Author: Sally R
Rating: PG (for now, R later)
Pairing: J/E (canon W/E)
Spoilers: Set after AWE, therefore contains spoilers!
Summary: Third mistake was the worst. Bloody fool to imagine she could— Can’t bear to think on it now, the silent lies she told with those pretty lips of hers. Believed them, though, didn’t I? They made the death to come seem worth the having, to save her and live on in that heart of hers. To be remembered. Immortalised. Loved, even. And that lie’s the bitterest of ’em all, eh?
Author's notes:Watching AWE, I was struck by how shell-shocked Jack seemed for much of the movie – this story came out of the idea that he must have been traumatized by his trip to the Locker. It’s set eleven years after AWE and assumes that Will has been released from his service to the Dutchman. I’ll be posting a chapter a day for the next nine days. Hope you enjoy it!
Huge thanks to fried_flamingo for the continuing concrit (and nagging)! ;)
You can find a little Jack and Teague backstory to this here: Progeny
…there's a special
providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now,
'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be
now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the
readiness is all…
“Hamlet”, Act 5, Scene 2
So, of course, I went back to the bloody ship. That was my first mistake. No, not the first mistake. The first mistake was believing she thought me a good man, or maybe it was rescuing her from the drink when she toppled from the fort like some bloody omen of doom. Yes, that was the first mistake. Should have left her to drown there. Would have saved me a world of trouble.
The second mistake, then, was going back to the ship, to save her – Elizabeth, not the ship. The Pearl was doomed, that I knew. She’d only had a brief respite from the depths, and me along with her. Thirteen years had seemed forever, then. Before Barbossa – rotting maggot of a man – stole her from me. And then again. And yet again, after that.
Going back was the second mistake, though it had felt like nobility at the time – as though I might die a man in her eyes, not a dog. Ironic, really, to think any of her kind could think my kind worth a ha’penny when it comes to life and death. Worse than a dog, as it turns out, because she’d not have chained a dog and left it for the beast to feast upon.
“Jack, can you hear me? We’ve need of you upon deck, sir.”
Third mistake was the worst. Bloody fool to imagine she could— Can’t bear to think on it now, the silent lies she told with those pretty lips of hers. Believed them, though, didn’t I? They made the death to come seem worth the having, to save her and live on in that heart of hers. To be remembered. Immortalised. Loved, even. And that lie’s the bitterest of ’em all, eh?
“No. Not that.”
Knew the truth, though, soon enough. Felt the cold burn of iron on me wrist and knew she’d played me for a fool; the cruel scorn in those eyes of hers stung worse than the shackles. Saw myself as she sees me, then; not a good man, not a man at all. Just a pirate, after all.
And so she left. I could hear her talking in the longboat; not words, just sounds. Could have called out to Gibbs for rescue, or to Will. But I’d gone back to die a good man, and though she left me to die like a cur I’d no desire to whine like one. Wanted to die free, though, and with a sword in me bloody hand. She’d not even left me that dignity, but bugger me if I wouldn’t have it anyway.
“The crew’s restless.”
“Aye, that I know.”
“They’re clamouring for another hand at the helm, Gibbs. A strong hand. They’d follow you.”
All but scraped the skin off me wrist getting out of the shackles, but ’twas worth it to be free of her at the end of things. Felt the deck cant and knew the beast was beneath me, like the maw of Hell. Just me and the Pearl then, just her and me; us. Could feel her screams as the beastie tore her apart, felt her shudder as she was ripped limb from limb. Or perhaps they were me own screams, though not sure as I made any with the water in me lungs, black and bitter. Hard to remember that bit, but ’tis a vicious way to die, in the end, alone and afraid. Abandoned, as it were. Wouldn’t wish it on anyone, not even her.
“I’ll play no hand in mutiny, not upon Captain Sparrow.”
“Then they’ll follow another, but mark my words, they’ll follow someone.”
The dwindling of life is like the snuffing of a candle, all darkness and nothing, and then the light that’s cold as snow and suddenly— Eternity, alone. Worse than death, is madness. The only sound in your head is your own voice, talking around and around and around. Nothing but words, and them no more than a bit of empty air. And there’s no escape. Nowhere to go, in the end, but inside your own mind. And so, of course, I went back to the bloody ship.
