The blank face of the clock hung suspended in midair like a pendulum. Only hours before the orb had been hoisted into the exact same position, prompting Cutler Beckett to taunt young William Turner on the time he had, or rather lack therefore, to find a place in the world. Beckett had been displeased however, with the place that the workmen had decided to install the colossal timepiece the first time around. Now it dangled before him again, awaiting a final destination and mocking him in return. Mr. Turner was not the only one pressed for time. The hourglass of fate was descending on all of them. A wry smile slowly creeped on to Beckett's face as his mirror image stared back at him through the glass. Perhaps before it was too late he should thank the man who had made him what he was.

Jack

Cutler was ten years old the first time he had met Jack Sparrow. He miserably trudged after his father through the rank streets of Calcutta, sweat streaming down his back beneath the fine brocade coat that was an exact replica of his father's, but slipped too far off his own narrow shoulders. Everything he wore now seemed out of place in the Indies, either too fine or else simply too cumbersome. Wool encumbered and silk wilted. Earlier that morning a servant had tamed his russet hair into a smart queue but the ever damp climate soon rendered the ribbon useless and unruly curls emerged.

Why his father insisted on walking when they had a perfectly good carriage and team of bays he would never know, but by the time they arrived at the meeting house he was exhausted from keeping pace with Lord Edward Beckett's long strides. His father simply glared, a look that was both a warning and a threat, an all too clear message that told Cutler that he had best behave himself. The only salvation that Cutler found at all was the presence of another boy who looked to be about his age. When his father was not looking, he slyly waved to the boy, then slipped out of the room and down to the docks; much to his delight, the boy followed.

-

"What's your name?" Cutler asked, barely disguising how pleased he was that he no longer had to sit still as stone in a hot room full of boring men.

"Jack," the other boy mumbled, staring down at his scuffed shoes.

"Jack, that's it?"

"Jack Sparrow."

"I'm very pleased to meet you, Jack Sparrow. I am Cutler Beckett, my father…"

"Yeah, I know," Jack interjected, "Your old man runs this whole thing." The dark haired boy ran his eyes over Cutler, lingering on his coat and the silver buckles on his shoes. Jack's waist coat was simple cotton and adorn with plain brass buttons that were already tarnished. Up close, Jack was older than first appeared, though not more than few years older than Cutler was. Any hopes of a playmate were quickly fading.

Then without any warning, Jack snatched the black hat from Cutler's hands and darted down to the docks, weaving in and out of the throngs of slaves and merchants. Jack stood poised on the wharf's edge, arm outreached with the hat dangling dangerously over the water. His eyes had a strange glint, a malicious look that Cutler did not yet know.

"Give it back," he asked softly, utterly unaware that civility would get him no where. Through the steady stream of tutors and governess' that he'd had, Cutler had never managed to learn to think or act for himself. It was unheard of. Unbeknownst to him, this was the first of the many things that Jack would eventually teach him.

"Come and get it."

Even then, the difference between their heights was stark, though Cutler assumed that he would someday be as tall as his father. It only made sense. He could not help it that the boy was taller and fetching the hat back was impossible. However, Cutler had been pragmatic from the moment he had been born and only paused for a second before striking Jack in the stomach with his foot, sending both him and the hat into the murky brown water of the bay. Jack smiled when he resurfaced, but the commotion brought both Lord Beckett and Captain Teague, Jack's father, from the meeting house.

Jack may have received a long-winded lecture from his father- he would never truly know- but Cutler was strapped black and blue by his father's belt, the metal buckle tearing into his left shoulder. Edward never needed much of an incentive to beat his son senseless, and this was neither the first nor last thrashing that Cutler would receive.

-

"You stay away from him, Cutler Beckett."

His father growled, pacing back and forth across the floor of his study, brandy in hand. Edward's son sat stiffly in a padded chair, though clearly the red velvet plush was all for decoration because it felt as if it had been stuffed with marble. His body hurt from the belt, the pain ranging from a dull ache to a burn where the buckle had bitten. Cutler stared down at his hands, unable to meet his father's eyes, though he was entirely sure that he didn't want to even if he could. He hadn't shoved Jack into the water to be mean; didn't his father understand that?

"Do you hear me, boy?"

"Yes," his voice was devoid of emotion, but only because he'd already exhausted himself with crying, and barely audible.

"Honestly, the audacity of the man, bringing his filthy spawn with him, to a Company meeting no less! Now you hear me well, Cutler. Someday, God willing, all of this will be yours to manage and there is nothing more irritating than insubordinate captains. Captain Sparrow will be hanging from the gallows before my time on this earth is done, and that mangy son of his will follow. Sparrow hates me, so whatever ideas you may have about friendship with his son must end now. They're not even the same as us; that boy looks like a pariah dog that someone left out in the rain. I mistrust their lean and hungry look, and so should you." He paused is lecture, as if remembering for the first time that he was speaking to his son and fatherly concern must come in somewhere. "Now go to bed."

-

Jack simply did not disappear because Edward Beckett willed it however; he would be standing on corners, be the messenger boy from some other lord, the groom who curried down the horses; Jack Sparrow was everywhere in India and there was nothing Cutler could do about that. He turned his head every time a dark haired boy passed him on the street, and after a while, he began to think that Jack was following him. Unfortunately, Edward thought so too.

"Have you seen that boy?"

"What boy?" Cutler replied, hardly daring to breathe. He prodded his egg with a spoon until the yolk seeped all over the fine, white china plate and suddenly it was the most fascinating thing in the world compared to answering his father.

"You know whom I'm talking about, Captain Sparrow's son. Have you seen him."

"No."

"What?"

"No, father."

"Good." Edward leaned back in his chair; eyes red rimmed from the night before. All the brandy and port he drank did not seem to be taking its toll yet. Cutler often wondered when exactly that was going to be. For the next three years, Jack trailed him and his father questioned him.

-

One hot summer day in July, while his father was napping and Cutler was supposed to be practicing the violin, Jack suddenly reappeared. He was sitting in the shade tree outside of the dining room and slinging nuts at the window, all the while grinning like a loon. Cutler laid aside his bow and poked his head out the window, pretending to look cross.

