|Mothers and Daughters
Author: Guede Mazaka
Tom held up what appeared to be a complete sniper's kit. "How about this?"
Before looking over, Theodore stuffed the last shirt into the suitcase and slammed his elbows on it till it snapped shut. "Um…no. We've better ones in Miami. Sell it and save up for the speedboat."
"Speedboat?" A very familiar strain of barely-controlled excitement leaked into Tom's voice. His eyes glittered. "I get a speedboat?"
"Believe me, you'll get more than one. It's ridiculous how many we go through." Right. One suitcase down, and…Theodore blinked. He checked the closet behind him one last time, poking the walls to make sure none of them were false, and then began digging through the dresser. "That's all the clothes you have?"
"Well, yes." The other man came over and peered at the list James had handed them, just before taking off with Will earlier in the morning. "Anyway, considering everything else on here, isn't that a good thing? The shipping's going to be horrendous as is, and I don't think MI6 reimburses that until I've jumped another level."
Theodore swiped back the list and handed Tom a box of electronics in its place. "Shipping costs you don't need to worry about; just remember to chat with Will about…offside accounts. And your clothes are too, well, dark. It's Florida, not a funeral parlor."
"Oh. Well, then." Voice suspiciously clipped, Tom squatted on the floor and began sandwiching the electronics in between socks. Then he carefully started placing the X-ray distorters around the inside rim of the suitcase, arse ever-so-slowly inching higher in the air as he worked his way to the far edge.
Tease. Theodore bounced a rolled-up tie on Tom's head, then sneaked in some lovely gropes during the ensuing mock-wrestling match. Halfway to catching the other man in a headhold, his knee banged on a cabinet and he lost his balance. Being a gentlemanly type, Tom instantly ceased struggling and reached up to help.
When they finally broke apart for air, Theodore was mentally mapping out the quickest way onto the bed without having to let go of anything. Sadly, his sense of responsibility was even faster at shoving that back down the to-do list. "We'll…just make a few…extra stops when we do James and Will's gift-shopping. God, I hope they aren't having another fit. There's not going to be time for another-"
"Make-up session, I think the Americans call it." Long fingers skated up the backs of Theodore's thighs, then angled to run along the crease where his legs merged into his buttocks. "Why would they be having another fit?"
Theodore's reply was a wryly nostalgic grin, and a nip at the flush beneath Tom's chin. "You'll see, next time you're back here. And with any luck, she won't maul you too badly."
The butler was watching.
The butler was a man in a penguin suit that somehow managed to emit the same menacing aura as a man in full combat gear, with all guns loaded and all safeties off.
So Will refrained from rolling his eyes, and instead covertly edged his foot over until it could stomp on James' frantically tapping toe. When the other man hissed and smacked out with his hands, Will grabbed the nearest one so at least that one would stop fidgeting. "Jaime, never thought I'd say this to you, but you're fucking embarrassing me. Would you relax? Or-you know, we could just skip out on this."
"No, we can't." James' tone was wound tighter than the bun on a fifty-year-old drill sergeant spinster's head. "If I see one, and don't see the other…the result is not pleasant. We've simply got to see this through."
Another servant appeared at the top of the stair mountain and gave a curt nod, at which the butler didn't even look. "The Marchioness will see you now."
James actually hesitated before moving forward and mounting the first step. Hesitated. Him. A man that had been known to be stupid enough to run out in front of his men during a firefight. Will's worry surged up a few notches.
"If she's anything like your father, then it'll be okay. I know how to handle-shit, James. That chandelier's worth thousands, and they can't afford to fix the steps?" With a little help, Will tugged his foot free of the big notch in one stairstep.
"She's not." James' hands lingered a little longer than strictly necessary, but it wasn't something that Will was going to whine about. If the other man wanted to cuddle their way up the stairs and down the creepy dark hallway, then Will was all for it. Especially if that way, he'd get a reaction out of the freakishly impassive servants. "She's-oh, dear God."
As James was slightly ahead, he entered the room first. A second later, he flung himself out, arm over eyes, and slammed his back against the door. "Damn it, Mother!"
"Oh, James? Is that you? Have you seen my skirt?"
The fuck? Will glanced around, glimpsed a scrap of brightly-colored fabric behind a nearby urn, and pulled it out. He smoothed out the crumpled wad to find that he was holding a miniskirt that wouldn't look out of place on Elizabeth, on the days she tried to dress a little more conservatively. As in, merely stopping traffic, and not causing fifty-car pile-ups.
"There it is! Thank you so very much," cooed a husky, rich voice from doorway. Will looked up to see a woman that defined the word "mature." Thick silver hair, snapping green eyes, and in counterpoint to the crows' feet and slight sag of neck skin, a spectacular figure. Which was amply displayed by the dressing robe that was haphazardly gathered about her body, leaving shoulders, legs, and tops of breasts in full view. "And who would you be, darling?"
"Mother. This is Will Turner." The arm did come down, but James still wasn't looking directly at her. "Will, this is my mother, the Marchioness of-"
A soft bubbling laugh interrupted him. "Just call me Julie instead of that horrendously long title, and we'll be quits." Her gaze turned speculatively as she reached for her skirt, which was dangling from Will's shock-numbed fingers. "I suppose it'd be bad taste to seduce my son's boyfriend, even if he is quite the dish."
