He was caught between the sea and the sun and both of them were his sworn enemies. Not that he was much of a challenge to them at the moment. He could hardly find the strength to lift his head, let alone made his way up that wide shore to the shade he could just barely see beckoning before him.
His head hurt and his throat was closed so tight it was almost more than he could bear to try and swallow and all he could smell was burning flesh, all he could hear were the screams of his men. They were echoes only, memories seared into his mind as the burning timbers had seared his skin, but they played over and over again in his mind’s eye until he wanted to scream from the pain of them as well.
But still he crawled, moving one limb at a time, slow, so slow, and the sand grated on his skin and blackness threatened to take him with each inch of headway he made.
Gone, they were all gone. Burned to death or blown apart or drowned. The Dauntless, pride of His Majesty’s fleet, torn to shreds by a well-placed or just supremely lucky cannonball. And he only had himself to blame.
He should have died with her. He should have died with his men.
Unless, he was dead and this was hell. Not Davy Jones’ locker, down in the cold depths of the sea, but a hell of dry land and thirst and brittle sand. Of straining and effort and loss and despair.
Of fingers digging deep to drag an ever heavier body up the strand.
Of darkness falling at the last, blessed night or merely a final lack of consciousness he wasn’t sure. Nor, even, if he cared.
“Aye, now,” a voice was saying. “An what do we have here?”
He hoped it was a rhetorical question, because he didn’t have the strength to answer. Nor to protest the rough hands as they poked and prodded him and finally turned him over.
Somehow, he managed to get his eyes open and, through the crust of sand and salt, saw the flare of a lantern and a dark figure bending close. A figure that seemed oddly familiar, though, for the life of him, he couldn’t recall when or why right at the moment.
Nor why it should cause such a quick flash of mingled exasperation and relief deep inside him.
His eyes sank shut again as he heard more voices, rising and falling in what seemed to be an argument. He wasn’t sure who won, but finally he felt strong arms close around him and lift him. The sudden movement making that darkness close in around him again, squeezing him down and down until he could go no further.
When next he woke, he didn’t just suspect he was in hell.
He knew it with a certainty that was as wrenching as the aches and pains that plagued his entire body. As the thirst that had turned his throat into a sharp blade of itself and his tongue to dry cotton in his mouth
He closed his eyes and then opened them again, but nothing changed in the meantime. He hadn’t thought it would, but it had been worth a try.
Then he caught sight of a pitcher on the table in the center of the room and revised his estimate. He may well be in hell, but here was heaven just a few steps away.
Water…oh God, if you please You…let it be water…
Somehow, ignoring the pain as best he could, he rolled off the bed and staggered across the room. The table ran into him, or he ran into it—he wasn’t quite sure of the facts of the matter—and then his hand was on the handle of the pitcher and he was lifting it to his mouth and, glory of glories, it was water. Fresh and cool and forgiveness incarnate.
He drank and drank, uncaring that some of ran down his chin and neck, and then sank down to the floor with the pitcher held tight in his hands as his legs decided that they’d had enough. A dizzy feeling came down over his head like a veil and he dimly realized that the floor wished to make his acquaintance as well, same as the table had just done.
He fought it away, sipping more cautiously at the remaining liquid now. Then looked around and took closer stock of where he was.
Aboard a ship, that was for certain. He knew the feel of it full well, even if he didn’t recognize anything else. Like this particular captain’s cabin. The walls covered in dark wood, heavily carved with fantastical sea creatures and ships. The furniture equally dark of wood and carved. Burnt down candles and other odds and ends of things—bottles and pieces of metal and silver plates and cups and bowls, not to mention ribbon and rope and even a few small books—were scattered here and there around the room both on the floor and on the furniture. While velvet tapestries in somber colors were pulled back to either side of the windows and lay closed over where the doors should be.
The bed he had just left was also was enclosed by a dark piece of velvet work and the ivory sheets that it was made up with almost glowed in the dim light. The pillows were mounded up to one side and he realized that they must have been placed there to support him while he was unconscious. Or sleeping. Or whatever he had been.
A white shirt lay on the floor at the far end of the room, as if having just been discarded there. A white shirt with an obvious stain of blood on one sleeve. Other than that, he didn’t recognize it. It was entirely too small to be one of his.
