A Desert Lovely

Summary: Captain Jack once again finds himself stranded at World's End – only this time the company is decidedly more interesting and in the form of two visitors from Underland.

Disclaimer: PotC, Alice in Wonderland and all that is recognizable do not belong to me, nor is any money being made in the writing and posting of this.

The thing about deserts is that they're so oppressively boring. So when an unknown glimmer caught Jack's attention, he jumped at the opportunity.

He blinked and narrowed his eyes in the scorching heat. "Wha's that?"

A man in a faded, cerulean waistcoat beside him startled awake and snorted lightly in surprise. "Mmf?"

Jack scrambled onto his knees, ignoring the inconvenient nuisance next to him, pulled a spyglass from where it had hung on the sash at his waist, and peered into the desolate, shimmery whiteness of the unending desert around them. He was certain he'd seen something.

The man beside him watched with interest and craned his pale neck forward, blinking into the distance.

"I don't see anything," the man lisped quietly.

"Shh!" Jack hissed. He grimaced whilst gazing through the glass for a moment more, then, with determination, snapped it shut and nodded resolutely, jingling the charms braided into his corded locks.

"What are we doing?"

Jack's grin faded somewhat as he dusted the white sand from his knees and clambered to his feet. He pointed a be-ringed finger at his companion, almost wishing instead that he'd made a fist to put between those vividly green eyes, and not just because they were more elaborately made up than his, and waggled it.

"We are not doing anything. You are staying right here. And I," he pointed to the thing that Tarrant could not see, "am going over there, where you shall not be as I think I just previously mentioned. Now, shh." The pirate nodded once more in finality and lazily circled around in the direction of his intent and stalked off.

Tarrant sat in his spot, cross-legged on the parched, crackle-patterned earth where they had been banished, and cocked his glaringly bright head. He pursed dry lips as Jack literally tip-toed several yards away and bent over, picking up and discarding rocks every few steps. He glared and got up.

Jack chewed the side of a ragged fingernail nervously and picked up another shiny rock to examine it. "No." He tossed it over his shoulder and reached for another. "No."

"Why are you throwing rocks?"

"Aah!" Jack screeched, jumping two feet and spun around with a tattooed and leather-bound hand upon his chest. "What are you doing?"

Tarrant squeaked and looked about in confusion. "What!"

"What?"

"What!"

Jack opened his mouth to yell again but paused, lips parted, kohl-lined eyes wide. He leaned to the side, snapped his jaw shut, and fluttered his hands. "Be gone."

Tarrant gaped at the dismissal and shook his head. "You are the rudest person I've ever had the misfortune of meeting and then getting lost in a Crossroads of Nowhere with."

Jack made a non-committal noise at the back of his throat and went back to checking and chucking rocks. He idly considered the benefits of aiming one at the blighter's head. That might get him at least a few moments of silence before he came to again.

Tarrant, however, crossed his arms and watched moodily from a few feet away as rock after rock was tossed carelessly to the ground. To his mind, if they were having a rock gathering contest, it wasn't fair that Jack got a head start like this. He was very good at gathering things.

A particularly round stone went whizzing by, and Tarrant had to bite his fingers to stop from going after it. He huffed with agitation.

"That was a very good one!"

"No," Jack said casually. Then, "Aha!"

The pirate reached forward and reverently brought a smallish, shiny, little white rock to his eyes and lovingly stroked its smooth sides.

Tarrant peeked over his shoulder, wild, bushy eyebrows arched. "It's another rock," he whispered.

Jack snatched the apparent beauty away and carefully tucked it against his chest. He sneered. "Ha. Shows what you know."

Tarrant straightened up. "I beg your pardon?"

Jack stuck his tongue out and whirled past the offended man.

Tarrant sighed, casting his eyes to the heavens. "Now what?" He was honestly all for Madness, but even he had a hard time keeping up with the "Captain" sometimes.

"I'm off to give it to Alice, not that it's any business of yours. Stay here and mind the desert. Captain's orders."

At this Tarrant blinked and rushed to catch up to Jack's longish, rapid strides.

"But why ever for? Alice doesn't need a rock. There are hundreds of these rocks. Thousands. Possibly millions!"

