Birds of a Feather
Click here for sources used or click the image above for a log you can read at your own pace
Click here for list of characters and general info.
Lisa Cuddy woke with a pounding headache. Her stomach was doing flips, and she would’ve diagnosed the combination of symptoms as a simple hangover if she hadn’t found bandages when she tried to rub her temple. Working her fingers around her head, she found the right side a little tender.
The events after the tavern were fuzzy. She remembered House dancing atop a copy machine while dressed as a coffee mug with the words: “Caffeine: My Anti-drug” printed on it, and she also recalled boarding a pirate ship and getting chased by giant stone statues while Singapore exploded. Given recent events, she decided to treat both as valid memories until she could get a second opinion.
Although her eyes had adjusted to a lower level of light, the room was still so dim that she could make out few details. The wall was paneled with wood, and she leaned against it as she clambered to her feet. Judging from the fact that she could stand straight--barely, as the roof curved above her head with inches left to spare--she had been lying on a pallet. When she shifted her feet, the bedding clacked, and it felt like reeds wrapped in wool. There were two other beds in the room, probably for Ianto and Gregor. The entire room rocked back and forth, lending credence to the pirate ship memory, and she was glad that she wasn’t prone to seasickness.
She was staring straight at the hatch into the room when someone cracked the door open. Even as she threw an arm over her eyes, the light set off waves of stabbing pain in her head, and while she was still processing this new stimulus, the door flew open and three figures crashed into the room, tumbling across the floor and into the wall beside her. They missed her by about two feet, and she leapt aside as they continued struggling, arms and legs thrashing about and knocking her pallet aside.
“What the hell are you doing?” she yelled before clutching her head, instantly regretting the loud reprimand.
The three men paused, and she could now see that Gregor and Ianto had pinned Barbossa against the ground. “Get yer blasted suitors off me before I have them thrown overboard!” he roared.
Cuddy tried her best not to squint as she lowered her hands. “Give me quiet or I’ll toss all three of you overboard, and believe me,” she added as Barbossa tried to cut in, “I am more than capable of following through with that threat. Now an explanation, please?”
When it became clear that Barbossa would not argue, Gregor and Ianto let go and stood aside. The pirate grumbled under his breath as he brushed himself off.
“Barbossa promised not to disturb you,” Ianto explained. “He is not the most savory character, in case you haven’t noticed.”
“Arr, I promised no such thing,” Barbossa said.
“We said, ‘Don’t go in there until we’re satisfied Cuddy is all right,’ and you said, ‘Fine,’” Gregor replied.
“What fool expects a pirate to keep his word?”
“That’s why we had an eye on you,” Ianto pointed out.
“You’re here for my toothbrush, aren’t you?” Cuddy said.
Gregor and Ianto stared at her while Barbossa replied, “Why would I want a worthless thing like that?”
She reached into her bra, and Gregor and Ianto stared even more. When her hand came out empty, she strode over to Barbossa and grabbed him by the collar. “Where is my toothbrush?”
“Clearly I had nothing to do with it as I have been kept out of your room until now.”
“Give. Me. My. Toothbrush.”
Ianto half-raised his hand. “I should point out that since the TARDIS is missing, even if you get back the toothbrush, we have no other toiletries except what Captain Barbossa can or will provide.”
“I don't care.”
“As lovely as a strong-willed woman can be at times, I am beginning to find this tiresome.” With a flick of the wrist, a dagger appeared in Barbossa’s hand, and he pressed the tip against her chest. “Let me go.”
About ten seconds later, the crew of the Black Pearl was treated to the impressive sight of the woman from Singapore marching their captain out of her bedroom, his hands locked behind him in a tight arm hold, and throwing him over the railing into the sea.
Her explanation to her startled audience: “It’s all about leverage.”
It turned out the Persians had brought Cameron’s wheelchair aboard when they fled Singapore, and they offered to return it to her. She thanked them and took it, though seeing that her room was at the base of a staircase, she didn’t see how it would be much use. Nevertheless, she didn’t think it was smart to refuse small kindnesses from her captors.
By the time she returned to her quarters, Olli was awake and rummaging through the chest, presumably looking for something other than clothes. Upon seeing her, he dashed over, causing Kouros to draw his cutlass, but Olli stopped short of the door and didn’t even glance at him, which Cameron thought must have taken some nerve. “Cameron!” he exclaimed. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine. They were kind enough to return my wheelchair and help me with my seasickness.” She wheeled into the room and waved goodbye. Niki waved back, while Bousseh just gave her a small nod. Kouros replaced his weapon, looking a little chagrined, and shut the door.
“I thought that might be a problem for you.” Olli wrinkled his nose. “They put ginger in the milk, but that doesn’t go together well.”
“You seem to be all right.”
“I spent almost five years on cruise liners. They’re a lot steadier than this, but I’ve been on many smaller ships as well. One thing is for certain: I learned how to deal with seasick passengers.”
“When you say ‘deal with’ rather than ‘cure,’ I’m not filled with confidence.”
“Come here.” He wheeled her over to the bed and sat behind her on the lower bunk. “The best solution while you’re getting your sea legs is to be in the fresh air, but while you’re down here, there’s a few massages I can try that’ll help you relax.” His fingers moved over her scalp, working various pressure points.
“I’ve never been a big believer in homeopathic remedies.”
“It’s not directly related to seasickness; it just helps distract your mind. The entire condition is, after all, mental.”
Her stomach gurgled, but the nausea did seem to lessen, so she tried to relax. It felt nice, and her eyelids were growing heavy when suddenly, she pushed his hands away and wheeled around to face him.
“Something wrong?” he asked, hands still in the air.
“Yes, something’s wrong! This isn’t a spa or a cruise; we’re being held hostage!”
“I kind of guessed that. Do you have an escape plan?”
“Er, no,” she admitted.
“You’re getting tense again.”
“That’s beside the point!”
“We’re not going to think of an escape plan if you’re seasick and I’m mopping up vomit.”
“There is no escape plan! We’re surrounded by hundreds of miles of water!”
He frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“How can you be so calm?”
