Every time I say I'm gonna finish this story, I never do. So, I'm not saying that I'm finishing it, even though I just got a new desk and haven't been doing anything but working on finishing this story since Friday night. I could make up a bazillion excuses, but now that I have a sound desk to sit at and write again, I feel like part of me has been restored. So, here's to not finishing this story (I refuse to jinx this streak of inspiration)!

- Dis/Claimer -

. Chapter Twenty .

Barbossa threw open the door to a windowless, interior room. Gibbs, Pintel, Ragetti, and Marty led the governor inside, removing his bounds and turning a chair from the table. Governor Swann gulped sweet air when his nauseating gag was removed, rubbing his eyes from the tear-inducing stench of the thing.

"Wait. Where are you going?" he asked as they all exited the room. "Where am I?"

Barbossa stepped forward after the others had straggled out of the narrow doorway, lighting and hanging a lantern just inside of it.

"Miss Elizabeth and the Commodore have enlisted our services to keep you concealed aboard their vessel for a short while." Someone prodded him from the hall as the lantern's light bloomed, and Barbossa rolled his eyes. "And upon their orders and our honor," he sighed boredly, "no harm will come to you here."

Governor Swann winced as the door shut soundly, ultimately sinking into the chair with a defeated harrumph.

"I have got to go back to England."

x x x

Though momentarily quelled, an angry sky still loomed overhead. It swirled with thin, stormy shrouds that veiled the clear night high above, and Elizabeth felt claustrophobic at this inability to glimpse a reassuring star. It was no consolation that her lungs were still weak and constricted, stung by the stretch of deep breaths and the stabs of light coughs.

She had waited for Norrington to reprimand her as she mounted a horse, perhaps implore her to go into hiding with her father until he himself freed Sparrow, but he had bit back his words, climbed on his own mare, and followed after her. By now, their relationship had matured enough that he knew it would only be a waste of their dwindling time to make an argument.

The port was beginning to quiet for the evening. They travelled side-by-side on the emptier avenues en route to the prison, watchful eyes on passing shopkeepers and staggering drunks. The Commodore elected to reappear in the streets in his naval uniform lest his authority be questioned in their endeavors. Next to him, Elizabeth shrunk beneath one of his cloaks, her hair collected with loose pins at the top of her neck. She let him continue to make the eye contact with passersby, and not long into their journey, Norrington jolted her from her skyward reveries.

"Elizabeth, stop."

With a reflexive tug at the reigns, Elizabeth felt her heart quicken as Mercer's voice led the approaching shadows of several soldiers in the torchlight sweeping across the dark storefronts. She pulled her horse into a side street on her left as Norrington fell away to the right. He looked back over his shoulder for her, but the soldiers rode closer, forcing him to reluctantly retreat further into the tight alleyway.

"Lord Beckett may have been found, gentlemen, but three others are still missing," Mercer said as they hurried passed on horseback. "What do you suggest, Lieutenant?"

Groves' voice resonated off the buildings back to his men. "You are to apprehend any crewmen of the Black Pearl on sight. Stevenson, assemble those at Fort James and search all ships at the North Dock. Report back immediately."

Norrington met the end of the alley and paused as the voices trailed off.

Three missing. It seemed that despite attempting to draw attention elsewhere, Elizabeth had correctly anticipated that their absence would not go unnoticed in the aftermath of the governor's abduction. She had also directed Barbossa to take her father to the Heiress, ensuring they avoided imminent capture at the Pearl.

James arched an eyebrow, his horse steering out into a vacant street. He dared Sparrow to say a word about leaving his ship behind after all the trouble Elizabeth had gone to for his freedom.

Suddenly, he looked back towards the alley.

Where had she gone?

x x x

Like the detour itself, her arrival at the cemetery was unplanned. Waves of tall grass at the edge of the road beckoned her to him, gusts wafting from behind her beseechingly. She stared at the silhouette of a wooden cross where a beautiful stone would soon bear his name – the name she should have borne herself – and trembled. She led her horse into the field, slipping from its back before his cross.

Another blustery breeze billowed around her, and Elizabeth shut her eyes.

She could smell him despite the overpowering thick, wet earth on the wind. He let her hair fall around her shoulders, ever-enticed by the soft tresses. He was enveloping her again as he had just weeks ago, his smile dipping into the curve of her neck. Desire rippled over her skin.

