Pairing: Norrington/OC and Norrington/Jack implied.

Rating: PG-13

Beta: Ewa, to whom I am deeply grateful. I am forever in your debt, mate.

Disclaimer: "Pirates of the Caribbean" belong to Disney, "Partial Comfort" verse belongs to Dorothy Parker (it's slightly modified here, though), and "Amor con Fortuna" song belongs to Juan del Encina.

A/N: Despite the title, it's pure slash.

I am exhausted, ill and weak. It's hot, the air is heavy, but the fever inside me is stronger than the fever of this Caribbean night. Drunken girls in their ragged dresses that look elegant only after dark, their men who come here every Saturday for a quick pleasure before the Sunday mass, the servants busy with adding false scores - everybody in this tavern is sweating. I am sweating too, but with a cold sweat, and I am shivering like a kitten in a downpour.

What worries me most, is that I no longer hear the ever-present steps of my Lady Death, who's been pursuing me all these years. I know she just put off her iron-shod boots, because she does not need to haste. She is barefoot now, her steps grew stealthy and unhurried, for she is sure I won't run away this time. I am sitting here in The Red Stocking, a little stinking tavern of Port Royal, still alive, but only out of habit. My forehead is burning, my hands cold, my bones ache and I barely can suppress shivering fits. It must be some kind of "bad air", I think helplessly, wondering why did it get me here, in the dry and sunny Port Royal, and not in the humid ports of Indochina. I need some of Jesuit's powder to fight my fever, but I have no money to buy it and there's no one in the whole world now, who can give me any. I can understand my Lady - she has me in her hands now, as I am not only ill, but hungry and weary as never before, betrayed by my own body, which has that poisonous longing for a rest that she offers me... Damn it, no, not yet.

I'd better watch out if there aren't anybody who noticed my pathetic state and got a nice idea to take advantage of me, as I would in his place. Well, I don't have anything worth stealing, sad but true; I've spent my last money on this pissy thing they have the face to call 'claret'. I have no sword, no pistol, no brush, not even a spoon. If anybody tries to rob me, he'd kill me from sheer feeling of disappointment, and he'd be justified.

Oh, there's one who is watching me. Really, I'm the best at suspecting the worst.

I remember him; he was looking at me before, when I was seeking a room to sit, with a drink in my hand. He should've been amused by my staggering steps, like others around that I chose not to see, but no, he was oddly serious, and quickly turned away. Now he is looking at me again, discreetly, blinking a little. Nothing in his face alarms me, but I don't understand this stare. It's as if he were looking for something in me, something I may and may not posess. It's clear that he is not really noticing me, yet he is looking at me only, comparing the sight before his eyes with some recollection. His look is neither offensive nor unnerving to me, it's rather methodically examining and I start to wonder about results.

We are the only ones without friends to talk to or girls to caress. As for me, it's obvious that I don't even deserve a friendly glance from the doxies, with their noses being keener than hounds' and not able to sniff the faintest smell of gold from me; but that man is different. He is tall and broad-shouldered, his skin is fair and hands delicate; his hair lacks shine - he must have usually been wearing a wig. He'd made an effort to look casually and not very distinguished, yet he hadn't succeeded. He's a military man and that of rank, I am sure, there's something commanding and strict about him. He is clearly out of place, sitting here calmly among these drunken commoners, looking without seeing, seeming polite but not caring at all, tacit but somewhat intimidating. I can see that women cast him inviting glances and smiles, but he is not encouraging them, he doesn't even seem to notice them - as he doesn't notice my humble self either. Still, I feel strangely flattered and amused, because he at least has set his eyes on me.

Whatever his look means, I cannot trace any danger in it. There is something familiar in this man, something we have in common, as weird as this thought may be. Ah, great, now I am dying for sure - trying to figure out a bond with a fellow man just because he is alone with a glass of booze.

