|The First Time
Author: Guede Mazaka
It was going to be a difficult shot. The lay of the land was less than ideal—too many other obstacles that couldn’t be touched nearby—and the angle was going to strain Theodore’s back precisely where he’d a huge bruise from earlier in the day. And should he not succeed, the consequences could be disastrous.
He checked his position one last time, then leaned over the pool table and coolly knocked the seven-ball into the pocket.
“Nicely done,” Tom grinned, sidling up to catch the back of Theodore’s waistband. He pressed into Theodore’s back, a lovely warm leanness, and shot a triumphant look at Will, who was perched on the other end of the table. “As you can see, the CIA doesn’t possess a monopoly on crack shooting.”
“I wouldn’t jump to the celebratory screw just yet.” Will took a last sip of his beer before handing off the bottle to Elizabeth and studying his shot. He and Theodore were now both gunning for the eight-ball, with quite possibly the world riding on the game.
For a moment, Will gave the lone pair of balls a steely-eyed, clenched-jaw stare that apparently was aimed at visually backing them in the holes. But then Elizabeth rolled her eyes and smacked his ass. “Get on with it, Will.”
“Ow! Hey!” Will attempted a pout, but broke into laughter halfway through and slumped against the table. His stick landed with the tip about an inch from touching the cue ball; Theodore tensed, but the white sphere didn’t move a hair. Instead, Will lounged backward so Elizabeth could nuzzle an apology into his neck, then casually twisted to brace his hip against the table and smacked the eight-ball cleanly into the pocket.
“Oh, damn,” Tom muttered, unconsciously echoing Theodore’s thoughts. Sympathetic groaning notwithstanding, the man leaning comfortably against Theodore’s side seemed remarkably unconcerned about the possible breach in information-security that they now had. Then again, he hadn’t quite worked his way into being privy to all secrets of Norrington’s operations.
Elizabeth was still leaving faint reddish prints all over Will’s neck, thus forcing him to bundle her into his arm and heft them both up onto the pool table. They tipped over the green felt with a giggle and soft thump, which caused Will’s expression to momentarily scrunch, but then he sighed and stretched out. The blonde lazily nibbling his jaw might have had something to do with that.
Well, Theodore had given his word, so there was nothing for it but to take it like a man. But first, he got his beer and Tom into the nearest armchair. After all, courage and comfort weren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. “All right, Will. Name your price.”
“Thinking about it.” In point of fact, Will didn’t look as if he was thinking about anything except possibly acrobatics and the tequila Elizabeth had had earlier. He did make a noble effort to sit back, but gave up when Elizabeth wriggled and cooed at him. “Ah…oh, right. Been wondering for ages. You know how Jack and James met?”
By now, it was a reflex to run every spoken statement through mental processing twice, but Theodore had to check that one three times. Then he glanced at Tom, but here Tom didn’t have a clue as to the background to begin with, so Theodore couldn’t rely on the other man’s intuition. “That’s…it?”
“What do you mean, that’s it?” Elizabeth rumpled her rapidly-disintegrating ponytail over her shoulder and propped her chin up on one hand, eyes sparkling with alcohol and inquisitiveness. “It’s Jack. Can’t possibly be an uninteresting story.”
“It isn’t, believe me. I’m merely surprised that you didn’t ask about something more current. Or something that isn’t in the backfiles.” The bottle Theodore was currently working on was beginning to grow too flat for his tastes, so he swigged the remainder and carefully set the emptied brown glass on the floor. Some bony thing—Tom’s hip, apparently, and Theodore made a note to himself to make sure the field operatives had more chances to snatch meals—was jabbing into his thigh, so he pushed it sideways and tugged on Tom’s legs till the other man was neatly nestled against him.
Earlier demonstration of affection aside, Tom was visibly flagging now: snuggling down with a sigh and a half-burp. No wonder, considering how he and Elizabeth had turned their spectator positions into a sideline drinking contest in sympathy with their lovers’ competition on the pool table. Normally that wouldn’t make a good deal of sense, but right now, the beer and the Pullings had Theodore hovering in just the right limbo in between sensibility and senselessness. Consequently, he thought it was rather adorable, really.
Will was waving a hand in vague butterfly shapes, like Jack during a PowerPoint™ presentation. “I know, I know. I’ve got the official version. But come on, Theo. You really expect me to believe that that’s the whole story?”
“True,” Theodore admitted, chuckling. He threaded his fingers through Tom’s hair and settled into relief that Will hadn’t asked anything too vital to purely British interests. “Well…I believe it was precipitated by an ass.”
