|The Delta II: Bar
Author: Guede Mazaka
Just from his monopoly of New Moon bars alone, Jack's income had to be greater than that of a small nation. But more importantly, the man had a genuine affection for his establishments.
Of course, they weren't bars now. Speakeasies and cubbyholes, hidden behind restaurants and cafés in the affluent Jardin Quarter. Dance clubs with secret taps down in the heart of the French and Latin Quarters, and along the blood-and-sweat skidrows of the docks, plain converted storerooms, devoid of any decoration except the nondescript crates that housed the liquor and folding poker tables and the safe. And a thousand other tricks that all conspired to create a truly formidable empire.
"It surprise you?" Jack asked.
James started back, having forgotten Jack's presence in his sardonic admiration of the other man's ingenuity. Since Jack was standing directly behind him, that movement pushed him into Jack's unhesitating grip: an even more ironic echo of the previous night's activities. The burn began at the base of James' throat and quickly spread into his cheeks as he tried to step away.
Jack, however, was much stronger than his build suggested, and James was still recovering from at least a week of-constant exhaustion. James' blush was growing worse by the second. "In retrospect, no. You're a very intelligent man, Sparrow."
Long fingers encircled his wrists, covering the bindings that still lashed them together, and hot breath tickled his nape. When he twisted away, Jack merely leaned into it so all James accomplished was to shove his hips more firmly against the other man. Inhaling sharply, he braced himself, preparing to break free.
And instantly got a gun muzzle nestled beneath his chin. Jack let out an exasperated grunt and laid his head on the spot between James' shoulderblades. "Norrington. I was hopin' y'd handle this on y'r own, but we're runnin' somewhat short on time. Now, then. Am I goin' t'have t'throw another cérémonie 'fore y'll let m'touch you, or are y'goin' t'stop fightin'?"
The gun was scratching painfully into the underside of James' jaw. He moved his head back and forth in an attempt to ease the strain, but the pistol only pressed harder until his chin was tipped as far back as it could go. "Please excuse my manners, Sparrow. I'm not quite sure where I stand, and so I don't know precisely what you expect from me."
Aggravated growl, but the gun was removed and Jack released him, moving back so James could turn around. And the absence was almost colder than the touch of gunmetal, but James bit down on his urge to latch onto Jack. "It's a little difficult to relax when I have no idea what you're planning to do to me. And the ropes aren't helping," he continued.
"They gen'rally don', when y'don' trust," Jack agreed, meandering away from James. His gun had disappeared into one of the many folds of his clothing, which was nearly as deceptively disorganized as Jack himself pretended to be. Three-piece suit, everything untucked and half-buttoned, wrinkled beyond hope yet retaining a kind of careless elegance. And in impossible shades of black and cardinal red and sand. And James wasn't even going to try and describe the hair. "But that's a two-sided game, y'know. I told you, I took y'in. That tends t'mean no killin', else I'd not run much of a household. An' if y'd start actin' like one of m'own, then perhaps it'd be easier for us t'think of y'as such. Savvy?"
A crate presented itself, and James sat on it, dropping his head in his hands and rubbing at his temples. Headache stirring to life, rough jungle beast kneading his brain with dagger-sized claws. "Yes. I understand."
"But y'don' feel it."
"No. No, I don't." James shook his head and corrected himself. "Actually, I probably do. But since this is the first time I've ever encountered half of what I've experienced since coming here, I have absolutely no goddamn idea what it is! Savvy, Jack? I simply. Don't. Know. And no one is telling me."
The silence that followed was soon cracked by the tiny, fragile sound of trickling. A full shotglass appeared by James' elbow; he looked at it and began to think the offer over, then abruptly gave up. To hell with Prohibition, responsibility, everything-he couldn't juggle them anymore. He was dropping balls left and right, and no matter what he did, they weren't flying back up into his hand. Might as well have a drink, and hope things cleared a little by the time he was peering through the bottom of the glass.
Which proved to be holding a very fine whiskey, one of the few pleasant surprises James had received in quite some time. Instead of carrying out his plan of a quick toss-off, he ended up taking it in slow, savoring sips.
"Better?" Somewhere along the line, Jack had perched next to him on the crate.
"I can sense you," James blurted out. He winced and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Without having to look at you, I mean. It's like…holding your hand over a lit candle and knowing where the flame is by the way your palm heats up. Why?"
Jack took the shotglass from him and set it aside while propping an arm on James' shoulder. The nerves under it started to twitch and spark, but James did his best to at least hold still. "Voudou has a good deal to do with it, but the part that most concerns you is the riding. Loas-the spirits-they can only possess and speak through certain people. Mediums. Mounts. And some are better than others at it, and some are great. Elizabeth's a good one, but she's not great because she hasn't got a…a patron. Like, say, Will. Baron Samedi only comes to him, and he has the ear of Nouvelle Lune, too."
"Like how saints are assigned certain responsibilities?" There was the perfect upper-class voice again; oddly enough, it was just as natural to Jack as his usual manner of speech. James looked over to find a completely serious face watching him. The focus in Jack's eyes made his skin prickle. Not unpleasantly so, which was the entire problem. He needed a clear head in order to deal with the very matters that were muddling his mind in the first place.
