Title: As if in storm lurked calm and peace 2?
Rating: PG for this chapter
Pairing: Sparrington per-slash
Disclaimer: Disney owns the characters and pretty much everything else. More's the pity.
A/N: Inspired by the wonderful stories of firesignwriter, oneiriad, vivagloria and all those other great writers out there. When I grow up, I want to write like you guys.
I've taken insane liberties with geography and history in this story. Boy, have I taken liberties. But considering that Disney did the very same thing, I refuse to feel guilty. This is a fantasy universe, after all.
VII. What words may come
He is lost in the whirlwind of the battle, the heady rush of the blood pumping through his body, his being is focused on the blade in his hand, and yet the horror threatens to overwhelm him. He, who has never looked away from an enemy's face, never shirked a battle, never sent his men ahead of him.
Although he does still flinch at explosions.
Never has he felt this grey, paralysing fear before, but he has never faced anything but men of flesh and blood in battle. His own blood runs cold and pools in the pit of his stomach, the faces of his men around him masks of stark horror.
Skeletal hands covered in rotting flesh are reaching for him. He can smell decay as he flies through the familiar dance of fight and death. Yet there is waking, walking death all around him and the nightmare has become real. He thrusts, ducks under a cutlass, parries a machete, and suddenly sees Gillette's wide eyes and white face.
They cannot be killed! Merciful God, they cannot be killed!
A hand clutches his shoulder.
He starts awake with a hoarse scream that turns into a yelp of pain as his stiff muscles protest harshly. His heart is threatening to burst from his chest, and he is shaking, willing the images to recede.
It takes him a moment to realise that there is, indeed, a hand on his shoulder. He looks up and scowls.
"Sparrow, why have you brought me here? What is the purpose of this farce"
The pirate's eyebrows fly up as he stills for a moment, then draws back and raises a limp hand. "Well, I'm glad you are finding comic value in this situation, I was afraid I would be the only one. Of course, not afraid as such, per se, but it occurred to me that you would find the situation not as amusing as, say, some other people would have. Do. Am. In fact…"
"Captain." Sparrow's hand illustrates the point, looking oddly like it is missing a teacher's cane. "Captain Sparrow." Something shifts in the pirate's limber posture, and James feels a tingle of cold race up his spine.
"My apologies" he says curtly, at once all too aware of the vulnerability of his position.
Sparrow makes that little odd bow of his, hands clasped together. "Now" he beams, gold glittering in the candlelight"I have a question for ye, Commodore."
He leans back in the chair, face very carefully neutral, lips pursed. "Indeed"
The pirate hums assent and sits down across from him, his smaller shape immediately sprawling over the chair, making it appear as if his body has less bones than an average man's. Putting one elbow on the table, he props his chin on it, fingers toying idly with the braids in his beard.
He's being played with. That cheeky bastard actually has the gall to tease him. He glares at the infuriating man. "Well, are you going to enlighten me as to what the question might conceivably be, Captain? If this is to be a staring match, I assure you that I am quite able, and, indeed, quite likely, to fall asleep in this chair as I wait for you to come to your senses."
Sparrow smiles, the expression quirking his lips but not quite reaching the kohl-rimmed eyes. "Funny you should mention that." His quick fingers are still playing with his beard, tugging at the tiny beads in the black hair. "The question is thus: were you, as an officer and gentleman, to give your word to me, as a pirate and… well, a pirate, would you feel compelled to keep it"
He feels hot blood rush into his face. "Are you casting aspersions on my honour, pirate"
"Well" Sparrow says, and against all odds he seems focussed to the point of sitting still"not as such, no. What I am asking you, Commodore, is whether me being, shall we say, not quite a gentlemen of breeding and station, will influence your decision as to keeping your word."
