Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction, written purely for fun.

Author's Notes:This series is set two months after Jack Sparrow's "fall" off the battlements of the fort in Port Royal. While Elizabeth Swann and William Turner prepare for wedded bliss, James L. Norrington has come to terms with his unrequited affection for Miss Swann, unfortunately, he cannot come to terms with the extreme boredom that is like a second skin these days. I'd like to thank my wonderful beta reader Theresa Green, and, of course, firesignwriter, L.M. Griffin, and webcrowmancer, whose characterization of Norrington I have shamefully hijacked. And lizzie_omalley, truly my partner in crime in these rather delicious waters. veronica_rich and gryphons_lair deserve special thanks for the wonderful beta on these last two chapters. I owe these two an enormous amount for not letting me drift out of this fandom without finishing what was my first major piece of fanfiction. Thank you both.

After I wrote the last bit of Match, I held off writing the last and final chapters, hoping to leap off of the canon established by the release of the second movie. Well, shoot, that was a stupid idea. I disliked Dead Man's Chest intensely. I disagreed with many things, but most of all I disagreed with what they did to the character of James Norrington. It was, to my mind, nothing short of a character assassination. James Norrington would sooner become a drunken sot that Jack Sparrow would become a Carmelite nun. Funnily enough, I didn't mind so much when he was killed off in the third movie because they had, at the end, restored his dignity. This is a cornerstone of James' character and to see it trampled on and ignored during the course of the second movie pretty much enraged me. I was so disgruntled by the last two movies that I lost heart in finishing this. While Jack Sparrow amuses me and Will Turner makes my heart go pitty-pat, it is the character of James Norrington who reduces me a teary-eyed mess. He is the fellow who never gets the girl, no matter how noble he is. He is the character that puts duty first. He is the character that tries to hide his rather soft heart behind a wig and a uniform. And he is the character that I love the most in Curse of the Black Pearl.




Game

The first letter arrived two months to the day Jack Sparrow tumbled off the ledge of my fort into the water and once more to freedom. I sat at my desk, nearly drowning from a surfeit of paperwork. My almost phenomenal efficiency at such tasks has led everyone to assume that I find this part of my job as satisfying as standing on the helm of a ship. They are wrong. Some days all I want to do is set a match to that parchment. I dream of a conflagration that consumes my office, reducing my hated desk to cinder, its ashes floating over the harbor of Port Royal. As always, however, my almost religious sense of duty prevails. Tamping down the screams of frustration and boredom like the dutiful son of His Majesty's Finest that I am, I slog through whatever stacks of parchment that have found their unfortunate way to my desk. Day after day of endless paperwork, unless by some miracle there is report of pirates in these waters. Then I rally my crew and the hunt is on. This is the only reprieve I get.

Today, unfortunately, no reports of pirates. The pungent scent of salt wafts in through my windows, calling to me, reminding me that I haven't been out in over a week. The wind was up and it would be a fine day for a sail. Just a couple of hours on the ocean would be enough to dispel this foul humor I've been in all week. My lieutenant, Mr. Gillette, all but begged me to go out with them as they made an inspection of the coves and inlets surrounding greater Port Royal. No doubt this request was a desperate move on Gillette's part to put an end to this most evil of moods that has plagued me. While acknowledging the wisdom of such a request, the mountains of paperwork and my weekly luncheon engagement, the only bright spot in the entire day, demanded I decline.

Even as my quill scritch-scratched across the parchment, I could hear the yells of the men as they called to each other, the slapping of the sails, the clanging of the rigging as the ship prepared to set sail. The sounds of a ship preparing to weigh anchor always moves the deepest part of my soul. Every time. "Dammit to hell," I cursed, as the ship glided out of the harbor without me. Tearing off my wig and throwing it across the room in a pointless display of irritation, I watched the Dauntless's sails billow as she leaned over in response to the wind's nudge, with all the elegance of a young woman bowing to her dancing partner. I followed the last bit of sail as it rounded the corner of the island before I picked up my quill again.

I spent the morning scrutinizing fraudulent requisitions that required writing stern warnings informing said providers of victuals and supplies to the His Majesty's Royal Navy that unless amended requisitions appeared on my desk within the morrow, I would make a personal visit to ascertain that these charges were, in fact, valid. My reputation as a fair, but hard man is legendary, and it is with no small satisfaction that I know that every questionable requisition will be amended. It is an unusual man who doesn't cave under the flinty and unforgiving (my nickname is No-Quarter Norrington) scrutiny of James L. Norrington. It did beg the question why they continued this charade, but I'd come to accept this as part of the game. Unfortunately, it also meant all these tedious requisitions would once more make their appearance on my desk.

The harsh Caribbean sun beat a tattoo on the back of my shoulders warning me that it was nearly time for lunch. I was to dine at the Governor's mansion. Every Tuesday without fail I'd dined there before Elizabeth's unfortunate engagement, and I saw no reason to cease now if only because I had no intention of acting the lovesick fool for the gossiping matrons of Port Royal.

To my chagrin, it was no secret that I had asked for Elizabeth Swann's hand in marriage, had been accepted only as payment for rescuing William Turner, with whom she was in love, and then my own honor demanded that I release her from this absurd promise because how could I possibly wed a woman who was in love with another man? Port Royal knew this history backwards and forwards, no less than five minutes after Jack Sparrow's arse hit the water and had escaped for yet the umpteenth time. Indeed, his escape and our little triangle combined to provide society with the scandal of the decade. With the precision of a military strike, Elizabeth, William Turner, and I embarked on a tacit agreement to act as if none of this had happened. Elizabeth's engagement to Mr. Turner was announced, I dine at the Governor's mansion on a frequent basis, and to all intents and purposes, Elizabeth, William Turner, and I are excellent friends.

This is a double-edged sword. My apparent nonchalance about Elizabeth's pending marriage silenced the gossips but had the unfortunate result of making me suitable marriage fodder. Invitations began and continue to flow in by the dozens. Dinners, cotillions on behalf of young women coming out, teas, and even the occasional boating party. As part of my promotion I am obligated to accept all invitations with good grace. So I smile, smirk, pass off bon mots, and dance (I am an excellent dancer), the whole time a corner of my mind wondering whether a man can die of boredom. The young women are boring, their mothers are boring, their fathers and brothers boring. In fact, I find most everything boring these days except for the sea and Miss Swann, who unfortunately found me boring compared to the dashing Mr. Turner. Only in the darkest hours of the night do I question whether there might never be a one to replace her in my affection and esteem, effectively making boredom the watchword for the rest of my life.

Fortunately, events at the Governor's mansion are always the exception to the rule. The food is excellent, the wine superb, the cigars, ah, the cigars. The Governor is a learned man, with a quiet wit he hides from most people. Unfortunately, his daughter has inherited this wit, which made the loss of her all the greater. She has beauty, intelligence, and wit. Mr. Turner is a lucky man. And to my double horror, I've found myself actually beginning to like the lad. Our recent adventures with the Black Pearl and a number of luncheons have convinced me that Mr. Turner is actually worthy of Elizabeth's regard. Dammit to hell. I sighed, signed yet another letter, and moved on the next mundane task. But that sigh turned into a small smile. I was nearly at the end, one more letter.

This was personal. Blast, another invitation. How many of these could I endure without going barking mad? I turned it over, no return address, no stamp, no seal, the paper merely folded in three. I didn't recognize the handwriting. Surely there wasn't yet another matron with a daughter in need of a husband? With my luck, she probably had a whole fleet of daughters, all desperate for marriage. Perhaps I might not open it, perhaps it was for this evening, and I'd plead, well, indigestion. The cook at the Governor's mansion would forgive me.

Looking at the inscription again, I frowned. It wasn't addressed to Commodore James L. Norrington, just James L. Norrington. Odd. Most people were more enamored with my new title than I was. In the currency of polite society, it was a feather in one's cap to issue invitations to a "commodore."

Studying the letter further, it didn't look like the hand of a woman, but it also didn't look like the hand of a man either. The hand that held that pen was firm, my name in bold letters filling the page, which declared this writer to be masculine, yet the very edge of the "L," the tips of the "N" were embellished with flourishes, little scrolls, suggesting that writer was female. Curious. I opened it and for the first time in a week wasn't bored in the least. On cream-colored parchment in big letters were the words, "Thanks, mate." No signature. I turned over the letter to double-check the return address. This was pure form because I had already ascertained there was no address. More to the point, I knew who wrote the letter. Jack Sparrow. Captain of the Black Pearl.




"Why aren't you out on the Dauntless for the reconnaissance, James? It's a fine day for a sail." Elizabeth Swann gestured toward the harbor. "You've been cooped up in that dreadful office for at least a week. Surely, you could assign clerks to do most of your paperwork. Your temper over the last few days has Port Royal all abuzz."

After yet another delicious luncheon repast at the Governor's table, we were taking our stroll around the garden. Another tradition that Elizabeth has decided is written in stone. I am glad. Aside from having the most beautiful woman in the entire Spanish Main on my arm, I have a rather secret passion for flowers. Every tabletop in my house overflows with any posy my housekeeper can get her hands on. For many months I'd harbored an elaborate fantasy (truly a fantasy as events have unfolded) about Elizabeth and me residing here in this house with her father after our marriage. I love this garden, its proximity to the ocean, its enviable position on the topmost hill in Port Royal with a command of the harbor. Yet another silly dream lay to waste. It seems that it will belong to me only on Tuesday afternoons. Elizabeth threads her arm through mine, with the nonchalance that only a woman whose heart lies elsewhere is capable of.

"I seem to have a gift for minutia," I said dryly in response to her query regarding clerks. "My humors are the talk of Port Royal, Miss Swann?" I tried to sound lighthearted, but my irritation must have shown through.

"Oh, please, James. Mr. Gillette has been practically sobbing in his ale every night at what a foul mood you've been in. And he's not the only one. Mr. Grant at The Tipsy Tar is doing quite a trade, what with numerous sailors under your command licking their wounds from your verbal barbs."

Elizabeth had no patience for the polite facade I'd shored up over the years, a bon mot at a time. I'd foolishly thought that this meant that she returned my regard, that she could see the man behind the uniform. I willfully mistook intelligence and perception for love.

"Oh, please, Miss Swann," I teased, making one last attempt to find safe harbor in silly polite banter. "Surely not every night."

Again, I ignored the use of my first name and did not repay her in kind. Ever since she'd become engaged to William Turner she'd began treating me like an older brother, a familiarity that both pleased and irritated me no end. I enjoyed immensely these little tête-á-têtes she cultivated and yet resented the hell out of her for them. On the one hand, I was grateful for the clear regard she felt for me and that she had no embarrassment vis-à-vis our brief, ill-fated engagement. On the other hand, it pained me that her affection for me would always be fraternal. Once my proposal of marriage was given and rejected clearly a sword of Damocles in her eyes—she'd had no compunction about actively seeking my friendship. Despite convincing myself most thoroughly that William Turner and Elizabeth Swann were destined for wedded bliss (one could never see them together without noticing their eyes constantly affixed to each other with a most becoming suppressed passion), it nevertheless still stung when her ease only confirmed this. I put it down to pure vanity on my part, not exactly the most enviable of personality traits. What else to name it but vanity—to desire something that you know is impossible?

"Oh, yes, Commodore," she mocked, with a rather sharp inflection on the "commodore," a rebuke to my pathetic attempt to keep our dialogue limited to meaningless claptrap. "Every night. Come sit on the bench with me." She uncurled her arm and with a graceful sweep of her skirts, sat down on the bench facing the sea. "We can watch the Dauntless come into the harbor while father and Will finish their game of chess. Will's new passion."

My spirit lightened. Perhaps Mr. Turner and I might engage in a few rounds. Chess happens to be a favorite of mine. Card games were currently all the rage, and while I am an excellent card player, chess is a natural game for a naval man. My patience and ability to strategize has in no small part played a large role in my success. Few men can claim the honor of making commodore by the age of thirty. Sadly, few men can play chess as well as I. But William Turner might be a formidable opponent. I had high hopes. He was intelligent, and I knew full well the unexpected bold nature that lurked beneath that polite exterior. Positioning myself next to Elizabeth, I inhaled the wind blowing in from the west. The brisk odor of salt and sea acted as a restorative. For the first time that day, I felt remotely human.

"I must learn to curb my tongue. Or perhaps not. If news of my ill temper reaches the good homes of Port Royal, my social obligations might drop off."

Still facing the ocean, Elizabeth noted dryly, "I'm afraid nothing will not stop the matrons of Port Royal in their rapacious quest to see you wed, James. You must realize that the very act of your drawing breath will be construed as a reason to end your unmarried state. You could be the happiest of men, the surliest of men, or the grumpiest…" I scowled. Surely, grumpy is a little too harsh. "In fact," and here a wisp of a laugh left her lips. "You could probably be a raving lunatic and as long as you were still a commodore, they would auction off their daughters without a second thought."

"True," I grimaced.

The Dauntless came into view. With a hand over my brow to shield it from the sun, I stood up to watch her perfect lines cleave through the water. She was beautiful, a ship any man would be proud to be captain of. I longed to be on her deck, feel the pull of the wheel as her rudder fought the current. Even though she was far away, I knew down to a man what every hand was doing. An army of sailors pulling ropes, bringing down the sails, preparing the anchor, a dance graceful as no other. Once she anchored, I sat down again.

"That's the first time I've seen you smile in two hours." Elizabeth swatted my arm with her fan. "Thank goodness my vanity is in good order or I'd be quite insulted."

I sighed. "It's the first time I've felt like smiling in at least a week. In fact, the last two months have been day after day of exquisite boredom, if you must know."

If she insists on treating me like a brother perhaps I will act like a brother. With every advancement I found myself with fewer and fewer opportunities for confidences. Now as commodore, I found myself with virtually none. I realized with a start that I was both bored and lonely. My recent promotion had left those under my immediate command, Gillette and Groves, somewhat at a loss. Over the years the three of us had become confidants and friends, both on and off shore. Unfortunately, they were still unsure whether this promotion had changed all that. It hadn't in my mind, but we were all still feeling our way. Perhaps my bad temper these days was not very conducive to friendship. Hmmmn. I must invite them over for dinner this week and assure them that the commodore and the captain were the same man.

I turned toward Elizabeth, her cheeks flushed nicely from the brisk wind running off of the ocean, those golden curls a bob. I frowned. My God, is she the only antidote from boredom on this island?

"You look most disgruntled, James." Disapproval was strong in her voice. I stifled a snort of irritation. A small glimpse of what it might actually be like to be married to Miss Swann? "You play chess, yes? Perhaps you and Will should play. Might improve your mood." This she said with a saucy smile. I forgave her everything. And naturally for a moment I hated Mr. Turner, whose adoration, given and returned, allowed her the ease to play with me, to tease me. She is the only person I let tease me. I wonder if she knows this.

Chess, I told myself. We are talking about chess.

"Yes, I'd like that." I smiled to let her know I was sincere, not just playing polite. "Whist players abound. It is hard to find a decent opponent in chess."

She smiled back, and gave my forearm a gentle squeeze. "Thank you." Gratitude? I realized with a start that I was perhaps one of the few in Port Royal who treated William as a gentleman. "Will's learning a number of strategies. You should see the two of them together… So amusing, so droll." Her voice held a little laugh. Song birds pale in comparison with that trill.

"Oh, really," I murmured, distracted. A gust of wind scattered orange blossoms into the air, swirling around us for a brief moment like a snow flurry before being carried away to God knows where. Funny, I've never thought of the Governor as particularly droll. Amusing on the rare occasion… "I know your father's never played the game. Who is William's teacher?" Really, the scent off of those orange blossoms was intoxicating. I must plant such a tree in my garden. Perhaps I could take a cutting today…

Silence.

What is this? Elizabeth is never at a loss for words. Hold on. Droll and amusing might be the last words I'd use to describe the Governor, however, they fit to a tee another of our mutual acquaintance. I turned my head sharply.

"Elizabeth, did you hear me? Who is teaching William all these marvelous strategies?"

She did it beautifully. And almost succeeded. Coughed once, then twice, and turned to me with the most beguiling smile, betraying herself with only the slightest hint of a blush. "Me. I've learned to play chess. There's no end to my charms."

Absolute nonsense. If Elizabeth is teaching William to play chess then I am a pirate.

The letter with no stamp. The strong, no, egotistical serif of the person who penned that letter. William's sudden interest in chess. It was all too clear.

"Is he still here, Elizabeth?" I demanded, playing the trump card without mercy. This was the first time I'd used her first name since that fateful day on the battlements when Jack Sparrow escaped through the offices of the foolhardy but brave William Turner, whom Elizabeth had chosen over me without one look back.

"Whomever are you talking of, Commodore?" The fan snapped open and began flying backwards and forwards in front of her face.

"Elizabeth," I intoned in my most commodore-of-the-fleet-like voice. "I'm disappointed in the extreme. I thought you of all people would capable of telling an absolute bold-faced lie to my face with much more aplomb. Point of order," I raised one finger. "I have known your father for ten years. In that time, he has never asked me to play chess." I raised a second finger. "I've been dining at your house for these said ten years and this is the first," and I lowered my brow just slightly, "the very first time I have ever seen a chessboard in your home." I raised a third finger. "Although a chess set has a prominent place in my parlor, and may I remind you that you, your father, and Mr. Turner have been my dinner guests a number of times, none of you have expressed any interest in the game." I was laying it on a little thick, but couldn't help myself. I clasped both hands behind my back in complete confidence. "Now, perhaps I might be jumping to conclusions," although the tone of my voice indicated that I was not, "but I suspect that your Mr. Turner's recent fascination with chess is a result of being tutored by none other than that completely despicable pirate Jack Sparrow. Although I must confess, I never pegged Sparrow as a chess player," I finished with no small degree of irony.

The fan moved faster and with a gaze absolutely blazing with confidence—God, this woman was a marvel—she stated flatly, "I told you, James. Will learned from me. I play chess."

I could not contain a broad smile. "Shall we play? Now?" I challenged with a sweep of my hand indicating the chessboard not fifty feet away in the house.

The fan stopped, the cheeks blushed, but the eyes were no less defiant.

"James, you shock me. Most ungentlemanly of you. To call my bluff like that. And no, he's not. Set sail this morning. With the wind," she smiled in triumph. I will never find another like her. Damn William Turner.

"Let's go inside and see how the game is progressing," I said smoothly.




In something of a snit, she ignored my proferred arm as we crossed the garden, marching in fine umbrage ahead of me to enter the house through the French doors that fronted the parlor. The words "checkmate" were just leaving William Turner's lips as we entered the room. As befitting his role as a son-in-law, William wasn't gloating over his win, and I assumed by the lack of affect on his face that Governor Swann was less than a scintillating opponent. We made our way over to the chessboard.

"How was your stroll, my dear?" The governor gave his daughter an indulgent smile. It is an absolute miracle that Elizabeth isn't in the least bit spoiled.

"Fine," she snapped.

I shot her a warning look as both the governor and Will started at the sharp tone in her voice.

"Father," she cooed in the honeyed tones that she used only with him. "Did John tell you that some important looking letters arrived on the packet boat this morning? I've placed them on the desk in your study. Some of them have ministry seals." She played him like a harp.

"Oh, really, my dear? Why didn't you tell me sooner?" He stood up and gestured to his seat. "Commodore, you must take my place. No doubt William will find you a much more formidable opponent than me. He's used to playing… I'm afraid I must bid you a good day, Commodore." He held out his hand. "I foresee an afternoon writing letters."

I shook his hand. "That was my unfortunate lot this morning. Farewell, Governor, my compliments as always to Mrs. Brown. She's the best cook on the island. Thank you for your seat, but I hesitate to challenge William." I remained standing. "I understand he's been learning from a master."

The shock on both William and the governor's face was priceless. However, I am not a cruel man, and I had no wish to embarrass the governor in his own home. Elizabeth and William, however, were fair game. I would deal with them once he left the room. "I understand Elizabeth is quite a player."

"Oh," he squeaked. But displaying that grace under pressure for which he is noted, he looked me straight in the eye. "Quite a player," he lied and then left the room without a backward glance.

I was too kind on him. They have all been lying to me.

"Beneath you, James. Such tawdry behavior," Elizabeth hissed.

Will just sat there mute, his forehead crinkled with worry. I could tell he hoped that what he had surmised wasn't true, but the smirk on my face did nothing to allay his worst fears.

"He knows, Will," she confirmed in a low voice. Headless of her skirts, she threw herself on the sofa behind William's chair and glared at me with what looked like considerable frustration and not a little rage.

Ducking his head, William began returning the chess pieces to their proper places to give himself a few seconds to gather his thoughts. The boy apparently was not only learning chess from Sparrow.

"He set sail this morning, Commodore." The white and black pawns were all in order. He moved on to the bishops and knights, his callused and work-hardened hands handling the chess pieces with great care. "He'll not be back, rest assured." Will gave me a brief look, as innocent as the governor's. "Said he had to drop off an important letter."

Ironically, they probably thought he was lying about the letter. Important letter…whatever did that mean? Important in what sense? I bent over the chessboard and picked up the black queen. Rolling it in my hand, I relished its weight and noted the fine craftsmanship of the carving. This was a nice set, fitting for the Governor of Jamaica. I raised the queen to my eyes to inspect it further and it hit me. The smell. Rum and cinnamon. Sparrow had held this piece in his hand; I knew this as well as my own name. How the ivory had picked up his essence was a mystery.

"Is he a good player, William?" I put the queen back but not until I had clasped it firmly in my palm imparting my own scent. I wondered what I smelled like.

"I would venture to say that to Jack all life is a game," William commented ruefully. "However, he owes that chess is his favorite, uh, real game. He's excellent. Beats me every time, actually. I'm convinced he lets me take a few men so as to not embarrass me," he said rather crossly. William was competitive enough for that to rankle. Good show. I'd find it insufferable myself. Bloody pirate.

"Beats me every time," rolled around in my brain. How often did Sparrow visit this pair? How often was there laughter and games and fine meals among the four of them?

I bowed. "I must ask for your leave, Elizabeth. I must speak with Mr. Gillette regarding the reconnaissance. William, barring any reports of pirates in these waters," they had the grace to blush, "shall we schedule a chess game for Thursday afternoon? Say, three o'clock? Here," I pointed to the table, "or at my house?"

William and Elizabeth looked at each other, wary, not sure of where I was going with this.

"Your house, James, if you prefer," William said slowly. "It's closer to the smithy."

Elizabeth got up from the sofa and braced herself against William's chair. She laid an elegant hand on his right shoulder. His hand reached up in response.

"Elizabeth," I bowed. She nodded her head once, with her usual ease, but I could see her fingers digging into William's shoulder. "Good day, William," I held out my hand and with his free hand he shook it.

"On Thursday, then, James?"

"I look forward to it." I turned to leave. Was that a sigh of relief behind me? Perhaps, but it was quickly followed by a hitch of breath inward as I turned back to face them. "Do me a favor will you, William? Please tell Mr. Sparrow the next time you see him that he is welcome."

"He's welcome? Excuse me, James, I don't understand." William's brow, which was just beginning to unfurl, scrunched up again. Elizabeth's fingers dug deeper into William's shoulder. "Not that I'll be seeing Jack any time soon," he stammered.

"Of course not," I smirked back. "And no, William, you couldn't possibly understand." I wanted to hammer home that they weren't the only people harboring secrets. "This is between me and Mr. Sparrow. Just tell him that he is welcome."

Unable to keep silent any longer, Elizabeth blurted out in what only could be called desperation, "You're not going after him?"

"Pointless, Elizabeth." I looked out the French doors. The wind was still coming in from the west at about ten knots. "He's chosen a perfect day to escape my clutches. No doubt he's halfway to Tortuga by now."

William gave Elizabeth's fingers a little squeeze.

I made a move to turn and then turned back yet again. "One more thing…"

The pair stiffened.

"Tell him that I play."




The next two weeks were spent repairing my friendship with Gillette and Groves. I even went so far as to get so completely soused at The Tipsy Tar one night that it required the two of them to virtually carry me home and put me to bed. Amazing how a complete lapse in moral fiber can endear you to your friends. We were as thick as thieves again and, once I had recovered from the worst hangover in my entire life, my mood improved immeasurably.

Another change in the wind was that William and I began playing chess on almost a daily basis. In those sleepy hours before dinner, William and I would set up the old, battered chess set my father had given me upon making lieutenant, and we'd get in a couple of games before Elizabeth would come to fetch him after spending the afternoon at her mantua maker. The governor was spending guineas like a drunken sailor to outfit his daughter's trousseau.

One rainy afternoon as William and I sat hunched over the chessboard, Elizabeth swept in the room without so much as a hello. Pacing in front of the fireplace in a rage, she began her usual post-mantua-maker's tirade.

"What a perfect waste of time! How many clothes does one woman need?" she demanded. We had gone through similar scenes almost every afternoon as she vented her spleen at us because she couldn't possibly deprive her father of his delight in outfitting her for her marriage. Even though we were in the middle of play, we both stood up. "Oh for God's sake, sit down, both of you," she grumbled. "And don't speak to me, Will. I'm in a perfectly foul mood."

Words to the contrary, this naturally had the effect of him doing exactly what she'd intended in the first place. Practically leaping out of his chair, William sidled over to her and whispered something in her ear. Good humor was instantly restored.

I had become immune to their overly frisky displays of affection, although why they indulged in these sorts of high jinks in my presence is beyond me; it's only when the three of us are alone that this insufferable nuzzling occurs. More whispering, a giggle here and there. Elizabeth wound an auburn curl around one finger, pulling William even closer. I coughed. They ignored me. William's mouth was almost but not quite touching Elizabeth's right ear, while one hand had stolen up to caress her cheek. I rolled my eyes. God's teeth, they'd be rolling around on the hearth in a trice if I didn't put an end to this. I coughed louder. No response; William seemingly deaf to my entreaties. Understandable. However, it was his turn, and I was one move away from checkmating him.

"Miss Swann, Mister Turner!" I intoned in my most emphatic the-commodore-is-NOT-amused voice. They broke apart, Will wide-eyed and embarrassed, Elizabeth not one whit concerned. "William," I gestured to the chessboard. "Do you plan on finishing the game sometime this century?" I tried to make my voice light but I knew I sounded, well, peeved. With a flick of her hand she shooed him back to his seat.

As William scurried back to his chair, she mouthed "Prig," at me.

"Hussy," I mouthed back.

"Um, sorry, James," Will apologized. "There," and he moved his bishop to possibly the worst place on the board.

Elizabeth leaned over to see where William had moved and then tisked in sympathy. "He's got you, my love."

William studied the board, frowned, and gave me a stern look. "Oh, yes, he does. Rather unfair, James. If you hadn't been badgering me, I probably wouldn't have made that move."

"Badgering had nothing to do with it. May I remind you that it was Elizabeth's charms that distracted you." I turned and glowered at her, whose hand had discovered the bowl of candies I had put on the table in anticipation of her arrival. She's rather partial to sweets. She winged a distinctly naughty smile in my direction, which was immediately followed by a distinctly choking noise coming from William's direction. The woman was incorrigible. I turned back to William. "If you were engaged to Miss Bowden and she was shoving candied almonds down her throat—"

"James?" she cooed. I swiveled around. She stuck her tongue out at me.

Ignoring her, I turned back to William. "I strongly doubt you would have made that move."

"Miss Bowden?" William looked puzzled. "Is she the one who never stops talking?"

Elizabeth giggled. "Remember, Will? She cornered you for at least an hour at the Assembly Ball last month and told you the life story of her cats." There wasn't a resident in Port Royal who hadn't been bored to tears by Miss Bowden, who, despite a formidable marriage portion, has to yet find a husband because any suitor must first pass muster with the cats. Which they never do. Miss Bowden clearly prefers the unmarried state.

"Oh yes, I do remember." Ever polite, William just raised one eyebrow in comment. His noble bid to not insult the absent Miss Bowden, Mittens, Mouser, and Boots had Elizabeth and I clutching our stomachs in near hysterics, an occasional "meow" escaping my lips whenever I could catch my breath.

For several minutes we howled at each other like alley cats, even William unable to resist our mirth and finally joining in with a rather credible imitation of a tomcat in heat. We only stopped when my butler came in to light the candles, a reminder of how late it was. We stumbled our way to the front door, all of us wiping away tears of laughter. Just as she was about to curtsey good-bye, Elizabeths hand flew to her reticule.

"I almost forgot, James. I have a letter for you. One of the lads from the fort said I was to give it to you directly."

I stopped breathing.

Every day I scoured my desk, tearing through the neat stacks of paper repeatedly and reducing them to a disordered heap. No square of cream-colored parchment with my name on it in bold black letters appeared. I'd even gone so far as to get down on my hands and knees and check underneath my desk a few times. I stared at the letter in Elizabeth's hand, almost afraid to take it. In the impending dusk I couldn't tell what color it was. What if it wasn't from Sparrow? And most importantly, why did this mean so much to me that I was practically paralyzed with dread and/or anticipation? I must have had my hand held out because all of a sudden I felt my fingers clutching the letter, the parchment rough against my fingertips.

Something must have shown on my face because Elizabeth narrowed her eyes and in a playful voice insinuated, "A secret admirer, James?" Quick as a cat she lunged to snatch it out of my hand. Fortunately, her fiancé, whose reflexes were extraordinary due to his almost maniacal devotion to swordplay, was faster and caught her by the wrist just in time.

