Allegiance - Chapter 8
by The Stowaway
The Dauntless lay at anchor in Westerhall Bay, Grenada. The Marines had just completed destruction of a smuggler's base camp there, from which a gang had long been terrorizing the sugar planters of St. David's. Commodore Norrington had spent a busy morning arranging for prize crews to sail the two captured sloops back to Port Royal, taking the report of the landing party and transferring the prisoners to the brigs on the Forester and the Lord Weldon, preparatory to his own departure. He was not entirely satisfied with the operation just concluded, as Major Thacker reported that a great many of the smugglers had escaped inland and would doubtless rebuild their camp elsewhere. Still, he thought, he must take comfort in the fact that he had damaged them rather badly: 10 prisoner, 15 killed and two sloops taken - and all this with the loss of just two of his own men.
He was on deck discussing the water supply with Captain Marshall when the cry of 'Sail ho!' made him look up to see the Lazarus sailing into the bay. Norrington's mouth tightened. How had Sparrow known where to find them? His natural distrust of privateers - especially of ones so provokingly vague about their antecedents - made him wonder where this one got his information. He resumed his conversation with Marshall while keeping one eye on the Lazarus. He was grimly amused when Sparrow chose to anchor fully three cable's lengths to the seaward of the Navy ships. Always one to keep his options open, Norrington thought, with an inward chuckle. His several meetings with Sparrow over the past weeks - in Port Royal and at sea - had been… interesting. Sparrow took unabashed delight in snapping his fingers under the nose of authority, as it were; treading ever the thin line between mockery and insult. And yet, when they had dined together once (Sparrow having invited himself to share Norrington's dinner in the most brazen manner imaginable) he had proven to be an amusing companion, witty - in a slightly infuriating way - and well-read. The man was an enigma.
Presently a boat came skimming over the smooth waters of the bay, making for the Dauntless. Affecting not to notice, Norrington dismissed Captain Marshall and went below, saying he had reports to finish before the prizes sailed that evening.
A quarter of an hour later a midshipman knocked and announced, "Captain Sparrow of the Lazarus to see you, sir," and, at his nod, ushered his visitor in and withdrew, closing the door behind him.
"Captain Sparrow." Norrington waved him to a seat.
"Commodore," Sparrow bowed, sweeping his hat off with an air. He seated himself, crossing one leg over the other and placing his hat upon a corner of the desk. "Your raid here appears to have been successful." He leaned back, his preposterous gold teeth flashing.
Norrington nodded. "To a degree," he replied, stung by what he took to be mockery, but refusing to rise to the bait. "And you?" he continued, attacking in his turn. "How has the Lazarus fared since we saw you last - how long ago? It must be a month since your last report." Such independence grated upon him - how was he put any reliance upon someone so completely out of his control?
"One month and five days, to be precise, since last I saw Port Royal," Sparrow sighed, looking down at his clasped hands, "and in all that time, not single pirate ship worthy of the name has crossed our path. Oh, one or two tiny coasting vessels were spotted - smugglers, no doubt - but they made off in haste and declined to engage us." A delicate shrug. "It was a sad disappointment." He glanced up and the mischief in his eyes belied the dejection of his tone. "One stroke of good fortune, however, was vouchsafed us." He paused expectantly.
Damn his playacting, Norrington thought, this is ridiculous. Aloud he said, with heavy sarcasm, "Oh, really? And what, pray tell, was that?"
"We took a Spaniard - a lovely little frigate, the Paloma - just off Trinidad. She carries 22 guns, but, due to a fortuitous confusion concerning flags, we were allowed to approach to grappling distance without a single shot fired. In all, a remarkably clever maneuver, if I may say so." Sparrow laughed softly. "Why the lowering look, sir? Are we not at war with Spain? All's fair, remember."
"It's a pirate's trick," Norrington growled.
"It is indeed," Sparrow replied, smiling to himself and examining his fingernails. "I make it a practice never to disdain a good idea on the grounds of its origin. Pirates are often successful and their tactics are worth studying, I think."
Norrington shook his head. "You will suit yourself in that regard, of course. What did the Paloma carry - anything of interest?"
"A great many things, Commodore, as you will see. Among them, wine. A half-dozen pipes of Mountain-Malaga and a round dozen of some remarkably fine Xeres - a rare dry Oloroso - as well." Sparrow said. "Which puts me in mind of something," he went on, "Would you do me the honour of dining with me aboard the Lazarus? We shall sample them." He smiled, for once without a trace of mockery in his expression, and Norrington found himself disarmed.
"It would be a pleasure, Captain Sparrow," he replied, surprised to find that he almost meant it.
"The pleasure is mine," Sparrow bowed. "It will give me the opportunity to show you another treasure acquired from the Paloma - a small but rather fine library, that was en route to the Governor of Cartagena. Somewhat biased toward the Spaniards, of course - have you read Lope de Vega's sonnets? - but with a good selection of the classics."
"I look forward to it," Norrington said, thinking, he refers to a library as a 'treasure'? The man was full of surprises. "Tell me," he continued aloud, "how did you dispose of the Paloma? You describe her as a tidy vessel."
Sparrow grinned. "I confess I had hoped you might take an interest in her. She is for sale, if the Navy is looking for such a thing as a small and well-armed frigate. I sent her with a prize crew to Port Royal."
"I might have known," Norrington gave a mirthless laugh. "And the crew?"