That was my first mistake. No, not the first mistake. The first mistake was believing her when she told me I was a good man, or maybe it was rescuing her from the drink when she toppled from the fort like some bloody omen of doom. Yes, that was the first mistake. Should have left her to drown there. Would have saved me a world of trouble…
Elizabeth Swann gazed out of the oddly canted window into grey morning mists, the roll and wash of the Cove a distant chorus below. But this far up she could taste the iron tang of rain and it reminded her vividly of her girlhood home, and of other things lost along the way. Her breath misted like melancholy against the bottle-glass window. “How many times must we have this discussion?”
From the bed, Will sighed. She could hear him roll onto his back, could almost see the tight press of his lips. “At least once more, it would seem.”
She turned. “Until I acquiesce to your demands?”
“Request,” he corrected. “It’s been almost a year, Elizabeth.”
“I know.” She looked back out over the ramshackle city that had been her home these past eleven years. She’d grown from girl to woman here, while Will Turner had skirted the edges of the living world; time and tide had changed them both, weathered them like driftwood. “I have duties here.”
She didn’t answer. There were no new points to make, the argument had been worn to the bone in the months since his return to her.
“Are we to never again see Caribbean skies? Feel the grass beneath our feet? Or England, perhaps? My mother’s family—”
“We are outlaws, Will!” she exclaimed in exasperation. “You know we can never return to England, nor Port Royal, nor to anywhere else where we are known. We took up arms against the East India Company, do you think they will forget us?”
He sat up in bed, his face as bright and eager as she’d remembered it through the long years of waiting. “The Americas then? And as far from the sea as possible. No one will know us there, and there is land aplenty. We could be happy, Elizabeth, away from all…this.” He waved his hand at the haphazard cabin, perched near the top of the pirate city.
Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. “All this being my home?”
“It’s not your home,” he said in a soft voice. “Perhaps you’ve forgotten, but I’ve not. We used to dream of the life we would build, with land and children and the happiness we fought for. This…this isn’t our life, Elizabeth. Don’t you understand that?”
She did remember, of course. The long walks, the soft embraces. Their talk of rosy-faced children and beautiful, tropical gardens; at the time it was all she could imagine. For certain, she could never have imagined her life as Pirate King, presiding over a world that lived and breathed beneath the notice of polite society. A world where men – and women – were judged by what they could do, not where they were born; a place of equality and the freedom that brought. A place so radical, so dangerous, that the full might of the Empire would have been brought to bear against it should the truth have ever been discovered.
Elizabeth listened to him rise from the bed, cross the room and place a soft kiss on the back of her neck. “I know you remember.”
She sighed and leaned her head back against his shoulder. “I was a child then,” she said softly. “They were a child’s dreams.”
After a silence, he said, “For ten years, they were my dreams, Elizabeth. I died for them. For you…”
There was a firm, if respectful, rap on the door. Will sighed and flung his arms in the air. “Are we never to have more than ten minutes alone?”
She almost pointed out that they’d not been interrupted all night, but decided not to push his humour this morning. “You know how it is,” she said, which he did. Whether he liked how it was, however, was another matter…
Moving to the door, she waited until Will had pulled on some clothes before opening it. “Good morning, Sanders. You’re early, I hope there’s no…” Her voice trailed off at the sight of the old pirate’s wary expression. “Trouble?” she guessed.
“Aye, and then some. Somit’s happening down in the Great Hall, ma’am. Captain Teague said as to fetch you, urgent like. There’s a matter of dispute.”
“If it’s Heisler and—”
“No, Captain. Worser ’n that. ’Tis a case of mutiny, ma’am. Brought here for the judging, so they says.”
“Mutiny? And why brought here?”
Sanders shrugged, his lined face hiding more than it showed. “Captain went against the Code, they says. Lookin’ for him to be cast out, ain’t they? So he don’t come after the ship again.”
“Cast out?” The question came from Will, still sitting on the bed and pulling on his boots.
“From the Brethren,” Elizabeth explained, feeling her skin prickle with unease; in eleven years she had never been called upon to make such a judgement. “If a man’s cast out he’ll not be able to raise a crew, nor dock a ship in any pirate port. Nor fly our colours. He’s put beyond the protection of the Code.”
