Cutler Beckett blinked in surprise, dropping the papers he had been reading onto his desk. The man who had just entered his office could not be who he believed it to be—the man had died months before aboard the cursed vessel the Flying Dutchman.

"Rumors of my demise were greatly exaggerated," the man said with a smile in response to the look on Cutler's face. But the man suddenly gasped and stumbled, holding himself up with one arm on the desk and the other grasping at a wound on his abdomen.

"Perhaps, but judging by your pallor, you are rather close to having those stories be true," Cutler said as he stood and walked around to the taller man. "We should get you to a doctor immediately.

"I've been to one," the man said with a grimace. "Nothing more can be done. Hopefully the pain will go away on it's own." The man eyed a bottle of wine on a nearby table. "Although, if you don't mind…"

"Of course, Admiral." Cutler went to pour the poor man a glass of wine, which would hopefully help numb the pain, if just a little. He looked back at James Norrington, surprised to see how similar he was to the disheveled man who had brought him the heart of Davy Jones. He had never expected to see that side of James again—of course, he also had never expected to see James alive again, either.

"You must tell me about your miraculous survival, Admiral," Cutler said as he handed James the wine.

"James." Cutler arched an eyebrow. "Just James. I doubt I'm still an Admiral in the eyes of many, Lord Beckett."

"You aren't alive in the eyes of many," Cutler replied. James sighed and nodded as he drank the wine in a single gulp. "And…well, perhaps you have already heard…but I no longer hold that title," Cutler admitted with reluctance.

James nodded slowly. "I had heard a rumor about your failure to destroy the pirates brought you great shame, but somehow I believed you would find a way out of the blame."

"You've become very blunt," Cutler muttered.

"Near death experiences will do that."

"You aren't the only one to just nearly escaped death, you know," Cutler spat.

James blinked and then flushed slightly. "I…and what's your story?"

Cutler smiled slightly. "I asked you first."

James shuddered at the memory. "One of the crewmen aboard the Dutchman decided that I was a threat—."

"Because you aided in the escape of their prisoners," Cutler clarified.

"Well, um…yes." James coughed and shifted his weight awkwardly. "But he…well, I learned that being impaled is not how I intend to die. At least not with that thing he stabbed me with—it hurt like hell," he said, grimacing and rubbing the location of his near-fatal wound. "But I managed to get off the ship and swim to a nearby island." When Cutler winced, James nodded and said, "And the sea burned—I thought I would die in the middle of the ocean. But…" He blushed. "Yeah, I made it."

Cutler arched an eyebrow skeptically. "You're leaving something out."

James again shifted his weight. "Can I have more…?" he asked timidly as he held out his glass.

Cutler nodded and took the glass. "After you tell me whatever it is you left out."

James sighed heavily. "Yes, well…you'll probably think I've lost my mind, but a…a mermaid rescued me." He cursed under his breath. "Damn, I sound like some crazy old man…"

Cutler poured James another glass of wine and shook his head. "After the things we have seen, I find it hard to doubt the existence of creatures such as mermaids."

James smiled slightly as he elaborated. "She helped me to a small island. I lost consciousness when we arrived, but I think she tended to my wounds. I was not as badly injured when I awoke. A few days later, a ship happened to pass by."

"The Royal Navy?" Cutler guessed.

"The French, actually," James said as he drank his second glass of wine.

"How nice of the French," Cutler commented.

"It took a while to convince them that I was a harmless merchant sailor who had been washed overboard in a storm."

"And not a British Commodore turned pirate turned Admiral?"

James chuckled softly. "I had a feeling that explanation would lose something in the translation." James swallowed another sip of wine before saying, "Your turn. What happened to you?"

"My ship blew up." Cutler smirked. "It sounds so unreal to say…"

"It blew up—with you on it?" James' eyes widened as Cutler nodded. "An angel was watching over you, Lord Beckett."

"Not Lord, James." He paused, staring into his own glass of wine. "It's Cutler."

"I can't think of what angel would look after me," Cutler said with a sad chuckle. "A demon, perhaps. You had the angel—or mermaid." Cutler sighed heavily as he leaned against his desk. "So why are you here, James?"

James bit his lip as he thought. "I…I am not entirely certain."

