel anything but desperation."

"The famed Aztec curse," Stella murmured.

"You know about that?" Bill asked, surprised.

"Yes.  Hector Barbossa came often to my mother and I, seeking out the lost medallions.  We could find them for him, you see, sometimes.  They did tend to move," she remarked wryly, remembering.  "Barbossa visited often, especially in the later years of the curse,.  He could not, for the life—or unlife—of him, find that last medallion.  Neither could I."

Something closed down behind Bill's blue eyes.  "That was the one I sent to William."

Something slid into place in Stella's mind.  "That must be why I could never find it," she said triumphantly.  "It bothered me terribly—I should have been able to.  But I couldn't, because you protected him."

Bill looked confused.  "I was sitting at the bottom of the ocean—and then I was here.  How could I have protected him?"

Stella shrugged.  "You were—are—his father.  You loved him.  And you didn't want Barbossa to find him.  That has a power all its own—a power often stronger than the one I wield," she explained simply.  "However, I have yet to discern how I compare to Davy Jones.  Now, he... he has something I can't quite name," she remarked thoughtfully.

"He has no heart," Bill muttered savagely.

"Yes, but we already knew that," Stella pointed out tartly.  "And we have wandered quite far from my original inquiry.  I mean to study this ship, you see.  What I want to know is—"

"He asks 'em, usually, if they fear death," Bill interrupted dully.  "We come up under a ship where the crew are dead or dying, and they haven't moved on yet.  Jones, he asks 'em if they fear death.  They say no, over they go to their final... whatever.  They say yes, they're offered a place on the crew.  S'a chance to delay judgement—they can serve one-hundred years on this ship and forestall the hereafter.  And eventually they start looking like this," he said, spreading his arms.  "Start becoming part of the ship.  Once you swear an oath to the Dutchman, there's no leaving it.  And you start loosing your past, your memories, and your humanity a little at a time, until you're nothing but part of the ship.  Part of the crew, part of the ship," he finished, with a bitter smile.

Stella had been listening, spellbound.  Once he finished, she grabbed her blank book (though, not so blank, now), and a flood of questions rushed forth.  "Does that mean he collects souls?  What about the living—can they swear an oath as well, or do they need be dead?  What is the oath?  If a living person were to swear it, would they be as good as dead?  Why do you loose your memories—is it simply disconnection from the life you once had, or is it something more insidious?  How is it that Jones can delay the inevitable with regards to the dead?  Why can't you leave the ship—what happens if you try to desert?  Are you actually dead?  Beckett holds the crew back with guns—is that futile? What happens if you're shot?  Is your death the reason you... er, collect and retain the attributes of a variety of marine life?  What do you mean 'part of the crew, part of the ship'?"  As she spoke the words, her skin prickled—like someone had walked over her grave.  She shook the sensation off, and finished with, "Are you dead?"

Bill, however, was looking at her with an expression that was part incredulity, part indulgent amusement, and part discomfiture.  "Curiosity killed the cat, Mrs. Norrington," was all he said.

"Then thank heavens I'm not a cat, Mr. Turner," she retorted archly.

The former pirate chuckled a little, and scratched at the barnacles sprouting from his cheekbones.  "I don't know if I qualify as dead... I was cursed when I joined the crew.  I never actually died," he admitted, and he appeared quite uneasy to be contemplating his mortality (or lack thereof).

"I suppose that is comforting—I don't think I should like to share my accommodations with an animate corpse," Stella remarked briskly, making a notation in her book.  "Do you know anything else you can tell me?"

"I have no idea why Jones does what he does, or how he does it.  Swearing an oath to the Dutchman is as easy as telling Jones you'll serve.  I don't know why we loose our memories—we just... do," Bill began to reply, looking very hopeless and unhappy.  "We can't leave because there's nowhere we can go—not once has Jones given up something he thinks of as his.  And if he withdraws his magics from us, we become as we were before we joined: dead.  We can feel pain, but mortal wounds for anyone else will just keep us down for a while.  I don't know why we start looking like this—" he gestured to the starfish on his face, "but we do, the longer we stay here, until we've completely fused with the ship.  That's what I meant by 'part of the crew, part of the ship.'"

Strange, no matter how many times she heard that phrase, it always seemed to make her skin prickle.  However, if it meant anything, the significance of it would become clear in time, at which point she could deal with it.  Until then, it was a nameless premonition, and Stella had little use for those; prophesy was not her gift.  She finished her notes, and resolutely closed the book.  "Thank you for your contribution, Mr. Turner.  I'm sure future generations of my children will thank you," she said primly.

The amused look was back on his face, and it seemed to make him younger and more human; perhaps it did, perhaps .  "Mrs. Norrington, you are, by far, the strangest lady I've ever met in all my life," he announced.

"Funny, my husband says the same thing," Stella replied dryly.

 

Her husband.  She missed him desperately, with a gnawing ache that both pained and infuriated her.  However, she used her solitude (broken only by Bill) to start regaining control.  During her one-week respite, she was able to start forcing the feelings and the sensations they inspired back into the box at the back of her mind—it was time consuming and required much of her concentration, but it was worth it when her thoughts ceased to turn in his direction every idle moment she had.

The same could not be said for Bill, of course.  Not that he was always thinking about James Norrington—because he wasn't—but his thoughts were constantly, relentlessly, and tediously focussed on his son.  It occasionally made conversation stilted and awkward, since Stella knew little about Will Turner (and was inclined to dislike him, anyway, for the injuries he had visited upon her husband).

But Bill always asked.

 

"Tell me about William," he asked her one evening—Stella believed it was her third on the Dutchman.  Stella had already eaten her meagre meal of a boiled egg, a slice of bread, and some preserved spinach, and they were sitting quietly in the gloom of their cell.

"I don't know very much about him," Stella demurred, adjusting her cloak around her shoulders.  "I only ever met him three times... and one of those times I was a ghost."

Bill—being a twice-cursed pirate currently occupying the brig of the Flying Dutchman—barely blinked at the last statement, and continued worrying at his original thought.  "Tell me about the first time you met him, then?" he asked, turning limpid blue eyes in her direction.  "Please?"

And of course she couldn't refuse him.  Not only was she interested in keeping the peace—they were both locked in here together for an indeterminate amount of time, after all, and it would be better if they got on well—but he was so very desperate (and pathetic).

So Stella sighed, and began.  "I met William Turner the Younger one evening when he was brought to my Tortugan residence by one Jack Sparrow.  We were in company for all of a half-hour, during which he said two things to me.  One was his name, and the other was 'I beg your pardon'."

"What did you think of him?" Bill asked, apparently so desperate for knowledge of his son that he would do anything to hear more about him, including attempting to milk some kind of significance of their brief meeting.

Stella swiftly thought of a way to phrase this tactfully. She couldn't very well say to his doting father, 'I thought he was callow and naïve and the only thing I found interesting about him was the air of his unknown, inevitable fate'.  Instead, she said, rather lamely, "He has a good heart."  This was technically true.

Bill smiled fondly.  "He does, doesn't he?  He's a good lad," he murmured.  "A fine lad."

Stella had to bite her lip at that.  She supposed, from Bill's point of view, Will Turner was a fine lad.  And he was a decent sort of man—honest, honourable, courageous, strong, and courteous.  But he had hurt James—not so terribly as Elizabeth, but Will Turner had helped the Swann girl hurt James Norrington, and therefore Stella was automatically disinclined to like him.

Thankfully, Bill was unobservant and took no notice of her less than enthusiastic response to his queries, and focussed his eyes back on her.  "What about the second time you met him?"

Stella stifled a sigh.  "The second I encountered your son was when he came to me in the hopes of locating Jack Sparrow..."  As she narrated the tale of her second meeting with William Turner, she thought back to that afternoon, and her ominous presentiment that her peaceful existence was about to end.  And indeed Will Turner had been the harbinger of the dangerous and unhappy circumstances she was currently enduring. She recalled knowing that she—and James—were tangled in the net that Beckett was weaving; however, she hadn't then known how truly trapped they were, and what Beckett would do to them once he had them in his power.

She wondered, idly, if she had known then what she knew now—knew of the pain and danger and the horrible, frightening emotion that awaited her—if she would have agreed to marry James and leave Tortuga.  Yes, she had hated it there, but at least it was safe.

The narrative finished on a slightly melancholy note.  "Young Mr. Turner then left with the information he came for, and after set off in search of that most wayward captain.  I remained on Tortuga, waiting for the change I knew was coming. If only I had known then what I know now, perhaps I would not have been so eager to welcome those changes," she finished wistfully.  "Life became so very dangerous."

Bill nodded sympathetically, but kept going back to his original topic.  "What about the third time you met William?" he pressed.

Had she not been attempting to keep their interactions amiable, Stella would have rolled her eyes.  Bill was certainly single-minded, and also unable to pick up on the subtle hints that indicated she wished to change the subject.  But he was also so very pathetic, which was why Stella bit her tongue and continued.

"The third time I met Mr. Turner was after I possessed the Kraken in a hurricane.  The Kraken was killed while I was still possessing her, and I was catapulted out across the ocean in spirit form.  I was drawn to a ship upon which were Tia Dalma, a powerful friend of mine, and your son, among others.  I floated through the floor, gave the inhabitants of the ship a fright, said some truthful things to Elizabeth Swann, and was shooed back to my body by Tia," Stella recited concisely.  "Your son and I exchanged no words, that time."

"That's how you know he's still alive," Bill realised.  "You saw him on that ship, during the hurricane."

"I did.  I also received word of his presence in Singapore not one week ago."  This was a slight stretch, but Stella had seen Elizabeth Swann in Singapore, and God knew that Will Turner would follow wherever that lady went.

Bill smiled, and the happiness that surrounded him almost made up for having to talk about Will Turner.  "What do you suppose he's doing?"

"Avoiding Beckett, if he's got any sense," Stella replied swiftly, in a tone of voice that indicated she had no further thoughts.  She then changed the subject onto the effect of Beckett on the Dutchman's usual modus operandi, and they wiled away the rest of the evening.

But then two evenings later, Bill turned to her and asked, without artifice or any seeming recollection of the previous night, "Tell me about William?"

Stella could hardly explain why she suddenly felt such a terrible foreboding underneath the confusion.

 

Yes, her first week on the Dutchman had truly been an idyllic time.

Pity it all went to hell shortly thereafter.

It began subtly.  On her eighth day, she was sitting in the brig with Bootstrap (of course, where else was she going to be?) and prodding at the ship with her mind (a simplistic description, but she couldn't think of any better way to put it when Bill asked her what she was doing).  Then suddenly, something happened, and the tone of her time on the ship began to change.

 

Stella returned to herself abruptly; the feel of the ship had changed. Someone else's will—probably the Captain's—was spreading through the galleon, making it move in ways ships usually didn't move.  She opened her eyes to discover that the floor was tilting downward at an angle that implied... well, that they were about to go below the ocean.  This hypothesis was borne out by the water she could see welling up from both the front of the ship and from the floor.

She was off the bunk in a flash, an involuntary scream flying from her lips.  Bill was at her side in an instant.  "What's happening?" she demanded, watching in horror as the water continued to rise.

"We're going under water," Bill replied, grasping her shoulders nervously.

Stella blanched.  She clung to Bill and whimpered a bit as the water washed over her feet.  She had always been terrified of drowning; it was the only other thing besides love she could definitively say she was afraid of.  To be trapped, underwater, without any air or wind or any way to save herself...

The water was up above her knees, now, saturating her skirts, and she was breathing quickly, in frightened gasps.  She backed up as far from the rising water that she could, but she hit the cell bars and could go no further, even as the water hit her waist.  Bill had gone to the door, and was shouting up to anyone who could hear, reminding them that there was a lady who needed to breathe down here.

No one heard him.

Stella clung to the bars with a white-knuckled grip; the water was up to her neck, now, and she met Bill's hopeless blue eyes with what must surely be an expression of sheer terror.  She noted, in a detached part of her mind, that her trunk was floating up at her eye-level.  At least it was airtight... her notes would survive, although she and her unborn child wouldn't.  She wished that she'd thought to write something to James in the event of her death.

She also hoped that Davy Jones would catch absolute hell for this.

Terrified, as the water began to rise over her head, Stella let go her control over her hair.  (She hadn't let it loose previously, having not yet decided to trust Bill.  He could have, after all, been planted by Jones, and she didn't want him to know about her hair... yet.)  Her Kraken-infested tresses buoyed her up to the shrinking pocket of air at the top of the cell, and she was able to get a few desperate gasps in before all the air was gone.

