Written for the 'Wager' drabble challenge theme at Black Pearl Sails.


o-o Settling Up o-o

At a month's remove, she can barely remember what the wager was about. They'd all been a bit fuddled with drink that night… well, not herself, so much, what with the nausea that had even then begun to plague her; and not Jack either, she suspects: Jack was seldom as well-to-live as he encouraged one to assume. But in the fortnight after the Battle, raucous evenings had been the rule, rather than the exception, and there'd been a reckless abandon about it all.

Crab races, perhaps. Yes, she's nearly sure of it.

In any case, she remembers thinking it hugely funny – the first time she'd laughed like that in ages – years maybe – and then Jack was there with his eyes, soft and sly, and his wager.

"Bet you a kiss."

Ah, that rough velvet voice of his, and for her alone, in spite of the vociferous crowd. Thankful that the warmth of the tavern might account for reddened cheeks, she'd managed to turn to him, smiling, but a beat passed before she said, with commendable ease, "What happened to Once is quite enough?"

An ambivalent expression had passed over his countenance – gratification? regret? – but he'd murmured, "Changed me mind: captain's prerogative. You game or not?"

She'd straightened, feeling most ambivalent herself. But she had only said, "A kiss. Against… ?"

"What do you want?"

"A month's sail on the Pearl, anywhere I like!"

"Done!" he'd exclaimed, happily, but deflated her pretensions by adding, "Won't matter anyway."

And he'd been right. Her crab had finished unplaced.

o-o-o

She'd allowed him to escort her back to her rooms shortly thereafter, for the tot of rum she'd downed to bolster courage (not that he was to know that) had instead made her rather ill. A quick paying of the… the trifling debt, then she could lie down and rest.

But when they arrived at her shadowed doorway, he'd none of it. "No, no! It's not in me nature to take advantage of lasses who're green about the gills, whether they be treacherous pirates or virtually virginal – or both, as the case may be."

"I am hardly virtually virginal," she'd objected.

He'd raised a skeptical brow. "One day? And Will all too virginal himself, belike. Didn't hurt you much, did he?" His eyes had wandered suggestively south, then north again, enjoying her outrage.

"I… he… Oh!" She'd clenched her teeth for a moment, then managed to snap, "It's no wonder women want to hit you!"

He'd smirked, shameless. "I daresay. But you'd better go to bed, darlin'. Plenty of time to settle up when you're feeling more the thing."

She'd stiffly bade him good night, hiding both her relief and her disappointment.

o-o-o

For a while, it seemed Jack had forgotten. He said nothing during the following days, at any rate, even when their paths did cross, which wasn't often and never away from company. She had found a mentor in Teague and studied with him for much of each day – the Code, the history of piracy, philosophy, diplomacy, Shipwreck Cove itself – and Jack tended to avoid his father, whenever possible.

But when they did meet, Jack's gaze upon her was not only warm, but pointed. She thought perhaps it was her imagination, but then she caught him at it once… twice… and she knew by his expression that she had not been mistaken.

She felt like a vixen beset by the wiliest of foxes.

o-o-o

Now, after a month of it, she's more than ready to make an end. How on earth is the prospect of one kiss sufficient to set her so off balance? The past, weighty as it is, is past. The disconcerting present demands her attentions in so many ways. But with the final act of this seemingly insignificant comedy still to be played, she's finding it increasingly difficult to think clearly.

No doubt he's planned it this way, and as he once again escorts her back to her rooms, noise and prying eyes left behind, she grows more and more nervous, though she gives herself an inward scold, too: It's just a kiss! Only a kiss!

But her heart sees the matter in a different light.

Their banter fades as they traverse the lower levels, as they climb up and up in increasing isolation and silence. But when they are finally approaching her door, he says, "Here we are, my liege, and alone, too. Shall we settle up?"

"T-the kiss?" She turns to face him, cursing her unsteady voice, though perhaps he didn't notice.

"Aye. Just the one."

He's held her before, held her life in his hands more than once, but as his arms slip about her now it feels as though it's for the first time, something new and raw, for all its ease. A faint scent of French soap overlays his more familiar rum and musty salt, and – she can't deny it -- he's still the handsomest man she's ever seen, even taking her dearest Will into account. But it's Jack's leer, lascivious yet somehow adorable, and the very real warmth in his eyes that make her heart swell.

She gently holds him off. "Wait!"

"Wait? I've been waiting nigh a month."

She stiffens and can't keep the resentment from her voice. "That was your own doing!"

He chuckles. "What then? Are you reneging?"

"No."

"But?"

She looks at him, straight. "The men in my life… that I've kissed – or kissed me…"

"Dead?" Jack says, bluntly.

She can't speak with remembering.

So he continues, slowly drawing her close, closer. "Was wondering if you'd made a connection there. Been there and done that, meself, of course, but you brought me back, which has to count for something. And what's life without a bit of risk, eh?"

And his moustache brushes her upper lip just before his mouth is on hers, somehow gentle and insistent at once, and she cannot help but yield, the mix of fear and trembling happiness making her weak-kneed, oh surely it will be all right, just this once…

When he ends it, with a tiny nip and a trail of small kisses from her lower lip to her cheek, she finds that her own arms are tight around him, and her breath is coming short, but, gratifyingly, so is his, and he doesn't let her go.

A show of strength is called for, but she breathes, rather than hisses, "Oh, you are an evil man."

"Haven't I been telling you?"

She tries to gather more composure, and opens her eyes to his. "You're leaving?"

"On the tide."

"Where?"

"Tortuga, then the Fountain of Youth. It's on the map. Might be real. Could come in useful."

She nods, and then quite fails to keep the more important question behind her teeth. "How long?"

"Don't know. But I'll try to be back in time for the princeling's debut."

She gives a choke of surprise, at that and at his hand brushing over her lower abdomen, where she's barely showing, before he releases her. She finds her voice. "You knew!"

"Of course, darlin'. I'm—"

"Captain Jack Sparrow, yes," she says, and shakes her head. A thought occurs. "Jack… if you see Will—"

"I'll give him a kiss for you, shall I?"

She laughs, her heart suddenly light. "Yes. Oh, yes! But… perhaps you'd better not tell Gibbs about our wager."

His eyes widen. "Lord, no! I can hear him now, prophesying doom. But he'll come around. I'll take you for that month's sail on the Pearl after your lying-in, shall I? Call it a Christening gift."

o-o-o-o-o