Never in his life had Jack Sparrow felt so helpless, so terrified, as standing bare backed and bare foot, chained to the mast and awaiting the lash. He refused to tremble, though his stomach churned and a thousand pleas for mercy choked his throat. But he would utter none.
“My love, please,” Diosa begged, clutching at Jones’ arm. “Can you not find some mercy in your heart? For the boy at least, if not for me?”
“I care nothing for the boy,” Jones said, cold and dark as the deep. “Your pain is all that is of interest. A taste, if you like, of the agony that beats in my own breast.”
“But I do feel that pain,” Diosa insisted, pressing her hand to his chest. “I feel it, and can sooth it if you’ll just—”
He pushed her roughly away, sending her tumbling against the watching crew. “Leave off me woman!” Jones yelled. “Leave off me and watch. Harper, Kendall – make her watch! And know this, woman. When he screams, when he bleeds – when he dies – it is by your hand.” The two men grabbed her arms, one putting a blade to her throat. “Bosun!” Jones growled. “Twenty lashes, and don’t spare ’im.”
In the instant before the first blow fell, Jack met her eyes and offered a smile. “Don’t let—”
Biting agony, like the claw of the devil, raked his back. He bit down on the first scream, the second, third, maybe the fourth – but he couldn’t hold on, his mind was burning with his flesh and the screams were ripped from his throat. Dimly through the howling agony he heard her sobbing, and then he felt his legs buckle, a weight on his arms, and a blissful, treacherous darkness.
He recognized it immediately as death, and could do nothing but welcome it.
…and then it seemed as though he could see through another’s eyes. Hers, perhaps, because he could feel the cool press of steel against his neck and a rough hand upon his arm. At the mast drooped a pitiful figure, his back raw meat in the sun, blood soaking his britches and the deck, matting his black hair where it hung to his shoulders.
It was himself, no doubt, yet he appeared to be palpably absent from his own body and it occurred to him that he might, in fact, be dead.
Not yet, Jack Sparrow. Though you are close.
“Is he dead?” echoed a voice, rough and filled with unquenched rage. Davy Jones himself.
Someone scurried to the mast, past the bosun wiping sweat from his brow as he coiled the bloody cat. Ship’s surgeon, perhaps, if such a thing were not surplus to requirement aboard the Dutchman. He fumbled at the man’s neck – Jack’s neck – lifted his white face and said, “No, sir. But won’t be long.”
Jones stepped forward, his face pinched tight, rage coiled tighter than the capstan winch. “Throw him in the brig,” he said. “Let the rats feast upon him ’ere he die.”
A shock of horror raced through him, and it took a moment before Jack realised it was her revulsion he felt. “Have you not done enough?” she said, her voice echoing all around him. “Where is the justice in this punishment?”
“Justice?” Jones turned on her, eyes blazing. “What justice is there for a heart ripped apart, for a trust broken? For this betrayal? No justice at all! Only revenge. Only pain. Endless pain, without hope of death. What justice is there for that, Diablo del mar?”
“The pain,” she said, “is only endless because you will it so. Peace is in your power, if you can find the way to forgiveness and mercy. But know this; I will not let the boy die today.”
Jones’ eyes narrowed. “Well, we’ll see about that, won’t we?”
Behind him Jack could see himself – his body – carried from the mast, limp as a fresh corpse and about as pretty. They were dragging him below, to the brig, and he felt a strange flicker of pain, of darkness – as if he were inhabiting two spaces at once.
Do not fear, Jack Sparrow, all will be well.
“Hurts,” he said, surprised to hear the word out loud. Surprised to feel his bruised throat ache with the effort of speaking.
All will be well…
“Bloody hurts…” And now he could feel a heat, the stifling blow decks heat, a hard board beneath him and agony above. “Oh God it hurts.”
“Shhh,” whispered a voice close to his ear. “Rest. The voyage is about to begin…”
A gentle touch on his back blazed like the Devil, then melted into cool water. There was an acrid, spicy scent and a wisp of blue smoke, the echo of a lilting chant in words too far away to hear, and he found himself drifting, drifting in the blue beneath a wide benevolent sky and a warm sun.
