'Pirates of the Caribbean' belongs to Disney.

xxx

This chapter is rated PG-13 for some mild nudity and sensuality.

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Floridian sun cast slanted afternoon rays onto the flat saw-grass landscape, dotted with scattered islands of cabbage palms and mahogany trees. And onto one unclothed young body reclining on a heart-shaped mound of much softer grass. Jack was air-drying his nearly unblemished skin. His just-finished bath had eliminated the last traces of lash marks, bullet scars, forearm burn and eyebrow slash. Only a single flaw remained: the vague etching of the ancient P brand. Sparrow felt no regrets. He was in a mood to make a fresh start.

The sunbather stretched, turning onto his side. Luxuriating in the usual post-Fountain sensations... or lack thereof. Every joint and vertebra was supple and ache-free, his skin smooth and taunt across face and torso, his hair full and dark with a trace of natural wave. Areas surrounding the Aqua de Vida tended to assume the ambiance of nudist colonies, since newly-emerged users couldn't get enough of viewing the results. It helped that this was the Everglades' only gator- and bug-free zone. Murphy's People didn't want any wildlife contaminating the water chemistry.

Sparrow half-rose on one elbow to take another gander along his length. Lean, bronzed, sleekly muscled. He rather hoped she would like the look of it when she came out. Jack glanced towards the nearest mahogany grove. Lysander would be in there longer than usual, since she was also giving Royal his treatment. But she'd certainly be done before nightfall.

Jack eased back onto the soft grass bed, letting his mind drift. A warm breeze stirred his hair, setting him to pondering the dream he'd had last night... one he'd experienced several times before.

There'd been a period in Jack's history when nightmares had been such a frequent plague, he'd suspected he was under a curse. They'd started easing off when James Norrington came back into his life- no coincidence, Jack was sure. And after Meredith, and then Lysee, joined them, the problem ceased almost entirely. Almost.

Last night's recurring dream had never been among his worst- faint praise indeed! It was about a real event- actually something of a nonevent- which'd occurred in his original lifetime. During Elizabeth Turner's tenure as Pirate King, some blaggard Count had stolen an important artifact from Shipwreck Cove... Morgan's sextant, if he recalled right. Liz had requested the Black Pearl's assistance overtaking the thief's ship, the Raven, to get it back. Which they had, with hardly any trouble. The Count had fired a single ineffective shot from a chaser cannon as the Pearl closed in- that'd been the worst of it.

In the dream version, one crucial bit always happened differently. Just as Sparrow maneuvered his ship alongside the surrendering Raven, that one shot passed close enough to scour him with grapeshot, inflicting injuries Jack survived just long enough to make his farewells to a weeping Elizabeth. Whereupon he was delivered into the kindly keeping of Will Turner, the then-master of the Flying Dutchman.

So the dream had always played, but last night's version had lasted a crucial minute longer. Captain Turner had informed Jack he needn't cross over yet. Will spoke of the powerful service Sparrow had done him a few years ago. In return for a certain sacrifice, Jack had acquired an unusual Christmas present for Elizabeth: a specially-powered mirror. Through this, Liz and Will had been able to see and speak with each other, for one precious minute. Just long enough to provide Will his very first look at their recently-born son.

"I told you then, Jack, that you had the gratitude of the Captain of the Flying Dutchman. Now you'll learn what that's worth. I can grant you a special boon- return you to the Pearl the moment before that fatal shot was fired. This time you'll notice the cannon muzzle in time to dodge the line of fire. It will be allowed, just this once, because there are powers who believe Jack Sparrow has more living to do. If that's what you wish. Do you?" Jack had promptly answered in the affirmative.

Then the dream dissolved around him, and he'd awakened with a familiar Everglades excursion ahead of him.

Sparrow frowned at this recollection. None of his other repeating dreams, good or bad, had ever felt quite so real. It made him wonder... could those 'powers' Will referred to possibly be Murphy's People? Bloody hell, had that dissembling whelp known Jack's destiny, and breathed no word of it, though all those years after his return...?