"Packed them into their boats and kissed my hand to them." Sparrow shrugged. "We were in sight of land; they should have had no trouble reaching it." He rose. "I must return to the Lazarus. I shall look for you in, shall we say, two hours time?" Bowing, he picked up his hat and walked to the door, where he turned with a smile. "Oh, and Commodore, if you would be so obliging as to bring with you whichever of your officers is most proficient in the Spanish tongue, I shall have something of particular interest to show him, and you." And with that he slipped out of the cabin.
Torn between amusement and exasperation, Norrington sat for some few minutes, wondering what surprise Sparrow had in store for them. Something taken, no doubt, from the Paloma, but what? The request for a translator (for so he took it to be) argued for a prisoner, but if he was holding a prisoner for ransom, would he be likely to tell the Navy? Norrington thought not. And, if there were no ransom value, why not turn the captive over to the Navy at once? Well, he would know soon enough. He called for the sentry and asked that Lieutenant Flemming be sent to him.
Two hours later, accompanied by Flemming, he set foot aboard the Lazarus for the first time. He noted that the ship, while not up to Navy standards, of course, was well-kept and the crew likewise were more presentable than he had expected. Sparrow introduced them to his officers - a tough and competent-looking group, including of all things, a woman and a man he recognized as a Naval deserter from nearly 10 years before, - and then took his guests below to his cabin.
"And now, gentlemen, you will permit me to show you what may be the most valuable of the objects yielded up by the Paloma." So saying, he led them to his desk, upon which reposed a brass-bound casket of some dark wood, bearing about the shattered lock the remains of what appeared to be an official seal.
Flemming gasped. "Why, sir! That's a…"
"Quite so," Norrington cut him off. Glancing at Sparrow, he said, "May I?"
"But of course," Sparrow grinned, "It is yours."
Norrington opened the casket to find it nearly full with papers. A quick examination showed him that they consisted of letters and official documents, as well as a small bound book, two ledgers and several maps folded small. "Spanish," he said. "So, the Paloma was an official courier."
"So it appears," Sparrow replied. "Although a remarkably careless one, methinks."
"Indeed," Norrington nodded. He riffled through the contents of the casket once more. "They are all unsealed," he observed, glancing sharply at the privateer.
Sparrow shrugged. "Curiosity, my dear Commodore, is a failing to which I must own."
"Did you remove anything?"
Sir, you wound me." Sparrow placed his hand over his heart. "My first thought was to preserve this trove for you." He paused, then added blandly, "Especially since your name occurs so frequently in it."
Norrington's smile was grim. "Does it? Cast in no very flattering light, I daresay."
"Indeed no," Sparrow chuckled. "You are, in the eyes of the Spanish government, the author of any number of calamities that have befallen His Most Catholic Majesty's colonies of late."
"Gratifying," Norrington replied. "It is to be hoped that this will enable us to do more in the same line." He stepped aside with a gesture to Flemming, who fairly pounced upon the casket in his eagerness to begin reading. "With your permission, Captain Sparrow, I would transfer all of this to the Dauntless, to allow Lieutenant Flemming more ease in his labors."
"By all means," Sparrow bowed. "I had hoped that you would do so. Let him take your boat back immediately. It would be an honour for the Lazarus's boat to return you to your ship after you have dined."
After they had seen the ecstatic Flemming on his way, clutching the precious casket and seated in the stern of the boat from the Dauntless, Sparrow and Norrington returned to the cabin. Going to the cellaret, Sparrow took out a decanter of amber liquid.
"Some Xeres, Commodore?" he asked, pouring two glasses without waiting for an answer.
Norrington accepted his glass with a nod of thanks and raised it. "To your health, Captain," he said, and drank. His brows rose. "I am far from expert in sherries, but this is an excellent wine."
"It is," Sparrow agreed. "Well above the common run. I daresay it was intended for a more exalted table than mine, but such are the fortunes of war, eh?"
They sipped in appreciative silence for a moment, then Sparrow said with a smile, "Now, let me show you the Governor of Cartagena's strayed library."
The books, still in their four lead-lined chests, proved to be a delight. Bound for the most part in exquisitely tooled calf, there were collections of plays in Spanish and English, works of many of the chief Spanish poets, a selection of the writings of Virgil, Plato, Sophocles, Euripides and Thucydides, a complete set of Shakespeare (the Inquisition did not reach as far as Cartagena, it seemed), as well as Cervantes and even Defoe. One by one they removed all the books, glancing into each, exclaiming occasionally over a particular find, pausing to read favorite passages - sometimes aloud. Before they had quite finished unpacking and commenting on the fourth chest, two hours had flown by, the level of Xeres in the decanter had diminished considerably, and the cook and his helpers were laying dinner upon the table.
As they ate - Norrington was astonished at the quality of the food set before him, someone on this vessel knew how to cook - they continued a debate begun earlier. Sparrow - in jest, one hoped - had asserted that Bacon had written Don Quixote and Norrington was incapable of letting such a crack-brained notion go unchallenged.
"Yes, yes, I am perfectly aware of the theory that Bacon wrote the plays of Shakespeare. Absolute bollocks, of course, but never mind that. Do you mean to tell me that there are those - and, surely, you are not, cannot be amongst them! - who would expand this nonsensical belief in his pervasive influence even to Spanish literature? Why, it is absurd." He drained his glass and Sparrow, ever the attentive host, refilled it yet again. They had switched to the Mountain-Malaga when they sat down and Norrington found it very much to his taste.
