The view through the telescope showed the little sloop cowering in the shoals of the small island inlet, taking advantage of high tide to tuck away there over a submerged sandbank, momentarily just out of reach of the hungry lion waiting offshore. Her deck had bustled with activity for a while as the crew maneuvered her into that temporary haven. No longer. Now the two dozen men stood or sat or slouched in varying postures of numb defeat, gazing back across the distance, watching him watching them. Some had already begun deserting to the island itself, though it seemed far too barren a place to offer solace for long.
Commodore Norrington lowered the spyglass and handed it off to Gillette, ever-present at his side. His lieutenant examined the scene himself. The smirk was almost audible in his voice. "It would seem they'd prefer starvation to the noose."
Norrington didn't address that. "We'll wait. When the tide runs out, we'll take the cutters and corral as many as we're able."
"You don't want to fire on them, sir?"
A sidelong look, rebuking. "They'll be effectively grounded in an hour or two, Lieutenant. There's no need to disable the boat or waste the powder."
Gillette looked vaguely disappointed. "Yes, sir, of course."
"Prepare the men. And have Underwood ready the brig."
"Sir," he said in acknowledgement, moving immediately to obey.
Norrington's eyes turned back to the sloop and her rapidly dwindling complement of pirates. Times like this, feet planted firmly on the deck of his valiant Dauntless, facing a vessel so much smaller and weaker in arms as to make any thought of contest laughable, the commodore found himself less than relishing the necessary execution of his duties. It demeaned him -- it demeaned the Dauntless -- to play the bully against such an underwhelming foe.
Still. Pirates chose their fate when they chose their career, and every one of them knew it. They were bold enough against those weaker than they; that more than justified this disproportionate encounter. Norrington believed that down to his marrow.
His gaze was still on the cornered sloop when the shout came. "Sail ho!" Not from the crow's nest, but from the poop-deck. Immediately on its heels came another shout, louder, this one with an urgent note to it: "Black sails!"
Norrington was running even as the crew began to carry the distorted echo. "Black sails!" "She's dark all over!" "It's the Black Pearl!" Men leaned out over the bulwark, gawking, trying to get a clear view of the notorious ship. Norrington had to scramble to get past them.
His heart had picked up an insistent, thud-thudding rhythm by the time he got his first clear glimpse of the glorious terror. She came sweeping around the rocky outcropping of the island without a hint of respect, sails reefed, taunting him. Flaunting herself. The worst kind of tease, that ship.
Gillette was at his side abruptly, shoving the spyglass into his hands. "We'll give chase, sir?" he asked, the eagerness in his voice matching the excitement in Norrington's chest.
"Hold." He looked through the glass a moment, then lowered it, frowning, studying the trim of the sails. The Pearl altered course, veering...in their direction? He raised the glass again and searched for the black ship's captain at the helm. Found him there, unmistakable. Something about the grimness of Jack Sparrow's all-too-familiar face quelled the fierce pleasure that'd briefly lit a fire in his chest.
Gillette's voice, confused now. "He...can't mean to take us on directly, can he? We drastically outclass him in armament."
Norrington, having no answer, offered none. It seemed senseless. If Sparrow sought to protect his cornered contemporaries with a distraction, he'd already succeeded; it wouldn't take more than a flash of the Pearl's backside to make the Dauntless give chase, and the pirate knew that perfectly well. No puny sloop would ever merit the dedication of this ship the way that ebon she-devil and her impudent captain did. And for all his flaws, Sparrow had never showed any ardor for engaging in combat when he could avail himself of other options.
"Ready the guns," he said sharply, still studying that oddly solemn face. "I want all hands--"
"Sir!" Gillette's hand on his arm caused him to lower the spyglass, following the lieutenant's pointing finger instead. Beyond the Black Pearl, emerging from the concealment of the cliff, a vessel of comparable size and stouter build sailed into view, already flying her colors in ominous defiance.
Norrington's mouth went dry. It was all he could do to keep the surge of trepidation from showing on his face.
"Is that...?" Gillette began, hesitantly.
He couldn't see the emblem on the second ship's flag clearly until he raised the spyglass once more. The view only confirmed what the cold stone in his stomach had already told him. Black flag. White figure of a man standing with sword unsheathed, each foot planted squarely on a skull above distinctive lettering: "ABH" under one, "AMH" beneath the other.
"A Barbadian's Head," he said, the tension bleeding into his voice despite his best efforts. "A Martinican's Head." He paused. Swallowed to lube up his throat. "It's the Royal Fortune."
A sailor to his left caught a very loud breath. "Black Bart," the man murmured tremulously.
No wonder Sparrow wasn't taking flight. At his flank sailed the only pirate ship in the Spanish Main, perhaps in the world, that outgunned the Pearl: the flagship of the Welshman, Bartholomew Roberts himself.
"He...he's not been spotted for months," Gillette said numbly. "What--"
"It's an ambush, lieutenant," Norrington told him flatly. "We can't outrun or outgun them both, and we certainly can't outmaneuver them."
"Muskets at the ready, men," Norrington called out, his voice once again ringing with command. "Do not fire until I give the order!" He put the glass to his eye again and swept the Royal Fortune. He'd never laid eyes on the man before, but that imposing figure standing with nearly military poise near the former French warship's helm could be none other than Black Bart himself. The man reeked with command presence and the sheer arrogance of a criminal who styled himself a maker of laws rather than the most flagrant breaker of them.
The Dauntless, unaware of her commander's frazzled nerves, waited in regal disdain as the smaller pirate ships flanked her. Norrington strode half the perimeter of the main deck, speaking quietly to this white-faced sailor or that stiff-shouldered serviceman, doing what he could to shore up their veneer of confidence while he watched their ambushers glide menacingly into place. Unsurprisingly, both ships had rolled out their guns.
Sparrow, he noticed distractedly, still hadn't raised his colors.
The Black Pearl eased in, not quite square enough to deliver or receive a broadside. It seemed the Pearl meant to nudge between the Dauntless and the sloop hiding in the shoals, though the wisest military strategy would clearly be for both pirate ships to trap him against the island, cutting off his maneuverability and placing themselves at angles that would force him to target one or the other. Instead Sparrow appeared more intent on separating Norrington from the sloop and affording the little vessel safe passage from the inlet.
Big pirates looking out for little pirates. Bloody hell. He much preferred it when they adopted the philosophy of every man for himself.
The Black Pearl, shallower on the draft than the Dauntless, squeezed in rather neatly. As a matter of happenstance, that put the men on both ships within shouting distance.
"Sir," called a marine at one of the swing guns, tensely.
"Hold fire," he said shortly, irked that he had to reissue the order. He had no trouble whatsoever finding Sparrow, who lounged with every appearance of nonchalance, leaning on his forearms on the bulwark of his dark ship across from the commodore as the Pearl hove to.
Norrington glanced over his shoulder; Gillette was watching the Fortune, and hadn't yet shrilled another alarm. It appeared Roberts had a measure of patience to him. But then, those in the position of strength could afford to.
Back to Sparrow, whose expression gave away little. The pirate saw he had Norrington's attention and called across, "I'll be having a word from you, Commodore!"
No need to ask what word that would be. He swept another look over his anxious crew, the soldiers standing too ready with their arms and their courage. Norrington had no doubt that they'd fight, and bravely; many of these marines had already proved their mettle against the undead pirates Sparrow dragged them to confront previously. But he wasn't in the habit of spending men's lives so freely as that.
"Parley," he shouted, the word foul on his tongue. "With Roberts, not you."
"With me," Sparrow corrected, "if you enjoy your head where it sits."
Again, he cast a look over his shoulder at the Royal Fortune. Many called Roberts a rational man, so far as pirates went, but his intolerance for any authority but his own was an intrinsic part of his legend. Sparrow might not be lying about the dangers he'd face as Black Bart's guest.
On the other hand, he'd never tried to hang Bartholomew Roberts. Which certainly put a mark against his prospects aboard the Black Pearl.
"The sloop is getting away, sir."
This from one of the junior officers as the boat sailed out, quite openly, a stone's throw away from them. A man garishly garbed in striped pants handed the helm off to a slim, boyish figure as he crossed to the larboard side. Cupped his hands around his mouth and hollered, "My thanks, Jack! I owe you one!"
"You owe me twenty," Sparrow retorted, not bothering to move farther forward to make the exchange easier. He raised his hat in a wave reminiscent of that with which he'd commandeered the Interceptor those long months back. "Get on with you now!"
The sloop's captain took Sparrow's advice. Interestingly, he seemed nearly as bent on avoiding Roberts' ship as the Dauntless, tacking to sail almost into the wind, steeply away from the Royal Fortune.
Big pirates shielding little pirates from the Royal Navy and other big pirates?
"Commodore." Sparrow, once again with those dark-lined eyes only for him. "Choose wisely now, and we may yet avoid a bloodbath."
The men arrayed around him heard that too. He felt their uneasy gazes, their questions, their prickling awareness of Roberts in the background with half of the Royal Fortune's reputed forty-two guns trained on them.
Norrington dipped his chin at Sparrow in the faintest of acknowledging nods. At least he knew this devil.
Upon stepping onto the deck of the fabled Black Pearl, the first face he noticed was remarkably familiar, and it wasn't Sparrow's.
He wracked his memory and finally dug out the name. "Mister Gibbs."
The sailor, more grizzled than the man he'd known eight -- nine? -- years past, offered a smile equal parts kindly, wary and regretful. "Sir. It's been a long while. Surprised you remember."
Norrington shook his head slowly, feeling his own pang of something not unlike sadness. "I don't understand. You were a good man, Gibbs."
Blue eyes, heavily line-bracketed by sun and advancing years, narrowed perceptibly. "Some figure I still be a good man, sir. Maybe none so fine as yourself, but some."
Norrington's gaze traveled over the others on deck. Most of the pirates were below. Manning the guns, ready for battle. Those remaining up here watched him balefully, reminding him yet again that he'd earned his own widespread reputation among their kind, and not a flattering one. The half-dozen servicemen with him stood quite close. Steady men, all of them, selected specifically for their calm under pressure, but right now he wondered if even their military composure would carry them through smoothly.
At least Gillette remained on the Dauntless. He wouldn't trust the lieutenant to keep rein on that smart mouth of his while surrounded by these bounders.
When his eyes returned to the stout older man's, Gibbs tipped his head in indication for him to follow. "Cap'n's waitin' for ye."
Norrington fell in behind, wordless, trying to ignore the weight of razor-edged regard heaped on him from all sides. Having had little interaction with pirates who weren't his prisoners, he hadn't realized just how much they hated him even when he didn't hold them captive.
Gibbs firmly insisted his men wait outside, uncompromising on that measure, then led him through a set of ornate double doors and into a rather spacious cabin. Norrington didn't have much time to consider the loss of their support, because then there was Sparrow.
"Commodore Norrington." The pirate stood from his chair at the currently bare table dominating one side of the somberly hued room. Bowed, sweepingly, one arm going out with a flourish. "Welcome. Sit."
Norrington glanced at Gibbs. The man's face was unreadable, but he did offer a half-smile. Whatever that meant. "Need anythin', Jack, or shall I...?"
"Aye," Sparrow said, straightening, "take us out."
Alarmed, Norrington took a step towards him. "What?"
A patient, condescending smile. "It's a bit of a tight fit, sitting 'tween your Dauntless and an unfriendly rock. The Pearl likes a bit of space is all. We'll not be absconding with you yet." To Gibbs-- "Keep a tight hold on the men. And watch Bart, aye?"
"Aye, Cap'n." With a last look at Norrington, Gibbs took his leave.
Sparrow's hand swept again, this time at an empty chair. "I invited you to sit, Commodore."
A fractious voice in Norrington's inner ear counseled him to declare a preference for standing, just to nettle the man. He scolded the petulant urge into obedience, moving with a degree of dignity to accept the seat. "Your ship appears in good order, Captain Sparrow."