He looked down at himself and saw then that, though he was still in his breeches, that someone had taken liberty with the rest of his clothing. Linen strips were tied around his right arm and his left foot and his hands were bruised and battered. They hurt, but not as badly as his side and his head.
He put one of those bruised hands up and immediately found a tender spot on the back of his skull. Just touching it made his head swim again and his stomach rise.
No wonder all this made so little sense. He had been struck hard in the head, and by how much it still hurt, it was a bad wound. One that could easily make him take leave of his senses.
It was either that or he really had heard Jack Sparrow last night.
It was either that or he was aboard the accursed Black Pearl even now, bound for the devil alone knew where.
It was either that or the man himself, insolent and pleased with himself from head to toe, was even now sauntering into the room. Before coming to halt a few steps away. Swaying a little in place and smiling right at him.
Saying, “Ah, Commodore, so glad that ye’ve finally seen fit to awaken. I was beginning to worry that I would have to wake thee in another fashion. Or should I say…I was beginning to look forward to it?”
He only had time for one curse—a rousing good one which made Sparrow’s eyebrows do the most amazing things—before the floor did, indeed, rise up to make his sincere acquaintanceship.
“Seems to me that we are off to as ill a start as last time,” a voice was commenting in this woefully put-upon tone. “Though, I must admit, I would much rather find your sword at me throat, than to have to lug your body back to bed once again. Most especially if all ye plan on doing in it is bleeding.”
He opened his eyes again to blackness, but it was the blackness of this particular pirates’ eyes from where he was staring at him from just a few inches away. And that was familiar, too. Couldn’t the man maintain a reasonable distance from anyone, most especially from his enemies?
“Sparrow,” he said, meaning to say a whole lot more and most of it not reasonable either. But then he just ran out of breath and had to satisfy himself with simply glaring up at the other man.
“Aye,” the pirate answered, that rather vexing grin reappearing—all impudence and gold and still far too close to him for comfort. “Well, ye remember me, so ye can’t be too bad off. Come now, let’s get ye back where ye belong. Before ye do yourself a real injury careening around me cabin.”
Another curse sprang readily to mind, but this time he decided to forgo the pleasure. Though, part of it was that he honestly didn’t think he had the strength for it. Then, as the other man put his arms around him and began to help him back to his feet, he was quite sure of it. He couldn’t fight off a damp cloth at the moment, let alone a whole crew of pirates.
He surrendered to the bed with something that he feared was too close to a real sigh of relief. He tried to keep his eyes open, to keep them fixed on Sparrow, but the other man kept drifting in and out of focus. Probably on purpose, just to keep him guessing. To keep him off balance.
But when that same damp cloth actually came down on his forehead, he surrendered to that, too, and closed his eyes at the last. It felt so very good and he was so very tired, and the hand that touched his face felt good as well. Rough fingers, but gentle for all that. Tracing across his cheekbones like a map, then feather-light on his eyelids. Before they wandered off again, marking their way down to his mouth.
And another touch followed, one even softer. One that he must surely have imagined.
Warm lips against his, the hint of shared breath, a shiver of braids and beads against his skin, there for but a moment before it was gone again.
Leaving him feeling bereft and adrift and sure that he had just missed something of vital importance.
Smoke frosted the air and the sound of cannon deafened him. He turned to order the man at the wheel to swing the ship around to port, but instead was flung to the deck as another explosion shook the Dauntless. Bits of burning wood and sail rained down on his head and, when he looked up again, both the wheel and the sailor manning it were gone.
Somehow, he got to his knees and staggered to the side.
The enemy ship was close now, almost too close, and though she had already been badly damaged, her cannon were still pounding the Dauntless for all they were worth. As if the men of the other ship knew full well they could no longer escape their fate and were hell bent on taking them down with them.
“Commodore!” Gillette was struggling up the stairs towards him, a bloodied arm held in tight to his body. He had lost his wig and his face was black with powder, white with fear.
He started towards him and had just closed his hand around the other man’s unwounded arm, when there was suddenly a shocking moment of complete and utter silence and then Dauntless gave a great heave beneath them.
The next he knew the two of them were tumbling through the air, surrounded by fire and smoke and jagged bits of wood and metal. He hit the water hard a few moments later and it drove all the air from his lungs, almost made him black out. Desperately, he struggled to stay aware, to fight his way back to the surface.
Only then turning to see if the other man was all right.
