Author's Notes: This story was written as a birthday present for my stepsister, Erin (katakechicken). It was edited by my friends Paula, Fiona, and Valerie, though any remaining mistakes are mine. It's been a while since I've written any Jack/Elizabeth, but I enjoyed writing this immensely.
Please note that this was written before At World's End was released, and while there are no spoilers, it can now be considered horrendously AU. Just to warn you. If you were saddened by some of the events in the new movie, then perhaps you'll enjoy this even more.
Also: Erin, if you happen to stumble across this before the evening of May 26, then please click the back button. It takes the fun out of things if I can't give this to you in person. :)
Of Rum and Sea Salt
Elizabeth Swann had always supposed, since she was a child, that there were many negative aspects of piracy—most of which surrounded the extreme dishonesty by which pirates led their lives. Certainly they were fascinating, this exotic breed of man, yet that did not mask the fact that they were happy, brutal murderers who did not discriminate upon whom they practiced their thievery. They were also drunkards, she had long ago decided—her governess had told her dreadful stories that had circulated in a pub somewhere, once upon a time.
Now that she had grown, however, Elizabeth knew that the aforementioned qualities were not quite so negative as she had once believed them to be. Theft was a favorable option, she had come to realize, when one had not been raised with the grandiose privileges of a governor's daughter. And after all, there was a certain indescribable feeling that rushed into one's heart and lungs when one bent the law in one's own favor. An extra twitch of the fingers, a slight of hand, and nigh anything could be caught in one's grasp.
Rum, of course, was still a vile drink drunk by drunkards, but drunkards could be pleasant company if handled properly, especially if the one accompanying the drunkard had consumed a drop or two more than usual of the liquid oneself. And if the latter of these circumstances occurred, the burn of the alcohol in one's throat could instill the same, indescribable feeling that dishonesty could. (Sometimes, Elizabeth wondered if she was truly related to her father.)
Murder she had difficulty with still; blood did not cause her to feel faint, though neither did she enjoy watching it spill. By now, she had learned to turn her head, and to avoid working hand-in-hand with Death as often as possible.
The most prominent, the most terrible, most negative aspect of all, however, was simply being caught. It was as if one had suddenly been grasped round the throat and choked, abruptly deprived from the sweetness of the air…
"Don't leave me all by meself, love."
The voice of Jack Sparrow interrupted her brooding, drifting toward her like a pungent smell. She released a sigh and felt it cloud upon the damp wall—one wall of many walls that formed their prison. The stone was never dry, (at least, not that she could recall), most especially when the winter rain leaked in through the tiny barred window that she was not quite tall enough to reach—though she had tried many a time to peer out at the face of freedom.
"I'm afraid that neither of us are going anywhere," she said bitterly after a pause that was almost too long.
Jack chuckled, though the sound was muffled; they had not been permitted to share a single cell. But if she reached through the bars and twisted her arm to the right, she could close her fingers around the empty space in which she knew he was being held. She had only done this on one occasion, in the dead of night—the first night—when she had been certain that he was asleep, just to be certain that he really was there… There had been no need to do so since then.
Like an afterthought, he then belatedly emitted a noise that suggested he both agreed and disagreed with her statement. Elizabeth pursed her lips, which suggested she very much believed what she had said. There was nowhere to go but the opposite corner of her cell, and from there, the farthest they could progress was to the hangman's noose. She would, in the end, visit both, for the corner in which she sat now was too cold, and piracy was punishable by death. Both the seasons and the laws of England could be brutally harsh.
She could hear him shifting, perhaps coming to the front of his cell. The buckles of his boots scraped against the ground.
"I cannot recall why we ever came to England."
"Be this a question or an accusation, technically… ah… literally, fundamentally—"
"Jack!" she snapped in irritation. "You shouldn't use words whose meanings you don't know."
"Of course I know their meanings. What kind of pirate do you think I am, eh? I happen to know the meanings of everything…" His voice lowered and he added, "Except for yours, most of the time."
"Whatever do you mean by that?"
"Ah. We're both in a conundrum, then."
Elizabeth frowned. "What I don't understand is how you manage to use such words correctly."
"What words, Lizzy?"
"Conundrum, for example."
"Aye. And what a word it is."
She furrowed her brow and narrowed her eyes into suspicious slits. "What does it mean?" she challenged tersely.
"What does what mean?" he inquired lightly, as if the answer was not so apparent.
"Don't play the fool with me, Jack Sparrow," Elizabeth told him firmly.
