Tangible Schizophrenia


The Happiest Place on Earth

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: R.
Pairing: Jack/James/Will/Elizabeth/Anamaria, Gillette/Scarlet, Groves/Tom Pullings, Horatio/Archie/Bush/Edrington.
Feedback: Fave lines, constructive crit.—anything you want, at any length.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Notes: Modern-day AU. Anamaria and Giselle curse in French and English. I picked Peter for Gillette’s first name, used Theodore for Groves and Alexander for Edrington. Guest appearances from Master and Commander and Horatio Hornblower. Thank you to everyone here for the help, and especially wingedkiare for the maps.
Summary: Business and pleasure have some unavoidable conflicts. Also—the Ride.


Fingers crossed, lips busy mouthing prayers, eyes squinted in perfect homage to Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, Will and Horatio silently tracked every move on the grainy screens before them. When a hand pushed between their heads to crank up the volume, the rate of their breathing didn’t even change.

Theodore rubbed at the bridge of his nose and pretended that his headphones hadn’t been badly pinching his ears for the past two hours. “Are they—”

“Shh!” One hand peremptorily cut up and then dropped down so quickly that Theodore couldn’t determine to which man it belonged.

“Can’t you get better resolution? If it weren’t for the headscarf, I wouldn’t even be able to tell Jack from Norrington.” It wasn’t that Theodore didn’t grasp the seriousness of the situation unfolding before them, because he most certainly did. They’d spent months laying the groundwork for this meeting, and if it didn’t pay off, they were looking at a half-year of frantic clean-up work.

So what he didn’t quite understand was the necessity for Sparrow, Norrington and the Colombian druglord to meet up in a dark restaurant and spend nearly two hours discussing children’s cartoons. Unless they were using some kind of code—which he would have known about—they weren’t getting anywhere towards accomplishing the real goal of the rendezvous. Although Will and Horatio apparently seemed to think differently, which didn’t exactly irk Theodore with its presumption that they knew something he didn’t.

“No. One of the bugs cut out, and the prick won’t stop smoking,” Will absently answered, hand flapping behind him. It took a moment for Theodore to realize that the man was trying to gesture at him. “What is that anyway, the super-smog Havana brand—”

Without removing his eyes from the screen, Horatio frantically batted at Will’s shoulder. “Shh! Here come William and Elizabeth with the dessert course.”

Entirely too bored to be in a stakeout, Theodore leaned back against the opposite wall and crossed his arms over his chest. He squeezed shut his aching eyes, then opened them and casually glanced at the screens.

A second later, he was fighting Will for the right of plastering the nose against the monitor. “That did not just happen.”

“She’s going to have that bastard’s balls to hang off her rearview window,” Will growled, trying to shoulder Theodore back. “If I don’t get to him first. That was four goddamn inches his hand went up her skirt.”

“Well, he didn’t even bother being subtle about feeling William out,” Horatio snapped, equally upset. He was rocking back and forth in his chair, occasionally clawing at his earphones as if they were restraints that he desperately wanted off. “Thank God Archie’s in the kitchens.”

Theodore eyed the tight set of the other men’s jaws, then coughed and modulated his voice to as tentative as he could. Bush and Elizabeth were acting as servers, Kennedy and Giselle were helping Tom in the kitchen, and…“What about Edrington?”

Horatio grinned, a little sharp and a lot amused. “I believe he’s ruing the day he chose playing the diner one table over to being crammed in here with us.”

“Stupid Colombian keeps giving him looks. Honestly, by the time this is over, Jack’s going to have to pull rank to get that jackass out of here alive--” Something happened on the screen, and Will yanked in his tongue so fast that his head actually jerked back, nearly knocking off his headset. He slapped one earphone back in and held it there.

Jack. *…then it’s all nice an’ settled.*

Soon-to-be-dead Colombian. *Yes. My man will meet you by the Jungle Cruise. It’s a favorite ride of his.*

James. *Good. May I pour the wine?*

“Thank you, we’ve got the exchange loca—wait.” Halfway to slouching, Will stopped. “Did he say Jungle Cruise?”

