This story deals with Jack Sparrow and Commodore Norrington: 1) how they are forced by circumstance to deal with one another on a very personal level, 2) how Jack manages to teach the learned Commodore a lesson or two on life, and 3) how Norrington eventually comes to understand that he may have more in common with the pirate than he had ever believed possible. NOT Slash, although Jack is touchy-feeling enough without it. Also, I give a quick nod to everyone's favorite transvestite, Frankenfurter, in the last scene. I hope you all enjoy it! All reviews are welcome and greatly appreciated!

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One Day's Head Start

by Saahira 09-21-03

Commodore Norrington dreamed. No, that wasn't right. 'Dreamed' was too mild a term for the wild images spinning through his skull. Rather, it was a nightmare, pure and simple. Those lashing waves. The *Dauntless* pitching on storm tossed seas. And all because in a fit of impromptu charity he had given Jack Sparrow one day's head start. One day had not seemed too much to grant him at the time; the man had, after all, helped save Elizabeth's life. No, one day's head start had seemed quite reasonable and infinitely more generous than the pirate deserved. Indeed, Norrington had in his gratitude elected not to go after the scoundrel at all. Miss Swann's life was worth more to him than duty; her well-being was the only thing he held more precious than King and Country.

The sad truth was that no man was without his weakness, and Miss Swann was his. And the notion of Elizabeth Swann making a public spectacle of herself weeping over the body of an executed rogue was a disgrace which Norrington would spare them both. If possible.

So. One day's head start it had been. He alleviated guilt by promising himself that the next time he had Sparrow in his sights, he would take the pirate into custody. Without mercy. The man was, after all, a known criminal. He only hoped that by then Elizabeth's peculiar affection for the villain would have waned.

When that time came not two weeks later, however, Norrington was quite surprised. Also hugely annoyed, that Sparrow could be so daft as to make a brilliant escape from the gallows only to promptly set himself up for capture. Not to mention that by so doing the pirate had effectively thrown Norrington's unwarranted generosity right back in his face and placed the commodore in the very predicament he had sought to avoid. But duty was duty, and Norrington could no longer deny his. Was it his fault that Sparrow was an idiot? Despite his affection for Elizabeth, he could not in good conscience let Jack Sparrow slip away a second time.

It was a missive from the governor of St. Thomas that had set the unlucky events in motion. The note explained that the pirate captain ... curiously sans his ship and crew ... had taken up residence in the city's low quarter and was making his presence there no secret; Governor Bellingham had begged the commodore to come and, in a word, 'remove the pestilence.' With a reluctance Norrington would never have admitted, he acquiesced. Days later Norrington had found Captain Jack Sparrow, scourge of the Caribbean, drunk as a skunk in a brothel in St. Thomas, too busy celebrating his escape to bother completing it. So drunk he had not even put up a struggle when they removed him from the dubious lady's bed.

Which only brought Norrington's nightmare back to the storm which had raged during their voyage back to Port Royal, all because that one day's delay had been quite enough to let Fate take its course and allow the maelstrom to catch them. He relived the sickening heave of his ship on a violent ocean; the thunder crashing overhead; the eye-searing lightning that split the sky asunder. Again, unable to flee the memory, he saw Jack Sparrow grinning madly, declaring that he was going up on deck to watch the fun.

Damned lunatic. Should have locked him in the brig from the very first day.

Sparrow had dashed past the guards who would have saved his life. He had raced up on deck and clung to the rail like a rat drowned in the pouring rain and lurching waves. Norrington had, of course, sent men up to rescue the fool. When they failed, reporting that the eccentric pirate insisted upon standing beside the helm where he could bark commands to the helmsman on duty (whom Sparrow claimed would wreck them without an expert's assistance), Norrington himself had dutifully gone up to fetch the pirate back.

The ocean, sensing its opportunity, had acted without hesitation.

The nightmare faded after that. The pain did not.

Pain. Mired in its dreamscape, Norrington hazily recalled the first time he had seen a man swept overboard. He himself had been a cabin boy fresh aboard the HMS *Imperial Wing;* at twelve years old the lowest of the low, a lad servant even to the other servants. He recalled the look on the poor seaman's face when the wave caught and carried him. The stark realization of impending death in the man's eyes. Only now, all these decades later, did Norrington truly empathize.

