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Pirate Vindaloo, Chapter 15
The Door in the Wall
Disclaimers: The Rodent Empire owns them. We pilfer.
Originally Posted: 6/21/06
Note: Our sincerest and hearty thanks to smtfhw for her excellent beta.
Warnings: Potential spoilerish appearances for those who are adamant
Summary: James begins to realise the hard facts about his companion and the truth of his reputation.
James spun around on his heel, yanking one arm before his face, the other ready to strike. Then, he realised two facts at once: one, a giggle was unlikely to be voiced by any of their pursuers, and two, said giggle had been that of a female. Likely that of the female standing right in front of him. He managed a well-mannered grin. "I beg your pardon, Miss." There was a chorus of laughter and the chime of small feet and dainty bells. Jack turned, his eyes moving from one side to the other and back again, mouth gaping. Sometimes, Fortune had a delicious way of turning left. His grin spilled across his face like sweet oil. There were at least a half-dozen women he could see, lounging around a small fountain in various stages of undress. He turned to look at James with absolute innocence. "Think I found the right door." A crash made them both start, the patter of bare feet on carpet and then a resounding smack. Jack nursed his jaw and glanced at a pair of furious, dark eyes. "Ayesha." She was pushed out of the way by a girl with hair like a fall of mahogany silk covering ample breasts. Her fist crashed into his chin. He shook his head, seeing a star or two. "Murina." A sudden shadow fell over them, at least from the shoulder down and Jack ducked behind James, away from the large and displeased female, already winding up for a whack. "James, save me!" "I believe that will make for several most interesting tales," James drawled, then smiled politely at the resolute woman, only a few inches shorter than he was. "Good evening, Miss. My apologies for our intrusion, but surely, there is no need for violence?" Jack was clinging to his shirt from behind, peering over his shoulder, the woman's glance flicking between the two of them. She pointed at James, her eyes narrowed. "Who you? With him!" She made a grab for Jack and he jumped back towards the door. "Sorry, Zaira. Wrong door. Forget I was here." She pushed James aside and yanked Jack towards the fountain by the ear. "I gonna cut you into little pieces." He yelped, his hands raised. "No need for that, luv. Or that!" He eyed her large knife with a gulp. "Let go!" "Miss, stop that." James stepped in between them, holding the woman by the wrist to wrestle the knife from her. He had to use more of his strength than was proper against a woman to prevent her from turning Jack into a typical harem-guard. "Miss, I understand your anger completely, and I am certain he deserves everything you have planned for him. Pray tell, what exactly has he done this time?" "Promised to marry my daughter, ran off with her cousin and brother and my money!" Zaira spoke fairly good English and glared at Jack. "Lookee, luv. Yer here. You must admit this is a distinct--aahgh---improvement from that little shop, aye? An' I borrowed it!" James coughed back a chuckle. "Certainly, that can be settled with other means than violence." Jack was now kneeling behind him, peering from the side of his waist only to cower again at Zaira's glare. "Jack, stop being ridiculous. Get up and face her so that this may be settled." "Wat you doing here?" She shook one beringed finger in his face. "Tryin' not t'get killed?" He smiled hopefully with positively his biggest, most mournful eyes. James and Zaira both rolled theirs. The rest of the women laughed and crept closer, murmuring to one another behind small hands and veils. Zaira glowered at Jack. "You shut up." She turned to James. "Wat happened?" "It seems you are familiar with Jack and his way of offending people without any intention at all," he hissed urgently. "One of his gambling partners was not accustomed to losing." Zaira's dark face crinkled into a smirk. "Still up to tricks! You cheat again?" Jack shook his head. "No! Well, maybe a little. I didn't hafta! You know I don't cheat unless I gotta, luv." There was a loud knock on an inner door and she grabbed James by the collar and Jack by the hair. "Shhh! Both of you. In there!" They were delivered into a dozen arms that pulled them into a room awash in purple and orange silk, and pushed down into a mountain of cushions. "Quiet!" James' glare was far more eloquent than any spoken words could have been. Jack burrowed into the pillows with a groan as a man's voice boomed through the rooms, then fell silent as the door shut out Zaira's angry babble. She kicked at James' leg. "You get out of here!" Jack bounded to his feet towards the door. "Course, luv. So sorry, luv. Shite! Guards." James froze, inwardly cursing in words not at all fit for the company of ladies. He turned to Zaira, and with his face open and sincere like that, Jack could not help seeing the boy he must have been once. "Miss," he began, hiding a flinch at the further commotion outside, "we are in