|The Delta I: Tea Room
Author: Guede Mazaka
Will shuffled through the cards, then paused and plucked out one, its front so thickly gilded that the illustration could barely be made out. He slipped it into the small pile that was precariously balanced on the pillow. That promptly tumbled off into disarray as a tousled head wearily found its ways out of the blankets.
Norrington looked as if he'd been keelhauled and then given to Anamaria to wring dry. Those shirts still weren't quite the same-oh, right. Should probably see if the man was all right.
"Good morning." Will unhurriedly swept all the tarot cards into a neat deck and put them back into their box on the side-table, then laid his cane across his lap and waited. On his other side, two sleepy murmurs disagreed with him. "I wasn't talking to you."
Elizabeth smacked him. "Ass. Jack's just brought him in, and you're already sniffing around?"
"I most certainly ain't." Drawling protests irritated her to no end, Will knew. So did mixing dialects, because it reminded her of the fresh-off-the-boat idiots with which she had to argue every day at the office. He dodged her slap and gently tapped the exposed skin of her thigh with his walking stick. She squealed a little and promptly retreated into Anamaria, who tucked her in and mumbled a few curses, which Will idly blocked.
Not that Norrington seemed to notice any of their goings-on; he was too busy staring at his wrists. That were firmly tethered to the bedframe. "What…"
"You weren't loyal," Will explained. He flipped his cane over the other man and inserted the tip into the old bellpull, giving it a sharp tug. The other man blinked, then hissed as he realized. Norrington hastily jerked himself back under the covers a second before the servant came in and deposited breakfast on the far bedside table. Will put a hand on Norrington's back for support-lovely tension there, and well-shaped muscles-and helped himself to a plate of beignets and a morning coffee.
"I wasn't…what?" As soon as Will leaned back, Norrington bunched himself against the bedpost to which he was bound. "Damn it-I did join Jack under false pretenses. But that was because my loyalty laid elsewhere, and I never betrayed that."
"Past tense. You did last night. You've taken new vows, ripped up the old, and you're with us, no choice about it. They haven't come to retrieve you yet, and from now on, they can't." The beignet sprinkled powdered sugar with every bite, so Will stopped eating and smiled at Elizabeth. She sighed and pushed up to lick him clean, then stole some of his coffee. "On the other hand, we don't know if we can trust you."
"A very pretty dilemma," Norrington grumpily acknowledged, curling in tighter on himself. The sheets were gradually slipping off his back, affording Will his first good look at the man in decent light. He wondered just what the British had been thinking, sending an outstanding specimen like this into Jack's haunts. And interestingly shot through with latent power, as well…They certainly couldn't have intended circumspection, as a man like Norrington couldn't possibly be missed. Perhaps they had been trying to lure Jack into favoring the British Caribbean-Atlantic trade?
Anamaria eeled herself up over Elizabeth, her hands not visible but clearly active, to judge by the giggling. Will obligingly lifted up his plate and mug so she could drape over his lap and pick out a cocktail from the selection on the tray. "All th'more so for y'r indecision," she muttered. In a slightly louder voice, she scolded Will. "Barely sunrise an' y're already pressed into a suit?"
Will defensively straightened his tie and fiddled with his cufflinks. He picked up his breakfast and cane, carefully balancing the mug on the plate, and gracefully eased his way off the bed. "Well, unlike some people, I can't lie about in bed the day after. Work calls."
He turned to go, but a sharp yank on his coat pulled him back. Anamaria cuddled up to his back, hands dangling down his chest to trace the seams of his vest. "Y'never mentioned what y'saw last night, Turner. Fille an' m'are gettin' a bit concerned."
"Nothing except what we expected." He craned his head around for her mouth, and then Elizabeth's, but resisted any more attempts to drag him back to bed. "Sorry, Dame, but duty calls."
Irony after irony, hammered home into this confectionary of a coffin. James moodily stared at the fanciful curlicues on the wallpaper and tried to ignore the growing complaints of his stomach. And the two women playfully feeding each other. And the odd low humming that he simply couldn't stop hearing. If he actually was hearing it, because the sound was more like a gentle rattling of his bones.
He was even more sore than last night, but at least he'd woken up clean this time. His mysterious caretakers, who were most likely romping before him right now, had also been kind enough to shave him and see to the length of his nails.
A bit of liquid splashed up on his cheek as the mattress shook, then froze his skin as it evaporated. He hissed and instinctively glared as he flinched away.
Elizabeth grinned and stroked off the alcohol. Her fingers were too warm, and shocked where they touched. "Sorry."
"No need." James glanced about the room, but as he'd suspected, there wasn't a trace of anything that would qualify as a personal item. He wasn't in any of the main bedrooms…of course not. And that little twinge of hurt was unreasonable, as Turner was completely right to say they couldn't trust him yet. James himself didn't know what to think: his government had plainly abandoned him to Sparrow, who apparently had decided that the easiest way of dealing with an adrift spy was to take him into the household. All other men's reasons, none of them James', and no point of reference from which he could examine the situation and say this was false and this was true. He honestly had no idea where he intended to go from here.
