Author: Laura H fried_flamingo
Rating: This chapter PG, later chapters R
Pairing: J/E, some W/E
Category: angst, romance, AU
Summary: A tale of regrets and misjudgements and freedom denied.
Author's notes: This is chapter one of a completed story. Set ten years after AWE and AU in the sense that I've contradicted the AWE post credit coda and dealt with a very different Elizabeth than the woman we see in that scene. I've also taken out of the equation the completely illogical plot point that required Will to cut out his heart.
All the thanks in the world to salr323 for her thorough beta, for her continued brainstorming and for giving me a kick up the arse to finish this, even after AWE damn near broke me heart.
Stories unfold in a circle; the end of one is often the beginning of another. Like the world as it travels through the heavens, such stories are eternal, spinning back upon themselves, timeless and unchanging.
But look below.
In Tortuga, there are many tales. Of good and evil, heroes and villains, princesses and pirates.
A tale which began with glory, with a battle where courage triumphed and freedom was an idea worth dying for. But such tales do not always have a happy ending.
Look ahead, ten years, to a drunken pirate, fresh from pillage and plunder on the open seas, seeking refuge in a tavern where the grog is cheap and a fight is easy to come by. The pirate tries not to think of the blood that was spilled that day or of the love that was lost or of the countless other trials that have led to this pitiful end. For such thoughts bring sorrow that a human heart can hardly bear.
So while there’s rum to be had and a brawl for the asking, the pirate wishes for nothing else. For she knows that in her story such wishes are for naught…
The punch came from nowhere, blindsiding her and suddenly the lights of the tavern seemed hazy, but at the same time, all too bright. Her head spun and the bottle dropped from her hand, an age passing before it shattered on the floor. Like torn rigging, her knees buckled, but before her fall was complete, her upper arms were grabbed roughly by two sets of hands and another vicious blow landed in her stomach. She sagged, gasping for air, arms pulled taught between the two men who stood on either side. There was fight in her yet, though, and summoning her last reserves of strength, she kicked her legs wildly, blindly, hoping to make contact. But her brain was fogged and muddled by too much rum. Too much rum, and yet not nearly enough.
More hands grabbed her ankles and she found herself suspended, face down, above the spit covered floor. The room started moving and she closed her eyes to repel its dizzying effects until, abruptly, her head collided with something and she realised it was the tavern door.
The faint chill of Tortuga’s night air did little to sober her and, as she was carried outside, she decided it was time to stop struggling.
“Maybe you should find a soft bed for the night, captain,” growled a coarse voice, followed by a chorus of ugly laughter and an instant later Elizabeth Swann found herself flying through the air only to land in a foul swamp of mud and pig excrement.
Swings and roundabouts, love.
The thought was sudden, unbidden and she cursed the voice that echoed in her head. Unwelcome but not unfamiliar, that voice had been her only constant these ten years.
Her nostrils stung with the stench of her surroundings and suddenly her rum stupor seemed like a sweet, but distant, memory. Dragging herself to the edge of the pen, she wiped her face on the only clean patch that remained on her hemp shirt. The material came away stained with dirt and blood and Elizabeth tried in vain to remember how the skirmish had begun and who, in fact, had started it.
You don’t care who started it, darlin’. It’s the fight you care for. Nothing else.
“Shut up,” she slurred and pulled herself to her feet, checking first for her sword, then for her pistol and, finding both in place, set off unsteadily down the street.
“Tuppence for some company, sir?” called a hoarse voiced doxy, emerging from the darkness of a doorway and grasping at her elbow. This one must be new, thought Elizabeth. Most of the harpies on Tortuga knew her and steered well clear for fear of losing their few remaining teeth. But this one… she evidently didn’t know her prospective patron was a woman. Or perhaps didn’t care, so long as the coin in her pouch was bona fide. Studying her face, Elizabeth was caught offguard by the realisation that the whore couldn’t be much older than twenty. About the age she’d been when she’d first met…
“Unhand me, harlot,” she snarled, jerking her arm from the girl’s grasp. The movement knocked her off kilter and she staggered further down the street, struggling to make her legs hold her upright.
