PotC fic: Oranges and Lemons (Jack, PG, 1/1) Title: Oranges and Lemons Author:shyaway Rating: PG Character: Jack Disclaimer: Pirates of the Caribbean and its characters belong to Disney. Sequel compliant?: No. Summary: In the bleak midwinter... A scene from a mis-spent childhood. Jack's vocation manifests itself early, a long way from his future home. A/N: Thank you to my lovely beta hereswith. :-)
“Spare a copper or two, sir? It’s cold of a night this time of year and me an’ my babes ain’t got nowhere to sleep.”
The gentleman thus applied to quickened his pace as best he could through the squelching, sludgy grey snow. He had little thought to meet such a person in this part of town; they should have the decency to keep to their own kind in the parish of Saint Giles.
Clutching her swaddled baby to her chest, the other child floundering through the snow after her, the woman hurried alongside him. “Please, sir…” she whined.
“For goodness’ sake, madam, go about your business!”
“But sir –”
She snatched at his velvet sleeve, unbalancing him and causing him to almost fall over the little boy, who gazed up at him forlornly. Perhaps the child’s mournful expression pricked the gentleman’s heart, for he said with a little more kindness than before, “If you need aid, apply to your parish.” Then he went on his way with a harrumph and a wish that something could be done about those people coming onto these streets.
If he had looked closer, he would have noticed that the woman, though not quite a beauty, was pretty enough if you weren’t accustomed to primped and perfumed fine ladies, and uncommonly dark – he might have speculated that she were Irish. Had he been curious enough to look back, he would have seen the rejected supplicant and her offspring scamper into the nearest alley, where she put down the swaddled bundle – filled with nothing more than rags; an easy, sympathy-winning distraction – and crouched, the better to talk to her son.
“Well,” she said in softer accents than those she had used with the gentleman, although still decidedly those of one born within hearing of the great bell at Bow, “what did you get?”
With wordless pride the boy held up the filched purse for his mother’s blessing.
She smiled and gave him a quick caress (he didn’t much like being touched). “Good boy, Jack. That’s my good boy.”
They set off home, towards their own parish in the east – the gentleman would have been pleased - with Jack’s mother keeping a firm grip on her son’s hand, as she had learned from the earliest days of his walking that he would be off the minute her back was turned. Go anywhere with anyone, he would. Or even alone.
She guided them into her favourite alehouse, where the publican greeted her with, “Ciao, Anna!” A standing joke; her given name was Ann, but she had spent a few weeks with a pair of Italian sailors once and the greeting and the pronunciation had stuck, happily, as she liked it - it sounded up-market and exotic. On her production of their new riches, the landlord served up drinks and food – gin for her, milk for her child, a pie for both of them. The milk was three days old and so watered down, just a splash of it in a cup of water, that she gave him a taste of her gin. He made a face, but it was warming, so he drank as much as she would let him.
There was a grubby, months-old newspaper discarded on the bar. She could imagine that it had started off its life as a rich man’s possession, been left in a coffee house, picked up by one of the employees, passed around his friends, and finally abandoned here. The landlord agreed to let her have it. The text was so smeared and soiled as to be illegible now, and meant nothing to her anyway; she wanted to use it for other purposes.
They went down to the river. Despite the snow, it hadn’t been cold enough for the Thames to freeze over. Most people were at home by the fireside, though, and there was just one small group of land-bound sailors abroad to throw lewd suggestions to Anna, which she waved away – not that she turned her nose up at that kind of work, it was easier and more lucrative than begging (she had had an earl once), and usually less perilous than stealing – it was just that today there was no one around to keep an eye on Jack.
Besides, he was why she had come down here today. She helped him fold the newspaper into a boat, and his pinched face lit up when it floated on the dirty waters. They swirled it around on the eddies for a while, until Anna had numb hands and sore knees, and the boat was carried off by the current. Anna was all for going home then, but Jack made such a fuss that they had to run after it.
They found it caught, Moses-like, in a clump of reeds. Heedless of his mother’s protests that they couldn’t reach it, Jack scrambled away from her and would have plunged headlong into the river had Anna, alarmed, not grabbed hold of him and agreed to retrieve it. She picked him up (not safe to leave him anywhere) and waded in, weighed down by her skirts, shivering and cursing at the icy water on her legs, having to hold on to Jack all the tighter because he would not hold on to her; he would have been happy as a blackbird to fall in. She almost slipped in the mud a few times – turning the air blue in the process – and it was a struggle, with a squirming boy on her hip, but they got there. Jack plucked the soggy boat from the reeds, and was all smiles once more.
Anna wearily ferried him back to the bank, where she sat down heavily to rub her icy hands and feet. This dress would have to be dried somehow. It was her warmest one, too. Damn, it was cold – they would have to hurry back to the tavern, which had a good blaze.
She looked up. Jack was off again, this time heading further east, towards the docks. Perhaps it was his Italian sailor blood – if either of them had in fact been his father – or else it was sheer contrariness. She sprang to her numb feet, found they would not support her, and fell over.
This time, he heeded her. He returned, and kissed her grazed muddy hand with all the flair of a born heartbreaker. He supported her on the way back to the tavern, where they thawed out, and Anna bought more gin. When they got home, she spread her sodden warm dress out to dry thoroughly, and huddled under the blankets in her other dress, gulping the gin and occasionally passing the bottle to Jack, who refused to go to bed. He sat on the stone floor with some chalk, and drew pictures of boats.