Title: "Funny Old World"

Author: Ivytree

Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: (Almost) all characters belong to Joss Whedon, UPN, Mutant Enemy, the Walt Disney Company, Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot, Jerry Bruckheimer, Gore Verbinski, etc. And, of course, James Marsters and Johnny Depp.

Feedback: Please!

Summary: An adventure with two poets.

Setting: Post "Chosen" —and post "yo-ho."

"Funny Old World"

Part Seven

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"What's next, then?" Jack asked, for all the world like a polite host showing off his hometown's sights to big city visitors. "Captain Bittern's Coffee House?"

"There's a coffee house?" Sounded just like Sunnydale's Expresso Pump. "That's a bit sophisticated, isn't it?"

"Well, owing to the vagaries of, ah, trade, I'll admit there's seldom any coffee," Jack said, "but we can get a decent chop there, if you're peckish."

"C'est trop cher," Yvette said. "Too expensive. We can eat at home."

"My love, we've plenty of gold," Jack insisted. "No need to skimp."

"Therefore we should keep what we have," she retorted, her lush lips folding into a firm line that Spike found all too reminiscent of a certain petite blonde. If Jack thought he was going to win this argument, he was in for a rude shock.

Spike kicked a pebble with the toe of his boot, and watched its trajectory with satisfaction. Swaggering down the middle of Kingstown's rutted main street, side-by-side with his friends, felt oddly natural—just like the old days, really. Only here, nobody was evil, which had to be an improvement. To his right sauntered Mademoiselle Yvette, swinging her hips, dressed to kill in an extraordinarily low-cut red silk gown (which he happened to know had a ladylike stiletto concealed in the bodice). Beside her strolled Captain Jack, who, in addition to his array of armaments, had somehow acquired an amber-headed walking stick and a festive spray of green parrot feathers in his hat. Spike himself wore the beautifully inlaid scimitar he had chosen on his right hip, a dagger, and a delightful weapon whose like he had never seen before—a hand-size single-shot blunderbuss with two wicked knives set along the handle, so that it would still prove a formidable weapon even after being discharged. Not too practical, in fact, but it was such a sweet little piece that he couldn't resist it.

Spike was looking forward to their evening on the town. Beauties of nature and that were all very well, but there was nothing like a crowd for a bit of action. A cacophony of shouted conversation, raucous laughter, and assorted shrieks from the throats of men, women, animals, and, apparently, birds, rang through the narrow streets; permeating all was a stinging miasma of torch-smoke, sweat, mud, donkey manure, roasting meats, vast quantities of wine, rum, tobacco, and cheap perfumes, underlaid with the clean scents of greenery, tropical flowers, and the sea.

The streets teemed with merrymakers already. Without breaking stride, the three of them stepped around a pair of irate citizens who rolled over and over, pummeling each other, blocking the roadway. Staggering across the street in their direction was a burly, almost stereotypically piratical fellow with an eyepatch and a bushy black beard, clad only in loose breeches and a striped shirt, who gulped from a bottle of rum as if it were water. Not unnaturally, since he was clearly unable to see where was going, he stumbled and fell forward directly in front of Jack, and rolled onto his back, blinking upward with fire in his eye.

"'Ere!" the buccaneer growled. Spike couldn't help noticing that he sounded just like Bluto, Popeye's nemesis. Looked like him, too. "Where are you lot off to with this pretty lady, eh?"

"None of your affair, my good man," Jack said, with an airy gesture. "Move along, why don't you."

Bluto shook his head and lurched to his feet.

"Say that again, cockie," he retorted, his good eye squinting evilly. "I'm not quite sure I caught your meaning."

A ragged crowd of inebriates had begun to gather, and appreciative chuckles greeted this remark.

"Show the flag, Spotted Dick!" one of them called. Spotted Dick? Spike thought he'd like to know the story behind that nickname. Or, on second thought, perhaps not.

"I'm asking that you step aside, if you've no objection. The lady wishes to pass. Is that clear enough?"

Their obstructionist threw his bottle violently aside. "Maybe I will, and maybe I won't," he declared. "Maybe I want a kiss first."

"Sorry, mate, not really my penchant, if you follow me," Jack said, with polite regret. "Possibly the feathers misled you. Spike?"

Spike observed the sputtering pirate with a measuring eye. "Think I'll pass; not my cup o'tea, either. And he's none too appetizing either way, is he?" Titters erupted from the onlookers.

"Not you, her!" Spotted Dick bellowed.

Yvette threaded her arm through Spike's, and looked down her nose. "Would I let such as you touch me, cochon? Not on your very best day."

Spotted Dick ground his teeth audibly, and lunged in her direction; stepping forward, Spike straight-armed him with a palm to the chest, sending him stumbling back several feet.