"You're bothering me. I am trying to practice my music."

"You were terrible to begin with," Jack retorted, and slid out of the tree. "It's hot, let's go swimming."

For a reason that he would never understand, other than perhaps fate, Cutler said yes.

-

The pale green water was more welcoming than it looked, but he hung back and watched Jack strip off his clothing instead. Now he was certain that Jack was older than him, and was both repulsed and fascinated by the trail of dark hair that led from Jack's sternum to someplace under the waistband of his trousers. Cutler had not changed much in three years, though perhaps he was a little taller. He was still slim and delicate with a certain roundness to his face that both he and his father detested. He thought it made him look like a child, and his father thought he looked like a woman.

"How old are you?" he asked softly, twisting an overhanging vine into a loop. Cutler had a habit of toying with whatever was around whenever he was uncertain.

"Me, fifteen, gonna be sixteen next month. Aren't you getting in?"

"I can't swim," Cutler admitted.

"Well, get in anyway. I'll show you how."

He reluctantly rose and peeled off his waistcoat, shoes, and stockings. Other than undressing for bed or a bath, he never usually undressed in front of anyone else, and even during those rare times it was in front of an impassive servant. It felt queer, what with the way that Jack was watching him. Finally the older boy heaved a sigh and turned around. Cutler quickly took off his shirt and breeches and jumped into the green water.

"What are you so afraid of?" Jack asked when Cutler waded over to him, scrambling about though the water was barely waist deep. Jack grabbed a hold of his wrist and drug him through the water. "You can't drown this close to shore."

Jack was staring at him strangely, and he flushed pink, though he didn't know why. Jack cleared his throat awkwardly and let go of his wrist. "Well, I guess you'll turn out alright," he muttered, "If your old man doesn't kill you first."

"Whatever do you mean?" A sinking feeling came over him, and Cutler was ashamed that Jack knew about what went on in the Beckett manor.

Jack simply heaved another sigh and rolled his eyes dramatically as if Cutler was simple-minded and needed everything explained out to him. "You know what I mean, your father is always beating on you for something. My father said that he used a horsewhip on you after you pushed me into the water. Look, you've even got a mark right now." He ran the rough pad of his thumb ever the tender spot on his cheekbone where his father had slapped him, the heavy signet ring bruising down to the bone. Really, how had Jack even seen it? It was just a little smudge of a bruise anymore….

"That's not exactly what happened. He was angry."

"How do you not hate him?"

"I do," his voice wavered and Jack took a step forward, engulfing him in an embrace as the tears dripped down his face. "I hate him."

"Everyone hates him."

For the rest of the afternoon they waded through the murky water, Jack always pressing him to move out further. Cutler wouldn't have any of it though; he clung to Jack's arm like a vine and eyed the deeper water warily. Eventually Jack gave up and they dressed again in silence. Jack saw him as far as the stables, then turned and went on to his own mysterious home.

-

When Cutler turned fifteen Jack began to talk more of girls, more specifically, the one he wanted to marry. According to him, she was a pretty girl with blonde hair and a considerable bosom. She was also no doubt very pious and virtuous because every woman Cutler heard about was that. He frankly did not care because women were flighty creatures who wanted to trade his independence for their security.

He did not dislike women because he was not old enough to like them yet, far from it actually. There had been many nights in the past year when he had lain awake in the darkness with his nightshirt hitched up, feeling the occasional breeze on his most private parts. Cutler was afraid to touch himself though, because he did not want to go blind. Instead, if he was feeling brave, he would rub against the sheets until the feeling went away, but rarely did he feel any better afterward. He usually only felt sticky from his release and agitated that he could not control the sensation.

No, Cutler did not like women because he simply did not like them. They were always wiggling in his arms when he danced with them and batting their eyelashes like they had a bit of dust in their eyes. He refused to sign his name to another dancing card.

"Alice has nice tits," Jack stated cheerfully one evening while they were sitting behind the stable. "And this long, blonde hair that she always wears in a braid over her shoulder. Her father is a baker for the army."

"Lovely," Cutler replied, distracted. He did not like talking about girls, especially not with Jack.

"Ain't you got a girl someplace? Seems like your old man would have you married off by now, you're old enough to get the job done."

Cutler blushed and plucked a blade of grass. Jack was always so very interested in what he did while alone.

"My mother wishes it. She writes about every eligible young woman she can find. It is as if she expects me to do something about it here."

Jack leaned in closer and took the stem from his hands. "You don't like women, do you?"

"I don't know what I like. I'm only fifteen, Jack."

"Do you like me?" Cutler blushed deeper, and then suddenly Jack's mouth was on his. He did not know what to think because he had never been kissed before. His blue eyes went wide, but he didn't stop Jack when he slid his tongue between his lips. It's all a bit silly actually; he didn't find a thing romantic about having Jack's tongue in his mouth, but he gasped audibly when he began to untie his cravat. He pulled away quickly, and drew his knees to his chest. Evidently his body was of a different opinion of what was romantic. Cutler did not want Jack to know he was hard. He was afraid that he would never speak to him again.

"Shh," Jack whispered, reaching for him again. "It's alright. It's normal."

He couldn't bear it though, and left Jack sitting behind the barns. That night he did take himself in hand, and while he's bored and distracted with his own stroking, Cutler came thinking about someone else's hands. Jack's hands.

-

The next two years were hard on both of them. Jack obviously wanted more from him than kissing, and Cutler didn't quite know how to give it to him. Their usual routine was to kiss until Cutler felt the stirring in his groin, and then Jack was to leave. Eventually they had also moved from behind the stable and into the sitting room of Beckett manor. Always, always they met after Edward had gone to bed.

"Jack, my father will hear."