"Elizabeth. No," William admonished. "The carriage is waiting. We're expected at your father's in twenty minutes, and we need to dress for dinner. Besides, I'd say that James should be allowed to have a few secrets from us, don't you? Considering." He looked at me with as close to an apology in his eyes as I was going to get. My estimation of William Turner went up quite a few notches in that moment. I didn't envy him, caught in the middle between the feisty Elizabeth Swann and the irrepressible Jack Sparrow. His life was sure to be a misery.

She scowled at him and moved to pull her hand away in pique, but then William's thumb began to gently circle the base of her wrist. Was that a slight hitch in her breath? "Yes, Will," she said quietly.

Perhaps the old adage still waters run deep rang true in this case. Perhaps he could tame this wild filly.

Then turning her head so that I couldn't see her face, she gave him a look. It must have been quite a look because even in the gloom of my dark hallway I saw William turn six different shades of red.

On second thought, perhaps not.

She turned to me, her eyes devoid of whatever saucy, come-hither glance she'd bestowed on him and said in farewell, "Tomorrow, James." William dipped his head, in part good-bye and in part to hide his blushes, and the two of them were out the door. Any more moves like that on Elizabeth's part and the wedding would have to be moved up a couple of months.




No sooner did the door shut behind them than I grabbed the first candle I could lay my hands on and raced up the stairs to my bedroom, desperate for privacy. The absurdity of this headlong canter up the stairs didn't quite penetrate until I was in my bedroom with the door shut. Who was going to watch me read this? The servants were busy preparing dinner, I lived alone. Nevertheless, I sat down on the bed and placed the candle on the nightstand. Turning the letter over in my hand, I saw that it was of the same paper but no name inscribed on the outside. Folded the same way but, again, no seal, no stamp. I held it up to my nose. Ah, the faintest hint of cinnamon and rum. Something deep inside me relaxed, like a muscle lodged deep in my back that I'd never known I possessed had been aching, twisting, getting tighter and tighter over the past couple of weeks, and then, voila, unwound when I smelled his scent. I slowly unfolded the letter, afraid to see what it said, more afraid to see what it didn't say. Written in that same smug, overconfident hand was the single word, "Interesting."

I waited.

I played chess with William.

I inspected the troops.

I sailed the waters around Port Royal.

I conferred a captaincy on the most deserving Mr. Gillette in honor of his bravery fighting Barbossa's undead pirates.

And I waited.

One week passed. The worst part was that I didn't even know what I was waiting for. Another letter? A visit? An encounter? A simple game of chess? But nothing was ever simple with Jack Sparrow. We might be moving chess pieces around the board, but I suspected there would be always be a subtext. For the life of me, I couldn't begin to fathom what that might be. I told myself that all I wanted was to play with someone who wouldn't give me any quarter, who wasn't intimidated by either the commodore or the man.

I spent most of the second week entrenched behind my desk, hands steepled together deep in thought. I was at my leisure, having shuffled all correspondence to my subordinates. Gillette and Groves plowed their way through the odious paperwork with nary a whimper of complaint, their chagrin and dismay hidden under the necessity of following orders. His Majesty's navy trains his men well.

What was I thinking by giving him that most ambiguous, "Tell him that I play." Was I supposed to reply to his latest missive? What is the proper etiquette when corresponding with a pirate? His Majesty's navy is quite silent on that subject, let me assure you. Well, I had a hope. If I didn't send word via William, perhaps it would end. Yes? No doubt he was waiting for a reply. A horrible thought. Did I want it to end? Something that really had not yet begun?

I was asking questions and completely unable to answer them. This in itself was most unnerving. I rarely ask questions. I decide. Life is more or less a series of black and white circumstances that require action. Do you love Elizabeth Swann? Yes. When you receive your promotion you will have the means to support her, therefore, ask her to marry you. This was logical. And, despite the many, many mitigating circumstances surrounding the affair of the undead pirates, when you capture Jack Sparrow, a man whose list of crimes would cripple any clerk who had the unfortunate task of listing them all, you hang him. Again, considering Sparrow's history, most logical and fair. And I follow the rules because the rules are more or less fair. But… But… Those rulebooks. They do not address vagaries, the gray areas, such as what do you do with your heart when your lovely Elizabeth becomes engaged to a blacksmith or when a completely disreputable pirate saves your life and the lives of your men. And then writes you a letter.

I'd stopped looking under my desk for errant letters. Conversely, I did not stop rummaging through my correspondence searching for another letter.

What would be the worst thing that could happen? That he would best me at chess, that I'd find my opponent at least as able at chess as he was at sea. Of that I had no doubt. And why Sparrow? Was he the only other answer, the only antidote to my boredom besides Elizabeth Swann, perhaps the only other person of my acquaintance I saw as my intellectual equal? And despite the many things I deplored in Jack Sparrow's character—let me count the ways—the man was never boring.

Even more confusing was this nagging sense that something was missing. Something that I thought only Sparrow could furnish. I had no doubt of the governor's regard, my relationship with Elizabeth as her brother in training was in some ways much more fulfilling than being her fiancé-in-waiting. William was fast becoming a good friend. Gillette and Groves would lay their lives down for me, no doubt, but this didn't seem to be enough. Why else would I deliberately taunt Sparrow with that pert reply, like a maid flirting with her beau? Even worse was the stark realization that if I had received that letter six months ago, I'd have been amused and then thrown it in the fire. No doubt make some enormous show to Gillette and Groves about washing my hands to rid them of the stench of pirate. Now? In the darkest of moments I would hold his second letter up to my nostrils in a desperate attempt to recapture the faint smell of rum and cinnamon that had finally disappeared.

I had a truly horrifying thought. Did I see Sparrow as an equal? Doubly horrifying was the question did I desire him as an equal? My mind immediately shied away from answering that question. My soul said possibly.

This stupefying epiphany was followed by a wild evening the night before at Tar to celebrate Gillette's promotion, which had resulted in two hours of sleep and a vicious, insistent headache. Thursday was spent largely counting the minutes until six, when I could leave for home without a qualm. Norrington, thy middle name is duty.

Thank God it was the servants' night out. I didn't even have the stomach to partake of the cold repast my cook always laid out for me before they decamped. I hung up my hat and coat with an enormous sigh of relief.

I loved having the house to myself. It was small and the parlor chimney smoked when the wind came in from the east, but it was mine and over the years I'd made it comfortable and rather nice, really. I spent all my waking hours in the front parlor. My favorite books lined one wall, a pianoforte sat in one corner (am quite fond of music), the table with the chess set in the opposite corner, a small dining table and two chairs in the third corner, and a comfortable if threadbare sofa squatted in front of the fireplace. I'd chosen the house for its view—I could see the harbor from my window—and its garden. Night jasmine, trumpet vine, lush ferns, and tropical beauties with no name fought for space around a small patch of lawn. There were few things more satisfying than having a cigar in one hand and a snifter of armagnac in the other, relishing the aroma of the flowers as they competed with the briny odor off the sea.

I had my hand on the railing and was just about to pull myself up the staircase and to bed when out of the corner of my eye I saw the parlor door ajar, muted candlelight slipping through the opening. Simon being careless again. Forgot to douse the candle when he laid out my dinner; I must speak to him on the morrow. I pushed the door to find my parlor filled with pirate. A pirate who was eating my dinner, with my knife and fork, drinking my wine, and, to every appearance, enjoying himself most thoroughly.

"E'ening, Commodore," Sparrow greeted me by raising my glass and then taking a healthy swallow of—yes, I'd laid down that vintage down in my cellar not six months earlier—my wine.

I must be hallucinating. I closed my eyes, counted to five, and then opened them again. He was still there. Although I knew this to be impossible, I felt four completely conflicting emotions simultaneously: joy, dread, relief, and irritation.

Joy, dread, relief, and irritation aside, I got to the point. "My dinner, Sparrow. You are eating my dinner."

With a swoop and a flourish, a finger corrected me. "Not really, mate. Tried to wait, but worked up a powerful appetite rowing in. And m'not exactly eating your dinner, we're sharing like." With a broad hand, Sparrow swept his hand in front of my plate. True, he'd neatly divided everything in half. Unfortunately, it didn't apply to my napkin, knife, fork, or wine goblet. Which he then proceeded to empty.

Definitely not a hallucination. Same Jack Sparrow. Steals into your house, appropriates your utensils, dinner, chair, and wine without so much as a by your leave. The man was the living embodiment of gall.

I pulled out the chair opposite him. "Mind if I sit?"

"Not-a-tall," he slurred, as if it were one word. "Your table."

I sat down. "I wondered if that had escaped your notice."

"Not much escapes my notice, Commodore." It wasn't a boast so much as a matter of fact. He flashed me a smile, those gold teeth of his glinting off the soft light from the trio of candles on the table. "Hungry?" He pushed the plate toward me, his "side" clean.

"No thank you. I've suddenly lost my appetite. Be my guest," I gushed. The sarcasm was lost on him.

"You sure, mate?" he asked and cocked his head in that peculiar, well, sparrow-like of his.

In a perfect imitation of him, I swept my hand in front of his plate. This was not lost on him. He cocked his head in the other direction; the black eyes widened a fraction. I'd surprised him. Then he looked away and murmured, "Good. I'm starving," and with much enthusiasm began to polish off the rest of the food. He was just about to pour himself another glass of wine when he stopped and studied me in earnest. "You look peaked, mate. Never seen more anyone more in need of the hair of the dog than you." He raised the wine bottle. "Get yourself a glass."

With great difficulty, I restrained a smile. The man was absolutely too much. Leaning over and picking up a wine goblet from the sideboard, I set it on the table. Having witnessed enough of Sparrow's pratfalls and stumbles, I braced myself for imminent disaster. No doubt he'd somehow miss our glasses, spill half the contents on the table, and I'd end up with a lap full of wine. But with none of the usual ridiculous bravado and flourish that so characterized most of his movements, he filled both our glasses with such a practiced and sure hand that I forgot what I was going to say next.

"Cheers," he said gaily, raised his glass and took another big slug. "Nice stuff you commodores have. Good food, too. Could use a decent cook. Might try to pinch her. She 'ave the same silly prejudices against pirates you do?"

I raised my glass back at him. "Most definitely. But I'll inform Mrs. Pince of your sentiments. She'll be quite pleased. Her treacle tart is renowned in Port Royal. And I'm warning you now, Sparrow. Don't so much as set foot in my kitchen. You've pinched my dinner, pinched most of my wine, and most likely have pinched anything that wasn't nailed down in this room. Keep your hands off of my cook," I warned.

"Ate the treacle tart first," he grinned and then proceeded to ignore me, eating and drinking until all was done. We sat in companionable silence as he finished his meal. My face showed nothing, but inwardly I was more than a little surprised. These were not the table manners of a ruffian. Someone had taught this man how to hold a knife and fork properly. The delicate lift of the napkin to the lips, the fork in the left hand, knife in the right all bespoke of training from a very young age, not the awkwardness of someone who'd learned good manners late in life. I pictured a very frustrated nanny teaching the hellion of a boy Sparrow must have been how to cut his meat. The woman is no doubt hearing the lyres of heaven.

In short order, he'd finished my dinner and then emptied the rest of the wine bottle into his goblet and sighed. "Dead sailor, hate that. Open another bottle, Commodore. It's a celebration. Please?" he wheedled and then batted his eyes at me. The man had ridiculously long lashes. The only person I knew who had longer ones was me.

"Do not flirt with me, Sparrow. I am oblivious to your charms." I leaned back in my chair with no intention of moving a single muscle in the direction of the wine cellar. "That sort of currency doesn't work with me."

"Really, Commodore," he sounded truly surprised. "How about this? Sorry I ate your dinner. May I have more wine, please?" He brought his chin down, pushed out his bottom lip, and gave me the most sorrowful look of such manufactured remorse that I laughed out loud. No doubt he'd bamboozled that veritable saint of a nanny every time. Again, I got that funny regard, like he'd just seen something he didn't expect.

The light from the fireplace cast a gentle glow over him. His body almost caressed the chair; he wasn't sitting so much as curling himself around it. He looked much the same as he had three months ago. His naturally dark complexion bronzed from the sun, the slap-dash application of kohl—did the man even use a mirror when he put it on—defining and magnifying those black eyes that seemed to light on nothing but take in everything. He was still clothed in the most outlandish array of striped silks, grubby linens, battered hat, and, hmmm, new boots, and, by Jove, he'd polished the silver trinkets and stones threaded through that tangled mane of black hair. But there was something different about him. What was it? Ah, he'd lost that desperation lurking underneath the charm, the sway, the theatrics. Although still slender, that sharp look of a man who missed meals on a frequent basis no longer defined his jaw line. He countered my appraisal with one of his own.

What he would see? A tall, slender young man of thirty, formal wig concealing dark hair that had a tendency to curl in the humidity, green eyes that I've been told can be just this short of cruel if the situation demands it, white breeches with nary a mark or crease, starched, pressed linen blouse, and boots polished to such a sheen that a man could see his reflection in them. As much as Sparrow was the picture of the "perfect" pirate, I was the picture of the "perfect" commodore.

"The wine, Commodore, the wine," he reminded me with a roll of his hand, the blackest of eyebrows wriggling frantically in the direction of the empty wine bottle.

I groaned, made my way to the cellar, grabbed a bottle, then grabbed another; after all this was a pirate. When I'd returned, he'd shifted his chair so that he could lay his head back against the wall; his legs stretched out in front of him crossed at the ankles, one side of that lithe frame tilted a little toward the fire to catch some warmth. Eyes closed, glass held out for me to fill, contentment written large all over that face. He strongly resembled a cat who'd just swiped a large paw into the cream jug.

"Got a nice place here, Commodore. Checked out your wee library. Got the same taste in books." This was said in my direction, the eyes still closed, wine glass held aloft. He waited a beat, then said slyly, "Isn't that an 'orrifying thought?"

I quickly scanned my bookcase to see if anything was missing.

Without opening his eyes, he drawled, "Don't get your breeches in a knot. Didn't nick any. Own most o'those meself anyway." This was followed by an impatient wave of his glass.

Again, another surprise, like the table manners. Sparrow owning books? Reading Shakespeare, Marlowe, and More? Who exactly is Jack Sparrow, or more to the point, who had he been?

As I opened the wine, I asked with a nonchalance I didn't feel, somehow I knew I wasn't going to like the answer, "And just what are we celebrating, may I ask?"

At the sound of wine gurgling into his glass he finally opened his eyes. "Fill 'er up, Commodore. That's more like it," he approved as I filled his glass to within a hair's breadth of the rim. Without spilling a drop, he raised his glass in my direction and grinned. "You, too. Prefer not to drink alone and can't toast alone."

"Oh for God sake, man," I muttered. I filled my glass, and raised it to meet his. He was priming me for defeat, as if he'd maneuvered his chess pieces so that checkmate was only a move away but he'd decided to torture me with a few pointless encounters with his bishop. Whatever was coming I knew I'd be eating, well, sparrow. "You are without a doubt the most irritating man ever born," I hissed.

"That's what they all say," he said with great satisfaction and gently clinked our goblets together.

"To the lovely and feisty Elizabeth Swann and her generous spirit." He lifted his glass to his lips and drank with much gusto, studying me out of one eye. "You're not drinking, mate," he complained.

I took a perfunctory sip. "Why are we toasting Miss Swann?" The words were devilishly hard to get out. This was not going to be good; I could feel it in my bones. But like a mosquito bite that you scratched at until it bled, I couldn't help myself.

"Her generosity, my dear Commodore," he countered, with such an air of studied innocence that I knew the boom was about to lay me low, knock me to the deck. I braced myself. "Wedding present from Lizzie to Will. Really sweet of her, can't tell you how much it pleased him. Me being sort of a father figure now that ole Bootstrap's gone. Must admit though, there'er times when I think that boy's bitten off more than he can chew. She's a hand full at twenty. Lord knows what she'll be like at forty. He'll either be the happiest man on the face of this earth or—"

"Sparrow!" I shouted. "What are you blabbering on about?"

The eyelids closed to half-mast, the broadest of grins took over his face, a thumb hiked in the direction of the fireplace.

"Clemency, mate. Lizzie wheedled it out 'o the Governor last night. Would 'ave been here last week but the Governor's made of stronger stuff than I thought. She 'ad to work on him."

Like an old man, I pulled myself out of my chair and walked stiffly to the fireplace. There on the mantle was an official-looking piece paper with the Governor's seal on it. The headache was now unbearable. Perhaps if I asked nicely Sparrow would put me out of my misery by cleaving my head open with the fireplace poker. Temple throbbing, I hoisted myself gingerly out of my chair and walked stiffly to the fireplace. Wrenching apart the seal with a little more force than was absolutely necessary, I read the blasted order.

"But… But this is only for one day, one day a week," I stammered, waving waved the letter in the air, thoroughly confused.

"Yeah," he grimaced. "Lizzie tried for general clemency but couldn't swing it." This last bit was said with a smirk. "'aven't given up 'ope though. 'Ave a lot of faith in Lizzie. So for now tis only from Thursday sundown to Friday sundown. One night and a day. Need the day on Friday to get me Pearl into safer waters. Got to dock her out of sight, too." He frowned. "Made me promise not to bring her into the harbor."

He was grumbling. Grumbling! I would have rolled my eyes but was terrified it would only make the headache worst. One of the, no, perhaps the most notorious pirate in the Caribbean was peeved, peeved (!) because although the Governor had yet again caved into the pleas of his headstrong but charming daughter, he'd had the foresight not to humiliate all parties involved by asking Sparrow to secrete his ship away from the fort. As if this was an outlandish request. With those black sails, the cut of her jib, she was as obvious as a six-inch spider on a wedding cake.

I pressed the hand not holding the letter to my temple, the headache not alleviated by the wine, but exacerbated by it. "And what is so important that requires clemency only one day a week for…" I reread the document, "as long as the Governor sees fit."

A moue of disappointment flitted over his face. "Figured you for a brighter lad than that, Commodore. But I'll give you 'nother chance. Must be the hangover. Heard you an' your boys had quite a party last night at the Tar." Impossibly long and elegant fingers trilled in the direction of the chessboard. "M'partial to the green."

In the place of my beloved but nothing more than serviceable set was, without a doubt, the most beautiful chess set I've ever laid my eyes on.




How I missed not seeing it when I walked into the room is beyond me, even accounting for Sparrow's presence at my dining table, the hangover, and did I mention Sparrow eating my dinner? The chess pieces didn't so much as glow from the firelight as inhale whatever light came their way and then magnify this light out a thousand fold. The men were carved from jade, fiery green on the one side, the palest, most elegant of pinks on the other. They sat majestically on their square of alternating white and black marble inlay.

One absolutely immutable canon handed down from naval officer to naval officer is the ability to remain unflappable under all circumstances, even in the face of death. English sailors invented stoicism and aplomb. The sight of that chess set in my modest little parlor completely unnerved me. A complete disgrace to the service, I gasped and reached out to pick up the pink jade queen, the craftsmanship the like I've never seen before or since.

Quick and as quiet as a cat, Sparrow rolled up from his chair and sidled over to me. "She's a beauty isn't she? Pick her up, mate. Feel her in your hand," he said in a low voice, almost a whisper. "Can remember the first time I saw her myself. Though it was the green lady that caught my fancy."

tentatively held out my hand, but then hesitated. What if I dropped her? Sparrow picked her up and with his free hand turned my hand over so that my palm was facing upright and placed the queen in my hand, his hands callused but gentle and warm as they moved my hand. When he let go, I felt a chill. I brought her up to my eyes, the inner fire of the jade winking at me. Closing my hand around her, the delicate detail of the carving nipped my hand.

I caught Sparrow's eye. The joy of holding something so beautiful, so exquisite must have shown on my face because he stepped back a couple of steps and I swear his eyes said to me, "I know how you feel."

Reluctantly, I put her back on her square.

"You're a lucky man, Sparrow. I envy you."

He slapped me on the back. "No need to envy. Was a lucky man. Now yours. A gift, mate, from me to you."

Twice within the space of two minutes, I lost my composure. This time I didn't just gasp, my mouth dropped open. Sparrow's index finger caught me just under the chin and pushed gently so that my mouth closed.

"Realized that my little letter didn't quite convey my gratitude for not 'anging me. Wanted to show my appreciation for saving me neck." He stretched his head to the side in a morbid imitation of a man being hanged.

The ability to speak returned. "In that case you must give this to Mr. Turner. I did nothing. I merely gave you a day's head start. Certainly that doesn't warrant…this?" I pointed to the chess set.

Sparrow leaned over and picked up the green queen, rolling her in his palm. "Must admit Will was mighty instrumental, but on the battlements just before I jumped—"

"You fell—" I intoned.

"No," he insisted. "Jumped."

"Didn't look like a jump—"

"It was a jump!" he pouted. I held up my hands in defeat. "Anyway, that five seconds we locked eyes, I 'eard you asking yourself, do I let him go or not? Do I take advantage of this nice little opportunity and let the man go because by all rights he should be free? And I then I saw you say yes. And you let me. Anyone else, you wouldn't 'ave. Say it was some other bastard who hadn't saved your Lizzie, hadn't saved many of your men by me rather quick thinkin' in the cave. You'd 'ave pushed Lizzie out of the way for your blokes to fill 'im with shot. But you knew. You knew and wanted to repay that small little favor I did you by the bringing the undead pirates back to life. And you didn't really put any effort into finding me, did you? Knew right away when I saw you on deck of the Dauntless that you're a good enough sailor to find the Isla de Muerta. Didn't even try to come after me, did you? Am I right?"

I moved over to the sofa and sat down, trying to marshal my thoughts for a few seconds. How much do I admit to this man? Will he use my words to against me the next time we're in the company of others, perhaps in the company of my men, thereby undermining my command?

Oh hang it. Yes, he deserved nothing less. How long would we have lasted with those evil fiends, one hour at the most, then all my men would have been dead for how can you kill undead pirates. Studying the flames in the fire, I confessed. "Yes, I did think that. I did see William's foolhardy behavior as a way to let you walk free." I faced him. "Thanked him for it afterwards. A Godsend, frankly. And no, I didn't even try to recapture you. We sailed around and near the island, but after a couple of days I gave the order to return to port."

"Knew it!" Sparrow crowed. "Even thought you were signaling me to jump…"

I nodded.

He cocked his head to the side. "You saw the parrot. You knew me Pearl was out there."

"Yes, Sparrow, I knew. Nothing much escapes my notice," I drawled.

This brought a hoot of laughter from him. He swung around in a complete circle, trinkets, jewels, and bones, that irrepressible hair all a jangle. But when he'd come around a second time, the mirth had left his face. He leaned into me, our eyes locked.

"But you couldn't see fit to commute my sentence, couldn't be sure that mebbe young Will wouldn't be such a noble and brave spirit."

For the first time in ten years I blushed. In shame. "No, I couldn't, I was hoping…" and my voice trailed off.

Leaning down, he forced me to look at him, our eyes no further than six inches apart. He touched a finger to my red cheek. "Thought Jack would once more pull the proverbial rabbit out of his hat, eh?"

I nodded.

"Sorry to say didn't have no aces up my sleeve that day. No matter. 'Aven't met any commodores yet that would first 'ave twigged to the parrot. To tell you the truth, surprised me on that one, mate. An' two, taken advantage of the opportunity to let me go. Did a fine line o' walking that tightrope, something ole Jack is somewhat of your expert on."

I pulled away from those dark eyes to stare back into the fire.

It was the truth. I had prayed that he'd pull some amazing stunt so that once more we'd be shaking our heads in amazement, the brilliant escape of Jack Sparrow being ballyhooed in every tavern by nightfall. As the marine read out Sparrow's list of crimes, I kept waiting. Waiting for him to move. For a noise. Something! And when I realized it wasn't going to happen, that we were near the end and that no miracle was going to free him, a dread, a sense that I was witnessing and collaborating in a horrible crime, a sin, twisted my gut. Sparrow was wrong. I wasn't walking a tightrope but a knife's edge. But not on the battlements when it was obvious that he'd jump, no, it was right before I saw the feather on William's hat and knew for certain that he'd do something outlandish and hopefully free Sparrow in the process. It was so easy for me to assume Sparrow's lucky star to once more be in ascendancy and when that star failed, when the hangman stepped forward in anticipation, I had three seconds to make a choice. Do I let Jack Sparrow hang for crimes that he indeed did commit or grant him mercy for saving the very lives of most of the people witnessing his hanging? William Turner freed me from making that choice—after that act of stunning bravery and decency he truly deserves Elizabeth's hand. To this day I don't know what I would have done.

"Give it to William. He's the one you should reward."

A gentle brown hand touched my shoulder very briefly. "Perhaps, but young Will didn't struggle. He just does things like that because it's the way he's built. Deep-drafted that lad is. Just like his father. Probably didn't give any thought to putting his life on the line for me. But you. You had to fight yourself didn't you? Admire that. Had to ask 'ard questions. The victory over ourselves is the 'ardest victory of all, mate. Look, we both got what we wanted. You didn't have my death on your conscience and I didn't get to spend the next few months rotting in Deadman's Cay, letting the seagulls feast on me.

The shame I'd felt slowly abating came back with a vengeance. "I'm sorry, Jack. Truly." I held out my hand, hoping to God he'd shake it.

He stared at my hand as if not quite knowing what to do. His eyes searched mine for something, what it was I didn't know. "It's 'Jack' now is it?"

"I'd… I'd like it to be Jack. And James." I mumbled. You nearly hang a man, the least you can do is offer him the courtesy of using your first name.

"James," he rolled my name around in his mouth, tasting it. He didn't so much clasp my hand as own it. Again the warmth of his hand was amazing. It was like holding a sunbeam. I pulled away.

He smiled that tiny smile I'd come to understand meant he knew something I didn't. Now it was time to cock my head. What?

"Apology accepted, James. An' if I had any qualms about parting with this set before, I don't now."

Damn the man. Does he have to make everything so difficult? I got up and stoked the fire. Turning around I forced myself to face at him. "I can't take it, Jack. It's a wonderful gift, but I… I can't."

His reaction wasn't what I expected. I thought he'd be offended, in high umbrage over the rejection of such a magnanimous gift. If it had been me I'd have been most insulted. He turned away and took my place on the sofa, the feline quality never more obvious. He didn't merely sit; he arranged his sash, lifted his scabbard, draped first one arm, then the other, and gracefully stretched his legs. And naturally he sprawled all over it. For a small man, he took up an inordinate amount of space, leaving me no option but to remain standing. Was the very art of moving a dance to him? Once all his "fur" was in good order, he gazed at the fire for a few seconds before turning to me. I was coming to realize that Jack never just looked; he studied, scrutinized, watched.

"Didn't think you'd take pirate loot."

He understood. Thank God. Commodores cannot taken stolen property from pirates no matter how much said commodore would love to have this chess set, how much said commodore would never be able to play with his real set without regret…

"Wasn't stolen, mate. So don't worry."

I raised my eyebrows in disbelief. "You expect me to believe you didn't steal this. That this wasn't plucked off of some Spanish galleon on one of your pillaging and plundering ventures?" I hadn't thought it possible but his body sighed even more firmly into the sofa. Why did I get the sense he was enjoying this?

"Ask me," he yawned, not so much out of exhaustion but feigned boredom.

"Oh all right, I'll play—"

"Thought we'd already confirmed that, James." Another yawn.

"Did. You. Steal. This. Chess. Set?"

A light laugh. "No. Commodore. I. Did. Not."

Headache be damned, I rolled my eyes. "It's James. So?"

"Jaaaammmess," he cooed. "Gift from a lady I knew in Singapore. Loveliest woman you ever want to meet. Taught me 'ow to play in fact."

I snorted. "Surely, you don't expect me to believe that. Where would a woman get a chess set like that?"

"Some Indian potentate. Course that was before she set up her own place. She was still working for someone else when I first saw it. Ah, Sal, quite a woman. Holy Mary, mother of God, her mouth on your cock was like dying and going to 'eaven. She'd do something with the tip of her tongue in your slit and…"

Silence. He closed his eyes and licked his bottom lip. I wouldn't have put it past him, but I think he did this unconsciously. On second thought, perhaps not. I did not look in the general vicinity of his crotch but imagined he was grateful he was sporting those bloody bloomers, as opposed to the tight breeches I was wearing.

He thought to shock me. The crude words, the description. Jack didn't know his man. I commenced some rather fine lounging of my own, spreading both arms along the length of the mantle, not bothering to hide my own arousal. Which was considerable.

"I know."

The eyes blinked open at that. Then blinked again. He sat up straight. If he'd actually been a cat I'd have expected his fur to be on end. His eyes widened at the big grin on my face, then went wider still as they traveled down to the nice bulge in my crotch. For probably the first time in his life the man was speechless. There have been few times in my life as satisfying as seeing Jack Sparrow mute.

Finally, he squeaked a noise that sounded something like "What?"

"Singapore Sal. I agree. A sweeter mouth doesn't exist in the Seven Seas. She also had a way of going down on you and cupping your sac…" I was laying it on rather thick, but I wanted to make sure Jack knew I wasn't bluffing. I licked my bottom lip.

He shook his mane. Not so much a cat now as a tiger. Wary, unsure of the man before him. "You've been there. To her place." It wasn't a question.

"Many times. What sailor doesn't know about Sal's? Spent a good deal of my first packet of prize money there, to be honest." I sighed.