Will’s smile was wry. “A pirate’s pirate? I wonder what a man has to do to warrant such a punishment?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth said, nodding for Sanders to lead the way. “I wonder what indeed…”
The Great Hall was the heart of Shipwreck Cove. There was no dispute that was not settled here, no wedding that was not celebrated here, no wake that did not rattle its lofty heights. Its ceiling was vaulted by the keels of seven Spanish galleons, its walls a patchwork of ship’s galleries and lamp-lit windows, the wood polished to a soft gleam. Huge doors, pilfered, legend had it, from the great Cathedral of La Nueva España, dominated one end while the other rose in a vast and imposing quarterdeck.
The public life of Shipwreck Cove happened here, for all to see, and today the Great Hall was heaving fit to burst, every gallery and vantage point brimful with eager onlookers, every inch of space crammed with the curious. Like a hanging, Elizabeth thought bleakly as she stepped through a small side door and followed Sanders into the crowd, letting him shoulder a path through her rowdy subjects.
Her chair sat on a small dais below the elaborate construction of the quarterdeck – she preferred to be on a more equal footing with her people – and behind her, to one side, sat the Keeper of the Code, Captain Teague himself. The power behind the throne, people said, and there was truth in that, but not so much as some believed.
Elizabeth met his eye as she climbed onto the dais but the expression she saw there was unreadable; dark as a moonless night, those eyes. “’Tis meet that we should make merry,” he growled, “though I think we have no fatted calf upon which to feast, eh?”
As was often the case she didn’t understand his words immediately, but she had no time to ponder nor to ask for clarification, for at that moment a commotion broke out near the hall’s huge doors.
A rowdy group of men entered, bringing with them the swagger and salt-tang of the ocean; men newly ashore. They eyed the curious inhabitants of the Cove uneasily as they came to stand before the dais, shifting and glancing around at the people staring down from the hall’s galleries.
This, Elizabeth supposed, was the mutinous crew. She didn’t bother to sit, instead, moving to the edge of the dais, she said, “Who is it that speaks for you?” Her voice rose above the clamour of the crowd and silence followed in its wake, a trick she had learned in eleven long years of presiding over such circuses.
One of the ship’s company was pushed forward, snatching his hat from his head. “Master Davies, ma’am,” he said, his round face ruddy and his hair nothing but a grey rim above the ears. “John Davies.”
There was no look of treachery about him, Elizabeth thought, nothing of Barbossa in the man’s eyes. She fixed him with a serious look. “Mutiny is a grave offence without good cause, Master Davies.”
“What charge, then, do you lay before your captain that would warrant the loss of his ship and his casting out from the Brethren of the Coast?”
Davies nodded, chin lifting. “If it please you, Captain Swann, he did act most egregiously against the Code in inflicting cruel and disproportionate punishment upon a crewman, in opposition to the will of the Company.”
“What manner of punishment did he inflict? And what was the offence?”
“The offence, ma’am,” Davies said, his voice rising for the benefit of the listening crowd. “The offence was naught but the accidental spilling of a barrel of rum, and the punishment was to be twenty strokes of the cat.”
There was a ripple of displeasure from the assembled onlookers which Elizabeth could well understand; pirate captains did not employ such methods of discipline, the Code explicitly forbade it except in extremis, and even then the Company must be in agreement.
“We’re not pressed men, Captain, to be so treated,” Davies complained. “We joined fair and proper, and signed the articles as set down by the captain himself. The captain broke faith with us, he broke the Code, and the ship, by rights, belongs to the Company now. He has no more claim to her.”
Elizabeth took a deep breath. “Your complaint is a valid one,” she said. “Let us permit your captain a reply.” She nodded to the men at the door. “Have him brought in.”
To Elizabeth’s surprise, a hush fell over the hall. There was no hooting, no jeering, just a low buzz of expectation. She cast a quick look over her shoulder at Teague, but his stony gaze was fixed on the door. And then there was a soft gasp, a whisper of astonishment, and someone entered. The press of the crowd was such that he was difficult to see at first, but as he made his way toward her, people melting silently from his path, Elizabeth soon found herself face-to-face with the accused man.