The floor around the low backed divan was littered with glass from the broken bottle of brandy, which Jack had dropped. He knelt astride Cutler's hips, kissing down his chest. "No he won't," he murmured against Cutler's throat. "I saw him fucking one of the slave women when I came in. If he ain't asleep by now, he soon will be." Jack shifted and slid his hand under his shirt, his hands rough against Cutler's skin. He was wicked but Cutler wouldn't admit that yet.

"Do you want me?"

For the first time in his life, between breathless gasps, Cutler knew what he wanted.

-

Jack nimbly untied his cravat and allowed his lips to linger on Cutler's neck, the coarse scruff he'd only recently begun to sport on his face scratching; Cutler whimpered and wrapped his arms around Jack's shoulders, only to be pushed away again. Jack growled lowly, making short work of Cutler's waistcoat and linen shirt. In his eagerness, he tore one of the buttons and Cutler swore the sound of it bouncing off the wooden floor was the loudest in the room. Cutler watched nervously as Jack stripped himself with the same ferocity that'd he'd shown him.

He never thought before now that perhaps this might be unpleasant because of his virginity and Jack's impressive size, but he was not given much time to mull it over. His breeches were jerked down and cast aside with the rest of his clothing; Jack paused for a moment, long enough to give Cutler time to complain.

"We can't do this on the sofa; we're not going to both fit."

"Get on the floor then," Jack commanded.

Moments later he found himself on all fours, a tiny shard of glass digging into his left palm. Jack ran a hand over his flank and Cutler could not stop himself from shaking. All he could think of is the springtime when they bred the horses, and images of grunting, eager stallions mounting quivering, squealing mares. Through all of this he had a sudden streak of indignation and refused to be taken like an animal.

"Stop, Jack, I've changed my mind. I want back on the sofa."

Though he was annoyed, Jack accommodated the request, but he pinned Cutler to the couch with his knees as soon as they are positioned. He poured a small amount of oil from the unlit lantern he brought with him into his cupped hand and allowed the amber liquid to pool there for a moment before slathering it over his manhood. Cutler was not at all prepared for the initial thrust and cried out before Jack clapped a hand over his mouth.

"I said your old man is in bed, but that don't mean he won't get up. You got to be quieter. Understand?" Cutler nodded his head dumbly and allowed Jack to spread his legs further apart.

They finally settled with Jack between his legs, each one wrapped around his waist. The constant movement hurt at least until Jack struck some hidden spot deep inside of him, then he moaned aloud, the hand coming back to his mouth. Cutler arched his back and clawed at Jack's shoulders, fingers scrambling for purchase on the sweat slicked skin. He welcomed the new feeling that exploded within him every time Jack drove in. He couldn't make anymore noise because Jack's hand was there, but he writhed and shuddered to make up for his lack of sound.

They were both young and neither was very experienced. Cutler came before Jack, biting down hard enough on the pad of one of his fingers to make Jack hiss in pain. Jack collapsed on his chest not long after, suddenly romantic and affectionate again. His own heart seemed to be pounding in his ears, but he imagined that Jack could feel it as well, their hearts beating as one.

"I love you," Cutler purred sleepily, not at all understanding the word and only thinking it because Jack is his first.

"No, no you don't."

Jack pulled away and reached for his clothing, although Cutler wanted him to stay and hold him. "I been here long enough," he muttered, pulling his clothing on quickly. Before he left, he kissed Cutler, but it lacked any real feeling.

For many hours after he left, Cutler lay curled on the sofa –legs wet and sticky from Jack- whimpering in abandonment and seething in rage. He should have known; Jack was terribly persistent. Sometime around dawn he gathered his own clothing and slinked back to his room to spend the remaining hours lamenting over what they had done together. He was ruined. The next morning his father said nothing about the broken glass or that Cutler's blue frock coat was lying on the floor next to Jack's weathered, leather hat. He doesn't say anything at all.

Weatherby

After that night, Jack came around less often. That was perfectly fine with Cutler, because he was not sure that he even wanted to see the man. Shortly after he turned nineteen, word reached him that Jack had gone out to sea with Captain Teague. Cutler never stopped feeling abandoned and betrayed by Jack, but found that he was not at all upset by the news. There were more important issues at hand than the absence of Jack Sparrow.

-

It rained nearly every day that summer and the city turned into a festering cesspool. The slaves and natives took it as an omen when the wells began to stink and otherwise healthy livestock dropped dead over night, but Edward Beckett took no heed. He carried on business as usual, meeting with his captains and advisors in the morning and drinking himself into a stupor in the afternoon. Cutler sulked about and only took an occasional interest in what was going on around him. He briefly took on an affair with one of the grooms, but the effort proved fruitless. The boy, who could neither give him the satisfaction he craved nor bring Jack back, was clumsy and his outrageous, uneducated logic grated at Cutler's nerves. He dismissed the lad nearly as quickly as he had taken him on.

"I say, boy, what is wrong with you?"

Edward cast aside the book he had been reading in irritation and glared at his son. Cutler's hands wavered over the black and white keys as he struck the third wrong note in a row. He knew the music well enough, but the keys kept jumping from one place to another. The room also felt as if they were at the Gates of Hell, and he had long since cast aside his coat and rolled his sleeves to the elbows. A black spot appeared before his eyes, but he blinked it away.

"Cutler?"

The entire room spun and went black.

-

A leering face loomed above him, teeth white and stark against a red backdrop. The face came and went, and Cutler thrashed around on the bed. He did not understand why the red face insisted on trying to cover him with a blanket when he was already so hot. The darkness engulfed him and Cutler no longer had the strength to fight it.

"He'll die," the physician proclaimed, packing away his instruments in his black bag. "He's already delirious, and when the hallucinations set in, a body is beyond help. How is Lord Beckett?"

-

Somewhere between the darkness and the mocking face, another figured appeared. This spirit was kind and did not cover him with the horrible, cloying blankets. Cutler sighed and leaned in to the cool touch; he accepted a drink, but choked on the bitterness of it.

"Drink," the voice ordered, and brought the cup back to Cutler's lips. "It will help."

Twice a day the figure came and brought the bitter liquid. Cutler despised the taste, but he drank it anyway. Within a week the darkness was gone and the spirit became human.

