|The Delta III: Cemetery
Author: Guede Mazaka
It took a minute to realize that the shrouds were really tightly-tucked sheets, and the clinging body was warm. Not clammy. And lean softness, and silk skin. Not hard skeletal twigs like a fishbone, not carrying ropes of seaweed.
But Jack had already knocked Jacques to the floor, and ripped himself free of the bedclothes. He shook his head, tearing away from the last of the dream, and lightly touched his temple to make sure he was, in truth, solid. Then he put on his best apologetic face and held out his hand to the wary Jacques. "Sorry 'bout that. I…forgot where this was."
After a moment of searching Jack's eyes, the other man sighed and took the offered help. He let Jack pull him back on the bed, but didn't go loose-limbed in Jack's grip like he normally would. And when he spoke, his tone was unnaturally flat. Like a flower crushed to brown death between the pages of a book. "Nightmare?"
"Memory." Jack let go of Jacques and laid back on the bed, staring up at the frozen ocean of swirls that made up the plaster ceiling. "Y'want t'know what happened at th'docks."
"When Will and Anamaria brought you back, my first thought was that they'd dragged up a ghost from one of the graveyards. Jack. You were white as death, and…what happened?" Jacques curled up against Jack's shoulder and wove his fingers through Jack's hair. Petting, like Jack usually would him, and right now Jack completely understood James' frustration with irony.
None of the other anniversaries had been nearly as bad. Or as close to killing Jack. Barbossa was truly out to make this year's fight the final one.
Fine, then. Jack had to admit that his former second-in-command had the right of it; he couldn't stand another year of knowing someone else had the Pearl's essence trapped at the bottom of the harbor, and Barbossa surely had to be tired of his living death.
Death. Now there was a tricky idea. "There was a body," Jack began, choosing his words very carefully so as to not tempt any stray spirits blowing around the night. "A woman. I know-I knew her. Scarlet used t'be pretty important in th'Latin Quarter, but she took up wi' a Navy man. Fell in love, an' then he left her high an' dry. Lost track of her after that."
The knock at the door startled both of them, and when Jack reached out to see who it was, he almost forgot how to walk. But no, that really was James, wandering around the hallways. Jack watched the knob turn and catch, locked and deadbolted; he swung his legs off the bed and thought about the eight feet, then the two inches of wood.
"Ah…Jack?" It was doubly hard to distinguish the words because James was trying to keep his voice down, probably to be polite in case they were asleep. Which was a bit pointless, given that he'd only get in if they woke up and let him. "I need to speak to you."
A low chuckle denoted Jacques' reaction to the proceedings; the other man rolled off his side of the bed and headed for the door. "Might as well, Jack. At least this way, it'll only be fifty-fifty that I'll end up on the floor."
"You're as bad as that cat of Anamaria's, th'one that draws blood from everyone. Armand." Jack irritably flopped back and resumed his scrutiny of the ceiling's cracks, house's palm lines to be deciphered. He didn't look as footsteps came about both sides of the bed, as the mattress sank under Jacques' weight, then dipped beneath James' tentative perch on its edge. "So th'body. I knew her, an' so did Barbossa. That should tell y'how long it's been. Seems he took a likin' t'her, 'cause one night she was walkin' long th'shore, cryin' for her lover, an' Barbossa decided t'take her in. Didn' let her out again till last night."
Lapping at his toes, sloshing higher on the James-facing side of Jack, the currents were rising. Not so calm now, though they did a good job of playing harmless as they slowly swallowed everything.
"I talked to…possibly everyone except Anamaria, and I think I figured out a few things," James said, voice the upsurge of water against a sharp bend in the rock.
"Time hadn' been kind t'Scarlet, an' she was angry about that. An' I hear drownin' isn' too pleasant, either." Jack dug his nails into the blankets and forced away the recollection of stench-moans and furious grabs.
Strips of ocean and river, merging together in the muddy labyrinth of the delta. Land to sea, sea to land, nothing staying the same. "And I do feel it," the other man continued. "It's terrifying, and exciting, and I don't know if I could do without it now."
"Her mem'ries washed away down there, lying in th'muck an' the dark, an' th'only thing t'her was loneliness. That birthed anger, an' she tried t'take m'down wi' her." Scraps of satin still intertwined in her ribcage, around the dead fish and the frail little bones of some unfortunate bird. Jack remembered that dress, remembered having a wild dance with Scarlet when she was wearing it. And he remembered that shade of crimson, heart's blood, had been Barbossa's favored color.
"I saw him." James' tone was abrupt and sharp as a razor, and when Jack glanced over, meeting the other man's eyes was like being in a small boat atop a deep underwater crevasse, peeking over the side into the infinite variations of depth. "Barbossa. And I chose you."