But I recognize this look; it's a look of somebody who's seen through. He already knows what this world really is: nothing more than a pathetic theatre on a street corner. We are playing our roles, some knowing the script and some guessing it, and some losing it and forgetting it, and most of us not noticing it at all. And they who like to think of their own importance don't make good actors, parading around and shouting rubbish, but it's such a fun to watch them, that I'm forgetting that I'm acting in the same play, and feel free to laugh at them and forget about my own miserable part. And this man here, he's just found out he's an actor himself. He was told lies and was deceived, and not paid properly for his devotion and his sacrifice, and so he began to doubt if there's any meaning in all that he had said and done. Now he knows it's all just a tragicomedy and he has his own part to play, but he cannot admit it yet. He comes here, among these people, because he's wondering if others know the truth and how they manage, and he's feeling pity for them, their struggle and pains, all these men desperate for a cheap drink after their stupefying work, all these girls desperate for some attention and money that'll give them safety. He still has to learn how to laugh at them, for however bitter this laugh can be, it'll turn sweet and soothing to his own pain. And he needs a remedy for some old wound; I'd bet it was a girl's betrayal, for it makes you crave other people's company, although you don't want them to talk to you; just to have them around so you're less lonely, and taverns and inns are good for that... I know what pain can a broken promise's dull edge inflict. I see him casting his eyes to the floor, as the music changes from a lively jig to a strangely familiar old tune.

"Por mar y por tierra Fortuna me sigue..." I know these words, it's "Amor con Fortuna". Seems like my past is haunting me; I remember this song from Spain, it was long forgotten, but I learned it from a daughter of a duenna, who was in the cortege of Juana La Loca. The mad Queen loved music above all else, and took a particular liking to this song - what proves her excellent taste. I liked it too, and it helped me to gain favours of some high-born, and even won me a lover... But it is not a happy song, and whatever it won me, I soon lost; its words tell about love and fortune that enter into an alliance to harrass a man. Now I am falling into a daze, as this simple melody is flowing over me; isn't the New World in fact an Old One? This song is utterly forgotten in Spain, but seems to have a hard life in the Spanish Main; twelve years ago I was listening to this song on Santo Domingo, now I am back from Chittagong and I am listening to it again, this time in Port Royal.

Some drunken idiot from the darkest corner suddenly demands "a song that be merrier", and there is a loud applause, nobody wants to think of Fortune persecuting them on land and on sea. I look over at the man - he stepped in the chilling-to-the-bone waters of the song, and now blinks suddenly, disappointed. He's not drunk, just seems deep in thought, or was that song really washing his pain and sadness away, I don't know. He suppresses a sigh, and turns away a little, and now...

I can almost hear my Lady Death's withdrawn hiss, because now I feel I want to live. This man has a pistol, and a marvelous one. Looks like fifteen inches, it'll be .54 caliber barrel, I think - silver mounted, slender beauty. She surely is this officer's love, but she'll be my mistress. My heart is beating wildly with desire. If I have this jewel, I can have anything; there's no better tool in my trade than a pistol, and there's been a long time since I had such a beauty by my side.

But how can I steal it from him? I can barely move. My hands are cold and sweaty, my nails becoming pale, and I have to close my eyes sometimes, when the room starts spinning; I am shivering and I need something to eat, but all I have is this glass of claret. I ordered it because if I am to die, there's nothing worse than to die sober; and now if I drink it, I'll be unconscious before I hit the floor. I must get close to him, but he's already aware of me, and I don't look very trustworthy, in fact - not ever for the folks around, let alone for him. My clothes are strange - I'm wearing a short Chinese jacket called qipao, with narrow sleeves, upstanded collar, four slits, and loops and toggles; it was an expensive one, made from a thick silk and embroidered with flowing water and irises too, but its good days are long gone, the purple color had faded, the silver thread is barely visible and only few toggles are left, dangling sadly. My hair is far too long and unkempt, and the little amulet of a left hand with spreaded fingers - "Fatima's hand", supposed to stick all these fingers in my foe's eye - doesn't save me from the onlookers' suspicious looks... and they've heard my accent too. Still there's no other salvation for me than to rob this man of his pistol, and it must be done at any means.

I close my eyes for a moment, just to stop this damned room from spinning, and when I open them, I can see a litte more clear. And then, my vision sharpened, I notice two pairs of eyes watching my man. What! Got somebody on my way already?

Well, the one pair is a man's; he's sitting quite far away, under the wall, watching the officer warily, but with intense anxiety. Oh, it's nothing; he's young, with a round, open, strangely reddened face. Maybe he's just drunk. But the other pair of eyes worries me, because it's a girl's, and I can sense my own kindred easily - she's a pickpocket, it's as clear as a day. She's watching my man with that almost tender look that a huntsman has for a prey he already considers his, her thin lips are smilling, the left hand playing with a pinky flounce, but the right one hidden, and I can imagine it stretching like a cat sensing a mouse. No, no, sister, I can't allow you here; it's too much for this man to be robbed of his pistol and his purse alike. Stay away, or... you're rather comely, I'll give you that, with your long white neck and cranberry lips, and your body looks slim, but still there are some places to lay hand on.

