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Compromises, part 2 of 3

by The Stowaway

 

Fandom: PoTC    Rating: NC-17    Pairing: Sparrow/Norrington    Full Header  Part 6 of the Sparrington Arc

 


Kicking the cabin door shut, Jack pushed James into a chair. He took up the rum and shoved the bottle at the other man. "Drink this," he ordered.

"Jack, for the love of God, I am fine," James began.

"Don't argue," Jack snarled. "Do as I say."

James glanced up to meet Jack's furious gaze and wisely held his tongue. Instead he nodded slightly and raised the bottle to his lips; took a long swallow.

"Another."

"Jack…"

"That is an order, Mister Norrington."

James complied. He gasped a little as the rum burnt his throat, distracting him from the pain of the slice over his cheekbone. He closed his eyes. "I shall be drunk," he said, as heat began to spread from his belly outward. Insensibly, he relaxed; listened to Jack move about the cabin.

"Now," Jack said, returning to crouch beside his chair, "Let me see that cut."

James opened his eyes as Jack's fingers - surprisingly gentle, considering the rage still lingering in his expression - closed about his wrist. James's hand came away stickily and he felt a trickle of fresh blood on his cheek.

Jack dabbed carefully at the cut with a wet rag. James hissed and Jack's other hand came up to twist in his hair, holding him still. After a time Jack released him and sat back on his heels. "Not deep," he said, "Another inch and it'd've been your eye. But as it is, you'll have an interesting scar; no worse." He held out his hand. "The rum, if you please."

James gave it to him and he took a long pull. Standing, he bent over James and grinned. "One last thing," Jack said. Tugging on James's hair to tilt his head to the side; he tipped the bottle and poured a splash of rum directly into the cut.  James yelped as the fiery pain spread over his cheek and he batted Jack's arm away.

"What the devil did you do that for?" he gasped.

Jack shrugged. "Gibbs swears it makes wounds heal cleaner. He may be right. Couldn't hurt, at any rate."

"I beg to differ," James replied, indignant.

Jack ignored him. He ducked out of the cabin, returning in moments with one of James's shirts. "Get cleaned up," he said, tossing it into James's lap and pointing toward the water pitcher in its stand. "You're a sight."

James stripped off his bloodied shirt and dampened the tails to use as a wash rag. He scrubbed cautiously at the stains on his face and more vigorously at his neck and shoulder. He could hear Jack pacing behind him, restless as a caged lion. He pulled the fresh shirt over his head and turned to watch as Jack strode up and down, brows drawn down in a thunderous scowl, staring at nothing. "Jack," he said, but got no response. He tried again, louder.

"What?" Jack stopped and focused on him with a palpable effort.

James looked down to button his cuffs, kept his voice neutral. "What are you going to do with them?" he asked.

"Hang them." Jack replied flatly.

"They mutinied," James agreed.

"Then why do I hear 'but' in your voice?" Jack's eyes narrowed. "Surely you - of all people - are not going to argue for mercy?" He was incredulous.

"Not mercy, precisely," James said, busying himself with tucking in his shirttails. "Something more in the nature of poetic justice." He went to the map table. "Where are we bound?"

"The archipelago. Pig Island," Jack's hand reached past him to point to a speck in the Leewards. "To take on fresh meat. Why?"

"Just curious. Are any of them navigators?"

Jack snorted. "That lot? The dregs, barely useful save in a fight. Can't hardly call them sailors at all."

"Ah. So, if they found themselves alone in a boat, all they could do is run before the wind?"

Jack nodded. "What are you thinking?"

"We are here," James tapped the chart. "In waters heavily patrolled by the Navy. Jamaica is upwind. And all that lies downwind is…."

"The Main." Jack finished. "Interesting. Go on."

"What if you put them on the Gull with, say, two days' food and water and cut them loose?"

"Their only choice would be to run for land," Jack gave a crack of delighted laughter. "Three days downwind; into the arms of the Spaniards."

James permitted himself a tiny smile. "Precisely. They'll get exactly what Tearlach so dreaded."

Jack's grin was feral. "Poetic justice indeed. But," Serious again, he took James's arm and pulled him round. "The Gull, man. You'd give her up like this?"

James shrugged. "One way or another, I would have had to dispose of her before we sailed." He looked away, afraid Jack would read too much in his eyes. "I doubt those louts will keep her long, one way or another. With luck, her next master will be someone who can appreciate her."

Jack shook his arm. "Look at me. You're sure?"

"Yes," James smiled a little sadly, "else I'd not have offered." He shrugged again. "It's a fair trade."

"Very well, then," Jack replied at last. "That's settled." He picked up his hat. "No time like the present. Let us be done with the matter." He paused at the door. "Come. I want you there."

James donned his coat and picked up his sword belt; buckled it round his waist. "Lead on, Captain Sparrow," he said.

***********

James, Gibbs, and Anamaria stood on the quarterdeck, flanking Jack, as the crew gathered in the waist. Some men looked grim, some apprehensive or simply curious. They no doubt believed they had been summoned to witness the hanging of the mutineers, James thought. Jack's crew was relatively small; the execution of six men would reduce their number by nearly one man in ten. Justly done or not, that could not but dishearten them. He hoped that his suggestion would be less difficult to accept.

Jack raised his hand, gathered all eyes, and began to speak. "Gentlemen, the late, unlamented Tearlach" uneasy chuckles sounded "led six of his mates into mutiny. We are gathered to deal with them as they deserve. Mister Duncan, fetch them out to hear their sentence."

There was a pause while the prisoners where brought on deck. They came up into the sunlight blinking and cringing, their irons clanking as they were shoved forward to stand directly below Jack. He looked down at them for a long moment, until they began to shift nervously.

"You," he said, "stand condemned as mutineers. The penalty is death. I had intended to hang you, but Mister Norrington had a better idea." Jack bared his teeth. "This is your punishment. You will be placed aboard the Gull, along with food and water sufficient for two days, and set loose."

