Author's Note: This takes place after COTBP and assumes AWE and DMC never happened.
Captain Jack Sparrow rested his head against the mast and arched his back, trying to ease the spasms in his shoulders. After nearly two days with his hands chained just above his head, the muscles were beginning to feel like they would never unkink. On the plus side, the burn from his abused back had faded into a background ache that he was doing his best to ignore. And aside from the occasional bouts of dizziness, his headache had also subsided.
What hurt the most was having to watch his beloved Black Pearl from the deck of the HMS Energizer. Not that he could do much in his current position chained to the mast of the Energizer wearing nothing but his breeches and twenty-five stripes from his majesty's lash. Three times a day, they would release him to relieve himself and eat. He guessed that the reason he wasn't in the brig was that he was a constant reminder to his crew that the Navy was in charge and Sparrow was not.
He turned his head slightly to the left hoping to catch sight of Cotton who had been managing to send messages to Jack using his own brand of sign language. Sure enough, Cotton was fiddling with the ropes that to Jack's trained eye were perfectly fine. Jack lifted his head and jerked his chin slightly. Cotton nodded and swiftly motioned with his hands. Jack nodded again and dredged up a smile. Anamaria's wound had not festered too badly after all.
A noise to his right made him turn his head too quickly and the dizziness caused him to wince and close his eyes. He thought he recognized the step of the guard. Then, he very clearly recognized the sound of a flask being unsealed. He opened his eyes and searched for the guard. Gleefully, he recognized one of the few guards who seemed to favour Jack.
He put on his most charming smile. "Hey, mate, any chance you might a spare drop for a sufferin' man?"
Commodore James Norrington signed his name with a flourish and smiled at the small act of freedom his flamboyant signature represented. In a week, Jack would be back. James had even arranged some leave this time so as to make the most of his time with the captain of the Black Pearl. He had it in mind that the two of them might even manage a trip to inspect a piece of property James was thinking of buying. A piece of land with a lot of privacy and secluded spots where the two of them could...
This pleasant line of thought was shattered by a knock on the door.
James schooled his features to a business-like demeanor. "Enter"
Gillette complied, saluting and exclaiming, "Commodore, sir! The new ship has arrived with the Black Pearl!"
Norrington was surprised but almost immediately he could feel a bubble of delight well inside. The Black Pearl...Jack... so soon!
This bubble burst just as quickly at the dismay on Gillette's face.
"What is it, Gillette?" the Commodore demanded as he rose from his desk.
Gillette opened his mouth, shut it, gulped, and then gestured to the window. James rose to his feet and strode quickly to join Gillette in looking out the window. The view showed the two ships side by side in the harbour. A small boat filled with soldiers made its way towards the dock from the proud, new naval ship.
Puzzled, Norrington turned towards his subordinate, "I don't see..."
"It's Captain Sparrow, sir. They've got him... look!"
Worried now, James turned back to the window in time to see the soldiers haul Captain Jack Sparrow onto the dock. Even from the distance of the fort, James could see Jack was manacled, and missing his boots, jacket, and hat. His hair was also free of its restraining bandanna.
"Come, Lieutenant," Norrington managed to bark out as he marched out the door.
Jack gritted his teeth so that he wouldn't yelp as the soldiers manhandled him over the dock and towards the fort. It wasn't that he was adverse to a little screaming. Indeed, he had indulged in it quite enthusiastically while they were plying the lash. He was almost certain that's why had not received as many stripes as he had honestly anticipated. But his involuntary acquaintance with these particular soldiers had taught him that a scream or yelp of any kind would only encourage these malicious soldiers to be rougher.
Despite his stoic silence, they were already yanking on his arms unnecessarily hard. They had returned his shirt to him, but it did not provide any protection against the metal cuffs of the manacles, and the chafing was causing the bruised skin on his wrists to bleed. He could only thank his lucky stars that he was so accustomed to bare feet already that the forced march through the streets were not cutting them to pieces, too.
As they drew near the fort, Jack started to wonder about the inevitable reunion with Norrington. It was a thought that he had been deliberately avoiding for the past two days. He had to make a choice and the choice might mean an end to his liaisons with James. The sudden flash of pain in his heart made him wince. This involuntary motion did not escape the guards, and one of them yanked on his arm, but. Sparrow barely noticed. He hadn't felt this heartsick since the first time he walked the plank off the Pearl.
The Commodore waited impatiently for the arrival of the party from the ship. Finally, the captain of the new ship marched through the gates of the fort followed by a contingent of six marines and one Captain Jack Sparrow.
James felt his heart lurch at Jack's battered appearance and blank expression. He took a deep breath and forced himself to remember that he was Commodore Norrington and the person in charge.
The captain of the Energizer stopped before the Commodore and saluted.
"Captain William Barton of HMS Energizer reporting as ordered, sir." He turned and gestured proudly at Jack. "And I bring you a present of this pirate and his ship."
With a carefully neutral tone, Norrington asked, "A pirate, you say? I see, and what makes you think that this man is a pirate?"
The Captain bobbed his head slightly as if the request was unexpected. He recovered quickly and drew himself up to respond formally. "We had heard reports of a pirate ship in the area. When we came across this ship, one of my officers recognized it as a notorious pirate ship. And then we discovered that this man bears the brand of a pirate," he finished somewhat triumphantly.