All will be well…
Jack leaned against the side of the quarterdeck steps, striving for a nonchalance he didn’t feel. “Gave me a good dose of the cat, then threw me in the brig for the rest of the voyage,” he said, keeping his eyes on Elizabeth. “But his fury wasn’t for me, though, ’twas for her. Nothing so enraging to a man as betrayal.”
She flinched at that and he felt a slight pleasure. Let her feel it; to use a man’s own heart against him was the blackest of arts. He half hoped she might flee – take her tortuous presence from his sight – but instead she looked at him boldly and said, “Did he kill her?”
“Her? No, he couldn’t do that.”
“He punished her then?”
“Only in so far as my punishment was a punishment to her.” He cast a quick look at Tia Dalma, whose answering smile conveyed a myriad of truths. “I nearly died in that brig; Davy Jones’ bosun—”
“Takes pride in cleaving flesh from bone with every stroke.”
It was the boy who’d spoken, although not so much a boy now. He’d seen his share of life and wore it, dark, upon his face. “You’ve had a taste of it, then?” Jack said.
Will shook his head. “From another, in the end.”
“Oh Will…” Elizabeth gasped, wide eyed. “I had no idea.”
He cut her a look suggesting she had no idea about a great many things, a sentiment with which Jack found himself in accord. “I would have died there, if she hadn’t come to me. Healed me.”
“Healed you how?” asked Elizabeth, one hand – Jack noticed coldly – resting on Will’s knee.
He smiled at the question and dodged it like a thrust of a knife. “How do I know? I was half dead at the time. Either way, when I returned to me senses I was well enough – and she had the key.”
“She freed you?”
“Or herself, eh?” He smiled at the idea. “Freed herself from the dull captain to sail away with…well, me.”
“I suppose even you might be preferable to a life with Davy Jones,” Elizabeth observed, nose in the air. “Although it would be a close call.” And he wanted to tell her outright that she was a lying jezebel, that she ached for him as deeply as any woman had ever ached, and that if he came to her and whispered forgiveness he could melt her with a single touch. Judas kiss or not, he’d felt the heat in her betrayal.
But Turner was there and Jack held his silence, content with the fact that she knew; he could tell by the way she clasped her knees to her chest and only looked at him with restrained glances. She feared him – the compulsion between them – as much as he feared her.
“No doubt at all,” Tia Dalma said softly, “that she have her own reason for what she do. Reason you not understand, Jack Sparrow.”
“Maybe not,” he agreed. “But she did leave. And with me, not the whelp.”
There was a moment’s silence before he realised he’d misspoken. And a moment after, too, while he silently cursed himself and scrambled for an escape. Elizabeth studied her hands, fine features flushed with a little heat, while Turner glared out into the dark.
Ironically, it was Tia Dalma who rescued him. “De tale is well known,” she said into the silence, “of how Jack Sparrow stand between Diosa del mar and de wrath of Davy Jones. Him hold de captain at bay while she lower a boat, and together dey flee into de misty dawn.” Her dark eyes met his with a smile. “De rest is just fable, hmm?”
“The truth,” he said carefully, “is that we washed up the next evening, just south of Port St John….”
The saltwater sting on his raw back made him grimace, but not half so bad as it would have done had she not… Done what she’d done, back in the brig. Whatever that had been, and it bore no thinking upon. He was well, brought back from the cusp of death, and intending to live.
He hauled the boat up the beach until it was safe, then collapsed onto the warm sands. “He can’t follow us here,” he said, half question and half statement.
From a little distance she said, “No. Not the captain, at least. But his men…”
Jack pushed himself upright and squinted through a burning sunset to see her. “Will he send them? For you?”
She shrugged, her dark eyes haunted. “I do not know. His anger is mighty, I fear…” When she turned those eyes on him he almost faltered, almost sank beneath a wave of guilt. “I fear the consequences of what we have done, Jack. I fear what he will do.”
“Couldn’t be helped,” he said, making his way up the beach to collapse at her side. He ran a finger along her arm, salty from the sea. “Perhaps there is destiny in this after all?”
