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Squaring Accounts - Chapter 14

by Melusina

 

Fandom: PoTC    Rating: NC-17    Dramatis Personae: Jack, Will, Elizabeth, Norrington    Full Header

 

The Three of Swords
Heartbreak-Loneliness-Betrayal


After resting most of the day, James found that he could not sleep when it came time to retire. His arm was sore and swollen, and an impotent fury raged in his breast. Sparrow had insisted that they must find this woman pirate before returning James to Port Royal. But there was no way of knowing where she was, or how long it would take to find her. Or even if she could help them. In the meantime, de la Cruz would wreak havoc on English shipping, and James could do nothing.

Abandoning the idea of sleep, James sat up and examined the sword that Will had given him. Diamonds and rubies glittered in the cup hilt and a gold lion's head adorned the pommel, but the rapier was more than a dandy's pretty toy; it was perfectly balanced and the whip-thin blade was sharp and strong.

James took a halfhearted pass with it then set it down with a sigh. The sword was a beautiful weapon, but James wished profoundly that Will hadn't made such an extravagant gesture. Sparrow had clearly been displeased, and James had no desire to further pique his jealousy.

Not that Will had given any sign that his feelings for James were anything but friendly. Indeed, Will's gratitude was for James saving Sparrow's life, a fact that argued against any alteration in Will's affections. Surely Will's heart was full, with a wife and a lover besides. Yet, James admitted to himself, Sparrow's jealousy was not entirely unprovoked. James was drawn to Will.

Sparrow's fears were foolish. Will had no reason to pursue a liaison with James, and James would not deliberately interfere with Will's marriage, no matter how irregular it was. And yet, when James thought of Will's body bent over for Sparrow, or of Elizabeth's mouth on Will's skin. . . Again, James remembered the sound Will had made as he'd come, throaty and desperate, and James gritted his teeth in frustration.

Livy had said that envy was blind, but James thought Fuller had the right of it when he said it sharpened sight. James was aware of every touch, every look. The very air around them seemed to crackle with desire. James was like the beggar at the feast, watching every mouthful with greedy resentment, and longing for a scrap to fall.

He wondered if this was how Will had felt, years ago, in Port Royal. He couldn't have hoped to win Elizabeth; James had known of Will's feelings for her, but he'd never considered Will a rival -- as if the Governor's daughter would marry a blacksmith's boy! Yet, in the end, it was Will's suit that was successful. Was James doomed to always be the odd man out? Even when there was more than enough to go around, would he always be shortchanged? On this bitter thought, he closed his eyes and forced himself to sleep.

*


Jack's first priority, once he'd ascertained that his ship was truly seaworthy, was to rid himself of the Spanish prize crew. It was an ugly business, for they had as little wish to fall into de la Cruz's hands as the Pearls did, and were vociferous in their pleas that they be allowed to stay on the Pearl.

In vain, Will argued that they should keep the Spaniards. "We're shorthanded as it is, and we'll be pushing the crew hard. A few extra men would make things easier."

But Jack would have none of them. "It's asking for trouble, to keep those snakes on board. No telling where their loyalties lie, and I'm not taking any chances."

"Bad luck," Gibbs agreed. "The men'll gladly take double watches, rather than take on that lot."

And so it was settled. The Pearls forced the Spaniards into one of the boats and set them adrift with food and water enough for a week. Odds were that de la Cruz or some other Spanish ship would come upon them before their food ran out, but at least their blood wasn't on Jack's hands. And perhaps they'd find an island on which they could hide, and thus escape de la Cruz's wrath.

*


The Pearl had fair weather and a stiff breeze to carry her forward, but after the initial euphoria had worn off, the mood on the ship was dark and cheerless. Many of the hands were still recovering from injuries incurred in battle, and most of them were sick with some fever brought on by the foul air and close quarters in the hold. In the first days after their escape, they lost three men from fever, a diminishment they could ill afford.

Jack's leg healed swiftly, and in a few days' time, he was nearly as spry as ever, although he was in a foul humor, crotchety and quick to take offense. In any event, Will had little time with him, for they were occupied with the remaining repairs, and when Will wasn't working on the ship or taking his turn on watch, he found himself assisting Gibbs and Elizabeth with the sick and injured.

James had not recovered as easily as Jack; his arm was so swollen that he couldn't wear a shirt, and angry red streaks shot out from the wound. Although he tried to make light of his injury, he was soon too weak from fever to leave his bed. Gibbs smeared the wound with a garlic and onion poultice and dosed James with a series of foul-smelling elixirs, but this seemed to have little effect. James quickly sank into delirium, calling out for his lieutenants and pulling at the bandages until they had to restrain his hands.

Gibbs attempted every remedy they had on hand, to no avail. "Even cobwebs (if we could find 'em out here in the middle of the ocean) wouldn't help now. There's poison in the wound, and it has to come out."

Elizabeth grimaced at this. "He's too weak. He's already lost so much blood. . ."

"No sense using half-measures. Dr. Bracegirdle on the Dauntless used to swear by lancin'. Said it helped more than a good purge."

Elizabeth was dubious. "That may well be, but none of us have ever performed such a procedure. Do you even know what it entails?"

"I had a boil lanced once," Gibbs asserted confidently.