-

"They told me you were dyin'. That doctor out there ought to be hung. He don't know what the hell he's doin'."

"Jack?" Cutler's voice was harsh from lack of use.

"People dyin' all over the Empire from this fever and he won't do anything. Says it's better to let you die just because he don't know what he's doin'."

Jack looked far better than a body had a right to be, looking deeply tanned and healthy. Six months on a ship had done him some good. Jack's shoulders were broader than Cutler last remembered and somewhere he had acquired a gold tooth. It suited him though. Cuter on the other hand, was pale and gaunt from his illness. He regarded Jack in a wary manner, thankful that he was alive but unable to fully trust the man.

"What is that?" Cutler complained when Jack reached for the cup again. He was tired of the bitter liquid that he could still taste on his skin hours after drinking it.

"Quinine, bark of some tree or another. You got swamp fever. That doctor was tryin' to give you watered down wine and cover you with leeches 'cause he didn't know what else to do. Hell, your old man looks like a god damn skeleton. Well, looked."

"My father?"

"Dead, mate. Guess he took sick not long after you and didn't bother to fight it. Some of your slaves are already out there diggin' a hole 'cause he ain't gonna make it back to England."

Jack took a seat next to Cutler on the bed and put his arm around his shoulders. "I'm sorry." Cutler simply went limp and stared hard at the patterned wall ahead of him. Anyone witnessing the scene could have said that he was a diligent son who mourned his father; truthfully, he did not a feel a thing towards Edward's death. The world was well rid of him.

-

London was not as he last remembered it, but that had been over ten years ago. Compared to the heat and bright colors of the Indies, the English capital was drab and gray. Jack was off someplace again, but it was all for the better; Cutler had no intention of bringing his friend back to England. His father had taken their secret to the grave for him; the man's first and only fatherly duty, and for that Cutler was thankful. However, his mother was far more keen and did not need such blatant evidence to see what was supposed to be hidden. He would be in luck if she did not take a single look at him and know.

Lucille Beckett met her son at the door of their manor, dressed in black crepe, and drew him into a bone crushing embrace. The news must have traveled faster than his own ship. His sisters and only surviving brother hung back, looking forlorn over the man they had likely never met or at least did not remember. The only proof they had that they were even related to Edward was the large portrait of him over the fireplace and their mother's word.

"You've finally come home, Cutler."

-

Lords and ladies he did not know kept approaching him and offering their condolences. Half of them Cutler hated already and he had never even met them before; he could not explain why. Only one man was worthy of a reply. He was a tall, fatherly looking man in his late forties who was sadly behind the times. His periwig was of dark brown curls, though no one else wore such an ostentatious wig. The man seemed immune to the latest fashions and clothed himself in bright fabrics and lace, though everyone else preferred darker, more somber colors. Cutler was drawn to his smile though, a kind look that was both lost and lonely. Perhaps if fate had been different, this man would have been his father.

"Weatherby Swann," the man offered, placing a hand on Cutler's shoulder. "Your father and I were seated together in Parliament. I'm afraid we had lost contact in recent years, but his death grieves me. How are you getting along?"

"Fair enough," Cutler replied boredly.

The man seemed taken aback by his utter lack of emotion, but smiled on none the less. "Perhaps you could come to my estate sometime. Your mother tells me that you are an excellent horseman, and it must be terribly difficult to ride here in the city. My wife and I would love to have you as a guest."

"Perhaps."

Mr. Swann raised his glass to Edward's memory and moved on to someone else. The man had said he was in Parliament, hadn't he? Cutler watched him leave and began plotting. He had no way to return to India, not with his uncle the obvious contender for the position of Chairman. Edward had been generally unimpressed with his son, and Cutler had been likewise uninterested, but now he felt a pressing urge to return and take up what his father had left unfinished. The Company would be his, and Weatherby Swann could help him to get it.

-

"Cutler, what do you intend to do now that you have returned?"

Weatherby turned to Cutler and gazed at him with a look that of course meant he had some suggestion or another. Not being new to any such thing, Cutler beat him to it.

"I was thinking of law school. It seems like a fine place to begin." His mother smiled over her glass of wine; besides finding him a wife, she also entertained the idea that her eldest son should be a lawyer.

"It is fine. Your father would be proud," Swann remarked, clearly not even beginning to understand how Edward thought. The man could not have cared less.

"Mother, would you please excuse Mr. Swann and I? I have something that I want to show him." Cutler rose from his seat and nodded to Weatherby. The plan had begun.

-

Weatherby looked puzzled to say the least, but he said nothing as they climbed the stairs to the second floor. His confusion only deepened when they passed both the library and Edward's office. Cutler pushed open the door to his bedroom and ushered Weatherby inside. As soon as he closed the door and bolted the lock, he fell on Weatherby with wild abandon. His hands went everywhere at once, while his mouth sought out Mr. Swann's. He was hardly as smooth as Jack had been, but then again he was not the same sort of person.

Swann took it all in stride, but his dark eyes were wide and nervous. Cutler slid a hand beneath his shirt and stroked Weatherby's back, leaning into his soft chest. Swann was a rich man and it showed; Jack had been all muscle and sinew, whereas Weatherby was soft and round, a man who never had to work hard for anything, including his next meal.

Cutler shucked off the man's frock coat and guided him towards the bed. He did not see any reason to dawdle with this, as he only wanted one thing and that did not frankly require tenderness or a prelude. Weatherby allowed Cutler to further undress him and made no complaint when Cutler settled on top of him. In fact, the man treated this as if it were an ordinary request that he might receive every day. If the frightened look in his eyes had not been there, Cutler would have sworn that he had done this before.

Cutler fumbled for the vial of oil he had hidden under his pillow specifically for this purpose and did as Jack had done. Unlike he had, Weatherby made no sound when he was breached; in fact, he never once made any sound or any movement during the entire episode. He lay still and took the pounding of the younger man's hips in a strictly business manner. Perhaps he thought that the less resistance he offered, the sooner this would all be over. Cutler came hard, surprised at his own passion and Swann followed in suit, though it was difficult to tell if he had actually enjoyed any of it.

