Pairing: Jack/Norrington, suggestion of the possibility of J/N/Will, Will/Elizabeth
Rating: PG-13 (language)
Summary: The price of Elizabeth's hand is to gain rank in the navy and become respectable--an easy price, thinks Will. But the sea is a different place to a soldier. A man's worth may be judged by the uniform he wears, but it's defined by the man underneath the uniform.
Disclaimer: Disney owns these characters and the setting in which they live. I don't.
Notes: This was originally meant to be a J/N/W story for DMP, but it's bloody hard to get Will's mind off of Elizabeth. However, it features plumed hats, a lack of rum, and Jack in a corset, as per requests. =)
Under the Uniform
The sea hadn't been the same since Will had joined Her Majesty's Navy.
It had been what Governor Swann wanted--a sort of bride-price for Elizabeth. Will would gain rank and respectability in the navy until he was a fit husband for a governor's daughter.
At first, Will had enjoyed the newly familiar rocking of the ship and the way the air smelled of salt. He had worn his hair tied back under a black tricorn and stood rigidly in his bright red coat and white trousers, a bayonet strapped to his back. He had shined his black boots every morning, because Will Turner was an eager lad who did nothing by halves. At first, Will had thrown himself into naval life as fully as a man could.
But it was a different sea that stretched blue from Port Royal to Tortuga.
The ship was a floating fortress, but the Interceptor had been a home on the water. The British soldiers didn't sit on deck bare-chested, swapping stories of lush ports while their laundry hung over the decks. They looked over the sea as a legion of peacekeepers intent on subduing the unruly waves.
Jack would have thrown back his head and laughed at the notion of a man--of hundreds of men!--keeping the sea in line.
Under Commodore Norrington's command, the warship pursued pirates across the waves. The decks would be crowded with prisoners and the hold filled with the spoils of war, and the pirates' lives would be offered with the gold in tribute to the Crown.
Norrington had taken Will under his wing, perhaps to scour out everything that was not fit for Elizabeth and perhaps out of a desperate need for companionship.
Perhaps he saw a pirate sitting across from him with a fan of cards to hide his face. Perhaps he knew that Will did not belong in that aching red coat.
Perhaps he even saw baubles braided into Will's hair, and a rakish grin twisting the boy's face.
"It doesn't 'urt!" screeched the harridan lacing the corset. "Quiet yer yelpin'!"
"Women have the ribs for corsets!" hissed Jack Sparrow, chest rising as he inhaled sharply. "Stop!"
The woman chuckled as she yanked at the ties. "Don't want to be caught by Master Norrin'ton, boy? Then quiet--" she put a foot against his back and pulled "--yer yelpin'."
She tied off the corset and Jack threw on the petticoats and overdress. He tucked his voluminous hair into an equally voluminous hat, which was festooned with ostrich feathers.
"The things I do to make it interestin'," he muttered, rubbing his smooth chin as he clambered stiffly out the window.
Will's heart sunk as he saw the ship with the black sails. It was still a fearsome vessel, but empty and docked, it looked helpless.
"Are we going to take that ship?" he asked the man standing next to him, and the soldier chuckled.
"Take Captain Jack Sparrow's ship? Rich, Turner, right rich." Will studied him in confusion, but the man only laughed more. "We've come across the Black Pearl eight times since I started sailing with Norrington. Old-fashioned seaman, he is."
The raucous laughter was beginning to grind at Will. "I don't see what you mean."
"You're the one goes to his cabin more nights than not. You tell me what I mean."
He would get no more out of the soldier, and he did not press the issue.
Besides, he had an eerie feeling that he was the subject of that laughter.
It would have gone very hard indeed for Jack if he had gone straight back to his ship. Fortunately, he knew this. There were British soldiers canvassing the port town, and he paid them as much mind as was fitting. And flapped his fan for all he was worth.
There would be a grand chase later, but he preferred that it be later.