The slight rustlings on the pool table suddenly ceased. Blinking, Tom lifted his head from Theodore’s shoulder. “Ass?”
“Ass. The four-legged kind?” There should be at least one more bottle around…Theodore dropped his arm over the side and groped about till he came up with one. The lid he sent skittering across the room, and the deliciously nutty beverage he sent down his throat. Before he explained, he languidly wiped off his mouth. “You all look like I’m forcing you to walk the plank. As Elizabeth said, it’s Jack. No—actually not, in that case. It was James that tripped over the ass.”
“Oh, God.” Only five seconds in, and Elizabeth already had her face pressed to Will’s chest while her shoulders heaved with giggles.
Theodore shrugged and took another long draught. As much as he admired and respected the Commodore, he’d been around too long to not admit James Norrington had had his hugely embarrassing moments. Besides, it was how Theodore’s superior recovered after such incidents that truly impressed Theodore. “But I do believe Jack was the one that brought the ass.”
“He does do that a lot,” muttered Will. “The number of pricks on our bankroll is higher than yours, I think.”
“We’re supposed to move in higher circles, so our informants are supposed to be politer. At the least,” Theodore thoughtfully replied, watching the froth slowly pop away.
Tom snorted and kissed Theodore’s collarbone. “So that was their first meeting?”
“First face-to-face. Jack Sparrow had been in town for about a month, building up the street base he’d need for his cover as a crime lord. Only we, of course, thought he was a genuine import from the Southeast Asian underworld. Well, he was in a manner of speaking, but he wasn’t…oh, you understand.” That wasn’t the best way of phrasing it, but then, Theodore hadn’t come prepared to deliver a beautifully-crafted oration. Moreover, the beer was doing dangerously distracting things to his tongue. “James didn’t terribly appreciate that. Sparrow was taking out all of his competitors, very efficiently and very much according to a system that we simply couldn’t fathom. But it worked.”
* * *
“And Norrington didn’t appreciate that?” Horatio started to sit up once more, but a hand on the small of his back shoved him down again. Irritated, he tried to turn over and give whoever it was a piece of his mind, but things blurred and then a laughing Archie was tickling a tonguetip in Horatio’s ear. And that was William’s hand holding Horatio’s ankles to the bar. “This isn’t quite fair.”
“Of course it is. You’re impossible to manage when you’re drunk, Horatio—your legs go one way, and your arms the other. So we’re exercising forethought and keeping you here so when you pass out, you’ll be comfortable without our needing to move you.” Archie followed up his innocent little justification with a lengthy exploration of the delicate patch behind Horatio’s ear.
Then he jerked back and made a face at the master of the bar, rubbing at the top of his just-smacked head. “Scarlet!”
“Not on mah bar, y’don’. Not ‘less all y’all’ll be seein’ to the cleanin’ afterwards.” She delivered her ultimatum with a smile that could rival a mint julep for sweetness and kick.
Up till about an hour ago, Horatio hadn’t had the faintest idea what a mint julep was. Now he had the feeling that wherever—whenever—he woke up the next morning, he’d be doing so with a library of new knowledge. Its usefulness was still debatable. Which reminded him… “Sparrow was killing off the same cartel kings that had been threatening to wreck Norrington’s team. And given that it sounds as if Norrington was having difficulties then—”
“He wasn’t having difficulties,” Gillette snorted, still looking more uncomfortable in street clothes than Horatio had ever had in those horrific outfits Elizabeth tossed him into…which somehow always ended up with him getting a rather good night of sex. Odd, that. “London was having difficulties sinking us as fast as they’d wanted to. The Commodore was doing exceptionally well playing off the Miami bosses against each other until that pirate showed up.”
It was intellectually fascinating how Gillette and even Groves still referred to Norrington by his Navy rank, and normally Horatio would’ve spent a few minutes analyzing it. But normally, he didn’t have a serious cramp developing in his back. Sighing, he looked at Archie and silently pleaded.
Pupils dilating, Archie stared back and chewed his lip. “She said no.”
Horatio rolled his eyes, feeling annoyance penetrate the creeping haze the beer had induced. “No, not that. I want to stretch before my back locks up. Honestly, Archie…”
“…I’m actually more interested in hearing the end of this story, as appealing as your byplay commentary is,” Alexander drawled, sipping from his Black Russian. He was straddling the stool beside Archie and somehow managing to transform that pose from blatantly indecent to dignifiedly so.