"Loose?" someone cried, "You are setting them free?"  The prisoners brightened and stood straighter.

Jack chuckled. "I said 'loose', mates, not 'free'. With two days' provisions and no navigator, what will their choices be, eh?  Tortuga is six days from here - first through waters patrolled by the British and then past Cuba and the guarda. That's if they could find their way - which they can't." He hooked his thumbs in his sash and rocked on his heels, grinning down at the mutineers unpleasantly. "So, Tortuga is out of reach; Jamaica is crawling with the Navy. The only thing to do is to turn and run downwind."  He looked up at the crew - some of whom had begun to grin. "Aye, you see it, don't you, men? Three days run downwind and - about the time they get to feeling a mite hungry and thirsty - they'll make land…on the Spanish Main." Laughter began to ripple through the crowd; Jack raised his voice and spoke over it. "Where, if the savages don't get them, the Dons will."

"You're a hard man, Captain," someone shouted, "but a bloody clever one!" The laughter swelled, amid shouts of "Aye, that he is."

Jack swung his arms wide. "Bloody clever, and don't you forget it," he laughed back at them, "but, still and all, this notion is of Mister Norrington's devising. And, what's more, he's giving up his boat to give these dogs their chance, albeit a small one." He indicated the prisoners, who appeared dismayed by the turn of events.

Scattered cheers erupted; someone shouted "Good man!"  James smiled and nodded.

Jack stood for a moment longer, watching as the crew began to taunt the mutineers, threatening them with everything from cannibal savages to the Inquisition. Fickle bastards, he thought. They were with him now, but he knew they could just as easily have turned against him. So few he could trust - which reminded him of his other problem. He looked over his shoulder. "Anamaria, a word, if you please. Gentlemen, give us leave. And Gibbs, see to provisioning the Gull."

When the others had gone, Jack turned and leaned against the railing. He folded his arms and regarded Anamaria somberly. "Well?" he asked. Her chin rose and she glared at him. "Can you give me any reason why I shouldn't put you aboard that sloop with the other mutineers?"

"What?" she gasped. "You must be daft."

"Not even a little."

"How dare you," she cried, scowling "I am no mutineer!"

"What would you call it, then?" he replied, deadly serious. He wanted to strike someone, anyone. He crossed his arms more tightly, hands fisted until they cramped. "You disobeyed a direct order in time of battle."

"It wasn't…" she began, but he cut her off.

"It was battle," he snapped. "As dangerous as any action we've seen. Your refusal to act aided the enemy. What was that but mutiny?"

Nonplused, she stared at him. "Jack, I…"

He held his rage in check and waited, uncharacteristically still; eyes cold and mouth set.

"I never meant…." she faltered at last.

"Did you not? How am I to believe you, Anamaria? You saw what was afoot, and yet you stayed aloft, when your place, as my first officer, was here with me."

"I was angry. I didn't think."

"No, you didn't think," Jack barked, his own wrath breaking free at last. "How long have you sailed as my first mate? Six years? And you didn’t think to stand by me." Suddenly uncoiling, he stood over her, vibrating with fury. "He did," one finger stabbed at the deck in the direction of the great cabin. "Aboard barely an hour, and he faced them - unarmed."

"Jack," There was a pleading note in her voice. "You know me. We…"

"You're not the first to have shared my bed and betrayed me, Anamaria, but by God you'll be the last."

She recoiled as if he had slapped her. "That was unworthy."

Abruptly, Jack's rage collapsed. He turned his back on her; stood staring forward at the horizon. There was a long silence.

"I wouldn't betray you."

He sighed. "I know that."

"Then I can stay?"

"Yes, yes, of course you can stay," he growled. "Just get out of my sight."

When Anamaria left him, Jack stood for some time, stroking the rail with open palms and staring out over the ship. His ship. Still his.

He dismissed the helmsman. "I'll take her for a space, lad." 

In minutes, she had worked her magic on him; soothing, calming. He felt the pulse through his boot heels, as she responded to his touch. The rigging sang. The wheel was warm as, impulsively, he pressed his lips to the sleek curve of it. "You and me, old girl," he whispered over and over, "you and me," and felt peace flow outward.

Gibbs, coming up shortly thereafter, saw the fey look in his eye and went away again without speaking.

*********

That evening, James watched Jack pacing. For nearly an hour, without speaking, Jack had stalked up and down the cabin, eyes cast down and mouth grim. James had long ago given up trying to make conversation, as he received only absent grunts in reply. Instead he leaned back; legs outstretched and crossed at the ankle, sipped his wine, and waited.

The mutineers had been sent off, with jeers and catcalls, that afternoon. The crew had, apparently, been as pleased to see the last of them as their captain had been. And still Jack paced, frowning, lost in thought.

The next time Jack passed his chair, James stopped him with a hand on his sleeve. Jack looked down at him abstractedly.

"I do not think myself a conceited man," James said, with a faint smile, "but I must confess that this was not how I imagined my first evening aboard the Pearl."

Jack's brows rose. "Are you accusing me of inattention?"

"Something very like it, yes," James replied, eyes dancing.

"Well now, can't have that," Jack drawled, pulling James to his feet and kissing him with leisurely thoroughness - tongue exploring, invading, stroking and gliding with familiarity and concentration. At last he leant back slightly, not coincidentally pressing his hips against James's in the process.  "Better?" he grinned.

James nodded. "A little," he said, and chuckled at Jack's answering scowl. "You've been ignoring me for the past hour," he went on, "surely you can't expect me to be satisfied with one kiss."

Jack's expression grew dark and he turned away to pour himself a glass of wine. The set of his shoulders made James ache to touch him, but he restrained himself. Not yet.

He cleared his throat and spoke cautiously, choosing his words with care. "They are still with you, you know. They are yours."

Jack drank and then shook his head. "How can you be sure of that? You don't know them."

