Pairing: Jack/Norrington
Rating: R
Archive:  Yes, help yourself.
Disclaimer: The Mouse/Bruckheimer Productions owns them, except for Jack Sparrow who belongs to J.Depp. ;-)
Warning: Angst, canonical plot, violent graphic description, but still major slash.
Author's Note: Thanks to Firesignwriter (KJ, dearling, thanks- for as always, you provide plenty of ZenGoo and perfervious inspiration!) Many special thanks to Thalia Seawood for her invaluable research and character studies on Jack Sparrow and Commodore Norrington. Also, particular thanks to the members of the SparrowandNorrington yahoogroup list, for the inspiration and discussion of finer points of the J/N dynamic.

Summary: Norrington catches up with Jack Sparrow. But what is he to do with him, once he's caught him?


Part 1 - Avarice

By Webcrowmancer

The deep blue-gray expanse of the white-crested ocean turned to liquid silver at the edge of the horizon, meeting the sky beyond.

Standing with his hands upon the wheel of the beloved Pearl, Jack's heart leapt within his chest, lifting with wings to soar up with the new black sails that caught the wind above.

The hope that had swelled suddenly inside him at seeing Cotton's parrot on the Royal standard had been fleeting as the hangman pulled the lever and he felt the sickening lurch in his belly as he'd dropped. The knife-edged moments of hanging literally by the rope around his neck while he'd balanced on Will's cleverly thrown sword beneath his feet had slipped by as if time had slowed.

Breathless moments, as he and Will had moved synchronously, backed up at last to the high wall of the fort overlooking the drop below where he'd fortuitously rescued Will's Miss Elizabeth over a week before. Moments that choked him much the same as that rope around his neck, as he and Will had stood surrounded by a bristling thicket of bayonets and swords. The momentary glimpse of hope surging forth in a blaze of sunlight as Elizabeth Swann had taken her place beside Will and ensured his escape, until he tippled off the edge of the wall in a parody of her previous fall.

And now. Oh, now, to have this. He closed his eyes briefly at the silent song that rang like a bell inside his head.

The experience of being reunited with the Black Pearl, at long last. It seemed drawn out and lingering, as though all the trials and separation of the past decade were dissolved away in the present.

A part of him remained reserved, keenly aware that the crew, loyal and able sailors all, was enjoying his all-too-obvious delight in being aboard his ship after so long away from her.

It was expansive, sublime and truly divine, this feeling. It was euphoria, and graceful, sliding through the waves and out over the sea of the Caribbee to meet the edge of forever.

The sun was melting down into the ocean like a sliver of white-hot metal, as the Black Pearl chased in its wake.

This new taste of freedom, rejoined in this moment and in this hour aboard his ship, was more than a dream of riches or fleeting joy. This was his. She was his! He could scarcely believe it, really.

He felt the grandness of her beneath his feet as she heaved slightly, seeming to pull in his grasp, bearing him much like a steed would. He fancied her much like a great black mare, a queen of the high seas, an angel unicorn redeemed once more upon delivery into his hands again.

After her imprisonment in the unholy enchantment of the cursed crew and Barbossa's twisted governance, Jack knew his ship was sighing with relief at his return.

Hector, he thought derisively, unconsciously and possessively stroking the dark wood at the helm beneath his hand.

And he grinned to himself, caring not that the others saw and turned their smiles away to pretend engagement with the sails and rigging.

Oh, the sound of her voice in his ears, the creak of her hull and the sound of the water splashing against her, it was almost too sensuous to bear. It was all he could do not to fall to his knees to mumble nonsensically; offering some prayer of thanks to whatever deity above had finally granted him, unworthy as he was to receive it, his only wish, only desire, only hope and dream come true.

As it was, the exultation shouted through his blood, leaping in his pulse and keeping him standing, unwilling to relinquish his hold on her. It was more than coming home. It was more than revenge, justice, and longing fulfilled.

He'd always insisted on his essential title, Captain Jack Sparrow. Certainly all who knew him learned quickly enough that it was more than appropriate courtesy and respect. But he knew more than any, how empty it had been until he would finally stand upon this ship once more. And now… now he was truly Captain.

All the hope, the pain and the anguish was sinking so fast, gone with the yesterdays and yesteryears. Left behind with the English port fading in the distance, into memory.

The night beckoned, as did the morrow, and it was the future, tasting still of freedom and glory - and there was no need for tears, for the sea-spray provided that added luxury.

Jack leaned his head back a little, breathing deeply of the air and the smoky clouds. Even if he should die tomorrow, or in the night, this evening was truly his.



Commodore James Norrington stood stiffly, overseeing the proceedings from above the gallows. The hangman was making good time, despite the crowd that had gathered to watch the remnants of the previous cursed crew of the Black Pearl each meet their fate at the end of the noose. Only five men remained.

To their credit, he noticed that none of them appeared to be on the verge of making a spectacle of themselves with struggles or pleading for a stay of execution. The entire scene though was all too familiar to him and James knew that he'd seen far too many criminals brought to the gallows to find it anything but tedious and saddening, that they did indeed deserve that 'sudden drop and short stop'.

He stifled a sigh and looked down at the stone beneath his shoes, wondering why the morning sun in the sky cast a light on the gallows that seemed pale and unforgiving. Muttered whispers in the crowd abruptly stilled as the next pirate was taken to his place beneath the noose and his list of crimes was read aloud.

It was as damning as any of the others: murder, rapine, theft, arson, kidnapping…

Rape. James flinched a little at that one. When they'd taken Elizabeth Swann those days past, he'd been horrified with fear that had consumed him following her abduction. He'd imagined all sorts of torments visited upon the innocent, high-spirited young woman to whom he'd only just that afternoon offered his hand in marriage.

Coldly, he watched as the grizzled, scruffy fellow upon the gallows stood with a frozen snarl on his face awaiting the rope to be placed around his neck. Let them hang, James thought. He had striven for years to clear the waters and settlements of Jamaica and the other Isles of this sort of scum. Violent brigands who had no respect for life, innocence or others' pain or possessions.

But these condemned prisoners before him now were far worse than any he'd ever had the misfortune to encounter. He could still not shake the grisly memory of the night aboard the Dauntless at the Isle de Muerte. He and his men had fought against the very legions of Hell itself, the cursed skeletal undead that would not fall, would not die despite all best efforts to subdue them. That abrupt, unexpected moment when the curse was lifted, and William Turner's blood had finally joined the others' in that Aztec box, had shocked everyone to stillness, even as the subsequently wounded men had collapsed under their injuries sustained at the Dauntless crew's weapons.

His dreams had been severely fraught with terrifying visions every night since.

He glared accusingly at the pirate who now stood with the rope around his neck, and as the drums rolled and then stopped, the angry face caught in a rictus of fear as the executioner allowed the door to open and the man fell, jerking, twisting, jumping from the end of the rope. This one died fairly quickly, James noted absently. Even from where he stood, he could see the prisoner twitching briefly and then going still, with a broken neck.

There was a woman weeping with muffled sobs somewhere in the crowd. James frowned, surveying the gathering below, wondering if the miscreant had perhaps been one of those who had murdered a family member of hers during that night raid upon Port Royal.

The damage had been great, that night; both in terms of loss of life of innocent townsfolk and destruction of property, as well as looting of possessions and hard-earned wealth. Fires, broken homes, stolen goods and moneys, dead men and women, even children.

Well, they would recover. Recover and rebuild. The townspeople of Port Royal always did, no matter the calamity.

Port Royal had once suffered the ignominy of the appellation of 'the wickedest city on Earth', but after that first earthquake had stolen the bulk of the rum- and rubbish-infested streets, the fort had been rebuilt and the town as well, this time as a fortified base of operations from which the Royal Navy kept one of the strongest military seaports in the Caribbean.

Yes, the town would recover, and life would go on. Thankfully, with a few less undead pirates in the vicinity.

The dead man was cut down from the gallows and a new rope strung up for the next pirate. The remaining four were silent and grim.

The Commodore breathed a silent exhalation, wishing he could quit this pitiful scene altogether. There were surely more useful duties he could attend to. Would rather attend to, he amended.

Anything rather than stand here musing upon the very spot where he'd been awarded the new rank of commodore, only to have it tested by the loss of Elizabeth both to the kidnapping and then to the young blacksmith-son-of-a-pirate, and the ordeal of searching for her, worrying that she'd perhaps be molested or killed in her captivity.

And that dreadful spectacle of the enchanted skeletal pirates attempting to take the Dauntless. If Turner and Sparrow hadn't lifted the curse, James knew full well the pirates would have probably taken the Dauntless and killed them all. He'd lost too many good men, that night.

He shook his head and straightened, trying to focus on the current events. He had to find a way to concentrate upon the matters at hand, not keep allowing the fearful memories of the past week and a half to haunt him.

As the next pirate's crimes were read aloud, James suffered a horrible flash of memory from the afternoon before, when Jack Sparrow had stood in that same place below the noose.

Had it only been yesterday?

As the morning heat crept upwards and the sun climbed in the sky a little higher, James swallowed beneath his uniform.

His conscience had pricked at the relief he'd felt when Sparrow had fallen over the wall to escape to his ship, and pricked further now as he realized that he'd been far too eager to accept Governor Swann's glib loophole he'd offered the Commodore as a way out of the situation. It stretched duty and the law a little too far, really. Sparrow was, after all, still a pirate.

Quite opposite to what the naïve Mr. Turner and Miss Swann believed, it was not a question of semantics. Sparrow's crimes still stood, and although James himself had been torn between duty and morality, neither the law nor his own sense of justice could really offer any relief to his conscience for letting the man go…A good man, yes, but a pirate.

As the condemned pirate currently standing below the rope on the gallows looked sickly about him, James could see little resemblance between this pirate and Jack Sparrow. It could even be said that Sparrow had faced his death with dignity, except that James recalled he'd been far too tormented himself to notice much more about Sparrow, with Elizabeth's obvious distress at the inherent wrongness of allowing the man to die after having helped them.

The law was the law. There was no way out of that, and James could not find it within himself to regret seeing these men die, for they deserved nothing less for their crimes. The leniency he'd wanted to extend to Sparrow could not be justified, and so perhaps the Governor had been right. An act of piracy itself could have been the only right course of action.

And now the birds came home to roost, looking suspiciously like guilt and doubt, as well as a measure of uncertainty and responsibility.

Jack Sparrow was not a murderer. A liar, a thief, a scoundrel and perhaps a good man, and a pirate, whatever gentlemanly habits he might still retain from whatever upbringing or experience he might have prior to becoming one.

There were many reasons why men embarked on a career of piracy, but primarily, James had discovered in the course of his own military career here in Jamaica, it was one of selfish greed. The objective of most pirates was to take what was not theirs and often leave a trail of misery and destruction in their wake. It went beyond lawlessness.