"And she did you? You know she just doesn't go down on anyone," he huffed.

It was all I could do not to burst out loud laughing. His astonishment that the proper young commodore had availed himself not once, but many times to the administrations of the most famous madam in the Orient was priceless to behold. That she had done him.

Now it was my time to smirk. I'd endured a plethora of Jack's little twists of the lips; it was time he suffered under the same irritating complacency.

"I know," I reiterated, restraining my glee with much difficulty.

"She never liked you Royal Navy gobs," he sputtered.

The smirk broadened into a full-scale grin. "She made an exception in my case."

Jack leapt up from the sofa and began walking back and forth in front of me, eyes traveling up and down my body, studying me from every angle. Then he grabbed my shoulders, turned me around to get a full view of my backside, and then spun me back around so fast that I didn't even have time to protest.

He did one of his characteristic backwards side lurches, where he's sort of perched in the air, then murmured, "Commodore James L. Norrington, I would love to play with you. Next Thursday, seven o'clock?"

I hesitated for a moment, but then thought, why not? "Six thirty. Dinner before? I will tell Mrs. Pince to lay for two, with a special request for treacle tart." I received that rarest of Sparrow smiles, the winsome one. This was the smile hardest to elicit, the most gratifying to receive.

But another quick glance up and down my body and the air between us shifted. Suddenly it made my little game to prove that I may be a commodore but not a prude seemed distinctly unwise. Pride goeth before a fall. "Chess, Jack. We're going to play chess."

Now why did I say that?

He didn't reply, just gave me what I was coming to recognize as the vintage Jack Sparrow smirk. With an extravagant bow, he was out the door.

He'd reached the foyer when I called out to him. "Jack."

He poked his head around the door frame.

"Thank you. The chess board is the most beautiful thing I will ever own in my entire life."

"You're welcome, James." Again, the winsome smile. He withdrew his head. It popped back a moment later.

"We'll play chess, too," and he blew me a kiss.




Set

The next week was a blur. Although fairly certain I fulfilled my duties at the fort, comporting myself with what I hoped was typical naval efficiency and due process, for the life of me I can barely remember anything that occurred that week. I do know that I forgot my hat four days in a row and my Tuesday luncheon date at the governor's mansion. When I didn't arrive, Elizabeth sent a frantic William to see if I was indisposed. He found me pacing the top battlement of the fort lost in thought, rain soaking through my jacket as my feet pounded back and forth in a relentless march. And when he asked me if I was well, I actually hesitated. I did not feel ill, but I did not feel well.

I felt very un-commodore like, if I can put it that way. Outwardly I was all spit and polish (minus the days I forgot my hat), but inwardly my emotions embodied the storm of all storms.

Once again questions plagued me. What if he didn't come? Worse, what if he did come and what if this clemency was just a ruse? He could easily be using all four of us, William, Elizabeth, Governor Swann, and me, as pawns in some nefarious scheme, no doubt at the expense of all our livelihoods and reputations. I mean, really, the man was a bloody pirate after all! What if the chess game meant nothing, the chess set merely an effective way to seduce me, to charm me, to distract me? My pride, surely my most grievous fault, would be easily capitalized upon. His supposed desire to play chess with me stroked me in just the right spot. While I was busy patting myself on the back—the most notorious pirate in the Spanish Main wants to play chess with me—he could carry forth his plan. Perhaps he did know his man a little too well. Interesting that Sparrow knew that vanity was my Achilles heel, whereas no one else did. Well, perhaps Elizabeth did, but she'd never use it to steal Port Royal blind.

My mind would not stop. And if the questions of the previous weeks were vexing in the extreme, these questions were agony. They racked my every waking moment and made sleep impossible, the very bedclothes sheer torture against my skin. I'd toss and turn until the darkest part of the night, and then finally in desperation I'd pad down to the parlor. Seeking out the green jade queen, I'd roll her around in my hand, as if by some miracle I'd be privy to the inner workings of the man who played her. While standing there my parlor, my back flush against the fireplace, those damn questions would whirl around my mind like a mental hurricane almost driving me mad until the final question was asked: "Are you being a total fool?" It was at this point that I'd then bring her to my mouth, the jade cooling my lips, and miraculously the questions would cease. I'd then put her back in the carrying case and finally stagger up the stairs exhausted, able to eke out a few hours of sleep before dawn.

Yet I did not write a note back telling him not to come. I drafted at least ten letters: the first one accused him of plotting to rob the armory by trading on the affections of his friends to accomplish such a vile scheme; the second told him in no uncertain terms that consorting with a known pirate would fatally damage my career and if he arrived on Thursday I would clap him in irons clemency or no clemency; and the rest of them were undignified requests for an explanation as to why he was going to such lengths to play a simple game of chess. With me. I sent none of them but burned each one, the fire in the grate licking away the words that I couldn't voice but couldn't stop hearing.

The nasty weather continued, fat droplets the size of gold pieces lashed against my windows. Will and I still played chess every afternoon, but not on the set Jack had given me. That was safely stashed away. The gift of the chess set must remain a secret. How could I possibly explain the magnificent gift given to someone who deserved it not? It was a painful reminder of the commodore who hesitated and delegated to another the brave act of saving the man who had saved his life. The fact that I'd let Jack go free in no way compensated for what I was beginning to view as probably the most shameful day of my entire career. It was so easy to let Jack jump from that battlement. So easy to placate Gillette and pretend we were trying to catch him. So easy. The events that shape us, make us men, that separate the wheat from the chaff are not the easy victories. I had enough scars on my person to vouch for that.

Distracted in the extreme, William actually beat me twice. Even more astonishing, Elizabeth had ceased her tirades against the dressmaker (and the intolerable nuzzling) and would sit silent for a good thirty minutes nibbling on candied almonds. Elizabeth silent! William's brow was now continuously creased in my presence, Elizabeth constantly touching my forearm for no reason, a question poised on her lips but never asked.

On Thursday morning, I retrieved the mountain of paperwork that threatened to suffocate Gillette and Groves; I needed to do something or I'd go mad. They, too, were watching me. Only years of friendship stopped me from issuing one of my withering set downs when Gillette had the temerity to ask me if I was well. Of course I was well! What was wrong with everyone?

Had I made it clear to Mrs. Pince that we needed two place settings?

The paperwork put to bed for the night, I walked home from the fort, the rain finally abating for the nonce. The long walk up the hill ameliorated some of the tension eating me alive. The only time I'd felt this sort of dreadful anticipation was that horrible moment before going into battle, when you are waiting for the enemy's sword to fall, to lunge, to strike you, to draw blood, and you know that it will come down to you or him.

Would he actually appear? If he did not?

As I approached the house the faint tinkle of a pianoforte could be heard above the rush of the wind, a Scarlatti piece that I'd been trying to master without success. The player was quite accomplished, a sure hand glided over those keys. This musician had a sense of humor, the embellishments and trills cheeky and bold. They drew every nuance possible. I sighed. I'd never be able to play this well. I leaned against the doorway to my home waiting for the end of the song. And yet another surprise. Instead of a rousing finish—which is what I'd have expected from the boisterous interpretation up until now—the musician finished on a melancholy note, no trills, just a few soft notes. And then it was done. Perfection. I leaned my head in the direction of the music, savoring every sad tone, every beautiful sound coaxed out of my pianoforte… What? This was my pianoforte making that beautiful music.

I wrenched open the front door. Not bothering to hang up my hat or coat, I'd reached the parlor door just in time to see Jack closing the lid of the pianoforte.

"James," he greeted with a broad grin in an effort to hide the deep blush flaming both cheeks. "Little early today, hope you don't mind. Wanted to take advantage of the break in the weather. Didn't fancy rowing in the gale I smell brewing offshore. Mrs. Pince has done herself proud. Been peeking. Treacle tart…" a pink tongue licked his upper lip while lifting up the napkin covering his plate, "and nice looking cheddar. Poured myself a glass o'wine already, got a little chilled… James, you don't look well. Everything ship shape?"

I pointed at the pianoforte.

The blush that had been abating returned. Then Jack did that little headshake he does, a sparrow-like twitch in the direction of the instrument. "Keep her tuned. I see." He sounded wistful, an unusual mood for Jack. "Nice instrument. Like I said before, you commodores live almost as good as us pirates. May I pour you a glass of wine? You look like you need it."

I nodded. Jack poured the wine with a deft hand. No swaying, just that feline ease so intrinsic to him that made even the most simple movements emanate from his very toes and roll up his spine. So much more entrancing than his usual overblown flamboyance.

I first removed my hat and placed it on the pianoforte. Then my coat, which I folded into a neat, rather naval issue square, all these movements buying me time to stop the silly shaking of my hands, all in absolute relief that he was here in my parlor. Despite that saucy good-bye, that bow, that deep something in those black eyes before he'd blown me that kiss, I wasn't sure he'd come back.

Once assured that I was once more in control, I turned and reached for my glass. "Why no theatrics, Jack? With everyone else there's the sashay, the arm roll, you know, the movement." I rolled my arm in a series of elaborate curlicues and sweeps, not a single dropped spilled despite the show. Tossing in a few smirks accompanied by fluttering eyelids, I then downed a big swig of wine.

He laughed at loud at that, and bangles and trinkets chiming together as that black unruly mop swayed back and forth in time to his amusement. Like everything Jack did, this wasn't a meek laugh, but something from the deepest reaches of his gut. A laugh that you couldn't help joining in on. The essence of mirth. "Very good, Jamie, very good. You're full of surprises, you are, mate." He sat down at the table, shook out his napkin, and placed it on his lap. Eyes still crinkled in glee. "Pointless with you. You see beyond all that. Most people, it makes them underestimate me, think me a clown, the worst pirate they've ever seen."

I started at that. "Yes, it does have that effect. Clever."

That warranted a smug, self-satisfied smirk. "If I wasn't clever I'd be dead. Probably the one reason 'em not hanging in Deadman''s Cay as we speak. For some people intimidation is the ticket," a sly little smile was hiked in my direction. "But I don't have the height like some," he said with a nod with his chin at my forehead. "Nor the temperament. Eventually you find out what works to get your way. Found mine. Works with most everyone, but you know better, now. Seen all of Jack's tricks."

The little pout that followed was supposed to lull me into complacency. Hah! "Don't be ridiculous, Jack. You and I both know there's no end to your wiles. As the worst pirate act is no longer successful, it's now the 'best' pirate act."

That got me another full-fledged, no holds barred grin. "Is it working?" An elegant sweep of his hand invited me to sit down.

"No. Jack, may I ask you why you are always inviting me to repast at my own table? I can only hope that one day I'll return the compliment and issue you orders while on the deck of the Pearl." I sat, unfurled my own napkin, and raised my glass in a toast.

Jack toasted me back. "You could try," he chuckled. "Don't think you'd get very far. That Anamaria is a tartar, mate. You're forewarned. Can you tell me why you seem reluctant to eat in my presence? If we don't move things along we'll never get our game in. And I don't have all week, now do I, James?" He cut into the treacle tart first, the fine, most proper manners that had shocked me last week once more in evidence.

"Do you always eat your dessert first, Jack?"

He paused, fork midway to mouth. "James, have had enough meals in my lifetime where I didn't eat dessert first and then some bloke who wants to hang me hauls me up from the table," he cast a pointed look in my direction, "or a woman upends me dinner and then slaps me face."

"Well warranted, no doubt."

"Sometimes," he grinned. "Or a thousand other reasons I could name and the treacle tart doesn't get eaten. 'ave to take your pleasure when you find it, James. 'aven't you learned that?"

I cut into the treacle tart and ate a piece. Delicious. Maybe there was something to this dessert first bit. "Seeking pleasure has not been an overwhelming occupation in my life. The navy rather frowns on that."

Jack stopped eating, his face somber. "Yes, I can well believe that." And then as if he'd said something unforgivable, he ducked his head and continued eating.

"The pianoforte. You play beautifully. I've been struggling with that very song for months."

He lifted his head. Another blush? "Thanks, mate. Seem to have a gift for that." He poked a fork in the direction of the instrument. "Can't keep a pianoforte on the Pearl. Salt wrecks the insides. Can't resist playing whenever I have a chance. She's rather a fine piece. Do you play?"

"Before hearing you, I'd have said yes. Now I merely plonk." The memory of those last few measures, so haunting and melancholy, one could listen to this man play for hours. I put my fork down, appetite gone. Every minute spent in the company of this man did indeed disarm me. Upended my notion of pirate, of Jack. Damn, he wasn't even Jack Sparrow anymore, he'd forever be Jack.

"You're not eating," he admonished. "Yet another thing you learn. If you get through dessert, try to get through the rest because you never know when your next meal might be."

I grimaced. "Yes, that might be the pirate's lot but seldom do I wonder where my next meal is going to come from, although it might be moldy hardtack. The playing, Jack. Really beautiful." I couldn't let this go; I needed him to know how much this had moved me.

Oh, the winsome smile.

"Glad you like it, James. Like it so much, work on the Governor for another night of clemency. Maybe we could start a musical society on Wednesday nights? Eh?"

The thought of Jack resplendent in his pirate garb, the hair trinkets sparkling in the glow of twenty candles, nimble brown fingers caressing my keyboard…

"Jamie, you with me?" Jack interrupted my train of thought.

I smiled and took another sip of wine. "I was thinking of you at that keyboard and a host of Port Royal's finest being regaled by your playing. You have to admit it's an amusing tableaux. They'd be enthralled and yet worried that at some point you'd pull out a pistol and relieve them of their jewelry."

He'd finished his dinner and daubed his mouth once more. We locked eyes. I couldn't read their expression. Usually Jack's eyes flashed, sparkled, but now they were opaque. Unreadable. "Don't play for others, just meself." He paused and then added, "But will play for you if you like." A flicker of those eyes and it was back to filling up his wine glass. If it had been anyone else I would have sworn he was shy.

Another gift. Freely given for no reason this time and from the guarded look on his face, as precious a gift as the chess set.

"I'd…like that. Perhaps if time permits you can come early next Thursday." I tipped the goblet and took a deep draft of wine. "If there is a next Thursday."

Sitting back and hugging the chair with his back, he had look of a cat waiting for the mouse to move. Although his shoulders and neck were relaxed, the muscles in his forearms flexed the slightest bit. If possible, the eyes became darker, more unreadable.

"And why wouldn't I be coming back, Commodore?"

The formal address caused me to blink, to blurt out what I had no intention of articulating. "I don't quite understand all this, Jack. The chess set, the dining together…"

"Didn't expect that, didn't ask for that, mate. That was on your hook," he reminded me.

"Yes, I know." I refilled my wine glass, wondering how to phrase this without insulting him. We'd crossed a line. Somewhere between the table manners and piano playing, Jack had become my equal and he should and must be treated with respect. Yet, how do you tell a man that you suspected him of plotting illicit, illegal acts destined to ruin you and yet not mortally offend him, pirate or not?

"Having second thoughts? Thinkin' mebbe having a pirate as a chess partner might scotch your chances of making admiral by forty? Thinkin' mebbe I've got some plot of my sleeve, like 'commandeering' another boat…uh…ship, or some such nonsense."

I slammed my wine glass down a trifle peeved. "May I remind you, that the Interceptor is now lying on the bottom of the ocean, full of holes from your Pearl's cannons. I'm damn lucky I didn't get a reprimand for that little nonsense, as you term it, not to mention a court-marshal."

He wasn't taking any of it. Black eyes a blaze, he snorted, "Take that tone and shove it up your naval arse, James. Can be sure if I'd been at the helm, Barbossa wouldn't have sunk her.

Breathe deeply, James, I reminded myself. You're in uncharted waters here. "Granted. Your skill at the helm is not in question—"

"Just everything else, though, from my piratey little toes to the top of my piratey little head."

I decided to be honest. I hoped he'd be honest with me. I couldn't go through another week like last week. I might as well reserve a space at Bedlam if this continued. "Yes, I need to know what games you're playing, Jack," I said simply and met his eyes, hoping this didn't sound like begging.

He didn't flinch or even blink. "Was wondering when you'd get around to quizzing me. No reason to get your goods in a knot. Rest assured, Jaime. I'm only here to play chess. Don't have any designs on your little fort." The arm muscles tensed up again. "In the market for a little fun, to be honest. Don't find many people who can beat me." Black eyes narrowed to slits, assessing me. "Think mebbe you can give me at least a run for my money. Not that you'll beat me—"

"You are a monster of vanity."

"Takes one to know one," he commented and stuck his tongue out at me. Obviously, he and Elizabeth have spent far too much time together. "You'll have to trust me on this one. You have to believe that this here," an elegant hand swept the room, taking in the pianoforte, the dining table, and the chess set, "is between James and Jack, not naval commodore and pirate captain. Savvy? Now, either we have an accord or not because won't play if we're not square on this. Just take my sorry little pirate arse out the door and consider it a day. And the next time you see old Jack, we'll be playing a much more deadly game. No doubt you'll be firing the long nines in my direction. Not that you'll catch me and the Pearl—"

"Yes, Jack I know. She's nigh uncatchable." And for a second I very much envied him that ship. I suspected that she was only that way for him. That her preternatural ability to master the ocean was more in response to Jack's devotion than the skilled carpenters that built her.

My comment elicited the expected smirk of confidence, and then he wiped his face clean of all expression. "Do we have an accord, Commodore?"

"Don't call me commodore," I barked back at him. Suddenly I became aware that my hands were coiled into tight fists, the nails biting savagely into my palms.

"Can't have it both ways, James. Think you can trust the man who happens to be a pirate?" He held out a hand across the table, eyes almost half shut. "After all, 'em trusting a man who happens to be a commodore and you nearly bloody well hung me."

I let that ride, in part because it was true. "One question: why the chess set? You didn't have… I don't deserve it, man. You know that."

His shoulders stiffened just a tad. "We're even now, mate. I meet you somewheres official like, and you can fire those long nines without a thought." That was said with something between a grimace and a grin. "And by all rights, I'll run you through should you be lucky enough to make it to the decks of me Pearl." That was said with such ferocity that I sat up straight. There was no doubt in my mind that he would skewer me if it came down to that. It would be me or him. "Don't like being in anyone's debt. Not even yours, James." Those eyes that had been snapping with confidence looked away to the fire.

"One more question."

Now it was his turn to roll the eyes. He huffed at me in frustration, the hands beckoning me to get on with it.

"The pianoforte. The offer to play. Not lightly given, I think," I murmured.

"No, not lightly given," he admitted. "Again, don't like being in someone's debt. Realize the risk you're takin'' having me at your table. In your house. So, do we have an accord, Commodore?" he repeated, voice gruff with some emotion I couldn't read. He held out his hand again.

A beat, two beats. I looked at the chess set, then the pianoforte, then the man. How can a man who never is without expression look so completely blank? The commodore in me warned me, berated me, nay, demanded that I end this once and for all. That I ask him to leave and never come back. And take that bloody chess set with him. The man in me grasped his hand and whispered, "Accord." He uncurled himself from the chair and leaned into the table, his face solemn, not exultant as I expected, and was that relief I saw? "I knew you could do it, Jamie, love."

And again there was that sense of holding a sunbeam. But even worse, I could feel the heat of him across the table, like the rays of some nearby sun or star. It heated me through like the kick and burn you get from swilling back a mouthful of cheap rum. I pulled away and walked swiftly over to the fire. Grabbing the fire place poker, I scattered cinder and ash everywhere.

"Think it's quite hot enough in here already, James," he drawled.

By the time I'd turned around I was once again the model of British naval sanguine. "Are we going to play chess or not?"

Negotiations over, he reverted to feline. One arm lolled along the end of the chair, the other casually stroked the wine bottle. A look that could only be described as an out-and-out leer played over his face. "You know, Jamie, you really do have an exceptionally nice arse. For a commodore. For anyone for that matter. In fact," and the theatrical Jack Sparrow, making a special appearance, crooked a beckoning finger and nearly fell off his chair trying to peer around my side. "Can I have 'nother look see?"

I turned away for a fraction of a second and ordered myself not to blush. I turned back. "No."

"Pwease," he begged and touched his hands together in mock supplication.

"Absolutely. Not. This commodore's arse wants to play chess, Jack. Are you going to sit your also rather fine piratey arse at this table?" I pointed at the chair across from me.

An exaggerated moue of disappointment tugged the corners of his mouth. "If you insist. And knew you noticed my arse, luv," he cooed as he sashayed to the table take his seat. Not even those loose breeches he favored could hide the blatant invite of that extremely luscious backside, which demanded a second and even third look.

I sighed. "Don't call me love."

"Bob's your uncle, love."




If I'd ever wondered what Jack Sparrow's face looked like before going into battle, my curiosity was now sated. He didn't so much sit down as fling himself into the chair. A positively feral gleam darkened those eyes as he inspected the board, his grin menacing in the extreme. Every man got a fingertip caress and then a nudge so that they sat exactly in the middle of their square. He left the queen until last. He picked her up, closed his eyes, and then put her to his mouth and kissed her. His eyes flew open. Wide. He leaned over the table until he was no more an inch away from my face and sniffed. I blushed. A tiny shake of the head and then he grabbed my hand off the table and licked it! Mouth curved in bliss; he licked it again.

Oh my God, my hand felt like he'd branded it. That peculiar heat from him raced up my spine, danced across my shoulders, caressed each nipple, and then pooled in my groin where it continued to burn and burn and burn. Only years of naval training stopped me from moaning out loud. I wrenched my hand away. It grasped its brother, tight. I placed both of them behind my back, out of reach, and studied the chess board as if my life depended on it.

He fell back into his chair, and a full-blown "Ah" escaped from his slightly parted lips. "Treacle and lemon," he murmured. "Jamie," he whispered. I did NOT look up. "James L. Norrington," he sing-songed. "What have you been doing with Jack's queen. Eh? Have you been a bad boy?"

Satisfied that my furious blush had calmed somewhat, I looked up. "No, I have not!" I spat back.

I got the smug, know-it-all smirk. Curling into the back of his chair, he brought the queen up to his mouth and laved her with his tongue, front and back, slowly up and down the jade.

Reinventing the words "stiff upper lip," I straightened my back as it has never been straightened, snatched the queen away from him, and I placed it back on the chess board. His saliva wet my hand. I clenched it, the sweat from my palm mingled with his spit. I coughed to hide the burn that reignited tenfold in my groin.

An amused chuckle and a finger, so light I could barely feel it, tugged on my ear lobe for just a second. "Oh, Jack thinks differently. Am ready to play. Are you? Am really, really ready, Jamie. So ready I can taste it. Jack wants dessert."

A night for revelations. In addition, to knowing what Jack will look like before he plunges a dagger into my heart, I now know what he sounds like in full arousal. His voice deepened to the softest basso, throaty, needy. Beautiful. He leaned forward again, the aroma of rum and cinnamon and musk overwhelming. Another point of fact. I now know what Jack smells like in full heat as well.

Damn him to hell.

"You've had your dessert, Jack."

"Jack's still hungry, James. Please," he whispered in my ear.

As much as I regret it, sometimes only a French word will do. Sangfroid, James. You have untold reserves of sangfroid courtesy of the British navy. Use it. Lifting my head, I faced him full on. I shoved the palm of one hand forcefully onto his shoulder and pushed him back into his seat. I leaned back in my chair with a facsimile of ease, thanks to a generous helping of royal navy grit, and, using my frostiest, the commodore-is-irritated-to-the-utmost tone, bit out each word. "Jack will have to starve. Chess. I am ready to play chess. And chess is the only game I'm willing to play."

"What about me?"

"Whatever are you speaking of, Jack?" I noticed my king was slightly off-kilter. I realigned him.

"Me, what do I taste like, mate?" he wheedled. "Won't play till you tell me, so cough it up."

I cannot tell you how long we stared at each other. Him, perched on the edge of his chair, mouth parted in a little "oh" of anticipation, me trying to appear as nonchalant as possible while the chair rungs bit into my back.

"If I tell you, will you shut up and play? Not another word?"

Eager head nodded frantically. Charms jangled.

"Rum. Cinnamon."

"Prove it," he demanded.

I slammed both hands down on the table. "We agreed. No more talking."

Completely unphased by my little display of temper, he shrugged and smirked, "Pirate."

I picked up the green queen, licked her front and back, and then replaced her on her square. I ignored the rather loud hiss coming from Jack's end of the room.

"Like I said. Rum. Cinnamon. And since you broke our accord, I shall move first."




Outside of the words "check" and "checkmate", we said nothing for the next three hours. For the first two games we weren't playing so much as measuring each other, feeling each other out, seeing which moves the other man favored. Foreplay, if you will. I won all four games. The fourth game was a bit of a struggle, but I won. As a testament to my character I did not gloat, I said nothing, just re-aligned the men. I must admit it took every ounce of good breeding I possessed not to gloat, especially after that crowing I'd had to listen to earlier.

At midnight, Jack stretched, his lithe body leaning into a loud yawn. "Think we need to call it a night, James. Ole Jack's worn out."

Indeed, he did look worn out, the kohl now smudged halfway down the right side of his face, as he had a tendency to lean on a tanned cheek when studying his next move. In the dim light he looked like a sleepy chimney sweep.

He rolled up from his chair to warm himself at the fire. I followed him up and stretched myself out on the sofa. I moved my neck back and forth to get the kinks out; we'd been hunched over that table for hours. When I lifted my head, Jack was studying me. "You look happy."

I smiled at him. I was happy and sleepy and best of all not bored. "Aside from a rather stiff neck, yes, I am. I like winning." Surely, a little gloating wouldn't be out of order.

"Hmmmn, guess will have to wait until next week to see how losing sits on those lovely, lovely shoulders." A long finger trailed a path from the crook of my neck to the top of my arm.

"Stop that," I ordered. "And what do you mean losing?"

I now know that eyes at half-mast means mischief and more mischief is on the horizon. "Bothers you, does it?" Another easy, one-fingered caress of the other shoulder.

"No," I lied. "You didn't answer my question. Losing?"

With a languid motion, Jack brought his arms behind his head, closed his eyes, and stretched again, displaying just how long and just how slim was his waist. Despite the generous cut of his linen shirt, there was no mistaking the lean line of that body. The vee of his shirt gaped open, revealing a bronze chest, as brown as his hands. Was he brown everywhere? I immediately banished that most un-commodore-like thought from my mind.

"Yes, mate. Losing." The stretch now done, he now did a rather accurate imitation of me last week, with both arms out wide, hands absentmindedly fondling the intricate carving of the frontpiece. If I had any question of whether Jack Sparrow possessed the physical grace and beauty of ten men, it was answered. I doubt I'd complimented my own mantelpiece one smidgen as well. But what was this about losing?

"That seems presumptuous in the extreme, Jack. As I've just beaten you four out of four."

A lazy hand stifled another yawn and then fingers returned to curl around the mantle edge. "Oh, wouldn't exactly call those wins, James."

"Oh you wouldn't, would you," I said in my shirty best. "Don't know what sort of bastard rules pirates play by, but for us lowly royal naval gobs, checkmate usually signals the win. One for the road?" I walked over to the sideboard and held up a bottle of my best armagnac.

"Thanks, mate. Will warm me insides for the long row back."

"Do not," I handed him a glass, "think for one minute that I believe you're rowing back to the Pearl. The rain has been pounding against the windows for the last hour. And despite that, even you wouldn't be insane enough to try to row in the pitch black. In a gale. I assume that you're staying with either Elizabeth or William. Do not tell me whom. It's better if I don't know. Besides, you're free until tomorrow afternoon."

"That I am." He finished off the entire contents of the glass in one gulp and held it out for another helping. I obliged him. "You're going to put ole Jack out in the rain are you? Make him all wet. Might melt, you know." The eyes were definitely at half-mast, swimming with some emotion over the rim of the snifter. The heady scent of the liquor climbed up sides of the glass and wafted out as he swirled the glass first this way and that, his eyes never leaving mine. With a start I noticed that in this light his eyes were exactly the color of armagnac. Funny. I've always thought of them as black, but they weren't. I looked away. I saw a question in those eyes I couldn't answer.

Perching myself on the end of sofa, I took a healthy swig myself. "Never known a sailor who minded a little water. Besides, William will be in hysterics if you don't show up soon. No doubt he's waiting up for you to ascertain that I haven't hauled you off to the fort."

"Well, if I didn't show up he'd no doubt come barreling over to your place demanding an explanation in that earnest way of his and he'd find me. And no 'arm done. Course he might appear at the most inopportune moment…"

"No, Jack…" and I let the sentence die. I didn't know what to say or how to say it.

With a resigned little sigh, he repeated, "No 'arm done," and leaned over to give my cheek one of those feather-weight caresses he seems to have perfected. "Don't mind losing this round. Jamieluv." It came out as all one word.

"Rounds, you mean," I snorted.

"Wasn't talking about the chess, mate. Anyways, like I said. If you call that winning—"

"Stop speaking in riddles, Jack. I clearly won," I said indignantly.

"Let you win. Let you win, James. Learn almost everything you need to know about a man's game by letting him win. Won't happen next week, I assure you." Eyes blazing, mouth cracked wide in a most predatory grin.

"Empty threats, Jack Sparrow. I checkmated you four times."

"Jack Sparrow is it now? Oh no! He's bringing out the long nines! Jack is vewy afwaid." Jack brought his hands up to his face in mock horror and peeked out from behind his fingers.

