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The tires of passing (passing, not stopping, the bastards) cars hissed on the old rain slicking the bitumen. Jack's steps made no sound in the sodden litter of fallen leaves drifted up against the road's edge. Hunching his ears into his collar, Jack wished he hadn't let that girl in - where had it been, Lisbon? - talk him into shaving off his hair. An inch of ragtag regrowth was no protection against the wind. Thumb still absently pointing after the last set of taillights, dwindling like sparks into the distance, Jack looked up. The sky was the sharp-bit grey of long-frozen flesh, with the sun edging the west like fresh blood. Maybe an hour until sunset, and then he was well and truly fucked.

Could be worse, he supposed, squinting at the heavens. "Go on, you bastard," he muttered. "Snow. You know you want to."

"Sorry to butt in," a voice said, "but you want a lift or not?"

Jack blinked, dragging his eyes back to the black ribbon of the road unfurling towards the horizon, and the car he hadn't heard pass him, let alone stop. It was low, black and sleek, crouched beside the road with its driver standing alongside, silhouetted over the open door against the bloody sky. "Yeah, sure," Jack said.

"Where you headed?" the driver asked as Jack slid around the car on the mire of leaves.

"The city," he said.

"Mad bastard. I can take you far as the Cross, yeah?"

"Great."

*

Jack had what he was carrying, and that was it - his backpack, his tattered overcoat, the paper in his back pocket. The guy who'd picked him up had rings on the fingers that fluttered on and off the steering wheel, a tattoo on his forearm revealed in bits and pieces by the loose fall of his sleeve, and an odd way of talking. Though that last was rather Jack being pot to the other guy's kettle. He was a jumble of impressions from Jack's peripheral vision; slight build, reckless licks of dark hair, coat the vibrant colour of a treacherous sea, a tendency towards good humour. Despite the offer to "sling yer stuff in the back", Jack kept his backpack snug between his feet. Trust was hard to come by these days, even if Jack had seen him in the sunlight. There was still your regular breed of nut.

"Nice car," Jack commented, as they soared past seventy without noticing.

The driver smirked, handling the vehicle with languorous movements, the shift into sixth just a flick of the wrist and no noticable hitch in momentum. "Thanks. Just picked her up yesterday."

The scenery blurred, not losing anything with the details. Smudges of towns - faceless and moat-girdled, with their backs to the world - whipped past. "Bloody boring countryside," Jack said, because the obvious was safe and anonymous.

"Same all over England."

"Same all over the world," Jack countered. Stretches of no one's business, dotted with knots of paranoia. He'd take the cities and walking the knife edge of security.

"Seen much of the world?" There was the idlest curiosity in the driver's tone, but Jack still didn't like it. "Pick up many hitchers?" he shot back.

The driver laughed, sliding to more comfortable position in his seat, two fingers hooked over the nadir of the wheel. "You looked like one of us."

"Us?"

"Us. Them. Two sides, one coin."

It was given like a creative extrapolation on an answer that should be obvious. Jack shrugged; he'd be the last one to begrudge a guy a little harmless eccentricity. "Well, thanks, anyway. Not many as would do it, these days."

"Least I can do is share my bounty." The guy's face flashed into a grin, somewhere between wicked and contagious, as he glanced over at Jack. "She is a gorgeous car, isn't she?"

"Magnificent," Jack agreed, patting the dash.

 

The Kent Cross was like every other one ringing the city. The swart mass of the inn hulked opposite the gate, which was rusted open, a yawning maw of invitation (come into my parlour). The road disappeared into it; Jack's chauffeur veered off into the inn's parking lot, sliding in diagonally between a tractor and a Cadillac on blocks with only two tires left. The engine purred into silence, and the driver opened his door. "Come on, I'll stand you a drink."

Jack got out his side, shrugging into his coat one arm at a time, backpack in his hand. "Kind offer. Don't want to hold you up, though. Sure you have somewhere to be." Of course he did. No one went anywhere idly, these days. Well, no one but Jack, though he preferred to call it 'oblique purpose'.

"I do," the guy confirmed, hand on the roof of the car, closing his door. "It's here. But I'm..." he squinted at a watch fished out of his pocket, "...half an hour early. Better spent in company. Come on."

Jack hesitated, car door in hand. "Not going to lock it?" The keys were still in the ignition. He could see them, dangling a small pendulum beside the wheel.

"Why bother?" That grin again, counterlit by sparks of light from the blue neon of the cross looming above the inn, spattered across the embers of sunset. "She's not mine."

Inside the door they were blocked by an emaciated man in a limp white collar, a tortoiseshell cat dozing on the ledge beside him, all its limbs dangling. The doorman touched four points of air in a blessing; the cat yawned at them and flicked her tail; Jack reached for the inner door.

The light in the taproom had a greenish cast from the shades on the dangling electric lights. They were aggressively paid no heed by the scattered score of patrons, solitary and downcast, or bundled together in desperate huddles. "Superstitious peasants," his companion muttered, bouncing onto a barstool in an arrested leapfrog. "Cat's an interesting idea," he added, in the tone of one making a mental note.

Jack sat more sedately, looking around the taproom, not bothering to hide it; no such thing as a casual glance. But the shadows in the corners were as empty as they had appeared.

"What'll it be?"

Jack turned back. "Whatever you're having."

Ringed fingers drummed on the counter, and the grin flashed at the iron-grey barman. "Your finest molasses liquor, barkeep, for two."

The bottle was cloudy glass and hand-labelled, and the cups were chipped and none too clean, but the rum tasted like dark sweet sunshine, and pulled Jack's eyelids closed for a moment.

He opened them to his companion laughing, dipping a finger and dropping liquid on his bottom lip. "Just the ticket, eh?"

"Haven't tasted it since Jamaica," Jack admitted unclearly, his tongue less interested in words than alcohol.

Clear enough for the other, apparently. "You've never been all the way out to the Caribbean!"

Jack waved a hand, irritated as though shooing a fly. "Years ago." He lifted his cup. "Thanks. Now I owe you two."

"Who's counting?" His companion held out a hand, weighted fingers, bound wrist, tattoo half-hidden up his sleeve. "Jack's the name."

Jack blinked. "It never is." His turn to laugh, as he shook. "And mine as well. Jack Shaftoe."

Fingers spasmed in his, and Other Jack made a snuffling liquid noise in his cup that made Jack's sinuses twinge in sympathy. Once the coughing had passed, and both hands were back with their owners, the other fellow said, "Not the Jack Shaftoe? Half-Cocked Jack?"

Jack raised an admonishing finger. "The operation was a complete success, thank you."

No response to that, the other thumping a gleeful palm on the counter of the bar, getting a suspicious squint from the tender. "Jack Shaftoe," he repeated. "Now there's a thing. Double glad now I picked you up." He raised a hand to his brow, flicked at an errant flop of hair, as though tipping a non-existent hat. "Jack Sparrow, most humbly at your service."

It was Jack's turn to react, though fortunately his rum was safely in its glass, and nowhere near his nose. "Not the same Sparrow was involved in that business with the Black Pearl gang."

"You've heard of me!" Sparrow beamed, and spun about on his stool. "Barkeep! More rum for me and my fellow man!"

Jack finished his rum and held out the cup to be refilled. A few things now fell into place - the guy's manner, the fact he'd picked up a hitcher at all, the dubious ownership of the very nice car. Yes, Jack had heard of him, a name oft-mentioned in circles Jack passed through. One of us, indeed. A different sort of shadow to dwell in.

Sparrow's manner had taken on an added sheen of itself multiplied; more swagger, more flourish, more tilt to the movement of his limbs as he supped at his rum, set the cup down on the bar, turned exaggeratedly back into conversation. "So what brings you to Londontown then, if I may be so bold?" Forthright even in demurring.

"A girl," Jack told him, as he wouldn't have told a stranger, no matter what service he'd done in picking up a bedraggled hitch-hiker.

"A girl?" Sparrow repeated, delighted and disbelieving.

Jack shrugged, pulled a face. "Bloody nuisance. But promised her, didn't I?"

"Can't let a lady down," Sparrow said, too serious to actually be so.

Jack spluttered in his rum. "Not one like Eliza," he insisted.

Sparrow was thoughtful. "I knew an Eliza once. Elizabeth, but same breed, sounds like. No reasoning with a creature like that. Next thing you know, she's set your grog on fire." He nodded sagely.

"Don't want that," Jack opined.

"Bad all 'round," Sparrow agreed.

"And you?" Jack said, with a little gesture, a roll of the wrist, that he wondered if he'd caught off the other man. Had he used such gesticulations before? Couldn't remember. What man watched his own hands? What had he been saying? Oh. "What brings you to this neck of the woods?"

"Here to see a man about a horse," Sparrow declared with suspicious alacrity.

"Are not."

A nod. "You're right there. But here's the man."

Jack jerked his gaze over his shoulder to the door, and the figure stepping inside. Hard to make out more than the basics - long hair pulled back in a queue, the flap and flip of the tails of a long coat, the hard staccato of heeled boots. A shadowed arm lifted, and a sharp whistle cut across the taproom.

"Comin'!" Sparrow bellowed, standing up and catching his stool before it fell over. "He's called Jack too," he confided, pulling out a drawstring purse, fingers twiddling over the coins. "Jack King. You'll've heard of him and all."

"King?" Jack repeated, squinting back over his shoulder. "The King? Down Cornwall way?"

"The very same." Letting fall a slither of silver, Sparrow raised his voice and called down the bar, "My blessings on this house, good sir! Ta very much." As he turned past Jack, he said, quieter but with no less cheer, "Enjoy the bonny old place. Take care. Avoid the Underground. Maybe we'll meet again."

"Maybe," Jack agreed, and Sparrow sashayed away across the room, disappearing out the door with this third newly-arrived Jack.

The bartender loomed up, swiping the coins and Sparrow's empty cup off the bar. "You want another?" he demanded.

Jack considered the issue. He was here, in London, and there was that paper in his back pocket, that girl to meet. But on the other hand, he had come a long way, and there was no point in being ridiculous about things. "Sure," he said, holding out his chipped cup.

Chapter Text

Jack be nimble,
Jack be quick,
Jack jump over the candlestick.
(Traditional nursery rhyme)

*

You shouldn't believe a word of this story.

I'm sure my warning is entirely unnecessary - you weren't going to in any case, correct? Permit a man who no longer takes anything for granted to make certain, however.

It's just them, you realise; it's their nature to be unreliable. Any story involving, let alone told by, those three is automatically half whimsy, and a further third plain lies. Which leaves, I suppose, one part in six to the truth. You can decide which part that might be.

But know this: They are always amongst humanity. No matter where, or when, or how, if mankind is present, then so are They, as natural as fleas on a dog and as impossible to eradicate.

Know this: there are two kinds of people, the quick and the dead. Both walk the earth.

You won't believe me, of course. People never do, if they have not seen it for themselves. But I feel I should say it, just in case.

~ Enoch



cover by [info]mimesere

Chapter Text

The Kent gate was guarded - they all were - from the inside. In the latest point of the afternoon the pair of guards were blinking uncomfortably in the final lancing rays of the setting sun. Fucking cattle. Jack went from rooftop to wall to over in three seconds and a slither of leather on stone, and they never even glanced up. The landing twinged his elbow; the scar was hidden beneath the sleeves of the long coat, but never forgotten.

The wall cast a long shadow on the other side, wind hissing in the long, dead grass as Jack strode through it towards the Cross. Blue neon droned its endless round. Dusk settled in, making itself at home.

Jack raised an eyebrow at the doorman's ministrations, shaking his head (hiss of long hair on leather) as the hand lowered from its blessing. "Do you really think that helps?" he asked. The cat purred against the finger he tickled under its ear. The doorman shrugged. Jack grinned; bared his teeth, at least. "May I go in?" He laughed at the doorman's flinch. "Pardon, Reverend Father." And he pushed the door open with his elbow, even as he bowed, more mocking than apologetic.

It was dark in the taproom, and Jack took a moment to blink and take stock. Ah, there, at the bar, Sparrow tossing his locks about in the company of some close-cropped ruffian who turned to look Jack's way. Some people never changed, obviously, but there was work to do. Thumb and forefinger in his mouth and Jack whistled short and sharp enough to bring Sparrow to heel, though the man came with a bounce in his step and a grin that made Jack echo it.

"It's been a while," Sparrow said; they clasped hands.

A while, indeed. Eight months since Moscow and the last time they stood together. A long time between drinks, but this draught was going to be worth the wait.

*

The door slammed shut behind them. The night was silent, but nothing remained that way for long if it contained Sparrow.

"See the cat? Interesting, eh?"

Jack jerked his head back towards the building. "Who was the guy?"

"Guy? Oh. Jack Shaftoe."