"Mother," James croaked, nearly whimpering.
At that point, Will's manners decided to kick in, for no apparent reason. He quickly passed over the skirt, resisted the urge to disinfect his fingers, and instead held out his hand. Consequently, he discovered that Julie had one really strong handshake, considering the delicate way she was framed. The top of her head barely came up to his nose. "Well…hello."
"And hello." She gave him a languorous smile that would've been exceptionally seductive, if she hadn't broken into a crackle of chuckles in the middle of it. Julie swung around to pat James on one scarlet cheek. "Oh, calm down. I promise that there are no naked men hiding in my closet, and I won't tease your boyfriend. Very much. Now come in so we can have an early tea."
Her voice modulated from kittenish to commanding without missing a single beat, and Will suddenly started to see the resemblance. Christ. This was going to be interesting. If James didn't melt of embarrassment first.
Will hooked his arm around James' waist and pasted a big smile on his face to cover up the fact that he was trying and failing to haul his boyfriend over the threshold. He took a moment to slap himself into remembering that he wasn't supposed to find James' mother in the least bit attractive. Even if Julie was no hag. "Tea? Sounds great. I haven't had a decent crumpet in years."
Jack and Liz were off-ship doing actual work, so Anamaria finally had a chance to relax. And there wasn't anyone that could say she didn't deserve it, because she damn well did. Elizabeth was near-impossible to roust out of bed before noon, unless one was armed with French Market coffee, a Will Turner, and a grumpy Norrington on the cell phone. As Anamaria had been missing two of the three, she figured she'd earned herself the quiet day.
And she wasn't even going to think about what it took to get Jack to seriously investigate something that didn't marginally involve rum, the byproducts of rum, or even the possibility of rum. Bad luck that they'd get an assignment requiring him to be completely dry for a few hours, but then again, his alcohol levels were so high he still wouldn't have sobered up by the end of it, so she didn't see what he'd been complaining about.
But anyway, she wasn't going to think about that. She was going to lie back on her blanket, open up her half-finished book, and soak up the sun until she fried or they came back.
Of course, then her cell phone rang.
Anamaria dropped her head to the deck with a groan, willing it to stop. Or at least not make that little beep that told her it was a call she couldn't afford to ignore.
The damn thing beeped.
"Putain." She crankily shoved her novel aside and flipped the cell open with one hand, then shoved it against her ear. "'lo?"
*Chaton,* answered her mother's deep bell tones. *Y'busy now? Th'lawyer just stopped by, an' I'm thinkin' we need a little chat.*
From the corner of her eye, Anamaria could see her book calling. Unfinished chapter, cliffhanger-one lazy day shot to hell. Next time she was in New Orléans, she made a note to stop by Lawyer Prescott's and have a word, never mind that he was a family friend. Whenever Maman mentioned him by his profession instead of his name, that meant they'd been mumbling over the inheritances again, cooking up another dodge for the IRS. And that meant Maman got to reckoning the many members of her brood, and to thinking on grandchildren. Which always led to a weird, stiff talk with the one that hadn't gone popping out babies like hens in a laying mood.
Great. Just what Anamaria needed.
But she did love Maman, and her mother had never backed down from supporting her in everything. It was just that Maman had it set in her mind that a full life included children-witness Anamaria's handfuls of siblings-and she didn't exactly get why Anamaria refused to have any.
"Hang on, Maman. I can get down t'New Orléans by lunch, if that's good." Anamaria mentally girded herself for another long round of talking her mother into feeling that her life was fine and dandy, even if Maman couldn't understand the why of it.
*Well…d'accord. Y'want Cajun, Creole, or plain home cookin'?*
At least the food would be excellent. Norrington kept trying to bribe family recipes out of Anamaria for his restaurant chefs, and she didn't have to heart to tell him that when it came to Maman's cooking, the secret wasn't the ingredients. "Plain homestyle, like always. Salut, Maman. I'll bring over some fruit for th'dessert."
*Salut, chaton. Y'keep on being good, or at least don't get caught.* Her mother's voice beamed fondness, and Anamaria couldn't help but smile back as she hung up.
That didn't last for long. She managed to read about three more lines before she finally gave up on the pigheaded hero and swept her sunbathing gear off the Pearl's deck. Didn't really need to leave for another half-hour, but her nerves were already jumping like fish in summer, and she didn't see the point in trying to sit still.
A little windsurfing should help clear out her head. "Gibbs?"
A grizzled head poked up from the tech room. "Yes'm?"
"I'm goin' out on th'water, an' later, into New Orléans for th'afternoon. So watch th'cabin for me-just easy, 'cause we're not expectin' anything big. Comprend?"
"Yep. Got you covered, 'long as you come back with some of those crawdads." He licked his lips, then ducked back inside before she could do more than laugh and flick him off.
It was always good to know what she had and didn't have. Right now, Anamaria wasn't permanently lacking in anything. She just hoped her mother would finally see that.
"I kid you not. They fed all of us-Sparrow's and our teams-and with only twenty minutes' notice. Best jambalaya I ever had." Theodore sucked at his milkshake and swung himself down a short flight of stairs to the next section of the shopping mall. He scanned over the stores, then mournfully shook his head. "No, none of those will work. Onwards!"
