A Pox on All Honour!
Characters: Jack and Will
Disclaimer: If an adversary demands to write fanfiction Disney can do them no harm until the fanfiction makes a profit.
Summary: Jack Sparrow's Advice to the Lovelorn! Written in a spirit of overwhelming frustration at the number of people who think Elizabeth was unforgivable when she broke her word to James. Oh and we'd all do better, eh? Sacrifice love for the sake of honour? Jack and Will have another little conversation in the brig of the Dauntless, this time concerning the usefulness of keeping one's word and the elements of a good relationship.
"Do you think they'll hang us?"
The question startled Jack where he lay, his head cradled on his clasped hands, staring blankly at the ceiling. He'd thought Will was asleep. The boy had certainly been propped against the bulkhead of their cramped little cell with his head tipped back and his eyes closed for a long time. But now he had turned to observe Jack with uneasy eyes. Obviously Will's thoughts had not been good company.
Unfortunately, it was a good question. Technically Will was guilty of piracy, the one crime for which an Englishman could be executed without benefit of a trial. Jack had known that when he'd first asked Will how far he was willing to go to rescue Elizabeth. It had been a calculated risk. Jack had assuaged his conscience by promising it that he'd offer the kid a berth on the Black Pearl if he really were in danger of finding his neck in a noose. In retrospect, there were a few details that hadn't quite worked out as planned.
On the other hand, further acquaintance with Will's bonnie lass had convinced Jack that the entire town of Port Royal would likely be razed to the ground by that little hellion if her papa and her fiancé did not pardon young William. He imagined those fine gentlemen knew it, too. Besides, Will's intentions had been entirely honourable from beginning to end. That also, those men must know.
And so Jack felt reasonably safe in reassuring the boy: "Now lad, don't be worryin' your head about that. You'll not swing for rescuin' Elizabeth. Not after all the trouble we went to in order to rescue you!"
He saw no point in mentioning that one Captain Jack Sparrow was gallows bait as sure as blood was red and water was wet.
Will looked down at his work-roughened hands, his scarred forearms. "What are they going to do then?" he asked raising a brow at the irony. "Sentence me to hard labour in the colonies?"
Apparently the whelp had a sense of humour after all.
Jack grinned at him. "I don't know. Maybe nothin' at all. Maybe bein' locked up in here with me," he waved an arm to encompass their less than luxurious surroundings, "will be a salutary lesson to you, whelp, and you'll see the error of your piratin' ways and go back to bein' a respectable citizen."
"I never wanted to be anything but a respectable citizen, Jack," Will protested.
And wasn't that the truth? Jack remembered vividly the absolutely starched up, poker-spined, respectable blacksmith with whom he'd first crossed blades. Even locked here in the brig, Will looked less imprisoned than he had when they'd first begun this little adventure. Certainly his appearance had disintegrated, but he also moved more loosely, took up more space, seemed less sure of himself but more thoughtful—as though the world had become a bigger place for him.
"Are you sure all that respectability didn't chafe just a bit now and then?" Jack inquired dryly.
"Perhaps," Will admitted honestly. "But piracy is not the solution to that, Jack. Whatever you may say."
That might be true for the boy. But ol' Bill's rebel blood would yet find its way to the surface, Jack reflected. He'd be willing to bet that Will would find Port Royal had shrunk a goodly amount when he returned to it.
"So, will you be missin' anythin' from our little adventure here, young William, when you are back at your forge, makin' doors for cells 'stead of occupyin' them?" he pressed.
Will tilted his head back and joined Jack in contemplating the ceiling and the past week and a half. Out of all this fear and pain and horror and guilt, what would he miss?
"I'll miss . . ." he paused and looked back at the pirate. "I think I'll miss the sea—and the ship."
