Tangible Schizophrenia


Rock Discourse

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17. Rum-kink.
Pairing: Jack/James/Will/Elizabeth/Anamaria, Horatio/Archie/Bush/Edrington. Implied Groves/Tom Pullings.
Feedback: Fave lines, constructive crit.-anything you want, at any length.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Notes: Modern-day AU. I used Alexander for Edrington's first name. Guest appearances from Master and Commander [movie] and Horatio Hornblower. The phrase 'voodoo pimpstick' is from mimesere; 'Squirrel Nut Zippers on Ecstasy' is courtesy of juniper200. Dedicated to commodorified.
Summary: Evolutions of relationships.


Will frowned at the code and concentrated on making it fix itself. He'd just spent the past hour checking and double-checking it for any errors, yet it still refused to work.

"Staring never helped anything happen," Horatio muttered, hands tangled up in the various cords that ran between the computer and the surveillance equipment. A quick glance at the irritatingly unresponsive monitor, and then his fingers were a flurry of brightly-colored plastic as he switched around plugs. "How about that?"

Two taps at the keyboard didn't produce anything. "No good. I don't understand-it worked with my bootleg cable TV…then again, Jack was in the room and everything does seem to act differently around him…"

"You earn more than enough to pay for your cable. Why on earth do you still bother stealing it?" With a frustrated sigh, Horatio yanked his hands free of the wires and shoved them away from him. "And I thought you said this was brand-new."

"It is. Therefore, the accompanying software hasn't been really debugged yet. You know the deal, service pack in about six months that fucks things up even more…" They exchanged looks of resigned understanding, and then Will sighed, scrolling once again through the code, line-by-line. At this rate, his eyes were going to burn out before he found the error. It was probably something simply stupid like a class that hadn't been closed, thanks to the utter incompetence of the Langley R&D computer division. The one time Will had been up there with Jack, he'd been completely disgusted by the gray-skinned apathetic cubicle slugs that had staffed it.

Then again, working there pretty much precluded doing any really fun hacking, so he supposed it wasn't that unexpected that they'd transparently take no pride in their jobs. Not that he did what he did solely because it enabled his extracurricular activities, but the unofficial benefits did do a good deal to reconcile him to the more mind-numbing aspects of the job.

"I know it's a bit of a foolish question, considering what we do, but why do you?" Looking up revealed a more philosophical Horatio than usual, who was absently sucking on his fingertips as he thought. For a moment, Will wondered how the other two managed to keep Hornblower from being dragged into every alley. "Technically speaking, our overall intent is to uphold the law."

"No, our overall intent is to uphold the security. The status quo, usually. And the law-" Will stopped, running through the old arguments in his head. He smiled a little at the memory of Liz illustrating her points with French fries on a dingy, pitted café countertop. "Believe it or not, I was a very, very responsible little boy. I always obeyed my mother and tried to do the right thing."

Horatio stared a bit harder, then covered what appeared to be a grin with his hand. "No, I can see that. You always do what Elizabeth and Anamaria tell you."

"Hey. The whipped boyfriend is the living boyfriend. Remind me to tell you about what happened to some of the other freaks Liz dated, back when we weren't…er…more faithful to each other." The computer beeped, so Will hastily started tapping keys again. Nothing, nothing…something. He stopped scrolling and reread the line, then did his best to resist the urge to strangle the hard drive with the mouse cord. "I knew it."

"Found it?" Back to businesslike, Horatio leaned over the screen and watched the numbers. His mouth twisted like a piece of wood warping in the sun. "Oh. Naturally it'd be that."

With a sigh, Will started applying the patch. "All right. Now try."

A moment later, they were probably making complete fools of themselves by cheering, but the disbelieving relief was more than strong enough to overpower Will's sense of pride, or of propriety. He dropped back in his seat, grin so wide that his mouth was starting to hurt.

"Thank God. I was beginning to think we'd never get out of here," Horatio said, smile just as broad. When he showed his teeth, he seemed years younger. A spaniel puppy, Liz had called him once. "Hmm?"

Will hurriedly covered up his snickering and cast about for an explanation, or a distraction. "Oh…I was just remembering. My Da was the one that started teaching me about computers, and one of the few things I can remember him telling me is that laws are made to protect. And living on the Miami streets-you learn fast what you want to protect."

"So I've noticed. You…you do know that Norrington sometimes interprets orders very loosely, right?" The other man's gaze started to slide downwards, then snapped back up, as if he was afraid of Will's reaction but was still determined to meet it.

