There was a gaping rift between before and after that his mind
couldn't cross over. Before was empty and distant and primarily
distinguished by its absence of pain (except that he didn't really believe
there'd ever been a time when he hadn't hurt); after was nothing but pain.
It surrounded him and wiped out all that had gone before, and it went on and
on with no end in sight. A whisper of a memory flitted through his mind --
as it is now and ever shall be, world without end -- but then the
pain drove that away as well.
Finally, after some indeterminate amount of time, there was an after to the
after, a blessed, blissful relief from the pain, like the stillness in the
eye of a hurricane. He didn't trust that it would last, but in that brief
respite, he tried to remember and understand.
At last, Jack knew himself for himself, but his mind was a slippery,
drifting thing, and only bits and pieces of his memories came to him.
Struggling against the lethargy that threatened to pull him under, he
attempted an inventory of what else he knew. He was in a bed, on a boat
(ship). He'd been injured. Something was missing, something wasn't right,
but his mind shied away from it and slid off to ponder something else. What
was that they'd given him, that made the pain stop? He'd known the name of
it once. . .
Opal? Opus? Opera? Opium. That was it. Wonderful stuff. Made the
world slow and syrupy, and he could almost forget. . .
He forgot what it was he'd forgotten.
It was important; he was sure, but the effort of remembering the name of
that drug -- Orpah? -- had exhausted him, and sleep was washing over him
like a warm wave. Just a little nap, he thought to himself. Just a short
sleep, and then I'll remember it all. Be fresh as a daisy in the morning.
Like a stone, Jack sank down down down into the clear warm water. Time had
stopped, or at least slowed sufficiently that he didn't need to breathe, and
Jack had the leisure to appreciate the brightly colored fish that flitted by
him and the way the light danced and shimmered in the water. When he reached
the bottom, he discovered a branching coral reef covered with just the sort
of big blue clams that held the best pearls. He pried one open, revealing a
gleaming white pearl the size of an egg.
Jack pushed against the ocean floor, thinking to carry his prize to the
surface, but nothing happened. The pearl was growing larger and heavier with
every moment; now the size of a canon ball, it anchored him to the sand. His
arms ached with the effort of holding it up, but he couldn't stand the
thought of letting such a jewel go.
He'd forgotten he was underwater, but as soon as the thought occurred to
him, he realized that he couldn't breathe. His lungs were bursting. Black
spots crowded his vision. He would drown -- like poor Bill -- if he didn't
drop the damn pearl and swim to the surface. But he couldn't seem to let it
Above him, distorted by the water, Jack saw the bottom of a boat. Someone
dove off the bow and plummeted toward him. Before Jack could question it he
was being pulled upward. He burst through the water, gasping for breath,
into the glare and noise of the surface. James was beside him, still holding
him up and helping him clamber into the boat. Jack knew it was James,
although all he could see was his silhouette, dark against the daylight
gathered behind him.
James only said, "Jack," as if he didn't know whether to laugh or scold him.
Then he kissed Jack, eagerly, and his mouth was a sweet contrast to the
ocean water that dripped down both their faces.
Jack wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth, and he set to work
divesting James of his wet clothes. But his hands didn’t seem to work
properly; he couldn’t slip the buttons through their holes or even grasp
hold of the cloth.
Through the ringing in Jack’s ears, he could hear James laughing and chiding
him for his clumsiness. He would have made a clever retort, but there was a
terrible pain in his arm, like someone had set fire to his bones. With the
pain came a sharp clarity. This is a dream, he realized, and as suddenly as
he recognized that, it all began to fade away. Except that James was still
saying his name, insistently, no longer with any laughter in his voice.
Jack opened his eyes, and just as in his dream, there was James, dark
against the bright light coming through the porthole.
"Good morning." Jack's voice sounded rusty from disuse. How long had he been
"Thank God," James said vehemently, gripping Jack's left hand tightly,
Through the small porthole, Jack could see the Pearl gleaming like a
beacon in the morning sun. When he’d first awakened, the damage from the
battle had still been evident, but with every passing day she was more like
her old self. The last of the repairs were now finished, and the Pearl
sat at the ready, like a pretty girl waiting for her beau.
In the meantime, Jack had been confined to Lieutenant Gillette’s cabin on
the Dauntless and forced to endure Doctor Fleming’s fussing and foul
potions. The worst of it was that Fleming was a confirmed teetotaler and
adamantly refused to allow his patient so much as a sip of wine; Gillette,
the bloody prig, took great satisfaction in enforcing Fleming’s rules. James
might have been persuaded to circumvent them, but he’d made himself scarce
after his initial touching display. Fleming and Gillette assured Jack that
the Commodore was far too busy with official business to worry himself with
one very unimportant privateer, but Jack found himself strangely uncomforted
by this thought.
