'Pirates of the Caribbean' belongs to Disney.

It was dusk, and Jack was on the north beach of his little island, ankle-deep in the surf, rum bottle in hand. An orange-and-charcoal sunset glowed in the west, but his gaze was fixed northwards. Towards New London Connecticut, two thousand miles away, where he and James had parted yesterday.

Sparrow took a swig from the bottle. It was good rum- too bad he wasn't in the best mood to appreciate it. He was, in fact, feeling cold and hollow, as if there were an icy void where his entrails should be. How ridiculous for a temporary separation to affect him so! He'd left many another good companion behind, permanently- he should be accustomed to it by now.

Pestilential, insidiously ingratiating Navyman...

The sun was about to dip below the horizon. Out of long habit, Jack turned to watch. He wondered whether there'd been a green flash, somewhere in the world, when James first arrived here. There certainly should have been.

On this occasion, the bright yellow orb simply dipped from sight. Jack took another swallow of rum and returned his gaze to the northern sky.

But he wasn't really seeing it. His mind's eye was reviewing a not-quite-year-old memory: his first, heart-stopping view of James Norrington in the 21st century. A limp body cocooned in nebulous 'time net'- skin pale between the red-smears, eyes completely blank. Jack had gotten just that glimpse, before the medical apparatuses enveloped the long form. Necessarily, of course- their prompt attentions had recalled the man to life.

Captain Sparrow had been beside the bed four days later, when James finally stirred to consciousness. His first facial expression had been disbelief, followed by brief alarm, then that dazed bewilderment which had persisted for two weeks. Jack well recalled his own relief, when it finally started clearing up... gradually revealing the formidable, steel-spined, oh-so-principled Commodore he remembered.

The next several months had been among Sparrow's happiest. There may have been no rational reason for Norrington's presence to gladden him so, but the pirate had never been one to overanalyze good feelings. There was now a person in the world who knew who he, Jack Sparrow, truly was- that was sufficient explanation for him.

Sparrow started to grin, recollecting memorable moments they'd shared through that interval. James' feigned anger over Jack's appropriation of his wig, not quite obscuring his delight at getting it back. The Navyman's contagious sense of homecoming when he first took the helm of the Lady Buccaneer. That farcical, but invigorating, Miami adventure- the spectacle of James somehow retaining dignity as they struggled out of that muddy canal was worth all the lost swag and soggy clothing.

Sharing wonderment on this very beach, watching a horizon-wide display of leaping manta rays. Basking in the camaraderie of shipmates during the Atlantic crossing. Getting slightly drunk on ale at the Swan Tavern in London (only slightly- James didn't want to risk replaying his rumpot days.) Strolling along the Seine River with two beauteous French filles... James' eyes all aglow, getting his first spotlit view of the Eiffel Tower. Though that was but a foreshadowing of his profound joy a month later, upon learning he'd been accepted into the Coast Guard Academy.

Most recently, that delightful holiday excursion to New York City. Even the Society of Friends meeting they'd attended on Christmas Day had been rather enjoyable. Jack had gleaned useful insights into the shaping of James' character from that mercifully to-the-point sermon, about how the holiday's 'good will towards men' ought to apply throughout the year.

There'd been a coffee-and-cookie social afterward. Sparrow, mindful of his promise to behave, had initially kept a distance from the pair of teenage girls who so clearly wanted to engage him in conversation. James had sidled beside him and murmured, "You can talk to them, Jack; just don't flirt"- obviously unaware how inevitably the one segued into the other whenever Jack exchanged words with a comely female. He'd navigated that shoal by pretending the lasses were whelps. Soon enough, he was regaling the young women, and a sizable portion of the room, with a rousing yarn about cursed treasure, buccaneers who became skeletons in the moonlight, and resourceful heroes who bested them. On the walk back to their hotel, Norrington commended Sparrow on his gentlemanly conduct. In the future, he could accompany James to a Meeting whenever he wished.

Never in a million years would the pirate have expected such an invitation to gratify him so.

And now, a month later, James was gone- starting his training at the USCG Academy- and Jack was missing him terribly. Absurdly so, considering how recently they'd buried their original hostilities. Hadn't that bloody Navyman once come within a hair's-breadth of hanging him?

Though, that hadn't been Norrington himself, so much as the Law he upheld. Sparrow had realized that from the start. It was why Jack had taken only minor vengeance when the fallen Commodore had joined his crew, and had eventually come to regret even that. Their mutual offenses were now too distant for any trace of resentment to linger. Even a pirate could forgive, given sufficient time.

The Captain kicked at an approaching wave, scattering foam to catch the last bits of daylight. James had certainly proved himself worthy of that forgiveness. Snarky and pompous as he could be, he'd also provided the best companionship Jack had known since Joshamee's passing. Norrington might actually possess even greater loyalty. In compliance with the Code, Gibbs had left Sparrow behind on one occasion. Jack couldn't imagine James Lysander Norrington ever doing such a thing.

Except, that he might...

A possibility Jack preferred not to think about raised it's disquieting head. As of their most recent conversation, James still hadn't made up his mind whether to reap the benefits of the Aqua de Vida. Perhaps, like certain others, he'd opt for a normal lifespan and a normal death, leaving Sparrow with nothing but memories of him.

That prospect was piercing as any krakken's fang.

Sparrow took a double gulp of rum. If that bloody Naval toff decided against... Jack just might forgo any further visits to the Fountain himself. At this particular moment, that option looked preferable to interminable loneliness.

