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.
By the time she reached the Valioso, the sun had travelled far above the horizon, and though it was still early, another blazing hot Caribbean morning was underway. As she gave the orders to haul the braces, Elizabeth gazed out over the waters and marvelled as she did every morning at its beauty. Light glistened on its restless surface, casting up bright jewels which danced and shimmered on the cliff face. The sea summoned her with whispered promises that spoke of enchantment and mystery, filling her with a longing to set sail.
But as the quickly as it began the spell was shattered. She had long ago learned that the sea was neither magical nor beautiful; it was treacherous and lonely, and while the ocean might sing to you, its ultimate desire was to swallow you whole. This was her life, however, and such were her choices; the roaring monster in front of her or the hard reality of Tortuga at her back.
Elizabeth sighed, rubbing her wrist, and tried to remember a life before. Before the sea, before piracy and the scars that her adorned her body; a life before Jack Sparrow.
And before the red flame that scorches your lids every time you close your eyes; the one that’ll never quite fade.
“Was it lady luck what dressed you in such finery this morning, cap’n?” Elizabeth jumped at Ragetti’s voice and turned to face him.
“Such beautiful linens,” he expanded, gesturing at her clothes - Jack’s clothes - and grinning. “Might your purse be a little fuller also?”
“Ragetti,” she barked, pointing at the mottled bruise on her eye, “does this little souvenir give the impression that I had a lucky night last night?” Her first mate recoiled at her tone, his eye whirling madly in its socket. “And even if I had suddenly found myself in more prosperous circumstances, do you not think that perhaps I would have chosen to adorn myself in clothing which actually fitted?” Her voice had risen as she spoke, ending in a bellow, and from the corner of her eye Elizabeth could see the rest of the crew redouble their efforts to look busy in order to avoid the consequences of whatever temper had seized their captain this time.
Ragetti, though, quickly overcame his initial alarm at her outburst and squinted his face into an unsettling expression, mouth twisted and eyes cocked at odd angles. From years of experience, Elizabeth knew that this meant he was thinking. She sighed and waited to hear whatever notion was floating around his head.
“So those would be a gentleman’s clothes then?”
Elizabeth swallowed and tried to interrupt, but when assailed by the unpleasant business of thinking actual thoughts, Ragetti found it hard to keep them to himself.
“You spent the night ashore and’ve come back with a man’s overshirt and breeches on.”
“Ragetti…” she began in the most severe voice she could muster, but her throat was dry and he wasn’t listening anyway, his gaze focused at some point on the wood of the deck, mind working so hard she could almost hear it.
“It’s true, isn’t it?” he said in an awed whisper, turning to face her again.
“What is?” she asked, but the words seemed small somehow, lost in the sound of the waves that no longer whispered but hissed instead, as they crashed against the rocks.
“He’s back. He’s here.” The man had begun to hop about the deck an enormous grin splitting his face. “We’d heard tell this morning that he was come back but we thought it to be another story…”
Why are the waves so loud? she thought. There is little wind today, why are they so loud?
She shook her head trying to rid her ears of the noise and attempted in vain to still her animated first mate.
“Ragetti…” The other men were turning to watch now, puzzled by the bizarre little jig the sailor was dancing on the quarter deck. They murmured to one another and every so often Elizabeth would hear them speak his name. She wanted to wrest their tongues from their mouths. She wanted the name Jack Sparrow stricken from their memories and from her own. The jig continued though and the murmurs grew louder. Too loud. A throbbing had begun behind her eyes and her vision seemed to waver and blur every time she moved her head.
“There’s always the story, every time we come to Tortuga, that he‘s come back but it‘s never true. At least not until now!” He stopped suddenly, mouth agape. “Did he… did he bring her? Has he found her, cap’n?” His voice broke, ever so slightly, on that last word and Elizabeth might have felt some compassion at the hopefulness in his tone or perhaps even sadness, given that such hope was unfounded, but her head ached and her eyes stung and she could bring herself to feel neither.