It felt like drowning, in fact, what with the loss of orientation and the encompassing pressure of something he couldn't quantify. He'd made some kind of choice last night before he had gotten all of the facts, and now he wanted to know what that had been.
"Y're in a spare room," Anamaria abruptly said, her voice roughly shaking James back to the present. "A bit of nonsense came up a little after th'ridin', an' Jack had t'leave for th'docks."
"The…riding?" And his obvious ignorance of their way of life certainly wasn't helping. Back in London, when he had checked over the assignment details, they hadn't implied a fraction of Nouvelle Lune's complexity. Merely a simple reconnaissance to determine the exact reach of Jack's power, and to sound out the smuggler as to his feelings toward British trade-not a single mention of magic or music or midnight madness.
Both women smiled, secretive, their lips the indulgent curves of old-fashioned keyholes. Elizabeth patted James on the shoulder and got up, her laugh trilling as high as a sunbeam when he averted his eyes from her nude body. "The spirits. They have no voices of their own, so when they borrow Will's or Anamaria's, it's called riding…but Jack can explain that better. We'd best get you dressed, else you'll be late for your tea with him."
And that was all the explanation he got, despite numerous attempts at interrogation while they dressed him and attended to his morning toilet. Which was a slightly less than comfortable experience, no matter how much of Elizabeth he had already had the privilege of seeing. By the time they were hustling him down the stairs, James had begun to think his cheeks had burnt a permanent red.
On the other hand, he didn't miss the way Anamaria always kept one hand free when Elizabeth was fussing with something on him, or the way Elizabeth's eyes didn't match her blithe smile. They weren't taking any chances, despite the seamless façade of careless gaiety they put up.
That, James thought, was probably the worst part of his situation: he was distrusted. His superiors hadn't seen fit to inform him of all the dangers and ramifications of infiltrating the Krewe and catching Sparrow's attention, so they'd obviously never had much faith in him. And after being caught trying to pass on a report, he'd lost the confidences that he'd so actively cultivated within the Krewe. Of course, the latter would have happened whether he'd been successful or not, but now, trapped in the aftermath, he had to admit that he thoroughly disliked…no, he hated the consequences of his actions. And not all of that feeling's intensity was due to his frustration over being a half-willing prisoner. Or the confusion that went along with that.
"Norrington-oh, this is ridiculous. You've a first name, don't you?" Elizabeth was speaking to him as she fluffed up Anamaria's bob till its edges razored across the woman's high cheekbones.
The tall, silent manservant currently managing James' wrist tether covertly jabbed him in the back. "Yes…I thought you knew it already."
"Stop stalling. Maybe I do, maybe I don't." She made a few last adjustments to her skirt, which clung becomingly to the curve of her hips, and slipped her arm through his elbow as if they were any other couple. "It's always interesting to hear how men introduce themselves."
"Merci, Louis," Anamaria told the manservant as she took over, nestling a gun into James' other side as she took that arm. "We'll be back for dinner, most likely."
"Oui, mam'selle." The man's exit was ghostly and nearly undetectable, though James was also being led into the garage and thus had his vision obscured. Elizabeth and Anamaria preferred to drive themselves, it seemed.
After they'd settled in the car, James and Elizabeth in the back and Anamaria behind the wheel, he answered the question. "My Christian name is James."
"And you were enrolled in the Royal Navy's officer program when they plucked you out and sent you off to spy school instead." Elizabeth's tone was light as dandelion fluff, and she appeared to be absorbed in a tiny imperfection along the edge of one nail. James twisted his wrists to uncramp them and tugged at the tight bindings, hoping for a little give. He found none. "Suppose you wowed them with your dedication, and so they tossed you a boat ticket to New Moon."
"No…a bit off there, fille." Now entering the city, Anamaria turned the car down nondescript alley after alley; James had thought he'd picked up a fairly good knowledge of the city, but he was completely lost. She produced a long cigarette holder and inserted a distinctively striped cylinder into its end, then leaned over the seat so Elizabeth could light it. James reflexively tensed, but the lack of eyes on the road didn't affect their speed or direction. Anamaria caught his raised eyebrow and smiled around the smoke trickling from between her lips. "Sometimes eyes ain't what y'd be needin'. Comprend?"
"Not especially, but I'm sure you'll enlighten me." The words came out less irritable than he meant. A strange lassitude was slowly creeping into his body, muddling his will and draining his concentration. Once, a while ago, he'd had to draw a few puffs of opium in order to keep his cover, and the paradoxical air of hyperaware drowsiness that had overtaken him then was the only comparable experience he could think of. But even that was a poor parallel, because it didn't address at all the weird rise and ebb of warmth in his gut. The phantom sense of lapping along his back and throat, tempting him to arch against plain air.
He leaned his forehead against the heavily-tinted windows, trying to find relief in the coolness of the glass. Beside him, Elizabeth wore a half-mischievous, half-sympathetic expression as she rubbed her hand up and down his arm. "You'll get used to it. Lune's being nice, starting you off easy."