Hearing someone approach, Jack gracefully rose into a sitting position. A sturdily built young Korean-American man was making his way towards the grass mound, folded clothes protruding from the top of his canvas shoulder bag. Sparrow took a moment to adjust to his protégé's new appearance; the yellowish skin pulled taunt over toned muscles, the fashionable shoulder-length hair now a solid black.

"You 'young up' really good, Hyo!"

"I know! I mean, thank you, Captain." The now-lad gave him a delighted grin. Hyo Richards had been recruited in middle age, so was getting his initial Fountain treatment early in his tenure. Typically, he was quite bedazzled by the effects. Jack smiled too, recalling his own first dip.

The pirate checked the time from the sun, shooting another glance towards the grove. "I suppose Lysee and her mini-menagerie went in, soon as you came out?"

"Yes she did!" Hyo, who'd displayed a puckish quality even in his fifties, was almost boyishly excited about meeting Lysander Bose Norrington. "Do you think we might be doing Missions with her sometime?"

"'Tis possible. Depends on what talents are called for. I gather you'd like to?"

"I would. Mr. Murphy told me what she did in '75."

Sparrow swelled visibly. Lysee's execution of that most challenging and vital Mission had made her something of a legend amongst Operatives, and Jack had played a major role preparing her for it. "Always knew that lass'd do her family name proud! Even when she were a whelpess."

Hyo set his bag beside Jack's at the mound's edge, then joined him to sit in the middle. His wide hands stayed in motion, eagerly prodding his own restored musculature. "How long have you known Ms Norrington?"

"Since she was two days old. Her Mum and Da were my best mates, an' I knew what stuff they were made of! Though it was during our summer trip through France when the lass really started ta bloom... Now jus' put that smirk away, Mr. Richards! She was sixteen, intent on havin' a pre-college adventure. I came along ta act as her tour guide an' bodyguard, an' I performed both functions honorably." Jack's tone was stern. He'd damned well proved his love for Lysander was as selfless as that ever came, so didn't like anyone casting even vague aspersions on it.

"My apologies. I didn't realize you were talking about her teen years." Hyo was polite to a fault, except when dealing with adversaries- Sparrow had seen more than one fall to the Korean's right hook. "I hope you and Ms Norrington enjoyed that excursion."

This reminder restored Jack's good humor. "Aye. 'Twas traditional sightseeing mixed with a bit of fence-jumpin'." He paused, recalling a favorite moment; Lysee racing a moonlit horse alongside his own, both of them laughing from sheer joy of living. "After that she did fine in college. Got into show jumping, proved ta be a natural. Five years later she rode for Great Britain in the Olympics. That admirable nag of hers, Flying Dutchman, did his best-ever run an' they took Bronze. And yes, I'm aware they finished that high only 'cause several of the favorites had uncharacteristic stumbles. But such has always been the fortunes of the Games."

"I'll take your word for it. That was a little before my time."

"'Twas a most gratifying triumph... with one downside," Jack admitted with a wince. "During that competition Lysee met a replacement rider on the French team, Amaury Coté. Charmin' rich SOB, who figured he might as well snatch up the nine-day 'media darling' who'd come out of nowhere to medal. They had a whirlwind courtship, married three months later. No one other 'en herself believed it would last. Beyond rare good looks, an' love of all things equine, those two had virtually nothing in common! Lysee hadn't exactly grown up impoverished, but her folks'd never let her take it for granted- taught her she should give something back for her privileges, an' be mindful of them who had less. Amaury had been overindulged since the womb, considering it only his due. Expected everything ta be handed to him, had nothing but disdain fer those born inta lesser circumstances. Treated his staff shabbily, too. Entirely unworthy of her!" Jack almost spat in disgust.

Hyo regarded his mentor with that familiar sharp-soft stare. "You'd rather it'd been you?"