Commodore Norrington opened unwilling eyes to find a star field draped across the sky overhead. It was a peaceful night, the storm having blown itself out. He hurt all over, too much to try getting up. He did move his head though ... a slow roll to one side, to see a white beach, palm trees, and gently lapping ocean waves; a slow roll in the other direction allowed him to see more of the same. No, not quite the same. He squinted, trying to focus on that dark shape sprawled across the sand. And as his weary vision sharpened by slow degrees, he saw the cause of all his problems, the one single blotch on the otherwise sterling record of his military career. The fiend who would someday be his ruin.

Jack Sparrow.

The pirate lay face down on the beach, still as a corpse. If he breathed, Norrington could not detect the motion. Maybe he was dead? One could only hope.

Norrington closed his eyes and gave himself up to exhaustion.

*****

Sunlight was what woke him next. Bright sunshine glaring down on him, hurting his eyes. Norrington flinched away from it. Only gradually, as his senses adjusted, did he notice the man seated beside him.

"G'morning, Commodore." Jack Sparrow grinned amiably, white teeth and gold ones flashing. He relaxed against the trunk of a palm tree, seeming perfectly relaxed and at ease despite their dire misfortune. There was that hated red scarf tied around his head. There was that mess of long black hair tangled with beads, coins and ivory, and other objects never meant to be caught in a man's hair; it tumbled down his back and shoulders like a nest of ornate serpents. There were those obnoxious twin braids dangling from his scruffy chin. Those cunning dark eyes, smeared with kohl above and below. Sparrow had removed his boots, and his bare feet were nestled in the sand's warmth. The dusty old coat was gone too, and the tricorne hat; and he had opened his shirt low to catch the breeze against his chest. In his hand he held an opened bottle of rum.

Norrington frowned. When he spoke, his voice was parched and raspy, nearly inaudible. "Where on earth did ..." he licked his lips, swallowed dryly, "... did you get that?"

"This?" Jack lifted the bottle as if only just realizing that he held it. He let sunshine stream through the sloshing golden-brown liquid within, admiring the play of colors. He scraped a fingernail across a chink in the side where something had smacked up hard against it. He shrugged quizzically. "I thought it was yours."

"I don't drink."

"Your problem, not mine, eh?" Sparrow replied flippantly. He tilted his head, sending hair and baubles spilling to one side as he surveyed the commodore's prone form. "Besides, mate, you'll be learnin' how soon enough. No fresh water on our little paradise. Plenty of rum to last us though, if we play it right."

Norrington narrowed his gaze. "Why," he asked hoarsely, "by all that's good and holy, are you not dead?"

"Because," Jack smiled broadly, extending his arms outward in a grandiose gesture, "I'm Captain Jack Sparrow."

Norrington closed his eyes. "You should at least be hurting. Like me."

"Oh, I'm hurting," Sparrow assured him. "Got a lump the size of a hen's egg on me old noggin. Knocked me out good, it did." He grinned, holding the bottle aloft with a flourish. "But I'm all better now."

"A matter of opinion," the other man sighed.

Sparrow crept nearer. Too near. So near his knees touched Norrington's ribs and hip; when he leaned close, tangles of his hair brushed Norrington's chest and tickled his face. Norrington could smell the rum on the pirate's breath. The commodore would have knocked the offending vision away had he the strength.

Suddenly serious, Jack said, "You need to drink the rest of this, mate."

"No," Norrington said simply, and was rewarded when Sparrow appeared genuinely perturbed by his refusal.

The pirate drew a deep breath. "The truth of the matter is, Commodore, that you're a bit more bunged up than I am. I patched what I could whilst you was unconscious, but I'll need your help for the rest." He held the rum where Norrington could see it. "And for that, you will *need* this. Savvy?"

Norrington frowned.

"See for yourself then" Sparrow nodded his twin-bearded chin toward Norrington's torso.

It was an effort to raise his aching head high enough to see his body. When he did, that small movement brought fire in its wake, a lancing agony that burned through his left leg. But rather than acknowledging the pain, Norrington gasped, fisted his hands in the sand, and hissed, "My *uniform!*"

"Just the jacket," Sparrow replied, gazing benignly at the royal blue bandage tied around Norrington's hand, and at the pile of ragged blue strips still waiting to be used. At Norrington's accusing glare, he quipped, "Well, ye didn't expect me to use my own, did you?"

Norrington's head dropped back in the sand. "I am in hell," he muttered wearily.

Jack thrust the bottle into his hand, saying pointedly, "You will be if you don't drink this."

The commodore eyed the pirate, but made no move to drink the foul liquor. He strove for his usual cool indifference. Not easy; the pain was clouding his thoughts. "How bad is it? The leg, I mean?"

