'Pirates of the Caribbean' belongs to Disney

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"Grazie, Signore. Tenga il resto." Norrington smiled as he pressed a stack of Euros into the driver's hand. The dour fellow just nodded and drove off.

James stretched, looking fondly about the little plaza with it's yellow-and-blue painted tiles. He'd deliberately had the cab drop him off a few blocks from home, so he could have a walk through the pleasant Capri streets- get some of the exercise he hadn't on the just-completed mission. That had involved posing as a London cabbie, in a taxi rigged to break down short of Heathrow Airport. This had prevented his passenger from catching her plane, so she'd never meet the man booked for the seat beside hers, who'd otherwise conceive a child on her that would grow to disturbed adulthood and do serious damage to both her and the timelines.

It was a typical 'Low Hazard' assignment; the sort he and Meredith had requested after they'd discovered Mare was with child. And which they'd stick to until little Lysander was at least a teenager.

Norrington rubbed one ear wryly. Whoever'd classified that job as 'Lo-Haz' had obviously never experienced the ire of a woman about to miss her flight.

At least he hadn't needed to spend much time in transit. He'd made use a 'Corridor'- a phenomena similar to a Time Net, except it only transversed physical distances. Murphy's People had established these to expedite the transport of senior Operatives. According to Murphy, the use of Corridors was far less problematic since their crossed trails posed no danger to the timelines.

James turned onto a certain walkway, sloped and lined with flower boxes. He did rather miss the more-challenging Missions he and Mare had performed during their first two years as Operatives. Jack was still doing those, of course. That ex-pirate would go stir-crazy, restricted to tasks like transferring a bit of fungus to a researcher's petri dish, or swiping just the right page from a reporter's notebook.

Norrington smiled to catch a fragrant whiff from a tree festooned with wide pink blossoms. The afternoon weather was fine. Perhaps he'd take Lysee down to the small sandy beach, in the rock-sided cove downhill from their villa. His daughter was normally a bundle of energy, always wanting to go someplace or other. If there was such a thing as reincarnation- and James had seen too much to dismiss the possibility- then Lysander Anne Norrington just might be the embodiment of her long-dead Aunt Esther.

But she'd been uncharacteristically subdued these past couple days, due to the loss of her pet ring dove. Cocoa had died suddenly, as birds were prone to do- cooing robustly one evening, splayed on his cage floor the following morn. The bewildered child was having difficulty coming to terms with the tragedy.

It seemed overly capricious that, within this same week before her seventh birthday, staunch old Royal was also failing. It had been months since that amiable dog had been able to accompany Lysee to the cove- his aged hips could no longer manage the descending staircase. Now he'd reached the point where just getting up from his cushion was so painful he only did it when he absolutely had to.

James sighed within, recalling how he'd acquired the mutt. That was during the last Mission he and Mare had accomplished prior to confirming her pregnancy... a heart-wrenching one. Port Royal in Jamaica, June 9, 1692; just two days after a devastating earthquake had caused most of the city's northern section to slide into the sea. Somebody had to make sure a certain homeless family made it onto a rescue ship heading for New Orleans. The family would do well there, and one of their descendants would become an American president.

Norrington had received that assignment due to his familiarity with both the era and place. Meredith had insisted on coming along, for moral support. She knew how it would grieve him to see his former home port in ruins.

They'd completing the assigned task without complications. Six gold guineas passed to the Mouette's captain had secured a berth for the ragged but newly-hopeful refugees. The two rescuers then hastened from town, to the hidden arrival/retrieval point. They'd just gotten past the last demolished building when a largish mongrel trotted right up to them- bony, mud-caked, tail all awag. As if it'd been awaiting them and was relieved they'd finally made it.

Mare, who liked dogs, immediately wanted to take this one back. The animal was clearly on it's way to starving; surely removing it from this time would cause no disruption of events. James would have refused, if the beast hadn't borne such close resemblance to Fort Charles' jailhouse dog- could, in fact, be a direct descendant. If nothing else, the 21st century could offer a merciful death by injection, rather than a lingering one amidst this sodden wreckage.

