A/N: Last chapter, folks. I'm sorry to be leaving it behind, but I can't really drag it out anymore. It's been a lot of fun to write, so I hope you've enjoyed it - or, at least, don't entirely hate it.
As Elizabeth stood in front of the desk she felt like a servant about to be punished, or a subject awaiting a sentence from the magistrate. She resisted the impulse to tap her foot with impatience as Beckett took his own time filling a paper with smooth, compact writing.
The East India Trading Company headquarters were bustling with people but the office was relatively calm, almost aloof from the shouted orders and rush of activity outside. From the corner of her eye she could see great crates being unloaded from ships, swinging pendulously over the water in cargo nets, while soldiers marched along in a small formation. A striking young gelding was being led up the dock, prancing along and tossing his mane like it was a game. His handlers looked wary, and one young lad looked about to be swept off his feet by the horse's erratic movements. She watched them regain control of the animal before returning her attention to things at hand.
She had dressed to the nines today. To remind him she was no wanton wench - despite the fact that at some points during the night she had felt like one. Her stays were laced tightly, her figure dramatic and elegant in deep rose silk. She had rarely done her hair on her own before, and her arms ached after fruitless attempts to pin it up. But this was of paramount importance - somehow, she must get her hair up. Loose hair, loose woman. Finally, she managed to force it into something resembling a chignon.
Elizabeth watched him, and wondered, with an embarassed bite of her lip, if perhaps this was what it was like to use opium. It was unhealthy for you, it turned your brain away from its proper reasoning, it distorted your sense of wrong and right, it plagued you with guilt, and you wished you could stop... but you couldn't. Addicts paid dearly to get ahold of the substance, and suffered for it later. But to get one taste of it, and to feel that ecstasy, so agonizing in its shameful pleasure that you can't imagine finding it elsewhere...
She shut her eyes and gave her lip another hard bite to bring her thoughts to a halt. She wondered briefly if he had forgotten her presence, then dismissed the idea immediately. He was either toying with her, or dealing with what he felt were more important matters. Was he even thinking about the events that had transpired? Or had it all been put aside and forgotten like any other business negotiation? She didn't care, she decided suddenly. She watched him sit there, calmly writing in his carved chair and elegant clothes, and hated him and wanted him at the same time.
"Lord Beckett," she began abruptly, "I've come here to settle our bargain."
For a moment she thought he was going to continue ignoring her. Then he beckoned her forward without looking up and, as much as the casual authority of this gesture bothered her, she took several steps forward and extended her hand.
Beckett set his quill in its stand and blotted his paper, examining it for smears before tucking it into a leather folder. He merely sat complacently, drumming his fingers slowly on the polished surface and watching her stand with her arm outstretched. After a moment she let her hand fall.
"Surely you don't mean to go back on your word." Her voice was laced with sarcasm and suspicion, but even as she spoke he opened a small drawer in the desk and removed the letters of marque. Her heart gave a great leap and she raised her hand again.
His eyes burned holes into her. "Yes, I daresay you've earned them."
Her jaw tightened ever so slightly, and he picked up the letters and held them out to her. She reached across the desk and grabbed the leather casing, but his grip remained firm.
"It's been a pleasure doing business with you, Miss Swann. I trust you've gotten everything you wanted out of this transaction."
This time Elizabeth managed to hold back her blush at his subtle taunt. He knew how hard she'd tried to resist and he knew that despite herself, she'd enjoyed it - he savored the knowledge. He delighted in the fact that against her own will he'd enticed her baser desires... even though she didn't want it, she couldn't help herself.
He deliberately brushed her finger with his own and she sucked in a breath. She saw the look of triumphant amusement in his eyes and quickly snatched the letters away, and he let his hand come to rest on the desk.
She unwrapped the bindings and opened the letters, scanning the signatures at the bottom as if to be sure his was still there. It was, of course, neat and precise, along with the seal. The crimson wax was somehow glaring and accusatory. She folded up the letters so she wouldn't have to look at it.
"Fully satisfied?" Beckett inquired mildly, and the double-meaning in his words cut her like a knife.
"Fully," Elizabeth lashed back. He smiled calmly.
"I endeavor to leave my business partners more than pleased with the dealings."
She nodded stiffly.
"Remember what I said, Elizabeth." His voice curled over her like smoke. "I still expect that compass."
She turned on her heel and swept through the doors, grateful that the voluminous gown hid the trembling of her knees.
x x x
"May I ask how you came by these letters?"
"Decidedly not," came her whiplash reply, almost quick enough to be interpreted as defensive. Jack tucked the letters into his coat and swaggered away and she leapt after him, demanding for their return.
"Persuade me," Jack replied in a suggestive drawl.
Tongue-tied. She'd pushed these memories away for weeks, skillfully masking her emotions at the mention of Beckett's name or the letters of marque.
But this... this was unfair! As if he was jeering at her. She groped for a reply as Jack grinned at her, her mouth opening and shutting like a fish. She fumbled through the truth and the lies and oh, the truth, that it was certainly persuasion, but she also had been persuaded...
She couldn't stand it and she turned away, barely able to keep herself from running full speed to the opposite side of the deck.
She curled her fingers around the battered railing, the wood worn from rain and weather. Her hands, once pampered and smooth, were now grimy and calloused, the nails chipped. She wondered what her maid would say if she could see these hands. She wondered what Beckett would say if he saw her hands. Something calm but subtly derisive, and she'd shoot back a scathing reply, to which he'd merely smile coolly.
She had tried to ignore the memories but no, she hadn't forgotten. Time had just gone by in a blur, distracting her from everything except the present moment - stowing away on the Edinburgh Trader, the rowdy, chaotic streets of Tortuga, the confusing business of the chest of Davy Jones, and Jack's strange compass.
She didn't plan on delivering the compass into Beckett's hands, of course, but whenever it was mentioned she recalled his final command. Remember, Elizabeth... his voice caressing her like dark silk.
Yes, she remembered.