Still, from Elizabeth's account of her marooning on the island with Jack that the Dauntless had rescued the two of them from, Jack Sparrow had actually behaved with some modicum of gentlemanly conduct. James hadn't expected that, to be honest, not after the man's blatant, desperate actions and disregard for her after rescuing her from the sea on the day of his promotion. It spoke of respect for Miss Swann as a woman, a maid yet untouched, and for Jack's regard for William Turner in fact. And knowing that the desire for Miss Swann was the reason why the boy had been so driven to rescue her from Barbossa and his crew. Jack respected both of them. And in return, they'd saved his life yesterday.

The pirate with the rope around his neck upon the gallows below dropped like a stone as the wood opened beneath his feet, and this time, the man didn't die immediately. The usual grotesque tongue protruding from the dying man's mouth caused a ripple of aghast and fixated stirring in the crowd of people. His feet danced in the air. It was taking a long time.

James had seen many men die, some at the end of his own sword, by his own hand, and from a shot of his own pistol. He'd seen some die at sea, bloodily, messily, even taken by sharks in the water. He'd watched criminals and pirates being hung, throughout the years. But the sight never brought him pleasure, only a sense of slight relief that the law had been fulfilled, justice had been done, the criminal executed or dispatched, and honest folk were safer.

This was different. He was horrified to discover that he couldn't help wondering if this was exactly what Jack Sparrow would have looked like the day before, if rash young William hadn't risked his own neck to save his friend's. He wondered too if he would be able to watch Jack hang or if he'd have to turn away.

James shook himself. Good Lord above, why was he even entertaining such a thought? The man had escaped, and why should he care if the pirate ended up at the noose after all? Certainly Sparrow deserved it, for his past crimes, and if he carried on with his infamous career, it would bring him back to the noose - perhaps even this very same gallows.

But this notion left a sour taste in the back of James's throat. He hoped it wouldn't come to that, actually.

He was surprised that it was due more to the soothing of his conscience than anything else.

He swallowed. Since when had he become so inured against pity? Against feeling?

A sickening insight began to reveal itself to him. Perhaps this was why Elizabeth had spurned him? Why she had not wanted him in the first place? Did she find him…cold?

He had always taken the greatest pride in his duty, his performing it in ridding the Caribbean of the terrors that threatened the civilized world. A good marriage and a family had been the only things missing from his life, and he'd enjoyed the high opinion of the Governor knowing full well that he also had the man's acceptance as a possible son-in-law, should Elizabeth accept him.

As the pirate dying on the gallows finally expired, with jolting shudders subsiding and then going still, some of the women in the crowd were turned away at the sight, to leave, and the body was finally cut down.

James saw the fatalistic horror in the faces of the three remaining prisoners. He didn't have the slightest compunction to show pity or leniency towards them.

And he was confounded yet again to understand why. It could not be that his heart was as cold and dead as their skeletal forms had been. He had loved Elizabeth, he had.

Had loved, not still loved. He could not afford to keep loving her, not now that she was already lost to him.

As he thought it, James winced as he realized he'd already begun to withdraw the embarrassing and painful feelings he'd extended towards her so openly in his marriage declaration, since the previous day. She'd chosen a blacksmith. An untried youth with rebellious pirate blood, over him. Him!

A good man, James thought caustically. So Elizabeth considered Will more loving and a better man. And what of Jack Sparrow? Was even he a better man?

And in their eyes was he, a commodore of the Navy fleet, not a good man?

He began to feel as though he were a puppet king presiding over a strange and grisly play, as the third to last man was now brought up to the gallows. They were making good time, in this life and death performance that one by one was ridding the world of the last of the undead terrors that had wreaked horror upon them all. It all flowed so naturally, going through the motions quite without any hitch, and James realized that it was happening while he stood there. Silent. Completely apart from everything, trapped in his own musings.

It felt almost surreal, as he watched the pirate below stand fearfully beneath the fresh rope that had been strung up for him.

No, he thought to himself. He did have a heart. He cared for Elizabeth, he had cared enough even to let her follow the path along which her own heart took her. He cared enough to allow her to keep the young man she had chosen, despite William's unlawful actions. He cared enough to even allow their pirate friend to escape.

Because it had been the right thing to do, and he was a good man, himself. A good man, with a heart. But the uncertainty still caught in his throat as he watched the pirate tremble with fear below, as the all-too-familiar litany of crimes was read aloud now.

He wondered what it would be like, to stand there, on the other side of the law, beneath that noose. He wondered what Jack Sparrow had felt. He wondered what demon inside him whispered that it might be enjoyable to see William Turner, his rival for Elizabeth's love, beneath that noose. Perhaps even Elizabeth, for spurning him. He shook his head, quickly. It felt as if a mosquito was bothering him, but from the inside. He couldn't possibly have just entertained that very distressing thought. And he wondered yet again why he felt nothing for the man below him now.

To be the judge, and condemn a man to death for murder, was only lawful and right. To condemn him for thievery, particularly if said theft was incurred with violence visited upon decent people, was also right.

It was about power, he decided. The law and his own rank bestowed him with the power to see justice done, and his own conscience was still firmly in place, as was his heart, and sound judgment of mind, else he'd never have come this far, nor allowed Miss Swann and her blacksmith each other, nor allowed Sparrow his freedom - however long it lasted.

As the pirate below on the gallows had the rope placed around his neck, James abruptly felt his bile rise. The bitter taste of gorge was joined with the instantaneous vision of seeing Miss Swann hung there instead, Turner beside her… and Sparrow. The three of them.

James Norrington blinked repeatedly, wondering at the horrific turn of his thoughts. His imagination had never before conjured so effortlessly such disturbing fantasies. It was no doubt due to the influence of the nightmarish ordeal aboard the Dauntless at night with fighting undead pirates… and the subsequently suffered nightmares.

He usually had a strong constitution. There was no excuse for this weakness.

But all three had stood against him. As if he had been in the wrong. For being on the right side of the law. As if the laws he stood for and upheld were somehow wrong. How could they be? It wasn't as if he applied them without thought. It was for that reason he'd even allowed Sparrow to go.

The anger he felt surge within him at this was fiery enough to cancel the sour in the back of his throat. To condone piracy due to some foolishly romantic notion that pirates were dashing, brave fellows - and no doubt better lovers, he added acidly. If Miss Swann and her beau had not even had their eyes opened by their own experiences during that adventure, then they would have to learn by trial and error, as he had.

It was, after all, Jack Sparrow's choice to continue to sail a pirate ship, flying pirate colors. Raiding innocent ports and towns. Taking what was not his. Helping himself to others' riches without having the sense of honor or conscience to earn it in decent work.

As the floor beneath the condemned pirate below now swung down and the man dropped, his body twisted horribly and he died instantly, his neck breaking quite cleanly.

The passing of a life. James almost felt a chilly breeze float over him, as he felt the man's death, watching the body hang still with only the barest tremors visible to his sharp eyes from where he stood above.

As the dead pirate was cut down, a new rope was lifted up. The remaining two pirates looked quite frightened indeed, now that their own times were so close. One of them shouted unintelligibly, in some language James had never heard. No rescue attempt for such as themselves, as they had never bothered with anything even remotely close to engendering friendship with anyone outside their own ilk.

As Sparrow had done. Jack Sparrow had befriended Elizabeth and William, somehow. James frowned, wondering about the phrase 'a good man', turning it around in his mind.

Yes, he supposed even according to his own definition, Sparrow was indeed 'good'. Misguided, selfish, mostly lawless and wholly without shame, but still inherently 'good', for he was not a murderer, and was capable of acts of kindness, generosity - rescue even, James added silently. Sparrow valued life. Probably because he valued his own. In fact, the man had a zest for it.

That had to be it, he thought. That was why Elizabeth and William had responded to Jack Sparrow as, in their estimation, having lived up to at least a partial amount of their romantic expectations of what a pirate could be, and who was in the end a good man, however mischievous or devious. For he knew William Turner had never shared Elizabeth's love of pirates. And he also knew Elizabeth's ordeal aboard the Black Pearl and on the Isle de Muerte had been unpleasantly educational.

Heavens, she'd been lucky not to be despoiled. And James abruptly to his horror found that he was contemplating what it would be like to take her himself. He forced the image away, filled with shame at the thought that he could even be imagining it.

Perhaps it was only natural; he was the jilted suitor, and had every right to be angry. It wasn't as though he'd ever act on such a thing. He was a gentleman. But it hurt still, and the added humiliation of being considered less than a good man himself, over a pirate even! Less than a blacksmith or even a pirate. To be considered less honorable than the notorious pirate Jack Sparrow…Not only was it ironic, it was embarrassing.

Well, it was not to be borne without suffering. Although the humiliation would fade, he doubted that Mr. Turner and Miss Swann would hold it over him in the future, considering he had graciously allowed them each other's happiness with a great measure of understanding and compassion.

As one of the two remaining pirates was now escorted to the gallows, James wondered if he was in fact a little too jealous and had underestimated just how wounded he was, to have been passed over for the young blacksmith. It was said that all broken hearts mend in time, and that it was better to have known the taste of love as opposed to never having tasted it at all.

It was hot and he was sweltering now. Let them get on with it, he thought irritably, as the pirate's crimes were read to the crowd.

He would put Elizabeth Swann out of his mind, as well as the blacksmith. They were no longer his concern. His own dream of having her as his wife would fade, replaced with someone better. Someone new. He was young yet; he had options. Although, he thought grimly, she had been the best choice out of all the young marriageable women in Port Royal. Perhaps a change of scene would yield better prospects.

Although, he couldn't afford to throw himself into anything impulsively, and had to remember to give his heart time to heal. With a sigh, he watched as the hangman doomed the pirate to his death, letting the man's body drop under his own weight and kick uselessly.

Some folk found it amusing that on occasion, when a man is hung, his member would stiffen, as in the case of this particular prisoner even now. It had never bothered James before. But he abruptly realized that he had no idea why it occurred.

Probably the shock of it caused such a reaction in the body, even as the life was jolted out of the hanging man.

Considering Mr. Sparrow's zest for life, he'd probably find it in his death also.

At the vision of Jack Sparrow dying, hanging, kicking uselessly in the air, his male organ stiffening, even now in place of the man that hung there, James abruptly felt sick once more.

It was the heat and the accumulation of duress and stress he'd undergone recently, was all. That was why he was entertaining such improper thoughts and imagery. Hardly surprising, considering the exhibition below. But he'd thought himself above this kind of response.

It was a nauseous excitement that urged itself to life in him, that same demon whispering in his ear that he had a reason to carry on, to forget the humiliation of losing Miss Swann and Sparrow the day before, to William Turner's heart and honor.

He could pursue Jack Sparrow. He could.

He'd allowed the man one day's head start, aloud, even as he knew it was only a paltry attempt to make light of the fact that it was spoken in the relief of being granted a reprieve.

A reprieve from making a decision that would have damaged his own conscience irreparably. But what would he do with the pirate when he caught him, only to have to face the same dilemma again?