“Because right now, there’s nothing we can do. They’re treating us well, so we should watch for an opening to make a run for it, but until then, getting worked up won’t help us. You’ve had some contact with them, why don’t you tell me what you’ve learned?”
“I suppose that makes sense.” Cameron sighed. “Well--”
“No.” Olli motioned for her to turn around. “You can talk while getting a massage.”
She obeyed but remarked, “You’re a slave driver, you know that?”
“Yes, ‘calm down,’ ‘talk to me,’ ‘get a massage,’ what terrible things to request.” He laughed and started tracing lines through her hair. She was beginning to get drowsy again when a sharp knock on the door made her bolt upright, nearly falling out of her chair. “Sit,” Olli reprimanded as he stood to answer.
One of the crew whom she hadn’t seen before waited outside. He leaned against a quarterstaff in a pose designed to display his bulging muscles, clothed only by an open vest the color of rusting steel and purple shorts that hugged the half of his thighs that it covered. Oil-slicked black hair fell down his back, glistening even in the dim light below deck, and it struck a contrast against his carefully trimmed beard. A scimitar and an array of daggers hung from the leather belt around his waist, while a strap held a bow and arrows along his back, though she couldn’t imagine how he kept the string dry in these conditions. Cameron found the assortment of weaponry disconcerting which, combined with the scowl on his face, made her immediately antagonistic toward him.
“I am Omeed,” he said, managing to hold the frown while he spoke.
“I’m Olli,” Olli replied, holding out a hand to shake. She couldn’t imagine a response more inappropriate than his wide smile.
“I’m Cameron.” She waved. “We’re the people you kidnapped.”
“I’m aware of that.” The hint of confusion on his face gave her a twinge of satisfaction.
“I think you were the one who put the bag over my head,” said Olli. “Not everyone is as muscular as you. What’s your workout routine?”
What the hell? She wondered if Olli was oblivious or devious beyond belief. It was hard to tell when he was dressed like a terra cotta warrior.
Omeed, on the other hand, seemed to take well to the accusation that might be a compliment. “I load the cargo.”
“Maybe I can help out next time.”
The corsair doubled over laughing and dropped his quarterstaff. “You would get crushed by the empty crates!”
Olli poked him in the chest. “We’ll find out, won’t we?”
“You’re on, skinny man.”
“So what brings you to our quarters?”
The scowl returned, which was unfortunate, because he was rather handsome otherwise, in a dirty action hero kind of way. “Bousseh made Sepehr mix a new drink for the seasick one.” He threw her a dirty, the-feeling-is-mutual look, at which point she realized that she’d been scowling back at him. He removed a vial and a ceramic mug that had no handle from a pouch at his belt--the one ensconced between the jagged dagger and the one that resembled a corkscrew. The liquid bubbled and fizzed as he poured, generating clouds of water vapor.
“What is it?” she asked. At least there was no ginger.
Olli peered into the cup and inhaled. “Seltzer with a hint of lemon.”
“I didn’t know Sprite had such a long history.”
“Lemons are good for sea journeys,” Omeed added. “But it’s wasted on her because she’ll throw it up anyway.”
“If Bousseh’s trying to make up for the ginger milk and kidnapping, tell her we want a room upgrade.”
“I suppose you’ll want shore excursion vouchers as well,” Olli said, but then he told Omeed: “A sea view would help her condition.”
“I will ask.” He thrust the cup at Olli, who brought it over.
When he returned to the door, he picked up the fallen quarterstaff and handed it back to the pirate. “Your staff is very big. Do you think you could teach me to use it?”
Cameron nearly choked on her sip of the new drink, but after a minute of frantic gurgling that saw Olli try to give her the Heimlich, she managed to get it down without spitting it out. “Not wasted!” she gasped at Omeed, thrusting the cup in his direction and nearly spilling it. Olli sighed.
“I’ll be happy to make future deliveries if this happens every time,” Omeed said. “But if you want to learn the staff, I’m about to go train on the deck. She can’t come along.”
“Will you be okay?” Olli asked.
“I’ll be fine. Go.”
Olli bounded out of the room. As the door swung shut, she saw him slide a thin dagger from Omeed’s belt and slip it into his tunic. Definitely devious, then.
As the dust settled, Chase lowered one arm from over his head. The explosion had seemed to last forever, roaring over them like a thunderstorm and earthquake rolled in one, its ferocious winds shaking the Empress and pushing her out to sea. A quick peek revealed the ship was still intact and a safe distance from the rocks that had threatened to sink her when they first headed for the cliff. Yellow dust tinged the sky and, alongside the remaining blazes, created an early sunset.
Slowly, limb by limb, he clambered out of the crouch they’d taught at the hospital for use during tornadoes. Looking about the deck, he felt a tad embarrassed that no one else had reacted in the same way, though most had just grabbed the closest fixed object they could find and ended up thrown all over the ship. Only Elizabeth and her first mate remained standing, though their knuckles were white from gripping the wheel. He assumed they had attempted to steer through the blast and were responsible for them remaining above water.
From the looks of it, Jack Sparrow had failed to reach the railing in time, grabbed the netting as he fell, and ended up entangled at the foot of the main mast. All the subsequent flailing trapped him further, but that didn’t deter him from continuing, issuing a string of curses all the while. Further down the deck, the priestess he had “captured” lay amid a pile of salted cod. Christian crouched near her, one hand still wrapped around the manrope, and he looked to be searching for something, though he could just be dazed--a trickle of blood ran down the side of his face. Joey, of course, stood beside him and had kept him in place during the chaos.
“Is everybody still aboard?” Elizabeth yelled. “Look around!”
The first mate--from Elizabeth’s comment earlier, he guessed his name was Tai Huang--climbed to the crow’s nest, treading over Sparrow on his way up. After a minute, he announced: “All accounted for!”
A splash followed his pronouncement.
“No longer all accounted for!”
Somehow, Chase knew it would be someone from his party--no sailor was stupid enough to jump off a steady ship--and sure enough, a quick scan of the deck showed Christian was missing. He dashed to the side of the ship, accompanied by everyone else who had recovered enough to walk. As a result, the ship tilted perilously until Elizabeth shooed away the non-essential personnel.