But the arm in his grasp was attached to nothing but a piece of ragged flesh and cloth and, choking on the sea and mute horror, he let go of it and watched it sink beneath the waves.
Ragged cheering drew his head back around, but he could see nothing before him but the sea and thick black smoke and great hunks of burning timber. Then cannon thundered again, sounding like it was right over his head, and there was a second big explosion. Fire and screams filled the air and then something sharp struck him in the head and he felt himself slipping away, slipping down beneath the waves, and knew nothing more.
He woke to the smell of smoke and to a sour taste in his mouth and only just managed to heave himself over to one side before the contents of his stomach came spilling out in one great, agonizing gout of pain and dismay.
There wasn’t much but liquid, but still it hurt coming up and it made his head pound and there was no help for it. Nor for the weak feeling that followed in its wake, making him sink down to rest his face on the edge of the bed, his whole body shaking and his heart skipping.
He was dimly aware that the sheets were sodden beneath him, but was too tired to much care. Almost, he faded off again, but he dimly heard someone come into the room and then careful fingers were smoothing the hair back from his face. Before a calloused palm came down on his forehead.
“Aye, more than a bit of a fever, I’m afraid,” Jack Sparrow said, finally taking his hand away again. “I’ll have to have AnaMaria make you some of that devil’s brew of hers. Good for what ails ye, but worse than cat’s piss going down. Not even the taste of rum can sort it out.”
“No… thank you.” Somehow, he managed to get the words out. Even though the effort made his head ache.
“Ah…” He could almost hear the smile in the other man’s voice. “Not so dead, after all. Looks like I’ll be winning that bet with Master Gibbs. He said you wouldn’t last the day out and here ye are, spurning me good intentions already.”
There were a thousand answers to that and none of them kind.
Somehow, he managed to raise his head and open his eyes. And, yes, Jack Sparrow was smiling. A smile fit to raise the dead. Or, at least, those who were more than half-way wishing they were dead at the moment.
The other man also looked fit and well—which was another point against him, as far as he was concerned—and a fair bit smug, as if the pirate knew something that he shouldn’t or something he was sure would annoy him if he knew he knew whatever the hell it might be. Which was too confusing to bear thinking about for long, anymore than why he suddenly wished for that cooling hand back on his forehead.
He swallowed hard. It didn’t hurt as much as before, but it did make the sour taste in his mouth intensify.
“Water?” he asked. “Please?”
Jack Sparrow might not have deserved his best manners, but he certainly seemed to appreciate them all the same. As the other man gave a small bow of his head and walked across the room and pulled back the velvet drapings over the doors.
There was the sound of muffled voices, then he returned, carrying that self-same pitcher as before in one hand and a silver and jewel encrusted goblet in the other.
He had to swallow again and close his eyes for a moment as he heard the sound of water being poured out, then Jack was near him again, gently rolling him over and lifting him up to prop a few pillows behind his back. After he put that obviously stolen cup in his hand, the pirate wrapped his fingers tight around it, then held them there with his own.
“Here,” he said. “Easy now. Just a wee bit at first. Don’t want you losing the best part of it again, do we?”
He felt the oddest urge to apologize, but quashed the thought as the cool rim met his lips and then even cooler water filled his mouth. It soothed his throat going down and he had to fight the urge to take more than he should. Not that it seemed the other man would be letting him.
“Slow and easy, Commodore,” Sparrow said in this almost hoarse whisper. He let him have another few sips, then nodded. His hand slipped off his and he turned away, taking a few careless steps across the room. A faint line appeared between his eyes as he looked off into some unknown distance.
“We found your ship,” the other man said quietly. “Or what little remains of her. Scattered across near a mile.”
The sharp edge of a gem pressed into his hand before he realized that he was holding the goblet too tightly and relaxed his grip again.
“My men?” he asked, though he already feared the answer. “What of my men? Were there…any others who survived?”
“Not as we could find,” Sparrow replied. “M’ sorry.”
He nodded, closing his eyes as they filled with sharp tears. As pain winched tight in his chest. For a moment, Gillette’s face flashed in his mind—so bright, so eager, so very frightened in those last few moments. Before he had been torn apart.