Worth a pause in his step. "No, really? How the fuck did he get here?"

"I brought him," Sparrow said, stopping with a self-satisfied jig. "Picked him up off the road."

"You picked up a hitcher?"

"No, I picked up Jack Shaftoe. Pay attention."

Jack shook his head, a denial that any time could have passed since the last incident of exposure to this. "Whatever. Where's your car?"

Sparrow jerked a thumb in a vague direction, but really it was a rhetorical question; there was only one roadworthy in the whole collection of sorry hulks in the lot. "How'd you come, then?"

"Walked out, checking the gate." Jack headed for the driver's side, and Sparrow didn't quibble. The keys were in the ignition, of course.

Sparrow plumped into the passenger side. "So what's the plan?"

"You packing?" Jack asked, as the engine purred into life at the first touch.

"Well, I don't have my bell, book and candle--"

"Dressed enough for a little welcome party?"

Sparrow's grin was feral, and answer enough. Jack hauled the car into reverse. Gravel crinkled under the tires like the sound of an unwelcome packet of crisps. Beside him, Sparrow fished a piece out of his jacket pocket, double-checked the magazine. "You know a place?" he asked.

"I have something in mind," Jack admitted, adjusting the mirror; he was taller than Sparrow.

"Hospitable?"

"Fuck no," Jack said cheerfully. He shunted the car into gear, floored it, cleared the parking lot with an embarrassed chirrup of a skid. "But this baby ought to get us in."

"You bastard," Sparrow declared, but it lacked any heat. "If I'd known that I would've got you something less flash."

Jack went through the gate at sixty, still accelerating. The guards didn't even look up. Anyone who wanted could come into the city. It was leaving that was the challenge.

*

As they drove, Sparrow fiddled with the radio, sailing past the voice of serious announcements and the precise music of the official stations, looking for pirate signals. The streets weren't quiet, but hushed, the last traffic of the day clearing off them in a hurry as the dark blue mantle of night wrapped around the city. Those who were left coagulated in huddles in the interludes between infrequent yellow streetlights. Waiting. Slow eyes watched the car go past.

Jack had to drive more carefully in the narrower, more sinuous streets near his goal. Something in the way he shifted on the last corner must have told Sparrow. "Where's our hothouse?" he asked.

"Number twenty-seven, with the shutters," Jack told him, cruising gently down the road.

"Ah, of course. Let me guess; booby-trap the letterbox?"

"Great minds."

Jack rode the wheels up the curb, leaving barely enough room between car and building for him to get out. His door and Sparrow's slammed as one, and without consultation, they headed off back down the street.

"What do you call your style this year?" Jack asked idly, flicking the sleeve of Sparrow's gaudy coat with one fingernail.

"Harking back to my romantic gypsy origins," Sparrow supplied, answer as ready as his smirk.

Jack snorted. "You're the son of an accountant or I'm a toff."

"Fuck you. Number thirty-two looks empty."

Jack forced the door with his shoulder and a grunt. The house was a hollow shell, echoing their footsteps in its emptiness. The front windows had a good view of the street. Jack pulled out his phone, found the number, and tossed it to Sparrow. "You can do the honours," he said, opening the window.

"Ta," Sparrow said, pressing the button and putting the phone to his ear. As he waited, he pulled the gun again from its holster. His face twitched into a benign smile. "Ah yes," he declared into the phone. "Good evening to you, or rather morning, I suppose. Sleep well?"

Jack laughed silently, reaching under his coat for his own pistols, tucked into the small of his back. He glanced back out at the road, easing the safety off.

Sparrow continued, enjoying himself. "Good to hear. Sorry to bother you, shan't take up much of your time. Just wondering if you could do something for me. Yes. Yes. Just step up to your front window. Yes. Now, is there a car there? Drat. What colour is it?" He grinned, and Jack felt the moment stretch, thinning and vicious and joyous, like the line of Sparrow's lips. He hefted his pistols. "Black? Thanks."

As one, they shot the petrol tank of the sleek, black car.

It went up like a pyromaniac's dream; they hit the floor, peppered with shattered glass. When Jack peered out from beneath his arm, Sparrow was laughing into the floorboards. He slid the phone across the floor to Jack and sat up, shaking dust out of his hair.

Jack grinned back, dusting off his knees as he climbed back to his feet. "Welcome to London, eh?"

Sparrow clutched at Jack's coat, hauling himself upright. "Fucking grand to be here."

*

They squinted down the street; not a door or curious window had opened. Somewhere not too far afield, a car alarm was shrieking hysteria into the night. Jack decided he'd take credit for that too.

"Clean up?" Sparrow offered, checking the magazine of his gun again.

"Enoch'll have our heads," Jack warned, not putting his own firearms away.

Sparrow snorted. "Enoch'll love every extra tidbit of info we get our grubby hands on."

Jack stretched and grinned; they went outside. The road crackled underfoot, shards of glass and metal and crumbled fragments of brick under the thick soles of Jack's boots. What was left of the car was burning vividly in front of the shattered, char-grilled remnants of the house. It provided the only light, merry and hellish; they'd blown out the streetlight too. Jack sniggered and turned up his collar against the heat as they went past the car.

Sparrow kicked what remained of the front door off its hinge. A last fragment dangled, and Jack prodded it with a gun barrel. "This whole thing's going to come down on our heads."

Ahead there was a steely hiss in the flickering dark: Sparrow drawing his long knife. "Only if you go about kicking holes in the walls."

Nothing in the two front rooms but destruction. No one in sight. No tell-tale clear spots in the devastation.

"You take the high road," Sparrow suggested, nodding towards the staircase, "and I'll take the low."

"If you wind up in fucking Scotland I'm not coming to fetch you," Jack said absently, already one, two quick steps up. He nudged the banister with a booted toe; it wavered and shed dust. Not going to support his weight if push came to prod, let alone shove. He kept his back to the wall, sidling up the stairs with the angles of the upstairs landing covered and his grip easy.

Simple choice at the top; left or right. Left, ajar, coasted silently open under the pressure of Jack's elbow. If it had ever had a creak, they'd blown that away along with the windows in the room, and indeed the windowframes. The still-smouldering remnant of curtains framed empty space. The floor was liberally coated in glass and wood fragments.

By the window that used to be, there was a clear patch, blasted clear, a small ground zero. Jack smiled to see it.

Shots from downstairs: two in quick succession. Back out of the room on silent feet, Jack paused, poised, on the upper landing, guns cocked. A voice floated up from below. "Two down." Sparrow's voice.

"One down up here," Jack called back--

--and the other door opened. Jack's gun came up by instinct - the man who stepped into the line of fire had a shock of red hair, sharp features, a scar jagged up his left cheek (got that beforehand, then) - and he hesitated, finger on the trigger.

"Fancy seeing you here," the redhead said, pale eyes widening as surprise ripened into something else.

Jack shot him.

His aim was good; it took the toff just to the left of centre, sent him half a pace backwards, shoulder brushing the half-open door. And then he imploded, the short, sharp shock of it sending the door slamming back into the wall.

"Two down," Jack amended, calling down the stairs into the gloom.

The room beyond the open door (the handle had embedded itself in the wall, punched straight through) was empty, save for two long pieces of furniture, large enough to be beds and raised up on legs, but made of metal and enclosed. One had its side slid open, revealing an interior padded with a mattress, blankets, a pillow. Jack drummed the butt of his gun against the side of the other one, a metallic cacophony. Low and ready, he flung the side open. Empty as well.

Back on the landing, Jack called, "Clear, coming down," as he set his foot on the first step.

As he thundered down into the hall, Sparrow came out of the back rooms. "Clear as well. Two empty cocoons in the basement."

"Two more upstairs. Checked and tallied." There was a new sound clawing at the night outside; a siren, getting closer. Jack uncocked his guns. "Let's go get a drink."

Chapter Text

"Let your hair down."

"What? No, get off me. Off, you lecher!"

"I want your hair tie. I want to shoot the monkey with it."

"What monkey?"

"That one over... damn, where'd the monkey go?"

"There is no monkey, Sparrow."

"Of course there's no monkeysparrow. Who ever heard of a monkeysparrow? Honestly, King, I think you're a bit drunk."

*

They crossed the bridge around midnight, the tide in full ebb, sucking the water silent beneath the arches. Worth a pause to admire the view. The city was all dark monochrome, edged shadows beyond greys, but the sky behind the scudding clouds was maybe the deepest shade of blue. Jack watched blearily as King rolled a cigarette by the erratic moonlight. His fingers were long, but callused, scarred, still smudged with ash. Deft, though, on paper and shreds of tobacco and the variant parts of the matchbook.

"Those things'll kill you," Jack prophesised.

"Or something else will," King replied, as the guttering match spiralled down to the river. He was monochromatic in the night as well, or rather, black; hair, boots, coat as enveloping as bats' wings. Eyes shadowed over the flaring ember of an inhalation. "Staring at me?"

"I can't turn around; I'll fall over."

"Drunkard."

London wasn't as sinister, Jack thought, as his memory had painted it. (Or had that been Prague? Dangling by claws in his arm from a bridge - this one? Had she been speaking Czech? It all sounded the same when they were spouting that sort of insult.) A slither against the far, shadowed side of the bridge made them both spin, King's hand disappearing beneath his coat. "Rat," Jack diagnosed, and the wind blew again.

They were awake now; might as well keep moving.

Hands in pockets, Jack walked the walk. The shadow of the city swallowed them again. "How big is this thing, then?" he asked. "The message was garbled when it got to me."

King made a rasped, scornful noise that emerged as a terse coil of smoke from his nostrils. "You know Enoch. Not telling, just hedging."

"You're telling me you've been here a week--"

"Six days." The stub of the cigarette held up like a warning.

"--and you haven't got anything out of him?"

"Like you could do better." They were back near the river, turning into smaller streets, in the midst of a warren of warehouses. No one about, but King squinted back the way they'd come at a corner; not even another rat on the cobblestones. "Now you're here, maybe he'll give us a little."

"He's worried," Jack said, dawdling along behind the lengthy, lethargic stride of his companion. Nodded. "Wouldn't have brought me in too if he wasn't worried."

King stopped, taking a drag at his cigarette long enough to be the last. "No shit," he said, and crushed the end under his heel.

*

Inside the warehouse, ranks of wrapped bales, towering and looming, marched back into quick-falling gloom. Halfway along the wall, a neverending flight of stairs led upwards, to wooden gantries and a nest of rooms, huddled in the rafters. Whether they'd been intended as such from the start, they were now living quarters. Jack took quick stock, an inventory of escape routes and curiosities, as King took his coat off, slung it over the back of a chair, straightened his shirtsleeves. Didn't unbuckle the gun belt.

Down the corridor there was light, harsh, electric, seeping from a door left a crack ajar. Jack glanced over, and King gestured; after you.

Enoch, of course, hadn't changed a bit. He never changed, Jack thought, standing in the door. Never had, never would. Would always be somewhere in an airless room, surrounded by books and instruments and impenetrable certainty. Would look the same - steel-grey hair, fire-red beard, eyes like ice-picks, face seasoned and cured but somehow not aged - as many years hence as had already passed since Jack first met him, and how many was that anyway, seven, eight now?

A rock in the darkness. Something solid in a seething world. The island without which staying afloat was merely preservation. He'd thought it then; he thought it now.

"So you made it after all," Enoch said, setting down his book, looking up. "I was starting to wonder."

Jack smiled, strode into the room. "Little thing called the English Channel. Besides, I was in bloody Novgorod, freezing my nadgers off, might I add, so you're lucky I'm here at all." Throwing himself into a chair, he beamed across the desk. "Looking good, mate."

Enoch grinned, leaning back in his own chair. "Still haven't stopped whining, I see." He cast a glance across to where King was leaning against a bookcase, ankles crossed, scratching at a rib. "You went astray?"

King yawned, a feline elongation of his jaw, as he shook his head. "Turned over the premises I picked up the address to yesterday."

"Ah." Enoch tapped his pen in the margins. "Aught there?"

"Four cocoons," Jack provided. "And four moths. At least there were." He shared a smirk with King.

Enoch wasn't smirking. He was sliding a ledger from beneath a sprawl of other odds and ends, making a note. "A small cell, then. And?"

"And?" Jack repeated, chuckled. "Demanding much?"

Nothing. Enoch lifted his eyes past Jack. "And?"

Jack looked up at King, whose dark eyes were shuttered as he looked back. "And," King said, dropping the word like a pebble into a pond. "And I recognised one of them."

"You what?" But neither King nor Enoch looked in Jack's direction.

King shifted, shoulders braced against the spines of Enoch's library. "His name was Doyle. Irishman. Good man. Handy with a knife in a tight spot. Took a broken bottle across the face in a set-to once."

