Author: Laura H fried_flamingo
Chapter Rating: PG-13
Pairing: J/E, some W/E
Category: angst, romance, AU
Disclaimer: The Mouse owns all.
Previous chapters here
Silence stretched out in the Valioso’s tiny cabin when she finished her tale. Will sat at the table, tracing his finger over the grain of the wood. The tale she had related was accurate in the essentials, but the real truth about what had transpired between her and Jack that night remained untold; Elizabeth wondered how many of the missing parts Will was filling in for himself.
“Then what happened?” he asked, but there was no anger or hurt in his voice.
“Then I took the long boat and rowed out to meet the Pearl. It was only after I boarded that I found out where Jack had really gone.”
Will raised his eyes, a look of query in them.
“To Southampton,” she explained, unable to keep the trace of bitterness from her tone, “to start his commission. Jack Sparrow had gone to become a privateer in the employ of the East India Company. Apparently their standards for employment are a trifle lax when offered the services of a former pirate.”
“And so he left you.”
Elizabeth looked up at him, puzzled, wondering whether he had heard anything she’d said. “He left everything, Will. His ship, his crew. He let them down. All of them!” Standing, she walked to the table. “It was up to me to look after them. It was left to me to… to… to protect them, but I…” She trailed off, uncertain where the sentence was going, afraid that she was on the verge of saying too much.
“He shouldn’t have come back, Will,” she finished, in a more subdued voice. “It can’t be like it was before.”
“Elizabeth, you needn’t hide from me,” Will said, quietly, rising to stand next to her. He took her hand and Elizabeth wondered that she didn’t rejoice at his touch. “You are bound together, you and Jack. I’ve had a long time to think on that.”
Elizabeth turned towards him in disbelief. “You’re my husband, Will.”
Will shook his head and for the first time a sadness passed across his face. He smiled at her but the sadness remained. “Impetuous words uttered in the heat of battle, Elizabeth. We were children then, playing games in a rainstorm. Playing at pirates.” Will stopped and his brow furrowed. “Only you weren’t playing, were you? More pirate that any birthright would entitle you.”
Elizabeth could summon no argument, for in her heart she knew that he spoke the truth. That had been a brutal day of fire and passion and death; a day when her heart had pounded more fiercely than it had ever done before, when she’d known that she could die at any second, but had never felt more alive. She had pledged herself to Will because the end of the world had come and he was right there fighting by her side. In those frenzied moments she hadn’t thought she could ever love another, but even then she had lied wickedly to herself.
“I did miss you, Will. I missed you every day.”
“And I you, Elizabeth, but it’s time that we stop lying to ourselves about who we are. Should I remind you that you don’t even bear my name anymore?” Elizabeth bowed her head, a flush of guilt creeping into her face, though she knew that he didn’t make the statement as an accusation. He continued. “We both have our destinies and I have no wish to bind you to a vow you’ve long outgrown.”
She lifted his hand and placed his palm flat against her cheek. “It shouldn’t be like this, Will. It shouldn’t.”
“And who’s to say what should and shouldn’t be?” He smoothed his thumb across her skin. “There is no should be and it would break our hearts to long for it. There’s only what is and what isn’t.” Will sighed and gently pulled his hand away. “And at the very end there is only me.”
They lapsed into silence again, while outside the sea rolled and then a Elizabeth was struck by a sudden thought. “Why haven’t you asked me, Will?”
“Asked you what?”
“Why I don’t have her now? Why I don’t have the Pearl?”
Will’s expression clouded and he looked away. “The Black Pearl has crossed my path more than once in the last few years, Elizabeth. I know that you no longer captain her.”
“You’ve seen her?” A surge of hope rose inside her before she realised the implications of what he said. “Then she has seen much death these years?”
“More than most.”
The answer Will gave made her belly knot in loathing and she wondered how she would ever be able to tell Jack.
“So what-” She paused, the words catching in her throat. “What happens now?”
Will looked out at the sea as it moved endlessly towards the horizon. “Now we wait,” he said. “She’ll call to me soon enough.”
It was a queer mood, right enough, that had found its way onto the deck of the Valioso; a dark silence had fallen and the crew, when they spoke, did so in muted voices, as if the Devil himself would be upon them were they to speak any louder. First Mate Joseph Ragetti felt a shiver run through him, right the way to his bones, and for a moment he was taken back thirty years to a small boy standing alone in the pouring rain, as the shrouded body of a woman was thrown into a pauper’s grave.
