Disclaimer:  I don't own them, as slavery has been outlawed, at least in this country, for almost 150 years now.

AN:  Sorry this update has taken so long.  Thanks to reviewers and plot nugget tossers.  My muses are currently forming the basis of a story that would definitely end this 'Pirates' universe, at least for me, meaning that I'd either have to change genres or write stories that are outside these story arcs or that happen within them.  At least the muses are working, though, so I won't complain too strenuously.

AN2:  This is the last chapter.  Sorry to bother you guys, but I'd like to request the same thing as last time—most liked/least liked parts, confusing parts, inaccurate or contradictory parts, any other comments about the work as a whole.  Thanks to those who have reviewed and those who will.

Trust Me Still
Part 17

Jack tilted his head, contemplating the pirate and the children passed out together on his bed.  Gibbs lay in a semi-reclining position with Ana on one side of him and young Jack on the other, forming an effective barricade to any hopes he had of being able to maneuver enough space to sleep on the bed himself.  Given the fact that Ana-Maria was currently asleep in his chair, that left him with few options.

The pirate captain stared around the cabin, wondering if he should find a blanket to throw over the children and deciding that it was unnecessary.  The night was warm.  They would be fine.

Jack quietly slipped out of his cabin, careful not to wake anyone.  It had been a while since he had been able to drink all his companions under the table—not that two five-year-olds were all that much competition, and the other two pirates had been exhausted at the outset.

In fact, Jack wasn't even all that drunk yet, though what he had drunk was enough to dull the pain in his arm and leg to the point where he could barely feel it at all, though he knew from the way the world was lurching that he was still limping badly.

The pirate captain made his slow and careful way over to the helm of the ship, unmanned as they still rode at anchor, the island of the brotherhood still off to starboard.  They would be leaving tomorrow, but Jack knew that his crew needed the respite, and it wasn't as if anyone was going to be chasing them out here.

The pirate tilted his head back and stared at the stars, his left hand rising and automatically beginning to trace the constellations that were a sailor's only friend if he lost his compass.

"Jack?"  The pirate captain attempted not to jump in surprise, his knee sending a twinge of real pain shooting through his leg despite the analgesic effects of the rum as he suddenly contracted the muscles.

"Hello, Will.  I'm surprised to see you.  I thought you'd be with Elizabeth still."

"She's sleeping.  I went to your cabin to check on my children.  What exactly did you do to them . . .and what did they do Gibbs and Ana-Maria?"

"My unfortunate comrades were forced to chase your children all over this ship while you and your wife were having your private counseling session which, you might note, lasted for nearly eight hours.  When they were on the verge of asking your son to walk the plank, we took them to my cabin, strapped them down, fed them, and introduced them to one of the best liquids known to man."

"Jack, you got my children drunk?  You gave them your rum?"

"Yes, and might I add that it worked splendidly as a sedative, though it seems to have robbed me of my drinking companions as well as putting your demons to bed."

"Elizabeth is going to kill you when she finds out."

Jack frowned.  "Who's going to tell her?"

"Won't they be sick tomorrow?"

"I didn't let them have that much, Will.  They should be fine.  I'm sure your son will be tearing apart my ship again before the day is half gone.  I can't help but wonder, though, why if ye went to see your children you seem to have taken a wrong turn and wound up on deck."

"Everyone else was in your cabin but you.  I wanted to make sure that you were okay."

"I'm fine, Will.  I survived well over a decade of piracy before I even met ye.  You don't need to worry about watching me."

"I know.  I just wanted to . . .apologize, to make sure that you weren't angry."

"Why would I be angry, Will Turner?"

"The fact that I shoved a sword into your chest comes to mind rather quickly."

"That wasn't you, Will.  Stop worrying about it."

"It's hard, Jack.  I keep expecting to feel Nerla invading my mind again, telling me to do something that I don't want to do."

"You won that battle.  You'll start forgetting what it feels like soon enough.  Trust me on that one."

A comfortable silence reigned between the two men.

"Jack . . .what was it like?"

The pirate looked over at him sharply, his dark eyes glittering in the reflected moonlight and starlight.  "What was what like?"

"You know . . .being dead.  Was it what you expected?"

"I didn't expect anything, so I couldn't tell you."

"You've never thought about what's after all this?  About heaven and hell and . . .everything?"