"And?" Enoch pressed, implacable.

"And I shot him."

Not a twitch. He could have been a statue, Jack thought idly. A carving taken for a woodcut. Insouciance at bay.

Enoch closed his ledger. "You should get some sleep. Especially you, Sparrow. We've a lot to do."

*

They closed the door behind them; King was talking as the latch snibbed. "Any room you like," a wave of his hand up the hallway, "they're all alike. I got the only one with the window, right at the end, first in best dressed. Maybe that explains your coat."

Jack glanced down the hall, trailed after King back to the main room. "King..."

"Blankets in the trunk," King said, flipping it open with a toe. "And skive an extra pillow from one of the other rooms if you need it, you delicate blossom."

"King."

He shifted his weight, turned around cocked and resigned like he knew what Jack was going to say. Probably did, at that. But Jack said it anyway. "Doyle. One of your old crew?"

A short, sharp sigh. "Was. Yeah."

Jack fumbled air with his fingers. "Was he--"

A shake of King's head, once, curt. "Was, Sparrow. That simple. Stopped being my man the minute he became one of them. The minute he considered it." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "Coffee machine on the counter by the sink; don't worry about working it, Enoch's always got it full."

Jack ducked, hauled a blanket out of the trunk by one slightly frayed corner. When he came up, he was grinning. "Well, grand."

King's lips curled into his half-smile, that expression that quirked up only one corner of his mouth in sardonic amusement. "Sleep well, boyo. Sweet dreams."

Chapter Text

Three days in London. It was still the same town Jack had grown up in. The rules hadn't changed. He had.

Jack hadn't bothered looking for home, family, anyone he remembered (or anything either, in particular, but it hit you when you least expected it, the strangest pieces of skyline against an orange sky just there in your brain, like always). He'd found a place to lodge in an area of the western city he had never had much to do with. His landlady never bid him enter and had garlic festooning the windows. Jack supposed that was about as safe as he could guarantee anywhere. His room was in the attic and it caught the full blast of the morning sun. It woke him up, but he could live with that.

He found the local drinking establishments, and the other local drinking establishments. He found the people who knew, and the people who knew the people who knew. He made friends with the squirrels in the park (twitchy demanding little buggers they were, too). And then, on the third day, unorthodoxly adorning a bench beside his new furry friends, he pulled the paper from his back pocket and called Eliza.

She answered almost at once, and Jack was too unprepared to be witty. It didn't seem to matter. She was surprised herself. "Jack," she said, as if his name were a revelation. Jack decided he quite liked that. "I half expected you to be someone else." Didn't like that so much. "So how's London?"

"I made it here."

"Of course you did." No question about it; prosaic serenity. "So how is it?"

Jack looked around the park. He was the only person who was out in it - out in it, not merely passing through, like the joggers who might as well have been wearing blinkers. He decided against I never really understood the place and went with, "It doesn't change much."

"You'll be able to show me around, then."

"But of course." Jack bit his tongue on the question that begged to follow. There were some things it did not do to confirm, no matter how obvious the situation was.

"I get in on tomorrow's train," she said anyway, as though he had asked. "Into Victoria, at four."

"I'll meet you," he promised, of course.

"It won't be out of your way?" she asked.

"Nah, fine, I'll take the Underground."

Which made him think of Sparrow, and he was still doing so when the phone call died a natural death soon afterwards. He'd been doing it a bit, in innumerable unconnected moments in the past three days. Only natural, really, when a walking legend crossed your path. Jack couldn't remember the details of the whole business, but it had had tongues wagging with Sparrow's name from Samarkand to Rotterdam, and details weren't important in legends anyway. Something about gold. There was always treasure, and an implacable, villainous figure to frighten the kids back into bed.

Sparrow had told him to avoid the Underground; Jack was curious as to why; he took it.

As he came down the steps to the platform, the doors were shrilling their intention to close. Jack ran for it, only wondering as he shouldered through the last three inches why he had bothered. This was the Circle line; there'd be another train in two minutes.

It always gave him a strange feeling, actually. The Circle line. The idea that you couldn't ride to the end of the line was profoundly unnatural.

That was just one more thing. He never had understood the city, for all that he'd grown into awareness of the world here first. The centre, of the revolution, of the influence, of them. They'd gone everywhere, stamped their dominance on the whole world, but it had started here. Their city, never his, not really. Wouldn't even be here again if not for her, but for the love of all that's holy never let her find that out.

Why was Sparrow here? Wouldn't have thought it was his sort of town either.

But here Jack was, middle of London, deep in the dark heart, stumbling into a seat and feeling ruffled. He was sharing the trip with three jangling teenage girls, half a dozen suits with newspapers, some tight-lipped women, a snoring off-duty busker. The girls were the only ones making noise, and that was too much, too loud, too fast. No one else made eye contact.

The busker got off at Gloucester Road. Some suits were exchanged for their clones. They got on at South Kensington.

Jack glanced up - instinct, like checking for the back way out - and cursed the impulse immediately. Slid his eyes to the ceiling; realised what that did to his neck, and looked at the floor instead.

Just two of them, perfectly normal. Too normal. Immaculate without a hint of effort, and perfectly poised, didn't even rock when the train took off again.

Wannabes, Jack's brain insisted. Sheep dying to be goats. It's daytime.

We're underground.

Oh.

From the corner of lowered eyes, Jack slid his gaze along the vague monochrome reflections in the carriage windows. Some tight-lipped women, half a dozen suits with newspapers, three teens. That was all.

The carriage had taken on the chill, supine immobility of a small furry animal in a spotlight. The three girls were louder than ever, hair tossing, eyes flashing, laughter ricocheting off the walls. The back of Jack's neck crawled. They just stood there. He didn't look, but he knew.

The train pulled in at Sloane Square. The doors opened. No one moved.

Mind the gap, Jack thought. Avoid the Underground.

The door-warning beeped frantically, and Jack bolted. Up out of his seat - and he felt two focussed-to-pinprick attentions snap onto him - and between the closing doors like a spat out olive stone.

Jack looked back after he skidded onto the escalator, but there was no one behind him but people - not normal, just everyday, with tired eyes and familiar frowns.

It wasn't that far to Victoria Station. The sun was shining; it was a nice walk. Jack was late, but only by five minutes. Eliza had her watch out, delicate on its gold chain, but not her phone, and when she said his name it was exasperated, not angry. (She looked like everyone's perfect vision of the ordered feminine traveller; hat, gloves, no tiredness under her eyes that powder couldn't cover.) Jack grinned, dared to dance in and kiss her cheek. She cuffed his ear, but it was almost a caress. Her eyes were always sharp. "What happened to you?" she demanded.

Donning his best scallywag leer, Jack said, "I happen to things, Eliza-love." She scoffed; Jack picked up her case. "Thought we'd take a cab, eh?"

Eliza gave his statement no attention beyond the surface. "Hmm," she agreed vaguely, fishing in her handbag. "It's not too far. I've got a reservation in Piccadilly." Jack whistled, and she said, "Hush you," not looking at him, but with her mouth curved into a sweet smile.

She looked at him in the cab, sitting opposite with her hair out from beneath her hat, gathered and garlanded like a halo, shining in the sun. Examined him closely as Jack rocked happily backwards. When he met her eye, she looked down to her lap, fidgeting at her hat trim with uncertainty as calculated as the interest on a business loan.

"I wasn't sure I'd see you here," she admitted.

"Thought you had no doubt I'd make it," Jack said. Her hair was sliding, ready to wash a spill of sunshine over her eyes.

A flick of her head and it was under control, her gaze back on Jack. "I never question you can do anything at all you put your mind to." She spoke like she was scolding him; Jack shifted, belatedly recognising the compliment and just starting to beam when she continued, "I thought you'd forget, or acquire a better offer, or manage to get abducted by Bedouin tribesmen."

"You say that like it's a habit," Jack sulked, sinking his spine into a sullen angle against the seat.

Eliza looked out the window and pointedly said nothing.

"You could have come to Lisbon with me."

"Could I?" she asked the passing scenery. "Was there really a place for me there?"

Jack thought about Lisbon. About streets that shifted by the time you turned around, about raucous laughter, about the sprawling camp and its neverending festival that even in the depths of night was only ever us... (Us and them.) The memories were worth a sunny smile, which he took care to tuck away before she turned back. "Well, I'm here now," he said.

Her smile unfolded, slowly but surely. "Yes, you are."

Chapter Text

"Call it," Jack said, flipping the coin into the air.

(Freezeframe. Take in the scene. They're having a late afternoon beer in the window of a waterfront pub. Sun through the sludgy glass glints off the coin suspended in mid-air, there's a breeze off the water just light enough not to effect the random chance. King has his booted feet up, ankles crossed, on the third stool at the table; Jack's scruffier than usual in comparison. They've been all day doing a circuit of the city gates, now they're ungentle men at leisure.)

"Heads." King didn't look up from his scan of the newspapers. (Evening editions, always the most informative.)

"Traditionalist." Jack caught the coin, slapped it down on the newsprint. They looked at it. "So what's it going to be?"

"What do you think?" King swiped the coin, pocketing it. "I told you, I'm going to Whitehall with Enoch. You can take this tip-off."

Jack spun on his stool. "Fuck," he said cheerfully. "I'm in for a dead boring evening, aren't I?"

King snorted, flipping the page in a crackle of thin paper. "It's a delightful little bar-restaurant on Poland Street. It's going to be crawling with two-bit toffs. But remember--"

Jack joined him for the chorus. "We're only after the big fish."

"And anyway," King continued, flicking one fingernail against the paper, "says here you should avoid seafood. Don't scowl like that, it's not me, it's the stars."

"Fuck you," Jack said, "and fuck them too."

*

It was a delightful little bar restaurant, and since Jack didn't arrive until half past seven, he couldn't tell if it was full of two-bit toffs or perfectly respectable people. The uncertainty made his skin crawl, so he ordered a stiff drink to get over it. There were books of matches on the bar; Jack pocketed one for King. The barman eyed him sideways and didn't even seem reassured by Jack's best grin. At least he got his drink.

The place looked fairly standard. Front bar with a low hum of conversation, backroom restaurant full of the tinkle of cutlery on crockery, a door Jack could just see in one corner; that would have a staircase going up, or more likely down, to a third room. Catering to all hungers, hypocritically discreet about it. King hated this sort of place. Jack just preferred somewhere a little livelier.

No point beating around the bush, he supposed. Even if it really was asking for a pain in the neck, best to check what was behind Door Number Three before the evening got into full swing.

The staircase - surprise, surprise - went down. People were so boringly predictable. It was a spiral, tight enough and long enough that Jack was just a tinge dizzy at the bottom. A corridor with doorways leading off it at regular, ordered intervals - a couple were closed. There were murmurs of conversation trickling along the walls, but the silences were worse. Jack's eyes went to the floor, the slot between the bottoms of those closed doors and the floor; looking for blood, though he knew he wouldn't see it.

"All fun and games 'til someone gets their heart ripped out," he whispered, and started walking.

Six doors each side, three of them closed in total, the third on the left open but emitting voices, enough warning for Jack to be prepared to glance in as he passed, not meeting eyes turned up to him but nodding pleasantly. Evening gents, just passing through, nothing to see here. (The mutterings sprang up again in his wake; Jack skipped along.)

The corridor ended. Jack frowned and looked over his shoulder. It had felt longer from the other end. He turned back, and poked the wall with two fingers, again in a different spot.

"No, no, no," he told unmoved plaster. "No. You've got something, haven't you?"

He prodded at the edges, he kicked at the skirting board, he set his shoulder against the centre and heaved. His effectiveness was truly humbling. Grumpy, he turned around.

There was a switch on the wall.

"Thank Christ King isn't here," Jack muttered, as the corridor end swung open.

And after all that it wasn't even very exciting. A meeting room, large table surrounded by business-like chairs, plain walls, stark electric lighting - their decorating was always so fucking boring.

There was something set into the table. Jack took a couple of steps inside to clear the reflective glare. It was a coat of arms, picked out in wood, so elegant and tasteful it made Jack's fingers itch.

He closed the door, strode back to the stairs, not even bothering to acknowledge the pair in the still-open room. Up the stairs like the proverbial rat to drainpipe, which necessitated a pause at the top to clear the giddiness again.

Someone prodded him while he was blinking. "Jack! Jack Sparrow!"

He frowned, but then his spinning eyes lit upon his assailant. "Shaftoe! My long-lost brother!"

Three days was, after all, forever in a new town. So far as Jack could see it hadn't changed his infamous namesake. Grin as bright and cheap as an electric lightbulb, hair as short and tufted as an aged toothbrush, same reassuring tendency towards liquor. "Barkeep!" he yodelled, dragging Jack to the bar by his collar. "Two of whatever it was the lady wouldn't let me drink."

