Summary: Norrington's just a bit mad, the men say. Left the navy to chase pirates full-time, and the navy didn't much like that. Success at the hunter's trade is all well and good, but there is one pirate who has always managed to elude the former commodore. And they say that this pirate is a bit mad as well.
Rating: PG-13, slash.
Pairing: Jack/Norrington (am I predictable yet?)
Disclaimer: Disney owns these characters and the setting in which they live, with the exception of Red O'Heaney and Pretty Maggie, who are mine. I also claim no ownership of the Lord's Prayer.
Notes: There have been many versions of the Lord's Prayer bandied about throughout the centuries; some end where I have ended it, and some continue for another line. "The Tidy Woman" is actually the name of a jig; I should think it belongs to the Irish.
Notes: "John" is not Norrington's canon name; I have conferred it unto him. And it stuck. >.< "Stone" is a unit of weight/size (haven't yet determined which) which is definitely British and probably period as well. Fifteen stone is very large indeed.
Notes: Clarification, because things may well get messy further in--there are four ships which will appear throughout this fic. The Black Pearl is, obviously, Jack's ship. Norrington's is the Foxhunter (which he did not name); for those interested, it's a brigantine. La Negrita (ni Anamaria)'s is the Renegada. Red O'Heaney's is the Second Wind.
Anyone who can help me with writing in dialect for an Irishman will be much-praised. Until such a person steps forward, though, it will look Scottish. In this chapter, a flute is not an instrument, it's a ship; they were rather fat vessels that traded speed for cargo space.
The real problem with the Tidy Woman was that it wasn't.
To be fair, the tavern was clean . . . in the sense that the floor was swept, the tables washed, and the clutter dusted scrupulously every morning. This clutter, though, covered every available surface. His plate (washed) and silverware (polished) jostled for space on the table with lobster traps and glass floats, bits of netting, driftwood in all shapes and sizes, and a smashed violin. He thought he could see the hilt of a sword sticking up from the pile; in all probability, the proprietor carefully cleaned and sharpened the blade after the patrons had gone to bed, then chucked it back into the pile.
To be even more fair, he had chosen this establishment of his own free will. He could have stayed at least three other taverns, which were neater, if not cleaner, and generally held to be more respectable. The Tidy Woman was a well-kept den of vagabonds and pirates, and no place for a former officer of the British Navy.
That was the thing of it, though. He was a former officer. He'd hung up the coat with its gold frogging and the fancy white wig in order to chase pirates out of British waters, and chasing pirates meant following where they led.
Jimmy Blackhands had taken him all the way up the Florida coast. Three-Toed Tom had led a merry chase to El Salvador. La Negrita had holed up somewhere on Cuba, and he was even now waiting for her to make a cautious foray into the shipping lanes.
John Norrington was a patient man. His crew called him a straight arrow as much because he went where he aimed as because he was honest.
They also called him a bit mad, and the notion amused him.
He drank water and ate what was probably stew and stared out the window at the ships that were anchored further out. Some of them flew the skull and crossbones and others the Spanish flag. One or two were British ships, but most kept their flags lowered. This was not the place to be mistaken for the navy.
Light glittered on his spoon as the door opened. John turned around casually, hoping to see his associate but not really expecting anything. He'd heard tell of a storm further west, and Red O'Heaney wasn't likely to be in for a week.
The man silhouetted in the morning light stood as if he had everyone in the room's attention (which was basically true, as Norrington was the only man taking his breakfast at this hour of the morning). There was a swagger and a heavy jingle to his movements; he had long, coarse hair and a long, tattered coat. He swung the door shut behind him.
In the absence of strong morning sunlight, he was very clearly Captain Jack Sparrow.
The men who boasted about the glory of sailing weren't true seamen. They self-importantly told first-time voyagers that they'd soon get their sea-legs, by which they meant that their gait would adjust itself to the constant rocking of the ship.
Jack was a champion boaster. His exploits were famous because he made sure that everyone heard about them. But he never boasted about being a sailor--a captain, yes, and a pirate, but never a sailor.
He moved like a drunken dancer, but not always because he was drunk. Jack Sparrow was a true seaman, and he swayed because he had only ever had sea-legs.
The Tidy Woman was almost empty. Pretty Maggie the barkeep was likely in the kitchen seeing to the stew. A man sat at the Violence Table, and he turned around when Jack shut the door. He looked a solid man, hair tied back with cord and a pistol and a sword at his belt. Mayhap he was a pirate. Mayhap not. He had a familiar look, but Jack couldn't remember anyone familiar who kept himself so well.
Something to do until Pretty Maggie was disposed to show her face, then.
Jack took a pair of long steps to the Violence Table and leaned over the man's shoulder. "Where are you bound?" he asked. Close enough to stir the man's hair a mite with his breath, and then he situated himself on a chair. He pulled at the braids of his beard and studied his free hand.
The man turned to face him, and he was familiar. Different, but someone Jack knew all the same. That face reminded him of the crick in his neck that came from looking over his shoulder. Pirate-hunter, then. "At the moment, nowhere," the pirate-hunter answered, taking a pull at his tankard. He wiped his mouth with a handkerchief, and then Jack had him.