"Let us say that I am undecided about Don Quixote," Sparrow smiled, "but, you must admit that there is considerable evidence to support the idea that Bacon and Shakespeare were the same man."
"I must admit nothing of the sort!" Norrington straightened indignantly. "Pure lunatical, logic-chopping nonsense, from start to finish. Give me one - just one - example of irrefutable proof."
"Very well," Sparrow replied, chuckling at his guest's vehemence. "In Love's Labour's Lost, there is the word 'honorificabilitudinitatibus'…"
Norrington snorted. "Don't, I pray you, ply me with cryptograms! I set no store by that argument the first time I heard it and you may be assured that my opinion has not changed with time. Why, it's…"
"May I help you to a little more ham, Commodore?" Sparrow interrupted, picking up the carving knife.
"Jack, you are trying to distract me," Norrington accused, arrested in mid-tirade.
Sparrow nodded, grinning. "James, I am," he said.
"Well," replied Sparrow imperturbably, carving the ham and serving them both, "if you must know, I had rather run out of arguments, having taken that position on a whim - in a spirit of devil's advocacy, you might say."
Norrington blinked. There was silence for several moments. Then he burst out laughing. "Sparrow," he cried, "you are an unprincipled rascal."
"At last we begin to understand each other," was the slightly ironic reply.
Intent upon his own thought, Norrington did not take in the sense of the comment, but continued, somewhat unguardedly, "Still, I am pleased to find that my faith was not misplaced - that you did not believe what you were saying, after all."
Sparrow laughed, a little shortly. "Upon what do you base this faith, sir?"
Norrington blinked again. "Why," he said, after the slightest pause, "merely that you are, it appears," (he gestured to the books,) "a man of some learning and such twaddle as the Bacon theory is for the ignorant and credulous."
"You honour me above my deserts," Sparrow replied, with a grin.
Nettled, Norrington picked up his fork and applied himself to the ham. "Perhaps I do," was all he said. He could not tell if he was more vexed with himself or the privateer.
After a short silence, Sparrow looked up from his plate. "Commodore, there is a good deal of information in that casket. It would be the work of many days for a single man to translate it all."
Norrington nodded, grateful for the change of subject. "That is true. Lieutenant Flemming is very competent, but I do not intend to leave him to labour over this task alone. The faster we glean what those documents have to offer the sooner I can put it to use. Tomorrow, I shall work with him. My Spanish is not the equal of his, but still sufficient, I believe."
"I have some fluency," Sparrow said. "If you will allow it, I would be happy to offer my services."
Surprised and instinctively suspicious, Norrington almost refused, but caught himself. Sparrow had seen all the documents already - it was not as if the casket contained any secrets. He nodded. "Thank you, I accept."
Sparrow raised his glass with a smile and Norrington smiled back.
They spoke for some time of inconsequential things - easy and companionable - lingering over their wine as the sun began to sink toward the Grenadian hills. It poured through the stern windows and spilled across the table; striking sparks from glasses and silverware - sending little dazzles glinting about the cabin. The very dust motes in the air were turned to gold. Norrington, gazing past Sparrow and out across the bay, lost the thread of what he was saying and fell silent. The sun touched the hilltops; the light began to dim.
Sparrow rose and came round the table. Norrington tipped his head to look up at the man standing before him, but the blaze of light behind Sparrow reduced him to a silhouette. The sunset calm, the conversation, the good dinner and, above all, the splendid wine had combined to put Norrington at peace with the world. He smiled and murmured, "Well, Jack, what is it?"
Sparrow bent until their faces were on a level, placing his hands one on either arm of Norrington's chair. In so doing his shadow fell across Norrington, who, in the sudden dusk, thought he caught a golden gleam as Sparrow smiled.
With dream-like slowness, Sparrow leaned closer and tilted his head. "This," he whispered, as their lips met.
Astonishment held James immobile as Jack's mouth moved across his. He gasped as the tip of a clever tongue slipped between his lips and retreated, leaving a taste of wine and spices. Then the touch was gone and his eyes, which had closed, sprang open. Sparrow, his back to the cabin, was lighting the candles on the sideboard and saying over his shoulder, "I shall have a pipe of the Mountain-Malaga sent across to the Dauntless in the morning. And some of the Xeres as well, if you wish it."
Norrington collected his scattered wits and cleared his throat. "Thank you, Captain Sparrow. That is most generous of you."
As the branched candlesticks were set upon the table, muting the now-faded sunset glow from without, Norrington fidgeted with his glass and tried to think of something unexceptionable to say. Sparrow's voice penetrated his abstraction.
"Commodore?" it said, and Norrington got the impression that it was not the first time Sparrow had spoken. He looked up. Sparrow was holding the decanter, his expression one of polite inquiry. "Will you have another glass?"
"Ah. Ah, yes, if you please," James replied, speaking perhaps a bit too quickly. "But it must be the last, I fear. It grows late and I must complete some reports yet this evening."
"Of course," Sparrow agreed, pouring the wine. "And tomorrow will be a busy day." James could detect no trace of the expected mockery in the man's tone or expression and his own confusion deepened.
They drank in silence. Norrington set down his glass and rose. "Thank you for an excellent dinner and a most enjoyable evening, Captain Sparrow."
Sparrow bowed with a smile and they went out on deck. As they waited without speaking for the boat to be lowered, Norrington stood, hands folded behind his back, watching the moon rise over the bowsprit. He was acutely aware of the man standing at his side but dared not turn his head to look at him. At last the boat was ready and Sparrow walked with him to the rail.
