Title: As if in storm lurked calm and peace 1?
Rating: PG for this part
Pairing: Sparrington, eventually
Disclaimer: Disney owns the characters and pretty much everything else. More's the pity.
A/N: Crossposted all over the place. Many thanks to dien and ptigga for the beta. All the mistakes and Monty Python references are my own. The title's from a very well known Russian poem.
His footsteps echo on the stone steps as he walks down from the fort wall, away from the spectacle of the hanging, from Governor Swann's expression of perpetual bafflement, from Elizabeth's blinding smile and her spoiled, obstinate blindness, from young Turner's reckless stupidity, from the taunts of a pirate who, had the world not been tilted precariously, should have now been a lifeless thing hanging heavily from the tight noose. From his men who won't leave him alone with the silence in his head.
A marine on duty by the bottom of the stairs stands at attention as he passes, eyes firmly locked on the wall opposite. He nods mechanically, his body moving on its own, easily following three decades' worth of social conditioning without the intervention of his mind, which is utterly blank; filled only with the echo of his footsteps on the cobbles and his measured breathing.
In, hold, and out.
In, and the tang of salt and dust, and fruit, and humidity calm him with their familiarity - which presumes he needs calming, he realises distantly, and wonders why that might be the case - and the held breath makes him feel his shirt against his chest.
And out, his shoulders lowering imperceptibly for the length of another step.
The rhythm fills him, his breaths following his steps, his back as straight as during any inspection, his eyes trained forward. The hot air caresses his face, and the smell of the sea intensifies with a shallow gust of wind. He won't allow himself to look down the hillside, to the harbour, where the furled strength of his ships lies tamed and quiet. It's damnably hot, his shirt will need changing again, he thinks absently. That's the one thing they warned him about when he first made to come to the Caribbean: the wet heat that envelops you like a glove, steals the air from your lungs and finds you even in the bowels of a house.
That, and the pirates.
I want you to know that I was rooting for you, mate. Know that.
But he will not think about this travesty of compassion.
He walks out through the gates, nodding to the guards posted there. They won't know about the escape yet, though they might have heard the commotion. Their eyes are eager, hungry. He forces himself not to walk faster.
The dust of the footpath stains his shoes red, dulls the shine of the buckles. He curses under his breath for taking this trail to the house; normally he would never walk it in full dress uniform or even anything finer than his plainest coat. Sweat makes his head itch unbearably under the wig, and the cravat feels like a noose around his damp neck. He smiles grimly at the image.
A tree branch hangs over the path, and he pushes it away. It comes back with astonishing force for something so thin, and knocks his hat clean off his head. The blue felt is covered in dust now, ugly streaks looking like dried blood. He bends down to pick it up, lips thinned in annoyance. When he straightens, the branch is in his face, alien leaves and flowers pricking at his skin. It takes a supreme effort of will not to draw his sword and attack the plant; he forces his fists to unclench. His nails have left rough red marks on his palms.
Some fifty-seven steps, made irregular by the jaggedness of the terrain, bring him to the side gate of his garden. Down the hibiscus-lined path and into the back door, where he startles the maid polishing the door handle. Her hands fly to her mouth, eyes huge and dark under a worn bonnet.
"Heat some water for a bath" he orders her curtly, his lips barely parting to let the words out, and takes the steps two at a time without waiting for her curtsey and answer. Any other day he would remember her name.
In his bedroom he pulls off his wig with a single savage motion, for once not caring about the carefully pressed curls. His man can take attend to it later, when he is brushing his hat.
His fingers feel numb and slow as he fights the buttons and hooks on his coat. The gold and the blue look muted, then bizarrely crumpled as he throws the garments onto a chair - and misses. Cravat, belt and sword, watch, waistcoat, shoes, stockings, breeches, all the trappings and traps of society and discipline follow suit, landing on and around the bed.