I laughed. He was ridiculous, charming, and teasing me. And I let him. He laughed with me, both of us chortling together long and loud. Somehow, I found myself standing in front of him, our hands on each other's shoulders to prop ourselves up, weak from all that laughter. It took me a few seconds to realize that he wasn't laughing anymore, but had rested his forehead lightly against my chest. His fingers dug into my shoulders and he pressed harder into my chest. Then abruptly he pulled away. Face sober, lips pursed, his eyes traveled over my face with an intensity that took my breath away. It was like he was memorizing every plane, shape, and line.

I took my thumb and wiped the smudged kohl from his cheek. "You've got kohl down to your chin." I looked down. The front of my shirt was black.

A hoot of laughter. "To remember me by, Jamieluv. Until next week." A finger went to his lips, then that same finger to mine. And he was out the door.




The days from Thursday to Thursday confirmed in my mind that there is indeed a God. The natural order of the world returned. Those non-stop questions that had been battering me for weeks ceased. I penned at least thirty letters threatening those foolish enough to try to steal from His Majesty with nice long holidays in the jail cells of my fort if they did not forthwith revise their fraudulent requisitions. I slept like a baby every night. My colleagues and friends stopped giving me those pitying glances as if I had a fatal disease. I soundly beat William in every one of our afternoon chess matches. Elizabeth resumed her rantings and ravings against the mantua maker. Unfortunately, Elizabeth and William resumed as well their infernal love-making in my presence. Not even my sarcastic, "Why don't you two just rip your clothes off and sate each other on my hearth" had any effect. Both of them just laughed. And to top it off, Elizabeth and I had a delightful stroll in her garden on Tuesday afternoon, the entire time making snarky remarks at the expense of Port Royal's finest citizens. All in all, a splendid week.

A delightful medley of country airs teased me as I walked up the street to my house. Hastening my step, I reached my front door, saw Jack's battered pirate hat hanging on a hook, divested myself of my own hat and coat, and stepped into my parlor. Jack was seated the pianoforte, playing like mad, and wearing a wig.

Not just any wig, mind you. A confection of gray curls that most definitely had last been seen on the head of Governor Swann.

"Lo, Jamieluv." Jack ceased playing at my entrance and gave me the broadest of grins. "Miss me?"

I marched over to him and thrust out my hand. "Give it to me. Right now, Jack," I growled.

"What?" he asked, the little devil the picture of innocence. That long-suffering nanny once more came to mind.

"The wig!" I shouted. "You've stolen—"

He held up a finger.

"Do not even utter the word commandeer in my presence. You stole Governor Swann's wig," I sputtered

He swatted away my hand. "Didn't steal it," he huffed. "Just borrowed it like. He's got lots. Won't even miss it. Felt underdressed to be honest. You in your smart navy duds and me in my little ole pirate rags."

I pressed a hand to my forehead. A headache was brewing. Had brewed. Was now pounding away. "Rags," I managed to eke out. "Except for the shirt, you are clothed in silk and satin from head to toe, nice new boots," at that he did a little jig with his feet, "gold, silver, and is that an emerald, are woven into that unruly black mop of yours, and you feel underdressed? You are a little grubby, I admit, but you're as colorful as a parrot. Now give me that wig."

His eyebrows raised to the ceiling in glee. "Oooohhh, I like that description. Not the grubby part, but the parrot part. Why you clutching your head, James? 'Nother headache, love? Here, let me get you a glass of wine."

He sidled out from the piano and handed me a glass that had been already filled, keeping his head back so I couldn't reach the wig. I downed it and poured myself another.

He'd sashayed over to the mirror above the fireplace and began tossing his head this way and that. "You know," he said, and both hands traveled down the length of his torso, "think I'm rather fetching in this wig. Kind of hot and itchy tho', How can you stand wearing one night and day? Bet you even wear it to bed."

"I do not wear a wig to bed," I insisted. I flopped down in my dining chair and watched him preen in front of the mirror. Nothing in my living memory was more ridiculous than Jack in full pirate regalia, silks, sash, trinkets in hair, billowy linen shirt, boots, in juxtaposition with that cascade of gray curls bobbing on his head. I had no intention of encouraging him and it was only with the greatest of difficulty that I stifled a laugh. "You are, without a doubt, the vainest man I've ever met."

He grinned at me through the mirror. "Like I said before, James. Takes one to know one. Why you wear it all the time?" He slapped his cheek, "Gee, mate, is it because you're bald? Haven't got any hair left, 'av you? An you probably not even topping thirty-five."

I slammed down my wine glass. "I am thirty-one and I am not bald."

He turned around eyes at half-mast, a glitter with mischief. The look I'd come to dread. I groaned inwardly.

"Sooooo, take it off. Don't fancy playing you wearing that bit of fur on your head. Reminds me of the day you nearly hung me."

What was that word? Sangfroid. "No."

"You take yours off, I'll take mine off," he challenged.

"First of all, it's not yours—"

"It's on me head, isn't it?"

"And second, this," I pointed to the wig, "is part of who I am."

He pouted. "And your real hair isn't?" He cocked his head, a puzzled look on his face.

"What?"

"Trying to imagine you without any hair, mate." Head cocked in other direction. "Still think you'd be as cute as a bug on a rug."

"Oh for God's sake," I pulled off the wig, thrust my head in his direction, and then stuffed it back on my head. "Satisfied?"

"Not exactly," he purred. He sauntered over and stood before my chair. I stiffened. Coiling a finger around an errant brown curl, he pulled ever so gently. "Got a sweet curl to it."

"It's the humidity," I ground out the words through the side of my mouth.

"Pretty," he whispered and tucked it under the rim of my wig. He then sat down. I slowly let out a sigh of relief.

He lifted his wine glass, "Cheers."

"I refuse to toast you if you're wearing that wig."

He unfurled his napkin. "Doesn't suit me? Think it's the gray meself." He cast an acquisitive eye in the direction of my head. "Need a white one like yours."

That made me sit up. "You steal my wig and you're a dead man," I warned him.

"Temper, temper, James. Take yours off and I'll take mine off."

Ignoring him, I cut into the treacle tart and then put my fork down. The headache still raged in full force. How was I going to get that wig back? I scooted my chair around so that I could lean against the wall. I shut my eyes and listened to the tiny sounds of knife and fork meeting Jack's plate as his ate his dinner.

"Eat something, you'll feel better. How'd you join the navy, James? Must say it suits you to a bloody tee. 'M curious."

I let out a small laugh. "Can imagine your curiosity had led you into many scrapes."

"Happens actually to be my saving grace, mate. The best times of my life were because I was curious and asked questions and did things to satisfy that curiosity. Now fess up. You tell me and I tell you. Few people know much about Jack Sparrow so you'll be getting a treat."

"Not much to tell, really. Younger son of minister who had a surfeit of children. Uncle was an admiral and saw much promise in a rather solemn young boy. Set out to sea when I was twelve. End of story. You're right. It does suit me. I'd be…lost without it. Now you." I opened my eyes. Jack had finished his tart and was now buttering a piece of bread.

"Another thing you and me have in common. Father was a curate. Poor curate. Lots of children by second wife. She didn't like me much. Bitch." This was said without rancor, just a matter of fact. "Was too much like first wife in both looks and temperament I'm told."

"How old were you when you went to sea?"

"Ten."

I raised an eyebrow. "That seems a little young."

Jack finished his wine and there was a little pause. "Well, dear old father never forgave me for killing his young bride in childbirth, so he was more than glad to see the last of my backside. Told you the other wife hated my little guts. Only person who shed a tear over my going was my nanny. Wonder if she's still alive?" A sad wistful note to his voice. The feral grin returned. "Think I'm a handful now? Was a total hellion as a boy."

"No doubt in my mind on that score."

"Made her dance a merry tune most o' of the time. But she sewed and packed all my clothes for my first voyage with all the care and love as if she'd been my real mum," he sighed. He raised his glass. "Dear ole Bessie, did Jack proud."

I raised my glass to Bessie. "Who was your captain?"

"First captain was Frederick Wentworth. Good man. Fair man."

My eyes bugged out of my head. "You were with the navy." It wasn't a question.

Jack's eyes danced with mirth. "Sure, mate, How do you think I've survived this long? Know all your little rules and regulations and what not by heart. Not much about His Majesty's finest I don't know. Have special insight into what you're doing to do in battle, always the same thing, mind you. You blokes don't have much imagination." He raised his glass. "Present company notwithstanding."

Oh, it all made too much sense. Why he'd eluded every trap, why he could steal British naval ships and pilot them without a single fumble.

"Usually don't tell people that little fact about meself, but it was worth it to see your face. James," and with that he went into peals of laughter.

When he'd stopped laughing, a considerable amount of time later, I prompted him, "And second?"

He paused. He put down his knife and fork and filled his glass. The wine bottle hit the table with a sharp thud. Placing his hands flat on the table, he raised his head, his face twisted into the most frightening display of complete hatred I've ever seen.

"Captain. Jock. Ritchie." He paused between each word, as if it were physically painful to utter that name. And knowing the man, it probably was.

Jock Ritchie was an affront to the Royal Navy. Everything I'd done in my career was in direct repudiation of that man's conduct. He had been addicted to the lash, discipline merely a fancy name for sadism. Haven't met a man yet that didn't blanch when his name was mentioned. His cruelty was legendary; the man should have been court-martialed. But he had his supporters, equally vicious men in high command who felt that every man was expendable, and that it was a bloody shame that there weren't many more captains like him. Ten years into his command the men on his ship mutinied and killed him, every man sticking a dagger into him in revenge.

"Were you part of the mutiny?" I asked quietly. I placed a hand over his. "I wouldn't have blamed you, if you were."

"No, 'm sorry to say. Didn't have the pleasure," he grimaced. "Have to hand it to Jock Ritchie, though, learned how to be bendy under his command."

I raised an eyebrow. "Bendy?"

"You know, use whatever I could to survive. Learned that those rule books were only as good as the person applying them. Ritchie was an absolute stickler for rules and regulations, and it didn't save me or anyone else from his brutality. Decided it was time to make a few rules of my own. Being his cabin boy was trial by fire in that respect."

His cabin boy. It must have shown in my face because his hand moved on top of mine and squeezed it tight. "Yes, James, his cabin boy with all that entails and then some." Still not leaving go of my hand, he shifted chair and stared into the fire. "Think I'm a sight to behold now, imagine me at fourteen. Looked like a lass then, I did. And Jock Ritchie was very partial to slight young boys who looked like lasses. At least being his cabin boy saved me from the lash. Didn't want his nightly fuck marked up. When he found out I was the son of a curate he used to make me quote scripture when he buggered me. Sick bastard. But I eventually got my own back on him and like I said, I learned how to be bendy. Wouldn't have survived as long as I have without those God-forsaken years on his ship."

"Your own back?"

Jack closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall. "First learned that getting buggered wasn't necessarily all that bad and then learned to like it. Kept that from him though. Wouldn't have given him the satisfaction. Shortly after I turned sixteen we docked in New Orleans. One night he told me he loved me. Believed him, too. As much as that shit could love anyone. That was what I was waiting for. In the middle of the night I jumped ship and found me a pirate ship more than willing to take me on. End of story." Another grimace, the eyes, already shut, tightened.

I squeezed his hand back. He sighed and said quietly, "Past is past, James. Let's play some chess."




He beat me soundly the first two games. The third game. And then the fourth. And it was only ten o'clock.

"Take off that blasted wig!" I ordered. "It's distracting me."

"Never pegged you as a sore loser, James. And I warned you. Told you I was letting you win last time. The fourth game was harder, I admit. Take more chances. You play it a little too safe. Know you've got some pirate in you. Use it and you'll beat me," Jack commented rather matter of fact.

"I have no intention of turning pirate." I threw my wig across the room. "There. Now take it off."

"Don't think I will now," he cooed. "Me good luck charm."

"Jack," I warned. "Take that wig off now or I'll take it off myself."

"Oh really?" and the eyes went half mast.

I reached across the table to grab the wig, but he was too quick for me. He scooted back his chair and skirted out behind the sofa. A finger curled up and invited me to follow. My parlor is not that large. I leapt from my chair and lunged for him. Anticipating my move, he made to edge around the sofa but those long legs of mine were too fast. Tackling him, I pushed him against the wall and reached for the wig. Snatching it off his head, he secreted it behind his back.

"No fair," he complained. "Legs too bloody long."

"Commodore," I smirked back at him and reached behind him to grab the wig.

Both of us wriggled madly, he trying to keep the wig out of my reach, me struggling to finally grab it and end this farce. I leaned into him and scooted my arms behind him. Eureka, I felt a curl and grabbed. "Got it!" I yelled in victory. I got an "oh" in my ear in response and realized all too quickly that there wasn't even a hair breadth between the two of us and one of us had a massive hard on and the other one of us was quickly matching suit. Breaths quickened, cocks got harder. I couldn't move, relishing the sensation of complete heat that blanketed every pore in my body. He curled into me ever so slightly.

"Your move," he whispered, his breath hot and wet.

Oh,jesusmaryandjoseph, why did this feel so right when it was so wrong? I groaned, as much in desire as in agony. "I cannot," I whispered back.

"Aren't you hungry? Jack's hungry. Oh so hungry for James." His breath ghosted across my ear. Each word forced out in between short, hot pants. I could feel his mouth resting against the hair near my ear as he began whispering over and over again in a gentle litany, PrettyprettyJamielovesweetJackwantswantsprettyJamieluv.

Why doesn't he put his mouth on me? The spot between my neck and collarbone ached for that most beautiful of mouths to caress me, to bite me. If he did that I would be lost, I would not be able to stop. I would succumb to that scent, that litany, that innate sexuality that so defines him, that so seduces me with his every heartbeat. His panting deepening as his mouth moved over my hair, the litany becoming more ragged as his desire heightened. And then he stopped. And like the other night, he leaned his forehead against my shoulder. We panted together in unison. I heard a muffled, "Christ, James, please." Clearly it was my decision. I was yet again on the knife edge.

"I cannot," I groaned and wrenched myself away from him. I stood in front of the fire, my back to him, shivering, my body as cold as if I'd stood naked in an ice storm. I could not look at him. "Jack, I'm begging you, please go."

"James, there's nothing wrong—" desire still held his speech, his voice raspy and deep.

"Dammit, Jack. Go!"

I don't know how long stood there, arms wrapped around me in a futile attempt to stop the shivering. When I'd thought, hoped, he'd gone, I turned around. He was standing in the doorway.

"Do you want me to come back?"

I nodded once. He nodded once back. He left.




I should reserve a space in Bedlam. I wanted to fuck a pirate. Despite everything that I held dear, every moral and social canon I'd believed for the last twenty years, I burned for him, I craved him. I lashed that jade queen with my tongue over and over again in the dead of night as I fisted myself to completion. But no matter how many times I orgasmed, it did not slake this passion. And I realized that every time we sat down to eat, I'd not bothered and that was because I'd been feasting off of him. His scent, his laughter, every movement, every saucy smile, even his pain, and it was good and enough and I had been fulfilled. Yet I could not, could not give in to this desire, even though I knew for certain that it was reciprocated, was equal to mine.

Because I am a creature of habit, and even in this new madness habit seems to be the rule of the day, I drafted more letters. They all said the same thing. "I cannot." That is all: I cannot. I watched the fire consume these two words over and over again.

Despite the rather stiff exterior, I am a passionate man. I've labored hard to suppress this facet of my personality. This trait has been the undoing of many men. I have seen it. The captain who never makes commodore because of his temper. The lieutenant who is forever a lieutenant because of a fatal attraction to bawds, male or female.

The bitch goddess ambition demanded that I channel this passionate nature, and I admit with no small degree of pride that I have done so. It manifests itself in a shocking ferocity in battle, extreme loyalty and love for my king, my navy, my men, my friends. It is fed through my love of music, flowers, fine wine, and good food. My love for Elizabeth was equal parts of love for her wit, intelligence, and joie de vivre, as well a healthy desire to bed her.

Now I wanted to bed Jack. And not with a throw away passion. Oh no. This was the sort of lust that ate my insides and no matter how many orgasms I achieved on my own, still left me still wanting in the dark.

But commodores do not bed other men. Aside from the issue of bedding pirates, even if I had desired an officer, say Gillette or Groves, the potential consequences on our careers if we'd been caught would have been catastrophic. Although the Royal Navy bans relations between men on religious and moral grounds, it also recognizes that ships are not manned by saints, and I've always turned a blind eye in my command to such goings on. Six months on a ship with nothing but a calloused hand in the middle of the night is above and beyond the call of duty. But officers are held to a higher standard. We are the living rule of British grit and, as such, we're supposed to suppress desire until it is appropriate to indulge in it. You wait until you get into port. Then you find a brothel with clean women and what you do behind those closed doors is nobody's business. And if carnal relations between officers were discovered? Certainly dishonor and demotion if we were lucky, possible expulsion from the service if we were not. Being caught having carnal relations with a pirate. Both of us hanged the next morning.

And yet this wasn't my over-riding concern. Although perhaps it should be.

Not an outwardly religious man, I did have a deep abiding faith that did not just manifest at the alms box. Was this a sin against God? Three months ago I would have said yes. Absolutely. And now? I had no answers. I'd never desired other men. I was lucky. My captain was the opposite of Jock Ritchie, a fair but stern man with a brood full of children and no desire to corrupt young boys. So my experience with men was limited to a few youthful exploratory rubbing of someone else's cock, or letting someone rub mine, and hearing the whisperings and grunts in the night of my fellow midshipmen who took pleasure where they found it. A few curt rebuffs on my part and my considerable height saved me from the attentions of other men. I'd never considered men for sexual sport no matter how desperate I became. Ever. Which might explain why I spent a goodly portion of my first prize money at Singapore Sal's.

Of course, Jack Sparrow wasn't an ordinary man, but surely that shouldn't matter. And this wasn't just lust; I knew that. I think if it just had been lust I could have succumbed to his pleas without any qualms. There was a deeper desire that clothed the lust, that complimented it, that fueled the desire. That made me want to bed only him, not slake myself at the nearest brothel, which I could easily have done and have done so in the past. No, I wanted him. The most luscious whore in the world couldn't compete with the mere touch of that man's tongue on the back of my hand.

The next week was a living hell. I was commodore in name only. If distracted the previous week, my state of mind this week was nothing short of being nearly insensible. I cancelled all engagements. I told William my duties at the fort demanded that I forego the chess games for a while. I spent that time in church on my knees begging for guidance. I received no solace from this. God was silent. Clearly, the answer was to be found in my heart and soul. The only thing my heart told me was that he would be here in six days, here in five days, etc. I was so confused that I didn't even know what would happen Thursday next. I was too weak to tell him to stay away but unable to succumb to this desire either. The commodore in me shouted duty, restraint, obligation, resolve. These should be your watchwords. The man in me whispered desire, love, passion, companionship. These are words to live by.




I was late Thursday evening, and no music greeted me this time. With relief and dread, I saw the pirate hat in the hall and hung up my hat and coat next to it. I steeled myself before entering the parlor.

The weather had finally broken. Simon had laid faggots for the fire, but it was really too warm for that. A breeze sent the curtains aflutter. Jack stood at the fireplace waiting for me.

"Lo, James," he smiled a tight smile, not sure as to whether he was welcome or not.

"Lo, Jack," I stood with my back to the parlor door, really not knowing what to do.

He studied me. "Want me to leave? Will."

I shook my head. "Play something for me, will you, Jack?" I was almost in tears. I leaned back against the door and closed my eyes. I heard the faint thud of the lid of the pianoforte and then blessed music. At some point I moved myself on the sofa. I couldn't tell you what he played; I didn't pay attention to the notes. I just let the music wash over me and ease out slowly every self-doubt I'd tortured myself with during the last seven days. After about an hour, I raised my head. "Thank you. You hungry?"

"Not tonight, mate," He still sat at the piano.

"Come, Jack. Sit with me." I patted the floor in front of the sofa.

"You sure?" he asked.

I nodded.

ambled over to the table and poured us two glasses of wine. When he reached the sofa he handed me one and then raised his glass to toast me. His eyes met mine, and they were so full of compassion that those tears I'd been relatively successful in tamping down for the last hour filled my eyes again; it was only with the greatest of efforts that I stopped them from coursing down my cheeks.

With that grace that brought another lump to my throat, he eased his way to the floor and leaned against the back of the sofa, facing the fireplace.

There was silence for a few moments and then, "Rotten time of it this week?"

"Hmmmn."

"Governor Swann get his wig back?

"Hmmmn."

"Think mebbe our little game got out of hand?"

"No. Nothing you did. Nothing that wasn't reciprocated." I amended. "I'm… Very confused. Not something I readily admit to, I must confess. His Majesty does not like confusion in its commodores. Bad for morale, don't you know." I didn't even feel like drinking. I put down my wine glass next to him and shut my eyes.

"It's not wrong, James."

I sighed. "Jack, perhaps for pirates it isn't wrong, but for commodores it's so wrong that I'd be hung alongside you in Deadman's Cay should we be caught."

"Is that all you're worried about because I don't plan on spreading the news at the Tar that Commodore James L. Norrington is buggering me. You're not the only one with a reputation to protect."

"No, it's not just that."

"Ever bugger, been buggered, James? Men? Women?"

"No, no, no, and no. You obviously have done any and all."

"Now it's my turn to say hmmmn."

That made me chuckle.

"First laugh I've heard from you tonight."

"Hmmmn."

"Ever done anything with a man?"

"Just some rubbing when I was young. Nothing else."

"Hmmmn. Who was your first woman?"

"Sal."

His head snapped around, charcoal eyebrows scrunched up so high they nearly assaulted that red scarf he wore around his head. "Sal?" he squeaked, his voice up two full octaves.

"Yes, think she felt sorry for me."

He snorted, "Doubt that, lad. Sal is one of the finest women I've ever known, but didn't know her to spread her legs for anyone once she got her own place."

"Just lost my mother."

"Oh. Then she might have done. Has a little soft spot few people know about. Well, that makes you and me the only two people I know who've had the pleasure. Did you bugger her? Know for a fact she's rather partial."

"Jack, what part of 'no' don't you understand? I did not bugger her."

"Just checking. Old cock in cunt thing? Thrust, grind, roll your hips, thrust grind."

"You have such a way with words. Yes, we did that and then some. Hand me my wine glass."

"Care to go into copious detail?' He looked like a child pining for the last lollipop on earth.

"No."

"Well, whatever you did, did you like it? Your parts all seem to be in very good working order… And Sal really is quite gifted in all regards… Any man that didn't enjoy her probably would be made of stone. And—"

I cuffed his shoulder. "Shut it. Of course, I liked it. In fact, like is far too mild a word. And before you ask, yes, I've been with a few women since. And I liked it those times, too."

"Was a little worried, mate, must confess. Want you to know that it's more or less the same thing. Cock goes in hole, thrusts, grinds, I do something with my hips most people like very much…"

An image of Jack bent over me, my legs wrapped around his waist, his cock in me… Ohlordhelpme.

"Anyway, so if it's not a problem with the commodore buggering the pirate thing…"

"That's not a small consideration, Jack," I protested. "I don't fancy a noose around my neck any time in the near future and after your recent brush with the hangman would assume that you, too, would find it most objectionable. But no, it's not the main consideration."

"Ahem, you're interrupting me, James. So you and me keep quiet whatever delightfully naughty little fantasies we perpetrate on each other. Am warning you, I have a very fertile imagination—"

"Tell me something I don't know, Jack."

"You're interrupting, again," he huffed. "Now where was I? We've ascertained that your cock likes nice, warm tight places, which I might add am very glad to hear because this pirate cock also likes nice, warm tight places and very much wants to feast something terrible at the commodore's table quite often and quite loudly. Think you feel the same."

I was silent.

"I'll take that as a yes. Can only conclude that it's a nagging little moral issue."

I was silent.

"Jack's hit the nail on the head has he?"

Silent again. Then because he deserved some sort of answer, I muttered. "Men don't do men, Jack. Or they shouldn't."

"Who says?" he countered.

"I think the Bible is fairly explicit on that particular sin."

"Also says that thou shalt not kill. Haven't noticed that little commandment stopped the Royal Navy from hanging pirates or running them through or shooting them dead. Last time I came through Port Royal saw several men I knew hanging from Deadmen's Cay."

"The first man I ever killed still haunts my dreams."

"Aye, me too, but we still go on doing it and no doubt you'll kill a few more men before you die, as will I. Give me your hand."

With great reluctance, I eased my hand over his shoulder. He took it in one of his and traced the calluses with his fingers. "I love your hands. I watch them move the men around the board, and it's all I can do not to grab them and kiss them. Still man the ship I see."

"Every now and then. Like to feel the rigging run through my hands."

He shifted himself so that he could see my face. He brought my hand up to his mouth, kissed every knuckle, and then returned it to my lap. Sweet heat, not desire, warmed me through.

"Know am upsetting your apple cart here, James. But I've learned that you need to discover what rules work for you and what don't. You know, pick and choose. Let a pirate jump from the battlement of your fort even though the rule book says by all rights he should hang. Because he saved your life and the lives of your men. The rule books don't like to take those little details into account. Granted, you've done very well with all those rules and regulations you've lived by. Nice house, very nice pianoforte, good books. But ever wonder if there's something more beyond the rule books, or even that they might be wrong? They're only written by men, you know. Known men to make a few mistakes."

"This is important to me!" I cried. "The career, the house, my status, my men."

"Ssh, James, not saying it isn't, not saying you have to give it up. Just you might find what something you hadn't bargained for beyond those rules, regulations, and the Bible. My philosophy is simple. If it doesn't hurt anyone, do it. Men or women. Grab whatever happiness you can because tomorrow you might get run through or come down with typhoid and die a miserable death begging for water that's nowhere to be found. Be a little more bendy. We have something here, James." He leaned his head against my knee and rubbed it exactly as a cat would. I fought the urge to caress that hair, fondle the charms, run my hand over his brow. "Something that I haven't run across too many times in my life. I ask you to meet me halfway. That's all."

tears were very close. "Don't know if I can."

"I know. It'll be a stretch for you. But it's like your chess game. Nine times out of ten I can predict exactly what you're doing to do. But that tenth time, love, you surprise me. So look to the horizon for that tenth time."

The night jasmine must have just bloomed because the room was suddenly filled with their heavy, sensual scent.

"James, two more things," his voice was sharp, I started. "Look at me." Eyes the darkest I've ever seen them. "First you need to know this isn't just a fuck."

I blushed. "I know that, Jack. I know."

"Second, you need to know that I won't play pirate for you. Won't take you so that you can tell yourself that it was the wine or the heat of the moment. And I want to take you, James. By God, I'm burning to take you. Make no mistake about that," his voice husky and deep. "Could have done when we were plastered together against that wall. Knew that if I'd touched you or kissed you that you'd be ripping my clothes off faster than you can say suck my cock. But if it's going to be any good between us you need to make the first move. You need to choose me. Don't have a problem swiving men meself, but you do. So you need to come to terms with it. On your hook, James. Might say we're on the battlements again and you deciding. Except this time, it's you who's going to jump or not." He uncoiled himself from the floor and took off my wig, placing it next to me on the sofa. He brushed the hair back from my face with a brown hand. "Savvy?"

He didn't wait for a reply. He went to the window and inhaled, sniffing the breeze coming in from the garden. "Can you smell the night jasmine? Ah, that's lovely. Let's take her outside," he pointed to the chess set. "Play out in your garden. Nice garden you got."

I rolled my eyes. "I assume you've been through every drawer, cupboard, and niche. Is there any part of this house that you don't know intimately?"

"To quote you, no. Would be a disgrace to the code otherwise. Come on, let's play under the stars."

So we marshaled some candles and set up the board outside on the lawn. Like young boys, we flopped down on our stomachs and played. He beat me three times, I tried to think like a pirate, sacrificed men so that I could maneuver into a better position, forced myself to make moves that were bold and possibly foolhardy, and I beat him once. That sent him crowing with delight. "See, James," he whispered. "You're getting there."

The clicking of the cicadas, the warm breeze off of the ocean, the heavy sweet aroma of the jasmine all began to lull me to sleep. I found myself dozing in between moves, relaxed for the first time in a week.

"James, your move."

"So sleepy, Jack."

"Hmmmn. What do you miss about England?"

"Roses. The smell of fresh cut hay. You?"

"Strawberry and rhubarb tart. Bessie."

"Why did Sal let you? You didn't tell me."

"My considerable charms aren't enough?"

"Yes, I acknowledge they are considerable. Was there another reason?"

"She had a boy. Fine lad, full of mischief, reminded me of meself at his age. Stole away on the Pearl when we heaved anchor in Singapore. Had some fool notion that he wanted to be a pirate. Five days out I found him near starved, hiding in the powder magazine. Turned the boat—"

"Ship."

"Ship around and returned him to his mother. She was eternally grateful, he hated me for it. Ended up joining Barbossa's crew a few years later and no doubt was one of those undead pirates you hanged a couple of months ago. Tired, Jaime?"

"Yes, Jack. So tired."

"Ssh, stay there. Be back in a tic."

I heard him pick up the chess board and take it inside. I must have fallen asleep because all of a sudden I felt him gently lift my head and place it on a pillow. He blew out the candles, lay next to me, and curled his body around mine, the warmth of him enveloping me. A chaste kiss to the forehead was followed by his hand finding mine, which was followed by a "Sleep tight, Jaimelove."

I squeezed his hand and brought it up to my chest.