The bartender eyed them - ah, Jack understood now, that was just his natural expression - and sloped off to do as he was bid.

"Lady?" Jack inquired, straightening up under his own power.

"Eliza," Shaftoe confirmed. "The one I told you about. We had dinner out the back." He jerked a thumb.

"Terrible crimp on a fellow's appetite, disapproval," Jack opined, grinning. He did like this one. One of us, he'd said. It had been a whim. He trusted his whims more than his reasoning; always be suspicious of something that had to be chased 'round in circles before it made itself clear.

The glasses the bartender set down on the bar were tall, and the liquid inside passed through a spectrum of colours. There was a pair of cherries on each rim. All in all, far too innocent-looking to be anything other than highly toxic. Wonderful!

"Your health!" Jack declared, picking his up. Glasses clinked.

The serious drinking began.

*

"Nononono," Jack said, shifting his weight on his barstool and sliding forward to the point of off. He caught himself, blinking at forty-five degrees to the floor.

"Do you mind?" a very familiar voice said, just above his ear, recognisable traces of false haughtiness lining each syllable. "That is my thigh."

"My point," Jack said, levering himself upright with the hand on Shaftoe's thigh, "is that you turn left at the bottom of the stairs."

Shaftoe frowned. He was gesturing with his glass, which was a sure sign that it was empty. Or it would be extremely soon. "At the ironmonger's?"

"What ironmonger?" Jack demanded, irate. "Honestly, you're getting lost on purpose. I said third turn after the fountain with the donkey."

"Third left?"

"Right."

"No, left."

"Yes!"

Shaftoe threw up his hands. "Make up yer bleedin' mind."

"Fuck you." Jack blinked, tipping up his glass and discovering that it, too, was tragically and brutally empty. He glowered at it. "Er. What were we talking about?"

"Haven't the foggiest. Let's have another drink."

"Sterling idea. Barkeep!"

It was then, hanging half over the bar flagging the truculent bartender, that it happened. Jack felt the door open; heard it too, the quiet whine of hinges, the rush of street noise, but felt it primarily as a sudden swipe of cold night air across the place at the small of his back where his coat had been pulled up by his dandling over the bar.

And then Shaftoe swore. Just once, short, sharp, but there was something in the spike of his voice that cut straight through to the part of Jack's brain that was still sober. That was always sober.

He looked over his shoulder at the new arrivals. The taller one in a suit, coat unbuttoned, tie precisely loosened. The shorter (more handsome) in pants and a blazer, a handkerchief folded in his pocket. They weren't immaculate, but neat. Not perfect, but perfectly normal.

Toffs. Everything down to Jack's fingernails screamed it at him.

Shaftoe had his back resolutely to the door. "You know 'em?" Jack asked. Shaftoe nodded. "They know you?"

"I ducked them on the tube this afternoon."

"You ran?" Another nod. "Shit." Jack's toes tingled. In this position he could feel the butt of his gun digging into his ribs, the hilt of his knife cold against the back of his neck. The bar seemed to unfold around him, people and furniture and catalogued exits. "You're carrying, right?"

"I'm what?"

Jack moved. Tilted further over the bar to grab a bottle of rum. As he rocked back, his foot found his barstool, enough purchase to send him up, knee and then foot on the bar. Turning around, he drew the gun, smashing the butt across the neck of the bottle. Glass and liquor splashed over his hand. A woman shrieked, off in the corner.

"Hold it right there," he said. The pair of toffs were halfway across the bar. They'd seen Shaftoe. They'd seen Jack now. They stopped. Everything stopped. Silence.

"What do you think you're doing?" It was the shorter one who spoke, his hands in the pockets of his trousers, the line it made of his blazer inherently innocuous. His voice was like steel.

Jack kept his gun steady but unspecified. The bartender was a shadow in the corner of his eye. Stay there, fucker. "Can't let you have this one, old boy. Afraid I shall have to insist."

"You're in no position to insist upon anything." The taller one.

Jack smirked, and started pouring. He kept the gun trained on them as he walked along the bar, rum splashing at his boots. When the last drop fell, he hefted the bottle, brandishing the jagged neck. "Aren't I?" he asked. "Shaftoe, get behind the bar."

"What?"

"Do it." It was a smooth movement in Jack's peripheral vision, Shaftoe vaulting over the bar. He stepped down to the serving bench, dropped the bottle (nothing like the sound of shattering glass) and pulled out the matchbook. "We're leaving the back way," he said. "And if anyone makes a move, I'll send the whole place up."

Tall and short, their glares were tangible things. There were other toffs in the crowd, too. Jack could feel them, stares like steel bars. The short one again this time: "You wouldn't fucking dare."

Jack grinned, set the book against the heel of his gun hand, broke off a match. "Mate," he said, "I'll dare anything I fucking like. I'm Jack Sparrow."

He struck the match. Which was, of course, when the bartender went for his knees. Shaftoe sconned him with a bottle, but Jack still staggered, the gun wavering, and the bar exploded into movement. Everyone was on their feet; Tall and Short split; Jack fired, but only winged one. Glass smashed, maybe his fault; a table overturned, definitely not. Jack dropped the match, and rolled back off the bar. It went up with a whoomph; he blotted at the fire that dripped down onto his trousers.

Shaftoe was crouched down beside him. The barkeep was out cold, so Jack ignored him. (What use a man who can't deal with his liquor, even when it's being applied directly to his forehead?) "So, when you said 'I'm what' I assume what you really meant was, 'It's unthinkable that such as I would step out of doors without proper protection,' right?"

Shaftoe looked at him, clutching his bottle. "No, I didn't."

"Fuck." Jack grabbed the bottle off him, unscrewed the lid with a twist of his palm, sending it spinning away onto the floor. He patted his pockets - no, shit, c'mon, ah-hah. Pulling out the handkerchief, he started stuffing it into the neck of the bottle. "The kitchen's gotta be along to the right there," he told Shaftoe. "There'll be a back exit. When I say go, go, and whatever you do don't stop for anything, and don't head for the street."

He peered up over the edge of the bar. The fire was starting to die down, the virulent blue of alcohol out of its flames now. Still, there was enough. Jack lit the end of the handkerchief on the smouldering barmat, and lobbed the bottle over the bar.

"Go," he suggested.

Another shriek, another whoomph, more tables overturned, more broken glass. Jack shoved Shaftoe's shoulder; they scuttled along behind the bar, slipped in spilled liquor, crunched on glass. "Hey!" someone shouted behind them, but they were round the corner and through the swinging door into the kitchen.

Where they straightened up and sprinted, pelting down the long galley, dodging startled underchefs who leapt out of the way and all showed up reflected in the shiny stainless steel surfaces. Jack glanced over his shoulder; the doors banged open just as they skidded around a corner, on the home stretch now. When he looked back, he was happy to see Shaftoe had acquired a knife from somewhere, and then they were ricocheting out through the door, into the alleyway, and they'd made it!

The blow came out of nowhere (specifically, the nowhere in the darkness on the immediate right of the door, just as Jack stepped out) and caught him mid-bound. Just as well, otherwise what was a felling blow to the solar plexus, sending him down like a sack of wheat, would have crushed his windpipe.

Over the ringing in his head (which was way up? Well, that was the ground, so that was down) Jack heard his name being shouted. Shaftoe. "Run," he said. Tried to say; there was no breath in his body, but he didn't need breath, scrabbling on the ground (down, down, yes) while the other hand found the trigger on the gun not all the blows in the world could shock out of his grip.

A hand was laid on the back of Jack's coat, and he rolled over, brought the gun up. One shot, head, sending him staggering backwards and Jack could see now it was the shorter one, not so fucking handsome now, eh? So the second shot, through the heart. It imploded.

Jack staggered to his feet, heaving and hawking his breath, supporting himself with one hand on the filthy alley wall. One down. If one, though, then the other. Where was Shaftoe?

A scuffle down the alleyway, and Jack teetered around a dumpster. A tall silhouette, and it dropped something (a body) as Jack raised his gun again.

"You'll be next," it snarled, just before he pulled the trigger.

The force of its end sent the rubbish into eddies, but Jack was already scuffing it up, dropping to his knees beside Shaftoe's slumped form and fearing - knowing - the worst as he grabbed his shoulder (something warm and slick between his fingers) and rolled him over.

Shaftoe's eyes were closed, his face pale, his breathing shallow. Blood all over his neck, oozing in a slow finger down towards his ear as his head lolled.

"Shit," Jack said, with feeling.

Chapter Text

"Are you fucking insane, bringing him here?" Jack demanded.

"You think I should have left him in the alleyway to die?" Sparrow shot back, finally getting his wrist out of the coat sleeve and slinging the garment into the armchair with enough force to jolt it backwards.

"He's in no danger of dying," Jack said, but he was frowning. There were stains on the cuffs of Sparrow's shirt, blood on the collar, a rip showing in the fabric as Sparrow started on the buttons. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," Sparrow said, curt. "Where's Enoch?"

"Still at Whitehall." Jack ran both hands through his hair, yanking it back behind his ears. Returning to the immediate problem. "Sparrow, he's been bitten."

"No shit." Sparrow shucked his shirt with a wince and a hand coming up to his side. There was bruising coming up across his ribs, vicious around older scars.

"Fuck." Jack took two steps away from the table, coming up to Sparrow's side and batting his hand away. "Breathe in."

"I said I'm fine."

"Breathe."

Sparrow sucked air in, and Jack watched the lines of his ribs against the skin critically, skimming just his fingertips along them. Sparrow hissed. "Ow, shit."

"Shut it. You're lucky, I don't think any of them're cracked. Strap 'em anyway and take it easy for a few days."

"Yes Mum."

Jack cuffed him behind the ear, turning back for the cigarette he'd abandoned when Sparrow had staggered in with the other guy over his shoulder.

Speaking of which... Jack looked at the guy, splayed on the table where Sparrow had dumped him like a side of beef. Short blond hair standing up in every-which-way tufts. Not a big bloke, but he looked fit. Well, like he was usually fit. Something about the lines of his face; Jack had seen him before. Of course, he hadn't looked like death'd had a chunk out of him, that time.

Sparrow stepped up beside him, shaking hair out of his face. "This is the guy you were with when I met you at the Cross, innit?" Jack said.

Sparrow nodded. "Jack Shaftoe," he provided.

Jack took a drag and came closer to the table. The exposed side of Shaftoe's neck was a mess of gore, but when Jack rubbed his thumb through the drying blood, there was no sign of any wound. (Under the ball of his thumb a pulse beat, slowing back towards normal rest.) "What the fuck happened tonight anyway?"

"I checked the place out. Tip was half-right, by the way; there's a boardroom, but nothing special. On my way out, I ran into him, so we had a drink."

Jack turned around, leaning against the edge of the table. "A drink?"

Prodding at his ribs, Sparrow nodded thoughfully. "A few drinks, maybe." Jack snorted, and leaned forward to smack Sparrow's hand down. "And then," Sparrow continued, unperturbed, "these two toffs came in, and they knew him. So I, ah, stepped in."

"What went wrong?"

Sparrow pulled a face. "Bugalugs here wasn't armed. We legged it, but they got us in the alleyway. I put them both down, but..." He gestured towards the body on the table.

Jack looked down at him too. Shaftoe's chest was moving, slow and steady breaths. And there'd been a pulse.

"It was barely two hours ago, King. He can still be purged."

Jack took the last long drag of his cigarette and crossed to the bench to stub it out in the ashtray. "You pick up a hitcher," he said, "and three days later meet him in a bar. What's the odds?"

"You think..." Jack looked up into Sparrow's incredulous expression. "Fuck off. He's not a toff. It was sodding daylight when I picked him up."

"So he's quick," Jack snapped back. "What if he's cattle?"

"He's Jack fucking Shaftoe!" Sparrow declared, not even the pain in his chest stopping his gesturing. "I can't believe this, King. You've heard the stories, same as me. Strasburg, Vienna -- Paris, for fuck's sake. He's our kind."

"You ever met him before?" Jack asked.

Sparrow frowned. "Not before three days ago."

"Me neither." He pointed at the table. "You've got his word alone for who he is."

Silence stretched in the room.

"This isn't like trusting someone anywhere else in the world," Jack said. "This isn't pissing off a solo or aggravating a two-bit local clan of toffs. This is London. It's not going to be waking up cold and penniless in a ditch with a blinding headache in the sun. If we fuck up here, everything we've ever fought for, everything Enoch has been working for, goes to hell. So." He folded his arms over his chest. "Do you trust him?"

Sparrow thought about it, Jack'd give him that. Rolled it around his back teeth, considering it. "Like I trust myself."

Jack snorted. "That much?"

