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.
Previous chapters here
The captain was vexed again, that much was certain and Joshamee Gibbs didn’t need to be asking anymore questions to find out the subject of this vexation. He knew, that for Jack, there was more danger in these waters than a sudden chubasco or rocky shoal, and from his current disposition, Gibbs guessed that Jack had encountered his demon last night.
Gibbs had often wondered, over the years, whether his captain was truly free of the enchantment that was Elizabeth Swann. He never spoke of her, but then again he rarely spoke of anything from the old life, on the Pearl; never called himself pirate or made mention of past travels. Jack bore no trace of the person he once was, save for the badge on his arm that could never be removed.
There were times, though, when Gibbs would catch him staring upward, toward the very pinnacle of the mainmast, with a look akin to longing smoothing his features, making him look like the man Gibbs used to know. On these occasions he would find himself silently willing his captain to move, to climb the rigging again, to set his boots on the topsail yard and take his place next to the sky. But then the moment would pass; Jack’s face would cloud, and Gibbs would remember that it was another ship for which he pined.
He had asked him once, after witnessing one of these strange moments, about the Pearl, about why he’d let her go.
“Was never mine to keep, mate,” he’d replied and had sounded so sad that Gibbs never wanted to ask the question again. But he’d come closer then to understanding why Jack had traded his soul for a commission with the East India Company; though understanding didn’t stop him missing his friend.
When the orders had come for them to return to the Caribbean, Gibbs had thought perhaps it was just the remedy, the very thing to remind his skipper what it was to be Captain Jack Sparrow. Even the prospect of them encountering Elizabeth Swann had some merit in Gibbs’ reckoning, let the man see that his memory of the girl was nothing but a glamour, an apparition recollected through the sun-drenched haze of those early years. Let him see her once more and be done with his hankering for good.
Only now he’d had his dealings with her, his vexation seemed worse than ever. Loathe as he was to admit it, Gibbs reasoned that maybe Jack needed more than a fleeting encounter to rid his heart of the ghost that dwelt there.
Despite the captain’s assurances to the contrary, Gibbs considered that perhaps this ocean wasn’t done with them yet, but regardless he gave the order to weigh anchor and moments later they were sea bound. Only then did Jack leave his place at the bow. As he moved aft, however, an indistinct cry sounded from the direction of the harbour and Jack spun towards it scanning the shore.
This time the shout was clearer, and Gibbs too turned to look landward. Seeing some commotion there, he ran to starboard that he might have a better view of whatever spectacle was unfolding.
“What in the blue blazes…?” Gibbs muttered. “What’s she trying to do?”
“What‘s happening?” asked Jack appearing at his side.
“She’ll have the whole lot in the drink!”
“What? Where’s it coming from?”
“Over there, Cap’n, on the dock!”
Jack looked to where Gibbs pointed. Hurtling down the ramshackle jetty was an equally ramshackle cart pulled by an aging Clydesdale. The driver of the cart had the poor horse in a frenzy as it veered alarmingly to and fro trying to avoid finding itself up to the neck in salt water. Standing in the seat of the cart was the very woman upon whom Gibbs had just been musing and evidently she wanted Jack’s attention.
“Jack! Jack Sparrow!”
Captain Swann pulled on the reins bringing the horse and cart to a sudden halt, precariously close to the edge of the pier.
“Jack Sparrow! I know you can hear me!”
“Shall we drop anchor again, sir?”
Jack moved, as if possessed of an impulse to act but unsure what form such action should take. Then he stilled. “No, Gibbs. The woman’s lost her mind. Probably drunk again. Or overcome with a touch of the vapours.” He turned and said, with a knowing look and apparent gravitas, “Women are prone to such occurrences, y’know.”
“But it would appear Captain Swann has some urgency about her, sir. Might it not be important enough for you to hear?”
“There’s naught I need to hear from her,” replied Jack and turned his back on the woman yelling his name.
“Jack Sparrow, you either drop anchor now or I’ll find some other way to board your bloody boat!”
At that threat Jack stopped amidships and swivelled back to look at Gibbs with a mixture of alarm and puzzlement. “What does she…?
“Right! That’s it!” came an angry exclamation from the dock.
Gibbs’ gaze darted from one to the other in bemusement, engrossed in the little drama that was playing out before him. The rest of the crew appeared equally intrigued as all activity, both on deck and in the rigging, had stopped in anticipation of where the scene might end up. Jack’s mouth fell open at what was now happening; Elizabeth, clad in suspiciously familiar shirt and breeches, had climbed upon the rickety fence and as they watched she dived, in a rather ungainly manner that belied her name, into the waters of the Caribbean.
