Compromises, part 1 of 3
by The Stowaway
Fandom: PoTC Rating: NC-17 Pairing: Sparrow/Norrington Full Header Part 6 of the Sparrington Arc
Once free of the great ship's looming shadow, he breathed easier as the last symbol of his former life dropped astern. He had crossed his Rubicon weeks ago - that afternoon at Somerset Plantation - and had been preparing for this final step ever since, but his actions in the 24 hours just past had, by making it public, cast his decision to resign in a stark light. What had come to seem natural and inevitable once again appeared momentous - almost outrageous. Were the whole truth of his intentions generally known (and only the Turners knew whither he was bound), he had no doubt that some would be in favor of clapping him up for his own protection, for surely he would be thought mad.
His interview with the Governor had been difficult. Swann was genuinely shocked. So distressed indeed was he that he had dropped his careful, diplomat's mask and spoken frankly and movingly against James's resignation. His fatherly concern, evidence of sincere regard, had touched James but could not move him. Their parting was painful.
Groves, on the other hand, had taken the news with aplomb. A slight widening of the eyes, an instant's pause, and he was offering his good wishes in the most unexceptionable fashion; refraining tactfully from questioning James on his plans for the future. They had spent much of the day together, attending to the myriad details of administration that would henceforth be Groves's responsibility. Once or twice, Groves, thinking himself unobserved, had watched James with an expression of thoughtful speculation. James wondered how much Groves knew - or suspected. They had not spoken of it, confining themselves to business. And, in the end, as James took his leave in time to dine with the Turners, they had clasped hands as friends.
Dinner with Will and Elizabeth had been bittersweet. Their honest joy at his news could not offset entirely the grief of a separation that might well outlast life itself. He thought of the sword - safely stowed in the cabin - that Will had made for Jack. It was a princely gift - Will's swordsmithing continued to improve and Jack's blade was superior even to his own, forged nearly six years ago. (How pleased Jack would be, James thought with a smile, and how quick to point out his advantage.) And so he had said goodbye to his dear friends and the last ties had been loosed.
Now, here he was, bridges burnt, on his way to an unknown future. James chuckled. In truth, he wondered if he were mad indeed. To throw over his whole career and his comfortable existence - to deem the world well lost for love - what was that save madness? And yet, no matter how fantastical or romantic or downright absurd this course, he could plot no other. Hope, so long chastened and restrained, had, six weeks ago, broken free of the stern guard he had set upon it and would no longer be denied. The desire, no, the need to be with Jack had grown from that day to this until it colored and informed his every waking moment - and most of his dreams.
The dawn breeze picked up, just as the ebb was losing force, and James raised the mainsail to supplement the jib he'd used in the harbor. The Gull leapt forward.
The sun rose, gilding the distant sand hills of Portland Head and making the waves sparkle. This was just such a day as the one, nearly five years ago now, on which he had first sailed the Gull this way, south and west. That time, too, he'd been on his way to meet Jack, although he hadn't known it until later. It was fitting, he reflected; his first voyage upon her and his last. His last. The thought cost him a pang. His beautiful Gull, how he would miss her; but he could hardly take her with him and so he must resign himself to still one more parting. But not quite yet; they would have a few more days together, for Jack had named as rendezvous the very group of islands in Black River Bay where they had spent time all those years ago. James grinned. Jack was the least sentimental of men, so the choice must have something to do with preparations for the journey. His smile faded as he wondered uneasily if he wanted to know what they were.
He thought about the letter he had received a week ago. It was hardly more than a note, couched in Jack's characteristic, laconic style. He had confirmed the rendezvous time and place in a sentence, told of careening the Black Pearl and some repairs that were in hand in another. Then: "Fancy being purser? Perhaps we'll be needing a supercargo as well. Jack"
James touched the breast of his coat, where the note rested in the same pocket as the pearl pin, and smiled. Never let it be said that Jack was over-generous with information. So chary was he, indeed, that often James was left guessing and grasping at clues to piece together his meaning. It was intentional, of course. Jack loved the role of puppet-master; pulling strings and watching everyone dance to his tune. And the less his puppets knew the more freedom he had to improvise, to embellish. It was astonishing, given the hare-brained recklessness of some of his schemes, how he always managed to escape with life and limb (more or less) intact. James believed that some of the complications Jack wove into his plots were put there for no other reason than to feed his appetite for trickery.
So, he thought, returning to the subject of the note; purser. That's plain enough, at least. He supposed that Jack - a most unconventional pirate, known to actually purchase supplies on occasion, as opposed to simply stealing them - would have need of someone honest to keep the ledger. The irony of being offered a desk job did not escape him - although he doubted his duties would take much of his time. He would still be a sailor far more than a clerk. And he would be an officer, albeit a very junior one. James grinned; yesterday, Commodore; next week, Purser of the Black Pearl. Some would consider it quite a come-down in the world; he found it both amusing and unsettling. Also, he was touched by this evidence that Jack had given thought to his place amongst the crew. Amongst the pirate crew of the most feared ship in the Caribbean.