The salt water burned her eyes, and she shut them tightly.  She didn't want the last thing she saw to be the brig of the Flying Dutchman.  So she shut her eyes, and called up an image of James, and wished this wasn't happening.  She felt arms wrap around her, and she pretended it was James instead of Bill as the burning in her lungs became too much, and she reflexively inhaled.

It hurt.

Her worst nightmare was coming true.  She thought she'd conquered her fear of drowning, but it was still there, in the back of her mind.  And now it was happening.  She kept trying to take in air, but there was none to take, and she began to thrash around in Bill's embrace.  A distant part of her mind realised that her death was approaching at a rather rapid clip, and she felt... cheated.  She felt cheated and angry and immeasurably sad.  Was this it?  Was this all she was to have?  What about her baby?  The child never even had a chance to draw breath.  And now she never would.

...

She must have blacked out—Stella didn't really recall.  But she didn't die.

Eventually she came to, coughing up sea water.  Rough, strong limbs turned her over, and she retched miserably onto the deck, gasping in air to her lungs which still ached and seized.  She was disoriented and hurting and trembling from remembered fear, her hair was hanging in her face and tangled around her arms, her dress was sodden and added another ten pounds to her frame, and her eyes and throat were stinging.  It was, by far, the worst she had ever felt in all her life.

And, as if things weren't awful enough, the next-to-last voice she wanted hear came to her ears.  "My apologies, ma'am.  I'd forgotten ye were here."

Stella looked up to see Davy Jones standing at the door of the cell, smirking at her, surrounded by the leering members of the crew.  She coughed once more, and straightened a bit.  Bill was still hovering over her, stroking her back soothingly and wiping her hair away from her skin.  When she extended a hand, he helped her up and steadied her on her feet.  Her hair was writhing around her arms; her control had been shredded by the events of the last few minutes, and at this point she was concentrating too much on regulating her breathing to bother controlling her hair.

"I'd appreciate it if you'd remember in the future," Stella eventually replied to Davy Jones, her voice as hoarse as a crow and as rough as sandpaper.  "Any more of these incidents shall kill me stone dead."

Inwardly, she was seething.  He did that on purpose, she thought bitterly.  And Jones wasn't even trying that hard to hide it; as he showed her up to the main deck and into the one airtight room on the ship, he was grinning viciously and not even bothering to hide it, his electric blue eyes were amused, and his betentacled beard was writhing merrily.  (His beard really did move like her hair... or vice versa, she supposed.  Although his tentacles were more active than her hair.)

"Here's the room, wench," Jones said dismissively.  "Stay here 'till I let ye out."  He smiled unpleasantly.  "T'wouldn't do for ye to open the door under the water, or walk out into battle."

"It's impossible to open the door of an airtight room underwater," Stella replied, equally dismissive and very scornful.  "And I daresay I'd notice the sound of the cannons and have the sense to stay hidden."

Jones snorted—a very, very strange sound, given that his nose (or equivalent thereof) extended off his left cheekbone.  "I never assume ennathin' about women and their lack of sense."

Stella sniffed in return.  "And I suppose I've been taught something about assumptions of my own: never assume that the captain remembers everything that's on his own ship," she sniped sharply.

The Captain just smiled poisonously.  "I remember everything about my ship," was all he said, before he slammed the door in her face.

Stella fumed; he'd gotten the last word.  It had been years since somebody else had gotten the last word in a conversation when she wasn't inclined to let them have it.

However, not being of a temperament to lament that which she could not change (and which, in the grand scheme of things, didn't actually matter anyway), Stella took advantage of her soiree outside of the brig, took Isabella's glass from the string around her neck, and began to peer at her surroundings.

They were the same as in the brig.  Someone—something—had altered the original enchantments.

 

That had been the first time she'd been able to see any part of the ship outside the brig since she arrived.  But it wasn't the last.  Davy Jones began to step up his campaign.

He began to send for her.  Stella would be going about her daily business, pursuing her studies or making wind-strings for Beckett, when she'd hear heavy steps on the stairs, and some monstrosity would appear and "escort" her from her cell and up onto deck.  The crew were not gentle with her; she was collecting quite the assortment of bruises on her arms (from their rough grips) and her shins (from tripping and falling due to their shoves, and her own lack of skill on a ship).

Depending on his fancy, or what was available at the time, Jones would have her brought to his cabin for conversation, or out to the deck.  The conversations were always strange and hostile...

 

"With child, are ye?" Jones asked abruptly, the minute she stepped over the threshold into his cabin.

"How could you tell?" Stella asked sarcastically.  Given that she was so small and slim, she had begun to show quite early.  And given that she had brought her ragged Tortuga dresses as attire onto the Dutchman, which were not altered for her pregnancy and thus quite tight around her middle where she was beginning to swell, it was plain to anyone who cared to look that she was with child.

"Is it the Admiral's?" Jones asked, raising his... she supposed it was a brow, suggestively.

Stella's pale cheeks flushed angrily.  "Yes, of course it's his," she replied stiffly.

"Mmm," said Jones noncommittally, eyeing her curiously.  "I can never tell with women.  And now he's put you here... makes you think he wants you out of the way.  Only reason a man wants his pregnant wife out of the way is if he's looking to get rid of her... if he knows the sprog's not his."

"I don't appreciate your insinuations," Stella snapped, clenching her fists in her damp skirts. She knew Jones was digging for information, but there was no harm in laying things out as they were. "Admiral Norrington had absolutely nothing to do with my placement here.  He didn't even know.  If you want blame someone for my intrusion onto your ship, blame Lord Beckett.  He was the only who put me here.  I daresay my husband will be most upset when he discovers the state of things, he's not trying to put me away, and he knows full well this child is his."  A swift smile danced across his lips.  "I do wish I could have seen his reaction to discovering that Beckett was responsible for my absence at home.  I imagine he was magnificent."

Jones' blue eyes were still on her, as if he could ferret out her secrets just by looking at her.

It suddenly occurred to Stella that she didn't know, for a fact, that he couldn't.  After all, she was quite good at assessing a person and their inner secrets at one glance; there was nothing to say Jones couldn't do the same.  The amount of other magical people she'd encountered in her life could be counted on one hand, so she hadn't thought she'd ever need to guard herself.

She suddenly felt ill.  Could he straight into her, like she saw straight into others?  Did he know all her secrets, know what she kept in that box at the back of her mind, all her fear and grief and anger and love laid bare for him to see?

...She suddenly felt very sorry for everyone she'd ever dug secrets from.

However, she kept her face impassive—if Jones was looking through her, there was nothing she could do to stop him—and simply folded her hands and waited.

"And why, I wonder, did Beckett want you here?" the squid-man asked after a moment.

"That is a very long story, Captain Jones," Stella replied tartly.

"You'll tell it to me later—I'm sick of lookin' at you now.  Away with ye!" he commanded, waving his claw at her and dismissing her.

Stella clenched her jaw—he had that saw-toothed bo'sun of his to drag her painfully up to his cabin for a conversation that didn't even last ten minutes?

Of course, she understood—she knew full well that his attempt to drown her was the first sally in what would surely be a drawn-out war.  This conversation, however, was different; they were feeling each other out.  Jones was looking for her soft spots (and of course, her most sensitive one was the plainest to see) and Stella was now faced with the unenviable position of having to prepare herself for defence.

She fumed as she was shoved back down into the brig.  Her world had been turned upside-down, and she didn't like it.

 

...and she was always on her toes.

 

"How long have you been married?"

Once again, Jones greeted her with a highly impudent question the minute she stepped inside.  Stella frowned, and replied sarcastically, "I'm quite well, Captain, thank you for asking."

Jones snorted—a curiously wet sound that made her want to cringe.  "If I cared about how you were doing, I would have asked," he said curtly, biting off the words sharply.  "How long have you been married?"

"Almost five months," Stella replied, after a long pause.

"How long have you been with child?"

She rolled her eyes.  "Almost five months.  Kindly keep your insinuations to yourself," she added, pre-empting whatever it was he was going to suggest.  "Not that it's any of your business, but James and I were married on a Friday, and I conceived on a Sunday."

Jones was smirking.  "The Admiral works fast," he sniggered.

Stella sighed irritably.  "Did you need something specific, Captain, or did you simply bring me here to ask me impolite questions and make schoolboy jokes?" she inquired acidly.

He shrugged a little.  "I'm just trying to sort you out," he said, smiling thinly at her, though his electric blue eyes were sharp.  "How long has your hair been like that?"

So he did remember that.  Stella felt a slight pang of regret that she wasn't able to hide that ability for longer, but she hadn't been in any state for rational thought.  She tossed the hair in question over her shoulder, and replied saucily, "I think you know how long."

His blue eyes got even more intense.  "So she's not all gone, then," he murmured, almost to himself.

"The Kraken?  No, but this—" gesturing to her hair, "is all that's left."  She smiled thinly.  "That must gall."

He sneered at her.  "It does.  Now, what is Beckett to you?"

"A threat and an annoyance," Stella replied instantly.

"Nothing more?"

"No," she answered, though her mind cast back to that offer of marriage the first night they met...

Apparently it showed in her eyes, or in some other visible aspect of herself, since Jones immediately riposted with, "You're lying."

"Mmm... perhaps I am," she agreed mildly.  "But what passes between Lord Beckett and I is none of your business."

"He hates you," Jones surmised correctly.

"Yes."  There was no point in denying it—not when any fool could see it was true.

"Sometimes," he said slowly, as if the words were coming from a deep part of him, "love and hate are so close you can't tell one from the other.  Sometimes, you hate the one you love."

He was speaking from personal experience—Stella knew that, sure as she knew that her hair was black.  He was speaking of the woman he had loved so much—hated so much, in the end—that he preferred to cut out his heart than to continue feeling as he did.  And if the emotions showing on his face were but an echo of the real sensations, Stella wondered what they would be like if he had his heart inside his chest.

Suddenly, Jones snapped back to himself, and snarled once he realised she was still standing there.  "Get back to the brig!" he roared.  "I'll have nothing of you and your kind, harridan!  Maccus!  Take this creature back to where she belongs!"

Stella was dragged back to the big by the hammerheaded construct, and before she'd even reached her makeshift home she heard the ship flooded with intense organ music.

As the door clanged shut behind her and the hammerhead-man disappeared back above, Bill emerged from the shadows of the brig.  "Jones is in a rare temper," he remarked.

"The music?" Stella surmised.

"Yes.  What'd you talk about?" he wondered, coming to wrap her black cloak around her shoulders.

Stella snuggled back into the familiar cloth.  "Hatred."

 

But these unsettling conversations were not the worst of it.  Stella could have borne those with equanimity.  No, the worst came when the Dutchman would do as it was commanded, and capture other ships.  They were only under orders to deliver the ships to Lord Beckett... nothing had been said about the crews.

She didn’t think she had really understood, on a deep, visceral level, the depths of Davy Jones’ maliciousness until she’d been brought on deck, about two weeks into her stay, to see the battered remains of a frigate smoking off the port side and the shivering, terrified remnants of the crew kneeling on deck.  Jones had waited until she stepped out into the sunlight; waiting until her eyes had adjusted to the light and she had fully taken in her surroundings; then he had given her a tiny, poisonous smile, and lowered his crab-claw’s hand.  With it fell the swords and axes of his crew onto the conquered men kneeling on the deck.

Stella had nearly fainted.  She had seen death before, of course—her mother had been a sort of doctor, and Stella had nursed Eleanor in her final sickness.  She had been in the room when her mother died.  But she had never before seen so many people murdered in cold blood before her very eyes.  She had never seen skulls split, or veins gush, or litres and litres of blood spill out onto the deck.  She had never known that blood in such quantity would smell like that, or look like that—so dark that it was like a cloudy sky at night.   She had never heard anybody cry out like these men did... she had never before heard a dying man’s scream.

Only her force of will kept her upright, though her eyes were locked onto the men dying before her, watching the light in them die, watching them become just corpses, facsimile forms of people, cooling clay... made so by monsters at the order of the most monstrous of them all.

Jones had sent her back to the brig after the last corpse had been thrown to the sea, bidding her to tell Beckett that he was doing as told.  But Stella knew the real purpose of that little episode, knew it was designed to unsettle her.  He’d succeeded.  She returned to the chill darkness of the brig and to Bill Turner.  He knew instantly that something had happened—he could read her face easily, or perhaps she simply became less inscrutable the more troubled she was—and had simply put an arm around her shoulders and held her in silence until she stopped shaking. 

That night, and the nights after, her dreams were filled with blood and dying men.