His fault. All his fault. All those lives lost—young, old, career men and conscription both, looking to him to save them, to keep them, to make their deaths count for something at the last—and the Dauntless herself, grand ship that she had been, shattered into a thousand pieces. Consigned now to rot away at the bottom of the ocean. Less than she deserved. Less than they all had deserved.
He felt more than heard the other man approach and winced away from his touch before he could stop himself. There was a soft sigh and the hand went away again, taking the offending goblet with it, though he somehow knew that Sparrow was still staring at him. As if waiting for something. Some sign or omen that he wasn’t himself aware of. Perhaps, simply, a greater show of grief. Something he could exult in.
After all, Captain Jack Sparrow had no reason to mourn the passing of either the Dauntless or near a hundred of His Majesty’s best sailors and marines.
“Rest now,” was all the pirate said, though, and his voice gave nothing away—neither triumph nor sorrow—though there was something rough about it, rougher than usual, as if he were fighting as hard as he could just to keep some other feeling out of it.
Some feeling that he couldn’t even begin to guess at.
Anymore, then he feared he would ever understand the man himself.
His enemy and now his captor. His savior.
The only man who may understand what he was going through, and the last man in the world he wanted to see him like this.
A man who he now heard walking out of the room, more quietly than he had first come in, as if fearing any loud sound might break the man on his bed clean apart. And well it might. Well it might.
Only when he was sure he was alone once more, did he dare
open his eyes again. The room was empty and he was safe and alone for now. Alone, oh yes…
Alone to turn towards the wall and curl up around himself and finally bury his face in his bruised hands. His eyes burning and burning still, and the pain growing steadily thicker in his chest, until it laid on him as heavy as an iron weight, though not a single tear escaped at the last.
No matter how long he laid there. No matter how badly he wished he could weep.
As if there had been salt enough already.
As if he had nothing more to give.
It was night and the light from a two dozen or more candles spilled around the room like a softly-spoken prayer. The sea rocked the ship, her timbers gently creaking at the motion. It was all familiar to him—to a lifetime spent on the sea more often than not—as it must also be to the man sitting with his feet up on the table in the middle of the room.
He realized that he was lying on fresh sheets and that his wounds had been re-bandaged at some point. It felt good. His head was paining him a little less as well and everything seemed clearer, even though the room lay muted by shadow and flickering flames.
Sparrow’s eyes were closed and his head was laid back, his hat resting on one raised knee before him. If he was asleep, then the man must be capable of sleeping anywhere. But then he suspected Jack Sparrow to be capable of most things, whether anyone else approved of them or not. Especially whether anyone else approved of them or not.
The man wasn’t simply a law unto himself; he was a man who lived in an entire world unto himself.
He wasn’t quite sure if he envied or resented him for that. Rules and restraint had been his life’s blood since his first commission—since before that, if one counted his own father’s authority and sense of dignity, both of which he expected of his first born son—and they should have sustained him. Even though this, they should have sustained him. But they hadn’t and they didn’t and he didn’t know what to do about that.
Anymore than he knew what to do with Captain Jack Sparrow.
A man he owed his life to. A man who held his fate in those rope and pitch rough, yet imminently tender hands.
A man now looking at him, his eyes even blacker than the darkness that had poured in from the night and sea outside, a darkness attempting to swallow the gusting light of the candles. Oh yes, those eyes. Reflecting those same flames and an intense interest both. And not speaking for once—when words had been what he’d come to expect from the man, insolent words and riddles and rambling explanations—but just staring back at him. A calmness about him that seemed to fill the room, that made all those shadows seem somehow warm and welcoming, rather than filling them with leering ghosts.
Though some part of him did wish he could see those ghosts again, all of them. No matter how painful that would be. To see them and to apologize for the fact that he was still alive, if not for the mistakes he’d made that had cost them their own lives.
“Tis but a dream, mate,” the other man said then, his voice like the night as well, a whispered sea-drift sound. A riddle in and of itself. “All of this…you and I…we share the same dream. An, in knowing it a dream…we awaken…savvy?”
The confusion of it was an odd comfort to him. Now, that was the pirate he had grown used to, if not entirely agreeable with. But those eyes never left him and their regard was rather less than a comfort, and something rather more.
Glittering eyes full of golden flame and impossibly black at the same time. Warm and deadly cold all at once. And just a little mad. Just mad enough. Eyes that told him he would be mad as well if he but believed in them for a moment. That begged him for that moment.