When his hand clenches around a bed post the sweat leaves a dark stain on the wood. He leans forward, a scream building in his belly, rising into his chest, dying unheard before it reaches his lips. For a moment he cannot draw breath and wonders, distantly, ever so distantly, whether this is what Elizabeth felt like in the thrice cursed corset.
The stillborn roar curls inside him, taking the place of air and reason and it is so difficult, so impossible to straighten up, to wipe the sweat from the bedpost with the back of his hand, to tighten his jaw and shoulders.
To meet his own eyes in the mirror and not look away.
His white shirt is stained with sweat and dust, his short hair sticks out in sweaty tufts, and the expression in his eyes almost makes him avert his gaze. But he has done this before, forced himself to look at his reflection when everything inside him was pulled just so tight, so close to breaking.
When the maid - Emma, he thinks, Emma Leech, Mrs. Killigrew's cook's youngest daughter - knocks on his door uncomfortably, a steaming jug in each hand, his face is as perfectly blank as his mind. Only the sound of the waves down in the harbour fills him, leaving no room for anything else.
II. Monotony, thy name is life
The court-martial comes about with rather surprising swiftness and an even more surprising outcome. He is slightly taken aback by the fierce loyalty of his men, of those who fought with him to retake the Dauntless in particular. The Governor speaks for him, and in the end the position carries more weight than the man's uncertain, halting words and the uneasy glances. He has always admired and respected Swann as he would a father, but these days he has little patience for him.
At the end of the month he is not only still in command of his ships and his men, but also with an unofficial assurance that his rank is secure and his career not entirely concluded. The same source warns him in carefully cultivated dry tones to become as quietly inconspicuous as the commander of the Jamaican fleet is ever likely to be. Some rather fine port is shared, and eventually the new routine rolls over him, duties that often keep him away from the Dauntless for weeks at a time.
Sometimes he permits himself small sighs at the seemingly endless supply of incompetence his men can provide, or the amount of papers to pass through his hands. He has never been stranded for such long stretches at a time, not since he lost his ship to paperwork. Not since he left England on his first assignment, come to think of that.
He schedules exercises and patrols as often as he can, possibly more often than prudence would require, but the only restful sleep he can claim is to be found on a gently swinging cot, surrounded by the smell of sea and the creaking of the hull.
Even there he dreams of skeletal arms and decaying flesh and his men dying around him, but his ship rocks him back to sleep after he wakes up tangled in white sheets and grey fear.
The wedding is fast approaching, and the Governor is in his element while planning and organising and procuring and resolutely ignoring the rather malicious gossip leaking in from all sides. Elizabeth's eyes are a little more haunted these days, at least on those deliberately few occasions when he makes the effort to meet her gaze. No matter how strong and stubborn the girl is, marrying so far beneath her station, and making such a public scandal out of it, may just be more than she can handle. Her chin is defiantly raised, however, and he cannot help but admire the same spirit that lost him his heart, and nearly his life and his career.
There are days when, surrounded by papers and with ink instead of tar on his fingers, the lump wedged between his stomach and his chest seems to expand and clench at him from within. His cook must have noticed him sending most of the meats and pastries back untouched, for the dishes he sees on his dinner table are now decidedly lighter, and strange tinctures have appeared in the back of his drinks cabinet. He remembers to be courteous to his servants, even when what he wants most is to be left in peace.
He goes through the rosters again, looking for a way to be off-shore on the day of the wedding. His absence and his presence alike will create yet more rumours. Swann hopes he will attend, Elizabeth expects him to. Sometimes he wonders if the muted stirrings he feels are infatuation or aggravation. He does not think it should matter one way or the other.
The night of the wedding day finds him in bed, having survived the crowd and the gossip and Elizabeth's radiant smile.
In the end he settled for a compromise, and merely attended the ceremony, leaving before the reception with the all too true excuse of work and yet more work. Young Turner looked ridiculously wide-eyed, he thinks, but then the expression seems to be welded to the boy's face. Elizabeth had smiled prettily when he'd touched cold lips almost to her hand and made the remarks one is expected to offer to a happy bride. On the whole, he thinks, it had not hurt as much as he had anticipated, and the dreaded finality of the words and the rings seems to have sealed something in him.