She didn't think that things could get much worse, that there wasn't much more that Jones could do to her.  Certainly, things improved minutely (in the sense that Jones left her alone) after his bloody display, since the Magdalene, one of Beckett's ships, was to meet with the Dutchman two days later.  But then it got worse.  The captain of the Magdalene was a cool man—probably hand-picked by Beckett to withstand the pathos of her plight—and simply accepted the wind-strings she gave him, presented her with another ball of yarn, a bushel of limes, and a bag of hard-tack, acknowledged that she was alive, and left.  He didn't seem to care that she was living in the brig, or that she wasn't being fed enough—and she knew that if she had noticed his unconcern, so had Davy Jones.  The minute the Magdalene sailed off, Stella began to steel herself for some truly unpleasant times ahead.

For a days, things were its usual unpleasantness; more "conversations" in which Jones needled her about James, about Beckett, about being pregnant and the supposed perfidy of women in general, and more episodes in which she was forced to watch more sailors executed at her feet.  She had almost got herself steeled to the constant death when Jones came up with a new way to make things awful.

 

She'd been hearing the cannons firing for an hour.  The minute she heard the first shot, she'd set down her work—something she was trying to do for Bill to amend his memory—and begun to compose herself.  She knew well enough that she'd been called for the minute the battle was over, and she would need the time to compose herself.  No matter how many times she saw people killed, she never did get used to it.  She could never steel herself entirely, never got used to seeing their souls wink out.  The river dreams were long gone, and now she dreamed about the fading light of men's eyes.  She often woke, gasping and shivering, from nightmares in which it was James who lay dying on the deck.

Eventually the cannons fell silent, and Stella clenched her fists in her skirts.  Everything but her hair went still—she'd stopped bothering to control her hair, most of the time, except when there were other humans about.  She needed her composure for too many other things to waste her willpower on her hair.  On a ship such as this, no one batted an eye anyway.

Bill sat next to her, and put an arm around her shoulders.  She didn't react, but drew strength from the contact.  Bill was her only ally on this floating hell, and even though she found his constant focus on his son tiring and was sick of repeating her meagre stories about William Turner every night, she was coming to depend on him for comfort and for the simple knowledge that there was at least one person here who didn't wish her at the bottom of the sea.

"You're strong, Stella," Bill whispered hoarsely to her.  She'd given him leave to call her Stella within the first week of her tenure here—it seemed stupid to stand on formality when they shared the same cell, and it was nice to have a place where she could be just Stella; Jones fenced with Black Stella, Beckett's people dealt with Mrs. Norrington, but down in the damp with only Bill she could be herself.  "Don't let him get to you.  He'd do this anyway, if you were here or not."

That makes it no easier, she thought to herself.  I still have to watch them die.

Soon enough, there came the sounds of stomping feet down the stairs, and—oh no—Jimmylegs opened the door to the brig.  Stella was already up and moving by the time the door swung open; previous experience showed that if she didn't, he would come in and drag her out.  It was best to just get up quickly and forestall at least one indignity.

The bo'sun grabbed her skinny arm—thinner now than ever before—and dragged her up the stairs.  It was useless to protest that she could walk on her own; Jones' crew simply wanted an excuse to hurt her.  And they did; she'd run out of the balm she made for bruises within the first week.

The sunlight hit her eyes and she flinched; living in near-constant dimness made the adjustment to daylight difficult.  Sure enough, there was another ship floating off the side of the Dutchman (although, by the looks of this one, Beckett would have to shell out quite a bit of money to keep it afloat after all the cannon damage) and another group of crewmen kneeling on the deck.

She faltered for a moment, taking in that group.  Among them was a cabin boy, no more than ten.  He was dark-skinned and trembling, and Stella ached for him, in the private corner of her heart that still grieved for Jack Osborn.  Surely, Jones wouldn't...

"Ah, Mrs. Norrington," Jones greeted her gleefully.  "These here are the crew of the Olamide.  And they're going to die."

"Yes, I believe I've comprehended the finer nuances of the situation by now," Stella sneered in return.  The relationship between Davy Jones and herself had changed from bare civility over seething loathing to cheerful viciousness on his part and defensive sneering on hers.  Still with the seething loathing, of course.

"Not this one," Jones smirked.  "Not all these men will die.  You choose."

Stella froze.  "I beg your pardon?"

"Come now, wretch, your wits are usually sharper than this," Jones taunted.  "You get to choose... mmm, let's say five.  Five of these men we'll spare from the blows of our swords and axes.  Five men who'll leave this ship alive.  Your choice."

She felt very cold, even in the midday sun.  "You say they'll leave the ship alive.  I suppose the next question would be where they will leave the ship, and how long they shall live after departing," she commented woodenly.

Jones had a nasty little smile on his lips.  "Ah, but will you ruin their hope of survival?" he asked quietly.

Hope, Stella thought.  There is no hope on this ship.  Yes, Jones said they'd leave the ship alive.  However, he could throw them overboard to drown, and still keep his word. The word of a monster was worth less than nothing.

However, that thought had apparently bypassed the defeated crewmembers, for they were muttering and shifting hopefully.  They turned their eyes to her, imploring, pleading with her to choose them, to prolong the inevitable, to alter the fate of dying on the deck of a ghost ship.  I can't save you, she thought.  I can't prolong life but for mere moments.  Don't trust his promise.  You may leave the ship alive, but you will die within a day of doing so—count on it.  Don't look to me; I can do nothing for you.

"I thought you generally asked them if they feared death," she remarked diffidently, while inwardly shuddering.  Perhaps some of her curses had caused a death or two in years past, but the recipients of them had always deserved it, had always been seeking to hurt her.  She was just defending herself.  And anyway, that death—if indeed there was a death; there was no telling if anything she did had ever caused a loss of life... there was no proof that anything she had ever done was fatal to anyone else—was always distant from her.  She'd never had to watch it before.  She'd never had to see it, choose it, take responsibility for it.

...James was right.  She was a bad person.

She'd never felt it so keenly as she did now.

"I've got crew enough," Jones shrugged.  "Make your choice, witch.  Five."  He made the word stretch into two syllables, instead of one.

"It will make no difference," she whispered as their eyes turned to her, imploring, worshipping.  She had become their goddess in the last few minutes, a goddess whose favour would spare them the sword.  A false goddess, with no power at all.

Jones arched a brow.  "Then I'll kill them now, shall I?"  He gestured suddenly, and the crew raised their swords.

The kneeling men cried out in fear, and Stella flung out a hand.  "No!" she bid desperately.  "No, I'll choose.  But at least give them a raft, for God's sake," she added in a quiet hiss.

"Five," was all the response she got.

"The boy," Stella said after a moment, pointing to him.  "The boy lives.  As does this one," gesturing to a man with caramel-coloured skin and lazy black curls and a spirit as pure and fiery the sun, "and him," to an older sailor with smile-lines all around his mouth and soul marked by wisdom, "and that one," towards a man whose gentle spirit shone out from his dark eyes, "and this last," choosing as the final man a sailor who, she could see, loved to feed stray animals and could charm birds into his hands.  "They will live."

Jones snapped his claw, and the crew of the Dutchman dragged her chosen five away and threw them at Stella's feet.  The unlucky were felled immediately thereafter by the cruel blades of Jones' crew.

She didn't want to watch, but kept her eyes on the carnage—the one time she had tried to avert her gaze, Jones had taken her neck in his claw and hissed into her ear, "You will watch this."  This was a show put on for her benefit, and it went worse for the dying should she turn away.  Then, instead of hacking off their heads, Jones' crew severed body parts.  Her witness provided them a quicker death than would otherwise be given.

The five she had chosen huddled near her feet.  The boy clutched at her damp, dirty skirts and whimpered as his crewmates met their end; the older ones simply sighed or winced.  The eldest murmured a prayer quietly.  Stella stood above them, as though she'd been carved of stone—though truly, she was made of nothing more substantial than air.

Once the massacre was completed, and the bodies thrown unceremoniously overboard, Jones turned back to Stella and her five survivors.  "These five will leave the ship alive, as I promised," the captain assured her maliciously.  "Chuck 'em overboard!"

The men shouted and yelled and cried out their protestations even as they were dragged towards the rail by the crew of the Dutchman.  But they were halted—predictably, perhaps; Jones had likely instructed them beforehand—by Stella's scream.  "Stop!"

She turned her eyes to Jones.  "Look to the spirit of the promise and not the letter of it," she implored swiftly.  "Give them a boat or a raft or something that they might have the hope of reaching land."

"And why should I do that?" Jones inquired idly, but the glee in his electric blue eyes was telling.  He wanted something from her—something to cause her even more pain.

"There's something you want from me," Stella replied, her usual subtleties gone by the wayside in her attempts to save the lives of the child and the other decent sailors.  Trying so hard to salvage something from the great, overwhelming sea of failure, pain, and death that her life had so recently become.  "I will give it, if you let them live."

"And if I ask for your firstborn?" Jones asked, pointing at the swell of her belly.

Stella was able to dredge up sufficient humour to snort sarcastically.  "My firstborn will be a girl.  I highly doubt you would have the slightest interest in hosting a baby girl in your ship.  Besides," she added quietly, "she isn't mine to give."  The baby was not only hers, she was James' too.

"Admiral keeps you on a tight leash," Jones leered.  Stella didn't even bother to dignify that with a glare, and continued to stand resignedly before him.  "As it happens, harpy, there is something I want from you: truth.  Blunt, painful truth.  I'll ask you five questions.  You'll answer with complete truth.  In return, they get a raft."

"Raft first," Stella insisted, feeling deep dread in the pit of her stomach, and wondering idly if Davy Jones even knew her name.

Jones rolled his eyes, but turned to his crew and bellowed, "Build a raft, maggots!"

The mutated being scurried to obey their captain, but Stella kept her eyes on Jones.  "And your inquiries?"

"Will wait," he replied gleefully.  He stumped closed and loomed over her.  "Make no mistake," he added, quiet and venomous, "I want everyone to hear your answers."

Stella knew she was paling—as much as she could, anymore, given that her skin was already as pale as sour milk due to the lack of sun in her life lately—but she couldn't help it. She couldn't hide how she dreaded baring her secrets for all the crew to hear.  Her heart and its truths were things she shrouded in secrecy and hid away from the world—very few people were privileged enough to receive the unvarnished truth from her lips.  It was just another form of defence.  And now she was going to lower those defences to save the lives of men she'd never met and would never see again...

Jones, correctly interpreting the look on her face, just chortled a bit and limped off to supervise the construction of the raft, leaving Stella standing stock-still in the middle of the deck.

"Ma'am?"

She turned to see the five men she saved on their feet, staring at her with naked awe and gratitude in their eyes.  She tried a smile, but she was afraid it was a sickly and wan thing, barely more than a grimace.  "Yes?"

"We—dat's me and de others—we jest wanted to t'ank you for what you did," the eldest sailor explained—the older man with the silvery hair and the smile lines carved into his dark skin.

"You're quite welcome," Stella replied faintly.

"Woss your name, Ma'am?" the same man asked politely.

"I am Mrs. Stella Norrington.  And yourselves?"

The eldest was called Luke—no surname.  Stella could see that he had been a slave on Barbados before escaping out to sea.  The gentle one, tall and graceful with very dark skin, was called Shehu, and he was from West Africa.  The man with the caramel skin was a mulatto from the southernmost of the 13 colonies, called himself Neddy Penrose (Stella knew he'd taken his surname, along with a good deal of money, from his father and former master).  The man who loved animals was half-Spanish, half-French and named Miguel Peréz.  And the boy—son of two runaway Jamaican slaves—was Jack Fletcher.

Stella tried not to wince.  At least she would be able to save this one.  "You will have your raft," she said quietly.  A moment to call the wind to her, and process what information it brought her.  "Go west.  Your best chance for land lies in that direction."

She tugged a few strings loose from her dress—it really was starting to fall apart; she'd have to ask the next captain in the visiting rotation to tell the next to get her some more clothing, otherwise she'd be in rags and tatters in no time—and began to make a haphazard sort of wind-string.  It wasn't her best work, but it would propel them west.  Then she used a bit of fabric she tore off the bottom of her dress to make several squall strings—a less well-known trick of hers, which would call up a squall and dump rain on the holder of the string for at least a half-hour.  Most captains had provisions, and only kept these around for emergencies; however, the men on the raft would need water desperately.

When she was finished—and it took her nearly as long to make the strings as it did for Jones' crew to cobble together the raft (and she wasn't sure if that spoke well of her or ill of them)—she handed the strings and tattered cloth to Luke.  "These are wind," she said, tapping the strings, "and these will bring rain.  Use them sparingly."

"Thanky, Missus," he said gratefully, ducking his head reverently.

"You Black Stella, Ma'am?" came the query from Neddy.