"Kind of you to say so." He closed his eyes, then opened them because the touch of lashes against thin skin was somehow too rough. "If I were to try and run now-"
"I might cut your throat." Silver winked between her fingers, then resolved into a beautiful ring of Mexican work. He thought, anyway. More flashes dared him to glance at her bosom, waist, wrists, but he doubted that anything would be revealed to him. "If Will didn't get to you first. I do like you, James-you do something for Jack. And you're quite fun. But Krewe and city come first. I don't think you understand that yet."
"What is Will?" His voice was steadily thickening, curdling in the wet heat that seeped through everything, including the steel of the car. "You're in charge of the visible business side…Anamaria handles Underworld contacts…Gibbs runs the street enforcers…but when they introduced me to Will, all I was told was he's Jack's second. Second in what?"
Hardness momentarily peeked through the planes of Elizabeth's face. "Nothing. You really don't understand, do you?"
"All in good time, fille. All in good time," Anamaria soothed. What sunlight there was suddenly vanished as the dark maws of a garage swallowed them.
"…and I think that's about it for outstanding issues. Gibbs, anything new?" Will looked up from his papers and waited, twiddling his pen from finger to finger. His eyes swept over the various people cluttering up his office, then alighted on his shoes, propped up on the corner of the desk. A tiny scuff there…he'd need to stop by the shoestand. Maybe duck into the candy shop next door and pick up something for Elizabeth and Jacques, incurable sweet teeth that they were…
"Lessee…orders, payroll, supply slips…no, that'll do me just fine. Street's been awful quiet of late." Gibbs pulled at his side-whiskers as he thought. As he'd done for as long as Will could remember, far back into the haziness of childhood. Almost before memories of lace and incense and chicken's blood.
Maman had been pretty, but not beautiful. Not like Elizabeth, not like Anamaria. Still, she'd had something even those two didn't have. Power. Like no one's, not even Anamaria despite her blood ties to Laveau and Lafitte. She'd had the bones and the balls to read the city's palm, and she'd passed that on to Will. God knew what his father had given him besides looks, but his mother's legacy was enough to tell Will that the winds weren't smelling right. Stink was rising, and rising fast. "Keep a sharp eye anyway. Maybe it's a calm, maybe not. At the very least, Barillo men are still a threat."
The captain for the Latin Quarter coughed nervously, visibly steeling himself for his question. "Sir…about Los Diablos…is it true that Los Lobos got El to come back?"
And damn, was that impressive. The man'd never been any closer than Mexico's border, and his reputation still managed to reach Nouvelle Lune. On the other hand, Will had to confess that El more than deserved his legendary status. Thousands of miles away, too busy wrestling for Los Diablos to worry about others who walked the same path he did-and still, bright burning red on the fringes of Will's senses. Faint fragment of a melody so swinging it blistered the palms, too, if Will stretched himself far enough.
He put his feet down and picked up his cane, smiling reassuringly at them. Socketed his thumb in the left eyehole of the silver skull that topped the walking stick, feeling the smoothness of vacancy. "Yes, they did. Barillo lost Cucuy sometime last night, and now it's only a matter of time."
Gibbs broke into a broad grin, displaying the gold veined through his front teeth, and the rest of the Krewe members cheered. "Take it we'll be puttin' together some kind of cel'bratory shipment?" Joshamee inquired.
"Suppose we shall. And I don't care what happened between you and Miguel the last time he visited town-no gag gifts," Will warned, though his tone was more amused than firm. He nodded and shook hands on his way to the door, where he paused only to snag his jacket and hat.
Jacques caught up with him halfway to the docks behind Jack's favorite restaurant. The other man looked a little bedraggled, coat missing and vest unbuttoned to display more wrinkled linen than usual. Traces of exhaustion almost identical to the ones that graced Norrington's face were liberally sprinkled around Jacques' eyes, and he walked with a peculiar limp.
Will smirked as he carefully perched himself on the nearest post. "Take it the witch had a good night's ride on you."
"Careful, M'sieur Turner, or your fine clothes could end up a little…waterlogged, shall we say?" Jacques shoved his hands in his pockets and stepped up next to Will, unmindful of the wind blowing twisted braids across his face. Most of his hair was tied back today, with a few long pieces left to dangle their bone beads as if he were a living temple idol. "Please pardon my pushiness, but Jack's curious. You haven't spoken to anyone about the results of last night's cérémonie."
A quick glance told Will that for all his nonchalant demeanor, the other man wasn't going to budge until he got a reasonably complete answer. He sighed and toyed with his cane, then tucked it up under one arm. Well, it had to be said sooner or later. "Mostly…about what we thought. Ninth anniversary's going to be the deciding one. After this, Jack's either going to have the Black Pearl and Nouvelle Lune, or he'll have nothing. The sightings are going to get worse and worse until he and Barbossa settle matters."
Jacques hmm'ed thoughtfully, his eyes not wavering from Will's face. "And that's all?"
"No." Will dug in his pockets for the half-size deck of cheap-printed Tarot cards he'd found at some tourist shop. The ink was already rolling off on his fingerpads, staining them with overlays of gauche color. He searched around until he found the tiny vial of holy water he'd picked up from St. Paul's earlier in the morning, then flicked out the cork with a thumbnail.
Feet shifted on the planks of the wharf as Jacques came closer to watch. "William?"