"Perhaps not, but I can feel their temper and I say again, they are with you." He took a step closer, still not touching. "Do you know when Tearlach lost their sympathy? When he turned on you. Before that, they were content to follow his lead, for he was voicing fears that many of them no doubt shared. They have no cause to love me. But when he declared himself done with you, the men - your men, Jack - began to draw back from him."

"I didn't see that." A shrug.

"You were watching Tearlach. I was watching the crew," James replied.

At last Jack turned round. The corner of his mouth lifted. "And that," he said, finger flicking James's cheek, "is how you got this." His smile widened. "Didn't they teach you to duck in the Navy?"

James smiled back. "Apparently not." He hooked his fingers in Jack's sash and backed two steps to the chair, pulling Jack after him. "They did, however, teach us about knots," he murmured as he drew Jack to stand between his knees.

"Did they now?"

James nodded, fingers busy. In moments he was unwinding the sash.

"Very nimble," Jack approved. "You get high marks for…ahhhhhh," he gasped as James's hand, making short work of the intervening buttons, closed firmly round his cock.

James grinned.  "You were saying, Captain?"

Jack steadied himself with a hand to James's shoulder then staggered again as James slipped to his knees. "You… um… I…oh God," Jack stammered as James's tongue swiped along the underside of his erection. He looked down to watch as James took the head between his lips, tongue swirling wetly, and his hips bucked involuntarily. He would never, he thought, get enough of that mouth. James took him deeper and he fought the urge to fist his hands in James's hair and let himself go. It was tempting, but tonight he wanted something else even more.

He slid down until they were face to face, one hand still on James's shoulder, the other working its way into his breeches. James's head rolled back as Jack bit his throat.

"Lovely as that is," Jack whispered between nips, "I've a better idea." He nuzzled soft linen aside to nibble at James's collarbone, meanwhile passing his hand - heel, palm and fingers - across the prick that leapt at his touch.

"Wha… what is that?" James asked, clutching at Jack's arms.

"I want you to come apart for me," Jack growled, biting harder. "Will you do that?"

"I will." James made a curious noise - half moan, half breathless laugh. "Sooner rather than later if you …Jack!… keep doing that."

"Then I suggest we move this to the bed," said Jack, removing his hand from James's breeches, and grinning at the whine thus evoked, "for I've no intention of hurrying."

Jack rose, pulling James up with him and they stumbled to the bed, shedding clothes as they went. Jack, despite his boots, was done first and turned to helping James, which he did by the simple expedient of pushing him backwards into the bed - which swayed wildly - and yanking his breeches down and off, carrying stockings and shoes with them.

"Finesse," James chuckled, as Jack stretched out on top of him, "is not your strong suit."

"You think not?" Jack smiled a slow and dangerous smile and was delighted to feel James shiver. "I'll wager I can make you change your mind."

"You are welcome to try," James replied.

His defiance, Jack thought, sounded a touch hollow, given the helpless way his hips snapped upward as Jack stroked his cock. Throwing a leg over the long thighs to hold them still, Jack bent his head and dragged his tongue across James's nipple, while continuing his attentions lower down. No finesse, eh? thought Jack, we'll just see about that. Using a feather-light touch, he stroked upward slowly, so slowly. Every few strokes he would twist his wrist and give it a flick that arched James's spine. He ran the fingers of his free hand through the silky dark strands of James's hair (God, how he loved the feel of it), pulling it loose from its ribbon and wrapping it around his fingers. He nibbled along James's jaw, licked teasingly at his lips before kissing his gasping mouth. James sucked frantically at his tongue, moaning softly.

Jack moved up and tongued James's ear, tracing each curve with devoted attention, grinning as he drew long shudders from his lover. He licked and nibbled his way back down, across the chest, which stuttered as James's breath caught, over the flat stomach, to the hip bone, where he nipped sharply before moving lower still. All this time, his hand had kept up the light and maddening stroking - too slow and gentle to bring relief - of James's cock. Now, he breathed, open-mouthed, over the head, then touched the very tip of his tongue to it in the merest delicate tease. The response was gratifying.

James cried out wordlessly and convulsed, head thrown back and eyes tight shut. After a panting pause, his voice hoarse, he said, "Jack!"

"Mmm?" Jack nudged James's legs apart and trailed his fingers up the inside of one thigh.

"Are you going to make me beg?"

Jack chuckled. Oh, this was too easy, but far too enjoyable to stop. His fingers found the smooth skin behind James's balls and rubbed gently. "In a word: yes."

"Bastard," James ground out.

"Or, I could just stop," Jack offered.

James gasped. "I'd kill you."

"You're welcome to try." There, Jack thought, hoist with your own petard.

Another pause, filled with bitten-off sighs as Jack's questing fingers moved farther back and pressed teasingly, not entering - yet.

"Jack, please."

"Care to elaborate?" Jack grinned.

"Fuck me, Jack. Please. Before I go mad."

Music to his ears, Jack thought. "How could I refuse, when you ask so prettily," he said. "Just hand me the oil, love. It's under the pillow."

"Wha…?" James blinked for a moment, then fished the flask out and threw it at Jack, who caught it with a laugh and poured the oil into his hand.

"Patience, James."  He slicked himself and then rubbed again with slippery fingers behind James's balls.

"Patience be damned," James growled. "Just get on with it, you teasing son of a… nnnnngh." His voice trailed off in a strangled moan as Jack entered him with two fingers at once, working and twisting, slow and thorough. "Please…" he whimpered, rolling his head from side to side, hands fisted in the sheets.

"Turn over," Jack whispered, withdrawing his fingers.

James obeyed, lying face down; hands gripping the edge of the bed above his head, legs sprawled invitingly.

Wanton, Jack thought, and beautiful. And all for him. He kissed the small of James's back before taking his place between the wide-spread thighs and - gripping James's hips - he entered; inch by intoxicating inch, until he was sheathed balls deep in tight, exquisite, searing heat. His groan echoed James's and he paused, feeling the body beneath him opening to him, adjusting to his presence.