"Death isn't exactly a favorite conversation topic among pirates.  We're all survivors, Will.  We live as long as we can, we gain as much as we can, get all we can out of life, and then we die, most likely violently.  Once we're dead, it's more than likely that our bodies will either feed the crows from the noose or the fish from Davy Jones locker.  If I believe your preacher's, then I'm damned to some hell for my actions.  If I believe the Hindu priests, then I'm likely to come back as a snake or a worm or some other creature like that.  As to what I believe, I don't really know or care.  It's now that matters."

"For someone who's never thought about it, you seem to have a lot of opinions stored away.  Jack, you've been dead twice now, almost dead at least one more time that I know about.  You must have some idea of what comes after."

"I died when Barbosa stabbed me, yes, but it wasn't a real death, Will.  Almost-dead just gives you a lovely chance to relive the most unpleasant parts of your life and fight your demons."

Will waited for more, but the pirate captain had turned away.  "Jack . . .did you see anything this time?  Is there even anything after life?"

"You gave up immortality, Will, so you must think that there is."

"I didn't ever want immortality, not at the cost of my family, and that doesn't answer my question."

Jack turned back to him, and Will fought the urge to look away as pain flickered across the pirate's face and his left leg nearly buckled under him.

"At least you've got the sequence right now."

Will shook his head in confusion.  "What sequence?"

"Drink first, deep talks later."

"I'm not drunk."

"Well, I am, and the fact that you're not is not my fault."

"Jack . . ."

The pirate locked eyes with the blacksmith and moved forward, invading his personal space as he tilted his head from one side to the other.  Will didn't move; he was used to Jack's habit of moving closer to people than normal European custom would allow.

The pirate abruptly limped backwards and turned away, gazing towards the ocean.  "There's something after all this."


Jack glanced back at him again.  "I don't remember, lad.  You'll find out for yourself eventually.  Just try to make it later rather than sooner, all right?"

"All right, Jack." 

"So what am I?"

"What do you mean?  You're a pirate.  A good pirate, and a good man, something I never thought I'd see."

"You claimed me as family.  What am I?"

Will turned away, and even in the dim light Jack could tell that he was blushing.

"What, lad?  It can't be that difficult to tell me."

"This from the man who always wants to be drunk before having a serious conversation."

"It's not my fault you've had nothing to drink."  Will shifted uncomfortably for a few minutes.  "Ye don't have to tell me.  I was just curious."

"It's all right."  Will took a deep breath and raised his eyes to meet the pirate's gaze.  "Sometimes, and I hate to admit it but usually when you're at least slightly drunk, and you're handing out advice and telling me about the world, I could almost believe that I have a father still.  At other times, when you're being stubborn or obnoxious or when I hear about your exploits from sailors, it's like you're another one of my children.  Most of the time, though, you're like an older brother.  You protect, you care, and you guide, but you don't judge me, and you stand by me no matter what's happening or happened."

Jack was silent.

"I'm sorry if I upset you.  You're the one who wanted to know, Jack."

"I know, lad.  While I suppose I should take exception to being thought of as a child, I was just thinking that it's you who should judge me and doesn't, you who protect me . . .or try to, lad."

"I betrayed you.  I believed that you were responsible at Jade.  You didn't betray me, though.  You believed in me even when I was trying to kill you, Jack."

"You're an honorable and an honest man, Will Turner.  I knew that if anything was left of the man I've known for eight years, you wouldn't kill me.  I'm a pirate, though.  I kill for a living, even if I take fewer lives than most of the brethren.  The fact that you think of me as family at all is amazing."

"It's not amazing, Jack.  You've earned your place time and time again.  If letting someone kill you doesn't prove loyalty, nothing can."

Silence descended again, broken by the pirate as he limped towards the port railing, Will trailing behind.

"Have you thought about where you want to go?  You're always welcome aboard the Pearl, but I somehow doubt that's what you want."

Will stared at the deck of the ship.  "It's nothing against you, Jack.  I just can't raise my children as pirates."

"I understand.  Where are you going to go?"

"Brian Lanebridges was stationed at Johnson last year.  I was thinking about seeing if I can find work there.  It isn't much of a connection, but it's the best I have at the moment."

Jack looked up in surprise.  "Brian wasn't at Port Royal?"

"No.  He wanted to prove that he could make it on his own, that he wasn't just doing well because he was the Commodore's pet, as some of the less scrupulous people were saying.  So he requested a transfer, and Norrington allowed him to leave.  We hear from him every once in a while.  I thought I told you last time you visited."