Snicker playing around the corners of his mouth, Tom trailed after Theodore and halted them by a floor map. "What exactly are we looking for?"
"Lingerie." Theodore waited for the incredulous look, then threw his arm over the other man's shoulder and laughed until his knees went weak. "For Elizabeth and Anamaria. Remember? Because Will and James suddenly decided to go visit James' mother, they don't have time to get gifts. And believe me, you want to stay on the women's good side."
"Oh." Tom's face smoothed out of its shocked expression, and even managed to be a little disappointed. "Damn. I was looking forward to seeing you in a corset."
The heat flushed up in Theodore's cheeks, and he ducked his head. "I'd hoped that that story had died down by now."
"There's a story?" And that was genuine confusion on Tom's face. Theodore's blush deepened.
Then the funny side welled up out of nowhere, and he snorted a laugh, then slurped up more milkshake. Tom chuckled with him, leaning forward with a sparkling smile, and for a moment Theodore almost forgot they were in public.
His cell was kind enough to remind him. Grudgingly pulling back, he flicked it open. "Hello? Now? No-no, sir, I'm not complaining. I'll tell him right away." Clicked it shut. "Wanking bastards. Bureaucrats never can get it together in time."
When James' phone chimed, he almost praised God out loud. As it was, his sigh of relief threatened to choke him. "Groves? Really. I see."
"And I suppose it's off to save the world once again," drawled his mother, who had graciously deigned to don a blouse and a skirt of reasonable length before her son keeled over on the carpet. While James was the first to say that his mother was a beautiful woman and had aged exceptionally well, those didn't necessarily have to involve actual visual proof. He preferred not to deal with the reality if he could help it.
"Just a meeting that they forgot to schedule," he explained, throwing a pleading look at Will. The other man rolled his eyes upward, but nodded in acquiescence; James made a note to buy Will that asinine video game about the little stick creatures and the bizarre garden that Will'd been drooling over for ages. "I'm really very sorry, but-"
And now his mother was rolling her eyes and leaning back to drape herself over her chair in a bored manner. "No, you're relieved. Call a spot a spot and a jackass a jackass, James, and let me have lovely Mr. Turner for a little while."
He reflexively stiffened at that, and something that bore a passing resemblance to regret flitted through his mother's eyes. "I'll leave you two alone, then."
"Jaime, I never thought he'd take me up on it, and as he was the kind to do so, he certainly wasn't any good for you-"
Before his mother could hang any more lead weights to his feet, he pivoted and made for the door. As he passed Will, a hand came up to briefly trail along his own. The amount of comfort he received from that small gesture was in utter disproportion to its actuality, but he didn't give a damn. Geometry wasn't even remotely relevant to the circumstances.
Julie half-rose from her seat, then slouched back, her gaze refocusing on Will. She seemed oddly chagrined. "Damn."
Understanding perfectly well what'd been hinted at, but not sure as to how to handle it, Will opted for pouring himself some more tea. In point of fact, the delicious tidbits accompanying that did include crumpets. And some ridiculously dainty pastries that practically floated down the throat.
"I'd guess you're wondering how on earth." Her eyes were shrewd, and obviously had his measure.
"Pretty much." Will raised the teapot in silent offering, and she smilingly held out her cup for a refill. He chose his words and tone very carefully, as he still didn't have a good sense of her. "I met Norrington-father yesterday."
She huffed as she withdrew her cup and put it to her lips, expertly blowing away the steam. "You mean Norrington-bastard. Honestly, that man needs a good rooting-out of the arse. I know that a good fuck doesn't do a single thing."
The tea was a little hotter than Will had expected, so he sputtered a bit. Fortunately, the napkin was right there, so he snatched it up. Then all those scoldings from Liz, from one of the more fun undercover assignments, decided to rear their ugly heads and he forced himself to gently dab the burning drops off his lips instead of swiping like he wanted to.
"But I do have to admit, I never complained about that. And you should know-James got Michael's build." Her smile was just over the border of wicked.
Will strangled on his tea.
"Tiny sips, darling. Tiny sips." Julie reached over and whacked Will on the back, clearly amused. Then the humor drained away as she pensively examined her nails. "And Michael was very dashing, in his time-also, he was too fair not to give me credit when credit was due to me. He simply didn't like doing it, and it showed."
"Doesn't sound like a fun home," Will muttered, just before his sense of self-preservation whapped him upside the head. Whatever else was going on, it was more than obvious that James highly respected his mother. And was much more fond of her than of his father, Will suspected. So insulting her was not only a spectacularly bad idea, but also a wonderful way to wreck a newly-fixed accord between Will and James.
He did his best to salvage the situation by producing the biggest, most liquid puppy-eyes he could. Julie's face stayed dauntingly stern for a moment, and Will's heart cringed.
Then her face collapsed into an adorably girlish giggle. "Stop that, you shameless brat. I was a divorcée back when that was still risqué; there's not a trick you can teach me."
"Yes. Didn't James tell-I see that he didn't." She pursed her lips and picked at the remains of her scone. "I can't say that I blame him. It certainly wasn't a good life for him."