Norrington, the devil! Scourge of pirates across the Caribbean, and Jack supposed he was personally responsible. Good old Norrington had never managed to catch the Pearl, no matter how hard he tried, and there were men as said it had driven the commodore mad. The British Navy had said the same in fancier words, and the man had left the navy and gone to the sea. Last Jack had heard, Norrington was storming around Cuba looking for La Negrita.
Anamaria had gotten out of her depth again there. Should've stayed with the Pearl, but she'd gone and left and next time he saw her she was terrorizing the seas under some Spanish appellation.
Jack folded his arms and tugged a little on his sleeve to show his tattoo. "Still haven't caught Captain Jack Sparrow, Norrington," he muttered, crossing ankle over knee and leaning back, relaxed.
"Not yet. I'll have him eventually." He'd gone back to his stew, but he was watching Jack out the corner of his eye. The both of them didn't look at the sword in the mess on the table.
"Y'know, Pretty Maggie calls this the Violence Table," said Jack. He held up the broken violin. "Never was much at plurals, poor girl."
Norrington finished off his stew and drained the water in his tankard. He cocked an eyebrow as he pulled out that handkerchief. "You have one violin, Captain."
"Two!" Jack flourished the second violin--he looked to have pulled it out of his elbow, but it had been shelved on the underside of the table with its bow. "D'you fiddle, Norrington?"
"Captain Norrington." There was a strange, mad little light in his eyes that Jack hadn't seen before, but then it had been five years since he'd actually seen the man's eyes. It suited him. "No, I don't fiddle."
Jack put it back under the table. "Neither do I. Maggie, lass!" he bellowed, swinging his legs around and standing from the chair. The kitchen door swung open, and Pretty Maggie led with a wooden spoon like an oar.
She was pretty, right enough. Eyes deep and eyelashes long and thick, with a bright-painted mouth even just an hour after sunrise. A pretty, rich laugh and a pretty, sweet voice. She was lovely, buxom, and probably fifteen stone. Pretty Maggie clutched the spoon like it was her sweet salvation and the handle was lost in her massive hand.
"Jack, lad!" Her face split with a wide smile. "Give us a kiss, sonny." She got a peck on the cheek, and shook her spoon at him. "And me leaving the stew to set at the bottom of the pot. Quickly, love--you make a right nuisance of yourself!"
Pretty Maggie was as well-laundered as her establishment, and she twisted the spoon so that gravy wouldn't drip on the floor.
"Quickly, then. British Navy coming through, plan to scour the port, lots of soldiers with lots of guns." He turned his eyes to Norrington and gave him a gold-tipped grin. "Interesting, eh?"
The navy approved of what Norrington was doing in general. Last Jack had heard, though, they disapproved that it was Norrington doing it. In point of fact, he'd heard that they disapproved of Norrington as a rule these days--vicious temper the man had when people were trying to stop him doing something he wanted to do.
"When will they be here, Jack?" Pretty Maggie asked. She was afraid to distraction; he could tell, as there was a little brown puddle on the ground under her spoon. The poor lass had some inexplicable things under her kitchen floor, and her life's savings were the least of them.
"You have a day, love. Use it." He was speaking to Pretty Maggie, but still looking at Norrington with tiger in his grin.
Maggie kissed him quick on the lips, close sister to close brother, and made her way into the kitchen. She shut the door, and bolts on the inside got drawn.
Norrington was up and halfway to the stairs that led to the lodgings by the time the bolts clicked home. Jack chuckled at him.
"Eventually, you might catch Captain Jack Sparrow. But not today."
"Eventually, I will have you, Captain." Not madness, Jack decided. Norrington wasn't mad--he just knew that eventually would come and was already braced for it. "But not today."
The port melted into the distance as the clouds began to cover the sun. A brisk wind bellied the sails on Norrington's ship and on Red O'Heaney's, which trailed only a few lengths behind. The man had arrived as John's men weighed anchor, and had known enough to follow.
Both ships followed the Black Pearl.
Norrington's eyes were bright as he looked to the east. His long coat was blown tight against his back in the wind, but he paid it no mind.
The men called him mad behind his back, but they called him a right straight arrow to his face, and he felt as though he'd just taken flight.
Red O'Heaney disliked the look of the storm that had tracked him across the waves. The Second Wind had outrun her so far, and with the port ahead he could have sat her out in a cozy tavern . . . but Norrington had pulled out of port and he couldn't but follow. The man had his pay in a chest, and if he scarpered off there'd be no telling when they'd meet next.
The black clouds were closer today than they'd been the day before, and they would be almost upon him by sundown, and Red prayed that the storm wouldn't hit until morning. It was bad enough when the sky was dark with clouds and the waves were dark and only the lighting showed he where you stood, but sailing in a storm at night was a venture into Hell.
He was a religious man, right enough. He believed in God, angels, Latin, and the Pope, and he believed hard as anything in the devil. Every man needs his scapegoat.
In Red's simple estimation, this voyage was the devil's fault. Either Norrington was chasing the devil, or the captain was possessed by some demon. Naught else would make him run from safe harbor in a storm.
Red looked back and shouted at the men who were furling the sails. He would damn well ride the winds that drove ahead of the storm, and God save the man who said differently.
Lightning flashed faintly in the distance. Barely close enough to see, but thunder quietly rumbled through the air a few moments later.
Mayhap the devil was chasing Norrington.
Years of naval life had made John Norrington a master at shouting at people. He had become so good at shouting at people, in fact, that he usually didn't need to. And so it was in eerie silence that the crew furled the topsails and watched the Second Wind gain ground.
