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ArWen the Eternally Surprised
Author: Ria Time: 2007/11/22
Arwen encounters a strange monk and gains a little extra time.
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On Starless Waters Far Astray
Submitter: Date: 2007/9/30 Views: 323 Rate: 0.00/1
Summary: Title: On Starless Waters Far Astray
Author: Empy [empyreus(at)]
Pairing: Imrahil/James Norrington
Fandom: Lord of the Rings/Pirates of the Caribbean crossover
Rating: R
Disclaimer: LotR belongs to JRR Tolkien; PotC belongs to Disney. This is a work of fiction, and, as such, a pack of lies that the author derives no monetary benefit from.
Feedback: Yes, please.
A/N: Written for EdorasLass for the Sons of Gondor 2006 Halloween fic exchange. Part of her request read "if anyone wants to do some bizarre Norrington/Boromir or Norrington/Imrahil crossover, I would probably drop dead with the happy", and my brain took the idea and ran.
Set between PotC: tCotBP and PotC: DMC and in roughly TA 3016.

James Norrington woke to the sound of swans. They had to be swans, as he could think of no other animal capable of making such wretched noise, possibly apart from geese.

The first thing he saw when he opened his eyes was neither land nor sea, but a dried pool of his own vomit on the deck. The wind had picked up, and the ship rolled and stamped sickeningly. His side and leg throbbed with a pain so strong it made him want to vomit once more, and an experimental flex of his knee told him some part of the leg was rendered nigh useless. Drawing as deep a breath as his aching ribs would allow, he gave voice to a long string of invectives, the sound slightly muffled by the deck directly under his chin and cheek. The plank under his cheek flexed, and he could hear footsteps approaching. While his first reaction was to flee, he realized there was no way he could manage to stand up, let alone run. And what was worse, where would he have to run to on the ship?

The tips of a pair of black leather boots appeared in his field of vision. Sand crusted the sole, and he deliriously reasoned land could not be far away. Trying to lift his head or at least turn it, he gave up as soon as the first bright bolt of pain lanced through his head.

He did not know how long he had lain on the deck. He could remember the autumn storm that lashed salt water at him with such ferocity he felt like he was being whipped, and he remembered scrambling up onto the foretop to take down the bosun trapped there. They had bickered, that he remembered, both about James being up in the rigging without a harness and about whether the corposants twirling about the crosstrees of the other masts were one or two. "They're two," the bosun gibbered, "Castor and Pollux, they are, come to say the storm's passing!" He himself had seen only one flame, a long tongue of eerily flickering light, but had not had time to voice his protest before the ship dove, sending him into a crouch that made him lose his footing on the sea-drenched tackle.

He had not fallen immediately, but had tumbled down laboriously, snagging on yard and tangling himself into sail. The last three yards had been a clear fall onto the deck. His skull had bounced off one of the capstan handles, and then the darkness had swallowed him.

There had been short glimmers of light in the otherwise impenetrable darkness, but they had been too fragmentary to be of any use to him. He had noted, dimly, that the voice of the crew seemed weaker each time he came to, but had been unable to think of a reason why, apart perhaps from wondering if his hearing was deteriorating along with his body. The storm had still roared, hissing with foam-capped waves and growling gusts of wind, and it had seemed indefatigable. He had been right about the single corposant, then, he had noted before lapsing into unconsciousness once more.

As he had come to again to the roar of thunder, he had wondered why he did not seem to have moved. Surely he had been visible to the crew if he had lain sprawled between foremast and capstan? Then again, he had not been on the best of terms with the crew, and they might have decided he could blame himself for falling from the foretop. It was not an impossible theory, he reasoned, swallowing back the bile that threatened to rise in his throat as he shifted.

The sky above him was dim with mist, but his eyes still burned. He groaned as unseen hands turned him over roughly, tipping him onto his back. The mast rose above him like a skeletal tree, seeming to lean to and fro. Somewhere to the aft, a lone voice groaned, then fell silent. The waves breaking against the hull of the ship sounded heavy, as though the Flyvende Ulv was wading through ice and slurry, and the wind that sighed softly over the deck was much colder than one might expect from Mediterranean waters. He tried to sit up, but got only halfway before collapsing again. His head ached from the cold, and the sickening vertigo that set in as soon as he lifted his head did nothing to improve it. Closing his eyes, he attempted to ride out the nausea.