Sparrow sat back on his heels. His lips crimped. "Try getting up, Commodore, and then *you* tell *me.*"

"That doesn't answer my question, Mr. Sparrow."

"*Captain* Sparrow." Jack shrugged. "A break's a break. Either way, you won't be walkin' on it anytime soon." He eyed the leg in question. "Near as I can figure, ye hit the hull on your way overboard. Not smart, Commodore."

"Oh," the commodore said, his voice dripping sarcasm. "And I suppose that same wave picked you up and cuddled you before easing you with all tenderness into the water?"

Jack grinned crookedly. "And to think dear Bethie says you have no sense of humor."

Even through pain-clouded thoughts, Norrington found insult. "Miss Swann said no such thing."

Sparrow's grin merely widened.

The man was a raving lunatic. Useless trying to argue with him, or even carry on a rational conversation. Norrington closed his eyes and sighed in resignation. "We still need to set the leg then?"

"Oh, aye."

"Tell me the worst. *Without* all the riddles."

"Well," Sparrow leaned in again, hair tumbling forward, the perfume of rum thick, "there's nothing else to tell really. Failing to get you drunk, we shall simply proceed with all haste to splinting your leg." He indicated the palm tree behind Norrington's head. "I looped a vine round that tree. The plan is, you hang on to it for dear life whilst I straighten out your bone. And ... try not to scream *too* loud? Don't want to give the sea birds a fright, now do we?"

"I dare say I shan't scream at all, Mr. Sparrow."

The pirate frowned down into his face. "You've never had a broken bone before, have you, Commodore?" he finally asked.

"No. You?"

"No." Sparrow's dark eyes lost their humor. "But its not the first time I've set a man's bone. There's no shame in the screaming, mate. Sometimes a man can't help it."

"I am not a man such as you have dealt with before, Mr. Sparrow. I am not a pirate, nor a coward."

"Cowardice's got nuthin to do with pain, son. Sure you don't want the rum first?"

Norrington glared up into the pirate's face.

Jack shrugged negligently, saying, "S'your call." He reached past Norrington's head. Braids and beads slapped the commodore's face, making him grumble angrily and swat at the offensive ropes like pesky flies. "What's your name, Commodore? The one your mum gave you?"

"Edward," Norrington replied tersely; and suddenly his wrists were grabbed, pulled upward, and the vine placed firmly in his grasp.

Jack's hands steadied Norrington's as the pirate said, "Well then, Edward. Hold this for all you're worth. Do not let go." He kept his hands there until assured that Norrington's grip was secure. Only then did Sparrow sit back on his heels, offering the prone man a long, worried frown before at last crawling down to his feet.

He had removed Norrington's boots sometime during the night; had split the left leg of his trousers to well above the knee. Sparrow sat there silently surveying the two bare feet and one horribly bruised shin with its angry bulge pressing from within purpled flesh. "Its gonna hurt like hell," he murmured.

"Just do it," Norrington commanded brusquely. He tightened his grip on the vine and ground his teeth together. He was no pompous fool ... he knew it would hurt; knew it would hurt very badly. Having worked his way up through the naval ranks, he had witnessed such injuries countless times before and understood the pain involved. However, he refused to give a filthy scoundrel of a pirate the satisfaction of hearing him cry out. He was a man of rigid discipline and self-control, after all; pride and integrity were his in abundance. Norrington had gone from a frightened little nothing of a cabin boy to a respected commodore in the Royal Navy in just under twenty-five years. Such a man would make no sound whatsoever.

"Alright then, Edward," Sparrow said softly. One of his hands circled the ankle, his grip gentle but firm; the other pushed through sand to cup Norrington's calf muscle. He widened his knees against the sand, improving his balance. "On count of seven."

"Seven?" Norrington swallowed apprehensively. "Why not three?"

"Seven gives ye more time to get ready, don't it? Now, we'll count it out together. Ready? One."

"One." Norrington tried to slow his breathing, but there was nothing he could do to quiet the sudden, frenzied pounding of his heart. Nervous sweat beaded his brow. He squeezed his eyes shut.

"Two."

"Two," Norrington echoed.

An agony like none he had ever known suddenly exploded through his body. His back arched, his body writhed and convulsed. Norrington heard someone screaming at the top of their lungs. Only as the world spun black did he realize the screaming to be his own.

Then ... darkness. Darkness, and a dull ache that centered in his leg but seeped throughout his body. Insidious pain, and gentle hands. An arm that scooped his head up just high enough to press slick glass against his lips.

"Drink it, son. There's no shame in it when you're hurting."

