Disclaimer: Disney's. No money. Don't sue.
Rating: PG-13 to mild R at worst. Swearing. No nookie. Damn it.
Pairing: Herm. Hard to say. Main character is Jack. Anamaria, Norrington, and Groves (not an original character; more on him in the Notes) fill out the other significant roles.
Notes: The unnamed lieutenant who wisely declares that Jack's "got to be the best pirate I've ever seen" is played by a very nice and thoroughly hot actor named Greg Ellis (II). After a bit of searching I found that his name in the script was Officer Groves. A bunch of fans in a discussion at imdb.com dubbed him "Theodore Groves," and Greg expressed his approval of the name (at least until his canon name is fully revealed, hopefully, in the sequel!). Prior to learning this, I'd temporarily dubbed the character "Lieutenant Ellis Gregory" for sake of this story. I'm still rather partial to "Ellis," so I'm compromising: he's now "Lieutenant Theodore Ellis Groves," and he goes by his middle name. Maybe his dad was named Theodore and they didn't get along. I dunno. But there ya go.
Summary: Devastating loss, dubious rescue.
Archiving: You like it? I give it to you.
Comments: Welcomed in all forms. I'm very spastic about answering -- sometimes I pounce with the quickness and sometimes it takes me a week or two, with no particular rhyme or reason I can figure -- but I do read every one.
Fortune and Favor
The sound of water lapping against the flanks of the battered longboat lulled him, though he couldn't quite sleep. He lingered in that twilight berth between waking and dreams: one too harsh a place, the other too ethereal and too haunted. Beyond his weary body he felt the brush of morning sunshine starting against an edge of his face. Daylight again. How many did that make? He'd lost count, and had a sneaking suspicion that it didn't really matter anyway.
But there was a wager to consider. Cracking an eye, he spied the longboat's other occupant sprawled half alongside him in the opposite direction, well within kicking range. Shifted his foot over and nudged her uncharred arm until she grimaced into awareness, cracked lips twisting, hollow eyes sparking with brief, lifelike anger.
"Bastard," she told him, her voice a hoarse, whispered caricature.
"I win," he croaked.
She managed to shake her head a bare inch. "You said...a week."
"'s'been a week."
"Buh...bilgewater. Three days. Maybe."
She shifted a bit. Hissed at that, but only as a matter of course. Glared at him. "Prove it."
His right hand rose. From the elbow only, as his shoulder protested the very thought. Danced a little melody in the air, drawing pictures only he could see, though her eyes followed for all that, trying anyway. "There was the day with...the one shark..." A finger pointed skyward. "...an' then the day with the...two sharks..." Another finger unfolded slowly. "Dead seagull day, that was a big one..." The third finger couldn't quite unfurl -- something wrong at the knuckle. Wrong size, wrong shape. "Three sharks day. Or was it four...?"
"Most of those were...the same...bloody day," she rasped. "You're still a daft bugger...Jack."
Likely she was right. But-- "Prove it," he challenged, letting his hand and all those fingers fall.
She left it alone. Her eyes drifted shut. The early sunshine painted her face rich russet, like the red clay cliffs he'd once seen a riotous rainbow of wild parrots swarming across, deep in a forest somewhere lost to his colorful past.
"I smell smoke," she said, distantly.
So did he. So he always would, a little, dragging air past the miasma of burning wood and spent gunpowder and scorched human hair and flesh, however many days real or imagined remained to him. "In your head, love."
"Aye," she agreed. And said no more.
"...kindle an' char...inflame and...and ignite...drink up, me hearties, yo ho..."
Day twenty-four. Actually it could've been any day at all, but he'd decided twenty-four had the right sort of feel to it. It more than won him the wager. And it added a certain luster to the legend. Captain Jack Sparrow survived twenty-four days at sea with neither food nor water nor hardly any conversation. Black Bart couldn't say that. Black Bart couldn't say much of anything, having descended to share company with Davy Jones not long ago. Barbossa might be able to say it. That rankled a bit, until Jack remembered that, having personally ended Barbossa's not-life and then his life, he'd safeguarded his record. Before ever setting it, no less. Clearly that exhibited remarkable forethought on his part.
"...an' we burn up...the city...we're really a fright..." He wanted company for the rest of it. With a booted toe he prodded Anamaria. "Drink up...me hearties..." She didn't stir. Frowning, he prodded harder. When that failed to rouse her he found just enough energy to drag his leg across her prone body until it reached the seared meat of her left arm. He pushed, bootsole scraping over raw flesh, and was rewarded with a twitch and a moan. Alive then. Poor lass.
"Yo ho," he whispered, so as not to wake her.
The wind danced by, taunting, but they hadn't the means to catch it.
Lapping water, but...different? It called him from that gloaming place with splash, splash, splash and the grumble of wood on wood and the grunts of men at work.
He opened his eyes. A ship loomed above him, the wrong color and size, and his heart broke open. Spilled anguish all over his insides. He closed his eyes, willing it away.
Voices. Movement. Hands, ungentle and efficient. He heard an exclamation -- his name -- and started to tell the speaker to add Captain to that, if he'd be so kind, but the words never made it past dry lips. Because now it would be a lie.
He saw some faces and then didn't, his eyes blinking open or shut without asking his preference. Glimpsed a bedraggled brown body lying limply over red-clothed arms. She looked dead. He hoped she wasn't. Then, on further consideration, hoped she was.
Time spun. Too much motion around and beneath him. Had he won their bet yet? Seven days. Eternity in a bucket without oar or sail or those things a body needs in order to keep on.
Eyelids cracked again. He found himself supported between two men, facing a third whose eyes were that shade of sea-green the ocean achieved on days of peculiar lighting, with stirred-up algae tinting the water. Only the ocean never showed so much shock, and certainly nothing like dismay. Or was it he who felt the shock and dismay, and the other who felt nothing but a numb ache within?
Suddenly he was laughing. It shook his body, little sound emerging, but he supposed his bared teeth conveyed the message well enough. The utter lack of comprehension in the ocean-eyes sent him over the edge; he couldn't breathe, couldn't speak beyond a wheezy, gasping whisper. But with that he told him, "She's dead. And you never...got to kill her."
A furrow on the pale brow. "What?"