Her smile was as mysterious as the ocean. “More than you know, Captain Sparrow.”
He laughed at that, still trailing his fingers over her soft skin, tracing the line between her shoulder and neck. “Not captain yet, love. Though I appreciate the promotion, as it were. Unless you mean,” he nodded toward the longboat, “captain of that.”
“Not that,” she smiled, turning to him at last. Those eyes of hers, glistening like the blackest of pearls, drew him in. Drew him close. “Destiny,” she said, reaching to toy with the pendant in his hair, “cannot be denied. And she is a fierce and demanding mistress.” Her fingers moved to his face, his jaw, “I see her mark upon you, Jack Sparrow. You are the eye of the storm, everything whirls around you until world’s end.”
“That’s nonsense talk,” he chided, catching her hand and bringing it to his lips. Exhausted though he was, he felt himself stir; this woman’s power was irresistible. “A man makes his own destiny.”
“Not you, though you’ll fight it all your life. Your destiny is written here.” She pulled her hand free and brushed a fingertip across his eyes. “A love that will destroy you, and save you. Bitter betrayal. Pain. Death. And salvation for us all in the end, if you choose it.”
“And is it you?” he asked, cupping her bewitching face with his hand. “The love that will destroy me, and save me?”
“No,” she whispered, leaning in to kiss him softly. “This is but a shadow of that love. I have another fate, another purpose.”
He lowered her gently to the sand, marvelling at the heat flooding his body. Enthralled, entranced. “Well, I hope your fate won’t take you far. I’d hate to have angered old Jones for no good purpose.”
“It take me where de wind blow,” she whispered back. “But not tonight, Jack Sparrow. Not tonight…”
He awoke with the dawn, damp in cool sand. And alone. Her warm weight was gone, and he sat up bleary eyed to a drab, misty morning. Rising, he gathered his effects and turned slowly in an attempt to gather his wits. “Diosa?” he called, but his voice fell flat in the mist.
Thoughts of Jones’ men snatching her while he slept brought an urgent beat to his heart. “Diosa! Where the bloody hell are you?”
No answer but the lap of the waves against the shore. And then, drifting slowly as the mist, he heard her voice. Like the whisper of the ocean in a seashell, she sang a timeless, tuneless melody. Peering through the fog, he glimpsed her standing on the foreshore staring out to sea. Her arms were outstretched, her hair undone and falling in raven waves to her waist, as she swayed in time with the music of the ocean.
Unnerved, Jack didn’t approach. The mist seemed suddenly unnatural, his skin prickled with a dread of witnessing that which he was not intended to witness; some otherworldly event of which he wanted no part. And yet he found himself unable to move, as much entranced by her as ever.
“Can you feel his rage?” she said through the song – somehow, in the song. “Can you feel his despair?”
“I can feel the cold,” Jack answered, taking half a step back. “Perhaps I should head up yon cliffs and find us a—?”
“He cannot live with the pain,” she moaned, swaying harder now. “He cannot die.”
“No,” Jack agreed, taking another step back. “Unpleasant all around, I should think. Now, how about you and me—”
She gasped suddenly, clutching at her chest. “No…”
Jack raced forward, catching her as she fell and ending up on his knees in the surf. “Diosa…”
Her face was almost unrecognisable, wild and changing as the ocean; fear, grief, remorse, desire – he saw them all in those captivating eyes of hers. “He cut out him heart!”
“Davy Jones. He cut out his heart so as not to feel the pain.”
Now that was interesting. “Being immortal, I suppose he can do that sort of thing?”
She clutched at him, grabbed a fistful of his shirt and pulled him close. “Don’t you understand?” she hissed. “Don’t you see what this will make him?”
“At a guess, I’d say it would make him… somewhat heartless.”
“Cruel as the sea. Inhuman as de Devil.”
And that wasn’t good. Not good at all. “Cruel as the sea, inhuman as the devil, and, perhaps, seeking revenge?”
“Against the world. Against the whole world, Jack.”
“Ah. And I suppose if you were to sail on back to him now…?”
She shook her head, her wet hair falling in ropes about her shoulders. “He have no heart. How can he forgive?”