Will remembered watching from the main topgallant yard of the Interceptor, spellbound as the dawn rose blushing and golden over a jewel-toned sea. Jack had sent him up with the instructions that he wasn't to come down until he'd figured out why he'd been ordered up there. There was a touch of the poet in that scallywag of a pirate. Will recalled the feel of the Interceptor's helm in his hand, of the ship answering to his lightest wish, of her serene endless motion at his beck and call. He felt again the euphoric thrill of danger in that violent storm, felt the sense of brotherhood with the ship's crew as they fought for their lives side by side. He remembered the endless space, the wind in his face that had blown unhindered from who knew what part of the world, the mysterious haze where the horizon disappeared into sky. His heart ached with loss all the more poignantly in the confines of this foul little cell.
"I've never been so free," he said softly.
"Ah!" Jack nodded at the boy, satisfied. "You've got salt water in your blood, young Bootstrap. If the sea's got her claws in you, you'll never go far from her. Anythin' else?"
Will didn't answer for some time. Finally, he sighed. "I'll miss Elizabeth."
Jack looked inquiringly at him. "You're goin' back to the same town, mate," he pointed out.
"That's not what I mean. And it's not the same." Will tried to put his thoughts into words. "I mean, I'll miss—I don't know—for lack of a better word, fighting beside her." He turned to Jack. "On the Interceptor, and even more in the cave, the two of us, together against whatever came against us." Will looked down at his bandaged palm. "I don't know if you understand what I'm saying."
The pirate heaved himself up on one elbow and studied Will. The kid didn't look like he himself understood what he was saying. If the two of them had something like that . . .
"Why don't you ask that girl to marry you, son?" Jack asked.
"Jack!" Will protested. "She loves Commodore Norrington."
Could the boy really be that oblivious? Apparently so. That had been real anguish in his voice.
"Whatever gave you that notion?" Jack asked incredulously.
"She accepted his offer of marriage, didn't she?" Will replied angrily.
Jack heaved a sigh. Youth. He was fervently glad he'd never have to go there again. "Has it ever occurred to you, lad, that your bonnie lass's bargain with Norrington was somewhat along the line of yours with Barbossa?"
Will looked into the pirate's mocking eyes with their undertone of sympathetic understanding. "What do you mean?" he asked confused.
"I mean," Jack drawled, "that each of you paid the price for the other's life in the only coin you had. Not particularly bright of either of you, but that's water under the hull."
Will frowned at him, puzzled.
"Let's just say, son, that when a woman offers to marry a man in order to get him to rescue another man, this may be a sign of undying affection for one of them, but which one do you think is the lucky man?"
Will flushed a little and a small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Was that what she did? Do you really think . . ." He trailed off.
Jack rolled his eyes. "Yes, I really think. And so should you."
Then the boy's face fell. "Even if what you say is the truth," he said sadly. "Elizabeth is engaged to Commodore Norrington."
"And what's that got to do with anything?" Jack asked in disbelief. "Engaged is not the same as married."
"But she's given him her word. A person of honour does not break his word—or her word either." Will sounded shocked that Jack would even suggest such a thing.
The illogic of this response boggled Jack's mind. What could possibly be in that boy's head?
"So, let me get this straight." Jack contemplated his fingernails for a moment and then began to count off points in the air. "One. Commodore Norrington will marry your Elizabeth, in spite of the fact that she has been hopelessly compromised (now keep your britches on y' daft fool) by spending the night alone on an island with a pirate—that would be myself (and what happened on that island is none of your business)—and in spite of the fact that he has to have a pretty good idea she'd rather have you (after all he may be a bit of a stick, but he doesn't strike me as a complete idiot)—because he is an honourable man. Shut up boy!" Jack forestalled Will's attempt to get in a word.
"Two." He marked off another point. "Elizabeth will marry Norrington to keep her half of the bargain in spite of the fact that they will both eventually be miserable (what with her not loving him and still pining for you) and in spite of the fact that you will be miserable—because she gave her word, and she is a woman of honour. Have I got that right?" He raised a sarcastic eyebrow at Will.
"And three, you will let all this happen because, so help me God, you are an honourable man too! Let's pile on the canvas and run the ship straight onto the rocks because we've said we would. A pox on all honour! I hope it's not contagious." The pirate rolled his eyes eloquently, flopped back and resumed his study of the ceiling that was monotonously refusing to provide any entertainment.