Norrington was focused on the pirate ship in the middle distance, but he had seen the storm brewing in the west. There would be a fierce gale soon enough, and he had never been accounted a suicidal man.
Everything that might slide across the deck when the waves became even more fierce was lashed down. Everything that could not be lashed down was taken below decks. The captain said not a word.
White foam was already tipping the dark waves, and the ship swayed like an Eastern dancer.
John Norrington gripped the rail at the prow of his ship and watched the Pearl's crew furl their topsails. He nodded grimly to himself. Jack Sparrow had never been suicidal, either; no storm would take the pirate down. That was his right and no one else's.
Yes, Jack might be mad, but he put a high price on his life. He wasn't trying to outrun the storm; he had a destination in mind and confidence enough to trim the sails.
The deck rocked under John's feet, but the captain leaned with the shift of the deck.
Feet hit the pitching deck and caught the roll of the ship in the heavy waves. Topsails were furled and the rest were trimmed, and shirts billowed in the heavy wind like still more sails. The sun had gone behind the stormclouds, but Jack Sparrow knew his course.
Pirate maps are famous. Every treasure-hunter in the Caribbean has one or something he thinks is one. That was the trouble with writing down the location of a secret island--sooner or later, the map got mislaid or stolen or left on a whore's chest of drawers in Tortuga.
That had been an unpleasant episode for all concerned.
And so Jack had learned not to bother with maps. He just had to remember Pretty Maggie's tavern. A touch south of true east from Breton Island--the direction that the Tidy Woman faced.
By the speed of the wind, he judged that his island would be in sight in half and hour and under his feet an hour after that.
There were the pirate-hunters to contend with, of course, but they were closer to the storm than he and probably more concerned with it. If they made it to the island, they'd do the contending there.
Planks creaked mightily under his feet, and wind yanked at his matted hair. He pulled the fierce salt air into his lungs and laughed, mouth twisted in the wide, grinning rictus of the madly alive or long-dead.
Red O'Heaney had finally given in to the violent winds and tall waves. He had pulled alongside Norrington's ship little less than an hour ago and kept his men out of the rigging except to furl more sails. Night was coming on--he could see the angry red sun near the horizon if he strained his eyes. The devil was behind them and coming up fast.
Or mayhap the devil was ahead of them and getting closer by the moment.
He was going to die tonight. He was, and mad John Norrington, and if the pirate they followed wasn't the devil he'd die too.
The wind was a mad scream, and if Red hadn't been God's man he would have sworn that the banshees were wailing. He shuddered, crossing himself.
When Norrington shouted over the wind and the flap of ropes and sails, over the crash of the waves and the moan of planks, over the men's muttered prayers, O'Heaney could have declared him a saint.
"LAND! Land ho!"
The pirates unloaded chests from their boats as the last of Norrington's men set foot on the island. Waves reached out to grab at their legs and rain hammered at their shoulders, but no men would be hauled into the black sea tonight.
"Help us with this?" Norrington looked down at Jack Sparrow, who struggled with an oversized trunk that was certainly full of ill-gotten gold. "You can capture me later, Captain, just give us a hand."
The two captains lifted the trunk between them, and Norrington shouted for his men to pull the boats further inland. They would wash away if left so close to the shore, and then there would be no option but to swim back to the ships.
"Follow me!" shouted a pirate. He held a lantern over his head, and in the darkness the golden light was more precious than any treasure in the chests.
It was a cave, and a dark, deep, bleak one. Water splashed down a hundred shallow stone gullies and into a lake at the back of the cave. The old pirate with the lantern had found a few more lamps, and the mirrored copper bowls atop them threw orange light into every corner of the cavern.
"Gibbs!" The lantern-bearer looked up. Jack cocked his head, looking pointedly at the lake, and repeated the gesture in case anyone within shouting distance had mistaken his meaning. The old pirate made his way over to the lake and stood in conversation with his captain.
Red O'Heaney was more subtle. He walked across the cave to Norrington, cursing passionately as he went.
"Trapped in a hellhole wi' the spawn o' the devil, I'll be bound! Luck we outnumber the fiends or we'd be massacred, eh, Norrington?"
John looked coolly at the men who were playing dice on the waterlogged chests. The crews kept mostly to themselves, but his first mate had won a fair pile of florins from the two pirates across from him, and Red's helmsman was locked in an arm-wrestling match with a filthy, beparroted gentleman.
"We outnumber the pirates so crushingly that might win their loot with bets and save ourselves the trouble of capturing it."
Sometimes, in order to combat the thing one most despises, one becomes that thing, and the mind often lies to itself to hide that transformation. Red O'Heaney, for instance, was convinced that he was an honest man doing an honest job (when he wasn't convinced that he was God's man fighting servants of the Devil).
John Norrington was a different species of man altogether. He was the pirate's pirate; he stalked the richest buccaneers and looted their ships, then shackled the shattered remnants of the crews and took them to be hanged. Had he turned his aims to merchant ships, few pirates would have surpassed him.
In centuries to come, men would take hulking guns into foreign lands to hunt lions and tigers--a life-or-death game would play out in the jungle or on the savanna. This was Norrington's game, and as the big-game hunters would find, it was impossible to play without respecting the opponent.