dire need of your help." Her eyes narrowed appraisingly and she grinned, gold teeth rivalling Jack's mouthful of treasure. "We get you out." Her smile broadened. "Later." Jack supposed there were worse ways to barter freedom than rolling around on silk with a half-dozen pretty women. Even better was watching James, although he had some difficulty keeping his hands off that pale skin and focused on softer flesh. Two hours later, he was in a half-doze, quite worn-out and in need of a long nap when they started their blasted chattering again. He pulled a cushion over his head. The night was unlike anything James had ever experienced, not even that one time his Midshipmen comrades had made him celebrate his promotion to Lieutenant in a manner certainly not condoned by the Admiralty. His hesitation had only provoked the girls to further insistence, teasing him further with Jack's help until he had been quite unable to resist. At least he could be certain enough that none of them would ever whisper rumours to one of his officer colleagues. Jack was wakened by a shake so hard his teeth rattled in his head. Zaira hauled him out of the silk cocoon. "You wear these." He stared at the bright pink fabric in her hands, stupid with sleep. "Wot?" She slapped him hard. "Fool! Wake up and put on." James was already awake and staring blankly at the emerald green fabric in his hands. "Might I inquire as to the purpose of this?" Jack was being wound in blazing fuchsia, around and around, until he staggered more than usual, to explosions of laughter on all sides. Murina pushed him onto a round stool and straddled his lap, repainting his smudged and bleary eyes. He resisted the urge to smirk. James' eyes were wide, and soon only his face was visible, clad in dark green by many nimble fingers. He obediently sat down, but when Zaira brandished Jack's knife to give him a shave, he protested. "I do not believe this is necessary." His squeak was sufficiently eloquent. She ignored him and lathered up his face while the lovely Ayesha giggled and wriggled against him in a terribly distracting fashion. Jack's hair had been pulled back and tied with an enormous ribbon of shocking turquoise. He glanced at James apologetically and shrugged. James' eyes shot daggers, or possibly hairpins. It was difficult to tell as Murina was currently busy arranging his locks and pinning them into place. Ayesha knelt astride his legs and closed his lids with a brush of her palm. He ducked his head, trying to escape without laying hand on her. After three more attempts and nearly poking his eyes out once, Ayesha gave up. James breathed a sigh of relief that turned into a hiss when she pushed the vials of oil and kohl into Jack's hands and pointed at James imperiously. Jack struggled to walk across the carpet, the tightly wound skirt hobbling him, its gaudy trim catching on his boottops. "I think I know wot they got planned, luv." He gave an exasperated sigh as James' jaw set. "Please, luv. I'm too tired t'fight about it. Now hold still." "This was more than I ever wanted to know about Jack Sparrow's miraculous escape from the East India Trading Company," James huffed, but he sat still while Jack painted his eyes. "This is ridiculous." "Ridiculous bein' relative." Jack groaned as Ayesha wound a purple veil around him and pinned it over his mouth. "Now you shut up!" Zaira cackled. He sighed, then looked at James and swallowed a guffaw. Wrapped in green silk, set off with bright threads of silver and cherry-red, he looked like a very tall tree. "Yes, namely a relative of yours," James hissed as his face was suddenly covered by a veil of a brighter green. His eyes were a shade somewhere in between, glaring and sparkling with a fire that no silk could quite copy. Zaira held up the purse with Jack's winnings and his eyes narrowed over the veil. "You owe me!" Jack's lip twitched under the veil as she pulled five gold coins from it, tested one with her teeth and handed him the rest, grinning. "We square now." Zaira knocked on the inner door and Jack took advantage of her distraction to hitch up the skirt enough to get a hand into his pocket and make damned sure that rigged lining was still stuffed with plunder. Satisfied, he looked at James with another shrug as they were delivered into the hands of an enormous African who tried, unsuccessfully to keep from laughing. Zaira babbled at him, pointing at Jack and indicating a kick with one eloquent foot. They were hauled down the corridors until another two monstrous guards opened a very large door where the African pushed them forward, delivering the promised kick to Jack's backside and sending him careening into the street. James let him reel, then caught him and set him upright. "You do have a talent for getting kicked out of the expensive establishments." Jack's eyes spoke volumes and not the kind that were usually seen in proper libraries. "C'mon. Let's get goin'." He hauled the skirt out from between his legs and set off down the street to find his way back to their inn. James kept his head bowed. Every glance burned, as if everyone saw through the costume, mocking him for sinking so low. They