Author: Laura H fried_flamingo
Rating: This chapter PG-13, later chapters R
Pairing: J/E, some W/E
Category: angst, romance, AU
Summary: A tale of regrets and misjudgements and freedom denied.
Chapter One and author's notes here.
She was the last thing he’d expected to find, but had been the first sight to greet him when he left his ship. Jack had always known that, someday, events would lead him back to the Caribbean. But he’d assumed it would be many years from now, once his commission was at an end and he could live out his dotage on Antigua or St Kitts. To return any sooner would have been pointless folly, he’d told himself, stirring up troubles that were best left in the past. Sleeping dogs and all that. Then, four months ago, he’d had the dream for the first time.
Sinking slowly towards the ocean floor, he could only watch as the glittering rays of sunlight grew dimmer and the blackness claimed his cursed soul. He did not drown, for he felt no urge to breathe. The ocean’s weight crushed his limbs and torso, making movement impossible, turning him to stone, like a gargoyle hanging in the water. Eventually the sun disappeared altogether and he hit the bottom, stirring up centuries old silt and sediment.
Time passed and, like the ancient cadavers of long dead leviathans, his body merged with the contours of the submarine landscape. Neither dead nor alive, he no longer remembered his name.
The sea was motionless this far down, too deep for storms or tides to trouble it. Eternity stretched out before him as a void of silence and night. Suddenly, though, the water moved in ripples along his calcified body and he knew he was no longer alone. Slowly, light returned, but this was not the sunlight to which he’d said goodbye an aeon before. This, he knew, was the light of an angel.
“Jack,” said the angel in a voice like molten gold.
“Is that my name?” he asked, but the spirit ignored his question and floated teasingly at the corner of his vision.
The light grew, blinding him, and fingers caressed his hands and wrists, freeing him from the sand and stone that shackled him. Ghostly lips pressed against his own, breathing air into his starved lungs, and at once he felt both saved and damned. His body grew lighter and, held in the angel’s embrace, he surged upwards, higher and higher until the surface was near…
Jack had awoken in his bunk, limbs tangled in a twisted mess of sweat sodden sheets and had known that soon he would return to the Caribbean. The next morning the papers had arrived ordering the voyage.
Tortuga, however, had not been part of the plan and neither had she.
Elizabeth staggered backwards on legs that he knew were like lead on land. Her hands flew to her face, covering her eyes, and Jack wondered if they still bore that flicker of guilt that he’d witnessed on more than one occasion after being reclaimed from the Locker.
“Is this real?” she asked.
“Very much so, love.” Jack affected a smile, but it masked the shock he felt at seeing her in such a state. Nine years gone since last they’d met; he’d known that things would not be as he’d left them, but to see the woman he’d known in such sorry circumstances pained him beyond reason. What has happened to you, Lizzie? he wondered, silently, remembering the fire and the passion of the last night they had spent together. How did you come to this?
A measure of guilt sat heavy in his gut, though he tried hard not to give it quarter. His leaving had been for the best, both of them had understood that. But after so long a time Jack began to doubt whether his reasoning had been sound. Feeling ill-equipped to deal with the questions that were bound to arise, levity settled on Jack’s shoulders like rusty armour. “I’m sure the lump behind your ear will confirm the indisputable reality of the present situation.”
She looked at him again. “You could easily be a product of that lump. You may be nothing more than an illusion conjured up by a nasty blow to the head.”
Pushing himself up from the chair, Jack strode across the room to stand in front of her.
“No illusion, Lizzie,” he said, softly. “Feel.” He took hold of her hand in his and pressed it to his chest. Tilting his head, he let his eyes drop to her parted lips. As his gaze lingered, though, he was suddenly sure he could feel a tingle in his mouth, like the sting of salt in an open wound and the clink of metal against wood rang in his ears. A weight was crushing him from above. “Elizabeth…”
The blow caught him on the left side of his head, spinning him almost 180 degrees.
“What the bloody hell…?” he exclaimed, holding his face.
“Whether you be trick of the mind or not, Jack Sparrow, one thing is certain,” cried Elizabeth, rubbing her knuckles. “You do not belong here and you are most unwelcome! I want you as far away from me - and this island - as is humanly possible.”
“And that’s it? After nine years, after what I--? That’s all you have to say to me? I pick your sorry grog addled carcass up off the street, give you my bed to sleep in, and all I get for me trouble is a clout round the ear? That's gratitude, that is.”