"Yes…you're not suggesting he do otherwise, are you?" Will asked, cautiously feeling out the abrupt swerve in conversation.

Horatio emphatically shook his head. "No. I understand the reasons behind it, and given the actual circumstances we have to meet, I can't see how he could do otherwise and still fulfill his responsibilities to those working under him."

"Which are more important than strict obedience to a bunch of arbitrary rules." When the other man nodded, Will bounced himself out of the chair and turned off the computer, then snapped his fingers at it. He grabbed for Horatio and pulled him along, ignoring the startled squeaking. "Well, that's exactly what I ended up deciding a few years ago, and so that's why I steal my cable. Now, come on. If we're late, the girls will never forgive us."

"I'm not following-all right, I am following you, but I don't understand how cable-pirating has any relation to what we were discussing." Obviously miffed, Horatio yanked his arm free and stalked for the door. He reached for his coat and started to put it on, then thought the better of it and instead undid his tie, which he stuffed in one of the pockets. The coat itself was slung over his shoulder as he opened the door and moved aside for Will.

Amused, Will ambled through and flipped out his cell, punching the numbers one-handed while he threw farewell grins at the rest of Sparrow's office. Gibbs, half-submerged behind a desk-full of paperwork, shouted a good-natured insult about lazy techs, which Will casually dismissed with his free hand. "Oh, come on. I covered you when you needed to go to your girls' school recital."

"At least we won't have to worry about tripping over clothes for the night," someone else muttered. Will glared around, but not with much heat.

"Like they don't mind Jack being a little more relaxed." The phone rang twice, then switched to voicemail; Will impatiently cut off the call and dialed again as he and Horatio walked into the elevator. "Honestly, Liz. Anamaria's only going off to New Orléans for the weekend. Knock it off with the good-bye."

A half-squished chuckle managed to sneak out of Horatio's tightly-pressed lips as he produced his own cell and also started dialing. "How do you know that that's what's going on?"

"The same way you and William start turning around to shush Archie before he's even gotten the first word out." On the second try, Will got an answer that consisted of a muffled groan and the sound of creaking seats. He tried not to roll his eyes too hard, as they were sore from hours of staring at a computer screen. "Liz. We're on our way. Say hi to Anamaria for me, and remember to pick up after yourself. Bras on the rearview mirror are-huh. She hung up."

Horatio darted an amused look Will's way, but he was too deeply ensconced in his own conversation to actually comment. It was rather amazing how quickly Hornblower had absorbed the snark aspect of successful survival in Miami.

Then again, Archie and Alexander probably helped with that. For a moment, Will felt sorry for James for having to deal with those two on a daily basis.

"No…yes, I'm still in a suit. I was working-what? I thought we were going to a bar…oh. Well, I don't-you want me to what?" Crimson spots in Horatio's cheeks were like targets just begging to be pinched. With a sigh, Will reminded himself that appreciation was fine, but that just finding a bed that would fit five was difficult enough without adding trouble. "Archie, for the love of God-no, I will not. And if I stick out, then so be it." Pause. "Wait a minute. Is that Alexander with you? You were trying to get me into that again, weren't you? Honestly, Archie."

"It's more of a nightclub than a bar," Will volunteered. "But the music's like…Squirrel Nut Zippers on Ecstasy most of the time. Not punk or industrial. Actually…I think tonight's Voodoo Pimpstick. Jazz-zydeco fusion stuff."

Startled recognition swept over Horatio's face as he folded up his phone. "Voodoo Pimpstick? Is that the one that where the lead singer carries a human thighbone around with him?"

"Yeah. You know them?" Sometimes Will thought that he'd been away from England for too long; when he'd gone back with James, it'd almost been a shock to his system to see the discrepancies between the present London and the one he remembered. It seemed he'd become more American than he'd thought. On the other hand, Miami was home, and he liked it that way.

Nodding, Horatio rocked backward with the slight jolt as the elevator settled to a stop, then slipped out the doors. He reflexively did a scan of the garage before he went any further, and Will was a little bemused to suddenly notice himself doing the same thing. "Archie likes them, and William…tolerates them. I don't really understand why…"

"You're still figuring out how to understand a lot, it seems." Will met Horatio's sharp look with a raised eyebrow. "Getting cable legally would involve registration, which leaves a paper trail even if I use an assumed identity. With the shit I use that line for, I don't trust the CIA to cover me for everything. So I'm trying to keep the evidence down to a minimum to begin with."