He, James Norrington, former Commodore, Captain (retired) of the British Navy, second cousin (once removed) to the First Lord of the Admiralty, grandson (on the distaff side) of the tenth Earl of Wenham, was on his way to join a crew of pirates. Put that way, it sounded quite mad.
Were it not for the fact that Jack had, for several years, confined himself almost exclusively to preying on the Spanish… but no; that was mere quibbling. James could not evade his dilemma so easily as that, for Jack had taken undisguised delight in working considerable mischief upon the Navy, as well. His repeated taunting of Captain Gillette had become the stuff of popular legend. And poor Gillette could never resist rising to the bait, for all that he was no match for Jack. Well, the Pearl was bound for the Orient in a matter of days, depriving Gillette and his devoted coterie of junior officers of the source of their obsession. It was to be hoped - James's expression turned sardonic - that they would bear the disappointment tolerably well. But this was beside the point.
Turning his attention outward for a time, he altered course, bearing two points south of west, in order to leave Portland Head far to starboard. He had no desire to risk a chance encounter with another boat - acquaintances out pleasure-sailing, or fishermen, or traders - he was done with good-byes.
James thought again of the note in his pocket. "Perhaps we'll be needing a supercargo as well." What had Jack meant by that? Supercargoes were employed on most merchant vessels these days, to be sure, but what purpose could such an officer serve on a pirate ship? From what he knew of buccaneers and their ways, he very much doubted that such men would trust another with control of their loot. His understanding of the Code gave him to believe that all transactions involving plunder were, by custom, carried on in full view of, and with participation from, all crew members, most of whom were illiterate and, therefore, disinclined to trust written records. James snorted. Among such thieves and rogues, a supercargo would be regarded with deep suspicion. So why would Jack consider… unless he was thinking of turning to trade himself. Could that be true?
Trade. It was an occupation with many opportunities for the kind of sharp dealing and cozenage that was so dear to Jack's heart; for all that it was - more or less - on this side of the law. Perhaps Jack, in leaving the Caribbean, thought to leave outright piracy as well. James felt a little spirt of hope that reason could not quite suppress. He was not so lost to good sense as to believe that Jack would do such a thing for him, but, if it served his purposes, neither would he decline such a venture for fear of appearing complaisant.
The Gull heeled sharply as the breeze freshened and James left reflection and gave himself to sailing with a feeling of relief. In a few days time he would know more, but for now there was the exhilaration of flying before the wind, master of his little craft, master - for the first time in how long? - of his fate. His brow cleared and he laughed. Sufficient unto the day…
Three days later, he sailed into Black River Bay.
The Pearl was anchored in a channel between two islets, invisible from the open sea but with a good view of the bay fore and aft. Most of the crew were aloft, completing the considerable task of bending on a fresh suit of sails when the watch sang out.
Jack was engaged in chaffing Gibbs - who disapproved of Jack's continued use of black canvas. He broke off and sprang to the port shrouds, shading his eyes as he gazed northeast. He grinned. "Ah, that will be the new purser. Prompt as ever."
Climbing up beside him, Gibbs stared and stared again in disbelief at the elegant sloop bearing down on them. “Cap’n, isn’t that…?”
“It is.” Jack kept his eyes on the Gull, but his grin broadened at the consternation in the other's voice. "Come now, Mister Gibbs," he chuckled, his tone more than a bit smug, "surely you heard me say we were to take on a new man before we sailed."
"Aye," Gibbs growled, "but I never dreamed that this was who ye meant." Jack shot him a sidelong glance so full of mischief that Gibbs almost laughed. Shaking his head to cover his lapse, he muttered a curse. “Are ye mad? What’s in your head, Jack?”
But Sparrow just chuckled again and jumped down. "If you can't guess, Josh, you're not the clever fellow I've always thought you."
Gibbs regained the deck and, looking forward, caught Anamaria's eye. With a jerk of his head, he indicated that she should join him as he followed Jack aft. "Oh, I can guess, right enough, ye daft fool," he grumbled, loud enough for Jack to hear, but not so loud that he was obliged to take notice, "but I'm damned if I see how you'll pull it off."
As James drew closer to the Pearl, he could see Jack standing on the quarterdeck, with Gibbs and Anamaria beside him. The crew, those of them not in the rigging, lined the rail, watching his approach with curiosity but no overt hostility. That meant, he thought with wry amusement, merely that he had not yet been recognized. He furled the mainsail, leaving the jib for steering way.
Cupping his hands, he shouted, "Ahoy, the Black Pearl!"
Jack called back, "Ahoy, the Gull!" James saw a ripple of agitation pass along the row of heads at the rail. Some, it seemed, were familiar with the name. As he passed into the lee of the great black ship, he dropped the jib and tossed a line. It was caught and made fast. He moved aft and tossed a second, this one caught by Gibbs himself, and the Gull was board on board with the Pearl.
James looked up as Jack came to the rail. For a moment they stared, not quite smiling. Then Jack winked and the corner of his mouth lifted before he pulled his face straight.
Taking the hint, James made his tone formal as he requested, "Permission to come aboard, Captain Sparrow?"
"Granted, Mister Norrington."
"Norrington!" The mutter ran round the ship. "It's bloody Norrington!"
