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Paying the Piper

by Melusina and The Stowaway

 

Fandom: PoTC    Rating: NC-17    Pairing:  Sparrington (Jack/Norrington), Will/Elizabeth, etc.   Full Header

 


Jack Sparrow stood in the Turners' small garden and watched Elizabeth as she sat sewing in the parlour. The long windows were open and she had pulled her chair around to take advantage of the light. Jack, half hidden by a tall hibiscus, could see that she was alone in the room. Soft voices drifted from the back of the house, where the cook and the maid were busy in the kitchen.

Avoiding the path of crushed shells, he trod on the grassy verge, moving noiselessly nearer the house. When his shadow fell across Elizabeth's lap, she started and looked up with a little cry.

"Jack! You startled me!"

"Did I?" Jack replied, unsmiling. As he gazed at her somberly, Elizabeth's own smile faltered, to be replaced by a look of uncertainty. Jack, in no very amiable temper himself, noted this with satisfaction. Let her see his displeasure and wonder at it - he'd enlighten her soon enough. He bared his teeth in a mirthless grin and stepped over the low sill into to the parlour. Elizabeth, appearing somewhat flustered, folded her mending and put it aside.

"If you've come to see Will, he's not here," she said, "he's at the smithy."

"I know," Jack replied, unhelpfully.

Elizabeth, clearly nonplused, tried another smile.

"My, what a surprise it is to see you," she said. "We thought you were going to cruise along the coast of Brazil for a few months."

Jack nodded, standing over her and looking down. "That was my intention," he replied. "But something occurred to change my plans."

Elizabeth rose and crossed the room to a table bearing a tray of crystal decanters -- far too grand for a blacksmith's home; they were no doubt a wedding gift from one of Elizabeth's wealthy relatives. She turned to look at him.

"Will you take something to drink, Jack?" she asked.

Jack, seeing through her attempt to divert him, shook his head. "Don't you wish to know what caused me to put off my journey, Elizabeth?"

"Of… of course I do, Jack," she replied. "But let me send for Will, so that you need not tell your news twice."

"I'll see him later," Jack said. "My business is with you."

"With me!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "Whatever can you mean?"

"We are going to have a little chat, Elizabeth," he said, "and Will would just be in the way."

Elizabeth looked wary. "There is nothing you could wish to say to me, Captain Sparrow, that my husband could not hear."

Jack chuckled. "Are you so sure?" he asked, and was amused to see her hesitate. He knew she had not guessed his errand and wondered what else was troubling her conscience.

"Quite sure," Elizabeth assured him. She sat on the sofa and clasped her hands lightly in her lap. "Very well then, what is it?"

Folding his arms, Jack leaned back against the window frame. "Have you seen Commodore Norrington recently?" he asked.

"No," Elizabeth replied, puzzled, "He was away from Port Royal for several weeks on some secret business and has been very busy since his return." She looked down and then up at Jack. "Why do you ask?"

Jack ignored her question, responding with one of his own. "And when did he set out on this mysterious journey?"

Elizabeth paused. "I… I'm not sure I recall," she said at last. The look Jack gave her made her clench her jaw and look away.

"Oh, I am sure you do," he told her, his voice mocking. "It was the night of your father's birthday celebration, wasn't it?"

"It may have been, yes," she spoke with her face averted. Jack watched her fingers twisting together and the corner of his mouth lifted. "Why do you ask me?" she said once more.

"Because it was your doing, my girl," Jack snapped.

She looked at him then, fear and defiance in her expression. "What in the name of Heaven are you talking of?" she exclaimed. "I had nothing to do with it!"

Jack barked a laugh. "Did you not?" he asked, with biting sarcasm. "What was in the wine you gave him, eh?"

Elizabeth's jaw dropped. "How did you know about…" she blurted, and clapped her hands to her mouth, her face flaming.

"Ah," Jack sneered. "Murder will out."

Elizabeth leapt to her feet, furious, and aimed a blow at his face. Jack caught her arm.

"You don't want to be doing that, Mrs. Turner," he said, still sneering. "It would just provoke me to retaliate. So, unless you want me to warm your bottom for you, keep your hands to yourself."

She tried without success to pry Jack's fingers open. "I don't like your manner," she muttered through clenched teeth.

"And I don't like your actions, so we're square," Jack replied, letting her go so suddenly that she staggered back a pace. Folding his arms again, he looked at her with contempt. "What did you put in the wine, Elizabeth?"

Elizabeth blushed again and raised her chin. "It was a potion I got from a witch woman," she told him.

"I thought as much," Jack nodded. "The one with a shack just outside Kingston on the Port Royal road?" he asked.

"Yes."

At least she'd had the sense -- or pure, dumb luck -- to go to the best, Jack thought. He relaxed slightly. "So, what was this potion supposed to do, eh?"

"Why do you wish to know?" Elizabeth folded her arms and glared sullenly at him.

"Never mind that, child." Her chin rose even further and Jack grinned, just to see her fume. "Tell me what you asked her for."

"I can't remember my exact words!" Elizabeth cried.

Jack raised one eyebrow. "Try," he drawled.

She walked away from him, shoulders tense as she stared into the empty fireplace. After a short silence she said, "I told her I wanted him to find the woman meant for him. His heart's desire, I think I said."

Her back was to the pirate and so she did not see him smile at that.

"And what did she say to you when she gave you the potion?" Jack persisted.

"Something odd. Let me think," she replied. After another hesitation, she went on. "One thing was 'It reveals what's hidden,' if I recall. And then she said 'it will join him with his other half' and after that nothing more."

"Well now, isn't that interesting," Jack murmured, absurdly pleased. He laughed a little. "His other half, eh? Oh, that's rich."

Elizabeth turned to look at him. What she saw in his expression made her mouth fall open in astonishment. "Jack! Do you mean to tell me that you and Commodore Norrington…" she gasped, wide-eyed and startled.

"I mean to tell you nothing, young lady," Jack replied dampingly. "It's no business of yours. Be thankful I don't tan your hide for your stupid prank."

"How dare you?" Elizabeth bristled.

"I'd dare a good deal more than that, if you push me," Jack snapped. "Did you give any thought at all to the risk you took?"

"Risk?" Taken aback, she stared at him.

Jack sighed. He'd guessed as much. "A person under a spell is in danger every second," he explained. "Confused, vulnerable, unable to defend himself. He could have been killed."

Horrified comprehension widened Elizabeth's eyes for a moment but she caught herself up. "Nonsense!" she declared stoutly. "The Commodore is perfectly all right. He was with my father just the other day and I would have heard if there was aught amiss with him."

"Aye, he's well," Jack nodded. "No thanks to you and your interfering trick."

Elizabeth stamped her foot. "Jack, stop being so provoking!" she exclaimed. "Nothing bad happened. I did no wrong."

"Stubborn child." He stepped out the window into the garden. "Young William has his hands full with you, I can tell."

"Wait! Where are you going?" Elizabeth cried.

"About my business. I'll stop by the smithy on my way. Ta." He kissed his hand to her and hurried away.

As Jack slipped through the back alleys of Port Royal, on his way to see Will, he chuckled to himself. Foolish chit had taken a frightful risk, but the result very nearly put him in charity with her.

"His heart's desire, eh?" he grinned. He contemplated telling James and almost laughed out loud as he imagined the Commodore's reaction to that tidbit. Oh yes, he'd have some fun with this.

*************
Two days later, Jack settled back in the comfortable chintz-covered armchair and surveyed the private parlor with a satisfied air. All was at the ready for his guests: the fire crackling in the hearth made the room a welcome refuge from the storm outside, candles had been lit against the gloom, and the innkeeper's wife was preparing a fine dinner for four. Several good bottles of Burgundy (liberated from the captain of La Colombe the previous week) awaited his guests' arrival. In the meantime, Jack contented himself with a bottle of the innkeeper's best rum, which was very fine indeed.

His lips twitched as he imagined Elizabeth's reaction to his scheme. She'd refused to admit her wrongdoing when he'd confronted her, but perhaps she'd change her tune once she'd had a taste of her own medicine. He drew the vial from his pocket and turned it this way and that, examining the thick, silvery liquid it contained. The potion shimmered wickedly in the candlelight, and for a moment, Jack second-guessed himself -- what if he inadvertently poisoned Elizabeth? But he reassured himself that the witch had come highly recommended. Besides, this wouldn't be as potent as the potion Elizabeth had given James -- Jack hadn't had the forethought to obtain something of Elizabeth's to give the sorceress, and, at any rate, he wanted something simpler and more direct. It was enough to steal her memories for a few hours -- that would make his point nicely. After all, he had to admit that, if it weren't for Elizabeth's meddling, he and James would never have found such a pleasant arrangement, and there was something to be said for that.

At this thought Jack patted his other pocket, where he'd stashed his surprise for James. That was for later, when they were by themselves, and it was guaranteed to rouse James to new passions (and that thought was something to warm the blood, considering that the old passions had been quite satisfactory in and of themselves). A very pleasant arrangement indeed. . .

A knock upon the parlor door made him look up.

"Come," he called.

The landlady and the serving-girl came in to set the table. A fair cloth, china, silver, glasses - all were laid out briskly. As she lit the branches of candles with a spill, the landlady smiled at Jack.

"There you are, sir. All of the best, as ordered," she said, shooing the maid - who was making long eyes at Jack - out the door. "Dinner will be ready when you ring."

"Thank you, Mrs. Giddings," Jack replied. "When my guests arrive, you may send them straight up, if you please."

"Very good, Mr. Martin," she smiled again, dropping a curtsey and bustling out.

