Author: Laura H fried_flamingo
Chapter Rating: R
Category: angst, AU
Disclaimer: The Mouse owns all.
Previous chapters here
Ever since Ragetti told her where Will and Jack had gone, Elizabeth had found herself watching the hatch that led to Will’s quarters. She tried not to wonder what they were discussing and told herself it was conceit to suppose she was the subject of their conversation. She knew, though, that this was exactly what they were talking about. On at least five occasions she had summoned up enough courage to stride towards the hatch, only for her resolve to falter at the last moment and now she sat hunkered against the rail, fingers drumming a nervous tattoo on the deck. Then the door opened and Jack appeared.
Elizabeth started to her feet, her stomach tilting at the sight of him. There was something… altered about him, something new. Then she saw his eyes - not new, not new at all. This was her Jack. Only vaguely was she aware of the smile that threatened to split her face and she hardly noticed the steps she was taking across the deck towards him. The only thing that was real to her was the joy that surged through her at the sight of him, the same joy she had felt standing on that eldritch beach, watching him crest the dunes atop the Pearl.
Why now? Why not before?
Because I know he’s back now, she thought, because I know he won’t leave again.
But what about Pintel…
Her footsteps stuttered to a halt, just as Jack caught her gaze. Will emerged from the hatch and Jack turned to him and nodded, as if some accord had been made; she didn’t feel disposed to make any guesses as to its nature. Forcing her legs to carry her forward, she approached them and they both at least had the courtesy to look chagrined. Definitely about her then. Neither one of them had been in her life for almost a decade, yet here they were, her brave men, assuming responsibility for her protection. She would have been angry if the situation wasn’t so laughable.
“Land ho!” The cry came from the foremast crow’s nest and all eyes turned to the seaman on watch. He gestured off the port bow and, though it could not be seen from deck, Elizabeth knew that soon the narrow strip of land that was the North Carolinian coast would appear on the horizon.
As she stood watching, her mind consumed by the fear of what ghosts may haunt those shores, Elizabeth barely noticed Jack’s hand as it curled into her own.
They made anchor ten miles off Oak Island, with just over an hour to wait until sundown.
“How close can you get us?” asked Elizabeth of Will as they pored over the charts one final time.
“As far as the mouth of the river. It's freshwater soon after that and I can go no further.” He made no mention of the work to which he himself must attend in these waters and Elizabeth tried to put it from her mind.
“Then we move in the longboats,” said Jack. “She’ll anchor for the night and we’ll take her while she’s still in the Cape Fear. We let her get as far as Wilmington then we ain't got chance.”
“What if it goes wrong?” she asked him, unable to hide the note of worry in her voice. “What if they hear us approach?”
He glanced at her slyly and grinned. “Love, who am I?”
“You’re Captain Jack Sparrow,” she said, smiling back, but still couldn’t ignore that ball of dread she felt whenever she thought of the task that lay ahead. Around them, the men began drifting away, many of them seeking out solitary spots in which to mull over the plan; an air of anticipation hung over the entire ship. One hour till sunset and then everything would change, one way or another.
“We’ll set things right, Lizzie. I promise you that,” Jack said, earnestly, seeming to sense her apprehension. He reached out, the back of his hand brushing her cheek. “Upon my life, I promise.”
And in that moment Elizabeth knew, without doubt, that Jack was unconditionally on her side. “Yes,” she replied, “I know.” But despite her assurances, she couldn’t help wonder what change might come for both of them before the night was over and whether or not it would be for the better. A rum bottle lay upended on the table next to them, rolling cheerlessly back and forth across the navigational charts. What was left of its contents had pooled along the length of the bottle, not enough to make it to the neck and spill over. Elizabeth picked it up, but didn’t drink.
“If it’s drunk you fancy getting, love, you’ll need a tad more than that drop.”
“Don’t think any amount could get me as drunk as I’d need to be tonight,” replied Elizabeth and she walked off towards the bow, bottle still clutched in her hand.
The red sun was a half circle sinking at the edge of the world and, not for the first time, Elizabeth wondered how it could be at its most beautiful just as it was about to die. It was a boast, she thought, to those who would welcome the night, a last chance for it show how magnificent it could be. She could only hope that she would blaze as bright.
Raising the near empty bottle as if in toast, Elizabeth closed her eyes. Her words were whispered, so that no one else would hear. “If I am to face this again, then let it be here. If I am to have the courage to fight once more, let it be now. If I am to die, finally, let it not be in vain.”
She didn’t know to what gods the prayer was uttered or whether it was a prayer at all. Perhaps the entreaty was made to no one but herself. Nevertheless, she tilted the bottle onto its side and poured out the remnants of the rum within. The dark ribbon fell towards the sea, before the breeze picked it up, scattering amber droplets across the dying rays of the sun.