James went lightly up the side and stood before Jack, who held out his hand. James took it with a slight smile.
"About damn time you got here," Jack said, grinning.
James raised an eyebrow. "I am punctual to the day appointed, I believe." His tone was serious but his eyes danced. His hand tightened on Jack's unconsciously and their eyes locked. They were recalled to a sense of their surroundings by Gibbs clearing his throat.
"Ah yes, let me introduce you to my other officers," Jack said, taking his elbow and turning to the two who stood at his shoulder. "Anamaria, Gibbs - allow me to present our new Purser, Mister Norrington. James, this is Anamaria, First Mate, and Mister Gibbs, Quartermaster."
"Purser!" the crew pressed around them, whispering and shoving, "Him, Purser on the Pearl?"
James removed his hat and bowed. Anamaria, her expression a blend of astonishment and outrage, glared with starting eyes from Jack to James and back again. She appeared incapable of speaking. Gibbs moved to fill the breach, holding out his hand.
"Good to see you again, sir," he said heartily, if with somewhat less than perfect truth.
James took the proffered hand with a grateful look. "It's been a long time, Mister Gibbs."
"It has indeed, sir. Nigh on fifteen year, I make it."
Gibbs stepped back and James turned again to Anamaria. He took her unresisting hand and raised it to his lips. "It is an honour to make your acquaintance, ma'am," he murmured, smiling into her eyes. Those dark eyes narrowed as she snatched her hand back with gasp. Casting a venomous look at Jack, she turned and stalked away, shoving gaping men out of her path and shouting orders that sent the crew scurrying about their neglected tasks. Gibbs shook his head.
Jack rubbed his hands together briskly, seemingly oblivious to this byplay. "Well now," he said, "let's get you settled. Your gear…?"
"All packed," James replied. He turned slightly to keep Anamaria in the corner of his eye; watching without seeming to do so, as the crew jumped to obey her. And all the while they continued to eye him with uncertainty. There might be trouble, he thought, especially with the First Mate so clearly inimical to his presence. He glanced at Jack, who was looking at him with a somewhat smug grin. He didn't seem worried by the temper of the crew. James told himself to stay calm and follow Jack's lead; to give things time to sort themselves out.
Jack clapped Gibbs on the shoulder. "See about transferring Mister Norrington's chest to the empty cabin, Mister Gibbs. And take the Gull in tow. I want to be under way within the hour. You take the helm," he said. He lowered his voice. "I'll be in my cabin, ah, going over the accounts with Mister Norrington." This was accompanied by a wink that nearly upset the older man's gravity.
"Aye, Cap'n." Gibbs summoned a pair of sailors and sent them aboard the Gull. While Jack went forward to speak to Anamaria, James stopped Gibbs on his way over the rail. "A favour, Mister Gibbs," he said in a low voice.
"There are several cases of wine and brandy aboard the Gull," James went on. "Have them stowed in the Captain's cabin, if you would be so obliging. And there is a long rosewood box as well. Please take charge of that yourself and bring it directly to me."
Gibbs nodded. "Trust me for that," he grinned. Noting the direction of James's gaze, his smile faded. For a moment they both watched Anamaria lean forward, her face inches from Jack's, as she snarled an answer to some question. "Aye, there's the heart of the problem," he said. James turned enquiring eyes to his. Tapping James's sleeve for emphasis with one blunt finger, Gibbs went on, "Just you watch your back, young fella. I don't know what possessed you two to go playin' this mad game, but it ain't going to be smooth sailing - leastways not at first. And not ever, unless you get Anamaria on your side. Mark my words." And, without waiting for an answer, he climbed down to the Gull and ducked into her cabin.
James turned to see Jack strolling aft, grinning as if he had not a care in the world. He took James's arm and steered him toward the great cabin. "Why so solemn, James? Gibbs prophesying disaster?"
Confused, James looked over his shoulder to where Anamaria stood in the bow, scowling at them. "But how did you see…" he began.
"Eyes in the back of me head," Jack laughed, "not that I'd need them to tell you that. Gibbs's passion for doom-saying has been my companion these many years. He's an old woman. Ignore his croaking; I always do."
James snorted. "That I can well believe," he said, as they entered the spacious, cluttered cabin that was Jack's domain.
"Finally," Jack muttered as he turned and slammed James up against the door. "Been wanting to do this since you came over the side." He fisted his hands in the breast of the other's coat and crushed their mouths together.
James groaned, open mouthed, into the kiss and yanked Jack's hips tight against his own. As they each drew a shaky breath, he murmured, "Well, well, Captain, is this how you greet new officers?"
Jack laughed softly and leaned in again. "Some of them…"
A heavy thump on the door at James's back startled them apart. "The wine!" he exclaimed, tugging his coat straight.
Jack looked blank. "The wine?"
"Yes," James said, as the door opened to admit a small procession of buccaneers carrying crates. "The last of my cellar - I saw no reason to leave it behind for my successor. Where do you want it?"
Bemused, Jack pointed, and the men stowed the crates neatly. They stumped out, and Gibbs entered, carrying the sword-case. James received it with a word of thanks.
