Title: Courtyard Pirates

Summary: All his life, pirates had haunted him. As a boy, he longed to be one. As a young officer, he had been marked and tainted by one. And as a man, he had lost everything he ever had to one. They ruled over him, inescapably and eternally.

When I turned four years old, my older brothers decided that I was now no longer an infant and could join them in their courtyard games. I had watched them ever since I could remember, trapped indoors by a recurring lung condition and an overzealous nanny. However, when the seasons changed and I could breathe easier, I had begged her to let me play with them, their game of pirates and sailors.

So I finally joined them, on my birthday, stepping outside the doors that had separated me from their adventures for so long and becoming a part of the fun. Since I was the youngest, they always made me the evil one, the sailor, the Navy captain, the man who caught the pirates and ended their game. And while I cherished being able to play with them, I still longed too be able to be a part of their secret world, to be a pirate and not the cursed officer.

In this game, it seemed, the pirates always won, no matter what.

Years passed, and the game of the courtyard was forgotten, filed away with other memories and truths of our youth, only recalled when summoned. My pirate brothers grew older, and one by one left, and returned, from boarding school, one their way to becoming the men that our father had always intended us to be.

When my oldest brother returned from his time at school, I was the only one still at home, too young to follow my siblings into a greater and larger world. I remember watching him come through the courtyard doors, tall and imposing, a young man of sixteen. Back through those courtyard doors that still denied me a world that only my brothers knew.

"Richard!" I cried, still young, still naive.

My brother smiled at me, but did not embrace me as I thought he would. Instead, he simply extended his hand to me, waiting for my own hand to meet his.

"How are you, James?" he asked, courteous and proper.

Instantly, I changed my demeanor to match his, but still hoping that it was still an act, just a joke my brother was playing on me. "Quite well, thank you," I answered.

"And have you been preparing for school? What occupation have you been looking to?"

Something had changed my brother, changed him in a way that I couldn't completely identify. The outside world had changed him into something else, someone else, a man who was not my brother. "An officer of the Navy," I lied, unsure if I could tell him the truth.

At this Richard smiled, but the smile didn't seem to make it past his mouth, leaving his eyes cold and frighteningly distant. "An excellent profession, James. Father must be pleased." With that, he ruffled my hair and left, on to greet my mother and father who were waiting for him in the drawing room.

Father must be pleased... The truth was, I hadn't told my father that I wanted to be an officer in the Royal Navy. I hadn't really decided on anything at all, honestly. In fact, every time I had thought of that distant future beyond the doors of the courtyard, I had always, for some incredible reason, imagined myself as a pirate, a vagabond of the seas.

It seemed that I would never have the chance to be a pirate now, either in the games of my escaping childhood or in the future that approached faster than ever.

It was on my eighth voyage across the Atlantic that my ship took on the new governor of Jamaica and his precocious young daughter. I was wary at first, because my Captain had assigned me to the pair, making me the official liaison between the future Governor and his companion. In all reality, the Captain could not stand young children, especially girls, so he had passed the duty on to me quite happily.

I didn't really mind children; that is to say, I had had no real interaction with them, being the youngest of my family and having no younger cousins or relatives. I had always thought that children would be quiet and shy being on a ship full of Navy men, especially a young woman such as she.

Elizabeth Swann, however, proved me completely and entirely wrong.

She was incredibly loquacious, prone to initiating a conversation between her and anyone who made (even accidental) eye contact. She also was not afraid of the spray of the ocean, nor of the evening fogs and downpours of rain. And she was also completely, entirely, obsessed with the subject of pirates.

Now I understood why the Captain had assigned me such a duty.

One evening I found myself in the officers' dining quarters alone, and thankfully so. The day had been a long and uneventful one at sea, and I was tiring quickly of the girl's presence onboard the vessel. I had just sat down to my meal when another lone figure entered, considerably shorter and slimmer than any of the other officers onboard.

I groaned inwardly as Elizabeth Swann entered, her customary book tucked under her arm, her eyes lighting up as she spotted me and sat down across from my seat.

"Good evening, Miss Swann," I stated, giving her a curt nod as she sat down, eager to finish my soup and escape another night of endless chattering and noise.

"Hello, Lieutenant Norrington!" she exclaimed, smiling. "How is your meal?"

I met her eyes and offered a wry grin. "Simply delicious as always, Miss Swann."

"Elizabeth," she corrected, even as she looked away, down to the pages of her opened book.

"Elizabeth," I acknowledged, smiling despite myself.