But again, he had to chide his own foolishness. James could decide the other way, too. How ludicrous to be making such drastic plans, this far ahead of time... and yet...

It was a relief to be interrupted by an approaching combination of sounds; large bare steps, and the buzz from a poorly insulated earphone. The ex-pirate looked over his shoulder, meeting soulful eyes studying him from a broad, bearded face.

"You okay, Mr. Jack?"

It was pointless to spout obviously untrue denials. "Nothin' ta concern you, Mr. Boyer. Jus' feelin' a bit scuppered tonight."

Hennrick Boyer grunted, stepping beside him. The pale wire running from his ear to his portable CD player gleamed like a long scar. "We miss Mr. Norrington, too. But very good that he's well enough to be on his own again."

His employer still looked mournful. Hennrick's broad mouth quirked. "Maybe you worry that, after he graduates, he'll come back to arrest you?"

That made Jack smile a bit. "Cigar smuggling's not high on the Coast Guard's priority list. They won't be wastin' theer highly trained Investigators on the likes o' me."

The two shared a fond glance. Besides a sense of humor, Hennrick and his similarly-built wife, Aiyda, possessed a trait Jack had recently learned to respect; unshakable honesty. It was why he'd entrusted them with certain responsibilities he'd not leave in just anyone's hands.

The Boyers were an ordinary couple from Port-au-Prince, who'd tended other people's homes and gardens there, until they'd saved up enough to open a small general store. That establishment hadn't made much profit, but at least let them be their own bosses. Regrettably, their adolescent son, Agwe, made a mistake which had forced them to flee store and home, taking only their four offspring and what could be carried in six plastic garbage bags. On the Port-au-Prince waterfront, the family had begged for passage aboard Jack's yacht. Jack had consented, realizing these folks must be desperate to risk bringing their kids- including a pretty teenage girl- onto a boat full of unknown sailors.

Once the ship was at sea, Sparrow had insisted they tell their story. It seemed Agwe, ignoring his father's warnings, had agreed to do a job for a known local drug lord. He'd been instructed to hand-deliver a package to another dealer, but had been waylaid and robbed en route. Agwe knew if he didn't make full reimbursement for the valuable parcel (which he couldn't), his family would pay a horrific price.

Jack, mindful that he'd made some stupid decisions himself, thought it unfair these people should have their lives ruined by one bad choice. So he offered to hire the Boyers as caretakers for the house and grounds on his island. He could provide quality housing and better-than-average wages until they'd earned enough to buy another store, someplace far from Haiti.

Agwe and Loufie, the teenage son and daughter, had since relocated to Montserrat. The adults, with younger children Bijou and Zac, were still here. Their salaries earned them more than their store had, so, for the sake of their kids, Aiyda and Hennrick were willing to postpone autonomy. They appreciated Mr. Jack's fairness, as he appreciated their reliability, but employer-employee relationships had built-in limitations. They could never let him far into their world, and of course he had to limit their access to his.

At least Jack and Hennrick could share this moment on the beach, watching the first eastern stars come out. It was quiet enough that Sparrow could hear what Boyer was listening to, over his earphone. A Cyndi Lauper classic. Jack softly sang along, to what he hoped was a premonition of things to come:

'After my picture fades
And darkness has turned to gray,
Watching through win-dows
You're wondering if I'm OK,
Secrets, stolen, from deep inside,
The drum beats out of time-

If you're lost, you can look
And you will find me,
Time after time.
If you fall, I will catch you
I'll be wait-ing,
Time after time.

You said, go slow,
I fall behind,
The second hand unwinds-

If you're lost, you can look
And you will find me,
Time after time.
If you fall, I will catch you-
I will be waiting!
Time after time.

Time after time,

Time after time,

Time after time,

Time after time...'

As both voices faded to whispers, Hennrick stirred. "Well. Suppose I should go to bed soon. Have to get up early, to scrape the Rum Burner."

"Sweet dreams, mate. And same to the Mrs," Jack offered. The big Haitian nodded and strolled off towards the buildings.

Sparrow finished his rum. Eyeing the empty bottle, he considered chasing it with another. But he decided against. Getting sloshed wasn't the sort of tribute James would appreciate.

Minutes passed, and the evening become uncomfortably chilly. The pirate started back to his house... the distance seemed longer than usual. Inside, the solitude felt oppressive. Jack decided he might as well turn in, too.

Figuring he'd swum recently enough to skip the shower, Sparrow proceeded to his bedroom and wearily got undressed. He was about to turn off the light, when a metallic gleam snagged his eye. From a partly-open bedside drawer, golden fabric winked. His Christmas gift from James.

Sparrow debated a moment, before taking out the pajamas and shrugging them on. Not without grumbling a bit, about uptight Commodores and their silly sense of propriety. But as he settled into bed, the caress of satin made him sigh. James had obviously selected this present with great care, taking both appearance and comfort into account. Bloody Norrington didn't do anything by halves.

/ 'Suppose 'twould be appropriate ta express my appreciation, the next time I see 'im. Which won't be that long. That blighter's persistent... can't get shed o' him fer any length of time. /

That thought was as soothing as the silken fabric. Captain Sparrow snuggled under the warm covers, feeling reassured.

As he dropped off, Jack had a momentary vision. A starlit dormitory, two thousand miles away. On a balcony, a familiar tall figure stood, thoughtfully regarding the dark horizon.

Gazing southwards...

FINIS

This story continues through several sequel fics, starting with 'Abducted', followed by 'Conversations With Murphy', 'The Vampire Mission', 'Rare Gifts', and the ongoing 'Mission: Improbable.'