Back in Tripoli, he had not cared to carefully inspect the ship he had boarded. Had he done so, he would have noticed the scabrous parrot that did nothing but shout abuse and the syphilitic crew with mere pits for noses and the delirious demeanour of those with mercury poisoning. As things stood, he would have to tolerate both until he found a port close enough to Jack Sparrow and far enough from his old life. He did not wish to be reminded of the fact that Elizabeth was not his but belonged to an upstart of a blacksmith.

The Flyvende Ulv was suitably grandiosely named, though she was far from a frigate of the line. She was Danish, and had been sold to the East India Company some years previous, but her captain seemed none too concerned with matters of contractual loyalty. "We are loyal when it is needed," he grinned, showing a cracked front tooth. "She does not take well to her new masters, but gold is gold. She is a sleek wolf and will fly fleet when whipped," he continued, "and fears neither storm nor swell."

James had nodded, deciding to ignore the boast, and quickly and curtly described his mission. If they could catch up with Jack Sparrow, they would be handsomely rewarded. The captain had deliberated for all of two heartbeats, then given another toothy grin. "This bitch likes the hunt," he said, patting the mast nearest him, "and Jack Sparrow is a morsel to her taste. Only remember that you forfeit your title, master Norrington. When you board and we lift anchor, you are what we tell you to be."

This had been a bitter pill for James to swallow, but he had accepted. To be temporarily stripped of his title was a small humiliation when compared to what had befallen him.

When he opened his eyes again, suddenly aware of a rising level of noise, he found that he was surrounded. The men, half a dozen or so, looked down at him with alarming interest. They were all very tall and grim-looking, dressed in strangely old-fashioned livery in dark grey and dark blue, and carried heavy swords. He swallowed around the stubborn lump in his throat and attempted to greet them. The salute was met with stoic silence, something which was repeated after his greetings in halting Spanish and French. When at length one of them spoke, it was in no language he knew or understood. It was rather pleasant, all rolling vowels and crisp consonants, but he was unable to understand a single syllable of it. Had he been Jack Sparrow, he would surely have understood them. He was not, however, and so he put his head into his hands in a universal gesture of despondency.

The soldiers did not waste time trying to find a way of communicating, and instead grouped around to haul him up. He was half dragged, half carried to the railing, and dumped unceremoniously into a waiting shore boat. The two men rowing were silent, seeming not to see James, who crouched awkwardly at their feet, trying not to move his injured leg.

His weak legs stumbled on the slippery boards of the pier when they came ashore. He could offer no real resistance in his current state, and his head hurt far too much for him to be able to do much more than hang slack in the arms of his captors as they hauled him towards a large stone house at the top of a slope.

The house, a tall three-storey building, was as imposing on the inside as it was on the outside. The stair runner was dark blue, melting into the slate steps and echoing the blue of the tapestries on the walls, and it effectively muffled even the heavy tread of the men as they dragged James up the stairs.

He was ushered into a large, high-ceilinged room and pushed down to sit on a padded bench by the wall. He did not protest, because his leg and head still hurt, and instead he leaned back against the wall.

"I demand to know where I am," he said, wincing as he heard how weak his voice sounded. The men in front of him looked at each other, one shaking his head, then another addressed him. It sounded like a question, but James could not understand any of it. His bewilderment must have been visible, for the question was repeated, but James had no time to reply before the door was flung open.

The man entering the room was grey-haired and jovial-looking, but his attitude was far from pleasant. Marching right up to him, he spared James a cursory glance before setting to inspecting the injured leg. The ankle was swollen and already dappled with bruises, and there was a long and angry-looking gash along the outside of the knee. As the man, no doubt a physician of some sort, took a firm hold of the injured foot and twisted it smartly to the right, James screamed. He had intended to curse, but the pain was too sudden and too sharp, and what had begun as a salty invective turned into a wordless wail.

Next, the physician took hold of his neck, his plump fingers feeling out the bones rather unkindly. The feeling of bare hands against his neck was unsettling and James wondered if he would be yet another sorry soul filed under "sus. per col.", before realizing this was no hangman measuring the neck of his victim, but someone who could snap his neck like a twig and wanted to show it. The faces of his captors -as he had taken to calling them- were unreadable, save for the occasional tiny flicker of amusement at his dishevelled appearance or consternation when he shifted. His throat was dry and his head ached, and he was unable to make sense of his surroundings. There were tapestries on the walls, adorned with a white swan and a ship, but he could recall no such coat of arms; the surroundings seemed more like England than the Caribbean, and everything seemed too old-fashioned.