"I see," said Norrington, "your evidence is that this man's ship might have a reputation for piracy and the captain bears a brand."
"Did the Black Pearl attack your ship?"
"Did the Black Pearl flee or attempt to evade you in any way."
"No, sir." Barton was beginning to sound a bit defensive.
"Did Captain Sparrow...," Barton's eyes widened at the Commodore's obvious familiarity with the prisoner's name. Norrington continued relentlessly, "Did Captain Sparrow present you with his letter of marque?"
Now, Barton visibly flinched. "Yes, sir, but when I noticed the brand, I assumed that it was a forgery."
"So, Captain Barton, in summary, you have no evidence whatsoever that the Black Pearl, Captain Sparrow, or his crew were engaging in any piracy. In fact, their actions were perfectly out of character for pirates - neither fleeing nor attacking. And, furthermore, they even presented you with a letter of marque which you flagrantly ignored."
"B-but, Commodore, ..."
Norrington cut him off abruptly, "Lieutenant Gillette, release Captain Sparrow at once."
Barton looked horrified. "But, sir, I must protest. You can't release this man. He's a dangerous criminal!"
James turned to Jack, "Captain Sparrow, have you broken the terms of our agreement leading to your letter of marque?"
Jack's eyes finally met his, "No, Commodore, I have not broken my accord with you."
James held his eyes for just a moment longer, curving his lips in a small smile just for Jack. He turned to give Barton his most disdainful expression, "Release this man, Barton, or I will."
Barton sputtered, "You're taking the word of this criminal over mine?"
"I have the honour of knowing Captain Sparrow personally for some time. I was present when he was granted his letter marque a good twelve months ago." He paused to increase the frostiness of his voice. "You, on the other hand, I do not know. I know nothing about you except that you are quick to accuse and slow to investigate."
"But he attempted to murder one of my men!"
Norrington paused and met Jack's eyes once more.
Jack said with an oddly flat voice, "The man attacked first and under a white flag. Self-defense is what I calls it."
By this time, Gillette had liberated the manacle keys from Barton's men. He looked at Norrington for direction. Receiving his superior's nod to continue, he hastened to Sparrow's side and quickly unlocked the manacles.
Norrington winced inside as heard an involuntary hiss escape Jack. "Gillette, please escort Captain Sparrow to the infirmary."
Jack pulled away from Gillette's solicitous grip.
"Commodore," he began, before swaying suddenly.
James stepped closer and steadied him with both hands. The contact made him aware of just how close to collapsing Jack was. The strain was visible in the hollows of his face. His eyes were bloodshot and seemed to have difficulty focussing on James for any length of time.
There was no mistaking the intensity of his gaze, though, "James, my crew," he muttered in a low voice. "He's holding my crew. They won't stand for it, for much longer."
James could feel his own eyes widen at the implication. He could see Jack's fear and felt it himself. If the crew of the Black Pearl decided to take on Port Royal, the battle would be messy and damaging. "Go with Gillette, Jack. I'll talk to the crew myself."
Jack hesitated, shook his head as if to clear it, before nodding in agreement. "Aye, they might listen to you. I...just need...to sit down for a bit."
The commodore nodded and squeezed Jack's shoulder, hoping to convey the affection he couldn't otherwise show. Jack flinched but smiled crookedly back. James frowned but didn't let go until Gillette took Jack's other arm in a steadying grip.
"Take care him, Gillette," James muttered, "and don't let him leave until I come back." At that, Jack rolled his eyes. "I mean it, Jack. Stay in the infirmary until I return. I need to sort this mess out."
James watched his men leave the Pearl. Each one displayed varying degrees of reluctance, but go they did.
Finally, he turned to face Gibbs and the rest of the pirate crew. He knew most of the crew personally from his sojourn as the guest of their captain. And yet, they stood in a solid hostile group.
Carefully and deliberately, he removed and folded his jacket and placed it on the deck. He then reached up, removed his hat and wig and placed them on top of his jacket. Once again, he looked at the pirate crew. He was relieved to see some of the tension had eased.
He spread his hands out in front, palms up. "I'm sorry this happened. It was wrong of Captain Barton. He had no right to treat you like that. I assure you that he will most definitely face charges and be punished for his error in judgement."
He paused, searching the crowd for any sign that he was getting through to them. Although the crew were more relaxed, they still looked to Gibbs who stood with arms firmly crossed against his chest, chin slightly raised.
Finally, James appealed to the man directly, "What can I do to make this up to you?"
At this, Gibbs said slowly and clearly for all to hear, "You've got our captain, Commodore, and we wants him back. There'll be no parley until he's on this here ship."
The commodore blinked. "He's not a prisoner, Mr. Gibbs. He can come back any time he desires. He's just in the infirmary at the fort." He recalled Jack's hoarse voice talking about Anamaria being shot. He looked around and didn't find her. "You are, of course, any of you in need of medical assistance can make use of it. I understand Anamaria..."
Gibbs interjected sharply, "We take care of our own, Commodore. That includes our captain. You return him to us, then we'll talk."
Conceding defeat, James dropped his eyes and nodded his head. "I will return him to you, but...," he raised his eyes and stared Gibbs directly in the eye and added fiercely and protectively, "...only when he's fit enough."