“Bloody hell!” exclaimed Jack. “Lower the bloody anchor before she drowns herself!” Without hesitation Gibbs called the order and the crew were moved to action once more. Soon the anchor was dropped astern and the Duchess came to a slow stop in the cove. Jack’s eyes hadn’t left the water since Elizabeth had dived in and he followed her progress with an anxious expression as she swam towards the ship.
“We’re a fair way out, Gibbs. Do you think she’ll tire? Should I…?” His hands were already pulling at the buttons of his waistcoat before he could finish the question.
“She’ll make it fine, sir,” Gibbs reassured him, with a faint grin. “I daresay she’s swum farther than that before.”
“Well, throw her a line, man!” he exclaimed, with a flick of his hand, leaving waistcoat and shirt half undone. “The last thing I need is a drowned wench to deal with.”
The line was cast overboard and soon Elizabeth Swann was flying through the air, water trailing in her wake. She landed in a dishevelled puddle on the deck and an instant later sprang to her feet, launching herself at Jack and pushing him so hard she almost knocked him on his back. The captain staggered backwards, before regaining his balance and turning to her angrily. “What the bloody hell…?!”
“Did you mean for me to drown, Captain Sparrow?”
“You chose to dive, dear Lizzie,” he replied, through gritted teeth. “If you mean to bring about your own end ’tis no concern of mine. That very act may, indeed, rectify a mistake I made many years ago.”
Jack smiled, a nasty grin with no humour, but if Elizabeth was hurt by his comment she gave no clue of it. The atmosphere on deck, though, had turned decidedly sour and Gibbs took an anxious slug from his flask.
“I asked you to drop anchor. You’re the one who chose to ignore me,” hissed Swann.
“Well please accept my sincerest apologies, love. The next time I see a mad woman raving as if possessed by the very Devil himself, I’ll be sure to come about if just to hear what amusement may be had at her expense.”
Elizabeth said nothing, but stared at Jack, her expression as scorching as a blacksmith’s forge. The silence crackled and Gibbs thought that perhaps this scene could end one of two ways, the more preferable outcome being one that would make the most worldly of doxies blush to her toes. He coughed sharply and the sound seemed to jolt the captain into action. Without taking his eyes from those of Captain Swann, he grabbed her elbow, pulling her towards his cabin. The hatch slammed shut, leaving Gibbs to wipe the sweat from his brow and be thankful that his only love was the sea.
The darkness of the cabin assaulted her eyes, mottling her vision with green shadows. Elizabeth blinked a few times until, gradually, shapes began to form and in them she saw Jack glaring at her angrily.
She bit her lip, suddenly feeling foolish. Everything she had intended to say seemed ridiculous now. How could she voice her proposition without sounding like a lunatic?
Jack, I saw a vision of the Pearl this morning and the disembodied voice of Calypso told me we had to find her together. Does such an adventure perchance sound appealing to you at this juncture?
It was insane, but Elizabeth felt trapped under the heat of Jack’s stare and knew that she couldn’t back down now, if only to prevent losing face in front of him.
“You had a purpose, I take it, in forcing yourself aboard my ship?” Jack seethed.
“Yes, I…” she hesitated, grasping for the words.
“Well let’s have it, dearie. What calamity is at hand that you must make us both look a fool? Has your rum supply run low and you’ve come to beg some more?”
“Stop it, Jack.”
In instant he was standing inches from her face, eyes blazing. Elizabeth started back, alarmed at the fury in his manner. She had never been subject to his anger before, even when she had been at her most cruel.
I’m not sorry.
She pushed her hands against his chest, for fear that he should come any closer; already she could feel his hot breath on her skin and his heart pounding under her palm. He seemed inclined to speak, as his bitter eyes raked her face, but his lips remained pressed tightly together.
“Jack…” she said but her voice sounded uneven and felt rough in her throat. Elizabeth knew she had to regain control of the situation but, try though she might, no sensible thought would be summoned to her mind.
Abruptly Jack fell back, turning to walk across the small room until he was silhouetted at the window. He stood that way for a few moments which, to Elizabeth, seemed like hours. Still she could not think of a thing to say.
There’s a reason you’re here, damnit! Speak up, woman!
“Why do you plague me?” Jack’s voice sounded distant, subdued, and Elizabeth was unsure whether to reply; it seemed that perhaps he hadn’t meant to address her at all. Nevertheless, enough was enough. Whether he laughed at her or not, she would say her piece. Let him decide if it was folly. Let him throw her off his ship. If he did she would swim to shore and carry on with her life, ghostly visions and spectral voices be damned.
“I need your help, Jack.”
Jack turned and when he did there was a little more of his familiar demeanour about him. Some of the tension left her shoulders, for at least she knew this territory.
