Disclaimer: If I owned them, would I be this cruel? thinks Don't answer that…
AN: My grandma has terminal cancer and her last wish is to go to Alaska, so the entire family, myself included, is going with her for an indeterminate length of time. I won't be able to update until we get back. Sorry, guys.
My Brother's Keeper
"Mama, I want to go with them! I can lead them to Jack just like he led you to me! You know I can, and you know I'm a good fighter."
"It's absolutely out of the question. There is no possible way I am taking a female child aboard my ship, especially the daughter of a civilian with known criminal ties who talks of witchcraft as though it were commonplace and dresses as no decent woman would."
"Whatever else you may wish to say, you will leave my husband's connections and my daughter's current way of dressing out of this! You know as well as I that anyone wishing to fight would be mad to wear a dress."
Jack hesitated outside the door to the Turner's house, seriously considering for a moment leaving the current occupants to their verbal sparring and returning at a later time… quite possibly when one of the combatants was either dead or unconscious.
"It's not witchcraft! It's natural, something that's always been there! Mama, tell him that it's not—"
"It's as natural, girl, as your father's link to that bloody pirate, God help his soul. I don't condemn you for your… gift… or your father for his, but I will not take you aboard a Navy ship filled to capacity with superstitious soldiers. I'm sorry."
Or maybe they wouldn't kill one another.
"You're not sorry. The only thing you're sorry about is that Uncle Jack stole your ship."
Or mayhap they would.
Just as the pirate captain had turned to leave, determining that the likelihood of his being able to aid anyone if he entered currently was somewhere between slim and nonexistent, the door opened, discharging a rather furious-looking naval officer with an equally-furious young woman on his heels. Both stopped dead on catching sight of the pirate.
"Jack Sparrow." There seemed to be an even mixture of disgust, amusement and reluctant acceptance in the naval man's tone.
"Lieutenant Rollin." Jack glanced at the man's shoulder epaulette before grinning widely. "I'm sorry, Captain Rollin. Congratulations on the promotion. Being a captain's quite wonderful, isn't it?"
Rollin's expression didn't change as he moved slowly toward the pirate. "I should clap you in irons and have you thrown in jail before sending a cutter out to reclaim my ship."
Jack sidestepped and paced around the naval man, never diverting his eyes from his opponent. A quick glance had already shown Elizabeth and Ana, standing together in the doorway and watching the scene unfolding before them with a mixture of shock and dismay. "Ah, you see, technically she wasn't ever your ship. Granted, Captain Lanebridges did take her as a prize from the privateers, but you weren't official navy at the time, and she was never truly listed in anyone's books as a prize."
"She was my first command, and I lost her to a pirate based on a ruse." Rollin stopped moving to face the pirate captain completely, any trace of amusement leaving his expression.
"You were the one who bought the ruse, mate, not me."
"I wanted to protect my captain's life because I respected him."
Jack countered the officer's step forward with a casual step back. "Good. Then we're on the same side this time, too. I respect your captain and I want to find him and bring him home."
"How do you know anything's happened to him?" Rollin's voice was a low growl, suspicion evident in everything from his stance to his expression.
"Witchcraft. It allows so many astonishing things." Jack didn't back away as the naval man moved closer. He could practically hear the other man's mind racing through the possibilities.
"Back into the house. All of you."
The solid walls of the Turner's house seemed only to amplify the aura of tension and distrust running between Jack and the naval man, both of whom took stances on opposite sides of the room within easy reach of the wall.
Rollin broke the uneasy silence first. "I don't suppose I need to ask you why you're here."
"No, you seem to have figured that out. I knew spending so much time on a Navy ship was a bad idea, but Brian's hospitality was so warm…" Jack trailed off as Rollin paled, his face hardening, some of the amusement and acceptance converting to more open hostility. "Look, all I want to do is find my mate and his son, and seeing as it appears that your captain's in the same boat with them, working together or at least not hindering each other would seem to make the most sense. Especially considerin' you're not willing to use all the resources at your disposal."
"And I suppose your men would welcome a child like her aboard?"
Jack nonchalantly watched as Elizabeth carefully held her daughter's hands firmly in front of her and away from sharp objects, the girl's eyes boring furiously into Rollin.
"My men 'ave learned that some superstitions are just that. Women aboard aren't bad luck… 'sides, your Navy people took the boy."
