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White Admiral 2
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"How's it goin'?" James looked up sharply from the desk. Admiral Sparrow was partially draped over the windowsill, one elbow hooked over the frame, fingers curled over an edge. The white cat clung somnolently to his head, like an exotically furred cap. Next to him was a flushed, breathless but impishly grinning Will Turner, dressed smartly if a little oddly in a hastily altered red coat of a marine, still a little too large for him. No hat—at least someone sensible had recognized that the inclusion of a far-too-big hat would have been far too absurd. One small hand was clamped on the sill, the other clutched Sparrow's hat to his chest. "Passably," James gestured with his quill at the desk and guest chair, which had been stacked neatly with three different columns of papers, some crisp and new, some blotched and stained with what looked suspiciously like tea. Hopefully was tea. "I've started on the acquisition forms and... Jesus, Admiral, this office is on the third floor!" After pulling Turner through the window, James reached out to grip Sparrow by his elbow to steady him as the other man pulled his slender frame through. A boot slipped, however, and there was a yelp—James staggered backwards with an armful of warm Admiral and outraged cat. Scents—tobacco, an odd lingering hint of rum, starch. Gunpowder. Unperturbed by how his Lieutenant seemed suddenly petrified in place, Sparrow pulled away, dusting himself off, taking the hat from Turner and displacing the cat from his head. It leaped down and ambled over to the chair James had just abruptly vacated, curling up with a soft purr. To give himself time to calm down from the adrenaline (which had, James would say, everything to do with seeing his commander and a child hanging from a third-story window, rather than anything to do with the effect of the accident), James stalked to the sill and looked down into what seemed to be a sheer drop to the courtyard. The midshipman Gillette, another midshipman—Groves, the name was, if he recalled—and a few other marines were glancing up with worried expressions, relaxing when they recognized him—Groves saluted, grinned, and wandered into the building. "What in the world did you think you were doing?" he fumed. "Not only did you endanger yourself, you compromised the safety of a child!" "Now, Lieutenant, is that any way t'speak t'yer Admiral?" Sparrow shook a finger under his nose, his expression archly disapproving. James' eyes narrowed. "Admiral Sparrow was teaching me the art of climbing," Turner said quickly, eyes darting between the Lieutenant, tense from anger and shock, and Sparrow, who seemed not the least repentant. "Important to being a marine." "An' I've done the climb lots of times. It's perfectly safe," Sparrow said, flapping a hand dismissively as he wandered over to the stacks of paper. "Eh. I don't think I've seen the surface of this table for years." James took a deep breath, then slowly let it out as he realized that Will, with the intuition of a child, was still peering at him worriedly. And was, in fact, edging slowly between him and the infuriating man currently sidling around the desk to see what he had been up to before the rude interruption. Protectively. It had only a week and a day or so since Sparrow had announced that, seeing as the Turner boy had been shipwrecked by pirates and was now without a family, he would be employed by the Navy as a page (a position that did not in fact exist and which James highly suspected that the Admiral had made up) up until his 18th birthday, wherein he would enter the Navy as a full Marine. A small room, previously used for storage, had even been cleared and refurbished in the barracks. Now the pup, and sometimes the impressionable Miss Swann, stuck like burrs to the Admiral almost wherever he went, and to James' dismay Sparrow made no move whatsoever to discourage them—nor even their innocent hero worship. Calm. He could be calm. James dipped his head for a moment, then walked over to his desk and picked up the cup of tea from where it had been acting as an interim paperweight, which he drained. The sweet, if now lukewarm beverage cleared his mind, and he even managed a wry grin at the boy, who relaxed. "Some of the forms specifically need your signature, sir." "Which ones?" Sparrow picked up the cat, deposited it in his lap and sprawled into the chair, twirling the quill deftly with his fingers. "That stack," James pointed at one of the mountainous if neat columns of paper, this one weighted down by a heavy bronze-framed model of the globe. The Admiral pouted. "Y'sure?" James looked down again, scowling, one hand on his hip, the other tapping a staccato on mahogany. "I'm sure. I've already filtered out the work that can be sorted out by a midshipman or myself. Some of these documents are... are ludicrously overdue. Sir." "Should really get me signature carved out onto a block so it can be stamped," the Admiral muttered, reaching up for the first document. "The point is to read the documents that specifically need your notice," James said patiently. "Aye, well, if 'tis so important, sure ye could do it," Sparrow said brightly, if illogically, though he scanned the document and signed in a flourish where indicated. "Will, lad, go get the Lieutenant an' meself some more tea. Cook knows how I like mine." The boy nodded, hesitated, glanced at James, threw a passable if unsteady salute, and left the room. "A few dispatches are confidential to you, sir," James continued inexorably. "I stacked those on top." Sparrow sighed, glancing up at James with a hangdog expression that seemed very out of place even in the more casual undress Admiral uniform—laced, instead of embroidered, with lapels, a bright red sash across the white and gold inner coat. He shifted the chair back, crossing boots atop the desk. "Yer going t'make sure I do all this work, aren't ye?" "You should," James muttered, glancing at the stack on the chair. "I'd get some of these moved to my office." "Just move that t'the floor an' we can share the table," Sparrow said, reaching into a drawer to take out a book of Naval ledgers, using that to write on, urging the cat up onto the desk. "Since I sent the lad out for tea." "Only if you move your boots," James said firmly, deciding to compromise. He did, admittedly, need Sparrow's perusal of some of the filtered documents, even those that didn't require his signature. The Admiral grinned at him over the top of the paperwork he was on and did so with delicate grace, boots disappearing under the desk. The cat leaped back onto his lap with a purr. White fur clung to the brocade coat.