Fortunately Murphy, after consulting whatever it was he consulted, declared it a permissible relocation. After routine cleaning and decontamination (of all of them), they'd brought their new pet back to the Capri villa. Mare christened him 'Port Royal' (soon shortened), and her careful tending soon restored the animal to healthy weight and vigor.

Sparrow and Royal took a while to warm up to each other- the dog seemed particularly wary if Jack got anywhere near his chew bones- but eventually they'd became friends. Royal had provided good company for Mare when she'd been obliged to stay home through her final month of pregnancy. She'd been amused at his habit of staring knowingly at her big abdomen, thumping his tail in anticipation. When Lysander did come out, it was love at first sniff. No child had ever grown up with a more devoted and trustworthy canine companion.

Now the aged dog was virtually bed-bound. His eyes and tail still had some spirit- particularly whenever Lysander was nearby- but Norrington knew those would soon fade, too. He and Mare had decided to wait until then to put the poor creature down. Their daughter needed to see for herself, that it truly was the kindest option.

James continued his uphill walk, trying to take heart from the prospect of his daughter's greeting. He knew Mare wouldn't be home yet; she'd phoned earlier to report she'd been summoned to deal with some computer-related problem. Their helpful neighbor, Madilena Gazillo, would be watching Lysee. Though not quite a picture of maternity- lean, beak-nosed, unprone to smiling- Signora Gazillo was unquestionably responsible, and clearly fond of the bright, reasonably well-behaved bambina. Lysander, in turn, liked the Signora. She could do interesting things with hair, and her voice was comfortable, even sans smile.

Sparrow hadn't been available to baby-sit because he'd left early that morning (Capri time) for Florida, being due for his quarterly (as in quarter-century) dip in the Aqua de Vida. He'd probably be back by dinnertime, for he was also traveling by Corridor. There were restrictions on Operatives making non-Mission of those, but Jack had bought the privilege with a couple particularly well-executed assignments. Murphy understood the value of offering earned bonuses.

Lysander hadn't been told the details, of course. They couldn't risk the child passing on stories to her playmates and being teased about lying (or worse, being believed.) She'd just been informed Cousin Jack had been feeling tired lately, so was going to get some treatment to help him feel better.

James climbed the last steps to the Weinstein Villa's north entrance- informally the Norringtons' half of the house. He pushed his hand to the security panel to open the door. As he stepped inside, a missile, shaped like a small girl in a lavender sunsuit, hurled straight for him.

"Daddy! Benvenuti a casa!"

"Buon giorno, gattina!" Norrington scooped up his daughter, hugging her close to bestow a big kiss. Lysee's newest hairstyle glinted before his eyes; an artful arrangement of looped red braids.

"Grazioso- mi piace questo!" He straightened to regard the woman beyond; a slim dark-skirted presence. "Hai fatto un buon lavoro, come sempre."

The lady nodded. "Prego, Signore Norrington. Signorina Lysander era una brava ragazza di oggi. Per la maggior parte."

"Sono lieto di sentire che. Il vostro aiuto è molto apprezzato, Signora Gazillo."

"Nessun problema." The woman retrieved her big fuschia bag from a hallway chair. "Mi dispiace, ma ora devo lasciare. Arrivederci."

"Arrivederci, Signora Gazillo!" Lysander called, waving vigorously as the woman took her leave.

James, still holding Lysee, tugged playfully at one gleaming plait. "Were you trying to look like your Cousin Jack?"

"No. I think Mrs. Gazillo jus' likes to braid hair."

"I know she likes braiding yours. It's so pretty, and she doesn't have many redheads among her clientele."

"She should do Mommy's hair."

"Your Mommy prefers to do her own. That's one matter I have no say in, mio caro."