"You might have and I just forgot.  It's good to hear that he's alive and well.  I still owe him for trying to help me."

"He doesn't think so.  He's proud of what he did, and he'll tell anyone who asks that he's proud of it.  He's even proud of the scars.  He's a strong young man."

"Yes, he is."  Silence reigned for a few moments.  "If you want to go to Johnson, I'll see you get there.  Good enough?"

"Good enough, Jack.  Do you want me to take the children?"

"No.  They're sleeping.  Let them rest."

"Where will you sleep?"

"Somewhere.  Go back to your wife, Will.  She'll be worried about you."

Will turned to go, pausing before he descended below decks to glance again at the pirate.  "Thank you, Jack.  For understanding."

Jack grinned at the young man, the expression fading as the sound of footsteps drew away.  He turned his attention back to the stars and the ocean.

"That was kind of you, Jack."

The pirate captain grinned.  "I thought you were sleeping, love."

"I was.  You can't expect me to sleep through you leaving and someone else entering and exiting your cabin.  I haven't had that much to drink yet, though it was tempting after dealing with those monsters all afternoon."

"I think the boy would be upset to hear you say that."

"He just said that he wasn't a demon.  That leaves many other options for what he is—and his sister, too."

"She's just following his lead at the moment.  She doesn't want to get separated again."

"Hmm.  That was kind of you, Jack."

"What?  To promise to drop him at Johnson?"

"That's kind, too, considering pirates aren't exactly welcomed there, but I was thinking more along the lines of telling him he's forgiven and you can't remember anything."

"I can't remember anything that I could explain to him.  It's just a stretching of the truth."

"You're the strangest pirate I've ever known, Jack."

"Really, love?"

"Really.  You can be bloodthirsty and treasure-hungry just like the rest of us one minute and gentle and nearly honor-bound the next."

"Honor?  What would a pirate captain know about that?"

"Maybe not so much honor, then, as friendship."

"Kind of you to say that, love, but I don't think—"

"No, Jack, you don't think.  You act and you react, but you don't think about why.  That's part of your charm."

"Why do you keep coming back for me, love?  You could have had the Pearl by now, could be a captain in your own right again.  Why stay here and keep track of a bloody crazy pirate captain?"

"Maybe because I respect the bloody crazy man.  Maybe because I'm proud to think of him as my captain and my friend."

"And I'm proud to think of ye as a friend, love.  Thank you for staying . . .for coming back for me."  Jack pulled the woman into a hug, conscious that this was the first time he had ever initiated the rare form of contact between them.

Ana-Maria was a fellow pirate, not just a fellow pirate, but a fellow captain . . .or she would have been if Jack hadn't sunk her boat and taken her on board the Pearl as one of his crew.  She was a friend.  She was one of his crew.  Those facts had combined somehow in his mind to create a taboo that put her beyond his usual advances.  He wouldn't jeopardize a friendship, and he wouldn't embarrass her, not just for a night's worth of pleasure.

She returned his embrace willingly, though, even leaning into it a bit, pressing her body against his, careful not to put more pressure on his injured leg.

Jack tilted her head towards him, moving his mouth towards hers, barely breathing as he waited for a reaction.

Her finger intercepted his mouth scarcely an inch from hers.

"Slowly, Jack Sparrow.  I still want a home on the Pearl no matter what happens between us."

"You'll always have one, love.  Besides, we can't do very much more unless one of us evicts all the current occupants of our respective cabins."

"You don't think it would further your reputation to be found having fun on deck with your first mate?"

"I still want a home on the Pearl no matter what happens between us, love, and I don't believe finding a whole new crew would be very fun.  It's going to be hard enough to manage with them all hearing the boy call me 'Uncle Jacky' all day."

"You forgot to mention that point to Will."

"I'll get around to it.  Eavesdropping on your captain isn't very nice, you know."

"I'm a pirate, Jack.  Don't tell me you never eavesdrop on other people."

"I try not to announce the fact that I've done it."

"Does it matter?"

"Not really."

Jack attempted to tighten his embrace but the female pirate pulled back and stepped out of his arms.  "You should find someplace to sleep, Jack.  You need to rest your leg before you succeed in making yourself permanently lame."

"Who says I need to sleep?"

"Just about everyone I know says that sleep is a necessity, Jack."