I awoke at dawn, but he'd already gone. The green jade queen was on the pillow next to me.




Match

Friday morning at 7:00 a.m., I left word with the sentry at the fort that the minute Captain Andrew Gillette and Lieutenant Theodore Groves decided to show their tardy faces, I wished to see them at once. And if they didn't appear in my office by 9:00 a.m., all three of them faced certain court-martial. The man actually looked terrified.

What did I say?

I paced back and forth in my office waiting for them to appear. Ten years the three of us had served together, fought side-by-side in battle, stumbled our way through many a pub crawl, and supped side-by-side at umpteen dinner parties replete with wine, conversation, and pleasant argument. Last but not least, we shared one of the most enjoyable, painful evenings of my life when I made Captain and Andrew made Lieutenant. At Ted's obnoxious prodding, we had agreed to get tattoos en masse to celebrate; perhaps not in keeping with my new rank, however, most in keeping with my dearest friends. It was a tribute to Mr. Grant's fine ale that I didn't feel a bloody thing until the next morning. At which point I seriously considered busting both men back to midshipmen. These many years of trials, tribulations, and celebrations, surely, if I could trust these men with my life, I could trust them with my soul.

The sentry must have sent word because at 7:33 a.m. a swift knock on the door alerted me to their arrival.

"Come in," I barked.

Befitting their ranks, Andrew came in first, followed by Ted. One look at my face alerted them that it was not business as usual; they stood at attention and saluted me.

"Andrew, your wig is off center. Ted, those boots could have used a polish this morning."

"Yes, Commodore," they said in unison.

"At ease," I ordered and continued my measured pacing. They shifted their backsides onto the chairs in front of my desk and watched me march the width of the room, back and forth, back and forth. The sharp click of my heels on the polished wood floor grated, but I found myself unable to stop, as I studied both of them sitting bolt upright in their chairs, the question of what in the hell they were doing here creasing both their brows.

Two men were never more different. Andrew Gillette's wig hid a sleek head of copper-colored hair (of which he was inordinately vain). His blue eyes never missed a trick. Intelligent, brave, and blessed with a canny ability to get the most out of a wind made him indispensable on board. From his Irish mother he inherited his fair skin, fiery hair, and a temper; from his French father he inherited his physical ease and delicious sarcasm, usually at someone else's expense. We got along splendidly.

Theodore Groves was your quintessential son of Devon. Broad shouldered and slim-waisted, he physically resembled the farmer stock from which he came, but you never saw a man more in his element than when on a ship. He didn't so much move with the ship as dance with her. His naturally brown hair nearly bleached blonde by the sun (I was constantly nagging him to put on his hat), Theodore (Ted to his closest friends) Groves was the foil to both of us. Constantly softening the sharp edges of the two of us, gently chastising us when our humor became too vicious, he'd be insufferable except for his indefatigable propensity for mischief of all sorts and an equally broad sense of humor, not to mention an endless supply of the filthiest jokes imaginable. After what has gone down in canon as "The Night of the Tattooed Fools," I never again let those sleepy brown eyes deceive me. There was often a plot brewing behind them, which inevitably involved drink and high jinks, accompanied by crude jests. And, without a doubt, he was the best blade on my ship.

Except for yours truly, of course.

With a start I realized I'd been pacing for several minutes. Both of them were perched on the edges of their seats, about as "not at ease" as possible. For the life of me I didn't know how you say politely, "I want to fuck a man, and I'd appreciate your advice on this matter."

I decided to leave them in the dark about the pirate part.

"James, for God's sake," Andrew blurted out. "What is the matter? For the past month your humors have been as wild as a sail cut from its rigging. Moody as all hell one minute, taciturn the next, even for you"—I gave him my the-commodore-is-not-amused look—"then euphoric, then—"

"And how would you describe my mood this morning, Captain Gillette?"

The man wasn't navy for nothing; he never backed down from a fight. "Positively ugly, James, if you want to know. The sentry at the gate is still shaking in his boots. He was nearly incoherent when he came to fetch us."

"Groves?"

"Have to concur with Andrew on this one, James. You've been right old bear. What's the matter, man?"

I marched to the window overlooking the harbor. There lay the Dauntless in all her splendor, rigging snapping in the breeze as she hugged the dock. Another ship was on its way from England to be part of my fleet to replace the Interceptor. The dock of Port Royal hummed with activity: ships unloading to warehouses, marines in smart red coats marching in formation, the sky of the Caribbean so blue that you wanted to invent a new word for it. In front of my eyes was my entire command. It had become home. And I could lose it in a heartbeat. I knew that if I did not have the support of these men, if my confession disgusted them, horrified them, that this would be lost to me. How could they effectively serve under a man they'd lost all respect for? If they told the admiralty… I took one last look at the Dauntless and turned around. I must end this one way or another. I could not endure another week like the last one. They were my friends. I prayed they'd understand. In a low, even voice, I demanded, "I want to know if you two have had any experience with other men."

"Experience with other men?" Andrew whispered. Ted went six different shades of white.

Oh God, this was going to be much worse than I thought.

"Yes," I snapped. "Don't be obtuse, Andrew. Carnal relations with other men. You know exactly what I mean." In my distress, my voice came out as curt and officious.

I was in no way prepared for what happened next.

They both shoved their chairs back and stood at attention.

"Sir," Andrew barked. "You may rest assured that Lieutenant Groves is blameless in this affair. My conduct has been most disgusting, unbefitting an officer of the Royal Navy. Any relations between Lieutenant Groves and me was at my instigation. I take full responsibility, whatever the consequences may be—"

"Sir," Ted interrupted. "Captain Gillette is most mistaken. We share in the responsibility for this behavior—"

"No, Teddy, no! I will not let you—"

"We are in this together Andrew. Together," Ted muttered out of the side of his mouth. His hand grasped Andrew's shoulder for one split second and then stood ramrod straight. A fine officer.

I lowered my head, my forefinger and thumb pinching the all too familiar spot between my eyebrows; a horrendous headache was brewing. I did not seek this confession and now it was laid in my lap. Irony of ironies. I require advice on buggering and the mountain comes to Mohammed.

"Commodore, I wish—"

"Andrew, do be quiet and sit down," I ordered. "This applies to you, too, Ted."

I turned back to my window. The facts. Andrew and Ted were lovers. How did this affect my command? I was the envy of every captain and commodore in the fleet having these two by my side; their bravery was unquestionable. They'd saved my life several times and would no doubt do so again in the future. I didn't know how long this had been going on, but the bottom line was that for the entire ten years we'd all been together, I'd trusted them with my life, both on and off the ship, and had never been proven false.

As friends? That exceptionally bleak month after Elizabeth's rejection, they never left my side until the worst of it was over. And this was just one of the many instances of true friendship I could name. My hand left the bridge of my nose and rubbed the shoulder that sported the tattoo. Did this knowledge make them any less my friends? I didn't even hesitate. No, it didn't.

The battle with the decayed pirates came to mind, Andrew frantically screaming Ted's name in the worst of it. Ted's voice answering back in the heat of the fray, "Drew, am nearly undone. Help me."

I turned back to them. Both of them wore their navy faces, stoic, impassable, without emotion; they were betrayed by the hands gripping the edge of their chairs. How horrible that their entire future lay in the hands of one man. Me. I'd never understood quite until then the word "command." Well, I was willing to put my future in their hands; I would not fail them now that the tables were turned.

"Andrew. Ted. This…surprises me. But hear me, this is no way affects our friendship or my respect for either of you as officers of His Majesty's Royal Navy. You are my dearest friends, in addition to being the best officers I've ever served with. I expect nothing less than the conduct I've seen on both fronts for the last ten years. That is that."

I walked over to them and held out my hand. At first they just stared at me, not quite believing my words. "I mean it. Gentlemen?" I thrust my hand forward further. Andrew stood and took my hand, then Ted. I sat down. They were both studying their shoes, not quite to make of this entire scenario.

"Sit," I ordered, and they collapsed with undisguised relief into their chairs. "How long has this been going on?"

Uncharacteristically, Ted spoke first; he usually deferred to Andrew. "Since the battle with the Spanish five years ago. When I got that cut on my shoulder."

"When you nearly died, you mean?" Andrew snorted.

Five years and I hadn't a clue. Perhaps Jack and I could conduct a secret affair.

"James?" Ted asked, "If you didn't bring us here to cashier us, what did you bring us here for?"

My mouth went dry.

Andrew, as always, was a little quicker on the uptake. "James, are you with…someone?" He left it at that.

"I am thinking about it," I mumbled.

"With whom?" If Ted's eyes were any further out of his head, we'd need to collect them off the floor. "Someone we know?" He could barely contain the glee in his voice.

"I do not care to divulge that information if you don't mind. Not an officer, I assure you, or, Ted, get that speculative gleam out of your eyes this instant, any member of our crew. He is not a naval man." In good conscience I really couldn't say Jack wasn't a sailor. A damn fine sailor, in fact. I held up both palms, a sign that I was categorically refusing to name the man I was contemplating bedding. "Suffice it to say that I'm having a most difficult time with this notion and thought to seek your advice on this matter. Little did I know…"

And all of a sudden we were laughing like hyenas, clutching our sides as the absolute ridiculousness of the situation hit us full force.

Once things had finally subsided to the occasional chuckle, I wiped the tears of mirth from my cheeks. "Oh Andrew, Ted, did you really think I'd court-martial you?"

This sobered them up immediately.

"We're not insensible of the law, James," Ted reminded me.

"And you've been such a cranky bastard for the last three weeks, don't glower at me, James, you've been a complete ass. We didn't know what the hell was going on. Pardon us for thinking the very worst. So you haven't yet but are thinking?" Andrew let the question hang there.

"No. Not yet. And yes, I am." Yet another blush crept up my cheeks. I've never blushed as much in my entire life as I've done in the last three weeks. I still hadn't recovered from Jack's rather frank discussion the previous evening of cocks and holes. "First time I've thought of it, to be honest. Just this person…is special," I finished lamely, probably the most innocuous word I could use to describe Jack Sparrow. "I assume it is the same between you two."

Andrew and Ted exchanged glances.

"Well, yes and no, James," Ted slowly. "Permission to speak frankly, Sir."

"You call me 'sir' again and I will demote you on the spot. What do you mean?"

He twisted his hat in his hands. "Andrew's charms notwithstanding, James, some men just like men. Only men."

I stared at him. "Only men," I repeated. I had never considered myself particularly naive, but it never occurred to me that men would only want men. I must ask Jack about this. "Really?"

"Never met a woman I wanted to bed, frankly. Lots of men though," he smirked.

Andrew smacked him smartly on the shoulder. "Those catting days of yours had better be done, Lieutenant Groves. Don't fancy sharing you with half the Royal Navy."

"Didn't know James was in the market. Might— Ouch, that hurt, Andrew," Ted complained as Andrew hit him again in the same place with just a tad too much force.

"And you, Andrew?"

He blushed. "It's a bit different with me. Been with women, and I can't deny that I like women very much. At one time I thought I liked only women." Ted made the tiniest of growls. "But Ted here," Ted gave Andrew the sweetest smile, a smile very like the winsome smile that Jack has seen fit to bestow on me on occasion, "is quite the charmer when he wants to be." And then Andrew looked at Ted in that same half-mast, oh let's have fun, glint that Jack wore that spelled certain mischief. I expect the charm worked both ways.

"Took you long enough," Ted grumbled. "I was beginning to doubt my powers of persuasion." The very tip of his tongue licked the outside of his lip.

This was getting perilously close to the byplay between Elizabeth and William. What is it about me? Must I suffer yet another couple attacking each other like dogs in heat in my presence?

"Ted, control yourself," I ordered. "I beg you, no details, Gentlemen. Please." We sat silent for few seconds, then I said quietly, "You two are playing with fire, you know that. I may be rather obtuse on these matters. Others are not."

"We know, James," Andrew admitted, his shoulders curving inward slightly as if the weight of this secret was, in fact, sometimes too much to bear. "We know. But we decided that it would be most foolish not to grab happiness when we can."

I stared, the choice of words a little too prescient for my liking.

"We might meet a pirate ship tomorrow and one of us killed, maybe both," Ted said grimly. "We're not living in a country village, expecting to die of old age. The blade comes awfully close sometimes."

"Came awfully close," Andrew murmured.

"One of us might not be able to jump out of the way tomorrow," Ted's eyes beseeched me to understand. "You have to admit, that is a real possibility."

I steepled my hands together.

"Yes, I do admit that. This is what is making me consider what I am considering."

"Ted, leave us for a minute," Andrew said quietly.

He bristled at this, his brown eyes narrowed in consternation, and he turned a little pale under his tan. "Why? What could you possibly say to James in this regard that I shouldn't be privy to?"

I must keep a closer eye on him. His silly refusal to wear his hat. The man was nearly as dark as a pirate. A certain pirate. Not quite as dark though, and while Ted wasn't shabby by any stretch of the imagination, he wasn't a patch on Jack. Jack was the most delicious, lovely shade of coffee lightened by a splash of cream. Was he that color all over? I wonder. My pants began to get tight. No, no, mustn't think of that now.

"Please," Andrew implored and gave a quick squeeze to Ted's shoulder. "Don't make me pull rank on you," he mocked.

"I'll be outside then," he agreed, but not without giving us a worried look as he exited.

Now it was time for Andrew to abuse his hat. "James, I know what you're going through. I went through the same thing when I discovered that I loved Ted—"

"Andrew," I protested sharply, "I do not love this man. I…" and left it at that. How did I feel about Jack? God, did I love him?

"Whatever you say, James. Anyway, when Ted was nearly killed in that battle, do you remember?"

"Yes." Ted had lost a tremendous amount of blood. I received a nasty cut in the forearm myself. I shuddered. Fifteen of my men died in that skirmish.

"You know that the surgeon didn't give him much of a chance, but sewed him up anyway and gave him some laudanum to blunt the pain. After they'd finished, I held him for several hours while the drug took him. I prayed for hours, realizing that if he didn't, I'd be inconsolable. Absolutely inconsolable. Do you know what I mean? It would be like a wound I'd never recover from."

I imagined Jack dead. I felt cold, a deep cold that nearly stopped my heart from beating. I nodded.

"Anyway, as he was coming out of it, he began mumbling. At first, he was delirious. But then he began to string sentences together, and what he was trying to tell me was that he thought he was dying, and he wanted me to know how much he loved me. That he truly and absolutely loved me. As a man loves a maid." He flushed at this. "He'd felt that way for years and couldn't die without me knowing. As you can imagine, this confession at first horrified me."

"Hmmmn."

He got up and began ambling aimlessly around the room, his gait was a little unsteady as picking his words with care.

"I'd always assumed that someday I'd get my command, captain a ship, marry, and have children. I won't deny that there's a part of me that misses that. I love children. And like I said, I do, well, very much enjoy bedding women." A slight leer twitched the edges of his lips. "I didn't want Ted to hear that part. He's terribly afraid that one day I'll leave him for a woman. You wouldn't know to look at him, but he's rather jealous," he grinned, a note of pride in his voice. Clearly, this didn't bother Andrew in the slightest. Relished it, in fact.

"And?" I stopped myself from leaning forward. For some reason, despite my earlier plea of no details, I was now almost panting for details.

"Once I'd ascertained he was out of danger, I refused to talk to him. Wouldn't see him while he recovered. My mind was in complete upheaval. I'd never envisioned myself with a man."

"Yes, Andrew, we are one on that point."

"Was rather a shock, wasn't it?" He grimaced.

I nodded.

"I have to admit that I'd always found Ted particularly handsome, but admiring someone in their uniform does not make one a sodomite," he commented ruefully. He stopped his pacing and studied me. "The shadows under your eyes. You're going through the same torture I inflicted on myself five years ago."

The last five nights had been hell on earth. No sleep, not even the jade queen could weave her magic spell. In the dark of my bedroom, I relived chasing Jack around the parlor, his saucy grin, my triumph at catching him, our bodies pressed up against each other, hard cock straining against the seam of my breeches, hands aching to touch him, horrific aching to have him touch me. Night after night my sheets heated through as my entire body flamed as desire and shame claimed me over and over again. I didn't know which was stronger: my desire or shame. I'd rather cross swords with evil, half-dead pirates than go through another week like that.

"Yes, Andrew, torture is exactly the word I'd use."

"For a brief moment I even considered asking you for a transfer to another command, but couldn't bring myself to do it." Here he blushed again, "I couldn't stop thinking about him. I hated myself, hated even going to sleep because I couldn't banish carnal thoughts about him. But it was more than that. Oh, I'm saying this so badly, but it's more than a fuck between us, James. You must understand this."

Fortunately, Andrew was so caught up in his story that he failed to notice that I'd broken my quill in half.

"Anyway, despite those God-awful nights, I refused to entertain the possibility of anything between us. We had the fight of all fights when we got back to port. He stormed into my room at the inn, still bandaged up, shouting at the top of his lungs why in the hell was I acting like such a perfect bastard when he'd almost died. Where had I been? Was in a terrible temper. He had no idea what he said while under the laudanum. I screamed back at him, repeated what he'd said to me. It took the fight right out of him. He wasn't embarrassed. He confirmed that it was true. He knew I was partial to women, but he thought that we could be happy together. He had hoped that one day I would return his affection, but that if I didn't, he'd request a transfer to another ship. I said some things I will regret for the rest of my life. I called him a number of ugly names; I told him I never wanted to speak to him again. His parting words to me were, 'I love you, Drew. God bless.'

That's the sort of man he is. I called him a depraved, filthy sodomite, and he told me that he loved me. I got stinking drunk that night, so drunk I passed out. When I woke up in the morning everything looked black and white. I realized that Ted was my color, that without him, everything was pale, indistinct. I admitted to myself that I thought, and still think, he has the finest arse in the navy." That elicited a ghost of a smile. "I finally admitted to myself I couldn't live without him."

He paused and all the unease, the embarrassment, of laying out before me the particulars of their affair vanished. A fierce expression sharpened all his features, and he has never worn his French ancestry with more prominence, challenging me with a particular Gallic tilt of his chin to deny their true affection for one another, that this was lust disguised in the banal dress of love. He didn't yet realize how ill-equipped I was to pass judgment on anyone. At least the object of Andrew's affection wore a naval uniform, not a tattered, silk sash encasing lean pirate hips. When I said nothing in response, he stopped his pacing and didn't so much as sit as collapse into his chair, as if he'd run ten leagues. "And there you are. Do you feel that way, James? Like things are black and white without him?"

"Cold. I feel cold without him."

"If I may say so, James, there you are."

"Do you regret your decision?"

He looked to a point beyond me, somewhere even outside this room. "I see a child and sometimes wish he were mine. I'd have liked to have had a son. But it passes." His gaze returned to mine. "You can't choose who you love, James. Perhaps you can choose not to accept or act on this love, but you will still love that person."

I shoved back my chair and walked back to my window. Out of the side of my mouth I said, "Andrew, what about the…"

Dammit, I was blushing again.

"What, James?"

"The, you know, the bed part."

"Lot like bedding a woman, James."

Where have I heard that before?

"Only better."

I turned around.

"Better?"

"Best of both worlds," he grinned. "Get to mount and be mounted."

I was seized with an uncontrollable coughing fit. Once my coughing had subsided to mere wheezing, I saw Andrew's grin had broken and he was solemn once again.

"James?" There was more vigorous abuse of his hat. "If you'd discovered about Ted and me earlier, say five years ago, would you have—"

"Been so understanding?" I paused and considered his question. I was not the same man I had been two months ago. "No, Andrew, I'm ashamed to say I doubt it. At the very least I'd have asked you both to transfer to another ship. I'm more blessed in my choice of friends than you are, I'm afraid." I walked back to my desk and sat down, resisting the urge to put my head down and take a nap. It was only 8:00 a.m. and I was exhausted. "We still dining at the Tar tonight? Believe it's my turn to buy. And a celebration is in order. In my mountain of mail yesterday I received word that my recommendation to the Admiralty requesting Ted's promotion to First Lieutenant has been approved."

At this, his shoulders sagged just a fraction, not quite believing his ears.

"Thank you, James."

"He earned it, Andrew," I said sharply. And then to lighten the mood, I added, "Fucking you senseless on a nightly basis notwithstanding."

That earned a hearty laugh. "Who's ever caught your fancy, James, has certainly broadened your vocabulary. Not that the staid matrons of Port Royal would appreciate such foul language from their favorite commodore. Will let you tell Ted the good news tonight. I shall enjoy torturing him all day with certain knowledge of some wonderful secret you divulged to during our little tete-a-tete. I wouldn't mind tweaking his jealousy a bit, if you don't mind. He tweaks mine often enough. It's not often I get the opportunity to get a bit of my own back. He's always commenting on the backsides of any man within thirty paces."

I rolled my eyes.

"Thank you for that elucidating comment, Andrew. Previously when I've seen the two of you with your heads banded together in fervent conversation I'd assumed you two were devising strategies on how to capture Spanish and French frigates, not rating naval derrieres." A horrible thought struck me. "Andrew, if I find that a single, a single syllable has passed either your lips or Ted's regarding the attributes of a certain commodore's backside, I will, on my honor, bust you both back to midshipmen." I lowered my head. "Do I make myself clear?"

"Not even the least bit curious, James? Get a few drinks in you and I bet you'll be worrying us to death wondering how you fared," he teased.

"I doubt it, Andrew," I replied with perfect ease. The only person I wanted to wax loudly and eloquently about my arse was a certain pirate captain.

"I should warn you, James, to bring your purse. Know for fact that I'll be drinking more than a few. Now if I may ask you for your leave. Ted will be apoplectic from curiosity."

I nodded my assent.

When he reached the door, he paused. "You're wrong, James. I am most blessed in my choice of friends, thank you very much."

Why is everyone so willing to give me the benefit of the doubt? First Jack, then Andrew. I deserved it not. I turned my head, unable to look at him. Once more I'd been teetering on the edge of that battlement for what I knew in my heart was right against that what was written as right. But for my recent friendship with Jack, I no doubt would have willy-nilly sacrificed both friendship and honor in homage to those rule books. Those little rule books written by men, who I was learning clearly didn't know arses from their elbows.

He was almost through the door when I stopped him.

"Andrew, just a minute. Shut the door." I waited until he was inside the room. I turned the broken quill over and over again in my hand. "Did you pray to God for guidance during this struggle? Did he answer you?"

"I felt that God more than approved when he spared Ted's life. He answered my prayers."




That talk with Andrew and Ted saved me from going barking mad. They walked on eggshells around me all day, but then at the Tar we led the pub in a most riotous version of the stupid pirate song that had everyone's feet stomping and hands clapping. I purposefully got very drunk, so that I needed to hang onto their shoulders during the long walk back to my house. That put to rest any lingering trepidation they might have had regarding my knowledge of their friendship.

After our night at the Tar, everything was back to normal. Naturally, they hounded me constantly to divulge the name of the lucky man I was so passionate about, and naturally I was silent. Wild horses couldn't have dragged Jack's name from my lips. Clearly, the thought of me contemplating sin was so out of character that they were rabid on the subject of exactly who was this extraordinary individual who'd captured the commodore's affections.

The rest of the week went by slowly. I still had twinges of doubt, but all in all I'd come to terms with the idea of Jack and me. Indeed, he was correct; there was something there between us, something that I certainly had never experienced. I hesitated to call it love. I wasn't sure what it was. Passion and desire certainly, but this was only part of it. I didn't mind him teasing me, teasing the man out from behind the commodore. I wanted him to do it. And he did it so easily. Elizabeth came close; she knew the man behind the commodore and could coax him out. Jack demanded he come out. No quarter given.

Wednesday evening I sat in the garden, a glass of armagnac in one hand, a cigar in the other, listening to the tide coming in. I was so very happy. He'd be here tomorrow evening. I refused to speculate how the evening would end. I would just let things happen what may. I had jumped off the battlement of my mind into the water below and let it wash over me. Drown me even.

Amazing how much we had in common, really. Both the sons of clergy, both went to sea when mere boys. We both loved ships, music, flowers, and games (of all sorts, apparently). It amused me to think what would have happened if Jack hadn't been assigned to Jock Ritchie's ship. If we had served together. Jack was really too much of a natural renegade for me to see him kowtowing to naval regulations, but maybe not. There were a few men in the Royal Navy who wrote their own rules. Despised and admired, men who always sailed too close to the wind, who were constantly on the verge of being cashiered, but whose exploits and daring (not to mention their unfailing ability to capture French and Spanish frigates) temporarily silenced the critics. Jack would have been such a captain; however, fate decreed that Jack find himself on Jock Ritchie's ship and a pirate was born.

I shuddered to think of Jack as that monster's cabin boy. I meant it when I said I wouldn't have blamed Jack for mutinying. The only power Jack held in that situation was Ritchie's affection for him. His Achilles heel. When Ritchie confessed his love, Jack twisted the metaphorical knife in his heart. Fitting. What could possibly be worse than sating oneself on a young boy?

My glass slipped out of my fingers; I heeded not whether it broke. Oh my God, I was such a fool. Hanging him. The one thing that could have been worse was to hang him. To refuse to acknowledge that he'd saved my life, the life of my men, that I'd not pressed, not even tried to stop the execution. I had enormous influence over the governor. He knew my power, my presence in the Caribbean. One word to the governor and I could have secured a pardon.

And once I'd capitulated, embraced that charm, just like Jock Ritchie, he'd break me, humiliate me. God, what if he went public! What if he told a roomful of people at the Tar that he'd buggered good and often the proud Commodore James L. Norrington. Oh yes, the revenge would be fitting. I'd be damn lucky if I was only cashiered. No doubt he was counting on me being hung for these crimes against nature. I'd be the one listening to the hangman read out my crimes as all the men who had been under my command refused to look at me, disgust twisting their faces, sagging with relief when the hangman did his job.

Ritchie and I shared the same Achilles heel. Jack Sparrow. The Armagnac roiled in my stomach as the horror of Jack's plan became more manifest. I didn't smell the night jasmine; I smelled betrayal, rank and foul. I fell to my knees and heaved and heaved and heaved.




Clutching the chess board to my chest, I walked the three miles up the hill to the governor's mansion. Even though the day was infernally hot, I shivered uncontrollably in my full commodore regalia. Without bothering to knock on the front-door, I wrenched open the gate to the garden, flung open the French doors, and marched into the parlor. As I suspected, Elizabeth, William, and Jack were just finishing luncheon. Someone must have said something amusing, no doubt Jack. They were all having a great laugh. I slammed the door shut, breaking several panes in the process. The mirth froze on their faces.

"Ja—" Jack immediately got up from his seat and then stopped. I wanted to hit him, beat him repeatedly with the chess set, take a chair and smash it over that pirate head, shove that green jade queen down his throat until he choked to death. Poised like wax figures, nobody moved.

"Out." I ground the words out of my throat and pointed at him. "Into the garden. Now!"

Elizabeth gasped, and William jumped behind her chair and put his hands on her shoulders to protect her.

"I don't take orders from anyone, James. Even you," Jack commented as quietly as if we were discussing the weather. He stiffened, but his hand didn't near his blade. He just stood there, eyes blank, waiting for my reaction. Even in my rage, his dignity moved me.

"Please," I managed to choke out.

"Since you asked nicely, I will. After you."

I moved one foot in front of the other until I found myself at the bench overlooking the harbor. I turned to face him. He didn't look angry, just puzzled and concerned. I shoved the chess set at him.

"Take it and don't ever come back. I mean it, Jack. Show your face again, and you won't even see my sword until you feel it cut out your black heart."

He stepped away from the chess set and threw his hands up in the air. "What in the bloody hell are you going on about, James?"

"Stop it, Jack," I shouted. "I know exactly what you're about. Me. Jock Ritchie. Thought it worked so well on a captain that why not a commodore?" I literally wanted to kill him.

He held up both hands in protest. "Do not mention that man in conjunction with yourself. I don't know what you're talking about. Start from the beginning."

"God, Jack," I threw the chess set down on the ground, hoping I broke every fucking piece in it. "You told me, in my very parlor. How you got revenge on him. Waited until he loved you, bided your time, then when he confessed his love for you, you deserted him. You couldn't have made things plainer than if you'd drawn a map."

He pushed a hand up to his forehead. "Jesus, I've a terrible headache coming on. You think I'd do that to you? Think I've been playing you for a fool all this time? Why in the bloody hell would I pull such a sick twisted trick like that? Why? In God's name, why?"

By this time we were both shouting at each other. They probably could hear us down at the docks.

"Stop it, Jack. Stop it! The game is done." I grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. "Revenge. Revenge for not stopping your hanging. For letting William save you. For not saving you myself when I should have. This was all a trap. Sending me that saucy letter. You knew I played chess. Thank you very much, William and Elizabeth. Then coming to my house, wriggling that arse of yours in my parlor. The wig. The chase. Jesus, I've been a complete fool. You played the part of the whore to perfection." I shook him again.

He brought his arms up with a swift jerk and cast off my grip. "Me?" He grabbed two fistfuls of his hair, closed his eyes, "I don't fucking well believe this," he said to himself. His eyes snapped open, ebony with rage. "Who!" he bellowed, "was flaunting their goods at me. Sticking them in me face. Parading hisself on that mantle like a London doxy. In cock-sure glory. 'Sal's done me, too,'" he mimicked in a sarcastic imitation of my plumy accent. "Mr. High-Faluting Navy Gob thinking to impress me because some madam in Singapore sucked his cock."