There but for the grace of God, dear Lizzie. Not an altogether easy thought, eh?
“Shut up! Shut up!” Her cries were louder now, loud enough to be heard by the other men and women who swarmed the streets of this scoundrel’s haven. But no one turned to listen to the rum soaked pirate wage war with ghostly voices, or to watch her stagger her way back to where her ship lay in dock. This was Tortuga after all.
“Well, if it ain’t the distinguished Captain Swann. Been partaking of the delights of this idyllic haven’s elegant watering holes again I see.”
Elizabeth halted in her tracks and whirled around to greet the owner of the sneering voice. “Mr. Baxter! How fortuitous that I found you. I was just on my way to your lodgings in order to settle our arrangement. Three shillings wasn‘t it?”
“Fortuitous is it?” asked the man in a coarse accent. “Well captain, we’ll see how fortuitous it is when you hand over the six shillings what you owe me.”
“Yes, of course. I shall settle the debt forthwith.” said Elizabeth, making an elaborate show of patting the pockets of her soiled waistcoat. “Hmm, you seem to have found me embarrassed for funds, Mr. Baxter. I swear, I had a purse full of coin not ten minutes ago. Some scoundrel has picked me clean no doubt.”
But Mr. Baxter seemed unimpressed by her apparent misfortune at the hands of Tortuga’s criminal underworld and cast his eyes over the top of her head, nodding almost imperceptibly.
“I assure you, Baxter, I have every intention of repaying you. In fact, if you allow me to return to my ship…” She jerked her thumb in the direction of the harbour.
“Yes, Swann, you will repay me and don‘t even think about taking your ship out of dock,” growled the man. “You’ve got one day and consider this a payment of interest.”
The cudgel caught her behind the ear before she even realised Baxter’s thug was at her back. Cold stone came up to meet her, and as her vision darkened and that familiar voice sighed once again in her ear, mocking her with its sympathy.
“Elizabeth Turner, what has the world done to you?”
“Shut up,” she croaked again, but this time her words were a barely audible whisper and just before the darkness brought blessed release, she could’ve sworn she felt someone touching her hair.
Amos Baxter sat at his table in the corner of the Faithful Bride, staring at the ledger in front of him. Every so often his pen scratched over the thin paper, scribbling numbers on the page. He found himself distracted from his calculations, however, by the memory of the strange scene he had witnessed in the street not half an hour before.
“Jacob,” he called to the tavern’s owner, raising his tankard. “Another one and this time I expect the ale I asked for. Keep this watered down swill for the sea dogs too far gone to know what’s what.”
The barkeep growled and turned to fill another tankard, while Baxter returned to his musings. Walking away after his encounter with Captain Swann he’d happened to glance over his shoulder to where he’d left her lying in the street. A man stood over her. At first Baxter had presumed the fellow aimed to rob her.
‘Let him try,’ he’d thought, having had Sully, his henchman, search the Captain’s pockets five minutes prior. ‘He’ll have slim pickings there.’ But as he’d watched Baxter had quickly realised the man was no thief. He was dressed too well for a start. Not in the grand finery of a merchant, but his coat was well cut and his boots of good sturdy leather. A privateer perhaps. But what was his interest in the woman at his feet?
This little tableau had aroused Baxter’s interest even further when the gent knelt down, right there in the street, and, as tender as if he was handling a new born babe, lifted her head into his lap. His fingers brushed the hair at her temples, pulling strands from the matted blood drying there and his lips moved in speech, though Baxter could not hear his words. A strange sight indeed.
Then, as if suddenly realising his situation, the man had looked up, glancing around him warily. Abruptly he rose to his feet and swung the woman, who just a moment before he’d treated like delicate crystal, unceremoniously over his shoulder.
“Time to save your scrawny hide again, love,” he’d said, before heading back down the street.