Norrington drank. He choked as the rum burned his throat raw, but he drank. He drank until the bottle was eased away and the arm laid him back down again.

"You lied," Norrington rasped weakly.

"Well, if I were an *honest* man," Sparrow pointed out, "you wouldn't be so set on stretchin' me neck on the gallows, now would ye?"

*****

Night again. Sparrow had built a bonfire on the beach, big enough, he said, to attract the attention of any ship passing in the night. He had collected a few barely ripe coconuts and a handful of sour berries from the sparse jungle behind them. And alcohol, several bottles from the cache he had found. Were *all* these damned deserted islands exploited by smugglers?

Norrington sat with his back leaned against the same palm tree he had clung to earlier in the day. Despite a nagging headache leftover from the rum, he took a long slow draught of wine. Unlike the pirate, he monitored his intake and drank only sparingly. He drank enough to slake his thirst and kill the sharpest edges of pain ... Sparrow was absolutely correct regarding alcohol's medicinal properties ... but he did not imbibe enough to become muddled. He felt the wine's warmth spread in his blood, felt the mild buzz in his head. He would not drink again until those side-effects faded somewhat and the pain once more became unbearable.

Sparrow obviously had no such qualms against drunkenness. If Norrington counted correctly, the pirate was nearly halfway through his third bottle of rum. He was giddy, off-balance and strange. That is, more so than usual.

For a while he had danced (stumbled) around the bonfire singing an off-key rendition of some god-awful pirate song he claimed Elizabeth Swann had taught him (not likely). When Norrington refused to join in or learn the words, Sparrow had walked (staggered) back to sit (topple) in the sand beside him. And then came the stories. Wild ones, with much gesticulating, the tales so far beyond probability as to be utterly absurd.

While Jack's animated tones filled the night, Norrington studied his sore leg, splinted in driftwood and bound by strips of his own uniform jacket. The pirate had done a decent enough job considering what he had to work with. Thank God Sparrow had still been sober when he'd done it.

"And it weren't a pretty sight, mate. Never being dead a'fore, I can't say's how I was quite prepared for the sight of all me bones and scraps of rotten flesh flapping about like they was."

Only one corner of Norrington's mouth twitched. For him, high joviality. He said, "Dead, Mr. Sparrow?"

"Jack,* Eddie. Just call me *Jack.* Seein's how ye can't never get the 'captain' part right." He took a long pull on the bottle. His breath was rum-scented and he wobbled slightly where he sat. He looked at Norrington through half-lidded eyes. "Ye ain't never been dead before then, eh, mate?"

"Not recently, no."

"Weird feeling," Sparrow continued undaunted. He frowned. "All empty inside, like there ain't nuthin in there no more. Feels strange, not breathing. No heart beat." He shrugged back into humor. "Great for fighting though cuz ye never get winded, and you don't have no worries about getting killed cuz there ye are already dead."

"Lovely," the commodore murmured abstractly. The surgeon aboard the *Dauntless* had declared the undead appearance of the pirates nothing more than a mass hallucination caused by opiate pollens carried on the mist; those villains had certainly been alive enough when they had kicked their last on the gallows. Apparently, however, that oh-so-reasonable explanation was far too logical for the damaged mind of Captain Jack Sparrow.

"That's the only reason Barbossa was able to kill me in the first place, ye know. Waited till I was all spent and he still weren't. Being dead already gave him an advantage that way." Jack glanced up at the full moon, then frowned down at his hands as though verifying something that only an insane pirate would still be concerned with. Apparently satisfied with his continued humanity, he gazed out toward the ocean, at black sky meeting black water, the two mirrored into one vast darkness. "Should show up soon," he commented.

"Yes," Norrington agreed, following his gaze. "The *Dauntless* will be searching these waters. I dare say she should come across us here by sometime tomorrow."

"I meant the *Pearl.*" And Jack took another drink.

The commodore watched him. "I never asked you, Mr. Sparrow ..."

"Jack."

Norrington sighed. "Jack. Where is the *Black Pearl?* And why were you in St. Thomas without her?"

Dark eyes slewed in the commodore's direction, and the pirate hitched a shoulder. "No harm in telling you now, eh? All things considered." He drew in a breath. "Fact is Barbossa left my *Pearl* in a sorry state. Filthy dirty. Holes in her hull. Barnacles crustin' her belly. My crew replaced those ratty sails and swabbed her down, but there weren't no time for the rest, mate; not afore you stretched old Jack's neck anyway." Another drink, the rum sloshing loud in the bottle. "I figured you'd be after me, and with the *Pearl* so sick you'd have caught me, caught my crew, hanged all of us, and then scuttled my ship for good measure. So I had AnaMaria set me ashore at St. Thomas while she patched and careened the *Pearl* in a nice secluded cove."