The man positively beamed. "Is this all it took for you to remember the title? Holding your pretty lady hostage between meself an' ol' Bart?"
Norrington smiled humorlessly. "Unlike our previous encounters, you now have command of a ship; ergo, you are a captain."
Hands pressed together, prayer-like. Sparrow dipped his head, eyes gleaming with mockery, face insultingly solemn. "Your approval means the world to me."
Another retort sprang to his throat, but he caught it before his lips had chance to frame it. Forced his thoughts to what mattered. "Let's get down to business, shall we?"
"Ah yes, business..." Abruptly Sparrow sat, appearing to just fold into the chair, making it conform to him. He rested an arm on the table and tapped his fingers: pinkie to forefinger, then a drumroll back to pinkie again. Rings glinted and flashed hypnotically. "Not very sporting of you, mate, pickin' on Rackham like that. And him with just the tiny boat."
"Is that who that was?"
Sparrow bared teeth in quick, silent laughter. "I'll 'ave to let him think you knew. He's probably right proud of havin' drawn the notice of the grandest British ship in the Caribbean."
Norrington tore his eyes from the glimmering rings. "He seemed anxious to avoid Roberts."
"Aye, Bart has a thing about women on ships."
"Women?" He thought suddenly of the boyish figure that took the helm of the sloop from the captain. "Women sail with Rackham?"
A shrug of one shoulder. "Or he sails with them. 'pends on how you look at it, really." His hand slapped down, flat on the table. "Time's short, Commodore, and we've more important things to discuss."
"Indeed," he said warily. "How did you plan this ambush?"
Sparrow cocked his head with a bemused smile. "Is that what you think this is?"
"What else would you call it?"
"I suspect Rackham's callin' it divine intervention."
A snort. "With you as the agent of divinity?"
"God works in mysterious ways, my son," he intoned, derisively pious. But then quickly dropped the smile. "The Dauntless and all souls aboard are in quite a precarious position, mate. If you're really lucky, Bart's not thinking too seriously about making an example of her. And you."
"An example." His smile held its own level of menace, undisguised. "I invite the both of you to try. You'll not find her an easy victim."
Sparrow's eyes narrowed. His voice went sharp. "Don't be such a bloody stupid stalwart, Norrington. Neither one of us cares to see your head adorning Bart's bowsprit. And while I can't say as I'd mind watching that great bitch of yours go down, I don't really fancy dancing to the screams of drowning men. Do you?"
The words shook him, both for their meaning and the intent behind them. Not that he'd honestly thought Sparrow to be the bloodthirsty sort of blackguard -- the man's first act of their acquaintance was to save Elizabeth from certain death, after all, for no profit Norrington had ever been able to puzzle out -- but he'd expected a greater degree of personal enmity directed his way.
He sat back, regarding the pirate thoughtfully. Felt a twinge of...respect? It wouldn't be the first time he'd had to acknowledge such for this man, but he didn't find the realization any less tiresome now. "What are you proposing?"
Sparrow's uncannily dark eyes dropped to follow his fingers as they tapped their steady roll again, forth and back, back and forth. "What am I proposing...? Hm." His tipped his head slightly, eyes not shifting, mouth taking on a considering bend. "I believe I can convince Bart to let your lady take her leave without a shot fired. Lacking my Pearl's assistance, the Fortune stands badly outclassed."
It salved Norrington's pride a little, hearing that admitted. "True," he agreed as graciously as he was able. "Then you'll not seek to engage us?"
His face didn't move, but those eyes flickered up, their message difficult to discern. "It's not so simple as all that, Commodore. He's a man very fond of power, an' he won't like giving it up easily. Particularly not to the likes of you." A sardonic smile. "Or me. And if I'm to have any hope of maintainin' 'is regard I can't have him thinking I'm owned by the Royal Navy."
"Does it matter to you?" Norrington asked. "Roberts' regard?"
Now a grin, a lopsided curl of his upper lip, almost cheeky. "Better to have that chap with me than against me, mate. Fortunately for you, now I've got the Pearl back he appears to feel the same way about me."
This glimpse into pirate politics couldn't help but intrigue him. "He seeks an alliance with you?"
"Ah, Commodore..." Headshake, amused. "That would be our business, his and mine, would it not?"
"Your business rapidly becomes my business," Norrington countered grimly.
"Perhaps," Sparrow said noncommittally. "But now's not the time for that discussion." His hand stilled its motion. "I'll need to go have a word with Bart. D'you trust me to negotiate for you?"
"No," he said immediately. Outrageous thought. "I'll accompany you and speak for myself, thank you."
An eyebrow quirked up. "You set foot on that ship, mate, I doubt very much you'll be leavin' it. Or do you not realize your value as a hostage?"
"I've some conception of it," he said dryly, letting his gaze conspicuously take in the cabin in which he sat, his presence assuring the Dauntless' good behavior. "The situation necessitates the risk."
Sparrow frowned faintly, an expression more of eyes and brows than lips. "He's an intensely ambitious pirate. I promise you, Norrington, you step aboard the Fortune, he'll use you as leverage to commandeer the Dauntless and make her his new flagship. No doubt he's already got a name selected."
With a frustrated exhalation, Norrington arched an eyebrow in query. "And I'm to believe you're any different?"
"I have my ship," Sparrow told him quietly. "The only one I want."
Norrington didn't answer. The words had carried an uncharacteristic conviction -- a sense almost that he'd just been allowed a fleeting glimpse at the inner workings of the man. Against his will, he found himself believing Sparrow, at least so far as that went.
The pirate cleared his throat as if to shake off the moment of unfettered honesty. Drummed those fingers again, distractingly. "It's not in my best interest to see Bart acquire an even stronger ship to add to 'is little fleet. I don't want her. And as I said, dying men don't sing my kinda music, Commodore. Empower me to speak for you--"
"I cannot do that."
Sparrow continued over his objection. "--and I'll try an' see that we all live to regret this some other fine day. Do we have an accord?"
"We do not," Norrington said distinctly.
"Then I'm sorry to inform you, sir," Sparrow told him with a sigh, "you are now my prisoner."
He'd expected as much, but the words still hit him low. "You dishonor the parley?"
"Aye, mate. With your prickly pride to negotiate with, I'm afraid I do." Standing, Sparrow offered another smile, wry and vaguely wistful. "You'll thank me later."
"I strongly doubt that."
The pirate passed him by. Paused to lay a hand on his shoulder, the motion surprisingly delicate despite the wiry strength in those fingers. His voice went low, almost...sultry. "Care to make it a wager?"
Hours later, midday bleeding into late afternoon, Sparrow finally returned. To judge from the lingering grimace spread over his face, the time had not been joyously spent.
Norrington, on the other hand, had found reasonably pleasurable distraction by perusing the crate of books he'd chanced upon nestled unpretentiously into a corner of the otherwise rather lavish quarters. Books were a particular weakness of his; he'd discovered their company to often be easier and more satisfying than that of his social equals in his rare free evenings. It was somehow disconcerting to learn that Sparrow not only shared this inclination, but also had surprisingly decent taste. Well-worn classics by Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton and Dante populated his collection. An odd little book by a man named Defoe, which seemed to be about a castaway named Crusoe, looked nearly new. There was a treatise on astronomy by Isaac Newton; another by Galileo Galilei. Assorted history texts from various regions of the world, most in English, a few in Latin, German or French, with many but not all of those foreign works being richly illustrated.
He couldn't help feeling a bit chagrined when the pirate captain reentered the cabin to find him contentedly munching an apple Gibbs had provided, perusing a very small, astoundingly detailed sketchbook atlas of world coastlines. Thusly caught, he froze, jaw stopping mid-chew.
Sparrow's eyebrows rose and his cheeks tightened in unmistakable amusement. "Enjoying your incarceration then, Commodore?"
With his mouth full of apple it would've been impolite to answer anyway. He decided that was sufficient excuse for leaving the question hanging, and chewed determinedly.
Sparrow flounced to a chair and collapsed into it, watching his jaw work. "Y'know," he said conversationally, "there's something very fundamentally wrong with a pirate who won't drink. It's just not natural."
Norrington finally managed a swallow. "Roberts doesn't drink?"
"Teetotaler," Sparrow confirmed disgustedly. "Never trust a man who won't touch a drop. He's got somethin' to hide."
"Perhaps he merely enjoys the sense of self-possession one finds in sobriety," Norrington suggested, dripping disdain.
Sparrow's lip curled into a sneer. "Oh, you and he would be fast friends, Commodore. Did he not want so very badly to torture you, that is."
Norrington carefully set the half-eaten apple on the table. Took a moment to collect himself, inside, then met the pirate's gaze squarely. "Is that his price for ending this standoff?"
The sneer lingered, glinting gold. "So quick to hand yourself into harm's way? I honestly can't decide if you're very brave or only supremely unimaginative."
"And it hardly matters which," Norrington replied, feigning calm. "Is that his price, yes or no?"
An elegant hand scrubbed wearily over the pirate's face. "No."
"Then what?" A cold thread of unease started through his veins. "Or is this to be a bloodbath after all?"
Sparrow smiled wanly. "I'm a bit more persuasive than that."
"Get on with it, man."
That hand flicked dismissively. "Here's what you're going to do: send your boys out there back to the Dauntless with a missive for whoever's in command in your absence to return her to Port Royal immediately. Bart won't give chase without my company, and he'll not have that if your ship leaves peacefully."
"If I refuse?"
For a moment the expression on the pirate captain's face held nothing at all, and Norrington knew with chilling certainty that that face -- empty of warmth or coldness or anything remotely decipherable -- was the one he'd wear if it came to battle. "In that case, sir, we'll learn if she can survive the combined assault of two of the best-armed pirate ships in the world. I'm thinking not."
As was Norrington. Levelly-- "And if I do as you say? What of me?"
"You're to remain on the Pearl."
"As your prisoner."
"As my guest. Until all parties have gone to their respective corners."
A limp shrug. "We'll drop you somewhere."
"Haven't thought that far, to be honest with you."
Norrington considered, taking into account Sparrow's actions thus far, what he knew of the man, and the dearth of options he had to avail himself of. "That's all he asks? That we all go our separate ways, and I remain here to guarantee the Dauntless' compliance?"
"The rest is settled up already." That tired look again, deep in the recesses of shadow-rimmed eyes. "You're negotiating with me now, not Bart. So what say you?"
"How was it settled?"
Nimble fingers reached to catch up the apple Norrington had abandoned. Sparrow bit into it, teeth scoring new marks to the green skin. Spoke around the mouthful. "In no way that need affect your decision, Commodore."
Studying him, Norrington wondered.
Watching the Dauntless sail away hit him viscerally. He hadn't expected to feel so...forsaken. Not when he'd been the one to issue the order that sent her off; not when there'd been no practicable alternative.
He was acutely aware of the stares of the pirates again, the distaste -- disgust, even -- emanating from so many. Sparrow might be risking another mutiny by keeping him here. If that happened, Norrington suspected he'd find markedly less succor from any newly elected captain.
The terse word came from behind him, low. He turned, glancing down, and found himself met by fiercely glaring eyes set in the scowling face of the smallest sailor he'd ever seen. The man was bald. Sun-darkened. His sharply upthrust chin sported a single braid reminiscent of Sparrow's twins.
"I said," the little pirate reiterated harshly, "move."
Norrington glanced around him, seeing plenty of room for the fellow to get by. Started to say as much; thought better of it. If Sparrow was indeed angering his crew with Norrington's presence, the least the commodore supposed he could do was try to cultivate some measure of civility with them for the duration of his stay. Managing a slight, almost mannerly smile, he stepped aside. The sailor stomped by, glowering, seeming unaware or unconcerned that Norrington made two of him. Maybe two and a half.
The day faded quickly around them. Already the gathering gloom rendered the Dauntless all but invisible as she glided for the horizon. Off the Black Pearl's larboard side, Roberts had weighed anchor shortly after the Dauntless and begun his own departure. Eyes narrowed, lips tight-pressed, Norrington followed the Royal Fortune's progress, vowing silently that he'd see that ship again. The humiliation of this encounter would not be forgotten.