As Horatio was looking extremely confused, Theodore added, “Disney World.”

“That’s the…amusement park, right?” The other man stared around the van, then looked back at the screens. “Has everyone gone insane?”

“You haven’t heard the half of it yet,” Will moaned.

Feeling rather the same, Theodore deposited himself in his seat and tried not to think about the logistics of covering one of the most popular tourist attractions on earth. He groped for the aspirin bottle and gagged down a few pills, then passed it around.

* * *

Despite judicious and then nonjudicious application of levering force, Horatio still refused to get off of Archie’s side. Normally, Archie would have enjoyed that situation to no end, but as they were crammed into a small car with insufficient air-conditioning, he had other factors to consider. Such as the imminent risk of him stifling to death. “Horatio. You still have your cell-phone and your earphone-transmitter.”

A muffled but clearly annoyed response rose up from Archie’s shoulder. “One, you traded my cell for one that does nothing but make phone calls. Two, I would have preferred being in Epcot, but you insisted that we go on the pirate ride while we had a chance. Three, I look ridiculous.”

On Horatio’s other side, Alexander ran an appreciative gaze over the sight of long, long legs in tight faded jeans. “On the slender side, but otherwise nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Archie, slap him for me, would you?” Horatio curled up in a futile attempt to skitter away from Edrington. Consequently, the curve of his arse was displayed to even better effect than it had before; Archie considered informing Alexander to pry his eyes off, but that seemed a bit hypocritical.

Since he was driving, William couldn’t see said beauty and thus was capable of the necessary remonstrations. “Horatio, it’s only a day at a theme park. You’ve gone longer without your toys—”

“—state-of-the-art technology—” corrected the lanky, cringing, strangely attractive lump of curls attached to Archie.

“—and if we dressed in suits, we’d stick out like sore thumbs. And bake in the sun.” A huge semi suddenly blared past, and William imperturbably shifted lanes and accelerated into a hole to bypass its bulk.

“Easy enough for you to say. You won’t have to peel yourself out of those khakis, and you weren’t manhandled by the girls. Honestly, they seem to think I’m their personal doll.” The nose poked down an inch lower, doing ticklish things to Archie’s ribs, and then Horatio, incredibly, tried to burrow behind Archie.

All right. Clearly, someone had forgotten to give Hornblower his daily dose of reassurance on matters of physical appearance. God knew why a man with his face and build would need it, but…well, it wasn’t quite a hardship to address the matter.

Archie tipped Horatio’s lips up to his just as the other man gasped and arched from some kind of attack on the rear. In the driver’s seat, William made a frustrated noise. “This is a family-themed attraction, I thought.”

“It’ll be considerably easier to pry him out of the car if he’s relaxed,” Alexander pointed out. “We might even get him into the ride before he notices.”

William couldn’t argue with that. At least, Archie couldn’t hear him arguing with it, and given the tongue in Archie’s mouth, that was sufficient cause for abandoning conversation.

* * *

Front Gates

Elizabeth rolled her eyes and hooked her arm more firmly through Will’s arm, forcibly bringing his attention back to her. “For God’s sake, Will—and I thought Horatio looked twitchy.”

“I can’t believe he’s still letting you and Giselle dress him for things like this.” Will’s eyes stayed on Elizabeth for mere seconds before they once again began drifting in the direction of the Epcot Center. He was temporarily distracted by the sight of a PDA in the hands of a harried-looking businessman, but then the man’s little girl pouted and the PDA disappeared into a pocket. “It’s just not fair, Liz.”

She very badly wanted to smack him on the head, but they were in public. Then again, they’d only been inside for fifteen minutes, and might have anywhere from another five to an hour to go. If he was this whiny now…so she hit him. “Firstly, I should admit that Horatio’s not really letting us so much as it’s very easy to ambush him. Besides, he has disgustingly nice legs that should be ogled at every occasion. And secondly, you’ve been to Epcot multiple times. You spend every trip muttering about how you could improve this section or that section. Let someone else have it for once.”