"Until tomorrow, Commodore," he said.
James nodded and went down the side. He took his seat in the stern and the oarsmen pulled away smartly. He did not look back.
Next morning early, Jack sent the promised wine to the Dauntless with a message that he would follow at midday. He spent the morning shelving books and plotting his next moves. He thought of the night before and grinned. The kiss had not been planned - he'd intended to wait a bit longer before making a gesture so unequivocal. But the sight of James - dreaming in the golden sunset, his eyes gone emerald - had been too much for flesh and blood to resist. Jack paused to savour the memory once again.
James's discomposure afterward had told him a great deal. It appeared that the so-proper Commodore - happily married to the Governor's daughter, Jack knew - had not considered the possibility that he might be susceptible to his own sex. And susceptible he was; Jack was sure of it. He grinned again. This would be a most amusing chase.
He considered. It would take them the better part of three days to go over and translate even the most useful of the documents in that casket. At the end of that time, Norrington would undoubtedly sail off about his business, in which Jack could have, as a privateer, only the most peripheral role. Nor did he wish a greater role in Naval doings, to be sure. He had his own business to attend to and this hoped-for dalliance would not distract him, any more than it would distract Norrington. Three days, then. Not an abundance of time, considering how careful and circumspect must be his wooing (he chuckled to himself), but he was confident of success.
Jack picked up his hat and strode on deck, calling for the boat to take him to the Dauntless.
James Norrington paced his quarterdeck, thinking - or, rather, attempting to think. His office was occupied by Lieutenant Flemming, who, at his order, was working to put the Spanish documents into some sort of logical sequence before the task of translation began and so he had sought the open air. So far, the sunshine and fresh breeze had done nothing to dispel the confusion of his thoughts. What had happened last night? While he had imbibed considerably more wine than was his habit, he had been by no means drunk; the bare facts were clear enough in his mind as to admit of no doubt. To wit: He had spent a pleasant (yes, he told himself defiantly, pleasant) afternoon with Jack Sparrow, inspecting a collection of books and dining. So far, so good. And then Sparrow had kissed him. Kissed. Him. James barely stopped himself from raising his hand to his mouth, where - he swore - he could still feel the press of firm lips against his own. Very well, Sparrow had kissed him. And he had… what? Allowed it, certainly. Enjoyed it? Here his mind balked and he scowled. If he was not in the habit of lying to himself, neither was he prepared to admit the inadmissible; he resolved therefore to think no more about it. Jack Sparrow's proclivities need not concern him. Surely, when Sparrow saw that his attentions were unwelcome, he would not repeat them and that would be that. Norrington stopped his pacing and stared for a moment down the bay at the Lazarus. "Yes," he said to himself. "Well, then, that's settled." He nodded, turned on his heel and went below to check on Flemming's progress.
When Jack was ushered into his office a short time later, James stood to greet him with a somewhat strained smile. Sparrow bowed. "Good day, gentlemen," he said.
"Ah, Captain Sparrow. In a good hour; Lieutenant Flemming has imposed order," - Norrington gestured to the desk, covered with neat stacks of documents, each held by an improvised paperweight - "and we are about to begin annotating."
Jack smiled as he took the proffered chair. "I see you have been busy Lieutenant. Now then, Commodore, how do you wish to proceed?"
"I think it will be best if we simply read and annotate in the margins or on the cover," Norrington replied, "and perform a full translation only if a particular item warrants it. Here are pens and ink."
Sparrow nodded. "Very efficient," he approved. "What about the half-dozen in cipher?"
"Those I have given to Flemming here - he is our expert in such things," Norrington said. The lieutenant made a depreciating gesture and flushed. "He believes it to be a book code," James continued. "In which case the book found in the chest is likely to be the key." His lips quirked. "It is the first volume of Don Quixote," he added. Jack laughed.
Jack tossed his hat onto the sideboard and pulled his chair up to the desk. "Where shall I start?" he asked. James handed him a pile of correspondence from the Governor of Trinidad. As Jack took it from him their hands touched for a moment. James jumped as Jack's fingers stroked the back of his knuckles before taking the papers. He looked up to catch a gleam of amusement swiftly hidden under kohl-smudged lids. Norrington frowned and cleared his throat.
"Yes," he said, "Well, then." He sat, picked up his own work and, to all appearances, became engrossed immediately. Jack hid a grin.
They worked for some time in silence, broken now and then by comments or questions, by the rustle of papers and the scratch of quills. The cabin was not large and they were rather crowded around the desk, Jack's chair being set very close to James's. Jack, in stretching out his leg to ease a crick in his knee, brushed his calf against James's and felt it jump and pull away. Jack looked sidelong at James and saw him shift nervously in his chair. There was a very faint flush along his cheekbone.
A light snack of cold meat, bread and wine was brought them halfway through the afternoon. They ate quickly - comparing notes on what they had learned - and returned to work. Jack contrived to brush against James's back as he moved from table to desk and was rewarded with a frown. He grinned.
Shortly thereafter, Flemming cracked the book code and began deciphering the coded messages. This heartening development gave them all new energy and they continued work for another two hours before Norrington declared that they had done enough for one day and invited the others to join him for dinner.
