Trust and Honour, part 3 of 5
by The Stowaway
Fandom: PoTC Rating: NC-17 Pairing: Jack/Will/Elizabeth/James Full Header
Will nodded. “Yes, it looks like a bone spavin to me, as well, Hitchings.” He patted the flank of the lame mare as he stepped out of her loose-box and latched the half-door. “Not surprising at her age, after all, and with those straight hocks of hers. You have been treating this exactly as you should. Continue with the hot fomentations every two hours and we’ll see if that brings down the swelling.”
The groom touched his forelock. “Very good, sir.”
After Hitchings had taken himself off, Will remained for a time leaning on the half-door. The mare lipped at some hay before coming over to him. She put her head over the door and nudged him; he scratched her ears. It was very quiet. The stable boys were busy at the far end of the row or in the tack room and most of the stalls were empty, as many of the horses were in the paddock at this time of day. Man and horse stood dreaming in the warm sunlight that poured through the open stable door.
When a shadow crossed the light, Will looked up to see a familiar and unexpected silhouette against the brilliance of the stable yard beyond.
“Turned stable-hand now, have you, lad?”
“Jack?” Will’s face lit up. “Jack! It is you!” he cried. Impulsively, he threw his arms around the pirate. “Where have you sprung from?”
“Kingston,” Jack replied, smiling as he clapped Will on the back. “Started out about dawn,” he handed Will the reins of a rawboned brown gelding, “on this remarkable bit of horseflesh.”
Will turned to look the dispirited creature over and shook his head. “Poor thing looks ready for the knacker. Wherever did you find it?”
“Oh, in a paddock,” Jack said, airily. “Now that you mention it – it may well have been the knacker’s. What with folks locking up their prime cattle every night (a sad, suspicious lot, ain’t they?) the pickings were a mite thin.”
“And the tack?” Will laughed.
“On loan, you might say, from the Rose and Crown.”
“Jack, you are incorrigible!”
Sparrow was indignant. “You don’t mean to imply, young Will Turner, that I should lay out my hard-earned brass to pay some careless fool for the use of what’s left lying about for the taking, do you?”
“It wouldn’t kill you,” Will grinned, “and you’ve plenty of brass.”
“Aye, that I do,” growled Jack. “And mean to keep hold of it, what’s more. You won’t catch me wasting the ready.”
Will just laughed again, and whistled for a stable-boy to come take charge of the horse, giving orders that it be fed an extra measure grain. “To see if we can’t strengthen poor Rocinante up a bit before you have to take him back,” he said to Jack, who shrugged and grinned.
They strolled out into the yard and stood leaning on the top bar of the paddock fence. “Or,” Jack mused, “I could just trade ‘im for one of these beauties.”
Will drew breath to expostulate and then caught the glint in the pirate’s eye and they both burst out laughing. “Scoundrel,” he said, when he had caught his breath.
“Scallywag, if you please,” Jack replied.
“Oh, it’s good to see you again, Jack,” Will said. “Now, look here, I must see Hitchings about the poultice he’s using on the mare. Why don’t you go up to the house ahead of me? Elizabeth will be so surprised. And James is here, but I expect you knew that already, didn’t you?” He cocked an eyebrow and Jack looked smug. “They will most likely be out on the terrace at the east end of the house, unless they are still at table.” Will pointed the way. “Will you tell Elizabeth for me that they may as well meet me here when they (and you, too, of course!) are ready to ride? No telling how long I may be delayed.”
“Consider it done, lad.” And Jack set off in the direction indicated as Will vanished once more into the stable.
Elizabeth and James were still on the terrace. They had turned their chairs to face the sea and they sat gazing out over the blue expanse side by side in silence. James was deep in thought and Elizabeth forbore to disturb him, but watched his face with concern.
And thus it was that Jack Sparrow found them when he came round the far corner of the house. He grinned, sauntered across the lawn and ran lightly down the steps to the terrace, calling out, “Well now, isn’t this cozy!” His grin widened as he surveyed their startled faces.
“Jack!” Elizabeth gasped. She rose and came to meet him with a delighted smile.
“In the flesh,” he took her hand and bowed over it with a flourish. “Captain Jack Sparrow, at your service.” Rising, he kissed her cheek. “Elizabeth, darling,” he murmured, grin and eyes glittering, “Surprised to see me?” Without waiting for an answer, he released her hand, and swung round, turning his attention to Norrington.
James nodded coolly, struggling for composure. “Sparrow.”
Jack’s eyes widened for a moment before the lids fell again, and his smile turned provocative. “Ah, love, none of that,” he said, “No need to go all formal on me, now.” And he kissed James, full on the mouth; only letting go his hold when shoved nearly off his balance by an entirely flustered Norrington.
“Jack, for the love of God!” he exclaimed. “Strive for a little conduct!”
But Jack just laughed. “Somehow, mate, I doubt we’ve many secrets from young Elizabeth, eh, lass?”
She put up her chin at him. “Very few, I imagine, Captain Sparrow.”
“There now, y’see? No worries.” Jack swayed toward the now thoroughly alarmed James. “Let’s have a proper kiss, ay?”
“Sparrow, you are outrageous,” James said, coldly, avoiding the pirate’s grasp with some loss of dignity. “I can only suppose you are drunk.”
Jack looked hurt. “Sober as a judge,” he placed a hand over his heart, “word of honour. Not a drop since breakfast in Kingston, and that was bloody hours ago.” He turned beseeching eyes on Elizabeth. “Will you be offering me refreshments?”