Yet, he was duty-bound, to the letter of the law, to hunt down the pirate upon the least infraction, the very knowledge that the man was indeed still a pirate was more than enough reason to pursue him. To see him brought to justice.

There was, after all, the matter of the theft and loss of the Interceptor. And if the Black Pearl continued her rampant career 'as the last real pirate threat in the Caribbean', as Sparrow had called it, then he had no choice but to hunt her down, along with her pirate captain.

James gnawed on his lower lip. Did he want to?

What did he want?

Actually, it really wasn't up to him. It didn't matter what he wanted. It didn't matter one whit whether he had gained or lost Miss Swann, or had saved his own honor by allowing a known pirate to escape. All that mattered was what his responsibilities were.

Relief flooded him as he took refuge in the knowledge that this was correct and right and completely true in every sense.

His responsibility lay in the continued safety of Port Royal and its civilians, as well as its military presence. Anything that threatened this, or looked to compromise Naval security, had to be regarded as the priority over whatever personal dilemmas he might be facing. His confusion and personal pain would subside, even as he found a sense of sanity and clarity in following the just and moral course. He'd not deviated from it, he knew beyond any doubt now.

This morning's unsavory series of hangings had proven to him that he might not have the same stomach as before, due to the stress of recent events, but he also retained his honor, his heart and his rational mind.

James Norrington watched resolutely with renewed endurance as the last pirate was brought to stand where the previous crew of the Black Pearl had all gone before him.

There was only one lingering issue that remained.

He knew that Jack Sparrow and his crew aboard the Black Pearl would most likely head straight for the Isle de Muerte, and the treasure that lay strewn in abundance in that pirate cave, surrounding the box of cursed Aztec treasure.

Could he, in all good conscience, not attempt to intercept Sparrow en route? Or catch him there on the Isle of Dead, helping himself to treasure that rightfully belonged, if anywhere or to anyone, to the citizens of Port Royal and other settlements who'd suffered its loss previously?

Compensation, dispensed by the Navy, for the damage done by the Black Pearl's undead crew, that night of the raid and Elizabeth's kidnapping… Yes, indeed.

James thoughtfully considered his options, noting that the last pirate was even now being placed in the noose and he felt nothing but immeasurable respite that the undead crew was neutralized and would never again threaten anyone or anything.

As the hangman let the last pirate drop and dance in the air, jerking like a toy on strings, James swiftly came to the conclusion that no one would go after the treasure that was on the island other than Jack Sparrow, as no one else knew where it was. Except for himself. James smiled coldly.

He'd even received the bearings and the chart Sparrow had handed to him personally, that night before he'd allowed the pirate to go make his 'deal' with the undead pirates in the cave.

Sparrow had to be aware of this still, and further, aware that Commodore Norrington would most probably make for the Isle in an attempt to stop Sparrow from helping himself to the treasure.

That treasure, James thought to himself decisively, belonged in the hands of the Navy. It was his duty to confiscate it, bear it back here to Port Royal aboard the Dauntless, and see that it was distributed as compensation for the damages incurred during the raid, and amongst the widowed and orphaned. And to pay for a new ship to replace the Interceptor. Not to mention all other ships lost, in the Black Pearl's decade of destruction.

The Dauntless might not be as swift as the Black Pearl was, but she was a fiercer threat and outgunned the pirate ship nicely. It would be quite a battle, if it came down to it.

In fact, if Jack Sparrow continued to frequent the Caribbean, then James Norrington, as Commodore stationed here at Port Royal, had no choice but to apprehend the pirate. It really wasn't a matter of choice or decision on his part at all.

As the last dead pirate was cut down from the gallows, James straightened and stretched, mulling over the preparations that would have to be made for the journey back out to the Isle de Muerte.

If Sparrow did not have the sense to get out while his going was good, he would find the talons of the hawk not far behind.


With the Black Pearl safely anchored beyond the mouth that led to the cave, and with frequent trips to and from the treasure, Jack was content to rifle through the morass of stolen bounty while several of the crewmembers collected up sovereigns, doubloons and pieces of eight nearby.

They were all working as quickly as they could to collect up as much of the swag as possible for this first trip. He knew the Dauntless would most likely be not far behind them. They were lucky to have as many days as they'd had, what with this being their second day after arriving at the Isle de Muerte once more.

The crew had been glad, actually, to return. Even despite the sea battle and their incarceration aboard the Pearl their first trip out. Picking up a few extra crewmembers in the small settlements along the way had only cost them a day.

At first, they had all cast wary glances at the big stone chest sitting so prominently in the cave. And then there had been the scare with the damned monkey.

Jack grimaced as he remembered Barbossa had named the monkey after him. No doubt to punish his memory for wielding Barbossa's own name over him, Jack suspected.

The monkey had been clutching one of the gold pieces and had been quite a little monster to try to catch, with it leaping about and shrieking at them. Strangely, it had been Cotton's parrot who'd finally lured the beast close enough to snatch the piece of Aztec cursed gold from it, giving Marty and Anamaria the chance to snare the monkey by creeping up behind and grabbing it. They cut its arm, forcing it to pay the blood debt onto the gold coin before returning it and dropping the stone lid upon the treasure at last.

Jack had been all for slitting the damned monkey's throat, or so he threatened, but Anamaria seemed to have unfortunately bonded with the creature, since. Jack had forbidden her to bring the monkey aboard the Pearl, but she'd glared at him. Obviously there would be trouble, later. And on this occasion, Jack was willing to agree with Joshamee Gibbs, that it was frightfully bad luck to be bringing that cursed monkey aboard his fine ship.

Anamaria had even tended its little cut, and Jack's comment, 'like mother, like child,' had earned him a slap. Which, of course, he probably deserved, but on whose behalf at this point he was not certain - mother's, or child's.

As for the treasure itself, Jack was still not sure if they should move the Aztec chest and drop it in the ocean. He was loath to bring it anywhere near his Pearl, after all she had been through these past ten years on its account. He was the only one who knew where this island was, except for the complication of Commodore Norrington and all his little men on that trip also knowing…at least partly. And the Lord knew the Navy had a hard enough time of it, keeping its men from deserting. But then, any of that crew who deserted would undoubtedly be far from wanting to come back here for the rest of their lives, fortunately. After their encounter with the skeletal forms of Barbossa's men. And men talk. Stories get around. Jack knew better than most, just how stories grew.

Yet, who knew what fool might take it into his head to go searching for it next? It would be the same problem all over again.

As the sailors stacked the last of the coins that would fit into the buckets and hauled them aboard the longboat, one of them turned and said, "That's the lot, sir. We'll be back one last time, aye?"

"Aye," he responded, absently. "Or just send the others back with the other boat. You've done more than your share here." They had been here all afternoon, anyway. After a while, handling treasure gets to be thirsty work, and one can't drink doubloons.

"Capn," nodded the pirate, who stepped into the boat as the other two shoved off with the oars to row back along the dark passageway out to the cave mouth.

Jack was still torn even now. They couldn't risk leaving the Aztec gold like this, but then, they hadn't brought it here themselves and at this point, only Barbossa and his dead, mutinous crew were the only ones who might advise him if it could be taken from this isle safely. With them being the only ones in a position to know since they were dead, he smiled to himself.

Going to the stone chest, he ran a hand over the lid, half-fancying he could feel the curse emanating from it even now. Barbossa's body had been the first thing to leave the cave. Burial at sea, even for such as him. Although there had been an ironic impulse that had almost made Jack order them to leave Barbossa's corpse propped up against the stone chest as a warning. But it had frightened the living spirits out of most of his crew and they'd insisted on removing the body in light of their having to remove the gold and the other treasure also, hours on end. They'd refused to share the cavern with the dead pirate.

He climbed up on top of the stone chest and crossed his legs, stretching out his left hand to recall how it had looked under the curse. Chilling, it had been. Not to feel. To see nothing but bone. He'd been lucky, for all that he'd endured these past ten years, he'd still been more fortunate than Barbossa and the others. Which really was no less than their just reward, considering what they'd done to him.

Whoever could have foretold, after all, that the tale of the curse, sounding almost childish in its attempt to warn others with talk of blood, would turn out to be true?

The tale of eight hundred and eighty-two pieces of pure Aztec gold had been more then enough to perk his interest, those years past. What a loss, and a terrible shame. He grinned in amusement at the notion that, really, Barbossa and his men had actually recouped probably the equal of that and more besides, in the ten years of desperate hoarding they'd dumped here. Jack had more than the treasure he'd started out to find.

The sound of oars splashing in the passageway reached him, echoing around the cave.

Jack abruptly realized he was sitting in the cave completely alone, without a boat to get back. Very foolish. He didn't think he had anything to fear from his current crew, and the boats had been coming and going from this cave all day long, so he hadn't thought much of it until now. But night was creeping in.

The other boat came into view and as Jack looked up, he saw with a sinking sensation that it wasn't his crew at all, but a boat full of lobsters in their cheery redcoats. And yes, there at the head of them, was the Commodore.

This was not good. How had they made it past the Pearl?

And more splashing reached his ears. More boats. No doubt they'd thought to disturb more than one pirate in this cave at a time.

This was not good at all. Why hadn't there been any warning, from those back at the Pearl, on watch, or returning to the cave in the other boat? Jack sighed. He was outnumbered. Greatly.

He watched with a heavy heart as Norrington and several of his men got out of the first boat.

Norrington approached him where he sat unmoving upon the great stone chest.

"Well," Norrington said, sardonically. "I thought we might find you here. This is getting to be rather a familiar sight, wouldn't you agree?"

"Depressingly so," Jack agreed, lightly, but not without his own measure of sarcasm.

Norrington sighed as if rueful, and turned a curious eye over the interior of the cave. "Quite sad, in fact," he commented. "All you had to do was sail away. But you just couldn't resist it, could you?" He turned back to Jack.

"Forget it, mate," Jack informed him, calmly. "I'm not going back. Not this time."

Norrington sniffed and looked behind over his shoulder at the array of soldiers. "I don't think you have much of a choice. Dead or alive - which is it to be?"

Jack didn't bother to answer this with anything but a smile.

Which, surprisingly, Norrington returned. Although there was something a bit too wolfish about it to really find at all comforting. "You must be wondering what has happened to your men. Not to mention your ship."

"Considering the distinct lack of cannon fire, I'd wager not very much," Jack replied, sunnily. He grinned at Norrington, "You've stolen in here so quietly, but I very much doubt you'll get back out again."

"Ah, but neither will you," Norrington answered, just as confidently.

Jack tilted his head at him, giving Norrington a frown, up and down. "You know what your problem is?" he stated, rhetorically, for he fancied the Commodore really didn't have a clue. "You've lost your lass, so you're blaming me for it. It is a shame, mind. I was rooting for you, as I said."

Norrington pulled a face. "What does that mean, anyway? Rooting for me?"