Jack moved onto his side, gaze shifting to James' hand, which he now saw was clamped just as tightly as Jack's in the bedsheets. He skated his fingers along the blanket till they covered James' knuckles, and waited until the hand beneath his had relaxed. "I couldn' save her. Scarlet. I have th'earth, an' th'river, but that's nothing. Th'real Nouvelle Lune is th'ocean. Th'waves, th'horizon. The Pearl."
"You'll get her back. I promise you, you'll get her back." Layers and layers there, dark and light, thick and thin. But all written over with the same determination.
"And I believe you two can do without me," interjected Jacques' smooth voice. "I'll be down feeding the cats."
James waited until the door had closed behind the Frenchman before picking up Jack's hand. Like some courtier of old, he bent over and kissed its back, then skimmed his lips over each fingertip. "I do. In sickness and in health, in life and in death…"
Smile creeping up on Jack. He shone light on it and snatched it up when it froze. Grinned as he laid his fingers against James' cheek and pulled the other man's head down to rest on his shoulder. "That's not exactly how they go."
"I'm improvising," came the slightly irked reply. "Have some pity, Jack. I haven't done this before."
"Oh, I'll have more'n that." And Jack opened the gates, let rich sweet tide rush in and fill him. His sight turned green-gold, and he heard the calls of sea creatures whipping through him. It was like going to sleep, or waking up, the way his limbs seemed stretching and endless. They flowed around the world, binding it close, and trickled between space and time.
James' mouth on his tasted of rain and foam, fresh and tang of sky, and he rippled over Jack as if he knew where all the treasures were buried, the mermaids sang and the dragons roared. His lips nipping beneath chin, over pulse, down chest were shoals of fish darting silverquick and scattered, and the not-quite rasp of his fingers traced out the old, old scars. Reminding Jack of the life before and since the Pearl, that it could happen. That survival was possible; life went on, if not as well as before. The opportune moment was always ahead.
He tumbled the other man over and buried his face deep into the crook of James' neck. There he scented salt and lime, and rich black soil. Incense and laughter. Shook his head, smiling as he recognized others' handiwork. So they were all worried about him, were they? "Will an' Liza, always wantin' t'make sure. Lovely pair, they truly are."
James' brows drew together, then smoothed back. His hair was loose, for once, and rolling in half-snarled waves down each side of his face. "You don't mind."
"No. They knew what to do, an' where to touch. More importantly, where not to touch." Jack hummed under his breath, following the chime of the tide, as he urged James further onto the bed. Gently turned over the man and swept his hands down that spread of soft whiteness, like the fine sugar sand of the Caribbean, that made up James' back.
This was going to be beautiful.
Beneath the graze and skim of Jack's fingers, James could feel lines and curves and shapes stirring to life. He shivered, sinking deeper into the cradle of fluid lightning that hazed around him, bathing his nerves in electricity.
Air crackled and parted, leaving Jack with only a pair of feathers in his hand. But the quills gleamed like steel, stealing light from the dawn that was slowly slipping in through the window, and they sang ever-so-softly in the weak breeze that sprang up.
Jack ran a knuckle down James' spine one last time, pulling quivers from every bump. "Now…that won't do. Y'll need t'hold still for this."
"Can't…oh, God, Jack…" James arched up into the slow dragging caress, pushing against the tingling that arose.
"Sure y'can." And the feathers were set down in front of James' face as his wrists were pulled together beneath him. Lashed there, and a loop thrown around his neck to pin his hands against his collarbone. Jack tugged him over to lie across lean legs as he stared at the quills, their ends wickedly narrow and pointed. Like the finest needles. A drop beaded on one, then splashed onto the sheets, brilliant royal purple on snowy white.
Fingers drifted down his chest, rubbing over his nipples. James moaned and bent up again, which earned him a warning slap on the buttock. Stilling himself was like trying to stop a stream from flowing down a mountain, but he managed it. Savaging his lip, pressing his forehead to the bed. Then black across his eyes, blotting out the mutable world, and he was left with nothing but whispering waves in his ears, taste of crisp ocean on his tongue and feel of Jack searching over his back, bringing the outlines into glowing relief on his feverish skin. He could see them against the blindfold, tracing their way through his flesh and bone.
Then a pinprick of hurt and concentric circular spreading of strange bliss, as the first quill etched in a spiraling twist. The water changed course, spun wildly about the pivot being drawn into James' back. It wasn't resisting, but learning a new path always took time.
And fire, and ice. He hissed, felt the writhe wrap around his tendons but pried it off and flung it to the mercy of the tide. Couldn't move. Not without spoiling the pattern, without disrupting the current too much to recover it. Just had to bite down on lip, on sheet and muffle his cries.
"So strictly speakin', y're th'husband, an' I'm th'wife." The second quill joined in, scratching up power and setting it into skin, inlaid mosaics of weird twisting magic that James could feel all the way out to where the sky became sea. "But it's just names. Made up t'make some order, an' never mind th'whole truth of it. Better t'not say it. Better t'sense it in y'r blood, bones."