Throwing her head back she closed her eyes. “Destiny is a cruel mistress, Jack Sparrow. But I must do her bidding.”
“Yes, of course. Once we’ve dried out a little, eh, love?” He stood, shivered in the unnatural cold, and held out his hand to her. “I know where we are, more or less, and I’m certain we can—”
“No.” She took his hand and rose fluidly to her feet, her skin as cold as the ocean. “I cannot tarry here now.”
“It’s bloody cold,” he agreed, tugging on her hand. “Let’s go and—”
“No.” She pulled free, standing resolutely in the surf. “I cannot tarry.”
“If you tarry much longer in that water you’ll—” He stopped abruptly as she turned around and started to wade deeper into the sea. “Wait! What the bloody hell—?” Charging after her, he caught her arm when the waves were at his waist. “What are you doing?”
She turned, her skin the olive green of the sea, her hair stirring about her shoulders like kelp. “You cannot follow where I go, Jack Sparrow.” She reached out to caress his face, but he recoiled from her slippery touch and her hand fell away. “We will meet again, in another place. Look for me near de water. Always, near de water.”
He stumbled backward, the buffeting waves breaking against him. “What are you?”
She smiled, her lips and teeth the colour of the ocean. “Diosa del mar.” With that she turned and dove into the water, graceful as a dolphin riding the bow wave, and left Jack alone.
His hands, he noticed, had started to tremble. “Cold,” he muttered by way of explanation, and set about wading back to shore. The sooner he found himself a swallow of rum, the better – he’d earned himself an enemy in Davy Jones and if that didn’t have the feel of doom about it, he didn’t know what did. And all this – all this trouble – because of his cursed honest streak. Had he never said a word to Every, then—
Captain Sparrow… Her voice, lilting and intoxicating; his name in every wave that crashed upon the sand. Turn around, Captain Jack Sparrow. Destiny await…
Reluctant, afraid of what he might see, he turned. At first there was nothing, just the swirling, unnatural fog. But then he felt a breeze, warm and spiced as if fresh from some exotic shore. The mist billowed ahead of it in clouds, then parted.
His breath caught. A ship sat at anchor not a hundred yards off shore; a galleon of some description, but unlike anything he had ever seen. Her bow glistened obsidian dark, and she carried sails like midnight. Beautiful, the most perfect ship ever built. “What is she?”
Name her well, for she is your destiny.
“She’s mine then?”
For as long as you keep her, Captain Sparrow.
“Oh, I will keep her.” His heart had never felt so full, so alive. He touched the talisman in his hair, remembered her soft kiss, and her dark, enchanted eyes. He smiled. “She’s the Black Pearl,” he said, “for you, mi amor, and I will keep her ’til I die. I swear it.”
There was no answer, but he thought he could hear her laughter in the waves, see her smile in the sudden glitter of sun upon the sea. And he smiled too, racing to push the longboat back out to sea – impatient to reach his ship.
Impatient to embrace his destiny and all that it might bring.
Silence fell when the story ended. Elizabeth shifted where she sat, stiff in the cold now but not wanting to move. At her side Will was restless, and it didn’t surprise her when he said, “A good story, Jack. Would have benefited from some sea turtles though, don’t you think? Your mermaid could have sailed away on a pair.”
Jack smiled, a glint of gold in the dark. “Who says that she didn’t?” He glanced up at the sky. “Time to be below decks, unless you want to take the watch. I feel a squall upon the breeze and I doubt we’ll get much rest the next day or so.” When no one moved, he said, “Make lively! Go on! Get below.”
Everyone shuffled to their feet, even Tia Dalma though she cast Jack a curious smile as she did so. “And are you giving me orders now, Jack Sparrow?”
Pressing his hands together he sketched an apologetic bow. “Consider it a suggestion, darling.”
She smiled again, turning her eye on Will. “Come below, boy. Share some bumboo wit’ me, hmm? Ward off de cold.”
His gaze flitted to Elizabeth and she nodded, not sure if he was looking for permission or asking her to follow. Either way she stayed by the mast as Tia Dalma led him away, watching with a curious disinterest as the woman looped her arm about Will’s waist and pulled him close.