Once the door shut behind Gibbs, James laid the box on a clear space on the desk. He undid the catches as Jack came to stand beside him. James looked up and smiled.
"The Turners send you their love, and," he said, gesturing to the box, "this."
Jack ran his fingers lightly over the satiny wood. "Do they now," he whispered. His eyes gleamed as he lifted the lid. "Ahhh…" It was a sigh of pure pleasure, for before him, on a bed of black velvet, rested Will Turner's masterpiece.
The graceful curve of the quillons was mirrored in the sweep of the double-barred guard. Swirling grooves in the rosewood grip, inlaid with gold wire, led the eye to the etched and fluted pommel, set with a small ruby. The hilt was a work of art. Jack's hand closed about the grip with the reverent familiarity of a lover and he drew the blade from the chased scabbard. He held it up, glinting, in the dancing light from the stern windows; felt the perfect balance as the sword moved in his hand like a living thing. Jack turned it this way and that, tested the edge with a careful thumb, and sighed again.
"Perfection," he breathed.
Taking up the scabbard, he sheathed the sword, hung it from his baldric, and settled it at his side. He rested his left hand on the pommel; caressing it the way James had seen him caress the wheel of the Pearl. Then Jack smirked and his eyes slid to the sword at James's hip.
"Mine's prettier," he drawled.
James burst out laughing. "Vain as any peacock," he gasped. "Will knew what he was about, I see."
Something very like a pout clouded Jack's visage. "Unsay that," he demanded.
"Very well, then," James grinned, leaning against the desk and folding his arms. "Mountebank."
Jack scowled. "Try again." He half-drew - a few inches of steel glittering as he stepped forward a pace.
"Bully?" James offered, still grinning. He flung his arms wide. "I am not afraid of you."
Jack's lips twitched. He released the hilt and took another step. The fingers of one hand curled around James's nape, drawing his head down until their lips touched. "Perhaps you should be," he growled.
"Captain, then," James chuckled, when he could speak again. "I didn't know you were such a stickler."
"There's a good deal you don't know about me," Jack said, tilting his head to allow James's tongue to trace a path along his jaw.
"And a great deal that I do," James whispered, as he found the sensitive spot behind Jack's ear and pressed with teeth and lips until he felt the pirate's knees buckle.
"I've never… oh God…denied it," Jack groaned. "However…" He seized James's head and brought their mouths together again, devouring him with a concentrated hunger that held nothing of subtlety - all heat and need and battling tongues. "We must to business," he said, breaking the kiss with a suddenness that sent James staggering. "Dalliance can wait, the tide won't." He circled the desk, sat, and leaned back with a roguish grin. James stood blinking, bewildered by the abrupt shift. Jack's smile took on a mocking cast. "Come, come, man. Sit yourself down and let us begin. I've a ship to run - haven't got all day."
James shook his head to clear it and took the indicated chair, frowning slightly, thwarted desire jangling his senses. He glanced up and caught an impish gleam in the dark eyes and was surprised into a laugh, as he realized he was already mired in one of Jack's maddening games. "Very well, you scoundrel," he said, with reluctant amusement, "What is it that's so dreadful you must throw me off-balance before you tell me?"
"It's not so very bad," Jack replied. "A formality, merely. If you're to be an officer on the Pearl, you must sign this." He pulled a parchment from beneath a stack of papers, dislodging Queen Mab, a large tortoiseshell cat, who had been sleeping atop it. She jumped down and stalked to the stern windows, where she sat in a patch of sunlight and began to wash. Jack slid the document across the desk.
Turning it, James read at the top of the page: Ship's Articles / The Black Pearl. At the bottom, he saw a welter of scrawled signatures and the marks made by those who could not write. Some few were crossed out, bearing succinct notations - 'kilt in battel' or 'dyed of fevre' - next to them. Two read 'maroon'd'. One had been 'shot for stealing'.
He looked up to find Jack watching him, alert as a cat at a mouse-hole, eyes bright. "Well?" he asked.
"Let me at least read it first," James said, with a slight smile. "I am not such a fool as to sign my name without that."
Jack waved airily. "Read on." He put his feet up on the desk.
James picked up the document and sat back to peruse it. Not long, it consisted of ten brief clauses:
#1. Every Man shall obey civil Command; the Captain shall have two full Shares in all Prizes; the Quarter-Master, First Mate and Gunner shall have one Share and a half, and other Officers one Share and a Quarter.
#2. The Lights and Candles to be put out at eight o'Clock at Night: If any of the Crew, after that Hour, still remained inclin'd for Drinking, they were to do it on the open Deck.
#3. If any Man shall defraud the Company, in Plate, Jewels, Money, or game, to the Value of a Piece of Eight, he shall be Marroon'd or Shot.
#4. Every Man has equal title to the fresh Provisions, or strong Liquors, at any Time seized, and use of them at Pleasure, unless a Scarcity make it necessary, for the good of all, to Vote a Retrenchment.
#5. No Man shall strike another while these Articles are in force. Every Man's Quarrels to be ended on Shore, at Sword and Pistol.
#6. That Man that shall snap his Arms, or smoak Tobacco in the Hold, without a cap to his Pipe, or carry a Candle lighted without a Lanthorn, shall receive Moses's Law (that is 40 Stripes lacking one) on the bare Back.