She's fishing for my man's stare, and finally gets it; he's looking at her with his politely indulgent eyes. She smiles as if embarrassed, and makes a little step forward. Well, it's a right moment for me, I'll try to win a favor of Love and Fortune combined. And when she's about to stumble and lean on his arm, and apologize while husking his purse, I surprise her by wrapping my hands around her waist... because I was trying to get up from my chair. And I failed - and it's true.

"Oooh, my apologies, sweetie," I say.

She tries to shake me off, but I'm holding her firmly.

"Get off me, you filthy scum," she says through her teeth (she's still hoping she can reach for this fine man, so her words are for my ears only).

"Nah, dearie, I ain't going nowhere, really," I mumble against her warm belly. Oh, it's warm, and I'm still shivering. "You feel so n-nice, you do." And I'm rising my head to look at her.

She lowers her eyes and I'm relieved to see that I'm still not hopeless despite all that fever; but that startled look of sympathy and surprise is immediately washed off her face by another one, the one saying: "business".

"Lemme go," she hisses, and then she calls a man's name. And I see a rather bulky fellow advancing towards us. Whee, I'm in trouble, she has a brother working with her. Or an uncle, whatever, she's not alone as I am. It's so good to have a family support these days.

I'm off her waist before her watchdog can reach me, and she's smoothing her skirt, looking at me with defiant pride. Yes, lassie, you've got a nice big doggie.

"What do ya think are ya doing here, you sad bastard!" he roars. "D'ya think ya can grab decent girls 'round?"

"Oh, no offense meant, man," I say, with my hands up. "Didn't know the princess was with you."

But he's not that slow and he knows his girl's work was interrupted and ruined by me, and his eyes narrow. Luckily enough, he can see I'm not very sure on my feet, so he's becoming relaxed.

"Whoa, what a pretty rag you wear, ya dungy imp," he says playfully, touching my sleeve with his forefinger. "Dug it from your auntie's grave, did ya?"

I cast a quick look at my man in the corner; would be really sorry if he's disgusted by the squabble and left for some quieter place; but he's there, just that big piece of bacon is standing between us.

"Lost your tongue, you little rascal, or what?"

"He's strange, Billy, came from nowhere an' now sitting all day here, not even drinkin' nothing," some good Christian says from behind me. "Maybe he's one of them freemen, ya know."

"We'll see," says Billy with enthusiasm, and he grabs my right hand and unrolls my sleeve - and the next moment he has a cold piece of iron on his throat. His doxie utters a strange squeak and backs off, and there's a sudden sweet silence.

Well, he's made two mistakes. One is obvious, I usually don't allow people to grab my hands. And the second mistake - is that I'm not branded. Not on my forearm; I have a "P" letter on my right hand's back. That's why I've my right hand wrapped in a piece of cloth, and on my better days I've used gloves. Poor Billy, hasn't had any idea; and now in his panic he doesn't realize that the iron he's feeling on his throat is not a knife, actually, but an innocent fork I've snatched from the table.

"I'm not offending anyone," I say. "All that I want is to sit here. I've touched you, sweetie, and I apologized. Get the hell out of here, and running, and I'll send your lapdog after you. Understood?"

She understands me, after all, we're of the same kin; and I am better in doing tricks than her, because she believes in the knife, and runs away without a word. Now I am here clutching to Billy, and while wondering how to end all this without being killed for misusing a fork, I see my man raising from his seat.

"Let him go too, she's waiting outside," he says to me. "It's only forgivable he's got offended by Billy taking him for a pirate. Let's put an end to it, men," he says to the bewildered audience.

His voice is calm and he's looking above the crowd's heads, but there is an aura of a man used to giving commands and, moreover, to be obeyed; and everybody is perceiving this. So now the good folks start to nod and issue approving noises like a flock of turkeys, I take my hand off Billy's throat, and he follows his doxie not ever looking at me, so I can lay the fork on the table. And now I feel so dizzy I can barely stand.