“Why the hell did he do that?” Chase asked.
“Was it just me,” Sparrow said, managing to raise a hand through the weave of the net, “or did he scream ‘Norrington!’ before he jumped?”
“Norrington?” Elizabeth replied. “Norrington’s dead.”
And then it hit them. “The skull!” they cried at the same time. Sparrow followed their moment of cohesiveness by requesting: “Will someone cut me loose?”
When Elizabeth drew her sword and approached him, he amended: “No, no, no, not like that!” He yelped as she swung, but the net fell apart in one stroke. “That actually worked quite well. Good job, Elizabeth.”
Meanwhile, Chase searched the water for Christian, but other than the foam from his impact, there was no sign of him. “Does anyone have a life preserver?”
One of Elizabeth’s crew ran up with a coil of rope as thick as his arm. He threw one end overboard, and Chase saw it was tied in a loop.
“Whoa, wait!” Chase cried. As the rope descended, he saw a shape in the water. Christian broke the surface holding the skull aloft over his head.
“I got hi-- umph!” he said as the rope completed its descent and smacked him in the head, sending him back underneath.
Sparrow staggered up beside Chase, surveyed the scene with a dazed look, and asked: “Is that a shark?”
At first, Chase thought Sparrow was just being dense, but then he followed the direction of his finger--a difficult task considering how much it swayed--and saw a fin slice through the water before submerging. “He’s bleeding!” Chase said. Now that he knew what to look for, he saw three other fish approaching the ship.
“Grab the rope! Loop it around your waist!” the crewman urged. Elizabeth motioned for three other men to take hold of the rope, ready to pull at an instant’s notice, but Christian kept missing the loop when he reached for it. Chase wondered how hard the rope had hit him.
There had to be some way to help, but Chase wasn’t sure how, short of jumping in himself, and he didn’t have enough of a death wish to do that. Then he realized the solution. “Of course,” he said. “Joey! Fetch!”
The tiger took a flying leap over the railing and plummeted into the water. A little belatedly, Chase added, “And try not to hurt the sharks!” By then, Joey had pushed Christian through the loop. He quickly grabbed hold with his free hand, and the crew began lifting him as the sharks converged. Joey yowled when one of the sharks bit her leg and pulled her under, but she shook it loose and swam to the side of the ship. Slamming her claws into the wood, she climbed up the side and returned aboard before Christian. As the German clambered over the railing and thanked his rescuers, Joey shook like a dog and sent water spraying all over everyone.
“Good tiger-robot.” Chase hugged her neck as she ran to him and bowled him over.
“Yes, thank you, Joey,” Christian said. “Whoa!” He threw his arms up as Joey got off Chase and headed for him. The tiger skidded to a halt and settled for nuzzling his leg. “And thank you, Chase, for thinking fast.”
“You’re welcome,” Chase replied, but before he’d finished speaking, Elizabeth cut in with: “Are you insane?”
“Yes, were you crazy?” the skull asked. Half the crew fell to their knees when they saw it speak. The other half preferred praying while standing up.
Christian’s jaw dropped. “I was saving you!”
“I spent days underwater before I washed ashore. I suspect I’d survive centuries. It was hardly prudent risking your life to come after me.”
“Toss him back overboard then,” Chase suggested.
Christian gave Chase a confused glance before Norrington quickly said, “That’s quite unnecessary!”
Elizabeth sighed. “What’s done is done, but don’t do it again or we’ll set sail without you. Now Norrington, is that really you?”
“I understand that while my skull may not appear to have aged a day, the same cannot be said for the rest of my body.”
“I’d like proof of your identity.”
“We weren’t exactly lovers with intimate secrets known only to ourselves.”
“Ooh, I sense bitterness,” Sparrow said, and he wasn’t exaggerating. For some reason, Chase felt emotions he was sure weren’t his own, as though the skull’s feelings radiated into the people nearby. Maybe it was a way to make up for the lack of facial expressions. “A lot of bitterness. That confirms it for me.”
“How did the British empire nearly stamp out piracy?” Elizabeth asked.
“Let’s dwell on that rather than the fact that I saved your life.”
“Your reaction is part of the test.”
“I see... well, I stole Davy Jones’ heart despite the best efforts of Captain Jack and your beloved Will Turner. I gave the heart to Beckett for a pardon, and he used the Flying Dutchman to tame the oceans. Whatever your feelings are about Beckett, you must admit he did the world a favor with regard to the kraken. And then, I realized I was wrong in doing what I did, and I died trying to make up for it.”
“Do you think you succeeded?” A softness crept into Elizabeth’s voice that Chase hadn’t heard before.
“I can’t undo the past, Elizabeth, but whether I can live with it, that judgment is in your hands.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Welcome aboard, commodore.”
Relief had followed her acceptance, while surprise and a touch of happiness accompanied the title. Christian’s eyebrows had drawn together as the conversation progressed, and Chase suspected he was wondering whether to hand the skull over or to keep him because giving Elizabeth her dead former suitor would be plain awkward.
“You don’t have dead lovers anywhere, do you, girl?” he said to Joey. Everyone looked at him. “Did I say that out loud?” The tiger nodded. At least I’ve drawn the awkwardness to myself, he thought.
“We should get you a change of clothes,” Elizabeth told Christian. “You’re dripping wet.”
“It seems to happen a lot,” he replied.
Chase raised his hand. “Wait! Aren’t you going to give course directions?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “We’re waiting for someone to find us.”
“Then can we explore the island while we’re waiting?”
“You think there are survivors?” Even the crew looked doubtful on that one, and nobody wanted to volunteer to return to the island for fear of getting killed. Surprisingly, Sparrow was the one who realized what Chase was thinking.
“The tunnels they arrived through,” he said. “We could learn something from them.”
“Didn’t you come through those tunnels too?” Christian asked.
“Blindfolds, boy, and ear plugs too. An unnecessary addition, in my opinion.”
“There’s no point,” Norrington said. “They seal up the tunnels when they leave to prevent people from learning anything about them. All they leave behind is total devastation.”
“How do you know?” Elizabeth gazed at him with suspicion again.
“I’ll explain later.”
