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The screams of wounded and desperate fighting sounded around Jack as his eyes slowly opened. He slowly sat up and the need to retch competed only with the throbbing in his head. Everything around him was blurry as he took in the scene, and it took his mind a moment to allow him the memory of where he was.

 

A pained groan sounded beside him, seeming to jar his memory and causing panic to seize his chest. An explosion! What if she were here? How bad was the damage? He crawled over to where Norrington lay unconscious and found the key to unlock his shackles. Once his hands were freed he climbed to his feet, his gait unsteady as he stumbled around.

 

His vision was beginning to clear, but everything was still hazy around the edges. The swift movement of soldiers and pirate crew made his head swim and his stomach roll.

 

He had to sidestep when a young soldier was shoved backwards by Ragetti, and the leap nearly sent him to his knees again. However, sheer resolve kept him on his feet, as he was determined to make sure she was not aboard. He continued his trek forward and caught sight of a head of rich brown curls and the color of light lavender. She was here! He stumbled a few more steps and fell to his knees beside the woman he couldn't keep far from his mind.

 

He grabbed his head and wished the spinning in his brain would cease as he looked her over for any injuries. A soldier lay just behind her, his face bloody and his eyes open and unseeing. Broken wood lay in piles around and over the bodies. Jack brushed the wood off of Hermione and turned her over before lifting her up in his arms.


 


 

A scream ripped from Hermione’s throat as she was tossed forward violently. She landed with a hard thud and rolled a few times before stopping.

 

She lay still for a moment, trying to will the dizziness and pain in her head away before attempting to move. She placed her hands flat against the wood of the deck and lifted her upper body a few inches before collapsing again. Everything around her was a glazed-over blur.  She closed her eyes and gave into the darkness.

 

 

 

 

 

Hermione heard shouting as she roused from the blackness that had held her within its depths. She didn’t know how long she had been out, but chaos reigned around her as her eyes opened slowly. She only managed to open them for a moment before the light caused pain to slice through her head.

 

She felt a presence hover over her, but she kept her eyes closed.

 

She moaned and feebly began to squirm when she felt strong arms lift her from the ground. “No…please, no,” she whispered softly.

 

“Shhhh…easy, luv,” a familiar masculine voice whispered in her ear. “I’ve got you.”

 

“Jack?” she questioned softly.

 

“It’s me, luv.”

 

She laid her head against his shoulder and sighed in relief. “I’m so glad it’s you.”

 

He pulled her tighter against him as he carried her toward the plank that stretched between the Pearl and the British naval vessel. The explosion had given the pirates an advantage, and they now fought for their freedom.

 

Jack wanted to join in, but first he had to get her back to the Pearl and to safety.

 

He carried her all the way to his cabin and laid her gently on his bed. He stood and took a moment to study her. Her wild hair was even messier as it lay in tangles about her head. Her face was dirty and blood was dried and smeared along her cheek. She breathed deep and even as Jack stood and continued to watch her. He felt something burst within his chest and he knew that she was what he had been waiting for his whole life. He vowed then to protect her no matter what the cost. He leaned back down and placed a kiss against her temple. “I’ll be back, luv. You are safe now.”

 

He made his way out of his cabin, missing the smile that crossed her lips. She had felt his lips against her temple and she released a happy sigh as she let the darkness claim her once more.


 


 

Jack fought fiercely alongside his crew. They were a step ahead of the soldiers. Whoever had caused the distraction had turned the odds in the favor of the pirates.

 

He smirked as he came face to face with Norrington. “Well, gov, it seems I will be taking my leave of you once more.”

 

“Indeed, Sparrow. Do not hold your breath for too long, for I will find you again.”

 

“Ah, but as you say, you will have to catch me first and I can assure you it will be much harder next time.”

 

Norrington glared coldly at Jack. “And the girl?” he asked.

 

“Don’t worry about her. She is my responsibility not yours?” Jack answered with a growl. “You will never get near her again.”