Jack grinned as the door closed behind her. The slight hesitation over his assumed name amused him, as did her smiling complaisance in giving him the best bedchamber and parlor. When he had arrived at the inn last night, he'd been met with frank suspicion. It wasn't until she'd seen the color of his money -- and the promising weight of his purse -- that her truculent manner had been transmuted into amiability, and all questions of his identity and respectability had been dropped.

He poured more rum and drank it slowly, listening to the rain on the roof and the soft hiss of a damp log on the fire. He chuckled now and then, altogether pleased with himself and his arrangements for the evening -- he was a devil of a fellow, to be sure, and they would all dance to his piping this night.

A short time later a firm tread upon the stair heralded another knock at the door.

"Come," Jack called once again and Norrington, booted and cloaked for riding, stepped into the room. He was very wet indeed.

"Commodore," Jack cried, "here you are at last." He leapt to his feet and sauntered over, scooping up a glass from the table as he passed and pouring a measure of rum into it. This he held out to James, who ignored it.

"Sparrow," James nodded. He set his saddle bags down next the door and placed his hat beside them, where they instantly created a spreading damp patch on the floorboards that reached to the edge of the carpet. Then he removed his sodden cloak and spread it over the back of a wooden chair; it hung, dripping and steaming, as the heat of the fire began to draw out the moisture. Next, he removed his coat -- also wet -- and threw it across the chair seat. This done, he accepted the glass from Jack and took a drink -- grimacing slightly as he swallowed.

"You picked a damnable night for this," he said grimly, as he moved toward the fire before turning to face the pirate. "Although I suppose I can't blame you for the weather."

Jack grinned. "No, the rain is none of my doing, James," he replied. "But feel free to lay it at my door if it makes you less cross."

James snorted and took another swallow of rum. "And you know I don't like rum," he grumbled. "Why is there no brandy?"

"Because I enjoy reminding you of your days as a pirate?" Jack suggested, and was delighted to see his victim flush.

"I don't know why I tolerate you," James growled.

Laughing softly, Jack stepped close. "Don't you?" he asked, glancing up sidelong. "Then I'll have to refresh your memory, eh?"

As Jack's mouth touched his, James tried to draw back, unwilling -- perversely so, after having ridden all that way in the rain for no other purpose -- to fall so easily under the pirate's spell, but Sparrow's fingers closed on his collar and held fast and James felt his resolve weaken as Jack's tongue insinuated itself between his lips. Not for the first time, he wondered if there was some lingering witchery left over from the broken enchantment that made Jack Sparrow impossible to resist. How else to explain the fact that he, Commodore James Norrington, was holding a pirate in his arms and kissing him back?

"You're out of uniform, Commodore," Jack murmured, nipping his way along the underside of James's jaw.

"What?" James gasped. "Oh, yes. It's in the saddle-bags. To keep it dry for the morning."

"And you're somewhat more incognito in dark green," Jack added, smirking. "Good thinking."

James scowled. "One of us must give some thought to such things," he snapped. "Heaven knows, you'd swagger through Port Royal and up to the fort in broad daylight had I not taken care to forbid precisely such an act of madness."

Jack laughed again. "Poor James, to find yourself in such a ridiculous situation; I believe your ever-vigilant sense of propriety is offended." He poured them each more rum. "Drink up, there's a good fellow. You're as sober as a parson; you even look the part, save for the lack of a wig."

James was turning, drink in hand, to take a chair beside the fire, when he noticed the table, laid for four. "What's this, Jack?" he frowned.

"What's what?" Jack asked, following his gaze. "Oh, that. I've invited the Turners to dine with us."

"You what?" James cried, appalled. "You're joking, surely!"

Jack shook his head. "No, I am not," he replied, his tone all innocence. "Why would you think it a joke?" The corners of his mouth twitched, giving him the lie.

"Are you mad? Have you gone completely out of your senses?" James strode over and glared down at Jack. "How can you imagine I would consent to this lunatic scheme?" Jack was grinning now, utterly unabashed. James turned away and ran his hand distractedly through his hair. "Good God, what will they think?"

"Nothing to your discredit, Commodore," Jack said, slipping around to press himself against James, hands resting lightly on his hips. "I doubt they'll be very surprised to see you in my company."

"Nonsense," James exclaimed. "What makes you say that?"

"Oh, a conversation I had with Elizabeth the other day," Jack grinned. "It was… informative, on both sides." He tried to kiss James, who leaned back out of reach and looked at him with some alarm.

"Explain yourself."

"Are you sure you wish to know, love?" Jack asked, solicitously. "Might be a bit of a shock for you."

James's lips thinned and one eyebrow rose. "I am willing to chance it, you scoundrel," he replied, at his driest. "You have put me in an impossible situation and I had sooner know the worst. Tell me."

"Very well, then," Jack said. "I asked Elizabeth about the potion she gave you. Where she obtained it and what she meant to accomplish."

"Did you indeed?" James tried to draw away, but Jack nodded and pulled him close. Deeming it undignified to struggle, James suffered the embrace. "And what did you find out?" he asked.

"First, that she got it from a reputable source." James snorted at the choice of words and Jack chuckled. "So we won't be worrying about nasty after-effects," he explained.

"You have no idea how that relieves my mind," James drawled. "And what else?"

"She told me what she asked the woman for; what she wanted the charm to do." Jack's grin turned impish and James's alarm grew. "That potion was specially crafted just for you, James," he said, with what James thought was entirely unseemly relish. "Its purpose - to give you your heart's desire."

James felt his face heating as he stared into the pirate's mocking eyes. His heart's desire. He opened his mouth to repudiate such an outrageous notion, but no words came. And the Turners (for what Elizabeth knew, surely Will knew as well) held his secret. Jack's smile widened as he touched his fingers to James's scarlet cheek and drew them back as if burned.

"Shocked, dear James?" he chuckled, against James's mouth. "Deny it, then," he whispered. "If you can."

"Jack, I…"

"Yes, love?"

A knock. James freed himself and turned hastily away as the door opened to admit the maidservant bringing more wood for the fire.

**************
The coach rumbled along the dark road out of Port Royal. Its occupants were jostled from side to side as the wheels bumped into and out of the many potholes, filled with rainwater, that were impossible for the coachman to see.

Will braced himself as well as he could to avoid crushing Elizabeth's dress as they were thrown about. The coach's lanterns cast a fitful light into the well-upholstered interior of the Governor's carriage, loaned to them for the night. He could see that his wife was chewing her lip and deep in thought.

"Jack Sparrow must think mighty well of himself," he grumbled, "To expect us to hie ourselves nearly to Kingston just to dine with him on such a foul night."

He did not expect a reply, having said the same thing three times at least since leaving their house, so he was mildly surprised when Elizabeth looked at him with a serious expression and said, "He undoubtedly does, but that's not the reason - not the only.reason, I should say - for this invitation."

She paused and Will, after waiting a few moments for her to continue, asked, "How so?"

"Will," Elizabeth glanced at him and then stared out the window. "I'm afraid Jack is… was angry with me."

"In that case, I don't see why…" he began and then stopped. Elizabeth was looking remarkably like a schoolgirl with a guilty conscience. Will sighed and shook his head. "You'd better tell me the whole story," he said.

Elizabeth took a deep breath and folded her hands. "Do you remember the evening musicale on Father's birthday?" Will nodded. "Well, the week before the party I had gone to an old woman who sells potions, to get one to give to Commodore Norrington."

Will listened for several minutes, in increasing astonishment, as his wife related how she'd slipped the potion into Norrington's wine and how, just the other day, Jack's visit had revealed to her the result of her action. He could hardly take it in. Jack and the Commodore?

"And so, you see," Elizabeth concluded, "I think -- I hope -- that Jack means by this invitation to cry peace."

"Peace!" Will exclaimed. "He's more likely to wish to wring your neck."

Her chin came up. "Now you sound like Jack," she replied. "I did nothing wrong in trying to help Commodore Norrington find happiness. He came to no harm."

"No harm?" Will cried. "Through your actions he finds himself - entangled - with the most notorious pirate in the Caribbean and…" He stopped abruptly, eyes narrowing. "And just how, wife, do you even know of such… such improper…" Words failed him.

Elizabeth gave him a pitying glance and a tiny smile. "Really, Will, you sound exactly like my old governess! I've lived in Port Royal just as long as you have and I am not blind."

Will gaped at her. She knew? How much did she know? He hoped that the dim light hid his face, for, all of a sudden, he felt too warm.

"It is common knowledge," Elizabeth went on, "amongst the ladies of my acquaintance that some men prefer other men to women." Will remained silent. "In truth," she smiled, "I think it very romantic, don't you? Almost like a novel; 'The Pirate and the Commodore'."

Will shook his head. Romantic? Hardly. It was ridiculous. The very idea that the Commodore - that James, so handsome and so fine -- he caught himself up before his thoughts could go too far in that direction -- would take up with an unregenerate rake like Jack (however beguiling) was almost painful to contemplate.

Just then there was a grinding crash and the carriage lurched violently. Elizabeth screamed as she was thrown across the seat against Will, who held her as they came to a bumpy halt, tilted at a crazy angle. They could hear the startled horses neighing and plunging and the coachman's efforts to quiet them.

"We've lost a wheel," Will said, reaching past Elizabeth to haul himself to the high side of the carriage and open the door. "Stay here." He climbed out onto the road.

Ned had got the horses under control and was examining the nearer one anxiously. "Strained 'is hock, I'm afraid, sir," he said, as Will joined him.

"Thank heaven it's no worse," Will replied, going back to the coach. The off front wheel lay in ruins; the coach would go no further this night. "How far are we from the inn?"