"That is a different matter."
"No, it's not, but I'm not here to debate that with you."
"Did anyone else in town see you?"
"No. Are you goin' to arrest me or not?"
Rollin was saved from answering by a polite but firm knock on the door. Elizabeth whispered something into her daughter's ear before moving to answer it, and the young woman simply stood and sulked when released. For his part, Jack ghosted back into the shadows, catching only a glimpse of the uniformed man with the bandaged head standing outside.
"Mrs. Turner, I was told that Captain Rollin might be here." George Hardel's voice had changed little in the last two years.
Elizabeth nodded and stood back, allowing Rollin to take her place.
"Sir, carpenter gives his apologies and says the Intrepid still needs at least two days before she'll be of any use in a fight."
Rollin nodded shortly, and Jack wished he could see the man's expression. "Thank you, Hardel. And what news from the doctor?"
"Lost Jones and Gary since last night, but he'd expected as much. Everyone else should be all right, eventually. Figure maybe another dozen'll be good to go by the time the Intrepid's ready to sail again, though everyone wants to come."
"And your head?"
"I'm fine, sir. It'll take a hell of a lot more'n a knock on the head to keep me from paying them back in spades for what they did to us, pardon my language, sir."
"Thank you, Hardel. Tell the carpenter that I will be there shortly to discuss our time-frame with him… just as soon as I've talked to Doctor Welks."
Rollin stood framed in the doorway for a few moments more before shutting it and turning to the pirate captain, his face impassive but his eyes dark with hatred. "What do you know about what's happened?"
"Nothing. Just that Will and his boy are in trouble." Jack's voice was completely serious. There were times to push men, and there were times to back away, and this was most definitely one where backing far away was the better part of valor.
"The Intrepid was attacked about a day out of port, in the dead of night, by a ship with sails even blacker than the night. This ship was completely dark, no lanterns at all; there was fog; the upper watchman was young, still learning his job. The pirates had the weather gauge, and apparently a very strong desire for blood. They took Commodore Jenkin, Captain Lanebridges, and Turner and his boy. Someone struck the colors after that, but the pirates continued to kill the crew and pummel the ship with shot. We lost nearly three dozen men, with many more injured." Rollin stared at Jack, and the pirate was struck not simply by the rage in his eyes but by the pain and hesitancy. "What kind of men will take prisoners, continue to attack a ship that's struck her colors, and then leave the ship? What kind of pirates and murderers are these, Sparrow?"
"I don't know. I haven't heard of anyone like that, not in these waters, not for a long time."
Rollin hesitated again. "You haven't made yourself much of a nuisance to English merchants in the last few years."
Jack waved his right hand vaguely. "They haven't really had much that's interested me."
"In fact, you've barely harassed enough vessels to still be considered a pirate instead of a privateer."
"That's low, mate. Jack Sparrow is not, and never will be, a privateer."
"If it's true you haven't been seen here, then I suggest you leave, very quickly. Take the girl if you want. I will personally consecrate the carpenter as a saint if the Intrepid is anything near fit to fight in two days, and I'm not willing to take just the Defender in against unknown odds. Lord knows what will be happening to our people in the meantime." With that Rollin turned, bowed swiftly to Elizabeth, and exited the house.
Both Jack and Ana turned questioning eyes to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth smiled tightly. "Have enough space for two extra crewmembers, Jack?"
The soft snap of metal forced past its endurance point reached Will's ear a moment before a string of curses, mingling several languages, that would have done Jack Sparrow proud.
"I'm sorry, papa. I thought I could do it, I really did, and I'm trying but it just won't work and the stupid bloody things keep breaking—"
"It's all right, Jack." Will sighed, twisting around to pat awkwardly at his son's back, recognizing a deeply buried hint of tears in the young man's voice. "Are there more of them?"
"There's one more, but it won't make any difference. I can't do it, not like this." Metal clanged against metal as the frustrated young man slammed his manacled wrists against the bar.
"You're not used to working with your hands tied behind your back in the dark. You're figuring it out, though. Lie down."
Jack did as he was told, and father and son quickly worked through the by now routine ritual of getting a picklock out of the leather strap tied to the young man's arm.
"What if I don't figure it out, papa? What if it doesn't work?" Jack pitched his voice low, a question meant only for is father's ears.