"What do you know about my father?" Will asked, more abruptly than the other man deserved. But he wasn't feeling up to the task of being a gentleman anymore, and damn the superficialities, anyway. They didn't mean anything in the long run.
The breeze started to stiffen and gust so the water almost missed the cards when he poured it over the deck. A few words, and he flung the cards into the air. Whipped out the blade from his stick a bare second later and speared a single one. The wind suddenly died, sending the rest of the Tarot to the water, where they floated, gaudy pictures decorating the long trails of algae drifting out from the pier poles.
"The Emperor-the father," Jacques noted. He absently pulled at his hair, a disturbed expression flitting over his face. "I know very little about Bootstrap Turner. Only what Jack's told me, which is probably less than what he told you."
"You'd think." Will tasted sourness on his tongue, but swiped it away. Jack had been more than good to him over the past years. He'd been a father, a friend. Occasionally a lover, though that was more a nice occasional bonus than something he'd want for good. "Merde. Ignore that, Jacques. It wasn't as fun a night as it should have been."
But Jacques was staring at the water, fear edging the corners of his eyes. "Mon Dieu. Les cartes…Will, the Wheel of Fortune, the Tower, the Death cards…"
"And the card of Justice." The ones who'd landed face-up. Will shrugged and resheathed his sword, then used his reflection in the river to adjust his hat. "Not a nice hand, but then again, it's not going to be Mardi Gras."
He sniffed the air, scenting old blood and black rot. Faint now, but steadily growing stronger. And the skies were shading just that bit darker. "Jacques…I think now would be a good time to join Jack and Norrington."
"James," the other man said as he helped Will off the post. Jacques matter-of-factly leaned into Will's side, just as he would with Jack. "The man's name is James."
"Thunder. Fish. Water." Will swung his cane out, marking time with New Moon's quiet pulse with taps of the tip. "Well, we'll see if he helps any, after all."
James looked singularly ill at ease. Granted, his wrists were tied to a chair arm and Jack had been lifting the tea cup and silverware for him, but that had never stopped Jack from making himself at home. Perhaps it was the engravings on the wall? He had been meaning to get those replaced with some less obvious ones.
Jack raised an admonishing finger, at which James barely suppressed a growl. And there was the bound-up spirit that had caught Jack's eye. Now to probe around the chains a bit…
"Jack," James corrected himself. "As I appear not to be leaving your employment, would you please explain what is going on? What are you doing with me, what does Will do, and what in God's name was happening last night in the courtyard?"
"Which would y'like answered first?" It was a polite enough question, but James reacted to it as if Jack had just demanded his firstborn. Rolling his eyes, Jack put down James' tea and his own rum, then got up and braced his hands on the chair arms. Leaned over and watched those pupils dilate ever so nicely. James' breath caught as he sank down in the chair. Probably unconsciously, as it was the first time Jack could remember seeing the man loosen his posture.
Very different from Jacques, this one. The Frenchman had been a lovely surprise ending to a protracted struggle with a rival Haitian ring. One of their last kidnappings, ensconced in the leader's bedroom just before Will had broken the man's ceremonial wand and Jack had put enough lead in the hougan's body to make sure his spirit didn't go walking with the loa. Jacques had been quick on the supernatural uptake, and very eager. Still was. Like lemon-laced rum, tangy silk going down the throat.
But Mr. James Norrington, on the other hand, showed a curious resistance to Nouvelle Lune's call. Moreover, he felt…actually, Jack couldn't quite feel him. Tried and tried, but it all just slipped through his fingers, like sand. Or water. Jack could count on one hand the number of people that could do that to him, and they'd all been steeped in voudoun for years and years.
"What…are you doing?" came a strained hiss, and Jack came back to himself in time to realize his hand had taken a liking to James' cheek. It was skimming fingers over the angles and bends and slopes, thoroughly enjoying the soft rasp of freshly-shaved skin.
"Seeing to something." And his tongue had decided to go with the upper-class accent. Jack pondered over the possible ramifications of that, then figured his body probably knew what it was doing. Best to leave it be while his mind worked out where the other pieces of this peculiar set of circumstances were headed. "William Turner is the son of Bill 'Bootstrap' Turner, who you'd probably recognize by his smuggling reputation, and Madame Marguerite Delmare Turner. Down in the French Quarter, they still speak her name in the same breath as Madame Marie Laveau."
Shaky snort. But the other man wasn't exactly moving away from Jack. So he explored a little farther, passing his fingers over the pale neck. Taking a pulse, then laying his thumb against the swallowing throat. "Wouldn't be such the skeptic if I were you. Will's liable to tear you limb from limb if he thinks you're a danger to the city."
"And you wouldn't stop him?" James asked in a hoarse whisper. Half a pot of tea, and he still sounded as if they'd just dragged him out of the desert. Either he was exceptionally determined to make every step of this hard, or Jack's hospitality was faltering. And given the number of people that had greeted Jack when he'd walked in, he seriously doubted the second choice.