"Not much more'n a quarter mile, I reckon, sir," Ned told him. "Shall I take the sound horse and go for help?"

Will thought a moment. The rain had slackened to a drizzle and the wind had dropped. "Perhaps we should just walk there together," he began, when there was a scramble and splash, followed by the sound of tearing lace, behind him. He caught the mutter of a most unladylike oath as Elizabeth appeared at his elbow.

"Well, what are we waiting for?" she asked.

Will and the coachman exchanged a look and a shrug and Will helped him unhitch the pair. Then he took Elizabeth's arm and they set off, followed by Ned leading the horses.

Of course, as soon as they began walking, the rain started up again, harder than before. The dirt road had turned to thick, sucking mud that clung to their shoes and dragged at the hem of Elizabeth's dress. "Propriety be damned!" she muttered, as she kilted up her skirt. Ned looked scandalized, but Will merely raised his eyebrows and shrugged.

In a very few minutes, they were soaked to the skin, and Elizabeth's hair was wet and bedraggled from the wind. Water streamed off their hats into their faces, and their shoes squished ridiculously with every step.

Will grimaced. "Bloody Jack Sparrow! This is all his doing."

If Elizabeth hadn't been equally miserable (and cursing Jack just as heartily in her head), she would have laughed at Will's petulant ill-temper; she well knew there was nothing he hated worse than wet feet. "I don't believe that Jack has yet determined how to control the weather."

"Not for lack of trying. . ." Will grumbled.

"True. As angry as he was with me, I believe he'd curse me with rain and mud and all manner of plagues if he could."

As if to prove her point, no sooner had these words left her mouth than Elizabeth tripped over a hidden rock and pitched forward, spattering the front of her dress with mud. Will and Ned rushed to help her up, covering themselves in mud as well. Some practical corner of Elizabeth's mind reflected that Will's best coat (which he'd insisted on wearing) would never be the same. Luckily, although she'd cut her hand and scraped her knees miserably, there were no more serious injuries, and Elizabeth insisted they trudge on as quickly as possible, toward the faint light that surely must be the inn.

When they finally arrived, Ned went on to the stables to see the horses settled and Will and Elizabeth were greeted by the prosperous-looking, bald proprietor, whose considerable girth blocked the door entirely. However, his initial objections melted away when Will announced that they were there to meet Mr. Martin, and the innkeeper stepped aside (although it clearly cost him something not to exclaim at the water and mud they brought in with them).

"P'raps you'd best wait here. . ." he said dubiously and rushed off, leaving them dripping.

As they waited, Ned rejoined them. With an aggrieved sigh, he wrung his battered wig out on to the entry floor and set it back on his head, where it perched improbably like a drowned Persian cat. He cast a despairing look at his once spotless livery and, after a futile search for a handkerchief, began brushing at the mud with his hand, smearing great brown streaks down his crimson coat. Silently, Will offered Ned his own sodden handkerchief.

The air was rich with the homey smell of roast beef and the yeasty aroma of ale; from the nearby common room they could hear a cheerful hubbub of voices. Elizabeth shivered, wondering if they'd be left there all night. Bloody Jack Sparrow indeed! But in no time, a serving girl had brought an armful of towels for them to dry themselves with, and Elizabeth's mood brightened considerably.

Jack himself arrived shortly after the maid, and didn't bother to hide his amusement at their predicament. "Elizabeth, your maid must curse you on a daily basis -- you're always managing to ruin your clothes some way or the other." Then he smiled a secretive smile and put a finger to the corner of his mouth. "Come along, children, I've a surprise for you." Turning on his heels, he hurried up the stairs. Will obediently set off after him, and Elizabeth, mistrustful of Jack's good spirits, reluctantly followed, rubbing at her damp hair with a towel.

At the landing, Jack flung open a heavy door to reveal a cozy private parlor. In contrast to the dark stairway, the room was brightly lit with candles and a roaring fire, and it took Elizabeth's eyes a moment to adjust to the light. When they did, she gasped at the sight before her.

James Norrington stood and bowed awkwardly, shooting Jack a dark look that made it clear he had been no more privy to Jack's plans than Will and Elizabeth.

Jack pulled the door to, and leaned against it with the air of one who's pulled off a great trick. "Now then, all present and accounted for at last!"

Elizabeth took a step backward -- almost as if she would flee -- until she was pressed against Will's chest. He could feel her trembling as she groped for his hand. He knew he was gaping like a fool and Norrington looked thoroughly put out as well. Will did not blame him; what a ridiculous state of affairs! He turned his head to glare at Jack, who smirked and rocked on his heels.

There was an uncomfortable silence, and then Elizabeth squeezed Will's hand and stepped forward, drawing him along with her.

"James," she said, brightly. "What a pleasant surprise!" She turned her head and Will could see that her color was somewhat heightened, yet her voice and the hand she held out to Norrington were steady. Will admired her poise.

Norrington bowed over her hand, murmuring something polite, and then turned to Will. As he shook hands with the Commodore, Will thought he saw consternation (and guilt?), swiftly masked, in the green eyes that met his for a moment. So it was true then, and not some flight of his wife's fancy - there was something between the two men. Will's own smile felt stiff and he cursed Jack Sparrow for the mortification that all save the pirate himself seemed to feel.

"The wheel fell off our carriage," Elizabeth was explaining, "and we were forced to walk some distance in the rain." She shivered and turned toward the fire.

All solicitude, Norrington drew up a chair - hastily removing his wet coat from the seat - and obliged her to sit down. Will chafed her hands in his; they were icy-cold and she shivered again.

"Ring the bell, for pity's sake," Norrington snapped, casting another darkling look at Sparrow. Then to Elizabeth he said, "You are wet through -- and you also, Will -- we must get you some dry clothing before you catch your death of cold."

"This'll help." Jack held out a glass of rum to Will, who took it with a nod.

"Elizabeth," Will said, "Drink a little of this. It will warm you."

She made a face. "You know I don't like rum, Will," she replied through chattering teeth.

"Drink it, child," Jack said. "Don't be missish." Elizabeth scowled at him, but she drank several sips of the rum nonetheless.

The landlady entered and exclaimed over Elizabeth's drenched and muddy gown. "Oh, the poor lady!" she cried. "What was Giddings thinking of, not telling me how it was with you? Just you come with me, madam. We'll get you something dry to wear. Oh dear, dear. I fear your fine dress will never be the same again, but we will do what we can." With this and much more in the same vein she escorted Elizabeth from the room.

Will meanwhile removed his wet coat and stood as close to the fire as he could, drinking the rest of Elizabeth's rum and wondering if he could importune the landlord for a change of clothes for himself when James addressed him.

"I am afraid all I have with me is my uniform," he said, his tone almost diffident. "But it should fit you fairly well, I think. You are welcome to it while your own clothes are dried and cleaned."

"You are very kind," Will nodded with a smile that still felt somewhat forced. He cursed his awkwardness, more embarrassed than ever in the face of James's kindness.

James brought the saddle bags from their place beside the door and unpacked them as Will removed his neckcloth and shirt.

"From the sound of things," Jack said, "You will be staying the night here."

"I fear so," Will replied, accepting a shirt from James and pulling it over his head. "Not only is the coach wheel quite shattered, but one of the horses strained a hock. We will have to take a room."

Jack chuckled. "Not a room to be had," he said. "The inn is full up." Will looked at him in dismay. "I've this room and a bedchamber through there." Jack pointed to a door on the other side of the fireplace. "You're welcome to share. There's plenty of room for all of us."

Before he could stop himself, Will glanced at James and wished he had not. James's face was turned half away, but Will could see a flush rising in his cheek and blushed himself.

Jack grinned and Will almost wanted to hit him for his gleeful enjoyment of the others' discomfort.

"Come James," Jack said. "Let's leave young William to get changed in peace. We will go find mine host and see about getting a truckle bed made up."

When they had gone, Will finished changing quickly. It was very strange, donning another man's clothes - and stranger still that it should be the Commodore's uniform. James had been right; the shirt and breeches fit tolerably well.

The coat, when he picked it up, gave him a little thrill of some unnamable emotion. He raised it to his nose and inhaled. It smelled of James, and Will shivered. Then he flushed and muttered, "Don't be such an ass," and thrust his arms into the sleeves. It was a little tight across the shoulders, but would do.

Will put on his sword and tugged his cuffs down and pulled the facings straight. He was filled with the oddest mixture of embarrassment and pleasure. Looking down at the braid on his chest and his sleeves, he could not help grinning. He swaggered across the room and back, hand on the pommel of his sword, and struck what he thought was a martial pose before the looking glass and grinned even harder at his reflection. He made a fine figure of a Naval officer, he thought. He didn't hear the door open and did not realize he was no longer alone until Elizabeth began to laugh.

************
The innkeeper's wife was a match for her husband in size and any of her dresses would have held three of Elizabeth. The only other woman in the establishment was the serving girl, who was three inches shorter than Elizabeth and shaped like a rail, but she cheerfully offered up her second best dress. The bodice was too tight and the hemline shockingly high, but at least it was dry, and when Elizabeth took down her wet hair, it provided her some measure of modesty.

When she reentered the parlor, Will was too taken with his own appearance to notice how ridiculous she looked. He'd put on his sword and puffed out his chest, and was admiring his reflection in the looking glass.

Elizabeth snickered. "You've missed your calling, Will! I'd no idea you'd look so good in a uniform."

He laughed at himself ruefully, acknowledging that he'd been caught out. He reached for her hand, but the jest on his lips died when he saw the ragged cut that ran down her ring finger and onto her palm. "You've hurt yourself!"

"I scratched it when I fell on the road. It's already stopped bleeding."