Jack groaned and flicked his dark eyes to the white pebble in his hands. "It isn't a rock." Under his breath he murmured, "Imbecile. Probably a eunuch too. How is it we keep finding those?"

Tarrant's eyes flashed orange and he stuck his foot out.

Jack stumbled and looked at the man, aghast. "Are we seven now?"

Tarrant snorted. "A seven year old would have more manners than you." He suddenly got a faraway, wistful look in his eyes and sighed. "Alice was a perfectly charming seven year old. Much better than you."

Jack frowned, quickening his strides. "What a perfectly inastute and illogical deduction. You didn't know me when I was seven, mate."

"A mercy no doubt," Tarrant sniffed.

They reached the shadow of the beached, or rather, deserted, ship's hull that acted as their sole means of protection from the elements, and peered up at the ragged accommodation ladder hanging perfectly still before them. They sighed in tandem. It really was a bitch to climb.

Taking one last shot at Reason, Tarrant looked at his reluctant companion. "Alice is most likely napping and will be annoyed if you wake her to show her a dusty old rock."

Jack growled and held the object out before him. "It's not a rock, you cockle-headed sheep-shearer!"

Tarrant gasped.

Jack shook the rock and stared at Tarrant as if willing him to not be so thick. "It's a locket. Can you honestly not see that?"

Tarrant furrowed his brows, skeptically. Jack had clearly had his fill of sun today. Or heat stroke. "A locket."

The pirate rolled his piercing, dark eyes and nodded sarcastically. "And now he's an echo. Bloody perfect." He turned and placed the rock in his teeth and began the arduous task of ascending the rickety rope.

Tarrant scowled at Jack but, with a shrug, began to follow. "Alice will not be pleased with this nonsense." He shook his head sadly. "She doesn't enjoy nonsense as much as she used to." He frowned up at the man above him. "Which is your fault. If you hadn't gotten us stuck here, perhaps she wouldn't have Found her Sensible mind, and we would be back home enjoying endless tea parties and dodging hurtling tea cups, eating tarts, gossiping with flowers… making rhymes…." The man, a hatter by trade, paused. It was the rhymes he missed the most.

Jack grumbled from above. "There you go talking about gossipy flowers. You've completely gone round the bend, mate. "

"Alice loves that about me!" Tarrant shouted in defense.

"I guess someone has to." He grunted with effort as they scaled the last few wooden steps and wiped a bead of sweat from his brow.

Swinging a leg over the side, he collapsed onto the main deck and paused for air. He poked at his belly, which had become softer than he'd like, and shook his head before he glanced to the heavens. If Calypso ever saw fit to one day return them to the sea, he'd never again piss her off. It was one thing to be stuck at World's End once in one's lifetime. It was QUITE another the second time around. At least there weren't a hundred of Hims hanging about, all waiting for the perfect moment to do something stupid.

Tarrant emerged over the railing, wheezing and puffing, and Jack considered extending a hand to help him over. He shook his head.

"Now, here's what's what, lad. I'm going in to give our fair maiden this lovely little bauble, and you're not to disturb us, savvy?"

Tarrant narrowed his eyes. "What should I not be disturbing, exactly?"

A rakish grin spread out across his lips and Jack shrugged nonchalantly. "A gentleman doesn't kiss and tell, mate."

Tarrant's eyes, and the mimicking thread of his morning jacket, flamed a vivid blood-orange, and he marched straight towards Jack who had the grace to slightly cower before him.

"If yeh were any kin' o' gentleman, yeh'd leave her be an' toss tha' thin' aside." The hatter's native burr slipped out in his anger on Alice's behalf and, in all honesty, jealousy at the remark.

Jack swallowed but refused to back down.

"Now that is interesting," he murmured, purposefully leaning forward to invade the hatter's space. "You're so keen on liberating Alice from the confines of society, whatever that is, and yet here we are at a crossroads that should be of all her own making. Jealousy isn't a pretty shade. Doesn't look good on most really, leastwise your person."

The hatter glared. "Your crossroads are indecent," he snapped, the lisp having returned.

"Potato, tomato, lad."

The hatter blinked. "Pardon?"