No, he didn’t bring her back. Not even Jack Sparrow can bring her back.
Enough was enough. This was her ship and she wouldn’t have that scoundrel ruling her crew without having set foot on deck. She had to put a stop to this. Only the sea wasn’t just hissing now, it was roaring; like a great beast, like a monster awoken from a centuries old slumber, a thunderous howl foretelling its coming. Elizabeth stumbled past Ragetti, aiming for the balustrade, but her legs shook like a landlubber’s and she fell short, clutching desperately at a Jacob’s ladder to keep from falling. She would have sworn she’d been drugged, were it not for the fact that nary a thing had passed her lips since her last swig of rum the night before.
“Eyes on…eyes on ship, you pox ridden bilge rats! Prepare to… to stream anchor and cable! This ship…” She took a breath and it felt like a rock in her chest. “This ship leaves dock on the hour and if she isn’t ready I’ll have your hides for a mainsail!” But her threat had little effect and Elizabeth wondered if she had even spoken aloud. She could see the men standing still, watching her, but they were hazy and indistinct, like shadows. And suddenly there seemed to be more gulls in the sky than there were before, their cries growing louder, harsher, until it sounded like they were screaming.
Oh God, the screaming!
She had to get below, away from the heat and the sun and that cursed noise. Get below to the refuge of her cabin where there was darkness and silence and rum. Reluctantly Elizabeth let go of the ladder and lunged for the stairs, not even sure if she was going in the right direction. She was already mid-fall by the time she realised her foot had missed the top step altogether and she was hurtling towards the main deck. She squeezed her eyes shut, bracing herself for impact and then…
Almost fearfully she raised her eyelids and decided that, finally, she had gone out of her grog soaked mind. Everyone was gone. She was standing alone at the helm of the Valioso and her entire crew had vanished. Spinning around, she realised that, not only was the ship deserted, so was the entire harbour and the town with it. There was no vessel save her own and no other soul in sight. Every sound had been sucked from the air like lost vessels caught in a sinkhole. Even the gulls were absent. The sky, the sea and the surrounding cliffs seemed to have been bled of all colour.
Elizabeth’s heart raced in panic. As she turned, her eye caught sight of something on the horizon. A ship? It was far off, too indistinct for her to make out its colours. Elizabeth approached the rail leaning as far forward as she could in an attempt to make out the vessel. She wished for her spyglass but it was below in her cabin and she was reluctant to leave the deck lest the spell be broken and the strange ship disappeared. The only thing of which she could be certain was that it was coming closer.
Elizabeth whirled at the voice. “Who’s there?” she cried, but even before the demand had left her lips she knew she would get no answer. Those words had not been spoken by anyone aboard her ship. She turned back to watch the other vessel as it approached, riding low in the water as if possessed of a heavy cargo, but the closer it sailed the more insubstantial it appeared to be.
Oh, Elizabet’ how she burn…
“Who are you?” she called into the air.
You know me, girl, you know me as well as you know de sea beneat’ you.
It was true. She did know the voice though she was loathe to admit it. It called to her through time, a damning reminder of things past. Elizabeth pushed the balls of her palms to her ears, though she knew it would do little to shut out the spectral whisper that both terrified and enchanted her. “What have you done to my crew? What do you want with me?”
I am not the one who want, chile. She need you. She in pain and she need you both. Find de boy, Elizabet’
“Who does? I don’t understand! Who needs me? And what is that ship out there?”
Two questions, same answer. She need you both, Elizabet’. Witty Jack and him Pirate King. Too many chains, too many chains…
The voice seemed to wail, a mournful banshee sound, and Elizabeth realised that tears were running down her own cheeks. All the while the phantom ship sailed closer and it was near enough now that she could see the rags of its tar-black sails and hear them flapping sombrely in the breeze. Tar-black sails…
Find de boy. He point de way…
“No…” she whispered, shaking her head in denial and backing away from the rail. “No it can’t be. She’s lost. I lost her.”
But the voice did not reply, too caught up in that sorrowful howl.