And her heart almost stopped in shock, and more. Her mouth was dry, fingers clammy, and she could feel Teague’s gaze like fire upon her back. Eleven years, it had been eleven years…
With a guard at each shoulder, Jack Sparrow sauntered into the Great Hall, his hands shackled before him. His clothes were worn and dirty, no doubt from some weeks in the brig, but in every other way he was the man she had known over a decade ago. Except for his eyes; even from the dais she could see how cold they had grown, how angry. When his lips curved, it was into a snarl not a smile.
“Your Majesty,” he said, sketching a bow despite his shackles. “I’d doff me cap, if I had one. And weren’t so hog-tied, as it were.”
The moment that followed was thick as winter’s ice and she could not speak into such a silence, would not talk to him like a King from her throne. Behind her, Teague had not moved nor offered a word of comment and Jack had either not noticed his father, or pretended not to. Elizabeth wished, suddenly, for Will’s steady presence at her side, her memory flying back to the last time she’d seen Jack Sparrow – aboard the Pearl and in the aftermath of the final battle, her heart bleeding for the loss of her father and husband. She’d often thought, in the years since, that she’d given no thought as to what Jack might have lost that day, or in the days preceding it.
The thought brought a trembling emotion to her lips as she descended the steps and drew closer to the man who had made her King, who had saved her life, and had rescued Will from death’s embrace. But she had only the power to say, “Jack Sparrow…”
“Captain Jack Sparrow.”
She would have smiled but for the glint of malice in his eyes. “I had hoped to see you here sooner, and under different circumstances. I’ve missed you, Jack.”
“Have you now?” He shook his head and looked away. “The lies she tells with those pretty lips of hers. Are you a hanging judge, love? I see no black cap, though you wore none the last time, if I recall. And I do recall, love. Often.”
She was aware now of a muttering arising from the crew who stood not ten paces away, no doubt fearing for their justice. Would that she could escape judging this case – her feelings for Jack Sparrow had always been as powerful as they were complicated – but who else could take her place? Certainly not Teague – he sat like stone in the presence of his son and neither made a move to acknowledge the other, though their pointed silence burned.
No, the duty was hers whether she wanted it or not. Taking a step back, she said, “These men have made a grave allegation against you, Captain Sparrow. What answer do you give?”
He cast them a look, half angry and half anguished. “I say they are mutinous dogs.”
“Then you deny the allegation? You deny that you had a man whipped against the wishes of the ship’s company, and in violation of the Code?”
“I’ve always considered the Code to be more of a guideline, as it happens.” He raised his voice. “What say you to that, Mr. Gibbs?”
From the back of the group, Elizabeth was surprised to see Gibbs pushing forward, his face fit for a hanging and wearing the ten years since she’d last seen him. “Miss Swann,” he said with a brief nod. And to Jack, “Captain…”
Jack smiled then, for the first time, a sad little flicker of life in his eyes. “Never thought to end here, mate.”
“You know I had no part in this, Jack. I’ll sail under Captain Sparrow and no other.”
He sighed. “You’re a good man, Gibbs.”
“No better than you, sir.”
“No, I’m not a good man, not a man at all. Just a pirate, after all.” Jack’s smile fell away and he fixed Elizabeth with a insolent glare. “I deny nothing.”
She could do little but stare, so shocked was she by his admission. Jack had been many things, but never cruel. And if he admitted this crime she would have no choice but to take the Pearl from him, to strip him of the protection of the Brethren. “Surely there’s been some mistake,” she said, knowing it sounded desperate. “Was the offence more severe? Had the man committed treachery, or murder, or—?”
“The man was a clumsy fool,” Jack snarled. “And there’s been no mistake. I wielded the cat’ myself, and might have done worse if— Ever seen a man keelhauled, Elizabeth, bow to stern?”
“Miss Swann?” Gibbs’ interruption was low and urgent. “If I could have a word alone with you, Miss. Just a short word.”
“Pay him no heed,” Jack said sharply. “Man’s awash with drink and babbling like a fool. Do what you must, Captain Swann. Hang me, eh?” He held out his shackled arms as if in supplication. “‘Tis a proper death for a pirate, after all.”