"It's Captain Jack Sparrow, love," he reminded her, and she wondered if that which she had just said had soared away from his ears like the bird for which he was named. This would not surprise her, for he listened well only when the topic was of interest to him. Otherwise, he could be counted upon to remark at the most trivial of things and ignore what was most important.
"Not today, it isn't," she sniffed. "You'll be no captain until we've been hanged, and it's difficult to say precisely what you'll be captain of at that point."
He paused for a moment, as if contemplating his reply. "Indulge an old pirate, won't you, young missy?"
Elizabeth felt a familiar swoop within her chest and her stomach at these words: that feeling of panic, the need to justify her loyalties.
"You're not old," she said quickly, and in a higher pitch than was necessary. "Nor am I young."
"Age has nothing to do with it." He was chuckling again.
"I'm afraid I don't understand. I've not yet neared thirty years, and you've barely passed it. Neither of us are young, but certainly we are not old."
"And that's it. Right there."
"What do you mean?" she asked for what felt to be the thousandth time. Her voice was unwillingly strained in a nigh desperate manner.
"Well, you don't understand it, do you? And I do. Ergo, love, you are young and I'm not."
"But—but that's ridiculous!" Elizabeth sputtered.
"Damnably so," he agreed.
She sighed, wondering how broad his smirk must be at that moment. If he had simply wished to fluster her, then his efforts had not been in vain. Already she had forgotten where their conversation had first begun, and why it had even been brought about at all. All that was truly clear to her was that Jack had flit from one subject to the next, dragging her along so that they could not remain upon a single topic for more than a moment, perhaps two.
If it was also his intention to rattle her mind into madness, then she was certain that his second success loomed just ahead. After all, being locked away not only roused her irritability, but it tore at her sanity as well.
There was a soft sound and a dull pain as she forcefully thrust her forehead against the iron bars that formed one side of her cell. When she rested it there, metal against flesh and bone, her thoughts seemed much more coherent; she had long-since ceased to care that these thoughts had to be physically jarred from their hiding places before they would agree to surface.
"Easy there," she heard Jack say. His voice was more muffled now, and she ignored it.
They were not supposed to be in England. This thought was always the first to come forward now when she desired to think. They should have remained as far from the coast as was originally intended—the coasts of everything, really, for it did not matter to which countries they belonged. Always frightened that they would be caught, Elizabeth had been content in the open seas, where there had been naught but waves and water in all directions. This fear had been all that lingered from her mindset as the prim governor's daughter; freedom was what she had forever longed for, yet its price was high: she could not forget that the rules had to be broken to obtain it. As a child, Elizabeth had rarely dared to break the rules that had been set for her—those set by her father, at least.
There had been little provocation to sail this way; no rumors of gold had brought them here, no whims had drawn them away from the Caribbean sun. Elizabeth did not like England, and, from what she had gathered early on in their confinement, Jack was not particularly fond of it, either.
It must have been Jack's compass, she thought suddenly, though either she or Jack could be the one at fault. Jack had allowed her to steer the Black Pearl once—or rather, he had taught her how to do so properly, watched her anxiously for a quarter of an hour whilst she tested the effectiveness of his lesson, and then had nearly shoved her aside after she had brought the ship precariously close to a grouping of rocks. The second time she steered the Pearl, Jack had been so intoxicated that he did not rise from his cabin until the following afternoon. On both occasions, she had utilized Jack's compass, not bothering to consider the identity of what it was that she most wanted in the world.
Feeling a sudden wave of horror pass through her, Elizabeth pressed her forehead against the bars more roughly until the pain surpassed dullness. It was her fault they had been captured and arrested and doomed to die an abominably painful death.
"You're not a cat, Lizzy. Best you stop thinking as much."
By way of response, Elizabeth groaned. She would not even ask for an explanation this time.
"I meself prefer dogs."
"I should have married Will when he asked me," she muttered to herself.
"But then we couldn't have had all these lovely little excursions together." Jack said this as if their latest excursion had not ended so incriminatingly.
"I haven't married you, either," she reminded him.
"Keep telling yourself that, darling. You and I are two peas in a pod, and that's as married as a pirate ever wants to be. A marriaaage," he added, drawing out the aforementioned word, "is still a marriaaage without a ceremony. It's nothing, however, without drinks. Thankfully, those haven't been in short supply."
"Even now?" she asked almost sardonically. "Tell me, Captain Jack Sparrow, how does one acquire a limitless horde of rum in a prison cell?"
"By being very persuasive," he replied promptly, nearly like he had been waiting for her to ask that very question all along.
