Summary: In Mexico, they say you might meet the Virgin Mary in Guadalupe. But Jack meets someone entirely different in Santa Josefina.
Rating: PG-13 (language)
Pairing: Could be construed as Jack/Norrington
Disclaimer: Disney owns these characters and the setting in which they live. Well, two of them. The line "Don't get your bollocks in a twist" belongs to Flogging Molly (lyrics below).
Notes: catslash asked me to write a fanfic based on my impressions of these lyrics. And I have to say, I was duly daunted . . . this fic is a result not of careful study of the lyrics (as with my Midsummer fic), but of getting myself so drunk on them that I followed my mad notions.

Dice with a Stranger

By gileonnen

One would think that a territory so rich in gold as Mexico could afford to produce some decent liquor.

This was, like most rational assumptions, in no bloody way the case. It had taken Jack Sparrow a good hour of drinking to get justifiably drunk, but that bit of him that wasn't trimming the sails and checking the rigging on his vitals was proud as new paint.

Somewhere around the moment when a pretty young wench filched the pirate captain's purse (as drunks are notoriously bad at counting out their coins; he'd pay about its worth in any case, with the amount of good mezcal brandy he'd downed), a stranger walked into the alehouse.

This wasn't strange. In a port town like Santa Josefina, a stranger walked into the alehouse every twenty minutes, almost regular. And a lot of them were tall and dark; it came of being Spanish near the Equator. No way around it.

This stranger was tall and dark in an entirely different way. The room just looked a little cozy to contain him, and the oil lamps seemed to dim as he passed.

He might've been handsome. There was no way to tell, as his face was shadowed by a great black hat.

He sat across from Jack Sparrow and ordered a drink, which Jack could smell was rum.

"Wench didn't serve me rum," he muttered, glancing up at the tall, dark stranger. It was a funny thing, but with his cheek on the rough old table, Jack couldn't see the man's face any better than those who saw him straight-on. "Rum!" he called, waving a hand in the vague direction of the counter.

"And salt," added the stranger. He smiled--Jack couldn't see it, but it was the sort of wash of good feeling he got after fleecing someone really important or stealing something really valuable. "Good rum needs a bit of salt." It was the kind of voice that convinced; Jack came out the other end of that sentence entirely believing that good rum did need a bit of salt. Salt.

The pirate heaved himself up, swinging back in a steady arc that sent his chair rocking backwards as he made to put his feet on the table.

He missed it entirely, and the back of the chair hit the floor. If it hadn't been for the crash, he might have gone on to sleep then and there.

No one in the alehouse much noticed. Things crashed. Liquor got drunk. Air got breathed, until it didn't anymore.

The stranger would've liked that philosophy.

He helped Jack to his feet, because while there is no honor among thieves there is a strict code of ethics, and somewhere high on the list was this righteous law: a piss-drunk pirate's in no condition to be taking care for his orientation, and should he become unexpectedly horizontal, a man has an obligation to get 'im vertical again.

The wench brought a handsome saltcellar for the stranger and another mezcal brandy for Jack. He glared mutinously after her. Santa Josefina was no Tortuga by any stretch. He had a reputation over there. Good solid reputation. A legend, even. Things had been written about him. He bet things had never been written about the man ever-so-neatly dashing salt into his rum.

He would've lost that bet.

The stranger took a long, savoring sip of his drink. "Are you a wagering man, Captain Jack Sparrow?"

For a second, Jack was shocked--not so much that the stranger knew his name, but that he'd remembered the title. People seldom did, even when they were making an effort to be good and polite. "Wager . . . that'd be dice, then?" he ventured, fingering the stout little cubes braided into his hair. They were proper stained ivory, and he'd had to tie them down to stop them winning games for him.

"I suppose," the stranger agreed, shrugging. "I have some dice in my coat somewhere." He put down his rum to fiddle in his many pockets.

Jack squinted, rubbing his eyes and smearing the black around them. "Have you by chance been to the Isla de Muerta?" he asked. The stranger smiled--or so he thought; he had satisfied feeling he'd gotten on shooting Barbossa.

"I've been there, yes. I've been to a good many places."

"Is that where you found that hat?" It was the spitting image of Barbossa's, even to the battered plume, only cocked to hide the face instead of frame it.

The stranger looked puzzled, but then he pulled his hand out of his pocket and tossed two dice on the table. They looked to be made of black glass.

"Two florins says that I roll one six," he said, with an impression like sighting stormclouds on the horizon and testing the strength of the wind.

"Florins?" demanded Jack Sparrow, swilling his mezcal brandy. "Betting with florins in Mexico? Lad, are you a pirate?"