"I…see." And from the way Horatio was tucking his chin in, he was mulling over it. Hopefully, he'd have recognized the use of 'CIA' instead of 'Jack,' because Will really didn't feel like explaining intra-agency politics, and his reluctance to put Jack in a tight spot with Langley. Hornblower probably had-he was quite intelligent when he wasn't overthinking something. "Are you driving, or am I?"

Will thought a moment. "Let's see…you've been here for one and a half months…I'm driving."

The other man let out a little noise of annoyance. "You sound like Alexander. Just because I happen to stop for pedestrians…"

"How did he happen, anyway? I never would've figured that you three and him would've gotten along."

Horatio made another tiny sound of frustration. "Ask Archie. Alexander's…Alexander. And apparently, that should explain everything perfectly, yet it fails to."

This time, Will let himself laugh as he slid into the car. "Well, that happens. Just forget about it and look forward to a night without the higher-ups supervising."


Though James appreciated Jack's attempts to provide him with support, he still thought that there were better ways of accomplishing that than using the side of the car. "Jack-the door is ten yards away."

Hands continued to rustle their way into James' clothes, deftly evading all attempts at capture while they carefully stole the strength from James' muscles. "An' then there's th'elevator, an' the apartment door, an' I don' see why here's not good."

"Because I'm almost certain Will's hijacked the surveillance system here?" James gritted his teeth and kept his own hands firmly pressed against Jack's backside, not daring to let them move for fear that he'd never regain control. "Because Anamaria's out of town, all the younger generation is most likely preoccupied with drinking games right now, and the entire point of this was to have some time to ourselves?"

"Not that we don' love 'em, but I did miss havin' room t'spread." For completely unnecessary but very welcome emphasis, Jack did some rolling maneuver with his hips against James'. Melted-chocolate chuckles followed James into his slump, tickling under his chin and rasping down his neck as he scrabbled at Jack's shoulders. "Peace an' quiet. No runnin' around after twentysomethings that don' know well enough t'collapse."

James finally got his hands fisted in Jack's hair and yanked him up to kiss the words out of that wicked mouth. Of course, he knew very well that any bout of speechlessness on Jack's part was merely temporary, but the nice thing about fieldwork was that one became accustomed to only needing a few minutes. "Elevator."

"Thinkin' about it." Palms slid straight down James' waistband to cup his hips.

"Oh, for-" Though James generally preferred the subtle approach, he'd been interacting with the Miami underworld long enough to understand when an application of straightforwardness would work better. "Jack. Upstairs there's rum. Which you can lick off me."

The other man froze and stared. "Good point."

Before James really knew what was happening, he was stumbling to one knee in the elevator and Jack was frantically punching buttons. Interestingly enough, the usual soft classical music had been replaced by an infectious strain that James recognized from the office. "'Two Clowns.' Bourbon Tabernacle Choir."

Jack turned around and blinked down at him, fingers of one hand still jabbing at the door-close button as if that would hurry up matters. "'scuse me?"

"The song," James muttered, letting his head fall against Jack's legs and grabbing onto the man's knees for support. "Are Will and Horatio in the middle of another prank war-no, it's Groves and Gibbs that listen to this. Jack, I think we need another interagency meeting."

"Only if they've changed th'locks as well, an' after what we did t'them last time, I don' believe they'd dare." Fingers slipped beneath James' chin and teased it up so he could see the lewd grin on Jack's face. "Now, while y're happenin' t'be down there…"

With a snort, James buried his head in Jack's crotch and thoroughly nuzzled the sudden rise he encountered there. He allowed himself to grin as the other man cursed and flailed backwards into the wall of the elevator, then hesitatingly attempted to copy Will's trick. When the zipper came down without incident, James spat out the tab and turned his sigh of relief into another long nuzzle.

"Y-y'said that Will's got th'surveillance handled, right?" Jack croaked.

"If he doesn't, then it's more your sphere of responsibility, isn't it?" Sometimes it was a little nice to shift the burden of liability. And it was undoubtedly pleasant to turn the tables on Jack once in a while.

James grinned as he swallowed Jack's prick to the root, and then he laughed very low in his throat at the way Jack's eyes went wide and round as silver half-dollars. Consequently, Jack bucked and grabbed at James' hair. "Jaime…"

By James' calculations-and experience on the other end of the situation-they had two minutes. He therefore ignored Jack and set about using every second.


Wearing a dubious look, Giselle poked at her martini. "What did they say was in here again?"

"You know, I don't remember these giving off purple bubbles." Elizabeth frowned, then swiped Bush's empty shot-glass and poured a bit of her drink into it. She rummaged through her purse till she found the right vial and added that, then waited five seconds.