Sparrow shook his head, sunglints dancing along his curled locks. "Not at that juncture. Theer was a significant generational difference 'tween Lysee and meself back then. I knew the only way ta bridge it was ta let her log a minimum quota of life experiences, positive an' otherwise. Even includin' an ill-considered marriage that fell apart in two years an' left her sour on men a lot longer 'en that.

"But 'tis been said, 'The flowers of character are best watered by tears of adversity.' 'Seems the lessons she learned from that mistake were the last criteria she needed ta make Operative. One week after the divorce, Mr. Murphy approached with introductions an' a job offer." Jack smirked, recalling Lysee's account. "He made his move outside an ice cream establishment- referred to the occasion she'd dyed her hair purple. To this day she likes ta have a commemorative raspberry-passionfruit sorbet on the anniversary."

Hyo also looked cheerful. "Murphy sidled up to me in a transmod-upgrade waiting room- told how I'd proposed to Eun on the Golden Gate Bridge."

"I was takin' in the view from a fishing pier. This old coot in a gray wool hat wandered up an' started describing the time I body-slamming Barbossa into a Guadeloupe harbor." Every Operative had a 'first meeting' story. "Anyways, fer a decade afterwards Lysander threw herself into her work, to the exclusion of almost all else. She developed a rare knack for situational assessment an' dealing with unexpected complications. 'Daresay I can claim some credit fer that. Once she'd got over bastard Amaury she had relationships with the normal number of blokes, but, having learned ta check the coast carefully before making landing, she didn't marry any of 'em. Missions remained her primary focus... until she met Dakshi Bose. I played some small role in that, too."

"Deliberately?"

Sparrow's mustache twitched. "Let's just say, I underestimated how well the two of 'em would mesh. Dak was cut from her very cloth; a fine brave spirit, always ready to drop everything ta go on another adventure, yet possessin' a strong sense of responsibility. He'd also come through an ill-judged first marr-i-age, took away the same lessons. Lysander an' Dak's union was just about all it should've been, notwithstandin' their one disappointment..." Jack checked himself. Lysee's disfunctional uterus was a private matter. For different reasons, he also refrained from mentioning how long he'd felt ambiguous about Lysee's finding a soul mate who wasn't him- a response he wasn't proud of. "They made each other happy. I'll always think highly of Dak fer that." Jack's expression slumped into regret.

Hyo folded arms over his knees. "What happened?"

"A ridiculously mundane tragedy. Dak was takin' an after-dinner constitutional when he got run down by a kid sending a tonal. Theer's sound reason fer those public streamers advisin' folk not ta do that while drivin'! 'Twas a great sorrow to everyone who'd known him. Hurt Lysee most of all... she'd also lost her last sibling, just a few months prior. But the lass has made valiant efforts ta get on with her life. 'Says he'd want her to, just as she'd of wanted him to, if she'd gone first."

Jack grimaced at the very thought. His own grief had been real- for an admirable man killed before his time, as well as for his beloved's beloved. So he'd willingly taken on the role of Supportive Older Brother throughout her compounded mourning period. Nobody was going to dishonorably snare Lysander on the rebound. Least of all himself!

But that was four years ago. By now, Lysee should be able to make decisions with an unclouded mind. His hope was restored... though, as before, he mustn't assume anything.

"In the meanwhile, her folks pursued theer own lives. 'Soon as Lysee finished college, James an' Mare took theer first treatment at the Fountain, then spent several years doin' High an' Medium Haz Missions. Once they'd got theer fill of those, they carried out theer long-planned ambition ta have a boy child. Or two!" Sparrow added cheerily. "Geoffrey and Jacob both took after theer uncle of the latter name; studious levelheaded chaps with IQs in the top percentile. Dutiful sons, husbands an' fathers, who excelled in theer chosen fields an' made valuable contributions to society. Offspring to be proud of, fer sure."

Hyo arched both brows. That gesture lost no meaning on his newly youthful face. "I sense a 'but' coming up."