For a moment, the stranger paused. "Why do you think that, Captain?" he asked carefully. Jack laughed, pitching his voice at a projecting stage-whisper.

"Because you obviously didn't get them from the Mexicans," he contended, right proud of his logic. The stranger shrugged and put a bit more salt into his rum, stirring it with a thin silver spoon.

Jack surreptitiously searched the table for more such spoons. He had a hazy notion that the thing hadn't been there a moment ago.

He tried the rum again, and it seemed close enough to his tastes, as he drank deeper and held it in his mouth. Probably didn't even burn his throat when he swallowed, as he'd licked all the fire from it. "I'm a traveling man, Captain Sparrow. I've been everywhere in this world, and it's not as big as you think."

"'S pretty damn big," decided Jack, "even if it's not 's big as I think." There were three dice on the table now! It was like that spoon . . . no . . . four dice . . . three . . . oh, just drunkenness, then. "Two florins that you don't roll a six."

The stranger picked up his glass dice and clinked them in his hands, then let them tinkle across the tabletop. The storm-wind felt as though it was shifting back on itself, and there were two sixes bold as brass amid the mezcal brandy bottles.

Both men called for their florins at once.

"You rolled two bloody sixes! You said one would win the florins!"

"And I did roll one! And here's another one, Captain."

They split the difference and swapped florins.

"I'll be liberating my florin if I roll more than five in sum," muttered Jack, picking up the cold, heavy dice. "You're a pirate. A captain, most likely. You have it in your voice." He shook the black glass light and gentle.

Everything focused on those shaking hands. "The captain, I fancy. I've done more damage to honest citizenry, naval fleets, pirate ships, and simple savages than any other." Though he was tilting his tankard back level with his mouth, it looked full when he put it back down. Trick of the light, mayhap.

Clack-clackety-clack. A pair of threes. The stranger cursed Jack to Hell, and gave back the florin. Across the room, a brawl concluded.

"Odds gives me all three florins, then," growled the stranger, snatching the dice. "Have you ever heard of Cortez, Captain?"

"Aye," Jack muttered, watching the stranger's black-gloved hands. There looked to be four of them. Or six. "Pers'nally involved more than I meant to be with the bastard."

"He was the canniest blighter I've ever met--"

"Then you haven't been on the wrong side of 'is enemies. Aztec curses are made to last, mate."

"Aye," the stranger agreed. "Shame to ssee them all go. Damn pestilence and famine," he muttered; Jack felt as though he'd been marooned again, with one damn pistol and Elizabeth for company, and no idea if he should shoot himself or her to get some peace of mind the quicker.

A four and a five. They squabbled--was it a pair of odds, or sum odds? The stranger won out, and Jack drowned his grief in bad Mexican brandy. He went for his pouch but it had gone off on its own account.

There was a scream outside.

He threw up his hands. "That's it, then. Last of me money."

The stranger put a pinch of salt into Jack's brandy. "You take off yer hat for the hanged piratesss," he said, a little drunk-sounding himself. But then he had rum and not this cheap Mexican stuff that it took an effort to be properly drunk on. "Ressspect for yer poor fellow ssinnersss."

Jack nodded, with a nod going to a bob going to a forehead on the table and woodgrain in his face. "Something like that."

"Have you ever . . . ever watched the crowss at the bodiesss? Ever known that ssomeday they'd eat yer eyesss?"

Salt made the mezcal brandy better. But then urine might make the mezcal brandy better. "A bit morbid, isn't it?"

"'Sss life," the stranger argued, slamming the dice down on the table with a hard smack and a feeling like being led to the gallows. "And 's death."

Jack looked from the black dice to the black-dressed stranger, and to that face he could never properly see.

"There are ssome who follow the devil, sso they know where they're going when they've ssswung."

The captain stood--unsteadily, but stood he did and right proudly. "Sorry, mate, but I've no need to follow the devil." He polished off his brandy and dropped the tankard on the ground. Right bloody salt.

"Why not?" asked the stranger, standing less steadily and a good deal more angrily.

Captain Jack Sparrow held up placating hands. "Don't get your bollocks in a twist." A wench carefully steered him toward the door, but the stranger followed him and caught him in the door.

"Why not?!"

Jack got his balance back and leaned lopsided against the doorframe. He peered out over the port, toward the harbor, and pointed into the gathering eastern blackness that was coming on like a stupor. "See that ship? Th' one with the British flag flying? D'you know who commands it?"

The stranger did.

"Well, 'e has a worse temper than even the devil . . . and 'e's following me."

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