"A little. Will can…hear farther and yell louder than the rest of us, you might say. There's an order to the spirits. Some rank higher than others. The common ones will ride whomever has enough of a gift to know they're around, but the highest only come to one in a generation." Jack paused, fingers toying with the space near Jame's chest, his knuckles occasionally brushing against a coat lapel. "If we're lucky. They've been known to skip a decade when no one worth their time was around."
"And what about you?" On James' opposite side, the invisible fingers of the morning had returned, slipping down his spine and puddling in the small of his back. They were stronger now. Almost tangible…he put his hands between his legs and dug his nails into his thighs to keep from bending into the bizarre sensation. Ended up leaning toward Jack, who was actually there. There and even warmer and spicy and…sparkly?
"I'm fortunate enough t'have th'good graces of La Sirène," splashed brown and gold and green, muddied river water just merging with the clean blue sea. Jack's voice swelled and fell about James, tide pushing and pulling and soaking through till nothing to be done except lie back. Let the water buoy up beneath and feel everything dissolve, fingers to toes. "James?"
"She's…" he struggled to remember mortal tongues "…isn't that a female deity?"
Rippling shrug that skimmed by one cheek. Fingers momentarily interrupted the currents when they plunged in to graze against his jaw. Spread like seashell ridges, cupping his chin. "S'pose. Doesn' matter, when it comes t'choosing. They always go for th'best voice, no matter th'wrappin' it comes in."
A drowsy rumble protested against the swaying of green weed, the cool surrounding. James, James, where is this? What are you doing? What-
--he burst back to the surface with a gasp, staring wildly about the room. Yes, those were walls and this was wood beneath him, and how on earth did he come to be lying on his side? "What in God's name was that?"
Squatting on the floor before him, Jack steepled his fingers to his mouth, then smacked down James' wrists when he tried to push himself up. "On th'other side of that wall is th'sea."
"So now y're seein' fit t'address m'friendly-like." The other man grinned at James' flush, and ran a thumb along James' lips, allowing it to slide in a little. "Don' see why it'd worry m'so. It's all just names, after all. Just names, an' no sense of what's th'real an' what's th'false. Shouldn' matter a whit."
His fingers drifted down James' face, curved back to thread into James' hair. Jack tugged back with his hand and bent forward, filling up an ever-smaller sliver of world. James' eyelids were coming down of their own accord, and their undersides went from red to black as Jack kissed him.
Sensation blurred, mixed, melded. Real fingers were stroking down his back now, tracing shoulderblades and spine bumps and ribs. They molded weird shapes and symbols that glowed through him, greens and blues. Tremors swam his veins; he opened his mouth wide in a moan that could have swallowed all the earth, and clung to Jack.
The second time the world came back, he was dazedly looking up at the other man, watching how a tiny string of ivory beads seemed to dip in and out of a black braid. Softer and quieter it crept, like a night flood crawling up the marker posts. "I'm…I can…one of them wants to…"
"So it looks." Jack was solemn, eyes glittering with shadows. The uneven light now dappled him in grays and pallid browns, like some graveyard visitation.
"Which one?" James' voice was strangely harsh and rough. His throat felt as dry and hurting as it had in the morning, and he had a sudden, brutally strong craving for water.
"Maître Agwe Tawoyo." The other man's smile was edged in sharp silver. "Mostly known t'outsiders as La Sirène's husband."
Will was abstracted and elsewhere all through dinner. While Elizabeth was willing to give him a little slack, due to the demands the loa were always making on him, letting an entire meal go by without a single word beyond "Oui" and "Non" was beyond the limits of her patience. She'd gone through the trouble of having all his favorite dishes, and even cooked the dessert herself. But did he even bother to comment?
Of course not. At this point, she would've been content with a single joke about the burnt black pieces in the crème brulée.
Elizabeth regarded her knife, then a spot on the wall just left of Will's head. It was a rather ugly color, left over from the Victorian days. And the plaster was beginning to peel.
Will shook himself and blinked at her, then looked at his cane. Which, after smacking the knife aside into a picture frame, was hovering horizontal to the floor so he resembled a matador without a red cape. "Elizabeth," he said in a calm tone, "Why did you throw a knife at my head?"
"I threw it beside your head." She crossed her arms over her breasts and directed the full force of her irritation his way. "All right. You obviously cleared things with Anamaria, seeing as how she's been slinking around, looking as smug as those cats that clutter her doorstep. What'd she name them again?"
"Edward Scissorpaws and Santanico and Alejandro." Will was amused, damn him. She was trying to have a serious discussion here, and he just had to put his cane down, prop up his hands on the skull and look so adorable. Elizabeth fought down a growl. "And there's those two tomcats…at least, I think they're both tomcats. Armand and Bon-Bon, who's the one that keeps stealing your rouge."