"Step aside, bullyboy," he said sternly. "We want to pass by, and we're passing, right? Now haul your rum-soaked carcass off before it's chopped into messes. Savvy?"

"Listen, little man—everybody knows me, see?" Dick roared, red-faced. "I'm Spotted Dick, the Pirate; I've sailed the seven seas, and killed six men, I don't take orders from landlubbers like you!"

"Killed six men, have you? Sailed the seven seas? Fancy that, now. I'll tell you what it is, you've had too much to drink, mate," Jack said, in an affable tone. "Clouded your judgment, that's what it's done. Because—vulgar size aside—there's one thing I've got that you haven't got."

Spotted Dick glared at him suspiciously. "What's that?"

"A sword, matey." There was a resonant clang, and suddenly the tip of Jack's sword gleamed at the bully's throat. "A sword."

Silence fell on the little knot of onlookers. Spotted Dick stood very still.

"Now, anyone will tell you I'm a reasonable man," Jack continued. "I don't hold with killing to no purpose, and I'm willing to let bygones be bygones—up to a point. So for your own good I suggest you apologize to the lady, and go about your business, and we'll call it quits. Right?"

A growl emanated from Spotted Dick's throat.

"I don't think she quite heard you," Jack remarked. "Again."

"Sorry, lady."

"Pray do not mention it, m'sieur," Yvette said sweetly.

"Now be on your way." Jack lowered his sword, but Spike noticed that he kept a businesslike grip on the pommel.

"We'll meet again, you prancing larrikin!" Despite his scornful words, Dick backed away.

"D'you know, Dick, my lad, I sincerely 'ope not," Jack replied, brushing a speck of dirt from his sleeve. "Your social deportment leaves much to be desired. Shall we go, friends?"

"I'm agreeable," Spike said. "Amusement value's just about exhausted, isn't it?"

"Besides, I am now hungry," Yvette announced.

"Captain Bittern's it is, then," Jack said, turning to guide them across the street.

As he did so, Spike heard an unsteady footfall behind them and whirled to see Spotted Dick lunging toward Jack. Well, this was Jack's show, wasn't it? Better not interfere. Much. Spike extended an unobtrusive foot and Dick tumbled forward over it, to be met with a solid blow on the back of the head from the hilt of Jack's sword. He went down hard.

"If you'll take my advice, you'll study to improve your manners," Jack said to the groaning figure at his feet. "It saves trouble in the long run. A pirate need not be a boor."

"YOUR advice? That's rich, that is. Who are you to be giving Spotted Dick advice, pipsqueak?" Dick snarled, clutching his head.

"I thought he'd never ask," Jack murmured, catching Spike's eye. He assumed a very grand posture. "You, fellow, will have a story to tell your children—assuming you ever find a lady misguided enough to present you with any. You have just survived an encounter with Captain Jack Sparrow."

Spotted Dick's face went white under the layers of dirt, and there were surprised mutterings from the crowd. Bowing gracefully, Jack sheathed his sword, and offered his arm to Yvette. Spike suppressed a grin as the three of them swept off, leaving Spotted Dick to nurse a sore head in the muddy gutter.

Spike took a deep, satisfying breath. This WAS fun. Too many years had passed since he'd visited a burgeoning settlement that was spoiling for trouble. In his travels, he'd seen a hundred half-civilized, frontier towns like this one, rowdy, lawless, and awash with booze, in Russia, Australia, Peru, Alaska, Argentina and any number of territories. Fur-trappers, gold prospectors, emerald miners, cowboys, pirates—they were all the same, whatever the race, creed, or language. Men without rules, without order—and, in the main, without virtuous women—ran riot in predictable ways. He'd seen hair-trigger violence, random fisticuffs, and hordes of muttonheads frittering away every last ha'penny on drink, whores, and gambling. And, soul or no soul, Spike liked it. Anticipation electrified the air; tonight, anything could happen. Despite his lack of a pulse, the blood seemed to hum in his veins.



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Stars had begun to appear in the purpling sky by the time they reached the tavern, a roughhewn, rickety structure, with a sign displaying three sprightly if zoologically questionable dolphins swinging over the open doorway. The ground outside was liberally strewn with inebriated patrons, both male and female. Spike, Jack, and Yvette stepped over the threshold into a noisy, smoky room lit only by a few torches and lanterns. Chairs, benches, and tables crowded the hard dirt floor, all packed with customers. More revelers stood three-deep around the bar, which was a sort of half-room in one corner with iron bars running from counter-top to ceiling—no doubt to protect the merchandise—from whence the ruddy faced host dispensed brimming tankards with practiced speed.