The physician took James's face into his hands, the grip as unkind as the last, and peered into his eyes. He passed some judgement, the language the same as the one the soldiers had spoken, and James's heart sank as he found himself still unable to understand it. It was not Spanish, nor was it any dialect of French. It did not sound like Greek or Persian, or, in fact, any language he had encountered.

He turned his head toward the door when he heard the stamp of a soldier snapping to attention. The man entering the room must have been royalty or at least very high in rank, he surmised, as the others present shrank back and bowed low. He wore a surcoat much like that of the others, save for the silver piping and the ornate swan emblazoned on the front. He was as tall and as stern-looking as the men who had fetched James from the ship and manhandled him down to the seafront house, and his eyes were so sharp and keen that James felt like squirming. A general's eyes, those, pitiless.

He addressed the physician, who gave a dry bark of laughter and gave a dismissive wave of his hand as he stood. James listened intently, hoping to understand or at least identify the language, but to no avail. He had never heard anything like it.

"I demand to know where I am and why I am held in custody," he said, raising his voice. "I have been offered neither explanation nor apology."

The only reply was silence. The commander looked at him, seeming puzzled, then held back one of the men who tried to walk over to James. He asked something, the language seeming to be different from that spoken by the physician but still indecipherable. One of the soldiers piped up, briefly pointing at the window, then at James as he explained something. James, deciding attack was the best course of action, stood up, intending to demand answers using force if need be. No sooner had he got to his feet than his legs went out from under him. His ears were ringing and the entire room seemed to spin, and he gladly submitted to unconsciousness.

Imrahil turned away from the window at which he had stood looking down at the unfamiliar vessel moored in the harbour below.

"A common mariner he is not, nor is he a spy sent by the Nameless One. I have studied enough lore and lived long enough to tell that the tongue he speaks is neither that of the Haradrim nor that of the Easterlings. Quite what it is, I cannot tell, but freely or widely spoken it is not." He paused.

"He is like enough to the Numenoreans to be taken for one, but his dress is unfamiliar and bewildering. Were he from Harad, he would have taken great pride in garish dress and crude weapons, but he only carries a simple sword fit better to be an ornament. His ship is the worse riddle. It is not like any other that I have seen pass through this port, and it cannot be a Corsair ship, for it is not their wont to fly false flag. Their sails are always black."

The aide standing by the large desk nodded his assent, then gathered up the maps that littered the table. "The maps we found on the vessel are foreign, and from what I have been able to glean, they are not of these lands. What will you have us do with him, my lord?

"Let him rest for now. I will see him myself this evening."

James woke suddenly, feeling as though someone was watching him. Someone was, in fact. The tallest man, the commander, sat across from him, fingers steepled under his chin. His entire demeanour said "I don't trust you. At all." His grey eyes gleamed in the half-darkness, picking up candlelight and reflected light from the bracers he wore. James frowned. Bracers? Surely no one wore those as a matter of habit any longer. It only served to confirm his suspicions that time was out of joint here.

He sat up, noting that he had been carried into a different room and bedded. Whoever had done this had not cared to strip him of his old clothes, a small detail he was thankful for. His head still ached, but it was less of a bother than before, and he found himself able to stand up and cross the floor to sit down the table.

The commander rose from his seat and joined James at the table. He set down a quill, an inkhorn and a sheet of parchment in front of James, then raised a dark eyebrow. Pointing at himself, James reeled through the possibilities. Should he write his name, draw a map or, worse yet, end up signing what would turn into a confession he had not voiced? The officer looked back at him, neither nodding nor shaking his head. Quelling the urge to sigh, James took up the quill, inked it, and then wrote "I am Commodore James Norrington. My ship" (here he halted, then decided his grumbling conscious would go unheeded) "has come off course and most of the crew seems to have absconded or died." He let the tip of the quill hover over the parchment, then set it down. That would have to do. He pushed the sheet over the table toward the man who, he was becoming more sure, was not a regular commander.

After inspecting the parchment, the man reached across for the quill and wrote something in a fluid and ornate hand. James, watching this upside-down, felt his heart sink. The letters were utterly alien: all loops and curlicues unlike any alphabet he had seen before. There was some similarity, he fancied, to the swirled script of the Moors, though not enough, and it was wildly different from the even more alien picture script of the Far East. He slowly shook his head as the man looked up at him, and he fought to tamp down on the frustration that gnawed at him. He could not understand their speech or their writing, he had lost his bearings and most if not all of his crew, and he seemed to be treated like a criminal. He could think of no way out, and even if he managed to flee down to the ship, he would not be able to pilot it without a crew.