His entertainment gone, Amos had returned to the Bride and taken up his usual table, ready to offer a helping hand to those unfortunate souls who found themselves with a taste for rum, or a need for some gaming, but short of a few bob by which to procure such pleasures; Baxter’s purse was always open - for an appropriate repayment, of course. He’d settled himself to welcome any prospective clientele, assuming that his share of amusing diversions was over for the evening.
This assumption, however, was about to prove incorrect. Slow, deliberate footsteps alerted him to the man’s presence before he looked up from the ledger in front of him. Distractedly, Baxter kicked out the chair opposite.
“Sit down, my friend. You find me in a generous mood this evening.”
“I’m no friend of yours, Mr Baxter, but if you’re very careful you may yet avoid making me your enemy.”
Baxter looked up, frowning, ready to summon Sully should he require a pair of fists. His brow rose when he realised that in front of him stood the very gentleman about whom he had just been pondering. The man grinned and Baxter’s eyes narrowed at the gleam in his mouth.
This was certainly no merchant, he decided. Something about his stance belied his expensive apparel. Amos had spent his entire youth flitting between the myriad harbour towns that existed around the coast of Hispaniola, places in which the word ‘law’ was as foreign as the strange, exotic languages of the natives. Towns like Tortuga, where only the most hardened travellers dared anchor their vessels. He hadn’t survived to the grand age of thirty-six in these places without being able to recognise the animal within a man. This one had it in spades; a touch of the feline about him. Stealthy, calculating, one that could dazzle you with charm but whose claws could rip out your gullet if given the chance. He might wear the coat of a gentleman, but his eyes told tales of misdeeds and transgressions. Though Baxter was almost certain he didn’t know this man, somewhere in the back of his mind, a memory stirred.
“Will you sit, sir? I’m at a loss to imagine how I might be able to serve you.”
“Be happy to, mate,” the man replied with sudden geniality, ignoring the chair kicked out by Baxter and picking up the one adjacent. He spun it round and sat astride it, arms slung casually across its back. “I believe you’ve recently had the occasion to do business with an acquaintance of mine.”
“I do business with a lot of people around this port, mister uh…?”
But the fellow ignored his implied request. “Captain Swann is the person to whom I refer. In fact I’m given to understand that you had dealings with her this very evening?”
“Ah yes,” replied Baxter, feigning surprise, not caring if it was convincing, “I recall I did have a conversation earlier with your….acquaintance. I also recall that the outcome of the meeting was not exactly to my satisfaction.”
“Nor to hers, mate,” said the man in a low, dangerous voice.
“So how might we resolve this matter, sir, so that all parties find themselves equally satisfied?”
“Very simply.” The stranger reached into his shirt and removed a purse which hung hidden at his breast - definitely a man who knew the ways of Tortuga then. Baxter’s eyes grew large as soup plates as the stranger plucked two half guineas from the pouch and threw them on the table. “Elizabeth Swann is no longer a customer of yours, Baxter. If I find, in future, that you have ignored this instruction then I’ll return and you may find my repayment terms less than agreeable. Savvy?” The golden grin flashed again.
Baxter swallowed. But he remembered the way the stranger had stroked Swann’s forehead and knew that the price could be pushed a little higher.
“Well, that does seem a fair price, sir,” he said, sitting forward in his chair. “Though I dare say there are certain representatives of the East India Company who’d fork out a greater sum to see the good Captain swing from a sturdy rope. I’d also hazard a guess that there exists on this fair isle those unscrupulous individuals what would be willing to reveal the whereabouts of Miss Swann for a share in that booty.”
The man smiled and looked down at the table, tracing his finger through a drop of ale that had spilled there. “Have you ever met a eunuch, Mr. Baxter?”
“A eunuch. You know, snippy-snippy?” he clarified, illustrating with his fingers.
Baxter shook his head, suddenly perplexed, trying to figure out whether he should be vexed about the strange turn the conversation had taken.
“I have,” continued the stranger. “Beautiful singing voice, he had. Thing is I’ve always wondered how you’d go about rendering a man… eunuchised as it were. Do you think there would be a lot of blood?”