While Archie solicitously helped Horatio reposition himself, William got their refilled mugs from Scarlet and handed them around. “So Norrington had a particular status quo he wanted to maintain, and Sparrow was upsetting it, I take it.”
“Oh, honey, Jack was just about wheelin’ that apple-cart off a cliff.” Eyelashes a-flutter, Scarlet demurely drew herself a mug of beer bigger than anyone else’s. Gillette started to remark on it, but she literally made her skirts twitch and he shut up. “So Jack comes in, virtually crowns his dear ragged self king in less’n a month, an’ of course, men can’t nevah stand for serious competition.”
A sizable blush was making its way up Gillette’s neck, and his eyes seemed determined to stay below Scarlet’s waist-level. For a moment, sheer curiosity almost led Horatio to peek over the side of the bar, but then Archie was on him and kissing him silly. When the other man backed off, he had his eyebrow in a reproachful arch. “Ahem.”
“Oh. Right.” Horatio reached past Archie for his next beer, then grinned. “I’m joking. I know. But she said no.”
“You’re drunk. Already.” Archie stabbed a finger at Horatio’s mouth. It had just begun to slip in when another hand gently took Archie’s wrist and pulled it away.
Alexander regarded them both with an amused look. “Pardon me, but you’re being rather rude to Scarlet. I believe she’s trying to answer Horatio’s question.”
“Why, thank you, m’lord,” Scarlet purred. Now Gillette was taking her hand with a fairly possessive air and glaring at Alexander. That still left Scarlet free to down her beer with surprising speed—and to surprisingly little effect—so she didn’t protest. In fact, she looked rather pleased. “An’ where was I? Oh, yay-sus. Jack’s heard all about this Brit--competent, sharp, damn pretty eyes—an’ maybe he’s new to playin’ spy games, but he’s no fool. Wants to go see, find out if he can deal with the man or if he’s got to…see to the matter.”
Thoroughly disgruntled mixed with fondness was a bizarre combination, but Gillette’s expression as he looked down on Scarlet somehow managed it. “Norrington, on the other hand, had only thing on his mind: eliminating that impudent upstart.”
Archie looked at Horatio, Horatio looked back, and damn all tact, but sometimes Gillette was too insufferable to not be laughed at. Hopefully, the man would take it as part of their slight inebriation and not take it out in demanding ridiculously precise mission reports for the next few weeks.
William, however, knew very well what they were laughing at, and shot them both a pained look. He pinched the bridge of his nose and, like the wonderfully considerate man he was, attempted a distracting maneuver. “And the ass?”
“Well, for a few months it was exactly like watchin’ thirty-year-old Georgia spinsters tryin’ to hook the last bachelor in town,” Scarlet replied, not seeming much put out by the tangential conversations. Her glass was already empty, so she set it under the tap and expertly drew another one. “They were just circlin’ each other, tryin’ to get a peek without showin’ their own hand, till all our heads were dizzy as could be. So of course, they finally take a moment to do something else and not look for each other.”
* * *
Teresa braced the rifle against her shoulder, willed her eyes to not squint too much in the darkness, and waited. At the other end of the field, something faintly clicked. A white dot jumped into the air; she breathed, pulled and twisted left in the same motion to shoot down the second target. The launchers were set for one-minute intervals, so she pulled off the ear-muffs enough for her to continue her conversation with Anamaria. “They ran into each other, and neither was prepared for it.”
“No, I wouldn’ say that. Y’track someone as long as they did each other, y’end up never really goin’ off y’r guard. But vrai, it was a shock. Cons.” The other woman was adjusting something on her rifle…switching off her night scope, which Teresa approved. Technology was nice, but it wasn’t always there or dependable. It was still good to learn the older ways, just in case. “I told Jack a shipment that large, th’Brits were goin’ t’be int’rested as well. But no, no, he says it’s all secret, they don’ know ‘bout it. Bouffon.”
“So you were at the docks?” Teresa guessed. Speaking of guessing, she wondered what was keeping Richard and Pat. By her watch, they’d been gone twenty minutes on a fifteen-minute trip to get more practice ammunition.
Anamaria shook her head, then lifted her rifle and checked the front. Despite her sharp tone, her expression was tolerantly amused. “I wish. We were out in th’country. Orange grove, an’ th’farmer had this little pettin’ zoo for children…an’ it’s Jack. So he takes a fancy to th’donkey there—it was a pretty one—an’ takes it out for a walk-round.”
