"Had better hope your father's mistress takes care of you, sea rat...."

So had said the man who'd thrown him--all of seven years of age--into the sea after his father had swung. And later, the sea had tossed him onto a small island, where he awoke clutching a perfect seashell in his hand. There had been three fish on the shore with him, and then it had rained, and he had had food and drink enough before he had been rescued by yet more pirates.

At the time, he had taken the man's words to heart and believed them. He believed that his father's mistress would see to him.

*And so she has,* Captain Jack Sparrow mused as he gazed up at the lurching, dancing stars. It mattered not that he was on land just then; the stars always moved like that, as did everything else in his sight. Always in time with the sea, no matter how far from her he ever was. His father's mistress had become his.

Though he wasn't far from her just then. He lay on a dock in Tortuga, legs dangling just over the edge, feet not yet touching the water. She sighed and whispered, and he grinned in silent accord.

*Aye, my love. I feel the same.* He didn't have to say it aloud, because she read his thoughts. Terribly convenient in some ways, but Jack was awfully glad that other women couldn't read his thoughts as easily. Surely by now he would have had various body parts ripped off if other women could do the same.

Without planning on it, he sat up and slid into the water. She was cold tonight, but he was used to that. He ducked under her waves and shook his hair out; let her soak his clothes and wash away the days of grime and sweat. Then he surfaced and swam towards shore.

The waves were rolling in hard; she felt angry for some reason. As he put his feet down, one of the breakers gave him a hearty slap on the rump, and he fell forward into the shallow water and sand.

"What?" he asked, scrambling to his feet and turning around to face the sea. "What was that for?"

Another wave roared up and he tried to step back from it, but tripped over something under his feet and fell onto his back. He got back up and tried to back away.

"Was it the redhead?" he called.

She shoved him roughly back up to shore, where he stood in water up to his knees, sputtering and trying to shake the sand out of his pants. He jumped up and down a few times, and that took care of most of it.

"It was just a dalliance! She meant nothing; just one of many. You know that! Blondes, brunettes, redheads...Just to pass the time!"

Before him, the sea roiled and swished. She was a jealous mistress, to be sure. "Couldn't ask me to give that up," he muttered sullenly. "'Twould be cruel." Then he smiled at her as coquettishly as he could; though he knew that he looked for all the world like the drowned sea rat that the men who had thrown him to her had imagined he'd become. That mattered not. She didn't care what he looked like.

"You know you're the only one."

She whispered and made the "shush, shush" sound that he loved. Her waves eased off. She was jealous, but she forgave. He sat down in the surf and let his fingers dance over the froth. She was gorgeous in the moonlight.

*Unlike some.*

He winced with that thought, as it brought to mind the image of a hand, stripped of flesh, reaching through prison bars to grab him by the throat.

People said he was mad. But it was a true madman and a fool who refused to believe something that he had seen as clear as day. He knew the difference between the truth as it was and the truth as it appeared after having gone without rum for too long a time. The skeletal hand hadn't been delirium. Jack Sparrow knew what he saw, and wasn't yet mad enough to disbelieve it. If his eyes told him that the dead walked, then it was so.

Bootstrap Bill's silly, dithering son hadn't the slightest idea that his dear old father could easily have been walking among them. And, Jack guessed, even if old Bootstrap walked straight up to his boy, pinched his cheeks and said "'Allo, son," little Will still wouldn't believe it. In such a way, Will was madder than Captain Jack Sparrow could ever hope to be.

Jack lay back in the surf and watched the stars dance some more. The moon, swimming about like a lively ghost on the waves of the sky, cast its cool glow on him, and the image came unbidden: Bootstrap Bill, or his remains at least, rising from the moonlit ocean like a terrible sea monster. Cursed, starved and thirsting, afraid of himself at night and entirely alone in on the vast sea, perhaps for months...perhaps longer.

And if he had ever reached land, what then? Not only cursed, was he, but alone.