Now, lying under a thin sheet and listening to a pair of birds arguing in the trees outside, trying to ignore the cramps pulling at his stomach and the pounding in his head, he wonders what the day might have been like had he been the one to stand at Elizabeth's side. The images are indistinct and vague, nowhere as clear as on that day of the ridiculous ceremony - as if becoming a commodore meant a true elevation in rank, rather than just the loss of his ship - when he had still hoped, had still dreamed.
The lateness of the hour overcomes even his feverish, disjointed thoughts, and he dozes briefly.
Only to start awake as a length of cold steel presses against his throat.
IV. Moonlight stroll and bed sheets
Many years ago, an old officer with a predilection for too much drink at inopportune moments had told him an inconsequential little tale about being captured by bandits and the well-used cliché of feeling the villain's blade at one's throat when swallowing.
The memory is vivid in his mind now, as he swallows compulsively at the sudden dry lump in his throat. And, indeed, the burning cold steel is tight against his skin.
The pale moonlight is streaming into the room even through the drawn curtains, and the silhouette at the foot of his bed is outlined by a blue sheen. A mass of unidentifiable clothing, a gleaming sword, and - he must admit a certain lack of surprise - a wild mane of braids and trinkets that click and jingle faintly even in the still room.
"Sparrow" he spits out and reaches for the pistol under the other pillow. "What do you want from me this time, you contemptible creature"
"At this very moment, my dearest Commodore Norrington" the other man slurs, then sways, sword nevertheless pointed at James' throat"I want you to pull out that doubtlessly magnificent pistol - slowly, mind- and throw it to the foot of your just as magnificent bed." He motions vaguely with his left hand, and his cuff flaps like the wing of a bat. "And it's Captain Sparrow, if you don't mind."
He makes no move to reach for the pistol. "I do mind, actually. I mind a great deal." Arguing with a man holding sharp steel to your throat is entirely beyond arrogance or even the realm of reason, but the fury filling him makes him reckless. "I mind you breaking into my house in the dark of the night, I mind you threatening me, I mind your preposterous demand that I should relinquish my weapon, I mind your vile presence in my life"
He does not realise he is shouting until the last. It matters disturbingly little, his servants have the evening off and he is alone in the house. Save the shadow a sword's length from him.
Said shadow sways forward and the sword becomes an insistent pressure. "It is very, very bad luck, mate, to shout at the man threatening you with a sharp blade. Now, that pistol of yours"
Almost against his own volition his hand moves under the pillow and pulls out the weapon. A flick of his wrist and the useless thing lands on the sheet next to his foot. The movement brings him into yet closer contact with the sword, and he feels it pricking his skin. Or perhaps Sparrow just wants to ensure his compliance.
"Satisfied" he growls, falling back against the pillow and carefully suppressing the tremors running through his body.
"Oh, no, no, not at all" Sparrow replies expansively, and he can almost see the gold teeth reflect the moonlight. "On your feet, Commodore."
He clutches the sheet to his chest, his heart beating wildly. "What do you want"
"Stand. Up" and the voice is as flat as he's only heard it once before, when Sparrow was holding the chain around Elizabeth's throat.
He hesitates, and feels an incongruous blush tingle his ears. "It might have escaped your notice, but I am not dressed."
There is another jingle as the pirate huffs softly. "I doubt there is anything I haven't seen before, mate, and if there is, His Majesty's Navy's wasted on you." He makes a sharp motion with the sword, and rolls back half a step, giving James just enough room to sit up.
There is not much manoeuvring room for him now, and no former or current midshipman should be really burdened by anything approaching bodily modesty. He sits up; eyes trained on the sword, and swings his legs over the side of the bed. Sparrow motions impatiently with the blade, and he hastens to stand up, looking down defiantly at his subjugator. Fully aware of how thoroughly ridiculous he looks, naked and dishevelled and still a little dazed.