Which was an intriguing lead-in if Will had ever heard one. His instincts were right: beneath all that flirtation, she was sharp as a razor and not afraid to cut if she thought that was necessary. He knew he was being set up for something, and he knew that whatever information she'd give him was bound to be slanted, but no one else was offering. And somehow, he thought that Julie might be inclined to truth, if not to objectivity, about James. When she'd started to go after her son, the way her face suddenly went transparent…
"You have to remember, back then premarital pregnancies were severely punished by society. So Michael offered before that became a serious issue, and I married him. We were fighting by the end of the first day of our honeymoon, and I don't think we've ever stopped." A tinge of sadness touched Julie's lips, transforming her into a bowed but unbroken sage. The sunlight glinted off her hair, burnishing it till the strands were the same color as the silverware. "I stayed till James was old enough to think for himself, and then I got the divorce. Fought like a Fury to keep joint custody."
Will blinked. "You…stayed? You could've just run off."
"Not if I wanted to keep Jaime with me, I couldn't. I did think about it a great deal, but you know, when Michael was good, he was the best. He would've hunted us down, and all for that stupid notion he has about molding heirs." Her upper lip curled. "Prick. So I stayed put, because someone had to make sure James grew up to be an actual person. Who do you think persuaded him to try the Navy first, instead of simply plunging headlong into MI6?"
Rhetorical question, Will figured. He divided up the trifle between their plates and spooned up some. God-sweet heaven. Between Anamaria and Elizabeth, his sweet tooth had become a raging, irresistible demand. But back to serious matters, because contrary to popular belief, men could multitask. They just didn't like to do it, whereas woman seemed to get a weird kick out of it.
"Thank you. You're such a darling, Will; I do pray that James doesn't do something stupid and drive you off." She quickly but neatly finished off her trifle and moved on to the strawberries and powdered sugar. "But I was damned if I was going to let myself die in the process. Saints are all well and fine, but if it's one thing I've learned as a mother, it's that children learn by their parents' example. I wasn't going to sacrifice my personality merely to keep the peace, and I never, ever want to know that James has done that for anyone."
That stung Will a little as he recalled the details of yesterday's fight. And the memories of all the other times he and James had argued-it usually was him and James, or him and Elizabeth, because Jack always managed to see him coming and Anamaria was too fucking scary to cross-when he had stormed off, and James had made some kind of aborted run after him. Yeah, they always made up, but…shit. They had a pattern.
Wait. Did they? It wasn't always Will starting the fight, but it was him walking away. And that must have hurt James, if he'd spent his entire childhood wondering whether his parents would still be cohabiting in the morning.
"I'm beginning to wonder if you're right about me," he mumbled to himself.
"Nonsense. One thing that Michael did have was good taste in bedmates, and James inherited that, too. Besides, my son isn't perfect: he's too serious, feels guilty over absurdly minor details, forgets about his own well-being in his pursuit of duty, and is rather hopeless when it comes to negotiating certain aspects of a healthy relationship. And that's coming from a woman that genuinely believes the sun goes down on his bed."
The somber shade dropped from her eyes to be replaced by the now-familiar twinkle. "In his bed, perhaps? I wouldn't know-and that's the other thing. He doesn't talk nearly as much as he should when he needs to. Simply bottles up everything, and then goes off like a firecracker when someone lights a match."
As he was in imminent danger of sending his tea down the wrong pipes, Will put down his cup and switched to buttering up a scone as he assimilated that last piece of information. Definitely wasn't planning on answering the implied question in it. The more he got to know the hidden bits of James, the more he preferred to keep them to himself. That, of course, being defined as him and Jack, who probably already knew them all, and Elizabeth, because she was Will's and he was hers and that was just how their thing worked.
But…come to think of it, Jack. "Did James bring a…uh…a Jack Sparrow…"
Will didn't need to say anymore. Julie's face lit up in an impish glow that took nearly a decade off of her. "Did he. Captain Sparrow is a wonderful man-kindred spirit, really. Have they ever told you about the time…"
First, they set the table, which in Maman's household was slightly more complicated than arranging the plates and silverware. There were always at least five or six little nephews and nieces of Anamaria's running about, snitching food and raising a racket and play-fighting with the butter knives. Come next holiday season, she had to remember to keep Jack and them separate.
And maybe Will too, Anamaria dryly mused to herself as she watched one budding engineer try to use a toy robot to steal some cookies. She grabbed the mechanical dog before it toppled off the counter and shooed the girl out into the courtyard, sneaking her a small bonbon by way of compensation. In return, she received a wide grin and an indulgent snort from behind her.
"Mon Dieu, y're just like 'em. Got th'skills, sure enough," Maman said.
Ah, damn. They hadn't even started eating yet, and she was already starting. Anamaria licked a trace of melted chocolate off her palms and stood up, bracing herself for the next volley. "Maman, no. I don't want to."
"Quoi? I spend th'whole damn morning fixin' lunch, an' y'don' want any? Chaton, y'feelin' all right?" Arms akimbo, Maman glared Anamaria into taking a seat, then joked a smile out of her as they caught up on family affairs. Cell phones helped a lot, but there just wasn't anything like gossiping in person, watching the laugh lines crinkle deeper and the eyes spark old gold.
And the food was damn good, like usual. That was a good sign. When Maman was really upset, she tended to overspice everything so it was saltier than the sea and hotter than road tar in high summer. Anamaria started to think about slouching; she never did figure out how James managed to have such…straight posture. Especially given the position in which she'd caught him and Elizabeth last month. Wheelbarrows were never going to look the same to her.