“And I have to admit, his backside view’s rather—” This time, Will dodged her blow. He came up laughing and caught her by the waist, thus revealing that he’d been teasing. Mostly. “All right, all right. I’m sorry. I’m in withdrawal and I’m in a pathetic state right now…”

As nice as his nuzzling her ear felt, Elizabeth had never enjoyed the feeling of little round eyes staring at her. “Will. Small brats. Parents.”

“And nothing about it being a public area.” He desisted in the more obvious displays of affection, but kept his hand casually on the small of her back. “You’re hopeless, Liz.”

“Not much of a judgment, coming from you,” she snorted, scanning the crowds swirling around them. Contrary to popular belief, masses of people weren’t indistinguishable blurs; it was difficult to learn how to scan a crowd, but it could be done.

Besides, normal tourists didn’t dress like they had just stepped out of Armani. She nudged his shoulder and indicated with her chin, then reached up to adjust her hair. And her earphone. “He’s early.”

* * *

Cinderella’s Castle

“Got him.” Anamaria calmly continued browsing the various little shops and stalls that lined the area before the huge, sugary confection of a castle. It reminded her a good deal of the dollhouses some of her sisters used to lust over when they were little.

‘course, said dollhouses were more fragile than eggshells and always ended up tossed over in favor of more durable toys. Like younger brothers. Maman had run a good house, but good didn’t necessarily mean peaceful, and Anamaria thanked God every day for that. For one, it meant that she could serenely stop registering the babbling and shrieking children and insanely cheerful music that seemed to pervade every inch of this park. Much easier to concentrate on the bemused courier, who was currently ogling the skirts of Snow White as she bent over a towheaded boy.

Masculine stupidities aside, something was pinging at Anamaria. The man was supposed to show up a little later than this, and to only be carrying a light briefcase. While he was only hefting one briefcase, the keyword there was heft; his one arm was visibly dragging, and every so often he would change hands.

Frowning, Anamaria tapped her earphone. “Jack?”

*Wrong channel,* Gibbs growl-shouted over some truly bizarre background music.

She suppressed the urge to spit nasty bayou Creole at him and instead concentrated. “Th’hell are y’doin’ in th’Tiki Room? Y’damn connard—”

*It’s for my wife. She loves this place, an’ she jus’ wanted a bit of…look, I’ll be out directly. Now, why’d you be hollerin’ for th’cap’n?* As he spoke, the line buzzed and the noise faded, so she figured he was indeed doing what he said he would.

“Bit of a complication. Seems like we’ve got more’n th’planned agenda goin’ on. I’m just wonderin’ whether I should be ridin’ his ass, the Brit’s, or someone else’s. Listen, I want t’know if the cap’n’s gone off as well—call y’back in two.” While she fiddled with the channel switch in her pocket, Anamaria nonchalantly trailed the courier through the crowds. She took a moment to slap down one jerk who was actually trying to mess with her pleather miniskirt in front of his poor kid, then took up a new station on the other side of the castle. “Ivrogne. Putain, if y’don’ answer—”

* * *


Decent ale, that. Not rum by a long shot, but the virgin drinks were quite good once Jack had properly deflowered them with his hip flask. He deftly juggled glasses and flask, which he carefully tucked back out of sight, as he answered. “Right here. Y’re soundin’ a bit irate for this early in th’day. Thirsty?”

*Don’ make me come over there an’ smack you out of whatever goddamned cesspit y’ve found in—damn it, this is Disney. I don’t even want t’know how y’found a place.*

“An’ even Disney’s got th’sense to provide somerefreshments,” he countered. A seat presented itself, so he slid in before a giggling couple could. Gave them the smile that could glide water off its surface and then settled himself comfortably. “So? Where’s th’wind?”

The phone spat something that stung his ear like a rabid mosquito. *Up somebody’s ass. We got oversized…’less you an’ y’r Brit are runnin’ sides again.*

Frowning, Jack tipped back a good two swallows before he took up the discussion. “Not as far as I know. Mind if I have a moment ‘fore y’go loco on th’Brits?”

*Get y’ass down here, too.* With that, Anamaria cut off her line so quick Jack expected to see heads rolling down the aisles.