Biting his lip, he nudged his hips forward...again…and again. Tiny motions, meant to tease, to draw out the pleasure. Bump, bump, bump. Through the roaring in his ears he could hear James whimpering.

He pulled out almost all the way and back in. Slow, controlled, exhilarating torture. He bent down and bit James's nape. The taste of his skin, sweaty and hot, almost broke Jack's control. He sped up.

"Please, oh God please…" James panted.

"Not yet, love," Jack whispered, voice tight. "Not until I say so."

James whimpered again. "Jack… need… please."

The desperation of the plea nearly undid him. He sped up yet again; pounding hard and heedless into James's twisting body.  Slipping his hand beneath James, he growled, "Come apart for me… now. And he clamped his hand tight around James's cock.

James cried out and came instantly; shuddering into his hand, body clenching around his cock. Swept along, Jack groaned and spent himself in turn, forehead pressed to James's spine, before collapsing atop him.

Several minutes he stayed there, waiting for heart and breathing to slow, while James lay beneath him like one dead, save for his sighing breaths and the thudding of his heart against Jack's cheek.

At last Jack stirred, lifting himself off. He reached out and pulled James into his arms, settling them spoon fashion and kissing his shoulder. James nestled against him with a sigh. No words were spoken; none needed. Jack pulled the sheet over them and they drifted into sleep.

*************

James woke to water-light dancing on the planking above his head. He blinked, at a loss. He was on the Pearl…. Jack was sprawled next to him… Startled, he sat up - he should have been gone hours ago! He had thrown back the sheet when Jack's chuckle stopped him. 

"Tous les matins du monde, James, remember?" Jack's voice was sleepy and amused. "No more sneaking away before dawn to avoid scandal."

James turned and grinned, a little sheepishly. "I had forgotten."

"We have all the time in the world." Jack stretched, arms above his head, and yawned. Then he smiled, eyes heavy-lidded yet with sleep. James thought he had never seen a more alluringly debauched sight.

James lay down half on top of him, slid his hands up to pin Jack's wrists amongst the pillows above them, and bent his head until their mouths touched. "All the time in the world, you say. In that case…"

Jack's lips curled against his. "What did you have in mind?" he murmured. "A repeat of last night sounds good to me."

James grinned back and kissed him again. "No… I think not."

Jack nudged with his hip. "Sore, are you?" he asked.

"A little," James conceded. In truth he was very sore indeed, but had no intention of admitting as much to Jack, who was looking entirely too pleased with himself as it was.

"Worth it, though, wasn't it?" Jack flexed his wrists against James's hands, testing.

James firmed his grip; he wasn't about to give up his advantage so easily. "Smug bastard," he chuckled, nibbling at Jack's throat.

"What, then?" Jack asked, wriggling a little as James's mouth worked its way along his jaw. "I am all…ahhh… ears," he added as teeth closed on his earlobe.

"I thought I might return the favour," James spoke without letting go of Jack's ear.

Jack's voice was satisfyingly breathless as he replied, "You did, eh?"

"I did."

"And if I'm disinclined to grant your request?"

"Request?" James lifted his head and looked down at Jack with brows raised. "You mistake. I was merely providing notice of my intentions."

"Courteous," Jack replied. He shifted his hips until their stiffening cocks brushed together. "So, I've no choice in the matter?"

James gasped. "Very little."

"As in none?"

"So perceptive, as ever. Not just another pretty face," James grinned.

Jack's eyebrows twitched. "When you went to sea, the world lost a great diplomat."

"Flattery won't save you," was the laughing reply. Jack was so easy to bait.

"Always supposing I want to be saved." Nimbly, Jack wrapped his legs around James's waist and thrust upward.

James, leaning to nip Jack's mouth even as he returned the pressure, made them both groan. "What do you want?"

"You need to ask?" It was Jack's turn to grin.

"Want to hear you say it."

"Very well, then," Jack arched his back, brushing his chest against James's. "I want you," he tightened the clasp of his thighs. "Inside me," he tilted his hips and James's eyes fluttered closed. "Now." Jack twisted his hands free of James's loosened grip, retrieved the oil flask, nudged again with his hips. "Well, mate?"

James opened his eyes, blinked. "Now who's impatient?" he smiled. "Over."

Jack stretched out beside him as he tipped some oil into his cupped palm and dribbled it over himself. He poured what remained into the cleft of Jack's buttocks, admiring the play of muscle and sinew under the sweat-sheened golden skin. Jack wore all his scars on the front of his body; his back was as smooth as a boy's.

He rubbed at the oil, pressing his fingers in slowly, taking his time. Jack pushed back against his hand and James grinned.  "Good?" he asked.

"Good," Jack nodded, "but not nearly enough, damn your eyes."

Chuckling, James covered him; bearing down, gasping as sensation battered at reason and he lost himself in the sleekly writhing body beneath his. Time stopped as he reached around to stroke Jack in rhythm with his own thrusts. And then he was coming with a shuddering groan, driven by Jack's muffled cries and the sticky heat spilling over his hand.

When he could think again, he rolled onto his back, eyes closed, breathing hard. Jack stirred and draped an arm across James's chest.

"Not bad," he mumbled, "I think I'll keep you."

James's lips quirked. "Indeed."

 

*************

The next time they woke, the morning was far advanced. They dressed quickly and sallied forth in search of something with which to break their fast, James having flatly rejected Jack's suggestion of rum and biscuits.

"If I am to go over your ledgers," he said, dryly, "it won't do to begin the day half-sprung."

James was aware of the eyes that followed them as they made their way forward to the galley. With the habit of command, he tried, discreetly, to gauge the temper of the crew and was encouraged by what he saw and felt. The anger and fear of the day before seemed largely gone, replaced by ease and a cautious good cheer. The looks he encountered were curious for the most part, and guarded, but not hostile. Gibbs nodded to him, as well as one or two others he couldn't yet name.