"But: they lacked that particular daring and adventurousness what's required ta make a good Operative. Of course they knew about the family vocation- both contributed a bit of 'ground work'. But they preferred ta leave Missions to their Big Sis. Eventually they went into other professions entirely. Jeff became a professor of 20th Century Literature at New Oxford University- he certainly had the ancestral credentials fer such a discipline. Jake... as you're a fusion engineer, you've probably heard of him."

"Of course! Jacob Norrington was one of the three MIT Profs nominated for the Nobel Science Prize for their work on hydrogen cells."

"Aye! Might've won it, too, if they hadn't been nominated the same year as Jiayi Lin."

"Dr. Lin's atmospheric converters are what made the Bradbury Colony possible."

Sparrow noted the anticipation in Hyo's voice when he mentioned the Colony. Mr. Richards, a lifelong space enthusiast, had repeatedly applied to visit that in-progress Martian settlement. But medical exams had established that, despite his overall fitness, his cardiovascular system was too aged to safely make the adjustments between Terrestrial and Martian gravities. Well, that obviously wasn't going to be a problem now. (Jack wasn't planning to visit Mars until the surface reformers had established a lot more water-cover. A planet without oceans was just too alien for him.)

"I don't mean to imply the prize was misawarded. Jus' mentionin' it was a stiff competition that year. But even if Jake'd won, such achievements don't earn a bloke Fountain rights. He an' Jeff didn't even particularly want to use it. They both declared themselves content ta receive the normal allotment of years, an' that's what they got." Sparrow's tone could be described as matter-of-fact sadness. "Jeff passed on a bit prematurely. When he was sixty seven, he an' his missis were killed in a hover-pod crash. Jake went naturally... made it to eighty-eight before one too many of his innards failed, an' he signed the Do Not Resuscitate order.

"This had a most grievous effect on theer parents. Seems outlivin' yer own children- even them what've died of old age- takes the heart out of you as few things can. Mare an' James still loved their grand kids an' great-grand kids, but that lot didn't provide much sense of connection. They all took after theer brainy, stolid, non-Operative fathers... 'twas like they resided in a different world."

Jack's jaw worked a bit, as he got to the truly traumatic part of the narrative. "Not long after Jacob's funeral launch, Mare an' James tendered theer resignations ta Mr. Murphy. They'd accumulated plentiful water-use bonuses, so I thought they'd just decided ta give normal livin' a try. When they delayed theer next opportune-scheduled treatment, I thought they were just lettin' it slide a bit. 'Might be I simply didn't want ta read the weather signs.

"So I got a considerable shock when James an' Mare summoned me to theer residence, sayin' they had something important ta tell me. This was jus over a year ago... They said, they'd decided they'd reached theer satiation points. No more Fountain visits. In fact, having aged as much as they wanted to, they didn't intend to prolong the process."

Sparrow's eyes squeezed shut. Recalling that moment- Mare's voice ever-so-gently speaking those devastating words- still pierced him like a blade. "These two had been me best mates, an' more, fer lifetimes. An' it weren't natural an' inevitable forces takin' them away- they were leaving me!"

Hyo, a widower, knew a sympathetic nod was the only needed response.

"You may've noticed it's not my usual habit ta try ta dissuade folk from theer life decisions. But I made a vigorous attempt on that occasion. Even evoked a promise James'd made ta me long ago, that he'd never abandon me fer good. I demanded ta know whether his word was actually worth anythin' more than a pile of dung! 'Cept I didn't put it so politely.

"James retained his composure throughout my tantrum. When I'd calmed down enough ta listen, he replied he'd given his word ta never leave me entirely, and he'd meant it. There was a part of himself, and Mare, who'd be stayin' with me. 'Some individuals never really lose their enthusiasm for living. You, Jack, have long since proven to be one. By now we can be sure Lysander Anne is another, and that she'll always want you in your life. For as long as she lives, you'll never be left without a family.'"

Sparrow stopped speaking. He didn't really want to describe the immediate aftermath- himself curled up on that synthasuede sofa, miserable as a heartbroken child. Mare easing his head into her lap, gently toying with his hair. Singing a slightly-edited ballad from a long-ago era, her voice warm and soft as an Everglades breeze:

"I don't mind spending every day
Out on your corner in the pouring rain...
Look for the man with the broken smile,
Ask him if he wants to stay awhile

And he will be loved,
And he will be loved,
And he will be loved...