#7. That Man that shall not keep his Arms clean, fit for an Engagement, or neglect his Business, shall be cut off from his Share, and suffer such other Punishment as the Captain and the Company shall think fit.
#8. If any Man shall lose a Joint in time of an Engagement, shall have 400 Pieces of Eight; if a limb, 800.
#9. If at any time you meet with a prudent Woman, that Man that offers to meddle with her, without her Consent, shall suffer present Death.
#10. If any man Desert the Ship, or his Quarters in Battle, he shall be Marroon'd or Shot.
He read them through quickly and then again more slowly. It was his first glimpse of the articles of an actual pirate ship - as opposed to the nonsense to be found in the fantastical and lurid tales of which Elizabeth had been so fond as a girl.
He was struck by their straightforward and pragmatic simplicity in contrast to the voluminous statutes by which the Navy sought to regulate each smallest aspect of life aboard ship. Of course, he thought, the pirate ideal of discipline (he looked again at the references to drinking and smoking) was not quite up to Naval standards. But they ordered their society with a concern for the general welfare of its members (if not for society as a whole) that he found reassuring. It seemed there was indeed honour among thieves.
But they were thieves. The mention of 'prizes' made him shift uneasily; so like to the Navy's allusion to captures made in legitimate battle - for buccaneers were outlaws who considered themselves at war with all the world. Pirates contra mundum, in very truth.
James cast a thoughtful glance at Jack. The pirate was trimming his nails with the pen-knife, but James was not fooled. Jack was watching him closely, despite his show of careless ease.
"Tell me," James asked, "did this allotment of prizes," he tapped the parchment, "apply to the hoard in the cave on the Isla de Muerta?"
Jack nodded. "It did."
"Then your crew are rich men, compared to the generality of pirates."
"Those that were with me then, aye; most of them. One or two have gamed and whored away all their share. And we've a number of men joined since then, as well, who got no part of that treasure. Why do you ask?"
"It's a dangerous life," James shrugged.
"And you are wondering why they keep at it, eh?"
"The thought can't help but occur."
Jack's chuckle held no mirth. "A mite disingenuous of you, James. Fugitives, with the hand of every man raised against them, most especially those of your (former) friends - what other course is open?"
"That is true here, naturally, where they are known."
"Exactly!" Jack grinned. "Yet another reason to head out in search of 'fresh woods and pastures new', wouldn't you say?"
"To start over…"
"…with a clean slate. Aye."
James searched Jack's face, hardly daring to hope. "And a supercargo?"
Jack dropped his feet to the decking and sat up, still grinning. "All part of the plan, James." He stood and came round the desk, behind James's chair. Placing his hands lightly on James's shoulders, he leant down. "Well, love?" he whispered.
The warm breath against James's ear made him shudder, scattering his thoughts. He had known it would come to this when he set out and still he hesitated. He was about to become a pirate, if only by association. And yet, Jack had said a 'clean slate' was one reason for sailing to the East… Foolish to hang back, when he had come so far already.
Abruptly, he reached for the pen and dipped it. Placing the parchment on the desk, he found an open space at the foot of it and signed his name, small and clear. Throwing the pen down, he tipped his head back to look at Jack. "Done," he smiled.
Jack threaded his fingers into James's hair and smiled slowly. "Done indeed," he said. "And now," his grip tightened as he lowered his mouth to James's, "you are mine."
"Careful, lads," Gibbs said, "those be for the Captain." The last of the crates of wine went up the side. Norrington's sea-chest had been shifted already. Taking a final look around the Gull, he gave orders for a tow-line to be rigged. Lovely little boat she was, he thought, clean-lined and elegant. He wondered what Norrington intended with her, as even Jack wasn't near mad enough to attempt an Atlantic crossing with her in tow. But that was the least of their worries, if the look of the crew was anything to go by. They weren't happy about this latest start of Jack's, not at all - Anamaria least of any of them. Gibbs shook his head. Truth be told, he was none too pleased, himself. He couldn't, for the life of him, see how it would work. Norrington had spent the last fifteen years hunting - and hanging - pirates and smugglers. No man from the Pearl among them, granted, but Gibbs doubted the crew was of a temper to appreciate the distinction - especially when they didn't know what Gibbs himself had known for years about Jack and the Commodore. Gone on each other, the pair of 'em. Gibbs thought of the look on Jack's face as Norrington came over the rail today. He shrugged and chuckled ruefully. Ah well, anyone who could make the lad smile like that was worth keeping, he figured.
Gibbs had just climbed back aboard the Pearl, carrying the sword-box, when Anamaria grabbed his arm. "What does that daft idiot think he's doing?" she hissed.
"Meet me on the quarterdeck," he replied, indicating the box and slipping free to follow the last of the crates into the great cabin. In moments, he was back on deck and climbing to where they could talk in relative privacy. Anamaria was already pacing furiously, gripping the hilt of her sword and cursing under her breath in French. She glared at him.
Gibbs shrugged. "Looks like Norrington's coming with us."
"What?" her voice rose. "Never."