This time it was Gibbs who blinked. For the first time, his stiff stance relaxed a little as he nodded.
Soberly, James returned to the fort, clearly the two sailors on the dock awaiting their captain's return.
Groves approached the commodore as he entered the fort. The younger man looked grim enough for James to feel his heart sink even as he asked, "What has he done, now, Groves?"
Groves blinked in surprise but then smiled wryly. "As a matter of fact, sir, Sparrow hasn't done anything...yet."
Now, James raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Oh? Then what has happened?"
"Nothing has happened, per se. I think you'd better go to the infirmary and see for yourself."
When James entered the infirmary, his eyes immediately sought and found Jack. He was seated on a low bench drawn up to the table, one hand clutching the edge of the table while the other was in the grip of the surgeon. The surgeon was carefully wrapping the pirate's wrist with clean white bandage. Other white bandages circled Jack's other wrist and covered much of his torso.
James paused only briefly before approaching Jack. He couldn't stop himself from gently resting his hand on Jack's bare shoulder. The skin was warm, perhaps too warm, but still familiarly smooth despite the rough handling of the past few days. The sensation of touching the skin, something only ever done in private before, both soothed and savaged his self-control. He desperately wanted to do more, feel more, take more than he could in the surgeon's presence.
Just then, the surgeon finished his bandaging and released Jack's wrist. Jack raised that wrist and covered James' hand with his own. After gently squeezing it, Jack pushed James hand off his shoulder. Carefully, and slowly, he got to his feet and faced James.
He gave the commodore a shrewd look, "So, me crew won't parley, eh?"
Norrington looked down briefly before meeting Jack's eyes.
"No, they wouldn't. Or rather, their terms to engage in parley were the return of their captain."
Jack nodded, "Hardly surprisin', really. 's what I'd do."
He took a few experimental steps, before continuing. "Well, Commodore, you'd better lend us a shirt, then, if we're goin' to stop me crew from ransacking your little town." He flashed James a grin that was the shadow of his normal impudent smirk.
James looked at the surgeon, "Is he fit to leave the infirmary?"
The surgeon shrugged. "I've seen worse. I've seen better. There's not much more that I can do except advise rest, and he's just as able to get that outside the infirmary as in. The fever will no doubt get worse before it gets better. Just keep the wounds clean and he should recover fully."
Norrington returned his gaze to Jack, but the pirate was already at the door.
The Commodore sighed and turned to the surgeon, "Do you have an spare shirts?"
Jack paused after he placed both hands on the rope ladder scaling the side of the Black Pearl. He took a deep breath and then began climbing up the side, forcing his stiff body to respond as gracefully as it could. He knew the next few minutes with his crew were going to be crucial. If it went wrong, there was a good chance that they might just decide to take the Pearl and elect a new captain. And it would be only too likely that the new captain would sack Port Royal in the very near future as a very public resignation letter.
After what seemed too long, he finally reached the top. Summoning the last of his resources, he leapt over the side with what he hoped was close to his customary panache. He took the few steps needed to close the gap between himself and a grinning Gibbs. Reaching out, he clapped the man on the shoulder and hung on, riding out the wave of dizziness that suddenly engulfed him.
"You with us, Captain?" Gibbs muttered quietly.
"What?" Jack blinked his eyes to clear them, and then noticed that his crew was watching him. Belatedly, he realized that they were looking for a sign of what they should do about the commodore who must have followed him up the ladder and now stood quietly to one side, observing the crew.
He squeezed Gibbs' shoulder slightly - both reassuring Gibbs that he was with him and reassuring himself by the feel of warm, solid, unwavering muscle under his increasingly clammy palm. After letting go, he ambled over to a point just in front of James. He waved his hands expansively, ignoring the painful pull on his back.
"Aye, mates, it's good to be back on board.
"The Commodore here, has offered me the hospitality of his residence while we discuss the terms of our compensation." At this, the crew began to look interested. "Seein' as this might take a while, I'm thinkin' some shore leave might be in order." Now, the crew looked more than interested.
He could feel James stiffen behind him, but mentally willed the other man to keep his mouth shut and play along.
"Before I do that, I have to make sure my ship with be well looked after.
"Of course I'm with you, mate. I had to make sure you lot were takin' good care of my ship before I avail meself of the good commodore's hospitality." He finished with a flourish at James.
The crew muttered and moved restlessly.
Jack swung back and growled out, "After all, Hawkins, you made a right mess of furling those sails, yesterday afternoon. And you as well, Martin. Dobbsy, what the hell were you playin' at with that there line in the mornin'?"
He raked the crew with a keen glance. "Mates, I expect me crew to take care of me ship whether I'm on it or not. Don't ever forget that I am Captain Jack Sparrow, and I know everthin' that happens to the Pearl, savvy?"
The last was delivered in a low intense voice and straight posture. Jack widened his eyes to increase the effect. He was pleased to note that every face, including Norrington's wore a respectful look. A chorus of "Aye, Captain" followed.
"Good." Loosening his posture and gesturing once more to the commodore, Jack continued in a lighter, teasing tone, "Now, the Commodore here, has offered me the hospitality of his residence while we discuss the terms of our compensation."
James turned a startled face towards Jack, "Compensation?"
"Aye, Commodore," Jack grinned wolfishly, "Compensation to me and me crew."