Please don't try so hard to say goodbye
And he will be loved..."

Hyo broke the silence. "I take it the Norringtons kept to their resolve."

"Never believed they wouldn't. They'd not've revealed such a thing ta me 'less they were certain of their course. So, about a month later, they made theer final crossing. Followed Will an' Liz Turner's example, as I'd related it to 'em."

"I'm sorry- whose example?"

"Nobody you've heard of. Good friends from my original lifetime. William an' Elizabeth made a point of passing away at sea, in case Will's Da was still minding helm an' wanting relief. James and Mare did the same, thinking they might offer similar succor to the Turners. Seemed to 'em that sailing the netherworld whilst providin' a vital service was an acceptable way ta spend eternity." Jack related this quickly- Hyo knew that meant the full tale was a lengthy one he'd prefer to relate separately. "As on that previous occasion, I gave them some assistance, though it was painful beyond anything I've ever done. At the moment of parting James handed me his sword, just like William had done. That's one artifact I'll never relenquish," Jack finished, almost ferociously.

The men were quiet again. Swaying grass clicked and sighed in the afternoon breeze.

Hyo finally asked, "Now that it's only the two of you left, are you planning to tell her?"

Sparrow looked expectantly towards the mahogany clump. Lysee had used the Fountain once before, but Jack hadn't been present then- never seen her newly emerged and replenished. It almost embarrassed him to be so looking forward to the sight. "Might be I will, Hyo. If the circumstances seem right. Have ta take careful soundings before steerin' into such a..."

His words trailed off as graceful movement caught his eye. A woman was emerging from the grove, walking towards then. Entranced, Jack rose to his feet.

Lysander's appearance exceeded his best expectations. Long-limbed, free-striding, dewy and fresh as Botticelli's newborn Venus. Those tresses Jack had always loved, and which Dak had persuaded her to grow past her hips, glowed like embers alongside tanned skin. Emerald glints at her eyes and throat provided perfect countering color.

Royal trotted behind her like an attending Grace, his puppyish frisking curtailed by the pack strapped across his shoulders. This provided a handy container for Lysee's effects, and a comfy saddle for his white-and-black passenger. Georgette needed no Fountain, but was loathe to be separated from her canine pal.

The dog and monkey barked and chittered greetings, as Lysander reached the short-grass mound. She smiled a happy greeting- that lovely high-cheekboned face combined the best features of both parents. Jack experienced a surge of feeling... which, following long habit, he dutifully squashed.

/ Won't do ta let it show before I've some idea whether 'tis reciprocated! Much better ta have the lass as my acting sister, than scared off altogether. /

But there was no way he could restrain his ear-to-ear grin. "Luv, yer beautiful as a vision from Greek mythology!"

"So are you, Jack! Except you're darker. And I like that better!" Lysee was eyeing him with similar appreciation. Sparrow felt slightly chagrined, realizing he'd neglected to replace his shorts... but birthday suits were the standard here, weren't they? Even that synonym was appropriate to the situation.

"You look great too, Hyo."

"Thank you, Ms. Norrington." Ack, Sparrow had almost forgotten his protégé was present! Richards had had the presence of mind to slip on a few clothes, and was now unstrapping Royal's pack in case Lysee wanted to do the same. Though Sparrow appreciated his consideration, he wished the young man would now think to slip discreetly away...

More footsteps approached. Jack whirled, prepared to snap that this was a restricted area. But the intruder was Mr. Murphy, in a flat white sun hat and pressed-algae leisure suit. In every era, that man dressed in whatever manner would draw the least attention.

"Good day, sir!" Hyo greeted for all of them.

"Afternoon, Mr. Richards, Ms Norrington, Mr. Sparrow." As usual, Murphy wasted no more time on preliminaries. Upon reaching the mound he unpocketed two objects; a portable holo player and a sheathed holo card.