“Gratitude? I should show you gratitude? I may have been slightly drunk tonight, Captain Sparrow, but if I have a taste for rum, then the blame lies directly on your shoulders. As do a variety of other charges.”
Jack found himself walking backwards as Elizabeth marched towards him, anger twisting her features. “I did what was best…”
“Best for you! It’s always what’s best for Jack Sparrow, isn’t it? You dragged me into this hideous lifestyle, lost me everything that I held dear, forced me to abandon my life, my home…”
“Ha! Forced you? I freed you!”
“… and then, when I had nothing left but a warrant for my arrest and the promise of a stout rope, you left me! Abandoned me! And for what? To accept a commission from the company whose very name is a curse upon the lips of pirates.” Elizabeth’s eyes were blazing now, her mouth pulled back in an angry snarl. “Name me one thing, Jack Sparrow, for which I owe you my gratitude!”
Jack paused and then said. “The Pearl.”
Elizabeth’s expression settled into something unreadable at the sound of her name and it was then that Jack knew something had gone horribly wrong.
The Black Pearl.
Elizabeth felt her stomach drop, as if she was descending from the crest of a mountainous wave. A tiny needlepoint of shame tried to bore its way into her heart, but quickly she shut it out.
“The Pearl, Elizabeth,” repeated Jack. “Didn’t I give you that?” And for a fleeting moment Elizabeth almost thought he sounded earnest. Then he turned and walked over to sit back down in the chair, swinging a leg casually over its arm. “And furthermore, I seem to recall that it was not you but my good self who stood upon that snowy cliff and watched you sail off over the horizon. Can I enquire as to why I’m suddenly the harbinger of all misfortunes that have since befallen you?”
Elizabeth hesitated before she spoke. “You were standing on the cliff?”
The thought was strange and biting; bittersweet, like the taste of grapefruit, and roused in her a feeling that she no longer recognised. She wondered too whether she really recognised the man in front of her. Yes his name was Jack Sparrow and, yes, the cocksure swagger remained very much present but he no longer swayed erratically as he walked. His voice still contained that damned self-assuredness but the perpetually drunken slur was gone. Absent too were the beads and braids from his hair and though the bandana remained, this one looked like it had seen the wash bucket no more than a week ago. The cloth of his shirt was quality linen and obviously expensive and even his breeches, though clearly designed to be hard-wearing, would’ve cost more than an entire week’s plunder. This was Jack Sparrow, all smooth lines and clean skin, his dark eyes free from the black kohl smudges she remembered.
Jack frowned at her question and coughed. “That’s by the by, love,” he said, waving his hand and looking away. “Point is I gave you my ship. I’d like to imagine that perhaps the act hadn’t gone completely unrecognised. In actual fact, where is my… beg pardon, your ship? She certainly wasn‘t in the harbour when we docked. Have you hidden her?”
The spit-hiss on hot metal. The sting of bile in her throat.
The needlepoint grew red hot and Elizabeth felt her eyes begin to sting. She knew she should just come out with it; tell him the whole sorry tale. What was the worst he could do? After all, hadn’t he just acknowledged that the ship belonged to her? The fate of the Pearl was no longer his business. But still she couldn’t meet his eyes and somewhere in her mind, the voice of the girl she once was whispered that she’d betrayed him yet again.
“You lost her?” Jack gaped at Elizabeth, incredulous. “You lost my ship?” He knew that he should be angry, that she should be made to endure a torrent of the more descriptive phrases in his vocabulary. But somehow the words wouldn’t come. When she’d told him of the Pearl’s fate, he’d felt something break within, like a line pulled taut and then snapped, left to unravel.
“No, Captain Sparrow.” And somehow the formality made it worse. “She was my ship. You said as much yourself. My ship for over seven years. Or do you now wish to reclaim ownership?” Her eyes met his and for a moment he thought they seemed almost fearful.
Jack shook his head. “I couldn’t ever reclaim her from you, Elizabeth.” He rubbed his hands over his eyes, cursing himself for this absurd reaction. It was lunacy. She was a ship, just a ship. Why the bloody hell was he acting like a maiden who had lost her love?
It’s the point of the thing, though, he told himself. Losing a good bloody boat like that. Perfectly trim, able to suffer the most furious of seas, sails like the hide of an orca… He leapt to his feet. “Couldn’t bloody well take her back now even if I wanted to, could I?” he cried. “Where is she anyway, eh? Tell me it was something noble, Elizabeth. Tell me she went down under the full force of the His Majesty’s Navy. She deserved that at least.”