If I'd had my sword I'd have run him through.

"Oh, really? I was not the only one whoring myself that evening, Jack. I think you said something like, 'She does something with your slit.' I wanted you to know that I wasn't some innocent you could pull the wool over on, that the playing field was level. God, I couldn't even begin to compete. You are despicable. I can't believe—"

"I wouldn't do that to you!" he yelled back at me.

"And why not? It's the same thing you did to him. Can imagine the tales at the Tar. How you would enjoy humiliating me, destroying my character. The opportune moment to get your own back. I can hear you right now, Commodore James L. Norrington? Think he has a yardarm or two up his arse? Well let me tell you that's not only thing that's been up his arse lately. I'd be thoroughly disgraced, damn lucky if I wasn't hanged. You'd have had your sweet revenge, by God."

"Revenge, why would I want revenge, James? Why?"

"I almost bloody well hanged you! How could that possibly be worst that what Jock Ritchie did!"

"He. Raped. Me. Every. Night. For. Two. Years. James. Shoved that enormous cock in me until I cried for mercy and then he'd ram me again. I was fourteen! He destroyed my innocence. I would never be a boy again. That's what he did, and he deserved whatever misery, whatever dark nights he had on my account. You're different. We're different."

"Go to hell, Jack. I can see you plotting, leaving clues, wondering if I'd get it. Soooo clever. I bet you thought, he's vain, he'll have no trouble believing I desire him, fancy him. he'll beg for me before this is done. And then you'd win. Checkmate. Fuck you. Fuck you!" I spat in his face.

I wrapped my arms around myself, feeling like some spark in me had died forever.

He wiped my spit from his face and began pacing in front of me muttering, "Fuck, fuck, fuck," over and over again. Then he grabbed me by the arm and shook me. "What can I do to make you believe that this has never been about revenge. Never."

"Nothing, you bastard." I wrenched my arm free. "Touch me again and I swear I'll kill you."

He grabbed it again, his grip like a vise. He roared at the top of his lungs. "LIZZIE! WILL!"

They must have been at the parlor door listening because they slunk out immediately. William had one arm around Elizabeth's shoulders, a fireplace poker in the other hand. Absolutely terrified, their eyes were as large as saucers.

"See this man," Jack demanded. They nodded. He shook me violently. "I love him and I will kill with my bare hands any person who says different. SAVVY?" They nodded again. "Go!" he ordered. Before they had even turned around he grabbed me by the neck, pulling me down. He kissed me with such force that we fell back onto the lawn. Covering my face with kisses, he said my name over and over again. Sweet Jesu, I was warm again. I brought a hand up and put my hand over his mouth.

"I'm sorry, so sorry," I whispered into his ear and wrapped my arms around him, burying my head in the warmth of his shoulder. Charms tickled my neck. We lay like that until our breathing had returned somewhat to normal. I caressed his hair, marveling at how soft it was. I'd expected it to be coarse, but it was like ropes of black silk. He raised himself slightly and propped himself up on one elbow.

"Believe me now?"

I nodded and kissed him, pulling slightly on his lower lip. Such a wonderful lip. Salty and sweet, a little chapped, firm…

He pulled away from me and groaned. "Don't tease me, James. Am restraining meself as it is here."

"The chess set. I apologize. It's probably smashed to bits."

"No worries, just a chess set. Nearly lost something much more important." A callused thumb traced my eyebrows. "I could drown in those green eyes. What I first noticed about you. The passion you try to hide in them." He leaned in and I closed my eyes. He kissed one eye, then the other. Ran his tongue gently along my lashes. "Made me turn pirate, love. Kissed you first. Said I wouldn't do that," he murmured.

"Not really. I'd already jumped. You just didn't see me."

He went back to his elbow. "You know, James, think I'm a really bad influence on you. First, you're nigh desperate to fuck a pirate—"

"Oh I am, am I?"

He rocked against me. I moaned. "The goods don't lie, mate. Then that little plot to destroy your career. And you say I'm clever. Never would have thought of anything that sinister myself. Diabolical. Really proud of you. Next time I'm in the market for a fiendish plan, you're my man."

I shook my head, "Don't make fun, Jack. Not about this. I… You nearly…"

"Broke your heart?"

I nodded.




Thursday evening: 6:00 p.m.

"CHESS! YOU WANT TO PLAY CHESS? NOW?"

"One game, Jack, Just one," I pleaded. Against all odds, the chess set had survived.

"I hope you're joking, James, because for the last four hours I've had the worst hard-on of my entire fucking life. Nearly crawled up here—"

"I know for a fact that Governor Swann lent you his carriage."

"Uncomfortable doesn't even begin to describe how I feel—"

"Yes, I know, but one game. Please."

He threw himself into the chair, not even acknowledging the chess board. Slouched in his chair, he hugged himself and muttered curses under his breath. If someone were to paint his portrait at this instant it would be named "The Pouting Pirate."

I poured both of us a large glass of armagnac, handed him his, which he consumed without any preamble, and then he slammed the empty glass on the table.

"Let's get on with it. Plan on losing every man, telling you right now."

"We'll see about that."

Something in my voice must have caught his attention, because he stopped pouting and looked at me, a question on his face. I reached over the sofa and pulled a gray wig from behind a cushion. The eyes went half-mast and were dark. A small smirk twitched the corners of his lips.

"Commandeered the governor's wig, I see."

"Borrowed it. He's got lots. Will never miss it." I handed it to him and sat down opposite him.

He put it on slowly, watching me, waiting.

"New rules." I coughed. Eyes went darker. "For every man lost, the loser needs to take off a piece of clothing. Rings," I pointed to his fingers, "and trinkets," I pointed to his head, "don't count."

He learned forward and nuzzled my ear, oozing rum, cinnamon, and musk. This was going to be harder than I thought.

"Ooohhh, aren't you full of surprises. I stand corrected. Jack does want to play, my naughty, naughty commodore," he cooed. Jack sat back in his chair, his eyes wide and hot. He roamed them all over my body, disrobing me with his eyes. I couldn't have been more aroused than if he had done it with his hands. "Any other little rules I should know about?"

Barely able to breathe, I panted out, "Game ends when…one person loses…all their clothes. Winner…gets first crack…at loser. At his mercy. So to speak."

He hissed in delight. Feral gleam matched equally feral grin, the gold in his mouth flashing. "I like this idea very much. Very, very much." He brought his hands together and stared at me. He cocked his head first this way and then that, the grey curls following suit. I laughed out loud. "James," he admonished. "This is serious business. Decisions, decisions. Do I let you win so that we can get to the festivities in record time? No, that would leave you dressed while I'd be starkers. Never do. Want to see your skin, mate. Am really wanting to see you, feel you, kiss you—"

"Jack," I warned.

"Lost my train of thought. No, clearly ole Jack needs to win because the one thing I have been plotting over the last few weeks is what I'd do with you once you tumbled—"

"Knew I'd tumble. Hmmmn."

"No, Jaime," he reached over, grabbed my hand and put it to his cheek. "Hoped you would. Only a hope."

I gasped as he sucked each finger, one by one. I let him savor me as I savored him savoring me. Wonderful tongue moving oh so slowly over each knuckle, then sucking each fingertip. What would his mouth like on my cock? Perhaps we could play later…much later…like next week…sometime next year…

Then he dropped my hand and grinned. Ran pink tongue over that full bottom lip, now slightly swollen.

"You are truly evil," I hissed. "You're just doing that to distract me. It won't work. I plan on winning this game because I have a few plans of my own. Your move."

"The things you say to me, Jaime. Oh the things you say," and he kissed the green jade queen for luck.




"CHEATER!" he roared.

"Commodore," I reminded him. I'd lost a man and in keeping with the rules of engagement, had shed one shirt. There were three more underneath that one.

"Never, never would have pegged you as a cheater, James. Can see I'm going to have to keep my eye on you."

"Just trying to level the playing field. Look at you. Scarf, sash, boots, belt, shirt, vest, breeches, stockings—"

"Don't wear stockings," he grumbled.

"And wig. In the normal course of events, you've have me undressed in no less than six moves, seven if you include the wig."

He narrowed his eyes and demanded, "How many of those bloody shirts are you wearing then?"

"I was wearing four. I'm now down to three."

He began pouting again, muttering under his breath, "Cursednavygobscan'ttrust'emcannybastardsnotfairchristonaraft."

"You just can't stand it when anyone is as clever as you are. Stop sulking."

" 'em not," he mumbled.

"You are, too. Here, I just moved. Your turn."

He sat back grumbling for a few more seconds and then with great reluctance returned to the board.

Tugging absentmindedly on his beard braids, he studied the board, I studied him.

He was wrong. Jock Ritchie hadn't stolen his innocence. Oh no, he retained that peculiar delight, joy, and effervescence in all things, that curiosity, bravery, fearlessness toward life peculiar to children, that which slowly erodes in us as we grow older. Until we find ourselves clutching the rule books, not questioning, hugging propriety as our security blanket against our mortality. This is what made me treasure him. He would save the man from the commodore. I was no Jock Ritchie, but as clearly as if I had a magical mirror in my hand. I could see myself twenty years from now, bitter, unyielding, a stickler for rules and regulations; the pirate would hang every time, no regrets.

The steady beat of the clock, the comfortable silence between us as Jack pondered his next move lulled me into reverie. Finding myself twirling a curl that I had teased out from my wig, an irritating habit that I do when in lost in thought. I quickly put my hand in my lap, as if caught stealing a sweet. I looked up at Jack, his brows scrunched together tightly in some emotion I'd never seen before, eyes all iris. He reached over and began imitating me, twisting that little errant curl around his forefinger, pulling gently, then easing up, back and forth. The brow relaxed, and the forefinger of his other hand did a slow caress along the right side of my jaw. My lips parted and I wetted my bottom lip, aware that I couldn't breathe. Just when I was on the verge of grabbing his wrist to kiss the inside, he stopped and tucked the curl under my wig. Now the scent of musk overpowered the cinnamon and rum. The pout was over, very over. In fact, the eyes went half-mast, followed by a sharp, intake of breath. Then a "James," my name more of a sigh than a word, then that mischievous-pirate-smirk made an appearance.

Without even looking at the board, he pushed a man into a square. "Your move," he drawled.

He'd deliberately sacrificed his bishop.

And yet he was smug. Fairly bursting with it. He couldn't have been more pleased with himself.

What was that little devil planning? With great reluctance, I took his bishop.

He stood up, took off one boot, then the other, fiddled with his sash, dropped his breeches and stepped out of them, feigned astonishment at the boots at his feet—as if they'd appeared out of thin air—slapped his cheek, tsk-tsked, put his boots back on, pushed back his chair, and sat down.

Jesus Christ, he was brown all over.

"CHEATER!" I bellowed.

"Pirate," he reminded me.

"How am I supposed to play with that," I pointed at his cock, in full erection, already dripping, Ohsweetlord, "staring me in the face."

"Didn't say anything about the order in which we're supposed to strip." He studied his nails.

"Bring your chair up to the table at least."

"Can't. Too close to the fire."

"There isn't a fire," I growled.

He glanced over to the fireplace. "So it would seem."

"Checkmate," I choked out. Shoving the table to the side, I grabbed him by the wrist and began dragging him across the room and up to the stairs to my bedroom, I ignored his protests.

"Ouch, James…can barely walk, man…have a heart…Jesus, that hurts…merciless, you are…ahhh."

When we reached my room, I grabbed his shoulders and pushed him onto my bed. "You should have thought of that before you dropped your breeches."

I raced back to the door to lock it. When I turned around he was laid out for me, legs spread, arms resting behind his head, cock pointing quite vigorously in the air. "Your move, love."

In the dusky soft gray light from the window, my eyes could just make the shape of him on the bed. White shirt bleeding into white counterpane, bronzed body set into such sharp relief against the white, the wig had fallen off at some point and his black mane heavy with charms and jewels was strewn higgledy-piggledy. As I neared the bed, seeing him so trusting, offering himself to me, and more importantly letting me acknowledge for myself what all this meant, not taking as he could have easily done, my strength left me. I fell to my knees. Groping for his hand, I pulled him to me so that we were kneeling together on the floor of my bedroom. Running my hands underneath his shirt, I wrapped my arms around his waist, clasping him to me, trying to erase any air between us. It was like holding lightning.

"I never said it back, Jack. Didn't say it. Love you, Jack, Love you."

The tears that been welling up in me for weeks finally burst forth. I cried like I hadn't cried since I was a child. And he held me and let me cry it all out. A warm, hot brown hand circling my back in a lazy figure eight, the softest of whispers saying, "Jack's here, love. Jack's here."




"All right now?"

We were still on our knees at my bedside, dusk had dissolved into night.

I lifted my head from his shoulder. I was better than all right. I had no qualms, no fear that this wasn't absolutely right. Using both hands to carefully smooth that silky mane away from his shoulders, I opened my mouth and sucked on the hollow just above his collarbone. That particular spot had been teasing me for weeks. Ah, rum and cinnamon. I could get drunk just kissing him. Jack shuddered and pushed his groin against mine. I ran my hands down his back, palms caressing the scars and lash marks, and cupped with trembling fingers that thoroughly delicious arse in both hands, squeezed, kneaded. Jack hissed and pushed even harder. With one hand I reached down further to cup and fondle his sac while my mouth traveled up to his ear.

"Jack," I whispered. I tugged on his earlobe with my teeth.

"J-j-j-j-j" was all he could get out.

"Touch me. Anywhere, just touch me. Show me how to touch you. I want…"

I smashed my mouth against his. It seemed like I'd waited six lifetimes for this. He stiffened in surprise and then, there's no other word for it, he inhaled me. Thrust his tongue into me, tasting me, demanding me to taste back. I matched his passion with my own mouth; we inhaled each other. The brand of his tongue as it met mine and the cool, cool gold of his teeth as I thrust back, savoring him, rolling my own tongue around his nearly drove me insane; it was like kissing fire and ice. This was almost enough, just the heat from him, the taste. I could kiss him forever. He began to pull back, "No," I whimpered and followed that mouth, caught that full lower lip with my teeth, and then sucked on it. At the same time I moved one hand to the small of his back and the other to his cock. At least here I knew what I was doing. I sucked his bottom lip harder as I swirled my thumb over his slit, massaging the come over the tip, around and underneath, then exploring slowly the shaft with my hand, up, down, soft on the upsweep, hard on the down, memorizing the curve, its pulse. I dipped my hand underneath to cup his balls again. As they tightened at my touch, his mouth slackened and he groaned, nails biting into my shoulders. I began to rock against his hip in time to my stroking, massaging my own erection. Jesusmaryandjoseph, I was going to come off fully clothed without him even touching me.

He pulled away. "Stop… I want…together."

Fumbling with shirt, shirts, he reeled back, shouting, "Shirts. Too many bloody shirts." He grabbed the collar of one, ripped it in half, the second, ripped it in half, the third, and pushed all of them back from my chest. With a feral growl he began mouthing me, eating me, neck, shoulders, collarbone. I arched to meet him as he branded me with his mouth.

"James," he panted. "Too close…want you…so long…too long." He grabbed my breeches and pulled the placket apart. Buttons scattered across the floor. He yanked my breeches down over my hips. With splayed fingers, his hand began circling my stomach, in ever widening arcs, getting closer and closer to my groin. With every pass, he moaned into my ear. This was torture, I wanted, needed desperately for him to touch me. I shoved up his shirt and ground my nipples against his. Grabbing his hand, I placed it on my cock. It was my turn to groan. He nestled my cock in his hand and then one by one his fingers wrapped around it. He mumbled, "Fuck," his voice thick, deep, aroused. Bringing his hand up to my head, he mimicked me, slowly circling the head with his thumb, massaging the pre-come, then he whispered, "Together. Now."

With his free hand, he fumbled until he found the back of my head and with a satisfied sigh, pulled my mouth to his. Returning one hand to an arse cheek another to his erection, I began to caress him again. Our tongues swirled, stroked each other, and we began fisting each other in perfect rhythm, moving as one. His stroke matching mine, mine matching his, our panting and groaning singing to each other. And then as if on cue, we started pumping harder, pulling almost with too much pressure on the head. Pleasure just shy of pain, ecstasy one touch away from agony. When I was just at the precipice, teetering on the edge, the heat in my groin almost unbearable, I didn't say so much as say "Jack" but think it when he wrapped his mouth around my tongue and sucked. Hard. We spilled against each other, groaning into each other's mouths as we spent, bodies shuddering against each other, propping each other up, sweat-slick chest to sweat-slick chest.

He pulled away first. "James, don't mean to fuss, but my knees are killing me. Can we move to that bed of yours? Looks quite comfy. Not that I'm complaining about your floor…"

I laughed, picked him up, and threw him on the bed. Stepping out of my breeches, I pulled off my boots and stockings, then the remnants of my shirts. Licking a brown knee, I pulled off one pirate boot, licked the other knee, off came the other pirate boot. Starting at his ankles, I moved my hands up the length of his body and eased him out of his belt, sash, and vest.

"Hang vest on the bedpost, mate, will need it later," he murmured. I even undid the ratty scarf around his head but left his shirt on. I had plans for that shirt. Climbing on top of him, I nibbled on his ear lobe, kissed his chin, ran the flat of my tongue over his lips. All that trepidation about making love to another man now seemed silly. I would never get enough of him. I knew him in a way I would never know a woman, because I knew myself. Knew just how hard to pull, knew exactly how it felt to have someone cup your sac, knew to a ripple how the fingers of desire race up your back when a warm hand moves up and down your shaft.

He turned us on our sides, our legs entangled, wrapped in each other's arms, our breath warming each other's face, enjoying that unique lassitude that comes from having spent and spent well.

In the faint moonlight, I struggled to make out his features. Someday soon we must make love in broad daylight.

He began to move his fingers gently all over my face. With a shock I realized he was playing me. Just like an instrument. Like my features were a keyboard, he caressed my jaw with two fingers in an allegretto, next a saucy allemande as he brushed my lips with his thumb, and then finally the lento as he ran his fingertip over my closed lids. "Can't see you. Those green eyes. Love 'em. Want you in daylight, James. "

"I was just thinking the same thing." I grabbed his arse to bring him in closer. "Jack, how do you think I'm going to explain to my tailor why nearly every garment I own has been ripped in half? You have single-handedly destroyed my wardrobe."

"S'your fault. You're the one who thought he was being clever by putting on all the shirts."

"Speaking of, you're still wearing yours. And oh my. It's not torn." I grabbed the front and ripped it in half.

He smacked my bottom. "That was my favorite shirt, you sod."

"S'your fault. You're the one who thought he was being clever by ripping mine to shreds."

He grinned, the gold in his mouth just barely illuminated by the moonlight streaming in through the window. "Like I said before, got to keep an eye on you, mate. Must say you've given new meaning to the old saw still waters run deep. Thought I'd have a blushing lad on my hands."

I kissed him; my tongue licked the back of his teeth. That fatal combination of the ice of those teeth, the heat of his mouth and I began to harden again. "Don't forget, I did spend almost every cent of my first prize money at Sal's. Worth every penny."

"Must send her a present, Sal." He paused. A gentle palm caressed my cheek. "Sorry first time was so hot and dirty, Jamie. Just been wanting you a very long time. Believe it or not, I'm something of a romantic. Like to take my time. Savor my dessert." I rubbed my cheek against his. It was warm, too warm. A slight blush?

With the very tip of my tongue, I traced the outline of his lips and then slowly wound my way down to his chin. I tugged on the beard braids with my teeth and murmured, "Was wonderful. Wanted hot and dirty."

"And now?" he pushed his cock, which was hard again, against my stomach.

"I am in your hopefully thoroughly depraved pirate hands."

"Cocks in nice warm tight places?" he said this lightly, but I felt the muscles in his back tighten, afraid I'd say no, yet still offering me the chance. Another gift. Acknowledging that I while I was stretching, I might not yet be bendy. "Will tell you everything am going to do so you won't be frightened, savvy?"

I scooted down and teased one brown nipple with my lips until the nub had sharpened into a tight point, then nipped it gently with my teeth. "Jesus," he whimpered and arced his body into my mouth. Did the same thing to the other nipple, and the scent of cinnamon, rum, and musk filled the room as Jack's desire climbed higher and higher. I then kissed my way up his chest, tickling his collarbone with my tongue, until I'd reached his mouth. I climbed on top of him and rubbed my erection against his. "Please, James is vewy hungry. Really, really hungry for Jack. Wants dessert."

Jack's throaty, aroused chuckle heated me to my toes. "Must send Sal a really big present."

Rolling me over on my back, he ordered, "Spread your legs." Nestling himself between my thighs, he began almost absentmindedly running his fingers up and down my shaft.

"First thing am going to do is suck your cock. For weeks been wondering what you'd feel and taste like in my mouth. Naughty boy shoving your goods in my face that night, James. I didn't sleep a wink."

"That makes two of us."

Fingers paused, then gently grasped my cock and began to stroke lightly. "Jesus, you're built like a horse, Jamie." The strokes became less absentminded, a little more purposeful. "While my mouth does unspeakably obscene things to your cock, I'm going coat my delightfully long and wriggly pirate fingers with some borrowed oil, Mrs. Pince you're a love, and do some rather nice stroking and petting of your hole, which, if you still have the power of speech, which I sincerely doubt,"—he moved his hand to the base of my cock and twisted. I arched up—"will have you begging for mercy." He twisted the other way. I yelped. "At which point, I'll ease one long, wriggly pirate finger up your arse. It might hurt a little, burn, but that will go. Depending how much you want it, it might not hurt at tall. If it gets too much, you let me know and I'll slow down. We've got all night. Once inside said arse, am going to explore a little to find your sweet spot."

"Sweet spot," I gasped.

"Sweet spot," he confirmed. He cupped my balls and rolled them gently in his palm. "Every man has a spot inside his arse. Some men like it more than others. You let me know if you like it, savvy? Hopefully, you're one of the ones who when touched will think you'd died and gone to heaven." He grabbed my shaft with one hand and languidly moved a thumb over my slit, pushing back the skin. "And if not, there are lots of other ways to make James a happy boy. Also while in there, I'll be stretching you a bit, making it so that I don't hurt you when I go in. Listening, James?"

"Heaven. Stretching. In. Got it." I grunted as one hand began moving up and down my cock again, the other massaged the head. My hands began clutching and unclutching the counterpane.

"Once first finger's done its job, second finger goes in, more stretching, more lovely spot stroking."

"Spot stroking," I choked out. His hands were doing, evil, evil, wonderful, wonderful things.

"Then third finger goes in with its mates, then very happy fingers leave, and finally Jack lathers cock with oil, and puts it slowly and gently into nice warm tight commodore arse until Jack is all the way inside. Then real fun begins. While Jack's cock thrusts, grinds, and rolls hips like the depraved little pirate he is, James will be thrashing all over comfy bed in absolute ecstasy. The like-fucking-a-woman-part. Did I remember to tell you that as I'm pounding you into the mattress, I'm stroking your cock—"

"Dammit, Jack!" I shouted. "Do shut up and do it. Now!"

Just before enveloping my cock in his hot mouth, he said. "My move."




Rematch

Well. Apparently there are mouths, and then there are mouths.

Not that I am a stranger to this act. Sal's mouth was considered the ninth wonder of the world among the sailors lucky enough to be granted such an honor. And despite Jack's rather sweet description of placing a finger there, I was not a stranger to that act either. Sal's legendary expertise was based on having both an agile tongue and exceptionally long fingers for a woman.

And yet this was so different. It was like comparing a weed to a rose. This was not the chasing of pleasure, which is the sole purpose of one's visit to a madam. Pleasure, pure and simple. A determined hunt for that release. To be sated. And if afterward one chats pleasantly about the weather or the tides or trade or English politics while casually throwing down a bag containing ten guineas, well then.

But not this.

This was a surrender, not a chase; the giving of self. I have never shared myself with anyone. Not a one. To be thirty-one years old and to be so naive, so untouched. To not know what it is to give yourself to another. My back arched as he took me in deeper and deeper, and if I'd been watching this as an impartial observer, I would have chuckled at the obvious symbolism. The stern, unyielding commodore back bowed in surrender. Christ, I was undone.

He fondled my sac so gently, and how is a mystery because I knew his hands to be most calloused by sun and rope. Then he sucked again, hard, enveloping me with that hot mouth and a tongue that laved and caressed me. Then very edge of his teeth dragged along length of my cock and his mouth disappeared. "Dammit, Sparrow," I groaned out. I unclenched my fists from the sheets to reach out for him. I opened my eyes, to search for a pirate-shaped mound, but the room was too dark; there was no moon tonight. A tiny mercy that; I was relieved of seeing my complete undoing in his eyes. I scrambled with my hands and finally caught a rope of hair. I weaved my fingers into those dark, dark locks of his and brought him back down me. That got a surprised laugh, but no ribald commentary. I hoped to God he was as undone by all this as I was. His mouth sucked lightly on the head of my cock while a thumb slowly moved up and down the cleft of my ass. I began undulating my arse against that finger. I was trying to fuck that finger, searching for it. Jack stopped his sucking, murmured my name, and pushed lightly.

He did it again, accompanied by a hot mouth sucking against the inside of my thigh.

And again. I was reduced to babbling, desperate to voice this wonder, but unable to do anything but stutter and randomly toss out words and phrases, to tell him what this meant to me. By the time he'd coated his fingers and worked them into me, I would have followed him to the hangman's dock. I know not what I said. This was not the babble of sexual hunger. It was the shocked, incoherent ramble of a starved soul. A man who has never had cause, no, the opportunity, to give himself so freely.

The careful hooking of his arms under my knees opened me, exposed me. Later I realized that he did this on purpose. It was a risky, because such physical vulnerability is a mirror of one's emotional vulnerability, but as was his wont, he threw caution to the winds. He slid up the length of my body, gliding his cock against mine, nipping, biting my mouth, and in between hot breaths he murmured in a deep voice, rough, scratchy voice, "Knew you'd… Jesus, James, want… James, knew… Love you, randy naval bastard…"

Yes, I did want it. And it wasn't base desire that responded, that drove my mouth to bite back with equal abandonment. No. It was that running thought that I couldn't live without this. Now that I know.

I have never been so afraid in my life.

I pushed him off and stumbled out of bed to the far side of the room, leaning against the desk chair for support, my legs weak. Neither of us spoke, the only sounds were my labored breath, which was so close to sobbing that it was indistinguishable, and Jack's pants, fast and hungry. Shuddering so violently from desire, fear, passion, and dread that if it weren't for the chair, I would have fallen to my knees.

Slowly, I caught my breath, as he caught his, and then there was nothing but the distinct ticking of the clock to punctuate this horrible silence.

"You l—l—l—lied," I stuttered.

We could not see each other, the room was so dark. I heard the intake of a sharp breath, and then a cautious voice said, "I often do, but rarely to you. In what manner?"

"You said it wasn't any different than bedding a woman and that it would feel the same and it's nothing like and I think I'm seriously going mad here because…"

I stopped, because even in my hysteria, I knew hysteria when I heard it.

"James, I can hear your teeth chattering from all the way over here, and it's so hot in this bloody room even the sheets are sweating. Come back to bed and tell me why you'd prefer to stand over there shivering as opposed to having my cock up your arse when you were begging for it not two minutes ago. Pretty begging, I might add."

"Yes, you would find that attractive, my defeat," I grumbled, as I made my over toward the bed, picking my way gingerly in the dark through the scattered clothes on the floor. I stumbled over his boots and pitched headlong into the mattress. He caught me, pulled me back into bed, and held me until I stopped shaking, running his fine hands through my hair.

"Don't know why you wear that God-awful wig, mate. These curls are so beautiful. That powder stinks, just so you know."

"Rank and dignity come to mind. I might add that the man who smells habitually of cheap rum hasn't a leg to stand

on the issue of whether or not wig powder has a disagreeable odor."

"Nothing more than a hothouse for fleas. Wouldn't believe the bites I got that time I nicked the Governor's wig."

"Do not even begin to tell me that your, oh, let's just call it a nest," I tugged on his ropes, "isn't home to a variety of creatures, winged or four-footed. If a fox leapt out from underneath that mop right now I wouldn't blink an eye. Although there's probably not room, imagining the magazine of weapons you have hidden in there: a small axe, perhaps even a scythe tucked away, and do we even need to mention that horrible bone…"

He was so sly. Baiting him had had its usual salubrious effect. I'd stopped shivering and was nestled comfortably in his arms ruminating on the wonder that was Jack's hair. I stopped talking and burrowed deep, deeper into the dip of his neck.

"It's only different because it's you and me. And it's not defeat; it's surrender. Perhaps the only time where it's mutual. Most people see that as a gift. Having a crisis of conscience?"

I heard the steel in his voice. A gift? For anyone else perhaps. Your average man might understand such surrender and chafe at defeat, but a commodore despises the concept of surrender, while acknowledging the occasional defeat.

"It's not the…" There really was no polite way to say it, so I just let my voice trail off. "Between us. Two men."

"Swiving? Fucking?" He stressed the "k" just to annoy me.

"Ahem, yes. That is not… It's…" once more at a loss for words, I took his hand and placed it over my heart, hoping that this simple gesture spoke volumes.

"Fucking won't change that. You're lying in your bed with me, James, all snug as a bug in a rug. Sort of like putting up a sail after the wind's died down. We might as well take the pleasure with the pain."