She watched him a little longer but then headed below deck, motioning for Christian to follow her.
“How long will we be waiting?” he asked as they descended. “We have friends who’ve been kidnapped...” Tai Huang gave an order in Chinese, and the anchor went overboard, which answered that question.
Before Chase could decide his next move, Sparrow grabbed his shoulders from behind and steered him toward the stern. “Since everyone else is busy, how about we examine your captured priestess?”
“Um.” Chase recalled Sparrow’s comments about the spoils of victory and wondered what to do next. Falling back on years of medical experience, he told Sparrow: “Maybe we should ask Elizabeth.” Yes, when in doubt, always appeal to a higher authority and let them deal with it. “I think she’ll want to know what we can find out about her abilities.”
“Trust me, I know all about her abilities,” Sparrow replied. Glancing side to side, he leaned closer when he was sure no one else was nearby and whispered into Chase’s ear, “Don’t let her bite you.”
“Bite me where?”
Sparrow took a step back. “Whoa, slow down. Where’s your mind going?”
Glancing at the limp figure amidst the scattered fish, Chase became mildly alarmed when he saw she was not quite motionless--the priestess’ head moved slightly. “She’s awake!” he said. “Can she do anything without being in contact with you?”
But he was talking to thin air. Sparrow was halfway to her already and running as fast as he could. Chase pursued, unsure why the pirate was panicking and screaming the way he was but certain that nothing good could come of it. By the time he arrived, though, Sparrow had picked up one of the salted fish and slapped the priestess across the face with it. She fell back, eyes rolling up, but he smacked her a few more times for good measure before stuffing the remnants of the cod into his mouth.
“Mmm, this is good,” he said. “You don’t get preserved fish like this in the Caribbean.”
“What was that for!”
“Don’t let them talk either. She can spell you with a word, and I don’t mean anything related to putting the letters ‘t’ and ‘u’ together. Hmm, I hate to waste a good fish.” He stuffed one into the priestess’ mouth. “There. Better.”
“We’re gagging people with fish?”
“First thing you learn as a pirate, mate: make do with what you have.”
“I’m not a pirate! I’m a doctor. I’m stuck here because--”
Sparrow shoved a third fish into Chase’s mouth, causing him to choke. “If you’re on board, you’re a pirate, savvy?”
Silence reigned as Pintel and a woman Ianto hadn’t yet met hauled Barbossa back aboard. Water sloshed from his boots as he landed on the deck. “You!” He pointed at Cuddy, stomping toward her the moment he hit the ground. Ianto and Gregor edged in front of her, but she pushed between them.
“I can handle this,” she said as Barbossa drew his sword. Standing her ground, she didn’t blink when he swung at her. At the last moment, she dodged, causing Barbossa to overcompensate for her sudden movement and slice a diagonal gash through Gregor’s shirt, missing him only because he had the sense to jump back as fast as possible. She punched the pirate in the groin and caught his arm, wrenching the blade out of his hand and forcing him to the ground.
“I yield, missy, I yield!” Barbossa groaned as she twisted his arm further behind his back.
“You should be ashamed of yourself. I pulled a similar move on Jack in the marketplace.”
“He wasn’t expecting it!”
Cuddy refused to let go. When Barbossa twisted about to escape her grip, she caught his other hand as well and pushed him toward the side of the ship. “You want to go for another dunk? You might be twice as heavy as me, but my ninjutsu master was four hundred pounds.”
Barbossa stomped on her foot. As she cried out in surprise, he took the opening to pull her onto his back and hop, catapulting her over his head and off the ship. “Your master was toying with you!” he yelled. “And guess what? I be a fast learner.”
The time taken to haul Cuddy out of the water was half that of Barbossa’s dip, a sign that the captain wasn’t the only fast learner aboard. However, it took her about the same amount of time to recover before she stalked toward Barbossa, fists clenched and wet hair whipping about her face.
He held up a hand. “Think twice about that. We could go all day, but I be feeling gracious so we should call it even.”
“I’ll consider it even when you hand back my toothbrush.”
“Ah. I thought it’d come to that. Here you go.” Reaching into his pants, he extracted the toothbrush from its hiding place near his groin and offered it to Cuddy. Ianto had to admit he was impressed but more than a little disgusted when she accepted the offer without hesitation.
“You’re not going to use that, are you?” he asked as she breezed past him to return to their quarters.
“Watch me,” she replied.
They followed her back into the room, where they left the door open a crack to let light through. Gregor jogged ahead of Cuddy and opened the door for her, but she ignored him as she passed. Once inside, she slipped the brush under her pallet and retreated to a corner where she could drip water without getting their possessions wet.
“I don’t think it’s wise to antagonize our host,” Ianto pointed out.
“Really? You think it’s a good idea to roll over and beg when we’re at the mercy of pirates?”
“I don’t doubt your diplomatic skills, but there are more subtle ways to indicate we’re not easy prey.”
“Like what?” Gregor asked. “You told me you could deal with him, and we’ve been scrubbing floors for the last two hours!”
It was true that their hands were raw from all the work, but keeping a low profile had worked for him at Torchwood, and old habits died hard. “Everyone’s been at hard labor. We’re lucky the ship didn’t sink after that blast.”
“No offense, Ianto, but I don’t think Barbossa’s like Jack,” Cuddy said. “Your way isn’t going to work with him.”
“And if he’s anything like House, your way isn’t going to work either.”
She glared. “I have never tried manhandling House.”
“I think she did a great job,” Gregor said. “But some of her moves need work.”
“You think you can do better?”
“No, but he got you, didn’t he? You can practice on me if you want.”
“You better not regret when I take you up on that.” She returned her attention to Ianto. “I’ve been unconscious for two hours?”
“I think you would’ve been fine after the coffee if you hadn’t hit your head.”
“How did I hit my head?”
“One of the sails swung loose when the mast broke. The halyard was whipping all over the place.”
“I got knocked out by rope?”
“No.” He could tell this wasn’t going to end well. “The rope hit Barbossa’s undead monkey.”
“Named Jack,” Gregor added, grinning.
“Which sent the zombie monkey flying into my head?”
