The Two of Swords
Defensiveness-Refusing to Decide-Stalemate
Morning was grey and stormy, with a tempestuous sea. A clap of thunder woke
James and Will and they jerked apart guiltily. James felt quite as shamed by
the way they'd been tangled together in sleep as if they'd been caught in
flagrante delicto. They silently gathered their clothes, studiously
avoiding one another's eyes.
Will pulled on his breeches and struggled with the buttons clumsily; he
still appeared to be somewhat drunk. He managed the bottom button, attempted
to fit the next one in the wrong hole, and in his agitation, pulled the
button off, sending it flying into the corner. With a muttered oath, Will
gave up on his breeches and pulled his shirt over his head. He shifted from
one foot to the other, growing progressively redder, until he mumbled, "Good
morning," and fled the cabin.
Still tired, James stretched out on the cot. Reflecting on the previous
night, he told himself that it had been a misstep, but found he couldn't
regret it. He hadn't been surprised by Will's ardor, but his skill had been
a revelation. For too long James had imagined Will as the bumbling boy he'd
been in Port Royal. But even as a boy he'd lost that awkwardness as soon as
there was a sword in his hand. He was mercurial, switching rapidly from
diffidence to assurance. In bed (or on the floor, as the case may be), Will
was as certain as he was in a fight. James supposed he had Sparrow to credit
Will had come to James because he felt shut out by the other two, which was
no surprise -- how one avoided such jealousies in a situation like theirs,
James couldn't imagine. And yet, he wasn't naive enough to think that Will
would want him over Elizabeth or Sparrow. No, James was merely a convenient
This was a bitter thought, and brought James to question his own feelings
for Will. Not love, certainly. But deep friendship, planted long ago, and
brought to fruition in the recent weeks. Attraction -- who could not be
attracted to someone so. . .beautiful was the only word for it, although
there was a masculine strength to Will that belied the feminine implications
of that word.
James had hoped that once would be enough. One tumble to get Will out of his
system, and then they could go on as before, as friends, with no discomfort
between them. Yet the hunger was not sated; if anything it had grown for
James' hand smelled of Will's release, and of the musky scent of his skin.
James inhaled deeply, and his other hand reached to unbutton his breeches,
even as he damned himself for a fool.
Despite the vast quantities of rum Elizabeth had drunk the night before, she
slept fitfully and was troubled by dark dreams. She could not forget the
sounds she'd heard just as she was falling asleep: Will moaning in
unmistakable abandon, followed by Norrington's softer cry. She knew Jack had
heard too; he stiffened in response and turned away, but he seemed to sleep
The rum might not have aided her sleep, but it had left her with a sore
head, and the noises of the storm and the men taking in canvas were
piercing. Also, she felt as though she might be sick. She sat up, planning
on drinking some water and then retiring to the bed for more sleep, when
Will staggered into the cabin, bleary-eyed and rumpled.
"Why, husband, how good of you to join us." The mocking words were out of
her mouth before she could stop them, but when he blanched and began to
stammer out a response it felt so good that she added in the same vicious
tone, "You make a fine figure of a man this morning, Will, to be sure."
"I. . .had quite a bit to drink last night. . .I--"
Whatever explanation he was going to offer was cut off by a harrumph from
Jack, who rose nimbly and said, "Good morning, Mr. Turner."
In the time it took for Will to compose some reply, Jack had already donned
his breeches and a clean shirt.
"Jack. . .I. . .I. . ."
Jack caught Elizabeth's eye and smirked. "What's the matter, Will? Commodore
got your tongue?" Pivoting dismissively, he swept on his coat and clapped
his hat on his head, before taking Elizabeth's hand. "The storm's getting
bad; I should see how Gibbs is holding up. Get some more sleep, Bess, you
look as queer as Dick's hatband."
Over the pounding in his head and rumbling in his bowels, Will felt a
stirring of indignant rage. How dare Jack -- an unapologetic roué and
opportunist of the highest order -- act as though Will had committed some
unforgivable crime? When had Jack ever kept faith with Will or Elizabeth? It
wasn't as if Jack and Elizabeth hadn't been entertaining one another all
night, and making Will feel like an interloper for weeks. It was just like
Jack to expect Will to adhere to a standard that he had no intention of
Will had worked himself up into such high dudgeon that Elizabeth had to
repeat his name twice before he realized that he was staring off into the
now empty space where Jack had stood, his mouth hanging open foolishly. He
gave himself a shake and attempted to assume a more dignified posture. Full
of self-righteous rage, he curtly replied, "Yes?"