"I know…" James groaned, almost low enough to qualify as a whimper. He locked his fingers around their ties so he wouldn't jar the needles with his scrabbling; thank everything that Jack was going much faster than a normal tattooist. Then again, the fast rip and tear of new shapes into James were only feeding the scream and the shake that were growing within him.
"Shhh, shhh." Jack took away one quill, that hand stroking reassuringly along James' thigh. "Almost done. Th'rest can wait till after Barbossa."
Longest, most strained seconds of his life, but James waited. Waited till the second quill lifted before he keened and shoved his hips up in the air, right into Jack's hands. "Please, Jack…now. Now."
"A moment," the other man muttered, voice suddenly brittle and thin. His fingers hastily spread oil inside and out, and then-
--James' knees buckled so Jack had to hold him up. God, God, hard and hot and stretching. But gliding and rough, sparks of fire floating up in the dark. And clash of water, melt and dissolve. River and ocean, south and north and east and west, all the same, no matter what the source was.
Too fast, so fast the cry raked blood from James' throat as he shook and went limp, wetness slowly cooling beneath him. He needed more of this, needed it slower. Needed to see Jack, put images to the clawing grip on his legs and hoarse yell behind him.
"We've time," Jack laughed, combing his fingers through James' hair when he pleadingly nuzzled the other man's wrist. Jack undid the blindfold and the binding, licking up tears that James hadn't even realized had stained his cheeks. "Plenty of it. Just have t'see to m'old mate. An' m'ship. Time after that t'try this a few diff'rent ways, I reckon."
Somewhere beyond the bed, hinges squeaked.
"I would hope so," Jacques remarked, caustic tone quite ruined by his breathlessness. His warm body slid in next to James, his mouth curiously probing some of the bruises on James' shoulders. Lapping at the tattoo, making it sting anew. "I'd like to be around for the next time, s'il vous plait."
"Of course," Jack replied, craning around James to kiss away the rest of the complaint. On James' waist, Jacques' hand flexed and trembled. Finally wearing his own knowing smirk, James closed his fingers around it and gave Jacques an anchor.
Instead of breaking out into a fit of laughter like he dearly wished he could, Will merely told James in a mild tone, "You're standing on my grandfather."
The other man immediately jerked back a step, staring wildly at his feet. "Very sorry, I didn't know…er, Will?"
Elizabeth emerged from the next room just in time to give Will a hearty smack. "Stop that. It isn't funny anymore. And don't you pout at-all right, it is funny. But it isn't nice to do that to James."
"Yes, we're indoors," Anamaria commented from a nearby couch. "Sit down, Norrington. Will's only showin' off his weird ancestors again."
"I am not." Will grabbed Elizabeth and bodily hauled her over to the sofa, where he soundly kissed Anamaria until her scowl disappeared. His cane was banging into his ankle, so he took a moment to shoo Bon-Bon, who'd managed to get lipstick all over himself again, off the other end. He tossed his stick and hat there before turning his attention to the blonde squirming in his lap. "Grand-père just happened to be very fond of this room. So we buried his ashes underneath it."
"Where I was standing. I see." A dubious expression on his face, James gingerly sat down in the big armchair across from them. He looked very relieved when Jacques wandered in, a bulging folder of handwritten notes beneath one arm.
With a noise of disgust, the Frenchman dumped them on the table in front of the couch and dramatically threw up his hands. "Je ne sais pas. I don't know. I simply don't know, and those confusing dead idiots are not helping. Merde…none of it makes sense!"
"I take it the research isn't going well." Will pillowed himself on Anamaria and arranged a snuggly Elizabeth on top on him. He raised an eyebrow at the size of the glass that Jacques was pouring for himself. "Barbossa was a surprisingly well-read man, so it's certainly going to be difficult to track down the spell he used to tie himself to the Pearl…"
"Impossible, I'd say." Jacques moodily flopped down beside James. Both men winced and carefully resettled themselves, while Elizabeth stifled a giggle in Will's shoulder. "In fact, I don't think he even used one. I think he just took parts of many and put them together. Or simply called up a malevolent spirit and made a deal."
Problem was, the only members of the Krewe that clearly remembered the uprising nine years ago were Jack and Gibbs. Everyone else had been too young, or hadn't yet come to Nouvelle Lune. Even more vexing was the fact that Gibbs hadn't a particle of psychic sense, and so he couldn't describe any of the workings that had gone on except for their concrete results. Jack might've been able to fill in some holes, but back then he hadn't been nearly as knowledgeable about voudou. Which was why Barbossa had been able to pry the Black Pearl away from him.
"D'we know why James got sent here, at least?" Anamaria inquired. She was sliding beautifully-manicured nails through Will's hair, braiding and unbraiding a lock of it.