Norrington scowled distrustfully. "You expect me to believe that you made yourself a target? Deliberately?"

"Well, Eddie lad," Jack grinned cheekily, "they don't say 'daft like Jack' for nuthin." He lurched to his feet, caught his balance, then swayed further down the beach. Even drunk, his movements had a bizarre grace to them, a cat-like sensuality not usually seen in men. Hypnotic in a way, because Norrington found himself unable to look at anything else. Not that there was anything else to look at.

Without warning, the pirate stoppered the bottle, dropped down on his backside, then stretched out on the sand and began flailing about with his arms and legs. Thrashing complete, he sat up, stood up, then gazed with satisfaction at the smear he had made in the sand.

"Dare I ask?"

"Sand angel," Jack replied fervently, far too pleased with his efforts. He came swaying back, drinking again, and plopped himself down beside Norrington. Too close this time ... their hips and shoulders touched, and Norrington could feel the warmth of the pirate's body, could smell the rum on his breath and the sea spray dried in his clothes, sweat, and the soft musk that must surely be Jack Sparrow's own scent. He would've given the world just for the ability to scoot away.

Leaning as far to the side as he could without disturbing his injured leg, the commodore corrected snidely, "Its *snow* angels, Mr. Sparrow. I made them myself as a child in England." He vividly recalled one Christmas when his whole family ... father, mother, and sister ... had all lain in the snow making snow angels. The joy of that day was all they'd had to give one another that year. But no need sharing that with the drunkard beside him.

"Well, Eddie," Jack replied, waving the bottle aimlessly and leaning close, effectively cutting that hard-won distance, "*I was a child on *Tortuga.* And in *Tortuga,* the children make *sand* angels." He straightened, allowing Norrington to finally straighten too. Sparrow smiled admiringly as he held the bottle aloft. "And the more rum you drink, the better the sand angels get. That's the glory of 'em!"

"Indeed?"

"Oh, aye. I've had 'em end up drinkin' and dancin' and gamblin'. Once they started spearing fish. And once they was even copulatin' and had a goat that was ..."

"I get the idea, Mr. Sparrow."

"Jack. Call me Jack."

Impatient, Norrington sputtered, "Jack, yes, yes, I'll call you Jack! Can you please just move away?"

Sparrow frowned into his face, looking for all the world like a child with his feelings hurt. "What's wrong, mate?" he inquired bleakly. "Do I smell bad or something?" He began sniffing at his clothing, and raised an arm to sniff there too.

"You're simply sitting too close and I must insist that you ..."

But Sparrow, whose attention was never snared by any one thing for any too long, had shifted his gaze up to the star-speckled sky overhead. The arm he had raised draped itself across Norrington's shoulders and settled there. "Let's try stars then," he interrupted, pointing upward with the bottle. "What do you make of that batch there?"

Norrington's earlier summation had been dreadfully correct. He was in hell. He sighed in ignoble defeat. "Which ones? Jack."

Sparrow grinned, apparently pleased that he had won that battle, at least.

"Those there. See? Tall and skinny, then they widens out underneath."

"Oh. Yes. Why don't you just tell me."

Jack exhaled a sorrowful breath. "No imagination at all, eh? No wonder Bethie left ye for dear William. Least the boy's not afraid to dream a little."

Norrington might have been unable to move, but he would not just sit there and be insulted. Not by a vile, dirty pirate. He retorted angrily, "That was uncalled for Mr. ... Jack. I dream. I am simply not in the habit of playing these ridiculous childish games with a ridiculous effete pirate who hasn't the sense to know when his presence is not welcome!"

Sparrow considered this for a long moment, his brows knitted and his lips pursed, staring intently into Norrington's face, so near his rum-scented breath puffed against the other man's cheek. Then he shrugged casually and turned back to his bottle. "If ye don't know, you should just say so. I won't poke fun at ye, son."

"And I am most assuredly not your son! You are not old enough to be my father and I daresay I may even be older than you are!" Sparrow opened his mouth to speak. "And don't you *dare* call me Eddie again!" No one since his first captain had called him that; Norrington had earned the right to a proper name and title through hard work and sacrifice. Not like Jack Sparrow and his bloody 'captain.' "My name is Commodore Edward N. Norrington and you will address me accordingly!"