"Yer mind needs turnin' to their captain, as their gold willna hold a pistol to yer head."
Captain Jack Sparrow was pointing across the lake and talking in an undertone to the pirate Gibbs, and his hands betrayed him. He made swimming motions and played at hauling a rope, indicating the chests with sweeping gestures. Norrington chuckled.
"Their captain's mind is on the gold. He knows that he can't attack us and we won't attack him."
Red furrowed his broad brow. "We . . . we willna attack him? What the hell did ye follow him for if'n ye didna want to attack him?" John waved away the query.
"I want to. But until this storm ends, we have no idea how our ships have fared. We might need to depend on these pirates to take us off of this island."
Gibbs nodded to Jack and went to nudge a tall, rawboned pirate. He did not speak with his hands, but John had a fair guess as to what he was saying.
It concerned the boat or raft at the other side of the lake, the manner in which the tall pirate would reach it, and the loot that would be loaded onto it and taken across the water.
Not every chest held gold, although a fair number had at least precious metals. Some were full of fancy clothes, and others held books--though the average pirate was illiterate and, indeed, probably didn't know which way to hold a book, brokers paid well for them. The flute they had raided almost a month ago had carried three boxes of spices from the Indies.
One chest contained a large iron pot, a set of bowls and wooden spoons, and dried apples and oranges to stop the men from getting scurvy. 'Twas a sensible thing to have on an island, with the possibility of being stranded to worry about, and there were sensible men among the Pearl's crew.
Jack made his way through the crowd of sailors, clutching the kettle and grinning at every man who dared eye him suspiciously. He tipped his hat at the sunburnt gent who outright glared at him, and the man turned furiously to Norrington.
Aye, a pirate's life for him.
The storm thrashed in a rare fury outside, waves slapping the rocks like a hundred thousand jilted strumpets and lighting feeling blindly across the sky. He let the rain soak him as he set the kettle on the ground and listened to the clang of fat, heavy raindrops as they filled it.
"What in God's name is the mad pirate doin'?" Red demanded, pointing a meaty, sun-reddened hand at the captain. "Tryin' some mysticism learnt to him by the Africans, I'll be bound!"
Norrington examined the crouched pirate. Lighting threw zigzags of shadow from the wrinkles of his clothes and gleamed dully from the kettle. He surveyed the cave again. Gibbs had started a fire; John had a suspicion that the pirates had stocked the cave with a good number of other supplies for just such an occasion.
It was mad to go into a storm to fill a kettle when there was a lake of fresh water at the far end of the cave, and that madness didn't square with the sensible way that the cave had been stocked.
Suddenly, Norrington had the answer, and he startled Red with his laughter.
Mad to go out into a storm for water, but Captain Jack Sparrow was famous for being mad. He had staggered and swayed victoriously through more adventures by sheer luck than bore counting.
When a mad man did something mad, people looked no deeper.
For instance, most men would laugh at mad Jack Sparrow for squatting in a storm when there was a lake of fresh water at the far end of the cave. It would never cross their minds that he hovered by the kettle with a broad, crazy grin because the lake was at the far end of the cave.
When the hunter stalks the tiger through the jungle, he sometimes begins to think like the tiger. But John had just realized that the tiger thought like he did.
Jack dropped the dried apples and oranges into the boiling kettle with two sticks of cinnamon and a healthy dose of rum. By now, three crews of men were watching him.
A hearty smell of spices filled the cave, and he grinned over the pot. Play on what they expect to see. "Me ol' Cap'n used to brew this fer his crew when we took a Spanish ship--loved doubloons, did he. Bowl, Cap'n Norrington?"
In the back of the crowd, a tall figure made its way slowly and quietly to the lake.
Red frowned suspiciously at the brew, but he had seen everything as it was added and could not fit his notion of witchcraft around apples and rum; he let John go without protest.
The captain made his way to the circle of empty space around Jack's kettle and knelt, taking a bowl. The pirate spooned some of the concoction into the bowl, and Norrington spoke with the barest whisper he could manage. "A good plan, Mad Jack Sparrow."
Something strange flickered in Jack's bright eyes, but he kept that gold-tipped grin on his face and called, "You, too, Cap'n . . . Cap'n . . .."
"O'Heaney." Red scowled. Love of rum and fear of devilry warred in him. In the end, he reasoned that he wasn't sure that the pirate was a demon but was certain it was rum in that kettle.
Captain to captain, madman to madman, Jack Sparrow and John Norrington exchanged a long glance full of curiosity.
Norrington woke to the chill of fog and the lingering smell of apples. He had a cramp in his neck and a stone digging into his back; one of his feet was bare and the other still booted.
Every last chest was gone. He'd expected no less.
A few bowls of Jack's concoction had had even Red slapping backs and laughing like a donkey as he tried to remember the words to his favorite drinking songs. Pirates and their pursuers had put aside their differences for a night of revelry.
John had a hazy recollection of dancing to some kind of clapping song, but a much clearer memory for the wild eyes that had glittered in the light of the lanterns. Yes, Jack had been playing the muggins and he had played with him. The pirates had filled the wet cavern with a cheerful riot; the distraction had worked as well as Jack could have hoped.
Norrington rubbed his neck to work the cramp out and began the search for his boot and stocking.
Seaman hate fog with a passion. It obscures the sea and sky and muffles sound so that navigation becomes entirely a matter of guessing.
