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
She had thought that she’d failed; that her words were lost on him. Elizabeth knew, that to anyone else, what she was asking must sound like the befogged ramblings of a simpleton. She also knew that to think about it too much would cause her to question her own mind, and she feared reason winning out in the end. But Elizabeth could not recall the last time she had felt so destiny call so strongly; she’d lost her once, now it was her fate to find the Pearl again.
Of course, whether Jack would feel the same had been another matter entirely. He led a different life now; she knew that, even if she didn’t fully understand it. And Elizabeth had begun to think that maybe the Pearl didn’t mean quite so much to him as it once had done; he didn’t need her anymore so why would he want her back? His recalcitrance at her proposal had only reinforced her expectation that he’d refuse. If he had, then in all honesty, Elizabeth didn’t know what she would have done.
But there he was, standing at the bow of the Valioso, the open neck of his shirt fluttering like a sail caught in the wind. He was beautiful, and for a moment Elizabeth wondered whether this was yet another unearthly vision.
“Never in my life would I have expected to see you both on the same deck again, Cap’n,” enthused Ragetti, startling her from her reverie. “It’s a sight to behold, is what it is!”
“It’s merely a means to an end, Mr. Ragetti. Once we have the Pearl, Captain Sparrow shall rejoin Mr. Gibbs and his ship in Port-au-Prince and then return to the East.” Elizabeth frowned and refocused her attention on the helm before murmuring. “He no longer lives under his own rule.”
“You say that now, Cap’n, but wait till old Jack gets a taste again. A taste of proper pirating, like it used to be, like when we was on the Pearl in the old days.” For a moment he looked almost wistful and, not for the first time since he had fallen into the role of her first mate, Elizabeth found herself musing on what went on inside the strange little man’s head. He was like a child sometimes, with so little sense that Elizabeth wondered how this could be the same man who had dragged her from her bed chamber in Port Royal and set her in the clutches of Barbossa. She knew, though, that he had the cunning of a street dog and it would be foolish to forget that. Nor could she forget what he had gone through under her command and yet here he was, still part of her crew; Elizabeth had come to rely on him more than she ever thought she could. She wondered now why Jack’s return had captured his imagination so.
“I daresay Jack’s memories of the old days are not so golden as you would like to think, Ragetti. Mutiny and murder might temper such nostalgia.”
“Part and parcel, love,” said a voice at her ear and Elizabeth whirled to face the subject of their conversation.
“I… I didn’t hear you come up the steps,” she said, loathing herself for her stammering voice and the flush that crept into her cheeks.
“A light foot can be a valuable skill when uncovering wicked plots and subterfuge, Elizabeth,” he said with a slow grin.
“You’ll find no plots here, Captain Sparrow.”
“Will I not?”
Unsure where the conversation was headed, Elizabeth decided to alter the topic under discussion and nodded towards the sails.
“Full canvas, Mr. Ragetti,” she said, over her shoulder. “There‘s nary a breeze to carry us in these waters.” He scuttled off to have the crew carry out the order, leaving Jack and Elizabeth alone on the poop deck.
“Speaking of the wind, or lack thereof, at our backs, Lizzie, might you be able to advise the heading to which our fronts are currently directed,” asked Jack, reaching out to take hold of the wheel.
Elizabeth turned back to the helm with a glower and resolutely spun the wheel, yanking it from Jack’s grasp.
“You know as well as I do, Captain Sparrow, that we have no steadfast heading. The Dutchman could be anywhere in these waters.” She set her jaw. “I would also be most appreciative if you would dispense with the lack of respect shown to my name. To you it should be Captain Swann or nothing at all.”
Jack leered at her, “Then it shall be nothing at all… love.” He walked over to lean casually against the port rail, just behind her. “So am I to surmise that we simply meander throughout the ocean until your William decides to grace us with his scaly presence?”
Bridling at his glib description of Will, Elizabeth shot back, “Well, the Dutchman is drawn towards lost souls, Captain Sparrow. Should we dangle you from the bowsprit, perhaps, and see if you make tempting enough bait?”
Jack smiled at that and, for the first time since they had encountered one another again, Elizabeth thought she saw a glimmer of warmth there; a glint in his eye that revealed some of his old humour returning. She felt the corner of her own mouth pull up in a reluctant grin and turned to gaze forward lest he should see her smile.
“And you’d be just the woman to hang me there, wouldn’t you, Lizzie?” he said, a trace of laughter in his voice.
A chuckle escaped her and she inclined her head towards him, enjoying suddenly this exchange, but the retort died in her mouth when she saw his expression. The grin, along with all colour, had been washed from his face and he stared over her shoulder at the horizon to the South East. Elizabeth followed his line of sight and felt her stomach drop at the curdling mass of black that was sweeping towards them. Then Marty’s voice rang out in panic from the crow’s nest.
And Hell descended upon the deck of the Valioso
The moment Jack sighted the strange, purple-black clouds, mushrooming like ink dropped into a wash basin, he knew that this was no ordinary squall. Instinct kicked in and he bounded to the steps, leaping to the bottom without touching a single one.
“Reef that mainsail! I want those poles bare!”