He looked down. The pirate glared up every bit as ferociously as before.
So they wanted to make him dance, did they?
Very well. He could dance. Once again refraining from anything more offensive than a diplomatic twist of lips, Norrington stepped aside, this time back into his original position. Said not a word as the pirate marched past.
"Best watch out for that one, sir." He turned his head to see Gibbs coming up at his elbow, the man's manner distracted as he surveyed the goings-on on deck. Gibbs, he'd come to learn, was Sparrow's quartermaster. Among pirates this position held importance indeed. "That's Marty. He's mean as he looks an' ten times more dangerous."
"It seems he bears a grudge," Norrington observed.
"Aye, and he ain't the only one. Best be watchin' out for everyone while you're here." Gibbs slapped him on the back in a companionable way. The man never would have allowed himself so much familiarity when he sailed from England under Norrington's command. "Stick to the main deck an' the cap'n's cabin, you oughtta be all right."
The commodore kept his tone deliberately bland. "Is discipline so lax?"
Gibbs gave him a grizzled old wolf grin. "Havin' been on both sides of the divide, I'll tell ye: these gobs like Jack more'n any o' your sailors like you, so they'll listen to his will. To a point. But they're free men, sir, an' right now every one of 'em's thinkin' 'bout how quick you'd be to set 'em kickin' from the gallows-tree."
At this uncomfortable reminder, Norrington sent his gaze back over the swiftly darkening ocean, seeking an excuse to avoid the sailor's too-candid blue eyes. Gibbs was one of them now; he even had rank and authority, which made him more complicit than any but Sparrow himself in this ship's criminal activities. The law bound Norrington to see him hanged along with the rest of these malefactors. Knowing that Gibbs was perfectly well aware of that didn't make the situation any less awkward.
A battered flask was suddenly before him. "Here. Look like you could use some Dutch courage, sir, you don't mind me sayin'."
Instinct, reason and emotion warred. Instinct told him a man should keep his wits clear when ensconced among enemies. Reason argued that a single swallow might foster a useful sense of camaraderie with Gibbs, who surely expected him to refuse with lofty disdain. Emotion suggested, very quietly, that he was all alone amongst cutthroats who hated him, and his bowels wanted to turn to water and his knees would like nothing more than to knock together 'til they shattered, so perhaps a little nip of strong spirits would be justified to shore up his courage against all this unwelcome reality.
Two against one. He took the flask. "Thank you." Uncapped it and tipped back a swallow that seared his throat, made his eyes flood, and immediately had him gasping like the rankest of amateur topers. Coughing a little, muffling it on a sleeve, he shoved the flask back to its owner, whose chuckle wasn't quite cruel enough to be offensive.
"Brave man," Gibbs told him, approvingly. "Remember what I said: out here or the cap'n's quarters." Another clap on the back and he was gone.
Norrington leaned on the gunwale, staring after his vanished ship as the burn in his gullet eased to something that didn't make him need to wheeze quite so badly. The coming days would try him indeed, he began to suspect. Assuming he survived the night. Assuming Sparrow actually meant him to survive the rest of this voyage, however long it lasted.
How had he gotten into this mess?
Oh yes. His mouth twisted. He'd pitted his ship-of-the-line against a puny sloop and its terrified crew. How perfectly, bitterly ironic.
Sighing, not bothering to fake a smile this time, he did so.
"Where am I expected to sleep?"
He asked the question with crossed arms, standing just inside the double doors of the captain's cabin and regarding Sparrow, who blinked up at him from the logbook on the table with an expression of annoyed puzzlement.
"Sleep," Norrington repeated with reproachful patience. "I'm ready to retire."
"Ah." He bent back to his work, hand gesturing in a vaguely circular fashion. "Talk to Gibbs."
"Gibbs is drunk and carousing with the rest of them." The sound of which carried easily into the cabin, and likely halfway across the Caribbean. Norrington was beginning to wonder how pirates ever stayed hidden for any length of time.
Sparrow smiled, not looking up. It wasn't a pleasant expression. "Not finding me crew's company to your liking?"
Politic, Norrington reminded himself sternly. "I'm certain they're...fine individuals. Once one has gotten to know them."
"It'd do you well to get to know them, Commodore. Perhaps you'd be less eager to kill them then." Now a brief glance, teeth glinting. "Or me."
"I was never eager to see you hanged," he snapped, surprising himself with his vehemence. "Have you no comprehension of the law at all?"
Sparrow sat back, considering him. Lifted a hand to rub meaningfully at his throat. "Your law and I got rather closely acquainted actually. I must say, I didn't much care for it."
"Then give up piracy."
"Ah, but see..." Lazy grin. "I do care for that."
Pointless even speaking to the man. If a noose around his neck hadn't convinced him, nothing short of a final ending would. "Where am I to sleep, Sparrow?"
"What happened to 'Captain,' eh?"
"Captain," he growled, "Sparrow."
The grin broadened. The shrug offered no assistance whatsoever. "Dunno, Commodore. Most just sleep where they fall 'round here."
With a huff of irritation, the commodore headed unceremoniously for the indulgently double-sized hanging cot towards the back of the cabin. "Then I'll fall here."
"Whoa, no, unacceptable!" Sparrow was in front of him so swiftly he might've flown. Both hands went up to forestall Norrington, feet bracing as though he expected an impact. "You've already inconvenienced me more than you'll ever know, mate. I'll not give up my cabin to you."
Norrington drew himself to his full height, looking down his nose at the far more diminutive pirate. "You claim you did this to avoid bloodshed."
"Put me out there and I might as well have gone to Roberts." He kept his tone lofty, contemptuous, hoping it disguised the genuine apprehension beneath his words. "Before inebriating himself to insensibility, Mister Gibbs was good enough to inform me that my life is in danger amongst your crew."
"Them?" Sparrow tried his own haughty look. He was actually surprisingly good at it. "They're harmless."
"A Mister Marty has taken particular issue with me."
Hesitation. The haughty look faltered into uncertainty. "All right, he might harm you..."
Norrington took a step forward. Those hands came up again, fingers steepled against his chest.
"This is my ship. My cabin. My cot." One hand flattened to hold him back; the other pulled free to gesticulate broadly at the floor. "You can sleep there."
"You can't say 'no,'" Sparrow explained, looking a tad nonplused. "I'm the captain. This is my ship, my cabin, my--"
"I'm aware of all that. But I refuse to sleep on the floor. I'm the guest, Captain. Courtesy dictates that you give up your cot to me."
Aghast, Sparrow stepped back, waving sharp negation with both hands. "No no no no no. This is not how it works."
He raised his chin. Arched an eyebrow in challenge. "I believe I know more about courtesy than you do."
"You never showed me any, mate." The pirate's head lifted and he shook his mane of hair back. "And him that ain't worthy to receive courtesy can't hardly be expected to give it, can he?"
Perhaps...he had a point.
Not that the commodore intended to admit it. A little misdirection would seem to be in order here. "Go sample the temper of your men, Captain. You know them; they listen to you. If you come back convinced I've no reason to fear for my life in their company, I'll find space to sleep with the crew."
The look of put-upon irritation alone almost made this whole experience worthwhile.
Without another word, Sparrow stalked out. Norrington waited until the double doors stopped swinging, then calmly removed his coat and hung it over the back of a chair. Sat to divest himself of shoes and stockings, neatly tucked both beneath the table, then stood again and walked to where the cot hung suspended by sturdy chains. Doffed hat and wig, placing them together on the cannon beneath. Removed his cravat as well, draping it likewise, and unbuttoned a couple of the top fasteners on his shirt. That, he decided, was as close to undressed as he cared to be in the company of pirates.
When Sparrow reentered the cabin, Norrington was quite honestly nearly asleep. The cot, after all, piled with an obscene number of cushiony pillows and soft sheets, swinging gently with the ship's movement, was supremely comfortable. Almost sinfully so. He should've guessed Jack Sparrow would be a hedonist.
A tiny sound. Barely a squeak, but it managed to convey considerable outrage. Norrington lifted his head from one splendidly plump pillow and blinked sleepily across the room. "Well? Does everybody want me dead?"
Furiously wide-eyed, Sparrow all but trembled in place. "You...that's...you're..."
"I was right, wasn't I?"
"The Royal Navy does not belong in my cot!"
"I'm certain I agree. Nor does a commodore of the Navy belong on your ship. But as the latter is the case, so now is the former." He sank his head back into that perfect pillow with a long exhalation. No doubt he was playing with fire here. What else was a man to do, though, when thrust amidst smoldering coals?
"You look!" He sat up abruptly, glaring with every ounce of frustrated, stymied anger in his chest. "I was just forced to eat crow in front of hundreds of my men and God knows how many laughing, smirking pirates. I watched my ship sail away by my own order, leaving me dependent on your dubious hospitality, and now I have the added reassurance of knowing that of the four score or so men you have aboard, perhaps a handful aren't fantasizing right this moment about my grisly demise. Is it too much to ask that one concession be made?"
Sparrow flung his arms out. "I just saved your entire ship and crew! Not to mention your bloody life!"
"Spared your own is more like it," he retorted. "We'd have taken you down with us. You and Roberts both."
Dark eyes rolled exaggeratedly heavenward. "In what world?"
Norrington flumped back to the pillow, glowering at the ceiling. Dark and gloomy, it was, despite the lanterns still illuminating the cabin. What sort of bleak, wrongheaded outlook drove a man to surround himself with so much black? "Am I your guest or your prisoner?" he asked with forced, barely sustained patience. "You gave me your word it would be the former."
"I'm a pirate. By your reasoning that invalidates my word on principle."
It should've. He scowled at himself for imagining otherwise. "Turner named you a good man. Worth dying for, even. And he, at least, is generally honest." Hastily he added, "If hopelessly na�e and foolish." Because that shouldn't go unsaid.
He expected more repartee at that. Indeed, he and Sparrow seemed hardly able to refrain from countering one another's every word. But apparently he'd scored a hit without realizing it; something in that last statement gave the pirate more pause than Norrington thought it warranted. He could still feel the burning prod of those eyes on him, the angry swirl behind them, yet Sparrow said nothing right away. Did nothing.
Suddenly a little worried at the silence, Norrington raised his head again. Found Sparrow still standing there, staring at him, with his gaze absent enough that he might not be seeing him at all.
Huh. Now what part of what he'd said did that, and how could he use it to his advantage...?
Sparrow blinked then, coming back, and cocked his head, eyes narrowed and considering. Smiled suddenly. Quite an evil smile. "Fine then. As my guest, Commodore, you're very welcome to my cot."
Too easy. "Very kind of you," he said, suspiciously.
"Oh, not at all." Sparrow sauntered to the table and killed the lantern there. Strolled casually to put out the one hanging from a hook on the bulkhead next, plunging them into silvery, moonlit darkness made all the eerier for the noise of fiddling and laughing and egregiously awful singing outside and below. "I'd not want to be remembered as an inconsiderate host."
Apprehension loomed. The man didn't appear to be leaving. In fact, he appeared to be...stripping.
"Precisely what," Norrington said flatly, "do you imagine you are doing."
Teeth flashed, white and gold and silver. "Following your impressive example and turning in early." He tossed his shirt, baring a trim, gilt torso made almost pale by moonlight, marked here and there with art or old injury. Braced a hand on the bulkhead to steady himself while tugging off one boot, the other. "Maybe we'll be up to greet the dawn, eh?"
"Captain Sparrow. Or Jack. Them as share my bed usually call me Jack."
"This is entirely--"
"Unacceptable?" He was actually unlacing his breeches. Good God in heaven. "I said that already."
Norrington edged as far over on the cot as possible. Sought out the sheathed blade he'd had the foresight to bring with him, just in case. He hastily averted his eyes when Sparrow unselfconsciously let his breeches fall, stepping out with one foot and kicking them off the other. "I have my sword," he said in warning.