"Sit down," I hear the officer say, and I'm trying to take my seat again, though it seems whole leagues below. I must close my eyes for awhile, before I finally manage to sit down, and I notice the officer replacing my fork with a knife he was supposed to use to cut his bread.

Oh, he has a piece of bread before him. A loaf. A whole lump of bread.

"Do you... do you want something to eat?" he asks me in a low voice. I don't understand him.

"What did you say?"

"Do you want to share a meal with me?"

"Do I want to share a meal with you?" I am looking at his face, but it begins to blur.

"You knew the girl's going to steal my money and you stopped her, didn't you?" It's not a question, it's a statement. He was watching me as I was watching her; he realized what she was going to do and he saw what I did. Holy Mary... the room goes spinning again.

"Wh... why would you..."

"Why would you refuse to eat with me?"

"I wouldn't." In a matter of fact.

"I was not going to eat my supper here, but... they make a decent Scotch broth, with fried beef. Very nice. I sometimes get a fancy to eat it in The Red Stocking."

Scotch broth... sweet Jesus.

"Take some bread, I'll call the servant." And he turns away from me, so that I'm free to do with the bread what I only please.

I nearly have to hold my right hand with my left when it reaches for the bread, and when I have a piece in my mouth, it soakes with my saliva in no time at all. God, I don't even have to swallow; the bread is melting, I could eat it in my sleep, it seems.

And now they bring the soup... I have it before my eyes and nose and mouth, within my hands' reach, and it's mine. I can have it all. But it's not a first time like that in my life, only that I'm feeling so deeply grateful, because somebody is feeding me for free, for nothing, for me being a thief who scared away another thief in order to steal a pistol.

I'm looking at the man and he's reading my look in a wrong way, because he says:

"I don't like hot soup, I usually wait until... but it seems just ready to eat." He takes his spoon very reluctantly; it's obvious he has no appetite at all.

I am eating as slowly as I can, well aware of what happens when you are all too happy to have something after a long starving. Blessed be the bread he gave me before. And the soup is in turn giving me its own blessing, warming me up, nursing me, driving my shivers away, towing me gently towards a new life's shores.

He's still watching me, not openly, because he doesn't want to offend me, but his eyes are wandering here and there, and they stop on my right hand. His look hardens and he presses his lips together as if in a silent rebuke.

I stop eating. It suddenly dawns upon me that he's doing me a favor not because I drove away the girl, but because I remind him of somebody. And he knows that I am an outlaw, and that I have a "P" after a hot iron's kiss; but it's not scaring him, it's what draws him to me.

He notices my look and, as previously, misreads it.

"Oh, bread's over," he says. "I'll get some more."

"No, wait," I say. "I had enough bread, thank you. Now I'd like to have a little break, and to introduce myself properly, as I should have done before."

"Wait," says he in turn, way too quickly. "It's not necessary."

"What do you mean, not necessary? You're treating me to a supper and you don't even want to know my name?"

"I'm sure you don't take me wrong," he cuts. "You saved my money and I am truly grateful to you for that. The supper is just a small token of my gratitude and we shouldn't speak of it. In fact, I'm pleased I don't have to eat alone. We're... square, so to say."

I can see it now; he's rebuking himself and not me. He's trying to forget his duty and at the same time to remember it. His duty is - well, probably catching the likes of me, amongst other things. He knows I am branded and that I should be hanged, and he believes that by hearing my name he'll be obliged to arrest me on the spot. Yet he doesn't want me arrested, because... because I remind him of something or somebody.

I put my spoon away.

"Listen, mate," I say, "I'm very much like a stranger in Port Royal and all the Spanish Main. If you don't believe me, look at my beautiful attire that those little folks found so funny. I've just got here from a long, long journey. It's been over ten years I'd been earning my daily bread here. So it'll do no harm to either of us if I tell you that my name's Ritchie Brown."

He blinks.

"See? You don't know me, mate. We're on the safe ground." And noticing his anxious look, I add, "I don't know you, either, so you can just figure any name and give me it as yours. Or not give me any at all."

He sighs.

"My Christian name is James."

"Well, I'll try to forget it as quickly as possible," I say cheerfully, taking up my spoon again.