"No. I would." Jack looked about the room, observing how the shadows were changing. Tainting oily black and opaque, and the light was coarsening. Going to orange and red. Ice and fire were twining tendrils around his nerves, setting them to a constant low jangle. Damnation. He wasn't going to have very long. "I took you, James. You fall under my heading, now. But Will's…he's of the household, but he listens to Nouvelle Lune, too. It's not that easy. She's a hard one to please, and I've got no family roots to depend on. I'm not born of her soil. Not of her blood, like Will. Like Anamaria."
James' eyebrows pulled together in confusion, and Jack had a tough fight to keep from kissing it smooth. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying, Barbossa. You've heard the story: he rose up against me, nine years ago. Learned the zombie spell, got himself a chest of gold, and built up an army." When Jack pushed off the chair, the other man exhaled, almost sounding disappointed. The wind was rattling the shutters now, so Jack walked over to the window and yanked the drapes wide open so they could see straight out into the harbor. "I beat him in the city, but he took the Black Pearl. My ship. And the bastard set it afire. Burnt his damned soul, and sank into the water. But he didn't leave."
Recollecting the sight of that, blaze leaping up to heaven, put the acid scorch of bile in his throat, and making words out of the recollection clenched Jack's fists on the windowsill till he felt bones creak. "And he still has my ship."
Although he'd believed he could no longer be surprised after last night, James honestly acknowledged now that he had been wrong. Utterly wrong. The sheer rage bubbling up in Jack's voice, and the hellfire in the man's eyes…
…over a traitor's actions nine years ago. No matter how attached Jack was to his Pearl, it still made no sense for him to sound so-raw.
Then Jack stepped away from the window, and James could see.
A ship. A beautiful, tempestuous lady of the waves, black as ebony. And translucent. Moving without a sail unfurled.
"Y'see?" Jack was back to his usual accent, only it was snarling and bitter. "He's tauntin' me. Ev'ry day, until th'reckonin', he'll be out there, wi' her."
The skies were streaked with lurid green and black, and for a moment, James thought he saw lightning diving among the clouds that had blown up. Whirling and spinning like heavenly porpoises, reworking the froth of the storm. Two cavernous pits were the first to emerge, just before a whip of thunder slashed a gaping mouth out of the clouds. And then a white streak shot up from the ship into the sky and lit the skull with heathen fire.
Behind them, a door was rudely slammed open, causing Jack to start and James to nearly topple off the chair. Turner stalked by, muttering, and pointed his cane at the horrific apparition. He whipped the tip through the air, outlining some shape, and ended with a last cut that thumped it against the floor.
Winds whistled as they calmed, and the heavens suddenly shifted back to sapphire blue, while the water below lost its ghostly visitor.
Will carefully pulled the drapes over the window and bestowed a baleful look on Jack, who remained impassive. "You're not helping this very much," Turner said, tone too-calm. "I told you, stop looking. He's waiting for that, and you lose a little ground every time."
"Y'can tell m'that, an' expect me t'listen, when y'start ignorin' y'r own ghosts."
Jacques stepped into view, face a futile warning; the balefulness of Will's gaze increased tenfold, to Jack's obvious surprise, and the other man immediately attempted to leave. Wincing, Jack grabbed Will's elbow and said something, too quietly for James to hear anything.
"You need to watch what you joke about, then," Will finally replied, still a little irked. But he nevertheless doffed his hat and took a seat at the table. Jack did the same after pulling Jacques to him so the other man sprawled provocatively over Jack's lap. "Never know when she might take your suggestion and dump a load of horseshit on my head."
"Will…" Jack rummaged around on the table and came up with a pristine cup of coffee, which he doused with rum and cream until it was slopping over the sides. He handed it to Will, who accepted the gift with a dubious but somewhat more relaxed expression. "What'd y'see?"
"Question of the day." Will faked a sip of the concoction before putting it down and staring at James. The skull topping his cane seemed to be staring as well, and James was now a little less willing to chalk that up to shaken nerves. "Norrington. Do you have any idea why you got sent here?"
"You know why. To observe-"
"No, no." Hand jerk to slice off that train of thought. "Why you, specifically. You can't tell me that you've a lot of background in Nouvelle Lune. Or just general experience with this sort of thing. Which makes it strange that they picked you, doesn't it?"
James didn't answer. Partly because he didn't know, damn it, but also partly because he didn't want to discuss his…yes, his former employers. He'd had a tacit understanding with them, that he would carry out their assignment and in return, they would bring him back. Which they hadn't, nor did it appear that they'd ever had any intentions of doing so. He didn't mean to ever forget that he'd come from Britain, but it was becoming exceedingly apparent that origins didn't necessarily lead to final allegiances.
And loyalty wasn't equivalent to fidelity: the moment he had stepped off the boat and onto New Moon soil, something had hooked deep into him. Jack had been a little understated when he'd said that James had grown fond of the riverlands. Even trapped in Jack's private dining room, not having a clue where matters were heading, it was still…like finally learning how to breathe. Once knowing that, he found himself with no way to return to the ignorant beginning.
But that still wasn't a reason to give away its secrets, accidentally or deliberately. James preferred to think of his altered situation as moving on, like he'd moved from the armed forces to the intelligence unit. And not as changing sides, which reeked of a duplicity that he already stood accused and convicted of.