Jack felt sad for old Billy, because he had been a good man, and because true loyalty and friendship were rare on the seas. He and Bootstrap had had an easy understanding, which had been, Jack must admit, a bit of hero-worship on his part, and a bit of indulgence on Bootstrap's. (Not that he would ever admit that to anyone other than himself. And even himself was scowling at himself for admitting it.)

A memory came to him, just as vibrant as the explosion of sunlight that he saw on his eyelids everytime he closed his eyes. He could remember being aboard the Pearl with the old crew, just after he had been made captain. He was on deck, and Bootstrap was beside him. The sea was calm and the Pearl danced along with her, mayhap like a girl learning the steps from her elder sister. Yes, that was just how it was, he had realized back then. And he knew he must be a wicked man, because he loved both sisters.

That day, looking out to the sea and forgetting that he wasn't alone, Jack had begun talking to both sisters, though he couldn't now remember what he had said.

"Who're ye talking to there, boy?"

Startled, Jack had swung around. A thousand useless replies had flashed through his mind--some foolish, some cutting--and then he had looked at Billy's face. Billy only looked thoughtful and curious. Jack decided to tell him the truth. Most sailors spoke to her at times, at any rate, so perhaps it wasn't so unusual. "The sea."

Bootstrap had smiled. "Aye. Well, keep talking to her, lad. Seems to favor you, she does."

"Aye."

A comfortable pause as they had both looked out at her brilliance.

"She ever answer you, lad? In words, like?"

"Aye." No sense in lying. This, in turn, made him curious. "She ever answer you?"

"Not in words; not like with you. 'Tis a rare thing. A gift, you might say, Captain."

Jack smiled secretly. "Aye."

The sun had been blinding that day (but by the powers, not as powerful as it would be to him in the future, he now knew,) and Jack had often found that it interfered with his vision. He squinted, trying to decipher something on the horizon.

"Sun is fierce, eh Captain?" Bootstrap had said.

"Aye, sometimes."

"Kohl's what you want."

Jack had turned to him and quirked an eyebrow. "How d'ye figure that?"

"Cuts back the glare, like. Useful, it is, only there's not a pirate mad enough to make use of it. Think it'll make them look like wenches, they do."

Jack had laughed--a loud, barking laugh that rang out over the water. "Aye, Captain Jack Sparrow, talks to the water and blackens his eyes with kohl."

Bootstrap laughed along with him. "No matter what else you do, lad, you'll be remembered as Mad Captain Jack Sparrow."

"'S'long as they remember me, Bootstrap."

Smiling as he lay in the surf, Jack came back to the present. Indeed, Bootstrap had been a good man. Hadn't deserved his fate. Barbossa hadn't killed him; he had done worse. The Black Pearl would have sailed on, oh so foolishly, without Bootstrap. They would have left behind the last man they needed to break the curse.

Barbossa, Jack was now convinced, was a bigger idiot than he had at first thought. His first mistake had been turning on Captain Jack Sparrow--- aye, and not only turning on him, but doing so on the sea, where he was protected. Loved, even. And then, turning him over to her care, as if she would ever let him down.

Next mistake: plundering that cursed gold. Ah, but that was rich. Jack liked to think that he would have known better. It didn't do to take warnings lightly. And yet, old Bootstrap had helped himself, and Bootstrap hadn't been a fool.... But mayhap that chest of gold was too much for a man to resist. Mayhap Jack would have taken some, too, given the chance. Though it was nice to think that he wouldn't have.

Next mistake: endeavoring to kill that which could not be killed. Even if Barbossa hadn't figured on needing Turner's blood to break the curse, he might have known that he couldn't kill Bootstrap, and that Bootstrap would eventually have escaped his watery trap. Sinking down to the bottom or the ocean, though...'Twould crush a mortal man, had he not drowned first. Drowning would have been a mercy.

Jack could think of no better way to come to an end, if one had to: falling asleep in her embrace, under the blanket of her waves. Breathing in her dark love and finally being a part of her. Jack intended to live just as long as he could, but if he had his way, and knew that Death was nigh, that was how he would choose to go. Certainly not in Norrington's gibbet cage, nor anyone's gibbet cage, come to that. He'd strike his colors for his mistress, and none other.