James coughed, uncomfortably glancing around the room. "We do. It seems that Britain's top medium for the ocean recently passed away, and…well, my contact wasn't willing to say much, but from what I understand, they were either trying to hurry up my development, or bribe Jack into working for them until another native medium appeared."
"That's incredibly stupid and presumptuous of them," Elizabeth snorted. "I hope you told them to shove it where it hurts."
"Ironic expression," James muttered. He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. "But yes, I did inform them that neither Jack nor I are leaving New Moon. Whereupon they were quite upset. Until the storm." His expression became faintly bemused. "I never realized the loa were so sensitive to insult."
Which finally loosed Will's laugh. He shook his head, still chuckling, and rubbed his cheek along the tops of Anamaria's breasts, making her sigh and smile. "You have no idea. Even Samedi's sense of humor gets a little strained, once in a while. It's hell trying to explain to him that the city relocating a graveyard isn't meant to be offensive."
"Shut up, th'both of you. I've got t'deal with Maman Brigitte, finickiest one of them all." Anamaria jabbed Will with a finger and pointedly did not make up for it with a kiss. "Even Legba's not that bad, is he, Jacques?"
"I refuse to get into this discussion." Jacques finished his glass and set it on a side table, then held up his hands, palms out. "Absolutely not."
Elizabeth snickered and wriggled around until she could look down on Will, her hair down in loose curls. She ran her fingers along his pinstripes, smiling mockingly. "Now, don't you wish you only heard them in the cérémonie ring, like me?"
Will didn't answer in words. He touched noses with his wife and was about to kiss her senseless when Jack tutted from the hallway. "Save that for later, bunnies. We've got t'figure out where everyone's goin' t'morrow night. Jacques?"
Who growled and flapped his hand at the bundle of papers on the table. "No help. You'll just have to go out and take her from him."
"Well, plenty of experience with that." Jack balanced himself on the arm of the chair, elbow propped on the back so his fingertips just trailed in Jacques' and James' hair. "Will?"
"I'm afraid I can't go with you this time, Jack." And hadn't that been a difficult conversation yesterday, Jack leaning against the railing while Will paced along the wide veranda. At least the other man had understood why Will had waited so long to tell him, and had forgiven him for the delay. "If I'm to get my father out, I'll need to call up Maman. So I'll be at her grave, with Anamaria."
"And I'd like to borrow Jacques to help hold the city, if you don't mind," Elizabeth put in. "That'll leave you with James."
Norrington raised a hand. "Doing what, precisely?"
"S'pose I can lend y'Jacques, long as y'keep him in one piece, Liza." Jack nodded and watched his fingers tangle the air. He cocked his head, listening to something, before flashing a hard, gold-glint smile at the room. "We're goin' to th'ship graveyard, Jaime."
Her body may have lain nine years in the same patch of earth, but she had long since left for the loa, faithful servant allowed to join their wild gambols and whirlings about the borders of the world. Slowly she had merged with them, bit by bit losing her particles of identity. No sadness or fear came with that change, for what cared the dead for the chains of the living?
Of course she still cared for her one and only offspring, her heir. But he was grown and come into his own. Just as her world had moved beyond him, his had moved beyond her.
There were still parts of her missing. Parts that had gone wandering and then come back to him, too shamed to directly approach her. Parts for which, in the end, she could not help but wait. And return.
It was hard and nearly painful, slotting together fragments of sense-memory and remaking herself into recognizable form. But she did it, in the end unable to ignore the call of blood and love and vows.
"Maman," Will whispered, reverent and joyful. His eyes were wide as birds' eggs, and fixed like a compass point to the gray apparition appearing before them.
Anamaria's skin was suddenly crawling with unseen flames, her vision focusing in and beyond and anywhere but on the spirit of Marguerite Turner. God in heaven, but if this was the kind of line from which Will sprang…well, well. Mr. Turner had been holding out on everyone, after all.
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A stiff breeze had blown up, but the candles at Anamaria's feet held steady, their yellow and orange tops not flickering a whit. The pool of red surrounding the dead black roosters wasn't clotting, and its surface was still as bright as ruby. Little red strands began to weave up from it, as if some invisible hand were spinning out thread from the raw material; they floated into the translucent mists of Marguerite Turner's skirts. Will's mother shaded opaque, rounded out till she was more human than reflection.
"It's…Papa." Will ducked his head when saying that, apparently embarrassed by his use of the childhood term. "Father. He's trapped with Barbossa, and tonight is the ninth year since the Pearl burned."
"I remember." The whisper came from all around, descending from rattling branches and stone angels and passing ravens. Anamaria defensively pulled her silk shawl more closely around her body and reached out for her own patron.