The fury flooding him is too hot to express in words. "My word" he bites out with difficulty"is my word. Once given, it stands unless I am to be released from my promise. What does it matter if my word is given to a king, a pauper or a common criminal"
"Ah, yes" Sparrow says calmly, apparently not in the least affected by the insult. "So pirate or not, if you gave me your word you would stand by it"
"If I had my sword now" James growls"you would pay quite dearly for your words. How I wish you were gentleman enough for me to challenge you where you stand"
"Sit. Where I sit. I'm not standing" the pirate corrects, then stands up. "Well, now I am. Anyway. What I find really interesting is that you" and a dark, grimy finger is pointing at James' nose"value your word and subsequently your honour enough to want to demand - hah - satisfaction over an imagined slight, yet in the same breath feel no compunctions to insult me very own self. Why is that, I wonder"
"You abducted me under duress, almost killed me on the blasted balcony, made me row you to that rock in the dark, are now keeping me prisoner and threatening me with yet more violence! Is that not reason enough for me to feel incensed by your mere presence, never mind your wicked insinuations"
"Ah. But, and forgive me for saying that, Commodore- what is your name, by the by"
James frowns. "What"
"Your Christian name, man. Surely even you have one"
His fists clench. "What possible difference could it make"
He receives a flat, unreadable look. "Well. As I was saying, Mister Norrington, the vile insinuations started a long time ago. Namely when you first laid eyes on me, before you even knew who I was. Or what I was. How is that for honourable"
"You were tearing Miss Swann's gown off"
"Her corset. When she wasn't breathing. On account of having fallen into the bloody ocean. While you were standing right next to her." Sparrow's dark eyes narrow. "The point is, mate: you, as a man of honour, were about to have me shot before you even knew my name, just after I fished your ladylove out of the deep, blue sea. And then you ask why I would possibly, just possibly, doubt your intentions"
James opens his mouth, a heated reply straining from his lips, but suddenly feels the wind of self-righteousness taken from his sails. He sighs, abruptly fatigued almost beyond human endurance. "I apologise for my actions that day. You are right. I did not behave… honourably."
Sparrow chuckles, a dry, deep sound. "Methinks, my dear Commodore, you'd spend a lot less time cursing yourself for apologising to me if you were to curse me a little less in the first place."
Pirate or not, that is a valid point. He says the one thing that comes to his exhausted mind. "James."
Sparrow raises his eyebrows. "Beg pardon"
"My name. It's James."
Sparrow is still for a frozen moment, then bows his head, smiling slightly, but somehow less sharply than he had been before. "I accept your apology... James."
Well, he should have seen that one coming. He closes his eyes. His shoulders have developed new aches, sharp and coiled.
Sparrow's voice, unexpectedly close, startles him. "About that word of yours."
"We have been merely discussing a hypothetical situation, as I recall" James says tiredly.
"Indeed, certainly, yes, so we were" Sparrow throws himself back into the chair. "Another hypothetical situation for ye, then. Suppose you were to give me your right honourable word, as an officer and a gentleman, that you would not try to escape from my Pearl, nor harm me or any of my men - and women - nor to disable my ship."
James stares, barely able to make sense of the situation. "Why would I do that"
"Because the cot in my sleeping cabin is a great deal more comfortable than the floor in the brig, James."
"Aye" Sparrow tosses his head back and grimaces in exasperation. "Unless you actually enjoy bare floors and expatriate Navy rats."
James shakes his head, hoping to clear some of the grey nothingness that is intruding on his thoughts. "I don't…"
"Look" Sparrow says and leans forward, hands uncurling to illustrate. "Look. Do you, James Norrington, Commodore of the Jamaican fleet and scourge of pirates everywhere, give me your word that you will not try to escape, harm me, my ship or my crew, or do anything else that might endanger yourself or us, for the next, oh, twelve hours? If you do, I shall give you my word as a dishonest scallywag and a pirate, that you will not be mistreated- that you will be treated as a guest, and not as a prisoner for the duration of those twelve hours."
The grey is encroaching into the corners of the room now, and Sparrow seems to be moving away while still sitting in the same place. "Why do you…"
"For now, because I need you alive, hale, and reasonably sane tomorrow. For a given value of sane. In fact…"
James speaks quickly, to stem the tide of words. "Yes. You have my word. Twelve hours. Not a minute longer." He will deal with his conscience after he has had some sleep. Lord, he can deal with anything after he has had some sleep.
"Excellent! Splendid" Sparrow jumps to his feet, and, once again, extends a hand.
Beyond one of the screens is a sleeping cabin, or at least a space filled with sparse furniture he does not have the strength to pay attention to, and a large cot.
A cot with pillows, white sheets, and a blanket.