The cot swayed alarmingly. Sparrow slid beneath the covers, nearly as far to the one side as Norrington was to the other, and rolled up on one shoulder, back pointedly to him. His voice came mild, droll, totally unconcerned. "I'm not interested in your sword or your backside, Commodore. So you jes' keep those grabby hands to yourself, eh? Some of us are tryin' t' sleep."
Norrington's mouth gaped. This was beyond outrage. This was well into outermost-rage. "Why...you..."
A hand lifted, fingers flicking dismissively. "Shhh. Sleeping."
Norrington hugged his sword to him, fuming, and glared daggers at the ceiling as they rocked back and forth in the dark.
By morning his wig, cravat and coat had vanished. As had the pirate, but he didn't miss that one.
Norrington emerged from the cabin, blinking wincingly at the cheery golden sunshine, and took stock. He had to admit surprise: enough sailors had shaken off their drunken stupor from the rowdy night to already be getting the ship underway. He'd rather expected they'd sit idle through the morning hours, indolent and worthless as the breed was wont to be.
Their captain stood on the quarterdeck, surveying everything, calling the occasional sharp order in a tone of command he'd only once had occasion to hear from Sparrow, and that when the scoundrel held Elizabeth captive. Another irritating surprise: he wore authority rather well. Not with military bearing, no, but marked by a different, less identifiable strength of confidence.
Norrington wound his way to Sparrow's side, keeping a wary eye out for Marty (who thankfully appeared to be belowdecks for the time being). "I suppose the theft of my belongings is some manner of revenge?"
"That's a likely enough supposition."
"Dare I hope you've sufficient decency in you to see them returned to me before my departure?"
The captain slid him an unsmilingly sly, speculative look. "One can always hope."
God's blood, but he'd love an excuse to cross blades with this man, carve all that unwarranted smugness right out of him...
He tightened his jaw. Control. Restraint. "The mess?" he asked, levelly.
Hands around that slim little throat, oh yes, nice thought. "I'm assuming you aren't thinking to starve me, Captain."
"You are a needy bastard, aren't you?" Sparrow observed in a tone of aggrieved enlightenment. "Bed, food, security... Where will it end, Commodore? When you've beggared me? When I've nothing left to give?"
Norrington began to reconsider whether the Dauntless and all her complement were worth this aggravation.
The thing about a black ship in the blazing sun of the Caribbean was, it got damnably hot.
He'd not properly appreciated that fact yesterday, distracted as he was by the prospect of imminent mayhem, but now, even clad only in breeches and shirt, he felt the heat seeping from the deck below and the sails above in sullen waves. His clothing was soaked through. His hair sponged up scalp-sweat and dripped it lazily down his face and neck. And to make the discomfort complete, his hat, sans the wig beneath, didn't fit -- meaning the damned thing kept tipping down over his eyes no matter how often he resettled it. Initially he'd spared a thought to gratitude that Sparrow had at least left him the dignity of his tricorne; now he suspected the man had done this deliberately, well aware how foolish he'd look as it tipped drunkenly around his head.
And the pirates? Oh, today their mood was distinctly improved. Today they found him hilarious. Bloody oath. He'd gone from being the scourge of scallywags to being their laughingstock, all in the space of a day.
Which led him quite naturally to reconsidering the soundness of his judgment. Had his choice been cowardly? He still couldn't decide. Perhaps the correct course of action, the honorable course, would have been to engage both ships in a titanic battle and let God decide the victor. The Dauntless was a mighty man-of-war, her crew brave and worthy. Yet he'd allowed himself to be coerced by a couple of fifth-rate warships commanded by undisciplined knaves.
Self-honesty stopped him there, drawing from memory the image of Bartholomew Roberts standing firm on the deck of the Royal Fortune, his pose so innately dominating that Norrington had picked him out instantly amongst hundreds. That was no ungoverned lightweight. Black Bart had been making his name for barely a year, yet already his infamy rivaled the early years of the cursed Black Pearl's rampaging. By contrast, Jack Sparrow had been pillaging the Caribbean for a decade, and while he was certainly known -- Norrington smiled sourly at that thought -- he'd not inspired the same kind of genuine fear in the populace until he'd reacquired his sweltry black ship with her accompanying weight of menace.
Roberts was a pirate's pirate: ruthless, avaricious, and fearsomely bold. He'd need taking down. The Dauntless wouldn't be able to accomplish that feat from the ocean floor.
Blast this situation. Blast Sparrow for his part in it. Blast this infernal heat, baking him from all sides. Blast--
Was that his wig? Did he just see his wig adorning some fool's head up in the crow's nest?
"No! Stop! Bad bad bad parrot!"
Welcoming the distraction, Norrington looked back to the quarterdeck for the source of the yell. Sparrow, unsurprisingly, with a rather intimidating blue and yellow bird clinging to his shoulder, currently clamped onto and tugging with great enthusiasm one of those ridiculous, beaded beard braids. The pirate spun, flailing a bit, trying without much success to brush the flapping creature off.
Norrington settled against a jollyboat, momentarily forgetting his overall discomfort, a tiny smile that had nothing of politic motivations gracing his lips.
"Mister Cotton!" It was a growled bellow, quickly answered by a silent, aging man who dashed by Norrington on his way to his captain's aid. When he reached the beleaguered Sparrow he thrust out a knotty fist. Suffered a nip from the parrot's huge beak for his efforts, but managed to persuade it from its thrashing perch to his own wrist, then a bony shoulder, where it finally settled.
Sparrow took a giant step back, fondling the injured braid. "What did we say about the parrot?"
The older man didn't answer. His head hung eloquently low.
Wagging a finger directly at the bird this time, Sparrow swayed forward menacingly, for an instant looking almost predatory. "The captain's hair is off limits. Have you no memory at all? It's in the bloody articles!"
The sailor's head hung lower still. The parrot took a swipe at that jabbing finger, unimpressed, and Sparrow yanked his hand back protectively to his chest, concern stealing the flash of aggression from his face.
"Pretty bird," the parrot informed him raucously. "Pretty bird."
A laugh, right from his own chest, took Norrington unawares. He stifled it quickly, but not before a few heads turned his way -- not before he'd been well and truly caught with an actual smile on his face.
Sparrow's twisty little grimace of annoyed acknowledgement kept the curve to Norrington's lips long after the moment had passed.
It seemed that whatever Sparrow's inclination was, Gibbs at least didn't intend to keep him hungry. Norrington spent much of the day in the marginally cooler interior of Sparrow's cabin, the double doors propped wide to welcome the breeze, indulging his curiosity about the reading to be had and especially that intriguing little sketchbook. He scarcely noticed the time passing until his stomach grumbled a painful reminder that he'd not remembered to find his way to food since yesterday's apple. Half-apple.
And that's when Gibbs appeared as though summoned by his complaining belly. With him came a sailor Norrington had glimpsed only in passing, now bearing a tray well loaded with simple fare -- roasted fowl and apples and bananas and bread that miraculously wasn't hardtack -- that had his mouth watering in an instant.
The sailor -- pirate, he reminded himself fiercely, remembering the need for distinction -- set the tray down without looking at him, then turned to leave wordlessly. Gibbs, however, remained, and even pulled out a chair to sit with him. "Y'mind the company? I'm a mite peckish m'self."
"Please," Norrington said, gesturing at the chair he'd already selected. Grabbed a chunk of bread, too hungry to stand on ceremony, and raised it with a little smile. "And thank you."
Gibbs grabbed a plate. Handed him another. Started piling his own with generous portions, glancing at the sketch-atlas Norrington had set aside on his entrance. "Been lookin' that over?"
"I have." He bit into the bread. Washed it down with wine splashed into a plain wooden mug. Bitter stuff, that, but it did the job.
"Pretty piece o' work, innit?"
"Someone put a lot of time and care into that," he agreed appreciatively. "There are ports I've never even heard of drawn in there, coastlines with no names at all." More than that. The book was crammed with small representations of peculiar structures: statues or carvings, from the looks of them, all of a most pagan nature. Animals, too, though some looked far too unlikely to possibly be more than fantasy. "An odd little memory book, I'd say."
Gibbs grinned around a mouthful of meat. "Aye," he said, the words muffled but discernable. "Jack's been farther in 'is days'n most men dream."
The bird proved reasonably flavorful, even lacking seasoning. He chewed, mind playing over those words, eyes straying back to the unadorned cover of the book. Chased the meat down his throat with more wine. "This is...Jack's work?"
"Who'd ye think?"
He hesitated, not sure it was entirely wise to be honest here. But Gibbs seemed to be playing it straight with him; he could at least attempt to do the same. "I assumed it was stolen."
A thick shoulder bobbed in a shrug, no offense evident. "I'd've thought that m'self, had I not seen the cap'n perched on the gunwale for an hour or so more times'n I can count, bent over that little thing like it was Word o' God pourin' outta him. When we pass somewhere he ain't never seen -- rare thing, that, but it happens every so often -- that's when it comes out, an' he goes deaf to everything 'til he gets done." He ripped more meat off the bone. Chewed messily, eyes distant and fond. "'e's an odd one, our Jack. Crazy good sailor, though, no matter how peculiar he gets. And smart! Lord, is he smart!"
Norrington wasn't sure he wanted to hear this. Any of this. He most certainly didn't want to acknowledge that the sketches he'd been absorbed in for so long today were the product of Jack Sparrow's dedicated efforts. Already he'd found it more than difficult to see the man led to the scaffold. How much harder would it be by the end of this journey?
He looked into the wine, dark as blood in the wooden mug. That was, no doubt, Sparrow's whole intention here. Clearly the pirate thought him so malleable -- or thought himself so unfailingly charming -- that Norrington's resolve to be tough on piracy would weaken after a little time spent in the captain's company.
Of course, he couldn't possibly allow Sparrow to be right. And if some small, infinitesimal part of him couldn't help but fall into the obvious trap, the rest of him would just have to remain steadfast and decisive outside of it.
"Commodore, if ye don't mind, I've got a question t'ask..."
He looked up into Gibbs' frank eyes, suddenly imagining the graying old sailor on the scaffold, surrounded by a cheering, jeering crowd, chin jutted belligerently as the noose was fitted to his thick neck. Norrington steeled his nerves and reminded himself again: resolve. "Go ahead."
"How be Will an' 'Lizabeth?"
Norrington blinked. Not a question he'd been expecting. At all. "You know the Turners?"
"Helped bring 'em together, I did." Briefly Gibbs wore a smile, proud as a papa, but then realization dawned and his face froze. "Ah, that is to say...not that I really brought 'em together, 'cause that were never the point, an' I wouldn't've taken part in that if'n I'd known...or, see, what I meant was..."
A headshake, slight. Measured, bitter, forgiving smile. "I understand. You were with the crew Sparrow mustered for the Interceptor. Which means, I suppose, that you helped in Elizabeth's rescue. For which I thank you."
"Well," the man said grudgingly, "not as such. I'm a sailor, sir, an' that's about all."
Norrington's smile faded. "You're also a pirate."
Gibbs stopped eating. Looked at him now without a smile, without the absent expression of a storyteller, without the genial pity of an old seadog for a younger man thrust out of his element. "Aye," he said steadily. "I'm also a pirate."
It gave him an opening he couldn't resist. "Why?" A glance towards the breast pocket in which that omnipresent flask resided. "Was it the drink?"
Gibbs tipped his head. Pursed lips thoughtfully. "It might'a helped me along, I s'pose." Eyes narrowed meaningfully. "'course, losin' any hope of decent work after they signed peace at Utrecht and the Navy lost its use for the likes o' me might'a had a little somethin' to do with it, too. So did a merchant captain name o' Tattersal who had a..." A lip curled, baring teeth. "...a fondness for flogging."
He'd heard enough about the cruelties some merchant captains visited on their crews to not be overly surprised at that. "But piracy, Gibbs?"