“Presently,” she said, as if to an importunate child. “Meanwhile, stop tormenting James and come sit down. Tell me how it is that you are here, Jack.”
His smile grew a little fixed, as if he did not appreciate her interference, but he forbore to comment, seating himself as he was bid.
“Well, love,” he began, “I arrived in Port Royal yesterday afternoon only to find that, in the words of your very discreet maidservant, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Turner are from home.’ And not a word more would she vouchsafe me, notwithstanding my efforts to beguile her with my charm. She didn’t like my looks, I daresay. Although I do think calling me a ‘down-at-heel ruffler’ is coming it a bit too strong,” he added darkly, scowling when Elizabeth burst out laughing and even James smiled.
“Be that as it may,” he continued, laying his finger next his nose and grinning, “I made inquiries, and soon learnt that Commodore Norrington was gone out of town as well; and where he’d gone, what’s more.” He cast a mischievous glance at James and observed sweetly, “It’s a sad day for the British Navy, innit mate, when a cheeky serving girl can keep secrets better than they?”
Norrington frowned but refused the bait. “Go on,” was all his reply.
“Ah yes, well then, having determined my destination, I laid my plans accordingly. I made my way to Kingston last night and spent the evening in, ahem, convivial surroundings. This morning before dawn, I borrowed a horse…”
“Borrowed?” Elizabeth asked, suspiciously.
“Borrowed,” Jack repeated firmly, “and with every intention of taking it back.”
“I do not want to know more,” she exclaimed, flinging up her hands.
“That’s right, love,” Jack nodded. “The less you know, the less you’ll fret. Now, as I was saying, I acquired a horse and rode all the way up here to join your little party.” He grinned at Elizabeth. “I hope I’m not intruding,” he murmured.
“Don’t be absurd, Jack,” she laughed. “And this is something new for you, surely? You didn’t used to concern yourself with such things as etiquette. At any rate, I trust you know you are always welcome here.”
“That’s my girl. Ever the gracious hostess. And speaking of which, how about those refreshments you promised, ay? I’m fair parched,” he grumbled. “It’s thirsty work, riding.”
“Poor Jack,” she laughed again, “so very out of your element. Come inside, then.” They rose and she took his arm. Looking over her shoulder at James, who was once more gazing out to sea, she held out her hand and said, “James?” He started, smiled slightly and offered her his arm. Together the three walked slowly up to the house.
In the library, Elizabeth rang the bell, bidding her guests be seated. James did so, but Jack was perusing the bookshelves with every evidence of delight. He took down a calf-bound volume and inspected it admiringly, running his fingers delicately along the spine and the gilt pages. He opened it, saying, “James, mate, look at this; the Epistles of Horace. A beautiful edition, too. I commend your father’s taste, Elizabeth.” He cast a roguish glance at James as he put the book back, murmuring, “Now, let me see. Surely there will be a copy of the Aeneid in this collection, as well.”
“No doubt there is,” James answered, irritated, “most gentlemen’s libraries include Virgil.”
Jack’s eyebrow flew up. “Well, that’s put me in my place,” he observed dryly.
Elizabeth shook her head at him. His other eyebrow rose to join the first and he made her an ironic, little bow. “Yes, Mama,” he murmured softly. Before she could do more, the butler entered.
“Ah, Ward. Some rum for Captain Sparrow, if you please. I will have lemonade. James?” Norrington shook his head and the butler, faintly scandalized at an order for rum so early in the day, withdrew.
Turning to the pirate, she said, “We are going up into the hills for a picnic today.” She smiled. “I hope your trip up from Kingston has not given you such a distaste for riding as might keep you from joining us.”
Jack groaned and then laughed. “What’s another hour or two on horseback, love, between friends? I’m coming along, never fear.”
“Good; that’s settled, then,” Elizabeth smiled again. She looked at James, but he was gazing out the window with a faint line between his brows, apparently oblivious to his companions. Jack meanwhile swung around and continued his inspection of the books until Ward returned with the tray.
“Ah!” he cried, accepting the proffered glass, “nectar of the gods.” He raised it to Elizabeth. “Here’s to you, Mrs. Turner,” he said, drinking deep. “And I’ll just take charge of that, my good fellow,” he continued as he neatly plucked the bottle from the tray, before Ward could remove it.
“Thank you, Ward. That will do,” Elizabeth nodded.
The butler bowed. “Very good, ma’m,” he replied, adding woodenly, “I have taken the liberty of sending to the stables to inform Mr. Turner that a visitor has arrived.” And the old man beat a dignified retreat to the sound of laughter from Miss Elizabeth’s scandalous guest.
“Very careful of you, your people are, Elizabeth.”
“Ward has known me all my life, Jack, and you have shocked him. I take it you saw Will when you arrived?”
“I did. He was deep in consultation with the head groom and asked me to tell you to meet him at the stables when you are ready to leave.”
“Well, for heaven’s sake, why didn’t you tell me before?” she asked. She set down her lemonade. “In that case, I must hurry and dress. It won’t take me more than a few minutes.” And she whisked herself out the door and up the stairs.
Jack put down his empty glass, re-corked the bottle of rum and stowed it in the pocket of his coat. He crossed the room to stand in front of James, who was, seemingly, unaware of his presence.
James slowly turned his head and looked up, unsmiling. He raised his brows in question.
Bending down until their faces were on a level, Jack placed his hands on either arm of the chair and leant forward. “Do I get my kiss now?” he growled softly, and his tongue flickered out to lick first James’s lips and then his own. He staggered back as James thrust him violently away.
