Pairings: Jack/James (in a backhanded sort of way), plus James/various other characters male and female.
Summary: Jack has an idea for how to distract James from pursuing him. James is certainly distracted. Set between CotBP and DMC.
Disclaimer: I don't own them; Disney does.
Author's notes: For the prompt "Jack/James -- an unwanted gift."
The first of the women is blonde and heavily painted, loitering by the gate of the fence surrounding James's new house as if she's been waiting there a while. He eyes her for a long moment before addressing her, both in an effort to encourage her to loiter elsewhere and in an effort to determine the most appropriate way of addressing her.
"May I help you?" he settles on finally.
"You're Commodore Norrington, are you?" She looks him up and down so frankly that he finds himself momentarily at a loss for further words. "You are at that," she says, rather mystifyingly, and then makes as if to take his arm. "Well, I'm at your disposal, duckie. Compliments of a friend."
James isn't sure he knows how to respond to being called "duckie," and is certain he doesn't know how to respond any more to being called "Commodore," one of the two ships that proved the title now being at the bottom of the ocean. He considers addressing her apparent belief that he has any friends who would consider this an appropriate sort of gift, but settles for addressing the fundamentals of the situation.
"That won't be necessary," he says. "Please go away."
"He did say you weren't always the most friendly sort, but I assure you I'm friendly enough for two," she says, her fingers straying up his coat sleeve. Her fingernails are dirty, and she smells of cheap scent.
"I'm not interested," he says. "I assure you."
She shrugs one shoulder. "Well, you'll suit yourself, I'm sure," she says. She backs away, and it only occurs to James that she is retreating safely out of reach when she calls "Captain Jack Sparrow says to send you his love!"
James considers having her clapped in irons so he can find out just what else of interest Sparrow might have said, but she darts off down the street, and he's not sure he wants the question of what she was doing at his house examined too closely. Anyway, he doesn't have any irons. He leans on the gate, considering retreating himself to somewhere he can drink his dinner.
Instead he makes himself go inside, looking around the small garden with determined satisfaction. It's a fine house. It will be more comfortable than sleeping at the fort when he's in port. If he were being perfectly honest with himself, he would have to admit that he had it built in hopes that it would eventually please Elizabeth, but he's had too long a day to be that honest with himself this evening.
The housekeeper has left a plate for him in the warm oven. He pushes meat around his plate for a while, feeling that he should consume something other than brandy. It's domestic tranquility, he tells himself. He wishes he were better at convincing himself.
The second of the women is a brunette, slender in an angular way that probably owes more to missed meals than anything else but that still makes him react with an uncomfortable flicker of desire. It's not that she looks like Elizabeth, but there's something about her that makes him think of Elizabeth's coltish awkwardness and also of boys, and for that matter of boys in dresses, a sight with which he is not entirely unfamiliar, although her dress traces the curves of her small breasts tightly enough that he's in no doubt about her sex.
"Let me guess," James says. He stands with his hand on the gate, not wanting to open it and seem to be inviting her inside. It's been another long day, and he's not in the mood for games. "Compliments of a friend."
"He said you could probably use cheering up," she says. She blushes -- actually blushes -- and he wonders with a moment's anger how old the girl is.
"Increasingly," he says. "Tell Sparrow I'm not interested in whatever game he's playing."
"He said you'd say that, too," she says. She hasn't ever come close enough for him to grasp her, and she takes a couple of quick steps back on the words. "And that I was to tell you you ought t'have something to distract you from catching pirates."
"Not likely," James says, but she runs as if she's expecting him to brandish the irons he still doesn't have. He considers taking a pair home with him the next day, but he thinks that will only fuel impertinent speculation into his private affairs.
He is certainly not thinking about irons locked around slender wrists, or about Elizabeth's slim body pressed back against Sparrow's, her soaking wet shift clinging to her skin. That is not the kind of thing he thinks about.
He has the urge to kick the gate, and makes himself open it very carefully and close it as if it might break.
The third of the women is a different sort, in a dress that a respectable wife might wear, if more likely to a ball than in broad daylight, and her dark hair neatly done up off her neck. She has sharp dark eyes, and he's sure that he'd remember having seen her before, if only because he would have warned her that Port Royal wasn't in need of her sort.
"It was kind of you to invite me," she says. "But I'm not in the habit of visiting strange gentlemen's houses without at least an introduction first." She produces a fan and considers him over it with an assessing look that James has only ever given new crewmen when judging their fitness for duty.
"I'm afraid you have the advantage of me," James says. "I expect you're new in town, but I assure you I'm not in the habit of inviting ... ladies ... to dine without having been introduced to them first."
"Just passing through," she says, furling the fan neatly. "But a mutual friend passed on your ... very kind invitation."
"Sparrow," James growls.
This one stands her ground in the face of his frustration, with an ease that makes him wonder if she is concealing a pistol somewhere about her person. He resists the urge to try to determine where she might be keeping one. "Was it his idea, then? He said you'd been unlucky in love, and that you were looking for a new friend."
"Tell Sparrow," James begins, but he doesn't know what he wants her to tell Sparrow, other than that he looks forward to eventually clapping him in irons. "Tell Sparrow that I am not looking for new friends. And that I look forward to telling him so in person."
"If that's how it is," she says, looking as if he's said something amusing.
"And that I'm not in the market for whores."
"Tell him yourself," she says, sounding as if she has nearly as little patience with this encounter as he does. "He's not paying me that much."
James is sure there's something cutting to say in return, but he can't think of what it might be before she's gone.
The fourth night his garden gate is remarkably free of women of ill repute. James breathes a sigh of relief -- he's sure it's relief -- until he sees the boy in workman's clothes standing awkwardly in the shadow of the mango tree, looking uneasy without his hands full of parcels to deliver.