James blinked and wisely nodded, "Ah, yes, of course."
"Seeing as how we are already here, a bit of shore leave might be in order." Jack continued, waving his hand towards the shore, before swivelling his whole body to face James. "I trust, dear Commodore, that none of me men will be accosted, arrested, or annoyed by your men while they enjoy their stay."
Norrington smiled briefly at Jack, "Of course not, Captain Sparrow. They are all covered by your legal letter of marque and are free to enjoy Port Royal's amenities as any other British subject. Assuming, that they do not, as you put it, accost or annoy my men."
Jack flashed a cheeky grin at James, before he grasped the man's hand and announced, "Agreed."
He turned back to his men, "Right, you lot, I want this ship in perfect order before anyone leaves. Hawkins, Martin, and Dobbs, I want you aloft and furlin' those sails to my satisfaction before you go anywhere. The rest of you report to Gibbs for watch rotation. Now, hop to it."
The crew immediately jumped into action. The three men Jack had singled out scurried up the rigging to unfurl and refurl the sails.
After watching the crew for a moment to ensure his orders were being obeyed, Jack made his way towards the helm on the poop deck.
As he climbed the stairs, Jack was aware of both Gibbs and Norrington following him closely. He chose to ignore them and focussed on getting to the wheel before his legs gave out. Finally, he had his hands on the wheel. He stroked it softly and lovingly, drawing strength from his beloved ship.
"Pearl," he thought, "I'm back now, love, but just for a short while. I've got to go ashore, see. I can't have the crew knowin' how bad I'm hurting."
"Sit, Jack, before you fall," Gibbs muttered in his ear.
Jack gave him a sideways look, before eyeing the bench just behind the wheel.
"I'm alright, Josh. Stop fussin'"
"You ain't foolin' me, son. And you won't be foolin' the crew long, if you fall."
Jack turned to glare directly at Gibbs. Even as he did so, the deck seemed to tip alarmingly. A strong grip on his upper left arm was all that prevented him from crashing directly into Gibbs.
A harsh whisper from behind him, indicated that is was James who was holding him up.
"Jack, unless you want me to pick you up and carry you, kindly plant you stubborn, pirate backside on that bench. Now."
And with that, James neatly and firmly steered Jack to the bench. The captain managed to shake him off at the last second so that he could deliberately and ostentatiously sit down in his own time. His shaking legs let him down at the last second, leading to an abrupt collision with the bench, painfully jarring his abused back. But, he managed to bite back the curses, and a surreptitious glance led him to believe no-one had noticed.
Gibbs, still standing by the wheel, gave him a knowing look before summoning a crewman, and issuing some instructions in a low voice. The man, Dawson, nodded and left.
Jack quirked his mouth. Gibbs knew him too well. Only Anamaria could read him as easily. Anamaria!
"Gibbs! What news of Anamaria?"
Gibbs smiled, "Ah, she's doin' fine. It weren't much more than a graze. It looked a whole lot worse 'n it really was."
"Ah, good, good." Jack was relieved. It had, in truth, looked very bloody from what he could remember before the naval bastards had knocked him cold.
"She stayed outa sight to keep outa mind, if you get my meanin'."
Jack gave Gibbs a sharp look. No-one interfered with Anamaria on his crew, but the navy men might not have been so restrained. Not that she couldn't defend herself normally, but an injury might have slowed her down.
"No, Captain, she's fine. Just sleepin'."
Jack nodded once, satisfied.
James watched the exchange between Gibbs and Jack. He, too, was relieved to hear about Anamaria. That was one less worry on his plate. That still left Jack, and the man was definitely starting to show the strain of keeping up appearances for his crew.
Gibbs, James knew, was aware of Jack's weakness. More so than James, in fact, since James had not even seen the extent of the captain's injuries having only seen bandages. The amount of bandaging was worrying, though. As well as the obvious signs of faintness that Jack kept exhibiting.
All he could do, though, was hover near Jack, fighting the impulse to touch him, to wrap his arms around him and bodily carry him to bed.
Jack looked aloft, watching the three men sort out the sails. James looked up, too. To his eye, the sails were perhaps not the best he'd seen but certainly good enough for a ship at anchor. Besides it was difficult to do really neat work with just three men.
Evidently "good enough" did not suffice for Captain Sparrow.
"You call that good?" the captain barked, "you scurvy blackhearts, do it again!"
James frowned. He sidled up closer to Jack and murmured. "Can't you leave this task for Gibbs?"
Jack responded in an equally low voice. "James, I told them that it had to be done to my satisfaction, not Gibbs'. I'm the captain. I need them to remember that."
James pursed his lips, but had to agree. Jack needed, above all things, to reassert his authority.
"Can you not at least lie down for awhile?" James hissed.
Jack looked at him and leered suggestively, "That depends. Would I be lying down all on my onesies or could I expect your company?"
James scowled and then smiled ruefully, "As tempting as that sounds, Jack, the bandages and bruises are a little offputting."
Jack pouted slightly, "Am I to expect no company, then? No comforting caresses for a poor pirate... uh... privateer?"
"Well, that depends on whether the pirate I mean, privateer, in question was willing to agree to go straight to bed upon arrival at a certain Commodore's house."