He had been close to doing just that, and more than once. And probably never closer than the time that he had stumbled drunkenly into her depths at night. He hadn't meant to...not exactly. Meant to be close to her, to be sure, but not to die. Jack was convinced that he would only die when he ran out of things to do, and that was a long time coming. So he had tumbled overboard and not known which way was up. He could remember the heaviness of his limbs, clumsy and numb in her icy grip, but no panic. And no panic even as he breathed her in; just one bright thought: "This is what it is to die in her." And it wasn't so bad.

He had awoken to the feeling of being slapped and the sound of being cursed, neither of which were too terribly new to him. The person doing the slapping and cursing, however, had been Bootstrap himself. Bootstrap had stood him up and thumped him on the back so hard that what seemed like a tankard of water had come out of him. (Nothing, he mused, like the polite bit of spitting up that the very wet and barely clothed Miss Elizabeth Swann had done after he'd pulled her from the water.) It wasn't the first nor the last time Bootstrap had saved him, and that was something never to be taken lightly. Old Bootstrap had later told him that, had he not come to the deck just then, Jack would have been lost to the sea. That was, of course, because she had sent Bootstrap to find him. Some people thought Captain Jack Sparrow unnaturally lucky, but he knew that luck had little to do with it. He was in very good hands.

'Twas good that Barbossa didn't know this secret.

Barbossa...Aye, he had been making a list of the fool's mistakes.

His next mistake: making off with little Will's treasure. For, though little Will was a silly, dithering fool, he was yet Bootstrap Bill's son, and there was more to him than there looked to be. After all, he had come this far, and had not wavered in his purpose. His obsession to go on spoke of the stuff that made pirates.

Jack wondered why in god's name Barbossa had made off with the lass after he had gotten the coin. He had no use for women and, even if he had, he wouldn't have taken her along with him on the Pearl. Would instead have ravaged her and left her to die. She had to have had something that he wanted.

"What does Barbossa want with that girl?" Jack asked aloud.

He could remember what Barbossa had, at one time, wanted. He had wanted the Pearl, and he had wanted treasure, women, rum, and power. But surely being cursed to wander the sea neither dead nor alive would change a man's agenda. Put things into perspective, like. He wanted more than anything to lift the curse. But what did the lovely Miss Swann (who, Jack thought, looked ever so much better without the corset...and not so bad wet, either,) have, after giving up the coin, that would help Barbossa? He had seen the medallion on her, of course, but why hadn't Barbossa taken only that? He would have still needed the blood of one who had stolen that gold.

*Not yours though, Jack!* he thought deliriously. *"Lucky, lucky Captain Jack," they might say. Marooned and left to die in the sun, but spared of the curse!* He laughed up at the sky. That thought, at least, was glorious. Funny old world.

He drummed his fingers in the water and let his thoughts drift to Miss Elizabeth Swann. Wet, un-corseted Miss Elizabeth, in her sheer underclothes, wearing that heavy, cursed coin around her neck, with some sort of connection to young Mr. Will Turner. Barbossa hadn't stayed around to find little Will, though he easily could have. He could only've thought that he had what he needed in The Wet Miss Elizabeth.

Jack chuckled. That was her new title: The Wet Miss Elizabeth.

The Wet Miss Elizabeth had got the coin from young Mr. Turner--he had given it to her, or she had taken it from him--and there was obviously something between the two, but she hadn't his blood.... She hadn't his blood.

Like most of his instincts, this one came to him so swiftly that it would have knocked him sideways, had he been standing. The Wet Miss Elizabeth didn't have Turner's blood, but Barbossa, for whatever reason, thought she had. Could it have been that The Wet Miss Elizabeth and young Mr. Turner were secretly married? And that she had told Barbossa her name? "Who are you?" Barbossa might have asked, and she might have answered, "The Wet Elizabeth Turner."