Ragetti spat upon the deck and blessed himself clumsily, before pulling out his eye and polishing it on his grimy sleeve. The men were restive and most had set themselves the task of clearing the deck of the debris left by the storm; a pointless endeavour, seeing as the ship was fair scuppered beyond repair, no two ways about that. Pushing the wooden eye back into it’s socket, he cast a glance at the door to the captain’s cabin. Not a bit of this was right, he thought, the Dutchman’s captain spending so long on a ship with men who lived and breathed; not a bit of it. Didn’t bode well at all.
There was one man amongst them who seemed especially vexed at the length of time Captain Swann spent in her cabin with Captain Turner, though he took great pains to disguise it. Jack Sparrow sat on the quarter deck steps, staring intently at a bottle of rum in his hands, but making no attempt to drink from it.
The captain was a changed character true enough, with his fine clothes and new found sobriety. When it came to Captain Swann, however, Ragetti guessed that his thinking was much the same as it had always been. He’d often wondered, over the past nine years, whether things would have turned as ugly as they did had Jack decided to stay. Captains Swann and Sparrow; together they’d have made a formidable power on the high seas, no mistake. But it was not to be. In the year before he left, it sometimes seemed that Jack’s heart really had been cut from his chest, just like Davey Jones’. That spark had been lost, his lifeblood stilled in his veins.
Ragetti recalled one night aboard the Pearl, just a few weeks before he’d left for good, when Jack’s lips had been loosened by some potent rum they’d picked up in Kingston. He’d sat on deck with himself and old Pintel, playing Cubilette and supping under the moon.
“Gentlemen, I’m nearly done with this game,” he’d said suddenly, and there was a weight to his voice that told them he wasn’t referring to their current diversion.
“Cap’n?” Pintel had asked, puzzled.
“All of this,” said Jack, waving his hand around, vaguely. “‘Tis a fools pursuit and one that’ll lead to me dancin’ the hempen jig, more likely than not. I plan to wash my hands of it as others have done before me.”
“You could never wash your hands of the Pearl, Cap’n,” scoffed Pintel, rum tending to make him more sentimental and trite than was normally his wont. “She’s your heart and soul, sir, the star in your ’eavens. Why she’s…”
“My one true north,” whispered Jack, staring at the deck, as if in some other place. Then he’d placed his empty bottle there upon the wood and, with a flick of his wrist, set it spinning aimlessly, around and around. He‘d laughed to himself and said quietly, “My compass works, yet I have no bearing.” After a spell, he’d looked up at the two of them and brightened, as if noticing their presence for the first time. “So like I said, lads, old Jackie’s done with pirating and intends to look for a more prosperous, less deadly occupation.”
Pintel had continued to needle him with drunken praise of his skills as a pirate, calling him the finest captain he had ever had the privilege to sail under; he told him that his words were naught but grog addled ramblings and he‘d feel better in the morning, but Ragetti had said nothing. The rum hadn’t clouded his mind so much that he couldn’t see how Jack was adrift with no breeze to urge him onwards, nor anchor to hold him steady. And despite what Jack claimed, the reason for his wretched state was clear. The captain, with his two good eyes, might be blind to his heart’s desire, but Ragetti had seen it just as sure as he could still hear the forlorn sound of the glass, spinning upon the coarse wood of the deck. It was a sorry sight indeed and, true enough, not two months later Jack, along with the ever faithful Joshamee Gibbs, was gone and Elizabeth Swann stood upon their deck, looking just as lost as Jack had been.
Contrary to expectations though, she’d been a captain and a king like no other, leading both the Pearl and the Cove, with fight and fervour - until that bad business off the coast of the Carolinas. Throughout his life at sea, cursed and all, Ragetti couldn’t recall a time when he’d felt such terror. And when it was over, really over, the Black Pearl was lost and Captain Swann, though still she stood amongst their number, was lost along with her.
Don’t dwell, you fool, he chided himself for the thousandth time, before pulling out his eye and polishing it once more. Across the deck, Jack tugged the cork from the bottle and held it beneath his nose. Closing his eyes, he inhaled deeply and smiled as if carried to some distant point in time.
“The smell alone won’t do the trick, sir,” said Ragetti, in need, suddenly, to share a few words with someone.
“Not a drink I partake of so much anymore, mate,” replied Jack, stopping the bottle again. His tone was amiable and Ragetti felt brave enough to sit next to him and take the rum from his hands, though he would never have done such a thing nine years ago.