Jack lifted a brow at him. "To win the girl, mate."

"No, the…never mind." Norrington shook his head as if at Jack's folly. "No matter. It's irrelevant, at this point. Come quietly, and you won't be mistreated. I give you my word."

Jack lifted a finger, "Hold on, there, 'ey? D'you mean, if I'm - how did you put it - 'silent as the grave'? Or do you mean just very quietly? Do I have to whisper? Giving me your word is very generous; wouldn't want me to get it wrong, and have you go against your word. I might end up getting stabbed or shot simply for pointing out what a lovely evening it is, or some other harmless remark now, mightn't I?"

Norrington's good cheer was slipping. "Don't worry, Mr. Sparrow. This time, when I want you to be silent, I'll simply have you gagged. That will spare you the argument in the long run."

"But," Jack persisted. "When you say I won't be mistreated, does that mean you won't hang me? Or is that just until we return to the gallows in your little port?"

Norrington glanced back at the boats. "You're stalling for time, I think. But tell me, pirate, would your crew consider your safety as our hostage worth allowing us safe passage back to our ship, if we allow them to return to theirs and sail away?"

"So you can engage them once we're all aboard? I rather think not," Jack replied. "There's the Code to consider, after all." It was, in fact, to Jack's way of thinking at this point, the only likely way any of them were bound to get out of this unpleasant situation alive. But he didn't fancy just admitting that so early on here.

Norrington looked blank at this. No doubt the man didn't know the Code. Which was quite a relief to know, actually.

Jack put his finger to his lips. "I've a better idea, Commodore. Why don't you send your men back to the Dauntless, we'll have ourselves a duel here, and the winner gets to go free, back to his respective ship."

"I can't, I'm afraid," Norrington said, resolutely. "As much as I might like to take you up on your offer, I'm bound by the law. As are you, despite your willful attempts to contradict it." He gave him a tight, cold smile. "And frankly, I'm not willing to die because of your stubborn refusal to admit when you've been caught."

"Then I'm not going," Jack said. "You see, you've failed to take into consideration the fact that my Pearl will probably sail off without me, if they see your ship and men as too big a threat, what wif' all the treasure aboard mine."

Norrington looked down at the coins beneath his feet. "Very disappointing," he commented. "Your crews are most consistent cowards, Captain."

"This one, perhaps," Jack smiled. "Not the last. But then, these aren't cursed. They 'aven't the benefit of bein' bones in the moonlight, have they now?"

Norrington's eyes fluttered and a look of a man who'd also seen things too hellish to forget came over him momentarily. So the good Commodore was haunted by it too. But Norrington swiftly recovered. "They'll desert you, then? Again."

"Can't be helped," Jack said, with a slight shrug. "It's the Code."

Norrington looked like he wanted to answer.

Jack regarded him. "May I ask you something? Why the Devil do you need to go to all this trouble merely to bring me in, at the cost of letting that entire ship loaded with pirates and stolen gold just sail off into the horizon?"

Norrington looked down his nose at him; quite a feat, too, considering he was looking up to where Jack sat. Norrington managed it very nicely. "I would have thought you'd know the answer to that one yourself."

Jack rolled his eyes, and said with a lift of his chin, "Because I'm Captain Jack Sparrow. Is that it? You let me go the other day, and your conscience hasn't been able to settle over it?"

Jack watched him, his eyes narrowing as the Commodore again was overcome with that nervous expression so quickly mastered. So that was it, then? Jack smiled slightly.

Norrington replied, stiffly, "You're out of time, Sparrow."

"Aren't you even the least bit curious?" Jack asked him, grinning. "To know of the two of us, who's the better blade?"

Norrington's eyes narrowed and that amused expression came over his face once more. The one that looked like a cat with a bird, which, really, was precisely what this was, Jack had to acknowledge glumly to himself.

"I might be, at that," Norrington replied. "A duel, to first blood, and whoever wins gets to take the other prisoner, and the treasure as well."

Jack stared at him, unwilling to believe he'd just heard the staunchly law-abiding Commodore actually suggest such a thing. A glance at the men behind him revealed much of the same surprise.

"S-Sir?" said the hungry, ambitious young officer behind him.

"Gillette," Norrington commanded, turning to face the young man. "Return to the Dauntless. I'll settle this here, for once and for all. He deserves a sporting chance, for all that he is a pirate. As Miss Swann and Mr. Turner pointed out, he is a good man. Leave us one of the boats."

Gillette stared back at his Commodore and swallowed. "Sir, he's a pirate."

Norrington raised a brow at him. "Your point?"

Jack raised his hand. "I'm afraid he's right, Commodore. I am."

"B-But Sir! He's Jack Sparrow," Gillette stuttered, quite undone by his Commodore's rash and unexpected decision.

"Captain," Jack sighed. "Captain Jack Sparrow."

Norrington let out an exasperated sigh. "I've not forgotten for an instant who or what he is. Do as I order," he stressed, angrily.

"Aye, Sir," Gillette said, the stiffness of his tone filled with reproachful dismay.

Jack asked carefully, "Am I to believe you're serious? You're going to remain here all by your onesie in this dark cavern of bloodied gold, with me, while your men return to the Dauntless. And I'm not supposed to fear they'll blast the bejeezus out of me Pearl with your guns?"

Norrington called out to Gillette, "Remember, Lieutenant, not a shot is to be fired except in self-defense. Be sure that is clearly understood by all."

"Aye, Sir,' Gillette called back, a note of crestfallen near-disobedience in his voice. The navy boats began to splash away into the dark.

Jack hadn't moved from where he still sat upon the stone chest. "Do us a favor, mate. If you win, will you take this cursed gold and send it down to join its kin below?"

"Indeed," Norrington agreed. "Davy Jones' Locker is the safest, wisest course regarding that cursed treasure of yours. I would, even had you not asked it of me. Any other last requests, Mr. Sparrow?"

"Just one, aye?" Jack flashed him a grin. "If you win, leave me here and let me take me chances. I've managed worse before. I don't much fancy dancing my last on your gallows again." Indeed, the fear of it was far worse than he'd admit, but he rather warranted Norrington already savvied that much.

Norrington was quiet. But he said, "We'll see."

Jack regarded him shrewdly. "Did you come here to capture the Pearl, the treasure, or me?"

"All three," Norrington replied, with a slight smile. "And even now, you're willing to sacrifice your own life for your ship, the treasure and your men? How noble." Interestingly, Norrington managed to say it without a hint of a sneer.

"Much the same as yourself, I expect," Jack shot back, watching as the implication hit Norrington. Because of course it was very true: Norrington too was willing to sacrifice his own life here for the Dauntless, the treasure and his men, and the chance of capturing Jack and the Pearl. Very foolish indeed. All for what? What was Norrington's game? Perhaps the Commodore didn't even know, himself.

But Norrington scowled at him. "Quite the opposite, I assure you. I'm risking my ship, my men and the treasure that rightfully belongs to Port Royal and the other pillaged towns, just to bring you and your crew to justice."

"Justice?" Jack asked, brazenly giving him a half-smile at this and a knowing look. "Whose? Yours? You'll have to forgive me, Commodore, I don't see you behaving very justly. I see you pleasing yourself, in point of fact. You say you came here to collect the treasure. And here you are now, accepting me challenge. Your little officer was quite right to point out that I am, in fact, a pirate. Young Mr. Turner can tell you that I don't fight fair, not when I'm fighting for my life."

"Oh, I would be the first to agree. I don't trust you even as far as I could throw you. As for justice…well." Norrington smiled tersely at him. "I'm not going to argue semantics with you, Sparrow. Draw your sword."

Jack raised his brows. "Not pistols?"

Norrington gave him a look of slight disgust. "Of course not. The sword is a gentleman's weapon."

"Good. It's much less sporting to draw first blood by shooting holes in people, no matter how accurate one's aim." Jack smiled at him.

Norrington ignored his sarcasm and asked, "Are you truly prepared to surrender, if I should win?"

"On this rare occasion, I'll be quite honest with you. I'm not. I've in fact no intention of winning, or losing. Are you prepared to surrender, if I should win?"

Norrington gave him that irritating little smile again. "Now, really, Sparrow. I'd almost have to say you're afraid to follow through, the way you're stalling. And it's a bit late to ask me that, now that you've already offered up your challenge and I've accepted it." Norrington drew his own sword and held it up.

Jack frowned at it as it caught the light of the torches about them, glinting silver and gold and reflecting the not-insubstantial remainder of the treasure that still lay about them. "That's one of Will's, innit?"

Norrington nodded, regarding the blade. "Fine work."

Jack uncurled his legs and slid off the stone chest, going to where he'd left his coat and effects, and drew his own sword. Returning to advance upon Norrington, he gave the Commodore a sly look. "You do realize I'm not stopping at first blood?"

"Neither am I," Norrington replied, lifting his sword in salute.

"Excellent," Jack tossed at him, and decided to take the opportunity to make the first move. He thrust at Norrington, swiftly, already planning where to move this duel to, forcing Norrington back across the gold and intending to make towards the water's edge.

Norrington's blade sliced through the air to meet his, easily, and the clash of the steel resounded throughout the cave, bouncing off the walls.

"I certainly wouldn't want you fighting at anything less than your best, now would I?" Norrington threw back.

It was curious and strange to find himself crossing swords with yet another adversary in this same cave. He had the benefit of course of having already fought one deadly duel in this same cavern, with Barbossa. He knew the terrain better, and would more easily find his footing.

At first, they were both too wary of each other, Jack realizing that Norrington would have to gauge exactly what kind of a swordsman he really was, although he was also facing the same challenge. But as their blades met, parried, and blocked, followed by lunges that really, quite honestly, never meant to strike home, they began to both find a rhythm that wasn't so much a fight as a dance. A deadly one, to be sure, but one nonetheless.

But Jack had always enjoyed the savage grace and purity that could be found in this combat. As Norrington met each of his lunges and easily blocked, however, he saw the determination on Norrington's face and realized that Norrington wasn't playing any game at all. The man was close to that edge, beyond which lay madness, bloodlust even. It wasn't a game for him. He was giving this his all, and knowing it drove a wedge of cold fear into Jack, fuelling the desperation to actually win this little competition of theirs, by any means.

The Commodore really intended to run him through. He hadn't exactly counted on it; sure that Norrington's sense of duty and obligation would force him to take Jack back to face his 'lawful' justice upon the gallows.

As the Commodore's blade struck his again and again, their moves almost faster than either of them had expected, judging from the expression on Norrington's face at this exchange of blows, Jack tried to move down, away, finding himself instead being driven back up towards the stone chest. Damn.

They were very evenly matched, but Jack hated to admit that Norrington might surpass his own skill. And that's when it hit him. Who had first placed a blade in young Will Turner's hands? A part of him was fascinated, and as he managed to keep up, attempting to surprise Norrington with a few moves of his own, he gasped out, "So this is where the lad learned it, 'ey?"

