I hope this chapter is within the PG limits. *cough* I really, really, really had to edit it down. If anyone is interested in the rest of it, let me know. -------------------------------------------------- --Chapter Nine-- An hour later, Nicola had bathed away the aches and grime, and dressed in a deep red gown over a white shift, her hair left loose to dry. The same deck hands that had brought her the tub carried it out. Jack had returned her pistol to her, and her dagger, and provided a belt for her to wear them with. She was in the middle of trying how best to accomplish that when a knock sounded at the door. "You may enter," she said. The door opened and Jack stepped in. He was without his hat, or the pair of pistols he normally carried. "How are you feeling?" he asked. "Shaken," she replied honestly. "I nearly died, all because I'm a-" Nicola stopped, realised what she'd been about to say, and to whom. She dropped the belt on her bunk and looked at him. "I'm tired of being treated like chattel," she said. "My father simply wants to marry me off to the highest bidder and expand his shipping enterprise. Roccelli wanted to sacrifice me to some pagan god in exchange for eternal life and power. My only worth is my virginity!" The captain lifted dark brows at her outburst. "I'm sure there's someone out there who'll be more than happy to relieve you of that. Plenty of someones." Nicola thought maybe it was the blow to the head, or possibly all the hours contemplating her impending doom, that made her blurt out, "Are you one of them?" He froze, still as a statue, for a good twenty seconds, before he said, ever so intelligently, "Uh." Nicola blushed anew and looked away. "My apologies, Captain Sparrow, that was forward of me." Jack cleared his throat. "Roccelli told me he'd . . . already done so." She paled. "He didn't. I would- I would know." "Much relieved to hear it," he muttered. "Nicky . . . I told Will I wouldn't touch you." "Will wouldn't need to know." He closed his eyes and rubbed a knuckle against the bridge of his nose. "I try to keep my word. Generally. It's a bad idea, Nicola. I- No. I cannot." Jack fled, leaving her embarrassed and confused. She knew he wanted her; it wasn't difficult to see. She wanted the same thing, and if Jack Sparrow was anything, it wasn't celibate. Besides, Will had no right to dictate what she could or could not do. He wasn't her father; Leslie Holyfield was thousands of miles away, on the other side of the ocean, and he had no say in it, either. She huffed a breath. There was no way she was going to leave the discussion at that. Leaving her boots beside the bed, she hurried up to the deck, and ran into Joshamee, who merely jerked his head and a thumb towards the captain's quarts. She shoved Jack's cabin door open without bothering to knock, and stumbled to a halt. Jack looked up, pausing in the middle of peeling his shirt off. Black eyes met blue, and Nicola flushed. But she didn't retreat. She stepped into the room and pushed the door shut with a foot and then crossed her arms defiantly. Jack finished removing his shirt. He tossed it toward the bed and turned to face her. He didn't speak, just stood there. His chest was mostly smooth, with a few scars here and there. A skull and crossbones tattoo adorned his stomach, with script around it. The sparrow on his forearm, and the P scar, were both clearly visible. She hesitated at the threshold and bit her lip. He sighed and gave in, was the first to break the silence. "This wouldn't work between us." "Why not?" "Because," he said, as if speaking to a child. "I'm a pirate. A woman in every port an' all." "You think I care that you've been with others? Because I don't." His dark eyes tracked her movements as she took another step towards him. "You sure about that, love? That number, darling, is awfully high." Nicola shrugged. "I don't care. I mean, as long as . . . you don't care that . . . my list holds exactly none." He knew. She was too innocent in her responses to be anything else, no matter what Roccelli had taunted him with. "Do you have any idea, a real idea, Nicky, what it is you're offering?" Silently, she nodded. Nicola took a cautious step towards him, and reached out to trail a finger over the tattoo on his stomach. "Jack . . . This is what I want. I know you want me." He wondered why he was having such an attack of conscience when it came to her. He'd tried shamelessly to seduce Elizabeth, but with this little thing before him, he felt like he was soiling something sacred. And since he'd posed as a cleric of the Church of England to do something illegal, that was really saying something. Will's saving his life figured in there somewhere, The boy was a friend, and it was something of a betrayal to be thinking the things he was, looking at Nicola. But that wasn't it, not really. It scared him, this strange desire to protect her. Back at the cave, when he'd thought Roccelli had killed her . . . He couldn't become attached, it was too dangerous. Too dangerous for her, for his lifestyle . . . and most of all, for his heart. Because he didn't know what he'd do if he let her in, and then he lost her. "I'm not looking for marriage," she told him. "I'm not looking to shackle you. All I want is . . . to live according to my own rules for once." Jack knew how she felt. It was what he'd wanted his entire life. "Be sure what you're saying," he told her roughly. "Because there's no going back." Her small hand lifted to stroke his cheek. "Please, Jack." With a groan, he hauled her in to kiss her, cursing himself for a fool even as he did. Nicola's arms went around his neck and she returned the kiss with fervour, pressing her lithe body against his. Jack swept an arm across the surface of the desk, sending maps and random clutter to the floor. He lifted Nicola in his arms and set her on the desk. Her eager fingers explored the planes of his chest even as he fisted his hand in her hair, tipped her head back, and kissed her. Jack pulled her flush against him, pinning her hands between them. She responded by hooking a leg around his. Jack leaned her back on the desk, and slid a hand up her leg, pushing the hem of her skirt with it. Nicola sighed against his mouth and he used his tongue to explore her lips. She whimpered and shifted restlessly on the desk, clawing her way free to hold his face. "Jack," she groaned. The pirate tipped her chin up and pressed his lips to the side of her neck. Nicola was breathing hard, eyes closed and hair trailing across the desk and over the edge, only her hand curled around his neck keeping her from sprawling across the wooden surface. Then he swept her up in his arms and carried her to his bed. ---------- Jack was gone when she woke to darkness. For a long moment, she wondered if she was back aboard the Blood Storm and everything that had happened with Jack was a dream. Nicola sat up, realising quickly that she was nude beneath the sheet. It hadn't been a dream. Her cheeks flushed and for a wild space of time, her heart pounded in her chest as she wondered just what she'd done. She'd given herself to a pirate, a man who could not offer a secure future for her. No decent man would have her now. She could make a life for herself in Port Royal, perhaps, but she was spoiled goods. She'd offered Jack her virginity on a silver platter, giving him the one thing she should have jealously guarded. And speaking of the pirate, where was he? A full moon rode the horizon, nearly touching the sea. All crew save the night watch should be abed, including the captain. As if summoned, the door opened and Jack came in, dressed in breeches, shirt, and boots. A lantern hung from one hand, a bundle wrapped in cloth in the other. "Victuals," he explained, hefting the package. "I would imagine that you're hungry." Nicola was, in fact, hungry, and she nodded. They shared a light repast of bread and meat liberated from the Blood Storm. Then Jack reclaimed his place beside her, drawing her into his arms with singular intent. Their second time was easier, more familiar, and when Jack fell asleep beside her, Nicola lay awake, wondering how she was going to survive parting ways with him when they got back to Jamaica.