"If you were hoping for a job, I am sorry that I cannot offer you one." He motioned to his office. "I am but a lowly employee of the East India Company now." He sighed heavily. "At least I maintained a hold of my inheritance. But still…so much power lost."

"I am sorry, Lord—Cutler. I understand. Your job was…your life." James' eyes lowered to stare at his feet. "As was mine."

"Thus you gave me the heart."

"The dark side of ambition…" James mumbled with a shake of his head.

"Excuse me?" Cutler said after a moment, confused.

James shook his head. "Something someone said once, quite a while ago." James suddenly began laughing at something behind Cutler. Again confused, Cutler turned to around. There was nothing out of the ordinary that he could see. His chair, the window, his cane…

"I am sorry, Cutler," James said, his laughter fading. "It just seems odd to think of you not being a lord…and yet still having that cane of yours." His eyes still fixed on the cane, he flushed slightly. "So, what does your new job entail, if you don't mind me asking?"

But Cutler was still eyeing the curious flush on James' face. "Why are you blushing at the thought of my cane?" This question made James' cheeks grow hotter, much to Cutler's amusement and bewilderment. "James?"

"Nothing. I just remembered…" He smiled slightly. "I mean, it was a rather interesting accident, but I remember it being so shocking."

Cutler's brow furrowed. "What accident?"

James raised his eyebrows. "You never knew?"

"Knew what?" Cutler asked exasperatedly.

"You…struck me with it. Once. Aboard the Flying Dutchman. I nearly cried out in surprise." He flushed darker.

Cutler blinked, trying to think of the incident James was talking about. "Where did I hit you?" James seemed to be both embarrassed and amused by this question.

"Do you have children, Cutler?"

Cutler tilted his head to the side. "No. I'm not married. And what does that have to do with anything?"

"Ever been punished as a child?"

"Well…yes. What of it?"

"Ever had your parents use the rod?"

Cutler continued trying to figure out what this conversation had to do with his cane when it suddenly dawned on him. "I didn't!" he gasped, covering his mouth to stifle his laughter.

James reached back to rub his backside almost subconsciously as he nodded. "You did."

"You never mentioned it," Cutler said as he laughed.

"What would you have had me say?" James said with a grin. "Sir, did you mean to smack me in the ass with your cane or was that an accident?"

"You have a point…but maybe you deserved it and the cane sensed it."

"As if your cane is alive!"

"If you can be rescued by naked mermaids than I can have a cane that comes to life."

"I never said anything about a her being naked!"

Cutler shrugged. "So I used my imagination."

The two broke down in a fit of laughter over live canes and naked mermaids, the wine they had consumed no doubt prolonging this laughter somewhat. After they could finally breathe again, Cutler asked, "What did you think I meant by it?"

"Mean by what?"

"Smacking your ass," Cutler said with a smirk. "You never mentioned it, but surely you thought I meant something by it."

James began blushing again. "I, well, I think I assumed that I had done something wrong, or that you just…randomly smacked me, or that it really was an accident…"

Besides the fact that it was James' buttocks they were discussing, Cutler wondered why James kept blushing about the incident. However, given that embarrassment, Cutler decided to kindly steer the conversation in a different direction. "It is getting rather late—would you like to join me for supper? I rarely get guests these days, at least ones I like, and I would enjoy the company."

James smiled and nodded. "I would be honored, sir."

"Excellent! Just let me put some of these papers away and we'll be off."

James became a regular guest in the Beckett household and was over nearly every day. Cutler did not know where James went "home" to, and James was strangely reluctant to inform him and would always try to distract him with another topic of conversation. Out of curiosity, Cutler decided to follow James home one evening.

Cutler had leant him a horse, half-hoping that James would give away where he stayed with his acceptance (or rejection) of the transport. Cutler followed as far back as he could, trying not to let James know he was being followed and also trying to keep James within his sight, which was becoming increasingly difficult.

However, Cutler did manage to follow James to a beach. It was deserted and the waves were calm. Cutler watched from a cluster of trees as James dismounted and tied the horse to a post, stroking it and whispering something to it before walking a few paces away to where there seemed to be the remnants of a fire. He knelt beside it and began trying to make it come to life.