"Wh… what?" She extricated herself from the filthy bars and straightened, her hands stiffly folded in her lap. She had been expecting to beat him in this impromptu battle of wits, not to be helplessly defeated in the wake of an entirely unexpected answer. Though if she was a decent judge of character, then he was simply hoping to bait her more.
"What what?" he asked quickly in a manner that was reminiscent of poorly feigned innocence—but purposefully done. Within her slightly throbbing head, she could picture him in the opposite cell with his eyebrows raised, scanning the ceiling as if the answer lay plastered somewhere upon it.
"What?" she repeated.
"Well, aren't you going to ask?" he demanded at length, almost affronted.
"Ask what?" Elizabeth was bewildered, though she supposed she should be thankful for this. After all, if she found him sensible, then surely she would know for certain that she was entirely insane.
Jack made a dramatic show—or at least, this was what she supposed, as she could not see him through the stone—of clearing his throat. When he at last spoke, the pitch of his voice was alarmingly high. "What do you mean, Captain Jack Sparrow? I'm afraid I don't quite understand…"
Elizabeth bit her lip to keep from smiling, even though there was no one but herself to hide it from. "I don't sound like that," she protested.
"Ah. I'm afraid you do. Leastways, you do now…. Tell me, Lizzy, are you experiencing women's problems—?"
"JACK!" she gasped loudly, then promptly clapped her hand over her mouth. Her eyes were rounded at the sheer audacity of his suggestion.
When she trusted herself to speak in a normal volume, she removed her hand. Her lips tingled in the aftermath of the force she had used to quiet herself. "That sort of talk is hardly proper, even for a pirate!" she hissed.
"You're less of a pirate than I thought if you believe that."
The weight of this suggestion caused her heart to sink as if it had been trod upon. Somehow, not meeting his expectations seemed rather devastating.
"Well… I thought you perhaps possessed a gentlemanly attribute or two," she amended quickly. "You're the only pirate I would expect to consider a lady's dignity."
"Dignity?" he repeated as if perplexed. "There's a word whose meaning I don't know. I seem to recall dear William using it on me…"
"Will would," she caught herself saying before she could refrain from doing so.
"Aye. And we can be sure that there are many little Williams running amok somewhere and thieving all his precious dignity, if you catch me meaning."
Unconsciously, she clutched at the bars, her knuckles turning bone-white.
"Will married? Why was I not informed?" She paused. "And how would you have come across such information?"
"Never said I had. But if he's anything like his father—and I've the slight inkling that he is—then he's taken your refusal to heart and done what's best for him: found himself a Tortuga wench and—"
"Jack!" she exclaimed once more. "He wouldn't, and you know it!"
She waited for him to agree, but she was merely met with silence.
"He wouldn't…" she began again with hesitation.
"Pirate," Jack explained.
Of course, she thought frantically, it was no concern of hers if her former fiancé decided to wed a scarlet woman and begin a family with her. Will was a good and honest man, he would not choose a wife of poor character…. He could be rash sometimes, she thought, but he… he…
"Alright there, Lizzy?" Jack asked her, his tone only a bit more serious.
"I…" she began faintly. She could almost feel him frowning.
"That was all in jest, savvy? William will never see the benefits of Tortuga women."
"I need a drink," she muttered at length. "You, dreadful creature, have positively shaken me."
His hands clapped together in delight. "Splendid!" he exclaimed cheerfully. "Drinks all around!"
"What do you mean, Captain Jack Sparrow? I'm afraid I don't quite understand."
"That's the spirit," he said affectionately; his words seemed to trail off as if he was moving further and further away from her. Indeed, she could hear him rummaging about, searching for something which she was exceptionally skeptical about him possessing.
And yet, after a prolonged pause, this something was thrust through the bars of the neighboring cell—Jack's cell—and into the dingy passage at which they were now both forced to stare every waking moment. Jack's fingers were closed loosely round the neck of a bottle the color of syrup. He waved it gently and the liquid within sloshed enticingly, catching what little light it could from the dying flames of the torches in their brackets.
With a small groan that she did not even realize she made, Elizabeth stretched her arm through the bars until her shoulder was pressed against them firmly.
"I can't reach it," she admitted mournfully after vainly stretching for the bottle.
"Bugger," Jack muttered, and his arm twisted into what was likely an awkward angle so that he could bring the bottle closer to her. When he did so, she realized that it was already opened and half-consumed.
"You've already had some, I see," she observed through gritted teeth—she was still straining her shoulder against the harsh metal.
"Desperate times, love," he replied in much the same manner.
"Is this your only bottle?" Elizabeth inquired.
"Aye. So make good use of it."