The other man suddenly turned the parchment around, then stabbed the quill at the word 'Commodore' and looked up at James. He shook his head once more, then moved the tip of the quill an inch to the right. The other man raised his eyebrows in enquiry. So that was what it had come to: a game of point and name.

"Norrington," said James, taking care to enunciate clearly, then pointed at himself. "James Norrington."

"Imrahil," said the other man, pointing back at himself with the quill.

"Imrahil," repeated James, mulling over the strange name. Was it a first name, a last name or a title?'

Imrahil (if that indeed was his name) still seemed stern and wary, and he now leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. His gaze raked over James, seeming to take in every detail, and the wrinkle between his brows deepened momentarily as he saw the torn and stained ruff of James's shirt. James looked down at himself, nervously picking at his sleeve. He did not know what the commander intended to accomplish by waking him up in what seemed to be the middle of the night to have him set quill to parchment, and Imrahil seemed equally puzzled. After attempting to communicate a short phrase to James in what sounded like several languages, he sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He then lifted his hands, looking like he might next resort to mime, but then seemed to think better of it and lowered them again. James shook his head, for lack of better, and could only helplessly look on as Imrahil rose and headed for the door. Another attempt foiled, then, he thought, trying to ignore the strange lump of ice that seemed to have formed in the pit of his stomach. He folded his arms on the table and leaned his forehead against them, willing himself to breathe calmly. There had to be a rational explanation for all of this. Failing that, there had to be a way out of there.

The people he had seen all seemed stern and vary of him, even though there was actually very little that distinguished him from them. He had been treated far better and with less suspicion even in Tripoli.

He had been listening to the long litanies that they had presented at regular intervals for the past day, hoping to hear at least one familiar word, but so far there had been nothing familiar. It seemed they had tried different languages, but to James's ears they all sounded equally alien. The tone was even, making it difficult to determine if they were accusing him of something or attempting to inform him. Either way, they did not seem to trust him, as he was still ensconced in the large house. There was nothing wrong with his surroundings, nor with the food he was served, but the lack of a viable way of communicating was driving him up the walls. Having to communicate solely through gestures frustrated him, and he had noted that both parties slipped to talking occasionally. Fat lot of good that did either of them, he thought bitterly.

His leg seemed better, and he was thankful that the local cure did not involve the usual copious amounts of blackstrap, but he hobbled terribly when he walked. The cut that snaked along the curve of his skull itched horribly, but after the first instance of the physician roughly yanking his hand away, James had decided that it was most prudent to abstain from picking at it, even though it smarted.

The few crewmembers who had been taken alive from the ship along with him did not seem to have improved. They sat pale as ghosts on the edges of their beds, and only took food when they were force-fed. None of them had spoken during the short moments James had been allowed to see them, but he had no reason to believe their behaviour would be any different in his absence. Though they had not been on the best of terms, they had always spoken to him, if only to jeer at his sudden lack of status. The empty shells that sat staring at nothing were no longer the crew he had come to know, and that knowledge struck a sinister chord in him. There was no way out of this port, was there? He had a ship, but no crew; he had been placed in custody without even the possibility of parley for lack of a common language; and, worst of all, he had completely lost his bearings.

He stared morosely down into the bowl of stew that he had been served by way of dinner. Had he been a superstitious man, he would no doubt have thought Jack Sparrow had cursed him. It would have been an awfully convenient way to explain the wretched ill luck he was having. Curse Jack Sparrow, he thought, curse him twice and thrice. And curse the lying cur of a captain that had piloted the Flyvende Ulv into a storm, and curse Will Turner for unfairly stealing Elizabeth. He clenched his jaw, ignoring the discomfort of the cracking scar. He would hunt them all down and make them pay for everything. For his lost commission, for his lost love, for his lost life.

The next evening, James was startled by a sudden knock on his door. He did not have time to get up off the bed and hobble to the door before it swung open to reveal Imrahil. This time, he was not flanked by his aides or by soldiers, and he even gestured for the two guards posted outside the door to remain at their posts. He carried an elaborately decorated flagon and two goblets, which he set down on the table before pulling up a chair next to the bed. He remained standing as James attempted to rearrange his clothing to something resembling order.