Cutler realized that James had no home. He had nothing but the clothes he was wearing. Not wanting to embarrass James by appearing and revealing that he knew where James lived, Cutler turned around and headed back to his manor.

The next time James visited, Cutler repeatedly offered second helpings of food and wine, all of which James accepted. Cutler did not know how to bring up where James lived, but he wanted to help as much as he could. He had plenty of room—James could stay in the guest quarters. But he was not certain how to make the offer without bringing up James' living conditions. James was obviously a proud man who did not want his poverty known.

But he was also Cutler's friend.

Cutler smiled slightly as he watched James take a sip of wine. Yes, James was his friend, and one of the only friends Cutler had ever had. It was nice to have someone he could talk to, someone who did not judge him for his past mistakes. Although, maybe James did, but thought that his own faults somehow evened it out.

But no matter James' thoughts or feelings about Cutler, the fallen lord was very grateful for James' company and friendship.

"You know, if you ever wish to, you can stay here for the night. My servants would not mind, and I would be glad to have a friend so close by," Cutler suggested as they drank.

James paused before saying, "I may take you up on that."

But he did not take up that offer for over a week. And when he finally did, Cutler was surprised to awaken to screaming. By the time he had left his room, the screams had stopped, but he decided to go check on James anyway. It was most likely a nightmare of sorts, but just in case it was not, Cutler brought along his pistol.

As Cutler approached the door to James' room, he realized that he heard sobbing coming from within. He stood outside the door, trying to decide whether to knock or to go back to bed.

"Who's there?" a weak a voice suddenly asked.

Cutler sighed and said, "It's Cutler. I thought I heard something."

"That was me."

The door opened, revealing James in nothing but his breeches, his eyes bloodshot. "I am sorry I disturbed you."

"Are you all right?" Cutler knew that was a stupid question—obviously James was not all right, but Cutler could not think of what else to ask.

"I…I'm fine." James moistened his lips and looked down at his feet. "Just nightmares. Silly, right?" James said, forcing a smile.

Cutler shook his head slightly. "No. We all have them. I've had quite a few about my death. Or near-death." He chuckled. "I even used to have dreams about losing my power in the Company. Of course, in those I ended up without a home either." Cutler winced slightly as he remembered that James did not really have a home.

"Mine was about Elizabeth. And me. And our deaths," James said quietly.

"I expect that the Dutchman is the last place you want to be in your dreams."

"Actually, we were aboard the Dauntless in this one," James corrected. "Skeletal pirates and all." He shuddered, wiping away a tear.

"You really love her."

James swallowed and nodded. "Elizabeth was the only woman I ever loved. And she left me for a pirate."

"Then she's a fool."

James smiled weakly. "Again, I am sorry to have disturbed you—I'll be quiet." They stood in silence for a moment before James said, "Goodnight," and closed the door. Cutler walked back to his room and lay in bed, his mind keeping him awake as he thought about everything he had been through, and everything James had been through.

James stayed the next night as well, and Cutler was again awoken by a cry. This time he did not bring a weapon, and he knocked lightly on the door. "I'm-I'm sorry," James said from inside. "I didn't mean to wake you."

Cutler slowly opened the door and saw James sitting on the edge of the bed with his head in his hands. The curtains were closed, leaving the room extremely dark. "Do you want some light?" Cutler asked.

James looked up at him, his eyes wide and horrified. "No! No, the moon…the moon is full. It—the pirates. Skeletons."

"You had another nightmare, James," Cutler said, sitting beside him on the bed. "You're all right. No one is going to hurt you here."

"I'm such a fool."

"A fool is someone who is not afraid of anything," Cutler countered, placing his hand over James'.

"But I'm afraid of something that has not happened—will not happen!"

"You have been through a lot, James," Cutler said as he wrapped his hand around James' comfortingly. "There's no shame in that. And I hope…I hope I can help you overcome those fears from the past."

"You're a good friend, Cutler."

Cutler shook his head with a small smile. "No. I'm not. I just understand what you're going through."

"You don't believe that you are a good friend?"

Cutler thought for a moment. "No. I don't. I used you—I used everyone to my advantage."

"You aren't using me right now."