“No. The monkey was holding Barbossa’s spyglass.”
“Which flew out of its hand and struck you,” Gregor finished.
“Nobody saw but us,” he added quickly.
“But now you’ve told everybody,” Cuddy replied.
She pointed at the door in time for seven pirates to tumble through after losing their balance while jostling for a good listening spot. More hovered in the background as the others picked themselves up from the floor.
“What are you all doing here?” Gregor snapped.
At the bottom of the pile lay Pintel and Ragetti. A wooden eye rolled across the floor and stopped against Ianto’s shoe. He picked it up and returned it, earning a nod of thanks from the skinny pirate. Meanwhile, Pintel was bowing in front of Cuddy and saying, “Ma’am, we were all impressed with you earlier.”
“Thank you?” Ianto could tell she was eyeing his sword.
“We were wondering, um...”
Ragetti pushed him aside, eye still in his hand. “We want to learn from you!”
But Pintel nodded, looking just as eager and sincere as his partner in crime. “We all talked and decided we want to know how you can fight like that.”
“You were like a cat! Hee-yah!”
“Well, when you put it that way, I suppose I have to agree.”
Ragetti whooped, setting off a string of cheering that resulted in loud applause from outside. When he caught her eye with a raised eyebrow, Cuddy shrugged and followed the crowd onto the deck. As they departed, Gregor put his hand over Ianto’s shoulders and winked. “You got to admit, she did a hell of a lot better than you.”
Elizabeth left Christian in her quarters with a towel and a pail of fresh water. He handed Norrington’s skull to her before she left, and she nearly dropped him. Now, as she slid the door shut, she found herself in the empty hall with the skull of a man she might have married.
“If it helps, I find this just as awkward as you do,” he said. The movement of his jaw felt weird against her palm, like a small animal scrabbling to escape her grip.
“It’s not awkward,” she replied. “It’s just... unexpected.”
“Far be it for me to question what you find normal. You’ve seen more than me, probably been through more too.” She sensed wryness from him, suppressed but obvious enough for her to get the message.
Tai Huang’s quarters were nearby, and she entered, setting Norrington onto his writing desk. She breathed easier when he was out of her hands, but she kept her face expressionless, assuming he couldn’t sense her emotions. Sinking into a chair so their eyes--eyes and eye sockets, anyway--met, she said, “I do appreciate what you did. I’m sorry if I was harsh.”
“If our positions were reversed, I would not believe you were Elizabeth. You’re different. You’re the pirate king, and somehow that’s justification for leaving behind the woman you used to be.”
“Losing Will is the justification!” She pushed the chair away and stood, taken aback by her own vehemence.
“You still have his heart locked away in your quarters, do you not?”
“And I will be there, every ten years, waiting for him, no matter what.”
“Unless you die.”
“I will never be his Calypso.”
“Rather, you will die at sea and break his heart instead of stab it--is that so much better? I speak as one who has endured both, and given the choice, it is the latter I would prefer to live through again if I had to choose.”
“And I was the cause of both.”
“Then we are all walking dead, you, me, William Turner. Yet somehow we’re all still here. There’s hope in that.”
“Or great irony.”
“I was being quite literal when I said we’re all here.”
Elizabeth gasped, but no amount of air was enough to prepare her for Will taking her breath away as he came up behind her and pulled her into a deep kiss. She didn’t know how long she was in his embrace, but it was too short a time before they broke apart.
“I came over without my ship, if you’re wondering why no one alerted you,” he said. “You know, Davy Jones’ transporting trick.”
“Good. The crew needs to be on alert.”
“And hello, er, admiral,” Will tipped his hat awkwardly.
“Call me James.”
Will nodded. “Elizabeth, you could’ve asked Calypso to deliver your message. The man who comes back to life is a little disturbing. And he’s distracting the crew.”
“He’s flirting with them, you mean?”
“Yes!” Will shifted back and forth on his feet. “I... the Dutchman will meet you in a few hours. We’re still trawling for victims of the blast. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
“I don’t know what happened, but whoever did this will pay. Tai Huang is checking with the crew to find who had relatives on the island. Even if they were cast out as criminals... we will pay our respects.”
Will stepped forward and kissed her forehead. “I need to go now, but I’ll be back soon.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
He disappeared. One moment he was inches from her, the next he was gone. She almost cried out at the sudden loss, but she shook herself and returned her attention to Norrington. “I’d like to know what happened to you. Maybe we can find some way to restore your body.”
Before he could respond, Christian called her name from down the hall. “I will explain later,” he said as she scooped him up.
“I’m sorry!” she exclaimed when she saw Christian peeking through her door and realized she hadn’t given him a change of clothing. Sure enough, he was wearing nothing but the towel when she entered and headed for her wardrobe. “There’s not much in the way of clothing. I’ve cleared out most of Sao Feng’s items--he was the captain before me. The only things I kept were a few formal dress robes that work for me.” To be honest, she’d just found them too gorgeous to discard. Any clothing that fit on Feng would be comically large on her, but the size looked right for Christian.
He peered over her shoulder. “That’s silk!”
“I did say formal.”
“I can’t wear those! I’d ruin them in hours.”
He had a point, she thought, as she located a beautiful jade robe with dragons wrought on the shoulders. It would pain her to see that floating in the ocean. She pushed it aside to reveal a mass of pink.
“Whoa,” they said at the same time.
There was no denying the workmanship of the piece, a glossy royal purple overlaid with two vertical pink bands and covered with yellow magnolia flowers, each threaded by hand in various stages of bloom. Nevertheless, something about the color scheme made her brain do flips and her eyes water. It was like staring into a fire for too long. A great, pink bonfire. She glanced at Christian, whose face was screwed up in an expression of horror as he realized the inevitable outcome.
“If I had to lose one of the robes, it’d be this one,” she said.
He shut his eyes and muttered something, though all she heard was “make them commit suicide.” A comment about potential enemies, then. That was more optimistic a reaction than she’d expected.
“Thank you for your hospitality,” he said as she took it off the hangar and handed it over. The outfit came with matching undergarments, which Elizabeth considered the mark of an overzealous tailor. While she did feel bad about forcing something so... blinding... on a guest--a guest who’d knocked her out with a giant stick, she reminded herself--she refused to feel sorry for anyone who hadn’t experienced the pain of a corset.