Stella smiled bitterly, and didn't even bother to chastise him for the use of the moniker.  "I was, before I got married."  Though she'd hated it at the time, being Black Stella had been so easy—it had been easy to be the ruler of her tiny kingdom, easy to cow all those who came before her and strike at those who thought to harm her.  Easy to be alone, and care for no one.

A bitterness stronger than she'd even known suddenly rose up from the depths of her being, and she felt as though she was choking on it.        She should have just bitten her tongue, swallowed her bile, and stayed on Tortuga.  Anything would be better than this.

"Dey hurt you, Missus?" asked Shehu softly, eyes lingering on the scrapes and bruises that littered Stella's pale skin.

"Every day," she responded, in what was meant to be blithe unconcern, but which was far too choked up.  Her control was shredded.

"You save us, we save you," Shehu said, in his deep voice.  "We sail under a Pirate Lord—"

"Which one?" Stella interrupted quickly.

"Why you care, Señora?" replied Miguel warily.

She stepped closer to them, and lowered her voice.  "Whoever he—or she—is, warn him.  Lord Cutler Beckett seeks the Pirate Lords.  I know not for what purpose Beckett seeks, but he does, relentlessly, and the Flying Dutchman sails under his command."  Something occurred to her—a faint nudge from her supernatural senses, and she opened her mouth to sing quietly, "The king and his men stole the queen from her bed, and bound her in her bones..."

The suspicion cleared from the sailors'—pirates', if they recognised it—eyes, and they nodded.  "The Song," Luke murmured.  "It's been sung."

"Yes.  Warn your Lord," Stella insisted.  If Beckett was going to do so very little to protect her, if he let this happen to her, why should she help him?  Why should she not hinder him when she could?  She wanted him to fail.  She wanted him as frustrated and hopeless as she was.  And while she could not strike at him herself, she could give others the tools to do so.

"An' you?" Shehu insisted.  "You touched by de spirit world.  You oughta be treated as de goddess you are, not kept as de slave of dese monsters."

"Come with us," little Jack piped up, surprising everyone.

It was tempting—so very tempting.  Jones would probably let her leave, with the double incitements of getting her off the ship and spitting metaphorically in Beckett's face.  She'd be safe and free—or at least safer and freer than here.

But what about James? whispered a tiny voice in her mind.  What will happen to him if you vanish?  Who will protect him from Beckett, if not you?  What about Isaac?  Who will rein in his temper if not you?  What about your conspiracy?  Who will hold it together, if not you?  What about Beckett himself?  Who will thwart his plans, if not you?

Stella swallowed her misery and took a deep breath.  "I thank you for the offer, young one, but I cannot.  I am chained here, sure as anything."  She placed her thin, parchment-white hand on his shoulder.  "You must escape, and live.  Warn the Lords if you wish, but above all else, survive.  I am going to be showing that... creature..." referring to Jones, "...the most vulnerable places in my heart in return for your lives.  Do not waste them."

The five still stared at her as though she was a sainted being come to earth to bless them, or as if she were the heroine from an Arthurian romance, trapped in a tower and awaiting rescue.  (And she was, of course, but she would only suffer one man to save her.  If he didn't come, she'd save herself.)  It was a combination of awe, reverence, and adoration that had never been truly directly towards her before, and part of her liked it—it was a balm on the realisation that she was, deep down, really a rather awful person.  Here were men who didn't care that she had let others die without batting an eye—they only cared that she had chosen to save them at the expense of her secrets.

She sealed the expressions on their faces in her mind, burned the image in her heart as a talisman—this was why she was going to give her truths to Davy Jones, to save these decent men, these men who scraped a modicum of honour and goodness from a life of piracy and the child who had not yet seen enough of the world, and for the way they looked at her right now.

"We won't forget," Neddy promised.

"'So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, so long lives this, and this gives life to thee,'" Stella murmured absently.

Further conversation was negated by the intrusion of Davy Jones, who stumped over and bellowed, "Raft's ready!"  He extended the hand with the long tentacle, saying, "I've kept to my part, hag—now you keep to yours."

"A pact?" Stella inquired, raising a brow.

"Aye.

So, Stella took his hand (trying not to grimace at the feeling of cold, slimy skin beneath hers) and swore to tell the truth to the next five questions Jones asked her, provided that he did as he promised; Jones wrapped his index tentacle around her wrist and swore that he would put the five survivors on a raft and set them loose without any further meddling, provided that Stella answered his next five questions truthfully.  They finished it off with a "So mote it be", at which point Davy Jones received the sensation of static electricity all over his skin, and Stella's hair twitched while the hand in Davy Jones' got exponentially more slimy.

The two released their hands, and both wiped their appendages discreetly while eyeing the other suspiciously.

Soon, however, Jones was looking absolutely gleeful, grinning widely as his betentacled beard squirmed merrily on his chest.  The rest of the crew gathered round, elbowing each other and leering excitedly at Stella and her chosen five.  "Question one: why did Beckett place you on this ship?" the Captain demanded.

"I honestly don't know," Stella replied—and that was true.  She held up her hand when Jones moved to protest, and added, "That is the God-given truth, Captain.  I honestly don't know why he put me here.  I can only theorise."

"Then do so.  You're clever—let's hear what you think," Jones ordered sardonically, making his crew snicker.

"I think he put me here because he hates me.  I think he put me here because he controls the behaviour of Admiral Norrington and by using me against him, and vice versa.  My presence here ensures the Admiral's compliance with all of Beckett's orders, and likewise the Admiral's presence away from me ensures my obedience  Should either of us misbehave, the other will suffer.  I also believe," she added slowly, knowing that she had to be completely truthful or suffer the consequences of oathbreaking, "that Beckett thinks Admiral Norrington and I will conspire against him if left to our own devices together on land."  She smoothed her skirts.  "There is the truthful answer to your first question, Captain Jones."

"Here's the second: why does Beckett hate you?"

Stella narrowed her eyes thoughtfully.  "There are many reasons," she hedged for a moment, collecting her thoughts.  "Perhaps most importantly, he hates me because I have a power he does not.  He despises with a furore borne of jealousy all those who have paranormal abilities and talents—perhaps because his mother, who was supernaturally inclined, was disappointed and disdainful that he was not.  I also believe he hates me because I refuse to submit to him.  I will not be of my own will that which he wishes me to be—which is utterly acquiescent to him and all his whims.  I will not place myself entirely at my disposal, and for that he hates me.  There was also," she added reluctantly, knowing that speaking this would but confirm Jones' silly theories but knowing as well that it needed to be spoken under the terms of her oath, "a proposal of marriage from him to me, tendered while I was engaged to the Admiral."  Sure enough, Jones was smirking as though he'd been proved right.  "I refused him, naturally, since I was already promised to another, and though I was led to believe there were no hard feelings between us, it is possible—though unlikely—that Beckett yet resents the rejection.  Personally, I believe the proposal was simply another attempt to subjugate the closest representation of the supernatural and place it under his control—it had nothing to do with me as a woman.  No, the surest reason for Beckett's hatred is because of what I am, intrinsically, and the fact that I will not bend to his every whim."

"Why won't you?" Jones asked, raising a brow and leering at her.

"Is this one of your questions?" Stella shot back, mirroring his expression.

Jones thought about that for a moment, narrowing his eyes at her, but eventually shook his head sharply.  "No.  I don't care that much—and anyway, I already know," he added darkly.  "You're a proud, disagreeable, perverse creature and won't do nowt but what you want."

"Guilty," Stella replied lightly.

The Captain sneered at her.  "Third question: who's sprog is it?" he demanded, jabbing his crab claw at her middle.

Stella rolled her eyes.  "For the fifth—and hopefully final—time, the child I carry is Admiral James Norrington's," she answered tartly.  "The answer won't change, no matter how many times you ask."

Jones looked disappointed.  He'd been asking her, randomly and often, who had fathered her child—did he think she would change her answer if surprised?  Honestly. Well, now he had her oath-given word that her daughter was no bastard.  Hopefully now he'd stop asking.

Davy Jones rallied admirably, however; his next question was open-ended.  "What do you fear?"

"Many things," Stella returned simply.  "I fear drowning. I fear disgrace and dishonour, and humiliation in all its forms. I fear loosing my social status, and being cast into the lowest level. I fear Beckett, and his power, and his purposes.  I fear love.  I fear losing control, over both myself and my circumstances.  I fear death, but only insofar as my family is concerned—not for myself, or a fear of what lies beyond.  I’m afraid of widowhood... of my daughter and I left unprotected against the word—and against Beckett.  I fear pain, physical and emotional.  I fear loneliness—not mere personal solitude, but being bereft of supernatural companionship."  Stella had forgotten that there was so much she feared, so much that she kept hidden inside herself—the oath drove her on to tell everything, though she made sure to be as vague as she could.  "I fear dying in childbirth, leaving my daughter to grow up without me to guide her.  I fear that my baby will come to harm due to Beckett's... plans.  I fear the same of my husband, and my brother.  I fear that Beckett will succeed, and what the world might look like then, and what my place in it might be.  I fear... loosing the esteem of those I esteem. And I fear that I am a much less virtuous person that I had previously supposed."

Jones still looked disappointed—was he upset that most of her fears were metaphysical, and thus impossible to use against her?  Stella felt vexed—she'd just bared one of the most private parts of herself for his perusal, and he was disappointed?

"You seem a creature of smoke and mirrors, harridan," Jones remarked thoughtfully, stumping over and perusing her from top to bottom.  Stella remained as she was, standing stock-still and ramrod-straight, staring straight ahead.  "Most that you fear is concerned with how others see you, how you show yourself.  I wonder," he remarked, coming very close behind her, close enough that the tentacles of his beard reached out for the at-the-moment-quiet locks of her hair, "I wonder what would happen if I were to expose you."

Stella snorted, to conceal the compulsive twitch of her hands.  "How think you to expose me when you don't know what you intend to expose?  Questions aside, Captain, you truly have no idea who I truly am, or what I hide behind my 'smoke and mirrors'," she drawled in return.

Jones had a point, though.  She hid so much... even from herself.  What was she, deep down inside, truly?

She hurt.  This had been such an unpleasant day, full of death, hard choices, emotional exposure and, most painfully, the dawning knowledge that she was not as virtuous as she had thought.  She had concealed so much from herself that it had come as an unwelcome surprise, drawn from her by Davy Jones, of all people.  Stella just wanted to go back to the quiet darkness of the brig and lick her wounds; it felt like her soul had been drawn over a carpet of broken glass and nails.

And there was still one final question due to Davy Jones.

Jones limped around to face her again; he was, like most men she encountered, taller than she, and he stared down into her face with piercing eyes.  Stella wondered, once again, if he could see anything in her.

"Final question," Stella noted quietly.

"Final question," Jones agreed, grinning.  "Tell me, witch: are you in love with your husband?"

All the colour washed right out of Stella's face, and she couldn't disguise the way her hands trembled or the quick intake of breath she couldn't help.  Why did he have to ask her this?  This was information she never wanted to see the light of day, and handing it to Jones was issuing an invitation for later pain.  But she couldn't lie, couldn't evade or avoid... could do nothing but give the simple answer that Jones demanded.

"Yes," she whispered.

The sadistic glee that lit Jones' blue eyes made her want to vomit.  "What's that, wretch?  I couldn't quite hear you," he commented brightly.

"Yes," Stella repeated, more strongly.

"Yes what?" Jones pressed, still grinning.

She gave him a poisonous glare.  "The answer to your question is yes," she replied, biting off her words viciously.  If she avoided saying the words, perhaps the truth behind them wouldn't hurt as much.

"And what was the question?" Jones seemed determined to pull it out of her, just to make it hurt—no need to wonder at his motivations, then.

"The question was whether or not I loved my husband," Stella replied stiffly.

"No, witch, the question was whether or not you are in love with him," Jones corrected her.  "There's a difference."

"Of which I am well aware," Stella snapped.

"And your answer?"

"Was yes, as you know full well."

"Yes to what?"

"Your question.  Captain, this is getting tiresome," Stella complained.

"Then give me what I want," Jones hissed.  "I want to hear you say it, for all the pain it will cause you."

She shot him a glare full of pure loathing.  "Yes, I am in love with Admiral James Norrington," she spat icily.  "Much good may the knowledge do you!"

"It causes you pain and makes you afraid—that's enough good right there," Jones smirked.  "Thank you kindly, harpy, for your honesty," he added sarcastically.

Stella could only fume in silent, frustrated fury.  Her chosen five, who had stood behind her and offered their support, as much as they could, were bidden harshly to board the raft and get gone to the devil, or wherever else they might go.  She accompanied them to the rail, and watched with angry, frustrated longing as they prepared to depart, to do what she could not.

"Thanky, Missus," said the elder Luke, sketching her a bow.