A long, silent moment passed before either of us spoke again. "Lieutenant Norrington," she began, breaking her concentration from the novel, "have you ever encountered pirates before?" Her eyes were gleaming as she gazed at me, brilliant with excitement.

I sighed, and pushed my bowl of soup away. There was no escaping her now, I supposed. "Yes, I have met pirates before, Miss Elizabeth."

"Really? Did you fight them?"

I chuckled at her excitement, and, unbidden, memories of a lush and green courtyard long ago rose in my mind, as I remembered a time when I was so eager about the subject of pirates and their escapades.

"Yes, I have fought them, Miss Elizabeth. This ship has been involved in many battles with pirate organizations. Usually our duties are to protect merchant and passenger ships."

She was leaning forward now, absorbed in my every word, and it was hard for me not to laugh. "How long have you been fighting pirates, Lieutenant?"

I chuckled, despite my efforts. "Since I joined the Navy, Miss Elizabeth."

"You must have been very young."

I smiled, slightly. "About the same age as you, Miss Elizabeth."

Her eyes reflected everything, all the awe and wonder in the world. "It must have been amazing, to be able to meet pirates like that," she said, blushing as she met my eyes, "I'd give anything to be able to meet a pirate."

At this, my gentle grin grew sad, as I rubbed my right arm lightly, tracing the long scar that ran the entire length of my arm, a remnant from my first encounter with a thief of the sea. An encounter that had almost cost me my arm, and my career as an officer of the King's Royal Navy. I considered, for a moment, whether to tell her this, to tell her of the criminal and brutal nature of the pirates of the Caribbean waters; however, when I looked once more into her revealing eyes, I saw within them the same look that had once occupied my own eyes, so long ago. And I knew that I could not alter that young and innocent worship of pirates, no matter what.

"Lieutenant?" she started, uncertainly, "are you well?"

I broke away from my sentimental reminiscing, and repaired the crumbling walls of my smile. "Of course, Miss Elizabeth. And I'm very certain that you will be able to meet a pirate someday."

Her eyes shone even brighter, as she clutched her book to her chest. "Truly?"

"Truly," I said, even as I rose from the table, preparing to leave. "Thank you for your company, Miss Elizabeth."

She smiled brightly as I headed out the door. "The pleasure was entirely mine, Lieutenant Norrington."

And as I left the sounds and smells of a courtyard a thousand kilometres away resonated throughout me, as I thought of the pirates of England and of the young boy I once was.

It seemed that I would never be of pirates, or that they would never be free of me. We were intertwined, them and I, locked in a constant battle on the battlefield of my life. As a child, their alluring and mysterious nature was denied to me, a tantalizing thing that I could not obtain, no matter what my efforts. As a young officer they had scarred my very flesh, leaving my skin tainted with the red mark of a sword's blade.

And as man, they had taken from me the woman I loved, the one true thing I had ever cared for so completely and utterly. As a man, they had destroyed my career, sank my ship, and killed my men and my friends.

In all honesty and complete truthfulness, it was I who had done those things, who had pushed myself to those limits and those extents, until all manner of reason had disappeared and the only thing that had kept my crew at my side was their sheer devotion to their commander, to their captain. It was this devotion that killed them, as I murdered each and every one of them, ordering them into their watery graves, clutched by the iron tendrils of a hurricane.

I have lost everything.

I resigned my commission today; I felt it was the right thing, as I knew that a court martial could not be far off. The Navy did not appreciate the loss of their flagship and the loss of all hands (save one) because of human error. I decided that it would be more quiet and more honourable, for what little scraps of honour I had left, to resign and fade away into oblivion.

It is ironic, then, that I find myself here, among the scoundrels and buccaneer that have so often troubled and ruined my life. I loathe them, hate them, with every fibre of my being, with every inch of my soul. And yet, it seems, I am doomed to become one.

The barmaid hasbrought me a bottle of rum, dusty and dirty in the pale light of the pub. There are men brawling in every corner, as women with faces hidden with their cosmetic masks dart between them, squealing and sighing and leaning low, allowing many glimpses of their ivory cleavage to be seem by the inebriated men all around them. It smells here, of dirt and money and sex; it reeks of every vice known to man. I can feel it pulsing, crawling around me, brushing against me with every passing touch of a whore as she tries to persuade me.

I can feel it grasp me and take me into its all-consuming hold, as I lift the bottle I have stared at for the entire evening, letting the bitter brown liquid drain into my throat. The pirates always win, it seemed, in the battle over my life. And it seemed now that if I could not defeat them, that I might as well become a part of them.

I hear a woman giggle behind me, and I empty my very first bottle of dirty rum.