So stunned was she that her hand swayed and she began to reach in the wrong direction. She did not see Jack shake the bottle at her rather violently to recapture her focus, nor did she hear his stifled yelp of pain which the former action brought about.
"You're willing to relinquish your only bottle of rum? To me?"
He grunted as he recommenced his waving of the bottle. "Methinks these are especially desperate times. Though not desperate enough, I hope, that you'll trot off and burn the bloody thing."
Her mouth twitched in a smile. "I promise to take care of it."
"Good lass," he said approvingly.
Elizabeth gathered the remainder of her strength and strained herself as much as she feasibly could until she grasped the bottle round the middle.
"At last," she breathed triumphantly as Jack released his hold and she pulled the bottle into her cell. Only a little did she wince when the glass sides scraped against the iron bars—and just barely did they scrape through. Once she had nestled her prize carefully in her lap, however, she smiled. Though she was not overly warm, the coolness of it seeped comfortably through the fabric of her breeches and to the skin beneath.
"Thank you, Jack," she called to him appreciatively.
The pleasantries contained within this exchange surprised her. Thus far, Jack had seemed slightly more civil to her than usual—not that he was ever entirely uncivil, though pirates, of course, were not known for their civility. She had half-expected him to grunt at her once more; yet Jack Sparrow could not be likened to any other pirate she had ever heard talk of—or encountered—and so she supposed she should be wary of making expectations of him. Perhaps, though, his recent behavior was due to the fact that he was relatively sober. For as long as she could recall, she had never once before encountered him less than slightly drunk.
She brought the mouth of the bottle to her lips and drank; upon it was a taste that reminded her of Jack, who must have taken a final swig before bequeathing it to her. She wondered if he permanently tasted of the sea, for there lingered the distinct saltiness that she knew so well.
Thoughts of this all but ceased when she tilted the bottle and the rum found her throat. It burned just as she had expected it to, and quenched the thirst that she had possessed. Somehow, though, the liquid did not provide her with that familiar trill of freedom, nor did it even remind her of the sense. It was Jack and his sea salt which did so instead, a fact at which she marveled at the same time that she did not. She was, after all, more fond of Jack than she was of alcohol, even after a particularly trying day—and even if it was Jack who had caused such a day to become trying to begin with.
A short respite from conversation transpired as Elizabeth slouched against the corner walls of her cell, enjoying the mingling effects of the rum and the salt, and paying no mind to the particular griminess of her location. She drummed her fingers languidly upon the bottle when she was not drinking from it; somewhere in the back of her mind, she registered that this caused a dull and hollow ringing within its depths. Somewhere else, she registered that she rather enjoyed the sound, and in yet another unknown place, she realized that the bottle had been empty for quite some time. It was difficult to pinpoint precisely when this had occurred; it felt as though only a moment had passed.
After a pause, she mused aloud, "I suppose you'll tell me now that you've already acquired the keys."
"That's your job, love."
Elizabeth sank against the stones pensively as if she could be absorbed between their very cracks. Somehow, this news was not quite as surprising to her as it could have been. It was reasonable that she should be the one elected to obtain the keys; after all, she had not forgotten who was most at fault for bringing them into captivity, and Jack had managed to coerce the guard into supplying him with a bottle of rum.
"If I were all by me onesies, I can assure you this would be a disconcerting sort of experience."
Elizabeth smiled, her head feeling warm. "I'm certain you would make quite a sight to behold."
"Aye, seeing as I'd be resorting to more than flattery." There was a shiver in his voice, though she could not determine whether it was merely for dramatic effect, or if he was truly disconcerted. The former was the most likely, as she was disinclined to believe in what it was that he seemed to be implying.
"Then it's lucky that you've been blessed with female company," she declared, shifting a little. The empty bottle tipped onto its side and rolled off her lap.
"And even luckier said company's had a mite too much to drink," he muttered nigh inaudibly, as if she could not hear him—and indeed as if this fact was the most amusing thing that had been uttered throughout the entirety of his existence.
"Ravishing company you are, really," he added after a moment. This time she knew that he was speaking to her directly. "I'm almost sorry for the poor fellow."
"Oh? And which poor fellow would this be?" she inquired lightly.
"Old what's 'is name with the keys. There's never been a man to sail the seven seas powerful enough to stay on 'is feet when Lizzy the Pirate's aprowl with her feminine wiles."
Elizabeth snorted—in another place, another time that she could hardly recall, she would have been horrified. His words were laced with rum and pride—and sea salt, of course—and she could not help but feel flattered, if not amused. Lizzy the Pirate, indeed! She could hardly consider herself as much of a pirate as Anamaria, much less Jack, even if, under the scrutiny of the law, there were no differences between them. Still, this warmed her heart rather than her head, and so she was content to silence her qualms.