Jack shook his head. His smile was blissful. "She wins, Commodore." He tried to straighten, to stand on his own feet. Swayed and sagged between his soldier pillars. Fading again, it all kept fading. "...suppose I'm somewhat...of a consolation prize...eh?"
More movement, voices, unwelcome sensations. Certainly a great deal more pain. Aware of parts, thankfully absent for others, he wandered. Forgot sometimes. Remembered, and fought to forget again. Finally he followed an ebon ghost down into cool, silent depths where no light meant no shadows and all was hidden equally. And slept.
Waking this time had a new feel to it. Softer, for one: he was in a narrow bed complete with blanket and pillow. Scratchy blanket. Thin pillow. Both akin to divine grace, or at least what he imagined that to be.
But there was also clarity -- some. A sense in his throbbing head of knowing, more or less, the nature and condition of those aboard this ship. He, for instance, was a pirate, and in a sorry state. Those who'd fished him from the sea were decidedly Other Than Pirate, and likely toasting Dame Fortune at this very moment for delivering them such a fortuitous find.
He started to sit. Quickly changed his mind, grinding teeth instead to endure the wave of hurt that broke over him, starting in his pulsating head and radiating everywhere else, with a few flashpoints of particular note here and there.
So it was to be stillness then. Very well. He'd gotten rather used to it these past five days. Twenty-four? At least seven, hopefully. He'd no wish to be in that woman's debt again.
A little time passed during which he sussed out that he was in some crewman's quarters with two guards outside, and then there were footsteps and a muffled exchange and finally the discomfiting reality of an opening door. Through it walked Norrington, blue-coated, very properly a king's man. No chair in the room -- no anything but for the bed and its occupant and a chamber pot in the corner -- so the commodore stood. Waiting.
The waiting went on for what seemed a long while. Though he did consider the possibility that his sense of time no longer matched the rest of the world's and therefore wasn't an accurate gauge.
Norrington finally cleared his throat. "She's alive," he said. "If you wondered."
For a heartbeat he almost thought he'd awoken from the nightmare. Into another one, to be sure, but one he could handle, could find balance in. And then he realized what the commodore meant. "Anamaria?"
"Is that her name?"
"Yes. But the doctor thinks not for much longer." His expression didn't change, except maybe a little crinkle, a hint of humanity around the eyes. "Who is she?"
"She's not regained consciousness."
"Then what does it matter?" he asked, tiredly.
Norrington didn't address that. Turned away, pacing the three steps available to his long legs in the cramped quarters and then back, composure like armor around him. His face was stone. "It's the Black Pearl, then. Isn't it?"
Jack gazed at him, silent. Thought of answers, denials, ways to make it untrue. But when he opened his mouth to suggest one what he heard instead was, inflectionless, "Aye."
The word lurked there after he spoke it, a third presence in the room. A ghost of a word about the ghost of a ship. Ghost of a ghost ship?
Jack tried to clear his throat and found it too dry to manage. "Might I have a drink, Commodore?"
Norrington opened the door and spoke through it, affording Jack a semblance of privacy in which to come to terms with his admission. He stared at the wooden planks of the ceiling and listened to his thoughts. But they were oddly quiet this once.
When Norrington returned to the bedside he had a mug in one hand and a chair with the other. "You'll want to sit up."
"Dunno 'bout that, mate. Took a stab at it once already." His mouth quirked sideways. "What does your good doctor have to say about me?"
Norrington set the mug on the chair's seat. "You've an ugly puncture in your right shoulder." Mercilessly, he bent over and slid an arm beneath Jack's back, guiding him up, ignoring the growled hiss movement brought. "Some lacerations. Plenty of bruising. A dislocated finger, which he's fixed." Fixed or not, that particular finger wrung a strained profanity from its owner when it knocked against the wall during the maneuvering. "The sundry effects of exposure, food and water deprivation for God only knows how long..."
"Twenty-four days," Jack ground out, figuring it worth a shot.
Norrington arched a brow. "Unlikely." That arm provided support as the other hand retrieved the mug. Jack took it from him. His hand shook until the contents threatened to spill, but he managed to forestall further aid by bringing in his other hand as a brace. He sniffed warily. Water, touched with rum for freshness. Took a sip. Didn't die right away, so took a swallow, and then another and another until it was gone.
The commodore took the cup and lowered him back down to the flat pillow before seating himself in the chair, posture very upright, very businesslike. Jack had almost thought to thank him, but couldn't now. Not when he was so...Navy.
"In short, Sparrow, he says you'll live."
"All the way to Port Royal, aye?" A tight smile. "Are we far? How long've I got?"
Norrington examined his shirtsleeve. "We're on patrol. Three days until port."
Three days to escape. Unless... "You wouldn't make use of a yardarm, would you?" he asked worriedly, suddenly all too able to see it.
A faintly disgusted look from the commodore. "I'm not a pirate."
"And that's not an answer, mate."
"It's answer enough." He sat back in the chair, hands loose on his thighs. "How did it happen?"
"How did what happen?"
His stomach twisted lazily. Someone must've fed him; he felt more than bile and water flopping around in there, threatening to rise.
"Don't think I'll be tellin' that, Commodore."
Dark eyebrows rose in what seemed genuine surprise. "What?"
Another smile, slight and humorless. "Imagination serves better for a legend like the Pearl. No real ending could ever suit her well enough."
"Then you..." A blink. "You simply refuse to say?"
"It's best this way," Jack assured him, kindly.
Norrington shook his head. "We'll discover the truth. There must be someone who saw..."
"Two someones," he agreed. "Only it looks that we're both on our way out, eh? So me Black Pearl gets to take her secrets with her, mate, and you'll just have to stomach that."
A cold face, then. Extra Navy. "And her captain?"
"'Silent as the grave,' wunnit? All the way to the gallows." He considered the anger kindling in those eyes and added, "Or will it be the yardarm after all?" And smiled.
Norrington stood and left, taking chair and mug with him.
The Dauntless rocked ponderously beneath his feet, a heavy rolling he remembered from their prior acquaintance. She didn't like him, this ship. Too much of the commodore in her for that.
But a ship was a ship was a ship, unless she happened to be the Black Pearl, and a ship wouldn't buck him no matter how discombobulated his balance might be. So he walked back and forth, using the wall, and let her vent her frustration beneath him.