When they were gone, she found herself alone – as alone as was possible aboard ship. Gibbs still had the wheel above her and further down the deck, toward the forecastle, Jack leaned on the rail and gazed out into the night.
She hardly knew what to make of his story; she sometimes suspected that no more than one word he spoke in ten was the truth. Two years ago she’d have called it an outrageous fantasy, fit for nothing but storybooks. But she’d seen enough since – enough of cursed pirates and monsters of the deep – to believe he spoke the truth. Or a part of it, at least.
Her fingers ran over the steel-ringed mast, his place of sacrifice. Her place of shame. If his story was true – if the Pearl was a gift from some former love – it explained the lengths he’d endured to find her, the bargain he had made to raise her from the deep. She looked at him again, dark against the dark horizon, and realised she had not thought him capable of such loyalty.
“You should get some sleep,” he said, without turning his head. “You’ve got the dog watch, or had you forgot?”
“I hadn’t,” she said, moving toward him. “But it’s not yet midnight, so—”
“More than half past it. You’ll curse yourself when you’re roused.”
She smiled and joined him at the rail. “I always do, but it will have been worth it for the tale.”
“Is that so? I’m glad my pain and suffering were so entertaining. If you’re fond of such gruesome accounts, I have plenty more. Some of them quite recent, as it happens.”
She blew out a slow breath and glanced at him sideways. He was still staring out to sea, a serious look on his face that belied the flippant tone. “I would be willing to listen,” she said quietly, “if you want to tell that tale, Jack. I would— It would be fitting for me to hear it.”
He smiled, a wry curl of his lip. “Throw a couple of Hail Mary’s into the breeze and be done with fitting,” he said. “What’s past is past, no amount of fitting will make it right.”
By which, she supposed, he meant that there was no atonement she could make that would restore his faith in her. There was an unexpected pain in that, one that took her back to the longboat as she’d watched the Kraken claim the Pearl – and its captain. “I wept for you,” she said softly, the words drifting from her lips before she was aware of the thought forming. “I wept for what I’d done, for what I’d lost.”
Jack went very still, his hand upon the railing tightening until she could see the whites of his knuckles in the cold starlight. After a long silence he said, “And what was it you imagined lost?”
“Your faith in me.”
He didn’t deny it. “Had no idea it was of any value to you, love. You seemed to cast it aside without regret.”
I’m not sorry…Of all her sins, those words burned fiercest upon her soul. “Perhaps,” she said quietly, “we only regret what is lost once it’s gone?”
“There’s a truth in that,” he agreed.
In the silence that followed she watched him, imagined him first climbing aboard his ship – all youth and pride – and then imagined him standing there at the end, betrayed as she sank beneath the waves. His Black Pearl; a promise of freedom and a remembrance of other things lost. Of other betrayals. “Did you love her?” she asked softly. “Diosa del mar?”
For the first time, he looked at her; a sideways glance and a golden glint of a smile. “No. ’Tis too painless to be love.”
His words made her think of Will, of the hurt in his eyes when he looked at her now, and of Jack – more angry, but no less hurt, and so mistrustful it made her ache. “Is it always so painful?” she sighed, following his gaze to the starry horizon. “Love should be easy, shouldn’t it?”
He laughed at that, a low chuckle. “How should I know? You’ve at least twice my experience when it comes to such matters.”
She glanced at him, and though he wasn’t looking at her she knew he could feel her gaze upon him because an uneasy smile played about his lips; his words were no accident and the admission made her heart tumble. “Jack…”
“I believe Mr. Gibbs is needing to be relieved,” he said, turning abruptly away from the rail. “Always wise to keep your first mate happy, otherwise all sorts of mutinous trouble can brew.”
“Time and tide, love,” he said with a smile and flourish. “Can’t be—”
“You said ‘’Tis too painless to be love.’”
In the shadows he stilled; he had the look of an animal trapped. “What of it?”
“‘Tis’,” she said, advancing a step. “As in the present tense, which rather implies that you haven’t finished the story.”
He straightened. “All that’s worth telling.”