"That hardly makes you an expert."

"Is there anything else we can do?" asked Will.

Gibbs shrugged. "We could cut it off."

"Surely it's not that bad yet," Elizabeth protested. "Can't we wait a few more days, before we do anything drastic?"

Will had known several one armed sailors. Among pirates, where the loss of a limb was compensated in gold coin, Will had even heard of men who courted such injuries. Still, he had an instinctive horror of amputation. Better to try everything else first. "Lance it," he insisted.

Elizabeth made an incredulous sound, but did not protest when Gibbs tied off James' arm and clumsily probed it with his knife. Foul-smelling, yellowish pus spurted onto Gibbs' dirty shirt, and James cried out in pain, jerking against the ropes that tied his wrists; the knife flew from Gibbs' hand and clattered to the decking. Gibbs grabbed James' arm to hold it steady, and Elizabeth resolutely mopped up the blood-streaked fluid that oozed from the wound.

Will held his breath, hoping that he'd made the right choice. After a time, the blood ran clear, and Elizabeth made as if to stanch the bleeding. But Gibbs shook his head. "Let it bleed clean."

She pinched her lips together and put a clean rag on the wound, dropping the sodden one into a basin. Just then, James convulsed, kicking the basin from Elizabeth's hands. Will caught hold of James' legs and put his weight on them. James grew still and his eyes fluttered shut. He's going to die, Will thought, and it will be my fault, for agreeing to this.

Elizabeth said sharply, "That's enough, surely," and Gibbs pulled the tourniquet tighter. With a sour look at Will, she stalked out to dispose of the filthy rags, leaving Gibbs and Will to dress the wound.

*


Miraculously, the inexpert lancing seemed to have worked, and Norrington began to recover. That night his fever broke and within a few days he was hobbling around, although he was still pale and weak. Nonetheless, Elizabeth remained disgruntled with Will. There was no way to know if the wound would have healed without such a drastic intervention, and Gibbs could just as easily have killed Norrington.

Elizabeth wasn't accustomed to Will contradicting her. Jack often disagreed with her, and had little compunction about telling her so, but Will generally took her side or kept his mouth shut. That he'd so decisively voted against her hurt her pride. And something about the way Will fussed and worried over Norrington made Elizabeth uneasy. It was petty to resent their friendship, but Elizabeth couldn't help feeling a small stir of jealousy whenever Will mentioned "James." She was reminded of the dark days before the baby came, when Will had seemed to prefer Jack's company to her own.

Jack was flighty by nature, and his philandering was easy to ignore, for she knew that it meant nothing to him. But she expected loyalty from Will, who gave neither his body nor his heart lightly.

Jack seemed equally suspicious. He'd grown standoffish with all of them, avoiding not only Norrington, but Will and Elizabeth as well. She rarely saw Jack, and she and Will never seemed to have any time alone, between nursing and the usual work of the ship. Elizabeth wanted to discuss Jack's mood with Will, but feared being interrupted or, worse, overheard. The last thing they needed was rumors flying -- Jack would never forgive her if she made him look foolish in front of his men.

Elizabeth waited until they were going to bed to broach the topic. Lately Jack had taken to sleeping in the heat of the day, and spending his nights on the quarterdeck, so there was little chance of him joining them, and those Pearls not on watch would be occupied with their own diversions. She and Will would have as much privacy as one could hope for aboard a ship.

Assuming a nonchalance she did not feel, Elizabeth said, "Jack certainly seems put out lately. He's hardly fit to live with."

"It's this business with de la Cruz," Will answered too quickly. "He takes it as a personal affront."

That was true enough, but hardly the whole story. Elizabeth continued brushing out her hair and said nothing. Presently, Will added, "And his leg is troubling him more than he lets on, I think. He still limps badly when he thinks no one is watching."

Also true, but not the heart of the matter. "I don't think he much likes having Norrington on the ship."

Was it her imagination, or did Will flush at this? "May be so. But I was glad enough that James was there to save Jack's life."

"Nothing like saving a man to hang him later," she retorted tartly.

With an obvious effort, Will bit back what would no doubt have been a rude rejoinder.

Recklessly ignoring this warning, Elizabeth goaded, "Have you forgotten what he is, Will? What we are? Do you think he'll overlook that, once he's returned to Port Royal?"

Will's face was definitely red now, and his voice was over-loud. "You yourself argued that we should rescue him!"

"Yes, rescue him - for human decency and for the debt we owed him. Not fawn over him like a foolish pup!"

Will blustered at this, refusing to meet her eyes. "Fawn on him? You're out of your head. I'm just doing what anyone would do! You and Jack would do well to remember exactly how much we all owe him."

Elizabeth recalled how Will had once looked up to Norrington. It might well be that Will was toadying out of habit, but she had a nagging suspicion that something more was going on. "Yes, fawning. It's disgusting to see."

"Very well. You don't need to watch. Just leave me the hell alone, can't you?" With that, he stormed out of the great cabin.

Elizabeth petulantly threw her brush after him, but anger ruined her aim. The brush struck the mirror with a dreadful noise, cracking it from side to side.

"Bloody hell!" Elizabeth didn't know who would be more dismayed, Jack or Gibbs. One thing was certain: she needed rum, and lots of it.

 

 

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