Shaking his head at that image, he decided he’d been spending a little too much time wandering the historical exhibits. The last of the cold drinks chased away those weird thoughts, leaving him refreshed and ready to tackle whatever little twist Lady Luck had decided to pitch his way this time.

Which reminded him. “Mate?”

* * *

Haunted Mansion

With a grunt, Will braced his feet against the front of the car and fervently thanked whatever random notion had made him bring along a windbreaker. It came in very handy for covering his lap while Elizabeth ooh’ed and ah’ed at the cheesy ghosts. And while her hand busily tried to pump his mind out of his body.

*All hands up on deck!*

“Shit!” To his great embarrassment, Will’s attempt to keep his voice down only made it squeaky. “What?”

A considering pause, and then Jack’s warm chuckle. *Like teenagers. Really. At least I had th’class t’do m’turn in th’Ride.*

“You know, I can’t even go on that one any more,” Will gritted out, scrabbling at the armrest. His eyes started to roll back into his head, and he had to suffer the strange, unpleasant experience of playing tug-of-war with his own optic nerves. “Everything reminds me of something—inappropriate!—that involved you or—fuck!”

In one smooth motion, Elizabeth “accidentally” dropped her purse, bent over to search for it in the darkened area of the foot-space, and quickly ducked her head under the windbreaker for the one suck that both finished Will and kept him presentable. He slumped in his seat and tried not to make an obviously post-coital face.

*Be that as it may, there’s other business in th’breeze.* Jack’s tone indicated that he wasn’t particularly concerned about Will’s possible grievances. In fact, he sounded a touch smug before he went serious. *I’m liftin’ th’ban.*

Will blinked. “So I get to go grab the electronics again?”

Beside him, Elizabeth put her hand to her forehead and assumed a dramatic pose of overwhelming disbelief. “God, Will. You sound like it’s Christmas.”

“It is Christmas,” he told her, kissing her cheek. “Ghosts and sex. That’s about right for us, isn’t it?”

She grinned and half-heartedly pushed at his shoulder, then snuggled up to his side as they rounded the last bend. Likewise, Jack’s crackling voice licked another chuckle into Will’s ear. “Might be gettin’ messy now, but try not t’have too much fun. ‘least, not till I get there. Now, goin’ t’call the head Brit. Meet me at th’Ride.*

* * *

The Hall of Presidents

James eyed the silent figures and reminded himself that he had seen plenty of corpses in his time, which should be infinitely more disturbing than these mannequins. On the other hand, a dead body once had had life, therefore it was natural that that sense of presence might linger a little, whereas the figures had never been alive. For them to possess that same trace of absent animation seemed almost sacrilegious.

“I never liked waxworks,” Tom suddenly said, nervously fiddling with his ponytail. It came loose, and he was forced to step backwards into a better-lighted area to fix it. Grateful for the opening, James followed. “And I have to confess, these aren’t much more enjoyable.”

“It’s a good summary of American political history. I suppose that’s what I was think—” James interrupted himself to walk about till he found a spot where the buzzing in his ear resolved into words. “Sorry, the bugs are irritating today.”

*Good time t’let y’r bug-boy take a look at that. Unless you’ve a prior engagement?* Jack asked, too delicately.

The warning undertone sluiced stiffness down James’ back, and he took a deep breath. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Tom blink to full attention and straighten up, waiting. “What’s going on?”

*Good quest--* There was a prolonged rustling sound, and then fragments of one of Jack’s patent apologies, which wasn’t so much an expression of contrition as a vehicle for confusion of the other party. James deduced that Jack had collided with someone fairly old and unattractive, as the other man didn’t spend much time on the diversionary tactics before hurrying on.

When Jack spoke again, the faint note of accusation had been temporarily suppressed in favor of edgy weariness. Frankly, that wasn’t much better to listen to. *Look, I’ll not hold it against you, but I’d like to know now. Do you have any sides on this?*

“Switching,” James said, a little more curt than he wanted to. His fingers flipped out his cell hard enough for it to hurt when the phone smacked open against his hand, and he had to think about it in order to use the speed-dial instead of punching the buttons right out of the cell. “Jack? What’s going on?”

