|The Delta Side Story: All Hallows’ Eve
Author: Guede Mazaka
The swamp gas might have been rising. They were on the very outskirts of the city, after all, and the cracked mossy mausoleums around him were faintly green in the red light of dusk. Foxfire danced around James’ fingers when he rose up and hooked his fingers over the top edge of the nearest tomb, and chilly phosphorescence skittered down the backs of his hands when he pulled himself up. Halfway over, a gold thing shot out to catch his wrist and yank him, surprise and all, the rest of the way.
Jacques was sitting cross-legged on the marble, centered in the midst of a wide shallow spiderweb of hairline fractures. Tousled as always, he let go of James’ wrist and slouched back into his half-undone linen suit, dragging on the cigarette dangling from his lower lip. “Tardy, m’sieur.”
“My pardon. Anamaria asked me to help her carry a few things over to the other side.” As he dusted himself off, James nodded towards the far bank, where if he squinted, he could just glimpse the faint gleam of Will’s silver-tipped cane. When he looked at himself, he didn’t need to squint in order to see the damp stains dappling the light cloth. “Chickens. I’ve never been fond of the animals, but now I think I’m positively looking forward to their…ah…”
“Oh, she’ll be letting Nouvelle Lune have a taste of their blood, never fear. Brigitte and her baron will be well-fed tonight.” Careless and conspiratorial, Jacques rubbed a finger alongside his nose and curled his other fingers over his grin. “And I do think that Will took a bottle of Jack’s best along as well. He’ll have to carry Elizabeth home.”
With a sigh, James divested himself of his ruined jacket and spread it over the stone. He hesitated, then slowly lowered himself onto the fine fabric and took up a position similar to the other man’s. “A merry shore, indeed.”
A finger wrapped over the knot of his tie, and in a trice Jacques had it off of him. The other man held up the strip of silk so it swayed in the wind like a metronome, ticking off the languid creep of the heat down the river and out to sea. It almost felt as if they were feeling the passing of summer itself, a last steaming burst that slithered up James’ back and tickled the tattoos nestling between his shoulderblades. He rolled his shoulders, possibly trying to push into the ghosting wind and possibly trying to shrug it off, and the tingling abruptly arced down to pool just below the base of his spine, rippling and expanding and drawing his muscles tight to the bone.
His eyes were half-closed, he suddenly noticed. It had only been a few months, so he still had that moment of panic before he remembered and relaxed, streaming into the flow around him. “Jack’s starting early.”
Jacques’ grin was not seen so much as felt, a toothed impress on the back of James’ neck that left a trace of amusement behind to scratch a tiny itch into the skin. There was the hiss-flare of a match, and then the other man’s face appeared wavering above a lit candle he’d stuck on one corner of the tomb, his hair a wild haloing tangle that stretched and looped outwards till if he wanted, James could reach out and trace the various roads that knit New Moon together. The graveyard around them was diffracting, some parts fading almost completely away while others, formerly vague shapes on the edge of his sight, were thrown into high sharp relief. When James lifted a finger, he could roll it through the thickening air and track the rise of the river.
“He always starts early. Likes to have the responsibility over and done with as soon as possible—”
“—so he can proceed to the celebration?” James finished, smile tweaking at the corner of his mouth. He moved aside so Jacques could retrieve something, but the waters had half-caught him now and inevitably swung him back, a little too quickly for Jacques to dodge.
But instead of a collision, it was very nearly a merging. Cloth ripping like a receding wave, curling away to expose warm flesh that twisted and flexed beneath James’ palms, allowing him to feel the still-fresh remainders of Jack’s most recent touches as well as the more permanent ones. He found himself staring through the candle-flame at the river, while under him Jacques sighed and carefully nipped at James’ jawline. Soft and hard, phantoms of earth and stone spreading outwards in a different kind of current.
“Jack should know better than to leave us alone,” Jacques muttered, nuzzling the underside of James’ chin cat-like. His nail cut ripples along the edge of the heat washing over James’ back, while James sliced sharp intersections and meandering trails over Jacques’ skin. “A river is a road, and vice versa. Too much alike sometimes, maybe, and then you need to let off a little”
“Except I’m not in the mood for a flood.” Arching up made James’ hand slip and sent him down to the side as the other man effortlessly claimed the top position. The wind was picking up, and if James strained his hearing past the soft chuckling murmurs of Jacques and the rich low roar in his ears, he thought he could make out Will’s voice. “In fact, I don’t believe I’m quite…”
“Yourself?” Jacques sprawled out and stroked his hand down James’ chest, sparks of ancient drollery in his eyes. All the secrets of the journey seemed bound up in the curve of his smile, promising knowledge of beginning and end and everything in between.
Perhaps. But the traveler wasn’t the only repository of information, and he certainly wasn’t the best disseminator of it. Secure in what he knew, James lolled back and tilted his head just in time to see the black prow of the Pearl emerge from the river mist.
It was cold. Icy. And this was familiar and not a threat to such as he either, but nevertheless he felt a distant discomfort, which was only partly assuaged by the tight wrap of Jacques’ heat. He’d seen that ship many times before, in all sorts of moods and weather, but he’d never seen her so before. Every creak of her planks was like a cannonball shot across the water—
--in fact, the bodies were rising in response. Men, women, children…they all lifted themselves from the fog and grasped dangling hawsers, footholds in the side of the ship. Climbing aboard with the same silent solemnity that had clamped down on the whole river like an iron band. They came aboard and gathered quiet and still on the decks, an endless mass of ephemeral gray faces.
“It was harder, before.” Something was ever-so-slightly off about Jacques’—that was it. Jacques was speaking, not Legba, and it was the man only that was pressing his cheek against James’. “When Barbossa had the Pearl. The dead of the year don’t wish to leave, you see, and it takes something like her to convince them it’s worth going.”
James blinked, momentarily pulling himself to the forefront. “What comes in?”
“The lives of the next year. Screaming babies, mostly. But sometimes we see a grown one.” That lazy, casual grin passed over Jacques’ face, and with it came the greater awareness. He winked long history at James. “You gave Jack a start. So by the time the rest of you showed up, he wasn’t surprised at all.”
“Is that so…” And part of James had always known that: the same part that stretched now and half-closed its eyes to better feel the passage of the ship from river to bay. He slipped easy as moonlight through shutters back down, all but a tiny quiver of worry. “And Jack always comes back?”
The gold glints in Jacques’ eyes submerged beneath wet dark blue. His hands slid into James’ trousers, molded their palms to James’ hips, and he shrugged himself nearer. “As long as I’ve known him.”
“And that isn’t as long as me,” said the rolling echo inside James’ chest, which was pushing back up to force out his breath. He let it come, sinking in its certainty and splaying that over Jacques as well, his hands drifting over the other man’s back and shoulders.
“Notre Père qui etês au cieux,” Jacques muttered, then repeated it in Latin.
He added a few other words as well, but James was no longer listening to that. The tide was falling, fast and hard, and when it broke on the bottom, he crashed apart with it. When the water reformed and recollected itself, he was there as well, and when the tide rose back to meet the land, he could almost feel the bubbling wash of wet sand over his feet.
James opened his eyes and carefully tucked the sweaty hair out of Jacques’ face, which was resting on his shoulder. Then he pulled them up and watched with a relief that was now solely his own as the Pearl serenely sailed back into the delta.