"You heard Jack, same as me. He said Norrington was the new purser. Must be meanin' join up."
Anamaria shook her head. "It's some kind of trick. The man is Navy, for the love of God."
"Not any more," Gibbs replied. "His kind don't run; so my guess is he's resigned his commission."
"But why?" She stopped pacing and looked at Gibbs. "You know something," she snarled, shaking her finger under his nose. "Out with it."
Gibbs rubbed the back of his neck. Damned, difficult woman. Well, if she hadn't guessed yet, she'd know soon enough anyway. "Think, Ana. Didn't you see the way they looked at each other just now? Why do you think he's here, with Jack fixing to head out for the other side of the world?"
Anamaria's eyes opened wide. "No," she breathed. "I don't believe it."
"It's true, right enough. You mean you never suspected? With Jack's visits to Port Royal and all?"
"But… I thought it was just to see Bootstrap's whelp and that high-born bitch he married." Her eyes narrowed. "How long have you known about this?"
"Oh, a good few years now. Not that they ain't been discreet - which must be Norrington's doing, since there's not a discreet bone in the Captain's body - but I got eyes. I knew there was someone before I figured out who it was."
"All this means nothing. Jack cannot do this," she replied. "The men will never stand for it."
Gibbs gave her a long look. "They might," he said slowly, "if they see you approve."
"No!" she exclaimed.
"Norrington will come with us, in the end. Why make this harder than it needs to be?"
"I will NOT help that mad bastard do this crazy thing!"
"Anamaria. Be reasonable. You've known Jack near as long as me." Gibbs said, "He'll have his way. We neither of us can stop him. Admit it, lass; even you have trouble saying him nay."
She slanted him a dangerous look. "How many times, you old fool," she muttered, "must I tell you not to call me that?"
He chuckled. "At least once more, darlin'. You don't scare me."
In an instant, Anamaria's forearm was clamped tight across his windpipe, the point of her dagger pricking below his ear. "I don't, eh?" she whispered, "Then you are stupider than I thought."
Gibbs swallowed and eased his hands up, gingerly pushing her knife away with one and tugging on the arm blocking his throat with the other. "Well, no more than's sensible let's say."
"Gah!" She flung away from him. "Idiots! You, Jack… everyone." And with that she was gone, storming forward and up into the shrouds like a fury.
Gibbs touched the scratch on his neck and watched her climb to the main top. Damned, difficult woman. He shook his head. Women on board were bad luck - hadn't he always said so? He could only hope that, when it came down to it, her loyalty to Jack would lead her to stand by him, no matter how much she disapproved.
Meanwhile, it was past time to get under way. Work on the new sails was done at last; now to try them out. He gave the order to weigh anchor and sent the topmen aloft. As the Pearl moved out of the channel, he set a course southeast.
They had been at sea an hour or more when his musings were interrupted by Duncan hailing him from the main deck. "Mister Gibbs, might we have a word with ye?"
Gibbs looked down at the faces of the men surrounding the Pearl's gunner and his heart sank. He cursed softly; here was trouble. "Why, of course, lads." He gave the wheel to Williams and descended to the main deck with a grin and what he hoped was a careless air. "And what word would that be?"
"That pirate-hunter. Norrington." Duncan looked grim. "Tearlach here," he indicated a hulking lout in the group, "tells me he heard the Captain call him the new purser. That true?"
"That's what the Captain said."
There was an angry stir among the little group, but Duncan held up a hand. "What he said, aye," he replied, "but what did he mean? Is this one of his tricks?"
"If it's a trick, he ain't told me," Gibbs shrugged. "All he said was a new man would meet us at yonder island and join up for the voyage."
"But the bastard is Navy," Duncan growled. There was another mutter from the men and Tearlach spat on the deck.
Gibbs thought he'd soon be weary of that word. "Former Navy," he said. "And Norrington'd not be the first to leave the Navy and take up with the other side, as you and me can bear witness, eh Duncan?"
"It ain't the same. We was pressed. No shame in escaping when we saw the chance. He's an officer."
"He's the bloody Commodore of the bloody Fleet," Tearlach burst out, furiously smashing his huge fist into his palm. "The one as hangs the pirates he takes and chains 'em up to rot."
"Aye, but never a man from the Pearl," Gibbs was quick to point out, "Not since he executed the mutinous scum as sailed with Barbossa - and they deserved killin'." He scanned the faces of the men clustered around Duncan and Tearlach, saw grudging acknowledgment on some of them. Good, he thought, pressing his advantage. "And why do you think that is, eh lads? Ever wonder? Could it be that the Captain's been using his influence with Norrington to keep the Navy off our backs?"
"But," muttered Duncan, "he's the Commodore."
"He was the Commodore," Gibbs said, "But if the Captain's brought him over to our side at last…"
"Or mebbe the Captain's gone over to their side," Tearlach sneered. "Mebbe he's in there right now, selling us out."
Several men growled at this, clenching their fists and nodding. "Aye." "What if it's a trap?" "He'll sell us out." "Leave us to hang."