Anamaria and Gibbs were on the deck of the Pearl, apparently
conferring about something or other; the discussion had started civilly
enough, but before long, Anamaria was gesturing emphatically and Gibbs was
shaking his head and holding up his hands as if to placate her. The source
of the disagreement became clear when Gibbs rowed himself over to the
What business could Gibbs have on the Dauntless except to visit Jack?
Any resentment Jack might have felt at Gibbs’ obvious reluctance was
assuaged by the thought that Gibbs could be counted on to have a full flask
and no doubt could be persuaded to share it with Jack. Any moment now, Jack
was certain, Gibbs would be done with the preliminaries, and knocking on the
cabin door, ready to help his captain out of a bind.
The minutes ticked by slowly, until nearly half an hour had passed, and Jack
began to suspect that Gibbs (well-intentioned though he might have been) had
been waylaid. When a full hour had passed, Jack decided that enough was
enough, and he’d best go investigate. He still felt as weak as a kitten, but
with the possibility of rum to motivate him, he rooted through the sea chest
in search of suitable attire.
Beneath the tidy bundle of his effects, he found a pair of breeches, but no
shirt. The one he’d been wearing was filthy and reeking, but Jack supposed
it was preferable to wandering the ship half-dressed. It was easy enough to
pull the breeches on, but fastening the buttons was a slow, tedious process
and the sash proved impossible.
It took three tries with his belt before he could buckle it, and afterwards
he had to lean against the hull briefly to catch his breath. He shrugged
into his coat (ignoring for now the problem of the sleeve), and immediately
felt more like himself. There was no sign of his scarf -- Jack feared it had
gone missing during the battle -- but he shook his tangled hair from his
face and smacked his hat down solidly. Baldric, pistol and sword; thus
bolstered, he dared a look in the glass. A pale and bedraggled stranger
stared back at him, but Jack assured himself it was nothing that a shave and
some kohl couldn’t fix.
The most likely suspect for delaying Gibbs was surely James. Jack managed to
make his way to the great cabin without being detected, and there he
discovered Gibbs, sitting with James at the long mahogany table. A great
stack of papers was piled to one side of them and ink speckled both their
hands. They looked up and started guiltily when Jack entered the cabin.
James jumped to his feet. "You should be in bed!"
Jack eased himself into the chair opposite them. "What's the matter, James,
aren't you glad to see me?"
James ignored this jibe. "Gibbs and I were compiling some of the reports for
“So I see. It’s very considerate of you to spare me all the
Gibbs’ smile appeared somewhat strained. "It's a good thing you're here,
Jack; some of these need your--" he faltered and then carried on bravely,
"--mark. You'll not want to miss out on your share on a legal technicality!"
Rifling through the papers, James set several aside. “Here, these are the
ones you’ll want to review.” As he placed them in front of Jack, his fingers
brushed across the spot where Jack's hand should have been. Jack could've
sworn he felt the warmth of James' touch, just as he’d felt the impossible
itches and aches that had been plaguing him for days. He jerked away, in the
process jarring his stump against the table. He gritted his teeth to keep
from crying out at the white-hot pain that shot through his arm.
James looked out the stern windows pointedly, and when he spoke, his voice
was neutral. "Perhaps you could teach yourself to write with your left hand.
My grandfather did, after he suffered an apoplexy."
Jack remembered the strike of the ferule and the string that had bound his
left hand. When he returned to the present, James was holding out the pen
with a cool, expectant stare.
Damned if he'd let that bloody Navy man make him flinch. If he could
learn not to use his left hand, surely he could relearn to use it now.
Taking up the quill, he attempted his signature. The result was an illegible
smear of ink, but by the time he'd reached the end of the stack, he'd
managed to produce something that looked like actual script, albeit that of
a small child.
He looked up to find James watching him inscrutably. In a moment, Jack was
aware of how he must look - his unbalanced posture, his jaw clenched with
the effort of doing the simplest task. Cold fury washed over him. "Where are
the rest?" he asked brusquely. "I want to get through them as quickly as
possible, before I return to the Pearl."
"Don't be a fool, Jack. There'll be plenty of time for that, once you've
recovered your strength."
The effort of moving around seemed to have caught up with Jack. He felt
himself starting to sway and gripped the edge of the table with his left
hand. "I’m needed on my own ship, and that's where I intend to go. Do I make
At Gibbs' sharp look, James checked his tongue. "Perfectly."
Jack was determined to resume all his regular duties and show the crew he
was just as much the captain as he’d ever been, right hand or no. He could
steer his ship (in a calm) and fire a pistol (badly); he could even use a
sword, although perhaps without as much panache as he'd once had. He
told himself none of that was important; what mattered was that he was the
captain. The really essential part of captaining a ship was smarts, and
regardless of his loss, Jack still had wit and resourcefulness in spades.
