'Pirates of the Caribbean' belongs to Disney.

Norrington had not expected travel aboard a commercial airline- even in first class- to include all the amenities of a private jet. And he was correct. The available space was much reduced (though still sufficient to allow a private conversation), and the window was barely half as large.

Not that he truly minded. The outside view was still interesting, if somewhat monotonous. A dense overcast, seen from above, resembled nothing so much as a vast, gently mounded snow field, with nary a tree or footprint marring it's whiteness. James stared out until something intruded on his peripheral vision; a lean brown hand, clutching a largish envelope stuffed with paper slips.

"Feel free ta look 'em over. I managed ta snag admission to all yer most-desired events. 'Even got one fer the wrestling. I figured you might like to watch the classic version for a change."

"Thank you again, Jack." Norrington grinned with anticipation as he thumbed through the tickets. He'd recently completed his training at the United States Coast Guard Academy; in two weeks he'd take his Service Oath, and begin his new job in their Investigative Services division. Jack had long since made arrangements for them to spend this last free interval attending the Summer Olympics.

"I must really be looking forward to this- I don't even mind the prospect of having you alongside. No doubt making numerous non-performance-related observations about the women athletes."

"That was yer own choice, Mr. Norrington" Sparrow reminded, taking another swallow from a miniature rum bottle. "You know you had the option of asking the fetching Meredith Chaucer to accompany you instead."

That name made James' lips curl once more, but he shook his head. "It wouldn't have been appropriate. Ms Chaucer and I aren't sufficiently well-acquainted for me to invite her on an extended trip."

Jack rolled his eyes in near-despair. "Hells bells, James- you've been acquainted for over two years!"

"And I've been obliged to spent most of those years giving the bulk of my attention to Academy courses." James handed the envelope back to Sparrow. "We've had a few weekend visits, when Meredith had business in New York and 'hopped the Sound' to see me. But I can't forget my special circumstances. I'd have to know a woman well enough to tell her something about my actual life history, before I could consider..."

"Have you made any progress whatsoever with the lass?"

James frowned at the interruption. "I enjoy her company very much, I certainly care about her, and there's strong indications that attitude is mutual. But what you would consider 'progress'..."

"... is still to come, of course. A good Quaker lad waits 'til after the 'I Dos'. Or at least the engagement announcement." Jack carefully slipped the precious tickets into his purple carry-on bag. "At the very least, James; have you any notion whether either of those events might someday come to pass?"

"Of course they might. Just not in the near future. Meredith is in no 'rush to the alter', as they say. She's made a point of informing me, she asked about my maternal status on that lubber cruise because she thought I might be worth getting to know. Not because she's desperately seeking a husband."

"'Tis commendable to give careful thought to such matters. But at the rate you're goin', you two may end up financin' yer weddin' with social security checks," Jack sniffed.

"That can't be helped. Even if I were so inclined, Mare is not a woman to be pushed into things."

Sparrow looked up brightly. "'Mare'? So at least you're on a one-syllable-name basis!"

James looked vaguely chagrined, as though he'd let a confidential matter slip. "We are. At Ms Chaucer's own invitation. She assures me she doesn't in the least mind being compared with a horse."

"An' why should she? That wench does resemble an equine creature, in the best possible way. Well-balanced gait, spirited demeanor, streaming red mane, high firm... hindquarters." Upon receiving That Look, Sparrow complained, "Now James, I'd have to have impaired eyesight not ta notice."

The Navyman folded arms over his leisure shirt, eyes narrowing. "You know, Pirate, if I had a remotely suspicious outlook..."

"Mr. Norrington! Do you for one millisecond imagine I have designs of a seductive nature regarding yer possibly-in-the-future betrothed?" Jack slammed a palm to his chest, looking thoroughly affronted.

James found such theatrics annoying. "I have seen you exhibit exactly that intent, towards the fiancé of a man who'd previously saved your life. And whom you had, in effect, used as currency to pay your own debt."

It was like skewering a beach ball. Jack deflated, abruptly and thoroughly, dropping his eyes in actual shame. "Not exactly my finest hour, was it?"

"Not exactly."

"But you know, it were always my intent ta retrieve young Will, and his Da, from their regrettable circumstances once I'd secured the heart. An' I never meant ta permanently deprive him of his bonnie lass. Jus' thought it'd do no harm fer Lizzie ta get one taste of carnal delights- expertly served, I might add- prior to her embarking on a lifetime of wedded bliss."

"More important, it wouldn't have done you any harm."