All of a sudden, Norrington swiveled so that her hand nestled in the gap where his spine would’ve been, leaving him staring up through the ceiling. “The priestess is awake!”
She exchanged quick glances with Christian before dashing out the door. He followed, staggering as he tried to dress while running. By the time they were up the stairs, however, he was finishing tying the belt on the robe.
“Grab onto me!” Norrington commanded. In response, she held out the skull and let Christian take hold as well. Stepping onto the deck, complete chaos reigned as her crew dashed to and fro, screaming and cowering behind imaginary objects. The priestess stood under the main mast, head held high and smiling as she waved her hands about. The only people unaffected were Chase and Jack, who were gripping Chase’s pet tiger and edging toward her, but every time they got too close, the priestess pointed at them and sparks flew through the air.
Christian dragged her aft, and she saw the stick he was so fond of using. Digging her heels in, she remarked, “That’s not going to work. We won’t get close enough.”
Flames burst from Chase’s pant leg as they made another push, and he hopped up and down, trying to put it out. In the process, he lost hold of Joey and started screaming. “The koalas, they’re everywhere! Stop biting me!”
His pet immediately leapt onto him, smothering the fire but also crushing his leg. Jack lost his grip on her as she soared away, and he dropped to the ground, clutching his head. A few seconds later, though, he looked up, studied his surroundings, and jumped back up. “Woohoo! I’m fine!”
“I have an idea,” Christian said. “She was there when Jack and I passed their test.”
He didn’t answer her. Instead, let go of Norrigton and was also fine. “She’s not targeting them because she believes they are long-lost allies,” Norrington said. “At least, that scenario would make sense, and I think I remember some test about a nightingale.”
“Then why’s she attacking us?”
“Wouldn’t you be suspicious if your long-lost allies showed up with your enemies, knocked you out, and brought you into their lair?”
Christian reached Chase, patted Joey on the head, and punched his friend, knocking him out cold. Elizabeth held her breath, expecting the tiger to maul him, but she instead followed close behind as Christian dragged her master toward the priestess. He called out to her in a language Elizabeth didn’t recognize, and a second later, the screaming stopped. Those who had been running continued to do so, this time hiding behind real objects, namely masts and crates. Tai Huang crouched behind the wheel and refused to come out. He was pretending to steer the ship, though how he could steer facing aft, she didn’t know.
A brief conversation ensued, still in that same mysterious language, before the priestess announced, “I am your prisoner! I yield!” Then she tore at her bodice and collapsed on the ground.
“Uh.” Christian scratched his head. “I didn’t tell her to do that.”
“It’s the classic chicken and the egg problem,” Jack said, hovering over her. “Do you get captured because your clothes are torn, or do your clothes get torn because you’re captured? My experience is it happens at about the same time, but what matters is that if you’re going to be a prisoner, you might as well get the look right so everyone knows because those who don’t know try to stick swords in you. And I was going to try that if you weren’t, punching the Australian.”
“Her name is Maria,” Christian said.
“And how do you solve a problem like Maria?”
At that moment, Chase jolted awake. “Yaarrggh!” he screamed upon finding himself face to face with the priestess, grabbing a fallen cod and slapping Maria across the face.
“Not like that,” Jack said. “That was half an hour ago. Half an hour ago is not now.”
Christian took her arms and pulled her into a sitting position with her back against the mast. “They’re just going to ask you a few questions, all right? It’s nothing to worry about.”
“He glows,” she said, pointing at Chase. “The touch of water is upon him.”
“More like the touch of smoldering cloth,” Chase replied.
“And there is a woman who is the same, as though they are twins.”
Chase blinked, pausing in his attempt to back away from her. “What? She’s not talking about Cameron, is she?”
Maria smiled. “She sits in a chair that rolls. Her leg is broken. She is being held against her will.”
Christian dropped to one knee. “Where is she? Do you know her location?”
“There’s someone else with her,” she continued, staring through space.
“Yes, a man,” Christian prompted, frowning when she didn’t respond. “They’ve both been kidnapped.”
Her hand shot up and grabbed the front of his robes, pulling him close. “The anchor!” she cried, eyes bulging. “The anchor is with her!”
“Yes, you could say that.” Christian nodded. “My anchor is with her.”
“You must get the anchor back!”
“I need your help! If you can see them, where are they?”
She shook her head. “I can only see that which has been touched by water. Like him.” She pointed at Chase. “And creatures like those.” Her finger moved on to Norrington and Joey. “Tricky ones, those are.”
“They can block your powers,” Elizabeth said.
The priestess glanced at Christian before answering. “We are all touched by water. Those who are clever can use that bond against me.”
“How can we find Cameron and Olli?” Christian persisted.
Maria’s hand moved again, this time to point back toward land. “Follow the guardians of the water.”
“Norrington-- James said the tunnels have been sealed,” Elizabeth said.
“A priest can open them.” She smiled, pointing at herself. “That would be me.”
“We are not following her into the tunnels,” Jack said.
“You don’t have to,” Christian said, “but she and I have common goals.”
“She wants to kill you...” Jack took in the pink and purple robe. “...and you want to kill yourself as well.”
“I wanted to look at the tunnels too,” Chase said. “And we have Joey and Norrington to keep us safe.”
“Does Norrington want to come?” Christian asked.
“I made you a promise, and I will keep it,” he replied. “I don’t see how going into the tunnels will help, but if you go, well, you can’t stage a rescue if you’re dead.”
“Are you going to talk his attackers to death?” Jack asked.
“You have other friends aboard the Black Pearl,” Elizabeth pointed out. “She’s the fastest ship in the world.”
“And which direction will she go?”
Elizabeth sighed. Her priority was finding the invaders, not rescuing a couple captives, and the tunnel sounded like a good way to gather information. However, Will couldn’t go into them, so if she wanted his help, she needed to stay on the water. “I won’t stop you if you wish to go.”
Jack threw up his hands. “Not going.”
“Going,” Christian said.
“Suicidal as it sounds, I’m going too,” Chase affirmed.