The Cape Fear River was black and endless, the moon having retreated behind thick clouds; all light had been sucked from the world. In such darkness, it was impossible to keep track of their position on the river and, sometimes, the only hints that they were on water came from the quiet sound of the slow current, as it made its way to open sea, and from the soft sweep of the oars, pulling them upriver. Somewhere behind him, in another boat, was Elizabeth, and more than anything Jack ached to be with her. It wasn’t because of some misguided need to protect her, he knew that much. He also knew that for more than ten years he’d been completely and stupidly wrong about one thing. For too long he’d thought Elizabeth Swann his gaoler and that only he had the power to free himself, but the truth of the matter was quite different; without her, he was chained and the ghost of the shackles upon his wrist were kept there by him alone. It was only with her that he could ever find salvation.
A brief flash from the riverbank caught his attention and he hissed an order to stop rowing. As they waited, the shape of the second long boat emerged from the darkness behind them, Elizabeth at its prow. There was a faint splash from the bank then a few seconds later a head slid through the surface of the water.
“Half a mile up river, Captain.” The sailor, who Jack thought might be called Darby, addressed Elizabeth “She’s at anchor for the night, but riding short-manned by the looks of it. Crew of six on deck, dunno how many below. They ain’t expecting no quarrel this night, though, I’ll tell you that much.”
“Then they’re in for some upset,” said Jack. “Now get in the boat, mate. There’re some beasties in these waters who wouldn’t mind making a feast of a couple of your limbs.”
The man nimbly pulled himself in, trailing water behind him and then Jack stood, pulling off his jacket and hat. With a grin suggesting a confidence he didn’t feel, he tossed them, along with his weapons, to Elizabeth.
“Look after me effects, love. I’ll be wanting them back.” He winked at her and hoped that she smiled back, but her face lay in shadow and he couldn’t read her expression. Then, with a deep breath, Jack dived into the waters of the river and started pulling for shore. He could only hope that the beasties had been fed for the day.
Behind him he knew both boats were heading for the opposite bank and by the time he hauled himself onto the muddy shore of the riverside, they had been swallowed by the night. He wouldn’t have any word from them until he’d set the ball rolling, so if anything went wrong on their side then old Jackie would have more than hungry alligators to worry about. After emptying the river water from his boots and wringing out the tail of his shirt, he set off along the bank, taking cover from the surrounding cypress trees as much as possible. A short walk later Jack saw what he’d been looking for. Up ahead a glimmer of yellow shone in the darkness - the Black Pearl.
Though her hull and sails were imperceptible against the black of the night, Jack knew she was there. He could feel her; could hear the soft creak of her old bones, could smell her tarred mahogany.
“Don’t worry, love,” he whispered, “you‘re comin’ home with me.”
Jack crept forward until, in the faint yellow glow from the on board lanterns, he could make out her starboard side about thirty feet out. His footfalls were silent on the riverbank’s bed of cypress needles, and he was confident that they were as yet unaware of his presence. Taking a handful of mud, he smeared it across his damp shirt and added a couple of streaks to his face for good measure.
“Lizzie, I hope you’re bloody out there,” he muttered, scanning the dark river beyond the ship. And then in a voice that crashed through the silence, he shouted, “Ahoy there!”
Movement could be heard from the deck and a few more lanterns were lit.
“Oi! Erm…avail… avec… avarice… Avast! That’s it! Bloody avast!” he shouted. “Is there any blighter on that boat…ship?” Then after a seconds pause, added, “…Boat?”
Two faces appeared at the rail, as did a couple of musket barrels. He definitely had their attention. Now for the detail. It surprised him how easily it came back, how naturally the swagger and flap seemed to settle in his bones. Jack hoped it would serve him as well now, as it had in the past.
Picking up a large boulder, he swung his arms back and tossed it into the river, letting the momentum carry him after it on unsteady legs. The rock landed about six feet away with a loud splash, throwing up water and drenching Jack once more.
“Ahoy ahoy ahoy! Isn’t that what you blokes say? Are any of you buggers listening?”
“Who’s there?” came a harsh yell from the deck. Three faces now.
Let her be there, let her be there.
“Ah,” said Jack, falling onto his backside. “Hello, mate.”
“State your business, man!” The voice spoke of authority. The current – and soon to be ex - captain, he imagined.
“Business? Oh… er… yeah,” replied Jack, his brow furrowed in apparent bewilderment. “Thing is meself and an… acquaintance of mine, rowed out here for a bit of peace and quiet so that we could, er, improve our acquaintanceship, as it were.”
The man looked dubious, but lowered his musket slightly.