Tis but a dream…
Oh, but what had he dreamt? And did he dream still? Was he really here at all, and had this man really kissed him…once upon a time and him all but unknowing and weak as a babe certainly. Almost entirely unable to protest, let alone stop, the presumption of the act.
His eyes sank back shut even as he contemplated it, as he surrendered to the night once more.
When next he woke, it was a slow and near comfortable thing.
He opened his eyes in tiny increments, gently becoming aware of an expanse of a sheet before him, lit by soft morning light. Of a velvet throw rucked up over it, rich and warm and red. Of the dark wood of a bulkhead curving upwards a few feet away from him. It was carved with a trio of mermaids clad in not much else than pearls and their own hair, mermaids clutching a sailor eagerly to their naked bosoms. A sailor who was quite obviously drowning, but with a broad smile still on his face.
He closed his eyes and then opened them again and shifted a little. He realized that he was a little thirsty, but other than that his aches and pains were mostly distant. As if he’d only dreamed of them and now had thankfully left that dream well behind. It was a welcome feeling and, even more so, because the bed was ever so soft beneath him and the ship was rolling with an almost peaceful sea and he felt strangely warm and secure.
As warm and secure as that arm felt around him. That body pressed up against him from behind.
He lifted his head a little from the pillow and glanced down.
A hand lay partially curled up across his stomach, clearly lax with sleep. It had capable fingers that had seen much use, their nails edged with dirt, though long and graceful looking for all that. Above was a white sleeve, torn and stained and repaired more than once by the look of it, pulled back to reveal sun-browned flesh. Flesh that displayed an old inked image. An inked image that he was eminently familiar with.
A sun and waves and a sparrow in flight. The word “Jack” scrawled below it. As if anyone would be in any doubt as to who the man would be without it.
He lifted his head a little more and craned it back, and caught a glimpse of the man himself over his shoulder. His eyes closed and his mouth partially open, looking years younger in sleep, by that tender light, almost approaching innocence. Though no less dangerous for all that. His hair had fallen down over one side of his face, bright beads lying gently on his cheek, and as he stared at him, Jack Sparrow swallowed and made this soft sound. The other side of his face rubbing briefly on the pillow beneath him.
The pillow they were both sharing.
He let his own head fall and closed his eyes once more. There were really only two choices. Either he had taken complete and utter leave of his senses at the last or the other man had. Or he was still dreaming. But now that he took stock of it, he rather doubted that. Being as he could smell the other man. It was a rather unmistakable odor…
But then he drew in another deep breath and was forced to rephrase that to at least partially washed pirate. Not that he could claim to smelling all that sweet these days, himself. Though his body definitely hurt less, his head itched a little now that he considered it, and what of him that didn’t feel sticky felt damp instead, but compared to how he had been feeling they were annoyances only. Hardly bearing thinking about at all.
Now, waking up to find Jack Sparrow cozened up to him…that was rather more than an annoyance, and definitely bore thinking about.
Was the man expecting some sort of carnal payment for his act of kindness—in which case, he was in for a rather rude awakening if he attempted anything of the sort and expected him to simply accept such—or had he simply decided, in his own disregard for all the rules and mores of proper society, to share the bed with him. Being that it was his own bed. And that he had every right to sleep there, regardless of what commissioned office of His Majesty’s navy might already be bestowed in it.
Which didn’t, however, explain how closely the pirate was holding him. Close enough, that if those fingers moved but few inches, he would be already having carnal knowledge of him.
Speaking of which, they were twitching now, the great silver ring on his forefinger catching the light, the black stone within it gleaming with a subdued richness, before they turned and laid themselves flatter against his stomach. Before the whole arm moved as well, squeezing down even closer around him and drawing him back tighter against that ever so warm body.
Against an ever so obviously half-hard prick.
He caught his breath at the feel of it, several discordant feelings sweeping through him at the same time. As panic and acute embarrassment warred with curiosity and the lingering sense of comfort at being held so possessively in the other man’s arms. It was wrong, but at the same time, he felt oddly safe at the moment. Despite the insistence of that flesh pressing against him.
He forced himself to relax again, deliberately keeping his breathing slow and steady. He didn’t want to wake the other man and he suspected that the least change might just do that. Though a Jack Sparrow asleep only seemed slightly less disturbing to his equilibrium than a Jack Sparrow awake and smiling that golden edged smile of his from across the room.