But as suddenly as he was there, she lost him; the harsh gusts reminded her in one cruel, hollow whistle that there would never again be his warm breath on her ear whispering of his love to her, never again saying her name.

How was she going to do this every day for the rest of her life? Even with Jack free and Beckett in the gallows, how was she to walk passed this grave day in and day out and still be a sanely functioning woman in society? How could she expect any man – any man - to understand and respect the void Will had left? If she sailed away to the far reaches of the world for the chance at a new life, what would that accomplish?

He was never going to leave her.

And he was never coming back.

Elizabeth's face disintegrated into a horrible contortion, gasping against the painful sobs wracking her body. She refused to open her eyes and look at his grave, look at him not looking back. The heels of her hands pressed into her eyes as her fingertips curled into her hairline. Angry and vicious cries tore through the air, and they were met with low, mournful rolls of thunder.

The horse whinnied. She eventually let her hands fall to her sides in exhaustion and leaned into her horse, finally looking at Will's grave placidly. The grass rustled as if arguing with the irritated rumbles overhead. She blinked, rested her head on the shoulder of her steed, and allowed her hair to blow across her face, catching her tears.

"If I had died in your bed that night," she said, "would you have buried me next to him?"

From atop the horse standing silently behind hers, Norrington lifted his eyes from her head to Turner's grave. Knowing such scenario had nearly manifested mere days ago shot turbulent agony over his person he never wanted to revisit. Yet there she was, blatantly asking him to confront this nightmare again.

And though it broke him several times over, James expelled the quaver of his voice and delivered a humble, resolute "yes."

She belonged not to him.

The swells of wind became more dramatic, rising fiercely off the distant bay before dying in a sudden hush. At length, Norrington spoke in one of the quieter lulls.

"Elizabeth, we must go," he urged gently, guiding his horse to face the road. "The soldiers are multiplying."

She glanced up. They were not the tranquil avenues they should have been at that hour, an ominous undercurrent coursing small groups of men through them. She felt it pulse across the field into her own body. The fear, fury, and hatred she had harbored so strongly for so long seized their way up her spine, and life was resurrected in her eyes.

Norrington sat taller, instilled by her resilience. In one swift motion, she was on horseback again, reigns wrapped around her wrists and sitting straighter than he was. The intensity of her resolve was enthralling.

Following her eyes forward, he set his jaw, and they moved into the unknown and over the precipice.

x x x

You would think, by now, that any of the obscene, senseless comments jeered through the bars of a prison would be tiresome to a man of James Norrington's rank. Most fell on deaf ears as a juvenile's schoolyard taunt might, but every so often in his dealings with these sordid sailors and dimwitted drunks, a colorful remark would catch him by surprise and merit the slap of his blade beneath the chin of said remark-sayer.

What had consistently grabbed his attention, however, regardless of miserable plea or lewd drawl, was the unlikely sound of a woman's voice.

"What brings you down my way, sailor?"

Never mind a familiar one.

Norrington gripped Elizabeth's wrist instinctively and stopped. His eyebrows creased, and he slowly looked over at Margaret peeking out from the darkness of the cell. His sword fell somewhat lax as he stared, and Elizabeth recognized her as the woman she'd seen amongst Jack's crew at the engagement party.

Norrington nearly stuttered. "Miss Black?"

"Margaret Black?" Elizabeth asked, raising her lamp.

"Yes. I'm glad to see you're up and about now." She nodded to the cell behind them. "The captain's right over there," she said, Elizabeth spinning around out of the Commodore's grasp. "I'd imagine you didn't come here to see me."

He shook his head, baffled. "Why are you in here?"

"Oh, you know," she said nonchalantly. "Some Big Wigs complained about the lack of give in the new corsets at The Red Crier." She folded her arms over herself, leaned against the wall, and sighed. "What can I say? A girl's got to eat."

The fretting nature of Norrington's bewilderment became further perplexed at her answer, but he was soon involuntarily mirroring her smirk. He shut his eyes as his grin spread, and he went to the archway at the middle of the cellblock to retrieve a set of keys.

"Were there any secondary charges?"

"I believe the theft and administering of antidotes was mentioned."

All humor dropped from Norrington's face. "Beckett had you arrested."

A shrug. "Perhaps he was having a slow afternoon. He had me on theft, though," she finished somewhat brightly.

"I'll pardon that," James said, opening the door and tossing his head back towards the entrance, "if you don't mind keeping watch for a moment."

"Not at all."