“Suicidal? You have a robot tiger!”
“And you only have a skull, which means you’re going to make me go first.”
“You’re volunteering? Great.”
Chase slapped his forehead, forgetting he still had a fish in hand. “Ugh!” He threw it into Jack’s face.
“Then it’s settled,” Elizabeth said. “We’ll get you supplies and tender you ashore in two hours.”
The sun was by the horizon when Olli climbed onto the deck with Omeed. He threw a hand over his eyes to block the light, but Omeed slapped him on the back and said, “Never practice in ideal conditions, because you’ll never fight in them.”
“Or you could make your own perfection.”
“Spoken like a sage. That’s clever. It is said you can never strike down a wise man.”
“How nice of you.”
“No, it is not because we do not try but because the wise man knows how to avoid your blow.”
“But what if you do kill him!”
“Then he is not so wise after all.” Omeed walked to the weapons rack that surrounded the main mast and handed him a bamboo stick. “Here, it is lighter.”
“I can take the weight! I want to trade.”
“You can’t have my stick!”
“If I have to choose between carrying a heavy stick or getting hit by one, I’ll take my chances on the former.”
“I don’t want you to touch my stick!”
“I am grabbing your stick and you are taking mine!”
“You don’t know how to handle my stick. It took many years to get it into the right shape. Perfect balance and handling, the correct compromise between speed and strength.”
Olli thwacked him on the wrist with the bamboo and took the staff. “Better.”
“You are a dirty opponent.” But Omeed took the bamboo and made no move to attempt another exchange.
“I believe the correct word is ‘wise.’” He ducked when Omeed tried to hit him over the head but scraped the bottom of the staff along the deck, denting the wood paneling and staining the metal cover end cap. Omeed winced at the crunching sound. “Oops.”
The pirate moved, and Olli winced, thinking another attack was coming but unsure what to expect. However, Omeed positioned himself behind him and took his wrists in his hands, cocooning Olli with his body. “Despite what I have said, the quarterstaff is not a stick. Do not hold it like one. Treat it with respect, hold it as though it were your lifeline.”
“Your arms are very big. Have I told you that?”
“Numerous times,” Omeed replied, sounding amused. “But my wife is even bigger.”
“Huh?” Omeed used his hold to make Olli point the staff at a woman who was at least 190 centimeters and whose appendages looked to be wound from thick rope. She smiled, waved, and blew them a kiss.
A crowd was congregating around them. With the sun down, the rooms below deck would start cooling. Many had completed the day’s tasks and looked for a diversion before retiring for the night.
“She’s pretty. What’s her name?”
“Jannat. Perhaps you would like to become more acquainted with both of us tonight?”
“I would love that, but I don’t think my boyfriend would approve.”
“Fair enough.” Without warning, Omeed swung his hands in a semicircle. Olli let go of the staff to prevent it from crushing his fingers, then snatched it again as it flew away from him. Only afterwards did he realize that he’d twirled it a full 360 degrees. Omeed grinned, unleashing a blast of hot air on his right shoulder. “Quick fingers, I like that.”
Scattered applause came from the other pirates, and Olli grinned at them as Omeed stepped away.
“Before you get too confident, though, perhaps you should see how experienced fighters duel.” Omeed motioned for his staff back, and Olli tossed it to him. He caught it in one hand and spun it twice before slamming the base onto the deck. Jannat winked at Olli as she sauntered past him and picked out a staff two feet longer than Omeed’s. He wasn’t kidding when he said her arms had more muscle.
Olli slid into the circle of spectators and watched as the man who’d escorted Cameron into their room raised his hands and counted down, “Three, two, one, begin!”
Husband and wife swung into action, and if their movements were too quick for the eye to follow, their weapons were invisible, their existence given away only by the distortion of air rushing into the space where they had been. Each time the staffs struck, two brown lines formed an “X,” and the ship’s sympathetic wood frame echoed the clack that rang out. Then the staffs would disappear again and flash again, like arcs of lightning or ghostly St. Elmo’s fire.
The two fighters spun about each other, and there seemed to be as much legwork involved as hand-eye coordination. Sweat ran down their skin in rivulets and flew into the audience like droplets from a sprinkler. At one point, Jannat landed a blow on Omeed’s leg, but he turned his fall into a spin and rolled into a defensive position. His next strike caught her staff, and he quickly slid forward, keeping enough pressure on the weapon that she couldn’t pull away. Locked together, they flew toward the boundary of the sparring zone until Jannat dug her heels in at the last minute and pushed him away. She landed four successive blows along his upper body before catching him behind the knee and sending him into the air. He hit the ground on his back, the impact sending jolts along the entire ship.
For a moment, he was still, and Olli nearly ran over to check his condition, but then he leaped back up, soaring a meter into the air, and landed on his feet. Spotting Olli’s dropped jaw, he came over and put the staff into his hands. “I will teach you how to fight like that. I will be gentle.”
Olli nodded. “Thanks.”
Omeed’s smile never flickered. “That is the least of what you will face if you try to escape.”
Between the setting sun and the repairs on the mizzen mast, there was no time for Cuddy to begin the sparring lessons she’d promised the crew, but considering they were stuck aboard for an indefinite period of time, no one seemed too upset. Barbossa had been polite to them after the mutual dunks, going so far as to offer dry clothing for her. She wasn’t sure how he’d gotten the dress, a large and lacy red affair that showed far too much cleavage, but he claimed it belonged to Elizabeth, the mysterious governor of Singapore, when she was a guest aboard the vessel. While the history and the explanation set off warning bells, she had no alternatives since all their carefully packed luggage was aboard the missing TARDIS.
Meanwhile, she wasn’t sure if Ianto had truly taken offense to her methods or if he was just a workaholic. She suspected a combination of both, as he had rejoined the cleanup effort as soon as they finished talking and hadn’t been seen taking a break since. There was method in his madness that left her a little awed as the pirates went from disgruntled laborers to organized cleaning crews over the space of an hour. When she mentioned it to Barbossa, he grunted that the ship was still a mess, but the well-trained eye could see the beginnings of something approaching efficiency. The important point was that he had accomplished it without ordering anyone around; Ianto took specific chores from some of the pirates to group those who worked well together and followed up with casual suggestions and examples that left people feeling grateful rather than overworked.