A grin in answer, that flash in Sparrow's pan. "That little. But at base? At the core of what he is? Intrinsically."

"Fine," Jack said. "Just realise that if he so much as twitches in a suspicious direction, I'll put him down myself."

Sparrow's grin broadened; he'd won now. "Have I told you how much I admire your drama? Do you practice that glower in the mirror?"

Jack crossed to the table. "Shut the fuck up and take his legs. Second room on the right, it's the warmest. You do realise we have fuck-all in the way of supplies, don't you? We're going to have to pull this out of thin air."

"Well, that'll make a nice change."

*

In the end, it turned out they had a couple of vials of holy water - and it was rarely any use for anything else, after all - and Sparrow pilfered a head of garlic from Enoch's stores. He kept himself amused with pulverising that while Jack swabbed down Shaftoe's neck with the water. Crusted and drying blood came away easily, bringing with it the illusion of whole flesh; like sores developing in fast-forward, the wounds appeared, two punctures two inches apart, red and angry at exposure.

"You sure he only got done in the neck?" Jack asked over the cheerful thumps of Sparrow's work.

"He was out of my sight for ten seconds," Sparrow said, letting up on the garlic. "And the toff had him by the neck."

Jack pulled a face. "Still, he was out of your sight. Let's make sure. Come help me with his boots."

They stripped Shaftoe off, and Jack wasted half a vial of water wiping him over from head to toe. No other bites found.

Bringing all the extra blankets and the portable heater into the room, they swaddled Shaftoe up like a caterpillar. There was still a half-vial of holy water left, so Jack mulched a little into the garlic, and piled it onto Shaftoe's neck like the bloke was the Sunday roast. He twitched and muttered at the first touch of the stuff, but didn't come round. Sparrow held his shoulders still for the rest of the procedure anyway, as Jack saturated the bandages in the remaining water before wrapping up Shaftoe's neck, around and around until he ran out of water and the poor blighter looked like he'd been treated for whiplash. It'd have to do.

Enoch came back when they were just about done, opening the door and flinching at the violent stench of garlic. (Jack's nose had shut down in protest long ago.) "Who's been bitten?" he asked from behind his hand.

"Fellow Sparrow picked up," Jack said, standing up as he wiped his hands on his shirttails.

Enoch peered around him. "Well, look at that. Jack Shaftoe."

"You know him!" Sparrow pointed with a garlicky finger. "He knows him! You paying attention, trigger-happy?"

Jack glared at him. Enoch, thankfully, didn't ask. "I know him," he said, eyes lingering on the form on the bed.

"See!"

"Shut up."

Enoch roused himself, looking up between the two of them with a smile. "So tell me this doesn't have anything to do with the mild panic that's been prompted down at Whitehall by the burning down of a restaurant in Poland Street."

"The what?" Jack frowned, and then, for good measure, glared at Sparrow.

Who lifted one hand in a plea for moderation. "I only set fire to the bar. A little bit. Honestly, it would have been impossible for that to get out of control." He suddenly looked thoughtful. "Oh, and I might have thrown a Molotov cocktail. But only the one, and it wasn't very big, and don't they even have fire regulations in this city?"

"Bloody hell," Jack said, taking a seat at the end of Shaftoe's bed. (He wasn't in any state to complain, after all.)

Enoch just shook his head. "We'll talk about this more in the morning. Get some rest, but do keep an eye on Master Shaftoe, and fetch me when he wakes up."

"Of course," Jack said, and looked over at Sparrow as Enoch closed the door behind him. "First watch or second?"

"Like I'm going to leave you alone with him," Sparrow retorted. "You'll smother him with his own pillow. Piss off and get some sleep."

Jack aimed another cuff at Sparrow, but he ducked this one, so Jack went and did as he was told.

*

Shaftoe woke up at the changing of the guard. Jack had brought in coffee for Sparrow, who had his bare feet up on the foot of the bed and was doing the cryptic crossword in yesterday's Evening Guardian. They were bickering about four down when the tight-wrapped bundle on the bed rocked a little, and moaned.

"Something smells like a cheap Italian restaurant," Shaftoe muttered, indistinctly. Sparrow shot to his feet beside Jack, and watched as Shaftoe blinked his eyes open, focussing with difficulty. His nose wrinkled up. "Shit, I think it's me."

"Sorry," Jack responded, because Sparrow was busy beaming and tugging at his cuff. "You were - ah, sampled." He didn't know what Shaftoe's stance on politics was, but by the look on his face, he needn't have bothered with the official euphemisms.

"I was bitten? Fuck." He tried to move, but the blankets weren't having any of that. "What've you done to me?"

"Holy water, garlic, the usual," Jack told him. "And now we're just steaming the rest of it out of you. Should work, especially now you're awake. It'd help if we knew if you'd been bitten before, though."

Shaftoe frowned. "Not that I know of," he said.

"You don't always know," Sparrow chimed in. "That's the whole point, innit?"

"I'm assuming you can cover the usual social situations where a memory gap might indicate a bite," Jack said, and Shaftoe nodded. "In that case, it's down to sea voyages and other confinements."

"Never with anyone not confirmed quick," Shaftoe answered promptly. "I'm not insane, mate."

"Last one: ever been arrested?" Even as he finished the question, Jack held up a hand to prevent Sparrow's interruption. "No, it applies to most people."

"Never been arrested," Shaftoe said. He squinted at the glowering Sparrow. "What bee's in your bonnet, mate?"

Jack laughed. "What, you mean you've had a drink with Sparrow twice now and still never heard the story of his Daring Escape? That must be a first." He smacked Sparrow's shoulder. "Time for that later, though. You go get some sleep. I'll fetch Enoch."

The experimental rocking on the bed stopped. "Enoch?" Shaftoe repeated, all incredulity, no dread. "Enoch the Red?"

Jack frowned, but nodded. Though he knew it was asking for disappointment with a man like Enoch, he hated long-lost mysterious pasts.

Shaftoe had a matching frown. "I'm starting to suspect there's some conspiracy going on."

Sparrow collapsed in laughter, and Jack bundled him out the door. "Get in line," he told Shaftoe.

Chapter Text

"You."

"Me." Enoch brought the chair closer to the bed, settling onto it with a little smile. "Looking good, Jack."

"You're kidding."

The smile broadened. "Well, all things considered."

Jack lay back, helplessly trussed. Whatever the blankets were made from, it was itchier than an infestation of fleas. It was also hot. Jack could feel sweat trickling down his ribs; off to find somewhere drier, perhaps. Good luck. There didn't seem to be a square inch of skin that wasn't already sheened with perspiration. Sweating it out, that fellow had said. How accurate. "I feel like the Yule turkey," Jack said.

"Don't worry," Enoch replied, in the voice of one who never did. He leaned back in the chair, pulling a watch out of his pocket. "There'll be enough sun in half an hour or so for King to take you outside and bake the rest out of you."

"Gee, thanks."

"A little more gratitude might not be entirely out of place," Enoch said mildly.

Jack fidgeted. As much as he could. "Don't even remember being bitten."

"One doesn't. Unless they want it that way." A pause, presumably in case Jack had anything to say. He didn't. "So how have you been since... where was it?"

"Amsterdam," Jack supplied, and shrugged. "OK. I did end up going south-east, but you were right, it's fucking insane down there in the Balkans, and there's not much to see anyway. So I worked back west, ended up in Lisbon. I was considering trying Africa, but then... Well, I decided to come to London instead. See the old place again, y'know."

When Jack twisted his head the little he was capable of, Enoch was watching him with that steel-steady gaze. He dropped it, brushed a speck of nothing off the knee of his trousers. "London isn't a good place to go sight-seeing," he said, with the strident voice Jack knew he used when he was imparting something of import. "Even less than usual, at present."

"Yes," Jack agreed. "I'd noticed that."

A thin smile. "I rather thought you had."

Jack jerked his chin, scraping against the linen of the bandage around his throat. "So what brings you here, then?"

"Me?" Enoch's smile was quiet, smug, mystical, esoteric. A hundred other things that had always amused and aggravated Jack about the man. "I have business in town that cannot be put off." His smile broadened, genial amusement and something else, something knowing. "I suppose there is absolutely no way I can persuade you to leave now?"

"You must be joking." Jack grinned cheerfully back. "A general air of dangerousness, two of the most infamous fellows in the world in your retinue, and my own 'business' as yet undealt with, and you expect me to leave? Have a heart, Enoch. Whatever excitement you've brewing here, I want my mugful as well."

"As I thought." Enoch stood, stretched a little. "I'll go fetch King again, then." He paused, tapping a finger on the back of the chair he'd just vacated. "Pay attention to him, Jack. When it comes to this matter, you could do worse than learn what Jack King has to teach."

 

For that, amongst other reasons, Jack was predisposed to dislike this King guy. He was taller than Jack, and though that wasn't a crime (though it wasn't that common), he didn't have to go compounding it by wearing heeled boots.

But the first lesson appeared to be "how to drink beer in the sunshine", and Jack figured he could be a very diligent pupil, especially since King bought the first round.

Even if the sunshine was really quite bright. Gorgeous day. Not a cloud in sight, which was unusual enough. After the dark in the warehouse, Jack had flinched and blinked when King first shoved him outside. "Feeling peaky?" the bugger had demanded cheekily.

"Why do I get the idea you're itching for me to develop symptoms?" Jack had asked.

"Because," King had said, grinning around the cigarette he'd been lighting, "if you go under the influence, I get to shoot you."

Which might've had something to do with Jack's opinion of him. "Yeah, whatever," he'd said. "You know those things are bad for you, right?"

King spat smoke like a curse. "Everyone's a fucking crusader."

So here they were on the riverbank outside the pub (a nice enough little place called the Prospect of Whitby, that did a very nice pint indeed), and Jack thought that joining Enoch might have been one of his cleverer ideas. Until, of course, King started talking again and mucked it all up.

"It true you don't carry? You even know how to shoot?"

Jack sighed, licked beer foam off his top lip. "Yeah, I can shoot. But who goes armed in public in a city?" At his companion's smirk, he added, "Apart from you two lunatics."

The smirk remained as King shook his head, as if he couldn't believe he was hearing what Jack was saying. "They do."

"They?"

"They." And Jack knew what he was talking about, but King elaborated anyway. "The toffs. They're always there, especially in the cities, and they're always armed, with their strength, their speed. Their teeth," he added, with specifically targeted malice.

Jack toasted his point with another swallow of beer. "Man's gotta be an idiot to take them on direct, though."

"I wouldn't let Enoch hear you saying that." King grinned, supping at his beer. "Besides, there's direct and then there's insane. Don't let Sparrow fool you into thinking his sort of antics are our usual MO."

"Wouldn't dream of it." Thinking Sparrow a usual anything seemed profoundly unnatural. "Still don't see how a gun's supposed to help," Jack admitted. "You use special bullets, or what?"

That prompted a laugh. "Always has to come, sooner or later," King said, philosophically, and leaned forward. "Alright, get comfortable, class is in session." He held up a hand, three fingers raised. "Ways of putting down the dead for good: decapitation, but that's a given; immolation, whether by fire or sunlight; and through penetration of the heart by any means. And then they go pop." He reached for his beer.

Jack's eyebrows went up. "Pop?"

"Never seen a toff put down?" King actually seemed surprised by that. "No, I suppose not. They..." He squinted, searching for a word. "Implode. Dunno why, Enoch has some theory, I'm sure. But it's like everything that's them caves in on itself, and then there's a very condensed explosion. Intense force, but not much blast. Just don't be right next to one when you put it down. Even half a foot away it's like hitting a wall."

"And that's it." Jack considered it, swilling his beer around the glass. "Through penetration of the heart, eh? So guns are perfect."

King's shrug suggested deprecation. "They'd like people to believe it's harder than that, the whole wooden stake business and all. It keeps 'em safer. But the fact is that as long as it goes through the heart, it works."

Jack lounged in his chair. "And you do what, precisely? Go around demonstrating this?"

"I don't wear a cape and a mask, and I'm not out to change the world." King hefted his beer. "But just because they're in charge doesn't mean they should have things all their own way."

"Your righteous moderation is a credit to you, I'm sure," Jack smirked. "But really, you're judge and executioner of the forces of oppression. Sure you don't have a mask somewhere?"

"Fuck off." Jack laughed, and King even grinned in response. "They're bastards, alright? Parasitic domineering bastards, and if I could I'd put down every single one of them, but I don't have a hope. So I do what Enoch tells me and accept that this way I'm doing the best I can."

There was a long pause. Jack looked at his glass, the lacework of foam fretting the side.

"That's what you're getting yourself into here," King said finally. "Make your choice. But I don't want you at my shoulder when you're half-hearted about this, so I'm certainly not going to hold it against you if you finish your pint and piss off into the sunset."