Mr. Sparrow made a face. "Surely those aren't Mission instructions already?"

Murphy shook his peppered locks. "I'm fulfilling a request made to me by the late Meredith and James Norrington. In the event their daughter Lysander and friend Jack were ever to use the Fountain on the same day, and were both 'unattached', I was to give them a chance to view this holo card together. I assume it contains a message for you both."

Lysander raised a large elegant hand to the pendant at her throat. Jack peered at the card with redoubled interest.

Murphy turned expressionless eyes on the Korean youth. "It'd behoove us to move out hearing range, Mr. Richards. If this turns out to be something they want to share, they can do so later."

"Certainly." Hyo dropped Lysee's bag, shouldered his own, and set off towards the second-closest tree grove.

Murphy handed the half-dome player to Jack, the green-and-silver card to Lysee. Probably to assure it would only be played by mutual consent. "No need to rush. Hyo can take a separate Corridor home. Royal, Georgette; come with me, please."

The dog obediently trotted off beside Murphy. Georgette turned her head and- Jack would swear- bestowed a knowing wink.

The ex-pirate shifted the grapefruit-sized player between his hands. "What do you suppose...?"

"Let's not suppose- let's find out!"

With combined dread and eagerness, Jack positioned the little hemisphere on the ground. Lysee slipped the card into the slot and pressed Play.

Two figures shimmered into existence, standing side by side. It was James and Meredith, looking just as the recipients had last seen them. Though gray haired and wrinkled with age, their faces were resolved, eyes weary but alert. The projected figures wore the same semiformal clothes in which they'd set out to sea- perhaps they'd made this recording the very same day. James sported his old gold-trimmed tricorn, over hair nearly as pale as a Naval wig. Mare was bareheaded, the ends of her silver-red mane stirred by a long-ago breeze. Their lined hands were clasped, their gazes turned forward, almost as if they could see their intended audience.

"Ohoh," Lysee gasped, swaying a little. Jack, though hardly less shaken, stepped closer to grasp her hand.

"Greetings, Captain Jack Sparrow." The James hologram nodded fondly, then smiled with great warmth. "Hello, Lysander Anne."

The Meredith holo smiled in a similar way. "This is our final message to our precious girl, and our scampish best friend. If Mr. Murphy has honored our request- which seems likely- the two of you have recently emerged from the Fountain. So you're both young and, I daresay, highly attractive." With a smirk, Mare added, "As I'm sure nether of you needs to have pointed out."

Jack felt a slight blush- his first in decades.

Norrington took over. "This is, therefore, an opportune moment for you two to admit what you feel for each other. Oh yes- we've been aware for some while." His tone remained mercifully matter-of-fact. "Since Lysee was a teenager, you, Jack, have nursed a hope that she might someday come to love you not just as a friend, but as a woman loves a man. I strongly commend you for being willing to wait for the years to mitigate your age difference. Much as I've twitted you about your perpetual immaturity, I actually believe you've improved considerably since our days on your island estate."

"Don't mention it, Commodore... come to think of it, you didn't," Sparrow muttered.

James' green gaze softened. "And you, my darling Lysander, have long since outgrown what you correctly perceived as a 'schoolgirl crush' on Jack. Since then, you've taken enough hard knocks to be able to tell the difference between infatuation and grown-up love. You can now judge your feelings accordingly."

Both holo figures fell silent, apparently aware their listeners needed a minute to exchange some words of their own.

Sparrow looked wonderingly to Lysander. "You had a crush on me? You hid it well, lass!"

A trace of embarrassment flashed across those lively emerald eyes. "'Cause I knew you'd think it was a silly teen infatuation, and you'd be right! And after Amaury I was kinna a cold fish for a long time, an' when I'd finally gotten over him I thought you just didn't think about me that way."

"I was ready to, luv. Jus' needed you ta catch up a bit."

The Commodore cleared his throat. Jack and Lysee returned attention to the holo as it gravely resumed speaking.