Jack pulled the rock out again and polished it on his grimy, torn sleeve. "Alice deserves a bit o' finery, thank you very much, and I will take much enjoyment in being the one what gives it."

Tarrant grit his teeth, anger once again flaring dangerously in his gut. "For the last time, that is not a locket, it's a—" He froze.

The shiny, but otherwise previously ordinary, white pebble suddenly and before his very eyes (within a blink even!) had inexplicably become exactly what Jack had said – a shiny, gold locket.

His crimson-stained lips fell apart, and his brilliant green eyes glistened in awe while he bent forward to get a closer look.

Jack held it up to sparkle impressively in the overbearing sun. "Spanish gold or I'll eat my hat."

"How very curious," the hatter whispered, nodding. Whoever the Spanish were they were very talented goldsmiths.

Feeling entirely smug about the whole thing now that the simpleton had finally come to his half senses, Jack leaned a hip against the main mast. "I spotted that from a hundred yards away, even."

Tarrant tutted. "Fifty at most."

"Seventy-five."

The hatter looked up. An ingenious Idea crept into his mind.

"Jack, Captain, that wants polishing something dreadful and, forgive me, but my attire is much more… suitable to the task. Alice mustn't have anything that is less than Perfect." he lisped.

The pirate looked down to his dingy rags then eyed the hatter warily.

"May I?" Tarrant asked.

The two men stared each other down: the hatter the picture of innocence and naivety, the pirate untrusting yet now full of self-doubt.

The pirate's tanned hands twitched towards the hatter's unnaturally pale, mercury-stained ones and paused mid-handover.

"You'll only polish it?" Jack clarified.

"Of course."

He began to hand it over again. He jerked it away.

"And then you'll give it back?"

The hatter's left eye twitched. "Of course."

Jack inclined his chin and slowly retracted his hand with the unexplainable Spanish locket, grinning.

"Liar."

The hatter snatched at the pirate's hands. "Alice will feel as if she owes you a debt! I would give it to her with no restrictions!"

"You're also a fool, mate!" Jack chirped, dancing out of reach of the scrabbling psychopath.

"Foolishness is subjective!" he cried, once more lunging after the crafty pirate.

Jack raced up the stairs leading to the stern deck and placed himself firmly behind the helm. "Well, seein' as you are, in fact, the subject in question, my logic stands." He scowled. "Shouldn't you be mindin' the desert?"

Tarrant stood opposite Jack at the wheel and glared again. He lunged to the right. Jack moved to the left. He darted left. Jack parried right.

"Yehr a slurvish, foul, finaglin', fiendish, fallamon—"

"English!" Jack cried in anguish, stopping the mad bastard before he entered into yet another endless loop of gibberish.

"You're a deceitful scoundrel who would besmirch Alice's lovely virtue for your own selfish gain!"

Jack leaned forward with a confounded expression on his face. "Pirate." He then choked when one of Tarrant's hands fisted about his neck through the pegs of the steerage wheel while the other frantically grasped for the locket just out of reach.

Jack's free hand slapped (albeit girlishly) at the madman's surprisingly fierce grip until they both entered into a slap war befit a pair of bickering girls fighting over a doll.

"It's mine!"

"It shouldn't be!"

"Well it is!"

"It isn't fair!"

"Life isn't fair else we'd have more rum, and you wouldn't haunt me every step!"

"What is going on here?" an angry female's voice cut sharply through the racket, and both men instantly stilled, straightened, and looked to the deck with shame.

Alice stood outside the captain's cabin, with purpled circles under her eyes, hands upon her beautifully rounded hips, and long, honey-gold curls messily tied back with a blue ribbon. Truly, if ever a Fury existed, in this moment she was its exact personification.

"Well?"

They both spoke up simultaneously.

"He's trying to steal a gift I brought for you—"

"He's attempting to trick and cheat you—"

"—and I've had it. What say we throw him overboard—"

"—he's a frumious, wretched, slalladrag—"

"—and let the rocks handle 'im."

"—of the worst kind, Alice, and I'll not have it!"

Alice stared back and forth between the pair, bewilderment in her eyes and an angry flush upon her cheeks.