Various crackling sounds as Jack also changed over; Tom was leaning in, but from the look of intent confusion on his face, he couldn’t quite hear. *Anamaria rang. Seems our man walked in wi’ a bit more’n he should have. Early to boot.*

“And you think I’ve got a second line out.” It was difficult to keep the ire out of his voice, but James tried. After all, it wasn’t as if that hadn’t happened, with all its complications, before, and sadly, it wasn’t as if that would never happen again. He’d winged his share of irritated phone calls Jack’s way, and Jack had merely pointed out that they weren’t actually working for the same people.

That cold fact about the division of goals was usually enough to rein in James till his temper cooled, but he had a feeling it wouldn’t be to satisfy Jack. For a second, he wished Will was around to take Jack’s sharp side; situations like this didn’t make Will any happier, but he was a little more apt to take the argument to somewhere private. And he didn’t keep grudges nearly as long as Elizabeth or Jack.

“I wasn’t intending to,” James finally told the other man. “Hear me out, Jack.”

*Listening.* When Jack was actually curt enough to include ending consonants, then he was being truly serious.

A look sent Tom backing away to stifle his curiosity in a nearby display. As he turned back, James glimpsed Pullings reaching up to his ear; rumors were going to be spreading like wildfire, and it wasn’t even noon. The headache was starting. “A few weeks ago, back when this was only my operation, we did make a secondary offer for information concerning the militias. They didn’t take it up then, and I assumed the matter had been dropped.”

*Suppose it hasn’t, then,* Jack sighed. *Damn. Think we’d better regroup.*

“Agreed.” James checked his watch and tried to map out how far people might have wandered. He determinedly did not think about what it was going to be like back in Miami, once everything had wrapped up. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

* * *

The Ride: Inside and Just out of Sight

William grabbed onto the eave of the roof, reminded himself not to break anything, and bit down on his wrist. In front and below, Archie could be heard muffling snickers in ways that did very little for William’s composure.


“Goddamn it,” William snapped into his mouthful. That hurt, but it also kept him on his feet and vaguely aware while Archie was swallowing. He slumped back against the wall and fumbled his fly closed, then slapped at the side of his head. “Yes?”

An uncertain pause, as if Pullings was groping for something to say. *Are you…is that…*

“Yes, we’re where you think we were. Someone…ah…left a gate open, and we decided we’d like a closer look at one of the pirates.” Archie casually stood, brushed off his jeans, and helped William straighten his shirt. It appeared he’d been taking too many notes on Edrington’s offhandedness. “He resembled—”

Pullings choke-snorted. *Oh, that one? Yes, we’ve all noticed. And that’s deliberate, if you believe—never mind. Something’s up, and up doesn’t appear to be very happy.*

He clicked off rather abruptly, which most likely meant that Norrington was on the move. And that they were all back into high gear on what was supposed to be an irregularly set, but fairly easy assignment.

“Damn. I was looking forward to seeing if centrifugal force is really all that people make it out to be.” Archie cast a wistful eye in the direction of the rollercoasters. Given that the man had spent the past few days very vocally plotting ways to take advantage of this trip, William had no trouble guessing the aim of Archie’s speculation.

“You remember that Horatio gets violently sick merely on take-offs and landings?” A cursory inspection found no suspicious stains or new rips, so William carefully pushed himself off the wall and eased them towards the gate. They had to duck sideways behind a few crates while a park worker passed by, but otherwise they miraculously got outside without any mishaps.

The other man shrugged and stretched, working the kinks out of his neck while William endeavored not to blush. “I’m of the mind that it’s mostly nerves. If he were relaxed…oh, well. That’s for another day. Now, I suppose we should go rescue Alexander and him from the nasty pirates.”

* * *

The Ride: Inside and In a Boat

Horatio distractedly braced himself against the seat and shoved his earpiece back in his ear. “Sorry, I didn’t catch that.”