“Tia Dalma!” she yelled at the sky. “Calypso! I don’t want her! Do you hear me?! I don’t want her back!”
But she wants you, Elizabeth. And this time it was her own voice that echoed in her mind. The ship was almost upon her yet still the image of her flickered and blurred before Elizabeth’s eyes as if distorted through a heat haze. She felt herself walk forward, feet moving of their own accord. Reaching the rail, she climbed up and stood there, arms spread wide.
I’m coming, she thought and stepped off. The speed of her descent lifted her hair and the sleeves of Jack’s shirt fluttered like the wings of a majestic bird. She seemed to fall for hours, the water below coming closer and closer. Elizabeth closed her eyes, waiting for the waves to take her until…
She sat up and shook the water from her face, water that had evidently come from the bucket in Ragetti’s hand and not the ocean as anticipated.
“We thought you was a goner there, cap’n. Out cold, you was. Thought some blackguard had slipped something nasty in your rum.”
“Ragetti?” She pushed herself to her feet with renewed energy.
“I have a pressing need.”
“Two steps ahead of you,” he replied with a smile, shoving an onion bottle into her hand.
“No, man! My need is far less trifling.”
Ragetti looked flummoxed. “Less trifling than rum, cap’n? Well what might it be, this thing that you need?”
“Jack Sparrow,” she answered and ran for the gangway.
The sea was too bright today, Jack decided as he stood at the bow of the Duchess Mary. Wiping his fingers wearily across his eyes, he squinted at the sun-dappled water. Fatigue, he thought, cursing the woman who had deprived him of sleep all night without even a smile to show for it this morning. Fatigue mingled with irritation. That was all.
She’d been right though, when she said that he should never have returned here. If foul weather and lack of supplies hadn’t forced them into Tortuga’s harbour he’d have sailed straight on to Haiti, where the Duchess had been dispatched.
The horizon, however, was clear now, the storm apparently having dissipated before reaching its full potential, and Jack knew it was time to go. He ignored the niggling doubt that told him a squall of the type they’d encountered should not have given way to such clear, blue skies the very next day.
“You’ll be leaving with Captain Swann then?” Mrs. Bailey, the landlady of the inn, had asked as he’d paid for the room earlier.
Jack had fixed her with a stare. “As I said, madam, the Duchess. Have my things sent there.” He’d dropping two shillings into her plump palm and she’d pursed her lips, looking at him dubiously, until Jack had felt distinctly uncomfortable. Coughing nervously, he’d turned towards the street.
Too much of an opinion for a landlady, he concluded; a mind prone to gossip and tittle-tattle. But, to his consternation, his thoughts insisted on returning to the woman’s expression when she’d finally exited his room the night before, laden with a basin full of sodden rags and a foul smelling bundle of clothes.
Jack had leapt from the dusty floor, where he’d sat propped against the wall. He’d immediately considered how his eagerness might be misconstrued and fixed his hands on his hips in order to convey his lack of interest in the situation at hand.
“Naught but a lass,” said the woman, shaking her head sadly, “to have landed in such a state.”
“A lass who’s been turned pirate these ten years, Mrs. Bailey,” replied Jack, but found himself wishing that the woman would move away from the bloody door so that he may enter.
She’d looked at him and nodded ruefully. “Aye, sir. Those marks upon her make her pirate true enough.”
Jack’s belly had twisted at that and he’d found it was all he could do not to shove the hag from his path. Instead he’d swallowed and asked, “Is she sleeping?”
“Aye, out cold, sir. A barrel o’ rum and a cudgel to the head’ll offer a good nights slumber, I daresay.” Then she cocked her head and looked at him strangely. “I’m certain I’m above my place, sir, but might I ask what is your particular stake in this poor wretch?”
Jack had found himself floundering at that, like a landed fish, gasping for the ocean. “I… she’s a…”
His inability to respond had evidently given the landlady cause for concern for she’d pointed her finger in caution. “Now I’ll not be having no funny business going on in my inn! This might be Tortuga, Captain Sparrow, but I run a respectable house here!”