Imrahil was silent, but James was not surprised by this. He had taken to silence himself, having found that none of the languages he was able to produce was understood. The goblet that Imrahil offered to him was filled with a dark liquid that looked like rum or red wine. James looked at it warily, not taking it. Imrahil met his gaze calmly, then lifted the goblet and took a deep draught before setting it down on the table and refilling it. Not poisoned or drugged, then. Filling a goblet for himself, Imrahil sat down opposite James, settling a booted foot against the edge of the bed, blocking passage to the door. James wanted to laugh. All that was needed now was a chaperone, a grim fellow seated in a dark corner of the room, and the whole scene would be worthy of the chapbooks that featured broadside ballads recounting the ruin of some fair lass or other taken prisoner by a swarthy stranger.

The silence that had fallen was only broken by the crackle of the fire or the muted howl of the wind outside, and James drank deeply from the goblet. The taste was strong, stinging the back of his throat, but he was damned if he was going to show weakness. He met Imrahil's gaze levelly, but the silence unnerved him. It was one thing to be silent when among countrymen or kin, another entirely to know that whatever one said would not be understood.

Imrahil seemed more amused than wary now, having perhaps passed some private judgement on the level of threat that James posed. A smile played around the corners of his lips, but was quickly hidden as he drank deep from his goblet. The slight and possibly imagined amusement irked James. It was bad enough that he was kept locked up like a criminal and subjected to hour-long interrogations he could not understand a single word of; being made fun of or seen as a source of amusement was a worse insult. He had had quite enough of being played for a fool.

Rising, he lunged forward, intending to wipe the insolent smirk off Imrahil's face. He pulled his fist back, aiming for Imrahil's jaw, but found himself unable to carry it through. In the end, he managed a half-hearted punch, more a show of strength than an actual attempt to hurt Imrahil. His wounded leg slowed him down, the wine likewise, and he could not have offered any sort of serious resistance even if he had tried. He was not one to be stirred to violent fits by drink: his lot seemed to be to become maudlin and slow, as he was now. No match for Imrahil, who caught him by the wrist and pushed him back onto the bed as easily as one might subdue a disobedient child throwing a tantrum.

Imrahil was strong, just like his frame suggested, and his broad hands easily held James down. The hold was not immediately threatening or hostile, but it was effective. He sat on James's thighs, pinning him to the mattress, and held one hand around James's throat and the other against his shoulder. It would have been rather intimidating a situation, and the unfamiliar surroundings did certainly not help. He was clearly the underdog here, and decided retreat was the most prudent course of action. Unless, of course, he was misreading the situation miserably. He frowned, his wine-sodden brain refusing to compute the possibilities. Refusing to compute the possibilities of an escape, that was. The other possibilities were not only calculated but also presented to him with alarming speed.

He hadn't felt like this since his encounter with Jack's crew: he felt soiled somehow, bent out of shape and addled. Granted, he was drunk, but not really so drunk that it would affect him in this way. Imrahil was almost as far as one could come from Elizabeth, and far from Jack as well. Jack Sparrow, rapscallion of the seas, careless with rum and allegedly careless about the sex of his bedmates, his mind supplied, and some alarm must have shown on James's face, for Imrahil immediately frowned and tightened his hold. He asked something, his voice strangely husky from the wine, but James could only shake his head.

"No, still can't understand a damned thing you're saying." This only earned him another stern look. "Do not understand," he repeated. "Savvy?" he added, as a last desperate gambit, as Imrahil was beginning to look rather irked. The grip on his throat tightened minutely, and he tensed. Dear God in Heaven, had he managed to go too far?

Too far for what? a little voice in his head piped up. Too far to harbour any hope of escaping or too far to hope for something more pleasant than the threat of a trial and execution?

He had no time to answer his own question before Imrahil leaned in further. James, expecting another stern question or threat, was taken completely aback by what happened next and failed to stop his own instinctive reaction.

The kiss was ill-aimed and clumsy besides. Neither of them had planned it, he suspected, only lunged at the same moment. He did not know his own motivations, let alone Imrahil's, and for the time being, all he could do was go along. Imrahil's hand was still held against his throat, but as soon as he touched Imrahil's wrist, the grip loosened and the kiss was broken. Both of them were breathing heavily, James more so for being pinned under Imrahil, and the silence felt even more oppressive. Neither of them could resort to half-hearted explanations to dispel the awkward moment. Never in his life had James felt so lost: the lack of a common language was crippling him and making him both careless and desperate.