As he spoke, his shirt fell away from his uplifted arms and she saw, with horror, the bloody mess the shackles had made of his wrists. “Dear God…” She moved forward just as he pulled his hands down, but she was too fast and seized his arm, pulling back the shirt. His skin was rubbed raw beneath the cuffs, as if he’d been trying to pull his hands free of them. “Jack, what—?”
He yanked away from her, turning around and muttering under his breath as he started pulling at the cuffs. “…all but scraped the skin off me wrist getting out…”
“…’twas worth it to be free of her at the end of things…”
A hand touched her arm and she turned to see Gibbs’s sad face. “Tis how he is, Miss. Now. He was always half mad, eh?”
In dismay, she watched him pulling at the shackles until blood ran fresh down the length of his fingers. She felt sick and looked to Teague, but the man had already left. “Oh Jack…what have they done to you?” She went to him then, her hands on his. “Please, stop. We’ll take them off, just stop.” She lifted her head and shouted. “Someone get me a key for these things!”
“Hard to remember that bit,” Jack muttered “but ’tis a vicious way to die…”
“No one’s dying,” Elizabeth said, trying to catch his eye, but his attention was fixed only on the bloody iron cuffs about his wrists. “We’re going to help you.”
“There’s no escape. Nowhere to go, in the end, but inside your own mind. And so, of course, I went back to the bloody ship...”
Someone handed her a key and, with trembling fingers, she unlocked the shackles and let them fall with a loud crash to the floor. Jack stopped, motionless, his red-raw hands held before him. And then he moved like quicksilver, seized the sword from her side, grabbed her hair and pulled her hard against him, the blade to her neck. “Thank you, love,” he murmured like venom in her ear. “Most helpful.” Then, louder. “No one moves, or your beloved King dies right here. Right now. On this deck.”
There was an outraged gasp and then a breathless silence.
“I want the Pearl, savvy? And I want my freedom. Give me those, and I’ll give you back your treacherous wench.”
“Have a care, Jack,” Gibbs said, hands raised as he edged closer. “Think what you’re about. You can’t sail the Pearl alone. You’ll need a crew.”
“Then crew for me,” Jack growled, and pressed the blade tight against Elizabeth’s throat. “Or shut up.”
Gibbs stopped still, but from the gallery Elizabeth heard the sound of a pistol cocking; Sanders, his weapon raised.
“He won’t hurt me!” she called in panic.
But Jack’s fingers tightened in her hair. “And why not, Majesty?”
“Because I know you, Jack. You’re a good man—”
He yanked her back, hard, neck twisting painfully and the blade trembling against her throat. “A good man, to be chained like a dog?” His breath was hot and frightening against her neck. “That man is dead. You brought another back from the Locker, love, and he has nothing left to lose.”
“Only his life.”
He took a step backward, dragging her with him. “Nothing of value, then.”
She could feel her heart beat against her ribs, the panicked rush of blood through her ears. He was right, she knew it; had feared it, now, for months. This was not the man she had condemned to the Locker, that man had never returned. And, oh, the guilt of that truth. “Jack, please. We can help you.”
“Yes, you can. You’re helping me this very moment to reclaim me ship from these maggot-infested curs and escape this wretched rats nest of a city.”
She let him inch toward the door, her warning gaze on the men who crowded close. Captain Swann was beloved of her people, and not even the legend – or the madness – of Jack Sparrow would save him should he harm her. “You must know you can never escape. Even if you reach the Pearl, you’ll be hunted down.”
“And you must know that I grew up here; I know this place better than anyone. Not to mention…” The sword fell from her throat. “I’m Captain Jack Sparrow.”
With that he shoved her into the crowd, so hard she took two men down in the fall, and when she had scrambled to her feet he was gone. “Find him!” she shouted into the ensuing mayhem. “But do him no harm, or be held to account for it!”
Pushing her way through the crush of men spilling out of the Great Hall, she sought Gibbs who stood, looking anxious, with the bemused crew of the Black Pearl. “I must know everything,” she said, catching hold of his sleeve and dragging him toward the small side entrance through which she had arrived. Sanders had already fallen in at her shoulder, but she stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Find Enriquillo Barahona and bring him to my quarters, this instant.”
Sanders cast her a dark look. “And Captain Teague?”
Elizabeth considered, lips pursed, then gave a curt nod. “Yes, and Captain Teague. Him, most of all…”
Continued in Chapter Two