Best get this lot won over before Jack gets wind of it, Gibbs thought, else there'll be Hell to pay. He shook his head and chuckled, grinning as if it were the best joke in the world, although his blood ran chill at the turn things were taking. "A touch of the sun, it must be. You sound heat-mad, the lot of ye. You can trust Jack Sparrow, gentlemen. When has he ever led you wrong?"
"You would say that, Gibbs. We all know you're his lapdog." Gibbs was not a small man, but Tearlach dwarfed him. He took a step forward and looked down at Gibbs. "Ain't never led us wrong, eh? Well, he sure ain't gonna start now," Tearlach cried. "I say we take the pirate-hunter hostage. That way, if this be a trap we're running into, we threaten to make him dance the hempen jig if the Navy fires a shot."
There was a shout of agreement from some of the crew. Others looked troubled, but held their tongues. Tearlach surveyed them all with a nasty grin. He felt they were with him and it made him reckless.
"And if it ain't a trap," he bawled, miming gruesomely, "nothin' to stop us hangin' him anyhow, right boys?" Crude laughter greeted this sally.
"Now see here, Tearlach, you're talking mutiny." Duncan grabbed the big man's arm but was shaken off.
"Ah, shut yer gob, you old woman," Tearlach's laugh was ugly. "You Navy tykes are all the same; no stomach for a bold venture. Go stand with your friend Gibbs there, if you don't fancy our way of doin' things."
"You'd sing a different tune if the Captain could hear you," Duncan said.
"Think so? Care to put it to the test?" Tearlach turned again to Gibbs and smirked. He made a clumsy, mocking bow. "Mister Gibbs, would you be so obliging as to ask your precious Captain Sparrow to join us on deck for spot of conversation?" His supporters guffawed.
Gibbs shook his head. "Don't do this, you fool."
"Get him out here. We'll see who's the fool."
Jack and James were in James's tiny cabin. James was sitting on the bunk with the cat beside him, while Jack was cross-legged on the floor, rooting happily through the books in James's sea chest. He had just unearthed a copy of Thucydides with an exclamation of delight when Gibbs stuck his head in.
"Could I have a word, Cap'n?"
Jack unfolded himself from the chaos on the floor. He grinned at James. "I'll be back in a moment, don't go anywhere."
James grimaced at the mess around them. "Take your time, I've plenty to do." Jack just laughed and joined Gibbs in the passage.
"What is it, Josh?"
"Trouble. Tearlach and some of his cronies want to talk to you. They don't like him," a jerk of the head, "bein' aboard."
"And what business is it of theirs?" Jack frowned. "How bad is it?"
"Well, come on, then. Let's get it sorted."
The entire crew had gathered by the time Jack came on deck. He stepped forward into a sudden hush as Gibbs took a stand at his shoulder. His hackles rose. Trouble, indeed. His eye lit on Tearlach, noted the truculent stance, the sneering expression and the grim faces of the men nearest him.
"Tearlach," Jack nodded, voice level. "You wished to speak with me?"
"Aye," Tearlach replied, rocking back on his heels and hooking his thumbs in his belt. "We all do."
"Well, then," Jack said, "here I am." He turned to his right, found his way blocked by three of the crew. His eyebrows crept up. "If you please," he drawled. Under that cold gaze they drew back, abashed, and let him pass. He ran lightly up the steps and stood at the rail of the quarterdeck, hand resting on the pommel of his sword and looked down. He pitched his voice to carry. "What have you to say?"
Tearlach scowled, clearly displeased at being forced to look up. "Only this: what's your business with yon pirate-hunter?"
"Mister Norrington," Jack replied pointedly, "is a pirate-hunter no longer. He has resigned his commission."
"But what's he doing here?"
"He has accepted the office of purser. He sails with the Pearl now."
There was a confused roar as everyone spoke at once. Some shouted protests, others questions. The main deck was in chaos; groups collecting around the loudest speakers - breaking and reforming; with the knot of Tearlach and his followers at the very front. The noise rose. Shouts of "Liar!" "Traitor!" and "Take the pirate-hunter!" were heard.
This was mutiny. Jack felt a rage like madness growing. Not again, he thought, not ever again. It was coupled with an almost paralyzing fear. He prayed to all the gods there were that James would have the sense to stay out of sight. Leaning over the rail, he caught sight of Gibbs, with his back to the door to the cabins. Good man. He looked around for Anamaria, not finding her until, at last, he noticed the glances being cast aloft. She was staring down at him from the main top, expressionless. At his urgent gesture, she turned her face away and stayed put. No help there.
Jack turned to Williams, stolidly holding his post at the wheel. "Your pistol, man," he said, snatching it from his belt as he spoke. He fired into the air, drawing all eyes.
"Now," he said into the ensuing silence, "just what in the name of all the fucking hells do you think you are doing? Tearlach?"
"We want Norrington as hostage. If you run us into a trap, we can use him to save our skins."
Jack drew a breath, fighting to hide his shock. "And who," he asked, "will save your skins from me?"
Tearlach ignored him. "Norrington," he bawled, "Norrington! Show yourself, you coward."
"I am here."