“Leave off, Sparrow,” James snarled. Striding to the window, he stood gripping the sides of the frame and staring out at the ocean far below.
Jack frowned. “What’s all this, love? Not happy to see me? You’re being a bit uncivil, wouldn’t you say?” he asked, moving to stand beside him. “If you ask me, it looks like conduct unbecoming…”
“Don’t,” James’s knuckles whitened against the dark wood. “Do not say it.” There was no mistaking the warning in his voice.
“…an officer and a gentleman,” Jack finished.
James groaned. “It wanted only that,” he muttered. Seizing Jack by the front of his coat, he slammed him into the wall, eyes blazing. “May God damn you to Hell, Jack Sparrow.”
“Oh, He wi…” Jack began, as James’s mouth came down on his like a blow.
Jack relaxed into the assault; opening his mouth, tasting blood where his lip had been driven against his teeth. He brought his arms round James’s waist but James growled and tore himself away. He paused, saying over his shoulder, “Wait for Elizabeth. I shall meet you at the stables,” before flinging out of the door and slamming it behind him.
“Interesting,” said Jack to himself, licking the blood off his lip and pouring himself another tot of rum. He sat down and put his feet up. “Very interesting.”
A few minutes later, when Elizabeth came back, he was still lost in thought, a slight frown creasing his brow.
“But, where is James?” she asked him, looking around.
“What?” He looked at her pensively for a moment and then shook off his abstraction. “Oh, he went down to the stables ahead of us. Told me off as your escort,” Jack replied. He looked her up and down admiringly. “Although, now that I see you in that riding dress, I’m in no hurry.” He leant forward suddenly and dragged her onto his lap in a flurry of skirts.
She shrieked as she fell and then began to struggle laughingly as Jack held her round the waist, preventing her from rising. “Jack! These are tavern manners, I think. You madman, let me go!”
“For a kiss,” he grinned.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Elizabeth scolded, “Let me go! Think how shocked the servants would be to see me like this.”
“Sit still, girl,” Jack said. “Why would the servants be shocked? I am old enough to be your… uncle. No harm in being kind to an old man. Come on, give Uncle Jack a kiss and I’ll let you go, fair and square.”
“Merci du compliment, Madame,” Jack grinned, undeterred. “Where’s my kiss?”
She sighed. “I can see you are determined to be outrageous. There is nothing to be done, I suppose, but humour you and hope the fit will pass.” Demurely, she kissed his forehead below the red headscarf. “There. Now, Uncle Jack, will you please be so kind as to release me?”
“Of course, Elizabeth, my dear. Fair’s fair.” And he stood abruptly, dumping her onto the floor.
She glared up at him. “And what was that for, pray tell?”
Chuckling, he reached down and helped her to her feet. “Such a niggardly kiss, love,” he said, shaking his head sadly. “You deserved it. Come now, cry friends.” He made her a rather elegant bow and offered his arm.
She took it with as much dignity as she could muster. “Very well: friends. But I still think it was uncalled-for. I gave you precisely what you requested. You, sir, are no gentleman.”
He laughed out at that. “Child, you make this too easy. My retort is obvious. Must I say it or may we take it as read?”
Blushing at her slip, she assured him rather hastily that they could allow the subject to drop and he, still chuckling, obliged. They walked down to the stables in silence.
They found Will and James just leading out the horses. The picnic hampers were loaded on the pack horse and the little cavalcade was ready to start. They rode west along the border of the forest at the upper edge of the plateau for a time before taking a trail that climbed, by a series of steep switchbacks, to a large outcropping.
It was called the Beacon because in times past a bonfire had been laid there, to be lit as a signal in emergencies. The fashion of the place was this: a level clearing in the forest, grassy and smooth, extended onto a buttress of rock thrust out from the steep hillside. From the outer edge of the flat top of the spur one could look nearly straight down almost seven hundred feet to the plateau, all of which was visible, laid out to the right and left. A small, lively stream came out of the hills above, ran along the western border of the clearing and cast itself over the edge next to the Beacon in a series of falls.
They dismounted. Will and James unsaddled the horses and, once they were cool, led them to drink and tethered them at the back of the clearing in the shade with grazing in reach. Elizabeth, meanwhile, had pulled a cushion out of one of the hampers and her sketchbook from her saddlebag and sat, with her back to the dizzying drop, drawing the forested knees of the Blue Mountains that rose above them into a cloudless sky. Jack stood at the very tip of the Beacon, hands behind him, staring out to sea.
James came to stand behind Elizabeth, watching her work. He leant down, speaking quietly. “That’s very like.”
She smiled up at him. “And you, my friend, are a base flatterer. You know I have no aptitude. Do you remember the Italian drawing-master who visited Port Royal the year I turned 15?”
James chuckled. “Indeed. He was rather undiplomatic in expressing his opinion, as I recall.”
“He was very blunt, but he spoke truth. Father was furious. No, I draw purely for my own amusement with no pretension to art.”
She returned to her sketching and James rose to find Jack watching him with an unreadable expression. They stared for a long moment; then James turned on his heel and strode away. The last thing he needed right now, he thought, was more of Jack’s goading. He didn’t see the swift frown cross the pirate’s face. Jack shrugged and turned back to the sea.
Will was undoing a long bundle that had come up on the pack horse. He grinned at James as the wrappings fell away to reveal their swords. “I thought perhaps we might try to work out that baiser we spoke of at dinner last week. The written description in the treatise was tolerably clear, but there is nothing like seeing a thing to really learn it, don’t you think?”