Norrington gave a curt smile. "Indeed." His next thrust lashed out towards Jack's left arm, nearly sliding between his arm and his side, skewering him, and he ended up beating it back while stepping backwards to avoid the next one.

By some fluke, in a wildly mistimed lunge of his own in an attempt to compensate for the defensive position he'd been forced into in the past few moments of engagement, Jack's sword flashed upwards, grazing the right side of Norrington's neck. It sliced right through the man's cravat and left a bleeding trail in its path.

Norrington stopped, and moved back, his hand going to the cravat and pulling it off, finding it useless now except as something to staunch the cut. It had been deeper than Jack had thought it to be.

And Jack grinned at him, victoriously. "First blood, after all, Commodore. Care to yield?"

Coldly, Norrington replied, "Certainly not." And he put his blade up again, charging forward intently, forcing Jack backwards momentarily until Jack could move to the left, up by the stone chest and keep circling around and down, Norrington still slightly distracted by the wound on his neck. The blood was running down into the man's collar and shirt.

Jack tutted at him, as their blades rang together. "That pretty uniform of yours is going to be ruined, mate."

Norrington didn't answer though, and his eyes flashed dangerously as he met the next few thrusts with a counter-attack of his own. To Jack's surprise, Norrington's lightning-fast sword next caught him on the left shoulder and he barely managed to whip his blade up to parry, even as the sting sliced open his shirt and his shoulder too.

But at this point, it mattered little, as Norrington merely continued on, pressing forward still, and Jack finally found his way down to the water's edge.

Norrington frowned, and they stopped, panting. "Where do you think you're going?" he asked, curiously.

Jack gave him a half-hearted smile. "Hardly think that deserves an answer, really." To be sure, he'd rather swim back towards the Pearl than be run through by an insane, coldly-possessed and ill-tempered Navy officer in this God-cursed cave where Barbossa had met his own fate. Jack could even fancy he heard Barbossa's ghostly, whispered laugh hissing through the cave, as thunder rolled.

Or was that… the hissing and the thunder…Jack stopped, his eyes widening even as Norrington paused as well. "Cannon," Jack said.

Norrington looked back at him, both of them listening. Norrington began to swear. "I told him! I told him only in self-defense."

Jack sighed. "Think your little officer's a tad too ambitious for his own good, Commodore."

Norrington looked torn with indecision. "Let's finish this," he said, in a clipped tone.

Jack eyed the edge of the water. "I'd rather take my chances." He gave a little apologetic shrug, ignoring the pain in his shoulder. "You understand, I'm sure."

But Norrington was angry, probably at being cheated out of whatever it was that he saw himself as possibly achieving in this absurd fight with him. Life, death…at this point it was all the same, but Jack still wanted to live, regardless.

He had his Pearl again, and that was worth more than anything else. He'd not waited ten years for nothing, to be cheated out of his freedom by a repressed soldier who couldn't be bothered to examine the real cause of his own distress and driven compulsions.

As Norrington advanced upon him once more, ignoring the distant booming of the cannon-fire between the Black Pearl and the Dauntless, Jack realized that Norrington was just crazy enough right now, and determined, to finish their fight even if it meant following him into the water. That could get messy, as his shoulder was beginning to ache, deep down, and Norrington's neck wound was hardly even slowing him.

With a growl, he met Norrington's sword easily, his own flashing in the torchlight as the flames guttered, and surprised both of them by forcing Norrington backwards a good few paces or more. Norrington's shoes weren't exactly helping his own position in the uneven terrain beneath them, either, gold coins slipping about, and wet rocks under his shoes causing him to waver.

And then, completely unfairly to Jack's way of thinking, it was Norrington's superior height and weight advantage that ended it, in that instant, as Norrington was on a slightly uphill incline and managed to block Jack's next blow and simply turn his blade down, hard, while physically throwing himself forward.

Jack ended up on his right side, rolling, half-sliding a little ways down, with Norrington grabbing his injured left shoulder. The sudden, surprisingly blinding pain of it caused him to slacken moments long enough for Norrington to disarm him.

Jack froze, his sword now flung out of reach and Norrington abruptly pulling him onto his back and rising up over him to put the tip of his good, strong Turner blade to Jack's neck. Panting, Jack stared up at him. So this is where it ended. Jack closed his eyes, catching his breath, wondering how many he had left to him.

The sound of Norrington's pistol being cocked made him open his eyes again, however, and he grimaced as Norrington took aim.

"Get up. Slowly," Norrington said, backing away slightly.

Jack sighed and closed his eyes. "Not to the death, then. To the gallows." He opened his eyes and met Norrington's gaze evenly. "Already told you, mate, I'm not going."

The far-off sound of the cannons still shuddered and echoed like hollow drums throughout the cave.

"Well, I can wait until you faint from the loss of blood and then simply row you back unconscious," Norrington pointed out. "Even so, it would be easier if you simply get in the bloody boat."

"Considering the two of us just now, it really is going to be a bloody boat," Jack quipped. But he realized he needed to stop the flow of his wound, and soon. He heaved a sigh. "Alright, alright." He sat up, feeling how much the fight had already cost him, and the fact that blood was running down his arm now.

Removing the sash from around his waist, he managed to wrap it around his arm and shoulder, tightly, although it began to bleed through almost immediately. He gave Norrington a frustrated glare. "I can't row like this."

Norrington said, knowingly, "Judging from the sound of the continuing exchange, I'm willing to bet your right arm will work well enough to get us back to your ship and mine to assess the situation."

Already, Jack was beginning to feel lightheaded. He wondered in truth if he'd even make it back to the two ships. It just didn't seem fair, somehow, for it all to end like this. But Norrington had a point. He was desperate now to see how his Pearl fared. He tried to get to his feet and found that he was more lightheaded than he'd thought.

Norrington held out a hand, and with a few blinks of surprise at it, Jack took it, pulled to his feet. Norrington gestured with the pistol. "Let's get out of here. Bring your sword."

But at the moment, Jack was finding it hard to stand. It was far worse than rum had ever been, and he abruptly wondered if maybe he really shouldn't have been sitting on that damned Aztec stone chest. Maybe it had…affected him somehow. Weakened him, perhaps. Or some such.

Curses lingered; maybe if he hadn't sat on the cursed thing for so long and just accompanied the last boat back to his beloved Black Pearl, he wouldn't be climbing into this tiny boat with the one man who seemed to have the most incentive to see him die on the gallows. Because the laws said he was supposed to.

Strangely, Norrington didn't make him take up an oar, but simply grabbed both and began to row them back out, the lamp flickering alarmingly along the way.

The cannon fire ceased, and Jack wondered if it meant…No, he shoved the thought away. He couldn't think anything yet, wouldn't allow himself to imagine the worst.

The sky was darkening, as the sun had already slipped down, but even so, as the boat neared the spot where the Pearl had been sitting, Jack could see she was gone. He sat up, craning his neck. He thought he could make out a receding shape across the water, but with the drifts of accursed mist that lay everywhere, shrouding the Isle, he couldn't really tell for certain. And then they were nearing the hulk of the Dauntless.

Jack sighed, closing his eyes, wondering if it truly had come back around, full-circle, only to end up with him losing the only thing that had ever mattered to him yet again. If so, he wasn't sure he wanted to go on at all. And looked up, to meet Norrington's eyes, that were watching him with too sharp a crystal clarity and recognition.

Jack looked away, finding himself uncharacteristically gloomy and at a loss for words, for once. Thankfully, Norrington didn't say a thing. Not to gloat, nor offer sarcasm, or to remind him that if he hadn't indeed been bent on seizing the treasure hoarded here, and had instead just sailed away… indeed, he might still be free.

Getting aboard the Dauntless was actually agony, and he was hard-pressed to understand if it really was due to the wound in his shoulder, or the after-effects of being too close to the damned Aztec treasure. Probably a combination of both.

"Someone should get rid of it," he grumbled to himself. "Bloody nuisance."

And he found himself swaying dangerously on the deck of the Dauntless before it rushed to meet him without warning.


The amber lamplight cast faux silhouettes upon the interior walls of the cabin, almost as if from a swaying moon. James regarded them without pleasure. Sitting in the chair behind his table, he leaned back, idly toying with the coin he held. It was a doubloon, one of the stolen pieces from the pirate cave on the Isle de Muerta.

He'd ordered the treasure confiscated under the auspices of the Navy and the cave cleared, but even once the Dauntless had been weighed down with the ill-gotten loot it had been obvious the entirety of the cavern would not be cleared in less than twenty trips. James wryly reflected that it shouldn't be a surprise, as the undead crew of the Black Pearl had been hoarding for well over a decade; the accumulation was considerable.

But he found himself in a most foul disposition regarding the Black Pearl. According to the officers aboard, and the sailors who'd witnessed the Black Pearl's leave-taking of the Isle, she'd fired a volley to cover her route and ensure she'd slip away, remaining only long enough to let the two boats of returning pirates to board their ship in safety.

Sans their captain, of course. James sighed to himself. This was, from all accounts, the fourth time Jack Sparrow had been left to his own fate by the Black Pearl's crew. The crew changed but the circumstances did not, apparently.

James smiled without humor. Mr. Sparrow really ought to stay away from the Isle de Muerta, for it never brought him any luck whatsoever.

Sparrow had mentioned 'The Code', and James could only assume that it was some obscure reference to the Brethrens' penchant for creating ship's articles with contingent instructions that were quirky, incomprehensible and entirely haphazard, depending on the mood of the crew. Like sailing away without their captain. At this point, James considered it to be cowardly, pitiful and rather sad. No honor among thieves.

But now that he only had Sparrow and not the Black Pearl, he was in the same position he'd occupied before; with no real victory and only the indigestible dilemma of whether or not to simply hang Sparrow back in Port Royal after all, or let him rejoin his somewhat questionable crew aboard his ship. Which was not an option James could afford, and remain within the bounds of the law, himself.

Dourly, he contemplated the presence of Sparrow below in the brig. Capturing him was almost empty of any satisfaction, at this point. Almost, because in truth it was better than nothing. The Black Pearl was gone.

As a captain-commander of His Majesty's Navy, James knew that it was quite simple: the treasure needed to be restored to its rightful owners or divided amongst those who'd suffered the undead crew's deprivations. Sparrow had to face the justice of the gallows. And the Black Pearl needed to be caught, hunted down and removed from the Caribbean.

Personally, he found the pitiful outcome of Sparrow's presence aboard to be less than pleasing, and he found too that it brought a measure of comfort to know that he was, in fact, capable of feeling sympathy for the pirate's plight. Which, really, had been brought upon himself by greed. Sparrow hadn't really had many options, unless he'd chosen to leave the Main altogether. The man wouldn't be a pirate if he weren't far too susceptible to the temptation that all that treasure represented.

It was at this thought, however, that James abruptly found his conscience assailed anew.