"Now, are you better?" Weatherby held Cutler to his chest and lightly ran a hand through the younger man's auburn hair. His own wig had been cast aside and Cutler was surprised that the man's hair was shorn close.

"Not yet quite yet."

"What else then? Are you not sated?"

Cutler wriggled from Swann's grasp and plotted his words carefully. He had to propose this just right.

"I suppose you can help me. My uncle will take over as Chairman and it is unlikely that I will ever see India again. I would rather like the chance to prove myself against him. I am young, I know that, but I have watched my father since I was a boy. I understand the concept."

Swann was quiet for several moments then sighed bitterly.

"I am afraid that you are mistaken in your quest, young man. I am not the one who can decide whether or not you are fit to assume your father's position. I can arrange an audience with the man who can help you, but there is nothing I can do otherwise."

-

Weatherby Swann made good on his promise and three weeks later a plump man by the name of Lord Owens paid a visit to the Beckett household. He drank wine liberally and did not turn down the plate of pastries Lucille placed in front of him. Cutler fidgeted in anticipation and threw dark glances at the man every time his cup was refilled. He did not have time for this. When at long last the man rose and beckoned him into Edward's old office, Cutler nearly overturned the chair in his hurry.

"Now, Sir Beckett, it seems you have expressed an interest in the Trading Company. Might I ask what your attributes are?"

Cutler stepped in front of Lord Owens without answering and sank to his knees. This too was something that he had spent much time thinking over and planning out. He unbuttoned the man's trousers, licked his lips, and began.

Sometime later Lord Owens emerged from the office, wiping his red face on a lace handkerchief. Cutler followed after looking pale and drawn, though satisfied with something.

"Ah, Mrs. Beckett. Your son is quite persuasive, a fine politician. I believe that he will be of use to the Company yet. Yes, a fine politician. Very."

-

"You're vile," the voice hissed and dripped with malice. "You bring nothing but shame to this family"

Cutler's eldest sister gripped the wooden banister with white knuckled hands and trembled. Her pale eyes were slits as she threw accusation after accusation at him. Cutler leaned against the wall and masked the utter fear that struck him. How she knew, he would never know.

"There are laws against men like you. Mollies, they hang them every week alongside the thieves and other whores. If you take father's position, I shall tell."

He stepped forward, a sly cunning overtaking the fear.

"And if you tell, you'll be dead before you can see me hung. Consider that in your calculations."

Mercer

Lord Owens did not exactly fulfilled Cutler's hopes, but he did find himself back in India before the summer, much to his mother's dismay and his sister's resentment. As an agent, he was given a tidy, little office and a clerk who went by the name of Mercer, Mercer being both his first and last name so to speak. He was a sardonic man in his late thirties, but Mr. Mercer was efficient and seemed to know the workings of the Company. He also had a deep love for irony, especially when it concerned unfortunate circumstances and someone he knew.

"Mr. Mercer, what exactly am I supposed to do?"

"Couldn't say, sir. No one's lasted long enough in yer position to ever propose anything. Everybody waits until the current Chairman dies, then they take his place. I've served five agents before you, all of them gone on to become Chairman."

Mr. Mercer took up his quill again and returned to whatever work it was that he did. Later on, after the man had left for the evening, Cutler saw that Mr. Mercer spent the long days making assorted lists of names and drawing particularly crude maps of the city. He couldn't make any sense of it.

-

"Mr. Mercer, are you doing anything this evening?" Cutler leaned back in his chair and watched the deserted street. Hardly anything ever happened late in the afternoon nowadays. He was twenty-one and had been an agent for two years without ever having done a thing. It seemed impetuous, but every chance he had, Cutler asked about the health and well being of his uncle. Surely the Indian climate and stress of the position had taken its toll on him by now.

Mercer hesitated, as if unsure that the question as well, then answered in a bored drawl. "Nothing, sir. Why do ye ask?"

"I was wondering if perhaps you would like to join me for dinner. My cook has unfortunately taken ill and its lonely eating dinner by one's self in an inn."

"If ye wish it, sir."

"No, Mr. Mercer," Beckett protested, weary of the man's constant agreement. "Only if you wish it."

"Of course, sir."

Cutler smiled softly and resumed staring out the window. Mr. Mercer was certainly a mysterious creature.

-

For nearly twenty minutes they simply stared at each other, save for the moments when Mercer's dark eyes jumped anxiously around the tavern, then Cutler stared at him. He had hoped to learn at least something about his clerk, but that seemed an unlikely endeavor. Mercer rarely said anything unless it was to compliment or agree with him. However, Cutler suspected that he was keeping the man from something important; Mr. Mercer was far too preoccupied with the patrons of the inn.

"Where do you live?"

"Sir?" Mercer turned back to his master, brows furrowed in confusion.

"Where do you live, what part of Calcutta?"

"Oh, it's a ways from here, sir." It never failed to amaze Cutler that Mer could answer a question but never actually give any information.

"Is it nice?"

"It's fair."

"Oh."

Cutler took a sip of the brandy that the barmaid had brought him, though he also was suspicious of that. It had either been brewed and aged in a casket with a corpse, or else what he was drinking was not actually fine liquor, but rather a poor imitation. The liquid burned, but he was used to it by now; their dinner seemed to coming to an end anyway.

"Do you mind if I walk with you, to your home I mean? As I said, it's dreadfully lonely in my house and I'd rather not return before I absolutely must."

"As ye please, sir."

-

Mercer walked in an irritated and brisk fashion, and Cutler found the pace difficult to keep, not to mention the fact that the man had a habit of turning corners and not waiting for his guest to catch up. It was quite surprising really, the area of the city where Mercer lived. Granted it was colonized, the place was still rather barbaric. A brothel stood cattycorner to the boarding house that Mercer called home. Instead of turning and going as he said he would, Cutler climbed the rickety stairs after his clerk. Mr. Mercer simply looked once over his shoulder and nodded, not seeming to care a great deal.