“Only thing is, see, the harlot pinched me purse and then buggered off with the rowboat. Left me high and… not so dry, if you catch me meaning.”
“Sounds like someone took you for a bit of a fool, mate,” laughed one of the other men, before a stern look from the captain silenced him.
“And what would your concern be with this ship?” he asked.
“Well, I need a favour, don’t I. Can’t bloody well walk it to Wilmington in the dark.” Come on, come on. There’re more of you aboard. Let’s have you bleeders. “Tell you what, mate,” he continued and staggered to his feet, his hand closing on a tiny pebble that lay in the mud. “If you let me aboard, we can all ‘ave a little sing-song. A voice like an angel, I have.” And with that he burst into song; the only one he knew, as it happened. Jack spun and whirled, kicking up the muddy water and bellowing out what was barely passable for a tune. “… drink up me hearties, yoho… !
And then they came, curiosity piqued by the commotion ashore. Two more faces at the ships rail, five altogether and that was enough.
“Yoho, yoho!… ”
“Hang on,” said one of the newcomers. “Yoho? Isn’t that a…?”
“Pirate’s song?” finished Jack, whirling to face them and staggering further into the water. Let her be there, let her be there. “Yeah, mate, I do believe it is. Which ain’t surprising considering it’s a bloody pirate what‘s singing it!” And he let the stone fly.
With pinpoint accuracy it struck the captain between the eyes, drawing blood and the man collapsed. Jack dived forward into the water before the other men could react and their musket shots ricocheted harmlessly over his head. Below the surface of the river, sounds were muted; he could hear the continued roar of gunfire coming from the deck of the Pearl, but he couldn’t be sure if any of the guns belonged to Elizabeth or her crew.
He swam as far as possible under the water, until the need for air forced him to the surface again, where he found himself hidden against the stern of the ship. Above him the fire fight continued, which meant they had made it aboard and sure enough when he made it round to the portside he found the two empty long boats and four dangling ropes. Pulling his sword and pistol from the abandoned pile of clothing in one of the boats, Jack climbed the side of the Pearl, nimble as his simian namesake.
By the time he reached the deck, the battle was all but over; surprise had been their best weapon and the Pearl’s fifteen man crew were now stripped of their weapons, with swords pointed at their throats. Jack was about to offer congratulations on a job well done when a noise from behind drew his attention. The man who appeared at the hatch barely had time to register the click of the hammer, before he found himself staring into the barrel of a pistol, a grinning Jack Sparrow at the other end.
“You picked the wrong time for an evening stroll, mate.” The hapless crewman gingerly climbed out of the hatch and joined his captive colleagues, while Jack took up his place next to Elizabeth.
“Ragetti, there’s an islet four miles upstream,” she said, “You and the rest of the men take the longboats and put these prisoners ashore there. Darby, remain aboard. Search the captain’s cabin lest we find ourselves with any more milksops trying to prove themselves hero.”
As Ragetti and the others guided the privateer crew over the side of the ship, Elizabeth walked to the open hatch. She paused and took a breath before heading down the ladder.
Jack made to follow her, but then a thought struck him. “Oi, mate!” he called to Darby who was making his way across the deck of the Pearl. “There’s a crawl space beneath the bunk. Good place for a man to stash himself in the event of unwanted passengers, savvy?”
Darby grinned and nodded. “I’ll be sure not to miss it, sir.”
The smile on Jack’s own lips faded as he turned his attention once more to the hatch and descended into the darkness below.
By the time he’d reached the hold, the smell had become unbearable; insufferable foulness assaulted his nose and several times he had to fight the urge to vomit. Elizabeth stood, immobile, staring at the multitude of manacled, half naked bodies cowering against one another in the cells. He approached her and, carefully, placed his hand on her arm.
“I’ve never…” Her words faltered but she didn’t look away. Abruptly she shook her head and, wiping her sleeve across her face, moved towards the nearest cage.
“We’re here to help you,” she said, a brusqueness in her manner that seemed forced. The people inside drew back in fear and doubt. “Where are the keys, Jack? Where are the bloody keys?!”
“They’ll be in the captains cabin,” he said, quietly. “I’ll get…” But his words were interrupted when a heavy ring of iron keys landed, noisily, at his feet.
“Those what you’re looking for?” asked a gentle voice and Jack found himself faced with a smiling man who, in one hand, held a pistol trained directly at Jack’s head. “A little careless, wouldn’t you say, Captain Swann, leaving the deck empty like that. Anyone could sneak up and take you unawares. And I would so have loved to introduce myself to your new crew.” He smiled and looked at the ceiling. “I did meet one amongst your number, but I feel may not have made a very good first impression.” In his other hand, the man held a sword, the blade glistening red and, casually, he swung the weapon to and fro.