Deciding her own administrative services weren’t needed, Cuddy took to exploring and discovered beside the captain’s quarters a descent that led to the ship’s figurehead. It was a woman releasing a dove, an image at complete odds with the ship’s black masts, but that mattered less to Cuddy than the fact that it blocked her view. There was little to see up ahead that couldn’t be seen to either side, namely endless stretches of waves, but that was beside the point. It bothered her like a cot left in front of a doorway, even if it was a door that led to an unused maintenance closet.
The sea did have a calming effect, and the sunset had been gorgeous, turning the crests of each wave into strings of diamonds. But the crash of water against the hull reminded her of time running out, like the soft whisper of sand through an hourglass. Each passing hour without sighting another ship increased the chance that the others had not survived the blast. Every minute, she waited for the sound of the TARDIS appearing on the deck, but it did not come and the absence was gaping. The seconds took turns reminding her she was trapped in the 18th century, far from home and before her time, and if these problems were not enough, she could remind herself that they were failing a patient. They weren’t one step closer to a cure for Gwen--in fact, they’d probably run backwards.
Footsteps caught her attention, though they weren’t the thuds of Barbossa’s boots, so she wasn’t too concerned. Gregor descended the stairs, his shirt and hair fluttering in the night wind. She could barely make out his chiseled features, but as he approached, the moon came out from behind a cloud and illuminated their positions with pale blue beams.
“The dress looks good on you,” he said. “It makes you look formidable.”
“Is that German for ‘slutty’?”
“Red is a powerful color, especially on a woman.”
“I’ll thank you for the compliment and advise you to stop while you’re still ahead.”
He stood beside her and leaned on the railing, just far enough that he wasn’t touching her but close enough to violate her personal space. She suspected he was not just exhibiting European sensibilities but didn’t move away.
“What do you do back home?” she asked.
“I own and run a coffee lounge. It’s a lovely place, though less so now that floating robots blew a few holes in it.” He sighed for emphasis. “Before that, I was a helicopter pilot, but I’m not allowed to fly anymore. Medical reasons.” Cuddy was about to ask for specifics when he grinned and winked at her. “And before that, I was an escort for hire.”
“Are you sure?”
“We have a game called two truths and a lie.”
“I’m not familiar with that game, I’m currently managing the career of a rising star in boxing, and I once killed three men with a rubber band.”
She laughed, and her hand brushed his before she pulled it back. “I’m going to say the last one.”
“That brings you up to one out of two. Your turn.”
“I want to know who this rising star is. Can I get his autograph and sell it when he makes it big?”
“I don’t know. Depends on how much my brother likes you.”
“Is that surprising?”
“He’s not as buff as I would expect.”
“That’s why he’s still rising. His skills are fermenting, like yeast.”
“All right, I’m the administrator of the hospital at Princeton in New Jersey, I have three children, and I specialize in endocrinology.”
“Easy, you don’t have three children, you’re too young.”
“Oh, you’re pulling out all the stops.”
“Try again. But if I get this one right, you have to let me cook you dinner.”
“I’ll have to try harder then.” She smiled. “I am Jewish, I scuba dive, and I am in love with one of my employees.”
Gregor surprised her when he didn’t laugh and grab the obvious lie. Instead, he leaned closer and said, “Isn’t it cheating not to include a lie?”
“Of course I included a lie.”
“No, you blinked several times when you said the last one. That means you were thinking about it and feeling guilty about it. You want to think you’re not in love with someone, but really, you are and you know it.”
“If you’re trying to smooth-talk me, it isn’t working.”
“How am I supposed to compete with a man in your head?”
“I am not in love with House.” She realized she shouldn’t sound so vehement.
“House? He wasn’t one of the people in the TARDIS.”
“No, he’s with the other Doctor, but he likes to play mind games and tell people I’m in love with him.”
“And you like that?”
“I do not like that! Apart from how miserable he makes himself and everyone he cares about, it violates so many ethical boundaries that I don’t want to think about it!”
“Then you’re not in love with him?”
“Of course not.”
“I see...” He pulled away from the railing and headed for the stairs. “Try not to stay out too long. You might be a doctor, but you don’t seem to take too much care with your own injuries.”
It was a ploy, she knew. He might really be worried about her, but everything else was a prince charming act. She wasn’t in love with House, and anyway, in the factory, she’d seen the way he looked at Wilson. House had never seemed to belong with anything except work until that moment. There’d been a time when she wanted to be on the receiving end of that realization, when something finally clicked and everything fell in place. Now, the puzzle was done, and she helped solve it but had no place in it. So where did that leave her? Now she was the one who didn’t belong, and if she didn’t grab the loose pieces and put them together, who would?
“Gregor, wait,” she said.
He turned and looked genuinely confused. She put her hands on the sides of his head and pulled him close. Once their lips met, neither of them had any confusion about what to do. Gregor moaned as they fell against the wall. The wood reverberated with a loud boom as they struck. Seconds later, Barbossa thumped out of his quarters.
“Arrr, who be banging so hard-- oh, I spy two lover birds nesting on me ship.”
Cuddy broke apart from Gregor, pushing him away and accidentally sending him sprawling down the three steps below them.
“Did the plumage I give you attract desperately needed attention?” He leered.
“I hate to dampen your feathers, but that’s none of your business.”
Barbossa glanced around to make sure the crew wasn’t congregating to see the source of the commotion and lowered his voice. “Try to keep it together,” he said as Gregor tried to get up and fell over. “Your friends will be here soon.”
“How do you know?” Cuddy asked.
“Nothing be coincidence. Prophecies speak of your blue box, and they mention Elizabeth too. Aye, rest assured, they’ll be with her, and if there be any certainty in life, it be that fate always draws the same people together. We can hate and love, fight and fight side by side, but whatever happens, we always find each other and suffer the company once more.”
To Chapter 23: Déjà vu of Déjà vu of Déjà vu
Back to Chapter 21: Part 2
Summary: Everyone's adrift.