James carried his little girl from the front hall to the spacious copper kitchen, where he set her down. "I feel like having a cup of coffee. What about you?"

"Mocha frappuccino!" Lysee punctuated the exclamation with a little jump. Now that was his girl.

"I didn't really need to ask, did I?" Her father grinned as he opened a cupboard. "I'm very glad to see you're feeling better, gattina."

"Cousin Jack said he's gonna try to make Royal all well," the girl explained.

That gave James pause. For the first time, he looked to the big blue cushion beside the back door. It was vacant.

"Where is Royal?"

"Cousin Jack took him along. He says the treatment will prob'ly work on dogs, too."

Comprehension hit Norrington all at once. "Sparrow took that dog to...!"

A three-note chime rang, signaling someone had just entered through the south door. There was a fast scramble of paws through the length of the house, and a shaggy gray beast barreled in- graceless, hearty and energetic as any puppy.

Lysee's delighted eyes went round as saucers. "Royal!"

Any first impression Norrington had- that Jack had simply brought home a lookalike- was dashed by the dog's response to that; the voice of his very favorite human. Royal started jumping all over her, barking and licking, tail blurred as a helicopter blade. The child shrieked happily.

Seconds later, Jack himself made a grand entrance, wearing a new tee shirt with a goofy cartoon alligator. The spring in his step denoted more than a fine mood. "Greetings, Lysee- happy early birthday to you! An' isn't that a bonnie new 'do! James- good to see you too!"

"Thank You Thank You Thank You!" Lysander launched herself out of the child-dog whirlwind to flung arms around her cousin's waist, hard.

"Oofff! Easy on the goods, chit!" Sparrow pretended to complain. Royal bounded around the two, still barking excitedly.

James decided it was time to reel things in. "Lysee, you know the kitchen's not a good place to play. Why don't you take Royal down to the cove instead? Just don't go in the water."

"Aye- he can handle those stairs now! It'll be a long time before they'll give him any more trouble!" Jack echoed.

"Okay!" The girl snatched up her beach bag (always kept on the door-side hook), pulled open the sliding door and raced from the house. Royal went along, bouncing on every side of her at once.

Norrington faced Jack squarely. And experienced a subtle shock. This was the first time he'd seen Sparrow fresh from 'treatment'. No single change to the pirate's hard-to-age features was prominent, but the collective effect... James was confronting a dashing young knave about half his physiological age. Which was certainly a better indicator of Jack's emotional maturation.

"Theer'll be no charge fer the expenses, ol' Commodore. 'Tis my birthday gift to the lass!" the knave assured, beaming.

Norrington drew a careful breath. "Sparrow, we need to talk."

Jack's happy smile drooped at James' tone. "What about?"

"You really should have gotten our permission before you did this."

"I thought it'd be more sharply delightful if it was a surprise! Like unwrapping a present!" Sparrow seemed genuinely taken aback by James' lack of total approval.

Norrington steeled himself to impart a needed, if possibly unenjoyable lesson- something he'd been obliged to do regularly since becoming a father.

"The thing is, you mustn't give her unrealistic expectations. We can't have her thinking you'll perform a miraculous cure whenever Royal..."

"Why not? I'm willing ta make the effort! I'll use all my bonus points if necessary!"

"The problem isn't with your being willing or able. We can not allow her such an unrealistic world view," James insisted sternly. "You never had a pet as a kid, so probably don't realize they provide a crucial life-lesson: that every living thing- good or bad- eventually grows old and dies. The passing of my own childhood dogs taught me this. Lysee needs to learn it, too."

Jack's jovial mood was quite gone. "An' when were you plannin' to mention there's a variable?"

"As with other 'facts of life', we'll tell her about the Fountain when we believe she's of sufficient age. Mare and I are postponing our own first treatment for exactly that reason. We'll wait until Lysander is old enough to have some comprehension of what the Aqua de Vida is: a very rare privilege. Not something to take for granted. It's an option she should ponder carefully- preferably for years- before she decides whether or not to use it. She'll only be able to make a responsible choice if she understands the natural roles of life and death. Surely you can see this."