He thinks he hears a voice, and somebody is tugging his left shoe off, but the pillow is so blessedly, sweetly soft and warm that he does not open his eyes again.
His second awakening on board the Black Pearl is marked by a notable absence of nightmares, histrionics, dramatic pirates or even self-recriminations. He owes it to the Crown to be in full possession of his faculties, he tells himself firmly, and if a twelve hours' truce with a pirate is essential for his health and sanity, so be it.
With the sunlight bursting into the cabin even through the all but opaque windows, it is bright enough for him to take in all details of his surroundings. Apart from the magnificently comfortable cot he is lying on there are cupboards in the same dark wood as the walls, a cannon with something that looks like a Persian rug thrown over it, a small pedestal desk topped by cabinets, and a dressing table with a miniature mirror on it.
In short, he is surprised to recognise, it is very much like his own cabin aboard the Dauntless, aside from the decadent opulence of the rug and the soft bedding.
Carefully he sits up, grimacing as spiky aches spread through his arms and back. He will make Sparrow pay for making him row that blasted boat, he swears darkly.
A second look around the cabin makes him pause, and he stands up to ascertain that his eyes are not deceiving him. Indeed, there really are washing utensils and a razor on the dressing table.
He frowns. Surely even the worst pirate would not leave him a sharp blade? But then, he supposes it matters little on a ship where all crewmen are armed to the teeth.
A dim memory from the previous night comes to him. Did Sparrow really imply there were women on board? He shakes his head at the irrelevancy of the issue. Male or female, pirates are still pirates.
Unless they are risking life and limb to save individuals they barely know for apparently naught but altruistic reasons.
Shaking his head to dislodge unpleasant thoughts, he notices white linen piled up on the side of the desk. A clean shirt, sleeves a bit too short for him, but the fabric and needlework finer than any he has seen in his own closet. He sighs. How very thoughtful of them, to provide him with garments quite obviously stolen. And yet, if the choice is between principles and a tidy appearance, principles will have to take a short walk and come back when he is dressed.
He strips quickly and scrubs himself down, enjoying the hot water and soap against his skin; feeling faint annoyance at sleeping soundly through the intrusion of whoever brought the water.
Shaved and dressed in the fine shirt he looks critically into the small mirror. Without his wig, or even a waistcoat, he feels undressed, barbaric and uncivilised. His left stocking is torn and stained with tar and saltwater, as are his breeches. His short hair is damp and unkempt and looks very exposed.
Bloody Sparrow and his insane plans. It is almost worse than being entirely naked, this odd state or wearing only his undergarments.
Of course, there is no way around it. Straightening his shoulders and clasping his hands behind his back he walks around the screen into the day cabin.
To his vague surprise - he expected the room to be full of gaudy pirate - it is empty, although there is an open inkpot and pens on the table, and a disorderly pile of good paper spread over an entire side of it.
He hesitates in front of the stateroom doors, then opens them with a resolute twist of his hand, squinting in the harsh sunlight.
The quarterdeck is all but deserted, with two pirates either scrubbing the deck or having a heated argument involving mops; it is hard to tell.
As he walks to the side, he pinpoints the vague feeling of wrongness that has been accompanying him since he woke: the Pearl is not moving. An overdue glance up confirms that the sails are furled.
He only sees the beach when he is close enough to touch the gunwale. It appears to be another tiny island, barely enough room for a handful of palms and some seagull-infested cliffs. The Pearl is anchored just outside a miniature lagoon so blue it seems painted onto the landscape. Brightly coloured shapes move in the palm tangle, but without his spyglass he cannot make out the particulars of what the pirates are doing.
A thud makes him whirl around and his hand flies to his belt, where Turner's sword is not. He covers up the lapse by straightening his back and pursing his lips.
Sparrow seems to have either literally fallen out of the sky to land on the deck behind him, or jumped from the rigging overhead. He is dressed in his usual assortment of mismatched and ragged apparel, but his long braids are sopping wet and the kohl around his eyes even more smudged than usual.