"Blue. Is that a bad sign?" Giselle was already leaning away from her glass, watching it as if it were a live grenade.

Out of the corner of her eye, Elizabeth saw William turning around to listen; so discussion of adulterated drinks was what it took to drag his attention away from the dancefloor. Though to be honest, she couldn't blame him too much. Blonds and leather were always a good combination, even if one of them was far too smug about it. "Not after I have a talk with the bartender. Be right back."

She slid off her stool and headed for the bar, but she hadn't managed three feet when someone groped her ass. Elizabeth indignantly yanked down her miniskirt and pivoted around, but to her disappointment, she found herself looking at a moaning heap of limbs on the floor and a self-satisfied Will standing by a bemused-looking Horatio.

"Hey. Sorry we're late." He stepped over the creep and slung an arm around her, deftly pinning her elbows down before she could manage an effective jab. "And before you complain, we agreed, remember? Whoever gets them first."

"You know me far too well. Unfair advantage," she grumbled, but she nevertheless snuggled into his side and pecked at his cheek. Then she rose on her toes and death-glared some bottle-redhead with gunky eye make-up that was eying Will's hip-chains. "Oh, and nice to see you, Hor-ah, Will?"

Who was waving a hand before the apparently-frozen Horatio's face. The other man blinked, then shook himself and looked again. "I thought they were joking."

As Will stared a little too long, Elizabeth took the liberty of smacking him upside the head. "Ahem. Girlfriend right here."

"Sorry." He was contrite enough to follow that up with a sweet kiss, so she refrained from further commentary. "So. What'd you do?"

"Do?" Elizabeth reared back in mock-outrage, then grinned and watched in delight as Archie bounced out and snagged Horatio into the dancing before Hornblower could protest. "I might have taken them shopping. But I swear I didn't hold a gun to their temples and make them buy anything." She snorted and tangled her fingers in his waistchains. "As if anyone could do that to Alex. You should've seen it-he was ordering around the clerks and specifying cuts and kinds of stitching…actually, I should've taken notes."

Will favored her with an expression that said he was debating whether or not to retreat, so she pointedly wrapped herself even tighter around him. "We still haven't gotten James into decent nightclub clothes. Now, come on. I need to go put the fear into the bartender."

"Only if you promise not to do anything physical. I don't want to spend another night running interference with the local law enforcement." Despite his reluctance, Will allowed himself to be dragged along.

It took only a pathetic five minutes to handle the beer-serving prick, which left Elizabeth restless and wanting to move. She seized Will's wrist and dragged him into the middle of the crowd, squirming and dodging till they were right up against the stage. The lead singer, a tall Creole-looking type with a fantastic set of coat-tails and the famous thighbone-cane, caught her eye and grinned, then cast an appreciative look over Will as well. Rolling her eyes, Elizabeth hooked her fingers into Will's belt-loops and yanked him close.

"Either the music's going to blast my brains out, or this-" he ran palms down her back to her thighs, then swept them around to her waist as they ground up against each other "-is going to kill me."

"There are worse ways to go." Still, it was a little loud, so she let him move them a few yards away. They ended up next to a flushed-happy Archie, who, with Edrington's help, was apparently trying to give Horatio an impromptu make-over into more suitable clubbing gear. So far, Hornblower's shirt was missing half his buttons, his cuffs were flapping open, and his hair was frizzing with sweat. "You know, you're supposed to move to the downbeat, not the up."

Archie shot her a vaguely protective look and draped himself over Horatio's shoulder, trying to yank the other man's shirt-tails out while Horatio muttered protests and slapped at the wrong set of hands. On Hornblower's other side, Edrington had one hand in Horatio's pants-pocket as he politely fended off a pair of basketball-sized breasts.

"Horatio's tone-deaf," Will whispered.

"So he can still tell the difference between a beat and a lack of one." The sheer stiffness just offended Elizabeth's aesthetic sensibilities; she reached out to shove Horatio's hip the right way and promptly was blocked by Archie.

Though the man was smiling, he was plainly not going to take any interference. "Advice appreciated, but we'd hate to distract you from your fun."

"Damn it, Archie--fuck." Horatio's voice dropped an octave and he abruptly slumped against the other man.

Alexander glanced over, then casually rubbed one leather-clad leg against Horatio's. Elizabeth noticed that she could no longer see either of Alexander's hands, and that Horatio had suddenly developed a much better sense of rhythm. "At any rate, I think the problem's taken care of."

"Cheating bastards," came a muffled groan from the face buried in Archie's shoulder. "Next time, I'm going over to William first."