"Lysander, we know you and Dakshi loved each other. He was a very fine man; you should always treasure the years you spent together. But you should also have no qualms about leaving them in the past. Regrettable though his death was, it would be nearly as tragic if you let it rule your life. I am absolutely sure Dak would rejoice in your finding a new love. So don't feel any guilt about accepting it, my gattina." The old endearment sent a fast tear down Lysee's cheek.

Mare pushed aside a streaked-copper lock as she spoke. "I suspect one or both of you might be concerned about how we'd view your 'getting involved.' Jack did help care for you as a baby, and filled the role of a big brother through your formative years. But that was well over a lifetime ago- long enough for the relationship to change. So, now that you're the same physiological age, be assured that whatever you decide to do has our unequivocal blessing."

"Indeed," James confirmed. "I've long suspected, Jack, that you might finally 'settle down' if you could find a good woman who was as immortal as you are. It didn't immediately occur to me Lysee could be a candidate... I will admit, that realization came as a bit of a shock. But after some consideration, I decided I had no real grounds to object- you do tend to do the right thing when it really matters. I trust you'll not prove me wrong."

Jack glanced down for a second. / I owe 'em an apology- never gave either of 'em credit fer that much understandin'! /

"Furthermore, you may consider this effective immediately. We're quite aware how it feels, coming fresh out of those waters!" The holo figures exchanged an amorous glance- for a moment they looked decades younger. The hand in Sparrow's gave his a brief, fierce grip.

Mare spoke again. "And Lysee, Jack: there is one more thing. We have a parting gift for you. You'll probably recall I was always asking Murphy as many questions as he'd tolerate. That was how I learned something about the Fountain you may not've suspected. Given reason, Murphy's People can control exactly what 'bonus gift' the water will bestow on a user. So James and I made another request. If you're watching this holo card, it's just been granted."

Jack and Lysee looked to each other again, struck by the same hope...

"Those reproductive dysfunctions you both had? They've been repaired. You can now have children, if you wish to."

Lysee's free hand went to her abdomen. Jack felt weak at the knees again.

Mare leaned forward tenderly. "Mind you, Lysander, though you now have the option, don't feel you're under obligation to 'carry on the family name.' Your younger brothers have already taken care of that." The blue-gray eyes glittered. "Jacob and Geoffrey are well worthy of remembrance. Please try not to forget either of them."

"I won't! Ever!" Lysee touched the emerald pendant, as was her habit when making a promise she intended to keep.

James gave Mare's wrist a soothing pat before speaking again. "And Jack, regarding your conviction you should only sire a single offspring: don't let that be a major discouragement. Your offspring shall eventually be old enough to parent child of their own. As shall that child, and the next. And they'll probably all be around a long while, since your entire line will probably have what it takes to earn Fountain privileges. Jack Sparrow's family may grow slowly, but grow it shall. If you both desire it, Lysander and yourself may become the founders of a most efficacious dynasty of Operatives." Norrington's continence firmed- the imperious Navyman of old. "Should you choose that course, you scalawag, make damned sure you conduct yourself in a manner worthy of my daughter. Or I just might come back to haunt you. I've done more improbable things!"

Jack drew himself straight, snapping a military salute. "Aye-aye, ol' stuffy Commodore!"

"I will add that, for some years now, I've been starting most days with a prayer of gratitude for my failure to hang you... cousin." This comment made Sparrow grin.

Mare's face was aglow with feeling, "Whatever the two of you decide to do with your lives, we certainly wish you all the happiness and adventures you can handle. For as many lifetimes as you might want."

"Every joy to you, my gattina. Chart your course well, Sparrow. Take care of each other!" James gave them a broad-handed wave. "Goodbye, brave souls! May the wind be at your backs!"

James and Meredith leaned close against each other, as Mare performed the same wave. "Farewell, my darlings! Always remember how much we loved you both, and still do!"

The two figures faded- loving faces last of all- as the card concluded. For some seconds Lysee and Jack stared at the empty space, she dabbing at her cheeks, he... blinking hard in the late-day sun.