Every couple of minutes, Maman would make some veiled hint toward the purpose behind their conversation, but Anamaria deftly fobbed her off with some slightly-edited versions of the latest goings-on between the intelligence and the criminal spheres of the Caribbean. As her mother wasn't blind in the least, and hadn't ever been retiring, that usually led to anecdotes about Maman's crazy youth and useful tidbits about the trends in the New Orléans underground. Yeah, the rest of Anamaria's family was legal, but that didn't mean they were push-overs, either.
Which meant they made it to the end of the second course before Maman got fed up. "Anamaria, honey, I know y'don' like discussin' this, but I'd not be y'r mere if I didn' talk t'you about it. Now, when y'goin' t'settle down?"
"I am settled. I'm as settled as I'm ever plannin' t'get, an' that includes maybe gettin' disabled. Comprend?" The irritation from earlier still lingered, and it colored Anamaria's tone.
Two hands, grown fleshy with age, still had enough power in them to rattle all the dishes when they thumped down. Rising like a fury in pretty-printed cotton, Maman jabbed a finger at Anamaria. "Gosse! You don't never take that tone wi' me, ma fille."
"Mam-ma-" Anamaria stammered, trying not to dive under the floor. "I-je regrette-"
And suddenly Maman deflated, all the rage whooshing out in a deep sigh as she sat back down. Her head dropped into her hands, and her shoulders slumped. She was the very picture of disappointment, and that thought hurt Anamaria more than any amount of yelling could have.
Very quietly, Anamaria moved over so she could lean her forehead against her mother's broad shoulder, which held at least the strength of any man, and twice the compassion. "Didn' mean t'be fresh."
"I know, I know." Fingers immediately came up and stroked her hair. "I'm not meaning t'push, chaton. Never could wi' you, anyway. I'm just…doin' what a good mother does. Tryin' t'make sure y'ain' goin' t'regret y'r choices in a few years. When Germaine Prescott's showin' all th'investments an' property I own now, I just start thinkin'."
"Should make it easier when y'get round t'me, seein' as m'share doesn't divide four or five ways." Anamaria reached up and squeezed her mother's hand, then sat back. The fried chicken was getting cold, and as its crispy coating was famous in three states, it wasn't really right to let it go limp.
Maman snorted, and play-cuffed Anamaria on the head. "That what y'been thinking'? Chaton, I brought you up wrong, then. It's not m'heirs I'm thinkin' on-it's all th'things I could've done instead of workin' t'get that money. An' I get t'wonderin' if I did everything right by you an' y'r brothers an' sisters."
"Y'did, Maman," Anamaria asserted in her firmest voice. "Y'did, an' I'm always wonderin' how y'did it. We were…well, Lizzie calls 'em 'hellish little prats.' An' y'raised us all."
"Oh, I always remember that, sooner or later. But there's always a few ones I just can' square away wi' m'self." Maman expertly split the meat from the bone and cut it into bitesize chunks, all without getting a single drop of the plentiful juice on herself. "Children, whether y're havin' them or not, is one decision y'can' take back. An' I want t'know that y'ain' ever goin' t'wish y'd had. That's all."
Anamaria opened her mouth to answer, then shut it as she started to think. Really think, which was odd because she generally didn't do it. Wasn't like she was stupid-she just didn't hold with all the complications other people were happy to throw in so they could stall and moan. A situation came up in her life, she got details and she dealt with it.
Except this wasn't really a situation. This was more like a theoretical whatever-the-hell Will had been mumbling about, when she'd asked him about the game theory textbook he always used when playing Age of War on the computer.
Then again, when Liz was electronically whipping his ass, he'd drop the book and go at her by gut feeling alone. And Will won an obscene amount of times; in fact, the only people Anamaria had ever seen him lose to were Jack, who kept switching Will's water for rum and playing Ultimate Footsie, and James, who simply was a better samurai general.
Well, Anamaria had her carefully thought-out reasons for not wanting brats of her own, but in the end, it came down to just not wanting them. She didn't. She was happy without them, and she didn't like the idea of being pinned down for nine months, then dragged about for years afterward. Didn't mind other people's kids one bit-loved them, really, and if Liz and Will and whichever other man ever decided to pop a bun into the oven, Anamaria knew she'd be happy about that. And probably spoil the hypothetical kid silly, but she really. Didn't. Want. Her own. Oh, she'd love it later, but there'd always be that nagging memory of aggravation, and it'd show. Children weren't brainless.
And Anamaria refused to do that to an innocent baby, because she did truly love them. But wouldn't like to have them. End of story.
"I'm sure, Maman. I'm good." She spoke as steadily as she could, looking her mother right in the eye. "Désolée, but y'll be gettin' no grandkids from me."
"Don' even need a man nowadays…" Maman began, but when Anamaria glowered, she laughed and shook her head. "All right, chaton. As 'long as there ain' no regrets. Now, eat up! Skin an' bones, you are. Don' they feed you?"
Tom made a face and flipped the swimming trunks at Theodore. "Are you serious?"