He smiles half-smile. What's wrong with this man, I wonder, finishing the soup. I'd like him to be happier, as I'm myself in a nearly perfect mood, my illness seemingly going away, my... pistol... oh, my pistol. Damn. Am I going to steal the pistol from him? Well, sure I am. The Scotch broth is a heavenly gift, but it's not going to stay forever in my belly; I need that pistol to chase away my Lady Death, to stay alive. But how on earth am I supposed to steal that sweet flintlock belle, when I am beginning to feel sleepy like a puppy before a fireplace, and when this man is staring at me all the time? Well, not staring, but... God, I am drunk. I've eaten the Scotch broth, but I am drunk, they had to add something to it... No, he's not staring - it's a scrutiny, a cold, unhurried one.

"Do I resemble anybody, James?" I ask him quietly.

"Yes," he says, taken aback.

"Your friend?"

"He's not my friend."

"You've been waiting for him for a long time."

"I'm not waiting for him."

"You've been watching me."

"You look very suspicious, if you ask my opinion. We don't have pirates walking in the broad daylight and sitting in taverns, now do we? It's not Tortuga."

"That friend of yours... do I look just like him?"

"No," he says sharply, as if I said a blasphemy. "Not at all. And he's not my friend."

"You said I resemble him."

"Only remotely."

"Pray tell?"

"You're both not very tall. But his hair is longer, and he has a beard and a goatee. He is probably older than you. To tell the truth, when I saw your stumbling and staggering before you sat down here, you reminded me of him. That's all."

"And you say he's not your friend."

"No, he is not. I think you need some rest, Ritchie, and medicine as well. Do you have any money, or are you going to steal it and get arrested?"

I'm going to steal YOUR pistol, love. Just not yet.

"Wait," I say. "To hell with all our friends and foes, mate. No more questions. Let's drink up nicely and part in a brotherly mood."

He seems a little disappointed and disgusted, too.

"You already sound like you're drunk," he says. But he doesn't leave.

"Just one little round," I say. "I still have my claret."

He has his claret too, and we drink, eyeing each other. May God love all these who make a good wine, and may he curse all these who try to christen it! And all of a sudden the forgotten musicians are playing "Amor con Fortuna" again. I feel sweet waves of the song and sweet waves of the wine, and the room is now pulsating instead of spinning. I look over at James and I can see his eyes are brighter than before, and he has dropped off some of that self-rebuking mood. He's looking at me with the new look, and it's maybe the first time he notices me and not his friend. Or foe. Or whatever. And because I can't afford myself not to steal his pistol, I know I should pay him back. I know it's like meeting a Buddha in hell, as the Chinese say; he's shown me such a noble kindness that I can't simply let him go away. I don't have anything to show my gratitude with, and although I know he doesn't care a bit, it makes me more miserable than I was before. But no, wait, I still have something to offer.

Let's see how willing is he to accept. I look at him again. He seems to be deep in his thoughts, and whereas he's looking at me, he's not noticing me, just as before. Does he see his... friend... whatever, instead of me? Can I hope that he is so lonely and so desperate as to take me for that man and gain some peace of body and mind?

"Listen," I say matter-of-factly, "seeing that's getting really late and we're both tired, let's simply go upstairs, alright?" And I add, from fear to scare him away, "After all, you know, I've not even a ha'penny."

He looks at me suspiciously, narrowing his eyes, and as his suspicions are confirmed, he stands up all too eagerly and suddenly stops. He's set his mind, but is unable to move, not sure what he should say or do now.

"Come on, mate," I whisper, "I'm drunk and you're seeing me upstairs. Easy."

He casts his eyes downward, but wraps my right arm around his neck, and has to lower himself a little. That's funny, and he chuckles quietly, and we're laughing all the way through a creaking wooden staircase, all dust-grey, full of cats' smell and with cracking handrails.

The moment I close the door of the stinky pocket-sized room, he hesitates. He doesn't touch me, staying away as far as possible. I want to give him time, so I busy myself with the little activities here and there instead of looking at him, while he's sitting on the narrow bed. I look out the window, at the melancholic yard with wandering dogs, I light the candle and pour some water into the basin. Finally, when I can guess that he gets accustomed to his place and me in the same room, I sit in the only chair near the door. The candle is burning between us. Silence. And for the third time this evening I hear "Amor con Fortuna" they're playing downstairs, and it makes me smile.

"Do you know this song?" he asks.

"Well, yes, I do. Seems really popular in here. I remember it from Spain - it was forgotten there already. Learned it from some old lady."

"You're not a mere pirate, I see. I always wonder what sets intelligent people with some upbringing, like you, on this way of living."