James agreed with pleasure; and they were engaged in picking the smoothest place in the clearing for their practice when Jack called out.
“James, mate, here’s a sight.” James looked out at the pirate, who held his spyglass in one hand and was gesturing with the other. “You’ll want to see this.”
“Just a moment,” James said to Will and walked out to the point. “What is it, Jack?”
Jack handed him the glass. “Look out beyond Portland Head.” As James raised the glass to his eye Jack moved to stand behind him, resting his chin on James’s shoulder and pointing. “See her? On the upwind leg now.”
“I see her. It’s the Relentless. And she has a prize.”
“Aye, a fair-sized sloop, looks like.”
“Do you recognize it?”
“No. Smuggler, perhaps. I’d not know them.”
James collapsed the glass with a snap and handed it to Jack. “Where’s the Pearl?”
“Far from here, love, don’t you fret.”
“That’s good.” They turned and walked slowly back. James was considering telling Jack about his orders, but he feared Jack might take them as a challenge and precipitate disaster. He drew a breath. “Jack, I…”
Ahead of them, Elizabeth glanced up from her drawing and smiled. Mechanically, James smiled back.
Looking from one to the other, Jack prompted, “Yes?”
No, James thought, not yet. I will tell him later. “Nothing,” he said aloud, “Never mind.”
Jack shrugged. “Suit yourself, mate.” He glanced again at Elizabeth, once more busy with her drawing, and his brow contracted. He seemed about to say more, but remained silent.
As they approached, Will tossed James’s sword to him. “Jack, we are going to try to work out a pass we read about in a new treatise on swordplay. They call it le baiser de la mort and claim that, if done right, it’s nigh foolproof.”
Jack’s mustaches stirred in what might have been the hint of a sneer. “Dancing-master tricks? Well, this ought to be entertaining.” He flopped to the ground and leant back against the pack saddle, hands clasped behind his head. “Have at it, then. What are you waiting for?”
For an hour or more, they worked at it, tentatively at first, but with increasing speed and confidence. “No, no, at my thrust you parry in tierce.” “Got it. En garde.” Feint, thrust, parry, riposte. And again. Refining, attempting new defenses, testing. Jack observed closely, rarely taking his eyes off them – for all his implied contempt of the art.
Elizabeth left her drawing and brought her cushion over to sit next to Jack, watching with fascination. “I have wished to learn to fence,” she said softly, “ever since I was child; but Will refuses to teach me.”
“Is that so?” Jack asked. He glanced sidelong at her. “Well then, why don’t you ask James? You two seem to be as thick as thieves these days. Perhaps he will oblige you.”
She smiled politely. “Perhaps I will.”
When the men broke off for a short rest, Elizabeth fetched the wine from the hampers where they rested in the shade of a large tree at the edge of the clearing. She poured two cups and took them to James and her husband. Will took his with a nod of thanks, drinking thirstily. James smiled at her. “Thank you, my dear.”
She poured cups for herself and Jack, but Jack reached into his pocket and drew out his bottle. “None for me, lass. Why drink wine when there’s good Somerset rum, ay? Save the wine for yonder dancing-masters.” And he took a long pull at the rum.
He called to the fencers, who were once again hard at work, “Have you two perfected this baiser of yours yet? One of you care to try it against me?” He rose, and removed his boots, coat and hat. “Well? James?”
“Against you, Jack?” James leaned on his sword, breathing hard. “Surely you remember how it went last time we sparred. Your boarding cutlass against my sword?”
Jack showed his teeth. “Not this time, mate. Will, lad, you’ll loan me your sword for a space, won’t you?”
“Of course, Jack, if you wish it, but…”
“Ah! No buts about it,” Jack interrupted, holding up one finger. He sauntered over to Will, grinning. “You’ll just have to trust I know what I’m doing. Now, if you please…” And he held out his hand.
“Oh, very well,” he sighed, giving the pirate his sword “but I think you are mad, trying this with an unfamiliar weapon.”
“A Turner blade, lad. That’s makes all the difference in the world. No worries.”
Will shook his head and walked over to stand next to Elizabeth as Jack swung the sword this way and that, getting a feel for its balance. He then saluted James, who returned the gesture. “Alright, love; show me this kiss of death. En garde.”
They engaged. Jack pressed his attack, which James parried with ease; his riposte parried by Jack with equal ease. For a time, both fenced cautiously, circling and feinting, each taking the other’s measure, searching for an opening. Something was different, James thought, with that part of his mind not concerned with the flickering blades. Jack’s style had changed. He had always been fast, but he was more disciplined now, less wild and more calculating. More dangerous. James cleared his mind and settled down to fence in earnest.
Watching the bout from the sidelines, Will had ample opportunity to notice it, too. Jack had been studying, that was obvious. The man was full of surprises, he thought.
The pace increased. Jack began his attack and James was forced, albeit slowly, to give ground. He shifted to his left and counter-attacked, looking for an opening. He thought he saw it – Jack had left his right side uncovered. James parried and thrust. Too quick for the eye to follow, Jack’s parry deflected his blade and sent it spinning from his hand. Jack’s sword pricked his breastbone and all motion stopped, save for their laboured breathing. “The disarm,” panted Jack. James held up his hand and Jack dropped his point. Elizabeth and Will burst into applause.
“That,” James said, around great gulps of air, “was remarkable. How did you do it, Jack? I never saw your parry.”