I propped myself up on my elbow and traced his chin line with my forefinger. "Pain?"

He turned his head to bite my finger; a little harder and I would have yelped. "Jesus, James, and you claim to be an educated man. Not a seer, I admit, but it don't take any special powers to see that breakers are ahead. Man swiving another man. And if that t'weren't bad enough, a pirate captain swiving a commodore and vice versa." He paused. "I hope. Like being on the receiving end as much as the giving end. If we're lucky, we won't be caught. If we're really lucky, we won't be hung. Now. James. Please."

He stopped talking, his mouth poised over mine. Yes, he was right. I was already done for; I might as well realize my pleasure. I pulled him toward me and began to kiss him. Yes, there is something of an ocean between defeat and surrender. Defeat means the self is broken by another and surrender means the self gives to another. I surrendered. I turned over for him, the groan of pleasure he emitted was so loud they probably heard it down at the fort. He spread my legs with his knees, biting my shoulder with a rather sharp nip so that I wouldn't feel the stretch as he entered. I held on with both hands to the spindles of my headboard, as if that simple act would keep me anchored, and relished the heat of him, the weight of him in me. I ground out my litany of hosannas and curses into my pillow, as I rutted against the slick of his palm, and met him thrust for thrust. His cries of release filled the room; my release was as bittersweet as his was joyous.

He left just before daybreak. The rascal gave my arse a nice firm pinch before he threw up the bedroom window and scuttled down the vines into the yard. I lay there thinking of my good fortune and folly. They were one in the same. I had given my heart to Elizabeth, unasked, and, ultimately, unwanted. Through no fault of her own she broke it. How much worse it would be when Jack breaks mine. Because he had laid claim to it and now owned it. A heart claimed is so much more vulnerable than a heart unclaimed. Again, it's the knowledge, that this one person, even if he's a bloody pirate, makes you feel whole and fractured, with the added nightmare that you might never feel this same way about another person ever again. Love makes one so greedy. And even though I am a novice at love, my instincts are ever sound. As sure as my name is James Lysander Norrington, my heart will, at some point, shatter or be shattered, its pieces scattered by the hot trade winds that buffet Port Royal.

I rolled over and breathed in the scent of him on my sheets.




Given that Jack's weekly visits were now an open secret, I had taken to dining at the governor's mansion on Fridays with Elizabeth, William, the governor when he was able, and a certain pirate captain, heretofore known as Mr. Smith. We spoke in code as to the whereabouts of a certain Mister Smith. Would Mr. Smith be joining us for luncheon? Often Mr. Smith would not, given his penchant for Thursday nights spent with certain commodores, which necessitated a long mid-day nap in the hay of Mr. Turner's smithy. Had Mr. Smith beaten Mr. Turner at chess that morning? Elizabeth, saucy wench, always asked that question, smiling broadly at William's scowl, his defeat certain.

I had commissioned a carriage to take me up the hill to the mansion. Last night's doings had rendered me a trifle, shall we say, stiff. I likened it to having ridden several miles bareback. On a lame horse. Not uncomfortable as much as strange, with muscles I'd never used in my life thoroughly used. Neither the thought of walking or hauling this pleasantly bruised body up onto a saddle (no, definitely not, no) was acceptable.

"Will is detained. They are still down at the smithy," Elizabeth said airily, waving her fan. We sat in the garden, sitting on the bench overlooking the harbor. The roses were in bloom. We were only waiting for William and possibly Jack and then we'd dine.

She was exceptionally beautiful this morning, her eyes bright and cheeks pink. Not even the foul humidity and sun could dampen her glow. The heat seemed to touch her not. Would that I had had the power to bring out this Elizabeth. She had always been beautiful, but now she radiated a sublime inner grace. Truly a woman now, she had completely lost that coltish air about her that I had loved. Well, small wonder, recent events had aged us all. Aside from the obvious mutual attraction, she and William had grown up together, overnight. Yes, it didn't take a genius to see that Turner was responsible for this incandescent happiness, a fact I acknowledged while admitting my own manifest inadequacies in that regard. I experienced a brief pang. Six months ago I would have called it jealousy. Now, I think it sadness, a wee melancholy for what was never to be, for the girl who had captured my heart. I refused to countenance it. It was nothing more than a bruised ego and possibly hunger. I had no right to be envious. She was not mine, nor would I want her now if offered.

Back to the matter of the missing fianci.

"Is he getting trounced?" I murmured.

"I imagine so. He wears his losses extremely poorly. There's something about losing to," she paused, "Mr. Smith that rankles. I shall make it up to him later, poor lamb."

"Your fiancé is not what I would call a poor loser, he is too good natured for that, but he does have a competitive streak. It's well hidden under that polite manner."

She smiled to indicate agreement.

"You're very handsome these days, James. Your color, your smile. You might have given Will a run for his money once upon a time." She said it with the ease of knowing I wouldn't take it another way but the way she meant it.

"Hardly." I snorted. "We both know that Mr. Turner has had your heart in the palm of his grimy hand since the day we pulled him from that burning wreck. Notice I am not commenting on the issue of what sort of wiles you will be using on him to console him on his inevitable loss." I lowered my head and gave her the type of stern look that would have had my men breaking out in a sweat. Of course, she ignored it, not cowed in the least. Her mouth turned up in what could only be described as a lascivious smile, and her eyes crinkled at the thought of the pending amusements.

Of course, I ignored her right back. "I would imagine that William's dismay at his losses might have a great deal to do with the person across the chess board from him. Mr. Smith is unique among my acquaintance. 'Patting one's self on the back' doesn't quite do his raging egotism justice. It's truly amazing he doesn't break or, at the very least, wrench his wrist at the general enthusiasm with which he ballyhoos his own achievements."

"Given that you're modesty itself…"

"Bitch," I hissed in an undertone.

"Prig. Jack's teaching me card tricks. I'm a born natural, apparently," she smirked. "I've perfected that art of waving my fan and dislodging the ace up my sleeve."

I rolled my eyes. "Wonderful. You will note how impressed I am. Not. He's turning you into a proper pirate."

She smacked me with her fan. "Don't be so stuffy, James. I rather fancy myself as a pirate." Her eyes flashed. "A pirate queen."

I couldn't help it; I laughed out loud.

"You?" I managed to get out.

"I don't see what's so funny," she pouted. Unusual in her, she's not much of a pouter. More of a kick-you-in-the-kneecap sort of woman.

"Right. I can just see you holding court in front of a bunch of blood thirsty ruffians, all seven stones of you. Are you going to beat them to death with your fan if they don't behave?"

"I don't know why I ever thought you were amusing, James."

My response was cut off by the loud guffaws emanating from the dining room. Apparently Mr. Smith was eschewing his nap in favor of luncheon. The governor's cook was only second to my own in terms of culinary expertise. The hay was inviting, but given Jack's enormous appetite… I swear he eats enough for two men… At least, he polishes off nearly all of my meal when he… Although I don't know where… He's so slender… Of course, after last night's acrobatics… Am rather hungry myself…

Rising up to give Elizabeth an arm, I winced as my muscles reminded me exactly how frisky Jack and I had been the night before. At the same time, Elizabeth grabbed my proffered arm and winced as she stood and shifted her hips. Exactly as I had done not one second earlier, resulting in an epiphany I could have done quite nicely without.

"Elizabeth! For God's sake, your wedding is in two months. Couldn't you wait? The town has ten fingers and if you become… Before…" I blushed.

She blushed and was, no doubt, going to give me a defiant, "It's none of your business, Commodore Norrington," or "I fell off my horse," or some such nonsense when her face froze. She looked at me, whipped her head around toward the French doors into the dining room and the murmur of voices, looked back at me, eyes wide, and said in a shocked voice, "James! You too? How? But. Oh. OH!"

I blushed. She blushed again. We both started laughing so hard that we ended up plopping down on the bench so we wouldn't fall over.

"Hear, hear," said Jack, as the both of them came out into the garden. William's face still sported traces of pout, signaling his loss. "Such hilarity and cavorting. Why didn't you wait for us?"

That started us off again.

After we'd laughed ourselves nearly sick, Elizabeth passed it off as some private joke and no amount of wheedling by either William or Jack would prompt either of us to disclose what had been so funny.

She gave me a very tender kiss on the cheek when I made my leave. As a sister might. Being one of five sons, I was in sorely in need of a sister. Before she had a chance to pull away I murmured in a snarky whisper, "Pirate queen? Please."

As I bowed my goodbye, she kicked me in the kneecap.




There is something horribly unfair about indulgence. My last visit to a brothel had been over a year ago, and I'd not the desire to return. I was not tormented by the thought of another's hand on me; my own hand had serviced me quite nicely for months. But one evening with Jack Sparrow and I was, indeed, tormented by memories of his slender hands mapping me, titillating me, touching me. Which was torment enough, but small agony compared to the thought of his mouth on me everywhere. I took to taking punishing rides on my horse, eschewing placid chess matches with William for grueling hours in sword play, in short, exhausting myself physically in any manner I could. It turned out to be a hopeless endeavor. I woke up with my sheets and nightdress stained with nocturnal leavings, something I hadn't done since I was sixteen.

Thursday night could not come soon enough.




"Knew Will was hiding something! Couldn't look me in the eye all morning. Course Turners blush at the drop of hat. Doesn't take a swive to do that. Lizzie is quite a handful, eh? Knowed for a fact she had to bully him into it. He was spouting some sort of nonsense about being a gentleman and horrified at the thought—"

"You counseled him to, well, with Elizabeth! Man, their wedding is in two months. Those cats in society are just looking for an excuse to cut William. If they suspect… Stop that… We're talking about… Your foot is… That feels nice… Yes, oh yes… Why did you stop? What we are talking about?"

"Don't be so stuffy, James." I would have suspected collusion between the two of them, but even I couldn't possibly devise such a scenario other than the one that I was, actually, stuffy, a patently ridiculous notion. "Told him to pull out before he came. Now let's not talk about Will and Lizzie, who are perfectly happy and don't need our advice. Well, Will did need my advice because the lad was shockingly innocent, didn't even know about where to stick it. You should be congratulating me. I saved their wedding night from being a cock-up."

He chuckled at his extremely limited wit.

"Do I even need to point out that the issue of a wedding night is now moot, thanks to your advice?"

"There wouldn't even be a wedding if it wasn't for me!" he protested. "Lizzie thought Will was a eunuch—had similar thoughts myself to be honest—and she'd called off the said nuptials. Not that I blame her. Can't imagine anything worse than being married to someone who doesn't like a swive."

"Like you'd know," I huffed.

He took a big swig of wine. "Will gets that pinched, nasty little purse to his mouth." He studied me. "Similar to your purse." I glared at him. "Anyways, she'd called it off because she'd thrown herself at him and his little Will had gotten all happy, and instead of him being all happy because his Will was happy—he didn't grab her cunt or something normal like that—he got all 'pursey' like he does, and went on and on with some nonsense how they should only see each other in company because of her honor. Lizzie, having more common sense than he does by half, told him to go to hell. See? I saved the day."

I don't know how in the bloody hell I was supposed to make sense of that nonsense, but I gave a weary nod and poured myself another large glass of wine. It was obvious that regardless of society's strictures, Elizabeth could have cared less that she had been bedded before being wedded. Because Jack lived outside the unforgiving ties of society's norms, he clearly had no notion regarding how powerful they could be. I sent up a prayer that Jack's instruction had been to the letter, and that Elizabeth would see her wedding day in a dress that did not call for a discreet visit and alternation by the mantua maker.

"Where was I?" He had a stuck a fork into a wedge of orange and held it up in the air while he pondered. "Ah, what we're going to do in that comfy bed of yours tonight. Think it might be your turn to do the honors."

The orange didn't even touch his lips. The fork clattered to the floor as I grabbed his wrist, hauled him to his feet, and growled out, "Now."

It was early enough that while the room was in shadow, I could still see clearly the shape of him. He lay on my white counterpane, naked, a dark brown from the top of his head even to his toes, his arms propped up behind his head, letting me explore him,. He was gorgeous, a bit slender, I'll grant you, but what power in those shoulders, those arms. Fascinated, I slipped my pinky between his little toe and the one next to it. Yes, he was pale and creamy there. The remnants of the English son that his father and country hadn't wanted.

"Turn over," I murmured.

"Randy sod," he said with affection before splaying himself on the bed, stomach down.

Oh, oh, what an arse this man had. Despite not having so much as an ounce of fat on his torso, the cheeks of his arse were plump and fit perfectly under my hands. I squeezed. He groaned. I squeezed again and began running my hands all over him while kissing the nape of his neck. No salt tonight.

"Someone's had a bath."

"Aye, can't remember the last time I did. Figured I was due. Friends lent me one."

I suspected that it was my bath that he'd used; however, that would have entailed grilling both Simon and Mrs. Pince about certain liberties afforded certain pirates, and I really did not want to know. If I did not know, I could not implicate them should the occasion arise.

I licked the length of his back. Yes, he tasted of lavender. I have several bars of lavender-scented soap in my linen closet.

So beautiful. I bit one arse cheek, laved the bite with my tongue, then bit the other. I ignored the whispered blasphemies pouring out of his mouth. He was jittering his groin against the counterpane, searching for friction. I made to dip my finger into the bowl of oil I'd stashed earlier and then thought, yes. I licked the valley between his cheeks, and nuzzled my nose between, smelling and inhaling the scent of him. I licked his hole and sighed in pleasure.

I was poised to do it again when he threw me off and punched me in the jaw.

He began to scramble for his clothes. It was light enough that I could see him pulling on his ridiculous pants, wrench on his shirt, tie his sash, all the while muttering in a furious voice, "Goddammit. Goddammit! I knew it. Knew I couldn't trust… Fuck! Where's my fucking boot. Goddammit. Goddammit. WHERE'S MY OTHER BOOT?"

I pointed with my left hand. My right hand cupped my aching jaw.

"I apologize," I said with a calm I didn't feel. "I did not realize that some activities weren't acceptable."

"Of course that's acceptable!" he yelled. "That's not the point, and you know it." He threw his boot at my head. I might have been injured but that didn't mean I wasn't quick. Unfortunately, he might have been furious, but that didn't mean he couldn't aim. He missed me by a hair.

"No, I do not know!" I shouted, because this was getting ridiculous.

"Oh, you so bloody know." He looked around for something else to throw.

"You throw that candlestick at me and you're a dead man," I warned. "Now what is this about?"

"You're the one person, James, the one person I count on not to lie to me. I don't trust anyone, been the one thing that has saved this sorry pirate hide over the years. And what made me trust you is a mystery. Lying, naval bastard," he hissed. "Oh no, Jack, I haven't been with anyone but you," he said in a falsetto. "On my honor as a servant of the King's navy. Bastard."

I threw up my hands.

"Jack, what in God's name—"

"You kissed me. There."

"Yes, and apparently you hated it and I won't do it again."

"I DIDN'T HATE IT!" he screamed.

"I really don't understand. You told me that our…holes were the same as women's holes, and I've done that to women and they liked it. They like it quite a lot. Of course, they were whores and they could have pretended they liked it, but—"

He held up a hand.

"You've done it to women."

"Yes," I said with a fair amount of starch.

"Whores."

I rolled my eyes.

"Yes."

"Not men."

"Of course not. I told you I hadn't been with another man before this. You inferred that holes were holes. Obviously not. And I won't—"

He began to toe off his boot and take off his clothes, chuckling up a storm.

I stood there not knowing what to make of this. I'd known Jack was a little eccentric, but this could be catalogued as being mad. And not candlestick throwing mad, but Bedlam mad.

When he was naked once more, he came over to me and embraced me.

After that earlier display, I was loathe to return the favor.

I stood there at attention while he ran a soothing hand up my back. He kissed my jaw, which hurt like hell, and then he laid his head on my shoulder. I had a number of inches on him, and he fit quite nicely.

"Sorry, mate. Sorry. Thought you'd been lying to ole Jack. Thought you'd been with other men. Not that I would have cared, in fact, if you had then we wouldn't have had all these weeks where my balls were aching something fierce, right? So thought you were lying when you'd done that. Not the sort of thing a lot of men do. I do like it; I want you to do it again. You're my safe port, James, and I thought… Never had one before, see? Not sure what I'm doing here."

I did not see exactly, but I relaxed and wove my arms around his waist.

"How is that any different from your usual modus operandi? I think your entire life is nothing but not knowing what you're doing."

I could feel his smile against my shoulder blade. "Won't deny it, but seems to keep my neck out of the noose. Sorry." He pulled back and kissed my jaw again. "Do it to me again, James," he cooed.




"Jesus, you've got a cock on you. Don't know how I'm going to sit in that boat tomorrow and row to the Pearl. Need to swipe a pillow from Lizzie."

"Did I… Did I do it wrong?"

He squeezed my arm.

"No, mate. You're a hell of a fuck. Haven't had a swive like that in years. Am as happy as a clam. You?"

It was dark by now and neither of us could be arced to light the candles. I was too comfortable, too happy. Although I am not a superstitious man, I was afraid to move, afraid I would jinx this bliss. Surely a kiss to his forehead wouldn't offend the happiness gods. He tasted like salt, sweat, and lavender.

"Yes, Jack."




At that first wink of dawn, where the sky is not dark nor is it light, he was up, rummaging around for his "effects" on the floor. I found the flint and lighted a candle for him. Despite the plethora of scarves—how many vests does one man need? I should think one sash enough but four?—he was dressed in nothing short.

"See you at luncheon," he reminded me on his way to the window.

"You could use the door. It's customary in this part of the world." I pointed out.

"More fun this way. You need more fun in your life, James."

I looked at him. "I have quite enough fun currently in my life, thank you very much. Any more fun, and my trumpet vine will be completely dead, as opposed to only trampled within an inch of its life."

He chuckled and made his way over to me. "Will ruin your trellis then and leave the wee plant alone, savvy?" With a sloppy kiss and a cupping of my balls, he was up and out the window.

Ah, what a night. I stretched out, my long legs touching the footboard. I debated going back to sleep when I heard a voice shout, "You! Halt!"

I knew that voice. It was Andrew Gillette in a rage.

Where in the bloody hell was my nightshirt? The sounds of a fierce scuffle ensued, knuckles hitting bone, the oomph of a fist connecting with a stomach. Hang it! I grabbed a sheet and flew down the stairs into the yard.

Ted had Jack pinned in his arms, Andrew was beating Jack to a bloody pulp. His fist rearing back as far as it could go and pummeling into Jack, who tried to duck the blows, even though virtually helpless.

"Mr. Gillette! Stop!" I roared as he brought his knee up to Jack's groin. With Ted holding back his arms as if in a vise, Jack could only groan out his agony.

"Caught him coming out of your bedroom, Sir," Andrew panted. "He tried to escape, and…and…" He stared at me, then at my crotch. It was light enough so it was very obvious that I was naked, the sheet trailing behind me. I wrapped it around my waist even though I would be a hard-pressed business to appear remotely in charge dressed in my bed sheet.

"Our good luck, James," crowed Ted. "We were up to no good, to tell you the truth. We've been dying to know who you've been entertaining, and decided that he'd probably escape before dawn and we'd get a good look at him. Didn't expect to find Sparrow." He cuffed Jack on the back of the head, hard; Jack groaned again. "He was scaling down your wall. We haven't had a chance to check his pockets, but no doubt he's walked off with half of your silver and probably—"

"Let him go."

It was said with deliberate and deadly calm, betraying none of my own rage. With every second, the light grew stronger, and despite my race down to the garden, I could see Andrew had already bloodied Jack something fierce. His left eye was already swollen shut, and blood from his nose stained the white of his shirt.

They stared at me.

"That's an order, sailor," I said in my most menacing voice.

Ted let go and Jack slumped to the ground. I went over to kneel by him. I ran a shaking hand over the back of his head, probably the only part of him not in agony.

"Are you dreadfully hurt? Anything broken inside?"

"Don't think so," he managed to get out. I picked him up and propped him up against the wall of the house.

"I'll tend to you in a minute."

He groaned back a response.

I turned back to face Ted and Andrew.

"Shall I call the guard, James? He'll not escape the noose this time." Andrew was positively salivating at the opportunity for justice to be finally served.

"He has a letter of marquee from the Governor," I said wearily. "From Thursday sunset to Friday sunset he is a free man."

"Bloody good that will do him," smirked Andrew. "Ted, let's check his pockets, Bet there's—"

"No."

Ted was a little quicker in these matters.

"James?" he queried in a horrified voice, while Andrew said, "James, what are you on about? Lord knows what that scallywag—"

"Captain Sparrow was my guest."

There. It was out.

Ted said nothing. By this point, it was truly light; Andrew turned six shades of white.

"No," he protested.

I nodded.

"Him? It's him? He's the one you're— By God, James, tell me you're pulling my leg here. Not that bloody pirate," he spat out. He made for Jack, still slumped against the wall.

"Mr. Gillette! You touch Captain Sparrow again, and I will sign your court martial papers myself."

He dropped his head, in great turmoil, his fists clenched tight as if aching to hit someone, perhaps even me. I looked at Ted. I did not see anger, but there was no glimmer of friendship there either.

"Attention," I barked out.

That got Andrew's head up.

He glared at me and walked off.

A minute passed then two, and slowly Ted drew up himself up into as fine a military posture as I've ever seen and saluted me. "Permission to speak. Sir."

"Mr. Groves." My voice was subdued, but there was no mistaking that this was his superior officer speaking.

"Mr. Gillette's sister was killed by pirates. Not a fact he ever mentions. Sir."

Bloody buggering fuck.

"I will take that into consideration, Mr. Groves. Please return to the fort. Under my orders, Mr. Gillette is to be incarcerated and on bread and water for three days. For insubordination. I will be there directly, after I've taken Captain Sparrow to a surgeon."

He saluted me again before running off. We had been fine friends. If Ted were forced to make a choice between Andrew and me, it was no contest that he would choose Andrew. I would miss them. I turned to Jack and hoisted him over my shoulder. By the time I'd reached the top of the stairs, I was out of breath and so very weary.




Andrew survived his three days on bread and water. As an officer, he had to speak to me, and, being the sort of man he was, there was not a repeat of his insubordination. I would even go so far as to believe that should the occasion arise, he would save my life if need be. But the nights at the Tar were no more. The teasing? No more. The camaraderie between the three of us? No more.

A tacit understanding existed between us. Andrew could not expose me to the admiralty without placing his relationship with Ted in jeopardy. Although I never would have used that as leverage or retaliation against him, it was a mark of how low I had fallen in his eyes that he believed me capable of such an action. We reverted to an extreme professionalism that served the navy, and every "Yes, Sir" and "Thank you, Lieutenant," contributed an additional nail in the coffin of our friendship.

Ted did not judge me as harshly, but it mattered not. I could not be Jack's lover and their friend, and I chose Jack. Ted could not be my friend and Andrew's lover, and he, naturally, chose Andrew.

A month past the violent incident in my garden, Andrew and I were standing on the deck of the Dauntless, having completed a routine inspection of the back side of the island. It was a nasty day, the humidity so fierce that the ropes were wet, burning the hands of the sailors as they tried to manipulate the sails. Andrew turned to me and said into my ear, "Are you still with that bloody pirate?"

I nodded. I respected him too much to lie to him.

And that was that.




Therefore, it was with some surprise when Ted came up to me at the Turners' wedding. I had arrived alone. As much as I'm sure Jack would have liked to have shown up in some ridiculous get up (I wouldn't have put it past him to shave off his beard, don a wig, and stuff himself into a dress, pretending to be Will's long lost aunt), he did not. I was very, very grateful. We'd had our own private party, just the four of us, several days earlier. I was still marveling at the quantity of champagne he could drink and still walk.

Suffering from one of my headaches, I stood as far away from the festivities as possible and yet still be in the room. The quartet was quite decent—I had ferried them from Nassau myself—but by this point in the evening, God's angels could have been manning the bows and I would have been itching to leave. I had stayed as long as was polite, and at the end of this reel I would make my congratulations and head home. William and Elizabeth sat in high state at a table at the head of the room. William looked miserable (these sorts of affairs were torturous for him); while Elizabeth looked ecstatic (these sorts of affairs were a piece of cake for her). Being on public display was not to William's taste, and I couldn't help but applaud him. As Commodore of Port Royal, I'd been paraded in front of everyone in my dress uniform quite enough. He had my sympathies.

With nothing to do but count the beats until this dance had ended, I had been surveying the dancers and noted with some surprise that Andrew was dancing with that Miss Bowden, the woman who never met a cat she didn't like. How odd. And he was actually smiling.

"James," said Ted in a low voice.

"Good evening, Ted. Have you given your congratulations to the happy couple?" I pointed at Elizabeth and William.

Ted smiled. "Yes. Will is about to bolt. Imagine he's chomping at the bit. Mrs. Turner is quite beautiful. If you like that sort of thing."

I refrained from mentioning that William had already been chomping at said bit for several weeks now, and that his desire to bolt was not a reflection on Elizabeth's considerable charms, but a hatred of formal affairs.

"I received Andrew's resignation on my desk this afternoon. Is yours to follow?"

He was too well trained to fidget, but he did blush slightly.

"No, Andrew is getting married. I expect that is the basis for his resignation."

"Married?" What? I looked again. I had not imagined it; he was dancing with Miss Bowden. I stifled a meow. "Please do not tell me to her." I jerked my head in the direction of the dancers.

"Yes. It seems…" he paused. "She is quite intelligent and rather observant. It seems that she understand the depths of our friendship. She proposed to him. I shall live with them while in port."

My eyebrows met my hairline.

He coughed.

"There is a maid she is quite close to, and…" his voice trailed off. "He wants a son. She has agreed; two children."

Nothing more than an elaborate ruse, Andrew and his future wife will, to all intents and purposes, look like the perfect married couple. Ted, as Andrew's bosom friend, will share in their wedded bliss. The maid will share a room with her mistress—that was very common. All quite proper.

"There are other servants. People will talk," I said as a word of caution.

"For all her wealth, she lives simply. There will be only a manservant and a cook, who are, conveniently, the brother and mother of the maid, respectively."

Very convenient.

"A family affair. And the impetus on her part?"

"Her guardian is forcing the issue and had proposed several unsuitable names for potential husbands."

Yes, I imagined they were very unsuitable in that they would have expected her to actually share their bed!

"And you? You are in agreement with this scheme?"

I watched him watch the two of them dancing. Their smiles were genuine; it was clear that Andrew wasn't merely being polite and doing his gentlemanly duty by asking a perennial wallflower to dance. True, the color was high in their cheeks, but it was a rather rambunctious reel. Knowing Andrew as well as I did, it didn't look like love. More like impending heat stroke between friends.

"Agatha is a nice woman. A bit too keen on books for my taste, but Andrew always has a book in hand, so no hardship there."

"And the cats?" I could not remember their names. A blessing.

He laughed. "Yes, I like cats. Andrew is learning to like them. It is a solution I can live with."

"Surely, this is not because of me and…" my voice trailed off.

"Yes and no. He was thinking of resigning anyway. He couldn't remain under your command, and yet having served under the best," Ted said this without malice (oh, Andrew), "he had no desire to sail under someone else. The cat obsession masks a quite intelligent woman. She'd known for months of the exact tenor of our 'friendship.' Given that Agatha had realized our situation, it was only a matter of time before someone else realized as well."

"I did not," I reminded him.

Ted smiled. "For all your intelligence, James, you are a bit of a dunce in these matters. She reasoned that by marrying him, it would solve all our problems. And I suppose it shall. I said yes to this scheme—he did ask me—because I will lose him otherwise. He thinks I don't notice, but he doesn't even need to see a child. He hears a giggle or a high voice asking his mother for a sweet, and he goes quiet for hours."

Andrew had thought he could successfully ignore this yearning. It must have been very deep-seated; he'd fairly leaped at the chance when offered. Andrew was the only one in this room besides the Turners who was having his cake and eating it too.

"And you?"

"Haven't you learned anything, James?" He sounded as weary as I felt. "Men in our situation are beggars, not choosers. We bed each other knowing that we might hang for it. We make sham marriages. We slip into the beds of our lovers when it is dark and leave before it is light. We make do."

The music ended with a flourish. Andrew and his fiancie clapped with enthusiasm and headed off toward the refreshment table.

"Ted," I gripped his arm. "You do understand, don't you? It is insanity, I freely acknowledge that, but I can't…not see him."

He looked at their backs as they made their way across the room, the skirt of her gown glimmering in the candlelight.

"Who would know better than I, James?"




Ted spoke true that night. Jack continued to slip into my bed when it was dark and leave before it was light. We bedded each other knowing that we might hang for it. It was the worst two years of my life and the best two years of my life. It was nothing but endless sleepless nights as I'd receive dispatches alerting me to a pirate captured and hanged here, another captured and hanged there. I'd wait for his return, yet terrified when a Thursday would come and he would be there. As I pulled him toward me, smelling of the sea and sweat, I would ask myself, is it tonight that we are caught? And then there were the weeks when a Thursday would come and no Jack, which was a very different sort of terrifying.

When one-hundred and four Thursdays passed and he did not return, I said my farewells to Elizabeth and William and returned home. Elizabeth wrote often, always with a postscript from William. Only they missed me, no one else. After six months in England, you couldn't even tell I had lived in the Caribbean for ten years; my face was pale as my fellow countrymen. Would that the memories had faded as quickly.