He passed his eyes across the crowd, searching for red coats and the flash of bayonet tips in the sun. Best to avoid those if he could. Sure enough, as he watched the crowd, there was a redcoat heading in his direction. He turned nonchalantly and walked down the street . . .
. . . Never expecting the hand that clapped on his shoulder and the incredulous whisper of "Jack Sparrow?"
There was nothing for it. He hiked up his skirts and ran.
Bloody British navy! Knew a man's face so well that they'd overlook a dress and a damn silly hat! He threw off the hat as he ran, gasping for breath and fumbling at his side for a knife that was under the skirt, hanging from his belt.
Knife! He slit the dress down the front, taking the corset with it, and ran.
Will Turner stared at Jack's retreating back and watched a cloud of skirts and petticoats fall away from the man, leaving him clad only in trousers.
But he'd gotten used to chasing pirates in the past year and a half. No sense in breaking a good habit.
"Dressed as a what?" Norrington asked, and Jack shrugged affably, spreading his arms. He retrieved his effects from around the room and cinched his belt. "What in the name of God possessed you to do that?"
"I'm Captain Jack Sparrow." He rummaged under the bed, but came out with nothing. "If I knew it was Will chasing me, I'd have been less creative."
"He mentioned the chicken coop very prominently, I remember."
Jack laughed. "That was a good one!" Fully geared, he stood. "Rum before you capture me?"
"No. No rum, Jack."
"Brandy?" He held out his wrists.
The commodore took the chains from his belt and shackled the pirate.
"Wine, then? Just a sip of wine?"
"No wine, either."
The sight of Jack Sparrow being led through the hostel's common room in chains turned quite a few heads. The patrons whispered at each other, nudging their neighbors and laughing.
"Beer?" He looked longingly at the bar. "I'd take ale, too--I'm not choosy."
"No beer, no ale."
The barkeep nodded importantly to a wench who was filling tankards, and she laughed. "Captain's got hisself captured by the navy again," he explained, pointing to the pair of them as the commodore pushed open the door and led the pirate through it.
"Set a record time for a chase, then--over a year," she giggled. "Didn't think they could keep their hands off each other more than a month."
"What's an old-fashioned seaman?" Will asked the barkeep at the Brass Ring. The man looked at him guardedly.
"Some sailors got superstitions about the sea," he answered, passing the soldier some weak ale. No sense having a drunken man with a bayonet loose in town--the pirates were bad enough when they paid call.
"What kind of superstitions?" Will pressed.
"Ye've heard some of them, I wager, bein' a naval man. 'Red sky at mornin', sailor take warnin'; red sky at night, sailor's delight.' Bad luck havin' a woman aboard. Old stories, lad. Ye know old-fashioned seamen, I wager." He set to polishing glasses.
Will nodded. "Someone said the commodore was an old-fashioned seaman . . . I suppose he's superstitious, then." The barkeep bawled a laugh that made the other men in the tavern look up.
"Yer commodore's a different kind, lad. Bad luck havin' a woman aboard, yeh, an' a long trip ahead of ye. That's yer commodore's kind." He wiped his streaming eyes on the dishrag. "Ye'd do well to watch for him--been a long time since he caught that Jack Sparrow, an' yer a young lad."
There was a knock at the commodore's cabin door. "Come in," he called, tugging at a boot.
Will entered and stood stiffly.
Jack peered over his shoulder. "No alcohol on this ship, then?" he asked, shouldering past, sitting at the small writing desk tucked into the corner, and putting his feet up on the blotter.
"None, I'm afraid," said Norrington, and he removed his other boot.
Will looked from one to the other, trying to fathom what the hell was going on there. "Are you playing some game, then?" he asked the commodore. "Playing at being a soldier chasing pirates?"
"He does chase pirates," Jack piped up as he poked around in the desk drawers. "And hangs 'em, too."
Always a pleasure to see a familiar face, Will--tell old Norrington where I'm staying, all right?