"I had a tentacled specter leanin' over me shoulder at that time, James. 'Seemed advisable fer me to take what I could, while I still could." Sparrow fixed a somber gaze on Norrington as he added, "You may be certain I did a full measure of forced penance fer both offenses. The chit saw to that." His jaw clenched- he'd said all he cared to on the subject.

Norrington mulled this over. Jack had never gone into detail about what had befallen Elizabeth, Will Turner and himself, between James' abrupt departure from them at Isla Cruces and the pirates' victory over Beckett's armada. But it had clearly been a stressful interval for all three; there'd been dropped hints of hard voyages and further betrayals. It took no great powers of deductive, to discern Sparrow's characterization of Liz as a 'charming murderess' originated from this interval.

But it seemed the trio's shared participation in the Battle of the Maelstrom had healed their estrangement. By the time it was over, Jack had regained his favorable standing with the freshly-wed couple, and they'd all remained on good terms 'til death did them part.

At least according to Sparrow, whose account might be true as far as it went, but was clearly incomplete. Though intensely curious about the untold parts, James knew it would be futile to make inquiries. He'd simply have to hope the ex-pirate would someday be willing to reveal the whole story.

A minute later, Jack spoke again. "There was one bit of learnin' I did carry away from that deplorable business: a brief period of pleasure is a poor swap fer decades of friendship. Ergo: I'll not be offering any stallionesque services to your fair Mare." With a wry look, he added, "Anyway, the lass'd likely refuse said offer, from what you've related of her unaccountable tastes."

James couldn't help smirking at this reminder. He'd not been able to resist passing a certain Meredith quote on to Sparrow: 'Your friend is certainly a looker, and quite charming. But I rather prefer the company of grown-ups.'

The smirk deepened. It was so gratifying to score higher than Jack in a lady's assessment, just once.

Sparrow's own expression soured. "I think that's enough wench-related discussion fer now." He settled back into the padded gray seat, tapping his own chin. "May I ask you a question, related to your granting me that one-day head start?"

The abrupt change of course- all the way back to old Port Royal- made James blink. "You may."

Jack hooked one arm behind his head, looking serious. "As that incident occurred some centuries ago, perhaps you can answer with complete frankness. Was it yer intention ta let me get away?"

This was a matter James had pondered before. "Not deliberately. I can't deny the possibility of subconscious desire... if I understand Freud's theory correctly. But I did not, and could not, knowingly let your escape. Law enforcers have no right to override legally applied sentences- it's not our place to inflict harsher penalties, or more merciful ones, than what the courts decree. If we do, it undermines the integrity of the entire justice system. Such breakdowns have potential to usher in anarchy, or totalitarianism- situations which have historically done far worse harm than the occasional unjust verdict, even the occasional unjust execution. That system, though flawed, is quite probably the best we imperfect humans can manage. Scylla rather than Charybdis, Jack."

Sparrow's face twitched. "That's one debate even I don't expect ta ever hear the end of. And I weren't meaning ta extend it now. I jus' thought, considering your leniency towards young William afterwards..."

"I will admit to having developed serious doubts you truly deserved to be executed. Consequently, I was less than completely outraged when Mr. Turner prevented it. At least at that point." Norrington looked away for a moment. He himself was still rather puzzled by his own behavior immediately following Jack's rescue from the gallows. Readily conceding to Elizabeth's declared preference for another man, extending the same magnanimity towards a fleeing pirate captain... He could only theorize he'd retreated under a mantle of impeccably gentlemanly conduct to distance himself from the double public humiliation.

But James didn't want to think on it now. He squared his shoulders, deliberately turning attention to a less complicated matter.

"There is something relevant to that matter which can now be told. I did pay a visit to your cell block, the night before your scheduled execution."

"Did you! Can't say I noticed."

"I'd been taking a stroll around the fort before retiring, when I heard your voice from the gaol, speaking with some animation. I decided that merited investigation, so I descended the stairs to the cellblock. When I peered around the corner, I saw you had at least five guards, and the dog, completely enthralled with a tall tale. You were describing a liaison you claimed to've had with a most accommodating mermaid. A Queen of the Sharks, as I recall."

Jack smiled broadly. "Ah, yes! I can't generally relate that yarn in mixed company, but it rarely fails ta captivate the lads."

"So it seemed at the time. As my men were keeping an appropriate distance from the bars, I elected not to intervene, so I lingered on the stairs to listen too. Your descriptions made me feel the yarn was happening to me- I was being propelled through blue depths, clutched against a scaly undulating form, looping amidst a vanguard of gleaming sharks with tails lashing in rhythm to..." Norrington paused, clearing his throat. "Aside from your displayed storytelling skill, I found it most intriguing that you'd chosen to spend the supposed last night of your life entertaining your captors."