Sparrow looked deep into his eyes. "Brandy snifter," he said.

Fury dissolved into utter confusion. "What?" the commodore sputtered.

"Brandy snifter," Jack repeated, indicating the forgotten constellation. "See the shape? And that's the stopper sitting there next to it."

Norrington closed his eyes and sighed heavily. He was trapped ...

"Now let's try again," Sparrow suggested with undiminished enthusiasm. Again the rum bottle was raised, aimed and pointed. "That one there, that triangular pattern made of three circles, one above and two below. See it?"

Trapped as surely as if he were locked in his own prison in Fort Charles and the key thrown into the sea. "Yes. I see it."

"Good then, ye see it. But what do you *see?*"

Norrington studied the stars indicated. He shrugged beneath the intrusive arm. "A hat," he said at last. "A tricorne hat."

"Not bad. For a first try." Again the bottle pointed. "But in actuality that there is a strumpet. A pretty little lass with huge breasts so big they could smother a man like pillows while he's busy ..."

"Mr. Sparrow!"

"Jack."

"Is that all you see in the stars? Alcohol and prostitutes? And other lowly things?" Appalled, he watched as Sparrow tapped a thoughtful finger against his lips and considered it.

"Yep."

Norrington realized abruptly that this could not possibly be hell, for not even the tortures of Lucifer himself could be this terrible. He took a long draught of his wine, enough this time to hopefully numb brain as well as body. It seemed his only hope of surviving a night alone with the mad Captain Sparrow.

The rum bottle wavered toward the ocean and Sparrow asked more quietly, "And what d'ye see when you look out there, mate?"

"Desolation," Norrington answered without hesitation, letting his eyes roam the black expanse. "No ship, no land. No hope." He shrugged unhappily and drank more wine. Only when he lowered the bottle did he realize that Sparrow was staring at him from scant inches away.

"And that's all?" the pirate captain asked softly, his brow furrowed.

Norrington rolled his eyes. "What would you have me say, Mr. Sparrow? There is nothing out there to see. And if there is nothing out there tomorrow and the next day, then we are both surely doomed."

"That's not what I asked you, son." Jack turned back to the ocean, studying it with the same intensity one might a lover's face. "I'm not talking about what ye *don't* see, or even what you *do.* I'm talkin' about *seeing.*"

"You're drunk," Norrington commented flatly.

"Maybe," Sparrow replied. "But I'd rather be drunk than blind." He removed his arm from Norrington's shoulders. Amazing, how suddenly cold and bare they felt without that lazy contact.

"Alright then," the commodore challenged. "Tell me what exactly it is that *you* see when you sit on a tomb of an island looking out at a bleak and empty ocean."

Jack Sparrow barely hitched one shoulder. "Everything," he sighed reverently. And he lifted the rum to his lips.

It was not the answer Commodore Edward Nathaniel Norrington had anticipated. He had expected some wild flight of fancy from the pirate captain renowned for his dementia. Instead, he found himself vaguely discomfited by the simplicity of Sparrow's response. And then he noticed it.

The half-filled bottle of rum. It had a distinctive chink in its side, highlighted when moonlight reflected across it. It was the same bottle he himself had drunk from earlier.

Norrington frowned in sudden comprehension. "You're not drunk at all, are you?"

"Did I say I was?"

"But you've been drinking all day."

"Sipping, lad. I've been *sipping* all day. Big difference."

"But ... I thought you lived on rum."

"Stuff of legends, eh?" Sparrow replied smugly, and hitched a dismissive shoulder. "Oh, I enjoy going in me cups now and then; what man don't? But fact is, if I stayed drunk the way they say I do, I wouldn't be captain of nuthin but some gutter on Tortuga, now would I?" He held the bottle up, examined it admiringly.

"But the way you sway and stagger about ..."

"That?" Another shrug. "Truth is I can't abide the land. Sitting still like it does under your feet. It just ain't natural."

"And what they say about your being crazy?"

"Ah," Jack Sparrow grinned, "now *that's* a different matter entirely."

Suddenly ill at ease (surely it came from being injured and in pain, barely eating, drinking too much wine and then hearing these strange revelations from a man he counted as an enemy), he stammered, "Well ... by tomorrow we should be fine, though. The *Dauntless* will rescue us."

"Or the *Black Pearl* will." Still Jack stared into that darkness.

Wanting ... perhaps needing ... to change the subject, Norrington said, "And if by some miracle it is the *Black Pearl,* what then? You can't very well make me walk the plank." He indicated his broken leg, the corner of his mouth lifting with attempted levity.