Will came up, grinning excitedly. “Nor I. Where did you learn that? I didn’t know you’d studied fence.”
“Let that be a lesson to you, then. I’ve always got one more surprise than you expect up my sleeve,” said Jack, leaning on his sword. After a moment, he straightened and gave the sword back to Will. “Splendid blade, boy. I mean to get me a Turner sword, one of these days. Might even be willing to pay you for it.”
Will laughed. “You had better, you rascal. I wouldn’t take kindly to a pirate raid on the smithy. Now, tell me about that pass you used. How is it done? And where did you learn it? Will you teach it to us?”
“Whoa, lad,” Jack demurred waving his arms in a warding gesture, “You can’t expect me to be telling all my secrets, now. If I teach it to you, what will I use to defend myself if I ever face one of you in all seriousness?”
James looked sharply at him, but the pirate’s face gave nothing away. Why had he brought up that old joke now?, he thought.
But Will, oblivious to this byplay, was laughing again. “On that day – should it ever come and let us pray it does not! – I am sure we will discover that you have, as you claim, always one more surprise up your sleeve. Don’t be selfish Jack,” he coaxed, boyishly, “share the wealth.”
Elizabeth joined them. “Jack is looking mulish, Will. I doubt your wish will be granted. Perhaps a meal will soften his heart. Shall we eat? What say you?” They agreed with pleasure.
The men washed off the dust and sweat of their exercise at the stream while Elizabeth began to lay out their picnic. Cold chicken, ham, a salad of greens, crisp rolls with butter, macaroons, fruit tartlets, pound cake, fruit and cheese was arranged on a cloth spread in the shade by the time they were ready to sit down. Will refilled everyone’s wine cups and they set to. For a time, conversation languished as everyone attended to the business of eating.
Finally, once their hunger was assuaged and they were nibbling at the cheese or the desserts, Elizabeth looked over at Jack and said, “Well, if you won’t teach your new trick to Will and James, the very least you can do would be to tell us how you came to learn it, don’t you agree?”
Jack, never reluctant to spin a tale, made pretense to consider her request. “Hmmm, no harm in that, I suppose. Alright then, here ‘tis.” And he settled himself comfortably on one elbow, looked at his audience and grinned. “Not long ago, I had occasion to, ah, liberate a French fencing master, who was the reluctant guest of a Spanish admiral…”
Will had the most experience of Jack’s tales; having, in a least two instances, been present when the events that formed the base of a tale had occurred. He knew, therefore, exactly how much reliance could be placed on the accuracy of the story they were about to hear. Nevertheless, he refilled his wine cup and made himself comfortable with pleased anticipation. Truth be damned, he thought, it’s not the point anyhow.
Elizabeth listened with a slight smile on her face. She loved Jack’s tales. They took her back to her childhood. Her fascination with all things piratical had worried her father, she knew. And the reality was far different than her imaginings, shaped as they were by the sensationalized accounts she had read in the newspapers from England. She was perfectly aware that Jack likewise was not given to confining himself to facts, but it did not interfere with her pleasure in hearing him expound on the life of a pirate.
James paid scant attention to the story unfolding before him. His own troubles distracted him for once from the rather irritating charm of the pirate’s tale-telling. In any case, he had always preferred to watch Jack narrate a story, rather than to listen, lest the lawless nature of the carryings-on so related nettle him into incaution. How Jack loved it when he tried, as he still occasionally did, to expostulate with him. Well, he had no intention of gratifying that enormous vanity on this day.
He tipped his head back, looked up at the cloudless blue. A hawk was circling, riding the breeze; and he watched as it banked and swooped, spiraling now higher, now lower, up and down the mountainside. Three or four wing beats, followed by a long glide. The bird turned this way and that; presenting first its dark back and then its pale, streaked under parts and russet tail to his view. The effortless, graceful flight caught at his heart. He wondered how it felt to be so free; no responsibility, no duty – only the wind and sky; and wings to take one wherever one wished to go. Envy, he thought, disgustedly, and of a witless beast, no less, is beneath contempt.
When he lowered his gaze, he found Elizabeth watching him, her eyes soft with pity. He felt as transparent as glass; a not entirely pleasant sensation. He tried to suppress the little spirt of anger it produced. Unfair to blame her for his agony of mind; she had not put him in this position. Merely, she had made certain parts of his problem unbearably clear. She meant him nothing but good, he knew. He tried to smile, felt himself flushing, and looked away.
Neither he nor Elizabeth noticed that Jack, continuing the saga of the fencing master without a check, had missed nothing of this exchange.
In due course, Jack’s story wound to its end. “And so, we put him ashore in Tortuga and commended him to the tender, if rapacious, care of the Governor, who undertook to put Monsieur Barzin aboard the next ship bound for France…for the price of a few lessons, of course.” Chuckles sounded. “And that, my dears, is how I came to learn a thing or two from a fencing master.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Poor Monsieur Barzin must have felt himself very ill-used, Jack. First Admiral de Flores y Vega, and then you, and finally Governor d’Ogeron; all taking advantage of him.”
Jack laughed at her. “No such thing, love. It was all fair and above-board. I delivered him from captivity and treated him as an honoured guest – what more natural than that he should repay me with the only coin he had; his skill with a blade? And as for the absurd Governor d’Ogeron; you can’t expect even such as he to pay M. Barzin’s passage without recompense. No, M. Barzin got off lightly; he regained his freedom and kept both his sword and his ability to use it.”
“When you put it that way,” she replied, “it makes a rather ruthless sort of sense. But still, it’s a brutal world you describe, Jack.”