Baxter set his jaw. “A guinea is a fair price. Glad to do business with you, sir.” The man nodded slowly, the self-assured grin spreading across his face once more, and rose to leave. As he turned away, though, anger flared in Baxter. He wasn’t used to being bested like this. “A guinea is more than fair, sir. In fact, many a man has had more than his fill of the fair Captain Swann for a much lesser price. I hope you get your money‘s worth.”
Baxter’s head thudded into the slate of the tavern floor before he even realised he’d been knocked off his chair. The man loomed over him, knee on his chest, a hand around his throat. He was no longer grinning and for the first time since his father was alive, Amos Baxter felt true fear.
“Your grunt moves any closer and I gut you where you lie.” The dagger flashed and from the corner of his eye, Baxter saw Sully stop halfway across the taverns floor.
“You would do well to keep your tongue civil, Mr. Baxter, lest you should lose the cursed thing.” The cold tang of metal was pressed between his teeth and Baxter felt a trickle of something wet roll down the side of his mouth. “Do we understand each other?”
“Ungh!” replied Baxter, struggling for breath, and then he was free. The weight was gone from his chest and he rolled onto his side, choking and retching. Through the water that blurred his vision, he watched the man stride boldly towards the door, ignoring the other patrons who stared and muttered amongst each other, uncharacteristically reluctant to inflame the fracas any further.
Leaning on the table, Baxter dragged himself to his feet. It was as he wiped the blood from the corner of his mouth, smarting from both his injury and his wounded pride, that the stir of memory blossomed into full realization. Baxter grinned, bitterly.
So he’s returned from the east, he thought, and apparently the stories were true. How tragic that he should find his Pirate King come to such an end.
Consciousness crept back like an old, despised acquaintance bringing with it a resounding headache and a rotten taste in her mouth. Vague images of the night before flashed through Elizabeth’s mind, but any inclination she may once have had toward regret or shame had, like many other things, long since abandoned her; she desired nothing more than forgetfulness and a bottle of rum to hasten it.
Her eyes sprang open. Something was missing. The hangover, the throb in her head, the hollow despair that inevitably followed a night of boozing and fighting, these things were nothing new. But where was the sound? The sound by which she sometimes thought her heart timed its beats. The sound of the ship. The steady creak and groan of her wooden bones as she rocked in the water, the soft hush of the sea as it stroked her hull, the clink of instruments as they rolled back and forth across the table top - all were absent and Elizabeth realised with gut churning certainty that she was not on the water and most definitely not in her cabin. Instead, her head rested on soft sheets that smelled faintly of pearlash soap mixed with something else. A scent that stirred a memory somewhere…
Elizabeth sprang to her feet, ignoring the wave of nausea that swept over her and realising, as she reached for it, that her short sword was absent. So too was her pistol. A weapon therefore would have to be improvised. She cast her eyes frantically around searching for anything she could use to bludgeon or stab or burn, but the ice-blue slivers of moonlight that pushed their way through the shutters revealed nothing but shadows. And in them something moved. “Who’s there?! Show yourself, damn you!”
“Settle down, sweetheart.”
Elizabeth Swann felt the world tilt and spin beneath her feet.
“Don’t want you fainting away again. I think I’ve done more than my share of hauling you off the floor for one evening.”
“No,” she whispered, shaking her head. This wasn’t real. That voice wasn’t real.
“Oh yes, love,” it said and in the darkness a match sparked into life, illuminating long fingers on a tanned, leathered hand. Elizabeth’s breath stopped in her throat at the sight of the onyx ring, like a dark, unblinking eye, on the index finger. The flame travelled to a candlewick a few inches away and suddenly the room was alive with light and dancing shadows.
"Evenin', darlin’." Blowing out the match and leaning back languorously in his chair, Captain Jack Sparrow grinned at her, candlelight dancing on gold. "Aren't you going to welcome me back to the Caribbean?"