"Oh, forget I brought them up." She carefully put her hands down on either side of her plate and assumed the expression she used to intimidate boardroom graybeards and government watchdogs. "Will. Talk to me. Really-don't try to pawn me off on nonsense like you did this morning. I…want to help with whatever it is."
The corners of his smile gradually flattened out as Will watched her. When she didn't waver, he slowly nodded and got up from the table, gesturing toward the balcony. Curiosity replacing her annoyance, she followed and closed the doors behind them so the servants clearing off the table wouldn't overhear them.
He stopped behind a strip of iron lacework, drawing a finger along one curl. Caught her to him when she hesitantly approached and sprinkled little yellow blossoms from the vines tangled with the metal all over her head. Elizabeth reluctantly smiled and snuggled beneath his chin. She pulled out his tie and ran the length of silk between her fingers, trailing the grain of the fabric. "Will. What?"
"I…should have told you this earlier, but…well, it never made a difference in my life before. So I didn't think about it very much-maybe because I didn't want to, also, but mostly because I didn't think it was important. Which you'll probably think is terrible, but it really doesn't…" Will grinned through his wince when she elbowed him. "Sorry, fille."
"And you're going to get your head shoved into one of those curlicues if you keep that up. Only Anamaria's allowed to call me that." She rested her hands on his hips and hooked her fingers into his belt-loops.
His smile drifted away again as he stroked her hair. Will wasn't looking at her, but instead appeared to be trying to stare through a solid mat of vines to the street. "My mother…wasn't white. That's actually why my father left her and got mad at Jack, because he knew and never told."
Oh. Well…oh. That was interesting.
Elizabeth mentally pinched herself for lame thinking and tried again. Which was when the insulting part of it hit. She pushed herself back from Will and wrapped her fingers around the railing so she wouldn't slap him. He should get a chance to explain himself first, if she was going to be fair and understanding. He better explain himself. "And why didn't you tell me before? God, Will, it's not like I'm…I love Anamaria, so why the hell would you think I-oh, damn it. You are so goddamn infuriating sometimes. You secretive bastard."
"Elizabeth, wait a minute," Will began heatedly, but broke off with a strangled noise. Air brushed her shoulder as his hand floated just above it, then fell away. When he spoke again, a little thread of frustration in his voice signaled a developing migraine. "Do I get to tell you why? Or are you simply going to seethe at me till kingdom come?"
Her first instinct was to turn around and rub his temples because his headaches were always debilitating, but she held onto her anger. "So you're telling me things now. That's new."
"Jésu…can you just try to…" Will slumped onto the rail beside her, only facing in the opposite direction. "Look, Elizabeth. Up until today, the only people who knew were me, Jack, Maman and my father. Because while you might not mind, a hell of a lot of other people would if they knew. We're married. It's stupid, but if I'm not white, then that changes everything. Or maybe it's different in Merry Olde Britain."
"I know I'm newer than the rest." Her voice was as tight as the knot in her stomach. "But I thought you knew you could trust me by now. Why else would you stand up with me in a church?"
"All right, that didn't come out like I wanted it to." Will's cane was frantically tapping on the balcony floor, as if he were stabbing grooves in it. His hand edged along the rail until it nearly touched Elizabeth's, which she kept very still. "Elizabeth, I love you. I married you because of that. But marriage vows…they didn't keep my father from leaving my mother."
She snorted, unwillingly coming to see the reason behind his side, but still not placated. A logical explanation damn well didn't automatically equal a good one, and he should have known that. "News to you: we're not them."
"Which is what I figured out today. Which is why I finally told you. I do trust you, else I wouldn't have let that priest make it so you could do to me what my father did to my mother. Because I know you won't. You love me." His little finger slowly overlapped hers, which she grudgingly allowed. Will's voice modulated to soft and pleading as he pivoted to stand behind her, arms coming around her waist. "Anything else you want to know?"
Elizabeth stiffened herself as best she could, but her body insisted on melting into Will. Damn the man, he was too…and that cane was still knocking against the railing. She grabbed his hand and made it stop. "I'm still not happy with you. Promise me this isn't going to turn into a habit."
"I swear," he vowed in a firm tone. "By my mother's bones. And-" back to coaxing "-I promise to be less stupid in the future-" tender kiss to her neck "-and I'm sorry?"
The cane went somewhere behind them, and Will dragged her back into a nearby chair, his fingers wandering over her hips and waist. Elizabeth half-heartedly snatched at his hands, then gave up and snuggled into him. "Your manners need improving, Monsieur Turner-le-Baron."
"I live to obey your every order, Madame La Perle D'or. And yes, I know it's Gold Pearl, not Pearl of Gold. But that's because they're not intelligent enough to bother looking past the surface." He coasted his lips over her temple, and they contently settled down to watch the gorgeous molten sunset.
Bootstrap wasn't allowed to go very many places. No, that was being generous. He was permitted to be in exactly two locations, when he was able to materialize at all: the deck of the Black Pearl, and the sandbar off which Barbossa had had him thrown, hugging the gunner's daughter and praying for his wife and boy.