Who came like a shadow over marble, softening everything with dark as the ancient knowledge of land and death and decay settled into Anamaria's bones, the circle of time wheeling in the back of her mind. She sighed, lifting her chin into the caressing wind, and took Will by the arm as they faced the phantom on the steps of Marguerite's imposing mausoleum. "Madame, je suis-"
"I know," interrupted the other. "Blessed you and the other are, blessed shall you remain. Love my son; that is all I ask."
"Oh, Maman." Will swallowed, his eyes half-closing to hide the tears, and then Samedi came upon him, clever thief in the night. And it was not Will and Anamaria standing together now, but Ghede and Brigitte, and the gold-tinted opalescence of their shared life-memory glimmering to them, as if the miles separating them and the one called Elizabeth were nothing. "Madame Turner. Your husband wishes to return to you. Will you have him?"
The delicate, sad face before them hardened to injured pride. Then Marguerite lowered her eyes and drifted down the steps to trail her fingers through Will's cheek. "I can forgive him, but for the wrong he did you, fils. It is not my place to absolve him of that sin."
Cold around her, cold as the cloak of winter. For a moment, Anamaria shivered back to the forefront, silently sending her support through her grip on Will. He too rose to the surface, his years of confused hurt and grief etched deep into his eyes. Then compassion flooded in, and understanding. "Papa. Père. Father. He still is, and whatever his leaving did to me, he has paid for it too many times over. Take him home, Maman."
His mother smiled, brilliant as the whiteness suddenly bursting through her. Blinding and hot as steam, it made Anamaria and Will flinch back from the fissure between worlds. Something came through, something strong and pure and sparkling, before the break snapped shut.
Anamaria blinked away the black spots in her vision as Brigitte slid to the recesses of her mind, patiently waiting for the next step. "Merci beaucoup, Madame Turner," she murmured to the tomb, now blank of anything. "Will? Y'all right?"
"We're fine." Eerie doubling of voice, Ghede adopting his Baron Samedi persona. Will's eyes were lighted with phosphorescence, and he walked with the lazy confidence of the ancient as he led her to the side of the cemetery that bordered the harbor. His cane swung in wider and wider arcs, crossing and recrossing their trail. "No rest for th'wicked, Brigitte. Come on back out, an' give y'r husband a hand now, that's a girl."
"Girl?" Anamaria-Brigitte snorted derisively and daintily adjusted her shawl. The dirt swelled beneath her feet, giving up eons of power to her call. "You askin' for a beatin', petit?"
"Jamais, m'dear. Never in m'wildest dreams. But…" he regarded the tempest brewing in the center of the bay "…seems t'me that there might be a certain smuggler as thinks he can keep one of ours from us."
When she laughed, it was with the echoes of caverns. She put her hand in his, and together they raised their arms to the sky.
"Gibbs?" Elizabeth slowly walked about the intricate chalk drawing she had just finished, critically studying the design for any errors. She spotted one near the middle, and knelt down to correct it.
The Krewe's street leader stepped in just as she was awkwardly stretching herself to add the missing marks, straining not to put a hand down and smudge several hours' work. Gibbs instantly cut off what he was going to say and tiptoed to stand beside her. Elizabeth leaned back, rubbing at the soreness in her back, and looked up at him. "Is everything set?"
"Yeah. Everyone's got their orders, an' know where an' when they should carry 'em out. It's all up t'you an' th'Court." As he spoke, Gibb tugged at his whiskers and gave her the same comforting smile he used on crying children.
"You're only supposed to call us that during Mardi Gras," Elizabeth gently scolded. "When we're on the floats, and actually are royalty for a day."
"Don't know 'bout the 'day' part of that, ma'am." He gave her a cheekier grin and padded off to see to the regular footsoldiers of the Krewe. In his wake came Jacques, burdened down with bottles, only a few of which weren't alcoholic.
Elizabeth rocked back on her heels-very thankful that she'd chosen to borrow a old pair of Will's trousers-and put her hands on her hips. "Jacques. As Jack's not present, we do not need that much rum."
"You wouldn't dare burn it again." He clutched the bottles in mock-fear, then set them down beside her, amusement draining away as they remembered why they were here and what they were doing. Jacques began to organize the varied glass containers in some secret order of his own, his fingers fluttering almost as much as Jack's when offering an incoherent explanation of an explanation. "Trust me, Elizabeth. Jack's gotten all the city spirits addicted to rum. They prefer it even over juleps. And anyway, we'll need some for afterwards."
"Mad drunken abandon if we win, quiet stupor if we…don't." Well, she could certainly see the wisdom in that. A mouthful or two would probably help with the harsh absence of Will and Anamaria, who had closed off their connection with Elizabeth to the bare minimum in order to keep any backlash from reaching her. Which was undoubtedly a good idea, but she still ached.
Lightning flashed at the window, briefly turning the room to chiaroscuro, Jacques a starkly bleached profile. When color returned, he was holding matches to the candles set at certain points on the chalked symbols. "Time to start, I believe."