"Here, let me see." He guided her to the armchair and sat her down. There was a red-shaded lamp on the low table beside the chair, and he held her hand up to the light. "Your finger looks swollen. We'd best take your ring off before it gets stuck." He carefully slid the ring off her finger and set it on the table, then pressed a kiss into her palm. "All better."

She shot him a coy look. "Thank you kindly, Captain Turner!"

He stood and made a mocking bow. "Anything for you, my dear. . ."

"Don't try your sweet-talk on me! I wager you have a girl in every port, pining away for you."

Will pulled her to her feet. "That's as may be, but you're the only one here--" he hooked an arm around her waist "--and now," and kissed her soundly.

"Such liberties, sir!" she whispered against his mouth. She wound her hands in the damp silk of his hair and pulled him down for another kiss. "Really, I must protest. . ."

They kissed a long while, hands roaming and exploring. Will's shape was transformed -- he was bulkier and stood up straighter, and the braid on the borrowed coat was scratchy against Elizabeth's chest. For a moment, she imagined that she was kissing a stranger, which was an odd enough idea, and then, inhaling the scent that rose up from the coat, she had a disconcerting memory of James' arms around her. She tried to suppress the improper thought, but once it had occurred to her, she couldn't stop imagining what it would be like to kiss James like this. Guiltily, she wondered what sorts of things he and Jack did together; the images that flashed into her mind caused her to flush all over. In an attempt to focus on the matter at hand, she pressed herself against Will, eliciting a guttural, longing sound.

Without breaking their kiss, he picked her up, and spinning them around, toppled back into the armchair. It didn't work quite as planned, and they wound up tangled together, giggling helplessly.

When they'd recovered their breath and disentangled Elizabeth's skirt, Will settled her on his knee. With excruciatingly languor, he closed the distance between their lips, murmuring, "Now then, where were we?"

When the kiss came, it was meltingly slow and sweet. Will's hand pressed warm and insistent upon her back, drawing her closer to him, and then his fingers slipped lower, and she couldn't help moaning.

Distantly, she became aware of someone coughing, but she was too distracted to pay it much mind. It was only when Will suddenly jerked away that she realized that Jack and James had rejoined them. James was pointedly looking out the window at the rain, while Jack was unabashedly staring at Will and Elizabeth. She felt herself growing red-faced under his scrutiny, and tugged futilely at her bodice.

He smirked. "Don't stop on our accounts. Young love! Ain't it grand, James?"

When James didn't dignify this with a reply, Jack picked up Elizabeth's ring and held it to the light. "That's a pretty little thing, darlin'. You wouldn't want it to go missing."

She reached for it, and with a flick of his fingers it was gone. "Which hand?"

"Jack. . ." she said warningly, but to no avail.

There was a knock on the door. Elizabeth jumped from Will's lap just as the maid bustled in, with a tray. She made a dutiful curtsy in Elizabeth's direction and beamed warmly at Jack. "Beggin' your pardons, but Mrs. Giddings sent this up for the lady. It's her special recipe, and she says it'll take the chill off your bones." She set the tray on the sideboard.

"Just the thing!" Jack made an extravagant shooing gesture. "Now then, what about our dinner?"

With a loud sniff, the maid flounced out the door. There was an awkward silence, broken by the clatter of Jack ostentatiously stirring the wine. "Just making sure all the spices are mixed in," he said brightly. Finally done, he brought Elizabeth a glass. When she took it, she spied her ring on his pinkie, but she chose not to mention it, confident that he didn't truly mean to make off with ring. He was only keeping it to get a rise out of her. There was time enough to ask for it after dinner, when he might be in better spirits.

After a few minutes, the maid and the potboy brought in the first course, consisting of a brace of roast ducks, a raised pie and various side-dishes. They set the food upon the sideboard as Jack inspected it approvingly.

"My compliments to the cook," he told the maid. "Now, if you'd be a good girl and bring the second course right up, I'd be most obliged. We'll serve ourselves, so there's no need to trouble you further this evening, eh?" He made as if to pat her bottom but she whisked herself out of his reach with withering glance and dragged the potboy from the room.

Elizabeth brought her mulled wine to the table but left the flagon on the sideboard. The wine was delicious - far better than the nasty rum -- and every bit as fortifying. She allowed James to seat her between himself and Jack, across from Will, who was removing his sword and leaning it against the wall before sitting down. Poor James, she thought -- not fooled by his quiet good manners -- wished to be anywhere but in that room with the three of them. She smiled warmly at him, receiving only the most perfunctory of smiles in response.


James took his place opposite Jack with a distinct feeling of ill-usage. Look at him, he thought, watching Jack chaffing Will about his 'fine new uniform'; the fool's drunk. Jack certainly was well to live, as the saying went; he'd had most of a bottle of rum that evening already and showed no signs of stinting himself on the wine, either. God (or the Devil) knew what manner of outrageous thing he might say next, full of himself as he was over staging this unbearable dinner.

Elizabeth, James could tell, was spinning one of her romantic phantasies around Jack and himself. He wasn't surprised that she showed no shock at the thought of an… unnatural connection between two men - he had known her far too long for that. She was such an unconventional girl - woman - that he'd long since given up being startled by the breadth of her unfeminine knowledge, or by her nonsensical fascination with all things piratical.

"And - be honest - don't you share that fascination, Commodore?" said a little voice in his head that sounded remarkably like Jack's. James nearly choked on a sip of wine and glared across the table. Jack, almost as if he could read minds, winked and blew a kiss. James flushed and turned his attention to his plate. Damn the man. Had he no shred of decency?

There was a slight pause in the conversation as the second course arrived. James watched as the maid set out the dishes with rather more emphasis than strictly necessary and pointedly ignored Jack's wink.

After the interruption, his agitation subsided and he was able to pay attention to the conversation again. Jack and Elizabeth were laughing and bantering over the differing accounts of Jack's sacking of Nassau Port. Jack's, needless to say, did not match the tale that had been published as a broadsheet. Elizabeth was questioning him closely on the details, trying to trip him up in what she plainly thought was his invention, but he eluded every snare. Will was eating his dinner and watching them in silence.

Only Will, James realized, seemed to feel any discomfort over this whole mess. He wondered what Will had had to say to his wife regarding her drugging James in the first place. Did he even know about it? James could not imagine that Will - who, for all his pirate heritage, was a most proper, right-thinking young man at heart - would condone such a piece of interference. Perhaps he could instill in Elizabeth a sense of the wrong she had done. James knew that Elizabeth would never admit it on her own, indeed, he was quite sure that Jack's 'conversation' with her the other day would have simply made her more stubbornly sure she had been in the right.

Elizabeth laughed again and drained her glass. Jack took it from her and went to the sideboard to refill it from the flagon supplied by the landlady - staggering a little as he did so.

Jack poured the potion into the wine and, shielding his action with his body, threw the vial into the fire. A luscious scent rose up from the flagon, rich and tempting. Nearly forgetting himself, he stuck his finger in the wine and made to taste it, but remembered the potion just in time. Hastily he wiped his finger on his coat. At least he needn't worry that Elizabeth would notice something amiss about the drink. He filled her glass, and brought it back to the table with a sardonic bow.

She drank deeply, then exclaimed, "Why this is even better than the first glass! I feel quite selfish drinking it all myself. Surely there's enough for everyone to have a taste."

Jack's thoughts were moving slowly, and it took him a moment to realize what she'd said. "No, no, she made it special with you in mind. . .We wouldn't want to be taking any of your treat, right gentlemen?"

Will started to agree, but Elizabeth stood peremptorily. "Nonsense! It's hardly fair for me to hog it all." She brought the flagon over and doled it out in equal measures into all their glasses. "See? Plenty to go around."

At Elizabeth's encouraging gesture, both Will and James took a hearty draught of the wine, and praised it enthusiastically.

"What did I tell you? Jack, you should try it too."

Jack had a vivid recollection of the witch insisting that just a few drops of the potion would be sufficient. He shook his head emphatically. "No! I, uh, don't much care for sweet stuff in wine."

James took another sip and furrowed his brow thoughtfully. "It's not excessively sweet, Jack; it truly is delicious. Reminds me of something, but I can't quite place it."

A bright spot of panic flared in Jack's chest, and he shook his head, trying to think clearly. If he was the only one who didn't suffer from amnesia, they'd know that he'd been the one to doctor the wine. But if they all suffered equally, there'd be nothing to prove that he'd done it. Perhaps the blame would even fall on Elizabeth, since she'd pulled this sort of trickery before. They were all safe at the inn, Jack reasoned, and the worst that would happen is that they'd stumble around all night, not knowing who they were. Perhaps the others would awaken believing they'd simply had too much wine, but if not, there'd be no reason to suspect him. Throwing caution to the winds, he downed the contents of his glass. "Bottoms up, eh?"

It was, as they'd all said, delicious. Jack wondered idly if the other potion -- the one for James -- would taste even better. At least I've still got that one, Jack thought to himself smugly, patting his pocket. Feeling no reassuring lump, he reached into his pocket, and found it empty. Trying to be discreet, Jack felt his other pocket, which was similarly bereft. His earlier panic returned, much magnified, and with sickening clarity, he suddenly recalled stirring the potion into the wine earlier in the evening, when the maid had first brought it. But that meant. . .

Struck with an inchoate urge to flee, Jack half stood. His head was swimming, and dark spots clouded his vision. "Not good. . ." he choked out, as the others slumped back into their chairs, and then the world went black.