"He might agree if he was not going to bed alone and the caresses were immediately forthcoming upon arrival." Jack paused and tilted his head slightly so that he looked up through his eyelashes in a heart-meltingly, mischievous manner. "In fact, he might even agree to leave the ship in a fairly short order, if said caresses were to start now."
James swallowed. Hard. He looked about him. Only pirates were on the deck at the moment and all of them knew about the Captain and the Commodore. James blushed slightly when he realized how small the Pearl was and how thin her floors and walls were. Still it did not seem to bother the crew at all.
He took a step closer to Jack so taht he was almost on top of the man. He leaned slightly so that his right thigh touched Jack's left shoulder gently. He placed his hand on Jack's should and gently stoked along the should to the back of the neck, sliding under Jack's thick hair. Once in place, he gently massaged the base of the man's neck.
Unobtrusively, James rested his hand on Jack's shoulder and slid it under the tangle of hair, until he could feel the soft skin at the nape of Jack's neck. Twisting his hand slightly, he managed to ease it under the shirt collar until his fingers were splayed along the right side of Jack's neck while his thumb rested in the hollow at the base of his skull. Feeling the soft, bare skin under the wild mane, made James fully aware of just how much he had missed Jack.
Evidently, he was not the only one missing the contact. Jack took a quick breath in and then expelled it slowly, leaning his head back in James' hand. Smiling slightly, James began to move his thumb in slow circles, massaging the base of Jack's skull. He was pleased to hear Jack release a tiny whimper. He increased the pressure of his thumb slightly and flexed his fingers gently.
Jack practically melted. If James hadn't been standing right next to Jack, he would have sworn that the pirate would have oozed right off the bench. As it was, the commodore had to shift his weight slightly to keep his balance.
"James, Jamie," Jack whispered and his voice broke on the final syllable.
James involuntarily reached forward with his free hand and stroked Jack's cheek. Jack caught the hand in his own and placed a gently kiss on the palm before grasping it to his heart for a very brief moment. He released it with a small sigh.
Before James could react, Jack lurched to his feet, glanced up at the three men out on the yardarms, and then headed for the stairs down off the poop deck. Startled, James strode after him. Jack had nearly made it to his cabin before James caught up.
Without a backward glance, Jack opened the cabin door and disappeared inside. With a slight feeling of trepidation, James took a deep breath and followed the captain into the cabin. As he expected, Jack was waiting to pounce as soon as the door closed behind the commodore. Staggering slightly to regain his balance while holding an armful of pirate, James nevertheless returned the hungry kiss. Tongues entwined in a battle to claim the title of who missed whom more.
Finally, they broke apart so they could breathe. Jack bowed his head to rest his forehead on James' shoulder, hands still clasping the back of James' neck. James could feel the man's breath as he panted gently. Unconsciously, James gently stroked Jack's back. The jarring wince and hiss reminded him of Jack's injuries. Carefully, he rested his hands on Jack's hips. Jack's own arms tightened their grip, as if afraid that James would break their embrace.
James murmured, "Jack, love, let's sit down, eh?"
In a voice muffled by James' coat, Jack replied, "No, please, just...just stay like this for a bit."
The commodore nodded and kissed the top of Jack's head. "As you wish."
They stood like that for several minutes, long enough for James to wonder if Jack had fallen asleep standing up. Not that the Commodore minded. Their reunions tended to start as rather heated affairs and this gentle sharing of space and body warmth was a peaceful change.
At last, Jack raised his head and gazed a James. James smiled back even though he was alarmed at how pale Jack looked. Jack returned his smile with a small one of his own. He leaned in and claimed James lips once more in a deep kiss that was all about affection and tenderness.
Jack sat at the table. Whatever reserves he had tapped to keep going were visibly waning. He was slouched over the table, one elbow on the table supporting his head.
"Jamie, don't you know by now that this is a pirate crew. They only follow orders because they want to, because they trust that I know what I'm doing, savvy?"
"Yes, I know that...," James began impatiently.
Jack cut him off with a sharp movement of his free hand. "But you keep forgettin' that I was the one who said a letter of marque was a good thing to do."
James felt a cold dread as the realization of Jack's dilemma suddenly dawned on him.
Jack nodded, "Aye. I told them that the letter would protect them from the Navy. I was wrong, and they won't be forgettin' that."
The captain at back carefully, avoiding rubbing his back against the chair. He rubbed his face with both hands. "I can't show that it hurts, James. I have to make them believe that they have gained more than they lost, or..." This time Jack stopped.
James finally found his voice, "...or you'll lose the Pearl. Is that what you think? That your crew will... abandon you?" He hesitated to use the word "mutiny".
Jack was not fooled. He met James' eyes. "Well, it's been known to happen." [alt phrasing: "Well, I can't say it hasn't happened before."] He looked down again and spread his hands flat on the table. "They're pirates. It's part of the Code."
The spread hands became fists and slammed the table, "Don't be a fool! Gibbs is one man in a crew of 36! If it came to it, he'd be no more likely to stop them than ..." he stopped abruptly and pursed his lips, looking away. He continued hoarsely "Ten years, James. Ten years my Pearl and I were separated. I don't know if I could do it again."
James dropped to his knees before Jack and placed his hands on the other man's shoulders. He didn't know what to say that wouldn't sound trite. Jack reached up with his hand and placed it on one of James'.
"James, love, I..."