“Oh, aye,” he agreed, “if you call fair brutal. Nothing goes unpaid for, love. Everything has a price. Everything.”
Something in the pirate’s tone made Will look up from his wine, but Jack’s attention had shifted from Elizabeth. He was watching James’s profile.
James, it seemed, was aware of Jack’s gaze. His brows drew down and he flushed again, but refused to meet Jack’s eyes. Suddenly, he got to his feet and walked quickly out to the point.
Jack rose to follow him, but Elizabeth put out her hand. “No, Jack,” she said, softly, “let him be.”
He looked down at her, unsmiling, and raised his brows. “You’re very meddlesome today, Elizabeth,” he drawled, “Why?”
“Only that James has a good deal on his mind just at the moment…”
“Thank you, darling,” he cut her off, “I can see that for myself.” And he followed James out onto the spur.
Will reached over and took her hand, preventing her from rising. “Elizabeth, wait.”
“Shhhh,” he gathered her in his arms, pulling her onto his lap. “Shhhh. James can take care of himself; and so can Jack.”
Elizabeth looked awhile longer at the two on the point. They were standing side by side, looking out, as ever, to sea; to all appearances amicably.
Will’s arms tightened and his voice by her ear sounded amused. “They’re fine, wife. I, on the other hand, need care and attention.”
She looked at him.
“This is the part where you kiss me,” he added, helpfully, giving her his best lost-puppy look.
Elizabeth giggled. “Oh, you are shameless.” She took his face in her hands, brought her mouth to his. “So very neglected as you are.”
Some minutes later, Will groaned softly. “Elizabeth, if I am not going to shock our friends and take you right here and now, we had better stop.”
She wriggled a little, teasingly, and grinned as he groaned again. “Oh very well, but you started it. Here then, help me pack up the picnic things, and I will saddle the horses with you.”
Meanwhile, out on the point, there was silence, but for the rush and splash of the waterfall. James stared straight ahead, frowning slightly. Jack, standing half a pace back, divided his attention between the horizon and James’s face. James sighed.
As if it were a signal, Jack stirred and spoke. “Well, mate?”
James dropped his chin to his chest for a moment, sighed again, and looked over his shoulder. “What?”
“What’s all this about, then?”
James looked away. Coward, he thought, you daren’t tell him. “I can’t tell you,” he said aloud.
“Can’t?” said Jack, an edge to his voice, “Won’t, is more like it. Suit yourself.” And he turned and walked away.
James, dismayed, took a step to follow, but stopped. What could he say that Jack would accept? He could not lie, and yet he was not ready to tell him about the general order. He knew Jack too well to doubt that it would be like the pebble that starts an avalanche – nothing but disaster could come of it – and so his instinct was to delay, to put off the evil as long as possible. But at what cost? He watched Jack’s retreating back, noting absently when the angry stalk became the familiar insouciant swagger as the pirate approached the Turners and hailed them cheerfully. The man was a chameleon. No matter how much he let one see, there was always another mask, another layer of disguise. Although he had been, he believed, privileged to see past more of the masks than most. He almost sighed again but caught himself. Ridiculous habit, smacking of self-pity.
Well, and why not, he thought, glumly. If ever a situation called for self-pity, his did. If he remained in the Navy, he would inevitably be called upon to hang Jack. If he left the Navy, someone else would perform that task. Unless, of course, Jack went down with his Pearl. Either way, Jack was doomed. (Not, he reminded himself, that pirates in general lived long lives, but not yet – oh please, not yet.)
Then, too, if he left the Navy – his home, his place, his life – then what? Where would he go? England would be unbearable, Jamaica scarcely less so; both full of gossip and sly wonderings about his resignation. And what would he do? Set up as a sugar planter? His fortune, a younger son’s portion, comfortable as it was for a Naval officer, was insufficient to support such a venture. Go into trade? He smiled wryly. Become a recluse? He shook his head. Elizabeth had told him to listen to his heart, but it was telling him nothing to the point.
He found he had turned back to the sea; a ship captain’s habit, always on the watch. He thought again of the Gull. Perhaps a sail aboard her would help clarify his mind – it had worked before.
The sound of his name made him turn once more toward the land. Will waved. “It’s getting late,” he called, “time we were heading back.”
James smiled and waved back without speaking. As he walked back toward the group waiting for him under the edge of the trees, Elizabeth rode out to meet him, leading his horse. Jack and Will, the latter leading the pack horse, had already started down the winding trail by the time he was in the saddle. The ride back to Somerset, in the slanting rays of the westering sun, was quiet.
Dinner that evening was not to rank as one of Elizabeth’s most successful parties. James was abstracted, responding slowly when addressed and often failing to follow the conversation at all. When spoken to, he would smile his sweet, apologetic smile and bring his attention back from its wanderings with an effort; but he would soon drift off again. Her heart went out to him; his suffering was palpable, his valiant attempt to hide it notwithstanding.
And Jack. Jack was positively surly, increasingly so as the evening drew on. He was short with Will, subtly cutting to her, and James he simply ignored. Jack was a whimsical creature at all times, subject to bewildering shifts of mood, but not usually like this. She began to think they had quarreled, he and James. She went back over the afternoon, but could think of no point where they would have had the time to discuss James’s new orders. So, what had caused this apparent rift? And why was he angry with her, as he seemed to be? If Jack didn’t yet know about James’s dilemma, then he could not know of her part in worsening his present perturbation of mind. Yet, if he did know about the orders, why would he be angry with James? She looked a question at Will, but he shrugged and shook his head, equally at a loss.