Over the meal, they discussed the information they were uncovering and its possible ramifications. Norrington thought Sparrow remarkably well-versed in the political situation in the Caribbean for someone who claimed to have been "out East for some years," but he did not comment. Previous attempts to elicit information from the privateer had come to nothing and had so obviously amused the man that he hesitated to try again, particularly with the Lieutenant there to see.
Sparrow was telling a diverting tale of his conversation with the Captain of the Paloma, sipping his wine at intervals. James, caught up in the narrative, found himself staring at Sparrow's mouth as it caressed the rim of the glass, and he swallowed, his own mouth gone suddenly dry. Sparrow saw him watching and, choosing a moment when Flemming's attention was on his plate, he slowly and deliberately licked his lips, so that they shone in the candlelight. James looked hastily away.
Immediately after dinner, Jack took his leave, promising to return early on the morrow. Flemming excused himself and James was alone. He poured another glass of wine and drained it and went on deck. And there he paced. The moon rose, flooding the bay with silver-gilt light and blackening the shadows and still Norrington walked up and down the quarterdeck, hands folded behind him, eyes alternately on his feet and on the distance. To say he was thinking would have been to overstate the case. In truth, he was trying very hard not to think. Unbidden, memories would present themselves to his mind's eye and he would banish them, only to have them reappear, mocking his efforts. Fingertips trailing across the back of his hand, a leg pressing against his own hard enough so that he could feel the play of muscles, a shoulder brushing his back - artfully casual and utterly distracting, and a sinful mouth, freshly licked and shining. He licked his own lips before he realized what he was doing and gasped.
This could not be happening. It was impossible that his mind, which all his life had been under such admirable control, should run wild in this abominable manner. Good God, he thought, what is next? If he could not stop these ridiculous fancies, he might even imagine kissing… he bit his lip and slammed the door on the thought, but too late. He went to the taffrail and stood still for some time, eyes closed, breathing deeply. Eight bells struck; midnight. With a sigh, he turned and went below to his bunk, where sleep eluded him until, worn down at last, he dozed for a short while near dawn.
James was up betimes; brisk, if a little grim about the mouth. After a brief conference with his captains, he saw the Forester and the Lord Weldon weigh anchor, bound for Port Royal. The Dauntless would remain where she was until work on the Spanish documents was completed.
He had meant to be the first one in his office, intending to take the chair on the far side of the desk, but a question from Captain Marshall delayed him and Flemming had taken his place of the day before. Unable to think of a good reason to ask him to move, Norrington reluctantly sat in one of the chairs facing him. A few minutes later, Captain Sparrow arrived to take the other and their work resumed. James spoke little and was carefully formal when he did so. Sparrow seemed subdued and there was little conversation for several hours.
By midday, the cabin had become stiflingly hot, the breeze having died an hour before. When they stopped, as on the previous day, for a bite to eat, Sparrow removed his coat and waistcoat and laid them aside with a grin. "Formality be damned," he said, "it's too hot for such niceties. I shall work in my shirtsleeves, if you don't mind, Commodore."
James nodded without speaking. Encountering a wistful look from Flemming, he smiled and said, "Go ahead, Mister Flemming. Captain Sparrow is correct; it is too hot to stand upon ceremony." Flemming smiled broadly and imitated Sparrow, sitting back down at the desk in shirtsleeves. After a moment's hesitation, Norrington did the same.
They made good progress for another hour. At that time, Flemming excused himself and left the office for a few minutes. Sparrow, who had been working steadily, then put down his pen and, half-turning in his chair, looked over at James, who continued to read, pointedly ignoring the other man. "You know, James," he said, "I may call you James?"
"You may not," Norrington replied, his tone frosty.
Jack chuckled. "Very well, Commodore," he replied, "I have been thinking." He paused.
Norrington sighed. "What have you been thinking, Captain Sparrow?" he said, keeping his eyes on the letter in his hand.
"That you," Sparrow grinned, leaning forward and lowering his voice, "would be a deal cooler and more comfortable if you took off that wig, eh?" As he spoke, he laid his hand against James's shoulder blade.
James flinched at the touch, then held himself rigidly still as Jack slid his palm upward and across until his fingers rested, surprisingly cool, on the nape of James's neck, beneath the queue of the wig. "Don't," James gasped.
"Don't what?" Jack whispered, his mouth mere inches from James's ear.
"Don't," James repeated, his voice equally soft, "Just. Don't." Jack chuckled.
At the sound of Flemming walking down the passageway, Jack released James and sat back, grinning. Before the door opened he was reading, pen in hand, as if nothing had happened.
James sat very still, staring at the paper in his hand, but seeing nothing. His heart was pounding and he had to work to keep his breathing even. His neck burned beneath his wig, as if Sparrow's cool fingers had branded him. He tried not to imagine what might have happened, had not Flemming come back when he did, but once again his traitorous mind ran away from him. Sparrow continued to read beside him, his quill scratching as he made notes, to all appearances entirely unconcerned and Norrington very nearly hated him for the calm that mocked his own agitation.
At last his heart slowed and he was able to resume reading. But he remained painfully conscious of Sparrow sitting just a foot away, and he made little progress.
A couple of hours later, the light began to fade, although it was only late afternoon, and they heard a rumble of thunder. The storm that had been brewing all day seemed about to break. Norrington put a stop to their work, saying that he imagined Sparrow would wish to return to the Lazarus early, to avoid crossing the bay later in what promised to be a foul night. Sparrow bowed with a smile that dripped with mockery and took his leave. Norrington then dismissed Flemming and dined alone.