"The view's a mite different from the bottom of the heap," he said, then added very deliberately, "Commodore Norrington."
The sudden distance that slight emphasis put between them felt very vast indeed.
Clearing his throat, Gibbs pushed his plate away and stood, wiping his mouth on a sleeve. "I best be gettin' back to work. Enjoy the rest of it."
Norrington dipped his head in acknowledgement. His appetite, however, had already fled. And it was only after the blocky figure of the man vanished beyond the open doors that he realized he'd not answered the only question Gibbs had counted important enough to ask.
He was in the cot, not sleeping, when Sparrow entered the cabin well after nightfall. The man moved with assurance despite the gloom, and the sound of his clothes again coming off stirred fainter alarm than it had last night. He'd not be rattled so easily as that. Not twice.
"Must we do this again?" he asked, sighing.
"There's always the floor," Sparrow said calmly as he padded over, naked as a newborn -- not that Norrington had looked to confirm that, of course. "Or the brig, if you prefer. Though I've been a guest there meself, and I can't say as it's to be recommended." He climbed in as if this had already become routine. But a thing couldn't be routine after one night, could it? God, he hoped not.
Norrington tried very hard to feel tired. Listened to the breathing of the man too close beside him, level but not deep, recognizing the rhythm for wakefulness even as the long minutes trickled by.
Not so much noise from the crew tonight; the fiddlers appeared to be taking the evening off. He hadn't imagined he'd miss the background ruckus, the distraction it provided from the quiet and the cool sheets and the warm body nearby and the breathing.
"Sparrow," he said finally.
The pirate didn't bother feigning waking. "Captain Sparrow," he corrected matter-of-factly. "Or Jack."
Damned if he'd call the man 'Captain' here. "Jack."
A pause, waiting. Then impatiently-- "Aye, what?"
But Norrington was chasing his own thoughts down, trying to frame them into words, and allowed himself another moment to do so. "I've been wondering something."
"A game, then? Am I to guess this wondering?"
Norrington glanced over at his back, half-obscured by the tumble of dark hair, those strange decorations threaded through here and there. Idly, he noted a tattoo on that upturned right shoulder. Hard to see in this light, but it looked to be a mermaid, her breasts bare, one eye seeming to wink enticingly. "I saw your drawings. The coastlines."
A few more breaths of nothing. Then the cot swayed as Sparrow turned over to lie on his right flank, an arm tucking comfortably beneath his pillow, eyes black as coal in the shadowy room. "I know."
That stare quickly nettled his nerves. Norrington turned his face up, gazing at one of the ceiling hooks joining the chains overhead. "You're a...reasonably intelligent man..." he began awkwardly.
"You're far too kind," Sparrow said, dry and amused.
Norrington scowled. "I can understand why a man like Gibbs would feel as if piracy were his only option."
"Ah, yes, a lowlife like Gibbs..."
"That's not what I meant, Sparrow."
"Jack." From the corner of his eyes, he caught a flash of gold teeth. "Or Captain."
A slantwise glare. "Jack. You know what I'm asking."
"Do I? I'm only reasonably intelligent, after all..."
He exhaled, slowly, counseling himself to forbearance. Wished fervently that Sparrow would stop studying him like that. "You have choices Gibbs does not. But you choose this...lawlessness. Why?"
"Why are you in my cot?"
He glanced sideward again. Met those eyes, unfathomable in the dark. "I believe we've covered this already."
"Because the alternatives were intolerable." His jaw tightened. "This is very nearly intolerable."
A soft snort met that last. "Ah, but y'see, on this ship, my word is law. And I told you no. Which makes you the lawbreaker here, savvy?"
Norrington looked up to get away from that too-direct gaze. "I can hardly break laws I don't acknowledge."
So swiftly he nearly had the commodore grabbing for his sword, Sparrow sat up, rocking them both, clapping his hands sharply together, once. "My point exactly! I thought it would take you much longer to get it, mate, really I did."
Thoroughly uncomfortable at having the pirate looming over him -- particularly with those sheets now pooling so very low around the man's unclad hips -- Norrington pushed to sit up himself, maneuvering around until he could brace against a suspension chain. "You're only one man. King George has the entire military to enforce his edicts."
"Actually, here on the Pearl, I'm about eighty men. And most of me hates you, as you've already noted. So I'm not thinking havin' me own 'edicts' enforced would be a problem."
Norrington drew his knees up. Rested forearms atop them and stared challengingly across. "Then why am I here?"
Flash of teeth. "You amuse me."
Eyes narrowed. "I amuse you."
"Watchin' you squirm around, tryin' your very best t' see that no part'a you touches no part'a me."
"I do not," he said distinctly, "squirm."
With a gusty breath, Sparrow flopped back down. The sheet, Norrington couldn't help but notice, did not manage to edge up any higher. "Whatever you say, Norrington."
That mocking little lilt chafed him more than it reasonably should. "Commodore," he told the pirate with a returning note of loftiness. "Or James."
"You squirm, Commodore James. An' you know what else?"
"I do not. What else?"
Norrington straightened, piqued. "I'm quite certain I don't."
"Ever heard yourself sleep, Commodore James?"
"Obviously not, Captain Jack."
"Then trust me on this."
Norrington's turn to smirk. As it had been a while, he gave the expression considerable indulgence. "Trust. You."
Sparrow did that smile again -- those eyebrows up, those cheeks pulled snug over sharp cheekbones. "You're on me ship, in me cot, and I've not got a stitch of clothing on." A slow, luxurious stretch, the motion somehow so disturbing that Norrington had to look away again. "I'd say you're putting a remarkable amount of faith in me, Commodore James."
Norrington studied his hands. A nice, safe place to rest his eyes. "I had little choice in the matter."
"Oh, you had choices. You had plenty of choices. You could've fought."
"Death's as real as it gets, mate." He looked over at that. Sparrow had his head pillowed on linked hands and wasn't, for once, gazing at him. Thankfully. "You could've gone with Bart."
A short, bitter snort. "You made me your prisoner, remember?"
"Ahh, yes." Musingly reminiscent. "The good old days, before this 'guest' nonsense started..."
Norrington rubbed his hands over his face, circling palms over itchy eyes. He was beginning to feel a trace of that absent tiredness finally. "What are we doing here, Jack?"
"This." He gestured one-handedly, from himself to the pirate and back, the other hand still trying to massage sense into his head through his eyeballs. "Right now."
"Talking?" A considering grunt. "Aye, now that you mention it, it is gettin' a bit odd. I never talk this much in bed." His voice lowered almost imperceptibly, taking on a strange little rumble, throatier and smoother at once. "'specially not when I've got company."
Norrington's hand stopped rubbing. He opened eyes, daring a glance. Found Sparrow watching him. No particular expression was evident on that mercurial face, so quick to move from blank to mobile, dangerous to imploring. He just...watched. Blinking every so often. With the sheet now sinfully low over his pelvis.
Very deliberately, Norrington stretched out on his side of the cot, lying quite still. "Good night, Jack."
A moment. A soft huff of breath. Then a mutter so quiet he could barely make it out. "Well, it coulda been."
Closing his eyes, Norrington inhaled slowly, exhaled, and determinedly did not think about what that might possibly mean.
"Well, Commodore?" Sparrow spoke with rich amusement for all that his face appeared almost innocent. "Does it suit you?"
Norrington's stomach tightened as he surveyed the island. Like most of the tiny spits of land in this chain in the Lesser Antilles, this one looked, to his civilized eyes, quite miserably desolate. There'd be fresh water there somewhere -- reasonably lush forestation testified to that -- but if the captain did indeed mean to leave him here he'd not have an easy time of it. His training had focused on markedly different aspects of survival: namely, combat. By hand, by sword, by sea.
Of course, if Sparrow did leave him here, that training might well come in handy anyway; these islands were frequent refuges for pirates fleeing capture, as Calico Jack Rackham had almost futilely tried. In all likelihood he'd be found by their ilk long before a friendly ship passed by.
When he didn't respond right away, Sparrow sauntered to his side and draped a forearm over his near shoulder, leaning in familiarly. "I got marooned once, you know. Not such a nice place as this, however, so p'rhaps I shouldn't be feelin' sorry for you right now. What d'you think?"
He thought he wanted very much to shrug that weight off of him. The pirate captain made clearheadedness a challenge at the best of times. "I could name a few more hospitable ports." A handful of boats already sailed for the shore, loaded with sailors and barrels for water. "Is this because..." But he stopped himself before the words could fully form even in his own mind.
"Because...?" Sparrow leaned in closer still, murmuring with the air of a confidant. "You can say it. Just b'tween us."
Norrington shook his head and stepped aside in the same motion, leaving Sparrow swaying for balance in his absence. "My belongings, Captain?"
"You suggested they might be returned to me upon my departure."
Headtilt. Bemused smile. "Where will you be going then?"
"I..." Counting, slowly, to ten, Norrington wrenched his eyes from that infuriatingly mocking face. "So you don't mean to leave me here."
"I'm not so heartless as that, Commodore James. You'd be found and butchered by the likes of Bart long before managing to get yourself rescued."
But of course Sparrow couldn't resist the opportunity to make Norrington squirm. Not that he squirmed. "Indeed." He'd find a way to make that damned pirate squirm one of these days. Squirm and writhe and pant and moan and--
Dear God, the strain of his captivity was finally getting to him.
As if following his thoughts, the man smiled at him rather pityingly. "Look like you could use some shore-leave, mate. And the good news is, that's exactly what the captain -- that'd be me -- just ordered."
Fires burned in half a dozen patches along the beach, surrounded by groups of men varyingly subdued or cacophonous. The scent of cooked meat -- they'd slaughtered a pig and several chickens for this impromptu feast -- still lingered in the air, speaking of sated bellies and momentary contentment. The pirates drank, of course. Heavily. And for the first time since he'd boarded the Pearl, Norrington saw Sparrow joining in with them, swilling down rum and whatever other spirits were circulating with intense enthusiasm.
Seated at the same fire, back a ways so that the light didn't pick him out so clearly from the rest, Norrington watched the captain covertly across the rim of the mug he'd claimed once the bottles started making the rounds. He'd had quite a bit more to drink already than was ever his custom. Hard to resist when there was so little else with which to occupy himself here. Gibbs had been avoiding him since their chat yesterday. Not a single one of the other pirates had demonstrated any interest in speaking with him -- except, of course, for Marty, who still went out of his way to arrange slight little inconveniences, just to keep the commodore on his toes. The rest either avoided him, sweating out their barely concealed hatred, or treated him with awkward, untutored politeness. Neither suited his mood tonight.
Well, the hatred might suit his mood. Part of him churned with restless, heated energy, spoiling for a fight or...something similar.
The rum. Had to be. Devil's drink, putting the devil's whisper in his thoughts.
He was quickly tiring of feeling so utterly isolated while surrounded by so many. When the next bottle came his way, he splashed the mug to fullness and drank it down grimly, staring into the flames.
"You might wanna go easy on that," a voice murmured in his ear, so near he flinched and spilled half the contents of his cup over himself. He swore beneath his breath, looking up into shadowy eyes made darker, wilder, by that smudgy lining to them. How'd he get over here without Norrington's notice...?
His jaw clenched. "Are you my keeper, Sparrow?"
"Not at all, mate. Jes' a bitta friendly advice." Wavering, the pirate lowered himself to an unsteady crouch at Norrington's side. His murmur went softer still. "Never know what you'll do under a full moon with too much rum in your head."
"It's not a full moon."
Sparrow swayed more, finally putting a hand to Norrington's shoulder to steady himself. Placed his mouth near the commodore's ear, his breath like Caribbean summer, hot and utterly merciless against that sensitive skin. "Pretend."
Norrington's gaze flickered across the faces around the fire. The men quite pointedly weren't noticing them, though Gibbs met his glance very briefly before looking away. Someone spoke from the other side of the pit with the tone of a joke, bawdy, and laughter erupted. Norrington felt detached from all of it. The cup in his hand felt real. The fingers still clinging to his shoulder felt quite real.