"This isn't a game. It's an indulgence," Norrington explained. "You hunt pirates because it takes you a step closer to your lady--for me, it's a career. You'll take off the uniform one day, and be the happier for it."
"I've heard that you take off your uniform, too, Commodore Norrington," he said levelly, and Jack grinned. He'd found a pipe in one of the drawers, and was looking for the tobacco to fill it.
"Has to start somewhere," muttered the pirate, shooting a look at the man engaged in removing his stockings.
"And . . . and the men treat it like a joke." It was absurd that the commodore seemed so comfortable--he was at his ease with a pirate smoking in one corner and a subordinate calling him out in another.
"Better than as an outrage, I suppose." He took off the hat and hung it on a peg, and put his white wig on another. The change seemed to take years off of him. He stood, barefoot and dressed only in a linen shirt and breeches. "The men can just be men when we put into port. They can drink and have prostitutes and carouse in the streets. They can put off their uniforms and take a break from soldiering."
"Take off that bloody red coat, Will," Jack suggested. He tipped back his chair and pivoted on one of its legs. "Put off soldiering, and I'll put off plundering and pillaging for a spell."
That was how the other soldiers survived the rigidity--that was how they made their peace with the sea. They could throw it all off and be just men for long enough to reclaim their humanity, and go back fully refreshed. They could see the ocean for a funny old world for all the time it took to reconcile themselves to making it less funny.
"And the hat, too." Will hadn't realized that he'd followed the first order, but he dropped his hat onto the crumpled coat on the floor.
Jack put his effects on the floor as well, and yanked off his boots. He smiled--take away the clothes, and his wild gypsy hair and gold teeth still named him pirate.
As three men, they stood in the cramped captain's cabin and looked at each other.
Will suddenly laughed. "Nice hat you had this morning, Jack. It suited you."
Jack bowed. "I'm pretty, lad--don't mistake me." Norrington shook his head.
"I can't believe I missed that. You'd make a hideous woman, Jack." His voice was mocking, but his eyes were warm.
Jack sniffed theatrically and crossed to Will, taking the younger man's arm. "Someone thinks I'm pretty." He pushed Will away to make a farce of it, but kissed his cheek.
"I have to go back to Elizabeth, Jack." He leaned against the wall. "I'm here so that I can prove I'm deserving of her."
"Lad . . . you deserve her more than anyone else." He exchanged a glance with Norrington, who nodded. "It's a sham, you being here."
"And you won't be here much longer. You've got a promotion in the works, Turner, and only the paperwork stands between you and Elizabeth."
Reality was filling his already crowded mind. "But . . . but after I have Elizabeth, I'll still be tied to the navy. My rank will only hold while I'm here--even when I'm stationed, I'll still be a soldier." A bleak future spread before him, with only Elizabeth to brighten it.
"Aye," Jack answered. "Until you leave off soldiering. Go back to being a blacksmith, or back to piracy, or somewhere else. But whatever you call yourself, it does you good to know you're a man underneath."
He managed a smile. "You were a hideous woman."
"Don't change the subject! I'm imparting wisdom!" Jack flung himself onto the bed, leaning back with his arms crossed behind his head and his eyes closed. He muttered a little to himself; it might have been a song or complaints.
Will sat on Jack's right side and Norrington on his left. They looked each other over in silence.
"You've imparted it. Well done. For right now, I'm just a man." He touched a dark plait, still looking at Norrington as though asking permission.
"Remember that when you've married Elizabeth, Will. You might have to be a soldier--"
"But whenever you take off the uniform, you're a man like the rest of us." Jack cracked open an eye and swatted Will's hand away. He touched Norrington's arm. "Lie down and surrender, then. I've got an ally now."
"Are you sure I'm your ally?" Will asked, and Norrington gave him a smile.
Beneath a uniform, beneath all the things a man called himself, he was just a man. Pirate, soldier, old-fashioned seaman or betrothed of the daughter of the governor of Port Royal--just a man underneath.
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