He tried to locate Anamaria but did not see her on deck. He sent a quick glance aloft as well. He supposed she was below and wondered how the crew would have acted had she been there to see him and, perhaps, sway them with her scowls. He feared that, despite Jack's cheerful scoffing at Gibbs, the old sailor was right; she was the key to smooth sailing.

After they had eaten, Jack introduced him to the - somewhat unconventional, he supposed - monetary arrangements by which the Pearl was provisioned and maintained.

"Food and drink, shot and powder," Jack explained, "are purchased from this fund. That is, what we don't take in raids," he added, grinning sidelong at James. "Each man contributes according to his entitled share of plunder. Chandlery likewise - for any repairs and refurbishing of the Pearl - is dealt with this way."

James looked at the account-book, written for the most part in Jack's hand, with occasional entries in a careful, childish scrawl that Jack identified as Gibbs's. "And these figures?" he asked, pointing to a page of names and amounts.

"If a man's new, or has frittered away all his money, his debt is recorded here - you see where they have made their marks - until it can be paid."

After Jack had gone on deck ("I'll just leave you to it, shall I?"), James was struck by the mundane ordinariness of his task. These records were not, after all, so very different from the Naval accounts he'd reviewed and approved - or rejected - for years. He shook his head, ran fingers through his hair, and grinned. Once again he was no more than a glorified clerk - but, this time… ah, this time, he was at sea. And the sooner he was done with this, the sooner he'd be on deck again.

James removed his coat and waistcoat and set to work in his shirtsleeves - reading, checking sums, correcting - and the hours flew by. When at last he put down his pen and flexed cramped fingers, it was late afternoon. Enough. He stood and stretched. Time to get out into the light and air.

It was the first dog watch and most of the crew were on deck, taking their ease. Some were occupied with mending clothing or other domestic tasks, some played at dice; from forward he heard the scrape of a fiddle. Looking up, he saw that Gibbs was at the wheel. James blessed his good fortune; he had wished to speak with the man privately but doubted the opportunity would arise. He mounted to the quarterdeck, taking a stand, as of habit, to windward of the helm.

Gibbs nodded. "Mister Norrington."

"Mister Gibbs."

There was a pause. James scanned the horizon and relished the breeze blowing his - still unbound - hair into his eyes. There was most certainly something to be said for the informality of pirate ways, he thought. He glanced at Gibbs, considering what he would say; choosing at last the most direct approach.

"Mister Gibbs… about yesterday," he said, "I stand in your debt."

Gibbs shook his grizzled head. "No sir, that you don't," he replied promptly. It was clear he'd expected this. "It's me who was in your debt, but now we're square."

"What do you mean?" James asked, mystified.

"It was you, speakin' up at my court martial, as saved me from hangin'."

Ah, James thought; he had almost forgotten that long-ago trial aboard the Dauntless. He smiled. "I think perhaps you give my testimony too much weight."

"With the Captain dead set on seeing me swing? Not likely," Gibbs chuckled. "And he were none too pleased with your meddlin', was he?"

The unthinking urge to defend a fellow officer, to present a united front before the men, prompted James to begin, "Captain Golding…." but he stopped, confounded.

"Was a right black-hearted bastard with a short temper and a mean streak," Gibbs finished for him.

James frowned slightly. "Hardly how I would describe him."

"'S'truth, just the same." Gibbs eyed him shrewdly. "He held it against ye, didn't he?"

James gave up. The long-dead Golding had been a petty-minded, vengeful martinet, to whose memory nothing was owed. He looked down and then up to meet the twinkling eyes of the old salt beside him. He shrugged. "To a degree, yes."

Gibbs nodded approval of the admission. "Aye, any man not a fool could have seen that he would." James drew himself up at the impertinence, until he remembered that - here and now - Gibbs outranked him. It was an extraordinary sensation. Gibbs continued, "Why did you do it?"

"Speak for you?" James asked, with genuine surprise. "Because the charges against you were false. I could not, in honour, remain silent and see you hanged for what you never did."

"And that's just what I told the Captain you'd say." Gibbs chuckled again and clapped him on the shoulder. "'Tis no wonder you made Commodore by thirty."

Embarrassed, James began to disclaim, "Mister Gibbs…"

"Ah now, none o' that," Gibbs said, holding out his hand. "My friends call me Josh."

James took the broad, square hand in his own. "Thank you, Josh," he smiled. "And I am James."

"James it is." Gibbs grinned back at him until the sound of boot heels on the deck made them turn to see Jack strolling toward them, a half-smile glinting.

"Good to see my officers getting on," Jack remarked. He looked up at the sails and then, pointedly, at James. He raised one eyebrow. "If you please, sir."

"What?  Oh!" James flushed and hastily stepped back. "My apologies, Captain." He moved several paces to leeward, cursing himself for thoughtlessness. He must be more careful in future. He drew a deep breath and glanced over his shoulder. Jack was watching him; thumbs tucked into his sash. He smiled - not entirely pleasantly - and rocked on his heels. James flushed again and looked away; out to sea, up at the sky - anywhere but at the smirk on the Captain's face.

His eye was caught by a slender figure climbing the ratlines. Absently at first, then with growing interest, he watched Anamaria scramble agilely to the main top and sit with her back to the mast. She pulled an object - it was too small for James to see what it was - from her waistband and busied herself with it. He thought perhaps she was whittling something. She made a pretty picture against the blue of the sky, with her white shirt billowing in the fresh breeze and dark hair blowing. She was a handsome woman, he thought, or she would be, were she less often scowling and furious.  He didn't realize he was staring until she looked up from her work and glared at him, whereupon he quickly looked away.

Uncomfortable suddenly, he descended to the main deck and went to his cabin. Finding it well lit, thanks to a deck prism over his cot that caught the afternoon sun admirably, he selected a book and stretched out to read. Queen Mab appeared and lay down on his chest, purring. It seemed she had taken a fancy to him; he scratched her ears.  He was still reading when, two hours later, Jack summoned him to dinner in the great cabin.