"I haven't got any proper upbringing at all. You'd be surprised. Just catching opportunities, mate. I am not very much of a pirate, though, too."

"I've seen many of them, and you seem well-fit in the collection. Even if you're branded on the back of your hand, and not on your forearm."

"It's true I'm wearing that bloody brand, but it was their mistake, really. I was sailing on the high seas only for a short time, regarding all my career. There are jobs I'm much more skillful in doing." Now there's a statement. I feel myself chuckling as if against my will. He smiles reluctantly, and looks at the candle.

"It'll be better if we put it out," I say in a whisper. And it happens that we both reach out to blow off the candle, our heads touch each other, our lips touch each other's lips.

I feel his hot breath on my face and on my ears, he's trying to kiss me, but he's unbelievably clumsy and it fans my sudden passion for this man even higher. What, he seems he's never kissed a girl before, let alone a man! I feel overjoyed, for I can teach him a whole lot of things he'll find in handy later, all these sweet secrets, dark tricks, a whole witchcraft of a forbidden lore - forbidden in the Christian lands, mainly, but blossoming happily in the Eastern realms I've just come back from. I'm kissing his neck, with one hand in his hair (it's too soft, he should throw that bloody wig away), and with the other hand I'm unbuttoning his linen white shirt - when he suddenly catches both my hands by the wrists and shoves me off with such a violent strength I hit the wall.

"What are you doing, man?"

"We must stop this madness. Now," he says, panting. "You're sick."

Ah, that's the one.

"No, mate, relax. I'm clean. I don't have anything you can catch. Don't worry. Please."

He's looking at me like I'm his poor childish grandma.

"What are you talking about?"

"What do you think I'm talking 'bout? Syphilis, of course. I'm alright. It's killed more of my brothers than a bullet an' a noose, though. But I am clean."

He's still not moving, looking at me with some strange mix of disgust, fascination and pity.

"Sweet Jesus... James, I owe you one, don't you see this? Do you really think I'd give a syph to a man who'd saved my life? I'd rather be sleeping with that Billy bloke now."

He sighs and covers his face with his hands for a moment, then he looks at me like at a sick child.

"Don't you really understand what I'm talking about? It's the fact that you and me... both of us, we are actually men. This shouldn't happen. That's all."

Oooh, bloody hell. I forgot, he's that decent one. I suddenly feel tired.

"And," he adds, "I didn't save your life, for God's sake."

"You didn't, did you? Well, that's all you know. But I know better; my story is the only one that matters to me. As yours is for you. Does that mean all we have to do is to shut up and go home? I don't think so. I wasn't eating for six days. I was looking for my friend who'd have my share hidden, and I found out that he's dead. No way for me to retrieve my money. And I am ill and I need some Jesuit's powder, how do you call it?... cinchona?... whatever, and I can't buy it. And you show up, you buy me food and save me and my fork, and refuse to arrest me, but first of all, you buy me food - well, how do you call yourself then, if not my saviour?"

"Who was your friend?"

"Oh, he's your friend's friend, I believe," I return.

"Were you going to... to sleep with me, because I bought you A MEAL?"

"Basically, yes, so what?"

"Don't you have any respect for yourself?"

"I do have, mate. That's why I am trying not to allow myself to starve."

"You were about to commit a terrible sin."

"I've committed it many times already. It's not as bad as it seems, don't you agree? You were as near as I was, mate, and I can see you were goin' to enjoy it too."

He sighs and leans against the wall, I sit by his side.

"It's a quiet night somewhere at the end of the world," I say. "Nobody would ever know."

"It's not an excuse for doing wrong things," he says scornfully, but softly, like he's speaking to a child again. "Do you ever follow any rules? Not the rules the society or the religion are making you to follow, but your inner ones?"

He turns his head a little so he can look me in the face, his eyes completely black in the night's gray cover. I look at him too.

"I don't have many rules to follow. Don't bother by creating them. But have some, that I do. And the first one is to lie to everybody in the world but one."

"Who's that lucky one, then? God? Your lover?"

"No. It's myself. Look, you can lie to everybody and still be happy. But if you're lying to yourself, you just can't be happy and you make unhappy everybody else around."

"So are you always lying?"

"No, that's the next rule. Never do things that aren't necessary. I'm lying only when I have to. And it's pretty often, but that's another story."

He smiles in the dark.