She nodded and uncapped the bottle he handed her. The liquor seared her tongue, but Elizabeth didn't swallow. Instead, she leaned over the floor drawing and sprayed the rum in a fine mist across it.
The lights of the Guitarrista Muerto promptly went out.
James fidgeted, then made himself stop and swore, for the fourth time in the past ten minutes, not to do it again. The boat was seaworthy, if small and dilapidated. She was not going to sink, and even if she did, it wasn't a very difficult or long swim back to shore.
"Jaime. Calm down." Jack pulled at the oars a few more times, circling around till he hit the sandbar that marked where the Pearl had incinerated and sunk. Light as a bird, he leaped out and held onto the boat so James could climb onto the sandbar, quite a bit less gracefully than Jack. James helped the other man haul the boat to a safe perch before laying into him.
"Damn it, Jack, I'm out in the middle of the bay, about to confront your spiritual nemesis and having not the slightest idea how. With nothing but your say-so that this will be fine, and you want me. To. Calm. Down." James had a ridiculous urge to windmill his arms in emphasis, but the bar was very narrow and so he refrained from fear of falling off. But he did refuse to go any further with Jack. "Would it be so terribly hard to give me a small description of what's going to happen? It doesn't even have to be very specific, but I need something."
Scuffle. When he was poking his boots into the sand like that, Jack resembled nothing so much as a little boy playing pirate. Never mind that all that skullduggery and scoundrel's smile was truth and not pretend. It still made James want to step over, take Jack by the shoulder and…
…no. Not on sand, damn it. And he had a point that he was making. James folded his arms over his chest so they wouldn't do anything foolish and glowered at Jack.
Who finally produced a flask, probably filled with rum. But instead of swigging it, Jack merely took a sip, then spit it out over the water. Which, contrary to all laws of science, started to boil. "I'm not sure," Jack quietly confessed. "Done this every year since he took m'ship, an' it's different every time. Worse every time."
Uncertain Jack was an entirely different thing from the man's usual swaggering demeanor, yet…now James could see the intershadings of the layers, the places where they blended into each other. "Never mind, Jack. I trust that you know more about this than I-"
And the water erupted into a great black hulk, very much solid. None of the distant threat that James had seen from the tea room window. This was a sheer promise of destruction.
Creaking and snapping like thunder, and Jack hauled them down the sandbar at a dead run. James tried to keep up as best he could, but the ground didn't hold firm beneath his feet and a few times he nearly trod water instead of sand. He glanced back over his shoulder, then stared, for the Black Pearl's timbers were cracking open like a huge pair of jaws, edges jagged with gigantic splinters. In the middle stood a single figure.
When they were just out of range of the tumultuous waves that the Pearl's appearance had created, Jack halted and grabbed James' face. Kissed him, hard and fast and messy, and only stopped to spare a few words, heartfelt for all their brevity. "Listen t'Agwe. Remember y're James Norrington. An' whatever happens, get back t'shore."
Before James could seize the other man, Jack had already launched himself off the sandbar, dive a perfect arc. It was impossible to tell whether Jack hit the water first, or the water rose to take him. Either way, he was gone and James was left alone, facing Barbossa.
"Mr. Norrington!" the smuggler called. "You're looking better since I saw you last."
"No thanks to your efforts," James retorted, frantically searching and stretching. But nothing came.
In front of him, the water sluggishly began to move. Gather into ominous whirlpools that were lifting from the bay. "Something the matter, Norrington?" Barbossa jeered.
Relax. Relax. He was who he was, and Agwe Tawoyo had to have known that whenever the spirit had decided upon James. And with that thought came a cool inrush of broadening sensation, of deep black submerged valleys and high white crests. He closed his eyes-
--Agwe gazed at the man opposing him, and smiled. He spread his arms, palms parallel to the chaotic water, and gently smoothed it. "You'll be getting no help from there, Barbossa."
Who snarled and whipped out words, shining darts as plentiful as the mosquitoes and deadly as the sicknesses they carried. James started, but Agwe steadied him and dismissed the pests, smile growing ever wider. "See to your real battle, man. This one is lost to you."
Barbossa sneered, but fear was showing in the red cast to his yellow eyes. Then a sword of lightning stabbed from the sky, and a piece of the Pearl broke off. Burnt to ashes and vanished into the water.
He knelt down and pressed the hem of her skirt to his mouth. "I'm so sorry. I was a fool, and I never deserved you."
She took his hands in her own, stroking her thumbs over the many scars, and gently pulled him to his feet. "No need of that now. You've kept me waiting long enough, husband. Now, it's time to leave."
"He'll be fine. He's kind, and strong, and he has faithful love." Together, they stood and let themselves fall into the ever-spinning wheel.
Jack never touched water. When he alighted on his feet, having mysteriously landed upright, he was in a vast black space, with no perceptible beginning or end. Or even dimensions. For all he knew, he might have been standing on the ceiling.