"God bless ye, Ma'am," Neddy murmured as he passed.

"We won't forget," added little Jack, staring worshipfully up at her.

"Sí, señora," Miguel confirmed reverently.  "Vaya con Díos."

Shehu was the last to board.  "Dere's no shame in love, Lady," he said quietly.  And before she could reply, he was gone.

Jones let her stay on deck as the Dutchman sailed away, and she watched, wistful and angry at once, as the raft receded into the distance.  She could make out little Jack waving at her for a time, before another—Luke, she thought—made him sit.

Part of her wished fervently that she was going with them.

Soon enough, she was shoved back down the stairs and tossed back in the brig, feeling ragged and worn.  Bill came to her immediately, asking worriedly, "What happened?"

His compassion and friendship was the last straw.  Stella looked at him, in the darkness of their shared accommodations, and whimpered, "I’m a bad person."  And then she started crying.

Bill immediately embraced her—at least, as much as he could, with all the coral.  "Hush now, love, hush.  You're not a bad person, not at all," he crooned soothingly, rocking her back and forth.

But Stella was beyond consolation, beyond any self-control, and kept shedding hot tears into Bill's chest.  No matter what he said, she knew the truth: she was a bad person.

She just hadn't seen it before now.

 

Since that day, she was often forced to choose who would live and die among the captive crews.  Occasionally she gave more of her secrets—Jones now knew far more than he ought about the state of the feelings between her and James—but that had come to a stop recently.  Not only were the men on the ships declining in decency, she was running out of secrets.  She merely suggested that they remain with their ships until Beckett arrived.  Jones agreed—probably since both of them knew that the East India Company would just execute them anyway.  However, Stella found it increasingly difficult to care.

She was aware that this unwillingness to save her fellow man was simply more evidence that she was a bad person, but she could not bare her entire soul to Davy Jones.  She didn't have the courage.  And anyway these were people she didn't know, or care about, and who were brigands and lawbreakers anyway...

She was a bad person.

Since that day, Stella had done some soul-searching, and grown steadily more morose.  Perhaps it was partially due to the mood-swings inspired by her advancing pregnancy, but her depression was inspired mostly by the knowledge of her own inadequacy.  It was a devastating hit to her pride, which was one of the only things that kept her going nowadays.

So perhaps it was no wonder that Stella was beginning to fray at the seams, and that her control over her emotions was becoming very, very tenuous.

And it was in this state—this weakened, stressed, emotionally vulnerable state—that she received word of James' impending visit.

Chapter Text

Bootstrap Bill Turner was worried about Stella.

He'd watched her composure slip further and further as time passed.  He was loosing count of the nightmares he woke her from at night, and oftimes lately, when coming back from a meeting with Jones, she'd start weeping the minute they were alone.  She was jumpy and startled easily; her hands were unsteady.  And she was sad—deeply sad, down in her heart.

He wished there was something he could do for her.  But there was nothing—they were prisoners here, and them who came at Beckett's behest cared nothing for Stella's plight.  Bill could do nothing but watch her collapse inwardly and give her what comfort was in him to provide.  It wasn't much.  And thus, he worried.

It was natural worry, he figured (and which he intended to tell anyone who might ask).  Aside form William's brief visit, she was the only meaningful human contact he'd had since taking the oath to the Dutchman.  He shared his space with her, spent almost every moment of every day with her.  Stella Norrington was all that was keeping him sane, and connected to the pithy remnants of his humanity.

The fact that he was probably a little in love with her was a fact he intended to tell no one.  If Jones got wind of it, it would be a world of pain for both of them.  And Stella was in enough pain at the moment.

Within the privacy of his head, however, Bill was honest enough to admit that the love he felt for her was the reason he was unhappy about her husband's impending visit.

He should've been happy about it.  Here was someone coming to look on the lady who actually cared that Jones was tormenting her, that her clothing was dirty and ragged, that she never got enough to eat, and that she was living in the brig.  Someone who cared that she was miserable.  Someone who cared that the Flying Dutchman was no place for a lady, let alone a lady four or five months gone with child.

...Someone who could take her away.

Bill cursed himself for a fool whenever this thought surfaced in his mind.  He ought to be happy to see her go.  This was no place for any lady, and Jones hated Stella especially.  He ought to be looking for the fastest way to get her away, ought to be stealing her a boat like he did for William, or at least ought to be cheering for anyone who could take her back to the warm and dry rooms she deserved.

But... but she'd become his touchstone, letting him cling to the things that mattered.  She made things more real, linked him to the outside world, reminded him that it existed.  She reminded him that William was out there, somewhere, working to free him.  She reminded him that Jones had been wrong, and his son was still alive—Stella had told him that, had brought him out of despair.  She remained a physical reminder of his son's existence outside this ship; Stella knew him, knew William, had seen him alive.  In some ways, Bill felt that as long as Stella was alive, part of William was still with him.

And she was also the only woman he'd talked to in... oh, nigh on fifteen years.  The only woman he'd touched in fifteen years.  The only woman he remembered at all, really—Kate was nothing more than a name and a faint recollection of dark eyes, now.

It was... nice.   It was nice, to have some companionship.  It was nice to have her tell him what she knew about William, even if it wasn't much.  It was nice to hear her chatter on about what she was discovering about the ship (something about enchantments and perversions and curses driven by love that Bill didn't really understand but liked to hear about anyway).  It was nice to watch her scribble in her notebooks and peer through that glass around her neck at the cell around them.  It was nice to watch her ration her limes, and eagerly peel and eat one every day, as though it were a treat of some kind.  And it was marvellous to be witness to her pregnancy.

Bill still remembered the first moment she'd felt the child move inside her.  Stella's black eyes had lit up like the night sky, and she'd smiled—really, truly smiled, in a way that made him realise that what he thought had been smiles were just pale reflections of the real expression.  And then she'd grabbed his hand and put it to her belly, asking if he could feel it too.  He'd been able to feel the heat of her skin through the damp cloth, but no stirring from the child within.  Bill had considered teasing her that if she got out of the heavy dress he might be able to, and had been ashamed at how much the idea of Stella in nothing but a wet, white shift appealed to him—she was a lady, a married lady, growing heavy with another man's child.

Bill had simply shrugged a little and said that he couldn't feel it.  Stella's smile hadn't diminished; instead, it had turned a little mysterious, a womanly secret hidden in the corners of her lips, as she said simply, "I can."

He kept the memory of those two smiles close to his heart.

So perhaps it was natural that he was a little resentful that another man was to come and intrude on his and Stella's little world.  Even worse, it was the man Stella loved, although her manner of being in love with a man was unlike any other he'd seen.  She seemed terrified of the feeling, refused to talk about the object of her affections, and was horrified that the recipient of her heart might discover that he had it.  When she heard that Admiral Norrington was to visit, all the colour washed right out of her already-pale face and she had to sit down on the bunk.

"No," she'd whispered.  "No, he mustn't come.  He mustn't see me like this."  Then she'd flinched a little, and drew into herself.

"Don't you want to see him?" Bill had asked her, a little confused.

Stella's black eyes had been bleak and despairing.  "Yes," she replied, voice hoarse.  The longing contained in that one word was... painful, both to him and to her.  "But... but like this?" she added, gesturing at herself.

Bill looked her up and down.  It was true he thought she was lovely—of course, she was the only woman he'd seen in fifteen years.  But it was also true that she was very thin, that her hair was loose and lank and writhing free, that her clothing was dirty and ragged, that her skin was just as dirty, and that she just seemed... tired.  Tired and bone-weary.  Not, he admitted, the most attractive of combinations.

"If he loves you, he won't care," Bill pointed out, not bothering to clarify which "he" he truly meant.

Stella laughed bitterly.  "Aye, there's the rub," she scoffed.  "Bill, he doesn't love me.  As a matter of fact," she added acidly, "he's in love with your William's Elizabeth.  And he has been for as long as I've known him.  I married him knowing it.  If that knowledge hurts me now, it's only my own fault."

"You're too young to be that bitter," Bill remarked, wanting desperately to touch her, stroke her hair and soothe her, but knowing enough of Stella that now was not a good time.  She was feeling savage, and would strike at any and all who came too near.

Of course, he also desperately wanted to know something about Elizabeth.  William loved her, and apparently so did the Admiral.  What kind of woman was she, the girl who would be his daughter-in-law if the Turners were anything like a normal family?  What kind of woman was she, to make so many love her?  How did she come to choose William out of all who sought her favour?

He knew well enough not to ask.

Stella gave him a withering look, but he had apparently distracted her out of her melancholy, and that day held no more conversation about the coming of the Admiral.  But Bill could see how she worried at it.  There'd been a week between the arrival of the news and the actual arrival of the person, and Stella hadn't been herself for one moment of it.

The day he was to arrive, Stella marshalled what water they could and had a spit-bath in the corner of the brig.  Usually, Bill was gentlemanly enough to keep his eyes away from her, but that day—perhaps the last day, because surely Admiral Norrington would spirit his wife away the moment he saw the conditions she was living in—Bill allowed himself to sneak a peek or two.  Stella might be the last woman he'd see for the next fifteen years—or forever.  And even if William succeeded in freeing him from the Dutchman, he'd never see her again, never see black-haired Stella.  She was an Admiral's wife, and he was a pirate, a dead man walking.  So he peeked.

She was so pale, and Bill could see the shadows of her veins.  Her white skin stretched over thin, delicate bones; he could see the curve of her back, the swell of breasts and belly. But under the pleasure he felt from looking at her was a gnawing concern.  She wasn't getting enough to eat.  As he glanced at her back, he could see the bumps of her spine, and when she pivoted left or right he could count her ribs.  Hard-tack, limes, tiny bits of dried meat, the occasional fish and what seaweed she could choke down were not enough for her. 

Bill looked away.  The Admiral had to take her home.  Stella wouldn't last much longer here, in these conditions.  Jones would hound her to death.

Oh, but how he would miss her.

He helped her lace herself into the best dress she had left—it was yellow and had the least amount of tears and stains.  But it was still ragged and dirty and fit her very ill around the middle... fit her ill everywhere, now that she was so thin.  He watched curiously as she made her writhing hair coil itself up onto the top of her head in the style of high-class ladies, leaving one lock to hang down her back and wind itself lazily into a curl.  In theory, anyway, Bill imagined.  She was apparently still nervous, and that tendril kept wiggling around, curling around her neck, making her silver bells chime—and even more telling, Stella didn't bother coaxing it to stillness.

"You look beautiful," Bill said quietly.  It was the only thing he could think of that wouldn't reveal too much.

But quicksilver Stella always saw more than others.  She glanced at him, a medley of expressions passing over her face—surprise, understanding, pain, pity, horror, compassion, and longing all in a span of mere moments.  Then she smiled sadly.  "If only James could see me with your eyes," she murmured forlornly.

And in that moment, Bootstrap Bill Turner hated Admiral James Norrington.


James wasn't feeling patient, and had blithely ignored the duty roster.  He was going to see Stella, Beckett's schedule be damned.

It had taken him a day or so to find a ship with enough free time to take him out to the Dutchman.  Yes, as Admiral, he could have just ordered the most convenient one, but James didn't want to make too many ripples.  If he did this discreetly, without flinging too much of his weight around, Beckett would not forbid him.

The irony of this was not lost upon him.

But the captain of the Fearless, which was one of the navy's ships and not one of Beckett's conscripts, was willing to take the Admiral to the Dutchman on its own time, and not under the duty roster.  Captain Lennox was also one of the old guard who had sailed under James when he was Commodore.  While Lennox wasn't part of the Greek Fire yet—the last of the old guard that wasn't, as a matter of fact—James had high hopes that he could be swayed, perhaps on this voyage.

James wasn't sure how he'd find Stella, but his gut instinct was that she would not be well.

Caroline d'Ascoyne and Anne Witcher had put together a box of things they thought Stella might like—small cakes, scented soaps, a bottle of the gardenia water Stella favoured, a small cushion... all those little luxuries that ladies enjoyed and which were absent on the Dutchman.  James, though he had decided to take her off the ship and hide her away if he found her ill-treated, made up a care-package himself—biscuits, some bread, a new woollen shawl, salted pork, boiled eggs, and a variety of fruits Stella liked.  Isaac was out at sea hunting pirates at the moment, or he would have surely have contributed.  Or bullied his way along.

So James set off, small crate in tow, fretting all the way.  Would Stella be all right?  Or was he overreacting?  What if he wasn’t overreacting?  What would Beckett do if James defied him, and hid Stella away?  Where would he hide her, for that matter?  Would Stella even consent to being hid?  Was there no one to whom he could send her?