"William doesn't dance," Archie replied, sliding around to press against Edrington.

Peering over Elizabeth's head, Will coughed. "Well, tonight he is. Not doing too badly-ow. Never mind. Someone's going to need to get ice for Giselle's toes."

Horatio dazedly extricated himself from the other two and headed off in that direction, absently trying to do up his shirt. It took him a few moments to figure out that the buttons were gone, and then he threw an annoyed look back at Archie, who smiled and waved.

"If we didn't give him something to do, he'd spend the whole time stiff and nervous in the corner," Kennedy muttered, eying Hornblower while Edrington sidled up behind him and wrapped arms around his waist. "Perhaps we should tell him he needs to practice for an upcoming undercover mission in a nightclub?"

"I believe we've tried that before." Alexander seemed to have a fondness for Archie's neck, and he lavished quite a bit of attention on it. That wasn't exactly how Elizabeth remembered Edrington, but then again, she'd known a much younger, much more carelessly arrogant version. This one, on the other hand, had apparently learned both caution and value.

A nose rubbed itself up Elizabeth's neck, making her giggle as she slowly let her head fall back. Will twirled them about and then dramatically dipped her before pulling her flush against him. "Stop staring at them. Aren't I pretty enough?" he simpered.

"God, stop…" And she had to bury her face in his shoulder because she was laughing too hard. "Good thing Jack's not here. He'd probably have us in some closet somewhere by now."

"To be truthful, I wouldn't mind a closet right now." Fingers fluttered just under the hem of Elizabeth's skirt, then dropped back to trace lightly up the inside of her leg. When she shivered, Will bent down to press his lips against the side of her mouth. "Actually, I do wonder what they're doing."

She grinned and slid her hand down his chest. "Don't you mean: where they're doing?"


"Christ-fuck, oh, Christ-" James clawed at the kitchen counter and levered himself up on shaking arms, then shoved back till he felt himself split. More rum dribbled down his spine, evaporating an icy trail on the heated skin, and then a fiery tongue warmed that spot back up. He moaned and collapsed on the marble, distantly feeling Jack fuck the climax out of him.

"Excellent idea, this was. An' have t'say, y'go grand wi' rum." Jack paused, dribbled another quarter-bottle of rum over James' shoulders, and then messily slurped it up. It momentarily entered James' mind that he was going to have difficulty explaining this to the cleaning staff, but then Jack pushed in and made sore, limp muscles ripple. James stopped thinking again.

A few minutes later, Jack was in no position to make smug comments, because he was busy coming and falling over James and almost dropping the rum. The bottle was secured at the last possible moment and ended up by James' head while the two of them just sandwiched together, too tired to bother remembering which part went to whom.

Eventually, Jack slid out and pulled James down to the floor, still taking the occasional lick at James' skin. "Y'smell wonderful."

"I smell like a still." A quick experiment proved that James wasn't going to be moving very far in any direction for the time being. With a contented sigh, he settled himself on top of Jack and nipped at the edges of the other man's beard.

"Y'smell perfect," Jack insisted. "An' there's nothing wrong wi' stills. Marvelous places."

Smiling, James gave in and let the point go. "I suppose they're less dangerous than Elizabeth's lab. The last time I walked in there-according to her, I nearly blew up the building."

"Lizzie's got some shady interests." When James raised an eyebrow, Jack shrugged and ran his tongue over James' bottom lip. His hands started wandering again, trying to draw more prickling energy from thoroughly worn-out flesh. "Don' give me that look. M'interests are perfectly reasonable, whereas she's got a likin' for bubblin' gunk which understandin' escapes me."

By now, James knew better than to argue with Jack about the proper application of words like 'reasonable,' so he suppressed the urge to mention some of Jack's more inexplicable habits. Instead, he merely relaxed and enjoyed the lazy caresses. And the lack of giggling, and impatient tugging, and-

--Jack snorted. "They're fine, Jaime."

"I know." He flopped off the other man and stared at the ceiling, running through all the times he'd seen Will and Elizabeth handle themselves perfectly fine without any outside help. It didn't work; the itch of absent limbs and drowsy voices continued to spread through him. "I suppose this is getting old…I don't believe in invincible youth anymore. And so I worry too much."

"It's not growin' old. Think of it as…" Beads and baubles tinkled as Jack worked out his thoughts with hand-gestures. "…as an expansion in appreciation."

After he'd run that statement through his head twice and still hadn't made sense of it, James rolled over and looked at Jack.