He'd been a fool to run from her, and an even greater fool to ever doubt Jack. But anger and suspicion and just plain mulishness had sunk their fingers deep into him.
"Bill, if you please." Barbossa indicated the chessboard that perched between them.
"Don't see why you bother. You always win anyway." But Bill nevertheless took up his white knight and tried his best to save the queen.
Click. She shot off into the mists. He didn't bother listening for the soft plop of slime-thickened water engulfing the piece because he knew there wouldn't be one.
"You sadly underestimate the pleasure of your company. You always have, Turner. It's one of your most charming and most damning traits." The other man, barely distinguishable from the fog rolling on through his body, fed his ghost-monkey bits of putrid flesh that Bill desperately hoped were off swamp creatures and not some poor person.
Barbossa caught his grimace and smiled, displaying a full set of yellowed ivory chips. His pet chattered mockingly before taking a flying leap towards Bill's head.
"Christ!" Of course, it disappeared before it ever reached him, but he still flung himself back. Nearly toppled into the swamp, but scrabbled a handhold and halted his slide before he touched the dangerous water.
Unexpectedly, a hand seized his wrist and helped him up. Bill stared wonderingly at Barbossa, whose smile didn't alter one jot. "Surely you've noticed the lack of…brains…in the rest of the crew?" the other man mused, glancing over the board. "After nine years, Turner. You're the only intelligent conversation I can have, though your repertoire's a bit limited."
"Maybe you shouldn't have risen against Jack, then." Bill was angry once again at being bound to this man, and worried he hadn't said enough to Will, and afraid that he would never, ever loose himself from this vale of chains.
Will. God, he'd grown into such a fine, fine young man. Plenty of his mother and not much of Bill, thank all saints. He would know what was the right thing to do. And Bill would just take that decision, whatever it is, like a man. If it was having to deal with Barbossa for all eternity…
…then he would. The least he owed the boy. The least he owed Jack.
"You're always going on about what a mistake it is." Barbossa folded his hands in his lap and looked over the side of the bar so the little moonlight that'd filtered through the mist sheened his white jaw and ribcage. As it did every time, the reminder of bones and not man, not transparent flesh like Bill's, shocked Bill into silence. "Think about it for a moment, Bootstrap. It takes a lot to cleave a man from his friend, when he's known them as long as you knew Jack. And even more to take him from his family, when he loves them as much as you do yours. Unless he's already trying to go, trying to get free."
The accumulated rage of nine years boiled Bill's peace till it fell apart and his tongue lashed out. "Well, I'm not free now, am I? And neither are you."
"But I tried, didn't I?" Barbossa seemed uncharacteristically agitated as he passed his fingerbones over the board, trying to settle on his next move. "I tried for it, which is more than most men can say. And I took Jack's totem, his precious ship. His rule's never going to be whole, long as I hold that."
Bill snatched blindly at the pieces and slammed his down, uncaring of what he was doing. "So what? All you've done is tie you to him, and him to you. No one's goddamn free. You wanted to do better than Jack? That's a laugh. Maybe he looks like he does what he pleases, but he's always had his bonds. Nouvelle Lune. His ship. And a very few people-but you never understood that, did you? How a weight can turn to wings, if you treat it with respect and-"
Faster than lightning on water, bones had clamped onto his throat and Bill was tossed into the water. His mouth reflexively opened in a cry, but his feet were already dissolving and he was drowning again, green scum coating his throat and lungs and eyes and God no God help please Marguerite Will-
"Wonder what happened to that caution you were so proud about?" Barbossa muttered, watching the other spirit dissolve into the swamp. He looked back at the uncrushed plants where Bootstrap had sat, then at the undisturbed board.
Check to black.
Snapping his jaws together in a ghost's snarl, he kicked over the game and strode into the river.
Dust puffed up from the pages of the books, making Jacques twist away to sneeze. He turned back and glowered at the stacks and stacks of crinkle-covered tomes that littered the bar counter of the Guitarrista Muerto. Holy Mary, Mother of God. There were people that actually enjoyed digging through fading Latin and smelly parchment?
The sound of a door opening provided a distraction for which Jacques was very grateful. He spun around on the barstool to see Jack and a rather confused-looking James come in…though it was interesting that James actually appeared to be leaning into Jack and not away, like he'd been in the morning.
"Jacques-" Jack began, but the ringing of a telephone cut off the rest of his words. He muttered something that might have been Spanish-French curses and pushed James over to Jacques, then stalked to the phone.
Norrington tentatively took a seat next to Jacques, resting his bound wrists on the counter. When he noticed Jacques looking at the bindings, he let out a sour chuckle. "I don't suppose you know when these are coming off.'
"Whenever Jack doesn't see you as a threat, I would think." Jacques reluctantly turned back to his notes and books so he could scribble down a few more notations. He shut one huge volume with a huge internal uplifting of relief, which promptly vanished as he counted the number of reference works left. "Putain."
"What are you doing?" James poked at a few books, then jerked back from the flurry of dust that produced. He coughed and, a little more warily, started to examine some of the covers.