In the end, however, it was Imrahil who took control of the situation. He rose, righting his clothing in a slightly awkward manner, and stood by the bed for a moment before turning his back on James. He could hear the clink of glass on metal, and guessed that Imrahil was drinking the last of the spiced cordial. He did not blame Imrahil. After what had just happened, he felt rather in need of a strong drink himself.

Imrahil turned suddenly, his posture still tense, then set the goblet down on the table a little too fast, making some of the wine spill out on the tabletop. He opened his mouth, then seemed to recall that nothing he said meant anything to James. Clenching his jaw, he looked down at the table, then up at James again, his dark grey eyes unreadable. James tried to school his features into something neutral and non-offensive, hoping no violence would ensue. He was correct, for Imrahil suddenly turned and marched out of the room, leaving James to wonder once more what had just happened.

"Were you able to glean anything, my lord?" asked the aide, and Imrahil started a little where he sat. The wine hummed in his veins, and he wondered how their visitor-cum-hostage was feeling. He felt slightly light-headed, even more so when thinking of his sudden irrational actions. What had possessed him? He had only intended to intimidate the other man. "No," he said, his voice hoarse. "No," he repeated, clearing his throat. "I am now quite certain that this is no act of his. He is neither spy nor mere mariner, but an utter stranger. I have consulted the wise, and they have no answers to give. Varda alone must know what his purpose and errand is." He leaned forward in the chair. "Though I do not think he is a spy, I still do not trust him completely." He spread his hands in bewilderment. "How can I, or anyone, trust a man whose speech we do not understand? There is only so much one can say with one's hands."

The aide nodded mutely. "What do you suggest, my lord?" he asked.

Imrahil shook his head, setting the tips of his fingers against his temples. "I do not know. We cannot put him on trial, for it would accomplish nothing. Likewise, we cannot let him go back to his ship, for he has no crew. Those we saved are still as good as dead men; they neither speak nor move. We cannot afford to send men with him, and what good would it do, seeing as he cannot make himself understood?" He sighed. "I begin to think, now, that perhaps this is a plot by the Nameless One. How else could one single man bring such disorder?"

"I will leave you to contemplate, my lord," said the aide, backing toward the door. "Is there anything I can do at this moment?"

"Yes," said Imrahil suddenly. "Relieve the men holding watch inside from their duties this night."

"My lord?"

"Trust me, Ohtar." Imrahil steepled his fingers under his chin. "Trust me."

James lay on the bed, his head buzzing with the wine he had drunk, and tried to make sense of the situation. Imrahil's actions were becoming more irrational by the minute, and the last hour had been one of the strangest during his stay. As if being manhandled and interrogated was not enough, he could now add what seemed to be a cross between an attempt to dominate and an attempt to seduce to the list. His train of thought was cut short by a loud bang and clatter, and as he looked toward the door, the thin line of light that had filtered from under the door was extinguished. Heaving himself up, he tiptoed to the door, pressing his ear against the wood. He could hear a decidedly irate voice snarl what sounded like a curse, then heavy receding footfalls. Drawing a deep breath, he pushed experimentally at the door. At first it seemed it would not yield, but it suddenly swung open, sending him stumbling into the darkened corridor. Something crunched under his feet, and he could smell oil or something likewise pungent, and he guessed the lamp next to the door had come loose and fallen to the floor.

He held his breath where he stood, waiting for the guard to shove him back, but all was silent. From somewhere far to his right, there came the sound of muted voices, and he quickly decided that this was a chance he would take.

The darkness was almost impenetrable, and James cursed his luck as he limped along the hallway and toward the stairs, trying to keep the heels of his boots from making too much noise. Thankfully, the wind was rattling the window-shutters, thereby providing some cover. At the foot of the stairs, he spun around, having caught a black shape out of the corner of his eye, but found it was merely his own shadow. His heartbeat was loud in his ears as he made a beeline for the door, pushing at it in a faint panic before realizing it opened inward.

Outside, the shadows flitted back and forth over the ground, making it difficult to see the path ahead, and so focused on his feet was he that he didn't see what was in front of him until it was far too late. A white-bright flash of lightning cleaved the sky, providing enough illumination for him to see a pale face fringed by dark hair before he was grabbed by the shirtfront and pinned against the stone wall.