A shiver rocked him. How odd it seemed, shivering amidst all this heat. The liquor warmed him from the belly out. The fire toasted him from the skin in. But chills ran in tandem with the torridity through his blood.
"Take a walk with me, Commodore James," Sparrow invited, rumbling in undertone.
He looked over at Gibbs again. Caught another flash of blue eyes, purplish in the amber light. This time Gibbs held his gaze for a heartbeat or two. Smiled faintly, though it looked forced, and gave a small nod. Of what? Forgiveness? Encouragement?
Norrington drained his mug with several long swallows and left it in the sand by the fire.
They walked for the marginally cooler darkness of the trees with Sparrow leaning on him for support, Norrington marveling distantly at his own stability, and neither particularly watching where they set their feet. The pirate stumbled most often. Somehow every stagger turned into a grand affair of a flailing arm and a gripping hand and a guttural oath that sounded like a promise or a threat. Hard for Norrington to decide which, with his instincts switching allegiances every other moment, arguing that he should shove the sod away or grab him close or slug him or rub him or...just...
At the first big tree trunk Sparrow tugged him to a halt. Pushed him back against it, propping his own shoulder alongside, standing with him and doing...nothing. Except being, which for Jack Sparrow seemed more than enough to cause an effect.
Norrington's head tipped back until it thumped against the trunk. He swirled, inside, with eddies that churned in his head and his chest and his stomach and, oh yes, very definitely lower. Because Sparrow was pressed all too casually against his flank and he kept seeing, in whirling images, that sheet slipping down, the thin line of dark hair tracing from navel to beneath the covering, and the flex and bend of his leanly muscled body in that cruelly enticing stretch.
"Too much rum?" Sparrow asked, not quite so slurry as he remembered. "Or not enough?"
He considered the matter seriously. "That depends on what you're expecting."
"Hadn't thought that far. Jes' wanted t' get you out here."
"So you can say you've carnalized a commodore of the Royal Navy?"
"Carnalized?" A throaty chuckle. "I like that."
He closed his eyes. Reputation. Responsibility. Resolve. God help him, resolve...
The hand stole up his shoulder and behind his neck, rubbing slowly at muscles that'd gone abruptly tense. Instinct shouted its conflicting messages again. He cracked lids to stare up at the dark canopy high above.
Sparrow curved around him, stepped into him. Caressed a thigh with his own, soft hiss of fabric over fabric, swift jolt of insistent pressure at his groin. The pirate's other hand found his tight jaw and traced over it to play against the side of his face, marking the line of a cheekbone with two fingertips.
"Damn you, Sparrow," he heard himself mutter, thickly.
Both hands paused. He felt the eyes that sought his, but didn't try to meet them. "Don't damn me, James. I've never meant you harm."
Norrington thumped his skull back against the trunk, deliberately hard enough to hurt. "I...didn't mean that."
The fingers on his neck slid higher, cupping the back of his head, pulling him forward just a little until those eyes had him, held him with shine and shade. "Full moon," Sparrow said.
A dry-throated swallow. "Full moon," he echoed. Then dipped his head to find Sparrow's lips, shivering again.
He didn't know what he was doing. That is, he knew -- he'd achieved his share of kissing in his time -- but this wasn't the light company he'd sometimes availed himself of, nor the exceedingly small number of women whose companionship he'd seriously considered for the long-term. Jack Sparrow melted against him with supple strength and undisguised wanting here, and that rewrote all the rules.
Maybe some of this spinning wasn't the rum at all. Maybe some just came with the man.
Lips, full and slightly rough, parted beneath his. He felt Jack's tongue -- and suddenly it was Jack's tongue, not Sparrow's, with an abruptness that actually jarred him -- and then it followed his upper lip in tiny strokes, probing and sampling, until he opened his mouth to catch the shifty thing and draw it in to meet his.
Jack tasted like rum and that strange, clear liquor Norrington had only sampled. Mescal? The mingling of the two seemed as wrong and as right as the kiss itself, the feel of Jack's body along his, the gathering urgency in the front of his breeches.
He realized his arms had gone around Jack of their own volition. Still aware of that light, tracing touch against his face, he wanted to match it and explore in kind. He freed a hand and brought it to Jack's cheek, his jaw, feeling it work beneath his palm, and then he needed nothing more than to deepen that kiss and let it suck the breath from both of them.
Fingers ranged into the wilderness of Jack's hair and tangled there, forcing him closer. His tongue followed Jack's with a stroking glide. Dragged along the surface of it. Dipped to graze its sides. Teased up beneath it, feeling out the softer flesh there.
A moan -- Jack's, he thought. Swiftly joined by his own when the man twisted a little, bringing his hip into contact with Norrington's growing erection. Norrington released his mouth to catch a gasp. With dazed satisfaction, he noticed Jack had to struggle to breathe evenly as well.
"We should..." He stopped. Swallowed a groan. "We should go back to the Pearl."
Jack's face went to his collarbone and he mouthed it in an explorative journey up, rising along a crest of shoulder, over to the sweet vulnerability of Norrington's bared throat. "Too far," he muttered, licking the dip of his clavicle.
Even swimming, spinning, soaring, Norrington's mind insisted on mentioning a few details. Pirates, mostly. Lots of them, scores even, arrayed over this island in myriad states of drunkenness. No doubt some of them were pairing up and searching out a modicum of privacy in around these trees.
And for all that he wished very badly right now that he could forget, he was still a commodore, and his pride and shame both insisted that his fall from grace be somewhat better concealed than this.
"I can't, Jack. Not here."
Jack brushed spidery fingers along the straining laces over his groin, making him suck in a pained breath. "We'll never make it."
With phenomenal strength of will, Norrington caught Jack by both arms and held him away, shaking a little, instinct now finally deciding to stick to one message and choosing the one that demanded instant gratification at any and all costs. But he wouldn't listen to that either.
"Not here," he said again, harsh with the wanting and the frustration of self-denial.
Jack's eyes closed tightly. He mumbled something indistinct, then blinked to look at him and nodded shortly. "A'right. But you're rowing."
"It would go faster with two."
Teeth bared in something too feral to be called a smile. "I'm gonna be busy takin' care of you, mate."
Norrington wondered if he'd make it to the boat.
The wet stroke of the oars through the water had never had occasion to sound erotic before.
Of course, he'd never been rowing -- attempting to row -- through a drunken night with a pirate languorously licking his testicles before, either. Lap, lap, lap...oars or tongue, both tickling his ears, feeding the inferno that built higher and higher in his blood.
He hadn't managed a deep breath since the island. The lack of air was beginning to tell, and he found it incredibly hard to remember to hold the oars, let alone use them.
Jack's hands caressed his thighs, his hips, his flanks -- now gentle, now digging, now tickling until he wanted quite desperately to scream. It'd been a long time since he'd entertained anyone in bed or anywhere else (this little scenario, however, was definitely a first any which way he looked at it). And no one had ever, in living memory, tormented him into such a fever of need. Were it not for the alcohol in him slowing his response he'd have lost it long before they managed to hurriedly shove the boat into the water.
He'd forgotten how excruciating pleasure could be.
A splash. It should've startled him, but instead he barely noticed it, felt annoyed at even that slight distraction. Then a far more wrenching distraction as Jack darted up from his ministrations to lean out over the side, rocking the boat severely, reaching for the oar he'd just dropped.
Oh, well yes, that would help.
Jack dropped the oar to the bottom of the boat. Took the other from his useless fingers and did the same. "Told you it was too far."
"So you did," he panted, mildly irritated to see that tending to him had given the pirate ample opportunity to collect himself. He would come undone here, and Sparrow would have the wits to laugh about it. "I concede that I misjudged the...the distance."
Jack smiled sanguinely. Knelt again in the bottom of the boat between his sprawled legs, and Norrington couldn't help but push up a little with his hips, erection begging attention. Jack slid smoothly up his left thigh to take him in hand. The gliding hiss of friction, those calloused palms and fingers, was torturous, the touch too insubstantial yet to take him back to that edge. The pirate seemed entranced with watching the play of his darker hand over the commodore's pale skin. Fingers curled and stroked up; loosened and trailed down. On the next upsweep, the roughened thumb brushed over the hypersensitive head of his organ, smearing the clear fluid and dragging a noise from his throat that sounded half a gurgle, half a whimper.
"Jack," he managed, "please..."
Jack's eyes didn't shift their focus. "Please what?"
Now a look, slow and sly, trawling up his shirted torso and netting more desperation with every heartbeat. Jack met his eyes. Pushed to one foot, not letting go of him, and stretched along his body until their lips met, their tongues, and Norrington could at least burn off a little of this inner demand by grabbing his head between both hands and kissing him furiously.
When he came up for air Jack's teeth nipped along his jaw to his ear, where he exhaled long and low as his tongue marked every curve of it. "I believe you meant to say, 'Please suck my cock.'"
He caught a breath. "Don't...don't make me beg."
"You're already begging."
Jack kissed his lips, not letting it deepen, mustache soft and scratchy against his face. Stroked another teasing glide along his length, thumb swirling. Norrington choked.
"B'fore you do start beggin' again," Jack murmured, now in his other ear, "it strikes me this is an opportune moment to bring up a matter that's been on me mind these past few days."
A hard swallow. Shut eyes closed off the stars and the sliver of moon and the distant gold light from the fires on shore. "What?"
"See, it's this hanging thing..."
Cold despair welled from an unknown place inside. He swallowed again to chase the rock from his throat. Said nothing.
Jack nipped his neck, stingingly, just down from his ear, sparking a flinch. Licked the spot apologetically. "Think you could still do it? Commodore?"
His throat closed, making words all but impossible anyway. He opened his eyes and stared up, blindly, trying to think through booze and desperation.
Jack's hand pulled again, more firmly this time. His voice sounded a trifle uneven now. "P'rhaps I should ask again after. Spare us both a bit longer, eh?"
"Yes," Norrington managed in a whisper, seizing the reprieve.
And again that warm, rumbly amusement to Jack's tone. "But I'm still awaiting a little begging, mate."
"Please," he said immediately, his hands on lean shoulders, trying not to give in to the need to force him down. "Please, Jack."
"Suck you, or please suck you?"
He laughed, utterly breathless, and pushed down on those shoulders anyway. "Please, Captain Jack, suck my cock."
Jack let himself be shoved downward, mouth glinting a leer. "Now that's just got the loveliest ring to it..."
Norrington tried to answer, but then Jack was on him, stealing his words with the merciless vortex of lips and cheeks and tongue and careful teeth, and the commodore could hear his own gasps and groans and what strained cries he couldn't keep between his teeth echoing over the water. He gripped the sides of the boat so tightly his nails threatened to split. Jack's hands were kneading his buttocks, still half-clothed in unlaced breeches, pulling insistently.
With a rasping shout, Norrington gave in at last. His arms were tense, holding him up as his hips, all right, they squirmed with a motion like a struggle, a battle already lost. He felt himself shoot in pulses deep within Jack's mouth. Felt that mouth working to swallow his release, the sensation drawing yet more from him. Jack's hands were suddenly gentle, supporting, and as the terribly wonderful suction eased the pirate's tongue went back to work, bathing his played-out cock.
Trembling, Norrington eased down. Gazed at Jack's slowly rocking head. The steady lapping sounded no less erotic for all that he'd just spent himself.
Jack stilled after a bit. Looked up, not rising. "I think now the Pearl," he said, voice not quite steady.
Norrington's hands moved slowly to lace breeches. "You don't, ah...need...?"
Jack's close-mouthed smile was tight and strained. "On the contrary, mate, I do need. Very much. But I've a mind for a tad more comfortable surroundings, eh?" He glanced over the side of the boat. "'sides, we're drifting."
Norrington followed his gaze to where the Black Pearl rode at anchor, a silent black queen, only a few lights burning aboard for her currently minimal crew complement. They had coasted a good ways farther aslant than intended.