“But of course, darlin’. Only too willing, for Jack Sparrow owes you an abundance of favours, too numerous to count. The least of which being a sojourn in the belly of a sea beastie, wouldn’t you say?” Elizabeth refused to flinch and instead decided to play him at his own game.
“That’s getting rather tired now, wouldn’t you say, Captain Sparrow?”
Jack blinked. “Eh?”
“The old Kraken chestnut. If you expect some declaration of guilt every time you trot that episode out, then I should warn you, you’re in for some disappointment.”
To Elizabeth’s satisfaction he looked almost chagrined, so with a barely concealed smirk she continued. “It seemed, when last we met, you were in a more forgiving mood. Perhaps I have misconstrued what transpired on that occasion. Or is it possible that particular evening has slipped your mind entirely?” Jack scratched his chin and looked away, appearing now to be increasingly discomfited.
“Shall I share my recollection of said evening that it may stir your own mem-?”
“No,” Jack interrupted, abruptly.
He looked up at her then, but his eyes left her face and travelled downward, over the rest of her body, and suddenly Elizabeth was aware that she was soaked through from her spell in the ocean. The silk of Jack’s shirt clung to her and she realised that her breasts were still unbound, and she wore no layers underneath. Self-consciously she crossed her arms over her chest, trying in vain to stop the flush that spread the length of her.
Jack coughed weakly and looked away. “Say your piece, love.”
“I want… I want to find her, Jack,” she replied, stumbling over her words. “The Pearl, I mean. I want to find the Black Pearl.”
Jack was still and stared at her intently. “You know where she is?”
“Well, I… She‘s in these waters somewhere. I think.”
He smiled ruefully and walked over to drop himself, lazily, on his bunk. “Sorry to disappoint, love, but I’m not much of a one for wild goose chases. A thankless task if you ask me.”
“We can find her, Jack.”
“I can’t…” Elizabeth paused and studied her grimy fingers. “I can’t do it without you. She said I couldn’t.”
“And who’s she when she’s at home then?”
Sighing in frustration at the ham fisted way she was handling the situation, Elizabeth replied, “That doesn’t matter. Point is we can find her.” Jack stared at her, but seemed unmoved. “It’s the Pearl, Jack. You can’t have forgotten what she meant to you. What about freedom? You can’t have forgotten that.”
He shook his head, a slight frown creasing his brow. “What use is freedom, love, when we are everywhere in chains?”
… too many chains.
“Listen, darlin’,” he interrupted, sprawling back on his bed in a way that made Elizabeth stare fixedly out the window, “as much as I miss the old girl, and as wounded as I am that you gave her away with so little regard for her value, there’s not much I can do here. Even if we did find out where she was, I’m not much cop at cards, never have been, hence my prior endeavours as thief and scoundrel.” Jack pushed himself to his feet and walked over to open the cabin door. “If you wish to find the Pearl then by all means have at it, but as for me I have business in Haiti. Good luck with it, Lizzie, though I fear you’d have more success finding a tear in the ocean.”
Although she couldn’t pinpoint why it was so important, Elizabeth knew that she could not leave this cabin without having gained Jack’s accord. Reason told her that Jack was right. Searching for the Pearl would prove a fruitless exploit, and regardless of what Calypso had said, she wasn‘t sure it was even worthwhile. After all this time, what purpose could it possibly serve? She thought about her vision and how she’d screamed at the sky that she didn’t want her back. Had that been the truth? Was the Pearl what she really wanted?
Do you even deserve her?
There was another feeling that Elizabeth was trying desperately to ignore. Fear sat low in her belly, trying to crawl its way out; it whispered perniciously about the last time she’d seen the Pearl, about the things that had happened back then.
The spit-hiss and the bile-sting of terror. The red glow that never quite fades.
Elizabeth swallowed and squeezed her eyes shut. All experience and reason told her that, should she persist with this endeavour, the journey could prove to be her last.
Her instincts, though, had naught to do with reason and she knew she needed Jack on her side. Elizabeth struggled to think of a trump card, some way to convince him that the enterprise had merit and wasn’t just the addled ramblings of a washed out pirate. Something that would bestow it with honour. And then she had it.
Find de boy…
“I may not know where to find the Pearl, Jack, but I know someone who does.”
Jack raised his eyebrows enquiringly. “Pray tell, love.”
Taking a breath, Elizabeth said the name and the sound of it made her chest constrict in sorrow and shame. As she watched, Jack’s face changed and she wondered if it mirrored her own.
A name that held the weight of every sin and transgression Jack had ever committed; two words that branded him more indelibly than Cutler Beckett ever could. And she wielded them like daggers. As Jack closed the door he realised, with shame, that it been ten years. Ten years and he hadn’t even remembered, had almost let it go by unchecked. That he should be brought back to these waters at such a time…
“Is he… Has he returned?” Jack paused and swallowed, unsure if he wanted to ask the rest. “To you?”