Jack nodded slowly, squinting down at the river, which was lolling sluggishly at a low ebb. "It's two in the afternoon, you realise. I'd have to wait a bit."

"The metaphorical sunset," King growled, his mouth twitching.

Jack grinned at him. "I'll stay." He tilted his head; and at that angle, he could feel the pull of the new scar tissue. "Least I can do for being saved the indignity of becoming one of the herd."

King's answering look over the rim of his beer was unimpressed. "That it?"

"No. But the rest of it's really none of your business."

He grinned. "That's more like it." He waved a hand towards Jack's glass. "Drink up, then. I know someone up Tower Hill can get us something to make you dangerous. No time like the present."

*

Venturing into the business centre of a city had always made Jack uncomfortable - this was their territory, after all - but King strode along, completely unconcerned, so Jack kept up.

"Turn your collar up," King advised, as they pushed through the rotating door into the atrium of a spindly steel skyscraper. Jack obliged. "And don't look so nervous."

The security guard eyed them without much interest as they crossed the atrium to the lifts. Jack glanced over the tenant board - law firms, small banks, consultancies. Money, power, organisation. Them. Their demense, their business. "Bloody hell, why not?" he asked.

A lift offered a genteel ping; they got in, and King pressed the button for eleven. "For starters, it's broad daylight out there," he pointed out. Jack considered saying something about how it had been on the tube as well, but he remembered that Sparrow had warned him off... best not to advertise one's mistakes. He kept quiet as King continued, "Secondly, unless you have additional fame you haven't warned us about, the only two toffs with a grudge against you are currently enjoying a state of non-existence, so there's nothing to fear. Well, nothing special to fear." He grinned.

Jack bared his teeth in return. "Ta very bloody much."

The eleventh floor was "Tortue, Paix and Co." and Jack wouldn't have known what they did if someone gave him a brochure (which he was a little worried they might). The foyer was terrifyingly spartan, even the flowers in a vase on the counter strictly regimented. Behind the counter, a stern secretary with mocha-flavoured skin and a severe navy-blue suit glanced up over her discreet-unto-invisibility spectacles.

"Do you have an appointment?" she asked.

"Anyone available?" King shot back, leaning on the counter and bringing the whole place into disrepute.

Jack was actually shocked when the secretary smiled. It changed her face, showing wicked teeth, a gleam in her eye. "Fortunately, no. You've got fifteen minutes, King. Don't tell me you've dropped another one in the river."

"Once. I did that once. Bloody women." But he was grinning, and the woman was eyeing Jack speculatively, taking her glasses off and tossing them onto the keyboard. King noticed. "Kitting out the new guy. Jack, this is Anamaria. Ana, Jack Shaftoe."

He considered offering a hand; she still looked like she might bite it off. He smiled instead, and nodded. She stood up, casting a measuring glance over him. "Any peculiar fetishes I should know about?"

"Pardon?" Jack spluttered.

"Just give him something basic," King interrupted. "Something that'll put nice holes in people."

"So boring," Anamaria said lightly, but turned and addressed herself to the cupboards behind her counter, so smooth-lined that they were practically invisible until she opened them. Jack caught a glimpse of reams and rolls of paper, cardboard boxes stacked in piles, cases of computer disks. She reached over and through and past all these, and brought out, without ceremony, a gun, an extra clip, a box of ammunition.

"On the account?" King said, as she set them down on the counter, but he was already reaching into his inside jacket pocket.

She smiled, sweetness not hiding the thin line of it. "Cash and carry, sweetheart." As King counted notes out of his wallet, she looked over at Jack again. "You still knocking about with Sparrow?" she asked, glancing back to King.

"Maybe," he said, fingers stilling on the money. "Why?"

Anamaria leaned over, picking up a sheet of paper from her desk. She slapped it down on the counter, but before Jack could get a good look at what was printed on it, a door opened down the corridor, and business-like voices were heard, in the throes of a concluding meeting. Jack grabbed the armaments; King swiped the paper and dropped a wad of currency in its place, which was tidied away hurriedly into a drawer by Anamaria's precise hands.

"Have a nice day," she sang out, as the lift doors closed behind them.

*

Back on the street, King strode off with even more vigour than usual. Jack jogged to keep up, gun and accoutrements weighing down his pockets. "What's the rush?" he gasped.

King didn't answer, just dove into his own pockets. Phone in one hand, crumpled paper in the other. He hit a speeddial number and shook the paper open. It flapped in the breeze, but Jack, jostling King's elbow, could see what it said now. Picture of Sparrow - mugshot, in fact, side and front, his mouth barely not smirking - and rather unmistakable text. "Wanted," it said, and "for arson".

"Not murder," Jack noted, curious.

"They like to avoid testing the legal incredulity level on the technical dead-or-alive status of toffs," King tossed over his shoulder. "Just in case they get told something they don't want to hear. Enoch." He turned back, attention on the phone now. "Tie Sparrow to his chair and don't let him outside."

Jack followed along, down the street and along the single available side of the conversation, reading the details on the paper (premises in Poland Street, wilful damage of property, endangerment of life, blah blah) as he listened in.

"Yeah, I'm holding a copy of it. From Anamaria. It's arson, Enoch, sampling won't cover it, they'll tether him."

And then King stopped dead and Jack ran smack into his back - "Oof, sorry mate." - getting full possession of the paper as he did so.

Not even a twitch of acknowledgement. "What? Are you insane? No I don't see that it... What's going on, Enoch?" A pause, and then with an exasperated noise, King ended the call as though he was going to throw the phone down and perhaps jump on it.

"What is going on?" Jack asked, stepping out from behind him in case he did anything too vigorous.

"That's what he wants to find out," King said, enunciating with annoyed precision. He pocketed the phone, and tweaked Sparrow's want-ad out of Jack's grip. Casting his eyes over it again, he grimaced and screwed it up into a ball, dropping it in the nearest bin. He turned back to face Jack, twitched his coat straight at the neck, and said, "Enoch wants to use Sparrow as bait."

Chapter Text

Sparrow, of course, was wild for the idea. Naturally. Hand him an idiot scheme where he got to swagger about the most dangerous by-ways and rooftops of the city, and he'd be there, probably with bells on.

"I know you've been wondering why we're here," Enoch had told them, sat in a little semi-circle before his desk (and it was unsettling, unbalancing, having three there instead of the two it had always been before). "London is the centre, it's always been the centre, and it's events here that indicate worldwide trends. Something big is happening. There's been a lot of movement recently, elements coming into the city."

"But toffs don't like to move," Sparrow had said, pointing out what Enoch had always told them, what they'd always observed to be true.

"They don't," Enoch agreed. "So why are they coming here? Swelling numbers usually means just one thing."

"Faction war," Jack grunted.

"Exactly. And it's fine when warring cells turn Shanghai into a battlefield. I don't care what they do to the place. It's a backwater, and it'll always be a backwater. This is London. And I don't like the idea of a single faction getting control of it. If that's what's on the boil here, we do our best to tip the pot over. But before we can do that, we need to know who, what, where and when. And Sparrow's our best chance."

The annoying little sod had practically beamed.

At the end, after Shaftoe and Sparrow had gone babbling out in search of alcoholic sustenance, Jack remained in his chair, until Enoch looked up from his desk with one steely eyebrow lifted. Then Jack stood, leaned - loomed, as best as he could - and said, "This goes south, and I will make the rampage you stopped look like a picnic in the park."

"I know," Enoch said mildly.

And that was that.

So while Sparrow was playing Scarlet Pimpernel, Jack was left babysitting the new recruit. Sparrow had had several pithy and uncomplimentary things to say about their ability to avoid notice and how much trouble he'd have doing his thing if people thought he came in threes, so most nights they stayed in, Shaftoe reading his way through the pertinent sections of Enoch's library and plaguing Jack with irritating questions.

Like: "Yeah, but what about the whole crosses and holy water thing?" he asked, crossing his arms like he'd caught Jack out cheating at Trivial Pursuit.

"Dubious," Jack responded, flicking back a page in his own book.

"People seem to think it works," Shaftoe countered. "At the Kent Cross they had a guy blessing people on the door."

"It's not certain," Jack explained, setting down the book. "Holy water works to counter sampling, but don't count on anything else. The whole religious thing's only good if you believe it, and especially if the toff believes it. And they know it, so it'd take a pretty stupid toff to flinch at a cross these days. But like I keep telling you, people are desperate; they'll cling to any scrap of hope that'll get 'em through the day without offing themselves over the realisation that we're honestly fucking helpless against the bastards."

"What about the cat?"

"The cat?" Jack repeated, mental train juddering on the rails.

Shaftoe leaned forward. "At the Kent Cross there was a cat at the door as well. Sparrow seemed to think that was interesting."

"Yeah, I remember." He did too. Tortoiseshell thing. "Might work. Cats are sensitive. They know what they like and what they don't, and they don't tend to take well to toffs. But frankly, the only security a place can count on is the fact that toffs can't go where they're not invited."

"So that part's true." Shaftoe seemed surprised. Given the facts as compared to what the majority of the population believed true, Jack supposed that was understandable.

"Yeah, that part's true. Of course, once someone's been sampled, they become subject to the power of suggestion, don't they? So invitations aren't that hard to come by."

Shaftoe nodded, looking thoughtful. "What about --?"

But Jack had had enough. "Oh, read your sodding book."

Sometimes, to break the monotony, Jack'd take Shaftoe out. Take him on a circuit of the gates, show him the guards, the weaknesses, the places nearby where information on who was coming and going could be gleaned with the right words and a beer or two. They went, late one afternoon, to check a lead way out on the other side of the Park. Jack had, grudgingly but undeniably, been impressed with Shaftoe's ability to handle himself, with the way he thought, different from Sparrow's bird-hop brain, or Jack's own sidling process.

And one day they went down into the cavernous, dulled space of the warehouse proper, and Jack got Shaftoe to practice shooting soup cans off the top of a bale. At least that had been truth; the man could shoot.

As he was reloading, and Jack was recovering the cans from the places they'd run off to hide in, a strident electronic beep broke the just-settling stillness in the warehouse.

Jack paused, and looked over his shoulder. Shaftoe looked sheepish, and rummaged in his pocket. Pulling out his phone, he thumbed at the buttons (gun still dangling from his other hand).

Jack came over, juggling the cans. "Who is it?"

"Just a girl I know - hey!" Shaftoe grabbed, but Jack was faster, dropping the cans and swiping the phone before they clattered on the ground. His other hand dropped behind his back, and he was drawing, had the gun up in the split second before Shaftoe realised he was carrying too. Cocked it and Shaftoe's movement faltered, even as Jack turned the phone's screen to the light.

Heard about the bar. R U all right? E

"So who's that?" Jack demanded, looking down the gun at Shaftoe.

"Told you. Girl I know." Shaftoe had his hands out a little from his body, fingers spread, gun dangling. Making no move to raise it himself. Just as well; Jack might have shot him before he could think. "I had dinner with her at that place before I ran into Sparrow."

Jack watched him a moment longer, then lowered the gun, thumbing the safety back into place. Tossed back the phone.

Shaftoe caught it one-handed. "Paranoid bastard, aren't you?"

There wasn't an answer to that, so Jack didn't bother, tucking his gun into its place at the small of his back. "You should blow her off," he said.

"What?" Shaftoe looked up from the screen.

Jack shrugged. "You like her - you actually care about her - don't let her get mixed up with you when you're mixed up with them. You fight them, and they don't just fight you. She'll suffer for it."

It hung there, in the still, stored air of the warehouse, and then they heard the outer door clang, and Sparrow shouting, "Heads up, layabouts!"

Shaftoe pocketed his phone, and Jack lifted his chin and called, "Back here."

Bumps and shuffles, then Sparrow appeared from between two bales, only to blow himself back again with a sneeze. He sagged against a bale and shook himself. "What the fuck you doing back here?" he demanded.

Shaftoe turned towards him, gesturing to Jack. "Contemplating putting Captain Sunshine here out of his misery." Talking about him like he wasn't there.

Sparrow was no better, just grinning. "Well, hold that thought. We've got something."

*

Something was a townhouse near St James. Sparrow had followed his follower, tailing his tail back to its mousehole.

"There was a coat of arms above the door," he reported, when they were gathered in Enoch's study. "Great intricate horrible wank of a thing. But I've seen it before. It was on the table in the boardroom of that bar."

"Before you burnt it down," Jack interjected.

"Before I burnt it down," Sparrow agreed, not losing momentum. "It's a big house, lots of movement. More than a cell. I reckon it's a hive."