Footsteps, a few words, then the door again. An officer, in blue. He didn't know this one. Youthful if not actually young, well-chiseled face, carrying a tray of food and no utensils. He didn't shy from eye contact. Sought it, actually.
Jack leaned against the wall and crossed his arms, careful of his wounded shoulder, meeting the fellow look for look.
"You're up," the officer observed, sounding mildly impressed.
Conspicuously, Jack gave him the once-over. "You seem a bit elevated to be serving prisoners. What'd you do?"
"I volunteered, actually."
Jack cocked an eyebrow. Invited more.
A hint of a smile, more in eyes than lips. "I was there the day you and Turner made off with the Interceptor. Brilliant maneuver, that."
"I never expected I'd have the chance to tell you so." He set the tray on the foot of the bed, never quite taking his eyes off Jack, then straightened and offered his hand. "Ellis Groves. I'm not sure I can say it's an honor, Captain Sparrow, but a personal pleasure at the least."
Jack considered his hand. Didn't move. "Where's Norrington?"
The officer calmly pulled his hands behind him, hiding any trace of offense. "Aboard the Encounter at the moment. We rendezvoused just this morning." Seeing Jack's blank look he offered, "She replaced the Interceptor. Hadn't you heard? She's acquiring a bit of a reputation among your, ah...brethren."
Having not been in these waters for several months, he had not, in fact, heard. But the mention of brethren reminded him of a matter closer at hand. "There was a woman with me..."
So Norrington had shared. Somehow that unsettled him. "How is she?"
"She's well," the man said, his answer surprisingly ready. "I looked in on her just before you. She's awake, in fact."
His stomach walked. "Awake?"
"Not near death?"
"Resilient woman," he said, smiling.
Quite. "I'd dearly love to see her."
A shadow passed over the officer's face. "I'm sorry, but I haven't the authority for that. You'll have to speak to the commodore."
He clenched his teeth. Unclenched them and tried to remember the man's name. "Elliot, was it?"
"Ellis. Ellis Groves."
Marshalling strength, Jack left the support of his sturdy wall and took the step between them, extending his hand to the limit his shoulder permitted as though the idea had just occurred to him. "Always delighted to meet a good man in the king's service, Ellis Groves."
Surprise, a flicker of caution. Far less practiced concealment than Norrington had mastered, if nowhere near so readable as young Will Turner. But when Jack put a little effort into projecting sincerity this one fell as readily as most honest men. His eyes were smiling again as he took Jack's hand in a firm, meant-to-impress grip.
Jack almost ruined the whole thing by screaming. His sadly abused finger, caught in that thoroughly manly clench, sent awful messages shrieking up through his damaged shoulder and to his head, which hadn't yet entirely stopped whimpering. He clamped teeth together tightly and faked a somewhat overenthusiastic smile. Even managed a decent squeeze in return, although the backside of his eyes stung a bit when he did.
"As I said: it's a pleasure, Captain Sparrow."
"Call me Jack," he invited, voice a little strained.
The immediate grin, lopsided and vaguely charming, couldn't possibly be feigned. "Jack."
A sympathetic admirer in the enemy's ranks. That increased the contents of his weapons cache from none to one.
He'd had worse places to start from.
Norrington took him to see Anamaria that afternoon. The cabin, another crewman's quarters, looked nearly identical to his own but for the portly man with a permanent squint who knelt in the small space beside the lower bunk, frowning in a befuddled fashion.
"Doctor," Norrington said.
A distracted nod. "Yes, yes, Commodore, I'll leave." And he did so, mumbling to himself, apparently more than somewhat vexed to have his prediction of imminent death so thoroughly and embarrassingly disproved. Jack felt a ridiculous urge to explain to him that Anamaria did that kind of thing to everyone sooner or later. But he refrained.
Anamaria's left arm and some of the rest of her wore thick bandages, neat and fresh. Her face was a wreck: sun-seared, peeling, lips cracked and eyes feverishly bright. In the latter days, however many of those there were, she'd neglected to cover her face during the hottest hours. He'd neglected to remind her. It hadn't seemed important then.
She reached her good arm across her body, beckoning. The expression she wore, burning eyes aside, was too soft, too beseeching. He approached warily.
"Jack," she whispered, hand waving for his. He took it with his left to spare the sore right. She squeezed his fingers tightly enough to hurt anyway, baring her teeth and hissing, "An entire bloody ocean to choose from, and this is the rescue you find?"
A pained smile. "Beggars and choosers, love."
"Better to have stayed in the boat."
Probably. "Might we have a moment alone, Commodore?" He was finding that the man almost instinctively responded to politeness. A lifetime of social niceties and exaggeratedly formal manners could likely be blamed. Not that it mattered to Jack, if it worked.
If. "I think not, Mister Sparrow."
His skin itched at the title. Perhaps the Pearl would forgive him if he decided to hold onto "Captain" anyway. "Commodore, there are..." He directed an imploring look at Norrington, gambling on that decent streak. "There are things we need to be saying to one another that don't invite an audience. And not so much time left to be sayin' 'em, eh?" Look at us, he tried to send through his eyes. Battered, captured, doomed. A man, a woman...she's pretty, I'm me...obviously we're deeply, truly, tragically in love. Pity us, James. It is James, isn't it? It's a small enough concession. Just a moment of privacy to choke back the tears and say our goodbyes and
"Think of me as a fly on the wall," Norrington suggested, not budging.
Jack sighed. He went to his knees by the bed and put his head close to Anamaria's. Low enough voices, pitched as heartsore endearments, might still do the trick. That, and a little high drama. "Is the pain terrible, darling?"
Anamaria wasn't much into acting. Her grip threatened to pulp his hand. "Not as terrible as the pain you'll be in if ye think to be leavin' me behind when you escape," she cooed softly, between her teeth.
Somewhat louder, he told her, "The good commodore informs me we'll be in Port Royal in two days."
"Three now," Norrington interjected. "There's been a delay."
Jack's look was as wounded as he could manage, given the jarring surge of elation that shot through him at that news. "You're a fly, mate. You promised."
Norrington rolled his eyes, longsuffering.
Anamaria released his hand, and he was relieved for a whole moment until she caught hair instead, jerking him in for what must have looked like a terrifically desperate kiss. He was careful to keep his tongue safely in his own mouth, however, and despaired for his lips, which just might end up between those sharp teeth of hers if she decided to emphasize her seriousness.
