Author: Laura H fried_flamingo
Chapter Rating: PG-13
Category: angst, AU
Disclaimer: The Mouse owns all.
Previous chapters here
The journey back down river was a solemn affair, their progress slow and laborious, hindered by the night and the slow-moving current. Jack could only be grateful that the dark would also prevent swift discovery of the men they had left stranded on the islet.
It had been almost an hour since he’d seen Elizabeth. Moments after that final shot had been fired, she had ushered a stricken Ragetti into the captain’s cabin and closed the door. Unwilling to intrude, Jack had set himself the task of throwing the body of the dead privateer over the side and into the river.
Let it catch on a rock, he thought. Let even the alligators recognise it as poison and leave it to rot. His only regret was that the bastard would never know the madness of the Locker. It was as he threw the pistol into the water after him, that he was approached by the sailor he had sent below, charged with the duty of unchaining those souls in the cargo hold.
“They won’t move, sir,” he said. “We’ve tried to get them to come topside, but they just sit there.”
“They’re scared, son. Been kept down there so long they don’t know friend from foe. Are there provisions aboard?”
“Aye, sir. Some bread and tack and a bit of cured beef. Plenty of water there is too.”
“Then see that they’re fed,” instructed Jack. “Not too much mind, though they might plead for more. They have the look of starvation upon them and I’ve seen what sickness can come from overfeeding such hunger.” The sailor tugged his forelock and scuttled off to carry out his orders, while Jack leaned morosely on the rail and sighed, trying not to look at the closed door to the cabin.
He felt awkward and out of place, like a stranger on this ship for which he had once bargained his soul. Could he ever call it home again? Jack looked up at the night sky, longing for a star by which to centre himself, but the clouds were unmoved by his wishes and the constellations remained hidden behind their veil. It was then, as he gazed at the inscrutable heavens, that he realised there was only one place left for him to go.
With renewed strength and vigour, he propelled himself skyward, scaling the rigging like a spider on a web, until finally, his hand fell upon the smooth grain of the top yard. The wood was newer than he expected and he remembered Ragetti’s account of the damage she’d suffered in battle. There had been grooves here before, ridges worn by the soles of his boots, but they were gone now; lost, along with the rest of the mast, somewhere in the icy waters of the Atlantic .
“Time to make new grooves, Jackie,” he told himself and planted his feet firmly upon the yard. A wind had sprung up, filling the Pearl’s ebony sails and in the distance, a crack of gold appeared in the night, morning’s first sliver of sunlight spreading across the horizon. Jack Sparrow set his sights upon it.
Below, a door opened at last and two figures emerged. Elizabeth Swann looked to the east and faced the dawn.
Through his spyglass Will Turner watched the estuary with a familiar sense of unease. Ten years ago he had left his wife standing upon a foreign shore, on the day of their wedding. Though he hadn’t asked it of her, she had vowed to wait for him, to remain on land until the day he returned. Even then, Will had known it was not a vow she could ever hope to keep; the sea was her lifeblood and one day it would call her back. It did not surprise him that the messenger it had used was Jack Sparrow.
So Will had fulfilled his duty and ferried the souls of those lost at sea, all the time waiting for her voice to be amongst those he heard whispering in the waves. Now he felt that same trepidation as the mouth of the river remained empty.
Then, as a new sun rose behind him, she appeared. The full sails of the Black Pearl came into view around the bend in the river, followed by the elegant lines of her hull. She picked up speed in the heavier current of the estuary and seemed to dance on the waves, as a feather would upon a breeze.
“She be free now,” purred a voice by his ear.
“She?” he asked, unclear who or what the pronoun was intended to signify.
Calypso smiled, a small curling of the lips that held the knowledge of ages.
“‘Der be much redemption beneat’ her sails, Will Turner. All chains unlocked, all wounds soothed.”
“Jus’ a touch.”
“Will I see her again?”
Calypso frowned and with gentle fingers, turned his face towards her. “You know ‘dat you will. One day she have her journey to make, same as all mortals. ‘Dis you know, Will Turner.”
“I meant… I mean before that. Will I see her before that day?”
The dark fingers fell from his face and Calypso shrugged. “Who can say? Threads come loose, be woven again. Who knows what strands will cross?”
“And what of she and Jack? What of their strands?”
Calypso took his hand in hers. “Dey be woven tight now. Follow one and you find de other.”
Will nodded. The Black Pearl was close now, but Will knew that he couldn’t tarry. “Goodbye, Elizabeth,” he said, quietly, and, turning from the rail, he found that he was alone upon the quarterdeck.
It was time for him to take the helm, time for them to leave; the souls of those lost amongst the Pearls most recent cargo had been ferried to that far shore and the Dutchman's business in these waters was complete. Will walked to the wheel, refusing to cast a backward glance at the black ship which sailed towards them.
“Down,” he whispered, and closed his eyes as the water claimed him.
“Je n'ai pas de l'argent!!” Joshamee Gibbs’ stilted French did little to discourage the small band of beggars that surrounded him, not one of them over ten years old. With an exasperated sigh, he produced a half crown from his pocket and threw it down a nearby alley. As the little troupe ran after the coin, Gibbs grabbed his opportunity to escape and headed for the dock.
Port-au-Prince was a hateful place, daring to call itself civilised though its streets were awash with squalor and filth, and villainy thrived in every corner. Give him a spot of good honest pirating over this so-called colonial paradise any day.
Gibbs was restless too. Jack was overdue by more than a week and, if they didn’t leave within three days, then hurricane season would keep them here for a further two months. All things considered, Gibbs thought it best for them to say goodbye to the Caribbean before old trouble came to find them. But then again he thought, for Jack, maybe it already had.
