On my way back from the bar, bearing drinks in each hand and with a third squeezed between arm and breast, I really wasn't in the best position to defend myself when one of the rowdies milling around on the floor decided to have himself a grope.
Not in the best position, mind. That doesn't mean I lacked for a response.
I knew him. Boar (though 'Bore' would suit equally well) -- grizzled and red-faced and more soused when sober than most men are when drunk -- so when I felt him come in behind me, trying to work himself up against my ass as bold as you please, I only slammed a heel down on his instep hard enough to make him scream. Had he been a stranger or a chap I had an issue with, figure he'd've been on the ground with his manhood a bruised and bloody wreck.
It's the first thing we learn to go for, making our way in a man's world. They wave that rod around proud enough most times, wielding the thing like some god-given weapon, but they're brandishing their vulnerability, too. They howl when you crush it. They plead when you suck it. A well-placed kick or a well-timed lick can make the strongest of them quiver, spitting out divine names, calling you angel or devil like there's no difference 'tween the two. And maybe there's not, for pirates.
Boar wheeled away from me, staggering into the crowd, and hardly anyone gave him any notice 'cept to get out of his way or shove him outta theirs. Me, I just kept winding through sweaty men and over-perfumed women 'til I reached the table in the corner and thunked the drinks down on it. Someone had put out the lamp in the center. Guess we weren't in a conspicuous mood tonight.
"Next time get your own bloody drinks," I told them, flopping into a chair with the fullest mug in my hand.
"Now, Ana, 'twas your turn, lass." Gibbs always tries to sound like a father with me. As if I ever needed one of those. "There's an order t' these things."
I made a gesture few women would make to their fathers, then tossed back a goodly swallow of the Faithful Bride's piss-poor rum. Gibbs had a grin on his face when the mug came down. He likes me, I think, when he takes me for who I am 'stead of what. He'd better like me. Looked like we were neither of us planning on leaving the Black Pearl anytime soon.
Nor leaving her captain, for all that he's as daft as the sun is hot. Stick around Jack Sparrow long enough, listen to his wild notions 'til they almost make sense, and chances are a bit of his mad luck will rub off on you. Seemed to be working that way for me, leastwise. Suddenly I was a rich woman, living free as a gull, and both those conditions were decided improvements over where I'd been before.
And Jack, staring at me from his smut-rimmed eyes as he reached for a mug, seemed to know my thoughts spoke well of him tonight. Hellish Muerta was a fortnight behind us. The next venture for our ship remained to be decided. This evening was for celebration and for frittering away some of that treasure, and most of the crew were up to it in fine, loud style; but we three sat in the darkened corner, taking it all in, and I don't know that a one of us believed it had all really happened. Dead-but-not pirates. The Royal fucking Navy. Jack himself dancing at the end of a rope, dancing on the blade of a sword, then trading the short drop for a rather longer one and swimming his weary, triumphant way out to the Pearl. After that, Isla de Muerta again, with all that glimmering, near-endless swag...
Feeling quite fond of the man all at once, I grinned his way and lifted my mug. "To Lady Luck. May she forever be fooled by your charms."
He leered confidently. Clunked his mug to mine, then to Gibbs's. "How could she not?"
I drank to that, because at the moment I couldn't think of any reason why Lady Luck -- or any lady -- or any woman, really, as I honestly don't know much about proper 'ladies' -- could not find him appealing enough to eat. Had him once myself. The details fuzzed in my memory, though. I don't usually drink to the point of clouding the recollection, needing to keep a clear head in the midst of so many lowlifes, but that night was an exception. Still, if memory served at all, a good time had been had by both.
The dark eyes that kept watching me, hungry and inviting, said I couldn't be too far off on that one.
Not much point feeling flattered. Jack Sparrow isn't exactly what you'd call 'particular' about who he takes his pleasure with. As for me, I am rather choosy, but he'd made the cut before, and he'd probably remain among those select few yeses for a while yet. Rare bird, Jack. A good man underneath the skin. We've all of us put our lives on the line for him, and might even consider doing it again if need be.
"Reckon we'll be losin' 'bout half the crew, maybe more," Gibbs said, seeming to think we needed some conversation. "Shoulda found us a way of holdin' back some o' that gold."
Jack flicked him a glance. Asked mildly, "And risked a mutiny?"
"Wouldn't've come to that."
I cleared my throat. "I might've mutinied, had you tried it. Don't think to be changin' what's fair, Josh."
"Now lissen, I divided the spoils up equal enough, wouldn'tcha agree? I'm just sayin' we had us a right fine crew, an' it's a shame t' see 'em scatter."