“You have a strange, strange man for your leader.” Five seconds till the next targets went off. Flicking her earmuffs back on, Teresa stepped out of Anamaria’s way.
Those clay pigeons exploded into tiny clouds of white power just as quickly as Teresa’s had. Grinning, and with good reason, Anamaria pulled her muffs back. “Well, Jack’s madness ain’ all bad. Anyhow, it’d rained earlier an’ th’roads were pure muddy shit, so th’delivery men were late. Jack figures he’ll pass th’time chattin’ up th’ass. Probably ‘cause he was chattin’ m’self up before, an’ I leave th’appreciatin’ of that kind to th’others.”
It was relatively easy to fill in the blanks, given what Teresa knew of men and what she’d seen of chance operating in the world. “Norrington comes, thinking he’ll also have control of this shipment and whatever information, contacts, etc. go with it. He and Jack stumble over each other, but at the same time so it’s a stand-off.”
“Literally stumble,” Anamaria drawled, glancing over her shoulder.
When Teresa looked past the other woman, the darkness didn’t do a thing to hide the reason why her husband and his friend were tardy in their return. Richard certainly hadn’t had that many buttons missing from his shirt when he’d left, and his smile was a brilliant flash of satisfaction. And Pat was staggering a bit, which couldn’t possibly be from over-indulgence in Irish brew.
“It’s always the same,” she noted, letting a little affection creep into her voice. “Men are clumsy.”
“Norrington was going for Jack, but th’ass got in th’way an’ there’s MI6 face-first in th’mud. Merde, I nearly burst m’gut laughin’.” Anamaria shoved her ear-muffs in place, waited for Teresa to do the same, and then nailed the targets just before they were about to land on the ground. “Too much damn pride. That’s men’s problem.”
* * *
Giselle paused in the act of hefting the snoring eight-year-old into Gibbs’ arms. “Mud? Are you serious?”
“’fraid so.” He took his youngest from her and settled the little thing into bed, then walked her down to the door. “’course, Jack didn’t get off too well, either. That ornery donkey turned right around an’ sent Jack over a rail. Come dawn, there were both the CIA and MI6 beaten by a four-legged braying devil. Bit like my get, I s’pose.”
Shaking her head and smiling, she stepped into her shoes and then went out onto Gibbs’ porch. “No, no. They were lovely. You have beautiful girls.”
“Thank you.” His tone was warmly sincere, and he was veritably glowing with fatherly pride. “An’ thank you for comin’ on such short notice. I don’ usually bother agency folk, but Jack’s been sayin’ get t’know th’new Brits—‘cept y’re French, of course, an’—”
The poor man was getting redder and redder with embarrassment, so Giselle stopped him with a hand on his arm before he exploded. “You’re welcome.”
Gibbs looked a bit foolish, then took a deep breath and gave her a broad grin. “’night, Giselle.”
“Good night, Mr. Gibbs,” Giselle replied, smiling back. She turned to go, then hesitated as she thought of something. “But they didn’t…come to an accord…there, did they?”
* * *
Theodore shook the last drops of beer in the bottle into his mouth, then set down that bottle with the rest. He just barely had enough eye-hand coordination for that. “God, no. If anything, James was even more determined to take Jack down after that. We extracted ourselves from the farm with a temporary truce, which James kept but which he was fully expecting Jack to break.”
“Except Jack didn’t,” Elizabeth sleepily murmured. With a visible effort, she was keeping herself from simply curling up on Will’s chest and napping.
“No, he didn’t. Which was very odd to us then. And then Jack had the ass delivered to our office.” Where it’d promptly rampaged about for a good twenty minutes, leaving the place smelling of musk and hay and shit for weeks afterward. “It came with a dinner invitation. James stormed out in a rage, but when he came back…I suppose that must have been when Jack told him about being with the CIA.”
Will wandered his fingers through the air. “From there, things took their natural course, I suppose.”
“Hmm.” A hard thing poked Theodore’s elbow, and he looked down to see a nearly-asleep Tom slowly sliding off. Hastily gathering up the other man to him, he almost missed the devil glint in Will’s eye.
“So…what about the first time people found out they were cooperating in the bedroom as well as in the office?” the other man queried, sly and smirking.
Theodore coughed, cudgeled his alcohol-congealed brain, and miraculously came up with an answer. He pointed a triumphant finger at Will and produced his own smirk. “No give-aways, Turner. You’ll have to win next month to ask that.”