The sword twists in another rolling motion, so does the pistol. He had not noticed Sparrow taking it, he notes with dismay.
"Lucky for you, Commodore, I don't need to be seen paradin' naked men across town. This looks like a shirt and breeches on the chair."
His hands are steady when he buttons the shirt and pulls on his stockings and breeches, the familiar task of dressing and the sharp edge of danger both serving to calm and ground him. Once finished, he straightens up and looks straight at the pirate, wishing for more light than the moon provides.
"Across town? Just what are you planning to do with me, Sparrow? Don't you realise there are guards in the street and in the harbour? Or do you simply wish to leave my body in a public place"
"You'll be needin' that body yet, Commodore" the apparition says, and the pistol dips towards the chair again. "And your body will need shoes."
Dressing to the pirate's satisfaction he goes through the possibilities. Impressment? Hardly likely. Murder? Evidently not immediately, although the night is young. Abduction? Well, obviously, but to what end? A sword is long enough to duck under, but there is also the pistol. By all accounts his fencing skills should be sufficient, if only there was a blade within reach. Going outside, that should give him more options, there may be people to hear him. And without the damned brocade coat and vest he should certainly be fast enough… the blade stroking his chest interrupts his train of thought.
"Dashing" Sparrow comments absently, then his cuff rustles again. "The sheet, take that sheet."
Bemused, he does so and understanding begins to dawn as Sparrow gestures towards the balcony doors.
"It will tear."
"Not if you twist it" Sparrow replies tranquilly, and demonstrates the motion, wrists twirling vaguely.
Out on the balcony he can see his nemesis clearly, down to the grimy hands and the frayed sash. "What is it you intend" he asks again, and receives such an enigmatic grin in return that his fists clench around the sheet, which unfortunately still does not make it Sparrow's neck.
"Loop it through the railing and hand me one end" he is instructed, and does so, wondering if he can get close enough to grab the pistol. Probably not.
When the rope née sheet is guided through the railing and each of them holds a knotted end, Sparrow gestures again. "Off you go, then."
This must be what madness is. Irrevocable, absolute madness. "We are twelve feet above the ground, man! Are you mad"
"No, Commodore, but I am, in point of fact, holding a sword. And a very nice pistol."
That he cannot argue with. With a shrug, he clenches one hand even more tightly around the sheet, and puts the other one on the balustrade. Our Father which art in heaven-
Gathering a deep breath he swings his legs over the railing.
Hallowed be thy- The air rushes at him, and the sheet snaps tight, pulling the air from his lungs and wrenching at his shoulder.
-name, thy kingdom come- and he lets go.
He tries to roll as the ground hits him, but the blasted hibiscus gets him first, and he is covered in scratches already when he finally comes to a rest. His shoulder is on fire, his right ankle has twisted, and there is, quite incredibly, a sword pointing at him.
The bastard must have jumped the same moment he did, unless he can fly. James tries to breathe and to calm the staccato beat of his heart, and not to give in to the dozens of small and big aches his body is groaning under.
"The landing could use some work" the pirate says nonchalantly, and oh, how he wants to knock out those gleaming gold teeth. Instead he gets to his feet unsteadily, wincing as his ankle protests.
They walk through the garden and out of the gate, Sparrow's footsteps irregular behind him, the sword caressing the small of his back through the thin linen of his shirt. A deep scratch on his forearm is bleeding slowly, and he tries to keep the blood from staining the shirt. An entirely futile enterprise, of course, but it gives his thoughts a focussing point. The pistol is still cocked and pointed at his back, so running is not an option. He walks, cursing the dark and trying to keep the weight off his ankle, without much success.
About halfway down the hill, the sword becomes more insistent. "Turn right."
"There is a bush to the right" he points out calmly, determined not to go down without a fight.