“Can’t think why you’d ever want to say goodbye to something so pleasurable, if you don‘t mind me sayin’, Cap’n.”
Jack turned at that, to squint at him as if trying to discern any hidden meaning his words may hold. Ragetti stared back, with no attempt to deceive.
“Rum can be a heady brew, Mr Ragetti. It can cloud a man’s thoughts to the point where he is blind to the peril lying right in front of him.”
“Ah sir, but it tastes so sweet and brings such a warmth to one’s belly.”
Jack looked away, smoothing his moustache with thumb and forefinger, and said, “Enough, mate.” Ragetti shrugged and uncorked the bottle, swallowing a mouthful that traced a hot, familiar path through his insides.
“How long’ve they been in there now?” asked Jack, gruffly.
“Too long, I’d venture,” replied Ragetti, shifting uneasily on the stair. “I don‘t mean no disrespect, Cap’n, but it don’t sit well with me nor the crew having one such as Captain Turner so long aboard. He don’t belong in the realm of the livin’, if you see what I’m saying.”
“There’re a few of us what have found themselves in places they don’t belong these past weeks, Ragetti. William’s with his wife. That’s as it should be.”
“Hardly a marriage, sir, not to my mind anyway.” Jack cast him a warning look, but it was time to say what needed to be said and, taking a breath, Ragetti ploughed onwards. “I’m sorry, Cap’n, but you’ve not been here. You’ve not seen the captain for a long time and you can’t know how its been for her, for any of us. ‘Tis scarcely a marriage when she don’t even bear his name no longer. He has no right to come back and make a claim to her, and I understand that I might be out of line to say so, sir, but neither do you.” Ragetti swallowed and waited for Jack’s reaction but the only response was the slump of his shoulders.
“‘Tis hardly young Turner’s fault that she cast off his name so readily. Captain Swann seems to have a knack of easily discarding gifts which were so precious to the giver. The value she bestows upon such tokens is apparently at odds with the sentiment they were intended to express.”
“I don’t follow, Cap’n.”
“What I’m saying, Mr. Ragetti, is that your captain is a cruel, unfeeling woman.”
“Now I’ll be hearing no more of that, sir!” cried Ragetti, surprising both himself and Jack at the anger in his tone, but he couldn‘t listen to such harsh, unwarranted criticisms of Captain Swann. Ever since the events that had begun with the loss of the Pearl and ended with the death of old Pintel, he’d watched his skipper spiral down through the nine levels of hell, unable to do a thing to halt her descent. Yet, even on the days when he’d had to haul her from the gutter and back to the ship, he would remember the leader she truly was and hope that some day she’d manage to find her way back. It wouldn’t be right for him to just sit and listen to such charges as Jack was claiming without offering a word in her defence.
“Beggin’ yer pardon, but I can hold me tongue no longer, sir. You have no right to judge, Captain Sparrow, no right at all. You left her nine years ago and we could all see that it damn near broke her heart then, only she didn’t let it, did she? She stepped into your boots - boots that needed to be filled, I should say - and fill them she did. But everyone’s got their breaking point, sir, and I’ve seen bigger men than her crack a lot sooner and in circumstances not nearly so perilous as what she went through. There’s none of us can judge her, sir, for what she’s become. Not even me and I went through it by her side. And, I’m sorry to say it, Captain, but you especially are the last man who should even dare offer reproach.” He took a shaky breath, scarcely able to believe the words that had just crossed his lips, but not regretting a single one. Jack, though, did not look angry at his outburst; only perplexed.
“Mate,” he said, with a note of incredulity, “I understand that she’s not had the best of times, but I’d hardly call losing at cacho, perilous.”
Ragetti blinked and cocked his head, not having the faintest clue what Jack Sparrow was talking about. “Cacho, sir? I don’t think I follow, sir. What has cards got to do with anything?”
“The Pearl, son. How she lost it? Paying off a gambling debt?”
Shaking his head in confusion, Ragetti said, “I’ve no idea what rogue has fed you that pack of lies, Cap’n, but it weren’t cards what lost us the Pearl. I think p’rhaps, you need to be set straight on a few things.”
So Joseph Ragetti set to telling the true story of the Pearl’s demise and by the time his tale was over, Jack Sparrow had the look about him of a man who was, once more, facing the mouth of the Kraken.