"What do you mean by this?" she harangued, gesturing wildly. "Am I to
understand that you don't feel bound by our marriage vows at all?" When Will
failed to reply, she continued, "And I thought Jack rash and
impetuous! What on earth made you decide that of all the men in the world to
debauch, Commodore Norrington was the one to choose? Did you think this
would make things easier? What will he say when he sobers up and realizes
what he's done? Did you think to be hanged for buggery as well as piracy?"
On and on it went, ever louder and ever more hysterical, until she was
nearly hoarse with her hectoring. Abruptly, she paused and took a deep,
There was an expectant pause, and then she shrieked, "Why will you not say
"How the devil am I to get a word in edgewise?" Feeling quite smug with this
parting shot, Will turned on his heels and stalked out.
An uneasy tension ruled the Pearl for the next few days, and James
began to wish he'd stayed on the island with the goats. Will was moody and
resentful, alternately defiant and defeated. He and James were much thrown
together, for Will sought refuge with James, who reasoned that he could
hardly turn Will away from his own cabin. Mindful of propriety, James slung
a hammock and slept there, careful not to invite any further peccadilloes on
However, James' good intentions could not stop him from being tempted. He
was plagued by the most vivid and unsettling dreams. The scenarios varied,
but they all featured Will prominently, and he invariably awoke from them
with an aching cockstand. He thought he might go mad with frustration.
Sparrow threw himself into the task of finding this Anamaria. He locked
himself in the great cabin with his charts for hours, and climbed the
rigging with his spyglass, scanning the water for the Black Fortune.
The only company he could bear was Elizabeth's, and they were often
together, whispering and glaring at any who dared to approach them.
Elizabeth was the worst. It pained James to see her behave with so little
discretion; even if everyone on the ship knew about the ridiculous quarrel,
there was no need for her to advertise it. She cornered Will frequently,
ranting at him like a fishwife and insisting on the explanation that he
clearly was unwilling or unable to give. The more she persisted, the more
obstinate Will grew, and James feared that they would come to blows on more
than one occasion.
The men, who had previously come to accept James' presence with some
equanimity, blamed him for upsetting the apple cart, and there seemed to be
nowhere on the ship that James could go without encountering ugly looks and
muttered complaints. Even Gibbs seemed to have soured on him, and went so
far as to call him a Jonah. James devoutly hoped they found the Fortune
soon, before he followed that worthy gentleman's example and threw himself
overboard to be swallowed by a whale.
Jack didn't like to think of himself as a jealous man -- he didn't number
faithfulness among his virtues nor hypocrisy among his sins -- but he was
green as glass over Norrington, and there was no getting around it. Whether
to get back at Elizabeth, or from sheer contrariness, Norrington had set his
cap for Will. In any case, Will had been ripe for the picking, and Jack had
let his jealousy overrule his good sense. Now that he'd had the time to
think it over, he saw that cutting remarks and isolation were the exact
wrong way to handle it. That treatment was bound to drive Will to Norrington
all the more.
Once this occurred to him, Jack wasted no time in demanding that Elizabeth
and Will join him in the great cabin. A little highhanded, but Will was
unlikely to refuse a direct order, and once he was there, Jack could
contrive some pretty apology that would smooth Will's ruffled feathers.
Of course, in the event, this proved more difficult than Jack had
anticipated. Will would sulk and flounce like a spoilt miss, playing
up how greatly he'd been wronged. At least Elizabeth was keeping her mouth
shut (Jack had begged her not to tear into Will again), but the daggers she
was throwing with her eyes were hardly conducive to reconciliation.
"It's not as if you and Elizabeth were paying me any mind," Will complained
petulantly. "Why should I not satisfy myself elsewhere? You certainly
don't hold back in that regard!"
Jack sighed and tried again. "I don't pretend to be the paragon of virtue,
love. I'm not averse to a. . .diversion here or there, but there are
diversions and diversions, savvy?"
"Which one am I?" Will snapped.
Jack's temper slipped its fetters and an ill-advised retort sprang to his
lips. But before he could speak, there was an urgent rapping on the door.
Without so much as a by your leave, Gibbs burst in excitedly and announced,
"It's our lucky day, Cap'n. Henrick's spotted the Black Fortune!"