“I hope yer safe, Jack,” he muttered, under his breath. “I hope ye’ve not come all this way just to face the Ferryman.”
As night fell, the dockside came alive, whores and thieves crawling from their daytime hiding places and setting their eye upon prospective customers or victims, sometimes the hapless individual being one and the same. Gibbs, having had his fill of the towns doxies, set a course for one of the harbours many taverns; waiting for Jack Sparrow didn’t have to be without its benefits.
“Joshamee Gibbs?” muttered a low voice at his ear. Gibbs stopped in his tracks, feeling something sharp press against his back. A strong hand dragged him into the shadows, alongside the Black Bull Inn, and his arm was twisted painfully up his back.
“Who’s asking?” he growled, unable to turn round.
“Me girl, Susie, tells me you ain’t paid ’er the shilling what you owe ’er from three nights ago and seein’ as sixpence of that shilling belongs to me, I think we ’ave a problem ’ere.”
“Seems to me your problem is greater than what it might seem upon first reflection, mate.” The third voice that joined the exchange was at once both light-hearted, yet threatening and oh-so-blessedly familiar. Gibbs heard the clatter of a knife upon cobbles and the sound of boots beating a hurried retreat from an unpleasant situation.
“Jack Sparrow, am I glad to…” Gibbs’ voice trailed off at sight of the man who stood in front of him, shoving his pistol back into his belt. For a moment it seemed that some spirit had taken him back ten years and he was looking up from a pig pen, at the man who had come to offer him life. The fellow before him was not the sober privateer with whom he’d sailed for the past nine years. This man wore no such disguise.
“Jack!” he cried in delight, grabbing his shoulders. “What kept you, man?! What kept you?”
Jack grinned and blinked his blackened eyelids, as if embarrassed at the show of emotion. “Got meself a little caught up, mate,” he said by way of explanation, though ‘twas no explanation at all. Then, as Gibbs stared at him in wonder, the explanation appeared behind him.
“Miss Swann,” said Gibbs, his tone deliberately neutral. Elizabeth nodded and smiled, but there was something in her aspect, some weight to her stare that made Gibbs wish for the little girl singing songs she didn’t understand; the woman before him had a world weariness now that was beyond her years. It unnerved him and he turned back to Jack, a formality in his tone. “Cap’n Sparrow, thank the Lord you’ve come back. The Duchess has been stocked for nigh on two weeks and we’ll be ready to sail with the tide tomorrow.”
Jack said nothing, but looked over his shoulder at the woman behind him. She nodded as if giving consent and then walked away, heading back in the direction of the docks. “Thing is, mate,” said Jack, “there’s a few things have changed since we set out on this little venture.”
“Well, I can see that,” said Gibbs, taking in Jack’s appearance.
“I mean beyond that, mate.” He hesitated and frowned, taking a deep breath. “We may have had a bit of a run in, as it were, with certain individuals and said altercation might make it difficult, shall we say, for me to return to me profession as privateer in the employ of England.”
Gibbs squinted at him and pursed him lips. “What is it yer telling’ me, Jack?”
“What I’m saying, Mr Gibbs, is that now seems as good a time as any for Jack Sparrow to return to past endeavours and see what fortunes may cross his path in these, more colourful, waters. In other words, mate…”
“Ye’ve turned pirate again,” interrupted Gibbs. Jack beamed.
“You’re a clever bloke, Joshamee, and seeing as you’re so bloody clever, I’m thinking that maybe the Duchess would do well to have a captain with such intellect and, indeed, resourcefulness. What say you, mate?”
Gibbs thoughtfully scratched his mutton chop whiskers and scrutinised Jack. The flamboyant mannerisms and outlandish posturing were most definitely back, but there was something else here; an underlying fortitude that told Gibbs his Captain had finally found safe harbour.
“Not a glamour then,” he whispered, letting his gaze drift down to the dock to where Elizabeth Swann stood, waiting.
“Eh?” asked Jack, nonplussed.
Gibbs pulled his attention back. “So yer pirate again, Jack Sparrow?”
“Don’t think I was ever anything else, mate,” replied Jack, a wry grin on his face.
Gibbs nodded slowly. “No, reckon ye’ve got a point there.” He paused. “And ye’ve a ship to sail, do ye?”
“The Pearl sits in port, Gibbs. If I don’t belong there, then I don’t belong anywhere.”
“You brought her back then,” said Gibbs, beaming with gladness.
Jack was silent for a moment, his eye drawn in the direction of the harbour. “She found her own way back, mate,” he said, eventually, “and so did I.”
Joshamee Gibbs clasped his hand on his old friend’s shoulder. “Take care, Jack. These are dangerous times.”
“They always have been, Mr. Gibbs.”
“Aye, that they have.” And for a moment the two men said nothing, just held each other’s stare, a wordless exchange that held two decades worth of comradeship and affection.
Then Jack took off his hat and gestured to where the topsail of the Duchess Mary was visible in the harbour. “You’re ship awaits, Captain Gibbs. Take care you don’t lose her to those unscrupulous characters what sail the Spanish Main, eh?” He pushed the tricorn firmly back onto his head and made to walk off but, possessed of a feeling that he might never see the man again, Gibbs grabbed Jack’s arm and pulled him into a tight embrace. For a second Jack froze, but then Gibbs felt his hands on his back slapping once, twice, before he broke away and was lost in the crowded dockside.
There was a chill in the air as Gibbs made his way down to his ship and it seemed that it heralded more than just a drop in temperature.
Change in the wind, he thought. Season’s turning. And he couldn’t help but wonder what storms it would bring.