"About the clothes or about the story?" Now back in the hotel, Theodore was desperately trying to remember whether the fire-engine red stiletto sandals had been for Anamaria or Elizabeth. He stared at the shoes for a few more seconds, then dug out the list Will had shoved at him over breakfast. Ah. Anamaria. Then he peeked inside the empty suitcase Will had thoughtfully brought along just to haul the gifts back. Damnation, too full…or time to get creative.
"The story." As he knelt down to help, Tom groped Theodore's arse and snorted. "Believe me, I've seen more worse on bodyguard detail."
"Oh, yes. I swear on my mother's honor. Will went leaping over the car, looking like a banshee, and Maricalla pissed himself." In retaliation, Theodore shoved Tom off balance and trapped the other man face-down against the floor. Which promptly resulted in a tantalizing hip-wriggle.
Theodore paused in thought. Then he shrugged and went to it. The floor by the kitchenette was still a mess, so a few more stains shouldn't matter too much. He did make a note to tip the cleaning staff on their way out, if James didn't remember. Or was…preoccupied.
When James finally extricated himself from his last-minute meeting and returned to his mother's estate, he was thankful to find Will still dressed. It wasn't his usual reaction, but then again, it wasn't his usual state of life either.
"…and then Jack apparently thought it was a great idea to bugger me senseless against the cash register." Will, who had his back to the door, paused to munch on a tiny watercress sandwich. "Not that I'm complaining or anything, but the drawer kept popping out and shoving into my back. Kinda hurt."
"I suppose I should be glad that it's not actually Jack who writes his reports." James nearly smirked at Will's jump, but managed to restrain himself. He took a seat and coolly nodded at the eager listener on the other side of the table. "Mother. I see that you haven't suffered from my absence."
She graciously inclined her head. "Will and I get along famously, I find. And how was your meeting? Drop-dead boring?"
James surprised himself by laughing too hard to drink his tea. "You might say that. Old Lord Downy up and died over the weekend, and there were suspicions of…but it finally turned out to be his mistress becoming tired of his snoring."
"Oh, him. A rightfully deserved end, I'd think." With a flick of her hand, she dismissed one of the biggest, richest landowners in the north, and a formidable power in the government. "They're all such twits under their bluster. And, sadly, none of the new blood appears to be helping matters. That business with Swann and that horrid second wife of his, for example."
Will stiffened, then artificially sprawled in his seat. His arm draped over the back of the seat and surreptitiously groped for James' hand. When James gave it to Will, the other man nearly crushed out the blood with his grip. "Come again?" Will asked in a sweetly polite voice.
Her eyes flickered dark, then bright. "You heard perfectly well. I do try to keep up on Jaime's life, even if he thinks I embarrass him beyond belief with my boytoys."
"Moth-you don't-I mean…oh, damn it." A thousand different reactions were fighting for control of James, and he finally decided on the one that actually made sense. Namely, hiding his face in his free hand, and thinking about Elizabeth in a bikini until he stopped recalling all those accidental walk-ins. By now, He really should know better than to come into his mother's rooms without knocking.
"Er…" Will didn't seem to be any more coherent, which comforted James a tiny bit.
Fabric rustled, and Will tugged on James' hand until he looked up to see his mother getting to her feet. He immediately stood as well, as did Will.
"If I remember correctly, you'll be needing to leave now," his mother said. "At any rate, I've an appointment I can't break in a half-hour, and I need to touch up my face."
Thank God, a reprieve. James tried to keep his feelings from being too obvious. He knew his mother would divine them anyway, but at least they could keep up pretenses. "I'm sorry we couldn't stay longer, Mother, but it is good to see that you're still well and happy."
"And I could say the same," she replied in a softer voice. Her hand reached out and cupped his cheek, lightly rubbing a thumbpad across the bone framing its top, and she smiled, gentle and kind and…serene. Impulsively, James grabbed it in the process of sliding away and kissed its back.
"I meant all of that." He did. His smile was genuine, too.
She turned away and fluttered fingers at them. "Oh, go away before I ruin my mascara. I can tell you're dying to have Will back in that big glossy car of yours."
"God, I love rentals," Will chimed in. James glanced between the pair of them, then decided that it would be wise of him to get Will away from his mother before Turner got any worse. The man was already under Jack's influence and Elizabeth's encouragement, and he hardly needed any more egging on.
Will didn't say much on the drive back, except to make the slightly worrying comment that Julie was a very interesting person to share crumpets with, but when they were parked in the hotel lot, he stopped James from getting out. "Hey…about yesterday, and all the other times…I know I'm kind of a jackass sometimes. Lizzie usually smacks me into sensibility, but you…well, hit me or something. I'll stop."
And what on earth had brought that on? Of course, James had his suspicions, but nothing terribly concrete. When she wanted to be, his mother could be more opaque than a sheet of lead. "Will, it does take two to quarrel. And I'm sorry. I wasn't very tactful about your father."
"Stop-" Will's fingers spasmed in some kind of pointing gesture, probably borrowed from Jack "-don't do that! That-thing with your eyes! It always makes me puddle and want to fuck, and-hey. What are you doing?"
"Trying to wedge myself into a ridiculously small space." The gearshift whacked one of James' knees as he crawled in front of Will and nosed between the other man's legs. Hmmm…his back wasn't going to put up with this. Unless he…ah, that worked. And so did Will's zipper.