"Thank you."

x x x

The moment Margaret had issued to Jack's cell, Elizabeth was there, searching the back wall until his outline appeared, slumped in the corner. His body was still battered from several nights prior, so much so that it was far too difficult to even think about moving. Although he had kept limber as much as he could in his small cell, his intentions only backfired, greatly flaring the pain of his injuries until he could ignore them no longer. Since Margaret's arrival that afternoon, he had grown quite stiff.

Jack tried to make his voice more chipper through his grimaces as he slowly pitched one of his knees.

"Thought you were dying?"

Elizabeth fussed around the neck of the cloak, finding the string to which she had tied the key. "You need to get out of port immediately. If you don't leave now, there will be nothing more I can do."

He sat up groaning, watching her jam the key into the lock. "Now ye want me to escape?"

"The situation has become rather dire."

"So has my incapability to move certain things."

Elizabeth glared at him, yanking the door open as Norrington entered the cell with her.

"You had it coming," Elizabeth half-spat, showing no remorse when several of his vertebrae popped. "Parading around in front of Beckett and not anticipating a sound lashing? That's your own problem."

Jack scowled as they helped him to stand. His body shook under the strain of easing itself out of a hunch. "Are you ever going to acknowledge how much of this predicament is actually your problem?"

"You may deserve a hanging for many things, Jack, but not for a murder you did not commit," she said, reaching outside the cell for his things. "I'm not going to be responsible for letting an innocent man die when I could have done something to save him."

"Of your recent shortcomings," Norrington said to her as she handed Jack his hat, "that wouldn't be one for which you're responsible. Not unless you had a hand in framing him."

Elizabeth made a face, shifting her weight to her other hip. "'Recent shortcomings?'"

Norrington's brow leveled. She gaped incredulously.

"I've only done what I believe to be right –"

"I'm sorry," he scoffed, "who proposed to who?"

"Technically wasn't even a proposal," Jack murmured, off which Norrington raised his eyebrows at Elizabeth expectantly.

She flared her nostrils and finished fastening Jack's belt with a sharp, gag-inducing tug.

"I think we can categorize any and all shortcomings, present or otherwise, as strategical in nature," he straggled out, clearing the high octave from his throat. Before he could speak again, Elizabeth grabbed and held fast to his forearm, sternly making him look her in the eye.

"Get to the Heiress, release my father, and get out."

"What about the Pearl?"

Norrington rolled his eyes.

"The Black Pearl isn't safe," Elizabeth said. "Your crew kidnapped my father to distract Beckett while we freed you. They're at the Heiress. Put him on the docks, and we'll delay pursuit as long as possible."

Jack's silence lingered at her instructions. It wasn't just the Pearl he didn't want to leave behind, but she was leaving little time to argue the increasingly demanding particulars of her master plan.

"You know, unless you're content to spend the rest of your foreseeable future discreetly sniffing wine goblets around Pride, Pomp and Circumstance," he said, "you should come with me. Commodore, you're welcome to rejoin the crew as well."

Elizabeth exchanged an affronted look with Norrington. "No. You need to leave."

"When that lout finds out I've gone, do you think he's going to stop trying to kill you less?"

"Jack –"

"Commodore, talk some sense into this woman of yours."

"I will lock you back up myself if you don't go now," Elizabeth said loudly, staring him down. Jack's eyes pulled at the softness in hers until he brought out a quiet plea: "Don't make this any more difficult than it already has been. I'm trying to save you, Jack."

"And I was only trying to do the same," he said, leaving her with a withering look of disappointment, slinking awkwardly out of the cell.

Elizabeth stared at the ground for a moment, smoldering from the way his eyes had borne into her so mercilessly. To admit that he was right was to run from all the chaos she had created, to leave Will's death unaccounted for. An appalling weight crushed and entrapped her, closing in beyond measureable recognition. Jack knew all too well the dangers of believing one was outsmarting Lord Beckett when they were only outrunning him, and she had felt him jar the realization within her that it would not be long before she was tripped, unable to get back up.

She looked to James, and she saw his steadfast commitment to his uniform and his pride wane briefly in his heart. But neither dared confess the appeal of such temptation, choosing instead to silently follow Jack out of the prison.

They made it a total of four steps before abruptly stopping next to Jack in the stone passageway. All three of them came face-to-face with Lord Beckett and a large flintlock. Behind him, Murtogg and Mullroy gripped Margaret by the shoulders from either side, and she glanced to Beckett sheepishly.

"He's here."

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