A storm or a raiding crew could be fought; rocks could be avoided; even a leak could be patched. But fog is a conqueror and brooks no opposition.
Jack couldn't make out the sea through the mist, let alone the anchored ships. They had been afloat last night; this morning might be another matter. The crewmen might get restive, and sooner than he would like. They had got along like mates over his drink, but most men were easy brothers in rum.
He made his way outside to check the boats. Norrington had been right to want them hauled inland, and no mistake; one of the Pearl's boats had been washed away in the storm, and two from Captain O'Heaney's ship.
Norrington. The man had seen straight through his plot and out the other side--he'd said so himself--and then gone along with it. Jack wasn't prepared to bet the good silver the man had his interests at heart.
And did the pirate-hunter know where the gold was hidden? Would he come back for it when "eventually" came?
He knows, or he'll guess. Gold doesn't vanish. Jack pitched a stone into the fog, listening hard for the faint, heavy plop that came a moment later.
Norrington's guessed the plan. Time to change the plan.
By Red's estimation, today was a Thursday; he usually kept these things straight on account of the Sabbath. And Thursday was shaping up to be Red's least favorite day.
He had probably woken in worse places than with his aching head pillowed on a pirate's potbelly, but the Devil take him if he could remember any. He swore vigorously and spat on the ground.
Captain Red O'Heaney had a mind to set out and let Norrington hang the pirates himself, but a foggy memory of the upright British captain swinging arm-in-arm with the riffraff in chief was enough to keep him anchored. The devil might yet possess mad John Norrington, and it was Red's Christian duty to keep a stern eye on the proceedings.
He noted the bottle of rum in his potbellied pirate's hand and pried it free, swigging the alcohol.
The fog outside only capped it all, he decided. Red would stay right here in this cave, alert to all manner of heathen tricks.
Jack was about to try a heathen trick.
"So you know where I keep my gold," he said. In the way of conversational gambits it wasn't a bad choice.
"And I have yet to find out where you keep my boot and stocking," Norrington answered, searching the floor. "But I will find them."
Jack nodded, grinning to himself. Steal a man's left shoe, and a certain kind of man will drop everything until he finds it. "I could help you with that."
The captain looked up at the sopping-wet pirate captain. "What is your plan, Jack Sparrow?" he asked, bare foot in a puddle and booted foot on an upturned bowl. He looked grim indeed in the lantern-light. He'd a sharp widow's-peak to his hairline and a stern scowl twisting his eyebrows. Jack almost balked, but there was no turning 'round now that he had a gale at his back.
"Captain Jack Sparrow." He looked from Norrington to the lake and back again, tilting his head to emphasize the point. "You might want to take off your other boot first."
Red glowered a black glower indeed as he watched the pair of captains slip into the lake. Something on the other side, then, he'd be bound, and naught but him was chary to their tricks.
He was going to straighten some things out with Norrington when the man came back out of the water.
John had to admit that he was impressed. He had heard that the Black Pearl was a ship to be feared in the warm waters of the Caribbean, but the sheer piles of treasure that glittered before him were just unbelievable. He drew in a low breath and knelt at the foothills of this mountain of wealth.
"It seems to me," Jack murmured, "that you could hunt pirates just as well if you had a pirate on your side as not."
John stood, boot in one hand and stocking in the other.
He looked the other man over, and the offer grew more attractive in his mind.
Would it be any worse than sailing alongside the likes of Red O'Heaney? When the angels who kept the ledgers measured Red's worth, they would admit that a holier rogue there had never been, but rogue he was.
And Jack was brilliant. Mad in his own way, but the madness shaped itself around a queer, eerie sanity.
If ever a man was the equal of Captain John Norrington, that man was Captain Jack Sparrow.
The faint, golden light reflected from John's smile. "You want us to reach an accord. You want me to give up the chase. You want me to change my aim after five years of trying to capture you."
Jack spread his arms wide. "You've got me," he grinned, sinking to his knees. "But now that you've got me . . . perhaps you'll return the favor."
"Are you surrendering?" John inquired, unsure if he felt triumphant or just amused.
"Only if you do, Captain Norrington. Only if you do."
Their eyes remained locked, searching for some sign of madness or weakness or cunning and finding all three. The tiger's gaze meets the hunter's, and man and beast know that they are mortal and that they are killers and that they have come to the end of their pursuit.
John transferred his stocking to his left hand and helped the pirate to his feet. "Done."
They shook hands. Eventually had arrived.
The captain sat with his shirt and stockings laid out beside a small fire, watching steam rise from his clothes as they dried. "Then speak."
Red shifted his bulk into a kneel. Plain, honest concern filled his face. "Cap'n, I know yer a tricksy man, so I doona ask ye this in fun. Are ye . . . has the devil taken ye?"
". . . What?"
"Doona play games wi' me!" Red shouted. He wrestled with his tone and won. "I saw ye swimmin' off wi' the pirate, an' comin' to this island were no accident in the firs' place. Jus' tell me yer no' possessed, an' I'll say naught else."
John rolled his eyes and began to recite the Lord's Prayer by rote. Red released every bit of breath in his body as the words filled the small space by the fire--everyone knew that no creature of the devil could say the Lord's Prayer.
". . . And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen." Norrington cocked an eyebrow. "Satisfied?" Red nodded, but the worry was still there.