She let go his mouth and dragged his head alongside hers 'til her lips brushed his ear. "I'll tell them everything worth knowing about you, Jack Sparrow. I'll help them hunt you to the bottom of the world. An' if they just hang me instead, I will find you in your nightmares and torture you in ways you can't begin t' think of." A pointed tug on her handful. "Savvy?"
About done with being assaulted, he oh so carelessly bumped her bandaged arm a good one with his elbow. She cried out, making it a curse, and he pulled back sharply, his hands hovering over her with every appearance of distress. "Sorry, love, so sorry...that looks to've hurt..."
She spat something rather more derogatory than he thought would fit the act, but it didn't seem to matter as Norrington was already hauling him to his feet and propelling him towards the door. "That's quite enough. Out you go."
Jack was all but carried by his scruff into the corridor. He expected they'd march right back to his own room-made-cell; instead they turned the other way, Norrington's grip switching bruisingly to his arm.
"The brig?" Jack guessed unhappily.
No answer. When they reached a stairway, however, they went up. Out of the forecastle. Onto the main deck. His heart started hammering, then bloody near exploded at the first blast of fresh salt air in his face.
Sailors and servicemen looked at them; quickly away. Their commodore was in a dark mood. Jack took some comfort from the thought that he'd probably be calling for assistance instead of warning it off if he'd changed his mind about the propriety of a hanging at sea.
They went aft, Norrington claiming a position near the guardrail just past the swing guns, clearing the immediate vicinity with eyes alone. He pushed Jack against the rail and released his arm once he had hold of it.
And Jack pretty much lost all awareness of him then, just for a few euphoric moments. The Dauntless might not care for the pirate, but the waters holding her, the impossibly blue sky above -- these knew him. He'd spent more time in their company than anywhere else, finding a measure of solace between them even in those ten long years when the Pearl was denied to him. Unthinking, he tipped his face up and closed his eyes, genuinely smiling, filling his lungs 'til they tingled, as close to reverence as he ever was or wished to be.
When he came back down Norrington was watching him strangely. Jack cocked his head. Squinted. "They're greener in sunlight."
That familiar expression of confused irritation. "What?"
"Your eyes, mate. Just noticed." He propped ass to rail and flicked hands to indicate their present condition of outsideness. "Not that I have the slightest objection to fresh air and sunshine and not languishing in the brig, mind, but to what point and purpose might we be out here?" A casual glance over the rail and down at the frothing wake of their passage. "Should I be holding on?"
"She's no strumpet brought aboard your ship to provide you with companionship, Sparrow, that's clear enough."
"It is?" He'd thought their performance at least marginally credible. His, anyway. Anamaria's could use some work.
"She was a member of your crew. As much a pirate as any of you."
Rather more, actually. "Have you proof of that, Commodore Norrington? Or are you lawful types just hanging women on the merit of a 'maybe' these days?"
He looked away, no more readable in profile than face-on. Jack frowned. Norrington was eluding his assessment too effectively; he couldn't figure the man at all right now, and he'd considered him one of the easier guesses, stoical visage notwithstanding.
"Governor Swann has been known to grant clemency to women accused of serious offenses."
"Aye?" Jack asked mildly. "Even dark ones?"
Eyes dropped, unconsciously revealing. He didn't speak.
A weakness in the grimly efficient enforcer? "Or perhaps she'll just be sold. Keep your conscience clear, eh? She cleans up pretty, Commodore. Ve-ry. Pretty." And we both know what happens to pretty slaves, don't we? Especially pretty ones with spirit. "You might think about buying her for yourself."
Under the look he received at that, he cautiously tightened his grip on the rail. Just in case.
"If it can be demonstrated that she's a lawfully free woman..."
Jack's smirk cut the thought off half-voiced. "Not under your laws, mate."
"Someone has a..." To his credit, he hesitated. "...a claim to her?"
Jack turned his attention to the gleam and shadow of rippling water off the starboard side, drinking it in, wanting to take it with him below. "If you've all these questions about the lady, I suggest you take them to the source. Bring her on deck. She'll love you forever." If she doesn't push you over.
Again Norrington didn't answer, but this time it was that type of non-answer that meant something.
Jack had a very inconsistent record when it came to garnering loyalty.
There was, of course, that single, preeminent example of unimagined heroism exhibited by William, and to a lesser extent Elizabeth, on the day of his would-be hanging. That had glossed his reputation with a new myth: that he inspired such devotion in all his boon companions.
Considering the other examples of "devotion" that came to mind -- the entire crew of the Pearl that one time, for instance -- Jack couldn't for the life of him figure just where he'd gone so right with those two. And he dearly wanted to. That kind of magic would be incomparably useful to have on hand.
Anamaria, unique creature that she was, still represented his more typical friendship: self-interest mingled with grudging respect, small dollops of admiration, and a completely undisguised willingness to turn on him if the situation warranted. He trusted her as far as she trusted him, and to date that measure weighed in at just enough. But to even imagine Anamaria taking the place Will once stood -- willing to die just to keep him company on the scaffold -- was beyond daft. And Jack understood her for that. Far more than he could honestly claim to understand young Turner and the overblown sense of fair play he owned.
Thing being, he really needed to engender some of that Turner-true loyalty right now. Even had the perfect subject for it in the form of one Lieutenant Ellis Groves, a chap already impressed with his work. The challenge lay in determining where idle appreciation left off and active assistance might kick in.
So far he knew that place wasn't in shaving. Left-handed, somewhat awkwardly, he scraped the razor over his own face, not glancing at his observer. "The sword's a bit superfluous, mate, don't you think? I've got just the one good arm."
From the corner of his eye he caught another of those slight smiles. The blade remained unsheathed, dangled casually but no doubt ready. "They say you're equally skilled with either hand."
He critically examined one cheek in the little hand mirror. Rinsed the razor and started on the second lathered side, gladder than he'd admit at having the chance to groom. Wild worked for him; wooly did not. "I hadn't realized word spread of me prowess with implements of shaving."
"Name an object; someone will swear you killed ten men with it."
Nobody could live up to these expectations. "I wager the good commodore has ended more lives with hemp than I could ever hope to." A sidelong look, evaluative. "Does he know you've acquired this admiration for pirates?"
Unflustered. "Pirate, not pirates. And the subject has come up."