James had heard the start of the uproar from his cabin, but, correctly interpreting the warning look he had received from Gibbs, had decided to remain where he was. Jack would not thank him for intruding on what must be a delicate business; that of persuading a crew of pirates to accept him. The shot, however, had brought him into the passage. And from there he heard Tearlach's summons. He felt for his sword, but both coat and sword had been shed earlier in the great cabin. There was no time to retrieve them. He put his hand to the door and stepped out on deck, coming to a halt a half-pace in front of Gibbs.
"I am here," he said.
"There he is, boys. It's the bloody Navy," Tearlach sneered.
James looked the ruffian up and down before sweeping his gaze across the faces of the mob gathered behind him. Mutinous dogs, he thought. There is something to be said for Naval discipline, at that. He did not see Jack; dared not turn to look up at the quarterdeck. He folded his hands behind his back and looked down his nose at Tearlach. "Your information is out of date," he said calmly. "I have but recently resigned my commission."
Daunted for a moment, despite himself, by the suddenly imposing officer before him, Tearlach made a quick recover. "I don't believe you," he blustered. Turning to the crew, he asked, "Why would he do that? It's a trap, I tell ye! Fixed up with Sparrow."
"Tearlach." The concentrated fury in Jack's tone drew all eyes to the quarterdeck. He gripped the rail and leant forward, "I tell you this once. There is no trap, save in your lunatic fancy."
"You would say that," Tearlach, harsh laughter braying. "So full of deceit as you are. You'd not know truth if it bit you. Well, I'm done with you and your trickery, see?"
There was a stirring among the men at that, as if Tearlach had gone too far. Ignoring them, he rounded once more on James. "I say you're here to spy on us. What do you say to that?"
"That you're a fool," James replied coolly. There was a collective gasp. His lips curled in a tiny, humorless smile. "I came here openly, under my own name. Would I have done so, had I intended treachery?"
"That's truth," said a voice from the back of the crowd. There was more uneasy shifting and doubt appeared on many faces.
"Shut up," Tearlach flung over his shoulder, never taking his eyes from James, who stood, to all appearances calmly, eyebrows somewhat raised. "So I am a fool, eh? Well, whatever your reasons may be, you are here. You're the fool. What's to stop us from cutting you down where you stand, you filthy, murdering Commodore?"
James shrugged. "It is my understanding that the ship's articles - which I signed barely more than an hour ago - prohibit the striking of a fellow crew member."
"You are no member of this crew, you lying bastard!" cried Tearlach, furiously.
Gibbs spoke up. "If he says he signed the articles, then he did." Every eye turned to him as he moved a pace forward to stand shoulder to shoulder with James. "Mister Norrington here don't lie, even when the truth is like to cost him dear. Fifteen year gone, I served with him and I've reason to know. He's our crewmate now, Tearlach."
The crew began to mutter. "Gibbs is right." "He signed on." "If Mister Gibbs speaks for 'im…" A gap opened in the crowd, leaving Tearlach and some half-dozen followers isolated as the others drew back.
"No!" Tearlach shouted, a note of desperation creeping into his voice. "Don't listen to him! We got us a safe-conduct out of the Caribbee, men! Are you blind? We take him and no man can touch us. Who's with me?"
No one moved. Trapped on the quarterdeck, Jack felt himself going mad. Mutiny. And that scum threatening James... His hand crept to his pistol.
"Crimp? Kursar? Come on!" Tearlach shouted hoarsely, "Johnson, you got no reason to love the Navy. Nor you neither, Duncan. What's stopping you?" He looked from face to face; those that met his eye stared back stonily. He had lost them. "Cowards! Cowards! The lot of ye!" he raged. "No matter what you do, I ain't sailing with him." With a speed surprising in so big a man, he whipped out his knife and threw it at James.
James felt a searing pain in his cheek as the knife flew past. The point buried itself in the bulkhead behind him with a solid chunk, followed instantly by the report of Jack's pistol. Tearlach crashed to the deck, shot clean through the heart.
No one moved. Jack lowered the still-smoking weapon. "Anyone else?" he asked, staring down at Tearlach's gang as they huddled together, mouths agape. To the rest of the crew, he said, "Lock that scum in the brig. I shall deal with them presently." As the mutineers were seized and hustled below decks, Jack came down and stood over the body of Tearlach. "No," he said softly, "you ain't sailing with him." He half-turned. "Mister Gibbs."
"Heave this muck overboard."
Only then did Jack permit himself to look at James, who stood still in front of the cabin doors, blood welling through his fingers where they were pressed to his cheek. Jack was at his side in two strides. He took James's other arm and turned him toward the cabin. "Let's get you patched up."
"Jack, it's nothing; just a scratch."
"Shut up. A scratch doesn't bleed like that."
As they passed Tearlach's knife, buried an inch deep in the bulkhead, Jack snatched it free and threw it violently over the side.
Duncan, stepping forward to help with the body, watched them leave and turned to Gibbs, eyebrows raised in silent question. Gibbs laid his finger beside his nose and winked.
"Ah." Duncan looked again at the cabin doors. Slowly, he smiled. "That explains a good deal, don't it, Mister Gibbs?"
"It does at
that, Mister Duncan," Gibbs replied. "Now, help me to clean up this mess, if
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