Well, the opportunity was there, and as one of the Krewe, Jacques was obligated to take it. "You can read Latin?"
"Yes…" Jack walked back over the tail-end of James' reply, and James immediately turned toward the other man. Unconsciously, if Jacques was any judge of men. And things were simply getting more and more interesting, as well as more optimistic. Now was no time to for Jack's attention to be divided, and Jacques was dead certain that the other man wasn't keeping James only for his possible value in the upcoming meeting with Barbossa. Not with the green eyes and lovely walk…and no, Jacques wouldn't mind such company in Jack's bed at all.
Speaking of whom, Jack was finally putting his hands on Jacques' waist and leaning over for a lazy mutual exploration of lips and tongues. Marvelous, safety and heat, rum and salt-spray as fresh as the first time. He nuzzled into Jack's neck and murmured contentedly as hands petted down his back, tracing over the claim-tattoos. "Watch James for a bit, would you?" Jack whispered into Jacques' ear, teeth nipping with every word. "A body's turned up at th'docks, an' I need t'go check on things. Savvy?"
"Bien sûr." The other man was there, then gone, like a globe of foxfire vanishing once it'd been trapped in cupped palms.
"Where is he going?" James asked, and Jacques was amused to note the tinge of jealousy in Norrington's voice. No goodbye kiss for him? Well, that was a right that had to be earned, no matter how pretty someone was. Jack didn't come back to very many people or things more than once, and Jacques was absurdly proud to say that he was one of those.
Him, useless layabout gentleman's younger son with nothing but a head full of classical quotations when he'd stepped off the exiling boat and into the hands of kidnappers. Just another beautiful trophy for the bedroom, and then Jack had taken him from there before he would've been ripped open and flayed out. And Jack had given him keys to the smudgy in-between spots: the thresholds and crossroads and thin places in the fabric separating this world and the next. Jack had showed him where to step when trying to take flight.
"Business," he answered, succinct and disappointing, as he returned to his work.
James' face hardened with affront and twisted with frustration. He uselessly banged his hands against the counter, then laughed harshly at himself and laid his cheek on his arms. "You too."
"All you have to do is say where your head lies at night, and that's an end to the uncertainty." The entry wasn't where the damned index said it should be; Jacques silently cursed the misbegotten salaud compilers responsible and started over, flipping through page after page of heavy text. Words jumped and skipped and squiggled like little black worms that he dearly wished he could crush beneath his shoes.
"I can't-don't any of you understand that he's a criminal and-" James cut himself off, thank all things bright and rum-soaked, because Jacques wasn't in the mood for preaching. He'd gotten enough of that from his poker-fucking ass of a father. "What am I saying, anyway? I wasn't sent here to arrest him. I was sent here to…to see if he was worth cultivating."
Which admission instantly perked up Jacques' ears. "Is that truly what they told you?"
"Yes. Though I think it's safe to assume that that wasn't their real intent. Now that I'm aware of…certain things…I do remember having some very odd interviews beforehand. They sent me here as a bribe, didn't they?" Depression like stones tied to his feet, and resignation staining James' voice. It made Jacques a little more sympathetic toward the other man. "I like law and order," James muttered, defensive and sharp. "Is that a sin?"
"Laws? Nothing wrong about those. They're necessary." Jacques picked up a bestiary and flipped through to the two pages that showed a huge, sprawling diagram of how everything was related to everything else. "But please pardon my ignorance when I ask: which ones are you speaking of?"
"What?" James' head turned to display a quizzical expression that went very well with the hair flopping into his eyes. His ponytail, God bless the man for that, was unraveling, and Jacques fingers itched to help that along.
Instead, he continued with the lesson and pointed out parts of the illustration. "Which laws. Which order. Secular law, religious law. Laws of nature. Laws of man and of science. Law of the country, the state, the city. Laws of magic? That has its own order, tu sais."
Comprehension spread dully over James' eyes, and he turned away. On the counter, his fingers slowly curled in on themselves till his knuckles were whiter than dice.
He would either accept that, or he wouldn't. Either way, it was his battle now. With a calm heart, Jacques went back to researching curses.
Freedom to choose the structure that would crystallize around him. If James hadn't already been choking, he would've on the sheer scale of the irony.
He let himself drift, floating in and out of considerations, consequences. Picturing the ends of this path and that, then letting it all wash away like ink dripped on water. Because Jacques' words, and Jack's, made sense in a way that wasn't supposed to be rational. Logic wasn't supposed to move and sway and swing like hammocks in the breeze, like light weaving into the ocean.
Blue…everything was blue. James wearily raised his head into the all-encompassing cerulean and sighed, no longer feeling any surprise at anything. He was drained dry of that emotion.
"You sure?" A man came walking along the seabed, old-fashioned boots sinking deep into the sand with every step. He was bearded and old and full of scars, but the deeper shading that swirled around him hinted at strength and menace.
"Barbossa," James named him, and Barbossa nodded, looking pleased.