His friend was looking at the floor, wounded. "So my birthday present's not wanted."

"I didn't say that." Confound it, this was like dealing with a second child! "I just need you to understand why you must consult with Mare and myself, before doing anything like this again. We need to do what we think is best for Lysander, over the long run as well as the short run."

Sparrow tried to nod jauntily, but disappointment lingered in his eyes. This bothered James far more than an overt display. He set hands on the smaller man's shoulders, squeezing reassuringly.

"Now Jack, don't forget you're a former pirate captain- it's hardly piratical to sulk over hurt feelings. I know you meant well. To a large extent, you've even done well. You've made Lysee very happy, and I expect Mare will be too, when she gets home. Don't imagine I'm unappreciative of that." James glanced to the hook beside the kitchen window, where the birdcage used to hang. "And I will concede: Lysee has probably had sufficient hard life-lessons for one week. So, having made my point... I'll say no more about it."

Jack was making a visible effort to buck up. "Oh! Almost forgot- I also got her a souvenir of Florida." He pulled a folded green cloth from his pants pocket, shaking it out. It was a matching alligator tee, just the girl's size.

It was James' turn to grin. "I know she'll like that. Why don't you take it to her right now? She should have supervision on that beach. Preferably by an adult, but in lieu of that..."

The roguish mouth quirked. "Jus' let me get my trunks on." Jack slipped from Norrington's grip and exited the kitchen, heading for his own section of the house.

James sighed, as he resumed preparing his coffee. He didn't like reprimanding Sparrow for his misjudgments any more than he enjoyed disciplining his daughter, but both had to be done sometimes. Parental responsibilities were not to be shirked, no matter how burdensome.

He took bracing sips from the cup, as he crossed the living room to the marble balcony on the villa's southern side. That vivid-blue seascape was always worth looking at. He could not see the little cove from this vantage, but clearly heard the childish shouting below. And those familiar throaty barks he though he'd never hearken to again.

Now that all unpleasant duties were out of the way, Norrington could admit to feeling happy- even joyful- at the prospect of having Royal around for years to come. Jack might need to be more mindful about getting parental consent, but there was no faulting his motives. At least not about anything relevant to Lysander. Sparrow would walk into Hell for that little girl, James was sure.

/ He's restored Lysee's pet to her... not much different from what a veterinarian would do. I must remember to give him a proper Thank You before the day's out. /

Norrington gulped down the last of his coffee. Fatherhood was a balancing act for any man. He just had a couple extra jokers in his deck.

Speaking of jokers... he could now hear Jack's voice mingling with Lysee's and Royal's. Sounding cheerful enough. The ex-pirate was notably resilient, for which James was profoundly grateful. He felt strongly tempted to join the three. And, come to think of it, why shouldn't he?

Grinning, Norrington stepped inside to get into his own trunks. He'd paid sufficient parental dues for now. Time to collect his fair share of the privileges.

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FINIS

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Translations:

Grazie, Signore. Tenga il resto. - Thank you, sir. Keep the change.

Benvenuti a casa! - Welcome home!

Buon giorno, gattina! - Good day, kitten!

Grazioso- mi piace questo! - Pretty- I like this!

Hai fatto un buon lavoro, come sempre. - You did a fine job, as usual.

Prego, Signore Norrington. - Thank you, Mr. Norrington.

Signorina Lysander era una brava ragazza di oggi. Per la maggior parte. - Miss Lysander was a good girl today. For the most part.

Sono lieto di sentire che. Il vostro aiuto è molto apprezzato, Signora Gazillo. - I'm glad to hear that. Your help is much appreciated, Mrs. Gazillo.

Nessun problema. Mi dispiace, ma ora devo lasciare. Arrivederci. - No problem. I'm sorry, but I must leave now. Goodbye.

mio caro - my dear