"No, Captain Jack," he answered himself quietly. "The likes of them are too proper to marry secretly. The Wet Miss Elizabeth gave her name as Turner so's to protect her identity, as if Barbossa were after the governor's daughter."

The next answer came to him in a whisper on the water, as it sometimes did. Jack listened hard, slack-jawed in concentration. The reason was important. "'Course," he whispered back, when he finally understood. "And because The Wet Miss Elizabeth wants that name. And isn't that just lovely?"

To be sure, it *was* an interesting old world.

Will Turner was on the shore behind him, probably exasperated and scowling. Jack didn't have to see him there to know it. He raised his hand and beckoned him over, then sighed when he realized that the boy might not interpret this gesture for what it was. Too comfortable to get up or call out, he splashed his hand in the water, then raised it again, pointed lazily to where he thought Will must be, and beckoned again. Will would certainly understand that.

The ocean shushed and swished around him, threaded her fingers in his hair (she was the only one who could,) and laughed with him. The world was about to get a little bit more interesting. Jack couldn't wait to see how this would all turn out.

--------------------

Will Turner stood on the shore and watched Captain Jack Sparrow jump about like an idiot. He splashed in the water and seemed to be talking to something in the sea. Will squinted into the distance, but could see little in the moonlight. Perhaps it was something only Jack could see. That seemed about right. Though he seemed to be doing an odd little dance--a jig of some sort. Maybe, Will thought, it was some sort of pirate ritual of his. The man wore a bone in his hair, so the idea of him doing some strange heathen ritual was not altogether too farfetched.

Though, Will thought he heard him say the word, "redhead."

He hefted the weight of the Captain's pistol and turned it over in his hand. "My effects, boy," Jack had said as he'd handed it, along with his belt and hat, over to Will. "If I come back and find that they are gone and you are alive, this'll tell me that you've failed to guard them with your life, in which case I shall have to kill you myself. Savvy?"

Will had sneered at him, because he didn't believe that the captain would kill him. He seemed to have some sort of shady code of his own making. Something had happened between Will's father and Jack--something that made the captain feel some vestigial sense of honor--and Will knew that Jack wouldn't be quick to kill him.

"Savvy?" Jack had asked, and Will had understood him, but he had seen slower-witted men not understand a word that came out of his mouth, and just nod at whatever he said. Then Jack would say, "Do we have an accord?" and the victim would nod again and numbly shake his hand. Then, more as like, Jack would walk away with more than he'd had before, be it gold, rum, supplies or pardons. Jack could talk a man in circles so that by the time his victim was done trying to follow the logic, he had tied himself into a clove hitch. Following him was like following a snake through a dark tunnel. It was vile, and terrible to watch...but there was something interesting about it, too.

Will was annoyed by him, and suddenly very annoyed with the whole mess. He didn't see what was so special about Tortuga that they had to come here. Jack seemed to think he would find them a crew to go and rescue Miss Swann, but so far, Will hadn't seen anyone he thought could stand up straight, never mind going on a dangerous rescue mission. (Though, to be fair, he had to admit: Captain Jack Sparrow couldn't stand up straight, either, and he sailed with ease. Better than he did anything else in the world, Will imagined.)

With a sigh, he sat down in the damp sand. It was uncomfortable, but he couldn't think of a reason not to. It wasn't as if he was used to a life of eternal cleanliness and comfort, and after all, a little sand was nothing compared to hours of sweat and grime.

It irked him that he never got credit for all of his hard (and, he must admit, brilliant) work. He loved the work--loved the heat of it, and the noise. Loved the differing hardness of iron and steel, and the minutely different sparks they made. Above all, he loved the feel of forging blades, so delicate and precise, and yet so useful and powerful. But it would have been nice, at least, for someone to realize that he was the true bladesmith of Port Royal. He supposed that this was why he had told Jack the truth when he had asked him who made all of the blades during their first battle.

And Will was still not certain why Jack had asked. It could have been meant as a distraction, and if so, it hadn't worked. More and more, though, Will suspected that Jack had asked because he'd already guessed the answer. And even more disturbing, he might have known that Will wanted to tell him. It was always safer to assume that any consideration on Jack's part was a device to manipulate people. How someone so childish could be so crafty, Will thought he'd never figure out.