"A new adventure," the other man elaborated, swooping his hand along the diagonal of a polygon only he saw. His lips curved just enough to flash the gold tooth. "Like the flying boy says-Peter Pan."

And after years of working and sleeping and living around and next to and with each other, James shouldn't still feel surprise. On the other hand, the warmth that followed the initial astonishment was one of the best reminders of why he did continue to put up with Jack's eccentricities and, when he could, find out the reasons behind them.

Jack poked a finger into the corner of James' mouth, then hissed in a breath when James sucked in the digit. "Y're not laughin' at me, are you?"

James let the finger fall out and kissed the fine curve of Jack's wrist. "Not at the moment."

"Good. Because-" Halfway through sitting up, Jack lost his momentum and flopped back down, nestling against James' stomach. He groaned and grumbled to himself, then shoved his head beneath James' arm. "All right, th'body's not takin' so much as it used to. But that's not everything."

"I never said it was." Irony tinted James' smile, but his humor was far more motivated by a warm contentment that soothed away all the worries that normally preoccupied at least part of his mind. He curled up besides Jack and simply let himself go for a while, enjoying the quiet while he was in the mood to enjoy it.


For the fifth time, Giselle waved off the men and politely but firmly rejected their offers of ice. "I am fine. My toes stopped hurting five minutes ago."

"If you're sure…" William awkwardly put down the paper-towel-wrapped bundle and glanced at Horatio, who shrugged. "Again, my apologies."

"Oh-" They were being sweet, she reminded herself. Sweet. Not annoying. "It's all right. The floor's crowded, and it was an easy slip to make. I'm fine. Honestly. You don't need to fuss."

Breathless laughter pushed through the masses of people flowing past their table, and Elizabeth appeared, dragging Will along behind her. She took one look, then shooed William and Horatio back. "You heard her. Now go back out there and keep the other two from getting carried away."

Horatio dubiously glanced out at the dancers, then down at himself. "Somehow, I don't think they'll listen."

"You do look rather mauled," William murmured, tone equally divided between reluctant admiration and wariness.

"So go out there and make sure they don't do it again." With a winsome smile, Elizabeth gave them another push.

Bemusement firmly in place on his face, Will collapsed into the chair besides Giselle, then winced. He reached around himself and pulled out her high heel, which she hastily took. "Sorry. I forgot that I put it there."

"It's all right. Though now I understand why they call the things stilettos," he replied, ruefully rubbing at his hip. When Elizabeth came back from her men-herding, he immediately pulled her onto his lap and affectionately ran his fingers through her hair.

For the most part, Giselle was living without painful remembrances, but occasionally seeing something like the casual intimacy between Will and Elizabeth brought home exactly how lonely she was. It'd only been recently that she had started trusting men again in general, and she still was far from looking for a new relationship, but the absence of company ached regardless of how sensible that was.

Women didn't carry the same kind of negative associations, but it'd been a while since she'd tried to date one. Not to mention the difficulty in finding a reasonably friendly woman in the intelligence field; for obvious reasons, the vast majority of the female agents were even more closed-off than the men.

A hand touched Giselle's shoulder, startling her out of her thoughts to find a concerned Will and Elizabeth looking at her. "Are you feeling all right? You're a bit pale," Elizabeth said.

"No, I'm fine. I was only thinking a little." Which Giselle clearly should spend less time doing, if it was going to spoil her evening. She squared her shoulders and gazed at the swirl of flash and glimmer taking place on the dancefloor, letting the buoyant music wash over her. "What's this song?"

"Ah…a cover of the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir's 'Original Grin.' And-" Will squinted "-you know, I'm feeling a little sorry for Bush right now. Maybe you shouldn't have made him go out there, Liz."

Chagrin made Elizabeth look about eight years younger. She ducked her head and twisted her fingers in her lap, flushing a little. "Well, he was sitting at the table all ever since we got here. I just thought…"

"So did I," Giselle confessed, idly stirring the mini-umbrella of one of the drinks. "That was why I asked him to dance. But he only looked more uncomfortable."

"Some people just aren't dancers." Will shrugged and dug around in his pockets, then started searching Elizabeth. When she yelped and glared at him, he raised an eyebrow and pointedly removed his cell from somewhere inside her shirt. "Would you stop swiping it? You've got your own."

She sniffed and held up her chin in mock-hauteur, then kissed his nose. "I'm keeping you on your toes, aren't I?"

Giselle had been laughing for a few seconds before she realized that she was, and then she quieted down a bit in a fit of self-consciousness. Elizabeth favored her with a considering look before patting her on the shoulder. "Go ahead and laugh. It's fun. And Will's endlessly amusing."