"Jus' don't let that heathen lead ye into temptation, an' ye'll be all right."
The mist that hung over the ocean slowly burned away in the sunlight. To the west, the sea already sparkled under an almost cloudless sky.
The Renegada cut through the deep blue waves with impunity, and La Negrita was in a foul temper. She had arrived at Breton Island just before the British Navy had, but there was no going back when the redcoats started combing Breton Town--the storm had kept her stranded in the Tidy Woman for an entire precious day. By the time she had been able to take a boat back to the Renegada, the redcoats were already aboard her and had confiscated most of her cargo in the name of the Crown.
She was well aware that British soldiers didn't like being hurled into the sea, but her options had gotten dangerously slim at that point.
Things were going to look up for her, though. The sun was out and the winds were still brisk enough; she had a good ship with only a few shattered planks from when the navy had fired on her as she'd left the port. And La Negrita remembered an island just a touch south of true east from Breton Island.
Things were going to look up, if only she could shake off the navy.
Jack studied the mist. Another night, he judged. In another night, it would be clear enough to sail. He could see the ground a few paces from the cave's mouth, which was a distinct improvement, and he could look forward to leaving the island a free man, which was a greater improvement.
He hadn't expected Norrington to take the offer. The commodore who had given him a head start five years ago had a respect for his quarry, but he had been a man full of anger and bluster and no toleration for pirates.
Five years changed a person--not himself, Jack added quickly. But they had changed the commodore into a captain. A commodore could shout orders and expect to have them followed, but a captain had to follow the will of the men. A captain learned that, even when he had the upper hand, it sometimes paid to be generous because he never knew when he might need backing later.
Jack laughed. Or mayhap Norrington had just gotten greedier over the years. Whatever the reason, the man was on his side now, and the more people who joined Captain Jack Sparrow's side, the better. Besides--he was coming to genuinely like the man.
He would have to get Norrington to do something about Captain O'Heaney, though. Jack didn't trust any man who could hold that much rum and still preach. Not even if he was Irish.
John pulled on his stockings and laced his boots. Finally, they were dry, and so was he. His shirt still had damp patches, but it was getting dark and there would be no sailing tonight. He could afford to let it dry.
The tall pirate who had been responsible for the disappearance of the chests--which had caused great consternation among the other sailors--was replacing the lanterns. He blew each out as he took it down. Soon, he was at Norrington's side and removing the lantern over him.
John felt a hand on his shoulder as the light went out, leaving only the embers of his fire in an island of darkness.
"Good evening, Captain," Jack whispered, slinging his arm around Norrington's bare shoulders. "Still partners, are we?"
"Yes," John replied, reaching out with his sword to prod the embers. Jack parried the blade away from the fire.
"Just a moment." His breath was warm against John's ear. "Captain O'Heaney isn't going to like it that you've taken up with a pirate. Might want to do something about that," he suggested.
If Jack was the devil, as Red so ardently claimed, he was doing a damn fine job of tempting. Respect, money, and now a kind of physical contact that was as easy as it was intimate. Captain John Norrington stared into the fire and heard the echo of his own voice in the back of his mind. Lead us not into temptation . . ..
Just as suddenly as that, he had his answer, and he rocked with silent laughter.
When the full scope of the plan had been revealed, Jack only chuckled and whispered, "Interesting."
They talked for quarter of an hour, refining the plan and teaching Jack his lines. The tall pirate had long since moved on to the next lanterns and left the captains to speak in peace. Not once did they face each other, but each knew that that mad, determined light had come into the other's eyes.
Finally, as day became true night, they were ready.
"Red?" Norrington shouted, and the captain stood guiltily.
"I wasna gamblin', only watchin' the men at their devilry," he muttered, but his partner waved the comment away.
"I have been talking to this pirate captain for the past two days, and he has seen the Error of His Ways," Norrington announced, drawing the attention of the crowd. "He has realized that he is possessed by the Devil!"
Jack hung his head in shame, but he spared a wink for Gibbs and Cotton. Word traveled through the pirates in mutters and gestures, and soon gold-toothed men were grinning at each other knowingly throughout the cave.
"Red, you are the most God-fearing man I've ever known." Which was the truth, and then some. Red O'Heaney swelled with pride. "And so I could think of no better man to exorcise Captain Jack Sparrow's demons."
"Well," Red murmured, feeling his way through his voluminous coat-pockets. He withdrew a tattered Bible, holding it reverently in both palms. "Put yer hand on the Bible, son, and yer heart in God's hands."
Still smiling, Jack put his hand on the book.
"OUT!" Red shouted suddenly. "OUT, spirit o' the Devil in this man! OUT, spirit o' evil an' wickedness! OUT, demon o' piracy! OUT, sin, an' OUT, er, OUT!"
Jack opened his mouth, but no sound came out as he shaped the words. It was a great, gaping silence, and every man stood stock-still as they watched the tableau. This was better than a public hanging.
"Red . . .." Norrington put a hand on Jack's shoulder and shook the pirate until the beads in his hair rattled, but he only kept mouthing words. "He's trying to say the Lord's Prayer!"
Captain Red O'Heaney drew himself up to his full height. He was a tall man and exceptionally broad, with great, meaty, sunburned arms and a great, angry, sunburned face. He was every inch the avenging soul as he bellowed with every last ounce of strength, "OUT!!!"