"Quick lad." The infamous smuggler set himself down next to James, adjusting his sword so it didn't stab into the ground. "Very quick. And struggling, too. It's really a shame how they've been passing you around like a back-alley whore in a gang of sailors."
His voice, all silky over the rasp he couldn't quite hide, set James' teeth on edge and his nerves to jangling. "Who would 'they' be? And why are you speaking to me? What do you want?"
"Me?" Barbossa was patently offended. "Nothing at all, nothing at all. Just a little discussion, if you please. It gets lonely down here."
"In hell?" It was a poor joke, but James wasn't feeling up to much.
Low rumble of thunder, magnified tenfold by the water. James' gut screamed, and he shoved back just in time for Barbossa's grab to miss him. He scrambled to his feet and started to back away, wanting to run but unable to because the fire in the other man's eyes was like hooks fastening them together.
"I wanted to be nice and reasonable about this, but it seems you're the kind who need a strong hand." Barbossa took a step forward, and then another, his strides gigantic in comparison to James' stumbles. "You know nothing of hell. You're nothing. You're just Agwe Tawoyo's chosen tongue, and even your words aren't going to be your own. In this war between me and Jack, you're only another piece on the board, moving where your master tells you."
James rapidly shook his head, denying everything, but the black words somehow found entrance and polluted his body, his mind. He could almost see the gangrene racing up from toes to legs to heart, poison of decay leaping to him from the man before him. Who was losing flesh, skin and muscle melting right off his bones till Barbossa gleamed in the water and only the yellow-fever eyes remained.
"You'll belong, body and soul, to whoever can take you. You can't run, can't hide." Barbossa was less than a pace away, and already James could feel the collar ringing his neck, the links clanging on one-by-one. He was barely able to stand under the incredible weight. "Can't be avoided, so you might as well give up now."
No. No. Never-Barbossa had to be lying.
"Will," James gasped, snatching at ripples. The mass of metal hanging off of him suddenly grew lighter and he took a long step back. "He only does what Jack says because he wants to. He's got enough power to be equal."
"He's got power, or his patron spirit does?" Barbossa craftily asked. "Now, think: would you be better off with a slippery fellow like Jack, all guesses and flights of fancy, or with someone whose rules are few and clear and simple?"
And the old appeal rising against James' will. He liked things solid and systematic and defined, because then he didn't have to worry. Didn't have to take risks because he didn't know something, or to care about what he did, because everything was already set out.
Wait. Something about that was wrong…
Jack cared about those bars, all the little finicky details of trickery. He cared about Will and Jacques, and probably Anamaria and Elizabeth.
"And I have other gifts, too. You saw the Pearl--do you really believe that I can't do anything for another week? So what's to stop me now?" Barbossa's fingers were up by James' shoulder, inches and then hairs away from touching, seizing-
ancient and wise and knowing reaching out and cradling protecting
wild to serene changing variations hues covering all any every shade
Something vast and timeless welled up behind James, and it screamed of power as defeat flashed across Barbossa's face. But James didn't turn into the surge because it said it could save him, though it did.
He went because it tasted and smelled and felt like Jack.
Much to Will's relief, on the third try James revived with a healthy sputter. "What-why the hell do people pour water? It doesn't help!"
Arching his eyebrows, Will rocked back on his heels and passed a hand over his brow. "Oh, good. Cursing. Very good sign. And the water is blessed and herbed, to bring you back to the waking world."
Over his shoulder, Elizabeth added, "It's always a little hard to remember which parts are you and which are the loa's, the first time."
James blinked and wiped at the droplets spangling his face. "I thought possession was only supposed to happen at cérémonies? At least, that was what Jack implied when he was explaining how voudou worked on the way over."
"Well, you got lucky." Will pivoted to glare at the blond that was supporting James' head. "Et merci beaucoup, Jacques. You did a great job of watching out for him."
"Ce n'etait pas ma faute! I couldn't do anything, it was so fast," the other man vigorously protested. "One moment he's awake, the next he's falling off the stool. I almost didn't catch him."
Will sent a quick prayer up to God and the saints, then tossed off another one towards the loa and dismissively waved his hand. "Never mind. Let's just…"
scarlet woman scarlet hand scarlet blood
"Oh, Christ! Jack!" James tried to lunge up, but his knees wouldn't support him and he fell back, effectively keeping an equally-upset Jacques from leaping for the door. Will pushed them both back down and glanced at Elizabeth. He went for the phone while she convinced the other two to sit down and wait.
Gibbs sounded sleepy when he answered, but Will didn't have time to coax the other man. "Joshamee? Batten down the hatches. Jack might be under the weather for a few days."
*What…oh. One of those things. Right, sir. Got it.* Between the beginning and the end of that curt acknowledgment, Gibbs shook himself to full wakefulness. So no worries there.
Will was on the point of touching base with Anamaria when Elizabeth tapped him on the arm. "What's going on?"
So, so beautiful, even when she was biting her lip in anxiety. And the belief hinted at in such a simple question-so Will told her. "Jack's at the docks, seeing to a corpse that's turned up. I think it might've really been a zombie, or something like that, but I don't know. He cut me off."