moved closer to the docks once more when he spied a group that looked more than familiar. Bertie and Berkely, with little Matthew between them, walking down the alley. He elbowed Jack in the ribs, unprepared for the shove that sent him stumbling into Bertie's arms. "Bertie! Berks, thank God! I thought we'd never find ya!" Jack spit the veil out of his mouth as Bertie stared incredulously, pointed at James and started to laugh. Jack's hands scrabbled with the damned veil, caught in his hair. "Blast, get me outta---oh shite, shite. SHITE!" He wound it around his face again and clung to Berkely's arm as a drunken group rounded the corner, the dealer himself nearly colliding with them. Bertie recognised the dealer, looked from Jack to him once, then grabbed James, who had just pulled away. His arm slipped around James' waist, hitching him close despite any protests. The drunken group put themselves into their way, the dealer pointing at Bertie. "Don't I know ye?" "Who him? Nah. But who's this lil' peach then?" One of them reached for Jack. "Looks like ya got lucky, boys." A small, skinny sailor gazed up at James adoringly. "Looks jus' like my dear Isabel, " he sniffled. "I miss 'er so bad." James smiled through gritted teeth, bowing his head. Bertie grinned. "She's a shy one. But if ye know 'er, she can be right fiery." He squeezed James' buttocks, startling him into a sound that was certainly high-pitched enough to be female. Jack shrank closer to Berkely, trying to ignore the hand on his backside with a half-hearted giggle and to point 'away' with his eyes. Berkely's ribcage was shaking with laughter. James managed to arrange his skirts to allow him to stomp on Bertie's foot at another squeeze. Bertie coughed back more laughter and grinned his best smile at the group. "If ye'll excuse us, we've business t'attend to, if ye catch my meaning." The little one winked at James archly. "Come ‘round my way, pretty, an' I'll pay ya good." He promptly launched into another maudlin lament for the lost and Amazonian Isabel as they walked away, heading towards the sounds of a tavern. Jack cowered from James' glare and meekly let Berkely steer him back to the inn. Once in their room, Jack tore the veil away and collapsed face down across the bed, still wound like a parcel in pink. Next door, Bertie and Berkely decided that the amusement was well-worth two hours of frantic searching with a sleepy Matthew in tow. Their laughter sounded unaccountably loud. James took a deep breath, and tore at the silk, then rushed to the washstand and rubbed at his eyes. "Is it at all possible to get this off, or is it a brand, marking one as fool forever?" He could hear the high-pitched giggle when Bertie told Matthew just who the two strange 'girls' had been. Matthew's head popped in the door, eyes wide and he pointed at James, with a shout of laughter. Jack pulled his head off the pillow and snorted. "Now you look like a sweep's boy!" James smiled tightly, then rubbed some more at his eyes but only managed to thoroughly redden them, the kohl smeared around his face. Matthew had found the discarded green silk and tangled himself into it, snuggling into the soft material with more giggles. Dragging himself off the bed, Jack wet a towel and wiped away the worst streaks on James' face. It would take days for the rest to disappear without proper soap. "Sorry, luv. Here now, barnacle! Go tell 'em to shut their gobs!" He staggered back to the bed. "I'm fucked out." Matthew toddled off, the green silk in tow, laughing softly. Another burst of hilarity followed from next door, then another as he obligingly relayed Jack's message. James dropped onto the bed, limbs stretched out like a slain animal, his glare sustained by pure stubbornness. "All this for a purely unnecessary game of cards?" "Wasn't unnecessary," Jack muttered into the pillow. "I won." He opened one eye. "Yer angry." James rolled over and made a grab for the coverlet. "Yes, you have won yet more money and risked our life and our escape for it." "And found us the crew we need and the means to pay 'em. Sounds like a square deal to me, mate." Jack rolled onto his back, toying with the pink silk, his lips twitching. "Wasn't all that bad neither." "Of course, it is all about the adventure, the insanity, the tale of how Captain Jack Sparrow disappeared into the void to please an entire harem. How could I forget?" His voice was a low hiss, muffled in the linen sheets. "And I fail to see the 'crew' you found for us." "That lot crowded 'round us durin' the game, luv, "Jack smiled. "Mostly Dutch, a few Norwegians, coupla Russians. Used to be one crew and got stuck here. Evidently, there was a problem with division o' spoils. And if I know Bertie, he's already been givin' tongue about that pearl. I figger half th' crew already know." He yawned enormously and smacked his lips. "Aren't you tired, Jamie?" A stifled yawn was answer enough. "I fail to see how you said a single word to recruit them." And then it hit James. It was not about what Jack had said, it was what they would say to one another, and how they would react if Jack asked them to crew a ship. And he a fool, to