"It seemed to me we have something in common, but it was only an illusion. My rule is, 'always do things that are necessary.'"

"Oh no, mate. The difference's gross. You're probably running around looking for things that need doing, and I am lying and allowing them to stumble on me. Or ducking them."

"It sounds very innocent, doesn't it? Is the robbing and killing of innocent people necessary? Does it stumble on you, or do you have to duck it?"

"I duck it when I can," I say, "but if it stumbles on me, I don't recoil that much."

He stiffens and looks away for awhile. Then he says, "I shouldn't be sitting here along with you."

"You're hunting pirates like myself. We're both killing our fellow men. But I kill on my own account and I alone will pay. And you have others that are paying your bill. You just follow orders."

"Do you think I don't have nightmares? It's not easy to hang a man. Even if he's evil, even when you know he's taken innocent lives and there's blood on his hands that calls out to God. And if you have to hang a good man..."

He stops and clenches his teeth; I can almost feel the desperate longing for some explanation; because he no longer believes in those all too plain words that were trying to explain why his duty is to be blind and impassive. And as he learned not to believe in decent people's words, he starts to believe in what the indecent ones have to say, even though he's fighting it.

"Have you ever hanged a good man?" I ask.

"I was trying to, but he escaped," he says.

"Was he a pirate?"

"Yes, he was. He's still a pirate, I think."

Now I'm feeling like people making stained glass must feel when their work is nearly complete.

"Is that man... your friend? I mean, the one that I reminded you of?"

"He is not my friend. But yes, it's him."

"You want to see him," I say very quietly and slowly, trying not to scare him away. "You long for him."

"That is not true."

"There's nothing wrong with it. You just want to see him."

"Shut up, Ritchie."

"Well, at least he escaped, mate!" I say as gleefully as I can. "Did he know you... uhm... pity him?"

"I don't think so."

"I'll tell you something. I was in a quite similar situation once, myself..."

"Are you going to make up a pathetic pirate boasting story for me? Save your fatigue."

"Just listen. It'll be a short one. My lover tried to hang me. And he meant it."

"Why?"

"That's an important point, and you'd better remember that. 'Twas different from your case. He fancied me, he did, but was too scared to live with it. He thought it all improper to the extent that he'd rather get rid of me. Afraid that I've become a part of himself, therefore wanted to kill me and become free again. As you can see, he didn't succeed, but it's another story. And you haven't gone so far yet, but are well on your way, as far as I can see. All that thing is already a part of you. Let me tell you that - I think you're not like my friend of old. You couldn't tear a part of yourself off and stay alive, you'd bleed to death. Ah, pardon me - you're already bleeding, man, and it's not a very pleasant sight, if you ask me."

"What do you want from me? It is improper. It is sick and indecent for a man to want to have another man in such a way. Mankind is not made for that."

"And how do you know? You haven't ever tried."

"We almost did it." Fortunately, he's facing it and not blaming poor Ritchie alone.

"Was it unpleasant?"

"Don't talk about that."

"Aw, mate, we're not children anymore. How can you tell that old Maggie's a witch, when everybody knows she's a midwife and only looks like a devil's younger sister?"

"It's a sin against nature and a mockery of God's purpose towards man."

"Now you sound like good old John Knox. Listen, James, do you prefer John Knox or Helen of Troy?"

"What are you talking about?"

"I know a lovely verse about your dilemma."

"Oh, do you really?" He raises his brows.

"Whose love is given o'er-well

Shall look on Helen's face in hell,

Whilst they whose love is thin and wise

May view John Knox in paradise."

He's laughing, at last, laughing like a boy in a catechism's class, when a priest goes out to pee. His laughter just bursts out, breaking everything, all that old rubbish of ugly life-hating sermons and dusty books. There's still more things in his soul to wash away, but he just needs time.

"And what do you have against John Knox?" he asks.

"Nothing, really, 'cept I am a Catholic, you know."

"A Catholic? You?"

"Sure I am, mate. Love all those colourful things in churches, paintings and sculptures and carpets, and all. And we have a king, like you - our fat Pope, you know. Now does he look good in all those brocades! Just joking," I say happily at his horrified look. "I was plundering Spanish settlements as well as Dutch ones, I swear. Hope I can do that again. And I had many a liturgical trifle in my hands - think about all these chalices, they're going for a good price, I assure you."

"Why are all the Catholics so eager in making fun of their own religion?"