When James walked out of the room to stretch out kinks in his back, he was intercepted by Gillette and Groves. "Can we talk to you for a moment, sir?" Gillette asked. James arched an eyebrow, but led them to his office. "Yes?" "You've actually managed to get the Admiral to sit at his desk," Groves blurted out, his eyes wide. "That's near a miracle, if you don't mind me saying, sir." "Sitting down and doing something productive," Gillette added, with a sharp glance at his colleague as if warning him not to engage in further impropriety of speech before a superior. "It's quite... well, I wouldn't say it was a miracle, but it's very unusual for him." "So what does he normally do?" James asked curiously. "Sit in the crow's nest of the Pearl, at the docks, on the roof... somewhere odd, and plan his next patrol," Groves said, with a shrug. "He doesn't stay in port for very long, usually." "And my predecessor?" "Handled all the work except the bit that was really important," Gillette admitted, "And then he'd ambush the Admiral with it at dinner, or lunch, where he can't, uh..." "Can't run away," Groves supplied with a faint grin, which faded quickly. "Good man. The Admiral could never remember his name properly, but, well... and... the old Lieutenant sort of spoiled him. With no need to do work. Gillette and I tried to handle the mess from... after, especially since the Admiral was so upset over his death, but as you probably saw we weren't really very good at it." Apologetic, awkward. "And even before that, Lieutenant Barnsby wasn't really the neatest of men. The work got done, but, well, the table was sort of a natural disaster." "Actually it was a good effort," James said, feeling that he should really be kind in the face of any effort at all. "It should all be sorted out in a few weeks or so. Is there anything else you'd like me to know?" "Uh... no," Gillette grinned. "Though whenever you're off duty, sir, we'd like to buy you a drink at the Red Scabbard, that's off Pelican street." James smiled, embarrassed. "It can't have been that big an achievement." "It would be, if you can encourage him to keep at it, sir," Groves said, apparently the more straightforward one of the pair. "The men think... well, that he shouldn't go out looking for trouble—with the Dutch and Spanish privateers—so much." Two earnest pairs of eyes told James what didn't need to be mentioned—Admiral Sparrow might be the Luck of God, but luck tended to run its course.
"... an' then they made me their chief," Sparrow said, and raised his tankard to laughter and scattered applause. James reflected that when Gillette and Groves had asked him to the Red Scabbard for drinks, they had failed to mention that it was also Sparrow's favorite night haunt. The Admiral was dressed only in lace shirt, blue breeches and bucket boots, seated on the bar, heels against a stool, as he drained his rum, relating a very unlikely story involving exotic fruit, semi-clad natives and odd superstitions to a rapt audience of off-duty marines of varying rank, merchants and townsfolk. It was as though he was holding... court, the way he had everyone's attention. A mad king surrounded by the vice of excess, his Court lit by greasy lamps and mostly populated by a motley mixture of the lower classes of Port Royal society, wreathed by the stench of drink, sweat and overindulgence. Gold teeth and the white headscarf all but gleamed in the lamplight, dark eyes now slightly glassy after his third round of rum. "He tells that story about once or twice a week," Groves said, sipping at his ale. Off-duty, the midshipmen, all unspoken, had agreed to drop the honorifics. "It's a local favorite." "Is it... true?" James asked, frowning. "Don't know, with him," Gillette shrugged. "But it's true enough for those who care to listen." A faint grin. "I rather prefer the story about the Maharajah and the elephants, myself." "I like the one about Aztec gold and undead pirates," Groves leaned back against the wooden chair. They sat at a corner of the crowded pub. Many marines simply drank, with occasional glances at their commander. The barkeeper obviously knew that having a good friend in Sparrow was very good for business—he refilled the tankard each time without comment, with what looked like a finer house version of the rum served to customers. "That one is obviously untrue," Gillette said severely, "The part where the undead pirates climbed up the anchor and snuck up onto the ship? Nonsense, in my opinion. Surely someone would have heard. Even if we accept, for the sake of argument, the fact that undead pirates can exist." James left them to their good natured bickering over what was likely an old topic of debate between them, his eyes drifting almost irresistibly to the