But Elizabeth dropped her gaze and looked uneasy, fingers nervously pulling down on the long sleeve of the shirt she wore.
“No,” said Jack, grinning ruefully as he came to stand by her, his hand resting on the wall above her shoulder. “You couldn’t even give her that. So what was it, my sweet? Mutinied upon? Stolen by…?”
“Cards,” said Elizabeth, suddenly, lifting her chin defiantly.
“It was cards, Jack. I lost your precious ship in an ill-judged game of Cacho. I ran up a debt and the Pearl was the only thing of value I had to offer as collateral.”
The line unspooled a little more.
“You used the Pearl to pay your gambling debts,” he said, with a leaden voice. “Of course you did.”
Things truly had changed, Jack realised then, and he’d been a fool to expect otherwise. Ten years gone since she’d sailed beyond World’s End to find him, nine since he’d last set eyes upon her; the hands had circled the clock many times. How could anything have remained the same? Buried amongst this reasoning, however, was the pernicious whisper that even on their last night, on that beach, his belief in her feelings for him was the product of longing rather than fact.
Elizabeth shrugged and pushed her way past him. “Well, needs must and all that,” she said casually, and to Jack she suddenly sounded like a maddening echo of things past. “And you can think what you like, Jack Sparrow, but at least I’ve only lost it the once and not three times like it‘s previous skipper.”
He smiled and narrowed his eyes, thinking that maybe her barb should sting a little bit more than it did. Jack leaned back against the wall, arms crossed in an attempt at nonchalance. “Well, technically, love, I’ve only lost her twice seeing as on one of those occasions I had the misfortune to be lost with her. But then I’m sure you recall that as well as I.”
Silence grew thick between them and suddenly the candle guttered and died, leaving them in darkness save for the faint glow of pre-dawn light pushing its way through the shutters.
“I’m going to leave now, Jack,” said Elizabeth, at last. “Despite what you may think of me, my life here goes on; will go on after you’ve returned to whichever Eastern paradise you came from. While it may not be the Pearl, I do still have a ship under my command and I sail with the tide in an hour. I suggest you do the same.”
She walked to the door, pulled it open and had almost made it through when Jack spoke up once more.
“Just a second, love.”
“What do you want now?” she asked in a tired voice.
Pushing himself from the wall, he was at the door in an instant, kicking it closed with a resounding bang. Elizabeth jumped back, startled.
“My dear Miss Swann,” he said with a lecherous smirk, “I want you to take off those clothes.”
Something in the hollow of Elizabeth’s chest stirred at Jack’s tone. Shock, nothing more, she told herself and tried to assume what she hoped was a dignified look of distaste. “I beg your pardon?”
“Strip, my love.” Amidst the array of sensations fighting for supremacy inside her, she was aware of one rising to the surface; a pinsharp flicker of panic lifted the hairs at the nape of her neck, like a cat before a thunderstorm. Elizabeth found herself thinking again about the pressing need for a weapon, but without her short sword she already felt naked. Then her eyes fell on the ivory hilt of the sword which hung from Jack’s belt. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, her foot edged forward, ready to take her weight. She rubbed her thumb over the side of her index finger.
“Your impropriety appals me, Captain Sparrow.” Before her lips had finished forming his name, she had leapt, springing forward, arm outstretched. Her fingers closed on the intricate carvings of the sword’s grip and she drew it quickly and smoothly from the scabbard. But Jack’s hands caught her wrists before the point was free, pressing hard, forcing her to release her hold.
Any argument she'd ever had regarding her skills being equal to that of a man were rendered moot by the irrefutable laws of nature; he was stronger than her and no exertion on her part could reverse that fact. Jack pulled her arms apart, lifting them until her hands were level with his face. His fingers encircled her wrists and beneath the shirt, her skin burned.
A spit-hiss and a smell like bouccans.
Barely inches apart now, Elizabeth was suddenly acutely aware of how her thigh brushed his and her eyes fell shut, waiting, waiting for what was to come next. All she could hear was his ragged breath and the deafening thud of her own heart and then… Unexpectedly, she was free. Staggering backwards, she opened her eyes feeling light headed and disorientated. Jack stepped away, chuckling, but it sounded strange and unnatural, containing little real humour.
“A little late to talk of propriety, isn’t it darlin‘? But let‘s have it your way. We’ll pretend, shall we, that you’re once again the innocent governor’s daughter and I‘m the rum soaked pirate with too many words in his mouth?” He cleared his throat, sketching a bow, and launched into a perfect imitation of the slurred voice that, for nine years, Elizabeth had only heard spoken in her mind. “My dear Miss Swann, I would be most appreciative if you would consent to divest your person of its current apparel, thereby rendering yourself, as it were, naked.” He finished with a flourish of his hand.