He was also not certain that "childish" was the right term. He could merely have, for whatever reason, been child*like*, though he also seemed too worldly for that. He was quite obviously disingenuous when lying ("just runnin' a rig," he would say, eyes hooded and coy,) and ardently, insincerely contrite when caught. Effusive and arrogant when he got what he wanted, but as small as he could be when he didn't want to be seen.

And now he was lying in the water like driftwood, gesturing at the sky and muttering to himself.

Miss Swann was out on the sea somewhere, likely being terrorized, and Will didn't want to think of what else. He discovered, to his shock (and creeping sense of pride,) that he wasn't so much *righteous* about saving her as he was angry about her being threatened.

Violently angry, when he really thought of it. Angry enough to hurt people, and though this emotion seemed too big somehow, yet he knew that anyone who threatened Miss Swann deserved to be hurt. Killed, even.

He found that he was scowling in the direction of the captain, who was wallowing about in the sea. He suddenly wanted to blame something on him. He supposed that he could be angry with Jack for saying that his father had been a pirate, but he couldn't deny that he felt the truth in it. And it was a fool who refused to believe what he felt. Jack had told him that he could either accept that fact, or not. Will had decided that he would think about it another time. There were other, more important things to consider first.

And there was something else about Will's father that obviously troubled Jack. Will could feel it in the spaces between his slurred words whenever he mentioned "Old Bootstrap," as he called him. He had questioned Jack about it one time, and Jack had shrugged and said, "'Tis nothing." Reticence was strange on Jack, and Will had felt the lie in his reply, as well. Felt it just as surely as he could see the captain--

What was he doing now? Waving his hand around in the air like an idiot, of course, but this time it seemed purposeful. It looked like it meant, "Get over here." Will wasn't sure that Jack was beckoning to him until the captain splashed his hand in the water like a brat about to have a tantrum, pointed directly at Will, and then beckoned languidly again.

Good. He was tired of holding the captain's "effects" and he wanted some words with him anyway.

Will walked to where the waves stopped, but refused to go any further.

"Come *along*, boy!" Jack called.

"No."

At that, the captain tilted his head back to look at Will, but instead got a mouthful of water. He sputtered and hacked. "Why not?"

"I'd rather not get wet and muddy."

Jack sat up, turned around, and looked Will over critically. "You've just spent the last few days getting wet and muddy."

Will looked down at his hard-used clothes. "Yes," he said, "but I don't feel like doing so right now. And I'm tired of holding your...your effects. Come and take them or I'll...I'll cast them into the sea."

"Are you telling your captain what to do?"

Will shrugged. "Yes." He was in no mood to be badgered, and something told him that it would mark him as easy prey in Tortuga if anyone saw it happen.

With a ridiculously exaggerated sigh, Jack got his feet under him. Will saw him roll his eyes--in fact, his whole head--in vivid exasperation. "If I must."

Will smirked just a little. It was a bit gratifying to be the one giving orders.

Jack splashed his way to the shore, then turned around to face the water again. He brought his hand to his head and gave a small bow. "Till later," he muttered.

"Who are you talking to?" Will asked.

The captain jerked around to face him and raised an eyebrow, somehow looking as if he had been caught doing something that he'd wanted to be caught doing. He thought for a moment before answering, "Mermaids."

"Yes," Will said, a little short on patience. "Mermaids."

Jack was looking at him with a strange mixture of assessment and daring. "Right, then," he said, after seeming to come to some sort of conclusion. "The sea. I was talking to the sea."

Will wasn't certain at first that the captain was serious; it was awfully hard to tell sometimes. "Why were you talking to the sea?"

Another long look. Then Jack shrugged. "Why do you talk to the Wet Miss Elizabeth?"

"'The Wet...' I beg your pardon?" The idea that Jack had not only seen Miss Swann, but had seen her wet, and had also threatened her, made Will want to strike the superior smirk off his face. (Not as much, however, as the thought that Jack had rescued her. He daily thanked the heavens that someone had; he only wished that it had been him.)