know pirates well enough and not to realise this from the beginning. He heaved his lids open and stared at Jack in mute fascination. Jack's eyes slid open and he grinned. "Think it's nigh time to tell 'em who I am, luv. In th' mornin'. I can't keep me eyes open. All shagged out." There was a certain comfort in knowing that taking up with an arch-nemesis had not changed his luck. He blew the elephant-headed god a little kiss. "Course, I'm not sure how I'll explain the jewels and make 'em believe me." Jack yawned again, talking more to himself than James. "Wotever they say....I'll think of somethin'." "You always do, do you not? Another mad escape, another insane reason that no one should believe but everyone does." James closed his eyes, but the pink seemed to shine through his lids. With a sigh, he pushed himself up on his elbows. "I cannot sleep with that monstrosity sparkling at me." Jack's lips split into another grin. "You looked fetching." He rolled over, nestling against James' shoulder. "Both in and outta the frock." "I am relieved that this manner of escape left all but my pride unscathed, but there is no need for further mocking." "Who's mockin'? It was all I could do not t'jump on ya." Jack kissed him, laughing softly. "Yer quite the Amazon, indeed. I'd need a ladder t'mount you," he teased. The linen made a soft sound as James shook his head. "Is that all you do after barely escaping death? Laugh about it? We could both be dead now." Jack yawned again. "Worryin' about it after the fact is such a comfort?" He shrugged. "It weren't a bad night, as they go. And things are gonna get a bit more excitin' and," his face become momentarily solemn, "ridiculous. But that's to be expected, harrowing escapes and dreadful 'pressin' situations bein' wot they are." His dark eyes were dancing. "Honestly, ya can't say it wasn't fun." "It was." James almost grinned at the ceiling. "But you never take anything seriously." He rolled onto his side, face tucked into Jack's shoulder and wrinkled his nose at the heavy, sweet scent. "Take that off," he demanded. Jack pouted and hauled himself upright, tried to pull off his boots, and fell over backwards, off the bed entirely. "OW! I think it's stuck." He staggered to his feet, or rather, one foot, hopping around to pull at the boot. "I am certain you could make a fine living at a king's court: as a fool." James did not move one inch from his comfortable space on the bed. Jack shimmied and wriggled and performed a minor miracle by removing his shirt and breeches without disturbing the yards of eye-aching pink fabric. James tossed a pillow at him. "Off," he growled. "I'm trying!" Jack tugged at the material, twisting around like a cat with a bell on its tail. "I can't get it off!" James rolled off the bed with a snarl. "I thought Bertie was joking about forgetting how to undress alone." "Oh, stop growlin' and help me with this thing!" Jack was dancing around like an epileptic with an itch. "An' me coat's stuck. C'mon, luv. Give us a hand." He had somehow managed to keep his coat half-on while removing his other clothes in a typically backwards fashion. "I begin to understand the true nature of all of Jack Sparrow's escapes. There are either women or rum supplies involved. Or both." James tugged the coat off, then snorted at the mess of pink silk below, split into over a dozen tiny ribbons, each one knotted hard. "Stop wriggling! Or is that supposed to be a dance?" Jack did a fair imitation of a bellydancer's hiproll and craned to see over his shoulder. "Wot in blazes did she do t'me?" He pulled at the purple veil, stuck on the stingray bone in his hair and held it in front of his face, swaying and turning to kiss James through the transparent barrier. "Where's yer sense o' humour gone? Really, luv. You get far too serious on land." James grinned, brushed the veil aside for a kiss, then continued freeing Jack of the pink mess. "It seems that Zaira's grudge was not quite appeased." As he worked on the knots, he flinched once, then began trembling. A minute later, he was shaking with laugher. Even with a sailor's experience it was difficult to undo the tangles done by fingers smaller and nimbler than his. "Would it be too terrible for you to be stuck in this forever?" Jack groaned and lurched forward for his left boot, handing James the knife. "I don't think that would be prudent. I mean, who's gonna sail with a pink captain?" He grinned and turned around, impeding the operation by grinding his arse against James. "Much better when yer laughin', mate." The silk pooled at his feet, forgotten when James pulled him into a kiss, trying to carry him, but only tumbling them both back onto the bed. Jack melted simultaneously into the kiss and dreams, his lids forced closed. When James raised his head, he was fast asleep, already curling up into the pillows. The Pearl's sails bellied and turned a lurid shade of pink then drifted towards him over a turquoise horizon and he grinned. His soft snore was the best lullaby. "Thank God," James muttered, collapsing into his own dreams of sea and salt.
Chapter 14 ::
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