Who would have been hurt, and what would be the true loss, if he had allowed Sparrow and the Black Pearl to at least one helping of the treasure - and then let them leave? Most of the pirate sailors would undoubtedly lose themselves in the various port towns, and drink themselves to death, inevitably squandering the gold and jewels in whoring and debauchery. Sparrow would have the opportunity to leave the Caribbean completely after all.

Although James honestly couldn't see Sparrow retiring after one helping of the Isle's gold, if ever.

He swallowed, wondering if his wily success in running Sparrow down at the Isle was in fact going to plague him henceforth. Duty aside, law and justice aside, he still had to live with the fact that he'd achieved exactly what he wanted: to capture the man. And he still couldn't account for why he wanted to.

He glowered at the chart spread before him on the table, and tossed the doubloon onto it, where it spun for a time before landing on its side with a clink.

The Dauntless had opened fire on the Black Pearl as soon as the first shot had been fired. There were no reports of what possible damage had been incurred by the pirate vessel, as the gathering gloom and mist had made it impossible to tell.

The news of the loss of the Interceptor and the request for another ship of the line to replace her would take at least another five weeks to reach England, with another six to eight weeks before he could hope for a replacement and some word of resources and further ships, and without immediate access to several other ships to create a proper fleet, it was inadvisable to go chasing the Black Pearl down in the slower Dauntless, here.

And the idea of using Sparrow as bait to lure the Black Pearl out of hiding was also a most improbable one, considering the swaying loyalty and self-preservationist attitude of pirates in general.

James scowled, wondering why he should care if Sparrow died. Because that was the crux of it, regardless of whether the Black Pearl was nullified as a pirate threat in the Caribbean or not. For him personally, at any rate.

He had actually been glad to have the opportunity to cross blades with the man, but had realized during their duel that he actually didn't wish the man dead at all. If only the pirate would stop making such a nuisance of himself, he thought. It was like having a stray dog around, worrying children in the street, scavenging for food. And certainly Sparrow was not one to be tamed.

The rolling sway of the ocean beneath the Dauntless was comforting somehow. Soothing. He wondered if it comforted Sparrow at all.

They were making good time and would return to Port Royal probably by mid-morning.

And the memory of the defeat and resignation in Sparrow's face before the pirate had succumbed to loss of blood and weakness once they'd come aboard, it was abruptly haunting and irritating.

It was one thing to feel sympathy for the man's plight, but quite another to make sense of why he was trying to find a way to accomplish his duty without seeing Sparrow dead.

The little demon was back, whispering in the corner of his mind that perhaps it wasn't such a bad thing after all, to simply keep the man prisoner indefinitely…

James paused, staring at the chart before him without seeing it.

He could keep Sparrow imprisoned in the Fort, for any length of time.

That way, the stray would be caged, unable to create more pirating mischief and mayhem, following a drunken and greedy course through the Main, ad infinitum. He wouldn't have the man's death to worry about, nagging at him. The Black Pearl would be more easily captured, and his own conscience would be clear of having pursued a deliberate course with the apprehension of Sparrow foremost in his mind - for personal reasons. For it was personal, now, James had to admit to himself. He felt all too responsible for having let the pirate go in the first place, and had no viable, legal explanation to excuse allowing a prisoner to escape, no matter his sense of what was noble and fair.

It was personal indeed, to give Sparrow that one chance at freedom, and personal too, to feel sympathy for the pirate's outcome in the cave with him. And it was all too personal to recognize that it was most unbecoming a commander and captain of the Royal Navy to enjoy, yes, enjoy with the greatest satisfaction, the victorious duel with Sparrow and his recapture.

Gillette had not been happy. In fact, the Lieutenant had given him a disappointed glare as he'd ordered them to let the pirate ship leave without pursuit, and remain to confiscate the treasure at the Isle de Muerta. It was a task that had taken another day; a full day longer than he'd wanted to spend at the cursed Isle, treasure or no.

The surgeon had seen to Sparrow's shoulder and reported that the man was unconscious but would recover, with rest. It had been strange for James to witness the pirate's sudden loss of balance and strength after their duel. He'd wondered if perhaps it might be due to the effect of the cursed treasure, for Sparrow had been sitting on that cursed box when he'd cornered the pirate in the cave.

At midnight, nearly five hours ago, he'd overseen the tossing of the Aztec stone chest of cursed gold into the ocean, its lid fastened as securely as they could ensure, although no doubt the ropes would give way eventually. But not until the stone chest had sunk too many fathoms down for it to ever present any temptation or threat again, well out of the reach of any who might ignorantly wish to possess it.

So here he sat, unable to sleep, wondering why he should give a damn about the welfare, dreams and desires of a pirate who, for all practical purposes, should already be hung. They could hang him from the yardarm and be well within the law. The man had already faced trial and been condemned; escaping the noose hardly cancelled the fact that he was more a fugitive now than before. He could have killed Sparrow in that cave and been within the law.

He didn't want Sparrow to die. That was the bottom line. Now if he could only ascertain why.

The thought of going below to check on Sparrow's condition wasn't something he looked forward to. In fact, he was actually afraid to. He feared he might feel more pity for the man than Sparrow warranted. It would simply intensify his own indecision and confusion regarding the man's fate.

Uncertainty flooded his very being. Was he acting on some personally-driven, irrational impulse to seek satisfaction by some means, to make up for the loss of Miss Swann? Or was he in truth pursuing the right goal, in attempting to see to it that the Black Pearl and other pirate threats were destroyed?

Was he using one to justify his remaining feelings regarding the other? What meant more, really? Capturing Sparrow, or losing the Swann girl? The irony that both of them had names of birds was not lost on him. Neither was the guilt he felt at what he was seriously contemplating: keeping Sparrow. He was very close to that line, now, between duty and selfishness. There were only so many rationalizations he could offer himself or the world to explain his actions and his desires. And not wanting the pirate to die was no longer within the realms of what was right - it was entering the realms of what was wrong.

Admitting the pirate was a good man was very different than keeping him in a cage.

But not caging him would mean the man's death. All it would do, bringing Sparrow back to Port Royal with them, would offer delay and buy him some time until he could find out how he might resolve the knotty problem of Sparrow's fate, his own feelings about the same, and what his decision should be.

Lord, the power of life and death, to simply speak the words and see a man die. To allow the sparing of Sparrow's life in the cave and not shoot him or run him through had been exhilarating. Too exhilarating. It sickened him that he'd enjoyed having power over the man as much as he'd had.

Perhaps he was playing the game of cat and mouse a little too well. James mulled darkly in the privacy of his own thoughts upon the exquisite satisfaction in having bested the pirate at his own game - neither of them had fought fairly, but to the death. And even then, he'd been toying with Sparrow, and both of them knew it. For he'd never had any intention of killing him, unless it came to it without any option.

I want him alive, James decided. Not dead.

But the stark knowledge and self-discovery in this decision brought no comfort, because he was left with the question of why. Still.

The answer revealed itself in a most simplistic and horrifyingly stark way. To want Sparrow alive meant that he wanted Sparrow there, at hand. To know he had the power to keep him alive. To know that Sparrow…was his.

James groaned, and leaned forward over the table, upon his elbows, his hands over his face. Dammit, he swore, down at the carefully marked chart under his nose.

It was no longer a question of rationale - it was wholly an issue of ownership. He'd lost Elizabeth Swann, and sought to find a measure of satisfaction in capturing and owning Jack Sparrow instead. If he couldn't be allowed to fulfill the rights of husband and lover, then he would seek the satisfaction of rights of conqueror and commander instead. The duties of the one path had been lost to him, so he was using the duties of his rank and position, his career, to find some ease from the loss in recompense.

Which made him a jailer. A master. Keeping the stray dog chained up in the kennel. Only Sparrow was more akin to the bird than the dog metaphor, James had to glumly admit. For caged, Sparrow was likely to simply languish and die. He had already seen the raw pain and despair on the pirate's face at losing his ship again. For the ship was synonymous with freedom to the man. James knew that now.

He couldn't be cruel. Was he being cruel to deny the man a swift death, and keep him alive merely for his own satisfaction? Was he being cruel to not allow the pirate to return to his ship and his - pirate life? There were pirates, and there were pirates. But Sparrow was still a thief and a menace. He would not give up his pirate ways, so James was in the unhelpful position of choosing for him.

The possibility of giving Jack Sparrow the choice of leaving had already been played out, and Sparrow had shown him that he had every intention of remaining.

James sat back in his chair, realizing he could think it to death and never reach any form of conclusion, no decision that would account for all the factors, and enable him the best outcome. His sense of what was fair, noble and just was compromised by Sparrow's very existence as a pirate and a criminal. No amount of sympathy or compassion was going to change that.

But he wondered now if speaking with Jack Sparrow would reveal anything he might have not considered, at this point. Sparrow had claimed to wish death over returning to Port Royal, but James was very well-aware that was only because he didn't want to hang. All the man wanted was to return to his ship.

And he didn't want Sparrow aboard the Pearl, James admitted. He really didn't. He wanted him -

James felt sick, suddenly. That was it, wasn't it? He didn't want to gloat and rejoice over Sparrow, but he wanted to keep him. Well, bloody hell.

He stood up, and began pacing the floor.

He envied Sparrow the freedom the man had. The intrinsic freedom Sparrow possessed, regardless of whether he was rejoined with his Black Pearl or not.

From the very first, he'd found Sparrow irritating, flaunting the very laws James had spent a lifetime dedicating himself to upholding and enforcing. It wasn't his fault Sparrow insisted on remaining a pirate. It wasn't his fault that Sparrow had no sense of sacrifice, duty, lawfulness or honor. The pirate's questionable morality had very little in the way of real decency or virtue. Why, even the way the man dressed and carried himself was an affront. Sparrow was a depraved, immoral pirate, through and through. A sinner, and most indecent.

But Jack Sparrow was also a sailor, a captain (for all that James wished he could ignore that it was true) and had a love of the ocean that James himself shared. James was more than happy living in the Caribbean and had found a great sense of deep satisfaction from pursuing a military life in the Navy.

To lose Elizabeth to the romantic illusion that Will Turner was ' a good pirate' was no less horrifying than to have to face the fact that capturing Jack Sparrow once more was only compounding the problem. Exactly as he'd feared. He sighed.

The problem of wanting to own him. It made him feel guilty and sinful to acknowledge it. It made him feel as dirty as if indulging in furtive self-pollution, touching himself in the privacy of his cabin or home at night, to seek quick, empty release. There was nothing in it of anything but selfishness and self-indulgence. To ease his own conscience, to seek fulfillment of his own desires - that was not true ambition and in fact made him less than Sparrow, even.

He paced the floor, angrily. This was interminable! It was insufferable and not to be borne. It was too much, the pressure was too great. There didn't seem to be any way out of this.

The problem…the problem was Jack Sparrow. What the man was, who he was, what he represented; everything. Jack Sparrow appeared to be a pirate, and yet in so many ways destroyed James's own carefully harbored understanding of what a pirate was.