"There is a path around it, just watch your step" comes the just as calm reply.
There is nothing for it. He forces his way through the prickly undergrowth, around the hill, away from the town.
V. Row, row, row your boat
He loses track of the time, feeling only his laboured breathing and the throbbing in his ankle. The moon is still high when the bushes part to reveal a beach, a miniature lagoon framed by steep black rock. The metal against his back does not disappear, so he walks on, towards the rocks just at the waves' reach.
He is not entirely surprised to see a tidy, small boat in the shadows, oars carefully laid out alongside.
"Go on then" Sparrow says behind him. "Into the water with her, and don't forget the oars."
He turns around then, for the first time during the surreal march. "Where do you mean to take me, Mister Sparrow"
"Captain, Captain Sparrow." The sword jabs him in the back, a mild warning. "And not that far from here, mate, don't you worry." Is that supposed to be reassuring"Hope your rowing isn't too rusty, though."
He closes his eyes briefly. Rowing a small boat, in the pitch dark, over unknown waters, with an armed pirate captor beside him. Just. Bloody. Marvellous.
"I'd be the first to admit it's sweet, Commodore, but we'd best hurry, the tide's going out" Sparrow says.
He frowns, involved despite himself. "Sweet"
"That little expression of yours, the God give me strength one."
"I make a point of not invoking our Lord's name in vain" he says primly, the little voice in his mind screaming Liar! notwithstanding.
The pirate just grins infuriatingly, then gestures towards the boat.
His shoulder and back protest angrily when he shoves the boat into the water, and more than once he loses a shoe to the wet sand, retrieving it with a muffled curse. Sparrow tosses the oars into the boat and walks to the water's edge, tripping over an unseen rock at the last moment and rocking the tiny vessel. "Oops"
James bites down on a sigh and a rather rude expression he picked up in Nassau a long time ago.
His rowing does prove quite rusty in the end, and the beach is still only a stone's throw away when his arms and shoulders are already aflame. Occasionally Sparrow mutters directions and he does his best to follow them, the fire in his muscles dimming his response. He could jump overboard, but it's dark and there's sharp rocks and even sharper sharks' teeth in these waters, and the pirate still has a cocked gun in his hand.
So he rows.
Off to his right he can see the lights of the town reflected on the water, but the tall cliffs have already swallowed most of them. The water splashes against the sides of the boat, the oars squeak in the oarlocks, and his arms hurt more with every stroke. The bloody pirate across from him is sprawled over half the boat, looking for all the world as if he was enjoying a cruise in the blue Caribbean sea. Which he is, come to think of it, is. Damn it all.
Finally, mercifully, Sparrow sits up, or rather adjusts his sprawling a small degree. "Careful now, there's rocks here."
A few more strokes and the bow does indeed scrape over sand and rocks. Sparrow jumps over one side, rocking the boat yet again and - much to James' surprise - extends a hand. "Here we are. Home sweet cliff."
Warily he grasps the proffered hand and lets the other pull him up, hissing at the ache that has now engulfed his entire upper body.
VI. The Black Pearl
They are on a small island, a bit of rock and sand, not much bigger than his house. There is black, endless water everywhere save to the east, where he can see the black mass and the occasional light of the land.
He sits down, then falls on his back, willing his arms to stop trembling. Sparrow is busy with the boat, dragging it out of the water, humming something under his breath. When he falls onto the sand next to James he smells of rum and, faintly, rotting fish.
"Sorry, mate" he says cheerfully, causing James' insides to clench in renewed rage. "You should really do this more often, y'know. You're out of practice."
A very small part of him that isn't screaming in pain agrees quietly. He speaks the first question to come to his mind in order to silence it. "Is there a purpose to this exercise, Mister Sparrow, or were you just keen to visit a remote rock in the middle of the night, abducting a naval officer to accompany you as your galley slave"
"Captain" the pirate corrects him in that same gallingly even tone. "Captain Sparrow."