 

He opened his eyes, sat up straight and yawned, blinking. Where was he? Looking around, he was puzzled to realize that he was sitting at table with three strangers in what looked like the private parlor of an inn. There was a girl in the garb of a servant seated to his right and a young Naval officer on his left. Opposite him he saw a dark, gypsyish man in a disreputable coat and a red headscarf. Who were these people and why was he at table with them? The others were clearly as befuddled as he.

"I beg your pardon," he began, not knowing what, exactly, he was going to say, when the stranger opposite interrupted him.

"Who are you lot?" the dark man exclaimed. "What's going on?"

No one answered and they all exchanged looks of dismay.

"Do you mean to say that none of us know?" the girl asked. The officer shrugged and they both turned to him.

"I… don't know," he stammered. "No, wait. I must have my card case about me!" he cried, searching his pockets. He found no cards, but there was a folded paper in his waistcoat. He drew it out; it was a letter, unsealed. "Perhaps this will cast some light."

Unfolding it, he read the direction aloud. "To the Reverend Percy Pinchbottom, Rector, St. Margaret's-by-the-Sea, Port Royal, from Commodore James Norrington." Falling silent, he skimmed it quickly and saw that it concerned the moral failings of one Blackman - a parishioner of St. Margaret's - whose depredations at the naval shipyard were becoming a scandal.

He looked from the letter to his plain, dark waistcoat and breeches.

"I must be Pinchbottom," he said, a little blankly. The girl snickered and he looked up sharply, in time to see the dark man pull his face straight and stare back at him with an entirely spurious air of polite attention. He frowned. "You might attempt to find some clue to your own identity, sir" he said, his voice stern.

He was struggling with a dreamlike sense of unreality. Percy Pinchbottom, clergyman. It did not feel right, somehow. But if he was not the parson, then why did he have that letter, for he was certainly not the Commodore, he thought, looking once more at his clothes -- not dressed like this.


The officer, meanwhile, had gone through his own pockets and found nothing. He looked at the letter. "May I see that, sir?" he asked Pinchbottom.

Taking the letter from the parson, he read the salutation once more. Of course, he thought, of course. He sat up straighter and puffed out his chest.

"Ah!" he cried. "I see it now. If you are Mister Pinchbottom, then I must be Commodore Norrington. We are undoubtedly met to discuss the matter broached in this letter!"

The dark man burst into laughter. "A commodore at your age?" he cried. "You're nothing but a pup!"

Stung, he reached behind his chair for his sword. "Sir, you are impertinent," he snapped, but the other man just laughed harder.

"More like a randy lieutenant who borrowed his commander's coat to impress a sweetheart," he said, winking at the girl, who scowled at him and turned her shoulder.

Infuriated, he jumped up and began once more to go through the pockets of his uniform, finding nothing. As a last resort he drew his sword and examined the blade. There, on the flat of the blade nearest the hilt, engraved next to the maker's mark, was the name Wm. Turner.

"There!" he cried. "That settles it. I must be Captain" (he glared at the dark man, who raised both hands and grinned without speaking) "William Turner." He slammed the sword home in its scabbard and looked down his nose at the other man.

"And who, pray tell, are you?" he asked.

"A fair question," came the reply. "Let's see if we can find out, eh?"


Sadly, there was no name on his own sword, although, curiously, the maker's mark was the same as that on Turner's blade. His sword was engraved with the image of a small bird in flight. Something about the image was teasingly familiar, and yet he couldn't quite pin it down. He dismissed this odd sensation and moved on.

It was damnably warm in the room, and could see no reason to stand on ceremony. He pulled off his coat, carefully inspecting the tattered lining to see if there was any clue to his identity. Nothing.

The row of rings on his fingers caught his attention, and he methodically removed them and examined them. He found nothing of interest until he came to the gold band on his pinkie finger. Engraved inside the ring were the words "From WT to ES" and the year 1720.

He read the inscription aloud, frowning. Presumably, since he was wearing the ring, he was ES. But what the devil did it stand for? "Eddy? Earnest? Elliot?"

"Ephraim?" Pinchbottom suggested, drumming his long, elegant fingers on the table. "Ethelred?"

"The Unready?" he smirked, looking down at his prick (which seemed quite ready for action, regardless of the confusion). "Uh, no, I don't think so."

Pinchbottom harrumphed and gave him a sternly disapproving look.

The girl merely rolled her eyes. "Eugene?" When Turner furrowed his brow, she added, "It's spelt E-U-G-E-N-E," in a patronizing tone.

"Oh, yes, of course." Turner nodded shrewdly, and quickly threw out "Enrique? Esteban?"

"Do I sound Spanish, mate?"

"You look like a damned gypsy!"

The girl cried out suddenly, "I know what you are - you're a pirate!"

That couldn't be right, could it? What would a pirate be doing at an inn with a parson and a Navy captain?

He eyed himself in the gilt-edged mirror on the wall. Wild hair bedecked with beads and gewgaws and topped with a faded red scarf, gold teeth. . .he did look like rather a roguish individual. Still, he resented having to agree with that saucy little know-it-all. "No, I'm not, I'm a. . .highwayman!"

Pinchbottom snorted disdainfully. "Oh yes? Where's your horse?"

With as much dignity as he could muster, he said, "I'm in the market, as it were." (Again, that faint echoing sense of familiarity, as if he'd said these words, to this man before.)

Turner waved dismissively. "Pirate or highwayman, I don't suppose there's much difference between them."

Pinchbottom cocked an eyebrow in acknowledgement, then looked pointedly at the ring (still clasped between the highwayman's thumb and forefinger) and shook his head. "Maybe not."

He shrugged and slipped the ring back on his finger. Whoever it had belonged to, it was his now.

"What's that?" The girl pointed to a tattoo that could barely be seen beneath his right sleeve.

He rolled up the cuff, revealing a larger version of the bird that was engraved on his sword. Beneath the bird, the name "Jack" was tattooed in elaborate script. "There you are then. I must be Jack."


No sooner had he pronounced himself Jack than the so-called highwayman took a long, scrutinizing look at her. The predatory assurance in that gaze made her uneasy, as if she'd been caught out, and for a moment, the hard bright eyes reminded her of something. She could almost hear Jack's mocking voice giving her an undeserved dressing down. Or was it deserved after all? But the specifics of it wouldn't come; in fact, it made her head ache to think too long on it.

Meanwhile, Jack's quicksilver mouth had twisted itself into a slow sardonic grin. "I think we can all guess what you are, love." As if the innuendo in his voice wasn't insult enough, he smacked her bottom soundly for emphasis.

"I most certainly am not!"

Jack made a show of polite disbelief. "Of course not! You must be Sister Immaculata from the Convent of the Sacred Heart. Who just happens to be drinking in a private room with three charming men of. . .impeccable reputation." He brought his hands together and assumed a look of mock piety.


"There's no way to know how I came to be here! Perhaps I'm. . .Captain Turner's wife--"

"No wedding ring, darlin'."

"--or, or. . ."

"The serving wench, surely," Turner kindly suggested.

Jack grasped her wrist and held up her hand. "Barring the cut, soft as a. . .baby's bottom, with nary a callus, nails clean and neat. . .Either you're a lady (unlikely)," he flicked his eyes derisively at her worn dress, "Or you make your living on your back." With a galling assurance, he flipped up her skirt, revealing a matched set of scrapes on her shins. "Or on your knees."

At a loss for words, she blushed and pulled her skirt back down.

Pinchbottom protested, "But her manner is refined. . .even -- forgive me, ma'am -- haughty. Surely no doxy would be so genteel?"

"Specialized clientele," Jack explained with a leer. "Or perhaps she's a lady fallen on hard times -- transported for petty theft?"

Whoever she was, she'd had quite enough of his cheek. She raised her hand and glowered at him. "I'll thank you to stop speculating on my character, sir!" (And that action felt quite familiar and natural, confirming her suspicion that she and Jack had a long acquaintance.)

Turner broke the tension with an irrepressible laugh. "This is like something from a bawdy story -- a Navy man, a parson, and a highwayman go to a whorehouse. . ."

Jack chuckled and even Pinchbottom's lips curved into a reluctant smile.

She chose to ignore this slight and began searching for something that might indicate her name. Her only jewelry was a pair of unmarked (but quite elegant) pearl earbobs -- that was no help. Trying to be discreet, she rolled up her sleeves, looking for something like Jack's tattoo (she was struck with the wild fancy that something like this had happened before, and perhaps they'd all tattooed their names on their arms, as a reminder), but the skin was white and unmarked.

Jack wrapped an arm around her waist. "If you're looking for a tattoo, I'd suggest your arse or your tits. Can I be of assistance?"

"If that's where my name is, it'll have to remain a mystery!"

She attempted to pull away from him, but something had caught his eye. He held her still and cocked his head inquisitively. His fingers brushed across her ear as he examined her earring. "Where'd a girl like you get something like that?"

There was a proprietary connotation to the way he ran his fingers down her neck and rested them lightly on her nape. Despite her anger, she shivered.

He leaned in closer, his breath whispering across her lips. "Perhaps a gift. . .from a highwayman?" He kissed her, experimentally, and his lips were softer than she'd expected. Disconcerted, she shoved him away as hard as she could.

He stumbled back then righted himself with a knowing laugh. "We'll call you 'Pearl'."



Pinchbottom banged his empty glass down on the table decisively. "Now that that's settled, perhaps we ought to consider the situation at hand?"

"It's a spell," Jack said flatly.

"Or a drug," countered Pinchbottom, curtailing Pearl's response (which, in any event, was identical to his).

Turner leaned forward, "In all seriousness, I'd like to know why we're here. Why are three men of such different. . .professions dining together?"

"Perhaps you're all--"

"Maybe we belong to a secret society?"

"--Masons?" She might as well have been speaking gibberish for all the mind they paid her. She moodily kicked at the support beneath the table.