Endgame


The door to my study opened. I didn't bother to look up. The scent of her perfume, the faint attar of roses, preceded her. The scratch of my pen moved in tandem with the shush-shush made by her gown as she moved toward the window.

"Don't, my dear." I admonished. My voice thin and, my God, was it quivering? I sounded almost ill. No, I sounded old. I coughed. "I'll do it before I go to bed. The storm hasn't broken yet, and it's as hot as blazes in here. Every now and then I get a faint breeze. Which is the only thing saving me from ripping up all this odious correspondence and flinging it into the grate."

"It's late, James. Surely that can wait until morning," she tut-tutted.

I signed my name to a letter, the "J" of James bold, the "L" of my middle initial anchoring the sharply angular "N" of Norrington. One down, thirty to go.

"Afraid not. The war toms toms are getting louder. The ministry should be casting cannon, not reading reports. However, reports from the exhausted pen of its Admiralty are much less expensive than paying for cannons. Therefore…" I swiped a broad hand across the desk, indicating the hours and hours of tedium I had ahead.

"So you're not coming to bed yet? I'd hoped…" she murmured and two elegant hands caressed my shoulders with the lightest of touches, a mouth nestled an earlobe. A raven-colored curl grazed my cheek.

I did nothing, neither leaned toward her nor pulled away. Not tonight, I told myself. Willing myself not to flinch from her touch. Not on nights like this. She stopped.

"James," her voice quiet. "I felt the baby quicken today."

I smiled and leaned into her. Smoothing my hand over her belly, I caressed the lovely swell of her stomach and tilted my head up so that she could see my smile. "I hope it's girl. And I hope she looks like you."

She blushed at the compliment, long black lashes fluttered over grey eyes. A generous mouth tipped up in a shy smile. "I'd like a girl," she agreed. "If we have another son like Jack, we will be candidates for Bedlam."

We shared a broad grin.

"The child is a total hellion. I cannot conceive where we went wrong," I put a false note of disappointment in my voice to counter what I really felt. A more incorrigible, mischievous, infuriating, lovable, and delightful child had never been born. Well, perhaps there had been but he hadn't been my son. "We've gone through every nanny within a hundred miles. I'm beginning to think that…" Then an elusive breeze curled in through the open window and I turned my head to catch just the edge of it. Once a sailor, always a sailor. I doubt Caroline could smell it but I could. The Thames was at full tide.

"You're not here, James, are you?"

"Pardon?" I turned my attention back to her. Reluctantly.

"On nights like these. Not here," her voice was calm, but the fingers resting on the one shoulder curved in slightly, betraying her. "You're not here. Where are you? Back in Port Royal? No rain, no wife, no family, just your men, your ships, the sun, the ocean. Not here," she repeated. "Are you?"

I'd made a silent vow the day we married that I'd never lie to her. That this marriage would only be successful if I were honest with her about my expectations and, sadly to say, my lack of them. I had no secrets from her save one.

"No, I'm not," I smiled in a vain attempt to relieve her, to give her some peace of mind, but neither of us were fooled. Often that sort of smile is more painful than the grimace; to both the person bestowing the false sense of normalcy and the person receiving it. "It will pass. It always does." I turned my head to kiss first the one finger resting on my shoulder, then the other. They tasted of rose water.

A small sigh and she was moving toward the door. The kisses had been nothing more than a sop, and she was too intelligent not to know them for what they were.

"Good night, my dear," she said over her shoulder, knowing that any further conversation between us would be pointless. She pulled the door shut with a determined snap. I'd buy her a present tomorrow. It wouldn't mitigate her anguish that she'd never be enough, that she only owned the Admiral's heart, not the man's, but it might at least assure her that the man's heart belonged to no one. She had no real rivals. Other than the past.

Afraid she'd stay until the rain actually hit, I sighed with much relief. It only happened on nights like this, when the humidity sat heavy and wet on London's spires waiting for the rain to lash down. When the wind blew hot, scattering the blossoms of the flowers as the storm's fingers began to wrap themselves around the land and the maids and butlers of London's elite threw open the windows of parlors and bedrooms in a vain effort to steal a little air before the thunderstorm hit. Our windows were open as well but not for the errant breeze, despite my declaration.

That was not what I was waiting for.

It was only in the few tight minutes before the rain crashed down that I'd hear it. I hadn't heard it for a year, but I still waited for it, fingers clenched around whatever I could grab, the back of a chair, my own knees, the hilt of my sword, my quill. Just something to help with the anticipation.

It would come on the breeze, bringing with it the smell of the sea. It had been ten years since I'd left, but with one hot breath of wind I was back in the Caribbean. First I tasted the salt in the air, then felt the heat of the sun on the back of my neck.

And then I'd hear it.

His laugh.

I'd swear on the life of my son that it was his laugh. Always distant, as if he were in the next room. But his. Husky, happy, from the deepest part of his belly. In the morning I would tell myself that it was far off thunder, that my mind was playing tricks on me. The chimney in the parlor needed cleaning. Perhaps the rumble of a carriage outside my front door. Perhaps. But not tonight. Hearing it was both the sweetest balm and the worst agony. The memories refreshed themselves, and it was impossible to separate out the joy from the sorrow. What had been and what was lost.

There it was! My hands started shaking, and, without meaning to, I dropped my quill, leaving a ragged streak of ink across the page of the letter I'd just finished. The rain began, the rat-tat-tat of water as it danced against the panes. I eased up out of my chair and tried not to groan as a pain as familiar as my own name raced across my shoulders. With a wince, I shut the windows and curled my hand over the edges of the drapes to wrench them closed. Once the rain came, the moment would be over. I'd not hear him again. The heavy drapes muffled most of the sound, but I could still hear the storm as it swooped over the city. A nasty night. Red sky at morning, sailor take warning.

I was done. I doubt I could even hold a quill, the rumble of that laugh had been so true. I straightened up and tried to roll my shoulder in a vain attempt to ease away some of the pain. Damn it to hell; it was perpetually sore these days. An old battle wound come back to haunt me. Permanently. Maybe I needed a glass of Armagnac. It would dull the pain, hopefully enough so that I could eke out a few hours of sleep. By the time I'd finished my snifter, Caroline would be asleep. Or at least pretending to be.

No sooner did I reach the sideboard when the door to my study opened.

"I won't need you any further tonight, Simon," I said wearily, not bothering to turn around. I grabbed the neck of the decanter to still my trembling hand and poured myself a hefty glassful. "It's late, and I'm nearly off to bed myself. Good night." With my free hand, I reached around to rub my shoulder. Christ, it burned like the devil in weather like this. The rain and damp made it a thousand times worse, and it rained more often than not in London; sun was a precious commodity.

"Having trouble reaching, James?"

God, now I was hallucinating. I closed my eyes. Truly, I was going mad. First the laugh, now his voice. "Damn you to hell, Jack Sparrow. Damn you," I whispered and banged the decanter down on the sideboard, heedless of whether it broke or not.

"Speak up, James. Hearing's not what it used to be, and I can't hear your mumblings, although by the look on your face you're not exactly singing my praises."

And there he was. My pirate. In my study.

He stood in the doorway, leaning on a cane. His hair was completely white, pulled back from his shoulders, and tied into a queue. The trinkets were gone, as were the beard braids, he was clean-shaven. The red silk scarf was nowhere in evidence, but the hat was the same. And the voice, the voice was the same. And the kohl. The dark eyes magnified fivefold.

I gasped and stumbled toward him. I couldn't even say his name, only scratched out feral, horrible whimpers that threatened to scar my lungs. Twelve years since I'd held him. Christ! I wrapped him up in my arms and crushed him against me. Oh, the smell was the same, dear god, cinnamon and rum; slightly less pungent but the same. We folded into the nooks and crannies of each other like two halves of a puzzle piece. In the distance I heard the cane fall to the floor and his arms encircled me slowly.

As if twelve years were nothing, not a moment, he laid his right cheek against my shoulder as he was wont to do, and the familiar caress of a lazy figure eight wound it's way up and down my back. As always, the heat of his hand heated through the linen of my shirt.

I don't know how long we stood there. Holding each other, breathing in each other's scent, but finally Jack said, "Need to sit down, Jamie. Old bones. Get my cane, will you? Thanks, mate. Sorry to say I can't walk without the bloody thing. Fell off the rigging seven years ago trying to tie down a sail and my hip's never been the same. This London damp is murder on my joints. Will be a complete cripple by morning," he shrugged, accompanied by a mocking grin. "Shit," he moaned as he eased his way down on the settee. "Haven't found a way to cheat age. But give me a few more weeks. We're negotiating." He settled himself against a cushion with a grimace. "Afraid she's immune to my charms. Bitch."

"Your hair," I murmured and put out a hand to touch it. It used to be like touching black silk. "What happened to the trinkets?"

He raised a gnarled hand and caught my hand to give it a squeeze. "Got a bad fever one year, and Mr. Gibbs cut off my hair. When it grew back, I just didn't bother. But…" he began fingering the many pockets on his person—that hadn't changed and I'd wager there was a weapon in every single one—frowned, frowned again, and then he smiled. "I saved the bone for you."

His pulled out that dreadful bone that had nearly blinded me on more than one occasion, grabbed me by the wrist, and plopped it into my hand.

I laughed and I laughed. He began laughing with me.

When we were done, we were leaning against each other.

"You are a sight for sore eyes, James Norrington." He leaned back and gave me the once over. "The years have been kinder to you than they have been to me."

"I doubt that," I said with a grimace.

That got a thoughtful glance.

I had a sudden horrible thought. Why was he here?

"William?" I managed to eke out.

"Thought maybe you might think that. No, Mr. Turner is alive and well. He's with me now. After Lizzie died… You knew?"

I bowed my head in acknowledgment. "A fine woman, the likes of which will not be seen again."

When I didn't receive her usual Christmas letter, I imagined the worst. Four months later a letter arrived from New Orleans. Elizabeth had died in childbirth; William wrote that her agonized screams could be heard in Nassau. You might think it strange that a man would feel it a duty to inform his former rival in affection of his wife's demise, however, I would have expected nothing less. We were all bound to each other in this life, perhaps in the next as well if we are lucky.

"Aye," he agreed. "Groves—good man—sent word that no sooner was she buried and the bairn handed over to a wet nurse did Will began to kill himself with drink. I found him in the corner of the smithy, so drunk he made Mr. Brown look like a teetotaler. Took him a week to sober up. When he could stand the roll of a wave and not puke his guts up all over my deck, I commandeered the children, the nurse, and him, and set sail for New Orleans. Have a place on the Mississippi. Bought it with the swag from the Isla de Muerta." He gave me a sly glance, expecting me to interrupt. When I didn't, he continued. "Knew there was a bloody good reason why I never had children…" he paused. "Any that I know of. That brood of Will's? All tartars, especially that wee Liza. Spitting image of her mother, just as much of a handful as Lizzie was, in fact, worse, and as stubborn as my Will."

I rolled my eyes and we shared a commiserating grimace. Definitely not a winning combination, in my opinion. Then my stomach clenched. My Will was it? I couldn't help it. My mouth pursed in disapproval.

"James, you've got that nasty set to your mouth—"

The door opened and Caroline stepped in, Jackie in her arms. He was half asleep, his cheeks red and creased from slumber.

"James, I thought I heard… Laughter." Her voice went flat. "Mr. Sparrow, I presume."

Jack gave her an appraising once over and struggled to stand. I cupped his elbow to help him up, and the expression on Caroline's face went from wary to bleak. She knew him. It was impossible to talk about my years in the Caribbean without most of those tales featuring Jack in a large way. He was, frankly, the stuff of legend. My powers of description are rather meager, nevertheless, only a blind man would not have known that this was Jack Sparrow. Those damn kohled eyes of his the most obvious giveaway.

"Captain Sparrow, Madam. I haven't had the pleasure. Mrs. Commodore, I presume?" He doffed his hat with one of his most elegant flourishes.

By the thin line of her mouth, she was not impressed. "Mrs. Admiral, if you please."

He couldn't help but raise an amused eyebrow at that, and ran a more calculated, appraising eye over her person. Returning his frank appraisal with one of her own, she gave him a terse nod of the head and then turned to me.

"Jackie had a nightmare." She glared at me as if I were responsible. Then her glance softened as it came to rest on the head of our son. "Would you kiss him goodnight again?"

Jack Sparrow always had a way of overwhelming whatever world you were in. How easy it had been to forget that I, an admiral of the Rear White, was sitting thigh to thigh with a former pirate captain. Because when he was in the room there was laughter and play and passion. It was only when he left the room that one's folly became all too clear. With a shock that I realized that I had slipped without notice into my Port Royal self. Caroline's command brought me back to my study. In London. Much older, but apparently no wiser. My son's plaintive, "Papa?" anchored me there. The rough cloth of Jack's coat scratched my palm. I let go and walked over to where Caroline was standing, Jackie slumped in her arms.

"Young man, no more shenanigans tonight," I admonished. I pushed back a lock of hair that had fallen into his eyes and kissed his forehead. "Go to sleep right away or no games tomorrow."

"Play pirates?"

I managed to say in a normal voice, "Yes, we'll play pirates, but only if you go to sleep forthwith."

Caroline spun around, away from us. Expecting her to maintain some sort of polite sham, I had overestimated her. Heaven knows what she saw on my face, in the depths of my eyes, but whatever she had gleaned, it had her marching across the room to the door without a word, not even so much as a goodnight. Once there, she hitched Jackie into one arm, opened the door, gave Jack such a fierce look that if I'd been him I'd have reached for the closest knife on my person, and then slammed the door on her exit.

Jack eased himself back down onto the sofa. Once settled, he murmured, "Sweet wee lad."

I nodded, unsure of what to say.

"Apple of his father's eye?"

"Yes, he is." I did not add that there was only one person in my entire life that had come close to the love I felt for that child.

"And another on the way? Been a busy man, James. Named him Jack, I see. Good name."

Oh God, teasing, coy Jack.

"Yes, we are expecting again." That "we" stuck in my throat a bit. "He was christened John, but given that the child is a complete hellion, we changed it to Jack. If there's a way to break something, he will. If there's a way to climb it, he will. That child could scale a wall of glass. He's absolutely incorrigible." I sniffed to punctuate how my life was nothing more than a vale of tears with that child.

Which did not fool him in the slightest. He laughed. His hand went to cup my cheek and then stopped. I did not pull away, but I did not ease into that hand either. Yes, I said silently, there are rules now.

"Got yourself a tartar, mate." He jerked his head at Caroline's portrait, the one I'd commissioned last year. The painter had done her justice, the deep gray of her eyes, the slender, graceful arch to her neck. Why was it only tonight that I noticed that the artist had painted a quite determined set to her jaw? "Always dock your ship in a pirate's port, don't you, James? Lizzie, me," he said with a wink, "and now the Missus."

"A pirate? Are you mad?" I blustered. "Elizabeth, I concede. You?" I let out an enormous huff. As if there were any question! "Caroline's father was an admiral," I said rather primly.

"So? Lizzie was the daughter of a governor and a pirate through and through." He pointed his cane at the picture and snorted. "Who'd know a pirate when they see one? Jack Sparrow, that's who. Woman would've run me through given half a chance."

I made to deny it but I found I could not. As always with Jack, and why I would expect anything different I don't know, the conversation was taking a most alarming turn.

"Are you hungry?" I said, somewhat stiffly.

He grinned and slid a dirty nail down the gap between his front teeth.

"Mrs. Pince hasn't lost her touch. Made the best pastry in Port Royal and now the best in London, I wager. Filled my belly up with tart and a pot of tea while me and Simon commiserated over the sad state of our hips."

I'd always suspected that he'd worked his considerable wiles on my servants. It certainly explained why neither of them ever commented on the streaks of kohl bespoiling on my sheets those Friday mornings so long ago.

"You brought them back to England with you, I see."

That brought up an issue I was determined never to visit.

"Your Mr. Turner is well?" I had not meant to sound churlish, but I fairly growled the question.

"William's managing," he said slowly. "Not what you think, James."

"Oh, so you're not fucking him," I mocked. "I know you. Do you expect me to believe—"

He put a calloused finger to my lips.

"Stop, James Lysander Norrington," he ordered in a low voice. His angry voice. I've heard it only heard twice before. I heeded it, but yanked my face away in protest.

"He's not you and never will be. Yes, we're fucking. Just like you're swiving that wife of yours. He and I've made do. Just like you've made do." He pointed at the portrait again with his cane. "And that saucy governess will do nicely for Will when I'm gone. She'll fill his bed and mother his children. Lizzie would like her. She hadn't been in the house more than a week before she hauled back and blackened my eye." He tilted his face toward me as if the black eye were still in evidence.

"Thoroughly misinterpreted your intensions, I'm sure," I said with so much ice that I was amazed that stalactites didn't magically appear on my ceiling.

That got the trademark Sparrow smirk and saucy twinkle.

"May be old, but I'm not dead."

Instead of getting the smile he intended, his wry joke filled me with a white rage. I bolted from the sofa to rummage around the hearth with the poker, despite the fact there was no fire. Because if I didn't do something with my hands, I would have reared back and hit him. Yes, we'd both tumbled from relative youth into the yawn of old age. And not together. All those chess games we never played. The bottles of wine never shared. How could he? And yet I could stop myself…

"You never came back," I bit out. I had waited for two solid years and then could stand no more. The very sight of a cerulean blue sky and the smell of night-blooming jasmine rendered me ill. I returned to England.

"You still do that, I see. Play with the fire poker when you're trying not to go on a tear. Had a noose around my neck once. Didn't fancy it at the time and doubted I'd like it a second time. I sent back the queen. You knew I wasn't coming back, James."

He gestured toward the chess set, sitting majestically in its permanent place in a corner of the room, all the pieces squatting in the middle of their designated squares, the jade of the queens soft and pale in the weak light of the candles. I hadn't played in years. It was too painful. Yes, I'd received the queen back. An oiled packet had mysteriously appeared on my desk one morning, containing only the queen and a piece of paper that said, "Stalemate" and signed CJS, the serif of his pen as bold and saucy as ever.

He'd taken to stealing my queen whenever he'd leave, slipping it into his pocket before he'd sneak out the backdoor. The first time he did it, he said, "Something to remember you by, mate." Then he had melted into dawn's shadows on his way to the smithy or the stables at the governor's mansion, or wherever he hid for day while waiting for dusk to cloak his skiff as he rowed back to the Pearl. I took to carrying his queen with me, nestling it in the brim of my hat. I'd remove it and fondled it when writing letters or when I'd take that rare moment to stop and breathe in the sea air. I'd run my thumb over the sharp edges of the carved jade and think, Jack. Three more days.

"After two years you still hadn't chosen. I had to choose for you."

"I… I…" I croaked out, unable to defend myself, unable to protest. Leaning against the mantle piece, I buried my forehead into the crook of my elbow, clutching the handle of the poker as if a lifeline. I had failed him once, when I had done nothing to stop the authorities from hanging him, even though I knew that he deserved it not. Despite a personal vow to not repeat that weakness of character, I had failed him a second time.

No, I could not choose. The same man who was humbled and broken and remade every single time we coupled, was the same man who was the envy of much of the navy for the seaworthiness of his ships and the battle-worthiness of his sailors. I was as much Jack's man as I was the King's man. Both of these men watched as the might of His Majesty's Navy whittled away at was to become the pirates' brief hold over the seas. I watched pirate captain after pirate captain tried and hung, until there was only Jack left, thereby earning the notoriety he'd so fervently sought over the years; he was the last great pirate, and, therefore, the greatest prize.

"I'm reminding you that there was no place in your world for me, your ginger-haired lad made that clear—by the way, me jaw still aches every now and then; he had a fearsome left hook—and while we might have shifted and made room for you in mine, you didn't board that ship but on Thursday nights and Friday mornings."

No, I had not, I could not. As pirate after pirate succumbed to the noose, I found myself making daily trips to church, praying to a god I was less and less sure existed as my dilemma deepened with every passing week. I took some comfort that my prayers—Whatever propels that ship, whether it be by your grace or the hand of Satan, I beg of you, please, God-speed Jack Sparrow—continued to be answered as Jack evaded capture. It truly never occurred to me that I could have left the service. He never asked that of me and I never considered it.

We were playing with fire, the hottest of flames. Betrayal, thy name is Norrington. He came back, again and again, and every time I welcomed Jack into my house, my bed, I betrayed my king, my country, and my men. Every hanging I attended was a betrayal of Jack. Oh, these weren't "good" pirates by any stretch of the imagination. They were the worst of men: murderers and ruffians every one of them. But His Majesty's Navy would not distinguish Jack in any manner from these criminals. It was only a matter of time before he was captured, forcing me to choose, betraying myself no matter which path I walked. For I was both men. The lover of Jack Sparrow and the Commodore of Port Royal. I would be on the precipice again, and I knew not if I would jump. I only knew that choice was untenable.

"When they caught ole Teach, I knew it was time to lower the flag, James. Thought you'd do this." I lifted my head. "Come back to this God-forsaken freezing sod. Make a name for yourself." He looked around the room, calculating the worth of every object. Once a thief, always a thief. "Suits you, this does."

"Forgive me?"

He cocked his head, all the anger gone.

"There's nothing to forgive. You couldn't be any less than the man you were. Fate wasn't very kind to us, was it? A man like yourself, all spit and polish, falling in love with a pirate. And me. A man who never met a wind he didn't want to catch or steal," he wriggled his eyebrows, "falling in love with a naval commodore. Someone had a good laugh at our expense, James. But we did all right, didn't we? Fucked each other more in two years than most people do in a lifetime. Now, you've got your bonny son and fair piratey lass, belly full of child; I've got Will to warm my bed."

No, I wanted to shout. We didn't do all right. It was like my heart was continuously skipping beats and my lungs were too tight, I never could draw enough breath.

"Is she as much of a tartar in bed and she is out of it? Like my women with a bit of bite. Wager you do too."

It was as twelve years hadn't passed, and we were in my small sitting room at Port Royal, gossiping and teasing each other as we finished up our meal before heading upstairs. I laughed and let go of the poker; it clattered on to the hearth. I picked it up and hung it next to the bellows.

"I'm eaten up with curiosity here, James," he huffed.

I brought myself up straight and turned to face him, an evil little smile played on my lips. Caroline had been closer to thirty than twenty-five when we met. She'd come out with some fanfare and then passed over by those idiotic men who wanted nothing more than a coquette or a brood mare for a wife. We'd been introduced at a party at her father's house, and she'd caught my attention by being one of the few women of my acquaintance—Elizabeth Swann had been another—who was not ashamed that she had a brain. I have always found intelligence attractive. Fortunately for me, those brains were coupled with a deeply passionate nature and a luscious curve to her bottom lip.

"Yes, she's marvelous."

Not quite the answer he was expecting, his frown was a thing of beauty. The gratification at seeing that enormous ego get a thorough bruising had not paled.

"Better than me?" he demanded.

"You are still," I pointed at him with a stern finger, "a monster of vanity. No, but good enough. William?" I couldn't help but do a spot of my own fishing.

"As you say, good enough," he grinned. "But not…" His voice faltered and his smile fell for the briefest of instants before it came back. Something eased in me at recognizing that the years had been as horrible and lonely for him as they had been for me. Yes, we had made do.

Of course, Jack had spent his whole life making do: the unforgiving father abandoning his eldest son to the navy, which didn't stop him from becoming one of the finest sailors to stand on a deck; the abuse of Jock Ritchie that turned him pirate, but what a pirate; and, finally, the pirate who'd realized his time was at an end, and had refused to be sacrificed. Jack had a way of cheating fate. If fate was nothing more than a card game, Jack had slipped a number of aces up his sleeve. I might be a formidable chess player, but cards was not my forte. Games of strategy I understood. Games of chance? Jack was not afraid of the dice roll. And if it turned up snake eyes, well, there was always another roll, another opportunity to warm the dice in the palm of your hand, shake them for luck, and say a small prayer as they hit the felt once more.

Because I'd refused to play, the game was played for me. My hair might not be white, but my soul had aged irreparably. It was not fair to say that Caroline and Jackie were nothing more than making do, I loved my son with an unholy passion, and, if asked, I would say I loved my wife and it would be true. But it was not the same.

I looked at the door. A few quick steps across the room and I eased the lock shut. Sitting down beside him, I took his hands in mine. They were worn and thin from a lifetime of pulling rope and fighting with the wind. I kissed them.

"Why are you here, Jack?"

"The ostensible reason—didn't know I knew that word, did you?—is that the Pearl's got a hold full of cotton. Respectability. Don't recommend it."

He couldn't hide the contempt.

"You will never be respectable. You could be an emissary to Rome and you would still be a reprobate. How could I forget, you did impersonate a priest at some point, didn't you?" That got a chuckle and a deprecating shrug. "A cotton merchant? It does explain the lack of pirate—?"

"Patois? Aye, the drunken pirate act doesn't get me very far with the cotton traders. The educated son of a respectable curate? Very far." He gave me his most wicked smile. "Another reason why I had to say goodbye to my jewels and trinkets. Merchants are the stuffiest lot I've run across. Worse than you naval gobs," he complained.

"Surely not. You must take care not to show those teeth of yours. All that gold will give you away. And the real reason?"

"To say good-bye." He said it simply, as if it were of no report. I tightened my hands on his involuntarily. He winced. "Got a bit of rheumatism in my hands, James." I eased up but didn't let go. "The sea smells so sweet these nights, and the wind rips through me like I'm nothing more than a ghost. But most of all, her deck is slowly growing cold under my feet." No need to ask who she was. Jack's first love had always been the Pearl. Being a sailor myself, I could never be jealous of her. "My last trip, I reckon. William will make the next run. He's turned into quite the sailor. Be a good man and see to it that he's all right for me, will you, James?"

As I freely acknowledged that curses exist and that undead sailors may march along the floor of the sea, I could not deny the certainty I heard in Jack's voice.

"You are not afraid?"

"The last great adventure, mate," he crowed, slipping back easily into his piratese. He then said in a manufactured stage whisper, "I've heard it on good authority that it will be day after day, night after night of the finest sail on God's earth. The wind perfect, the sails all smart with nary a rent or rip in them. The wheel under my hands. The ship cutting into every wave with the ease of a hot knife through butter. The Pearl, of course, best ship in land or…" he waved a hand, "wherever."

I couldn't help but smile. "A very pretty picture. Who is this great authority?"

"Me," he thumped himself on the chest with all the swagger and confidence for which he was infamous. It was certainly better than envisioning hell's fires or even heaven's lyres. "Bring me that horizon." His eyes flashed. "I'll wait for you, James. I won't leave the dock until you join me. We'll sail together. We've never done that. I don't count that bit on the Dauntless. You had me in the brig half the time," he pointed out quite rightly.

"My apologies. No, that doesn't count," I agreed.

Some tremendous knot in me loosened. God had watched over this most wayward of sons up until now. There was nothing to say that Jack's vision of heaven (and I had no doubt that that was exactly where he was going) was not the perfect ship sailing on the perfect day into the perfect wind. Who's to say that I wouldn't join him at heaven's tiller when it was my time?

"I sail tomorrow with the early morning tide. I wanted to see you once more before we set off. God's teeth, James, the sight of you," he said in his huskiest tone.

I made a decision. For one night I would turn pirate. I would steal temporarily what fate had decreed could never be mine, only borrowed. I leaned into him, my mouth brushing the curl of his ear. I heard him rasp.

"One last night. On the Pearl," I begged in a low voice, caring not one whit that my desperation was more than evident in my strident whisper.

Even as he leaned back into me, tucking his head into the crook of my neck, he confessed. "I didn't come here for that. Didn't know which way the wind was blowing, frankly. Got a bit of a temper, you do. Thought you might as well kiss me as shoot me."

I kissed his neck. Once.

"Mrs. Admiral?"

"I trust she will understand. I will not lie to her." I was throwing the dice for the first time in my life, hoping against hope it didn't turn up snake eyes. "I must come back before dawn."

"Savvy," was all he said and ducked his head so I couldn't see his face. He hoisted himself up with a groan and made for the door.

Once in the foyer, I was halfway into my great coat when the faint light from a candelabra accentuated our shadows, exposing our flight.

Caroline stood there on the stairs above us, hand on her stomach. Given that I had my coat on, there could be no question that I was leaving. Given the straight line of her mouth, no question with whom.

"Caroline, one night. That's all I ask," I implored. "He is sailing with the tide and will not be back."

She said nothing for a few seconds, perhaps palming her own set of dice.

"You will come back to me, James," she asked, finally.

"Yes," I said without hesitation.

This was my home, she was my wife, the mother of my children. Jack and I had a mere six hours to mock fate. I would return. Where I belonged.

Her shoulders fell a fraction in relief. "Captain Sparrow," her fine contralto echoed in the corners of the foyer. "My husband shall be in my bed by sunrise. If not, I will hunt you down, cut off your balls, and make you eat them for breakfast, tide or no tide. Are we clear?"

He doffed his hat and bowed in agreement, whispering under his breath as he bent over, "Told you she was a pirate."

She turned her back on us and escaped behind a door. I would make it up to her and be true to her for the rest of our days. Jack was right. I had a penchant for pirates.

Making for the study again, I hushed Jack's impatient, "Now what, James? For the love of God, we've got damn little time, and I want you to fuck me into the mattress…"

I picked up both queens and slipped them into the pocket. I would leave them on his pillowcase before I left the ship. A reminder to wait for me. That the game was not yet done, only delayed.




Fin