swaying, slender figure on the bar. Sparrow was re-enacting some sort of odd body language of the natives, and imitating their pidgin tongue to cheers and guffaws. Definitely not how an Admiral should behave, but... it was hypnotic. Certainly it was so to the crowd, if they returned each week to listen to the same story, no doubt with detail embellished differently each time. He wondered if his father had seen this side of the Admiral. Whether it would affect his judgment. Surely he hadn't, or the 'fine man, and the best officer I have seen' would have had a disdainful footnote of 'of course, one can never account for the habits of sailors when on shore leave'. Lost in his thoughts, James didn't realize the tavern had fallen silent until Gillette poked him in the arm. "Yes?" "As I was sayin'," Sparrow said cheerfully, "That's me new Lieutenant, James Norrington." A finger ringed with white gold and a black pearl beckoned him over. Flushing with embarrassment, James hesitated, then cautiously approached the bar, sitting on a stool next to Sparrow, as indicated with twirling fingers, and trying his best not to glare at a commanding officer in front of an audience. "He's very well known over at Europe—has quite a few dashin' tales of courage in the battle against bloodthirsty pirates, himself." A gold-toothed grin. "An' we want t'hear one, don't we, folks? Say... the one 'bout the capture o' the infamous corsair Reis Reynard, off the Mediterranean? A man said t'be so wicked an' cruel that the very demons of Hell could take lessons from his methods?" James froze under the wave of enthusiastic assent. Now he did glare, heedless of propriety. Sparrow's impish grin became an innocent smile. How in the world had Sparrow known of the exploits of his career at his previous posting, let alone that particular... ah. Mister Gibbs, in the crowd, was looking suspiciously shifty, especially when pinned under James' steely stare. Something was nudged into his elbow—James turned to see the rather grim-faced barkeeper, who had nudged a tankard of rum in his direction. Oh, what the hell. Fortified by hard liquor, James told what he felt was a rather precise version of exactly what had happened, interrupted at times by the Admiral, whenever Sparrow felt that there was a part of the story that required polishing. "And then they boarded the Interceptor." "An' ye cut down three of them where they stood, aye?" "... uh..." "An' shot at Reis, only missed an' winged his hat, an' he roared wi' fury at the sky." James felt that he really should be keeping a firm grip on what was really his story. "Actually..." "An' he charged at ye, crazed like a bull, one smokin' pistol in a hand, the other wielding the cutlass that had tasted the blood of so many innocents over his reign of terror off the Barbary Coast." "Well, actually..." The story meandered in such a fashion until the end—James had defeated Reis in single combat and taken him back to the nearest Naval port to hang. Or rather, that was what James would have said—Sparrow wove, from that, a further set of bone-chilling accounts of Reis' howls of fury and vows of vengeance when led to the hangman's noose (The real Reis had been silent, resigned—broken, on seeing his flagship sink beneath the waves). James' intention to relate an accurately Naval account of what had transpired seemed to lose focus towards said conclusion, too entangled in the frantic, random hand gestures and sinuous body movements that seemed to be part and parcel of Sparrow-the-storyteller. Hypnotic, a snake before a charmer. The Lieutenant blinked when Sparrow clapped a ringed hand on his shoulder as he finished James' story with dramatic flair. "An' that's why they call him the Pirate Hunter." James frowned. "They do? Who? What?" "To the Pirate Hunter! To the Luck of God!" Groves raised his tankard in a toast over at the corner. The call was picked up by the tavern in a roar of gruff voices. James groaned, and downed his rum. He just knew, with a cold feeling deep in his belly, that the terribly theatrical moniker was going to stick. Sparrow was laughing like a madman, winking when he caught James' murderous glare over the rim of his tankard. He leaned down a little, and murmured, audible over the chatter of the crowd, "That's payback fer makin' me work on such a fine day, Lieutenant." "You can't be serious..." James growled. All this had been motivated by a frivolous sense of revenge? His fingers twitched. Sparrow grinned, heedless of personal safety in the face of outraged Lieutenants, leaned back, and raised his voice. "Barkeep! Another round of rum fer the Hunter! Now, what 'bout I tell ye all of the time I encountered a sea serpent, off the coast of Havana?"
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