"Then we'll think of something else. Don't worry."
"That's much easier to say than do."
Will smiled as he twisted around again so his son could resume his attempt at forcing them open. Though his hopes that Jack would actually manage to open the locks had diminished to almost nothing, it still gave the boy something to do besides sit and stare at the darkness, a pastime that could cause the most unbelievable thoughts and headaches.
Time seemed to dilate, centering solely around the tiny scrape of metal over metal. With no light, it was impossible to tell how much time had passed, and the schedule by which they were fed a light prisoner's repast of hardtack and extremely watered rum was too haphazard to base anything off.
The blacksmith could almost swear he felt the final picklock snap in the manacle, dead silence following, silence in which he could hear the brief bounce and roll of the metal across the wooden decking.
"I'm sorry." There was no emotion in Jack's voice, no terror, no anger, no pain… only numbness.
"It's all right. We're all still fine, and we'll find a way out of this. Right, Brian?"
No answer came from the darkness on the other side of little Jack's cell.
"Brian?" Will's heart had shifted into high gear. How long had it been since any of them had heard from the Intrepid's captain? It was possible that the naval man was simply sleeping, boredom having become the better part of valor in their world of darkness, but all of the sailors Will had known had a propensity for going from the deepest of sleeps to total alertness in under two minutes. It was a survival tactic, especially for officers who needed to respond to a late-night warning with a quick, hopefully workable plan.
Will could hear his son moving quickly to the other side of his cell, towards Brian, a soft thud and quiet curse proclaiming that the other set of bars had arrived before the young man expected them to. It was a very good thing that Elizabeth wasn't aware of the extent to which the various crews with which he had sailed had 'educated' their son.
"Godpapa, wake up." The young man's command was forceful, the hint of hysteria buried in it barely obvious, but it didn't seem to have the desired effect as Jack continued to move in his small cell.
"Captain Lanebridges, report."
The command from the other side of Will's cell caused him to jump and straighten automatically.
More importantly, it brought a slurred but coherent, "Aye, sir," from Brian's cell.
"Brian, are you all right?"
"No, he's not. He's got a fever, a bad one."
The hysteria was becoming more evident in the young man's voice, and Will instinctively pulled at his manacled wrists, every fiber of his being screaming with a desire to comfort his son, a desire that was severely handicapped by his inability to hold the boy.
"I'll be all right, Will. There's nothing you can do." The slur to the words was slight but definite.
"Jonas said that he wants us alive and relatively unharmed. If you're hurt, tell them."
"Oh, yes, I truly want the medical attentions of Dumbo and Jumbo. They did so much for you, didn't they, Will?" The heavy sarcasm wasn't lost on the blacksmith as he shifted, reawakening aches in his own body.
"How bad are your injuries, captain?" Jenkin's voice was steady, completely devoid of emotion, that of a commanding officer addressing his troops.
"I don't know." Even in the darkness, the sudden rise in tension was obvious. "Truly, I don't. I wasn't stabbed or cut, not badly at any rate. It's not a wound you can see, definitely not something they can treat here. Even Francis would be hard-pressed to treat this on dry ground."
For an instant the world seemed to stop as Will realized what the younger man was saying.
"Captain, will you be able to walk if we find a way out of here?" Some of the rigid control had melted away, leaving the quartet once again equals in bondage.
"I don't know. If I can't, you know what needs to be done."
"Godpapa, what do you mean?" Suspicion, fear and curiosity were now the primary emotions filtering through into Jack's voice. Receiving no answer from that quarter, he scurried carefully across the cell and reached his manacled hands through the bars to touch Will's arms. "Papa, what's that mean?"
It meant that their time frame for getting the four of them out alive had just shrunk… significantly.
How to tell that to a boy just taking his first steps into manhood, though, especially when they no longer had any plans with which to work immediately?
Will settled for the simple solution—silence. Instead of answering he wrapped his hands firmly around his son's, willing as much strength and courage to the young man as he could.
His arms had gone numb by the time light seeping under the door to their personal hell announced that someone was coming.
Jonas waited patiently by the lantern as their eyes adjusted, simply studying them, and Will tightened his hold on his son's hands, a primitive sense of warning telling him that something was not right.
"I trust your injuries have been cared for, Turner?"
The blacksmith simply nodded in answer to the question, keeping his eyes locked on the tall man.