Elizabeth’s forehead crinkled and she shook her head wordlessly.
“He is due, though?”
“In one month.”
Jack walked back to his bunk and sat on the edge, his head resting heavily in his hands as if that could still the torrent of memories that raged there. The violence and confusion of that final battle…
…I won‘t leave you…
The sickening noise of the sword cutting through flesh…
…look at me…
The feel of cold, wet metal in his hands…
Her stricken face as she wept at his side…
He felt chilled suddenly though the cabin was warm. Will Turner was due and yet she had seen no sign of him. Elizabeth had yet to tell him why she had failed to rescue her husband from his fate aboard the Dutchman, and for the first time the thought struck Jack that perhaps the boy had been unwilling to return. Did he hold her at fault, he wondered? Did he think that she and Jack were…?
“You have the days counted, then,” he said with a wry smile. Of course she did. Ticking them off as a convict would mark the days till his freedom.
“A date like that is hard to forget,” she replied.
And yet he had forgotten it completely. Part of him wished that it had come and gone without him ever realising, but perhaps remembrance was to be part of his penance. “Do you think he’ll come back?”
Do you wait for him?
Elizabeth just smiled sadly and answered, “Perhaps it would be better for Will if he didn’t. A day is so much shorter when you wish it to last forever and the Dutchman will always need a captain.”
The mood had turned sombre at the talk of Turner’s fate and Jack felt the need to divert the course of the conversation before it took them somewhere to which he was unwilling to return. “So what part does young William have to play in finding us the Pearl?” he asked and then silently cursed himself for using the collective pronoun.
Simple as that, mate. She asks, you come running.
Elizabeth, evidently, took note of his joint reference for her face lightened and she came to sit next to him on the bunk. “I… It‘s hard to explain.” She shook her head as if searching through words for the right ones to utter. “I just know he can help us, Jack. He has the Dutchman, after all. A ship of that speed is bound to be advantageous.”
Jack rubbed his hand over his mouth, thinking on what she had said, aware of her eyes upon him, as he tried to convince himself that this was folly.
“Please, Jack,” she said, softly. “Isn’t this what you want? The Black Pearl liberated from the Crown?”
A frown creased Jack‘s brow. “The Crown? But I thought you said…”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened suddenly and she stuttered. “Or pirates or… or a merchant. She could’ve ended up anywhere since I… since I lost her is what I mean.” Her hands came to rest on his forearm. “Point is, don’t you want her back here, Jack? Where she belongs?”
Jack grinned. “Back with you then?” He wondered if this was real. She sounded so earnest, Jack thought perhaps he’d been too hasty in surmising that she didn’t value the gift he had given her. Something inexplicable flared in his chest; something like hope.
“Back with me,” she replied, smiling strangely. “But will you help me, Jack? To find Will. And find the Pearl?”
Then, as sure as it ignited, that tiny flame of hope guttered and died. It all fell into place and Jack wondered how he could have been so stupid. Will Turner. It was him, not the Pearl, that Elizabeth wanted. It would always be him. Too impatient for the whelp to return to land, or scared, perhaps, that he never would, she wanted to seek out her lost love for herself. The Pearl was just the bait she needed to trap him. Her regard for his ship was exactly as Jack had supposed.
But why bait him at all? What worth did he have on this mission?
The Dutchman will always need a captain.
Suddenly Elizabeth Swann’s hand on his arm felt like the talons of a hawk, but he resisted the urge to wrench himself from her grasp. Jack had always known that she would go to any lengths to bring Will back, to free him from his eternal limbo aboard the Dutchman, and always the dark suspicion had plagued him that she held him accountable for the fate of her husband. Even after all that had been said, even after that night… Jack set his jaw, refusing to think on matters best left alone.
Will was the one to whom she had made her wedding vows and he would be a fool to question her loyalty to the man. It seemed serendipitous now that old Jack, her sacrificial goat of choice, had shown up at the right time and given her the collateral she needed to trade for her lost love.
He became aware of something grazing across the skin of his forearm and looked down to see her thumb moving absently back and forward while she stared at him earnestly. Her brow creased and she followed his gaze, her expression changing to one of surprise when she saw what she was doing.
O cunning, thy name is woman.
Something else flickered in him then as he considered how pleased she must be that her wiles seemed to be working on him once again. How easily she must think he was falling into her snare. But she had forgotten one thing, one very important point.
He was Captain Jack Sparrow.
A slow, wicked grin spread across his face, and turning towards her he said, “So, love, when do we sail?”