“My ship, Captain Sparrow!” he heard Elizabeth yell from the quarterdeck.
“Then captain the bloody thing, before we end up backwinded!” Jack shouted back. His fingers itched for the helm but she was right; it was her ship and her command so he turned instead to climb the mizzenmast, lashing down lines as tightly as he could, all the while aware of the churning clouds that were headed towards them at great speed.
“Steady the lee-brace! Haul the leech and secure those gaskets! We’ll not be driftwood this day, men!” Elizabeth’s voice rang true, fore to aft, despite the roar of the wind that was building around them and the rain that had begun to pound the ship. Water streamed in rivulets over her face, but could not disguise the determination set hard on every angle, and suddenly it seemed to Jack that the woman standing at the helm was transformed somehow. No longer the filth sodden vagabond he had found lying in Tortuga’s gutter, but Elizabeth Swann, warrior, King of the Brethren court. Pirate.
In that moment all his thoughts were consumed by her and he was transfixed. The storm raged around him, soaking his hair and clothes and battering his body, but it all went unheeded.
And that was his mistake.
Too late did the warning pull him from his trance and Jack turned just in time to see the gargantuan wall of water surge towards them. The ship began to crest, but the climb was too steep and the wave smashed over the bow with the weight of a falling building. At the last second Jack made a grab for the rigging with his free hand, just as the water slammed into him, knocking him from the ropes. Suddenly he was in freefall and he knew he was going to die.
The Locker, he thought with a final surge of terror and then began his plunge towards the furious seascape below. A flash of lightning illuminated the sky and he could see the Valioso rolling on the thunderous waves. For the briefest of moments, standing at the bow, he saw a familiar figure outlined in the glare, unmoving despite the chaos around her. A face from the past.
Then the sea claimed him.
The momentum of his fall carried Jack deep beneath the surface and he kicked his legs desperately, trying not to sink; his lungs already burned for lack of air. Minutes passed but the raging ceiling of the ocean was so far away and Jack was tired, so tired, that it seemed so much easier just to stop. Stop struggling, stop trying to swim, and just let himself sink. Slowly he felt himself turn to stone in the water and he thought perhaps this might be a dream.
Is that my name?
The flashes of lightning grew dimmer as he sank and it seemed so calm down here, so peaceful. The ocean grew blacker until, eventually, Jack could no longer tell which way was up.
Up is down.
Something was happening now. He was moving faster and, through the strange euphoria sweeping over him, he knew that there was something wrong about that. Looking down beyond his feet, Jack could see lights flashing in the distance, coming rapidly closer.
Up is down.
Then suddenly he could breathe again. Jack fell through the surface of the ocean, coughing and heaving up salt water as he went flying into the air. A rather unmanly shriek escaped him and he pin-wheeled his arms wildly as gravity took hold once again. Jack plummeted back down towards the deck of the Valioso, hitting the boards in an awkward heap but apparently unharmed.
It was night and all was still.
The squall that had washed him overboard had abated completely, apparently having taken the crew with it. The ship was empty, save for one person; the same person he had seen illuminated in a white flash before the sea had swallowed him.
“Witty Jack,” she said, with a sly smile.
“Is it you?”
She didn’t speak or move, just continued to smile at him.
Jack narrowed his eyes and approached cautiously.
“You look…shorter since our last acquaintance. Or so reports would have me believe. It’s good to see you, Tia Dalma.”
“Me go by other name now.”
“Ah yes, so you do, Calypso.” Jack bowed his head slightly and sketched a bow, before looking around him. With a sudden, hollow dread, Jack recalled the last time he had experienced such a deathly calm. “Are we…?”
“’Tis not de Locker, Jack”
Hoping his profound relief was not evident, Jack fluttered his hand, taking in their strange surroundings. “Then where am I… we… us?”
“De in between.”
“In between what?”
“De here an’ der.”
“De… I mean the here and where?”
“Above and Below,” said Calypso with that same infuriating grin.
“Ah, how maddeningly unhelpful. A better question, perhaps, would be why am I here?”
Calypso walked towards him slowly, hips swaying beneath the filmy material of her dress that seemed to almost disappear at times but only if Jack didn’t look directly at it. Which seemed unfair. She reached out her hand and caressed his cheek, long nails scratching lightly down his skin.
“Witty Jack Sparrow has betrayal in him heart, hmm?”
Jack started back, pulling his face from her reach.
“What care you if I do or not?” he asked warily.
“She cannot be freed by two who will bind demsel’ in der own chains.”
“If by she you mean the Pearl, then trust me love, old Jackie’s got a plan that’ll see her right. And as for betrayal, one might describe it more as a bit of restitution for the distress suffered at the hands of a certain damsel.”
“De compass spin, Jack,” she said, twirling her finger in the air, “but it does not point at revenge. You tell yoursel’ dat de woman is wicked and cruel and dat she sink her claws into your heart. But you know you could not bring her pain.”
Calypso’s hand dropped onto Jack’s chest, her cool fingers spreading beneath the material of his shirt. “She be in your heart Jack, ’tis true. But you be de one who keep her der.”