". . . but deliver us from evil! Amen!" Jack looked around him, as though startled to find himself in the cave. His mouth hung open and his deep-set eyes gaped wide; he was the picture of innocence as he took great, gasping breaths.
Lead me not into temptation.
Red's Bible slipped out of his large hands and thumped on the floor.
Norrington only hoped that Jack wouldn't ruin it all by sniggering.
John Norrington's parents had always been proponents of proper posture. He had gone through life with his back perpendicular to earth and sky . . . and then he'd found the sea.
It was impossible to stand rigidly straight on a pitching, heaving ship, and for almost his entire first voyage, he had been utterly miserable.
Then he had realized that he couldn't fight the roll of the deck. The waves would never still themselves, and so he would have to shift his weight to match the swells. He would have to give up his upright creed before he could dream of asking for comfort on the sea.
An older man had clapped John on the back as he reveled in the perfect accord that he had reached with the waves. "Got your sea-legs at last, m'boy," he'd chuckled.
John had looked up at him, not understanding the term at all. Nothing had changed in his legs--it was his mind that was different.
Five years did more than lengthen hair that had been worn short under a wig; they didn't just sketch calluses across once-smooth hands and sharpen a jaw that had gone a mite soft from easier living. Five years changed a man's perspective.
John had never been one to hold illusions about himself. He knew that he was a pirate-hunter because he'd gotten into the business so thoroughly that the business had gotten into him, and he knew that when a man hunts the tiger he's going to come out of the jungle just a touch feral.
If he'd been told that that man would be walking out of the jungle with that tiger by his side, though, he would have doubted the teller's sobriety.
But as morning came closer, the truth of the matter was clear--he would walk out of this cave with a pirate, and he would not lift a finger as the pirate pillaged from all manner of ships. The chase was over, and it had ended in a stalemate. A surrender on both sides.
It had been a sensible thing to do. Inasmuch as sense had anything to do with his decision.
John was a proud man, and a cunning man, and he sometimes thought that he might be a mad one as well. He sometimes came to port for a spell, but the sea was his home. He took more than just gold from the pirates he defeated; he took away a thrill.
He and Jack were really not that different, for all Jack was wild where John was civilized. Not that different at all.
Morning was fast approaching. Norrington began putting on his stockings, and then his boots.
Only after he'd tightened the straps of his right boot did he notice that his left one was missing again.
Jack lobbed a rock across the lake. It skipped on the water, sending up ripples that barely flickered in the light of the distant lantern.
"I'd thought you would be here." Jack looked up and smiled at the aggrieved expression on Norrington's face as he shook his boot. "You can't have a plan this time, Jack Sparrow. You don't have time to execute a plan."
He leaned back against the cool stone of the cave's wall, crossing his arms. "Mayhap I don't; mayhap I do."
"Mayhap you have my boot again, and mayhap you will return it."
In fact, Jack didn't have the man's boot, but he speculated that it did no harm to play along with suspicions. "Mayhap. Why did you agree to our agreement, then?"
He hadn't planned to ask that question; Norrington had his reasons, and so long as they made him give up the chase, it hardly mattered what they were. But now it was out in the open, and prowling between them.
After a moment of standing in silence as a dark silhouette against the dim lantern-light, the captain sat at Jack's side. "I respect you. You've built a reputation for being mad because it hides your cunning. Have you heard what the men call me, Sparrow?"
"'Mad John Norrington.'" He laughed, and the laughter echoed. "We're not that different."
"Mad John Norrington. Interesting." So Norrington's name was John--he hadn't known that the man had a first name. Suited him. "Not that different?"
"No. Not that different."
The faint sounds of men snoring filled the cave in the absence of their voices.
Jack uncrossed his arms, and a hand fell on John Norrington's. Calluses scraped on the skin on the back of his hand, and he examined the other man's hand with his fingers.
Calluses indeed, his fingers discovered, and a few rings that he hadn't noticed before. One had a medium-sized stone in it; nothing like as flashy as Jack's own rings, but he should have seen the bands. On a sudden suspicion, he raised his fingers to John Norrington's ear and felt for . . . yes, there was a hole there! He checked the other ear. Yes--another hole!
Bemused, John bared his teeth. Jack pushed his head this way and that, scrutinizing the man's teeth. At least none of them were gold. He ran his hands over Norrington's hair and checked carefully for any suggestion of baubles. None.
"If you intend to strip me down and search for tattoos, I can save you the trouble--I don't have any."
Jack let out his breath. "I almost thought you were becoming a pirate."
"Mayhap I am." It was a guarded, tight sentence, but there was resignation in it, too.
Jack felt Norrington's hand in his hair, fingering the baubles and beads and braids. He didn't normally let people touch his hair--there were a lot of memories knotted into that matted mass--but supposed that it was only fair.
"Becoming a pirate? Do you want lessons? I could--"
"No." The captain's hand rested on Jack's shoulder. "Pirate I might become, but I am my own man." He might have smiled, but the darkness his expression. "And if I become a pirate, I will be the best pirate on the seas."
That cinched it--all practical deliberation aside, Jack returned the other man's respect.
"Rum?" he offered, proffering his hip flask. John took it and tilted it back, then passed it to the pirate, who finished it off.
"Needs cinnamon," John muttered, making to stand.