Like a Dandy with a cane, thought Jack and it was just as the horrible realisation dawned that he saw the butt of the pistol swinging towards him. Then he saw no more.
Today was to be the day she died. Elizabeth had been convinced of that from the moment they set out on this quest and she had prepared herself never to make the journey back down river. Atonement was due and she’d thought that this was the day on which she would be required to make it. Every swan must have its song after all.
This, however, was the one eventuality for which she had not prepared. For it to be him, after all this time.
Terror gripped her every limb as she watched the keys crash onto the floor. Her body was stone and movement was impossible. Behind her men and women shrank back at the appearance of the Dandy, some of them crying out in fear. What atrocities had this evil man had perpetrated against them? How many had died at his hand? Who knew what power he had stolen from them?
Sudden anger surged through her and, as the blow from the Dandy’s pistol connected with Jack’s head, Elizabeth roared - a wild cry of hatred and defiance. She flew across the hold, snatching the heavy iron keys from the floor as she went. The Dandy swung his pistol in her direction, squeezing off a shot, which cracked loud against the hull. She felt the sting of the bullet on her scalp, but the movement of his arm left his aim awry and she knew the wound was shallow. Nevertheless, a trickle of blood began making its way down her forehead.
Heedless, Elizabeth let fly with the keys, knocking the gun from the Dandy’s hand and sending it clattering behind a barrel. Left without a weapon, he turned and ran up the ladder, a coward now that he no longer had the upper hand. But Elizabeth was in no mood to allow retreat.
Armed still with nothing other than the heavy ring of keys, she set off after him, fury powering her every step. By the time she reached the deck, he was running for the side, ready to abandon ship and take his chances amongst the alligators. She caught up with him in a few easy strides and swung the keys once more. They impacted heavily with his temple and he crumpled to the deck.
The blood from her wound was coursing freely down her face now, but she felt no pain. The only sensation she knew was rage, the frantic pounding of her heart and the bitter tang on her tongue. Elizabeth threw herself upon the Dandy’s prostrate figure, dragging him onto his back and as she did so his frock coat fell open. Something shone within. Slowly, she reached for the object tucked into his belt and pulled it free. An ivory handled dagger, the one whose image was cut deep into the fabric of her memory.
Elizabeth was crying freely now, saltwater mingling with the blood that streaked her face. The tears she shed were for Pintel, for James, for her kind and beautiful father. She wept for things lost and time wasted, but most of all she wept for what she was about to do.
“Shall I choose now, you bastard?” she spat at the man she had pinned to the deck, relishing the fear that contorted his features. The ivory was cool and smooth in her palm and her fingers tightened around it. Elizabeth pressed the blade to the Dandy’s throat and watched with fascination as a thin trickle of blood ran down the side of his neck.
Leaning forward, she pressed her lips close to his ear and whispered, tender as a lover, “Shall I choose now?”
Consciousness returned, bringing with it a dull throb in the side of his head. Then came the sounds of the commotion above deck. Jack pulled himself unsteadily to his feet and headed for the ladder, this time his stagger not requiring any affectation. He reached the deck just as Elizabeth launched herself at the fleeing man, who was trying desperately to crawl away from her clutches.
Jack stopped, realising he could go no further. Though he wanted nothing more than to choke the last gasps of life from this man with his bare hands, this demon who had caused her such pain, he knew that his was not his fight. For it to be over, Elizabeth must be the one to finish it.
Jack watched as she paused, reaching into the man’s coat and slowly withdrew a small ivory handled dagger. For a moment she stared at it as if mesmerised and then pressed it to the Dandy’s throat.
“Shall I choose now, you bastard?” he heard her hiss and the first trickle of blood appeared dark on the man’s skin. Silently, Jack willed her to make the killing thrust.
She leaned forward, whispering something in his ear and the Dandy whimpered in fear.
Her arm drew back and there was a flash of torchlight on metal, as the dagger arced through the air. Seconds of silence. Then a splash as it hit the river.
Elizabeth stood, looking down at the snivelling man lying on the deck. “I choose to save myself,” she said and her voice was calm, her tears abated. “I choose mercy.”
Steadily, she walked to where Jack was waiting and, without a word, pulled herself into his embrace, leaning her weight against him. Jack closed his eyes and let his cheek rest on the top of her head.
The gunshot exploded, fracturing the night and for just a moment it seemed so unreal that neither of them moved. Slowly Jack opened his eyes, dread sitting low in his chest at the thought of what he would see. Elizabeth seemed heavy in his arms.
Smoke still curled from the barrel and, above it, Ragetti’s face was hard and cold as he stared at the now lifeless body of the Dandy.
“Me immortal soul never was worth much,” he said, calmly, and let the pistol fall to the deck.