"My landlady never cleans," he offered by way of apology for the utter squalor he lived in. Other than a chair, a bed, and a faded green rug, Mercer's room was devoid of any furnishings and the wallpaper peeled off the wooden walls. A stack of books and a pile of papers were in one corner and the man's black coat lay across the bed. Mr. Mercer swept the coat off and Cutler took its place, seating himself on the edge of the lumpy mattress.

"So I see," he replied, twisting his hat in his hands. Mercer seemed even more impatient now that they were here.

"Did ye want something, sir?"

"Hmm?"

"What do ye want?"

He seated himself next to Cutler and took his hat, dropping it to the floor. "I don't suppose ye came here for the whores across the street, did ye?"

No one since Jack had been brash enough to initiate anything, but Mercer was not shy. He ran callused fingers over Cutler's lips, smirking. Cutler drew a bony finger into his mouth and sucked hard, running his tongue over the rough pad. Mercer smiled, though it was hardly kind. Mr. Mercer smiled like a panther ready to attack.

"Has anyone ever told ye that yer pretty, sir?"

It was Cutler's turn to smile and he blinked several times. Come to think of it, he had never actually grown out of that childlike delicateness. He released the finger and kissed across Mercer's palm and down his wrist. Lord Owens and Weatherby had been part of an unpleasant but necessary task, Cutler was ready to actually enjoy the act again. Gaunt and sarcastic Mr. Mercer was hardly a replacement for Jack, but he was at least a warm and willing body.

Some time later, and much to his surprise, several drinks of rye whiskey later, Cutler found himself pinned beneath Mercer, hands clenching the dingy sheets. Perhaps it had been too long since he'd been the one taken, or perhaps Mercer did everything with a serious intensity, but he found himself whimpering with each thrust. Mr. Mercer had hardly bothered to take the precautions that Jack had, and preferred to make Cutler submit to him without anything to ease the way. It was not exactly painful, though nor was it pleasurable. Jack was by far the more acute lover. Cutler bit his tongue hard enough to elicit a metallic taste when he came, if only to keep from uttering the name of the one he truly wanted. He respected Mr. Mercer, but hardly wanted to bring about his anger. He had a feeling that the man could be both terribly jealous and violent.

Mercer withdrew and lay down beside him, sallow and pock marked. Cutler also didn't suppose that he was sentimental. Mr. Mercer drew a long fingered hand over Cutler's belly, stroking the pale skin and dabbling in the sticky residue left over from his release. Cutler looked away when the man licked his fingers. It had taken everything in him not to gag on the strange, salty fluid when he had been with Owens, and he found that he was not one to enjoy that sort of thing.

"Like I said, sir, yer pretty."

He grinned, pleased to be admired for once.

"Then you would not mind doing me a small favor then?"

-

When his uncle mysteriously fell ill some months later, Cutler was not at all sad, but he pretended to. Once, during the long funeral service, he caught Mr. Mercer's eye and a sly, knowing smile crept onto the man's face. Mercer proved to be more than a mere clerk; he was also an efficient assassin, though they preferred to keep that between the two of them. They were equally mum about what went on during the night; neither was exceptionally willing to hang for the other.

Though he was young, Cutler somehow managed to sway the vote in his favor. Perhaps Mr. Mercer had a thing or two to do with that, but he didn't make a habit of asking questions; answers would not be given anyhow. Cutler's first act as Chairman of the East India Company was to send a letter to the King commending Weatherby Swann; he kept his friends close these days.

-

Not long after his uncle's death, the now familiar fatigue and visions of swamp fever returned. Other dismal survivors of the illness said it was always this way, that the fever dreams had their own cycle. On days when he was too exhausted to do much of anything, or when the dreams were particularly harrowing, Cutler stayed in his room. Not even Mr. Mercer was allowed in, much to the older man's dismay. Mercer liked to be privy to everyone else's business.

-

He has learned many valuable things about Cutler Beckett by now, and the most important is that Cutler, despite being a refined gentleman, has the habit of moaning like a whore when fucked just right. He'd taken that information to heart, and could usually make the younger man forget that he was someone important for at least half an hour.

"Here…in the barn?"

Cutler wrinkled his nose, his blue eyes condescending. He could act very reserved, but deep inside; Cutler was terrified of nearly everything intimate. He was afraid of being caught, and even more afraid of being abandoned.

"Where else?"

Cutler began to protest, then weakly offered, "I don't know, someplace more private…someplace cleaner?"

He was quieted by a passionate kiss, which never failed to preoccupy the young lord. Hands slid into his breeches and caressed him, though it never takes long to bring Cutler to attention. He knew this. Cutler groaned and pawed at his shoulders, the rough fabric of his coat bunching between trembling fingers.

Cutler was shoved against a stack of baled hay, the prickly stems digging into his back. His lover hitched up his shirt and waistcoat, exposing pale, soft skin, then yanked his breeches down to his ankles, the material gathering over his riding boots. When Cutler had asked if the man would like to go riding, he honestly hadn't meant this…

"We can't do this here," he panted, attempting feebly to push the other man away. There were grooms outside; not to mention that Mr. Mercer would come looking for him before long.

"We can and we are," the insistent reply came.

He found himself hoisted up and spread apart by practiced fingers. Cutler always acted like it was his first time –perhaps deliberately- and there was something deeply intriguing about that. The man liked his partners pliant and fortunately Cutler Beckett was very docile. He allowed himself to be taken in any manner that the other wanted

He took Cutler hard and fast, which was nearly always how they did it, at least, after the first time anyhow. Groaning, he slumped against the stack of hay as well, spent and already growing bored. He never had to worry about whether or not Cutler had come, because he always came first, always. "I told you we could do it in the barn," he muttered.

"Oh," a breathless pant, "Oh, Jack, do you suppose they heard us?"

-

The worst of the dreams were always about Jack, and Cutler would wake disoriented and wanting the man even more. One morning, after a particularly explicit night of dreaming, Jack really was there with him. He stood at the foot of the bed, grinning like a loon.