James can't stop his eyebrows and tone from rising incredulously. "You went swimming"
The pirate grins and pulls a fistful of hair behind his back, where rivulets of water run into the collar of his shirt. "And good morning to you, Commodore. Sleep well"
With a hot little flash of embarrassment he remembers that he slept on Sparrow's own cot, leaving the pirate to spend the night elsewhere, and most likely a great deal less comfortably. "Thank you for your hospitality, Captain. While the method of transportation and my reason for being here still cause me not inconsiderable consternation and distress, the accommodation itself was excellent."
Sparrow doesn't answer immediately, but takes hold of a rope instead, and lightly swings himself up to sprawl on the gunwale. James finds himself faintly annoyed at having to look up instead of down, and even more annoyed at the realisation that Sparrow is playing him like a fiddle. Almost automatically moving into parade rest, he contemplates the furled grey sail over his head.
Unexpectedly Sparrow chuckles. "You never asked about the time."
James doesn't look away from the sail. "I beg your pardon"
"We agreed on twelve hours, you will without a doubt remember. You haven't asked if they're over yet."
The sails are very obviously new, he can tell even without remembering the rag-like ones she had when sailing under Barbossa. He had wondered how she was sailing at all, then, whether the curse had affected the ship as much as the crew.
Sparrow's breathing briefly hitches in something like a silent chortle. "Oh, very well, Commodore. Commendable, really." He pauses, and James can hear the grin in his voice when he says"Just under two hours left."
He turns at last, and looks up at the pirate. "I gave you my word that I would not try to escape or otherwise give you reason to break your half of the agreement. And I also recall you saying that you needed me alive and sane today. For what purpose"
Sparrow brings one knee up and wraps an arm around it. "The French."
The now familiar feeling of the world careening when Sparrow is about assaults him afresh. "The French."
"Ghastly people." Sparrow lets go of the rigging momentarily to wave his hand in emphasis. "Loud women, hideous language. Food's too rich, too." He pauses, head tilting. "And there's the war, of course."
"The war has not escaped my notice, Mister Sparrow" James says dryly, and sighs"Captain Sparrow."
The man in question smiles briefly then slips down to the deck, giving him a disconcertingly thorough look. "Let's get you out of the sun, mate. You'll burn."
While doubtlessly true, the observation is irritatingly personal. Scowling, he follows Sparrow back to the stateroom, hands still cupped behind his back, wishing for at least a waistcoat to cover himself with.
Sparrow sweeps the pens and papers to one side and caps the inkpot, then pauses in mid-movement. "Tea" He turns around, raising his eyebrows. "Or do you prefer cocoa"
James frowns. "You have cocoa here"
"Not exceedingly hard to find in the West Indies, that" Sparrow says absently, rummaging around in a drawer, then pulls out a stack of maps. "But seeing as we've offended your fine English sensibilities enough, you can have some tea."
"Not all Englishmen drink tea" James says primly, then adds, surprising himself"my father does not care for it."
"Aye" Sparrow looks up from the drawer, eyes crinkled in a smile that looks somehow warmer than his rakish grins. "Proper European admirer of coffee, then"
"A distinguished admirer of brandy, for certain" he replies, and pushes the images he has thus evoked into the deepest corner of his mind. Sparrow has taken enough from him already, he won't have his dignity as well.
He is somewhere between gratified and surprised when Sparrow makes no comment, but instead walks back to the doors and converses with somebody outside.
The maps catch his attention and he unrolls the topmost one, admiring the cartographer's skill and talent. Unlike the stark and severe Navy charts, this one has a richly decorated border running alongside the edge of the parchment. It features tiny mermaids, conches and a number of sea monsters, each detail drawn with amazing realism. He is still running his fingertips along the elaborate embellishments when Sparrow returns and comes to stand next to him.
He can't help but comment. "These charts are exceptional."
Sparrow makes a low humming noise that he takes to be assent, and unrolls another map, using the inkpot to hold down one side, his be-ringed hand on the other. James notices absently that most of the previous night's grime has come off, and that the lace of the pirate's shirt cuffs is as clean and neat as his own would be.
He forces himself to concentrate on the ink and paint landscape on the table. It is a very detailed depiction of the north-eastern Venezuelan coast, as well as Trinidad and the smaller islands around it.
"Tobago" Sparrow says, and points to the island in question.
James nods. "So it is."
Sparrow's finger wanders north. "Grenada."
North-east now. "Barbados."