"Silence doesn't ennoble you," Will said at last. He picked up a dainty little pastry and popped it into his mouth, then wiped his lips with a lacy handkerchief and stood up. "I'd knock off with the hero act if I were you. Unless you're planning to take things all the way to the eventual death-before-dishonor ending."
"Hardly," James snapped, tongue getting the better of his brain. Then he had to sit back and think about the import of what he'd just claimed. Of all the vows, intentional or not, that he seemed to have made in the past few weeks.
He'd repaid his government in full-Jack had caught him sending out an inconsequential final report, and in a way, James had completed his assignment. But he'd been prevented from leaving Nouvelle Lune. And then he had decided, for reasons that remained mostly unclear to him, to ensure that he would permanently call the delta city his home. But that was all rational; when he went back to his instincts, he could find no fault in his decision. London had never quite suited him, and that restlessness had taken him to the Navy, then to the foreign intelligence branch. He'd wanted to travel, always.
But he'd never expected that he would choose this place and these people for a settling point.
Will's chuckles interrupted James' considerations. "So you don't know."
Turner bent over Jacques and kissed the man's cheek in farewell, then waved Jack into the hallway for a private conversation. Leaving James tied to a chair, with only a half-eaten brunch, a smiling consort, and his own worries to keep him company.
Anamaria came up the stairs just in time to watch Jack corner Will against a big flower vase and pester him for details. "Well? Where'd be his place in all of this?"
"I'd like t'know that, too, s'il vous plait." She marched up to Will and took him firmly by the elbow, twining her fingers in his tie. "Won' be long now. Is Norrington goin' t'help us, or no?"
"Consciously? Hell if I know. He's got no idea where his bed lies." Will glanced from her to Jack, then gracefully gave in. He put an arm around her waist and pulled her in, molding their sides together. "So Jack, you've got Nouvelle Lune. No doubt there. But since Barbossa's still got the Pearl's spirit, he has a chance of beating you on water. And the city without the harbour's damn useless."
Jack impatiently fluttered his hands before them, raking away all the petty details. "Yes, yes, we all knew that already."
"Maybe. But this is complicated, and you have to understand everything, all right?" Irritation began to gather about Will's eyes and mouth, and his grip on Anamaria tightened. "Jacques. He's keeping the borders for you-the bayous and swamps. And Norrington…well, you might have yourself a good spirit-mount there. La Sirène's husband, Agwe Tawoyo, might take him on as a regular medium, if you ever got Norrington to join in on a cérémonie. He could tip the balance."
She let out a small, relieved puff of air into Will's throat, which twitched. Curious, Anamaria glanced up. "I thought that that's what we wanted."
"Oui et non. It might be. It might not. You see, I can't believe that London doesn't have a single psychic. That they had no idea what they were sending out to us, like some charity basket for the poor." Will was gazing straight at Jack, both men as serious as she'd ever seen them. "The best spies are the ones that keep you guessing. Norrington could take us down, easy as laughing, if he stays neutral. Or goes over to Barbossa and acts as his medium."
"I see." Jack's eyes were dark glass, absorbing everything and not letting a spark back out. He pressed his palms together and touched his fingers to his lips, digesting Will's words. "Anamaria, how's business?"
"Good as ever." She waited for the rest, but all he did was nod and swivel towards the room. Will and she had gotten halfway down the hallway before Jack called out.
"Dame? Take Will and Liza out for a bit of ice cream, or somethin' of the sort. He's looking a bit boiled." Jack's grin flashed down at them, softening Will's indignant growl.
Well, she wasn't one to turn down a sensible suggestion, even if its source was Jack Sparrow. In less time than it took a good cook to butcher a chicken, she and Will were comfortably settled in a breezy private room in the restaurant on the first floor. He took a moment to ring up Elizabeth while she picked out items from the menu, then dug into the dark-chocolate- and cinnamon ice cream that arrived seconds after he hung up.
Anamaria wasn't fooled, however; she kicked off her shoes and folded her legs neatly beneath her before commencing to tickle Will senseless. Manfully trying to cover up his laughter, he toppled backwards onto the padded bench. She promptly slipped on top and arranged her arms on his chest so she had the perfect angle for a no-nonsense look. "William. What's goin' on?"
"I to-told you and Jack," he sputtered, amusement still vibrating his voice. She arched an eyebrow, and the rest of his brief good humor died away. "What makes you think there's anything more to my mood than Barbossa's return?"
As if it wasn't obvious. Will had always been a little crazy when it came to hard work, but clearing out the day's schedule before lunch? And if he thought she hadn't noticed the Tarot workings earlier, he was more wrong than a priest in a brothel. "Turner. Who am I?"
"Anamaria." His eyes turned toward the end of the bench, where he apparently figured God resided.
"No." She jabbed his stomach until he groaned and flinched. "Who. Am. I?"
"Right now? The annoying woman who's poking holes in me." He grabbed her wrist before her next smack and rolled them over, her skirt riding up her thighs. Will drew two fingers along her leg, pursing his lips. "Outside? La Dame du Cité."
"So I'm not blind, Will. Con. Y're very stupid today." She nipped up at his scowl and let him ease her skirt a little higher. "Come on. Y'r ice cream's goin' t'melt."