"True," Cutler conceded.

"Perhaps I am not the only one who needs to move beyond the past, Cutler."

Cutler turned to James, whose eyes were glinting in the dark. "Perhaps so."

The two fell silent, their hands clasped together and their eyes gazing steadily at each other. Cutler felt the silence growing longer and uncomfortable, but he could not think of what to say, and he did not wish to be the first to pull his hand away. James seemed to be operating much the same, given that they sat there for a good five minutes before either spoke.

"Since we are both awake, would you object to a late night drink? Relax a little before trying to go back to bed?" Cutler suggested, standing and pulling his hand away from James. He was surprised when James held on for a few moments longer, letting go of his hand reluctantly.

"That sounds like a good idea."

The two settled into the library, where there were large, comfortable chairs in case either fell asleep before making it back to bed. "Have I mentioned how much I appreciate you welcoming me into your home, Cutler?"

"Countless times," Cutler answered, handing James a drink. "And again, it's no trouble."

After a few more drinks, the two men were exchanging rather compromising stories of their childhood, and some later events as well. "You started young," James said through his laughter.

"I was seduced!" Cutler protested.

"By your stable boy?"

"He was a good friend."

"Oh, obviously," James said, snickering slightly.

Cutler rolled his eyes. "Please. Don't tell me that you, a Navy man all his life, never had such an encounter below decks."

James flushed. "Not that young. And it was…not like that."

"Simply a helping hand?"

"I suppose," James admitted. "But that was a long time ago. Those in the higher ranks—."

"Are old enough to be experts with their own hands," Cutler finished.

James glared at him. "Those in the higher ranks are past that stage of being…well, like that. I mean, men don't have such strong urges. Or at least, we can control them."

Cutler shrugged. "Perhaps, perhaps not." Cutler took another drink. "Somehow I think that you got past that stage because you met a certain young lady." James blushed again, but said nothing. Cutler leaned forward, putting a hand on James' knee. "I apologize. I did not mean to talk about Miss Swann."

James shook his head with a sigh. "No, it's fine. I have to accept her decision and move on. She fell in love with someone else, she can't help that." James closed his eyes and sighed heavily.

Cutler watched sadly as a tear made its way down James' cheek. Damn Miss Swann. She was a bloody idiot anyway. James had had the money, the prestige, the power—not to mention that he was as handsome as any man Cutler had ever seen and that he was a true gentleman. And James deserved much better than the meager life he was now living. Cutler hoped to help give James a better life, and to always be there for him.

But it was not until the Company sent Cutler away to India for a year that he realized: he loved James.

James stayed at Beckett's manor and worked from his office, having managed to get a job in the lower ranks of the Company. The home was very lonely without Cutler, but James was quite comfortable. His life was now in a predictable pattern, and although his only company was servants and random agents of the East India Trading Company, he found that he was rather happy. However, he missed Cutler more than he would admit, even to himself.

It was difficult for James to remember that Cutler had never shown any romantic interest in James, and had ignored James' subtle advances over the months as James tried to figure out if Cutler may, perhaps, feel more for him then friendship, as James did with Cutler. But James was more than content to be Cutler's friend, and he knew that them being lovers probably would never have worked out anyway, so there was no need to think of what might have been.

Unfortunately, James' nightmares continued. Along with a dead Elizabeth, skeletal pirates, and creatures with sharp objects, Cutler had made his way into many of the dreams. But, in James' dreams, either Cutler would end up being "the bad guy" or he would end up dead. James cursed himself for his unconscious mind that fed him haunting images of those he loved dead.

As the weeks passed by, James waited eagerly for the day his friend would return home from India. For days James did not worry about Cutler. The trip was long and no doubt something would hold him up.

But then those days turned into weeks, and then into months. And then, finally, a messenger arrived at the manor. Apparently an old enemy of Cutler's had finally caught up with him in India.

Cutler had been dead for months.

The next day, James was gone. The servants at the Beckett manor continued to keep the home tidy for when he returned—but years went by, and he never did. Rumor had it that James stowed away aboard a merchant vessel and then abandoned it, swimming to the island where he had been nursed back to health by the mermaid—the only living being he knew cared about him.

Of course, that was just rumor.