Jack spared barely a glance for the splinted leg. His eyes seemed drawn inexorably outward, out toward those endless black depths. "We'll drop you off somewhere safe," he said quietly. "I'm sure once you're on land ye can arrange your own passage back to Port Royal."

"I ... I have no money," Norrington was forced to admit. Very reluctantly. "Everything I brought on the voyage to St. Thomas is on the *Dauntless.*"

Sparrow sighed. "I'll give you money, lad. I won't leave you stranded away from home." He slanted a sidelong glance at the commodore. "Need I even inquire if the same courtesy extends to me?"

Norrington cleared his throat and looked pointedly away. "As an officer in the Royal Navy I am, of course, bound by the law, Mr. Sparrow, and therefore ..."

"Didn't think so," Sparrow muttered, glancing back to the sea. "Just do old Jack one favor though, eh?" He turned to Norrington, and suddenly the drunken swagger was gone, as was the aimless gesturing and swaying. Jack Sparrow was still and steady, his dark eyes crystal clear. Voice low, the pirate said, "Just promise me, Commodore Edward N. Norrington, on your word as gentleman, that should it be the *Dauntless* finding us, you will slip my body in the sea when you and your laws are done with me."

"I um ... I'm not sure I understand, Mr. Sparrow."

Jack turned away. His eyes closed and his head tilted back, streaming tangled black hair down his spine. He inhaled slowly, deeply; and for the first time Norrington noticed ... truly *noticed* ... the cool ocean breeze laden with salt and sea spray. It touched his cheeks, but the commodore somehow understood that it kissed Jack Sparrow's, that it caressed the pirate with the tenderness of a long-time lover.

Without moving, Sparrow murmured almost mournfully, "I've never been much afraid of dying. A man can't fear death and still be a pirate, you know. But I always figured I'd be killed in a raid, or maybe some storm would sweep me down to the ocean's depths. I'm a pirate. It's the way I chose to live my life and the way I chose to end it. But the gallows ..." He turned, caught Norrington's eyes with his own. "Dying on the gallows scares me, Edward. It scares the very heart out of me."

"Then ... why *be* a pirate? Elizabeth says there's enough wealth on the Isla del Muerte to last you and your crew ten times ten lifetimes! Why not take it and go somewhere safe?"

Jack almost smiled; almost, but it never touched his eyes. "Because its not about the gold, mate. It never was."

No, it wouldn't be, Norrington suddenly realized. Not for a man like the legendary Captain Jack Sparrow. And then he considered twenty-five years of his own life given to the Royal Fleet; nearly a half-lifetime of hardship and sacrifice freely given to earn his own rank and reputation. It had been worth it; in the Caribbean, he was a leader of men, respected and admired by nobles and natives alike. Still, the ugly truth was that even if he cleaned the entire ocean of pirates, back in England he would still be nothing more than a lowly cabin boy who had done somewhat well for himself.

Sparrow sighed. "You're a man of rules and regulations, Edward. Probably some nobleman's son raised in the lap of luxury too, weren't you? You would never understand what it is to own absolutely nothing in the world, not even your own body, and then have to fight just to keep even that." He sighed, and nodded toward the sea. "I made a pact with *Her* when I was still a lad on Tortuga. She gave me my freedom, and the *Black Pearl* to help me keep it. And I gave Her my soul." He shrugged, a small gesture. "You can take my life, Commodore; should the *Dauntless* find us before the *Pearl* does, there's not much I can do to stop you. But give *Her* my body, eh? Its Hers anyway; its only right you return it. Besides, spending eternity trapped away from the sea, stuck inside some dark dirty grave ... that scares me even more than hanging does."

Norrington stared out at the ocean because it was easier than looking into Jack Sparrow's eyes. He saw flat black water reflecting a flat black sky. Both were scattered with stars; one owned a solid round moon and the other a ghostly glittering moon. But was that all? Unexpectedly, he found himself envious, wishing that he could see what it was the pirate saw. The ocean had given him his livelihood, and ultimately his rank as commodore. He respected it certainly, respected its strength, its beauty and ferocity. But to say that he loved it? Or that it loved him? He looked, and he tried, but all he saw was endless leagues of water. At last he said softly, "I am bound by my oaths, Captain Sparrow. But I promise you a burial at sea. Should it come to that."

"That's all a man can ask, Commodore. S'all a man can ask."

Silence, save for the gentle lapping of waves against sand and the whispering of palm fronds above them. Silence, so thick a cutlass might have shied from slicing it. He chanced one glance at the pirate, and words flickered unbidden through his mind.