"All right." She leaned up to press her lips against his, and when she moved back, it wasn't his wife he was speaking to, but the Gold Pearl. "I'll get James and Jacques home. You're going with Anamaria?"
He nodded. "I'll see you in an hour. And I'll bring him back."
"I know you will."
Surprisingly, James hadn't paced many circles about the dining room of the Krewe mansion when the rattling of gravel signaled Will's return. He got to the front door just in time to see Jacques helping a pale, but whole, Jack up the stairs. Anamaria was growling and scraping brownish slime off her clothes, while Will's voice drifted in from the other room, issuing rapid orders over the telephone.
James went up to the side of the staircase and reached through the railing to touch Jack's boot-
dirty muddy soiled water wash wash away far away follow river to gulf to ocean
--air rushing into his gasp hurt, blistering the inside of his mouth with its dryness. He was so easily dehydrated now…
"Jaime?" Jack had sat down on the stairs and stuck his hands through the posts to cup James' face. "Watch it. Y'got t'remember y're on land, an' not down there."
"Hmmm. What did you call me?" But James knew he was on land. That was the entire point for which he'd been groping when arguing, first with Jacques and then with Barbossa. Land was different. Land was certain and arranged and not at all like the flowing current of gentle tingling…James forced his eyes open and stared at Jack. Raven eyes, wise and indefinable and faintly mocking. But trapping warmth. Black of coal and whales, not of rock and deep frozen waters.
"Jaime. Y'mind?" Calluses were a little rough, but it was a pleasant scratching, like wickerwork furniture on bare boys' legs. And when they moved across James' jaw and throat, it smoothed out wonderfully, running along veins and nerves and soft flesh.
His eyes were fluttering shut again, little clips of Jack interspersing with darkness decorated. More symbols, outlined on his skin with careful nails and soaking into his blood, carried upwards to shine weakly against the insides of his eyelids. And he wondered why he'd been having problems reading them before, because it was all so simple.
"Jack," called a distant voice. Anamaria. "Don' be doin' that now. Y'pass out, an' I'll kick y'halfway to California."
"I know, I know." Irritated Jack, and James could fully empathize, what with the sudden removal of light petting and the abrupt shock of the earthly world. No wonder men didn't have wings. If they had, then they would never want to come back down.
Elizabeth took him by the arm before he could follow Jack and Jacques up the stairs, and in all fairness, he could hardly tear himself away when she'd been so patient in answering all his furious questions on the drive over. Therefore he restrained himself. With a great deal of difficulty, and a mouth full of bile.
So he still wasn't considered one of them.
"You're a lot more sprightly than this morning." The ties around his wrists unraveled and were pulled away. Will met James' confusion with a knowing smile, and handed him a glass of water that he gratefully took. "Nothing personal about that back there, really. You're just not trained yet in how to handle a loa, and Jack needs a little quiet right now. You're throwing him off-balance as much as he's throwing you off."
"And how do I learn to do that?" James drained the glass and wiped his mouth. Elizabeth and Will began escorting him down a hallway that didn't even remotely match any of the ones in his hazed-over memories. The mystery was explained in full when they turned into a room filled with stacks of books and coats slung over furniture and curious wood carvings.
"Sorry it's so messy. We haven't had time to clean lately, and I prefer to do our rooms myself instead of leaving it up to the maids." Elizabeth began snatching up clothes from chairs and dusting off various things as she futilely tried to make the bedroom somewhat presentable.
James sat down on the bed, then promptly stood back up when something under him wriggled and squalled. An angry-looking black-and-tan cat shot out and scurried across the floor to Anamaria, just entering. It halted behind her ankles and, from the security of that spot, hissed at him.
She snorted and scooped up the cat, then tickled its belly a little. "Oh, stop that, Alejandro. He didn' mean t'do it. Now, where's Edward? I'm thinkin' his claws need filin' down again."
The cat haughtily sniffed and jumped from her arms to the floor, where it padded into a nook created by several piles of novels that had slumped against each other. A second later, it re-emerged, forcefully shoving out a smaller, terrified feline. Anamaria knelt down besides the shivering ball of black-splotched white and gently extracted a paw. "Edward… merde, y'r claws grow like weeds. Back in a bit, Will, fille."
"Gibbs should be along in two or three hours," Will replied, busy undoing his shirt. "Mind seeing to him?"
"Non. I'll take care of it. Y'an' Elizabeth get some sleep 'fore y'start lookin' like loup-garoux." With that parting shot, she sashayed out the door, one cat firmly tucked beneath each arm.
"I do not look like a wolf. I don't have stubble like you moronic men." Elizabeth plopped herself down next to James, already down to her shift. He blushed and looked away, whereupon she draped herself across his lap. "You were asking how to learn about dealing with Agwe Tawoyo? By the way, very lucky of you to get him. Lovely, lovely spirit."