"Yet you're trusted alone with a pirate. The pirate, no less."
The razor glided from throat to chin. "Impeccable record, eh?"
"Close to it."
No bribe then. But perhaps he could convince him to at least hesitate before firing, if it came to that. "Are you an honorable man, Ellis?"
The lieutenant raised his sword, studying the gleaming edge. "I have my moments, Captain Sparrow. Jack."
Jack fell silent, shaping the edges of mustache and beard, and for a bit the only sounds were of water swirling, then dripping, and the grating sibilant of metal scraping over skin. He'd need scissors to finish, and the beard braids called for reworking. Still, the improvement was already enough to restore some sense of self.
He set the blade beside the bowl on the stool brought in for that purpose, then laid back on the bed, crosswise, staring at the ceiling with a quiet sigh. His shoulder ached. He touched lightly at the cloth bandage, tracing the edge of the wound underneath.
"How did you get that?"
His fingers pulled back from their exploration. "The Pearl," he said briefly.
"I don't understand."
"She died hard, mate."
Jack only shook his head.
A few heartbeats, and then, "I'm sorry she's lost."
He closed his eyes. Swallowed.
"I still remember the sight of her appearing 'round the cliff the day you slipped the noose. The terror of the seven seas sweeping in right under our noses to reclaim her captain, daring us to try and stop her."
His throat hurt rather badly now, trying to pull in on itself.
"Some of us cheered when you made it, you know. Quietly, for obvious reasons. But we cheered."
"I'm touched," he said, roughly. "No offense, but could ye get the fuck out, mate? I'm havin' a bit of a moment here."
"Of course." A sword, sheathing. Stool and tools retrieved, then footsteps and the door and the depressingly solid thunk of the lock going home. It sounded quite a bit like the hangman's lever, opening the trapdoor beneath his feet.
He pressed his left forearm over his eyes and made himself breathe, and breathe, and breathe.
The horizon lay empty to all sides, the ocean like glass beneath windless skies. Sailors set to work on maintenance. Soldiers occupied themselves with varying degrees of boredom. Under the watchful eyes of Commodore Norrington, Jack walked the aft deck.
The shave had done something for him. That and a little lampblack 'round the eyes, now warding off the glare that had everyone else squinting. He'd asked for and been granted his hat -- a small enough treasure retrieved before the Pearl took everything else he owned with her to the depths -- and something in the responses of the men had him realizing a change. Their surreptitious glances contained more than curiosity: they were expectant. Because he was Captain Jack Sparrow, or at least looked the part, and those who'd been with the Dauntless long enough remembered him well. The commodore had dryly noted their reactions in a voice equally speculative and annoyed. But at least he hadn't ended this excursion right then, just on principle.
Somewhere from the bowels of the ship, the ringing sound of a hammer brought to mind a blacksmith. Jack looked at Norrington. Saw the distance in his eyes for all that they followed him vigilantly.
"Turner?" he asked.
A quick blink brought alertness fully back. "What?"
"The hammering. Does it make you think of Will Turner?"
A scowl, faint but undeniable. "I suppose it will now."
Jack grinned to himself and returned to his pacing. But now he had the commodore in a talky mood.
"She's very...frank," Norrington said, leaning against one arm on the guardrail.
"Did we jump to Elizabeth from Will, or...?"
Jack's ears almost twitched at the cadence her name had just taken on. He scrutinized Norrington indirectly, mind racing, only a very small corner of his thoughts participating in the conversation. "Ahh. Aye, she does know how to get her point across."
"I suspect she had to learn, surrounded by knaves and varlets of every stripe."
Jack resisted mentioning his own suspicion: that Anamaria had been born with a flaming cutlass in hand, and might well have used it to slay whoever dared the offense of pulling her from her mother's body without her leave. Norrington was sympathizing with her. Norrington was trying to put himself in her shoes. Norrington was baring his throat, whether he knew it yet or not.
The next words stopped his feet and thoughts cold. "I asked her about the Black Pearl," Norrington mentioned, deceptively casual. "As you pointed out, she's one of only two who were there."
Jack waited. Lost patience. "Aye?"
"She claims," he drawled, "to remember nothing but an explosion. Then you, dragging her into the boat amidst flaming wreckage."
His heart started up again. "Ah, well, that's fine then. All true. Explosion, fire, whatnot."
"And you a hero," Norrington added sardonically.
"I do practice the occasional good deed, Commodore."
"Yes, I remember."
"But you'll still see me swing in...two days now?"
The man's expression was infuriatingly mild. "Becalmed like this, we look to add another day to Port Royal. If nothing else delays us."
Jack's turn to scowl, though he did so quite openly and put his whole face into it. "Where the bloody hell are we?"
"What happened to the Black Pearl?"
"She went down."
"And we're at sea."
Jack spread arms in entreaty, the gesture lopsided due to injury but earnest nonetheless. "You really must stop being so kind, Commodore. I mean, the doctor I can understand -- wouldn't want me to die before you've assembled a nice audience for the occasion -- but crew quarters? Relatively palatable food?" He plucked at the shirt he wore, open halfway down the torso despite the buttons suggesting otherwise. "Clean clothes, mate. Them 'at like me don't gimme clean clothes."
Norrington had a hint of that damnably amused, far too superior smirk. "Your point?"
Jack rolled his eyes. "I'm beginning to wonder if you're as committed to this hanging as you pretend to be."
Pushing off the rail, Norrington approached unhurriedly. "The crew quarters are because the doctor won't willingly visit patients in the brig. The atmosphere, it seems, doesn't agree with him." He passed Jack and circled him, bearing uncomfortable resemblance to the sharks that had shadowed the boat. "The food happens to be what we have on hand. We've made no special effort to stock swill just for the off chance that we'd come across you while out." Stopped in front, looming over Jack, kissing or killing distance. "And believe me when I tell you that the clothes were more for our benefit than yours."
"I do believe you," Jack said sincerely. "But it doesn't explain why you didn't hasten to Port Royal under full sails the moment you had me aboard."
"I have no authority over the weather."
"Really, Sparrow," he said with a touch of disdain, rocking back slightly, "I'm beginning to wonder if you're more committed to this hanging than you let on."
Jack was, for once, struck dumb.