*There but for the grace of God, go I ...*

Norrington inhaled deeply. The air was laden with the scent of salt and the freshness of sea spray. It touched his cheek and kissed Jack Sparrow's. He pointed skyward with his wine bottle. "Horse," he said suddenly.

Jack squinted at the constellation in question. "Nah," he replied, swaying a little as he lifted his bottle of rum, "it's a unicorn, Eddie. See," he said, dragging his bottle in a short line, "there's its horn. And *that,*" he smiled, pointing, "is the lovely virgin he's about to deflower. See her bosoms?"

Norrington frowned. "I thought unicorns protected a virgin's virtue?"

"Not this one," Sparrow assured him with absolute certainty. He draped a friendly arm across Norrington's shoulders and leaned companionably against him. The rum bottle was lifted and aimlessly waved for emphasis. "*This beast is a rogue, a scalawag, and it is his sworn duty in life to corrupt the innocent and show them things they've never seen before."

Only the corner of Norrington's mouth twitched. "Like lascivious unicorns and the Lady in the sea?"

"Aye, son," Sparrow grinned, breathing rum fumes in Norrington's direction, "you're catchin' on. Things just like that."

*****

The *Black Pearl* departed the harbor of Sangre de Cristo in favor of the open ocean. Captain Jack Sparrow stood at her helm, his hands on the wheel, reveling in the glory of sea and sky and sunshine. He closed his eyes, oblivious to the bustling crewmen around him, and listened to waves whispering secrets against the *Pearl's* hull, and to the discordant laughter of gulls overhead. The wind ran ethereal fingers through his hair, pushing it back from his face. He was home again.

"I don't understand." AnaMaria's voice. She slipped beneath his arm and snuggled close against him. Smiling, Sparrow returned the embrace. Only then did he open his eyes to smile into hers.

"What's there to understand, luv? I'm back."

"But Norrington had you," she returned, gazing into his face. "He had you in his custody. Why'd he let you go?"

"He didn't let me go. I escaped."

AnaMaria made a small moue of disbelief. "Under the eyes of a whole crew of armed marines, you escaped from a warship's brig at just the precise moment the courier told us to meet you in Sangre de Cristo?"

"Fodder for the legend, darlin."

AnaMaria's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Jack?"

"Hmmm?"

"What exactly did you do to Norrington on that island?"

"Nuthin, luv. D'ye think I should have?"

"Jaaaaaack ...?"

Sparrow grimaced. "I just showed our dear commodore that not everything that's right in the world is written in Britain's law books." He looked out at the crystalline expanse of ocean, and at the sapphire clarity of a sky that reached down to touch it. "I showed him how to find pictures in the stars, and how to look past what's in front of his nose to see what's really important in life. And how to make sand angels; I showed him that too."

"Stars and sand angels? Norrington?"

"That's right."

Smiling, AnaMaria leaned closer against him, briefly burying her face in his shoulder. Sparrow felt her inhale deeply, as though breathing in the familiar scent of him. She was warm and lovely, and soft in all the right places. When Jack kissed the top of her shining black hair, she tilted her head back to study his eyes with only a quick glance first at the silent, still anchored *Dauntless.* "You're never going to tell me, are you, Jack?"

"Nuthin much to tell really. When I, um ... 'overpowered' the commodore due to his unfortunate injury and proceeded to make my daring escape from off the *Dauntless,* he may have mumbled something about giving me one day's head start just so's I wouldn't kill him."

"One day's head start. Again?"

Jack frowned a little. "It was peculiar, him offerin' it up that way. He looked almost happy to be seein' me leave."

"Most everyone's *always* happy to see you leaving, Jack," the woman quipped.

"Shhhh," Jack whispered, kissing her forehead, letting his lips trail down to her cheek. "I'll tell ye the whole of it later tonight, luv. In my cabin." Then suddenly ... though not unexpectedly ... his arms were empty and he found himself staggering to keep his balance as the woman shoved away from him.

"Like bloody hell you will," AnaMaria spat. "I don't want to know *that* bad." She stalked away, righteous indignation in her stride.

Captain Jack Sparrow grinned at her stiffly retreating form. When she disappeared below deck, he turned his appreciative gaze back out to the sea, back to the lady that owned him. He breathed deeply of her perfume. Her whispered voice carried assurances on the wind.

"Well," he murmured to Her, to himself, "one of these nights anyway then. A man has to see all the possibilities."

Fin