"Espionage?"

"Or coincidence," Pinchbottom suggested. "Perhaps we all sought shelter from the storm, and this was the only available room."

"And we all just happened to lose our memories? Pull the other one, it's got bells on . . ."

"It's always possible that one of us was the target, and the others were merely innocent bystanders." Turner gestured at Pearl. "After all, she's been affected too. Perhaps the. . .charm or drug was in something we ate or drank?" His face darkened, and he made to stand. "I believe a word with the innkeeper is in order!"

"Sit down," Jack said brusquely. "Without more information, it'd be a fool's errand to confront him. We'd better stay here until we can figure out what's going on, or until the charm wears off. In fact, I think it's best to bolt the door - no tellin' who might be waiting to take advantage of the opportune moment." Suiting action to words, he stalked to the door and threw the bolt.

"What about that letter? Could it be a code?"

"Good idea -- let's have a look at it, Padre."

The three men gathered over the letter, peering at the words as if they might magically rearrange themselves into a more useful message.

Pearl sighed morosely and propped her head on her arm, only half listening to the intense conversation beside her. The three men talked over one another, each proposing alternate meanings for various passages from the letter, and all as oblivious to her as if she'd been no more than another stick of furniture.

This was getting them nowhere, and it was boring besides. Perhaps she'd had too much wine; she was all loose-limbed and lightheaded, and none of their prattle seemed important anymore. She felt dreamy and twitchy all at the same time, as if she wanted something that she couldn't put a name to. She twisted a tendril of hair around her finger and looked around the room, but all the men were still intent upon their conversation.

Rain beat a pleasant tattoo against the window, and the fire crackled in counterpoint. A soothing warmth suffused Pearl's body and she no longer even pretended to listen to the men's conversation. What did any of it matter anyway? Her mind wandered until a crack of thunder woke her from her reverie. She jumped when she realized she'd been unthinkingly running her foot up and down Pinchbottom's leg.

Jack opened a new bottle of wine, and refilled the men's glasses, ignoring Pearl's still half-full glass. She pointedly drained her glass, which appeared to contain the dregs of an earlier, better bottle. It was a lush red, with a tantalizing aroma of honey and spices, and tartly sweet. Without thinking, she darted her tongue out to lick the drops from the bottom of the goblet. The smooth texture of the glass against her tongue, and the lingering sweetness of the wine, gave her a frisson of delight.

Turner was watching her from the corner of his eye and he smirked. She winked and licked the last of the wine from her lips with a slow swipe of her tongue. Encouraged by the way Turner's eyes widened, she deliberately drew her teeth across her bottom lip and leaned forward. The poor parson squirmed and averted his eyes, nodding emphatically in agreement with whatever nonsense Jack had been going on about.

She had their attention now (and after all, they must have wanted her for something). She stretched languidly, and even Jack left off his babbling to admire the swell of her breasts. He made an amused sound in the back of his throat, and the room spun as he dragged her into his lap. Then, with an insulting single-mindedness, he resumed his monologue.

"Gentleman, there can be no doubt that we three -- seemingly so disparate -- have a common enemy. . ." One dark hand stroked lightly over her bodice and gave her nipple a deft pinch. Pearl gasped and squeezed Jack's shoulder, her earlier irritation with him forgotten. Some part of her wondered at her brazenness; it didn't feel quite as comfortable as she'd expected, under the circumstances. But thinking on that made her distinctly uncomfortable, and Jack's clever fingers were making it hard to think at all.

Never missing a beat of his speech, he reached down into her dress, cupping her breast in a work-hardened hand. The metal of his rings was cool against her skin and provided a delicious contrast to his callused fingers. A restless, reckless need was building in her blood, making her nipples harden and her skin tingle with longing.

Jack smelled wonderful -- the same spicy sweetness from the wine seemed to cling to his skin and mingle with the musky smoky male scent of him -- and she nuzzled into his neck to inhale the exotic fragrance. His tangled hair was wiry in her face but the beads and trinkets woven into it caught the candlelight in an intriguing way. His hand was still on her breast, absently rolling her nipple between his finger and his thumb as he responded to some question from the parson (who was red-faced and squeezing his napkin tightly).

Pearl's breath caught in her throat and she wanted. . .more. . .God, she was so hot for it that she'd take them all for free, one right after the other. And the thought of them laying her out on the table and lining up for her made her squirm against Jack and moan.

Jack first. He'd be slow and teasing. Draw it out and make her beg for her release. Then handsome Captain Turner, sliding into her quim, all juicy with Jack's come. He'd be faster, harder, and not worry overmuch about her pleasure. (But she would enjoy it, oh God, wouldn't she, as ready as she was. She could come again and again and not be sated.)

She mewled at that and arched up against Jack's hand shamelessly. He talked on, heatedly, about his theory, but obligingly flipped up her skirt and set his hand (cold against the scorching heat of her cunt, but oh so good) between her thighs. And she was sopping wet already, slick and ready, and his fingers skated over her easily, in an enticing, maddening rhythm, sweeping across that spot and then away, over and over.

The parson, ah, he'd be reluctant, but the others would egg him on, and he'd succumb to temptation. She could see it in his eyes, and in the very promising bulge in his breeches.

Jack droned on, his hand moving over her lightly, with that same teasing cadence. She sprawled her legs out encouragingly (wantonness was not only comfortable but necessary now), and threw her head back, nibbling her finger compulsively. Turner was watching frankly, with a mixture of amusement and lust, his eyes flicking from her (flushed, panting) face to the exposed length of leg, ending with the flash of cunny half-hidden by Jack's busy hand. She could smell herself, the sharp salty scent of her excitement, and she wondered if they could smell her too, if they knew how eager she was. She thought to moan and make a show of it, but what came out was genuine and desperate, a drawn-out, uncontrolled whine, as the first shivering shocks ran down her legs and up into her belly and she ground herself against Jack's hand and clutched at his coat spasmodically. It went on and on, each wave more intense than the last, until it was nearly painful, and then gradually subsided into gentle tremors that made her squeeze her legs tight around his fingers. She collapsed back against his shoulder with a contented sigh.


William exhaled with her, although he felt no corresponding relief from the pressure in his breeches. He'd long lost track of Jack's point, so focused was he on Pearl's writhing, ecstatic body, and, although Pinchbottom was deliberately looking away, it was clear that he was also too distracted to follow the conversation.

With a knowing look, Pearl pulled Jack's glistening hand to her lips and began to lap at his fingers daintily. Her pink tongue darted and licked and Jack became visibly agitated, repeating himself and trailing off into confusion more than once. He ran his fingers around her shining full lips, and she sucked them deeply into her mouth. The suggestive movement made William shift uneasily in his chair.

Pinchbottom was watching now, out of the corner of his eye, and he drew in his breath sharply when Pearl slowly slid Jack's finger in and out of her mouth.

Jack chuckled and said, "To hell with it! None of us is clearheaded enough to puzzle this out tonight, and I for one see no reason why it shouldn't wait until morning." With that, he pulled Pearl's head around and kissed her hungrily. The movement yanked her bodice off her shoulder, freeing one breast, and William couldn't pull his eyes away from the creamy skin and the pert rosy nipple. Involuntarily, his hand went to his erection and he gasped at the sensation.

Jack broke the kiss and grinned at him. "Taking matters into your own hands, Captain? Surely we could find an accommodation that would suit us all. Share and share alike, right mates?"

Pinchbottom threw up his hands and shook his head violently.

At the same time, William started, knocking over his wine glass. A red puddle spread over the tablecloth and dripped onto his breeches. He stuttered out, "Do you mean to say. . ." and faltered.

"I mean to say there's plenty to go around." said Jack with an evocative gesture. "She has a very. . .lush mouth."

William had expected Pearl to balk at this suggestion, but she looked positively eager. He needed no further invitation. In a daze, he stood and stripped off his coat and breeches. Looking up, he saw that Jack too had pulled his breeches off, and Pearl was on her hands and knees on the rug, her skirt pushed up around her waist. As William watched, Jack slid into her from behind, and she wriggled back to meet him.

William waited until they'd found a rhythm before he moved around the table to stand before Pearl. Her long hair was hanging in her face, and he pushed it aside gently, with a sudden feeling of déjà vu. Then her mouth closed around him and he could think of nothing else but this moment. She licked and sucked playfully, and then something Jack did elicited a deep moan from her, and she sucked harder, taking William's cock deep into her mouth. His knees went weak, and he had to grip the table to steady himself.

Jack was muttering encouraging phrases under his breath, "That's it darlin', that's a good girl. . . "

When William reached out to take one of Pearl's breasts in his hands, he found Jack's hand there. Their fingers tangled together and William felt a galvanic thrill course down his spine.

Pearl's eyes were lidded, and her mouth hung open and slack. Jack's hand on her waist moved her between them, and she was panting, her breath hot on William's prick. He buried a hand in her soft, rain-scented hair, and held her still. Jack's hand moved lower, to the place where his body joined hers and William rolled her nipple between his fingers. She stiffened and shuddered between them with a stifled whimper.

William looked up and saw Pinchbottom watching avidly, his green eyes burning with a compelling mixture of disgust and longing. In his agitation, he ran his fingers through his hair, dislodging the ribbon. Dark thick locks tumbled around his pale face and he held the ribbon clenched in his fist, like a talisman. His eyes met William's and two bright spots appeared on his cheeks. William idly wondered what it would look like if the dam burst, and everything that the parson was holding back spilled forth. And as suddenly as the notion occurred to him, William knew he wanted to make it happen.