Will mock-snarled in fake jealousy and dropped to his knees so he could bury his face in her belly and blow. She shot up like water from a broken pipe, nearly smacking into James' nose, and pounced on Will. James grudgingly acknowledged that the sight of them pulling hair and elbowing each other like little children was rather funny, and indulged in a small smile before drawing their attention back to his question. "About Agwe Tawoyo…is this like renting out a flat? Sometimes he borrows the space?"
"Er…" Will picked up a giggling Elizabeth and tossed her back onto the mattress, just behind James. "Not quite. It'd be easier if we showed you, actually. If you're not going to take it as being unfaithful to Jack."
"What would…oh." James started to ask the logical rejoinder to that, then had to stop because Will's hands were gently pushing his shoulders back onto a soft, warm body. And he recalled that other bar: disembodied caresses and bodiless laughter in the dark, then light and Jack's face.
Norrington really was too adorable, Elizabeth thought as she combed her fingers through his hair. All big green eyes and bitten lip, uncertain as a baby's first steps.
Though he seemed to catch on quick enough, once given a bit of notice. Will's kiss was pushing James' head into her side, but James' hands had come up and were grabbing Will just as hard. He moaned and writhed under her husband's attentions, plucking at Will's shirt. Which, if Elizabeth had anything to do about it, was about to be summarily discarded.
She scooted out from under James and did away with shift and hairpins, carefully setting those aside, before coming up to Will's side and relieving him of the remainder of his clothing. He was similarly preoccupied with James', which were entirely too plain for the man. Elizabeth made a mental note to take over the wardrobe there, or shove its responsibility to Jacques.
Then Will was licking down her neck, and she couldn't plan anymore. Just gasp and turn into the wet warmth, stroke her hand down his chest and return the favor. Another mouth hesitantly lipped at her breast, brushing closer and closer to her nipple until it was finally engulfed. Her hand still in James' hair, she held him there and let out a deep groan, which Will gleefully swallowed.
But they were supposed to be doing something. Right. Teaching. Elizabeth moved until she was completely on the bed, hauling the men along with her, and sensuously rubbed herself down the length of James' body as Will addressed himself to her shoulders and back. And yes, she remembered that a suck there made James shiver, and a bite there made him hiss ever so nicely.
"Are you all…" Oddly enough, pink cheeks on James made Elizabeth want to simply lay down and cuddle.
But not when there were so much more interesting things to do, she determinedly told herself. "Depends, really. Can't ever pin Jack down, but I can say that there's them who wake with him, and them that never even make it to the bed. Oh-he's a wonderful, wonderful-ahhh, Will, don't…never mind, do…"
"I hope you weren't about to say he's better than me. Ma femme. La mienne. Mine." Will's voice rolled down her bones like thunder over the river as he pushed between her legs and slowly, ruthlessly, worked his tongue into every crevice and fold of her.
"Oh…oh…God…" To distract herself from the growing weakness in her knees, Elizabeth dove onto James' shoulder and sank her teeth into it. He jerked and keened, but didn't move away. In fact…he was doing the exact opposite.
The marvelous, melting sensations abruptly ceased as Will backed off, muttering. "Where is it?"
"Table. Table." She flailed an arm in the general direction and crawled down to take James into her mouth while Will retrieved the oil. And then his mouth was back, one long lick after another drawing the very soul from her body. In the end, she had to back off James after barely a minute so she could scream.
Lazy now, she sprawled out so Will could clean her off and watched the strain shift in James' face as he waited, shaking and half-curled against the headstand. "How does this show me how to do-" he panted.
"You're not relaxing enough." Will rolled James onto Elizabeth so moist gasps puffed between her breasts. She stretched, then trailed her fingers over James' back and sides while Will twisted fingers into him. "Loas…they come in and you have to open up, take all of them because just struggling a little is going to hurt you much more than it does them."
Nails clutching at her arms, falling to clench in the sheets. Rocking shudder, like choppy waves before a stormcloud. Slightly crazed eyes lifted to meet Elizabeth's then dropped.
"But you have to know who you are," Will continued. "Remember that, or you'll never come out again. You're not them. They're not you."
Whimpering in little bursts, and rising heat. Steam, almost, making the world shimmer and blur. She felt the whirling just beneath James' skin, blue-green tumults like light through the stained-glass river holding up Christ's miracle.
"It's belonging, but it's not. You've got a place of your own, you've got obligations, but it's all in how you carry them out. The company you choose."
First one of Will's hands molded around James' hip, then the other, fingers glistening with slick. His gaze crossed Elizabeth, and she heaved up, bracing herself for the stiffening and the failing cry. Then she carefully gathered James to her again, soothing his choked voice.
"You see yet? Ships follow the wind, but they still have anchors on them. Anamaria's my wind, and Elizabeth's my anchor. You're going to need-your own."
Will's voice had thickened, rich taffy pulled solid. He wrenched himself forward a last time, James spasming beneath him and above Elizabeth, and then he slackened. Collapsed onto a still-quaking James.
"Water…" the other man whispered.
"Are you thirsty?" Elizabeth asked, tugging James aside so Will could lie down next to them.
James merely breathed for a few moments, and then he shook his head, sweat drops scattering over her. "No. Not now."