Finally Lysander stooped to remove the card, carefully returning it to it's sheath before clutching the precious object it to her heart. "Goodbye, Mom and Dad," she almost whispered. Sparrow closed his eyes, projecting- he hoped- a heartfelt Thank You into that back-of-beyond where his friends now sailed.

Lysee shifted to the side, tucked the holo card and player into her pack. Sparrow knelt next to her on the velvety grass, gently brushing her tears away. "It would seem, luv, that the last shoal between us has just been removed. The only matter left to decide is... what do you want?"

She raised her head, glittering verdant eyes locking onto his. There was no need to speak- her answer was there. Jack felt like he was gazing into a harbor he'd long searched for.

He reached to brush copper silk back from her shoulders. "I should mention something. If we have a girl, she may possess a penchant fer conversing with birds. 'Tis a trait from my Mum's side that manifests only in females."

Lysander shifted to face him squarely, flashing that wide, eager smile he also loved. It gave her the look of one determined to live life to it's fullest. "I can deal with that. If you're willing to risk having a kid who knows whether you're telling the truth. It could turn out to be a talent that skips generations." Her hands were on his arms, moving to his shoulders before shifting to his chest. "But I do want to decide when, so I took a contrap this morning. Just in case."

There was no turning back now. Jack leaned closer, fingertips circling to the back of her left shoulder, feeling the crescent scar there. Reminding him this was a woman of valor. His other hand explored eyebrow, cheek, jawline... paused to tuck a glowing lock below her ear. "Yer good at planning fer contingencies, my luv," he breathed.

Fingers were caressing him too- he felt them move over his throat and jaw, burrowing deep into his hair, while others traced his ribs. Lysee's grin was sly, her breath smelled of herbs. "I think, it's time we both found out, how good we are at certain other things."

Jack's hand continued purposefully over the glinting neck chain and collarbone, curling over the soft mound of her breast. "Lysander Anne... we have an accord."

Their arms wound tight round each other, mouths meeting at last. Like sun-heated copper, hot and brilliant, they melded together.

x

Beside the next clump of trees, Georgette squawked apprehensively. Nightfall was imminent and she preferred not to be caught in the open at moonrise. Royal panted reassuringly. He could sense his human mistress was happy; therefore all must be well.

Murphy and Hyo, who'd been keeping a distant watch, cut eyes. The older man spoke spoke matter-of-factly. "Let's relocate to the further side of this grove, Mr. Richards. I can activate your Corridor just as readily from there."

"I agree, Mr. Murphy."

But as the group of four retreated under the eaves, Hyo couldn't resist a last glance over his shoulder. The rosy half-sun backlit two kneeling silhouettes- a beautiful young couple in close embrace, slowly sinking onto a welcoming grass bed. Small brilliant clouds flared on either side of them, benevolently consuming the old world... clearing space for another to emerge.

By morning, for these, it would be a world reborn.

Time to do some exploring...

x

To really love a woman, to understand her,
You've got to know her deep inside,
Hear every thought, see every dream,
And give her wings when she wants to fly
Then when you find yourself lying helpless in her arms,
You know you really love a woman...

When you love a woman you tell her that she's really wanted,
When you love a woman you tell her that she's the one,
She needs somebody to tell her that it's gonna last forever,
So tell me have you ever really, really really ever loved a woman?

To really love a woman, let her hold you,
Till you know how she needs to be touched
You've got to breathe her, really taste her
Till you can feel her in your blood
And when you see your unborn children in her eyes
You know you really love a woman...

When you love a woman,
You tell her that she's really wanted
When you love a woman,
You tell her that she's the one
She needs somebody, to tell her that you'll always be together,
So tell me have you ever really, really really ever loved a woman?

So tell me have you ever really, really really ever loved a woman...?

xxx

THE END

xxx

'She Will Be Loved' lyrics by Adam Levine and James Valentine.

'Have You Ever Loved A Woman?' lyrics by Bryan Adams.