*I said, the ban is lifted. Theodore is bringing it, and we’ll all be there in a few minutes,* Norrington repeated, sounding a touch exasperated. *I don’t have quite as much pull here, so please refrain from doing anything that would result in a blacklisting.*

“Of course not. Shall get on that immediately.” The ‘sir’ almost popped out as well, but at the last moment, Horatio caught himself.

Consequently, Alexander’s eyes bulged a little more, and his hand went out to convulsively grab the side of the boat, which was gently rocking along in a way that facilitated the movements of Horatio’s hand. All around, mechanical pirates were laughing and singing bawdy songs so loudly that Horatio could barely hear the odd squeaky noises the other man was making. “Pardon?”

“You’re enjoying this far too much. Are you drunk?” Alexander croaked.

Something whooshed by overhead, and Horatio instinctively ducked. He possibly squeezed a little too hard in his surprise, so he apologized by letting himself go all the way down and applying his mouth. A bit dribbled out, and he hastily licked it up as he squirmed back into his seat restraints. Then he rubbed the back of his hand over his cleaned mouth and pretended his cheeks hadn’t decided to burn now. “What? Can’t I be spontaneous without the involvement of alcohol?”

“You—” The other man stopped, thought, and then realized. “One, you and Will have the video feeds covered somehow, don’t you? Two, you have an interesting way of dealing with withdrawal.”

“Blame Archie.” Horatio lifted his hand, which had finally stopped twitching, and checked it for any suspicious smears. Normally he’d be terribly embarrassed by now, but it was so nice to be relaxed and not thinking about all the tech equipment that couldn’t be brought in for various reasons that he temporarily gave up on dignity. It’d come back sooner and later—probably later, given how even William had taken to dropping behind Horatio when they walked. When they returned, Horatio really needed to have words with Elizabeth and Giselle. “But actually, that’s not an issue now…oh, damn. Something must have happened if Norrington lifted the ban.”

They were just rounding the last corner, and so could see Archie’s wide grin waiting for them at the dock. Once they’d pulled up, Archie helped Horatio out with a yank that nearly overbalanced the two of them and took a few surreptitious liberties in dusting the both of them off. William stood to the side, both looking extremely uncomfortable and blocking the view from the rest of the people.

“I hear we’ve got a twist in the proceedings,” Archie volunteered.

“More than I heard. Strangest thing about Miami,” Alexander muttered as he got out. “I seem to be perpetually on the defensive…since I came here. Or met you. It’s difficult to—”

A loud shriek cut off his voice and nearly sent Horatio down to the ground. He clutched at his ear and clawed at Archie’s shoulder till he was upright again, then belatedly remembered the many watching passersby.

William produced the same deprecating, oddly charming smile he used on old cranky women. “Touch of seasickness. He’ll be fine in a moment.”

Which for once wasn’t the reason, and Horatio was indignantly beginning to say so when a voice finally crackled into his ear.

* * *

Main Street

With a weary sigh, Theodore secured the last inconspicuous box in his go-cart, then climbed in the seat and pretended its décor wasn’t mounting a pastel frontal assault on his eyes. “Hornblower?”

*The first thing I’m doing is checking your bug,* said the other man. *Unless you were by a shooting gallery?*

“Oh, sorry. I dropped a bag.” As soon as he’d spoken, Theodore regretted it. He refrained from slapping a hand against his forehead and hastened to reassure Horatio before he woke up to hacked bank accounts—no, that was Will. Horatio was still polite enough to restrain himself to Theodore’s office hard drive. “None of the important bits. Someone left their shopping in here, and I was moving it out of the way.”

Horatio whooshed out a relieved breath that Theodore could almost feel. *I hope so. Ah…do you know what’s happening?*

“Not real—hang on, I’ve got to switch. See you in five minutes.” The moment Theodore changed lines, another call came through. “Hmm?”

*Use your cell,* Gillette barked, nerves showing clear as the happy giant mouse frantically waving both hands at Theodore. Then he clicked off.

Cursing, and then irritably stopping in deference to the masses of children, Theodore yanked on the wheel and narrowly avoided a collision. He gave the mouse a weak smile, which was returned with a palpable air of anger that made him duck and speed off as fast as the sluggish cart would go before he quite knew what he was doing.