The meal, which was taken in company with Gibbs, Anamaria, and the Gunner, Duncan, was a curious affair. Jack declared it 'the officers mess', but it was clear to James that no such custom had existed on the Pearl until the present occasion. Conversation, what there was of it, was strained and awkward. Anamaria did not want to be there, and Duncan was hardly more at ease than she. They excused themselves almost before they were done eating. Gibbs, who had, it seemed, dined with Jack more often than the others, stayed, chatting amiably. After a time, the sound of a fiddle being tuned penetrated the cabin. Gibbs drained his glass and stood.

"It sounds like Tommy's fixin' to favour us with a tune or two," he said. "So I'll just be on me way. Will ye be joinin' us Captain? Mister Norrington?"

James smiled, intending to decline, when Jack spoke up, forestalling him. "To be sure we will, Josh," he said, gesturing with his unfinished wine, "we'll be along presently."

When Gibbs had gone, Jack chuckled to himself, fingers tapping the table. His eyes glittered in the lamplight as if he were savoring a particularly good jest, but he said nothing. James watched him a little uneasily, fidgeting with his own glass, until Jack rose from his chair.

"Come along, James," Jack looked over at him and again James caught the glint of some secret mischief. "Wouldn't do to seem above your company, you know."  James nodded and followed Jack out onto the deck just as the fiddle struck up a rollicking dance.

Jack hid a smirk as he led the way. It was going to be an amusing evening, after all. We'll just see what Mister Bloody Norrington makes of this, he thought. He glanced around; nearly the whole crew was gathered, as he'd expected. Leaving James to find his own place, he waded into the crowd and seated himself on an upturned cask. Someone offered him a flagon; he drank and passed it along.

Several men sprang to their feet and began to perform a rather respectable hornpipe. Jack joined in the shouts of encouragement, clapping along as those not dancing took up the beat, pounding out time with their palms against the deck, the bulkheads, the mast - anything in reach. At the end of the tune, the dancers sat down and others took their places as Tommy played again. After that, someone produced a pipe and played a sweet and mournful air.

The rum was circulating freely. Jack could see that even James, where he sat against the windward rail, was drinking. As the piper fell silent, someone called out "A song!" and the cry was taken up by a dozen voices. Shouts of  "Crimp!  Sing for us, mate!" were heard.

Crimp, a lanky, weatherbeaten man, stood, cleared his throat, and sang - in an astonishing, incongruous baritone voice - a comic song about the woes of a landsman aboard ship; each verse more absurd than the last. The crew roared out the chorus with great vigor and cheered at the end.

There was a short pause and Jack grinned to himself. Here it comes, he thought. Right on cue, a voice rose above the others, "Mister Norrington, sir, how about a song?"  James choked on a swallow of rum. All round men were nodding and grinning. "The new man, aye.  Time to pay 'is dues."

James shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said looking around with an almost shy smile. "I don't sing."

Jack spoke up. "Oh, but you do."  James's head whipped about and he glared at Jack, who almost laughed. "What about the time me and some of the lads taught you the Pirate Song, eh?" 

A burst of raucous laughter greeted this.  "Aye, I were there," Giddings piped up. "So was I." cried another. "And I!" shouted a third, "You were in fine voice that night, sir, and no mistake."

James looked away and took another swallow of rum. Ah, Jack thought, let him have a taste of how we treat new officers aboard my ship. He raised his flagon to his lips and grinned.

James drew a deep breath; then he chuckled and shook his head. "Might I point out," he said, looking first at Giddings but including them all in his glance, "that the singing to which you refer was that of a hapless prisoner,  forced against his will, after having been lured into a trap and captured," he paused dramatically, not quite grinning, "by Captain Jack Sparrow and his crew of bloodthirsty buccaneers?"

There was more laughter, but this time James laughed with them. "Oh, aye, that's us, ain't it?" they chortled. "Bloodthirsty we are. Not a single man killed in that whole venture. But we caught you, didn't we?"

"Yes, indeed," James answered ruefully, "You caught me. Not my finest hour, I must say. In fact, it is painful to remember, so I trust you will be so kind as to excuse me. Perhaps another time."

Old Giddings chuckled. "If ye won't sing, ye won't. We won't force ye. But that being so, we claim a forfeit from you as our newest man."

"Aye, fair's fair."  "A forfeit."

James smiled, the very image of easy amusement. Jack had to admit he'd rarely seen it done better.  "What sort of forfeit?" James asked.

"We ask you three questions and you are bound to answer. Truthfully, mind."

After a moment's consideration, during which, Jack noted, James very deliberately did not look at him, he leaned back with another, fainter smile. "Very well. Ask away."

"Told you he was a right one," someone said.

There was a short pause as the men whispered together. Finally, Duncan stood. "Why did you join the Navy?" he asked.

"I am the third son," James replied. "My father gave me a choice: the Navy or the church. Which would you have chosen?" Many chuckled at that. He continued, "I didn't fancy life in a parsonage, not when I could have the sea."

Understanding nods and murmurs of agreement came from all sides. Then Crimp spoke up. "Your Dauntless never caught up with the Pearl. Why is that?"

"Because the Pearl's nigh uncatchable!" a man shouted and they all laughed, James along with the rest.

"Well," he said, with a droll look, "Captain Gillette was so eager to be the one to capture you, that I left the task in his…er… capable hands."

There was a pleased roar. "Capable hands! Oh that's rich!" they cried. "He were the biggest dupe." "How many times did we board him?" "Oh aye, quite the pirate-hunter, that one." 

As the laughter abated, Crimp shook his head. "That ain't the whole answer, Mister Norrington," he said shrewdly.