Within days of parting company with the Dauntless, Jack had proved
his point. They came upon a French sloop in a fog and, with stealth and
cunning, boarded her before the crew even realized they were under attack,
capturing her with nary a shot. She was a tidy little prize, and Jack
greatly looked forward to delivering his report of the encounter to the
Governor (who would, perforce, share it with Commodore Norrington)
when they returned to Port Royal. No matter if it had been dictated to
Gibbs, whose own penmanship left much to be desired. Jack had signed it with
However, in the days after this triumph, Jack paid the price for his
exertions. He was more exhausted than he liked to admit, and the pain from
his arm seemed to increase hourly. The more it hurt, the more he drank,
until he was too drunk to stand. He’d awake with an aching head and a
tender, swollen arm, and immediately set out to drink himself into another
stupor. Soon he was drunk more than he was sober, and at last he descended
again into the murky feverish depths.
Terrible creatures haunted his dreams – snapping, fierce things with sharp
teeth and bloody maws. And this time, James was nowhere to be found, no
matter how Jack looked for him. In a brief moment of lucidity, Jack thought
it was a good riddance; who needed prim and proper James standing over him
with his blather about duty and honor? Far better to fade away into the
darkness than to fight where you could not win.
Some time after this, Jack awoke to the savory smell of onions cooking.
Everything was still and quiet, and he knew at once that he was no longer on
the Pearl (or on any ship at all). The pain in his arm was no longer
as immediate as it had once been, and although he still felt weak and tired,
the terrible fever was finally gone.
The twilit room was small and orderly; a smooth linen sheet covered Jack and
a cool breeze blew through the open window, stirring the white lace
curtains. Jack’s coat and hat hung on the wall, but there was no sign of any
other occupants. Jack tried to recall how he'd arrived at this place, but
utterly failed to remember a single thing about the journey or where he
The silence was broken by the distant sound of a woman singing. The words
were indistinguishable, but the tune was familiar, as was the pleasant alto
voice. It could belong to no one other than Elizabeth Turner.
Port Royal, then. A traitorous part of Jack's heart wondered if James was
here as well, but he dismissed that thought. No need to worry about that
now. Surely James had better things to do than sit by Jack's sickbed. Hadn’t
he proven that on the Dauntless?
Elizabeth made a stern nurse and her tonics were every bit as foul as
Fleming’s, but at least she allowed him a small ration of rum every day, and
a glass of wine – for medicinal purposes – with dinner. To Jack’s surprise,
he recuperated rapidly, and the pain became a dull annoyance, rather than
something that ruled his life. Even so, it took several weeks for him to
recover his strength or to feel well enough to leave the bed.
At first Will visited the sickroom often, chivvying Jack into telling him
stories of his father and their boyhood exploits. But then he grew busy with
a large commission – something to do with the Fort, he said – and Jack
scarcely saw him.
One afternoon, Will came in unexpectedly with a large box. He placed it on
the bed and opened it, revealing a tangle of leather and buckles and steel.
"I’ve been working on it for weeks, but I didn’t want to say anything until
I’d gotten it right.”
When Jack didn’t speak, Will said, “It goes on like this," illustrating with
his own arm, "And then you screw these bits onto it. See?" He spread the
various attachments on the bedclothes like a tinker's wares: a metal hand,
the fingers lightly curved; a hinged device like a pair of pincers, and a
gleaming hook with a wicked point.
In spite of himself, Jack was intrigued. He touched the hook warily and
cocked his head, trying to imagine how the thing would fit onto his arm.
Will waited patiently until Jack extended his arm, and then deftly unpinned
Jack's sleeve and strapped the contraption on. It was heavier than Jack had
expected and the buckles pinched, but he was too fascinated by the
possibilities to worry overmuch about any of that. Will cocked an eyebrow
and Jack silently pointed to the hook.
"You could use this quite efficiently in battle,” Will said
matter-of-factly. “Something like parrying with a dagger. . ."
By supper-time, Jack had learned to fasten the buckles with one hand and to
disarm an opponent with the hook. When he donned his coat and proceeded to
the table, rather than requesting that the maid bring up a tray, Will and
Elizabeth exchanged raised eyebrows. No doubt they thought they were being
subtle. Far be it from Jack to disabuse them of the notion.
Jack had never asked after James, although shortly after Jack had regained
his senses, Elizabeth had mentioned that the Dauntless had been
delayed in Bermuda and wasn't expected for several weeks. Nonetheless, Jack
had managed to put this out of his mind, so busy was he sparring with Will,
tweaking Elizabeth, and generally recovering his spirits. For the time
being, Jack was content to let that sleeping dog lie.