James pulled him into an embrace.
James rubbed his eyes tiredly. He placed the damp cloth back in the basin and returned his gaze back to Jack. The man was finally sleeping. As the doctor predicted, the pain and fever did get worse, making Jack restless and unable to settle. He had fretted over his crew and his ship until James was seriously tempted to smack him into unconsciousness. Finally, Jack had succumbed to exhaustion and the judicious application of laudanum sneaked into Jack's ale.
Now, James was free to do his own fretting about the Black Pearl.
He could quite see Jack's predicament. His greatest fear was that Jack would have to give up his letter of marque and James would once more be in the position of hanging his lover. He shuddered once more at that thought.
No. He would not do that again. If Jack gave up his letter, James would have to give up his career. That was the only answer.
His heart quailed at the thought. The navy was all he knew. He had no other skills. Shaking his head, firmly, reminded himself that he could acquire skills. Perhaps Will would take him on as an apprentice smith. Or, and the thought made him grin, perhaps Jack could take him on as apprentice pirate.
Jack groaned softly and twitched in his sleep. Sobering, James wrung out the cloth and wiped Jack's face and neck. Jack did not waken. Sighing in relief, James replaced the cloth in the bowl and returned to his problem.
What could he offer the pirate crew as compensation that would make up for their misplaced faith. What would make them trust him and, more importantly, Jack, again.
Gold and silver? Possibly, but it would have to be rather a lot and the crown did not have vast quantities available at hand at the moment.
Clemency was hardly going to be fitting since they hadn't committed any crimes against the British crown since their pardons that came with the letter of marque. At least no crimes of which James was aware.
Well, what did the crown have?
James frowned a moment. No, these were not just a pirate crew. These men were the crew of the Black Pearl. James even knew many of them personally from the few short trips he had taken as Jack's guest.
He thought about the men he knew. He remembered how surprised he had been to find that many of them had quite ordinary backgrounds and desires. Only misfortune and mischance had cast them into the life of a pirate. Now, granted, the majority of them had their own eccentricities and foibles, but still many really wanted a simple life.
James opened his eyes wide. Of course! That was it!
It was the screaming ache across his shoulders that finally wakened Jack. He grunted and tried to shift to a new position but that only made everything else hurt. Gasping, he froze in place, afraid to move at all.
A gentle, familiar hand touched his forehead and then soothingly stroked his cheek.
Jack opened his eyes and to his relief, James Norrington was bent over him. Jack smiled at him, and was gratified to see James smile back in that particularly sweet way that he reserved for private moments between them.
James spoke first, "How are you feeling?"
Jack blinked and considered the question. Then, it all came rushing back. The Black Pearl, his crew, the bastard naval captain, and most depressingly his dilemma. How was he going to get out of this mess and still keep all he held dear. And on top of all that, he felt simply wretched. Every bone and inch of skin arched or itched.
His face must have shown his every thought because James began to look worried. The Commodore turned and reached for something beyond Jack's line of vision. The sound of water being squeezed out of cloth alerted Jack to James' actions before James turned back with damp compress in hand.
[I think this scene is gratuitous fangirl wank]
[Do I need a scene with the Commodore and the Governor?]
A tentative knock at the bedroom door roused Jack from the restless doze. He considered telling whoever it was to go away and leave him be. Before he could get the words out, a young maid entered the room, bearing a tray.
"Captain Sparrow, sir, I've brought you a nice cup of tea as Mrs. Mason says you're feeling poorly. There's a Mr. Gibbs here to see you, but I can tell him that you're not receiving guests this morning."
Jack raised one hand to his face and rubbed his eyes, grimacing at the pain across his shoulders. He was surprised to see a sleeve. At some point in the night, James had put a nightshirt on him.
"No, Molly, me love, I'll come down to see him. You'd better offer him some rum, eh? It'll take a bit to get meself together."
Molly made a most agreeably sympathetic face and insisted on helping him to set up so she could fluff his pillows and serve him his tea on a tray. He had never noticed before how soothing the scent of tea was. Of course, he had very seldom been served tea in a proper tea cup from a proper tea pot.
While he sipped his tea, Molly was busy pulling out clean clothes and arranging them for his easy access. He was somewhat surprised by this. Molly had never done this before. He frowned and considered this. Then, he recalled that usually he was sleeping with James in this bed, and the staff did its best to avoid acknowledging this fact.
Her task complete, Molly turned to give him a pensive look, biting her lower lip ever so slightly. Finally, she ventured, "Will you be needing someone to help you get ready, Captain Sparrow? I can get Thomas to come up...?"
Jack nearly choked on his tea. This had definitely never happened before.
"Lass, I've been dressing myself since I was a wee nipper. I don't think I'll be needin' help now, eh?"
"Yes, Captain," Molly responded dubiously.
Jack raised his eyebrows. "Do I look as bad as that, then?"
Molly forgot herself enough that her North Country accent showed through, "Aye, that you do! We saw you come in and you looked that white! We thought as how you'd been took sick! And Mrs. Mason she was dead set against even disturbing you, this morning. If that Mr. Gibbs hadn't been so nice asking after you, she would have sent him packing,"
Jack was touched. He hadn't thought James' servants had cared for him much. He had assumed that he was tolerated because of James. Now, it appeared that they were becoming attached to him, too. A tiny bit of something hard and twisted in his chest loosened. Perhaps he had a place where he could belong outside of the Pearl.