"Enough! One at a time. Jack."

Jack smirked at the hatter, pleased to be chosen first, and in his mind, confirming what he knew all along. He was the favourite.

"Thank you, me darlin'." He discreetly turned, stuck his tongue out, and flipped back around towards Alice. He deftly circled behind her and gently laid the shining locket against her pale throat, inhaling deeply at her ear, and brushing her hair aside to fasten the clasp at the nape of her neck.

"I found you a pretty," he whispered in a way he assumed was seductive, "and that cretin was trying to prevent me from seeing it at its rightful place against your lovely throat, lovely."

Alice stared down at the white rock now resting atop her breasts and attempted to ascertain what exactly they were fighting over. She cautiously picked it up and turned it about in her fingers.

Tarrant held his breath before her, staring intently at the rock, while Jack hummed in appreciation at the view afforded from above and behind.

She hesitated. "It's… lovely."

The captain flashed that damned triumphant smirk again at Tarrant and winked.

The hatter crossed his arms. "And what was it you were hoping to gain from this supposed act of charity—"

"It wasn't charity."

"You said something about, and I quote, not disturbing your kissing and telling?"

Alice's eyes widened and she turned to face Jack, who was now glowering at the man he would murder before all was said and done.

Jack laid a hand over his heart. "I would never," he gasped, affecting astonishment, then reached for her hands. "Unless, a cours', you wanted me to, an' then that would be a different matter entirely."

Tarrant quickly crossed to Alice's side and placed a protective hand upon her shoulder.

The two men once again engaged in a battle of glares and unconsciously closed the distance between each other until Alice forced herself to step between the pair to avoid unnecessary conflict. This apparently made no difference whatsoever, and Alice soon found herself wedged between them and surrounded by a cloud of male pride thick enough to choke a horse.

And then she had a realisation.

With the feeling of each man pressing against her, rather insistently, she quirked a brow.

She was wedged between them.

Alice inhaled and slowly turned her chin to stare first at one man and then the other. The situation in which she presently found herself was quickly turning into the dream she'd had interrupted moments before when their shouting match had rudely torn her from her hard-won sleep. Perhaps if she played this just right….

"Am I to understand you were concerned for me?" she asked sweetly, coy eyes flicking up at her hatter. "Or were you jealous?"

Tarrant's mouth worked silently. Jack rolled his eyes.

"I… Alice, I will always be concerned for you… and… but that... rogue is simply… and you are just so—"

"Ugh," Jack groaned. "Are you finished yet?" He leaned forward and whispered nastily, "Your wooing needs work."

"How dare you," Tarrant clipped.

"Gentlemen!" Alice cried, placing a hand upon each chest. "We mustn't lose our heads here."

Tarrant choked.

"That's exactly the sort of thing a place like this will do to people. We must rise above the conflict." She inhaled once more. "Now. There are much better ways to solve this ill-placed sense of territorialism."

Tarrant's eyes widened with panic while Jack's widened with interest.

"Alice," Tarrant said, "I would never wish to ever presume, much less try to claim you at all."

"I would."

The two looked at Jack with varying degrees of astonishment.

"As I was saying," Alice said again, and anxiously cleared her throat. "I'm a great proponent for… sharing."

The pirate's eyes glazed over while the hatter's blinked in confusion and drifted out of focus.

"Pardon?" they both said.

Alice's lips curved mischievously and she batted her blonde eyelashes. "Why fight a battle that doesn't exist?"

Jack all but whimpered; Tarrant nearly fainted.

"Do you have a preference for schedules?" the pirate murmured.

"I think not. We're all friends, aren't we?"

"Alice!"

Jack swept his eyes over Tarrant's form as if to appraise him and shrugged. "Well, if this is Hell, I could think of worse ways to pass the time."

Alice grinned and slowly began backing towards the cabin, silently beckoning each man to follow as if she were their gravitational center that they helplessly were pulled after. Their own personal Siren.

"Naughty…" Tarrant murmured, eyelids lowered with desire as he gazed upon this whole New Alice.

"Let us hope so," Jack murmured, closing the door behind them, while a gold, Spanish locket fell quietly to the floor.