He paused, then nodded. Plunged his hand down her neckline and played over her breast so she didn't notice the spoon threatening her hair. "Will! Salaud, tu ne-oh! Fils de putain!"
Smirking all the time, he dropped the scoopful over her mouth and abandoned it to lick up the melted ice cream before it reached her ears. Of course, that ruined her make-up and made her face disgustingly sticky, so she retaliated by attacking his pristine little suit. It was top-quality, and custom-tailored, so none of the buttons quite popped off. But his silk tie was fairly ruined by the time she got done with it and latched her mouth onto the newly-revealed patches of skin.
"Merde…Anamaria…maître'd's going to kill us…" Contrary to his words, Will's hands seemed more than happy to help her rid them of infuriating clothing. Damn skirts. Damn stupid handfuls of underclothes. "And…Elizabeth…"
"Is quite disappointed that you couldn't wa-Will! My hair!" A familiar squeal sounded near Anamaria's head, and Elizabeth's bottom plumped down a hairsbreadth away. She leaned over to kiss Will, jacket already off and blouse untucked. Anamaria nuzzled up that taut belly and buried her mouth in the softness of the other woman's breath. She pressed her tongue over Elizabeth's heartbeat, shivering as Will teased fingers in and out of her, then moved down to suckle the nipples into hardness.
"Damn. Elizabeth, stop-hold on-my pants." Will wrestled his trousers off, got briefly tangled with his shoes and finally freed himself from those barriers while Anamaria had a lovely time sharing the taste of satin-smooth cinnamon cream with Elizabeth. She skated her palms along Elizabeth's inner thighs, forcing the other woman back, and traced the moist flesh there with a single nail. Greedily drank up every coo and whimper.
Elizabeth arched up and up, eyes opening so wide they were like egg jewels, then collapsed with a long keen. Her limbs lolled, her hair hung in gold tassels from her disheveled bun. She smiled lazily and tugged Anamaria's upper half down just as Will turned Anamaria over and lifted up her legs. "He talking yet?" Elizabeth whispered.
Will distracted Anamaria for a shattering moment, so she could only whip her head around in a groaning negative. It was a tight fit, but she managed to get her legs around him and pull him deeper.
"Both of you?" he grunted, hands busily stroking each one of Anamaria's ribs. Brown and green all around him, going black and blue and red. Unwinding from his usual tight weave. She stretched out, petted the tendrils, and felt their quivering slam back into his body. His fingers glided down and seized her hips as he drove, hard and fast, into her.
"What? We're not supposed to worry about you?" Elizabeth asked in a light but inquiring tone. That was the last thing Anamaria heard before the sea crashed from Will to her, sweeping her free and clear into the horizon.
Coming back was slow and sweet, like the tide washing over bare feet. Anamaria snuggled into Elizabeth's side and cracked open an eye to watch Will's eyes return from their wandering.
Which wasn't nearly as pleasant as her homecoming; shadows veiled his face as he retreated to the far end of the booth and began to clean himself. "Did Jack ever tell you about how my father died?"
"No…" And where was this going, now? One way, an odd tangent to go on when Barbossa was so near, but the other, a cautionary murmur in her blood. Rusty hinges on gates that led nowhere.
"No. I did ask once, but he said to talk to you. And you said you didn't want to discuss it." Elizabeth lifted her chin, attitude brooking no sidestepping. Anamaria sat up, donning her own stern schoolteacher face, and impatiently waited. She hoped Will wasn't back to thinking a good tumble would satisfy them, because spirits paying court to him or no, she was going to take his cane to his ass if he was being that foolish.
Will momentarily entertained the idea of decoying Anamaria with the roasted pork, one of her favorite dishes, but swiftly discarded the notion. It wouldn't be very good now anyway, cold as it had to have become. And Elizabeth on tequila was amusing, but probably inappropriate for one of the best restaurants in town. As it was, the linen-cleaning bill for this establishment was going to be horrendous; he made a note to leave an extra-large tip for the waiters.
"Will." Elizabeth had snitched one of the knives from the table and was currently playing with it in a vaguely ominous manner.
"Elizabeth." He finished doing up his belt and resigned himself to telling them. "My father was angry at Jack about something, so he got drunk with Barbossa one night, before the uprising, and woke up on the wrong side. When he told Barbossa he wasn't going to go along with the revolt any more, Barbossa had him lashed to an old Civil-War cannon and dropped into a swamp."
"Oh, my God." She tossed the knife back on the dishes and crawled over Anamaria to hug him. "Will, I'm so sorry.'
He patted her back, twining the loose strands of her hair around his thumb. "It's all right. Barbossa was paid back for that piece of work-" grimacing, remembering the sneer of rotting lips "-but I saw my father last night. Baron Samedi came in and rode me, like usual, but at the very end, he came."
"Did he possess you?" Elizabeth's brows angled down as she searched her memory. "No…he couldn't have ridden you…you didn't change."
"He didn't. But I saw him, and I talked to him." Will stared over her shoulder at Anamaria, who was intently listening to every word. "His spirit got stuck on the Pearl, and when Jack meets Barbossa in a week, I think I'll have to go and get him out."
