James had shed his uniform coat out of a pragmatic desire not to be shot, and in his shirt sleeves with no waistcoat and with his hair hanging loose to his shoulders, he thought he looked passably piratical. He was not sure, however, that this was a cunning disguise that would survive a well-lit room, and so had chosen to lurk in the shadows while Elizabeth and Barbossa attended their mockery of a parliament. He had no particular hopes for the meeting himself other than that it be brief.
The other advantage of lurking in the shadows was that the shadows might contain something to drink. The town of Shipwreck was a twisting maze, and while James felt sure any town frequented by pirates must contain a tavern, he had so far failed to find one. He had, however, found a kitchen where stew and a mug of questionable ale had been available at the price of significantly lightening his pockets. He wished he had thought to empty his sea-chest before giving in to what he had expected to be a self-sacrificial impulse.
He found a dark corner to eat; the ale was sour and did nothing to blunt the vividness of his knowledge that he'd burned his bridges for good this time. Any man consorting with pirates, or giving aid or comfort to pirates ... Not that he thought he'd been much comfort to Elizabeth, but at least she would be free, for however long any of them lived.
There was the clatter of someone descending the ladder that led to his dark corner, and James glared at the feet thus revealed. This was his dark corner, and anyone except Elizabeth could go find their own. "Go away," he said.
"Oh, that's hospitable," said the last voice James wanted to hear. Sparrow dropped the last few feet off the ladder, weaving to get his balance as if they were on a rocking ship and not one that had long ago been nailed in place. "Didn't anyone ever teach you to share?"
"Not with pirates."
Sparrow smiled at him infuriatingly, showing gold teeth. "Well, if it isn't the Commodore. Or isn't it the Admiral? Actually, I'd say that circumstances suggest it isn't either one." He sat down on a crate, sprawling as if he owned the place.
"It isn't," James said flatly.
"That's what you get for consorting with suspicious characters."
"Isn't that rather the pot calling the kettle black?"
"No, that's the pot calling the kettle fucked," Sparrow said. "Although possibly not literally. I hear Beckett isn't having the best of luck in that department these days."
"Aren't you supposed to be dead?"
"I got better." He glanced over his shoulder at nothing James could see. "Shut up."
"I wasn't talking."
"Not you," Sparrow said. "Me. Him. Them." He brushed at the ends of his own hair as if suspecting it of harboring something unpleasant, which James wouldn't have been too surprised by. James watched him, wondering in what way he deserved having Jack Sparrow inflicted on him in the hours before his probable demise.
"Is there a reason you're here?"
"Lizzie felt guilty," Sparrow said. "And the rest of them had ulterior motives. Thus my triumphant return from my not-so-watery grave."
"No, I mean here."
"We elected Lizzie king," Sparrow said. "Long may she reign, and all that."
"Oh, good God."
"She's declared war on the company. We leave at dawn. Every ship that can sail."
"You do realize you're all going to die?"
"We'd die here, mate, like rats in a trap. Better to run while we can."
"Except that you can't," James said. "I've seen the armada."
"Never fear," Sparrow said. "We've got a few tricks up our sleeves yet." Sparrow investigated his sleeves cautiously, but seemed content that there was nothing unauthorized there. "Good tricks."
"Beckett has the Dutchman." He'd seen enough evidence of its lethal capabilities in entire ragtag fleets razed to wreckage. He'd wanted to wipe out piracy, but somehow the reality of it had seemed less glorious than bleak.
"Beckett has the Dutchman right now," Sparrow said. He smiled as if inviting James to follow some complex game of sleight of hand. "Wait and see."
"I can hardly do much else."
"You could drink."
"I haven't got anything to drink."
"That would be a problem," Sparrow said. "That's the problem with hell. Not a bloody drop to drink."
James stretched out, trying to make himself as comfortable as possible on a pile of canvas that smelled strongly of mice. "I do find it hard to believe you've been in hell."
"You believe in the Dutchman, but not in hell? Hell's a fine respectable sort of thing to believe in. Whereas Davy Jones and his fishy crew are rank superstition."
"It's the coming back from hell part that's a bit unorthodox."