"Hello, Jack," came the familiar drawl. When that damned chatter followed, Jack and La Sirène were in complete agreement.
The monkey was summarily dealt with.
Across the space, Barbossa gave him a fake look of hurt. "Now, was that really fair? 'twas just an animal."
"For all I know, it might've been a familiar, an' how y'took m'lady from m'in th'first place. Savvy?" Jack slowly turned to face the other man, feeling La Sirène coil around him and soak in. Somewhere…outside…James was a blue rumble, keeping the waters for him while he finally settled accounts.
Barbossa released a grating chuckle that buzzed about the borders of Jack's hearing, a stinging fly. He stepped forward, metal rasp accompanying the movement as he drew out the sword at his side. Jack patted his hip and discovered that he, too, had been provided with a blade. He unsheathed it, his bemusement entirely out of proportion with the circumstances. "So it's t'be th'old way. Barbossa, I never knew y'to have such a keen sense of honor."
"Honor has nothing to do with it, Jack." Dancing, almost. The way Barbossa's stride became deliberation, and the way his shoulders shifted, lifting the blade so its tip cut a flash from the air. "It's about who gets their food first, who has the largest share, who takes the first bite from the apple."
Sideways glide into a pattern Jack had never learned but somehow knew, and they were in a swordfight, even if their blades had yet to cross. "Y'never understood."
"Understand what, Sparrow? Now, we know each other, you and I." Feint, twist back and around, and still no metallic clang. "No need for polite masks. I've had my fill of that, putting up with Bootstrap for so long. His son's welcome to the dullard. But you, Jack: you always were a farsighted man, even if you were soft. Still are, I'm guessing. It's a lovely one you've picked out for a consort."
Jack ducked right to avoid an overhead slash and parried the return blow, meeting of his sword and Barbossa's shattering the stillness that had hung all about him. As if the sound had also breached some kind of barrier, they were suddenly lunging and stabbing at each other, racing about the void in two clashing whirlwinds. "I'd thank y'to keep off m'own, Barbossa. Y'stole from m'once; I'll not allow it again."
"Sensitive subject, is it? And just why is the Pearl so precious to you, Jack?" Above the clatter and slice of silver, Barbossa's smile curved like a witch's crescent, riding high in the haunted sky. "Never got that, you know. Any sailing ship, even one as fast as she was, has no place in a world of electricity and gasoline. At best, she was a hobby. At worst-a fatal weakness."
"Because y'never, never felt it." The thrust came, and Jack nimbly skipped away. But Barbossa was good and sly, and the sword came back around in a swing that was a shirt thickness away from cutting Jack in half. He jumped back, hand automatically coming up to check for blood. None found, but Barbossa drove forward, taking advantage of Jack's momentary distraction. "Stand on her deck, touch her wheel," Jack shouted. "Wind in y'r face, sea rocking y'r feet-God, y'burned wi' her, an' never did she show you. Fool!"
In a world of those, Barbossa had always been very proud of his superior intelligence. As he always had in the past, he reacted to the insult like a goaded bull: full-on charge, and never mind the cost. But it was much faster than Jack remembered, and in the end, both sides ended up drawing blood.
From the back of his mind, La Sirène was furiously scolding. Jack dismissed her complaints, counseling patience for a little longer. Barbossa was right about one thing: they did know each other.
"None of this ever was about the material things, was it, Jack?" And his own personal demon took a perverse delight in distorting his name, understanding the power of those, even if he completely missed their drawbacks and failings. "I took your ship because of what she meant to you. Because she was the linchpin to your empire. How's it been, these past nine years, trying to make wood from ashes?"
"How 'bout y'tell me?" Jack tumbled back, narrowly dodging a cut to the head, and slashed through Barbossa's trouser-leg to expose bone. The injury, however, didn't seem to slow the other man one bit, and the wounded flesh didn't bleed. It was already putrid. Greenish black, falling off of weathered bone. "How's it been here, stuck 'tween life an' death, not knowin' any kind of peace?"
"But I'm my own man. I give the orders down here. I choose what I choose," Barbossa hissed. Immediately after, ripples and bulges started to appear in the space, abruptly humping up underneath Jack's feet to trip him up, and punching out at him from the sides to throw off his rhythm.
It was getting more and more difficult to fend off Barbossa's attacks and to keep his balance-because if he fell, the other man would be on him in a second. And the air was starting to choke Jack with dryness, stripping the life from him. He felt as if he were being suffocated, trapped in…trapped. Trapped.
This was Barbossa's method of preservation from the reach of the spirits. Self-imposed cage, and now he was trying to substitute Jack in his place.
But if the choices were death or imprisonment, then death was always the better one. At least then there was a chance of joining the loa, meeting loved and loving ones in another turn.