"It seems to me we never set terms for our partnership." Captain Jack Sparrow curled the tips of his mustache with one hand, holding his partner against the wall with an outflung arm.
"I don't attack you and you don't attack me. I cease hunting you. We share our profits. And we meet twice a year at the Tidy Woman for some of Pretty Maggie's fine cooking," Norrington replied, dredging up each idea and presenting it as soon as it had shown itself.
"Twice a year, eh? When?"
He picked two dates at random. "Midsummer and Ash Wednesday, all right?"
Jack grinned. "Can't forget Christmas."
"Then Christmas too."
"And All Souls' Day--can't forget that."
"All Souls' Day as well."
Jack dropped his restraining hand to Norrington's leg. "That's a lot of dates to remember, mate. What say we just sail together? You can learn by example, since y'don't want lessons."
John looked back toward the mouth of the cave, watchful of the men. He wanted to say yes. He wanted to be unstoppable with the Black Pearl at his side. He wanted to see the pirate in battle; he wanted to be able to put out a boat at night and go to trade stories on the Pearl when a long day's sailing was done. He wanted to know Jack inside and out.
He wanted to have the tiger at his side.
And Jack had been "exorcised"--his crew would believe that Jack was a changed man . . .
. . . right until the first time that the pirate attacked some merchant's square-rigger.
"It wouldn't work out. I'd have a mutiny on my hands."
Jack Sparrow just nodded and patted John's thigh. "So you'd best not forget--midsummer, Ash Wednesday, Christmas, All Souls' Day. I'll hunt you down if you renege."
Norrington could see a faint increase in the light of the cave, and knew that he wouldn't see the pirate again until midsummer.
He didn't know why he did it. He might have been mad, and struck by a bolt of lunacy. Or he might have been pining already for the first person he could consider an equal.
Whatever the reason, and there were probably many (and some of them good), he stole a kiss.
The thing about pirates is that if something is stolen, they're inclined to steal it back.
Red blinked owlishly in the first real daylight he'd seen in over a day. He had been thinking over his situation, and he'd decided that yesterday had been a message from God. His duty was to his Lord and his Pope, and that duty was to Christianize the heathens of Africa. He ran his thumb over the cover of his Bible and nodded to himself. He might even get some other lads together and start a mission. The Spanish were bastards, but they'd had the right of it when it came to fighting the devil.
Red had just reached the boats (and noted that two of his had washed away) when he heard an anguished cry from behind him.
"MY SHIP! She's stolen my bloody ship!"
Suddenly, Red realized that there were not three ships anchored by the island, but two. And two more ships, clearly not anchored, as they were moving away with speed. One was the Black Pearl, and the other was La Negrita's craft.
Jack pounded down the rocks to the shallows around the island, throwing stones at the ships and shaking his fist. "Anamaria! You she-bitch!"
Norrington's eyes got that strange, mad glint in them as he watched the ships. "Jack!" he shouted, interrupting the man's vehement cursing. "We will take you and your crew to retrieve your ship. You can sail with us until the Pearl is returned to you." He turned to the men by the boats. "Red--will you be sailing with us?"
Captain O'Heaney shook his head. "'S Africa for me--I'll be spreadin' the word o' the Lord to the black devils. If I can exorcise a pirate, savages shouldna be a trouble."
Sparrow was stalking back, anger in his dark-rimmed eyes. "She stole my ship!" he muttered, glaring at the disappearing craft.
Red shrugged his broad shoulders. "Good luck to ye, Sparrow. Ye be a good man when yer no possessed by the Devil."
Jack got a distant look for a second, then answered, "Thanks for that, mate." He looked at Norrington searchingly, and Red wondered briefly what he was searching for.
The Foxhunter was a well-outfitted brigantine, only slightly worse for the wear after the storm, and its crew got the vessel moving with a minimum of trouble. Once they'd turned the ship around, they set off in pursuit of the Renegada.
"As your captain--" Jack addressed the crew, but Norrington stopped him with a raised hand.
"I am the captain here, Jack Sparrow."
"Are ye, now?" He raised an eyebrow. "Seems to me that there are two captains, as there are two crews." He paused before adding in a maddening, sultry hiss, "Sssavvy?"
Norrington narrowed his eyes. "Men, it's La Negrita again, and I'm not keen to see the Renegada's backside for another six months. We catch her. This time, it ends." He turned his frown on Jack. "My cabin. Now."
The men muttered to each other, wondering which of the mad captains would win through in this battle of wills as the pair stalked below.
It was just getting interesting for the captains when someone on deck shouted that British ships were coming close behind.
Norrington cursed, disentangling his fingers from Jack's hair and rebuttoning his shirt. The pirate bent to pick up his hat and retied his sash.
They were madmen, the both of them. Madmen, and sinners, and equals. And mayhap that wasn't such a bad thing. They were both hunters, and they were both prey; both had offered and accepted a surrender. They weren't really that different.
With La Negrita before them and the navy behind, there were other things to be done. Other prey to hunt and hunters to flee.
They might make a daring escape or a devastating capture; they might just be captured. Mayhap Jack would truly see the error of his ways; mayhap Norrington would become a pirate.
Mayhap they would be lovers.
For now, though, that was relegated to the realm of mayhap. Or perhaps, thought Norrington as he made his way up the ladder with Jack close behind, perhaps it was merely in the realm of eventually.
Coming soon, the sequel: Prey.
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