"We don't need 'em." This from Jack, the words half-lost in his mug as he tipped back another swallow. When he lowered it his eyes swept us both. "All we need is crew enough to sail her. Unless either of you enjoys crammin' men in nose-to-toes...?"
"You plannin' on takin' her into semi-retirement then, Cap'n?" Gibbs asked cautiously. "Light work only fer the grandest pirate ship in the Main?"
Maybe he didn't notice how Jack's eyes went guarded at that -- Gibbs isn't the most observant cuss I've ever had occasion to drink with -- but I saw it, and even had a guess to the reason for it. Jack trusts a bit too easily and he damn well knows it; it makes him jumpy every now and then to realize he might be setting himself up for another fall. Wouldn't sit right with some crews, the captain making a decision like that. Especially without putting it to a vote.
But Jack's no ordinary captain, the Black Pearl's no ordinary pirate ship, and half or more of the crew would be gone by the time we set sail again anyway. I cleared my throat for attention and said, quiet-like, "We're fair set for riches, by my mind. I've no complaints with your decisions this far." I sent a stabbing glare at Gibbs. "I'll back you, Jack, whatever foolery you get us up to next."
Squarish hands went up defensively. He even put down his mug for this one, and it's an uncommon thing that parts Gibbs even momentarily from his booze. "Easy there, lass! Ye know I'd not turn on our Jack here. I's just askin' for sake o' knowin'. An' ye oughtta be doin' the same, seein' as you be first mate."
I shrugged brusquely and swallowed more rum, paying little attention to his words. Hadn't put on that display for him anyway. It was Jack who was needing reassurance just then -- Jack who might've got it in his head to cut and run with whoever seemed most loyal. If he ever thought to do that, I fully intended to see myself among them.
"I take it it's safe to assume neither of you plans to retire soon," Jack said dryly after a moment.
Gibbs grinned a cockeyed grin. "Somebody's gotta keep an eye on your crazy noggin, Cap'n."
Jack's scarred eyebrow arched at me. I gazed at him steadily. "Keep me on the sea, Captain Sparrow. Land's got no use for me." And landsmen -- oh, landsmen, they do. A little too much use. I'll take freedom at the risk of the noose any day.
Jack raised his mug. The both of us followed suit. "To the Pearl then. 'til they pry our cold dead hands off 'er."
Mugs knocked together, rum splashing. "To the Pearl," I agreed. "And long may she sail."
Gibbs nodded firmly. "Even with a woman aboard."
He'd launched into a story now. An improbable thing, of course, full of twists and turns that I'd have dismissed as impossible were it not for recent events proving that nothing, in fact, was that. Still, bits and pieces of the tale seemed to be drawn from various other adventures he'd claimed, making it all that much less believable, and after a bit I let my attention wander, leaving Gibbs to soak up the telling. My eyes surveyed the noisy louts inside, some of them ours, most of them not. It's a small enough world we inhabit that few of these men were wholly strangers to me. We're garbage washed along the same drains, we pirates; sooner or later we're all dumped together into the sea.
So it wasn't really a surprise to see a familiar thickset body topped by a familiar pockmarked face belonging to a familiar piece of shit I'd had a run-in with in Aruba about three years back. He had a name, probably. Can't say as I ever had occasion to learn it. In my head he wore a great many names, all of them filthy, none quite vile enough to suit.
I sat back in my chair in our nicely darkened corner and watched him mindfully, thinking dangerous thoughts.
"...livin' in the trees, mate, right up in the bleedin' trees," Jack was saying somewhere at the edge of my awareness. "You can be sure it's an uncomfortable way to sleep, knowing how hard and far away the ground is. But this wench, she had this thing she did with 'er feet..."
And then I focused him out again, because that certain someone had just traded a few words with a young whore barely into her womanhood. She leaned against him, tits hanging out for his appraisal, and it looked as though he liked what he saw. He drained his drink in a few thirsty gulps. Belched loud enough I could hear it over the rest of the noise. The girl giggled and stroked a hand over his chest, hardly seeming to mind when he caught her wrist in a crushing grip.
He pulled her towards the door. I set down my mug and stood.
"AnaMaria?" From Jack, sounding irritated at the interruption.
"I've a matter to attend to," I said absently. "Be right back."
Not waiting for a response, I wove through the throng again and out the door, emerging into the marginally clearer air of Tortuga's outdoors. Spied the tail of the whore's tattered dress waving beckoningly as she disappeared down a side street. Touching lightly at the comforting weight of the cutlass at my side, I followed. They'd vanished by the time I turned down the street, but I knew they'd be close -- probably rammed up in an alley while he rammed up into her. That particular prick was of the especially impatient variety.