James finds himself thinking for a moment of Turner -- the boy is a bit younger, but has the same great dark eyes -- and then sets his jaw.
"Absolutely not," he snaps.
The boy makes eyes at him, looking up at him through his lashes like a girl, and James digs his nails into his palms to punish his own unwanted reaction. "Your friend said you might be in a bit of a temper. He said to tell you not to do anything he wouldn't do."
"There is nothing I am in the least bit interested in doing that Sparrow would do," James says through gritted teeth. "Now get out of here before I have you up before the magistrate for public indecency."
"I never said any such thing," the boy says, his eyes sparkling with more spirit that James expected. "I can't help what a gentleman like you thinks." He strolls off whistling, and this time James does kick the gate. It makes his toes throb, and probably makes him look a fool, but it's at least a little satisfying.
The fifth night the woman waiting at the gate is a red-faced maid in an apron and white cap, and James feels somehow offended. Surely Sparrow doesn't think this scrubbed-looking little thing will succeed where the rest of his obscene plans have failed.
She dips into a curtsy when he approaches. "Begging your pardon, sir," she says nervously, "but Mrs. Hampton says she can't be coming to your house for dinner, not a woman alone as she is and having to think of her reputation. But she'd be most glad to see you for tea, or to go out walking with you, more proper like."
It's a moment before James can call to mind Livia Hampton, for all that she's a lieutenant's widow and in some way his responsibility, besides having been at all the same teas and balls and garden parties that he's sweated through for the last few years. She's a fine young woman, and will surely not be long without a second husband. It's still hard for him to picture her except as part of a background against which Elizabeth shines.
"I'm afraid there's been some mistake," James says carefully. "I hate to think it, but I must believe someone is having some amusement at our expense."
The girl's eyes flash. "That's wicked, it is," she says. "And here you were probably thinking ..." She blushes suddenly and fiercely.
"Of course your mistress meant nothing improper," James said. "Please tell her I should be happy to call on her for tea if the occasion presents itself."
He could, he supposes, once the girl has taken herself off in a flutter. Or if not Livia Hampton, whose only virtues that he knows of are that she is a handsome young woman and, apparently, attainable, he could make a serious effort to court someone.
It seems less like a pleasurable prospect than like a chore, which he supposes it is. He can't expect to stumble into a good match without any effort. It apparently takes being Turner to do that.
He doesn't make the effort that night to stop himself from thinking about Turner and Elizabeth together, as wrong as he knows it is; he's got to think about something.
The sixth night there is no one waiting at the garden gate. James stands for a moment swinging the gate back and forth in his hand before actually stepping in and closing it behind him. He eats his somewhat congealed dinner and lights the lamps when the sun sets. He makes an effort to read, deliberately turning the pages of a book. There's the rattle of pebbles against the window.
James goes out through the kitchen into the back garden, and stops stock-still when he sees the figure standing under a tree. It's Groves, with the very straight posture he adopts when he's nervous and trying not to show it. He doesn't step forward out of the shadows.
"I got your note," Groves says. He lets the words hang between them as if there's nothing else that needs to be said.
James's heart clenches in his chest. He's suddenly and absolutely sure that he could take a step forward and kiss the man here in the shadows, warm lips against his own and warm breath on his cheek, warm hands finding the small of his back under his uniform coat. He can feel himself reacting to the very thought, his blood pounding. He's not sure he can speak.
"You wanted to see me," Groves says, a little more uncertain now, and it's the uncertainty that makes the tight band around his heart splinter and crack. It's a young officer's place to look up to his captain, and a captain's place not to encourage an unwise sort of adoration. It can only end in the dirty questions of preferment and what each of them would do with the weapons they held over each other's careers.
He wants to do it anyway. He wants to drag the man inside and kiss him hard enough to bruise, to work out all his frustrations on a friend's willing body. He wants to start the process of breaking them both. In a way that James senses but doesn't understand, it would be a relief to finally break.
Instead he clears his throat so that he can master his voice. "I sent no note," he says. "I'm afraid there's some practical joker afoot."
"That's damned inconvenient," Groves says. He's admirably the master of his own voice, and if he's flushed, the cover of darkness hides it well enough. "I suppose it wasn't likely you had urgent orders at this hour."
"I'm sorry you were put to the trouble for nothing," James says.
"It's not such trouble." James should ask him to come in and have a drink before he walks back to the fort. That would be the natural thing to do.
"Good night," he says instead, and retreats back inside, closing the door and barring it as if that would help. He's shaking, whether with anger or desire he's not even sure. He wants to snarl at Sparrow for taking the game this far. It's not fair for Sparrow to touch anything in his life that's real.
He picks up his brandy glass and throws it against the wall, hearing the glass shatter with a ringing smash. It's not at all what he really wants.
The seventh night the garden is empty. There is no one at the gate. James picks at his solitary dinner and tells himself he should be enjoying a peaceful evening. He feels anything but peaceful. It's hard to think of any appropriate subject at all. He finds the driest thing he can to read -- a well-worn manual on navigation -- and attempts to discipline himself with arcs and tangents.
He perserveres until the lamp is guttering and the tight band of a headache is starting above his temples. He goes to put out the lamp, and the moonlight catches something odd on the windowsill.
James picks up the folded slip of paper and turns it round in his fingers for a while before opening it.
You're a single-minded sort, it reads. Pity I couldn't get you off the idea of trying to hang me. Unless you've thought of something more entertaining we could do.
There's no signature, just five more scrawled words: Catch me if you can.
James throws open the window and stares out into the empty garden. The moon is sinking low into the trees, and in the east there's the first hint of a lightening sky.
James crushes the letter savagely in his fist and reaches for his coat. By the time he reaches the fort, it'll be a decent hour to make ready to put to sea.