And so it was that James' arrival took him completely off-guard. It must
have been near midnight; the rest of the household was long abed, and Jack
was sitting in Elizabeth's garden, enjoying the cool of the evening and
humming a scandalous drinking song. The click of the gate disturbed his
reverie, and when Jack opened his eyes, James was bearing down on him, his
determined expression quite clear in the light of the full moon.
Without thinking, Jack stuck out his arm -- whether to ward James off or to
clasp his hand, he couldn't have said -- forgetting that he was wearing his
hook. James grasped it automatically and then yelped in surprise, lifting
his bloody finger to his mouth.
Jack fumbled in his pocket with his left hand, but before he could locate
his handkerchief, James produced one from his own pocket and pressed it
tightly against his fingers. "You look well." The corner of his mouth turned
up. "And you're as lethal as ever. I suppose Will made that for you?"
Jack nodded and shifted on the bench to make room for James. "It's good to
see you." He was surprised to find that he meant it.
James nodded noncommittally and drummed his fingers on his thigh. Finally he
ventured, “Anamaria explained that you’d fallen ill again and they’d brought
you here to recuperate. You never should have—“
“Left the Pearl? Aye, it may be a fight, getting her back from
“No, you idiot, you never should have left the Dauntless! You were
doing well enough before you took the notion to return to your ship.”
“No reason to stay where I’m not wanted, is there?”
James leapt to his feet, but Jack spoke over him.
“You don’t want to be burdened with a cripple, and I’ll not have your pity.
Easy to solve, don’t you think?”
For a moment, it looked as if James might bang his head against the wall.
Instead he rubbed his forehead and sighed. "Jack, you have just enough
brains to outwit yourself. If you think. . ." He trailed off, at a loss for
Grabbing Jack’s lapels, James pressed his lips to Jack’s in a fierce kiss.
Their teeth clashed, and James gripped Jack’s shoulders tightly, as if to
hold him fast. James smelled like the ocean; no, like a ship, like
tar and varnish, hemp and canvas, salt and sunlight. Jack hadn’t realized
how he’d missed those familiar scents, nor how much he’d missed the feel of
James’ body pressed against his. He surrendered to it entirely and wrapped
his arms around James. Unfortunately, he completely forgot the hook until
there was a loud ripping sound. James cried out and jerked away in a flash.
Panting and glassy-eyed, it seemed to take James a second to realize why
they’d stopped. He patted his shoulder uncertainly and flashed a lopsided
grin. “No harm done; I needed a new coat anyway.”
“Bloody hell!” Jack pulled the buckles loose impatiently and threw the damn
James started to speak, but his words were lost when Jack pulled him in and
kissed with as much fervor as before. Slowly the angry intensity drained
away, leaving tenderness and aching need. Jack’s lips were raw from the
stubble on James’ face; he took an obscure satisfaction in the thought that
fastidious James hadn’t even bothered to shave before finding him. Burying
his hand in James’ hair, Jack loosed the dark, silky locks to fall around
their faces. James made a deep guttural moan that sent shivers down Jack’s
He muttered, “You have no idea. . .” and broke off to bite hard on Jack’s
shoulder. His hands moved to the placket of Jack’s breeches, fumbling with
the buttons as he mouthed at Jack’s neck. Jack was working James’ coat off
his shoulder (a tricky endeavor with only one hand), when from the house
they heard the mewling sound of the baby crying.
Almost immediately this noise was followed by Elizabeth’s voice, rough with
sleep, rising up in a ragged lullaby. They broke apart in confusion and
James tumbled awkwardly onto the ground, knocking over a particularly ugly
bit of statuary.
Elizabeth leaned out the window, her white shift gleaming in the moonlight.
“Jack?” She peered down into the courtyard, but it seemed that James was
entirely hidden by the lime tree.
Jack strove for a normal tone. “All’s well.”
“Are you certain?”
The humor of the situation had caught up with James, and he had both hands
pressed to his mouth, stifling his laughter.
Jack kicked him and choked back his own laughter. “Yes, love, go to bed!”
The baby cried out again, and Elizabeth slammed the window shut, whether in
irritation at the child or Jack, it was impossible to say.
A giggle escaped Jack’s lips and grew into a hearty guffaw. Laughter bubbled
out of him until he collapsed on the stones beside James, both of them
snorting and wiping their eyes and laughing again.
Finally, they grew quiet. Jack stared up at the clear sky and inhaled
deeply. The air was fragrant with night-blooming cereus and jasmine and the
stars seemed to be falling all around the fat yellow moon.
"I'm a fool," he admitted.
“I won’t argue with that.”
“Who chooseth me shall have as much as he deserves. . .”
James chuckled, “Nor that.”
Jack pulled himself to his feet and offered James his good hand. “I may be a
fool, but I know the difference between a featherbed and a flagstone. Care
to join me?”
“Now that,” James said with a broad grin, “Is the wisest thing I’ve
heard you say in a great while.”