Lennox sensed his tension, and James knew the man was boiling with questions.  But he would wait to sway Lennox to their side until discerning if Stella was well or not.  She might place the welfare of their conspiracy to overthrow Beckett above her own health and his wishes, but James would not.  There were few things he valued in the world anymore; his recently regained rank was one, the men under his command the other, and Stella was the third (especially since he only had the previous two things due to Stella anyway).  The conspiracy would be for nothing if she was dead at the end of it.

The Dutchman was moored within sight of an island—one of the Caymans, James noted distantly—as the Fearless sailed up.  Lennox was shouting orders and readying the marines, while James stood in his usual place at the rail of the quarterdeck, brooding grimly and glaring at the offending ship.  It brought nothing but misfortunes in its wake.

"You’re a week early," was all Jones said once James was standing before him, Lennox at his side, supported by an entire squadron of marines.

"I'm not here on a schedule.  I've come to see my wife," James replied think coldly.

Jones raised a brow (or, at least the part of his face that was the equivalent thereof).  "Have you, now?" he inquired curiously.  "You took your time coming around to it.  Your poor Missus must think you don't love her," he added, a slight taunting note in his voice.

James frowned slightly—what did he mean by that?  But he ignored it, and went on.  "Where is she?"

"Been keeping her belowdecks," Jones replied lightly, but with an excited light in his blue eyes that made James feel uneasy.  "The crew don't like having a live lady aboard.  We keep her tucked away for her own safety.  I'll show you down," he offered magnanimously.

That set off warning bells in James' head.  Davy Jones was many things, but magnanimous was not one of them.  Stella's quarters below must be awful, and Jones was looking forward to seeing his reaction, perhaps.  Or perhaps he was hoping James would slip and break his neck on the way down.

Signalling to Lennox to accompany him with a few marines, James followed Jones below.  The Captain of the Dutchman went slowly, exaggerating his limp and chatting in what must have passed for amiable in his mind, though it was obvious that he was digging for information.  "S'been more than a month with the... woman... aboard," Jones remarked, and James had a feeling he censored himself from calling Stella something more foul.

"So it has," James agreed dryly.

"She's well," Jones added, although he sounded as though he wished fervently that this was not so.

"I'm sure she is.  If she isn't, I'll know why," James returned, smiling tightly.

Jones' beard twitched.  "Gotten big with child, she has," he commented after a moment, ducking through a doorway festooned with mussels and seaweed.

"As I expected," James said mildly.

"She says it's yours."

A spike of anger rose and receded.  "She is correct," he bit out through clenched teeth.

"I'd wondered, y'see," Jones went on, as though James hadn't spoken, "since you left her here.  Thought you wanted to have her put away—figured you didn't love her anymore."

There was that insinuation again—did Jones somehow know of his love, yet lingering, for Elizabeth Swann?  Was that why he kept implying that he didn't love Stella?  "Mrs. Norrington's placement here was decided upon without any input of my own," James replied icily.  "I would like nothing better than to remove her back to Jamaica and the comfort of our home.  If I find her unwell, I will do so. Lord Beckett and his orders can go straight to the devil."

Jones raised a brow and grinned.  "Promise?"

The alarm bells got louder.  The only reason for such a promise would be if Stella was unwell, and Jones knew she was unwell.  James surged forward, meaning to pass Jones on the way down the stairs, but the monstrous captain moved swiftly to block James' progress with his crab-claw arm, and then moved to bring their faces closer together.  "Careful, Admiral—you don't know where she is.  I could be keeping her in the bilges," Jones warned cheerfully.

"You wouldn't dare," James spat.  Then he calmed himself, mindful of Lennox and the others behind him.  "Let us speak plainly, Captain, and do away with these insinuations and threats."

Jones adopted an expression of bemused surprise, raising his brows and pursing his lips.  "You're a different sort from your witch," he remarked.  "You've got to pry the truth out of her—s'like getting barnacles off your hull.  It's nigh impossible to get past her smoke and mirrors.  But you cut straight to the heart of the matter, aiming for plain truth.  Is that how you live with her?  Can you see past her disguises?  Or does she hide everything from you, too?" he taunted.

James sneered at him.  "My relationship with my wife is none of your business," he replied coldly.  "What have you been doing to her?"

"Getting her to tell the truth, for once in her life," Jones answered darkly.

"I refuse to believe you can make such generalised statements about her nature in so short an acquaintance," James said sourly.  "And I would kindly appreciate if you would cease maligning my wife's character."

"Mmm, would you, now?" Jones asked, turning away and moving to continue down the stairs belowdecks.  "S'pose you would know her better than I... you married the wretched creature.  You know that she fears drowning?"

"Yes."  He didn't know where Jones was going with this.

"And that she favours passion-fruit over cake."

"Yes."  James had found Stella's choice for a favourite food to be particularly ironic.  He also had no idea why Jones chose to retain that particular titbit of information.

"And that your patron—" the word was spat out with particular venom, "offered to marry her."

James rolled his eyes.  "Yes.  Is there a point to this recitation of Mrs. Norrington's preferences, all of which, I can assure you, I am perfectly well aware?" he asked sharply.

Jones nodded sagely, stopping at a door similar enough to others James was familiar with for him to realise this was the Dutchman's brig.  As he fought down a surge of anger that Stella was being imprisoned, he nearly missed Jones' final commentary.  "T'was merely curious to see if you knew what your lady was."  The Captain paused.  "And if you knew that she's in love with you."

James nearly stumbled, but recovered in time to both avoid slamming into the door of the brig and catch the malicious little grin of Jones' face.  That he hadn't known.

The previous conversation made more sense, now—Jones was establishing his credibility as one familiar with Stella's secrets, so that if everything else he said was true, this must be also.  James was surprised, but didn't trust Jones well enough to take his word for Stella's feelings.   After all, Stella was afraid of love—aside from drowning, it was one of the most plain of her fears.  If Jones knew she feared submersion, there was no reason to think he didn't know that she feared love.  And Jones enjoyed making others as miserable as he.  If James went in and stuck his foot in due to Jones' false information, it would drive him and Stella apart and make them both miserable and Jones as happy as he was capable of getting.  Thus, he would do nothing, respond to nothing, until he spoke with Stella and had the truth from her.

But this must be why Jones kept insinuating that James didn't love Stella.  He must know that James didn't.

So James simply raised a brow at Jones, and gestured at the door to the brig.  "If you please, Captain?  I'd like to see my wife," he requested evenly.  Jones snorted a little, but unlocked the door and pushed it open, gesturing for James to enter.  "Keep it open," he added sternly.  "Captain Lennox, have your men guard the staircase.  Jones... feel free to return to the deck," James finished, with enough steel in his voice to indicate that it was more a command than a suggestion.

He didn't bother to turn and see if his orders were being obeyed—there, in the middle cell, he could see a familiar figure in a yellow gown; the one spot of light in the dim brig.  Stella.

His steps slowed as he approached her, and quickly took in her situation.  It was a cell, damp and dark and dank as so much of the ship, with coral and barnacles sprouting from the walls and the bars.  Her trunk was propped in the corner, and her black cloak (now faded to a dark brown, and looking much worse for the wear) spread on the one bunk in the cell.  And... there was someone else in there with her—one of Jones' crew, sitting in the corner of the bunk and glaring at him with faded blue eyes.  James dismissed him, and turned his eyes onto his wife.

Stella looked... awful.  Her skin had taken on the yellowish tinge of sour milk—a sure sign that she passed most her time here in the darkness of this damp cell.  She had lost weight—too much.  James could see her collarbones jutting prominently out from below her thin neck, and the bulge of her pregnant belly strained the waist of her dress even as the sleeves sagged around her skinny arms—skinny arms that were mottled with healing scrapes and fading bruises.  Her hands looked more like claws, and there were dark circles around her eyes, and her hair was less sleek and glossy, coiled on top of her head—and Stella didn't keep it under as tight control, since he could see it shifting around every so often.  And even the effortless, breezy poise she wore constantly seemed strained; her expressions seemed tighter than usual, and there was something... frail about her now.

James smiled half-heartedly.  "Hello, Starling.  You look..."

"Horrible.  Yes, I know," Stella replied, smiling in return and curling her talon-like fingers around to bars of her cell.  But there was something brittle in it.  She looked ready to shatter.  What had Davy Jones been doing to her, to replace proud, elegant, eternally-composed Stella with this tattered, nervous, desperately fragile creature?

He folded his fingers over hers—they were cold and clammy.  "Has it truly been so awful?" he asked quietly.

Stella's hand trembled a little, under his.  "Yes," was her hoarse reply.  A shaky, tremulous smile twitched across her pale face.  "I suppose you now have the pleasure of telling me 'I told you so'."

James grinned faintly.  "I told you so, Starling," he pointed out.  But the satisfaction he felt due to being able to get the better of her was muted by the straits she was in.

"It was worth it for a while," Stella muttered.

"What did you find out that made this," gesturing at her, "worth it?"

"The Flying Dutchman was first enchanted by a powerful, inhuman presence, but to what purpose I have not yet divined.  I believe it grants the captain of the vessel some augmented powers, and in linking himself to the ship gains a connection to make it do things it would not ordinarily do... such as sail underwater.  Davy Jones corrupted those enchantments, twisted them into something else.  I think it was a curse... frustrated love and all that," Stella explained, though her voice wobbled a little at the end.

James was unimpressed.  "I don't think it was worth it—these pithy titbits of information for however much you've suffered."

"It has to be worth it," Stella retorted lowly, "or it was all for nothing.  And anyway," she added, trying for lightness, "there's much more that I've discovered, but I didn't think you'd understand."  She paused, and swallowed.  "Will... will you take my notes back to Jamaica?  I... if I can't... if he won't let me... if they're destroyed or lost..."

"I'll take them—and you," he promised, making a decision.  "This is barbaric and unhealthy and I'm taking you away right now."  A flare of frantic hope lit in Stella's black eyes, and for some reason it made something in James' chest hurt.  He turned away, and called to Lennox, who still stood in the doorway.  "Lennox!  Bring the keys to this cell."  Lennox nodded, and signalled to the marines.  They tromped up the stairs, leaving James, Stella, two marines, and the unnamed man in the cell with Stella.

"Did Lord Beckett permit my departure?" Stella asked quietly, sounding hopeful and doubtful at once.

"Damn Lord Beckett," James dismissed.  "I'm your husband, and I say that you're leaving.  We'll have some time before Beckett knows... I'll find a safe place for you until we know how he'll react.  If he's reasonable, I will bring you back to Jamaica.  If not, then you'll stay hidden."

"Hidden where?" Stella asked, arching a brow and looking more like her old self.

"I haven't quite decided that yet," James admitted, stepping closer in an effort to keep their discourse private.  "Is there no one—"

"No," Stella said, shaking her head.  "There is no one.  Tia is in Singapore.  Isaac is part of the fleet.  Anne and Caroline live in Port Royal.  My family won't acknowledge me.  I have no one."

"Then you'll have to go to England, to my family," James sighed.  He only hoped they would take her in, but they had no other choice.

"The voyage to England is long," Stella pointed out softly.  "On an ocean controlled by Beckett.  I wouldn't make it.  And then he'd kill you for your disobedience."

"The old guard is behind me," James replied, sliding a hand through the bars of the cell and resting it on Stella's thin shoulder.  "If he kills me, he looses the loyalty of the navy."

"And if he but sets you up to be killed?" Stella asked, shivering.  "if he does it right, he binds the navy closer to him."  She shivered again, and compulsively stepped even closer, pressing herself against the bars in an effort to come nearer to him.   "No, we can't risk it."

"Stella," James said quietly, "the Greek Fire is worth nothing if you're not alive to cook it."

"Nor is there any point to cooking it if you're not alive to see it burn," she returned, just as quiet.  She looked up at him, and her control slipped for a moment.

And in that moment, James knew.

Davy Jones had been right.  Stella was in love with him.

There was no time to process this revelation, since Lennox returned with a ring of large iron keys.  James and Stella stepped away from each other as the Captain of the Fearless opened the door, whose hinges squealed in protest.

"Good day, Mrs. Norrington," Lennox said politely, though he couldn't hide the horror in his voice at beholding the manner in which Stella was quartered.  "How do you do?"

"Captain Lennox.  It's a pleasure, as always," Stella said, smiling.  Her composure wasn't all that it might be, but she still managed to carry across the impression of a society lady.  "I'm afraid I’m not quite well."

James stepped through and took a closer look at his wife's living quarters—and at her bunkmate, such as he was.  The crewman was sprouting coral on his shoulders and had a starfish and a variety of molluscs growing on his face.  There was something familiar about him, something James couldn’t quite put his finger one.  Perhaps it was just the virulent, venomous glare the "man" had fixed on him—God knows James had received enough of those in his lifetime.