Once out of sight of the mouse, he flipped out his cell and hit speed-dial. “Peter?”

*Things have changed. Those…inconsiderate cretins went and accepted our first proposal, but didn’t call it in till now.*

“We’ve noticed, but it’s good to have a confirmation. Have you passed this on to Norrington yet?” Theodore pinched the phone between his shoulder and head, then fumbled out his earpiece extension and gratefully changed over to that.

There was a strangely reluctant silence on the other end. *Yes. He swore.*

“Well, I can imagine. So far, it seems as if Sparrow’s side caught wind of the bait-and-switch first, and it probably looked as if we were hiding something. Which you and I both remember that Sparrow doesn’t take well from Norrington.” Out of the corner of his eye, Theodore saw a blur coming for him. He quickly turned the car into a suitable parking space and abandoned it moments before Horatio glommed onto the first box, flicking up its top and shoving his hands into the electronics within it with a veritable sigh of bliss.

Behind Hornblower, Archie rolled his eyes and collapsed in mock-exasperation on Edrington’s shoulder. Bush merely seemed mesmerized by Horatio’s arse, which was outlined well enough by snug denim, but was honestly too narrow for Theodore’s tastes. He really should’ve managed assignments better so he could’ve partnered up with Tom. “Gillette?”

*Sparrow’s a hypocrite. He’s put Norrington in the same situation, and Norrington was just as upset…* The other man trailed off, apparently seeing the inherent contradiction. Which made Theodore blink: first curtness in place of Gilllette’s usually verbose complaining, and now Peter seemed to be acknowledging the other side of the argument without needing prompting. *I hate it when this happens. If I walk into the Tortuga tonight and Scarlet slaps me, I know who to blame.*

“Odd how partisan she is of Jack, for all that she pokes fun at him,” Theodore agreed, secretly thankful that he didn’t have that complication as well as all the others innate in dating another intel operative. He often wondered how Will and Elizabeth handled it, perpetually caught as they were in between two—and sometimes more, since both of them weren’t quite models of obedience—agendas on a regular basis.

Speaking of, there were Will and Elizabeth coming over the top of the street, and Will had a heavy-looking bookbag with which he hadn’t walked in. So Jack had lifted his ban as well.

“Peter, I’ve got to go. Things are picking up.” Theodore checked his watch and did some mental calculations; Sparrow and Norrington should have shown up by now. Curious that they hadn’t…or suspicious.

*Good luck,* Gillette snorted. Not entirely out of facetiousness.

* * *

Random Semi-Secluded Spot

“Jack, this happens. We know it’ll happen, and we’ve agreed that that’s simply part of the job,” James began, pacing up and down the confined but isolated space the other man had somehow found. It wouldn’t have surprised him at all if Jack had simply pulled it out of his space and plunked it down because he thought they need a place where they could yell if necessary.

Hopefully, that wouldn’t be necessary. But one lesson learned very quick in their world was that just about everything was required sooner or later, no matter the moral or personal qualms.

“That we do.” Due to the deep shadow Jack had wrapped over his face, it was impossible to gauge his expression. Flat and low, his voice didn’t add anything to the situation either, except to make James’ ire want to rise in order to provoke a reaction.

Around Jack, it was difficult to remember that James was in fact closing in on forty. Usually this kind of temporal dislocation was a welcome feeling, but not under the current conditions. “I’m not going to apologize. If you’re waiting for that.”

“As gratifying as that’d be, it’d also be as hollow as a piñata.” Jack slouched his way into the light, pinching at the bridge of his nose in an uncharacteristic gesture of fatigue. With a shock, James noticed a single line of white glimmering in the black dreads. “Jaime, y’ever wonder what it’d be like t’not have t’deal wi’ this sort of thing?”

“If I remember correctly, you didn’t for the first half of your life.” But James softened his words, and didn’t move when Jack swayed up to play with his shirtbuttons.

With Jack, rolling the eyes was a full-body movement that was far too enticing for a spot where children’s laughter could still be heard. “Don’ be stupid, Jaime. That wasn’ not havin’ conflicts; that was makin’ them an’ then runnin’ real fast. Not t’mention, m’bedmates back then weren’ nearly as congenial.”