The commodore took up the oars, and Jack watched his ship draw nearer.
They lashed the boat, leaving it in the water, and climbed aboard. A sailor on lookout grunted a greeting to Jack, slid a silent glare across Norrington's face. Rum-buzz fading now, the little reminder of just who he was stuck him like a pinprick, tiny and annoying and very difficult to ignore.
Jack, appearing not to notice his renewed hesitation, led the way to the captain's cabin, his sloshed stride seeming quite natural here. Norrington's eyes were drawn to the dance of those hips, their alluring sway. A flush of new heat took him in a wave from head to toe. Now that he'd acknowledged Jack's body as an object of lust he couldn't wrench his mind away from the thought of exploring every last inch of the man.
When debasing oneself, he observed with a trace of sorrowful bitterness, one might as well be thorough about it.
The doors swung shut behind Jack. Norrington pushed through, following, and found himself abruptly wrapped in pirate.
"Christ, I thought we'd never get here," Jack muttered fervently against his lips. He was all but climbing Norrington, clinging to him, seeming to grab everywhere at once while grinding his all-too-apparent arousal against whatever body part availed itself. He swore in a constant undercurrent, the words repetitive but the tone of them flashing from pleading to imperative, sometimes in the space of a single syllable.
Norrington caught the shoulders of Jack's coat and pulled it back, down, helping him wriggle free of it. Tossed his hat away. Grabbed his shirt next and tugged upward. Jack lifted his arms as it was yanked off over the dark mane of his heavily decorated hair.
God, the need in him...! In the boat Norrington had almost believed himself the only one so devastatingly impacted by this...this whatever-this-was between them. Not anymore. It did something for him, something quiet and important, to know the malady had them both.
He walked Jack backwards. Bore him down to the cot, drinking in the heat of sweat-slicked skin through nomadic hands, then his questing mouth as it wandered the planes of his chest. Salty perspiration made Jack taste of the ocean that owned him. Brine-bathed man. Edible. God.
Jack's nimble fingers unbuttoned his shirt. Norrington shook it off absently. He'd discovered the delightful results of sucking, tonguing, nibbling one of those hard little nipples, and the thrill of hearing Jack's heart hammer inside his heaving chest as he twitched underneath him seemed to warrant far more attention than his own apparel or lack thereof.
Jack twisted in a promisingly flexible way to get a leg up, grab a boot, tug if off one-handedly. Repeated with the other, sending the footwear to thud meaninglessly on the floor. When his hands went to the fastening at his groin Norrington had to draw back, grinning, to watch him wriggle free.
An eyebrow went up. "What?"
"It's quite a different sight."
He stroked a hand appreciatively over that gilded skin, thumbing the pale line of a scar. "Watching you strip when I want you to."
Jack's eyes slitted with wicked pleasure. "Howsabout some fair play turnabout, Commodore James? You strike me as a bit overdressed for the occasion."
"In a minute," Norrington murmured, gaze following his hand as it in turn followed Jack's torso down, lower, thumb dipping at his navel and then again, lower, until coarse dark hair guided him to the upstanding erection he'd somehow been the cause of. He gripped it experimentally. Was rewarded with a sharp intake of breath and another swift expletive.
"Soft," he observed, of the silky skin sheathing the thing.
"Hard," Jack hissed. "Very."
"Both." He started to lean over, unthinking, to taste it. Jack's sudden stillness gave him pause. Questioning, he glanced up.
Jack blinked at him slowly. Took a breath, then offered a crooked smile. "Please?"
Norrington laughed, and bent, and kissed the weeping head of the pirate's cock.
The scent, musky, almost animal -- he hadn't expected that. Most certainly wouldn't have expected it to curl into his brain like beguiling perfume. He had expected to hear Jack's respiration grow ragged, his cursing increasingly foul, and was not disappointed on that front. He had not thought to find the bitter, saliferous taste of precum to be anything but unpleasant, however, and in that matter he decided that, curiously, he'd been wrong.
He drew a wet line up Jack's turgid shaft, curving his tongue against its width, then probed the slit delicately, knowing his own painful sensitivity there. Repeated the motion, base to tip. Distinctly enjoyed how Jack caught his biceps and squeezed hard encouragement. His angle, though, did not afford the best approach to this, so he moved to hover over Jack's legs and tried again.
"Fuck yes," Jack whimpered.
Ah, good. So he was getting the hang of this then.
He closed his mouth over rigid heat, mindful of his teeth. Sucked, cheeks caving, tongue playing about the bulbous head with exploratory motions. With a hand he circled the base of the shaft, lightly twisting.
Jack's hips jerked. He felt the pirate's hands dig into his hair, not guiding, just moving with him. The word trickled between Jack's teeth-- "Commodore..."
He didn't stop, but the title shook him, inside. Knocked him back a half-step from the moment and his inebriated abandonment to it.
Think you could still do it? Commodore?
Norrington had no illusions that he'd personally be true enough to his duties to hunt the pirate down. Not after this. In truth probably not before this either, though he couldn't identify just when that had stopped being an option. Personal honor, he thought, was too circuitous a thing to be so easily pinned down; but somewhere between setting foot on the Black Pearl and suckling her captain's cock into his mouth he'd realized that the hunt was no longer his.
But Norrington wasn't the only military commander in the Caribbean. Not even the only one based in Jamaica. If one of his subordinates found a way to circumvent Jack's alliance with Fortuna...what then? What could he do when a Royal Navy ship returned triumphant with pirates in the brig, and the parade of the doomed men to the gaol revealed one uniquely swaggering figure? He might not have it in him to hound Jack to his death, but he couldn't save him, either. Not for all the full moons in imagination.
He released Jack's shaft. Dipped to test the weight of testes, hot-skinned, rolling them on his tongue. The hands in his hair fisted. He felt tremors running through the arms attached to them.
His heart hurt with a pain that felt tangible, palpable. Because he stood on one side, Jack on the other, and if it came to it he'd oversee the execution with no expression on his face at all, no matter what feelings churned behind the façade.
Jack said his name like a benediction. Again, stammering, now making it a vulgarity. Both sounded right.
Then Jack tensed significantly, frozen for a heartbeat, before shuddering like a ship taking fire and releasing his own volley into Norrington's not entirely prepared mouth. He tried to swallow everything. Some escaped his lips to slide down Jack's length regardless, so once the cock went limp in his mouth he shifted to tend to the rest, remembering with a little quiver the way it felt to be so washed.
Not ready to meet Jack's eyes, he stayed busy down there a good long while. Finally those fingers still threaded into his hair curled, gave a tug, and he let himself be drawn up.
Jack was sitting now. Drew his legs in to cross them, hands flowing down Norrington's neck to his bare shoulders. The gleam in his eyes looked like madness.
He opened his mouth to speak. Needing to not hear whatever words might come, Norrington kissed him instead, slow and undemanding, fingers finding his chin and those strange little braids. He grinned a little. Tugged one of them, rolling the bead.
"Pretty bird," he said, against Jack's lips.
A snort. "Gallows bird is more like it."
Norrington's grin faltered. He sat back and looked away, waiting for Jack to ask the question again.
Jack's hands slid down his chest. He didn't ask it. Said instead, "You owe me some skin, James."
Forcing the dark edge from his thoughts -- or ignoring it, at least, as best he was able -- Norrington dredged up a smile, faint but sincere, and moved to unlace his breeches.
Norrington had the sense, studying one unlabeled drawing in that unique little sketchbook, that he'd seen the island it depicted before. Hard to tell -- the lines here were rougher than most of the rest, the portrayal seeming more art than accuracy -- but still he recognized something of it. One side of the island. A turned page, then the northern shore, curved and bland. Odd scribbles here and there that made no sense to him, but seemed like they might if he just gazed at them long enough.
And then another page that held no detailed coast, no artistic rendering, but just a rubbing. A medallion it was, marked with jagged angles and pagan symbols and a grimacing skull at its heart.
He'd definitely seen that one. Elizabeth wore it once. According to the story he'd pieced together after that dumbfounding series of events, that cursed pendant had been responsible for a great many drastic changes in his life.
One cheek twitched, drawing his mouth into a half-smile as he glanced across the cabin to where Jack dozed on the hanging cot, one arm dangling over the side, swinging gently with the cradling motion. That heathen gold had drastically changed a great many lives, actually. Perhaps not so much for the worse either.
Few blank pages remained in the book. He thumbed them thoughtfully, wondering what might fill it. So many places left to see in this world. It hardly seemed possible the era of exploration and discovery would ever end.
"I know why that's got inside your head so much."
He looked over again. Jack hadn't moved except to open his eyes and turn his head very slightly. Norrington lifted eyebrows. "Do tell."
Steady gaze. "'cause it's full of places you've never been, and probably never will be."
His heart twitched off-rhythm. "Who's to say I won't?"
"You are." Calmly. Almost inoffensive. "Your life is, rather. You go where some landlubberly coxcomb in a pretty chair an ocean away from here tells you, and that's why you'll never see what I've seen."
Norrington closed the book and set it aside. "We can't all simply go where the wind takes us, Jack."
"Who needs those?" With genuine bafflement.
"Obligations are about people needing you, not the other way around." But he knew Jack wouldn't follow that. Not in his heart. Three days, and the pirate hadn't even asked about the young people who'd put their necks on the line for him. Jack saw in one direction: forward. Elizabeth and her husband were behind him now.
Norrington had spent the better part of the past hour developing that conclusion. He was a little proud of his insight. A little sad for what it meant. It would not be an easy thing to become part of Jack's past after coming to appreciate sharing the present with him, however briefly.
Some of the direction of his thoughts must've showed on his face, for Jack sat up, stretching again (and calling forth a renewed flash of interest for all that they'd spent hours exhausting each other already), then slipped from the cot and walked his way. Unabashedly naked, of course. Norrington had donned his breeches upon rising, a measure of modesty well entrenched in him, but Jack seemed disinclined to bother. For which he was actually rather grateful now that he felt free to admire the man's body without undue embarrassment.
Jack moved behind him and ran hands onto his shoulders -- not quite massaging, not quite caressing, but a little of both. Norrington's eyes slid shut. He let his head loll forward, sighing faintly. The night had turned into quite a workout; he suspected he'd be very sore once muscles had a chance to stiffen. A headache, his punishment for the drinking, throbbed with muted insistence behind his eyes.
"You should keep that," Jack said.
Eyelids lifted. "Your book?"
"It's about done anyway. Time I started a new one."
He wanted it. Almost desperately. "You've put too much work into it. I can't accept."
"That's not work." Thumbs circled on the back of his neck, pressing firmly. "Plundering's work. Pillaging's work."
"I really don't need reminding of your 'work' right now."
Fingers traveled higher, loosening the tension just beneath his skull. "Moon's not out anymore, James," Jack said quietly.
Well, no. But it hadn't been for longer than Jack probably realized.
He wondered when Jack would ask the question again. Then wondered if he even remembered it.
Hands slid down, flat across his chest. Jack's chin propped on his left shoulder as he leaned in, draping rather than hugging, his hair a tickling fall over his arm and the side of his torso. "So you'll take it, aye?"
Norrington briefly clasped one of Jack's arms where it crossed his chest. "With gratitude."
Jack squeezed him. "Good." Let him go, claiming the chair beside him and sitting, legs askew. Grinned with lazy amusement that didn't look entirely unforced. "Somethin' to remember me by."
"I'll hardly be able to forget you," Norrington reminded him dryly. "Reports of the Black Pearl's presence cross my desk almost daily."
That seemed to honestly please him. Eyes warmed momentarily, dancing in the lamplight and the morning gray. "We've been entertaining, haven't we? Me an' my girl?"
"That's an understatement of colossal proportions."
"Ah well." Jack's gaze wandered with seeming absence to the nearest porthole, watching the fading night. "Bart'll keep you on your toes."