He had finished eating and, after a brief struggle, had taken the unusual step of pouring himself a glass of rum - knowing that his only chance of sleep that night lay in rendering his mind too numb to torment him - when the storm struck. Great crashes of thunder shook the windows, while jagged bolts of lightning flamed across the sky or struck the hilltops to the west. The mastheads glowed blue. Then the rain came, pouring down in torrents, pounding upon the wood over his head with a sound like great hands slapping the deck as if the ship were a drum. The winds swirled, blowing the rain in at the open windows and whipping the waters of the bay until the Dauntless strained at her anchor. For an hour, the storm bellowed and shrieked before finally blowing itself out just as dark fell. James, the rum forgotten at his elbow, sat and watched as the sky cleared and the stars came out. He felt suspended - strangely calm - as if the paroxysm of the elements had washed his troubled heart and mind as clean as the blue-black sky. He lay down on his bunk and dreamless sleep rolled him under in moments.
James woke at daybreak. He could hear dawn chorus begin on shore and he lay listening, picturing the low green hills, the trees alive with birds. The peace that had come over him the evening before was still with him, to a certain degree. As he dressed, however, he realized that it was not peace but the calm one feels before battle, when great things are about to be decided. He had run - been driven - far enough. It was time to turn and face the matter.
Later that morning, when the three of them sat down at the desk, it became apparent that they had nearly completed their work. Long before midday, they had finished annotating every document in the chest. After that, it remained but to compile an index of the contents, a task that could be done most efficiently by one person.
"Congratulations, gentlemen, on a job well done," Norrington said. He glanced at Sparrow and then turned to the lieutenant. "Mister Flemming, I shall leave the compilation of the index in your capable hands."
"Thank you, sir," Flemming replied, "It shall be done by this evening."
"Very well," Norrington rose. He looked again at Sparrow and held his eye. "We shall leave you to it, Lieutenant."
"Indeed we shall," Jack said, rising. "It was a pleasure working with you Mister Flemming. Ah, Commodore," he continued as they left the office, "have you been ashore to inspect the smuggler camp?"
"No," Norrington replied, "I have not. Major Thacker's report told me nothing that made such a step seem necessary."
Jack grinned. "Well, Major Thacker and I would be looking for different things, naturally."
James stopped in the narrow passageway and turned to face Sparrow. His face was set. "Meaning?"
"Meaning," Jack replied, lowering his voice and standing far too close, "that if you will come ashore with me, you might find the excursion… interesting." He laid his hand lightly on James's coat-sleeve and James shuddered. "We could take my boat; I rowed myself over this morning. No need for company, eh?"
For a long moment James stared into the dark eyes that glinted with laughter and challenge. Then he nodded curtly and turned to go on deck. Behind him he heard Jack chuckling. He mounted to the quarterdeck and spoke briefly with Captain Marshall, telling him to make ready to sail for Port Royal that evening.
"Oh, and I shall be going ashore with Captain Sparrow this afternoon to inspect the smuggler camp," he added. Marshall saluted and Norrington joined Jack on the main deck. They climbed down to Jack's little rowboat and headed for the shore, a quarter-mile away, Jack rowing.
They didn't speak on the short trip. Norrington stared over Jack's shoulder as the land drew near. Only once did he risk a glance at the privateer's face. Jack was watching him steadily with a half-smile on his lips and James flushed under the scrutiny. At last the bottom grated on the pebbly beach; James stepped out and helped Jack haul the boat above the waterline. Jack reached under the thwart and brought out a bottle which he tucked into the pocket of his coat. He gestured inland. "Shall we?" James nodded.
Jack led the way into the clearing that held the smuggler camp. Several rough huts surrounded by a crude stockade, all showing the effects of the recent battle, stood well away from the trees. They passed through without stopping, making, so far as James could tell, for a small postern on the forest side of the camp. Once beyond the stockade clearing, they walked for some way through the trees and underbrush, from which steam arose as the sun, approaching the zenith, drew up the moisture from the last night's storm. It was very warm. Their path, which had been rising, began to descend.
"Sparrow, where are you taking me?" James asked.
"You will see," Jack said, without stopping. "Not far now."
Indeed, within a few steps they came out of the trees, which ended abruptly at the top of a low cliff. Below them lay a long bay and James understood that they had walked across the base of the spit of land that divided this place from Westerhall Bay. Jack was already on the narrow beach, having scrambled down the cliff - here no more than six feet in height - by the steep and crumbling path. James followed him onto the sand.
Jack grinned at him and indicated the bay with a sweep of his arm. "Not a bad place to spend an afternoon, eh, James?"
James looked around; it was a lovely spot. The beach faced northeast, into the prevailing wind, and the waves broke noisily on the shingle below them. Gulls mewed overhead and patrolled the tideline, poking amongst the wrack and shells for tidbits. Far to their right, the sand ended in a rocky point; to the left, the bay continued for some way inland, curving around to a far shore where the trees grew almost down to the water. "Very pretty," he said at last. Jack was watching him again, with an unbearably knowing smirk and James turned away, retracing his steps to the foot of the cliff and sitting down in the strip of shade at its foot with his back to the stone. He closed his eyes and listened to the rustling of the trees above him, the crash and hush of the surf, and the cry of the gulls. So tightly drawn was he that the sounds thrummed across his senses like wind through a harp.