"If most of the people you know are the same people I know, I wouldn't trust them as far as I could throw them, which isn't very far at the moment."

"You still need to sleep, Jack, if you want to captain your ship without getting us hopelessly lost or trapped by the British navy."

"I was going to sleep on deck, considering my cabin seems a bit full."

"Not very comfortable, Jack."

"We've both slept in far worse places.  Besides, it's rather relaxing."

"Good.  I'll go reclaim your chair, then."

Jack watched her leave before limping back to the bow of the ship and gazing at the stars again, wishing he had thought to bring some rum with him when he left his cabin.

"I thought you were going to sleep."

Jack didn't jump at all before turning around to face the female pirate, who held two thin blankets in her hand.  "I thought the same about you."

"I had this strange suspicion that you were lying to me.  If I stay here and promise to wake you if you start dreaming, will you sleep?"

"You need to sleep, too."

"I've already slept, at least more than you, and I'm not injured."

"Not good enough.  Can't have both the captain and the first mate falling apart, though I daresay Will and Elizabeth could keep the ship at least afloat if not crewed."

Ana-Maria sighed in exasperation.  "What do you want me to do, Jack, sleep with you?"

The pirate captain stared at her, his dark eyes large and hopeful inside their kohl lining.

The female pirate stared at him in shock for a moment.  Then she burst out laughing.  "Jack . . "

Jack grinned back at her before limping forward, his arms outstretched to grab the blankets.  "I know, I know . . .you love me, just not—"

Whatever else he was planning on saying was cut short by a quick whimper and a curse as his left leg again attempted to buckle under him.  Ana-Maria grabbed him by the shoulder to keep him upright, earning another hiss of pain when her hand landed on the gash in his shoulder.

"I'll stay with you, Jack.  Just don't get any ideas about trying anything yet, okay?  I can still slap you so hard across the face you'll think that Armageddon has come.  Remember that you've at least got to have a cabin before it goes any further."  Jack nodded his understanding, a small grin on his face.

Ana-Maria quickly spread one of the blankets on the deck, placing the other one so that it formed a pillow.  "Down, Jack."

The pirate captain gingerly lowered himself down to the deck.  "I'm not a dog, you know."

"If you respond . . ."

"Not funny."

The female pirate settled herself on the deck, leaving about a half a foot between her body and her captain's.  "Go to sleep, Jack.  I'll be here if you need me."

The pirate was asleep within minutes, exhaustion quickly claiming him once he stopped fighting.

Ana-Maria moved closer, staring at his face in the light of the moon.  He seemed so different when he slept, so much younger and so much older at the same time, with none of his usual antics to shield him.

The female pirate faded in and out of consciousness, waiting for the stirring that would tell her Jack had lost himself in a new nightmare, this one born not from a kill he had made but from his own death.  She wasn't disappointed.

It was the mumbling that brought her back to full consciousness, words that she supposed she could have deciphered if she truly wished to.  Jack had done his best to curl his body into a protective ball, the action hampered but not halted by his injuries.

Ana-Maria spoke softly, hoping to break whatever chain of thought was driving the dream without actually waking the sleeping man.  "Jack . . ."

No reaction was obvious.

Slowly the female pirate reached out to wrap a free arm around Jack's chest, gently and slowly clasping his hand.  Pirates that were suddenly woken by physical contact had a tendency to be dangerous, and she'd rather not have to explain any injuries away.

"Jack, it's all right . . .Jack, you're safe now . . ."

Slowly the man quieted, his hand remaining locked on hers in a firm grip.  Ana-Maria considered removing her hand and decided against it, instead settling down closer to Jack.

If things were truly to change between them, now was as good a time as ever to start.

She had once told Will that she loved Jack as a captain and a friend, and asked him, to the boy's dismay, if he thought that loving Jack as a man would wreck the magic of the others.

Ana-Maria sincerely hoped not.

They would drop the Turners at Johnson, stop by Tortuga to spend what they had earned from the Brotherhood and give Jack a chance to heal, and then go back to being full-time pirates.

As she drifted off to sleep, the heat of Jack's body rolling over her in comforting waves, a simple thought flashed through her mind.

Everyone was safe, everyone was sane, the ship was intact, and all their options were still open.  A true smile flashed across the female pirate's face before fading to a teasing flicker as consciousness abandoned her.

Life just couldn't be better.