The grip was hard, impossible to break out of, and he had struck as fast as a snake, the long fingers latching onto the front of James's shirt. He had said nothing, his stoic silence only serving to make the situation more unnerving, and James could not see his face well enough to be able to tell if he was enraged or amused. The torches lining the walls were too high up, and their light was dimmed by the falling rain. He could hear the distant murmur of thunder over the sound of the rain and the sea, and realized it was just as well that he had been caught. Where would he have been able to flee to? He was injured and otherwise weak, and even one night in a rainstorm like this one could have meant the end of him. He gave a bitter sigh and lifted his hands to show that he was unarmed and willing to give up. Imrahil's hold tightened briefly, his forearm coming up to shield his throat as though he had anticipated an attack.

The dark was deep and cold, closing in on him like wet sail-cloth, and the broad body pressing him back against the wall was both arousing and threatening. His lips parted, his body acting against reason, and he breathed in the wine-tinged exhalation that dimmed the air between them. They had no common spoken language, but this was a sign language he could understand.

Imrahil's hands were coarse and both warm and cold: the back of his hand was slick with rain and cold; the palm dry and warm like the breath catching in James's throat. When he leaned in, James had no alternative but to accept, as he was already leaning heavily on the stone wall. The rain was wetting through his shirt and trickling through his hair, chilling him and making his breath hitch oddly, a little quirk which was rectified by Imrahil's slightly rough kiss. He went along with it, reasoning there were certainly worse things one might be subjected to when caught trying to escape. However, he had some slight reservations about the enthusiasm that his body displayed.

Of all the things he had expected a commander to do when apprehending an escaping prisoner, this was one of the least likely, he reflected. On the other hand, very little of what he had experienced here fell into the category of 'likely' or 'normal'.

Imrahil set a finger against his lips in a blessedly universal bid for silence, and James obeyed, hearing now the muted crunching of boots on gravel. He flattened himself against the wall, leaning his head out of the narrow wash of light from the torches, and felt Imrahil do the same. Imrahil's hand was still raised, letting the dark cloak he wore conceal them both. The sentry, no doubt cold and sleepy after a long watch, slouched by without noticing them. Even after he had disappeared out of earshot, Imrahil stayed in the same position, his face now very close to James's and his breath ghosting warm over James's cheek. A smile was blooming behind the raised finger, and as James opened his mouth, Imrahil let the hand he had been holding James with slide up to grab his neck. The wide smile broadened further as James let out a nervous little murmur, and then, as elegantly as any gentleman, Imrahil set his other hand under James's jaw and kissed him. This kiss was a world removed from the one the night previous, and James could not help himself. He reciprocated, setting his hands on Imrahil's shoulders, shivering as he felt Imrahil let go of his jaw and instead grab him by his belt.

Imrahil's hands were sure and warm, suddenly ferreting past buttons and fastenings with disquieting ease. James bucked his hips up, swearing softly as he felt Imrahil wrap his fingers around aching flesh. His own fingers skipped over catches and folds of fabric, trying and failing to repay the favour, and Imrahil soon grabbed his wrist to twist his hand away.

Helpless, James turned his face up toward the sky, letting the frigid rain wash over his blushing skin. His hands were holding onto Imrahil's shoulders so hard the joints ached, and he seemed to have forgotten how to breathe. Things were spiralling out of control once more, and all he could do was hang on like a man drowning. Imrahil was teasing him, winding him up unbearably before stopping, cruel as he was, to look at James.

He was delirious, cold and warm at the same time, but now he thought he could feel Imrahil's implacable composure crumble. There was something decidedly hasty about the movements now, something greedy in the kisses and in the way he pushed up against James. His teeth grazed James's lips now, nearly drawing blood.

James was so close it hurt, and he gave a desperate grunt as he bucked his hips. Imrahil's hold slackened, but the soft movement was enough, and James clenched his eyes shut as he spent himself in Imrahil's hand. The gentle strokes did not cease until James leaned in to kiss Imrahil, trying to quench a soft moan.

Both of them were breathing heavily, leaning on each other and trying to regain at least a minimum of composure. James could feel his heartbeat thundering inside his head, the strange dizzying sensation only made worse by the chill he felt. It felt as though he had been rudely awoken, plunged into icy water, the very opposite of how he usually felt after… here his thoughts caught themselves. What in the Lord's name had he just done? He gave a desperate little sound in the back of his throat, bringing one hand up to scrub at his rain-stained face. What little resistance had formed quickly drained out of him, and he offered no protest when Imrahil yanked him upright.

When he woke, it was not yet dawn. He had no way of telling how long he had slept, but the fact that his hair was still damp gave him some clue. It could not have been all that long ago, then, that he had been led back into the grey stone building, as docile as a lamb and dumbstruck by the sheer audacity Imrahil had shown.