Jack leaned back as her finger wagged in his face and he’d waved his hands defensively, eyes wide at the sudden change in the woman’s tone. “I assure you, love, there’ll be no funny business here. Captain Swann is merely an old…” He’d searched for the right word but none were forthcoming so he’d sought refuge in his ability to charm. Moving to the woman’s side, he’d slipped his arm around her shoulders and guided her towards the stairs. “Well, she’s an old crewmate of mine, isn‘t she. Fought the perils of the open sea, side by side, if you catch my drift.” He winked at her conspiratorially
Mrs. Bailey’s face had smoothed, evidently happy with Jack’s rather vague explanation and she’d nodded. “Well, she needs looking after, that’s for certain and I’d hazard a guess that you’d be the right one to do it.” With that she’d hoisted her bundle higher onto her ample hip and set off down the stairs, leaving Jack suddenly reluctant to enter the room.
She needs looking after, the woman had said, only you didn’t look after her, did you Jack? You were cruel to her and made her cry and then you let her leave. Not slow in closing the door behind her either.
You’ll never see her again.
Jack squeezed his eyes shut cursing, once more, the brightness of the ocean. A strange breeze had sprung up too, warm and with a strange scent about it, something akin to cloves and aniseed. It spun in circles, raising dust devils across the deck and Jack turned, scanning the horizon, convinced suddenly that there was something to be seen out there. For a moment it seemed he was on the cusp of something, some portent that he would be foolish to ignore. But the skyline remained empty and the breeze slowly settled. Jack leaned his head back until nothing but blue filled his vision.
Those marks upon her make her pirate, true enough.
An anger rose suddenly in him, the like of which he hadn’t felt in many a year. The thought of her skin being…
He shook his head abruptly, as if to rid his mind of the image. “What’s wrong with you?” he hissed irritably at himself. “She’s pirate. Of course she’s marked.” But the thought of her once smooth flesh would not be banished from his mind and try though he may to ignore it, the skin on his forearm prickled. A familiar question rose in his mind, as it had done every day since he’d watched her sail the Pearl over the horizon, off to find her beloved. Why had he ever let her go?
A creak of wood at his back made Jack turn and he found Gibbs there, shuffling uneasily as if reluctant to interrupt his captain’s contemplation.
“Take her out, sir?” Gibbs asked uncertainly, as if Jack’s orders might have changed since he boarded. Gibbs stared at him, fingers playing with the rum flask at his hip, his gaze betraying more questions than the one he asked.
“Is she ready to make sail?”
Gibbs nodded but his querying look remained.
“Then take her out, man. You don’t need me to hold your hand.”
“Yes, sir,” said his first mate and turned to go, but paused and looked back.
“If you wish, cap’n, I’m sure I could find some sail or other that needs mending? It would mean us tarrying here for a day longer?”
Jack frowned at the implication in Gibbs’ suggestion, wondering if the whole crew was whispering stories about their lovelorn captain. Anger flared in his chest once more, only now Elizabeth was the subject of his ire not just the cause of it. He’d been a laughing stock on many occasions before, but always by his own design; people are prone to underestimating a fool and Jack had known when to play the clown. But he would not be made into a joke by that damned woman. Not again.
“There is no sail that needs mending, Mr. Gibbs,” he barked, somewhat harshly, “nor is there any reason for us to remain on this wretched isle!” He took a breath and turned back to the sea. “There’s nothing here for us, mate. Take us out.”
She’ll have sailed by now, anyway.
After a moment’s pause, he heard Gibbs walk away, calling his final orders to the crew and the ship lurched below him a short time later, telling him they were under weigh. Jack felt a strange mix of relief and hopelessness that left him licking his lips longing for a taste of the rum that he’d denied himself for too long.
He left the bow, intending to head below deck and, for the first time in years, seek out a bottle of the blessed release. Let oblivion take him for just a short while. He was only part way to the hatch, however, when his attention was caught by the almost inaudible sound of a woman calling his name.