Until his feverishly racing mind suddenly went click, and he Got It. "You don't want a woman's death on your hands," he said, slowly. "Even if she might be a pirate. A bit too dirty for you, fine and chivalrous gent that you are. But you've an entire ship's worth of men what saw Anamaria come outta the water in me own not-so-fine company. That ties your hands, does it not, when it comes time for the high profile and very public trial of one--" He touched his chest lightly. "--Captain Jack Sparrow. Hungry mobs adore scandalous women."
Norrington crossed his arms, looking interested. "Go on."
"So you're delaying until you've found a way to protect Anamaria -- very noble, Commodore, very noble -- and once that's assured..."
"There's no more reason to dally?" he offered, eyebrows up.
The sinking feeling in Jack's stomach confirmed that summation. "I was almost starting to like you."
"Very close, mate." He pinched two fingers, narrowing eyes for emphasis. "This close."
Norrington's smile didn't warm him one whit. "Sparrow, I believe it's safe to say that you'll despise me before we're quit of one another."
As if to bait him, the commodore permitted another visit with Anamaria, this time even being so overwhelmingly generous as to stand outside for the duration.
She looked more alive, at least, if not yet much improved. She was sitting up in the narrow bed, bandaged arm sort of cradled against her, a look of distance in her eyes for the first moments after he entered. But quickly enough she focused on him, assessing his changed appearance in a breath.
"So glad you approve." He seated himself on the edge of the bed. Out of easy range of her good hand. Just in case. "You've been talking with Norrington."
"Aye." She made it a challenge. But then, she made most everything a challenge.
"However you're playin' 'im, love, I think it's working. He appears to be bending every which way to see to it your pretty neck stays its natural fetching length."
Her lips curved. The smile was disconcertingly feminine and knowing.
"Which really just leaves us with the matter of my pretty neck to consider..."
She stopped smiling. "I warned you, Jack."
"Yes, admittedly, but that was when he was the heartless, evil commodore, bound to see every pirate in the Caribbean strung up and dancing. Now he's more a vindictive sod of a commodore who just wants to see me strung up and--"
"I think he's nice."
Jack clutched a hand to his heart. "Anamaria!"
"He has a sweet smile," she said musingly. "Like a little boy."
"Like a little boy 'at just stoned a puppy," Jack muttered.
"He did save us, Jack."
"I saved you first."
"No, first you stole my boat."
"Then you let Barbossa sink the Interceptor, and I wanted her."
"'Let' him? Now that's just--"
"Then somehow you convinced me my fortunes would be best if I stayed on the Black Pearl..."
"They were! Isla de Muerta! Lots and lots of gold, jewels, statues! Gold!"
"And that," she concluded sharply, "is how I came to be aboard the Pearl when she blew up and nearly killed me. That's prob'ly your fault too."
He stood abruptly, stepping away, and this time it wasn't out of fear of anything she might do. "Have a care, Anamaria."
She didn't. "I was asleep, Jack. The alarm never even sounded. What the hell happened? You let some drunk fool light up in the powder magazine?"
Almost hating her in that moment, he said nothing at all.
Her face shifted from taunting anger to dawning suspicion. "... If that's what really happened..."
He walked forward, swaying with the Dauntless. "You don't know -- half -- of what you think you know. Not about me and not about me ship. So just keep your teeth together, love, and don't spread lies out of place, savvy?"
Too proud a woman to concede, she jutted her chin and stayed silent.
Jack crossed to the door and pounded, thrice. "Commodore!"
Her eyes seared his back as he left the room.
He had a plan. It wasn't a good plan. In all likelihood it would ultimately prove a suicidal plan. It hardly mattered anymore, though; stay or attempt escape, one end or another. Perhaps the captain of the Black Pearl wasn't meant to long outlive his ship, and now she sought to reclaim him once more, using whatever means were available to dead ships that weren't ready to rest.
Regardless. He meant to try.
The wind had picked up. He could hear it moaning around and through the Dauntless -- could feel the heaviness in the air prophesying the coming rainstorm. If it were a real storm, a banshee howler of a storm, Norrington would keep the canvass dropped no matter what. Anyone with an ounce of sanity would.
Jack didn't yet know how he'd get himself in a boat on the water, and he hadn't wholly solved the question of rowing through rough seas with one good arm to his name, but these were problems he'd deal with in the doing, and he had a hint of an idea how he might learn what direction, at least, he should aim for. Ellis would be bringing him dinner. Ellis seemed oddly disinclined to withhold information, as if he couldn't imagine a nice pirate like Jack would ever think to use it. Shouldn't take much to get at least a picture of where they were, and then...
They'd cheered for him. It couldn't be that big a leap to go from cheering to looking the other way.
Footsteps. He stood, watching the door. The lock made its noise, the bluecoat came in, and inside its tailored fabric was someone who bore little resemblance to the lieutenant he'd been relying on.
"Gillette," he said, flatly. "Fancy that."
Wearing that impossibly haughty smirk, Gillette arched an eyebrow in a rather poor imitation of Norrington. "I just had to see for myself. Well well. 'Captain' Jack Sparrow, apprehended at last."
Jack's upper lip curled faintly. "Hadn't seen you aboard, Lieutenant. Just arrived then?"
A contented smile. "And here for the remainder of your journey."
"No longer aboard. Grown too fond of you, I expect. We wouldn't want you making any new friends at this late juncture."
Jack smiled humorlessly. "Of course not."
Gillette stepped aside to make room for a tray-bearing serviceman to enter. The fare looked the same, but the brownnoser'd probably spat in it. "Eat up, Sparrow," he said, overplaying the solicitousness by a good stretch as he stepped back through the door. "You look thin."
Thunk!, said the lock.
Of the new plans, the only one that seemed to hold any merit at all involved contacting Will Turner, mind to mind, and asking if he or Elizabeth might have any bright ideas. Jack had been lying prone in the dark for nearly an hour now attempting to do just that.
William did not appear to be paying attention.
The Dauntless swayed with sluggish violence on tumultuous waters. He could still hear the wind, perhaps rain as well, and it had the sound of opportunity slipping away.
He opened his eyes.
The voice was Norrington's, and he dismissed the guards. Jack didn't move, listening to the thunk, listening to the creak of the door, listening to the storm above.
"On your feet, Sparrow."