Dismissing the crewman from his thoughts, James turned back to Stella, who was still chatting with Lennox.  He tapped his subordinate on the shoulder.  "A moment, if you please," he asked quietly.

Lennox nodded.  "Aye, sir.  Shall I have the men bring Mrs. Norrington's things down?" he asked, saluting.

"No, not yet," James dismissed.

"You brought me presents?" Stella asked, smiling a little, as Lennox retreated, leaving the two of them a bit of privacy.

"Yes.  Madame d'Ascoyne and Miss Witcher sent you several gifts as well."

"Do tell them thank you.  They are very good friends."

"Who is that?" James asked, jerking his chin towards the coral-bedecked crewman in the corner.  He was confused and suspicious when he saw Stella's already-pale face go even paler, and her hair twitch nervously.  Was the man in the corner a spy for Jones?  Had he harmed her?

Some of his worries were assuaged when Stella merely replied, "Another friend.  He, too, suffers Jones' displeasure, and remains in the brig as punishment.  He is the only being on board who has shown me any kindness at all."

James turned to address the starfish-man.  "Then you have my thanks, sailor," he called, nodding.

"Only the heartless are unmoved by her," was what the man replied, shrugging his coral-festooned shoulders a little.  His voice was hoarse, but grew more intent as his pale blue eyes moved to Stella.  "I do what I can for her comfort."

"And that means more to me than you will ever know," Stella said quietly, turning to meet the man's eyes.  They shared something—a moment of communion—and though James couldn't see Stella's face, he could see the crewman's.

The sailor was in love with Stella.

James felt tired, suddenly—Stella in love with him, this man in love with Stella, himself still in love with absent, lost Elizabeth Swann, Lord Beckett with an axe over them all... it was an absolute muddle.

"Does he have a name?" James asked, breaking the moment.  "Perhaps I might get Jones to relent in his anger, or provide some other benefit."

"I wasn't kind to her for profit," the crewman snapped hoarsely.  "I ask no reward, save her own well-being."

"Bill," Stella chided gently, turning back to James with her lips twisting sardonically.  "There is little that may be done to stay the Captain's anger, and no good will come of mentioning Bill's kindness to me.  Indeed, Jones will take it as a suggestion to be more unkind, and cause pain to us both," she said, shaking her head.  "Perhaps a proper introduction.  Bill, may I present my husband, Admiral James Norrington.  James, my friend, called Bootstrap Bill.  I'm not sure why, but that is his name."

Bill just nodded, before subsiding back into the corner.  "Take her away from this," he said, voice sounding hollow.  "This ship will kill her. Take her away."

The misery in Bill's voice was telling, and James was now even more certain that the man was in love with his wife.  He couldn't fault that, he supposed, especially since Bill apparently loved her enough to want her safe and elsewhere.  And James supposed that was another form of commentary on how unhealthy this environment was.

"There, you see?" James said, taking Stella's shoulders and drawing her near.  "Even he agrees with me.  You have to leave, Stella.  For the child.  For me."

"If I do that, I condemn you to death," she hissed back frantically.  "If I vanish, your life is forfeit.  Beckett will kill you to get me back.  And if not you, then Isaac.  He'll leave a trail of bodies in his search for me, and I cannot be party to it."  She was trembling fiercely now, like a leaf in the wind.  "I want to leave.  I want so much to leave.  But if I do, it means the death of my husband or my brother.  I cannot be that selfish.  Do not ask it of me.  Do not, please!"

James was shocked to see that she was near tears, and he drew her close and cradled her against his chest.  She felt so very frail.  "It's all right, Starling," he soothed quietly.  "It's all right."

"It's not all right," she mumbled into his chest, clutching at his arms with her bony fingers.  "Oh, God, it's not all right.  How did it go so wrong?"

"I'm so sorry, Starling," he breathed into her hair, which was falling slowly out of its high-class style and winding around his arms.  "Let me take you away," James entreated.  "I'll send you to my family in England.  You'll be safe there."

"That is not a viable plan," Stella bit out.  "Your family doesn't even like you.  One life for another... it's not a good trade."

"One life for two," James corrected, resting his hand on her pregnant belly.

"What life will she have without her father?" Stella retorted.  "What kind of life can I give her, without you to protect us?  I swore I would give my child a better than the one I had—how shall I do that if you're not there?"

"I would have you give her any life at all!" James snapped.  "If you die, so does she!"

"And if you die, you leave us to the wolves!" Stella shrieked, before visibly calming herself and lowering her voice.  "If I do as you ask, and flee to England, your life is forfeit.  Isaac's life is forfeit.  Beckett will even go after Anne and the Witchers in order to bring me back.  If I resist, he'll track me down.  Me, and our daughter.  We'll live the life of fugitives, hunted down like dogs.  Beckett won't stop until he catches us.  And that is no life.  To say nothing of what happens if he finds us."  Her whole body quivered with fear and revulsion, and she dug her fingers into his arms.  "James, it's poor gamble.  The odds are against us.  Beckett guaranteed our lives if I stay here.  I have to trust that.  I have to, there's nothing else!"

"Stella," James said seriously, tilting her chin up so she met his eyes.  Her eyes were swimming with tears, and as he watched, one escaped her lashes to trail down her cheek.  "Stella, you can't stay here."  Her pointed chin was still set stubbornly, and her black eyes were adamant.  She would do nothing to endanger his life, even if it meant her own death.

It really was true, then: she was in love with him.

"If you love me..." James added quietly, not adverse to a bit of emotional manipulation to get her to safety. "Stella, if you love me, do as I ask and come away."

She stiffened in his hold, going very still.  James suddenly knew he'd mishandled the situation.

Stella stepped back, staring up at him with unvarnished horror shining in her eyes.  "He told you," she whispered.  Then her expression turned savage and sneering.  "Of course he told you.  He delights in causing pain—especially to me."

"He did say something," James admitted.  "I didn't believe him until... until you—"

She interrupted him, laughing bitterly, sounding more like a crow cawing than ever before.  "Gave myself away, did I?  Strange, how sometimes we bring that which we fear most down on our own heads through avoidance of.  'Yet events will still unfold, for all my silence.'  I wish I'd understood before."  She wrapped her arms around her middle and stepped further back into the darkness of the cell.

James followed her, reaching a hand out.  "Stella—"

"Don't!" she cried, then calmed.  "Do you understand now?  Why I can't leave?"  She laughed again, and it was more like a sob.  "Beckett hung the sword of Damocles over my head, but I gave him the knife to cut it.  I'm tied down, now, and I've only myself to blame."

The despair in her voice made him feel awful.  He had made her despair.  It was like having accidentally put a bullet through a stained glass window: something beautiful had been destroyed, however unintentionally.  Loving him had put her in this situation, and he had nothing to give her in return.  Nothing but peril and pain.

"I'm sorry," James whispered.  Sorry he brought her to this, sorry he couldn't save her... sorry he couldn't love her.  But his heart had been given away long ago.

His apology seemed to make Stella angrier, and she advanced on him with a furious light in her black eyes.  "Don't you dare pity me," she snarled, jabbing him with a bony finger.  "I've taken much from many people but I've never accepted their pity, and I will never accept yours!" she hissed.  Then she seemed to deflate a little, and retreated back into the shadows.  "Especially not in lieu of that which I would rather have."

She couldn't even say the word, could only make veiled references.  Loving him was making her more miserable than anything Beckett could do to her.  "I would give you my love if I could," James said helplessly.

"But you won't," she said dully, leaning against the bulkhead.

"Can't," he correctly gently.

"Won't," she corrected in turn.  "No one makes you love Elizabeth Swann."

That pricked his temper a little.  "I can't just stop loving her!" he protested sharply.  "It's something in me, something rooted so deep I can't unmake it.  Do you think I want to feel this way, want to pine after a woman I'll never see again, and can never have if I do?  I assure you, Madam, I don't.  I carry a torch for her only because someone tied it to my hand.  But I can't stop loving her.  I... can't," he finished weakly.

"I know," Stella whispered after a moment.  "I do.  I married you knowing it.  But I thought I was safe... I forgot to guard myself.  I forgot, and now I reap the benefits of my inattention."  She sagged against the wall.  "I have no one to blame but myself."

They stood there in the darkness, the physical distance between them miniscule when compared to the metaphysical chasms now dividing them.  Stella stood in the deepest shadows, arms shielding herself, cringing away from her own emotions; James stood near the open door, an imploring hand held uselessly down by his side, staring at his wife with pity in his eyes, despite her disgust for that particular sentiment.

James broke the heavy silence first.  "You can still leave with me," he offered quietly.

"No, I can't," she returned, just as quiet.

"Won't," James corrected sourly.

"Better the devil you know," Stella said, shrugging her thin shoulders.  "If we allow Beckett this... petty torment, he won't think of something worse."

"And if this 'petty torment' gets you and our child killed?" James asked coldly.

"It won't.  Beckett finds me useful and will keep me alive.  In pain and miserable, perhaps, but alive.  Whereas your defiance would kill us all," Stella retorted icily.

He sighed.  "I cannot convince you, can I?"

"We need to keep to the plan.  Bring down Beckett.  Only then will we be safe."

"And until then, you must suffer such pain?" he challenged.

"Life is pain," Stella replied dully.  "Anyone who tells you differently is selling something."  She darted a swift glance up to his face, and then looked away, flinching a little.  "I can't be near you right now," she admitted softly.

James sighed.  "Is there anything I can do for you?  Anything I can give you that you won't scorn?"

"You know what it is I want most," Stella whispered.  The words 'your heart' fell into the silence between them.  But she soldiered gamely on.  "But if you could perhaps convince Jones to let me out into the sunlight occasionally?  And order the captains who come to bring me more food... send me some clothing that isn't worn to shreds and will continue to fit as I increase in size..."

"I will see it done," he promised her.  He moved forward a little, as if to touch her, but she cringed backwards, skittering away.  James sighed, but called for Lennox to bring down the crates of Stella's gifts, and as the marines did that, gestured to his wife and her companion.  "Come.  We're going to talk to Jones."

Stella allowed him to help her up the stairs, though when she lifted her skirts he could see that her stockings were torn, and could see the bruises on her legs.  And when he took her arm to steady her steps, she winced and hissed in pain—more bruises?  Jones and his crew were not handling her very gently.  Stella's Bootstrap Bill followed them up tentatively, as if he was unsure of the permissibility of leaving the cell.

When they emerged onto the deck, both Stella and Bill flinched, and shielded their eyes from the sun; Stella's thin fingers tightened around his arm as she was led out onto the deck, and he could feel her trembling.  Jones and the rest of his crew was gathered on the deck, near the mainmast, glowering at the marines that surrounded them.  They glared even more virulently as James stepped forward, trailing his wife and the disgraced of their number.

"A word, Captain Jones," James called firmly.

Reluctantly, the captain stumped forward and glared at the Admiral.  "What?" he demanded, tone surly.

"Your keeping of my wife is much to be desired," James returned coolly.  He displayed Stella's skinny, bruise-mottled arm.

"I can't help it if the wretch is clumsy," Jones shrugged.  "Nor can I do aught if your men don't bring her enough food."

"You can let her out of that damp cell once in a while," James replied  sternly.  "You can provide her with a measure more water.  You can otherwise leave her alone.  Make your crew do the same."

"That'd be difficult, considering she shares quarters with Master Turner," Jones snorted, pointing his claw at Bill, who was still standing behind Stella.

James felt cold, suddenly, as though someone had just dropped ice down his back.  Turner.  Bill.  Bill Turner.  Bill was short for William.  William Turner.  Stella had been sharing a cell with a William Turner.

He turned shocked eyes to his wife, beside him, and saw the discomfort on her face, the apology in her dark eyes when she turned to look at him.  That confirmed it.  Somehow, this William Turner and the William Turner James knew were related.  Perhaps this was Will Turner's father—it would explain the resemblance, which James could pick out now that he was looking for it.  And she'd known.  She'd known and she hadn't told him.

He felt betrayed.

"Don't be deliberately obtuse, Captain," James heard himself saying, as though from a long way away.  "You know full well what I mean."  He swallowed heavily, and turned back to Jones, though he remained uncomfortably aware of the Turner's presence at his back.  "Rest assured that Lord Beckett will be hearing about your treatment of one of our most important assets."  And he felt perversely satisfied when he felt Stella's minute flinch.

"Lord Beckett should take more care where he puts his things," Jones sneered in return.

"Nevertheless, you have your orders," James snapped back.  "Mrs. Norrington is not to be harmed.  Don't lay a hand on her.  And for God's sake, keep her better than you have previously."

"How so?" Jones asked, glancing up at down at the frail figure at James' side.