"Havin' a nice dream, love?"

Jack had changed yet again. He seemed far more assured of himself. Jack had several more gold teeth and his dark hair was matted into thick tangles. It was frankly disgusting. His dark brown eyes were lined thickly with kohl, something Cutler had only ever seen before on whores. Cutler could not make himself stop staring at the tanned skin of Jack's chest, visible because the man wore his shirt splayed open.

"You always happen to arrive at the most inopportune moments, Jack," Cutler stated, casting aside the blankets. As if having second thoughts, he drew them up again. He could not possibly go to his office today. "Why is that?"

" 'Cause I like to see yer pretty face all flushed and wantin', that's why," Jack purred, crawling on to the bed. "An' I can't really say if they heard us or not, Cuttlefish. You want them to?"

-

Jack stayed for four months, then grew restless as Cutler feared he would. During that time they came to 'know' each other again, and Jack seemed surprised that Cutler was no longer the shy young man he had been when Edward was alive. He was ambitious to say the least. Of course Cutler was just happy that he had Jack back, curled into his arms at night. Mr. Mercer was not amused.

-

"He wants something, sir," Mercer drawled, brushing his fingers down Cutler's cheek. "Best find out what it is before he actually gets it out of ye." Oh, but he has…

"Stop that foolishness right now, Mercer," he snapped, irritated that he was being patronized.

"I'm just saying, sir."

-

"I've always wanted to be a captain like my old man," Jack proclaimed before popping an almond into his mouth. They were lying behind the garden wall, far from Mr. Mercer and his jealousies and even further from the real world.

"Really? I find it hard to believe that you would take the orders."

"Captains make their own rules, Cuttlefish. That's the appeal."

"Pirates, Jack, pirates make their own rules, not honest seamen. Law-abiding captains take their orders from the King or the Company."

"Yeah, well same damn thing. I want to be a captain."

Cutler smiled into Jack's shoulder and decided that Admiral Donovan really did not need another ship in his fleet. The new ship docked in the harbor was too much of a hassle for the man anyhow. It needed a captain that was both fearless and more than a little mad.

"Jack, what do you think of the name the Wicked Wench?"

It was Jack's turn to grin, and he brushed a strand of red-gold hair from Cutler's face.

"I like it just fine."

-

All the agony, heartbreak, and suffering that Jack Sparrow put him through all seemed to disappear into thin air when Cutler saw the look in Jack's eyes after even the most stubborn and conservative Company officers first acknowledged Jack as being one of them. For the first time, Jack was the one who looked unsure, though proud and pleased as well. Somehow making Jack happy made everything else –every wrong Jack had done to him so far- immaterial.

Jack set sail in April and did not return until the following October.

-

Cutler felt that Jack was the one person whom he could truly trust, though previous experience has given him no real reason to think that. Honestly, if he thought about how Jack had left him long ago, and then resurfaced at regular intervals, he had no reason at all, but Cutler was more than a little in love with the man, and reserved his most important duties for Jack.

-

Cutler did not tell Jack about the cargo because he did not think it was relevant; that was a mistake. To him it was simply another shipment of goods to the New World, and he had absolutely no idea that Jack would disapprove. Truthfully, he never even gave it much thought.

He had a strange premonition that this would not end well when the Wench and Jack left harbor again, but he dismissed it as quickly as it had come. Jack was his friend and lover, surely nothing could go wrong.

It came as a shock when, a month later, a grizzled old captain burst into his office and said that he saw a Company ship off the coast of Africa; a Company ship where it most certainly should not be.

-

He stalked back and forth across his office, boots striking a discord against the polished wooden floor. Cutler's heart raced, and he did not know if he should be angry or disregard the rumor all together. Mr. Mercer leaned against one wall, dressed in somber, sad colors as usual, and deftly honed the blade of one of his beloved knives. He had been the one to let the old Captain in, and Cutler dearly hoped it had all been Mercer's jealous lies. The door creaked open and two marines shoved Jack in.

"The cargo that I entrusted to you…where is it?"

Cutler stood facing the window, hands clasped behind his back, and not daring to look into his friend's eyes because he knew that he would see the truth and that it would wound him.

"People ain't cargo," Jack slurred, kohl rimmed eyes red from rum and no doubt a sleepless night. It was to Cutler's knowledge very difficult to sleep in shackles. His own pale eyes were as equally red and tired, though more from bitter weeping than any liquor. This was hard on him.

"Where is it?" he repeated, jaw clenched.

"They," Jack corrected, "are back where they belong. In Africa."

Cutler whirled around; overcome with a rage to which he could not give a name. "So," he sneered, sidling up next to Jack, the differences in their heights as pronounced as the tension. "You thought it prudent to simply release my goods? Not that it has ever meant much to you in the past, but that's stealing. If I understand fully, and please correct me if I am wrong, you have used my ship to steal my cargo and turn it loose on the coast of the Dark Continent? Jack…Jack," Cutler paused to laugh humorlessly. "You know who also steal, hmm? Pirates. What say you now?"

Jack just smiled lopsidedly, and repeated what had just been said. "Pirate. Cap'n Sparrow's got a nice ring, Cuttlefish."

-

Cutler would always be impressed by how long Jack suffered the pain before he screamed, and knew in his heart that would not have even had half the will that Jack did. Mr. Mercer smiled grimly, clearly pleased that Jack was no longer his master's favorite. He rolled back Jack's sleeve, revealing a tanned forearm that would soon be mangled and scarred by the iron.

He stood before the fire, the rod in his hand slowly turning from black to red. Jack eyed Cutler like a nervous horse every moment, but made no attempt to struggle against the guards holding him. At long last, Cutler lifted the rod from the fire and faced his old friend. The small fraction of his heart that still loved Jack prayed to any god that would listen, willing it to not hurt as badly as he imagined that it would.

Taking hold of Jack's wrist, he pressed the hot iron against tan skin and marveled at how long it took Jack to scream.

"Why, Jack?"