She nestled her head against his shoulder. "What do you need?"
"Nothing, merci." He kissed her brow and smelled the cigar smoke and newsprint ink, fading signs of the wheel-and-dealing from which she'd came. "I'll be fine. Just need some time to think it over, work it all out."
It took a little more than that, but eventually she was satisfied enough to fix her hair and clothes, give him a goodbye kiss and go back to her offices. Anamaria took her own farewell from the other woman, sensuous enough to almost set the fire crawling up Will's nerves, but he forced his mind into other channels. No one was royally messing up their spellwork in the Quarters-check. Los Diablos was still quiet after the previous night's howling, so he didn't have to worry about any backlash from there for a few days-check. Anamaria-was still eying him, like she would a victim of her interrogation. "Oui?"
"Tu sais." She unhurriedly straightened her skirt and skirt, then ran her fingers through her hair till the bob had regained its sass. "Don' be givin' m'that. I'm just as deep in th'voudou as you, an' I can tell there's still somethin'."
"Goddamn it…" Will slouched in the corner and wished that he didn't have to deal with the whole mess. It wasn't even his, after all. Belonged to his parents and their generation, and he shouldn't still be having to handle any of it. "How many people know that my mother could…pass?"
Anamaria blinked. "I didn'."
Great. Going to be even more complicated than he thought. "Well, she was. Never told me just which great-grand-daddy was African, but I knew. And Jack knew all the time, somehow. My father, on the other hand, didn't. Not until after they were married and had me."
Comprehension flooded into her face. She derisively snorted and laid back against the wall. "An' I think I can see from there. He got all riled 'cause she was keepin' things from him?"
"That's what it looks like. He told me, 'I thought she was what she wasn't. And I needed to think about that.' Stickler for the truth, I guess. So that's how he ended up in the bar with Barbossa." Will flicked at his spoon, swimming in a puddle of brown. "And now he wants me to get him out."
"He's your father," she replied, reasonably enough. But it still made Will want to kick at something.
"Yes, I know. And I'm going to help. It's just…Jésu. Was he ashamed of me?" The muscles in the back of his neck were coiling, yanking at his skull. Will reached up and massaged at the cramp, but he only seemed to make things worse. He jumped a little when nails clicked his out of the way; Anamaria climbed into his lap and began to rub circles all along his spine. Unwinding the tension. He leaned back into it, letting his eyes close. "And you know, never really think about it, but…well, what am I?"
"Whatever y'damn well please, an' pardonnez-moi, but Bootstrap's a salaud an' a connard if that's why he chose t'go wanderin' into dark alleys. Not like th'loa care about anythin' outside, when they're choosin' mounts t'speak for them." She met his grin with one of her own, and craned down for a deep, chocolate-cinnamon-laced kiss.
"Merci beaucoup, La Dame." He made a mock salute and ducked her half-hearted slap. "All right, that's better. Now for the difficulty of Mr. Norrington."
Elizabeth was pulling out of the parking shed when a waiter came running out with a message from Jack. She cooperatively drove back up and waited, tapping her nails on the wheel. However much Will said he was all right, she still had a few niggling suspicions. But since it was related to the voudou side of things, best to just let Anamaria needle it out of himself and ask her later.
Sometimes it bothered Elizabeth that unlike them and Jack and Jacques, she didn't have any corresponding link to the spirits. True, she was a better medium than most, but that was only within the ring of the cérémonie. Outside it, she was back to being Elizabeth Turner, called the Gold Pearl for her business wizardry and not her alchemical skills. Whereas Anamaria was La Dame, and Will was simply the Baron, after his supernatural patron.
Then again, she didn't have to put up with near as many oddities as they did. And when Will needed a break, he came to her instead of Anamaria because she anchored him. Elizabeth had lived too long in the delta, where earth shifted and water courses moved almost daily, not to know the value of that quality. So in fact, she was content.
She just wished Will would stop being so damn stubborn about keeping his troubles his alone.
That was most likely due to him being orphaned so young, and the two years he spent on the streets before Jack finally managed to track down the child of his old friends. But he should feel more than secure now, what with everything he had now.
Feet crunching on gravel interrupted her thoughts, and Elizabeth leaned out the window to loose a friendly broadside at Jack. "Honestly, Sparrow, I don't understand how I'm supposed to run your businesses when you keep…Jacques? Where's Jack?"
Jacques shrugged and readjusted the strap of Jack's satchel, which was slung over one shoulder. "I believe he said something about taking Mr. Norrington on a tour. We're to meet them tonight at the Guitarrista Muerto."
"There?" Elizabeth chewed pensively on her lip as she pushed open the door for him. "I thought Jack didn't like that place."
After he sat down, Jacques lit up a cigarette and passed it to her. Through the smoke of Elizabeth's exhale, the outlines and shades of his face wavered, ink sketch underwater. "It has history, which I suppose he can't ignore."
"Well, what Jack says, I try to do." She put the car into gear and drove off into the balmy heat.
Seven days. He'd waited so long that it should be nothing to him, but the stretch of time clawed deep into the hollow that had replaced his gut. Seven days to landing. Seven days to the end of it all.