"The love of the game, I think. We all live with the hell just under our feet, and the earth is much more tempting than all the paradise, thank you very much... but we have Our Good Lady at our side. And she can always buy you out of the worst peril."

"Are you talking of Mary, mother of God? It sounds like you're praising some pagan goddess."

"Ah, but a goddess she is, mate. Even a little Hail Mary helps."

"What, has she ever hailed you back, when you needed her help, then?"

"You'd be surprised. And she's much supportive when it comes to love. You should try yourself, for you need a help being in love, really."

"We're not talking about me being in love."

"Oh, I see, you're afraid of that word. Well, even the bravest were, there's nothing to be ashamed. It's such a sloppy word, 'love', you're right. Is 'fancy' better for you, then?"

"I think it is. Maybe it's just a fancy I feel... nothing so solemn and serious."

"So if it's only a fancy, why are you so afraid? Fancy is a small creature that feels good and soft in your hand, and you fondle it and feel its warmth. If it is not a feral beast that threatens to rip you apart, why don't you play with it?"

"It's not an animal to play with. Men are not supposed to play with love and desire".

"Yet they do it all their lives, just pretending they don't. You can pretend you don't, but try to play and look how it feels like. Or, if you're afraid, allow it to come closer and watch it move. You'll like it."

He smiles a tight smile.

"Did you ever love anybody?"

"Now there's a question, mate. Sure I did."

"That man you were talking about?"

"And women too. And girls. Still have one girl far away. She's a mistress of a wealthy London gentleman, and she's managing very well. Her name's Inci."

"What a strange name."

"Means 'Pearl' in Turkish. She's a Walachian, though. Met her in Istanbul and we were talking in Turkish, and she introduced herself so."

He smiles sadly. "Don't tell me you believe her."

"It's not a matter of believing. What profit would it be to me, to know her real name? There are things that really matter, and it's not one of them. And as for me, I told you my real name, so there's your profit - you can check it and go and give me a chase, if you decide I am worth it."

He's laughing again. "Don't worry. This night didn't happen."

Now there's time for me to sigh, for I see he wouldn't have me. I'm just someone to talk to, and I have a strange feeling that he's already known all we were talking about, and just waited for it to be voiced by somebody other than himself, be it ever a Ritchie Brown at his lowest. And he won't have me, because of that bloody friend of his. Whoever he is, no, not a friend, but certainly not a foe either. Wait. How is he supposed to meet him? If he's a pirate, he won't be so stupid (like me) to show up in Port Royal. Unless he has something hidden here, or a friend other than James - rather unlikely. Is there any chance for them to meet?

I rise up, leaning on my left elbow; he's already half asleep on the little hard pillow.

"Listen, James, one last question," I say. "What's the name of that friend of yours?"

A long silence. And when I am going to lie back again:

"Jack."

A long silence again. I feel cold. Now I know everything, more than I ever wanted to know. It's a story so widely spread that I've heard it before I came back to the Spanish Main. It's a story of Captain Jack Sparrow, who managed to escape from his own Lady Death holding him already on a solid hemp noose. It's a story of a man who killed my friend and mentor, Captain Barbossa. It's a story of a man who owes me dearly not even knowing of it. And the man who's already sleeping here so soundly, Commodore Norrington, wants to meet him above anything - and I am deeply in his debt and will be even more from this moment, because I can finally steal his pistol, his silver mounted beauty.

As I am tucking the Commodore's pistol up my breeches, the sun rises and the poor room is suddenly all gold and blood. What a glorious sunrise, I think, and there's so quiet - everybody's sleeping, drunken with wine, with love, with worries. This sunrise is only for me, for I can even feel my Lady Death's breathing peacefully in her sleep. She was so sure of me she fell asleep, and here I am, running away with a first dawn.

I open the door and lo - there's a young man sleeping right behind them. I remember his round, candid face: he was watching the Commodore, the pickpocket and me. Must be some younger officer. Seems like the Royal Navy really cares for James Norrington. Good. And now, I must be on my way and find Captain Jack Sparrow - maybe ask him about Captain Barbossa. How am I supposed to settle the scores with him, I've no idea. I know only that I have to bring him back to Port Royal for a secret meeting with the Commodore. Who's probably going to be very bitter about his pistol, but that's another story. I've promised myself to convoy Jack Sparrow here - and promises made to myself I do keep.