At long last the meal was done, the cloth removed, and the decanters set upon the board. She spoke softly to Ward; he bowed and left the room. As the wine began to circulate, conversation languished.
Finally, Will managed to draw Jack into a rather one-sided discussion of swords; trying to get him to go into specifics about the Turner blade he might someday commission. Elizabeth smiled gratefully at her husband, as he struggled to make Jack’s monosyllabic answers into a conversation.
She looked at James, lost again in his own thoughts. “James,” she said softly. He looked up, smiling absently. “More wine?” she asked. He shook his head.
“Ah, charming Elizabeth,” came Jack’s voice, the edge in it unmistakable, “always so very busy and solicitous of everyone’s comfort.” He raised his glass to her, dark eyes glittering. “Here’s to our perfect hostess.”
Will put his hand on the pirate’s sleeve. “Jack, what is this?”
Jack shrugged him off. “Never mind, lad. Elizabeth knows.”
James frowned across the table, but Jack turned his shoulder and looked at her again, mouth sneering.
“Don’t you, darling?” he asked.
She pressed her lips together and did not answer. He was clearly longing for a fight, but this was not the time to oblige him. This did not bode well for the private conversation she wished to have with him about James. Well, then, she would just have to bide her time; perhaps an opportunity would present itself tomorrow. Tonight, obviously, was unsalvageable. Time to cut it short, she thought, before her temper slipped its leash and she and Jack quarreled outright.
Elizabeth folded her napkin and glanced along the table at Will. He nodded toward the door. “Well, gentlemen,” she said rising, “all the fresh air and sunshine today have made me very sleepy. I think I shall leave you now. I trust you will forgive me for retiring so early?”
James looked up with a slight smile. “Of course, my dear. Get your rest.” He rose, and taking her hand, pressed a light kiss upon it. “Good night.”
She smiled back at him. “You are such dear friends that I stand upon no ceremony with you.”
“Now that you mention it,” Will said, stifling a yawn, “I think I shall join you. That is, if you don’t mind Jack, James?” He rose and went to take Elizabeth’s hand.
Jack lounged in his chair, one booted leg thrown over the arm, his own arm draped across the chair back, his outburst of a moment ago apparently forgotten. He waved his wineglass first at Will and then at Elizabeth. “To bed with you, children,” he said. “Waste no worry on old Jack.”
She indicated the decanters on the table. “I have sent the servants to bed, but I had Ward set out a tray in the library, if you two would prefer to sit in comfort.” She paused, with her hand on the door. “Good night.” Will nodded to them and followed her out of the room.
As the door clicked shut, James resumed his seat and reached for the wine. He drank thoughtfully, staring at nothing. There was silence for a time, as Jack watched him. When he reached again for the decanter, Jack spoke.
“That’s it, mate. Drink up. Let Bacchus help you shed that Friday face of yours. I’m tired of lookin’ at it.”
“Are you indeed?” James snapped, “That’s easily remedied.” He rose hastily and stalked out of the room, crossing the darkened hall toward the warm candlelight spilling from the half-open library door. He heard Jack following but paid no attention, closing the door pointedly in the other’s face.
He was at the table, pouring himself another glass of wine when he heard the door open behind him. He stood, glass in hand, staring into the empty fireplace. A soft footfall and Jack’s arm reached past him for the decanter. The faint gurgle as the wine flowed into the glass, the chink of the stopper dropping into place, sounded unnaturally loud in the silence. Jack turned and leant back against the table, arms folded, his left shoulder not quite touching James’s right, and sipped his wine. Minutes passed; neither man spoke.
“I get the impression,” Jack said, at last, “that you’re not very happy to see me, James mate.”
James put his un-tasted wine carefully on the tray. Leaning on the table with both hands, head bowed, he drew a deep breath and his shoulders slumped as he exhaled. “Having you here does complicate matters, it’s true,” he replied, softly.
Jack’s hand tightened for a moment on the stem of his glass, and he closed his eyes. When he opened them, they were bright and hard. “Easily mended, as you say. No worries, love; I’m off.” And he put down his glass and strode to the door.
It was at this point that Elizabeth came pattering silently down the stairs, sure-footed in the dark; in search of the book she had left on the hall table.
Jack’s shadow crossed the spill of light from the partially open library door and she halted, suddenly reluctant to be seen.
“Jack. Wait.” There was no mistaking the quiet desperation in James’s voice. “Don’t go.”
“Why should I not?” asked Jack, hand still on the door.
There was a pause. “I never meant…” James began and stopped. Then in a rush, “I don’t want you to go.”
Jack’s shadow moved away from the door. “Could’ve fooled me, love.”
Carefully, Elizabeth crept forward until she could see around the door frame. James stood in the center of the room, facing the door, but all his attention was on Jack and he didn’t notice her.
“You haven’t exactly,” Jack continued, “welcomed me with open arms.”
James groaned and sat down on the sofa, his head in his hands. “I know, Jack. I’m an ass. It’s just so damned complicated; when all I want…” His voice trailed off.
Cat-footed, Jack moved to stand above him, looking down. “What do you want?” His face, in profile to her, told Elizabeth nothing.
James looked up. “You,” he said, simply. “God forgive me.”
Jack swayed toward him and, in one quick motion, pressed James back into the yielding leather and straddled his lap, knees on either side of his hips. “Convince me,” he whispered.