He felt alive when around the man. Warning bells were sounding in his mind at this. The only other time he'd felt like that was either at the helm of the ship or when he was in Elizabeth Swann's company.

And James winced, as he realized he was placing Jack Sparrow, yet again, on a par with Miss Swann. Ridiculous. Absurd; as if Sparrow were any form of consolation prize that could equal the value of Elizabeth to him, personally.

He'd been willing to do anything to make Elizabeth happy, even up to letting her go to the man she truly loved. Even if that man was a blacksmith. What was so wrong with wanting the consolation of this chase and capture? This pursuit and satisfaction of having caught the pirate?

James swallowed, hard, realizing he was sweating. He couldn't catch his breath in the stillness of the room. He needed air, and glanced at the closed door.

The game was no longer made up of black and white rules though, and he himself was caught in the play without knowing anymore just where he stood, or what he was supposed to do. What was right or wrong wasn't so easily determined.

Following his heart so far had led him to lose it, with no chance of his love being returned. He was not taking it out on Sparrow, he was attempting to leave his heart behind altogether.

That caused as much of a warning in him as realizing he was finally on the verge of using the law for his own personal ends.

James realized he was well on his way to becoming no better than Jack Sparrow. Well, perhaps he might benefit after all, from seeking resolution through conversing with the pirate. It might yet yield some truths he could not grasp alone.

Shuttering away the fear he felt at confronting Sparrow, he went and pulled on his coat and hat, and opened the door. As he left the cabin, he could see the first fingers of dawn on the horizon, barely discernable trails of light that heralded where the sun would be some hours hence.

As he went below, he noticed those on watch were subdued and quiet. Making his way down to the brig, very few of the men were awake, slumbering in their hammocks and the few sentries on duty saluted him in silence.

The guard outside Sparrow's cell stood up swiftly and saluted him, now. "Sir."

James regarded the unmoving form of the pirate. "How is he?"

"Hasn't moved, Sir. He's been asleep all this time. We thought the blighter's injury would bother 'im, but then, the doctor said he's going to sleep for a long while. And so 'e has."

Jack Sparrow was lying on his back, his head and upper part of his body resting on a folded blanket, particularly where his injured shoulder was. But he opened an eye at their voices, and regarded James with an inscrutable expression.

"I wish to speak with the prisoner alone. I'll let you know when I'm through," James stated to the soldier, who nodded.

"Aye, Sir."

As the guard left, Sparrow brought himself upright into a sitting position, leaning back against the wood of the hull with a wince at his shoulder. He leaned his head back and regarded James with an almost offensive smirk.

"Well, well, well. So you've decided to grace me with a visit after all. Thought maybe you'd forgotten I was down here."

Regarding Sparrow's dark eyes and knowing leer with a renewed sense of wariness, James realized that this was no caged bird before him, but a trapped cat. A large one, with considerable stamina, strength and speed. Sharp claws. And entirely untrustworthy. He felt, in fact, as though he were facing an exotic animal, one that already proven itself to be more than a threat. A danger.

"I find it passes understanding," James observed, "why you would risk returning to the treasure when you knew very well that it might cost you everything you'd already gained."

The pirate gave him a curious frown. "Doesn't explain why you'd bother putting me in here again, yourself."

"You left me little choice. So far, you've proven yourself to be a pain in the neck," James informed him, smiling coolly.

His hand went to the bandage around his neck where Sparrow's blade had wounded him. The cut he'd sustained had needed stitches. He wondered briefly how many stitches Sparrow's shoulder had required.

"Glad I could oblige," Sparrow informed him, with as much inflection as James had awarded. That was to say, not much. But the pirate's gaze now spoke far more eloquently.

James found himself growing discomfited under it.

Sparrow looked almost accusingly at him, as though it was quite obvious to him why he'd been incarcerated once more.

James found himself hard-pressed to answer to even himself if he was merely suffering from a guilty conscience and projecting it on the pirate. Or whether Sparrow had any real idea of why he was there now, and not simply dead back there on the Isle de Muerte.

Unable to grasp why it should make any difference to him what Sparrow thought of his actions, and in an attempt to save his dignity and not be seen as gloating at having caught the man, James commented, "A little gratitude wouldn't go amiss. You have your life, after all. I would be well within my rights to simply have you executed here, aboard this ship. You are, after all, a convicted criminal and a fugitive."

Sparrow stared back at him without much reaction. He brought up his knee and rested his right hand upon it, saying with a casual flick of his fingers, "So why haven't you? What are you waiting for?"

Slowly, carefully, James replied, "Because I'm not of the opinion that you deserve to die, regardless of what the law states. Which is quite clear where piracy is concerned."

Sparrow gave him a feral grin. "To be sure, but that doesn't quite explain your taking such an interest in my welfare, now does it?"

James sighed. "How quickly you forget, Mr. Sparrow. You became my responsibility when I let you go. It was your decision to return to the treasure that led to this. If I were you, I'd stay away from that Isle in the future. It doesn't seem to bring you much luck."

But Sparrow was frowning at him as if in confusion. "It's *not* your intention then, to see me to the gallows?"

James looked down. He'd already decided that it was the last thing he intended, but he could hardly explain it to himself to any degree of satisfaction, let alone to the pirate. Placing his hands behind his back, he straightened, and met Sparrow's gaze evenly.

"No," he answered. "Although what I will do with you remains to be seen. I can't simply let you go."

"Ah, I see," Sparrow said, nodding. And raised his brows at him. "Commuted to a life sentence, then?" He sounded almost hopeful.

James began to feel even more uncomfortable. He wondered what about this whole scene was becoming more obvious, when he couldn't ascertain what his own motives were anymore. "For now," he replied, curtly. "You had your ship, and your freedom. You could have traveled anywhere, yet you chose to return to the treasure. Why?"

Sparrow regarded him and blinked with some surprise. "You've got to be kidding, mate. Did you not see it, lying there? All the gold? It's a bloody fortune, a hundred times over."

"You hardly had plans for retirement," James returned, sharply.

Sparrow's unevenly gold grin was possessing of too much amusement under his circumstances. "There is that," he agreed. "What would you have done, in my shoes?" He glanced down at his feet. "Boots, rather?" he corrected. "Or are you suggesting that the reason you went there yourself directly was to catch me and my Pearl? In which case, why'd you bother letting me go in the first place, 'ey mate?" Sparrow's accompanying sly look at him with this was almost a wink, and very distracting.

James found he was flushing in spite of himself. Why, indeed? He looked down again and replied, awkwardly, "You didn't deserve to die. I still believe that."

Sparrow was watching him closely now. "I see. And being a pirate, I can't be allowed to go wandering around, helping meself to gold that's doing no one any good sitting on an island no one else can find. So you've picked me out a nice cozy cell back in your little fort, where you'll keep me locked up until I waste away from boredom. Is that it?" Sparrow's sarcasm helped the truth in what he'd stated to bite deeply.

Angrily, James retorted, "It is your decision to remain a pirate. You can hardly blame anyone but yourself for the consequences."

Sparrow was laughing quietly. "It would seem I'm at your disposal, Commodore." The knowing tone in which Sparrow delivered this did not help James's fraying composure.

Leaning forward to grasp the bars, James replied, "Can you honestly suggest an alternative?"

"Do you honestly want me to?" Sparrow threw back at him, instantly, with a smile.

"I would have thought," James stated dryly, "that your sense of self-preservation would encourage you to at least try to offer a reasonable alternative to imprisonment or death, yes."

Sparrow lifted his hand and regarded his nails. "You could always let me go. You did once before."

James stood back from the cell once more and shook his head. "It's no good, Mr. Sparrow. Unless you and your ship are gone from the Caribbean, it is still my responsibility to see you brought in. There is only so far I can stretch the limitations of the law on your behalf." And he added in an undertone, "Although why I should bother at this point is quite beyond me."

"An ultimatum then," Sparrow suggested. "A deal. You let me go, and I take the Pearl and her current takings and take meself away altogether, thus assuring there won't be any more of these unpleasant encounters with yourself and your Dauntless."

Grimly, James said, "You're a pirate. Even if I agreed upon this with you, how could I take you at your word? Particularly considering your inability to resist the temptation of all that gold?"

Sparrow frowned at him. "And just what is that gold to you?"

James replied, "I would have thought that would be patently obvious. It belongs to whomever it was stolen from in the first place. It's my duty to see it returned to them."

Sparrow looked down briefly, then lifted his eyes to meet James's again. Unnerving, as always, those eyes. Why'd the man have to outline them so darkly? James had to suppress the urge to ask.

"Is it now? So why'd you let go the Pearl? You could have made chase."

James gave him a humorless smile. "You know as well as I there's no contest. Your ship's the faster one."

Sparrow gave him a filthy look. "You had me aboard, mate. They would've stopped for parley."

James frowned. "Parley?"

"Talk," Sparrow reiterated, and waved his hand about. "You know; truce. Negotiation. Your idiotic little officer seemed to think that blasting my Pearl with your cannons was the most effective form of communication."

"Your ship fired first," James pointed out.

"Hardly the point," Sparrow said.

"I think it is," James insisted.

Sparrow looked away, not deigning to reply.

"Our ships and our crews may not have been able to resist clashing, but then, you were the one who suggested our duel in the first place," James said. "Rather a violent confrontation for someone claiming there are better ways of negotiating."

Sparrow lifted his finger and lazily shook it at him while speaking slowly, as if thinking aloud. "Why's it so important to you, anyway, whether I sail my ship in these parts or not? So long as I leave the English settlements alone?"

"I do not, and cannot, condone piracy," James stated, dryly. "I will not. The only reason I let you go was because you were, as Miss Swann and Mr. Turner insisted, a good man."

Sparrow smiled genuinely at mention of them. "A lovely couple, aren't they?" His smile fled swiftly, and he quickly said, "Although, I'm sure it won't last. She'd have been much better off with you, mate."

"As you always take the time to tell me," James sighed. And he experienced a surge of anger and resentment towards Jack Sparrow for this. After all, he knew it was only an attempt on the pirate's part to make him believe that Sparrow understood what he'd been going through. How he'd felt to lose Elizabeth. To face rejection, and a broken heart…publicly. James swallowed and blinked, wondering suddenly at the horrid notion that of all the people who knew him, this pirate was the only man who offered much sympathy for his loss…and it wasn't even genuine.

Well, to be fair, Governor Swann seemed less than happy at losing a commodore of the fleet for a son-in-law, and having to make do with a blacksmith instead -

"Seems to me," Sparrow drawled, "that you're experiencing a little bit of a quandary, what with having to admit that I'm a good man, while claiming I deserve to rot in jail for the rest of me life for bein' a pirate. Can't you make up your mind?"