He smiled at Molly - a real smile. "I'm fine, love. Tell Mr. Gibbs that I'll be down soon."
Molly returned his smile even if she didn't look convinced by his words. Bobbing slightly, she turned and left the room.
Grimacing, Jack looked at the dregs of his tea and then looked without enthusiasm at the clean clothes laid out for him.
After much cursing, Jack got dressed. He took a deep breath, noticing for the first time, a hint of lavender. Sniffing his sleeve, he realized that the clothing smelled of lavender.
He closed his eyes in dismay and then started to laugh. "Oh bloody hell! I can hear them now...here comes Captain Jack Sparrow, the perfumed pirate.!"
Thanking his lucky stars that it was Gibbs he was meeting and not someone who knew him less well. All he needed was for his crew to think he'd turned into a "gentleman". That would just about put a nail in his coffin.
Slowly he made his way down to the main floor and the morning room where guests were usually stashed until the commodore was ready to receive them. Sure enough, he found Gibbs perched uncomfortably on the very edge of a chair with a delicate glass clutched in his large, rough hand. He looked absolutely terrified to move.
Gibbs caught his smirk and smiled wryly in return, "It's not exactly what I'm used to, Jack."
At this, Jack grinned outright, "What say you, we retire to the Mermaid at the docks?"
"Aye, that'll do me," Gibbs' relief was palpable.
"Captain, the crew is a bit restive-like."
Jack raised his eyes from his tankard and met Gibbs' gaze.
"Aye?" he said neutrally. Mentally stealing himself for the conversation he didn't want to have while knowing that it was inevitable.
"Aye," Gibbs looked down at his own tankard. Obviously he didn't want the conversation either.
"Joshamee, mate, spit it out."
Gibbs flashed him a quick look of surprise. Jack's use of his given name usually occurred on shore when they we well into their cups no longer talking as Captain Mate.
"Well, Jack, it's like this, see. Some of the lads are feeling right put out at being attacked by their own side, so to speak."
Jack waved his hands impatiently, "I know that part, mate. I feel right put out meself. What I want to know is ... what are their terms?"
Gibbs blinked and frowned. "Terms?"
"Aye, terms, terms!" Jack clenched his hands to stop them shaking. "What do they want so they can give me back the Pearl."
"Now, Jack, no-one's talking about taking the Pearl from ye."
"Not yet, mate, but you know it's on their minds, eh?"
Gibbs made a non-committal noise. Jack pushed again, "What is it they're lookin' for?"
Gibbs picked up his mug and took a swig before he carefully put it down in exactly the same spot from where he'd taken it. Finally, he looked at Jack.
"I don't know, lad. There are mutters and looks, but no-one's come out and said anything."
Jack frowned, "Now, that's interesting. Is it you? Are they talking to Ana or Cotton or Marty?"
"Not so far as I know," Gibbs leaned back, looked about the room, casually scratched his whiskers. Then he leaned forward, "I think they're waitin' to see what you're going to get out of the Commodore."
This time it was Jack who sat back. He couldn't think of a reply.
Gibbs watched him for a minute before leaning in a bit closer, "So, how goes the parley with the good Commodore?"
"We've exchanged opening shots, as it were." He gave Gibbs a crooked grin.
The older man grinned, "Good, good. I'll tell the crew that parley is underway."
"Aye," Jack replied simply. He looked down at his half-finished drink, suddenly not the least bit intersted in drinking it, "Speakin' of which, I need to be getting back to it. Norrington should have returned from his negotiations with the governor by now."
Gibbs looked even more pleased. His expression changed to astonishment when Jack poured the remains of his drink into Gibbs' mug. He shook his head but downed the entire contents of the mug in one go.
Smacking his lips with a satisfied sound, he stood up and gave Jack a shrewd look. He said, "Let's get you back, then."
The captain raised his eyebrow. In truth, he was feeling a little wobbly, but he was loathe to admit it to Gibbs.
Gibbs ignored the look and nudged him with his knees, "C'mon, get up. Can't be having you gettin' waylaid on the way home, just when you're about to get us some right good compensation, eh?"
In response, Jack rolled his eyes, but stood up and accepted the escort to the commodore's residence.
When James returned to the house, he was surprised and somewhat dismayed to find that not only was Jack out of bed, but apparently carousing in a tavern with his boatswain.
He debated with himself about whether he should follow Jack, but decided against it. Jack was a free spirit. He would return when he was ready. Or at the very least, the commodore was certain Gibbs would return him.
Sure enough, an hour later, Gibbs turned up at the door, propping up a pale-looking Sparrow.
"Evenin', Commodore," Gibbs greeted the commodore with a sharp nod before he released Jack's arm and pushed him gently towards the commodore, "Jack, mate, I'm off. I'll be lettin' the crew know how things stand, aye?"
Jack staggered slightly as he tried to reach the door jamb rather than Norrington for support, "Aye, my thanks, Josh."
The commodore unconsciously reached out and steadied Jack and then deliberately let go as his irritation at the wayward pirate reasserted itself. Firmly, he clasped his hands behind his back, nodded his thanks to Gibbs and wished the man a pleasant evening. Without changing his posture, he turned to glare at Jack who had the grace to cringe but not the strength to keep his balance while doing so.