Wide eyes stared down at him. "James, you remember that we're in a car, in a public place. Right? Are you feeling okay? Feverish?"
"Blame it on my upbringing." Before Will could gabble any more nonsense, James swallowed. Then he sucked, and was amused to hear Will's voice squeak.
By God, he'd had enough. James was going to have a good ending to his trip if it killed him. Not that that seemed to be quite likely, to judge by the grip Will had on his hair.
"Oh-oh-fuck-James, tell me you've got-" Will writhed, shoes banging the car to either side of James. His cock jerked further down James' throat, then slid out as Will's hips twisted. Breath hissed through clenched teeth, and incredibly, the other man forced himself still. Confused, James drew back and licked up Will's fast-rising erection, which earned him a shiver but no substantial movement. Will turned baleful eyes down on him. "James Norrington. If you don't find a way to fuck me right now, I'll tell everyone in Miami about your tenth birthday. And the goldfish."
It appeared that James' mother and Will got along spectacularly well. That didn't bode well for the future, but somehow James couldn't bring himself to care at the moment. He was slightly more busy with digging out the tube he remembered Will tossing into the glove compartment earlier, and with shoving Will down across the seat.
"Sorry. I'll make up for it." Which James did by yanking off the other man's pants and teasing his fingers in until Will was emitting delicious little whimpers. He scrambled up onto the seat and bent over until he could just nibble at those beautiful shoulders. Shudders thrummed against his teeth, and somewhere beneath, Will's fingers made mad scrabbles at the leather. Hopefully, it wasn't being damaged too badly.
Sides of hips and tops of thighs and full buttocks kept brushing and pushing into James, rapidly making matters damn urgent. He pulled out his fingers, flailed for a grip as a thrashing Will nearly knocked them both over, and worked at his own pants. Fingertips were frustratingly slippery, but impatience was a wonderful goad, and soon he was deep in blissfully hot heaven. "Goddamn-Will, need you to move up-"
"Trying." A foot came dangerously close to emasculating James, but he barely registered the close call. "Oops. Okay, okay…how's tha-oh. That's good. That's-fucking God."
"Hold still." James slung an arm around the other man's waist and braced his own feet against the door and the floor. His left one skidded an inch, then caught on something and held. Relieved, he drove in and waited as long as he could, till Will was nothing but a trembling mess, and then he repeated the motion. Did it so many times that he grew sloppy, rushed and frantic, but so was Will so things evened out. And burst, and whited out, and then slowly slipped back into place.
He fell onto the sweaty back beneath him, absently kissing at Will's nape. The other man chuckled, reaching back to grab James' hand and bring it round to suck at the fingers, prodding sparks at James' exhaustion. "You know, I think that's the fastest we've done it to date."
"Prat." James nuzzled aside some wet strands of hair and pressed his lips to the pulse in Will's neck. "Sometimes I wonder why I love you."
"Yeah? And how do you explain Jack?" Will twisted his head around to flash a mischievous grin.
"I don't. I simply pray," was James' arch answer. "Come on. We need to clean the car before we return it."
The poor victim spun about, then quickly dumped all his luggage on the new guy just before Will was unceremoniously toppled to the ground. "Goddamn it, Liz…wait. She definitely doesn't have that."
"No," purred Jack as he wriggled on top of the other man. "'m happy t'say that those bits have, are, an' will always stay attached to m'fine self."
Standing a safe distance away, Elizabeth muffled her giggles with one hand and gleefully watched as Will struggled to get up, encumbered as he was by a very friendly Jack. He glared at her and pried off a hand that was inching down his stomach. "Your voice…his tackle…oh. Elizabeth. Tricking the jet-lagged boyfriend is not funny."
"Looks more like a nice welcome to me." She avoided his swipe and went to give James a big smack on the mouth. "Besides, Jaime still looks pretty bright-eyed to me."
Whereupon Will muttered about really shiny black cars, and libidos, and a hundred other random things while James simply pretended he wasn't blushing. Groves maintained an impassive face, but occasionally used his eyes to flick an internal snicker over to the other new Brit, who was really, really cute. Not that Elizabeth was searching, given how crowded her bed already was, but she could look. And she was. "Hello. I'm Elizabeth Swann."
In a matter of seconds, bags were skillfully shifted about to reveal an outstretched hand. Good handshake, too. "Tom Pullings. I'm the first of the recruits; the others got held up in an info session, and won't be showing up for another week."
"Him and Theo," Will muttered. "I figured what the hell, it was only rearranging a few numbers."
"Clever, are you?" Jack ruffled Will's hair, then stuck out a hand for his own greeting. Impressively, it only took Tom a few moments to grab it; most people were left dizzy-eyed at the way Jack managed to swoop his hand around. "Jack Sparrow, CIA contingent. M'second's Anamaria, but she got caught up in some business down in New Orléans. Y'll meet her later."
"New Orléans?" James raised an eyebrow, Jack flipped some dreads, and they nodded at each other. Then James kissed Elizabeth's cheek and let go, looking regretful. "We have to get Tom processed in, so we'll not be down for another day."
Elizabeth pouted, but only half-heartedly because there wasn't anything James could really do to speed up the security check-ins. No matter who was the employer, those were always a bitch. "Okay. Call round ten tomorrow morning, and we'll let you know where to go."