James locked his arms across the small of Jack’s back and neatly rolled them over to lie lengthwise on the sofa. He moved up along the lean body beneath him until he could look down into those unreadable dark eyes. “Like this?” he murmured and lowered his head until their mouths touched. As the familiar fire began to lick along his veins, he pressed harder; forcing Jack’s mouth open, probing. He bit down on a full lower lip; tugged gently, grinning at the answering sigh. Jack’s arms were around him, underneath his shirt; running callused hands down his spine. He ran the tip of his tongue from Jack’s ear down to where his neck met his shoulder, stopping there to bite again gently and suck hard, leaving a mark; before moving round to lap at the hollow of his throat. Jack shuddered. “Like this?” James asked again, rocking his hips; hissing as Jack groaned.
Suddenly, Jack bucked, flipping them both off the sofa to land with a thud on the turkey carpet. He smiled; a feral, predatory grin. “No,” he purred, “not tonight.” Reaching down between their bodies, he grazed his knuckles across the front of James breeches, then rubbed harder – once, twice. “Like this,” he said as he bent his head and bit the gasping mouth.
Elizabeth watched in fascination as they kissed; hands wandering, grasping, stroking, bodies moving impatiently. Her body tingled as their growing excitement communicated itself to her. Insensibly, she was drawn forward, inch by inch, the better to see them.
Finally, Jack raised his head, scowling. “Half measures,” he muttered, “won’t do. C’mere, mate.” He clambered to his feet, pulling James up after him. “I want skin.”
They stripped off quickly, clothing flung to lie scattered about them. Naked at last, Jack backed James up to the sofa, shoving him lightly until his knees gave way and he sat. “Now then,” he said, placing his hands upon James’s thighs and parting them, “what have we here?” And he knelt with feline grace between those wide-spread legs.
Elizabeth caught her breath at the beauty of them.
Jack licked his lips and smiled. James touched his face and he pushed against the stroking hand like a cat. Almost purring, his tongue came out delicately, barely flicking the head. James’s head fell back at the first touch of Jack’s mouth. He sighed as clever lips and a wicked tongue began their maddening work.
Elizabeth bit her hand to keep from crying out as Jack took James, inch by inch, into his mouth; she had never, she thought, seen anything so shamelessly erotic.
James groaned. He wouldn’t last long, at this rate. He reached out; wanting – needing – to bury his hands in that wild hair and fuck the scorching mouth that dealt him such exquisite torment.
But Jack, of course, had other plans. Without pausing, he caught James’s wrists and pressed them firmly to his sides, against the leather. “Bastard,” James murmured. Jack hummed; a pleased sound, that sent a jolt of almost agonizing pleasure through James, who arched his back and whimpered. “Jack, please.”
Jack leaned back a little and smirked. “I like the sound of that.” He smoothed his hands along James’s thighs and up across his belly, pausing to gently pinch his nipples. James’s breath caught. Jack moved up to kiss him. “Lie down, love,” he breathed.
James stretched himself out full length, eyes closed, and Jack lay on top of him; kissing, tongues tangling lazily. “Jack, you tease. Don’t make me beg.”
“Oh, very well,” a mock grumble, “Hold that thought.”
He stood and bent to retrieve from his coat the little flask of oil he seemed never to be without. Straightening, a hint of movement at the door caught his eye as Elizabeth, realizing she had moved into the light, drew back a pace. She froze as his gaze locked with hers, appalled at being found there. She would have fled, but, as if in a dream, she could not make her feet move. Jack’s eyebrows rose and he smiled, very slightly. Never taking his eyes from hers, he poured some oil into the palm of his hand. Turning his body so that the candlelight fell full upon him, he stroked himself slowly from root to tip, twisting his grip, until the length of him glistened slickly. Her hand crept to her mouth and his smile widened. James stirred and opened his eyes. “Jack?”
“Right here, love,” Jack replied, nudging the other’s legs apart and kneeling between them. He leant forward and dragged the flat of his tongue the length of James’s erection as his hand found its way down and back, fingers pressing and slowly entering, first one, then the other.
James’s hands scrabbled for a hold on the arm of the sofa above his head. He gave an open-mouthed groan and squeezed his eyes shut as his hips snapped downward, avid for more. “Oh, yes,” he whispered, “please.”
“Ready?” Jack asked, and James nodded. Withdrawing his hand, he placed first one then the other of James’s legs over his shoulders. Guiding himself with one hand, he entered, pushing past the initial resistance to sink smoothly to the hilt into the tight heat. They moaned, their voices blending as their bodies merged, inseparable. Elizabeth gasped.
After a breathless pause, Jack moved; pulling back with excruciating slowness and then thrusting forward, rocking them up and back, up and back. There was no sound in the room but the creak of the leather and their panting breaths; James’s with a little catch each time Jack drove home.
James could stand no more. His hand left its grip on the sofa and reached down to take hold of himself. But Jack stopped him; pinning his wrists above him with all his wiry strength.
“Mine,” Jack growled. He thrust again, hard, and James whimpered. “Say it.”
Jack looked up, straight at Elizabeth. The black gaze was triumphant. Another slow, deliberate thrust. “Again.”
“Oh God, Jack, please.”
“ Open your eyes,” he rasped, “ and say. it. again.”
The green eyes beneath him flew open, huge and dark. “I am yours.”
Elizabeth turned and fled.
Jack agreed. And he took James in his hand, stroking roughly – once, twice,
three times – and they climaxed with a cry that followed Elizabeth up the
stairs and rang in her ears long after she regained her room.
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