Sparrow hums something off-key and points to a spot south of Barbados. "Business interest."
James is reasonably certain the place does not exist on official British naval charts. "Oh"
Sparrow frowns, bends low over the map, and scrapes a fingernail over the spot. It comes off.
James closes his eyes for a moment, and rubs his forehead.
Sparrow croons triumphantly, and points to another speck, a seemingly more permanent one. "Here 'tis."
"A… business interest" James says slowly. "I was unaware your interests ran to smuggling, Captain."
"They don't" Sparrow answers matter-of-factly. "No excitement in it." He frowns at the chart. "I have a rather strong interest in that island, on the other hand."
"Aye. Of course, there's the bloody French."
James' eyes wander south to Grenada and Trinidad. "Indeed. Right on your doorstep, as it were. I can see your problem."
Sparrow makes that odd humming noise again. "Have to keep south, and there's forts and ships at Trinidad. Grenada's even worse." He pauses, finger moving south to where James is looking. "Been around Trinidad a fair few times, o'course."
"I'm sure the French patrols were pleased."
A derisive snort. "Next to my Pearl, the French are all but dead in the water."
It's James' turn to snort. "She is fast, I grant you, but not that fast."
"Fast enough. In fact…"
There is a loud rap on the doors, and Sparrow pivots mid-word and swaggers over to let in an old sailor with a tea tray in his hands. A colourful parrot on the man's shoulder seems to be eyeing the sugar bowl.
"Thank ye, Mister Cotton" Sparrow says, and glares at the parrot. The bird spreads its wings and settles down, tilting its head to the side. Its owner grins silently, and walks out, closing the doors behind him.
As Sparrow pours, James considers the tea set. The pot and cups are fine Chinese porcelain, even if the milk jug and sugar bowl are bulky pottery. He resolutely does not wonder how the pirate came by the cup he is to drink from.
The tea is fine and strong, and the milk is surprisingly fresh. He sips it still scalding hot, watching Sparrow make room on the table for tea and charts alike.
The urgent sense of danger has receded, and he does not think only their temporary truce and easy conversation are to blame. Whatever Sparrow is planning, he thinks, is unlikely to involve James' demise. He might be intended to be used as a hostage, or simply leverage, but now that sleep and strong tea have cleared his head, he feels a great deal more in control of the situation. Whatever happens, in the end he will see Sparrow back behind bars.
The thought brings him up short. Behind bars to what end? He has killed enough men in his time, but a soldier's life being what it is; all of them were men he never knew. Is that Sparrow's intention, to ingratiate himself with James and thus ensure his survival?
Somehow, even having barely spoken to the man, he still doubts that explanation.
A good man, the Turner boy had insisted. He still cannot see how a man whose life consists of doing others harm can be good, but neither can he see the vital presence sipping tea next to him as a broken thing on the gallows.
Damnation. He has always thought himself fair and objective. Yet another thing Sparrow has robbed him of.
Sparrow walks around the table, somehow avoiding to drip on anything other than the floor, and sits down across from where James is standing, teacup placed squarely in front of him. "Take a seat, Commodore" he drawls. "This may take a while."
James sits down stiffly, back so straight it does not touch the back of the chair. His cup makes a sharp, light sound when he puts it down on the table.
"Where was I" Sparrow muses, stroking his lower lip with a dark finger. His eyes look unfocussed for a moment, then he leans forward abruptly, a ferocious gleam in his eyes. "Ah. Tobago."
James looks down on the map almost involuntarily. The small island is still there, shadowed by the bulk of Trinidad. "The French supposedly were not entirely successful in flushing your brethren out of the region" he says derisively, and for a moment wonders if his contempt is aimed at pirates or at the French.
Sparrow nods, sending droplets of water flying. "Like I said, Commodore. Business interest." He taps a stained fingernail against the map. "Tobago is barely defended, and with the war on they can't spare enough ships to guard it as they used to. The bulk of the fleet is around Grenada, I should think."
James remembers many similar discussions in Governor Swann's office. "Are you planning a private war now? I believe attacking the French single-handedly is a task beyond even the legendary Captain Jack Sparrow."
"Ah" the legend under consideration looks at James and smiles very slowly. "But I'm not going to do it single-handedly, am I? You, Commodore, are going to help."