NOTE: this is the SECOND update in the last few days, so if you haven't checked out the story in a while, read chapter 24 first and then this one. This, by the way, is the Last Chapter.
The other pirates had all hit the water and were swimming...yes, swimming out to sea, presumably to meet the Pearl. Jack stood waiting, poised to dive, as Norrington ran up alone.
"Where's Ana Maria?"
Running at top speed and with a bit of a head start had given Norrington a few minutes' lead over the other soldiers. "Guards...right...behind me," he panted. "She can't...make it...today. Go. You must...understand th-"
"I understand that I'm not leaving this miserable port without her," Jack interrupted softly, with his most relaxed and winning smile. "I'll not abandon my woman and her child."
Norrington tried again. "Let her have the child here – it's only a few more months and it's much safer. She might not survive the birth at sea."
"My Ana Maria will survive anything," Jack said with confidence. He seemed about to continue, but shouts and gunshots in the distance changed his mind.
Norrington turned and saw uniforms, several of them, running closer with weapons drawn. "She will not survive seeing her lover hang! And you will hang if you're caught, Jack, so please, go now! I swear I'll keep her safe for you!"
Jack glanced once at the soldiers and seemed to waver. "Safe?"
"I'll bloody bring her to Tortuga for you! Her and the child! Please, Jack, save yourself. A child needs a father. Trust me – I know."
Jack blinked and let out a ragged breath. "Norrington..."
"Trust me." Norrington knew by now he'd won. "Uncle Bloody will see the whelp safely to Tortuga as soon as it's born. You have my word."
Jack drew his pistol and pointed it at his friend. "Hands up." He backed up a few paces and dove into the water.
Norrington threw down his own weapon and raised his hands. He'd had the foresight to empty it beforehand, and as soldiers surrounded him to make sure he was all right, he started spouting off his prepared story. "I fired every damned shot I had and missed by a hair every time! That man has the devil's own luck..."
By now the pirate captain was well outside of shooting range. The soldiers stood together helplessly and watched him swim off into the mist with firm, even strokes.
"I've never known you to miss a shot, sir," Gilette said timidly that night in the office, staring out at the ocean. "Especially not when you're shooting at pirates."
Norrington joined him by the window. "It saddens me," he answered, "that after all these years you don't feel that you can be honest with me. Why don't you tell me what is really on your mind."
Gilette turned to face him but didn't achieve eye contact. "Commodore...I can't help but suspect that...that you let Sparrow go...on purpose, sir. And, assuming that it true, sir, I can't help but...well, wonder whether your...loyalties and...and affections have...well, changed, sir. Forgive me."
Norrington nodded, glad to have it out in the open. This conversation had to come, he thought grimly. Better now than later. I have an explanation ready for him, and I'll need his help.
"Gilette," he began calmly, "Do you know what sort of atrocities take place on a pirate ship? Do you?"
Gilette gulped. "I've heard, sir." He proceeded cautiously. "Prisoners beaten...tortured...and then sometimes...er...unmanned by crews too long at sea." He blushed.
Norrington stared, mouth wide open, and finally sputtered, "Is that what you thought? Good God!" He let out a bark of laughter and then bit his lip, trying for seriousness. "Please, Gilette. I will only say this once so listen carefully: I give you my word that Jack Sparrow and I did not become lovers. Really and truly." He met his subordinate's eyes unwaveringly and began to explain:
"There were atrocities out at sea, and Jack protected me from all of it. He saw to it that I was treated well, saved my life more than once, and taught me more about captaining a ship than I learned in half a year as first mate in the Navy. He strikes me as a good man in a doubtful occupation, and more importantly at the moment, he strikes me as a father-to-be. For those reasons, yes, I allowed his escape today." Norrington waited a moment, then demanded suddenly, "Now tell me how you feel about hanging women."
"Please don't think I mean this in a rebellious or insubordinate manner, sir," Gilette answered. "I would never criticize the Governor. But as to hanging women...I think it's despicable."
"Excellent! I knew I could count on you!" Norrington beamed.
"Count on me, sir?"
Norrington just brazened it out. The tactic always worked for Jack, didn't it? "To help free her, of course! I don't like the idea of watching a woman – a mother, no less – choke to death before my very eyes. I doubt you do either, so I propose we plan to liberate the captive pirate and her child. And then, Gilette, then I will settle down and be Commodore like I always was, having repaid my debts and pledged my loyalty anew to the Crown. What say you to that?" he finished energetically, and waited with a huge smile pasted to his face. He was terrified.
But Gilette nodded emphatically, stars in his eyes. "Aye, sir. Just as you say."
"Wonderful." Norrington tried to ignore the disturbingly-satisfying feeling of being worshipped and keep his mind on the job ahead. Tonight, he still had to break the news to Ana Maria of several months' impending imprisonment.
He fully expected a happy ending for her, but he also (correctly) expected at least one black eye and perhaps a missing tooth for his pains.
And meanwhile, Jack Sparrow stood on deck staring out at the horizon, muttering, "Uncle Bloody Norrington" from time to time with a wry smile.
Of course there are a million and one adventures that take place afterwards. But I kind of like leaving it open-ended. What do you think?
Thanks so much for reading this story and being so patient. If you haven't already, please drop a review and tell me how you liked it.