One hell of a manner in which to defeat a potential enemy, he thought, wincing at the memory. It was not the act itself that shamed him, but the fact that it had disarmed him so utterly.

He suddenly realized why something felt wrong. He could not hear the soft murmur and occasional laugh from outside his door, from the two soldiers that had posted there when he was taken back.

Walking across the floor, trying not to make too much noise, he set his fingertips against the door and pushed, careful not to lean on it this time. The door opened silently, thank heavens, and revealed a thin ribbon of dim light. He pushed further, then leaned out. No men were posted outside his door, and he frowned. Surely he had not imagined the guards earlier that night? Deciding to try his luck, reasoning that the guards would not be prepared for a second escape, he stepped out onto the landing, quickly glancing right and left and straining to hear if anyone was moving about. Nothing. Not even a clatter of mugs from downstairs. Quickly ducking back into the room, he picked up the sorry remains of his coat. Better safe than sorry, he thought, and better warm than freezing.

The stairwell seemed immense this time around, and each step down the wide stairs seemed to echo like thunder. At the foot of the stairs, he slunk to the side, into shadow, and leaned against the wall while trying to still his wildly beating heart. There was something amiss here. The house should not have been so empty and silent, least of all when he had tried to flee only a few hours earlier. It had to be a trap.

No, sod that, he decided. Faint heart never won fair lady and certainly never got out of imprisonment, and what did he have to lose at this point? If he was going to perish here, then at least he was going to do so on the run. He set his jaw, then quickly limped toward the door.

Well outside, he looked right and left, but could see no one, neither guards nor the seemingly ever-present Imrahil. Heading down toward the pier, he hobbled forward as fast as he could, his aching leg screaming in furious agony, keeping to the high rushes of ferns to avoid being seen. Something at the back of his mind informed him that the very fact that he had been able to get this far had to mean the guards had been instructed not to intervene, but he pushed the thought aside angrily. No time for things like that now. Another voice piped up, mild-mannered, asking him how he thought he would be able to pilot the large frigate on his own, but he ignored that one as well. All that mattered to him was getting away from the wretched port and its strange and unsettling inhabitants. If he had to take the cockboat and row his way to a familiar port, then so be it, as long as he did not have to spend one more minute here.

No guards had been posted on the pier, or else they were warming themselves somewhere in between watches, and James was able to shuffle all the way to the ship without being seen. The air was cold and damp, presaging winter, but the water was completely free of ice. The deck of the frigate was not, however, and the wood of the deck shone dark with moisture. Nothing seemed to have been moved since he had been hauled bodily from the ship, and he wondered briefly how they had been able to get the ship to shore. The long coils of tackle still hung from the broken masts, hopelessly snarled. Swearing under his breath, James limped on board, his bootheels slipping on the accommodation ladder that, bewilderingly, had been left in place. The morning mist had not yet lifted, and he had to squint to see if the foremast sail was still hanging askew. It seemed that way, and he swore again as he made his way toward the forecastle to inspect the sail before heading back aft to the captain's quarters. With any luck, he would find a compass there. While it hardly would be able to tell him where he was, at least it could help him set course.

The deck was slick with condensed mist and half-frozen rain, and as he passed the foremast and looked up, his footing failed. Skating a few awkward feet, his bootheels finding absolutely no purchase on the deck, he windmilled for balance but failed. As he wrenched himself to the side, trying to avoid falling onto the remnants of the broken crosstree, he realized he had done himself a gross disfavour. In avoiding the sharp splintered wood, he had effectively thrown himself back-first onto the capstan. One of the handles caught him across the back of the skull with the unerring aim of bad luck. White and grey filled his field of vision, and red joined in a second later as he crumpled onto the deck like a rag doll.

Quite how long he lay there, he could not say, but the light seemed to go from light grey to black to grey again, something which might as well have marked his muddled mind trying to right itself. In the same confused manner he found himself considering the possibility that whatever force had blown him so badly off course the last time might now have returned him to his starting point. Surely the world could not spin and careen so wildly unless sinister forces were involved? He could think of no other reason, and soon darkness reared up to swallow him once more.

The next time he woke, it was to the sound of swans. Their wretched noise was soon drowned out by his braying laughter. When a pair of scuffed boots appeared in his field of vision and an amused voice asked him a question in a language he could not understand, James Norrington, Commodore in his Majesty's Royal Navy, pressed his face against the ice-crusted deck and wept.


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