"To be honest, I'd have preferred to spent it entertainin' a lass or two, at much closer quarters! But since theer were none ta be had, I considered it expeditious ta use me last chance to enhance the Jack Sparrow legend. Plus, it literally doesn't hurt if the blokes who're ta escort you to the gallows feel disinclined ta make the experience any more unpleasant than can be helped."

"You needn't have concerned yourself about that, Sparrow. Regardless of any rumors you may have heard, I have never permitted anyone under my command to mistreat prisoners. I've certainly never done so myself." James looked straight at his friend as he said this.

"I believe you, cousin," Sparrow assured. "In yer peak pirate-hunting days, 'twas said that Captain Norrington was a git ta be reckoned with; canny, formidable, damnably persistent. But not prone ta extraneous cruelties." He shrugged. "Somewhat similar to my own reputation, eh?"

"More alike than either of us wanted to admit." James almost sighed.

A pinging from the 'Fasten Seat Belt' light interrupted, followed by the captain announcing they were beginning their descent. James checked the window view, confirming the plane was tilting down towards the cottony expanse. As Norrington fastened his restraint, Jack glimpsed his watch.

"We'll be arriving with a couple hours to spare. What say you, ta patronizin' a bar or two before the games begin?"

"It might be wiser to use that interval to rest. I'd rather not watch the opening ceremonies through a jet-lag haze."

"You do that, ol' Commodore. I'll be fine on my onesies."

"Wandering off without your bodyguard? I don't think so." James' tone was not entirely facetious. He'd never forgotten the warning imparted at the 'Paris Meeting', as he privately labeled his single encounter with Mr. Murphy. He'd heard nothing from that enigmatic gentleman since, and hoped no news was good news. But he felt disinclined to take unnecessary chances. Particularly with foes he couldn't identify on sight.

"I'll try to make do with a short nap before we go out. And Jack, please do fasten your seat belt now, before one of the stewardesses starts scolding."

Sparrow obeyed with a scowl. "Bad as a mother hen," he muttered.

The airplane landed without incident. Norrington took the lead as they went through customs and security, for he knew how it chafed Jack to deal with authority figures. Sparrow wisely kept his mouth shut the whole while, even when their passport check took an unusually long time.

Finally they reported to the baggage claim, where they retrieved their luggage from the moving belt. Jack promptly yanked open his battered olive duffel, fishing out a pair of polished black shoes to exchange for his less-elegant travel loafers. Norrington suspected the thick-soled shoes had some function other than appealing to the ladies, but didn't inquire about it.

They made their way from the terminal, Jack with the duffel slung over his shoulder, James dragging the wheel-mounted suitcase. They passed out of the shiny building to the exhaust-scented concourse, where they paused, checking the tight rows of loading-zone vehicles for an available taxi. Jack was craning his neck to see around a parked bus, when he suddenly yelped.

James whirled towards to him, catching the clipped "Sorry!" a tweed-clad woman called over her shoulder as she hurried away. Jack, now kneeling to grip his left bluejean cuff, glared after the retreating figure. Specifically, at the glinting red daggers of her stiletto heels.

"The stupid wench spiked me!" he snapped. Norrington quickly escorted him to a nearby bench, where Jack pushed aside his pierced sock to check the damage. "What's she thinkin', wearin' such hazardous footgear in this crowd!?"

"It's not that bad," his companion pointed out. "The skin's barely broken- there's not enough blood to endanger your precious Berlutis." Though he spoke reassuringly, something tugged at James' memory as he eyed the grain-sized puncture wound. But before he could track it down, Jack yanked the sock back into place and stood.

"Theer ought ta be a license requirement fer wearin' those bloody things! Remind me ta apply a spot o' disinfectant later."

Jack quickly forgot the incident, as they resumed their search for transport. After a few inquiries, a uniformed grunt informed them there was a cab stand two blocks down. As they started in the indicated direction, Sparrow halted to mop his forehead. "I may have to take that nap after all, Mr. Norrington. Could be, I've developed... susceptibility ta, jet lag."

The slur in his voice jerked James' attention from the milling traffic. The ex-pirate was swaying on his feet. More than usual.

Norrington closed on him again, shifting the duffel onto his own shoulder and gripping Sparrow's elbow. "Jack, you don't look at all well."

Sparrow opened his mouth to reply, realized he had no idea what to say. Next instant, the sidewalk was rushing upwards.

He barely heard James' alarmed shout, before everything went black.