Will was muttering dire threats in street Spanish as he stared at the phone, thumb hovering over the numbers. At last, he looked up at both of them. "To call or not to call."

"You're…talking about Norrington and Sparrow?" Giselle tentatively guessed.

"It's stupid, but I keep thinking that I should. Except I'll see them tomorrow, and anyway, I'd probably be interrupting." His smile turned a little sardonic as he put away the phone, and he pressed his cheek against Elizabeth's. "Stupid, really. We all were living fine before we met each other."

Maybe it was the alcohol finally hazing her brain, or the way the music seemed to stroke Giselle's nerves, but she had to speak. "But it's better now, yes? So it's good that you worry. Fine is easy. Better is hard."

Both Will and Elizabeth turned to face her, and Giselle thought about dropping her head, but their expressions were surprisingly gentle. And approving.

"Good point," Elizabeth said.

That was when the gunshot cracked through the room.

People were screaming and rushing away from the epicenter of the sound, but all that chaos crescendoed in the time it took for Will, Elizabeth and Giselle to exchange looks, do a visual check with the other four, and start planning.

"All right, listen!" A man waving around a sizable semiautomatic leaped onto the bar, while several similarly armed-men fanned out around the nightclub. Sloppily so, since they left each other's blind sides uncovered. "Listen and you won't get hurt. Now, this is a robbery."

"Oh, my God. You've got to be kidding me." Elizabeth surreptitiously slid off Will's lap, leaving him free to slip his gun out under the table top.

Likewise, Giselle was pulling hers from her skirt. "We are off-duty, aren't we?"

"With what we do? Hell, no. We're never off-duty. It's pretty much a way of life," Will said, making eye-contact with Horatio, who was edging towards the man on the bar. "There's a song that says that, I think. Live what you preach, or something like that?"

"That sounds right," Giselle replied. And it did, though she'd never thought of it that way before. Perhaps that was the secret to putting together a happiness like Will and Elizabeth and the rest had.

At any rate, it was worth a try.


Feelings were creepy. And when Jack said that, he most certainly didn't mean that they were disgusting or frightening-he was describing how they moved. Emotions were tricky little things that slipped up on a man and wormed through every conceivable obstacle that could be put in their way.

James was, for once, lying quiet and easy and utterly relaxed beneath him, so Jack held back as long as he could. Unfortunately, when it came to inevitability, tsunamis had nothing on feelings.

"Think we should call?" Jack threw the question at the ceiling in hopes that it would deflect elsewhere, but no such luck.

Murmuring turned into drowsy blinking eyes and tousled hair. "Would they be…preoccupied?"

A few mental calculations and a time-check later, Jack was crawling across the floor, tracking down the piece of clothing that had the cell. He found it beneath a large houseplant that he didn't quite remember from last week. "Jaime? Plant?"

The island counter in the kitchen emitted a groan. A moment later, James appeared from behind it, staggering along on unsteady legs. His limp made Jack grin, but it was the adorable confusion on his face that truly warmed Jack's heart.

James braced himself against the wall and scooped up his boxers. "Plant? Oh, that one? From what I can gather, Will accidentally knocked the old one over the balcony and bought that as a replacement."

"Th'balcony's over there." Jack pointed. "On th'opposite side of th'room."

"I take it you've been giving Will pointers on how to circumvent all laws of physics," James replied, tone a bit touchy. Nevertheless, he didn't hesitate to ease himself down besides Jack, shirt half-on and hands full of Jack's clothing. "Why exactly are we calling? I thought you said-"

While Jack did enjoy the feeling of warm wet clever muscle twining around his fingers, he did wish James would stop doing that when they weren't heading for the horizontal direction. He was supposed to be the distracting one. "I did say. Then. An' now, I'm sayin' something else."

The other man's expression flickered into pained as he, like usual, tried to apply the usual systems of rationality to that. Then he sighed and dropped his armful of clothes into Jack's lap. "Some day, you're going to speak plainly, and the world will flip on its axis."

That was a challenge if Jack had ever heard one, and he couldn't help responding to it any more than he could help liking rum, or loving his ship, or feeling the absence of Will's solidity and Lizzie's bird-quickness and Anamaria's strident self-confidence.

Jack looked at James, serious as the tides. "I miss them."

James blinked. Then he reached for the phone. "Jack, you're an unceasing surprise."