"Happened all the time to the Greeks," Sparrow said. "Popping in and out like jack in the boxes. Jacks in the box. Jacks and boxes." His eyes seemed to focus on something unpleasant James couldn't see. "You know, coffins are nasty things. Very unhygenic."
"I didn't think you got a coffin when you were eaten by a sea monster."
"No, that was before. Just one of the obstacles that ensued but were overcome. Like the people who wanted to eat me but did not in fact have the pleasure. The kraken would be the obstacle that ensued and was not overcome." James could see the lines of strain in Sparrow's face, and was reminded of the look of men who'd spent too long under the enemy's guns. There was the same sound to Sparrow's voice, as if any moment it would break.
"If I had any rum, you could have some," James said.
"A very kind hypothetical offer. I would hypothetically accept any hypothetical rum you might hypothetically have." Sparrow sidled up to him, and James gave him a warning look.
"I have no actual rum," he said.
"A cruel trick," Sparrow said, not retreating. James could smell the man, as much as it was possible to smell anything in this place that stank of unwashed pirates and a dozen kinds of foreign cooking. Most of them smelled better than the stew had tasted, which seemed unfair.
"Where is Elizabeth?"
Sparrow shrugged with irritating unconcern. "Telling people what to do, I expect. She seems to have a taste for that. I expect she can take care of herself."
"I couldn't just leave her to ..." James wasn't sure why he felt the need to explain himself, or what charge he was defending himself again.
"I expect you couldn't," Sparrow said. "Though I expect Beckett would have been grateful for you handing her over for him to use as leverage."
"He killed Elizabeth's father," James said. "At least, she says so, and I must believe ..."
"He's dead, all right," Sparrow said. "We ran into him in the underworld. Elizabeth ..." He shrugged, as if to say that whatever Elizabeth had done was of no account, but James's skeptical words died at Sparrow's expression. "Let's just say she wasn't much resigned at their parting."
"I find it hard to imagine Elizabeth resigned at anything," James said.
Sparrow breathed a half-laugh. "You too, mate?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"Of course not," Sparrow said.
"I don't suppose I've got any chance of talking her out of this suicidal plan."
"It's that or watch her sail off knowing that I've thrown away my entire life so she can be killed all of two days later."
"I expect she'd prefer it," Sparrow said. "Myself, I'd prefer not to get killed at all."
Sparrow smiled again as if he had a secret. "Sail with us," he said. "It's the right place for the likes of you."
It was strangely tempting. He had no respect left for Beckett, and the Dutchman was an abomination he wanted badly to see torn apart by clean cannon-fire. And yet in another sense it was impossible.
"And fire on my own men?" To Elizabeth they were faceless men in a uniform she now despised, to Sparrow enemies he'd long faced across the guns. It couldn't be that clean for him. If he sailed in the morning, it would be against his friends.
"Well, there's the catch," Sparrow said, his voice surprisingly gentle. "You'd know best what you can do and what you can't."
"I don't know," James said. He hated the idea, and hated the idea too of sitting here in safety while Elizabeth did what had to be done. He could hardly leave her to do his dirty work for him. "I have to think on it."
"Think quickly, mate," Sparrow said. "The king said we sail at dawn, and pirates don't argue with the king." He seemed to be thinking that last statement over. "Well, they do argue with her, but not when my father's around."
"Your father?" Somehow it seemed strange to think of Sparrow having a father. He was the sort of thing one expected to have sprung from the earth fully formed and ready to drive men mad.
"He's a bit mad, really," Jack said with a crooked smile. "I don't take after him at all."
Before James could form a reply to that Sparrow was springing up and clattering back up the ladder in one of his wild bursts of motion, his boots disappearing after the rest of him. James lay back, wondering if it was going to be possible to sleep at all. He could hear people moving around above and below, probably readying ships for a valiant and hopeless last stand.
He looked up at a sound from above and saw Sparrow crouching by the ladder looking down at him.
"Don't forget you owe me that rum," Sparrow said, and then went away.
James silently damned the man for reminding him about his current painful lack of any drink stronger than the bad ale he had already drunk. He certainly wasn't going to be able to sleep now.