James rolled his eyes.  "Has it been so long that you've forgotten how to treat a woman?" he asked sarcastically.  "Or did those remembrances get cut out along with your heart?"

Jones growled a little, down in his chest.  "Your puling, ice-hearted bitch is nothing like a real woman," he spat.

He took little pleasure in Stella's wince, this time.  "Mind your tongue," James said sharply.  "Your expectations of women aside, your orders are to keep her alive and well.  I will be monitoring the situation, rest assured.  Now, are there no other quarters for her?"

"Nowhere I expect she'd feel safe," Jones replied.  The words 'and with good reason' hung in the air, unsaid.

"He's right," Stella agreed quietly.  "I'd rather remain in the brig.  At least there I can ensure that I will notice their approach.  The cell keeps me in, but it also keeps them out."

"Fine," James acquiesced grumpily.  "The brig will suffice for living quarters.  But put him in a separate cell," he commanded, gesturing at Turner.

Jones seemed to understand James' motivation, and was grinning maliciously as he dug in his heels and prepared to be difficult.  "I'm afraid the other cells don't lock, Admiral," he said, sounding only vaguely apologetic.

"Then keep him anywhere else," James ground out through clenched teeth.

"James!" Stella whispered, horrified.  "Jones could put him in the bilges with an order like that."  Her voice grew even more quiet.  "Please, don't punish him for the sins of his son."

"I don't want him near you," he replied, voice just as quiet.

"He's the only one on this ship you can trust with my safety," Stella pointed out.

"Because he's in love with you," James accused.

Her eyes grew sad.  "I know," she murmured.  "But not truly.  I'm all that connects him to the outside world, and he clings to me because of it.  He loves me as symbol, but not as a person."

"That doesn't exactly reassure me."

"Do you think so little of me, then, to think I would hurt you so?  That I would take up with anyone of the surname 'Turner'?  Or that I would prove so false to my marriage vows?" she challenged, her chin lifting with a hint of her usual pride.  Then she softened.  "James, trust me."

James sighed unhappily, but turned back to Jones.  "Belay that," he ordered.  "Quarters shall remain as they are.  However, once every day, Mrs. Norrington is to be allowed an hour of time on the deck.  I will see to it that her provisions are increased, and you are to deliver them to her, untouched.  Is that clear, Captain Jones?"

"Perfectly, Admiral," the squid-man-amalgamation bit off.  Then he smirked cruelly.  "I guess you do love her, after all."

Stella flinched, and James winced inwardly.  But outwardly, he just smiled tightly and said nothing but, "Dismissed, Captain."

Most of the crew dispersed after that, vanishing back to wherever they wished as the marines prepared to depart.  Some of the sailors brought the crates of Stella's gifts down to the brig, and Turner receded into the shadows of the walkways... though keeping his pale blue eyes always on Stella.

And as the activity bustled around them, James drew Stella into the shadow of the forecastle for some private conversation.  "Why didn't you tell me?" was the first thing he demanded of her.

"I couldn't think of a good way to introduce it," Stella mumbled.  "I... hadn't intended you to find out."

"Because that's so much better!" he hissed.  "God's blood, Stella, you know how I feel about... about..."

"About anyone called William Turner?" she offered sarcastically.

"He's his father!" James snapped, gesturing fiercely at Bill.

"And he never did anything to you," she snapped back.

"I don't want him near you."

"You don't have a choice!"  Stella apparently saw something in him, since she rolled her eyes and said, more quietly, "He's not going to steal me, you idiot."

"He's a pirate.  Pirates steal things," James demurred darkly.

Stella's voice went as cold and hard as stone.  "I'm not a thing."

James had a feeling he was doing what he'd sworn not to do: putting his foot in his mouth and making a muddle of the whole thing.  He sighed heavily, and ran a hand across his face.  "Stella..."

"You might consider trusting me, you know," she said, her voice still knife-sharp and icy.

"Because your judgement has been so very acute lately," he sniped.

Stella flinched, as if struck, and James knew the foot had been inserted up to his knee, now.  "That isn't fair," she whispered.

"Unfair, but just," James replied coldly.  "Your choices have been increasingly questionable of late."

"Forgive me for wanting my family to come through this ordeal unharmed!" she cried, drawing away and staring at him as though she'd never seen him before.

"And yet you always get what you want at the end of it," James said bitterly.  He'd thought he'd put his anger at her to rest, but apparently he hadn't.  He'd just buried it for a time, and Stella's constant needling unearthed it.

"What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded, sneering.

"You wanted to see this ship.  You wanted to study it—well," he said, gesturing scornfully, "here you are, just as you wanted."

"Beckett ordered it," Stella said stiffly.

James scoffed.  "You didn't protest very much!"

"The last time I defied Beckett's orders I found myself fighting off a Kraken in a hurricane!" she spat.  "I don't want to tempt fate."

"Technically, that was my defiance," James pointed out tartly. "Haven't you learned yet?  Defiance is punished with a strike at the other.  And in everything that has ever happened, nothing ill has ever befallen me."

"Perhaps because I don't antagonise the man with the axe over my neck," she said through clenched teeth.

"And why is that?" he challenged.  "Why not risk something?  Are you that much of a coward?"

Stella lifted her black eyes to his, then, and they were swimming with tears.  Her expression was one of deep pain, and James suddenly felt like a complete and utter ass.  "Do you not know?" she whispered.

James stepped away, and closed his eyes, sighing deeply.  "I’m sorry, Starling," he apologised.

"It's not entirely your fault," she said dully.  All the life had gone out of her voice, and he opened his eyes to see her standing, defeated, hunching in on herself.  "I showed too much to Jones.  I should have known he'd use it against me the first chance he got."

"Why did you do it?  How did he know?" James wondered.  Stella played things so close to the vest all the time—what possessed her to tell Davy Jones her secrets?

She closed her eyes, and buried her face in her hands.  "I had to, to save their lives," she confessed, voice muffled.  Before James could inquire for further information, the whole story burst out of her, like a flood.  "Oh God, James, he was killing them before my eyes.  He'd bring me on deck and slaughter the crew of the ships he took right before my eyes.  He made me watch—if I didn't watch, he'd torture them until I looked," she said frantically.  "The first time he offered me a chance—I could save five men for five truthful answers—I took it, of course I took it.  And one of them was a boy—a little boy, James, I couldn't let him die.  I answered his questions and he let them go.  The next time, I was allowed to save four, then three, then two... I couldn't save more than 20 men. Just a handful of dust, snatched from the jaws of oblivion.  Or the little Dutch boy, plugging the dyke with his thumb.  It was... it was some way to salvage something—anything—from so much death."  She took a shuddering, sobbing breath.

So, that was what had happened.  That was what Davy Jones did to reduce Stella to this—continuous shock, and a relentless assault on her sense of compassion (which, though hidden, was easily touched in a small variety of ways), followed by a promise of a reprieve which laid her defences bare.  Then plunder her secrets during the parlay and use that information against her later.  Poor Stella.  She had handed that monster the best weapons against her to save men she would never see again.

She was a good woman.  And she deserved better than she was getting.

James couldn't think of anything to say.  He was pitying and appalled and proud and furious all at once. "''Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,'" he quoted.  It was all he could think of.

"That isn't comforting, James," Stella growled shakily.

"Is there any comfort to be had?" he demanded.  "Because if you can find some, Stella, please share it.  I could use a measure of comfort myself."

That seemed to make her still, and she took in a deep breath and smiled weakly.  "'It is better to suffer wrong that to do it,'" she offered.

"'Blessed are the meek,'" James returned sarcastically.

They met each others' eyes, and shared brief, sardonic grins.  James and Stella Norrington were many things, but meek was not one of them.  And for that brief moment, it was as though things were back to normal, with no wayward emotions tipping the balance of their marriage.  As though they were just two good friends again, who just happened to be married to each other.

Then the moment passed, and they were left with the reality of the situation.  So much was between them now... James' anger at her acceptance of Beckett's tyranny, especially when it got her something she wanted; Stella's betrayal in concealing the name and family of her bunkmate and the knowledge that Turner Senior loved her; the physical distance between them, instigated by Beckett; their differing viewpoints over the best way to handle the situation, be it compliance or defiance and flight; and the ever-present awareness that Stella was in love, and James wasn't—at least, not with her.

Their time together was winding down—the meetings with the Dutchman were always, at Beckett's command, supposed to be brief, due to Davy Jones' temper—and yet so much was unresolved.  James didn't want to leave her thus—it would make further meetings awkward and uncomfortable, which, aside from being something he didn't want their relationship to deteriorate to, was something they could little afford with Beckett breathing down their necks and what Davy Jones had been aiming for when he first revealed the state of Stella's heart.

But... what else could he do, or say?  This was a situation beyond his ability to remedy.

"I would never have wished any of this on you," James said sorrowfully.  "I've brought you nothing but pain."

Her face turned bitter and wistful.  "We couldn't have known what would happen."  She looked up at him, then, and her black eyes filled with the longing and pain that he knew so well.  "'Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt,'" she whispered.

"'They change the sky, not their soul, who run across the sea,'" James translated automatically, smiling sadly.

She echoed his expression.  "I'll get my notebooks.  Put them with the grimoire back at home.  I'll deal with them when I return," she said bravely.

She vanished back belowdecks, Turner Sr. at her heels.  James glared after him, unsure about how he should be feeling.  On one hand, the man was Will Turner's father, and was in love with his wife; on the other, James knew the man would protect Stella and ensure the least amount of harm possible would come to her.  But James didn't trust him.

Jones could move very quietly when it suited him, and thus James was unpleasantly surprised to realise the Captain of the Dutchman had materialised next to him while he was scowling and brooding about the presence of William Turner, Sr. in such close proximity to his wife.

"Yes, Captain?" James inquired testily.

"Trouble in paradise?" he asked, striking a match to light his pipe.

"If there were, do you think I'd tell you?" James scoffed scornfully. "It's what you want, isn't it?  She and I at odds?"

The captain of the Dutchman shrugged, inhaling deeply and blowing smoke out the side of his face.  "You'll be at odds with her eventually," he commented.  "That's how it is with women—treacherous, lying creatures, the lot of them."

"Some of us espouse a more optimistic philosophy, Captain," James replied sourly.

Jones snorted.  "You'll see, eventually.  She'll betray you... if she hasn't already," he added, jerking his pipe to where Stella and Turner Senior were re-emerging onto the deck.

James' glare could have started Jones on fire, had he any powers at all.  "Thank you, Captain," he said repressively, his tone a clear dismissal.  Jones smirked a little, but turned and stumped away after a glower at Stella, which she returned with a sneer.

"Here.  Take good care of them," Stella requested worriedly, handing a pair of small, worn notebooks into his hands.

"I will, I promise," he assured her, tucking the books into his coat.

"Thank you," she said, looking very small.

"You don't need to thank me," James replied, feeling rather awkward.  There was so much he wanted to say to her... but he wasn't sure how to say it, or if she'd understand what he was trying to convey, nor could he be sure that it wouldn't be overheard and reported to Davy Jones.

So he said the only thing he could: "Goodbye, Starling."

James turned only once to look back at the Dutchman as the Fearless sailed away, and saw her slight figure at the rail, watching him go.  Turner Senior was at her side, and Jones was looming behind them both.  Bitterly, he turned away.  She chose this, and part of him was glad—how terrible awkward would it be to have her with him now, knowing that she loved him and that he didn't love her in return.  It had become the elephant in the room with them, and he wasn't sure how to see around it.

But no voice came to him on the breeze, and no strong winds filled their sails, and James felt himself missing her, and the easy friendliness they'd once had, unmarred by more tender feelings.

Sometimes our choices are no choices at all, he thought.  Beckett has us all over a barrel.  And Jones got what he wanted: a wedge has been driven between Stella and I, and I have no idea how to remove it.

Chapter Text

And so life marched on.  Stella remained on the Flying Dutchman, ostensibly monitoring Davy Jones, but in reality being tormented by him; James remained in Port Royal, commanding the fleet and leading the Greek Fire conspiracy on the side.

Captain Henry Lennox of the Fearless had fallen in with the conspirators immediately after returning from the Dutchman, saying "That's the final straw—it's barbaric, what he's doing to that poor woman.  Whatever you've got up your sleeve, count me in."  That put the entire naval faction of Beckett's armada—50 ships and captains in all, with crews tried and tested—solidly behind Admiral Norrington.  The East India Trading Company ships—merchant shippers, most of them—were on the fence; Lord Beckett was one of the directors of their company, but he was pulling away from their usual business (i.e. making money through trade) and had them part of a fleet meant to fight pirates.  None of the merchants were happy about that—they