Sighing in exasperation, Norrington grasped Jack by his jacket, hauled him inside the house, and down the hall to the drawing room. After thrusting the weaving man into the nearest chair, he marched to the sideboard, poured a measure of brandy into a glass, and returned to thrust it at Jack.
"Honestly, Jack, are you trying to catch your death? Do you enjoy causing me such distress?"
Jack looked up at him mutely. The strained and wary look on the man's face instantly dissipated the commodore's ire. He put the glass down on the table next to Jack, and pulled a footstool over so that he could sit facing him. Taking the pirate's hands in his own, he leaned forward and rested elbows on his knees and his forehead on the hands. Slowly, he rubbed the back of Jack's hands with his thumbs. Jack's hands gently squeezed his fingers in return.
"James, love, I'm sorry to have worried you. I just had some business to take care of. And Gibbs, he was none too comfortable here, savvy?"
"I'm sorry, too, Jack. I shouldn't have..."
Jack stopped him with a squeeze of his hands. For a moment, they just rested there.
James broke the silence at last. He looked up, "Jack, I went to talk to the governor this afternoon." He hesitated briefly before continuing, "I had an idea for how we could compensate your crew, but he wasn't receptive..." He broke off once more and smiled, wryly, "I'm afraid that all I've got to offer is me. Do you think there might be room for another pirate on your ship?"
Jack stared at him, blankly for a minute. "Love, are you asking to join me crew?"
James smiled more fully, "Well, I'm bound to be persona non grata here after I've broken into the governor's office and stolen the city's gold to pay off a pirate crew."
Jack's lips twitched, and then he started to laugh. He laughed until he was hunched over and tears leaked out of his eyes. When he had reached the wheezing, gasping stage, James leaned forward to pick up the neglected glass of brandy and offered it once more. This time, Jack accepted it and took a large gulp.
After his breathing returned to something close to normal, Jack wiped his eyes and grinned at James. "Aye, that's a good 'un, mate. Much better than me own plan." His expression sobered and his eyes sought a spot somewhere over James' left shoulder.
James rested his hands on Jack's knees, "What was your plan?"
Jack smiled crookedly and met James' eyes, "I hadn't got much beyond givin' 'em the Pearl as compensation and hopin' that you might take in a lonely pirate short of a ship and a home."
"Jack, you'd give up the Black Pearl?"
Jack nodded slowly, even if it was a bit painfully, "Aye, I would. For you, love. Only for you."
James was speechless. He pulled Sparrow into a warm embrace, putting all the love he could not express with words into his arms.
Finally, he eased off so he could look his beloved in the face. "So, what are we to do, Sparrow? Flip a coin to see who gives up their life's ambition?"
Jack smiled at that. "P'raps a mixing of the two plans might be in order, eh?"
"What do you mean?"
"P'raps I break into the governor's safebox and bring his gold back as ransom for me Pearl."
"But that means giving up your letter of marque!"
"Only if I'm caught, love."
James rolled his eyes and exhaled in an exasperated sigh. "Jack, I was only jesting about the city's gold. There isn't any, really. Or, at least not very much. I've already asked the governor and most of the city's wealth is in its land. Unless the governor can sell ... "
James stared at the wall as an idea hit him. "That's it!"
"Land! We'll get the governor to grant the crew land as compensation."
"Land?" Jack looked a bit dubious. "What would a pirate crew want with land?"
James visibly deflated. "Of course, you're right."
He looked so dejected that Jack tightened his arms and kissed his forehead. "Mind you, a pirate captain might have need of land."
James gave him a puzzled look. Jack grinned cheekily, "Aye, somewhere he can stash his treasure - like gold, silver, and commodores." Then, it was his turn to take on a thoughtful look. "Y'know, that's not a half bad idea."
"What if I buy the land? Then your governor will have gold to pay the crew."
James opened his mouth to protest, "It hardly seems fair that you must pay out of your own pocket when it seems to me that you've suffered the most."
"But Jamie, love, I win on all accounts, eh? I get to keep the Pearl and the Commodore and I get some land, too. And some gold returned to me in the form of compensation, savvy?
James nodded his head slowly, but then he stopped. "There's one small change I insist that we make."
"Aye?" Jack said warily.
"Aye," said James, firmly. "I'm buying land, too."
At Jack's raised eyebrow, James said primly, "I've had this piece of land picked out for simply ages, Jack. I can't let a mere pirate pinch it from me."
"Very well, then, mate. You get your pick of land, and I'll take the pick of what's left. Are we agreed?"
Three days later, the still stiff Captain Jack Sparrow and the solicitous Commodore Norrington called upon the Governor of Jamaica. In the course of an afternoon, a large map acquired new markings and the Governor acquired a large quantity of gold. This gold was promptly offered to the Captain by way of compensation for the heinous abuse visited upon his person. The Captain accepted the compensation on behalf of his crew.
The crew, when told of the amount of the compensation, declared themselves satisfied and content. They spent a good portion of it that very night and the next as they celebrated.
The Captain and the Commodore retired to bed in the Commodore's residence where they were not seen for two full days. When they emerged with very satisfied smiles, the Captain appeared much more limber. The Commodore, though, seemed to have acquired an odd limp.