He sat up sideways on the bed. The dim, shielded lamp in the commodore's hands sent lines of amber and shadow across the room, over his face. An eye glinted more brown than green and the unsheathed sword picked up a faintly coppery shine. What could be seen of his expression revealed a particular intensity in that usually impassive countenance.
Jack stood slowly, rocking with the ship. "Solved your problem then, have you?"
"Indeed." He stepped back into the corridor and motioned with the sword. "Let's go."
Donning his hat, Jack followed. Started the suddenly long walk toward the stairs. "Care to share?"
"Would you like that?"
"Oh yes, very much."
"Certainly then. You, Jack Sparrow, just attempted to assault the woman you were rescued with."
"Just now. It seems she was in your company unwillingly. You've been harboring some ridiculous idea of escape, planning afterwards to go recover whatever's left of your take from Isla de Muerta and return to your life of charlatanism."
"Yes. But this woman, upon realizing her deliverance from your unwholesome clutches, declared herself willing to tell all she knew, including your haunts and quite possibly the location of your hoard, if we promised her protection." Jack's steps faltered by the door to Anamaria's room. Norrington tapped the flat of the blade against his arm, warning him onward.
"So," he said as they continued, "you, upon learning of her 'betrayal,' fell into a murderous rage. You fought past a guardsman in the dead of night and made your way to her room, intending God only knows what perfidy..."
Marvelous. Norrington would paint him a would-be rapist and murderer in one. "None 'at know me will readily believe that."
"Ah, but does anyone really know you, Sparrow?" he said, almost indulgently. "Fortunately for the lady, you were caught in the act."
"By you," Jack hazarded.
"So you finally get to play the hero, eh Commodore?"
He could almost feel the man's smile. They started up the stairs, rain-slick and precarious. Gusts of wind slammed droplets into his face like tiny fists as they neared the main deck.
"In a righteous rage--"
"As opposed to my 'murderous' one." Now they had to almost shout to be heard over wind and rain.
"In a righteous rage," the man went on doggedly, abandoning the lamp to a hook once they reached the top, "Commodore Norrington dragged the miscreant out on deck. Only a few men were about to see what transpired."
Crazily enough, there were a few soggy idiots up here, their identities obscured by sheeting rain and encompassing night. Witnesses, he supposed. Every execution had to have witnesses.
Evidently he wasn't moving eagerly enough. Norrington caught his arm -- his right arm, no less -- and hauled him bodily astern, fingers locked like iron all the way up to the aft deck. Those few spectators followed at a distance, watching, but none made any move to interfere.
He met the rear guardrail, a lurch of the Dauntless making the impact forceful indeed. Holding on, struggling to catch his breath, he looked over the jagged sea. Angry tonight. She was angry the night the Pearl went down, too.
Another ship tossed out there on the waves, visible by cabin lights and naught else. A detached, remarkably clear corner of his mind noted that she was likely the Encounter, joining up yet again with her larger sister. And then that part was occluded by the part that faced Norrington as the man strong-armed him around, not about to let him just up and jump.
"Horribly unprofessional of me, I'll admit," Norrington yelled cheerfully. "But a man moved by the plight of a woman in distress will often behave with a distinct lack of circumspection, haven't you noticed? I'm certain this little slip will be overlooked. Of course, to protect her from any reprisal from your less-than-savory allies, her identity will need to be kept secret."
"Nice touch," Jack admitted, grudgingly.
"I thought so."
"Just tell me one thing, mate: does Anamaria know about this?"
Norrington grinned, and in that moment he did look rather boyish indeed. "She helped script it."
"Ah." The next swell almost rocked him right onto the sword and he curled his left arm around the rail, clinging tight. "So no hanging then?"
Eyes flickered to the waiting blade. "That's the sword Will made you."
"Ironic, is it not?"
The commodore stepped in, very close, sword brushing Jack's ribcage. The grin was gone.
"Make for the Encounter," he said, low-voiced.
Jack's head jerked back. He eyed him wildly.
"On my honor, Sparrow, you'll not be harmed."
Jack searched the dimly lit face with every scrap of human insight he possessed. Licked his lips. "I don't rightly know what your honor means, Commodore."
The sword thrust violently upward as the Dauntless bucked.
Jack stared wide-eyed at the blade, neatly fitted between body and arm, skewering him so far as their watchers would see. Back to the commodore's face, almost expressionless but for that bit of humanity 'round the eyes.
"That makes two of us," Norrington told him. Then he flung him over the rail and into the sea.
Jack hit the only way possible after a long fall into storm-whipped waters: brutally hard. It rammed the breath from his body, but he'd expected that. It also knocked his hat off his head, which he hadn't thought about, and he didn't think overmuch about the foolishness of struggling to recover it without air in his lungs, either. It was his hat. He no longer had his own clothes, his sword or compass or pistol. He no longer had the ship he'd built his life around. He had his hat, and he'd be going nowhere without it.
As if feeling a touch of sympathy for him, the next wave threatening to dash him against the Dauntless also washed the hat within grabbing reach. He caught it with his left, transferred it to the more useless right, and struck out awkwardly for the beckoning glow rising and falling over the swells.
The swim nearly finished him. A cynical thought that perhaps that was the real intention did pass through his head, but didn't linger. No thoughts did. There was only a goal now and the need to reach it. He kicked. He thrashed. He undulated. When the ocean permitted, he sucked in air laced with water from above and below. And in that fashion he finally reached the Encounter.
A foolhardy mariner he didn't recognize hung off her flank, feet braced on a wale, ropes securely wound about his girth. He caught sight of Jack and bellowed something up above. The ropes loosened; he pushed off the ship and swam furiously for Jack. Arms and legs wrapped 'round him, tight as death. The ropes pulled. They flew.
The landing jarred his shoulder and everything else. He slammed facedown onto unforgiving wood, the not inconsiderable weight of the other man adding to the impact. Dazed, still not caught up with the moment, he wondered if he'd scream if he opened his mouth. Opened it to see, and heaved up water instead.
His rescuer got off of him. Some little while after that, he managed to lift his head. Half a dozen men were arrayed around, a couple of redcoats and a few sailors, the wettest of these still blowing hard from exertion as another unwound the ropes from him. The man at the forefront wore rain-drenched blue. He dropped to a crouch by Jack, bracing a hand on the swaying deck.
"You made it," he said in that same mildly impressed voice. His eyes flicked downward. Eyebrows rose. "And your hat made it too."