For some time Pinchbottom had watched the disgusting spectacle before him with horrified fascination. He could not tell if he was more appalled at the utter shamelessness of the others - like rutting beasts, he thought - or at his own undeniable reaction to the sight. Using the tablecloth to shield his actions - not that anyone was paying attention to him, so involved they were - he pressed the heel of one hand into his lap, attempting by this means to relieve the throbbing ache in his member, to no avail.

He found himself unable to look away from the girl and what she was doing to Turner; riveted by the way her lips stretched and slid over his glistening flesh; by the moans she uttered as he thrust into her mouth.

Suddenly, he realized that Turner was staring at him, dark eyes hot and dangerous, and he tore his gaze away, mortified at what the Captain may have read in his own expression. Stilling the urge to flee - don't be absurd, he told himself, what is there to fear? - he drew a deep breath, then risked another glance. Turner was smiling - leering - directly at him and Pinchbottom froze, paralyzed by conflicting desires.

Turner bent and murmured something to the girl and freed himself. Her head fell forward as the highwayman redoubled his efforts, pulling her hips hard against his own with faint slapping sounds of flesh on flesh.

Then Pinchbottom's view of the couple was eclipsed as Turner stepped toward him, pulling his shirt over his head as he did so. Stopping a pace away from the table, Turner tossed the shirt aside and stretched, rolling his muscular shoulders. Pinchbottom's breath caught as the Captain grinned down at him, flaunting himself - one hand lazily stroking his own member, one smoothing itself across his chest. All unaware of what he did, Pinchbottom licked his lips.

"See something you like?" Turner asked, and Pinchbottom gasped.

He leapt up and put the chair between them. Turner chuckled and took another step forward.

"Why, Parson, never say you are afraid!"

Pinchbottom drew himself up, indignation momentarily conquering his embarrassment at the ridiculous picture he must present. "Certainly not!" he declared, blushing furiously. "You forget yourself, Captain Turner."

"Do I?" Turner smiled. "Perhaps so." Pinchbottom flung up a hand to halt his advance but Turner caught his wrist in an iron grasp and bore his arm down. "Why not do the same, eh?"

"I… I don't know what you mean," Pinchbottom stammered, twisting fruitlessly in the other man's grip and backing away.

Turner followed, relentless and - damn him - amused. "Oh, I think you do," he murmured.

Just then Pinchbottom's shoulders thudded into the wall and he nearly panicked as Turner closed the distance between them, pressing him back and holding him in place. He turned his head away, eyes closed. Turner's body against his was hard and unbearably exciting. His resistance to this madness was nearly gone - indeed he could not quite remember why he had resisted at all. "Please," he whispered, hating the pleading note in his voice.

Callused fingers closed on his jaw, not ungently, and forced his head around. He shuddered as Turner's breath brushed his cheek, his lips. "Open your eyes."

He complied, helpless to do otherwise, but refused to meet Turner's gaze - staring over the other man's shoulder at the couple on the floor. Jack had pulled the girl up and back onto his lap and they were rocking together with her head laid back on his shoulder. Even as he looked she gave a soft cry and shuddered; Jack groaned his release at the same moment. Enthralled by the sight, he jumped when teeth closed on his ear, nipping sharply.

"Never mind them," Turner laughed, his voice husky. "I'm over here."

The hand on his jaw firmed and Turner kissed him, hard enough to bruise. At the same time Turner's other hand was fumbling with his breeches buttons. When long fingers clasped his erection, Pinchbottom found to his horror that he was moaning into Turner's mouth and bucking into the welcome grip.

"Touch me, damn you," Turner was saying. "Touch me. Now."

Eagerly, he did as he was told, taking the rigid flesh in his hand and dropping his head onto Turner's shoulder with a groan as Turner gave his own member a long, twisting pull. Then they were moving together and Pinchbottom thought he would go mad from the sensation of Turner's hands and mouth moving upon him. He bit down on the flesh beneath his lips, sucking and licking distractedly.

After a few moments, Turner leant back, forcing Pinchbottom to meet his eyes. "You want this," he said, thrusting into Pinchbottom's fist. "Say it."

Almost beyond words, he nodded, gasping. "Yes," he moaned. "Please, yes."

"Turn around."

He obeyed without hesitation, pressing his palms flat against the wall -- for an instant the action felt shockingly familiar -- and looking back over his shoulder. Turner scooped up some butter from the table, slicking his cock with one hand. Pinchbottom whimpered as first one and then two slippery fingers worked their way inside him, twisting and wriggling. He thrust back against them and heard Turner chuckle, even as the fingers were withdrawn. Moments later he was pierced, transfixed, when Turner's prick entered him with a slow, relentless pressure. Panting, he rested his forehead against the wall, feeling the initial pain give way to an exquisite burning need that made him rock his hips against Turner's and plead wordlessly.

Obligingly, Turner thrust hard and then withdrew partway, holding his hips to prevent him following. Pinchbottom moaned and clenched around the head of Turner's cock.

"Like that, do you?" Turner asked, his voice strained. "Want more?"

"Yes. More," he begged. "Oh, please. I want…." His words cut off with a cry as Turner slammed back into him and pulled out nearly all the way yet again. Before Pinchbottom could form another plea, Turner was fucking him hard - slow and then fast - in a maddening rhythm that had him shuddering in no time. When he could stand it no longer he reached for his cock only to have his hand batted away and replaced by Turner's. It was too much; he threw his head back, mouth wide in a silent scream as he spent himself - only dimly conscious of Turner's sharp teeth closing on his shoulder and Turner's hoarse cry.

When awareness returned, he was pressed against the wall, knees trembling and heart pounding. Turner was a warm weight against his back, shaking with his own heartbeat and panting still. As carefully as he could, he slipped down, lowering them both to the floor where they sat, not moving, for some time.

At last Turner took him by the shoulders, turning him round until their mouths met. As they kissed - indulging in a slow, thorough exploration of each others' mouths - Pinchbottom felt Turner untying his neckcloth.

"Clothes off," he murmured, between kisses. "Need skin."

Nothing loath, Pinchbottom tugged his shirt over his head - revealing a growing bruise on his shoulder to match the one he'd given Turner - and bent to pull his boots off, taking his breeches with them. The instant he was naked, Turner's hand tangled in his hair and drew him back and down until he was prone on the carpet with Turner stretched out half on top of him. Unbelievably, he was hard again; they both were.

He reached along their bodies and took a firm hold of Turner's cock, eliciting a most satisfying groan. Taking advantage of the other man's distraction, he bent one leg and flipped them over. He grinned down into suddenly wide brown eyes as he aligned their hips and thrust, rubbing their erections together. Turner's eyes rolled up and he arched his back.

"Having fun, mates?" a voice above him said.

Pinchbottom reared back in shock as four bare feet appeared next to them.

Jack grinned at the parson and the captain, enjoying their startlement. "There's a lovely big bed through there." He pointed. "Plenty of room for all of us. We've just been testing it to make sure it's soft enough."

Beside him, Pearl giggled and he patted her bare arse. His grin widened as he saw her making eyes at Turner. Jack reached down and took the parson's arm, pulling him to his feet. Pearl offered her hand to the captain, who likewise scrambled up and clipped her to his side, lowering his mouth to hers.

Jack laughed as Pearl melted into the kiss, running her hands boldly over Turner's back and ribs, pulling him closer, as they stumbled toward the bedchamber.

"A pretty sight, eh, Pinchbottom?" he said, suiting action to words.

The parson jumped and grabbed Jack's wrist to shove him away. Jack feigned a stumble and fell against Pinchbottom's chest, brushing as he did so the back of his free hand against the other's cock, which leapt at his touch.

"Why, Mister Pinchbottom," Jack simpered, leaning heavily against the taller man and glancing wickedly sidelong. "This is so sudden; I don't know what to say."

"Shut up," the parson growled, twisting one hand in Jack's hair and gripping his arse with the other. "Shut up."

Ignoring this command, Jack had opened his mouth to add more fuel to what he felt was a very promising fire, when he found himself effectively silenced by Pinchbottom's tongue thrust nearly down his throat.

Jack thoroughly approved of the parson's manhandling of his person. He did his best to convey this sentiment by sucking with enthusiasm on the invading tongue and wriggling encouragement against the hands that held him hard. Never breaking the kiss, he allowed himself to be backed through the bedchamber door, until he felt the edge of the mattress against the backs of his thighs.

He pulled back just far enough to free his mouth and murmured, "Oil's in my waistcoat pocket."

Pinchbottom pinned him against the bed, grabbed the waistcoat off the chair and threw it at him. No sooner had Jack retrieved the little flask than he found himself tipped neatly onto his back, with Pinchbottom's hands behind his knees, raising his legs to rest on the parson's shoulders.

"Hold onto something," Pinchbottom ordered, fumbling with the cork.

Jack stretched his arms out above his head and his hands encountered a dainty ankle. Tipping his head back he saw Turner kneeling at the head of the bed, with Pearl in his lap, straddling his thighs. Her arms were around his neck as she slowly raised and lowered herself on his prick. She paused and they both looked at him when Jack's hands closed about her calf.

"Don't mind me, loves," Jack grinned. "Carry on." Then he groaned and shut them from his thoughts as Pinchbottom's fingers began to work on him.

The parson was fast and thorough, if not particularly gentle, and Jack groaned again as he was opened and prepared. Oh, this was going to be good.

Unable to resist, he raised his head to ask, "What's taking so long?" but his words ended in a strangled yell as Pinchbottom took hold of his hips and drove his cock into him with one hard push. Jesus wept, it felt enormous. Jack panted, sweating, as he willed his body to relax.

"Is that…" His voice cracked. He tried again. "Is that all you've got?"