Not that he was a prude by any means, and well he knew what men got up to with other men below decks, but he himself had never submitted to those same impulses. It wasn’t proper for one thing, and for another he had always been a man more to follow the dictates of his heart rather than the sullen urgings of his blood. Though, his heart had led him astray more than once.
Elizabeth had only been his second love, but she had made the first seem like no more than a boyish infatuation. To have been forced to give her up at the last…and to a man hardly more than a boy himself, to a blacksmith…
A man who was as much below her station as he was below her means. Except that she had loved him and that had obviously been enough for her and would quite probably continue to be enough for her. Almost, he envied her that—the power and surety of her love, and Will’s for her in return. It was exactly what he had always longed for, deep in the night when even strict adherence to duty sometimes failed him, leaving him feeling bereft and empty and afraid that he might never find what he was looking for.
Another soft sigh made him hold his breath again, fearing that he had disturbed the other man somehow after all. But then he felt the other man’s arms loosen slightly around him, before Sparrow rolled away from him entirely. Cool air instantly poured over him, making him realize that the pirate had somehow managed to take most of the bedding with him in the process.
A natural-born thief, then. Not that it came as much of a surprise.
Shifting much more slowly himself, he turned over as well, biting his lip as the movement made the pain of his wounds awaken slightly. His vision and head remained clear, though, and for that he was mutely grateful. Still, he couldn’t stop a sigh himself as he took back a slender portion of the pillow for himself and settled down again to consider his next move.
The pirate in question was lying full on his back now, his mouth open even wider, and he appeared deeply asleep. Which made him seriously reassess his chances for escape from the peculiarities of this situation, if not from the man’s ship. Most likely, though, the cabin itself was under watch and, even if he could have slipped out sight unseen, he honestly had nowhere he could go.
There was no ship waiting for him out there. Nor was there likely to be one coming to his rescue any time soon. Even if they suspected that he was still alive. Which was doubtful in and of itself. Sailors and ships disappeared all the time and, more often than most cared to imagine, their ultimate fate remained a mystery.
Odds are they would just count him as another casualty of the sea. Especially if no trace of the Dauntless were ever found. Or even if it were.
Idly then, he wondered if Elizabeth would miss him, if she would mourn him. Only to close his eyes and wish the thought away as being both unlikely and inconsequential at the same time. About as unlikely and inconsequential as his continued existence.
Duty and honor hadn’t failed him; he had failed them. And, besides the loss of his ship and all the men he hadn’t been worthy at the last to serve with, this had to be a direct result of that dire blunder, as well. Finding himself lying abed with a known pirate, thief, and smuggler, and who knew what else besides—the length of charges already leveled against him notwithstanding—and discovering that he was already missing the heat of his body against his. The touch of those long fingers on his stomach.
Even the unconscious caress of his prick.
Well, the pain may well be all but gone from his head, but it must have taken his reason with it. Along with every last vestige of his good sense.
Because he suddenly found himself sliding closer to the other man, leaning over him. Just so that he could stare down at that devilishly familiar face. Innocence? No, there was no innocence there. He had been a fool to imagine that there ever could have been, fragile light of the morn or not. No, this face had seen just about everything the world had to offer and yet suffered it none the same.
Despite the dark smudges beneath his eyes, as much pain as paint.
As if to spite his regard of them, however, they took that occasion to open and he found himself staring directly into those black eyes once more. Not reflecting candlelight this time, but his own face. Pale and bruised and looking more than a little chagrined.
“Well,” Jack Sparrow said in that worn velvet voice of his. “Either jolly well kiss me or go back to sleep, will you?”
The expression on his own face in that moment must have been nigh on priceless, because the pirate smiled up at him then, a slow smile that crinkled the skin around his eyes. As they gleamed with pleasure, though somewhat sly about it at the same time, as if he expected it to get him into trouble at any moment. Before the man’s face transformed yet again, merging into an almost frighteningly possessive look, one also quite obviously lascivious.
He started to withdraw, only to find a hand on his arm, holding him there. He hadn’t even seen the other move.
“My pardon,” Sparrow said, his voice dropping to a whisper now. “Perhaps I only dreamt that’s what you wanted from me…”
He began to speak, to refute, but then just ended up shaking
his head in mute denial. Sudden fear. Acute embarrassment.