Jack just stared and panted, nowhere near ready for words.
Ellis smiled that lopsided smile. "Welcome aboard the Encounter, Captain Sparrow. Let's get inside and discuss the commodore's terms, shall we?"
Aching everywhere, wondering if he'd ever have use of his right shoulder again, Jack decided as he tossed back rum that he felt considerably better than he had in at least twenty-four days, give or take a few of the imaginary ones. But even with this delightful new lease on life, he had some concerns.
"Now, just to clarify, when you say you want to make me 'unrecognizable'..." He slid a wary glance at the two beefy jack-tars standing wordlessly inside the door of the officer's quarters. One of them was his very own savior from the sea. The man hadn't looked anywhere near so malicious when plucking him from raging waters. "...what you're actually saying is...what?"
"You're a conspicuous man, Jack," Ellis reminded him. "Seen once and not easily forgotten."
"Admittedly. But to get back to the matter at hand, by 'unrecognizable' you mean--"
"It wouldn't do to have you spotted alive while word is just spreading that the commodore's killed you. He wants some assurance that you'll be out of sight long enough that if and when you do return it will be credited to an unholy bargain you struck with the devil, rather than an embarrassing misjudgment by..." Lips quirked. "...good men in the king's service."
"I understand that," Jack said carefully. "The bit I'm concerned with at the moment is how, exactly, you intend to make me 'unrecognizable,' and what the bloody hell these two 'ave to do with it."
His sailor rescuer grinned. He had, Jack reflected, recoiling a little, far too many teeth to be human.
Ellis was fussing around in a cabinet. His voice came muffled. "They're here to encourage your compliance."
"Compliance with what?"
The sound of scissors snipping together yanked Jack's attention wholly around. "A shave and a haircut," Ellis informed him, emerging with the tools for the task.
Jack's stomach hit his ankles. He stared, blinking.
"The beard goes. The..." Ellis frowned, visibly seeking the proper description. "Mane. The mane goes too. And all the beads and spikes and whatever else you've got in there."
Setting down the rum glass, he yanked up his sleeve to bare his signature tattoo above that damnable burn. "And what d'ye propose to do about this, eh?"
"The goal is to make you less visible. You don't have to pass a lover's scrutiny."
Jack let his sleeve fall. Thought about it. Then said, quite calmly, "No."
An eyebrow arched. "If you don't cooperate, my orders are to run you through myself."
"For the sake of argument, let's assume I would."
"I could do it if ye like, sir," offered Jack's savior helpfully.
"Thank you, Geoff, that won't be necessary." A pointed look. "Will it?"
Jack swallowed rum. Liquid fortitude. "I killed ten men with a razor, you know."
"Yes, I've heard." A nod at the jack-tars, who took that as signal to advance. "That's why they're going to hold you down."
The Encounter raced beneath his feet, her athletic sway already familiar. She liked him, this agile little sloop-of-war, and was strutting a bit, showing him her paces. He felt her youthful verve in every motion from keel to mainmast, bowsprit to stern.
At least the ship knew him for who he was.
The wind, exploring this new Jack Sparrow, tousled his hair like an uncle, whipping the short locks against his face. He brushed them back irritably, though it did no good at all. He'd need the scarf. He'd need a helluva lot more than the scarf, if he hoped to impress or intimidate a soul anytime in the near future. Who would've imagined he still looked so young underneath? Ridiculous, his face now. Practically a lad's. He'd have a devil of a time rustling up a crew of scallywags looking like this.
Norrington would no doubt consider that a bonus.
Jack had decided that the tremendous gratitude he felt over his spared life was insufficient reason not to loathe the commodore for the totally unwarranted shearing. There was room in his heart for both.
There was room in his heart for a great many things now, with the void left by the Pearl just sitting there, heavy and empty. He'd not yet think about trying to fill it. For the time being, he needed to feel her absence. He knew no other way of coming to terms with it.
He made his way along the main deck, touching the Encounter lightly here and there, getting to know her as he did any ship on which he sailed. Tars and servicemen who weren't privy to the rescue glanced at him with no more than mild curiosity. Those few who had participated judiciously avoided paying him any notice. Just a nobody come over from the Dauntless yesterday, the assumption went. Poor fellow probably wanted to get away from that prick Gillette. Thank God he's gone. And not much more was said about it.
Ellis followed his progress with a glint of amusement in his eyes. Jack graciously ignored that impertinence and went to stand beside him, watching the calculations he made to determine their latitude.
"Is that date right?" he asked suddenly.
"Why wouldn't it be?"
He frowned, making his own calculations. "That means we were picked up on the twenty-third."
"That's right. Why?"
Grimacing, he shook his head. "I just lost a wager."
"Is that all?"
"It was a big wager."
"The sorta big you wager when you figure you'll be dead long b'fore time to pay."
"Then you should be glad you're off the map for a while."
He brightened considerably. A new perspective on his exile from himself. "It's even her fault."
Ellis's pencil scrawled. Jack's hair flopped. The Encounter carved the ocean, graceful as a kestrel in flight, and Jack's mind was racing again.
"Have you decided yet?" Ellis asked. "Where you want us to drop you?"
"Can't say as I have, mate. Workin' on rather a lot of decisions at the moment."
"I'm sure I don't need to know most of them."
"I'm sure you're right."
Hair lashed an eye. Squinting, he turned his face against the wind. Which happened to bring the Encounter's lustrous wheel into view, shiny and new, polished more by lacquer than human hands.
She shimmied beneath him a little shamelessly. His mouth tugged to one side, a few teeth glinting. "Heh."
"It's just...she's such a pretty boat."
"Don't you mean 'ship'?" Ellis corrected absently.
Captain Jack Sparrow, killed by a commodore, couldn't possibly commandeer a ship of the fleet.
Ergo, a ship of the fleet, commandeered, couldn't possibly have been commandeered by Captain Jack Sparrow.
He wondered that Norrington hadn't thought of it. Then wondered if Anamaria had.
Feeling quite a bit righter with the world all at once, Jack looped a companionable arm across the man's shoulders, smiling at him fondly. "Aye, mate. Ship. That's exactly what I mean."
Notes: Interested in the Norrington/Anamaria dynamic? Check out the following stories by Ladybee:
Days of Firsts
Nights of Lasts
You won't be disappointed. ::shiver::
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