“The compliment’s much appreciated.” One of Jack’s dreads fell in front of his face as he leaned forward, and James carefully tucked it behind Jack’s ear. Then he kept moving forward till their lips met and slowly eased over each other.

Sometimes they needed a moment to re-sort priorities. In the mad shuffle-cut-deal of their lives, it could be tricky to remember the ranking of hands.

“This doesn’t solve that,” James murmured, once they were two people again.

Jack grinned and gave James a pat on the shoulder that effortlessly slid into a lewd caress. “Don’ tell me you aren’ puttin’ measures in place for th’future, what wi’ all th’Brits y’ve been importin’. I’m told retirement’s a very interesting game t’play in our circles. Been looking forward to it.”

“Think we should let Will and Elizabeth in on it yet?” When James looked now, the white hair had disappeared, and all he could see were eyes so full of life they should have been snapping to pieces.

“Think they’d understand th’concept of plannin’ for five, ten years down th’line?” Judging by the extra twist to Jack’s smile and the emphatic hand-flutter, it was a rhetorical question. “C’mon, Jaime. They probably all think we’re murderin’ each other.”

* * *

Outside The Ride

Much to Will’s relief—and advantage in the informal betting pool they’d started—James walked in without a scratch on him, and Jack closely followed behind. As soon as James had spotted his men, he arrowed in on them and started issuing orders in a firm, decisive tone that brooked no argument and no speculation. At least, not while he was physically around.

Meanwhile, Jack had ambled over to clap hands on Will’s and Elizabeth’s shoulders. “Slight rearrangement of responsibilities. We’re seein’ to th’original meeting all by ourselves, an’ James is handlin’ a new secondary meeting.”

No wonder Horatio had abruptly gone stony-faced and sharp-moving with intense concentration; he had fifteen minutes to a half-hour to rig up bugs for an unscouted location. Before James had even finished talking, Hornblower was already rummaging through his equipment and muttering directions for the others.

“We’re sharing two talks with the same courier? Isn’t that a little redundant?” Elizabeth crunched through the last of her lollipop and tossed the stick over Jack’s shoulder, making a perfect pitch to the trashcan.

Jack didn’t seem to register the movement, so intent was he on watching their faces. “No. First one’s all James’; second one, we’re both sharin’ as according t’plan, though we’re th’only ones runnin’ it. Anamaria’s already gettin’ things ready.”

“Wait. But that—” In the middle of his sentence, Will caught James’ eye and noticed a sudden tension there that made him stop. He looked back at Jack just in time to glimpse the same fleck of emotion in Jack’s eyes.

“It’s how we’re doin’ it, Will. So leave off wi’ y’r bugging wars; th’first meeting is James’.” When Jack wanted to be serious, he could frighten off hurricanes.

On the other hand, Elizabeth was slightly crazy when it came to storms and wasn’t quite awed by them. “But—”

“It’s his,” Jack repeated, and this time, he threw a significant look James’ way. James stared back, a trace of pleading slipping into his gaze.

Elizabeth reluctantly backed down and let Will take her around the waist. “All right, all right. You’re not going to explain this till much later, are you?”

Jack shrugged and looked innocent.

“Then someone had better get James bent over the couch tonight,” she stage-grumbled, much to the embarrassment and/or hilarity of everyone. Her hand sneaked back and slipped into Will’s waiting one, and they prepared to hie themselves off before James stopped choking. “I think I’m owed.”

Y’re owed,” Jack repeated, amusement warring with incredulity. He slipped up to Will’s other side and cast dark glances at Elizabeth’s smirk, silently promising a reckoning. “Lizzie, y’ve got an overestimation of y’r own grievances, I believe. Superiors first.”

For a moment, apoplexy looked like a very real possibility for James. But then he blew out a breath, shocked all by laughing, and aimed a look at Jack that hinted at some vigorous protest from that corner. Between the three of them, Will might have to sit up with Anamaria to get some peace.

Or he could watch. Choices, choices…always a good thing to have.