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The Geography of Longing

by Melusina

 

Fandom: PoTC    Rating: PG-13    Pairing: Jack/Norrington    Full Header

 


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 go.

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 asleep?

"Thank God," James said vehemently, gripping Jack's left hand tightly, "Thank God."

*


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 Dauntless.

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 the Admiralty."

“So I see. It’s very considerate of you to spare me all the paperwork.”

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 myself clear?"

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 a flourish.

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 might be.

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 Anamaria.”

“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 words.

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 thing down.

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 spine.

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.”
 

 

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