Enoch tapped an ink-stained finger on the tesselation of paper covering his desk. "Well, check it out." He smiled a thin, grim smile. "As though I have to encourage you. Oh, Sparrow?" They paused, bunched at the doorway and looking back. "Draw me the coat of arms. I'll check it out."

*

It was quite a walk; they didn't take the tube. Not that the streets after dark were necessarily any safer, but at least you weren't stuck in a carriage with the mad bastard intent on sampling you. At least if you put him down, there wasn't likely to be video footage of the event.

"In over the rooftops?" Jack suggested as they strode along (avoiding the deeper shadows where the herds lurked, not that cattle were likely to challenge them, even if Sparrow was recognised).

"Were you a chimney sweep in a past life?" Sparrow asked.

"What?"

"You always want to scamper about on roofs."

Shaftoe was sniggering. Jack ignored him. "No one ever looks up." He spun the butt of his cigarette - still burning - into an alleyway, causing a scuttle. "You got a better idea?"

"Nope," Shaftoe said cheerfully.

Sparrow's grin glinted in the shadows. "Chim chimminy."

They skirted the block the house was on, avoiding the street it faced on (don't give the buggers any warning if you can help it, after all). There was an alley, a drainpipe; might as well have been a ladder and a flashing neon sign. Jack went up first, and cast an eye about the roof, waiting for the other two. In ranks of gables and copses of chimneys, the city marched off in all directions, both clean and cluttered. Empty of influence and free to explore. Alright, yes, so he liked rooftops.

He turned back as Shaftoe helped Sparrow heave himself up over the gutter, half collapsing into a tangle. From down by the river Big Ben chimed eleven.

"Not very auspicious," Sparrow said, straightening his coat. "Think we should wait an hour?"

Jack shoved his shoulder. "Get a move on."

On the other side of the building, an easy stroll across the flat roof, it butted on to a gabled roof. "This it?" Shaftoe asked, squinting along the join of the two buildings.

Sparrow pulled a face, aligning his brain with reality. "Should be," he concluded.

Jack had been eyeing the windows. "Blackened glass," he pointed out.

They clambered up onto the roof and Jack, boots slipping on the tiles as he braced a heel in the gutter, spread a wing of his coat over the dusky pane of glass before he put his elbow through it. Finding the latch, he heaved the casement up. Sparrow slithered through, skulking across to the door and opening it a crack, keeping watch as Shaftoe and then Jack slipped in. Glass crackled and grated under their boots.

"'S clear," Sparrow whispered from the door, not that Jack was surprised. From the state of the room, sparse and shrouded and full of dust, this upper floor wasn't used much. Unsurprising, really; blackened glass was no protection from the sun worth counting on.

The hallway was dark, a faint glow seeping up the staircase from somewhere further down in the house. They slipped down towards it in a relay of defensive positions - Shaftoe, Sparrow, Jack - but the hallway of the next floor down was empty as well, and dark, the light burning bright from the next floor down. But this level wasn't so breathless; it had seen people in it more recently. When Jack eased open one of the doors, the room inside was neat, tidy, lived-in. A metal-walled cocoon stood in each corner. The window had been bricked up.

Sparrow, across the hall, had found a similar room. They exchanged glances. "Barracks," Sparrow said, and Jack nodded.

"So it's true?" Shaftoe asked, from up near the head of the staircase down, keeping an eye out. "What Enoch said; they're building up for a faction war?"

"Someone is," Jack confirmed, closing the door to the room. "Now we need to find out who."

Sparrow led the way down the stairs, keeping to the outer edge and treading as lightly as his namesake. The next level down was a wide mezzanine, running around the entry hall on the ground floor of the house. The atrium was brightly lit, their level more shadowed. There were voices somewhere below, but no one in sight.

"What are we looking for, precisely?" Shaftoe asked, voice barely more than a breath.

"All factions have a leader," Sparrow answered, just as quietly, as Jack edged out a little from the concealment of the staircase, stealing a wider view. "You know what they're like; it's all rules and hierarchy and obedience and order. We find out who's heading this bunch, we'll know about as much about the faction as we need, for now."

"So...?"

"A study," Jack whispered, sliding back in. "Or an office. Finding the head toff's cocoon won't do, won't be enough identifying stuff there. But he'll have a personal base of operations, and that'll have what we need. We'll go along here; Shaftoe, take the first door, Sparrow the next, I'll take the third. First hint we're noticed, and it's back up and out on the roof."

"Going to teach me how to shoot next?" Sparrow asked, and Jack glared at him, got a grin in response. "Let's go, then."

They crept out, keeping close to the wall, hugging the shadows cast by the pillars of the balcony. The atrium below appeared and vanished behind them, Jack keeping half an eye on it. Trouble would come from there.

He had his hand on the handle of his room when a door opened. Below. The front door. Jack glanced over his shoulder, saw dark-coated bodies coming in out of the night, half a dozen of them, in a hiss-burble of conversation, the shucking of hats, the revealing of faces...

...and Jack froze, as the front door closed, as distantly he registered Shaftoe and Sparrow slipping out of their rooms, lurking in the shadowed doorways, as his vision tunnelled to the figure in the centre of the newly-arrived bunch. Such an unassuming figure, not tall, not well-built, almost comic, but one of the others was tilting his head in deference, another calling him sir, and Jack knew him.

"Stanley," he said, the breath forced out of him like he'd been hit.

Below, half a dozen heads whipped up.

Chapter Text

"King! Come on!" Jack paused on the bottom step, Shaftoe already disappearing at the top of the staircase, but what the fuck was King doing?

Shaking it off, now, going from statue-still to sprinting as the toffs below pelted up the wide, red-carpeted staircase to their level. Jack held, turning sideways to let King rocket past him, up the stairs, as Jack fired a shot, two, down the balcony. Took the first toff in the shoulder, threw his movement, but it wasn't going to put him down. Jack turned, took the stairs two at a time, could hear King up ahead of him, implacable feet behind him. Up and up again. Shaftoe was waiting in the room with the broken window; King swung out onto the roof to take quick stock while Jack helped heave a chest of drawers in front of the door, a makeshift barricade.

"We're going to stick out like a sore bloody thumb, the three of us," King said, as first Shaftoe then Jack skittered out onto the tiles beside him.

"Split up," Jack declared, as something thudded against the door behind them. "Run, don't fight. See you at the Prospect, but make sure you've lost 'em."

He was off up the roof even as Shaftoe was saying, "Good luck." Over the peak and sliding down the tiles into the valley, just keeping his balance on the gutter; another alleyway below, shouts echoing along it from the street at the front of the house. Two figures turned into the alleyway from the street, and even as Jack made the jump, cracking a tile and almost slithering backwards off the roof, a cry went up below and he knew he'd been spotted. Move.

Jack scrabbled up the roof and sat a moment straddling the peak, listening to the voices and footsteps from below. Cries and the sound of breaking glass dragged his attention back across the rooftop, and he slipped over the peak, sliding down below its rise just in time to avoid notice by two toffs coming out onto the roof of the townhouse.

Fuck this for a lark. Time to get serious about it.

The townhouse whose roof he was enjoying the hospitality of had a gable window too, like its neighbour had. Jack drew his knife out of its sheath and jimmied the latch open. (See? He didn't always have to do things the flashy, noisy way.) Slipping inside, he pulled the window as closed as it could manage after him.

This attic wasn't deserted, and Jack fell over two chairs and a rocking horse before he found the door. Unsurprisingly, by the time he tiptoed down the stairs the hall was occupied.

"Shit!" Jack yelped, ducking even as a bullet took a chip out of the doorframe beside his head. There was a vase on the side table, full of plastic flowers but really too nice to be broken over somebody's head. Unfortunately Jack only noticed this when it was too late for vase and head both.

To make sure, he kicked the gun away from the unconscious householder's hand. Two small faces peered at him from around a door, and a little above them, a larger female one.

Jack held his hands up. "Look, I'm sorry," he said. "Just passing through."

And then he legged it before any of them could wake up enough to start screaming. Down again, and through the kitchen, out the back door into a small yard. He was halfway out the gate when he noticed that the light coming in from the alleyway illuminated a bicycle leaning against the wall.

Well now.

There were two toffs just reaching the corner of the alleyway as Jack freewheeled out, taking the turn in a wide arc and ringing the bell. As he took off down the street, standing on the pedals to get the most acceleration, he heard the clatter of feet behind him, and their shouts to stop, hey you!

Not bloody likely.

Jack dumped the bike just off the Strand, ambling off down the street whistling, hands in pockets.

A block later, he realised he still had a tail. He ducked into an alleyway, cursing. How, how, bloody how? He'd lost them all, he knew he had. Unless he'd gone completely soft after having that cack-handed cattle keeping tabs on him all week. None of them had been behind him, he would've sworn it.

As Jack skulked in the darkest shadows of the corner of the alley, his tail stepped into the entrance. Unabashedly silhouetted against the light of the street, it was a tall figure, arrogant lines, coat flapping around his knees. Could've been King, but this guy had short hair, and more precision in the merest placing of a foot on the pavement than King ever managed.

Recognition hit Jack's stomach like a brick. "Shit," he hissed, and broke into a dead sprint, skidding around another corner in the alleyway and out onto the street again.

His heart was pounding now, like it hadn't been since he'd taken off up the stairs after King. But Jack found himself grinning, a mad laugh on hold in his throat as he ducked into another alleyway. Options, options, what did he have? Down or up, but the Underground was less than appealing, and though the river wasn't far away, Jack was never any good at remembering the tides. Save it for a last resort. Up, then. Halfway down the alley one building butted onto another; the join was good as a ladder, and Jack went up it like a squirrel up a tree.

He flattened himself in the lee of a chimney, forced his body to stillness. Every sense on overdrive, keeping an eye on everything. Freeze. As still as the night, as still as the air. Nothing moving. No one.

Oh no, surely not. It couldn't be that disappointingly easy.

Just as Jack's thigh twitched -- over there. On the line of the roof two houses over. Something slinking. It'd have to be an awfully bloody big cat.

Jack was off. Not sliding this time, but on his feet and running. Over the peak and down; jump; up again, vault over, just down far enough to lose the silhouette, and then turn right and run. Moving fast enough that his boots didn't even have time to realise there was practically no purchase on the tiles up here.

He glanced back, tossing his gaze over one shoulder. A shadow back there, the shadow. Not gaining, but Jack wasn't losing him, either.

Alleyway. Jack took it at a soaring, desperate leap; clipped his foot and felt a horrendous twang in his wrist as he came down on it hard, but there really wasn't time to think about that now. Up and on.

He was on warehouse roofs now; no impediments, just a mad sprint (lungs labouring, fuck but his legs burned) across the expanse. The one next door was half a floor lower. Jack leapt--

--and landed between beams, felt the roof give way beneath his feet, and he was falling, broken tiles scraping at his ribs (ow) and his hand smacking at the edge of the hole he'd made, arresting his motion only the smallest amount before he was absolutely at gravity's mercy.

He landed flat on his back on a bale of something, hard enough to force all the breath out of him and bring specks of light dancing before his eyes. Soft enough that he could, after a moment of panic, draw air back into his body, clear his vision into the cavernous blackness of the interior of a warehouse, broken by an incongruous patch of night sky. There was a moon tonight, Jack noted idly. He could see it shining in, silver beams painted in the dust of his passage.

Get off the fucking bale.

He rolled to the edge, dropping down to the warehouse floor (twelve feet at least, and his foot twinged at it) and sidling between two towers of crates. He skipped along the row, took a turn and went along to the end, climbing up a crate to get line of sight on the hole he'd left in the roof. It was still clear, filled with moonlight, and for a moment, Jack thought he'd got away with it.

Then a shadow flitted across the jagged lip of the hole. Paused. Slipped inside, limbs and body, dangling for a moment of almost elegant inertia, before it dropped.

Jack swore silently and dropped himself, landing back on the warehouse floor on silent feet. He remained a little crouched, huddled against the crate. Waiting for it.

"Sparrow..." A low voice, drifting through the space, rebounding and echoing and chasing itself up and down. It was impossible to tell where it had come from, but at the source was a man Jack knew well.

"Norrington," he called back, letting his voice be buffetted about as well. "What a surprise."

"Is it now?" Jack might be mistaken, but he thought there was amusement in that voice, flat and sardonic. And was it getting closer? He edged around a corner of the crate, tilted his head, tried to figure the angles. "I suppose you did make it a little harder this time. I thought maybe the rules were changing."

"Don't know what you mean, mate," Jack said.

"Really?" Definitely coming closer. Maybe. Jack slipped along between crate and wall, peering out into the aisle on the other side. Norrington kept speaking. "I turned over that rat's nest you were staying in back in Novgorod. Ransacked it floor to ceiling, and not so much as a carefully hidden clue."