Jack gathered up his remaining strength and swung wildly, driving Barbossa back just long enough for him to twist around and stab through the black. Ripped open a hole and-
--ocean flooded in to drown them, except a strong voice sung Jack to life, wrapped him round and kept him safe while the loa raged, finally able to wreck their anger on the man that had so ravaged their favored city.
Barbossa's eyes were the last part of him to go, still defiant and fierce to the end. Jack almost admired him for that, sticking to his convictions even when they led him down such a disastrous path. Because it had always been about the connections. The flow from anywhere to everywhere. Not the direction of it. Not the director of it. Just the currents themselves, and the ability to ride on them.
It wasn't Jack's misery, though, and he saw no point in dwelling on it. Especially when she was coming to him, whole and beautiful, a marvel that somehow went beyond her component pieces of wood and rope and canvas. The Black Pearl tapped on his breast, asking admittance once more, and he opened to her, let her sail right in.
James licked his lips and hoped that his voicebox would work this time. Sand was itching his back and legs, and he attempted to order himself into a sitting position. Which was a spectacular failure. "Jack?" he croaked.
"I have her." The other man, who was lying next to him on the sandbar, used the same tone of wonder as a new father upon being presented with his firstborn.
"Congratulations." Very lame, James acknowledged, but he was too steeped in exhaustion to think of the appropriate reaction. "Oh, yes. Jack? I am talking to you, right? Not…"
"Me?" asked a soft, distinctly feminine voice. La Sirène trilled a small laugh. "Such a sweet one, you are. But harm my mount, and I'll see you torn limb from limb."
"And I feel the same," said a different voice, even though it was still Jack's lips moving. Also female, but lower in pitch. Rich and mellow, with an intriguing hint of roughness.
James opened his mouth to protest to La Sirène and the Black Pearl that he would do no such thing, but someone else's voice emerged. "Rest assured, ladies. That shall not happen."
Then Jack chuckled his own chuckle, and he turned over to reveal that it really was Sparrow looking out from those eyes. "Holy Mary, Jaime-er, Agwe. Y're quite pleasant t'listen to."
"Thanks," James said, in his own voice, tone slightly sardonic. Then a deep, aching shudder as Agwe Tawoyo left for good, and James unexpectedly found himself wanting to cry at the emptiness.
Instead, he crawled over to Jack and wrapped his arms around the other man, smelling his hair until the pain of lacking had dissipated. "By the way, Jack, if you ever do something like diving into the water again…"
"Everyone'll have m'head. Yeah, I've heard that before." Jack nuzzled down and pressed his lips against James' brow. "Let's worry about getting back t'Nouvelle Lune first. 'cause it appears that th'boat's gone, an' we've now got a bit of difficulty on our hands. Savvy?"
First, James smacked him. Then he kissed Jack until the other man was completely breathless.
"So…that went well. Very well." Elizabeth seemed a little shellshocked by the abrupt shift from turmoil to calm.
Jacques handed her a bottle from the few remaining and got one for himself, downing about half of it as soon as he had it open. Purely for medicinal purposes, of course. Because frankly, he wasn't feeling very steady himself.
She absentmindedly unscrewed the top and sipped at the liquor. "We should probably send a boat out. For Jack and James. So they won't be stuck there overnight. Yes. That is an excellent idea."
"The…ah…phone is that way." Jacques pointed, and Elizabeth fumbled the receiver off its hook.
"Gibbs? Yes, it's over. Listen, you know that sandbar, where the Pearl--yes. That one. Jack and Norrington are on it, and they don't have-oh, yes, exactly. Thanks, Joshamee. Take an extra day off this month."
She carefully set the phone down and stared at the rum. Then Elizabeth shrugged and drained the bottle. Not to be outdone, Jacques followed suit.
Will scraped the last bit of dirt over the buried chicken corpses, then scuffed around on the spot so it wasn't obvious it had been disturbed. He offered Anamaria an arm, and together they walked back to the car. "Elizabeth's getting drunk," he commented as they were getting inside. "You remember what happened last time?"
"Oui." Anamaria grinned, and tugged his hand onto the wheel. "Hurry up. I'd not miss a repeat of that for th'world."
"Hopeless." But he nevertheless kicked the car into high gear and squealed onto the road. "Sometimes I simply don't understand…"
"Then don't. Sit back an' enjoy th'ride, Turner." And Anamaria did just that.
Takes a strong body to dare Nouvelle Lune. Takes an even stronger soul to settle in her. Days are muggier in that city than anywhere else, and nights are darker. Black as pitch, black as coal, black as the hellcat gleam in every woman's eye and the secret heart in every man's breast.
Silver skull leering from an ebony cane, swinging skirts lounging in the cemetery entrances. Gold pearls rolling over downtown, and lazy sunshine drawl wandering the streets.
Green ripples in the tides that lap against the docks and the shores, and in the dead center of it all, wicked darkness.
So cherish the sun, and fear the moon.