But that hand on his arm was already moving, sliding up to gently cup the back of his neck. Rough fingers scraping on sensitive skin, a more tender hold now, but still not allowing him his chance of escape.
“Then again,” the pirate went on. “Never say I missed an opportunity to kiss one of the King’s own.”
“Sparrow…” he managed to get out at the last, but that hand was already drawing his head down, the strength of it more than he had expected and his own resistance far less.
He continued to struggle though—more a matter of course, than through any serious intent to do the other harm—but then their lips met and, as defeats went, it was a rousing good one.
Rough and soft at the same time, they pressed hard on his own, taking exactly what they wanted. Only to return once more, barely brushing across them this time, a touch as fleeting as a bird’s wing. Again and again, they teased and they insisted, they pleaded and they demanded. Though never quite leaving him, never quite letting him be, until at long last he found his mouth opening almost without thought.
Jack’s tongue immediately slipped inside as if it had always belonged there. And he found he couldn’t deny the thought that it did, anymore than he could deny what it was doing to him. As something hotter than fire, sharper than steel, broke apart inside his head, inside his chest, at that unlooked for intimacy. Wounding him even deeper than the loss of his ship, his men, his old life.
But if this was death, then he adored it. He admired it. He wanted everything it had to offer. For if the other had been but a dream, then this was liquid reality. This was grace and hunger made incarnate. As Jack’s lips took his and made them real again. Made him real.
Made him want the man with a sudden intensity that shook him, that abruptly shocked him back to himself.
“No,” he gasped, pulling away.
This time, Sparrow let him go, but his eyes didn’t. They remained fixed on his face, even as he tilted his head back on the pillow. This self-assured little half-smile on his face.
“What else?” the pirate asked, though it seemed of no one in particular. “Twas just a kiss, Commodore. Of no real occasion, though a trifle more hostile at the last than I’m used to. Weren’t you enjoying it?”
An honest man would have answered yes. And, in truth, he should have answered with a more resounding assent than that. Such as a…hell, yes…or an, oh my God, yes, please God, more…
But, instead, he quite deliberately moved back to his side of the bed, leaving a great expanse of empty sheets between them. As if that would do him any good. No doubt, the carved mermaids on the wall would have considered him a drowning man at the moment. Certainly, he couldn’t seem to draw in breath without gasping slightly.
“What do you want from me?” he asked, his voice sounding harsh, even to his own ears.
Sparrow rolled to his side, leaning on one arm. Staring at him with this odd mixture of amusement and exasperation.
The shirt had fallen away from one of his shoulders, revealing yet another inked mark to the left of his heart. A ship with black sails flying against the moon.
Whoever had laid the mark there had known the Pearl as if it were engrained upon his very soul.
“Tis more,” he said, his tone suddenly turning to silk instead. “What you want from me, Commodore. Two kisses now, though better still it were three, and who knows what magicks may be found in it.”
He looked away from the other man, though it didn’t help matters much. He could still feel him staring at him. “You’re a fool.”
“Ah, yes,” the pirate replied. “God’s own. Me heart on it. Still, I’ll wager that third kiss, that you’re the greater fool to lie here in a man’s bed, fine and fair as you are on this bonny great morning, and not expect advantage to be taken.”
All the words that came readily to his mind in answer to that were ones that he ordinarily didn’t allow himself to say except under the direst of circumstances. Not that a man like Sparrow wouldn’t have heard them ten times over before. And not that these might not be dire circumstances, indeed.
Instead of speaking, though, he turned even further away from the other man. Presenting his back to him. And was shocked to find himself growing almost angry as he heard the other man sigh and then felt him move to quit the bed that they’d been sharing.
Unable to stop himself, he craned his head back around to look and saw the pirate standing there gazing back at him. His legs spread side and his hands on his hips, his back straight and his head lifted high. The nearly haughty look on his face belying the ever so ragged state of his shirt and breeches, those dirty fingers and his equally dirty bare feet. The tangled strands and braids and beads of his dark hair and the stained once-scarlet kerchief they were tucked beneath.
Though it wasn’t pride that he saw reflected in those dark eyes, but sharp disappointment. A sorrow that came close to matching the worst of his own midnight fears.
He rolled back over to face the man, but as he did the pirate’s face underwent a sudden sea change, turning itself into a mask of careful good cheer and even cooler disdain.