"Good idea, mate." Jack's voice, coming from directly in front of him, made him jump and open his eyes. The privateer was once again in shirtsleeves; his hat and outer garments lay on the sand. He was holding a green bottle in one hand. "Very good idea," he repeated. "Too hot in the sun." And he sat down beside James in the shade, folding his legs tailor-fashion.
Jack was near enough to touch; James dug his fingers into the sand and broken shells beneath him and stared out to sea. Beside him he heard the squeak and pop of a cork. The bottle nudged his elbow.
"Aged rum," Jack said. "Have some."
"Thank you," James replied. He accepted the bottle, carefully avoiding contact with Jack's hand as he did so. Raising it, he took a cautious sip and was astonished at the smooth and smoky taste. He looked at Jack in surprise. "This is excellent," he said, and took a larger swallow before handing the bottle back.
Jack nodded and drank. "It is," he said. "One more prize off the Paloma. Haven't tasted anything to match it." He passed the bottle back to James.
They drank in silence for a few minutes. Finally Jack said, "Do you sleep in that wig, James?"
James choked on a mouthful of rum. "What?" he exclaimed, when he could speak again.
"Just wondering," Jack shrugged.
James sighed and set the rum down. He took off his hat and removed the pins that held his wig in place, putting them in his coat pocket. Then he lifted the wig off his head and placed it carefully atop his hat. In truth, it was a relief to be rid of the thing, but he was damned if he would admit that. He ran his fingers through his sweat-damp hair and glared at Jack. "There," he said. "Are you satisfied?"
"Not quite," Jack chuckled. "The coat and waistcoat, too, if you please."
The rum was burning in James's gut and singing in his blood, filling him with reckless impatience. Hastily he threw aside his sword-belt; coat and waistcoat followed and he glared again at Jack, breathing through his nose.
Jack smiled. "Much better, mate," he nodded. "Now we can be comfortable."
Comfortable was hardly how James would have described his present state. He snatched up the bottle and took a long swallow. He slammed it down again with shaking hands and watched Jack pick it up.
The privateer was gazing out to sea, one elegant hand cupping the base of the bottle while the other clasped the neck and stroked it slowly up and down, up and down. James's mouth went dry.
Jack looked at him sidelong, laughed softly and took another swig.
Something in James snapped; with a wordless snarl he surged to his feet and strode down to the water's edge. He clenched his fists but there was nothing to strike. The man was taunting him!
"James," Jack's voice came from just behind his left shoulder.
Goaded beyond caution, he turned and took Jack's face between his hands. "Enough," he said harshly, and kissed him.
Jack surrendered his mouth, nipping and then sucking on James's tongue, his own darting and dancing maddeningly. James devoured Jack's mouth with a greed akin to desperation, taking all that was offered and demanding more. His mind gibbered in protest until he reduced it to shocked silence with another snarl, even as he bit down savagely on Jack's lip and tasted blood. He slid his hands into Jack's hair and tugged, exposing the golden throat to his lips and teeth. When Jack tried to pull away, James's grip tightened fiercely and Jack hissed.
"No more teasing," James growled, taking Jack's earlobe between his teeth. "You've driven me half mad as it is."
Jack laughed, his voice husky and strained, "Only half mad, James?" he said. "I must be losing my touch." He pressed his body to James's, making him groan and stagger as he canted his hips so that their cocks brushed together. He had meanwhile untucked James's shirt and slipped his hands into the waistband of his breeches, pressed flat against the tops of his buttocks. He stepped backward, drawing James with him. "No more teasing," he whispered.
When he reached the base of the cliff, smooth here and still warm from the sun that was now behind the treetops, Jack leaned back against it and pulled James's hips tight against his own. James braced his forearms against the rock wall and thrust hard - blind need driving him as frustration found relief in action - and both men groaned. Jack pulled James into another kiss, rough and wet, that left them gasping. He stroked James's ribs beneath his shirt and ran his thumbs lightly across his nipples, grinning as James shuddered and pressed closer.
"Tell me," Jack murmured, sucking and licking his way along James's jaw. "What do you want?" James froze and Jack said, quickly, "Don't think. Answer."
"God help me," James said, his voice hoarse, "You. I want you."
"Me you have." Jack's laugh was breathless. "What else?"
"This," James groaned, thrusting again. "More."
"More," said Jack, wriggling free. "More is perfect. Couldn't have said it better m'self. I know just the thing."
"Jack," James reached for him but Jack evaded the grasping hands, slipping behind him and reaching around to unbutton his breeches.
"First, the clothes," Jack said, "Off with them." He left James to undress himself while he made quick work of his own garments. When they were both naked, Jack scooped up the rum bottle just as James caught him again.
"Look at you," James breathed, running his fingers in wonder over Jack's scarred and tattooed skin. This glorious body, lithe and hard against his, was not that of a gentleman; the man had to be a pirate. No matter. He stilled his mind and gave himself over to his senses, stroking and tasting. "What is all this?" he asked.
"Stories, love," Jack replied. "History. Someday when we've nothing better to do," he leered amiably, "I'll tell you." He handed James the rum. "Drink up," he said.
James drank and gave the bottle back to Jack who took one long swallow, grinned, and then emptied the last of the rum into his mouth. He pulled James's head down and pressed their lips together, passing the rum to James's mouth from his. James crushed Jack to him, but Jack broke the kiss and leaned back.
"Wait," he said. "Let me show you. Next, we kneel down." He pulled James down to the sand and pressed him back until he was sitting on his heels. Jack tossed aside the empty rum bottle and retrieved a small flask from the pocket of his coat. Then he straddled James's lap, rubbing their cocks together. James gasped at the sensation and gripped Jack's hips to keep him in place.