"Six or later," Will contradicted. "Unlike some people, I actually get up at a time that makes business possible."
"Dick." She whapped him upside the head and started the long, arduous process of getting her half of Will back from Jack's starfish-like grip. While seeing off an MI6 trio that looked about ready to laugh themselves to death, if they'd thought they could get away with it. Elizabeth was pleased to see that they didn't think so. Good. Because she had a good roundhouse kick, and she knew where to aim it.
Later that night, when they'd gotten back to the Pearl and properly adjusted Will to the correct time zone, she woke up to find a bed that was emptier than it was supposed to be. Elizabeth wrapped a sheet about herself and fumbled to the door, getting tangled on the way in what she thought was Jack's headscarf. It was a little too dark to really tell, so she just shrugged, cursed and kicked it off. Then she slowly nudged the door open and scanned the deck.
Will was standing by the bow, staring at an urn that he was holding. And it was fucking chilly out.
Nevertheless, Elizabeth hitched up her sheets and shuffled over to him. "Hey. Is that…"
"Yeah, this is Da." He tilted the urn so she could see the fine engraving that decorated its sides. "I was just…"
She waited. Will's eyes glanced up to hers, then dropped to the sea beyond the railing.
"…staring at him. God, that's lame." He swung out an arm and gathered her under his chin, nibbling at her ear. His hand was warm across her belly, and the rest of him was a solid support to her shivering body. "It's weird. I wish I had my parents, but…well, I met James'. And that was really bizarre-but anyway, point is I used to be jealous as hell of people that still had their mothers and fathers, and now…maybe it's not so bad. Maybe things balance out, somewhere along the way. But that's almost…cruel. Like I'm saying I don't want my parents."
"No, it doesn't." Elizabeth snuggled back into Will's chest. "Well, okay. It does, but only to people who have no idea what it's like. I get you just fine. You know, after my mother died, my father changed so much…he was always sort of absentminded, but then he just started to let things go. I think he married my stepmother because then he wouldn't have to deal with anything."
"My mom never wanted to talk about my father. She let me keep his things, but she wouldn't explain. So I had to figure out everything myself." Will's hold on Elizabeth tightened, and she kissed his jaw until he relaxed.
His fingers rippled over her belly, sneaking in to slide chilly tips over her bare skin. She shivered, jabbed an elbow into him. Then cuddled away his protest. "But I did that, too. Wished I had them both, and wondered why people were always whining about their family. It's not cruel. It's just…Will. We're fucked up. Get used to it."
He laughed into her hair and lifted her off the deck. "God, I love you. Never change, all right? Unless you get better."
"Hey, I only get better." She batted weakly at him, then craned down and stroked her tongue across his lips. "Let's go inside. I'm turning into an icicle."
"Well, can't have that." He gently set her down, then goosed her into racing him back to the cabin, where a sleeping Jack promptly engulfed them both with his sprawl.
Jack found Will holding the urn over the side of the rail, an indecisive look on his face.
"Jesus!" Will jumped a foot in the air, then came down on with a loud thump. "Don't do that!"
"Sorry." Not really, but Jack did see the point in occasionally keeping up appearances. For one, it broke the pattern and kept him unpredictable. For two, it was fun to play at being proper, as long as he didn't always have to live like that. "Morning, Bill."
Will blinked. Then he glanced at the urn. "Ah…Jack. He's dead. He's not even in one piece."
"I noticed that, but it's still not wise t'speak ill of th'dead." So much work, and Will still hadn't learned his manners. Jack tsked and slapped the other man lightly on the shoulder. "Y'never know who's around."
That garnered him a snort, but Will did step back from the rail and stop looking like the idiots in the movies, who always insisted on dramatically dangling the nearest plot device over the side. He didn't put the lid on the vase, however.
"What were y'doin'? Navel-gazing, like last night?" At the other man's surprised expression, Jack suppressed a smirk. All this time, and they still thought he'd been sound asleep while the precious pair of them went gallivanting off? Just went to show that even youth couldn't keep up with experience, in the long run.
"No…" Will shuffled his feet. "Thing is, I was planning to put my Da's ashes with my mother's. And she wanted to be scattered over the waves, so here I am."
"An' what's th'hold up?" Jack leaned against the rail, into the spray, and inhaled until the sea was flowing through him. Anachronism, some said, but they didn't know what they were missing without a ship like the Pearl in their lives. What she could do for a man made all the cost of her upkeep worth it, and then some.
Sighing, Will leaned next to Jack, and then against Jack. He fingered the rim of the urn. "Just the fact that this is all I've really got of Da."
"Bullshit." Jack flicked his eyes over, and grinned to show his gold teeth. "Y'know I'm right, Will."
A smile edged sideways onto the other man's face. "Yeah. Yeah. I just need a moment."
"Oh, well, should've said that. I've never been one t'begrudge a man that."
They peaceably stood together, watching the sun go up. Will laid his head on Jack's shoulder, then stretched out his arm and tipped the urn so a gray stream flew out. It quickly mingled with the white froth and disappeared.
Jack fiddled with his ring. "So, William. Y'remember just before y'left, I mentioned something about a reckoning?"
"Hmm? Wait, Jack-"
And that was a satisfying thump if he'd ever heard one. With a light heart, Jack pounced and commenced to plundering.