“Then, if you’ll pardon me,” Jack Sparrow said. “Since you quite obviously don’t intend to ravish me in my sleep—for which I would have willingly chased Morpheus to hell and back again—I have work to do, a ship to run. So I’ll simply wish ye a good day and send one of me crew in with something to break your fast.”
And, with that, the pirate turned away, swinging past the table to snatch up his hat as he did so.
The other man had just put a hand out to draw back those velvet curtains over the door, when he sat up and found his manners at last. And, more importantly than that, his resolve.
“Sir,” he said, and wasn’t sure who was more surprised to hear him call the other man that, himself or Sparrow. “Do you intend to ask a ransom for me? Because, if you do…”
He wasn’t entirely sure what he intended to say after that, because his mouth suddenly went dry as the pirate spun back around with a quite lethal quickness and grace, the mask partially ripping away at the seams to reveal a bitterness and banked fury that he couldn’t hardly bear to look at.
“Ransom?” Sparrow’s voice as sharp as a blade. “For thee? Not a farthing, Commodore. Though I would ask a penalty of thee, ere you set foot on dry land once more.”
He swallowed, meeting that stone-black gaze square on with the best determination his father had ever taught him. “And what might that be?”
“What else?” the pirate responded, smiling slightly now, though hardly pleasantly. “But that last kiss, o’ course. Not too much to ask, I believe, even for a man such as yourself. A gentleman and an officer, though hardly a commodore anymore. Being in the market, as it were. ”
That stung, and it had been intended to. He couldn’t even begin to pretend otherwise.
“And if it is…too much to ask?”
Sparrow cocked his head, making it seem as he were listening to some voice that only he could hear. Or dreaming of some world that only he could ever know. His eyes were suddenly full of hollow darkness, as if a ghost were peering out of them.
“Well, then,” he said, entirely too softly. “I might just have to keep thee forever. Or the next best thing to it.”
And, with that, the pirate turned away again.
“No,” he breathed.
Sparrow paused, then far more slowly turned around once more. “Aye?” he asked, his own voice just as quiet. A gallows’ voice, indeed.
“I’m sorry,” he went on. “Don’t leave…please? Stay with me.”
The other man’s eyes stared at him, almost seemed to stare into him, and then the pirate ever so slowly relented. He even began to look amused again, which wasn’t necessarily a good omen.
“My own apologies,” the pirate said. “But I should go.”
He nodded, then allowed his gaze to drop, staring down at his own squarely-wrought hands. At the bruises that marred them. Of course, he understood. Well, he knew about duty, even that required of a pirate captain. Even if he hadn’t just offended the man all but entirely with his rejection of his advances.
But then he heard Sparrow swear long and hard and heartily, and realized that, about this particular pirate captain, he knew far more than he understood and understood far less than he’d imagined. Movement caught his eye and he looked up to see the other man’s hat go sailing through the air to land on the back of a convenient chair. Followed, a bare moment later, by that much worn, once-white shirt.
“Damn you, James Norrington,” Jack Sparrow said then, stalking back over to the bed where he lay, entirely as if girding himself up for a duel. “An but if you say no again, I’ll bloody well run you through, an not in a way ye’d find at all pleasant. Savvy?”
“I didn’t mean…” he started to say, but then stopped himself, because he did mean and to say anything more would be a lie. And though he had fallen far in these last few days, he still would not lie. No more to somebody else than to himself.
“Aye?” The pirate was staring at him. Well, glaring at him more like.
He nodded and held out his hand, partially as a peace offering. Partially as so very much more.
Sparrow looked at it with this wary look on his face—as if remembering that day down on the docks at Port Royal, when he’d taken his hand once before and had been the one to suffer for it—but then his eyes came up and met his and that possessiveness, that hunger, was back again. It was almost frightening, the intensity of those eyes. As changeable as the sea and even more dark, even more deadly. Not a ghost, then, but a succubus.
A dream of night and desire.
And lost souls.
“What happens,” he found himself asking. “When the dream is over?”
Sparrow took his hand. He brought it to his lips and kissed the back of it, his eyes never leaving him the whole time. Then he shrugged and climbed back into bed with him, pulling him close once more.
“We’ll go where the wind takes us,” the pirate replied. “You can’t ask more than that.”
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