James looked at him consideringly. Jack wondered what was coming and was as surprised as any when James tipped his head back against the rail and said, "You are correct, it's not. The truth is I didn't try very hard." He looked at Jack. "In part because you had the good sense to stick to raiding Spanish towns."  Jack grinned and James smiled back. "When you weren't tormenting poor Gillette, that is."

There was a few moments' silence. Jack could see, out of the corner of his eye, how men were looking from him to James and back. He held James's eye, took another mouthful of rum and winked.

"That's two," Giddings said. "Who's third? Ladbroc?"

A stocky sailor at the back rose and coughed nervously. "Mister Norrington, sir…" He waited until James looked at him, then went on, "Are you and the Captain…?" A gesture supplied the rest of the question.

James flushed scarlet. Very slowly he nodded. "We are," he said.

There were one or two muffled exclamations. Jack, looking around, saw smiles growing. He stood, strode across the deck, and pulled James to his feet. "We are, indeed," he said, and kissed him.  The deck erupted in cheers.

Jack took his time, holding James tightly until he felt some of the stiffness go out of his spine. When James began to kiss him back (and thank the gods for the effects of rum, Jack thought) he leaned back and looked around, grinning.  "Quite a catch, eh lads?"

There was laughter and a few more cheers. Jack swung around to wave one arm grandly, while the other kept James clasped firmly to his side. "And on that note, gentlemen, we shall leave you. I have… ah… things to discuss with me new purser." He winked broadly. "Carry on," he said, and swept James aft and into the main cabin on a third round of cheers. Behind them, they could hear Tommy begin to play.

"That went rather well, I'd say," Jack smirked, as the door closed, shutting out some of the noise of the carousal once again in full swing on deck. He patted James on the arse as he crossed to the table in search of the rum.

James ignored the caress. "You knew what was going to happen," he said, folding his arms and leaning against the map table. He watched Jack pour a wineglass full and drain it off.

"I did," Jack replied, "that or something very like it. They demand a forfeit of every new man." He peered at James owlishly. "Have some rum."

"I've had quite enough, I thank you," James said, thinking that Jack had had more than his share, as well, but knowing better than to say so. He must have been drinking for most of the afternoon. "And you let me walk out there unsuspecting."

Jack laughed softly. "I couldn't resist, mate. Can you blame me?" He reached to set his glass down and staggered. Turning with more care to face James, he leered genially. "Come here."

James raised one eyebrow. "High handed tonight, aren't we?" Nevertheless, he did as he was bid, snugging them together against the table.

"Of course. 'M the Captain," Jack replied, "Everyone does what I say."

"Do they?" James murmured as he slid Jack's coat down his arms.

"Yes, or else I make 'em walk the plank."

"A ruthless pirate in very truth," James chuckled.

Jack frowned. "I am. And don't you forget it, mate."

Still chuckling, James pushed him into a chair. "Take off your boots, O Pirate King."

"Pirate King," Jack repeated, as he pulled off one boot and then the other. "I like the sound of that."

"Somehow, I am not surprised," James replied, as he stripped to his breeches.

Jack was on his feet again, tugging his shirt over his head. "And if I'm King, what're you? Prime Minister?" he asked. He laughed. "I know," he said, as he tripped James and fell with him into the cot. "First Lord of the Bedchamber."

"You're ridiculous," James laughed. "Go to sleep."

Jack threw an arm and a leg over James and nuzzled his neck. "Good idea, First Lord," he mumbled and began almost immediately to snore.

James pulled the sheet over them both and lay for awhile, thinking. There were few secrets aboard any ship, and he had never thought that he and Jack would go unnoticed. But to have their connection so publicly avowed… it had been somewhat startling, to put it no stronger. The crew certainly seemed to approve, at any rate. He felt himself blushing again. And yet, he supposed, it was better this way - less room for rumors and misunderstandings to take root. Ah well, it was done. He slept.

***********

They woke to a red sunrise. The glass was dropping.  After a brisk but satisfying passage at arms, Jack - none the worse for his excesses of the night before - dressed and went on deck to see to preparations for a blow.

When James came on deck a few minutes later, Gibbs and Jack were conferring on the quarterdeck. Anamaria was giving orders to bring down the t'gallantmasts. James joined the crew on the foremast - going aloft as surefooted as any - to their surprise. In the end, they were glad of his help, for a block jammed with the mast half way to the deck. It took all of them, and some very clever handling of the halyards, to get it the rest of the way down without mishap.

"Where'd you learn to do that, Mister Norrington?" one of them asked him as they stowed the mast.

"Well…" James said, looking a question.

"Jenkins, sir," the young sailor replied, smiling shyly.

"Well, Jenkins," James smiled back, "when I was a midshipman I sailed 'round the Horn. We had something like that happen with the wind rising and ice forming on the yards and rigging. Our bo's'n was as canny an old bastard as ever sailed. He got the mast - and us - back to the deck in one piece by doing exactly what we just did. I am pleased to have remembered the knack it, after all these years."

"Lucky for us that you did."

"Indeed. Almost enough to make you think well of the Navy, eh?" James grinned.

They all laughed. "Now, let's not go too far, sir," Crimp replied, as they moved on to the next task and James headed aft.

From her perch atop the fo'c's'le, Anamaria watched him walk away and frowned, impressed in spite of herself. That had been a neat piece of work. It seemed he'd not been merely a clerk in a fancy uniform, then. And he didn't act as if he meant to make much of his standing with Jack, either. Perhaps she had him figured wrong, after all. "Too soon to tell," she muttered to herself. "Give him some more rope and see what he does with it."  She looked at the still cloudless sky. With a blow coming, there'd be plenty of chance for him to show his quality. "Then we'll see," she said.

James, meanwhile, had sought out Gibbs where he was overseeing the securing of the cockboat. Gibbs smiled and joined him on his way to the quarterdeck. "As I recall, Josh, you've some skill as a weather prophet," James said. "What's your guess on this storm?"

"Short, I'm thinking, and none too strong," Gibbs replied.