This brought James back to himself with a jolt, realizing he was standing and discussing the man's future and the very real consequences of keeping him prisoner. And with Sparrow watching him sharply, waiting for his response, James abruptly wondered at the wisdom of discussing anything with him. So far all he'd gained was an understanding that he still lacked any momentum on what to do with Sparrow, and that he had no idea how to proceed, seeing as he couldn't even trust Sparrow to leave the Caribbean at all, should he let him loose.

Meeting Sparrow's eye, James knew in this moment that it was partly a fascination with the pirate, not just the satisfaction and triumph in having caught him, but in keeping him there. In this very cell. A prize. A wild pet. He could nearly feel the accusation in Sparrow's gaze and he finally had to look away.

Sparrow's eyes narrowed and he gingerly climbed to his feet, favoring his shoulder. Moving closer to the front of the cell, he leaned against the bars, ignoring the step backwards that James took. "Tell me something, Commodore," he began. He tilted his head, regarding him askance. "If I gave you my word that I'd quit these waters and never return; take me ship and never again trespass in the New World, would you accept it?"

Helplessly, and feeling more than a little placed on the spot, James replied with a shake of his head, "I can't. Even a gentleman's agreement…you're a pirate. I cannot trust your word."

With a raise of his brows, Sparrow added, "Even if we put it in writing? You'd still refuse an accord with me?"

James pressed his lips together. "I cannot, Mr. Sparrow. You know very well why not."

Sparrow nodded. "I see. So you don't believe me to be a good man, then?"

James straightened. "Only so far as you don't deserve to die. But you are still a pirate."

Sparrow grinned at him. "Let me see if I understand you correctly, mate; you're confusing me with all this. You won't take me at my word, because I'm a pirate and cannot therefore be trusted, yet you also say I'm a good man who doesn't deserve to die for being a pirate. Pirate though I am…and all the while, if I were to say I'd give up bein' a pirate, you wouldn't be able to believe me, because my word is not to be trusted?"

James smiled and gave a silent chuff of laughter, looking down. "Yes, I see your point."

Sparrow was silent for a few moments, then suggested cheerfully, "It's quite simple then, really. They don't have to be mutually exclusive of each other. All you have to do is admit that you believe me, a pirate, to also be a good man, and therefore to be trusted as far as holding to a gentleman's agreement. Doesn't have to extend any further than that, really. Just enough to allow your guilty conscience enough respite until I can sail my ship out of your jurisdiction. What do you say to that?"

"I would say yes, except that there's one problem," James replied, looking down at him, realizing it for the final time. And beyond any doubt now, as well. "I cannot afford to let you go. Not again."

At Sparrow's look of non-understanding, James continued, "You see, Mr. Sparrow, I've decided that you're my responsibility, and if I let you go and you do not hold to our agreement, I will be the one held accountable. I've already taken a dire chance on you, when I let you go last week. A chance which you so quickly squandered in returning to the Isle of Dead, as I suspected you would."

Sparrow said, sharply, "An' whoever decided you had no choice but to follow me there, 'ey?"

"Granted," James nodded, "although you were also well-aware I'd have no choice but to follow my reasoning, seeing as I'm duty-bound to see to it that the law is upheld. We both knew you'd return there, to take treasure that does not belong to you. I would be twice the fool if I let you go agai n, only to release you to seek another shipload and make off with it, leaving me to be the laughing-stock of my peers. I already have enough to answer for, not to mention the personal losses I've suffered of late," James added, bitterly.

Sparrow stared at him with an expression of growing understanding. Slowly, and with a note of near incredulity, the pirate asked, "You *want* to keep me prisoner?"

To hear it so baldly uttered from the man himself, and aloud, caused a swift jolt of guilt to stab within him. James wondered if he'd compromised himself somehow. It had been a very bad idea in the end, coming down here to talk to the pirate. And as he swallowed, for once not really having any able answer to that one, Sparrow gave him a considering look, his eyes roving down James's form, and then back up to meet his gaze again.

"So you *can* let me go, but you won't. Sounds like you're making it personal, Commodore." Sparrow's eyes were now as unrelenting as his words.

This had been such a very unwise decision, James decided. He never should have come down here in the first place. Firmly, he ignored the heat that rose to his face and replied, "Neither can I let you die."

"Actually, you could," Sparrow put in. "But you won't. You don't want to. Why?" As James stared back at him, completely unable to answer, because he really didn't know, Sparrow frustratedly waved a hand. "I mean, why not? Why keep me alive? To soothe some part of your guilt at secretly wanting to see me dead?"

James let out a breath. "For God's sake, I don't *want* to see you dead. Why do you keep insisting that I do? I've said repeatedly that I do not."

"And why is that? Because I'm 'a good man'?" Sparrow smiled at him, a little more winsomely than his situation would appear to warrant, particularly given James's temper was close to breaking at this point.

James was angry, but whether he was angrier at Sparrow than at himself, he didn't know.

Stiffly, James answered, "Yes, damn it. Because you are a good man. I told you, you don't deserve to die for that."

The pirate looked him up and down again, the very nerve of it forcing James to clench his teeth in annoyance.

"Apparently I don't deserve to be free either."

"Indeed," James agreed, heartily.

"And yet," Sparrow said, lifting a finger, "you won't tell me why you care one way or the other."

"I do have a sense of what is right; perhaps more than you do, Mr. Sparrow," James retorted.

"Ah yes," Sparrow agreed. "Your fine and high morals. Which appear to include the belief that you have every right to want to keep me imprisoned. Well," he said, looking down, holding the bars, "I do hope you'll come down to visit occasionally. It's likely to be a very tedious and lonely time of it for me, I expect."

James didn't bother to attempt to respond to that. It was too obvious a ploy to act as though he was being unnecessarily cruel, when they were both well aware that the pirate was lucky enough just to be alive even now.

Sparrow muttered, "Don't suppose you could spare a bit rum, mate? This shoulder of mine is protesting, and you're doing me head in."

With a hard edge to his voice, James said, "I'll have the guard bring you a drink."

He turned away, and was nearly out of sight of the cell when Sparrow called out, "Commodore…"

With a sigh, he turned back to face him, waiting.

With that familiar pleading expression, Sparrow had the temerity to ask, "Would you at least allow me visitors? Or are dear Will and Lizbeth not to know I'm being held, 'ey?"

At this reminder of the two friends who'd stood with Sparrow against him, James bit back an angry retort and merely turned away once more, this time stalking angrily to the ladder. Sparrow knew very well that he couldn't afford to let either of them know he had Sparrow captive - at least for a while. They'd be a major nuisance about it. No doubt Miss Swann would immediately begin working on her father. Although at this point, he seriously doubted that Governor Swann had much patience left for his daughter's fancies regarding pirates.

He shortly ordered the guard to ensure that their prisoner had a bottle of rum for his shoulder injury, and then made his way back to his cabin, finally shutting himself away with relief. The dawn was nearing in the sky. He'd had no sleep and was entirely too out of sorts to even attempt to catch any.

Bitterly, he took out his own bottle of brandy and poured a measure into a glass. As he allowed the fiery liquid to icily burn away some of the ire and awkward insecurity he felt in the aftermath of the dreadful conversation with the pirate captain, James went to sit down at his desk, glass in hand.

The entire matter felt as though it were careening out of control, although he knew that, in actual fact, nothing had changed. In fact, it would appear that nothing whatsoever had been resolved, except that he'd managed to disgrace himself somewhat by rising to the pirate's baiting, and had even allowed the man too great a measure of control during their entire exchange.

And he still had no idea how to resolve the situation. Even if he'd been able to live with the knowledge that he was keeping the man imprisoned for personal reasons of his own, it was now complicated and made nearly impossible by virtue of the pirate knowing now just exactly that: Sparrow was his prisoner because James wanted him to be. And he could not give a satisfactory answer as to why, even to himself. He suspected though that Sparrow was already busily working out some subtle, finer points with which to worry him if he should succumb to the wish to speak with him again.

With another dour sip of his brandy, James considered leaving Sparrow in the cell and forgetting about him. It would be the easiest, after all. But he knew his conscience wouldn't let him forget, that was the damning part of this whole mess. Because to his utter shame, James realized that he enjoyed matching wits with the man. He was more than a pirate; Jack Sparrow was smart, and not just in a criminally shrewd fashion - he had real intelligence. What was the word he used…savvy. Yes, Jack was savvy. As apt as the analogy was, he couldn't say that the pirate was merely a caged animal. He was a man, for all that he was a pirate, and a good one. That was the source of the guilt he felt now.

James sighed, watching the lamp as it began to go out, but the morning light from the windows was enough to fill his cabin with a blue, watery illumination.

He winced, tenderly rubbing at the dressing on his neck wound. Pain in the neck, indeed.

There was a disturbing awareness too, that he'd been unable to hold in abeyance down in the brig, confronting Sparrow; an awareness of a predatory response that he felt rise from within him. If Sparrow could be likened to a caged cat, then he was a free one. He'd felt it when they'd crossed swords in the cave. He'd felt it when Sparrow had backed away and managed to fall off the high wall into the water below. He'd felt it during their conversation below.

James realized he'd finally met his match; a pirate who represented a challenge that was not so much an adversary as an equal, a worthy opponent. And he wondered at the grim disappointment that such a man could not be an ally, or even…friend.

James's breath caught in his throat and he had to take another sip of brandy at this. A hollow sort of victory it felt now, because he realized he had no close friends, and had never had the acquaintance of anyone he might have considered striking a friendship with on that level. On his own level, he amended.

Strange to find that the only potential kindred spirit he'd ever known would be a pirate. Worse, it was an irony. And an impossibility, seeing as he couldn't be friends with the man while he kept him imprisoned, nor could he be if the man were loose, rampaging about as a pirate.

In a nauseated moment of recognition, James discovered why he didn't want Sparrow to leave the Caribbean at all. Because he, James Norrington, had nothing else - not even the hope of a marriage to a good woman in the loss of Elizabeth Swann - and in lieu of being able to have any real friendship with anyone, would cling to the disappointment of the reality in their relationship of opposing sides.

James had to ask himself at this, which was more pitiful: Sparrow's inability to give up piracy, or his own inability to achieve a level of human relationship that wasn't governed entirely by military or legal structure. Not a wife, nor a friend, could he attain. That was more the pity, he thought. For Sparrow at least was true to himself.

Well, he, James Norrington, Commodore of the Royal Navy, had to remain true to himself also. Therefore Captain Jack Sparrow could look forward to remaining a guest of the prison at Fort Charles until he could decide what should become of the pirate.

It really was as simple as that.

Once he made up his mind about it, James found it was easier to dismiss Sparrow from his thoughts altogether.

Until he realized that he was merely postponing the inevitable conclusion: Sparrow was at his disposal, and the thrill it afforded him was far from impersonal. He was actually looking forward to simply enjoying knowing that the pirate was in the cell, awaiting an uncertain fate.

He wasn't sure he liked what this meant about him, and what he had become.

James finished the last of the brandy at the bottom of his glass with ill humor.



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