"You'll not even miss me, I'm sure."
Miss him...like this? With this trust, this truce...this complete lack of clothing...? Or was this something else entirely? "I don't follow."
Jack tipped the chair back a little, bracing an arm on the table for balance. "'m leavin', mate." As casually as a comment on the state of the morning.
"... Leaving the Caribbean?"
"The Atlantic, actually."
Norrington's stomach hollowed. His face felt strangely numb. "When did you make this decision?"
Fingers started drumming, rings flashing and gleaming. "Three days past."
"That's what Roberts demanded?"
A little shrug. "We'd been considering it anyway, me an' the crew. Between you and Woodes Rogers, piracy's not payin' so well here these days."
"Wants me among his 'brethren.'" His lip curled scornfully. "If not with him, then against him, see?" Finally a glance, slanted and indirect. "He's got near as many rules as your Georgie. He was willing to make some concessions for me, naturally..."
"But you won't acknowledge his authority," Norrington supplied.
"Teetotaler," Jack reminded him, grimacing.
"When will you leave?"
Another small shrug, just one shoulder lifting and sinking. "Soon."
Lips curved. "You'll 'ave to turn pirate 'fore I tell you that."
He'd imagined the note of invitation in those words, of course.
Norrington cleared his throat. Tried not to delve too deeply into what lurked behind his thoughts. "And that's it? Roberts cracks a whip and you run?"
"I gave him my word. You weren't the only one chokin' on 'is pride that day, Commodore James." The roll of his fingers slowed, became more deliberate, and Norrington found himself drawn again into the motion there, the entrancing quality of it. "Bart's too intense to last, I think. He fancies himself something of a pirate king, savvy?"
A slow nod. He did savvy. "A large target."
Fingers stilled, and when he looked up to meet Jack squarely he saw unusual calmness on those changeable features. Almost serenity. "I can be a very patient man when I've cause to be."
Norrington believed him.
Bare-chested, starting to redden a little already in the bright sun, Norrington frowned as he held up the shirt he'd spent half the morning scrubbing. Three days of wearing the same unlaundered clothes -- barring, of course, that little excursion of not wearing anything at all for a good chunk of the night -- had finally made him decide to try his hand at this domestic exercise.
Judging from the appearance of his shirt -- which he was fairly sure hadn't been this disturbing shade of pale yellow before -- he should probably stick to what he knew.
A sailor coiling line nearby gave a very loud, very obvious snort. Norrington sent him an unfettered look of annoyance. Quite free with their opinions today, the pirates were. Apparently getting soused on the beach and then vanishing with their captain had made him seem more accessible. How nice.
"You're hardly one to judge," he told the offending tar, eyeing his poorly patched and well-stained garments.
The man only grinned with a mouthful of decaying teeth and went back to his work, obviously not impressed.
Norrington ended his critical scrutiny and slipped the shirt up one arm, the other. Turned, beginning the fastenings, and nearly tripped over Marty. Who glared at him. Fiercely, of course.
Quelling a little start of alarm -- the man could appear and disappear with discomfiting ease, and seemed quite capable of proving as dangerous as Gibbs had named him -- Norrington pulled himself up a bit and finished securing a cuff, feigning imperturbability. "Mister Marty."
His chin jutted, braid bobbing. "You're not so big."
Norrington considered him thoughtfully, warily. "You're not so small."
Marty held the glare a moment longer, then chuffed a clearly ill-tempered breath. Thrust up a rumpled bundle of cloth in one hand. "Cap'n says I gotta give you this."
He took it cautiously. On closer inspection, it once had been his coat. "Ah...thank you."
Marty's expression soured further. He reached within his vest and produced...dear God, what was that thing?
"And this," the little pirate said, grumpily, shaking it. His eyes were fixed on the sad remnants of the commodore's wig as though parting with it would do him grievous harm.
Norrington waved a tiny gesture. "Keep it," he said helplessly.
Marty looked at him sharply. "Cap'n says--"
"Consider it a gift."
Eyes narrowed suspiciously. Marty slowly pulled his prize back to him. Took a step away, another, then spun to stride off without another word, tucking the wig back inside his vest, sending a furtive (and only slightly less fierce) glower back his way.
Norrington let out a breath. Returned to buttoning his shirt, coat slung over a shoulder, automatically avoiding the bustle on deck as he headed aft.
Jack stood at the wheel, watching everything. Including him. Especially him. Despite a marked lack of sleep, the captain of the Black Pearl appeared to be in rather high spirits today. Norrington's lips tightened, fighting back a smug smile, and he made his way to Jack's side, tucking his shirt in as he walked.
"Rather preferred it open," Jack commented idly.
"Rather preferred it off, actually."
"I'm already burning."
"Aye." A flicker of a smile. "And burns require tending, do they not?"
A flush that had nothing whatsoever to do with brutal sunshine suffused Norrington. He turned his face to the wind, trying to cool it. In peripheral vision he saw one of Jack's hands caress the Pearl's great wheel, fingers curling and gliding along a spoke in a most intimate motion, and the tingling in his blood intensified.
An odd whim struck him. He looked at Jack, the sharp, refined lines of him, and wondered if he'd yet earned enough indulgence for this. "Let me have a turn at the helm."
Blinking startlement, Jack stared at him.
Norrington tilted his head. Smiled lightly. "When will I ever have this opportunity again?"
Jack kept blinking. Opened his mouth, then closed it, brow lining with a bit of a frown. "You do know this is a pirate ship, aye?"
"The hell you say." He stepped forward, not yet reaching. "Well, Captain?"
Jack moved aside, holding the wheel steady one-handedly, the other lifting and sweeping in reluctant invitation. Norrington's right hand slipped to cover Jack's, gliding skin-to-skin before sliding up to close on dark wood.
Jack leaned in to his ear. "Tease."
"Hardly." The Black Pearl was quiescent under his hands, waiting. Evaluating him, he thought. "She's a beautiful ship, Jack."
"I'll be glad to not have to scuttle her."
Eyeroll. "You couldn't scuttle her if we moored in your harbor and let you fire your little guns at us all day long."
"I suggest you never test that theory."
A sharp hip bumped him. "Gimme back my ship, you scabrous mongrel."
With a last, appreciative stroke, he relinquished the wheel. Didn't move away as Jack resumed his place, which put them quite close to one another. Quite definitely, inarguably close. Quite distractingly, temptingly, provocatively close.
"Needy, needy," Jack said, clucking his tongue, slanting him an incendiary glance. "I bet now you're thinking 'bout how badly you want me to drag you below an' get you outta that shirt."
"Well, you see," Norrington explained calmly, "I've a bit of a burn here."
"Ahh yes. And burns need tending."
Norrington opened his mouth to confirm that in fact, yes, they did, when a call from above interrupted. "Sail ho!"
They peered up to see where the lookout was pointing. Followed his direction northwest, to the horizon off the larboard prow. The sails were a white dot in the distance.
Jack handed the helm off to a sailor and walked forward, Norrington close behind.
Gibbs offered a spyglass when they reached the forecastle deck. Jack took it without a word and had a long look, during which the dot grew a little larger, a little clearer even to unaided eyes. Then, still wordless, Jack handed the glass to Norrington.
"Well," the commodore said at length, after those colors were inescapably clear. "It would seem Gillette has started a search for me."
"What ship is that?"
"The Encounter, I believe. She's fast."
Jack took the glass from him. Handed it off to Gibbs. "We're faster."
"You've not seen her move."
"Don't need to." The pirate's expression gave away little. "No one catches the Pearl without her leave."
Something knotted in Norrington's chest. He looked over the sea at the ship racing to intercept them. Coming to rescue him, he realized with detached humor. "But of course you should hail them, Captain. It makes no sense to keep me aboard until some unspecified port when one of my own ships is at hand."
No answer. Jack stood beside him watching the ship, with Gibbs to his other side, watching the two of them.
A low mumble from Jack, singsong, barely audible: "We kidnap an' ravage an' don't give a hoot..."
That knot tightened further. "No, Jack," he said quietly.
"Why not?" Low voice, nearly a growl. Demanding for all its lack of volume. "You've the heart for it. So much to see out there. It's freedom, man."
"There is..." He stopped. Cleared his throat to make it loosen. "There's a measure of freedom in choosing the service to which one holds true."
"Protecting people. Sometimes from pirates." He forced a smile. "There's Black Bart to consider, after all."
From the corner of his eye he saw Jack's face twist, eyes narrowing a little, mouth firming.
"Your orders, Jack?" Gibbs asked after a moment, inflectionless.
He spoke to Norrington, voice flat. "You're welcome to it." To Gibbs-- "Take in sail. Run up a flag of truce."
"Aye, Cap'n," the old sailor said, moving to obey.
He lingered in the captain's cabin while putting himself to order, tying his hair neatly and trying to decide if his coat, rumpled and filthy and ripped in no few places, was even salvageable. But when he found himself fingering the same ugly tear for the twelfth time he had to admit his real reason for tarrying: he was waiting to see if Jack meant to come and deliver a more...personal...farewell.
He began to think not. Then the sound of commotion and voices outside, above, and the change of the Black Pearl's motion beneath his feet confirmed that Captain Sparrow had other things in mind than goodbyes.
Norrington raced out onto the deck to see black sails being hoisted high. Whirled, furiously, spying a rather too contented looking Jack smiling down at him from the quarterdeck.
"What in the name of God do you think you're doing?" Norrington asked, very reasonably, in a voice a hair below a shout.
"Changed me mind," Jack called back cheerfully. "Seems only fitting we deliver you to Port Royal ourselves -- seein' as we'll probably never have the opportunity to play host to a gent so fine as yourself again." He glanced conspicuously astern, then added rather casually, "Think you could see fit to come up here and let that little ship of yours know you're aboard? They look terribly eager to fire on us."
Likely they were. He wasted no time in hurrying to the stern, raising an arm to wave, trying to keep the gesture from appearing the least bit anxious. The captain strolled to his side and propped against the bulwark. Clearly, the man was thoroughly pleased with himself.
"This is a very bad idea, Jack," Norrington said tersely. "Port Royal's not safe for you."
"Ah, but with you as me very own hostage, it is."
He glowered. "You can't just declare me your prisoner." Thought about it. "Again."
"Can," Jack countered, beaming. "Did." Turned it to a rebuking look. "You didn't expect me to up and leave without saying goodbye to Will and Elizabeth, did you? After what they did for me?"
His cherished insight into the inner workings of Jack Sparrow started to unravel. "You haven't even asked about them!"
"Why, that's what Gibbs is for." More remonstrance in face and voice now, chiding him and actually managing to spark a little unlikely guilt. "He was all set to find out everything worth knowin' about the kids, and then you went and distracted him with bad memories and thoughts of hanging. Very unfair of you, Commodore." Teeth flashed. "So I'll have to look in on them directly, eh? Which makes you my prisoner for, oh, five more days? At least?"
"This is unacceptable," Norrington said darkly, with a tight smile for whoever might be watching from the Encounter. "You named me your guest. You're going back on your word."
"Only a little." He bumped the commodore with an elbow. "As captors go, I feel I'm really rather fair. I feed you. I give you back your clothes." A supremely confident leer. "I make you make positively unholy noises in the middle of the night..."
"I don't appreciate being used as leverage. Again." He scowled severely. "I'm a free man, Jack."
Grinning in self-satisfaction, Jack patted him on the shoulder and pushed off the bulwark. "Aye, mate, that you are. For at least five more days."
He strode off jauntily. Against his will, Norrington's eyes were lured once more to those distinctly waving hips. He rather thought Jack put a little extra waggle in that walk, just for him, as a reminder of how five days -- or, more to the point, five nights -- might be spent.
Damn that pirate. Or bless him. Perhaps both at once.
Norrington sighed and leaned on the bulwark, deciding it worthwhile to keep himself visible to the Encounter a bit longer to make certain they marked him clearly now. Because once he went back into that cabin there was really just no telling when he might emerge again.