-

Later on, when the Wench was at the bottom of sea, her blackened hull slowly sinking beneath the white capped waves, and the smell of Jack's burning flesh was still fresh in his mind, Cutler sat alone at his window again and stared at the luminous, silver moon, hating every moment of it. He hated the crystalline innocence of the orb, hated the fact that the night was meant to be a time for lovers and he was alone, but most of all, he hated himself. Cutler turned a broken shard of a brandy decanter over and over in his hands, the rest of the shattered container littered across the floor. Cutler brought the shard to the exact spot where he had branded Jack and pressed down. No matter how badly he wanted to feel the same pain that Jack had felt, he could not bring himself to draw blood. Finally he cast aside the glass splinter and spent the rest of the night with his head in his hands, lamenting over what he believed to be lost forever.

Norrington

When the reports of piracy in the Caribbean crossed his desk some thirteen years later, Cutler did not hesitate to think of Jack. Of course that was warranted, because Jack Sparrow was indeed the pirate in question. He had evaded the gallows for the umpteenth time, and frankly, the king was weary of it. The man had a price of 10000 guineas on his head, mostly stemming from his raid on Nassau. Cutler scrawled his signature across the warrant and informed Mr. Mercer that they would be leaving for Jamaica before the end of the month. Jack would either hang or come back to the Crown.

-

It was only fitting that Jack was nowhere to be found in Port Royal, though there were rumors that he was currently being held in a Turkish prison. William Turner and his fiancée, Elizabeth Swann were less than helpful, and Cutler had few qualms about presenting them with death warrants of their own. Weatherby was not so ecstatic.

"Cutler Beckett?" he asked in hopeful disbelief.

"It's Lord now, actually."

Weatherby Swann had aged immensely in thirteen years, though he had hardly been young when he and Cutler first met. His dark eyes pleaded, as frankly, his daughter was all he had left. It was simply unspoken: don't you remember me? Life had taken a cruel turn for Cutler since Jack had left, and left his heart hardened against even the most hopeless and pathetic of cases. His equally silent reply: No.

-

Somewhere in the dark abyss that was Jamaica, Cutler found the nearest thing to an ally that he could: James Norrington, the disgraced Commodore who would do anything in exchange for his life. Cutler sought to make sure that the man would really do anything.

-

It had been entirely his idea, but James did not seem to enjoy his decision. He was an admiral now, something that every sailor dreams of, and he had his sword again, but still he was unhappy. Cutler was not stupid, and knew the real reason. Norrington did not like any cause that was not the right one – the man was as close to a saint as the living could get- and the Trading Company was such a wicked corporation. James nearly bit his tongue in half when Cutler suspended the rights of anyone suspected of piracy; he was still angry over Elizabeth's warrant, though the girl deserved it as she had actually helped a condemned pirate.

Cutler waited until Mr. Mercer left for Singapore, then advanced.

-

"Admiral, why is it that you sit there with such a dark look on your face?"

Norrington scowled deeper, and stared into his glass of brandy. Cutler had invited him to dine with him, though James drank more than he ate. His plans were not going well.

"Because I cannot help but think that I have made the wrong decision," Norrington retorted callously, his voice clipped and heated.

"You made it nonetheless," Cutler purred slyly. If he could not win by skill, then he would take advantage of the man's weakness instead. "Perhaps you thought to distance yourself from Miss Swann…or save her."

James' green eyes widened and Cutler supposed that if he were not such a mannerly person, that Norrington would have swept the entire dinner service off the table and lunged across it to kill him.

"Come on, admiral. Bring your drink back to my quarters and we'll get the unpleasant matter of Miss Swann settled once and for all.

-

Norrington was not half as experienced as Cutler had hoped or imagined, and after a while he began to wonder if the man had ever done anything at all. For someone as tall as James, and one who carried themselves with such a noble bearing, he was surprisingly clumsy. This was the first time that Cutler found himself to actually be bored.

"Admiral, what exactly are you doing?"

James blushed and muttered something intelligible.

"Well whatever it is, stop it, it's not working."

Norrington ceased, but immediately took up something equally as annoying.

"Allow me," Cutler finally snapped, and shoved James off of him. He straddled the admiral and leaned forward to kiss him. James fidgeted and awkwardly ran a hand threw Cutler's hair. He had such a silly smile on his face, and Cutler feared that James just might fall in love with him.

James was so easy to please and unfortunately mistook physical contact for affection. Afterwards he still was smiling like a crazed person, though since he was no longer touching Cutler, was not half as irritating.

"I love you, Lord Beckett."

Cutler started, and remembered all too clearly where he had heard those words before. He could not possibly return the admiral's love, because his own heart had belonged to someone else, but now was as untouchable as Davy Jones'. He simply said nothing at all, and the next morning went to pay a visit to the immortal captain.

"Admiral Norrington, command the Dutchman. Davy Jones is leaving no survivors, and we need people to interrogate, which tends to work best when they are alive."

-

In the end, it came to the Flying Dutchman and the Black Pearl, which Cutler had always admired as being a fine ship, made even more lethal with the maniacal Barbossa at the helm. He certainly did not expect Jack and his ship to last that long, but when the battered Pearl was alone in open water, he could not help himself. Cutler also did not know if he loved or hated Jack more.

Fate, as always, hated Cutler and when the Dutchman resurfaced with Turner at the helm, he was dumbstruck. Lt. Groves tried in vain to pry some command from his captain, but eventually leapt over the splintering railing of the Endeavor with the rest of the crew. Cutler turned on his heel and descended the fractured staircase, knowing that this was the very end and that it was better to go down with the ship. The pirates would have him strung up on some palm tree or else covered in hot tar if he lived anyhow. He almost welcomed the Devil.

-

Opening a swollen eye, Cutler wondered if he had been damned to the Locker, because all around him is burning, white sand. It is disappointing that he had survived, but death can not be far off. He cannot move because of the explosive pain in his back, but it is better to lie still anyway. The red sun suddenly darkened as a shadow fell across his face.

"Hell mate, you've looked better."

Jack