 

Norrington growled darkly and fought to follow the pirate captain, but was held back by a crewman from the Pearl. “I will find you, Sparrow. I will find you and take her from you,” he yelled.

 

Jack turned around and fixed the military man with a cold stare. “You come anywhere near her again and I will kill you. She is mine, savvy?”


 


 

Hermione roused from sleep feeling safe and content. She immediately knew why when she realized that Jack was curled up alongside her, his strong arms wrapped possessively around her waist. He held her tightly against him, his face resting in the crook of her neck. He stirred a bit, placing a kiss under her ear that made her shiver.

 

His hold loosened a bit so that she was able to turn in his arms and face him. She reached up a hand and trailed her fingers gently down his cheek.

 

Jack’s eyes fluttered open and a soft smile fell across his lips. “Good morning, luv,” he whispered softly.

 

“Hermione,” she answered back, her smile sweet and tender as she looked into his dark eyes.

 

“Hermione,” he repeated, his voice husky. “A lovely name, for a lovely lass.”

 

She smiled luminously at him and felt her heart rate increase when he smiled back at her. There was something different in his eyes as he looked back at her; something close to affection, overshadowing his usual mischieviousness. Something had changed between them and the idea that Jack could feel what she was feeling frightened her. She didn't deserve to be adored. Her smile fell and she turned away from him.

 

She climbed off of the bed and the sound of ruffling bedclothes alerted her to the fact that he had followed her. Her suspicions were confirmed when she could feel the warmth of his body pressed again her back. "What is it, luv?" His voice was so soft as he spoke that she barely heard him.

 

Why did he have to sound so tender? She wanted the roguish Jack back, the one that exasperated her and made her want to slap him silly, not the one she wanted to kiss. "Nothing is wrong Jack, I'm…I'm fine, really."

 

"I would believe what you say to me, luv, if you would be able to look me in my eyes."

 

Hermione turned and locked eyes with him briefly before looking down, giving her full attention to her bare feet.

 

Jack placed a finger beneath her chin and lifted her face up, brushing kisses along her cheek and down her jaw and back again. His lips would have taken hers but she turned her head and pulled away from him. Stepping around him while keeping her back to him, she spoke. "Please, Jack, I can't…I just…" her voice cracked and she couldn't continue.

 

"It's fine, luv. You don't have to feel the need to explain to me," He left the room and once the door closed, Hermione allowed herself to cry. She curled up into a ball on the bed and allowed the pain of her past settle in around her heart. She deserved to suffer for what she had done. Happiness was not a reward she had earned.


 


 

Jack ordered Mr. Gibbs to make sure the Pearl set sail for Tortuga once again. He hoped the man he had been set to meet was still there waiting. He doubted he would be, as the British ship had caused them a very large delay.

 

Jack walked over to the rail and watched as the sun finished its ascent into the sky. The morning was glorious with the soft breeze washing over him and the sound of waves was music in his ears. The life of a sailor had always been his greatest pleasure with its gift of freedom. However, now it just seemed a lonely existence, traveling from port to port, drinking himself into a stupor and enjoying women whose names he couldn't always remember. When had it all become so superfluous? Could it have been when a certain stowaway had fallen from the sky? That was only days before! How had it happened so fast? Did he really want to continue on this road he had found himself on?

 

His earlier vow came back to him and he chased it away as foolish thinking. It had been because of the excitement of the moment. And his threat to Norrington had simply been because he knew it would anger the man.

 

He wandered about the ship, checking on the sailors’ progress in readying the ship for when they made berth in Tortuga. His thoughts were never far from the curly-headed lass below deck. “Hermione” he corrected. She had a name now.

 

Obviously she did not wish to have anything to do with him romantically, and he decided it was for the best. His thoughts of wanting things to change from what he had enjoyed before should have been humorous, but he couldn't laugh. She was truly making problems for him and he needed it to end. He would simply have to stay away from her. She was disrupting his plans and making him question everything.

 

Once they were in Tortuga he would have to drink these thoughts away and enjoy a nice salty wench in order to drive the need for the bewitching woman out of his system.

 

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