Will remained silent, hugging his knees, his head bowed as he contemplated this foreign concept. There had to be something wrong with it.
"At least tell me you plan to have a torrid if discreet affair. Restore my faith in you, William," Jack begged. "Cuckold that bloody commodore for the memory of old Jack! You'll all be a whole heap happier."
"Jack!" Will was scandalized.
Jack groaned. Bill, Bill. You should have let me make a pirate of him. It couldn't possibly have been any worse than this.
"You don't understand, Jack." Will tried to explain. "The commodore is exactly the sort of man Elizabeth should marry. He's her father's choice. The Governor looks at me as if I were an accessory to the furniture. He comes from a good family. Jack, I'm the son of a pirate! You can't get much lower than that!"
Jack shot him an indignant look, but the boy never noticed.
"He has a respectable income. I don't even have an income. He'll be able to provide for Elizabeth the life she's used to. I've got a room in the attic of a blacksmith's shop. He has a wonderful future, probably destined for the Admiralty. I'll be lucky if I'm not hanged. Commodore Norrington is a great man. Even if Elizabeth doesn't love him now, she can't help but learn to do so."
Silently, Jack reflected that Will was right about everything except the most important thing. He wondered if the boy could even grasp the concept.
"The Commodore locked her up during that fight on Isla de Muerta, you know," Jack offered casually.
"You see? He'll keep her safe. He's a good man, Jack," Will replied. The words were brave, but there was a hairline fracture in the boy's voice.
Jack sat up and faced Will across their cell. "No, you don't see, young Turner. Elizabeth doesn't want to be kept safe. I've spent a good deal more time with your bonnie lass than you have in the past week, and that's one thing that's as clear as the bowsprit on a ship. Of the two of you, she's the one who should be the pirate."
"But . . ."
"No buts," Jack insisted. "You say Norrington can give Elizabeth the life she's always had. Have either of you ever considered whether she enjoys the life she's always had? From what little she's told me, I'd wager a Spanish treasure ship she hates it."
Will stared blankly at Jack, remembering the countless times he'd thought how unsuited Elizabeth was for the life of a fine lady.
"Somewhere in there," Jack reached out a finger and tapped Will's chest. "You must know that. Otherwise you wouldn't be telling me how well she fought beside you. I'll give you credit for that at least. It takes a strong man to let a woman fight for him. Somewhere you know that that is what she wants to do. Not to be rolled up in cotton wool and set on a high shelf in case life gets a bit rough."
"But Jack," Will persisted, wanting to weaken, but determined not to, "Elizabeth has never had to work a day in her life. She's never lacked any necessity. She has people to comb her hair, for cat's sake!"
"Actually," Jack said, "I'd have to disagree with you there. She handled being marooned like a bloody pirate. No vapours, no whining. Lots of bad language," he grinned. "But the hunger, the thirst, the threat of death, the fight to survive—she took them in her stride. And she was the one who came up with the plan that rescued us. Though if you ever tell her I said so, I will return from the grave and strangle you in your sleep with embroidery floss."
Will smiled. That did sound like the Elizabeth he loved. "Why embroidery floss?" he asked Jack.
"Because it was the most ridiculous item I could think of," Jack explained, momentarily side-tracked. "Now don't interrupt."
Will gave an amused snort.
"How many times do I have to tell you, whelp?" Jack continued, tacking firmly back to his original course. "You have to treat a fine lady like a ship. Don't assume you know what she should do. Don't try to tell her what is best for her. Let her tell you what she wants."
The boy looked startled.
Jack waved an admonitory hand at Will. "You give your bonnie lass her head, lad. Don't be an idiot and let your next opportune moment slip by. You owe her the truth."
"I don't know, Jack," Will said. "I'll have to think about it."
"You do that," Jack said. Guiding young fools through the shoals of life was exhausting work. "I'm goin' to get some sleep."
He lay down, his back to Will, his head tucked into the corner, one arm flung over his eyes to block the weak lantern light. The cell was silent for a long time.
Then the pirate's lazy voice drifted over his shoulder. "You can name your first kid after me."