“But you did ever meet her again? Are you and she still…?” She hesitated over the right word, over the hot flare of unjustified envy, and Jack smiled with a familiar triumph.
“Yes to the first, and no to the second if the word you’re looking for is lovers. But,” he cocked his head, “I should think that much was obvious.”
“Obvious? In what way?”
Another quicksilver smile, a flicker of shine in the dark. “I’m going to hazard a guess, Miss Swann, that those fine tutors from London did an excellent job in teaching you…” He fluttered his fingers as if pondering the matter. “Greek?”
She lifted her chin. “And Latin, of course.”
“Of course,” he agreed, his smile suddenly sly as he drew a step closer. “And of great use that will be, next time we encounter a Roman galleon in these waters.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Did you have a point, Jack? Or has your aged mind begun to wander?”
“It’s all in the name, love.” He was close enough now that she could feel his presence against her skin; like sitting too close to the fire. She was flushed with the heat of him. “The answer is in the name.”
Closer still, his rum-spiced breath warm upon her lips, his gaze there too – inviting, challenging. Wanting. “Diosa del mar,” he murmured, rolling the words from his tongue like a caress. “Goddess of the sea, savvy?”
She wasn’t sure she did, but he was standing so close that all she could really think about was resisting the tidal pull between them; it felt as possible as resisting gravity.
“Del mar?” he breathed, eyes dancing. “Tia, as any child knows, simply means auntie.”
Her eyes popped wide open. “Tia Dalma?”
“Del mar…” He corrected, accentuating the pronunciation with a gesture of his fingers that brushed against her cheek. She shivered and—
“Elizabeth?” She started at the sound of Will’s voice – too light, too casual. Frustration flared across Jack’s face and to her chagrin she felt it too, scraping at her nerves. “It’s late,” Will called again, “and you have the dog watch.”
She turned, chilled as if turning away from the hearth in the dead of a London winter. “I’m just coming.” He stood near the hatch, still and quiet and watching. Guilt welled and she swallowed it with a smile before turning back to Jack. “He’s right, it is late.”
“Told you as much half an hour ago, love.”
She nodded, stepping back. “Goodnight then, Jack.”
“Goodnight.” But she’d barely taken a step when he seized her wrist with a strong hand. “Elizabeth?”
Her breath caught. “Yes?”
He stared at her a long moment, either perplexed or undecided, and then in a low voice said, “If you wept, I’m glad of it. I had imagined you laughing.”
With that he dropped her arm and sauntered away, leaving her heart tumbling like a stone in the surf. He had imagined her laughing?
Will touched her shoulder. “Are you well? Elizabeth, what did he say? You look pale.”
“I’m fine,” she scratched out, unable to tear her gaze from Jack. He took the steps to the quarterdeck two at a time, sent Gibbs below, and stood with one hand on the wheel, his features lost in shadow. He had imagined her laughing. At his death. At her own part in bringing it about…
“It’s cold, that’s all. And late.”
“Then come below,” Will urged gently, guiding her forward with a hand upon her elbow. “Let me keep you warm tonight.”
She nodded her dazed agreement, welcoming the warmth of his company though doubting it could thaw her soul. Jack Sparrow had imagined her laughing; he had thought her capable of such inhuman cruelty. And why not, given what she’d done – what she’d said to him at the end. Her parting words had been a cruel twist of the knife, indeed.
Pausing at the top of the hatch, she glanced once more toward the helm. This time Jack was watching her, heat in his gaze – heat and a promise – and she ached like a tinderbox yearning for the flame.
“Elizabeth?” Will’s soft call came from below, startling her gaze away from Jack. Flustered, she went below decks and, for the time being, traded heat and flame for a more gentle warmth. But even as she lay curled next to Will she could feel the call of the fire, and like a moth bent on self-destruction she didn’t know how much longer she could resist its lure.
Tia Dalma – or Diosa del mar – had been right; Jack Sparrow was the eye of the hurricane about which they all whirled, and as she lay in the embrace of his beloved Pearl she could feel the storm clouds looming.
They might be leaving World’s End, but the end of the world was coming – and none of them would survive it unmarked.
Thank you so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed it, and would love to know what you thought. :)