"An' deep down, I'm thinkin' that y'love that. A man's got t'have some uncertainty in his life, else it's all th'same, day in an' day out." With unrepentant glee, Jack scooted away and held the phone out of reach. When James rolled his eyes and went for his own cell, Jack stretched out a leg and flipped the man's pants out of reach. "Y'didn' think of it first."

"As if this is a competition. You're also impossible, and sometimes I don't understand how we all put up with you," James muttered, retreating with as much dignity as was possible, given that he was half-dressed and reeked pleasantly of rum and sweat and sex.

Ignoring him, Jack turned to the cell phone and scrolled down through the autodial, then paused. He glanced up at James, who was patiently waiting for him, and back down at the phone, which was also waiting.

"It was nice," Jack finally said. "I'd almost forgotten what it was like wi' just th'two of us."

"Yes, it was." Nostalgia faintly tinged James' face before being chased away by exasperation. "Jack. Call them."

And the man had a point with his directness. Past tense being the key here, because it wasn't a decision between two choices, but actually a progression of stages. One had already happened, and Jack had thoroughly loved it, and now he was in the middle of another, which he loved no less.

He dialed.


"While there are many advantages to being involved with your superior, I have to say that right now, I'm glad I'm not Turner or Elizabeth." Alexander wiped at the blood splattered over his temple, then braced his knee against the back of the carseat in front of him and examined his ankle. Some quick manipulating of the joint proved that it was sore, but not seriously injured. He relaxed a little and made a note to be more circumspect when table-jumping, since the nightclubs in Miami didn't seem to invest in sturdy furniture.

Archie snorted and glanced out the window at Turner, who was busy trying to explain things to a rather excited Sparrow. Then he twisted around to look at Elizabeth and Norrington, who were preoccupied with arranging the cover story. "I'd think that this should turn out to be a bit of a benefit for them. Sparrow's spent the past ten minutes trying to back Will into the car…I believe he's using the 'check injuries' excuse."

"But now they're going to be overprotective," Horatio muttered, pressing the icepack to his temple. He shifted it and flinched, then slumped down into the front passenger seat. "According to Will, Sparrow can be…overenthusiastic about coddling."

"True. I forgot about that." An interesting trace of wistfulness found its way into Archie's words, pricking Alexander's attention. "Still isn't so bad, is it?"

Horatio was silent for a moment, and then he leaned over the seat to put his hand on Archie's shoulder. While Archie didn't turn, he did lift his own hand to cover Horatio's, and both men's profiles were still with an intense, deeply-rooted somberness that made Alexander's curiosity itch and his gut squirm a little.

Eventually, Archie did twist around, a lopsided smile on his face as he prodded at Horatio's bruised temple. "Every single time…your head seems to be a magnet for injuries."

"But no concussion," Horatio countered, sweetly fervent. He kept staring at Archie as if searching for something he desperately didn't want to find.

"If you'd like to kiss, then please don't mind me," Alexander said, judging that the moment was in need of interruption. The way the other two jerked apart and flushed proved him right.

Footsteps and a cough signaled William's approach. "I think the bystanders across the street would mind," he commented, proffering a tray of Styrofoam cups. Coffee, and not too bad in quality by the smell. "Norrington says that we can leave now, if we wish. I take it I'm driving?"

"You're the least injured," Horatio replied, taking a cup. When he looked at Alexander, his eyes still had the same sheen of faint confusion as they'd had the first morning-after, but now a bit of acceptance was filtering in as well. "If you'd like, I think we could make room for you for the night. Your apartment's a good bit farther from here."

"That's very generous of you, and given my ankle, I'll happily take you up on that." In all truth, Alexander was finding that he'd like to take up the other men on a good deal more, but it was obvious that he still didn't know enough to presume he'd be welcome to that extent. However, it was equally apparent that he wasn't unwelcome to begin with, so he had every intention of trying his luck further.

William finished passing the coffee around and climbed into the front seat, then started the car. After a moment, he reached over and turned on the radio, flipping it around till he settled on a station that was playing a vaguely familiar song. It took a little concentration, but Alexander placed it as one of the songs that Voodoo Pimpstick had done. "Which one was this?"

"Another Bourbon Tabernacle cover," Archie answered. "I think it's called 'Grow'…"

"This one is 'Grow,'" William said, fingers tapping a little to the music. Beside him, Horatio let out a sigh and slowly leaned over to rest his head on William's shoulder, while Archie stretched out on the seat and appropriated Alexander's legs as a pillow without so much as a by-your-leave. Though Alexander wasn't inclined to object.

These babies gonna make you worship your possessions
These children all know how to sort their feelings and names
These kids gonna make you hate your imperfections


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