The parson did not answer, just drew back and thrust again. And again. Jack arched and writhed against the delicious assault. Slow and deep and hard the parson fucked him - tireless and intent, green eyes blazing - and Jack took it, loved it, begged for more.

Just when he thought he'd go mad, Pinchbottom grasped his aching prick tight and stroked fast. Jack cried out as a blaze of light blanked his mind and the parson collapsed on top of him.

Next thing he knew, he was tucked up in bed, snug between the parson at his back and Pearl before him. He could see Turner beyond her. Jack sighed happily and drifted back into sleep.

**************
Elizabeth awoke to the agreeable lethargy that generally followed an evening in bed with her husband. Will's arm was heavy across her waist and one hand cupped her breast lightly. She could feel his member pressing against her legs with its usual morning hardness. Behind her closed eyes she could sense the morning light and she burrowed under the soft comforter, not ready to succumb to wakefulness. Her head felt thick, as if she'd overindulged the previous night, although she couldn't seem to remember all the details. If the mild ache between her legs was any indication, they'd certainly enjoyed themselves!

Her leg made contact with another limb at the same time that a hoarse voice said, "Hey there, no need to hog all the bedclothes!"

She immediately registered two things: Will could not be both behind her, pressing against her back, and in front of her, pressing his leg (and an equally hard member) against her thigh; and the voice did not belong to Will. She sat up in the bed and discovered that one side of her Will slept on, while beside her was Jack, who was also sitting up and examining the situation with a look that managed to be at once confused, smug, and horrified. James was curled up behind him, still snoring softly.

Elizabeth gave a little scream and yanked the quilt up over her bare breasts. Unfortunately, this pulled the quilt off James, exposing his bare (and quite shapely) bottom. He stirred and rolled over, revealing a prodigious erection, and blinked in confusion. Elizabeth hastily averted her eyes.

The movement caused Will to awaken and he met her eyes with a libidinous look, followed by stunned bewilderment when he realized who else was in the bed with them. "What the devil?"

There was commotion behind her, and the bed shifted. When she risked a sidelong look, she could see James sitting at the foot of the bed, his head in his hands, while Jack (still completely naked) stooped to gather up a pile of clothes.

"I believe this must be yours." Jack dropped a thin cotton shift in front of her, followed by a worn calico dress. The sight of the dress prompted Elizabeth's memory. Dinner was clear in her mind, and then things began to be fuzzy. They must have had too much of that excellent burgundy.

There was a dark bruise on Will's shoulder and the picture it brought to mind - James biting Will? - made Elizabeth doubt her senses. Bits and pieces of the previous night fell into place and with each recollection she questioned her sanity all the more. What in the world had happened?

Her reverie was broken by Jack's amused voice. "James, your clothes don't seem to be in evidence -- or Will's either. Should I search the parlor?"

"By all means!"

Will groaned an assent and passed his hand over his eyes.

By the time Jack had returned with an assortment of shirts and breeches, Elizabeth had managed to get herself into the borrowed dress. It was a good thing too, because Will and James were still pulling on their clothes when they heard a sharp knock on the parlor door.

With real panic, James cried, "Breakfast!"

As Elizabeth and Jack dashed around the parlor frantically righting furniture and gathering scattered clothes, James fumbled with the buttons on his waistcoat and tried to recall how he had come to be in bed with, not just Jack, but Will and Elizabeth as well. James' memories were jumbled and fragmented, and he wasn't sure how trustworthy they were. Some details seemed too fantastic to be believed, and it was only as James continued to piece things together that he realized that the officer who featured prominently in his recollections was none other than Will Turner, in James' own uniform.

The knocking resumed, louder than before, and Jack threw open the door with an ingratiating smile. "Sorry 'bout that, love. We had a late night, uh, catching up on old times, and we've all been slugabeds this morning."

With a huffy sigh, the maid began clearing away the dishes from the previous night, and setting breakfast on the table.

James pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to clear the fog that still clouded his brain. What could have provoked them to behave in such a debauched fashion? He was still pondering this question when the maid stalked out the door, and they sat down to breakfast.

"I declare," Elizabeth said cheerily, "Mrs. Giddings' mulled wine must have gone to my head. I can't recall a single thing that happened after dinner, and I believe I slept like the dead."

There was a general agreement with this statement, and James relaxed slightly. Perhaps it was even true that the others didn't remember anything, although the strained looks on their faces contradicted their words.

James fell to pondering the previous night's confusion. Before they'd. . .compromised themselves, they'd lost their memories. Surely this was another spell, but who was responsible? Circumspectly, he eyed Elizabeth, but saw no evidence of a guilty conscience.

Will cleared his throat. "Delicious meal, don't you think Elizabeth?"

"Oh, yes! Would you like some bacon, Will?"

"No thank you, sausage for me, please."

Her eyes grew wide and she coughed discreetly. Will winced and, after taking a moment to compose himself, took a large bite of eggs. James distinctly heard Jack sniggering, but he kept his eyes fixed on his own plate.

James reached for another piece of toast and found that he and Jack had both grabbed the last slice.

"Not to worry, James," Jack said, as he tore the toast in half, "There's plenty to go around."

There was a sputtering sound from Will's direction as he choked on his coffee, and an awkward silence once more descended upon the table.

It was a great relief to all of them when the maid returned with Will and Elizabeth's clothes, which had been brushed and cleaned to something resembling their former glory. The Turners lost no time in dressing and hurriedly made their goodbyes.


When the door closed behind the Turners, Jack breathed a sigh of relief. It was his fervent hope never to be obliged to sit through another meal like the one just past, despite the fact that it had gone rather well, in truth. His role in the previous evening's goings-on remained undetected and, as the others plainly wanted nothing so much as to pretend it never happened, he doubted he'd be called to book for it. Yet another escape for Captain Jack Sparrow.

He glanced over at James, adjusting his neckcloth before the small mirror, and grinned to himself. At any rate, he knew now that the potions worked, not least the one he'd intended for James alone - the aphrodisiac. He savored the strange word on his tongue and shifted in his chair as he reflected on the charm's effect on the Commodore. He would, he thought, be remembering that effect every time he sat down for some time to come; he wondered how soon he could obtain some more of the potent brew.

James finished with his toilet - he was still in his dark green coat, as Will had spilt wine on his uniform - and turned to Jack.

"I should go," he said.

Jack poured more ale into his tankard and sauntered over, standing close enough to feel the heat of James's body. He took a draught and then offered the drink to James, who accepted it with a curt nod.

"What's the hurry?" Jack asked, licking the foam from his lips with slow swipes of his tongue and chuckling as he saw James's eyes follow the motion. He leaned closer still, lowering his voice to a whisper. "Room's paid for another day." Slipping his hands under the green coat, he placed them on James's waist and felt his sudden intake of breath. He tilted his head and half-closed his eyes. "What've you got to lose?"

It was not possible, he decided, to tire of kissing James Norrington, but, compared to last night, there was something missing. James was far too controlled, his fire banked down. Time to rattle him out of that icy composure just a bit.

"I didn't know, James," Jack said, once he could speak again, "that you had such a taste for handsome young officers." He lowered his chin and looked up. "Should I be worried?"

James's eyes went wide for an instant and then the dark brows snapped together. "You said you remembered nothing!" he accused.

"Or was it fucking up against the wall? You were very pretty like that," Jack went on, thoughtfully. "Want to try it again?"

Jack's breath was driven out of him as James slammed him to the wall. "Let's see how pretty you look, shall we?" James snarled, yanking at Jack's breeches.

Jack laughed. "Why Parson Pinchbottom, this is so sudden."

"Shut up, Jack."
*************

Leaving their damaged carriage and horses behind, Will and Elizabeth started off for Port Royal in Gidding's humbler open equipage. The first hour passed silently, while Elizabeth and Will both faced forward, lost in their own thoughts. Will's head was filled with the most wicked memories and he couldn't stop picturing the enraptured abandon on Elizabeth's face as Jack had tupped her or the moment of surrender when James had turned and allowed Will to bugger him. The day seemed particularly warm, and Will tugged futilely at his cravat.

Elizabeth giggled to herself.

Irritably, Will asked, "What?"

Her lips brushed against his ear. "I had no idea you had a taste for sodomy!"

Conscious of Ned's presence, Will hissed, "You said you couldn't remember a thing!"

"Ah-ha - you remember it too!"

A confusing mixture of shame and desire flooded Will's senses, and he gripped Elizabeth's arms tightly. "I remember how much you liked--" he curtailed the crude description that had come to mind and amended, "Taking me in your mouth."

She lowered her eyes coyly, and he had to strain to hear her words. "Perhaps we could try that again sometime. . ."

Lust threatened to overwhelm him. Casting about for a less provocative topic, he said, "I suppose you've learned your lesson -- seeing as how you were caught in your own trap this time."

She drew herself up haughtily. "What do you mean by that?"

"I can't imagine what you expected to accomplish. All's well that ends well, but pray, let us have an end to this nonsense now."

"Do you mean to suggest that I was responsible for that tomfoolery last night?"

"It's the obvious conclusion."

"I had nothing to do with it! And if you can't believe me, then you can just walk back to Port Royal, for I shan't share a carriage with someone who calls me a liar."

She seemed sincere and Will began to doubt his guess. "Forgive me, I. . .It's just that you. . .That is, you admitted to doing this sort of thing before. . ."

She deflated somewhat, and allowed him to pull her close to him. "I can see how you could have thought that. But I promise, this was none of my work."

"But if not you, then who was responsible?"

They looked at each other, both coming to the same inescapable conclusion. In unison, they cried, "Jack!" and then vowed to get their own back, somehow.

 

 

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