"Way you talk you'd think I liked having you on my bloody tail," Jack grumbled, eyeing the tower of crates. If he could climb up, would he be able to see a way out of here? Would he be seen?

"Don't you?" From behind him, and Jack whipped about, but no one was there. Just the fucking echoes in this place. He let out the sharply-taken breath. A laugh shivered through the warehouse, a sound not so much of amusement as of the ferocious pleasure of the hunter. "Don't you, Sparrow? Why did you steal my car?"

Sidling along the wall past another towering row of crates, Jack let himself grin. "She was a beautiful ride. I needed to get somewhere in a hurry."

"Hmm." Where was he now, the bastard? Jack was going to give himself a heart attack if he stayed in here much longer, playing mouse to Norrington's cat. There had to be a door along here somewhere. It was a good place for a door, in the wall, right? "And just as I start to think you're lost forever," Norrington said, as Jack kept creeping along the wall, "I hear about this flamboyant fellow torching a bar. You might as well have taken out an advertisement."

"Where's the fun in that?" Jack demanded.

"You're a popular fellow now," Norrington observed.

And there, a sliver of light against the wall, the chink of a door. Jack drew his knife as he slunk over to it, finding the latch mostly by feel and wedging the blade into it. "You'd best step up your efforts," he said, covering the scrape of metal against itself. "You wouldn't want someone else to get to me first."

"Oh no, Sparrow," Norrington's voice drifted across the warehouse. "You're mine."

The lock gave, and Jack took a breath - elation, victory, oxygen for his hammering heart - as he slipped out, escaping again into the night.

Chapter Text

When Jack got to the Prospect, Enoch was ensconced at a corner table with a pint and a book, but otherwise entirely alone.

"So you survived, at least," he said, looking over the top of the page as Jack pulled up a chair. "What did you do with the others?"

"Went mad and I shot 'em," Jack said, collapsing with enough flair to hide how tired he actually was. "What time is it?"

Enoch pulled his watch from his pocket. "Just gone two-thirty. Did you find anything?"

"Dunno." Jack stretched, and winced. Enoch's eyebrows went up and his pint glass went down on the table. Jack waved a hand. "S'nothing. I slipped coming down and copped a drainpipe in the kidney."

Enoch snorted, leaned back in his chair. Behind Jack the pub door creaked open, and he turned to look. It was King, stamping a foot and brushing mud off his long coat. He stomped over to them.

"I need a drink," he declared, continuing straight past the table.

"Yes please," Jack called after him.

"Lazy bastard." King's voice floated back, the grumbling almost absent-minded.

Enoch marked his place in the book, but just sipped at his beer, waiting. Jack poked at his side, mapping the limits of the bruise he was going to have. "Stop it," Enoch chided.

"Yes Mum."

King came back, leaning over Jack's shoulder to slop a full pint down, then reached out for a chair. "Where's Sparrow?" he asked, sitting down.

"How should I know?" Jack said.

"You split up?" Enoch asked unnecessarily. More of a confirmation, really. A very confirming sort of fellow, Enoch.

"Yes," Jack said, since King seemed determined to finish his beer in one draught if he could manage it.

"What happened?" Enoch asked, not talking to Jack, looking straight at King. "What did you find?"

King came up for air. "Checked your peerage for the coat of arms?" he asked, setting down his pint glass. Enoch nodded, just once. King seemed to expect it, staring back at him. "Then you know what we found."

"Hello?" Jack waved a hand between them. "Earth to the Inexplicable Conspiracy?"

They both looked at him, but Jack had had far less friendly eyes trained on him in greater abundance and not flinched.

Behind him, the door crashed open again, and a moment later Sparrow half-fell over the back of Jack's chair. Jack looked up; he was grinning, practically had electricity sparking off the flash of his teeth and the wild mess of his hair. "How was that, eh?" he demanded. "Nothing like a nice bit of exercise in the fresh air, bit of a thrill." He reached for Jack's beer, and Jack let him.

"Get hit on the head, did you?" King growled.

Sparrow swallowed his mouthful of beer quickly, putting the glass down again. "Poor King," he said, an edge in his laughter, something tightly wound even in his slouch. "Have a nasty shock? Didn't half give me one. Who the hell was the toff you stopped to gawk at?"

"He stopped to gawk?" Jack asked.

But in the same moment Enoch said, "Sparrow," so crisp and stern it made even him pay attention, unwrap himself from Jack's shoulders. "Sit down." Sparrow sat, pulling up a chair and lounging on it backwards, forearms draped across the back of it.

Enoch looked at King, who was watching his remaining beer grimly. He shot a glower back at Enoch, then said, "Major General Stanley."

That jerked the grin off Sparrow's face. "That was Stanley? He was..." He held a hand out, measuring maybe three feet off the floor, and then went with, "uninteresting."

Jack rapped his knuckles on the table. "Once again, are there footnotes for those of us who missed the early episodes?"

"Can I?" Sparrow appealed across the table.

Enoch shrugged. King grunted, "If you must."

Sparrow turned back to Jack, a conspiratorial tilt to his head. "Picture a fellow, the absolute epitome of everything an officer of the Royal Armed Forces should be, a toff, a follower of rules, a precise and useless article; a model, if you will. Gets himself some cast-off barony and buys a cosy little castle in Cornwall, pretty as you please, then finds out that his new fairytale is unfortunately infested with unpleasant types."

"Tourists?" Jack guessed.

"Pirates," Sparrow corrected.

Down Cornwall way, Jack remembered, and realised how this story must go. "And that would be--"

"Me," King agreed. "Jack King, the pirate King, and his infamous band of ne'er-do-wells. Which the bastard immediately uses to make even more of a name for himself, by rounding 'em up and converting the entire bunch into Honest Men." There was no fire or rage in King's eyes, just cold, deep hate.

"When you say 'convert'...?" Jack asked.

"I mean he turned every single one of them," King said. "Save me." He downed the last of his beer. "So there's your faction leader. He's a vicious, pedantic, opportunistic bastard, and if he's in London, he's not here for his health." He stood up. "Who's for another?"

*

King bought a round; Enoch begged off and went home before late became too far gone to even be considered early; Jack bought a round; Sparrow kept up an endless commentary of Exciting Tales of Adventures Past.

"Someone's bloody perky tonight," King observed, taking the opportunity as Sparrow was engaged with his beer.

Sparrow laughed. "S'nothing."

"You're a menace."

"Hush you!" Sparrow declared, brandishing a finger with more flourish than admonish. "Or I'll tell 'im about Frederick an' all."

"You bloody won't," King said, darkly.

"Know what I want to hear about?" Jack bought in. His companions looked at him, bright and dark, and he grinned at Sparrow. "That business you mentioned once about escaping from the law."

All unexpected, a mask came down over Sparrow's face, a sudden smoothing blankness. "Nah, not interesting."

"Shut up," King declared, with a satisfied smirk. "Said he wants to hear, didn't he?"

In a sulk, Sparrow leaned back in his chair, propping one boot up against the table and swinging back on two legs. (He'd turned his chair the right way round when the drinking began in earnest, stating that it was always best to begin sturdily at least.) Jack watched him, perplexed, even as King settled into his story-telling.

"So," King said, "this'd be, what, a year and a half ago now? Just before the twerp here met up with me and Enoch in New York. He's down in the Caribbean and our Sparrow, being the lovable fellow he is, runs foul of the local law."

"Heard it's wild down there," Jack observed, watching Sparrow (twitch of shoulders might be a shrug).

"It's the weather," King agreed. "All that sun, makes it hard for the toffs to keep their peace, even cooks the obedience out of the cattle. But they made a special effort for this one, turned the place upside down, and finally they catch him. But before they can sample him, slippery bugger slips right out from under their noses. Gets a bit of help from some young puppy who's had a touch too much sun for the common good, dives off the fort, swims to freedom. Leaves the head toff gnashing his pointy teeth and vowing terrible revenge, blah blah, you know how these stories go. What was that guy's name anyway?" King looked over to Sparrow.

Who blinked blandly back, his eyes deep and black. "Norrington," he said. "His name was Norrington." He took his feet off the table, swung his chair back to level. "My round. Same again?"

*

It wasn't far back to the warehouse when they eventually emerged from the pub, the sky silvering in the east. They congaed along the waterfront. They collaboratively staggered through the back streets. They shushed and giggled their way into the warehouse and upstairs. King was alternatively chipper and surly, presumably as he forgot and remembered Stanley. Sparrow was sparkling like some dark-cut gem, who knew why.

Jack was just drunk. Well, not "just", but it would do to be going on with, could be stretched to cover the lingering exhilaration of being pursued up hill and down dale, the pop-fizz in his veins that made him think of Eliza, too far away, and she wouldn't understand anyway. She never understood that sort of thing. She wasn't one of us.

There was faint light in the hallway; King had left his door open, dawn happening outside his window, the only one in the place. Enoch's door was sternly shut, and they all hissed and shushed at each other.

"Scraped my ribs again," Sparrow reported belatedly, shucking his coat.

"Idiot," King said, as Sparrow hoiked up his shirt to check the damage.

"S'nothing," Jack opined, trying to work his own buttons. "Reckon I've got prettier."

"Great," King said. "You two can mother each other. I'm going to sleep." He closed his door firmly, and it was pitch black in the corridor.

Jack blinked, then yelped, making a blind grab and catching Sparrow's wrist.

"Sorry," Sparrow sniggered. "Did I get you in the bruise?"

"Yer hand's cold," Jack muttered. Sparrow's wrist fit entirely within the circle of his grip. It was distracting in a way Jack knew he'd only allow in mental states like this one. Unfortunately here they were, mental state and distraction together in the dark.

"Sorry," Sparrow repeated. His hair brushed at Jack's skew-whiff collar.

"So," Jack said. "You finally going to make good on what you've been promising since you first picked me up?"

All he got in response was a low chuckle, but aspirated against his neck, that was enough. Sparrow pushed, and Jack's shoulder clipped the doorframe on the way through, but he didn't particularly care. Kept ahold of Sparrow's wrist, because losing him in the dark would never do. With the other hand, he found Sparrow's jaw, computed where his mouth must be.

He was proud of that, until Sparrow's hand slipped into his trousers and knocked his pulse up into high gear.

"Well now," Sparrow purred, breath and insinuation. "Operation was indeed a success. All hail the power of modern medicine."

Jack pushed him down on the bed and bade him shut the fuck up in the most persuasive way he knew. Pinned down, Sparrow wriggled in a deliciously distracting way, and his tongue was quick, dirty and insinutating as could be expected. Just the thought of what that tongue could do - would do, as soon as was conveniently possible, if Jack had anything to say about it - against his cock had Jack kissing Sparrow harder against the sound of stitching tortured to death as he pulled Sparrow's shirt up and off.

Sparrow whined, even as he arched, skin on skin. Breath against Jack's ear as he said, "I liked that shirt."

"Be quiet," Jack demanded, and Sparrow sniggered.

In the end, actually, they were rather noisy.

*

It was still pitch black when Jack woke, but he wasn't sure being ground zero of a fire-bomb strike would get light into this place. His flailing sortie towards the light told him he was alone even before he flipped the switch, blinded himself, and confirmed the impression.

His trousers were tangled in the bedclothes. He pulled them on and toddled out into the main room. All the light was electric, and the clock ticking on the counter read a quarter past six. In the evening, Jack assumed.

Enoch was sitting at the table with a book and a cup of coffee. "Ooh," Jack said, pointing. "One of those. Yes, grand idea."

Enoch ignored him, but Jack ignored him right back, and harder, while he pursued caffeine. When he had the mug in his hand and the first mouthful warming his gut and zinging along his synapses, Jack catalogued the silences of the warehouse. "So where are the other two?" he asked.

"Out," Enoch said shortly, turning a page. "Gathering information, following leads. Doing what we're here for."

If there was one thing Jack had a sixth sense for... well, it was how to get a free drink, but if there were two things, the other one was when he was in disfavour with someone. (Call it the benefit of vast experience.) "A guy can't sleep in once in a while? Do a few hours really matter that much? Joint doesn't really get jumping until dark anyway, right?"

"As you will." Enoch shut his book with a snap and stood up. His eyes were always hard, but they seemed even harder tonight, his whole face carved out of something cold and solid. "But if the only reason you were staying was for a piece of Sparrow, don't bother coming back again."

He stalked away down the corridor, leaving Jack with his coffee, his hangover, and his perplexity.

But only for a moment; his phone, lying in wait in his trouser pocket, went off. When he pulled it out, Eliza's number was illuminated on the screen.

Blow her off, King had said. Don't bother coming back, Enoch had said. Strange bastards, the lot of them. But just because Jack was staying wasn't any reason he should start obeying everything he was told at this late stage in his life.

"Eliza love!" he answered the phone.