In the opposite corner, the evening's star attraction, Master Koomah, held court before an assemblage of enthusiastic spectators, old and young, shabby and richly (if grubbily) dressed. A tall, thin, rather pop-eyed Hindu, Koomah wore a gaudily embroidered purple silk robe and sported a turban topped with a glittering brooch. Spike thought he looked like a native of India's west coast somewhere, possibly Goa. He sat behind a table covered with a red and yellow striped cloth, a torchiere blazing behind him. A crystal ball was set on a stand on the tabletop, alongside several empty tankards, and, though he was sitting down, Koomah swayed unsteadily back-and-forth (not unlike Jack). As they watched, the seer gestured expansively with his arms, then hurriedly clutched his oversized headgear as it slid sideways.

"Take me next, take me next!" A bright-eyed blonde wench, her face flushed, held out a palm. The mystic waited expectantly. "Ooh, give me a penny, Jamie!" Her companion, a lovesick youth, hurriedly pulled a coin out of his pocket and showed it to Koomah, who gave a slight nod and began to tell her fortune.

"I see a dark man; I see pearls; I see water; a journey over water…"

Now THERE was an original prediction. Of course he "saw water"—the woman lived on a sodding island. And she was standing right next to a dark man. Now that he thought of it, the rounded whiteness of the lady's striking decolletage certainly suggested pearls. She seemed mightily impressed, however, and dropped the coin into Koomah's outstretched hand. Spike snorted contemptuously, and cocked an eyebrow at Jack, who rolled his eyes.

"Charlatan," Jack mouthed. Spike nodded. A remarkably inept one, too, though admittedly the audience was eating the act up. Could this useless git be the source of the enticing flyer they'd seen? Not bloody likely. For one thing, it was highly doubtful that he was literate at all, much less in French and English.

"Seelal!" The seer closed his eyes and began to croon. "Bengat! Toloo, toloo, toloo…" Nonsense syllables, Spike concluded. Through the years, he reckoned he'd heard authentic mumbo-jumbo in about fifty languages, human and demon—and this didn't sound like any of them.

As they watched, Koomah began to sketch mystical sigils in the air with his hands. Now, that was interesting—the sigils were in fact authentic, though the performance was so amateurish that no self-respecting demon or spirit would dream of responding. Still, the fellow had obviously been coached by someone who knew what they were doing.

"Kawaa, sawaa; come to me, spirit of the future…"

As prearranged, Spike and Yvette moved closer to the mystic, while Jack made a quick progress around the room looking for suspicious strangers. Yvette feigned interest in the seer—though in reality she would never dream of wasting the ready on such a thing—while Spike sussed out the crowd. He let his eyes roam across a sea of enthralled faces. Pirates, prostitutes, and relatively honest tradespeople, all races and all colors, mingled freely. He spotted a number of Africans, tall, Nordic-looking blonds, Polynesians, Spaniards, Indians from nearby Venezuela or Suriname, even some Chinese. They had one thing in common, though—they were all drunk. Perhaps he'd been too harsh; conning this lot might not be so difficult.

Suddenly Spike froze. There it was again, that icy tingle on the back of his neck. Someone was watching him—and that someone wasn't human. Cautiously, he let himself sniff the air, his enhanced senses sorting through the already familiar aromas of tavern, flesh, and the sea.

"Stone the crows," he murmured to himself.

There it was, that cold, slightly metallic smell—the smell of blood, and of evil. Vampires.

But where? He cast a careful glance around from the corner of his eye. In a room full of ruffians, who DIDN'T look suspicious? One slender, seven-foot Watusi geezer stood aloof at the back of the room; four Chinese men paid elaborate deference to one tiny, elaborately dressed and made-up Chinese lady; a knot of toughs huddled together away from the crowd, probably plotting mischief. Unusual, perhaps, but none of them seemed anything but human.

All at once, Spike noticed a man and woman at the back of the room. They had a peculiar quality of unobtrusiveness, and no one else seemed to notice their presence. Both were heavily cloaked and hooded, and they stood side-by-side, still and silent…just like vampires on the hunt. As he watched, the woman turned to address her companion. With intense concentration, Spike listened until he could just make out the pitch of her voice over the jabbering crowd. She spoke in a girlish, feathery tone, with a trace of huskiness, that for some reason pierced him to the bone. Dammit, there was something so recognizable about it—but what? He KNEW that voice; but how? This woman must have died long before he himself was born…

Died…

Spike felt himself go cold.

Desperately, he tried to make out what she was saying.

"…according to plan…this evening…what we desire…"

The man bent his head to reply; his voice was deep and mellifluous, and totally unknown to Spike.

"Well done, my child. Brava!"

"Thank you." As she spoke, she put back the hood of her cloak with practiced grace, revealing a lovely, smiling face and a mass of ringlets glinting gold in the torchlight. "Thank you, my dear Master."

Darla.



TBC