"Unless, that is..." Jack spoke slowly as he circled around Will, looking him up and down. "Unless you don't speak to her. Perhaps you are too pure, and she is too good for the likes of you. Perhaps you just...*pine* for her as it were, and think chaste thoughts. Perhaps you truly are a eun--"

"Do shut your mouth, Jack."

The captain laughed and took his effects back from Will. "I thank ye for minding them," he said as he strapped them back on and placed his battered hat on his head.

The tide was rising, and a wave came up higher than the previous one. Will stepped back, and Jack let it rush past his legs. Odd, Will thought, how right he looked there. How at home.

"So, you talk to the sea."

"Aye."

"And does it answer you?"

Jack looked at Will, seeming honestly startled. He narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Aye," he said, while the words "what of it" remained unspoken.

"What's it say?"

"She, boy."

"Eh?"

"'What does *she* say.' And she says many things at different times, just as you or I do."

"I see." Will didn't know why he had suddenly become so interested. He'd heard many sailors speak of the sea as if it were a woman, and had heard talk of speaking to her and even getting a reply. He could understand it himself; there was something sentient to her; he had felt as of late. But he had never heard anyone speak of the sea quite the way Jack did. And there was a look in his eye that he never saw there at any other time. It felt familiar to him.

Jack looked up at the moon, rubbed at his eyes tiredly and stumbled back a few steps. Then he twisted at the waist, making a satisfied "Mmm" sound as his spine cracked. "Find us a crew first," he mumbled. "Sleep later." He had smeared the kohl around his eyes, making them look somewhat more sinister. Will shivered. He looked like an evil spirit under the moonlight. But Will hardly believed in ghost stories.

"Why do you wear that?" he asked, gesturing to his own eyes.

Jack shrugged fluidly. "Cuts the glare of the sun, doesn't it?" Again, he looked coyly guilty.

Will scoffed. "That's nonsense. You only wear it to make yourself look fearsome and mad."

"Oh, young William," the captain replied blithely, and didn't deign to continue the conversation.

Will looked from Jack, to the sea, and back to Jack again. Jack was looking at the water, and suddenly Will understood why the look in his eye was so familiar to him. He realized that he must have looked at Miss Swann in the same way.

"What is she saying now?" Will asked, surprised at how quiet and very nearly friendly his voice sounded.

Jack seemed surprised, too, and he swung around again to face Will, one arm slightly out to his side as if to balance the rest of him. Then he looked suspicious for a brief moment, and following that, looked slightly mischievous. Will watched all of these looks very carefully, trying to decide which of them was sincere, and which was playacting. Then Jack smiled and ran the tip of his tongue over his teeth. "Can't tell you that, boy," he said. "'Tis a secret." He turned away again.

"Of course," Will said. The ocean was telling secrets to Captain Jack Sparrow. It was madness, but he supposed that if the ocean was going to talk to anyone in the world, likely it would be Jack.

Clearly, Jack was a myth in the making--his own making.

"No matter what you do, you know," Will said thoughtfully, "you will be remembered as Mad Jack Sparrow."

Jack turned again, and this time there was no mistaking the look on his face: honest surprise. A little bit of recognition (though of what, Will couldn't tell.) And in his eyes, just a touch of melancholy. Will saw all of these things in a brief moment, during which Jack didn't sway, stumble, or even move at all.

The next wave came up higher, and Will looked down to see that his boots were wet. When he looked up, Jack was smiling again.

"Ha," he said, adjusting his hat as he walked past Will towards the shore. "Mad *Captain* Jack Sparrow. And right now, he's in the market for a crew. Off we go, boy, and watch your back."

As much as he hated to admit it, sometimes the idiot's grin was contagious. Will found himself smiling as he watched Jack swagger back up the shore. If nothing else, at least the captain was never dull.

Will dusted the sand off his clothes and ran up the shore after him. The world, he felt, was about to get a bit more interesting.

-------------------------