Jack swallowed, unable to reply, unable even to breathe. He felt like he was being split asunder, like the goddess before him was breaking him into his component parts and holding each one accountable. The ship may have been empty, but for Jack it might as well have been filled with every one of those aspects of himself that had beleaguered him so in the Locker.
“Elizabeth Swann is a liar and a traitor,” he said, roughly. “Any trace of her that might linger in my heart is merely a remnant of the dagger she stabbed there.” Jack turned, wanting to be out of Calypso’s reach. “All she cares about is her whelp and any pretence she has at wishing to find the Pearl will be dropped as soon as she’s back in his arms. Why shouldn’t I take my ship from her? ‘Tis obviously of no value to her.”
“Oh Jack,” purred Calypso, at his side, reaching up and twisting his hair through her fingers. “Dem baubles and beads are gone, but still you hide. Dis story be not about Captain Jack and him precious Pearl. Dat ship, she need you both, but you must free yoursel’s first.”
“And that’s why you’re here, is it?” asked Jack, turning sideways to face her. “To play with my hair and speak in riddles? I think I preferred you stuck in the swamp.” He reached up and took hold of her hand. “Why are you here, Tia Dalma?”
The strange smile fell from her face at his question and her hands clutched at her breast, eyes filling, suddenly, with sadness.
“You seek de boy, Jack, and him only show for one t’ing. Dat be why I’m here.”
Frowning, Jack asked, “One thing? And what would…” Realisation dawned. “The storm. That was you.”
Calypso said nothing but closed her eyes and began to sway, as if to some music Jack couldn’t hear.
“And if the Dutchman is going to show…” Jack’s eyes widened as the meaning of Calypso’s words took hold. He reached out and gripped her shoulders. “Who, Calypso? Who’s it going to be?” But the goddess ignored his entreaties and continued to sway, an eerie moan sounding in the back of her throat.
“Who will die?” Jack cried, furiously, trying to control the panic building in his chest. “Send me back! If men are going to die…”
If she is going to die…
“…I must go back!”
Calypso opened her eyes and roared. Her face contorted into a gruesome mask, eyes yellow like that of a serpent, mouth pulled back beyond that which was possible for a human. Jack staggered back in horror, recoiling from the transformation. His back hit the ship’s rail and at the same time Calypso pushed him. Hands thudded into his chest with the force of cannon fire and he went tumbling backwards, heading towards the sea once more.
The instant he sank beneath its glassy surface he felt a hand grabbing at the shoulder of his shirt. Jack writhed and kicked, determined to be free of whatever creature seemed intent on pulling him down to the depths. Something snaked around his waist, gripping tightly, dragging him… to the surface.
“Stop bloody kicking me and grab the line!”
Choking and momentarily blinded by the water in his eyes, Jack grasped for the rope that had appeared in front of him. The grip around his waist relaxed and he pulled himself round in the water to find Elizabeth holding onto the same line. For a moment they held each other’s gaze and Jack felt sure he saw a reflection in her eyes that may have mirrored his own relief at seeing her so obviously alive.
“Stupid fool,” she said gently, without malice, and he smiled at her. Then they were being hoisted back up onto the deck of the Valioso. The sight that greeted them there, however, immediately quashed any tender thoughts that may have arisen in Jack’s mind.
Torn sails hung from yards, like rotten clothing from a hanged man. The spar of the foremast was split clean in two, its top yard swinging mournfully over the bow, shattered wood trailing listlessly in the now becalmed ocean. But it was not the near destruction of the ship that turned Jack’s innards to ice. On the deck lay the bodies of three men and he had seen enough to know that lifeblood no longer coursed in their veins. Already the grey pallor of death enshrouded them. Glancing up, Jack saw another body hanging over the cross-rope of a Jacob’s ladder, bent in the middle, his arms hanging lifelessly, like a broken marionette.
Wasn’t it supposed to get easier? he thought. Shouldn’t I feel numb by now? But the truth was it only got harder. There had been a time when Jack Sparrow could look death in the eye and accept it as being a fact of the sea. Countless times had he wrapped dead men in canvas and thrown them overboard, like ballast. He would say his piece to a God in whom no longer believed and prepare to sail on.
There was something, though, about a spell in the Locker that changed a man’s perspective on death; made him a little less blasé about watching a sailor breathe his last. Especially on a fool’s errand such as this.
“Sew them up and throw them over,” ordered Elizabeth wearily, and suddenly Jack was gripped by such rage at her indifference.
He spun round and hissed in her ear, “Is this an acceptable price, Elizabeth?” He gestured to where Ragetti was pulling the body from the rigging. “I said once that your boy was worth at least four souls. How gratifying to find that you agree.” Elizabeth faced him with a look of horrified bewilderment, but he could stay in her presence no longer.
“Don’t throw them over!” he barked at the sailor who was hauling out the sail cloth. “We need them aboard for now.” He turned back to Elizabeth. “Let’s hope your latest sacrifice is worthwhile, eh love?”
Suddenly, he couldn’t breathe. His wet clothes were clinging to his body, choking him, tightening around his arms and his chest like the death grip of a sea beast. Longing to be free of the cursed things, he strode off to make his way below deck.
Only vaguely was he aware that footsteps followed him.