Elizabeth flushed, her throat suddenly dry, but, knowing that it was his intention to scandalise, she strove to hide her incredulity. “Is this a joke?” she asked and was glad that her voice remained without tremor.
“Not at all, love. If it was a joke I’d have started with the line ‘Two seamstresses walk into a tavern’, but in this matter I am entirely bereft of flippancy.” He paused and looked at her. “Point is, sweetheart, you can leave any time you like, but the clothes stay here.”
It was then that Elizabeth understood one very important fact she had previously overlooked. The clothing she wore was not her own. They were clean for one, free from the blood and dirt and other foulness in which she’d found herself the night before. The breeches fell almost to her ankles and the shirt, she could have fitted into twice over. Her stomach lurched as she realised someone had undressed her while she was passed out. Jack was staring at her, a vague smile playing at his lips. “That shirt is Chinese silk, very expensive,” he continued “You’ve already made off with one thing of value that belonged to me. I reckon that’s enough for one lifetime, don’t you?”
“You… Did you…?” She struggled to ask him the question, her eyes downcast.
“Calm yourself, Lizzie. I had the landlady of this fine boarding house attend to you. Surmised you wouldn’t take too kindly to a robust, red-blooded sailor such as myself seeing you all indecent.”
So it was the clothes. He just wanted the clothes back. Elizabeth chided herself for thinking it could be anything else, but then another thought struck her. She looked down at the long sleeves of the garment she wore, wondering if the woman had removed everything, including the strip of leather that bound her wrist.
Is it gone? she thought, remembering the tight grip of his hands. Could he know?
“My effects, Captain Sparrow?” she enquired, surreptitiously running her hand beneath the fabric, suppressing a sigh of relief when she found the band still present.
“Your sword and pistol are over there with your boots,” he said, indicating with a wave of his hand. “Your beads and trinkets and suchlike, I have here.” Walking to where his coat hung on a hook behind the door, Jack reached into the pocket and withdrew the various baubles and charms that normally hung around her neck. “And very pretty they are too,” he said, handing them back to her. The smile on his lips was different now, softer and she realised that he must have seen the tiny frayed ribbon of red fabric that she normally tied into her hair.
Does he even remember?
“I had those burned.” He shrugged at her expression. “There’d be no getting the smell out anyway, love.”
“But then…” Elizabeth clutched her small bundle of belongings and looked down at her temporary apparel, wondering, desolately, what she was supposed to do now. To her horror a thick lump suddenly formed in her throat and for the first time in countless years Elizabeth Swann knew that she was going to cry. She was going to sob like a child in front of the last man who she would ever want to see her like this, the last man who could ever comfort her.
And for the briefest of moments Elizabeth was somewhere else; gone from the chamber of Captain Jack Sparrow, far from Tortuga, with its sinfulness and despair. She was in Port Royal, in the garden of her father’s mansion, playing by the fountain. Her doll was Anne Bonny, fleeing for her life on a water lily boat, the might of the Royal Navy at her back. But the doll was too heavy and when Elizabeth had let go, poor Anne had quickly sunk to the bottom. Tears had come freely for she had thought herself alone and in quite a wretched situation. She’d felt like there could never be a more hopeless cause than poor, lost Anne Bonny.
“I can save her for you, Miss Swann,” said a gentle voice and when she’d turned Will Turner had been standing there, foil case from his master clutched in his hand. Before she could even reply, Will had removed his shoes and stockings and plunged knee deep into the ice cold waters of the fountain, scooping up Anne from her watery grave. Elizabeth remembered sobs hitching in her throat as she struggled to stem her tears, but mostly she remembered that she had never seen anyone look so earnest as the young, sodden boy before her.
I can save her for you, Miss Swann.
A fat tear slid from her eye and she watched as it fell forever before landing on the floor; a round, wet space in the layer of dust.
“Elizabeth?” The voice was deeper and richer than the one which rang in her memory, but in that moment sounded just as heartfelt. She raised her head.
The door was open, Jack’s fingers resting on the handle. His eyes were dark and unfathomable. “You can go now. I’m sorry. It was wrong of me to tease.” And for once there was no trace of levity in his tone.
Without any further word Elizabeth left and when the door closed at her back she knew he was as lost to her as the Black Pearl.