"Once again, I don't see your ship, Captain."
"Look again, Commodore" Sparrow grins and gets to his feet.
He sits up, wincing in pain, and immediately wishes he hadn't. Barely a few hundred yards away from their island is the ship, her masts clad in new sails, her hull blacker than any real ship's has a right to be, her not-quite-galleon form sailing tall and proud.
James falls back onto the sand with a thump and closes his eyes.
There are footsteps on the sand, and eventually the squeak of oars and heavy splashes, then indistinct speech carrying over the water.
"Here now" a gruff voice says not far away from him"You've really gone and brought him, Jack. Are you mad"
Yes, he thinks, that he most certainly is. But apparently there are also sane pirates sailing on the Black Pearl. How comforting.
"Is he dead" the same voice bellows, now only a step away.
"Just resting" Sparrow calls from the direction of the water. "Bring him to the boats, Josh."
Something knocks against his shoe. "Up you get, sir."
He opens his eyes to find a vaguely familiar face enclosed by bushy sideburns peering down at him. One of the man's hands is outstretched, the other holds a cutlass.
He considers provoking them into killing him here and now. Surely whatever Sparrow is planning will not only be more painful, but also more humiliating than a quick death.
Grimacing as his muscles protest he takes the old pirate's hand and pulls himself up. Somewhere in his exhausted mind a memory resurfaces. "Mister… Gibbs"
"Aye" the sailor mutters roughly, and looks away for a moment. "Go on" and once again he is being directed with a sharp weapon.
Wearily he walks down to the water. A dinghy is now keeping company with Sparrow's boat, two men busily tying one to the other. Sparrow himself is standing off to the side, swaying faintly, pistol and sword still at large.
"No need to row this time around, Commodore" he says cheerfully, and points to the dinghy with a wide flourish. "Make yourself comfortable."
He climbs unsteadily into the boat and sits down haphazardly, not really caring where as long as his legs don't have to carry him any more.
"You made him row all the way to the bloody island" the incredulous whisper almost makes him groan, but he also feels something of a grim satisfaction. Any time spent in Sparrow's company makes him start to doubt his sanity. It is comforting to know that it is still Sparrow who is out of kilter, and not the world at large.
The boats are out on the water surprisingly swiftly, or maybe it is the exhaustion that makes him misjudge the progress of time. Gibbs and two pirates whose faces he hasn't yet clearly seen are in the dinghy with him, Sparrow is being towed in the boat behind them.
Two oarsmen make for good speed, and the hull of the great black ship looms over them within the shortest time. A ladder is lowered, and he climbs up agonisingly slowly, his body shaking from pain and fatigue. When he is finally on deck, surrounded by a half-circle of near-invisible pirates who leer at him in various stages of astonishment, fear and hatred, he can barely bring himself to pay attention to the bloodthirsty mob. He must be a sight, he thinks grimly, as dirty and scruffy as they are, without a shred of dignity to his posture.
Sparrow alights on the deck beside him, distinguishable from the other pirates only by his mane and the gaudy movements. "Take him to my cabin, Josh" he says turning to help the last pirate climbing the ladder aboard.
James tries to pay attention to the way, but in the dark everything looks the same, and utterly alien. Were it not for the gentle, familiar rocking beneath his feet he could easily believe himself caught in a nightmare. Yet the sea, no matter how treacherous at times, can never truly disguise itself, and the motion serves to ground him in reality.
Eventually Gibbs ushers him into the cabin, large and surprisingly bare. There is a heavy table and chairs, some chests, shelves and candles, and a screen off to either side.
Left alone and hearing the click of the door lock he tries to rouse himself to investigate the space, to devise an escape plan, to move, to think. However, the closest chair looks entirely too tempting, and he sinks onto it and pillows his sore head on his crossed arms.
Even abducted, surrounded by ferocious criminals, uncertain of his fate and aching with every fibre of his body, the waves rock him into sleep.