James nodded. "Not a hurricane, then? We're well into the season."

Gibbs shrugged. "Not this time, unless I miss my guess, James. The glass ain't low enough for one thing. And it just feels different, if you take my meaning."

James nodded again, and then stopped - while Gibbs went on - to speak to the men rigging a new block to replace the one that had jammed. They were cheerful and seemed untroubled by the coming blow. James left them with a smile and word, and mounted to the quarterdeck. Taking a stand carefully downwind of the helm, he watched Jack - who was at the wheel - for a while in silence. Gibbs had gone forward again to check that all in the galley was battened down, and they were alone.

Jack slanted him a look. "You've been mighty busy on deck this morning, Mister Purser Norrington," he said, irascibly.

James gaped for a moment, taken aback by the tone of the remark.  "Surely you don't mean to say you object to me helping when I see the chance?" he asked.

Jack merely shrugged and scowled at nothing.

After a pause, James went on, "My duties as purser will hardly take up all my time, you know. And I would wish to be useful. It's no more than that."

Jack flicked his fingers dismissively. "You will suit yourself, of course. Just remember your place."

James fell silent, mortified and somewhat annoyed. He wondered what he had done that Jack could possibly take as overstepping the bounds of shipboard etiquette. He told himself that Jack could be an unaccountably fanciful creature when the mood took him and that this was likely a mere passing irritation of nerves. Perhaps the dropping glass had him on edge - it took some men that way. He said no more for some time.

"How does she go in a storm?" he asked at last.

"Like the queen she is," Jack replied, stroking the wheel fondly, good humour apparently restored. "You couldn't ask for a better. She can take almost anything with her topsails reefed. Only once were we reduced to running with bare poles. And Josh tells me this storm is a small one. No worries."

James looked up at the mainsail and then back down. "When will you take in sail?"

"Not until we're forced to," Jack shrugged. "I've men with the sharpest eyes on lookout, two to a watch. We'll have plenty of warning."

After another short silence, Duncan came to report all secure on the gun deck. When he had gone, Jack offered James the helm, promising to have him relieved before things got 'interesting' and James accepted with pleasure. He guessed this might be Jack's way of apologizing for his stinging words earlier. After seeing him settled, Jack went forward and James was left alone with the Pearl. She was, he found, - as Jack had so often told him - sweet to the hand. She didn't fight the helm, the way some ships did, and he felt a curious sense of peace enfold him, despite the excitement of having once again, a ship's wheel in his hands. How long had it been? Far too long, he thought, smiling.

Meanwhile Jack, making his way forward, encountered Anamaria by the foremast and stopped to speak with her. She looked aft and frowned. "You let him have the wheel?" she asked.

"Why not?" Jack replied, "He knows what he's doing."

She nodded. "He does."

Jack looked at her, curious. "But…?"

"But," she paused, "he's been a captain too long."

Ha! Jack thought; trust Ana to cut to the heart of the matter. Woman was as sharp as her own knives.

Grinning, he winked and slipped an arm around her waist. "Well, he ain't captain of the Pearl, love. And I'll see to it that he don't forget that." Mischievously, he leant to kiss her.

She shoved him away without ceremony. "Save that shit for someone who cares, Sparrow," she hissed. "And see you keep your word - no good will come of having two captains."

The voice of the lookout interrupted them. "Captain!" he shouted, pointing northeast.

Jack grinned at the squall line racing down on them. "At last," he said. "I hate waiting. Gibbs! Ah, there you are. You two know what to do; furl the mainsails and reef the topsails. Move!"

He left them shouting orders and ran aft. "James! Hold her steady!" he called, in passing, barely pausing to hear his "Aye, Captain" before he was in the cabin. He stripped off his boots and bundled them into his sea-chest. Tossing his hat on the bed, he noticed that Gibbs had had someone tidy away the loose clutter on desk and table. Good man.

Back on deck, he lent a hand on the lines, getting the mainsail furled just as the breeze freshened. Leaving them to it, he ran up to the quarterdeck, where James was grinning and clinging to the wheel. "It'll be a two-man job in a minute," Jack shouted above the rising wind and the hauling chants of the sail handlers. He leaned over the rail. "Kursar, Harding, to me!" he bellowed, and turned to help James.

When the sailors he had summoned reached the quarterdeck, Jack turned the helm over to them.  Jack winked at James and said, "These two have never failed me. They're big enough to handle most anything." And indeed, they looked it; Kursar was a big man, half a head taller than James and half again as wide, but Harding was bigger still. James grinned back, bright-eyed.

A few moments later, the lookouts came racing down the backstays just as the squall hit and Pearl heeled sharply.

James's memories of the next few hours were a confusion of wind, rain, spray, roaring and wild motion. Jack's boast was true; the Pearl took the storm in her stride. Jack, of course, held to his post throughout, shouting orders and giving a convincing impression of a man having the time of his life. James stayed with him until Kursar slipped and broke his arm. Gibbs helped James get him below. Gibbs could not set the arm until after the storm ceased tossing them about, so they put him in James's bunk and made him as comfortable as they could; lashing him in and leaving him with a bottle of rum and young Jenkins to keep watch.

The storm blew itself out an hour before sundown. By the time the sun sank into the sea astern, the northern half of the sky was a clear apple green and the breeze had dropped to a steady 15 knots. Jack set a course east-northeast, beating upwind as close as they could sail, saying they'd make further corrections tomorrow noon, once they knew how far off course they'd been blown.

Anamaria took charge of repairs; of which, James noted, there were surprisingly few needed.  Gibbs, meanwhile, set Kursar's arm and splinted it. It was, he said, a clean break, meaning he'd likely keep the use of his arm. James suggested leaving the man in his bunk for the night, to allow him to sleep off - in relative comfort - the effects of the rum he'd taken to kill the pain.

The evening was quiet; the crew was too tired to do aught but sit still when they got the chance. Save for those on watch, everyone - Jack and James included - retired early.
 

 

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