And here they were, tucked in between the inn and the leatherwork shop just 'round the turn. He was shoving her to her knees on the stained cobblestones, and she was nuzzling his crotch while her fingers worked his breeches open and his hands tangled in her hair and even now, three years distant, I felt the painful tug echoing in my own scalp.
I freed dagger instead of cutlass. Hung back a moment, patiently, waiting until she'd worked him up enough to have something worth mouthing. Even in the unlit alleyway I could see when her lips closed around his meat, when he clenched her head bruisingly between his hands and started humping against her, as lost to it as any dog with a bitch.
His eyes were closed, his mouth hanging open on throaty groans as I stalked forward. The moll was trying to hold his hips, maybe slow his thrusts, but he just kept bobbing her head on his cock hard enough to make my throat ache in sympathy. She'd need another few months' experience before she could properly handle this sorta customer.
But not this one. I moved in beside them and set the blade to his throat, and in an instant had him forced back against the wall. His hands unclenched. The girl fell away with a gasp, either from finding herself able to breathe again or from opening her eyes to see a brown woman pirate pinning her client to the side of the inn. Which, even in Tortuga, is hardly an everyday occurrence.
Glazed blue eyes blinked wildly from his pitted face. I waited for recognition to dawn. Saw it, furious and disbelieving, and showed him teeth. "Hello again."
Then I yanked the dagger across his throat and jerked back before too much of the blood could splatter my clothes.
His twitching body thumped down, crimson flooding out beneath. A glance found the whore staring, slack-jawed, clearly debating the merits of a scream. I crouched to clean the dagger on his shirt, tilting an eyebrow at her. "He's not worth it. Trust me on that."
Feeling around, I located his coin-purse and cut it free, then weighed it in a hand before her eyes. Reasonably full. Certainly more than she could expect to get for a couple of long nights' work around here.
She snatched it from the air with quick hands when I tossed it. Without another word she stood, smoothing her skirts into a semblance of order, and strode off, the purse vanishing somewhere into her clothing. Already a Tortugan, that one, no matter where she might have hailed from.
I rolled the body over. Resisted the urge to spit in his sightless eyes and instead used the tip of the dagger to move aside his bloody shirt, baring a little silver cross pendent suspended on a leather cord. I'd just cut it loose when Jack sauntered into the alley, his manner casual, his expression decidedly wary.
"Jack," I said in greeting, finding a length of dry sash on the corpse to clean the pendent on.
"AnaMaria," he returned in kind. "Tell me, did I just happen to see you slit a man's throat for a scrap of shine?"
"Can't say as I know what you saw. I'd not noticed you there." I held up the piece, scrutinizing its stain. Bent again to clean it further and waited for him to say more. Not much of one for killing, is Jack. Other than that blackguard Barbossa -- who might not even count, having been undead for so long beforehand -- I couldn't recall any certain stories of Jack Sparrow taking a life, though he had to've done so. Surely. The man had been a pirate longer than I'd been a woman.
He watched me a moment more. "Didn't think you even had religion, love."
"I don't. But my mother did, an' she gave me this."
"He stole it from you?"
Another quiet moment. I held the cross up again, frowning, trying to determine if a blotch was blood or tarnish.
"I did apologize for that incident with your boat then, did I not?"
Tarnish, I decided. With a last glance over the body, I straightened, leaving dark footprints as I stepped back. "You did."
"And made up for it, aye? We're square?"
"Aye, we're square."
I slid the pendent into a hidden pocket. "It wasn't just for the cross."
"I rather suspected."
His tone didn't say much about his thoughts, and an unusual twinge of worry stirred in my chest. I eyed him uncertainly. "There'll be others I'll wanna settle accounts with. You should know that, am I to stay with the Pearl."
His eyes glinted, shadow and shine. "Just see to it that's what you're doing. Settling accounts, not starting wars. Savvy?"
"I will," I said, and let out a breath.
He turned with me. By the end of the alley my shoes no longer left wet prints. My coat would need washing, particularly the sleeve on my knife-arm, but it'd needed washing before.
"If we've no more business, I'll be heading back to the Pearl."
A sideways glance. He arched an eyebrow suggestively. "What sort of 'business' might you be open to, love?"
I snorted, looking in the direction of the docks. "You can buy your company tonight, Jack. I've had about enough of men for the moment."
"And here I thought to redeem us in your eyes." A one-shouldered shrug. "Per'aps some other time, eh?"
"Some other time," I said, "aye."
At the door of the Faithful Bride we parted: he to his rum, I to our Pearl, my fingers fondling the silver in my pocket the whole walk to the docks.
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