"And have you enjoyed your stay here? Do you find our hospitality impressive? Determined what you did to place you here?" There was something dangerous in Jonas' tone, a combination of bitterness, depression, and blind acceptance that made Will's stomach crawl. The stumble as the man knelt clumsily in front of his cell and the reek of ale on his breath helped to explain the drastic change between the self-assured man who had greeted them on their first day of captivity and the dangerous being that studied them now.
"We did nothing that would justify this." Will kept his answer calm, quiet, as though he were talking to the twins when they were very young.
"Oh, but you did." Jonas reached through the bars to finger Jack's hair, and Will barely suppressed the urge to howl a challenge, instead tightening his grip on the boy's hands. "You took something precious from Gabriel, so Gabriel plans on taking something precious from all of you. I don't know how he thinks he'll be able to stand to watch, to be that near to that much suffering, but he does, and he won't listen to me. No, he'll not listen to me, and you helped to kill the one man he would listen to. Tell me, child, what does it feel like, to know that you've been involved in so much pain and death in so few years? Do you feel cursed?"
"Leave him alone. He's not responsible for anyone dying. He's just a child, like you said."
Jonas turned his attention to Will, his eyes dark and unreadable. "Children know much more than we give them credit for. You should know that. You watched yours make their first kill at ten."
For over a minute the two men simply stared at each other. Then Jonas sighed, dropping his head and running his hands through his hair. When he raised his head again, it was with a look that Will most definitely did not like.
The flash of light off of metal was almost enough to make Will believe that they had been cursed by something with a horrible sense of humor. The broken picklock was in Jonas' hand almost before Will had seen the man move.
"Yours, Turner?" Jonas hurled the small piece of metal over his shoulder. "No, not yours. Your boy's, am I right?"
"Leave him alone. It was in my cell."
"You can't reach your own manacles with either your mouth or your hands. You probably thought yourself quite clever, huh, boy?" Jonas reached through the bars again, grabbing Jack by his shirt and pulling him forward until only the space of the bars separated their faces. "You've no idea who you're toying with."
Jack's response was quick and vicious, his head ducking down and his teeth digging into the tall man's wrist, intending and succeeding in drawing blood. As soon as the hold on his shirt had slackened enough, the young man lunged to the back of his cell, keeping a challenging glare fixed on his tormentor the whole time.
Jonas' reaction was the last thing Will had expected. He laughed, the sound deep and dark, echoing eerily in the enclosed space of the brig. "You've no idea how much like your namesake you are, boy. Such fire and spirit… but even the strongest spirits will break. Ask your father. He watched one break once, even if they did manage to put it back into a semblance of order.
"As for you…" Jonas turned his dark gaze to Will, and there was no amusement, no mirth to be found in his eyes. "Gabriel needs you to be physically intact, but there are ways of breaking men without ever touching their bodies. Did you know that I was once in the Navy? I was asked politely to leave when they decided that I might be a danger to the midshipmen's berth. Before you allow him to do anything else that could be construed as idiotic, think what could be done to hurt father and son without physically leaving a mark on either."
Will gritted his teeth to keep his own collection of curses and insults from spilling out of its own accord. Threatening him was one thing, but anyone who threatened his children, even if he couldn't entirely understand the threat, had best be prepared to meet their Maker.
Jonas smiled, the action never reaching his cold eyes, and turned to leave, grabbing the lantern as he went.
The blacksmith turned quickly to get a good view of the naval captain in his cell, and the grayish tint to the man's sweat-drenched skin did nothing to make him feel any better.
Darkness closed over the small brig again, seeming even denser than before.
"Will, promise me something."
Will turned instinctively towards Brian's voice, knowing he wouldn't see anything. "What?"
"If I don't get the opportunity, make sure someone kills that bloody son of a whore."
The blacksmith nodded, a thin smile stretching across his face.
That was something the naval captain hadn't even needed to ask for.
Will waited until Jack seemed to have fallen asleep against the side of his cell before speaking with Brian.
"What he said, about being asked to leave the navy… what's it mean?"
Brian was silent for several moments, almost long enough for Will to think he had lost consciousness again. "Keep him away from Jack, Will. It means you keep him away from your son, no matter what."
Will nodded, too furious to speak. He had never killed out of hate or vengeance before, but for Jonas, he just might make an exception.