Jack grinned. "It gets better," he said, uncorking the flask. "Oil." Pouring some into his palm, he slicked James's cock, which jumped and twitched in his hand. He took his time, rubbing his thumb back and forth over the head and sliding his fist along the thick length appreciatively.
James pressed his forehead to Jack's and moaned. "For the love of God," he panted.
Jack slid backwards off James's lap. "Hold out your hand," he said. James obeyed and Jack poured oil into it. "Now," Jack turned round and knelt over James's thighs, his back to James's chest. "You may return the favour." James hesitated and his mind bleated faintly of madness but Jack's wriggle of impatience once more drove thought away. He spread the oil between Jack's buttocks, pressing the tips of two fingers into him. Jack pushed back, groaning and shuddering, urging him deeper. "Hurry," he said, and then, "Good."
Jack reached behind and took hold of James's cock. As James withdrew his fingers, Jack moved up and back and lowered himself by careful degrees onto the shaft, until he had taken it all and his arse rested against James's belly.
James trembled as Jack's body slid down on to his prick, tight and slick and searingly hot. This, this was what he wanted. He grasped Jack's hips, gripping hard with oily fingers, and bucked.
Jack gasped. "Easy, love," he said, "Give me a moment." He leaned back against James's chest, panting and James held himself still, barely breathing, as Jack's body slowly relaxed around him.
"Now?" he asked, at last.
"Now," Jack nodded, shifting his hips and leaning a little forward.
Slowly at first, James thrust upward. Jack moved with him and, after a moment's fumbling, they fell into rhythm. Jack rocked his hips from side to side and clenched, making James gasp and fuck him harder. Faster and faster they moved. James pulled Jack's head back and kissed him and Jack bit his mouth. Gasping, James knew he would not last, it was too much. He took hold of Jack's cock and began to stoke it; Jack cried out and arched back until his head rested on James's shoulder. He came with a shout, spilling his seed over James's hand, his body clenching hard around the invading flesh. James thrust wildly and spent himself, muffling his groan against Jack's neck.
They stayed without moving until their pulses returned to normal. James rested one hand on Jack's thigh and splayed the other across his belly, feeling the rise and fall of his breath. He licked the tattooed shoulder, savouring the salty tang of sweat on his tongue and pressed his lips to the spot. Jack sighed softly, a contented sound.
At last Jack lifted himself off James's cock and sprawled on the sand, pulling James down with him. They dozed for awhile, each using one of Jack's boots for a pillow, then Jack suggested they swim. It was late afternoon when they finally dressed and headed back. They had barely spoken for hours; the silence was easy and unstrained. James looked at the man walking beside him, but, as ever, Jack's face gave away nothing of his thoughts.
When they reached the stockade, Jack stopped and pressed James back against the timber wall, kissing him with leisurely thoroughness before leading the way through the postern and into the view of their waiting ships.
It wasn't until they were in the boat that James, who insisted on rowing, plucked up the courage to speak. "Jack, I…" He found he didn't know what to say.
Jack smiled, eyes watchful under lowered lids. "No regrets, surely, James?" he asked.
"No," James replied quickly, shaking his head. He paused for several strokes of the oars. "No," he said again, "but..."
Jack waited, still smiling, until it became clear that James could go no further and he took pity. He leaned forward and ran his fingers lightly up the inside of James's calf and rested them on his knee. James shuddered and closed his eyes for a moment; when he opened them again they were wide and dark. Jack's smile widened. "You see, love? Don't think so much about it. Feel."
James frowned, opened his mouth and shut it again. "It's wrong," he said at last. "The law…"
Jack snapped his fingers. "That for the law," he chuckled, leaning back to rest his elbows on the stern. "Your Navy tries to take all the fun out of life."
"But why…" James stopped again. Jack raised an eyebrow. James flushed. "Why me?"
Jack laughed outright. "Don't you own a looking glass, man?" he asked. "Who could resist?"
James's flush deepened. "You took a risk," he growled.
"Ah, but the reward was worth it," Jack replied. "You enjoyed yourself well enough, didn't you?" he asked. James hesitated, then nodded. "And you'd like to be back inside me at this very moment, wouldn't you?" Jack continued, grinning.
James groaned softly. "God damn you, Jack Sparrow," he muttered.
"No doubt He will," Jack said comfortably, "but not before I've had my fun."
James looked at him with a combination of bafflement and irritation and said nothing.
They were drawing near to the Dauntless and Jack, who was not going aboard but rowing straight on to the Lazarus, traded places with James at the oars. As they maneuvered past each other in the tiny craft Jack murmured, "Remember, James: Feel, don't think. Or, if you must think," his voice dropped to a husky whisper, "let it be of next time."
Before James could reply, they bumped against the side of the Dauntless.
Jack held out his hand and said, in a voice audible on the deck above, "Well then, Commodore. I shall see you in Port Royal." His mouth quirked and his eyes dared James in so mischievous a fashion that James was hard put to it not to laugh.
"Until Port Royal, Captain Sparrow," James replied gravely, shaking the privateer's hand. He went up the side and turned to see that Jack had already pulled away. He watched the rowboat for a moment and turned to the nearest midshipman, saying, "I shall be in my office. My compliments to Captain Marshall and I shall be obliged if he will wait upon me there when we are ready to sail."
Norrington nodded and went below.
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