"We should have played a game." Elizabeth's voice was thick and throaty, for it had lain in disuse for a time that was immeasurable. The dim light in which they were encompassed had not shifted, and the temperature had neither risen nor fallen; nor had it remained the same. But she could feel a change as if in her bones.
"What sort of game?" Contrary to hers, Jack's voice seemed to become more alive with the passing mention of a pleasurable way to occupy one's time.
Elizabeth thought quietly to herself; she almost had not expected an answer, for her world, at the present, was an unstable place, and she was not fully aware of what remained in her head and what passed through her lips.
Then it came to her, what she had likely meant even before she realized it. "A drinking game, of course." On a cue that might have been attuned to the cadence of her heartbeat, her eyes flickered to the empty bottle.
"That would have been pleasant, as I happen to know of one. Perhaps you've heard of it. Seems to me as it goes by the name of 'I Never'."
"I Never," she parroted comprehensively. It was familiar to her, though two such words were often heard together in habitual conversation. "Well, it hardly matters. The rum is gone."
"The rum is always gone," he lamented pointedly. "All the same, a game's a game, even if rum is unfortunately not involved. And what with no wind in our sails or sand in our boots—nasty feeling though it is—we've all the time in the world ahead of us to entertain ourselves."
"I suppose we should start now, then," said Elizabeth. The words escaped her of their own accord. "How does one engage in this game?"
"It's very simple. I'd say, off the top of me head… I've never…" He paused to think. "Ah! I've never written a letter to me mum. Which is true, of course. Then you, if you have, in fact, written to your dear old mumsie, would indulge yourself in a drink. Savvy? I suspect there are few more rules, but…"
Elizabeth sighed. "But you can't remember them because you were too drunk to pay them any mind."
Jack fell oddly quiet at her accusation. She suspected that he was pretending not to hear her.
After a moment, when Elizabeth found the silence too awkward to bear, she cleared her throat. "I propose that we keep a tally, as there is no rum to drink to."
"And how, clever Lizzy, do I go about winning this game?" Jack asked with interest, once more seeming to ignore what was important.
"You are not going to win," she promised whilst smiling, her eyes glinting. She was glad to hear his voice once more fill her cell. "Whoever reaches fifty tallies first loses. And I daresay that you'll reach one hundred before I'm forced to make a single mark."
"Here be pirates, love, and pirates alone. A pirate does whatever he—or she, granting the present company—pleases." Jack paused. "Haven't I told you that already?"
"I know," Elizabeth insisted. "I was simply hoping—feebly, I suppose—that you wouldn't cheat. But it would seem that my hopes are already dashed."
Jack snorted, and she nearly jumped in surprise. He had never quite struck her as the completely uncouth, snorting sort.
"Darling, you are, without a doubt, the strangest pirate I've ever heard of."
She grinned, his words tugging at the chords of a distant memory. "But you have heard of me," she shrugged. Somehow, this seemed to be the most appropriate response.
"I've never heard of you."
Lizzy scowled. "What sort of claim is that?" she demanded.
"A sacrificious one. That, I believe, is a tally for us both."
She was so floored, she forgot to chide him on the utilization of an imaginary word. Jack laughed to himself softly, altogether enjoying himself far too much—in her opinion, at least.
"W-well!" she stuttered, indignant. "I've never heard of you, either!" She pursed her lips and plucked two pieces of straw from the pile in her cell and placed them in her lap where the bottle of rum had once lain. If Jack could be sacrificious, so could she.
No! No, a thousand times, no! Sacrificious was not a word! Not a proper one, in any case.
"I've never worn a corset."
Elizabeth added another makeshift tally, hoping that Jack's hand would remain still. She thought for a pause, searching for a claim which would not be considered the least bit sacrificial.
"I've never been to Singapore," she finally retorted.
Jack sniffed innocently. "I've never been called Elizabeth, mistaken or not."
Elizabeth frowned and picked up another piece of straw. "I've never looked stupid whilst walking."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Jack claimed. "I look ravishingly debonair whether I'm walking or not."
Now it was she who snorted.
As was soon discovered, a drinking game held without drinks in an English prison cell had been an exceptionally ill-conceived idea. Far from maintaining it at a relatively impersonal level, both Jack and Elizabeth simultaneously decided that the best tactic for achieving victory was to attack the other as personally as possible. That which soon ensued inevitably resembled thus:
"I've never been of the female variety."
"I should hope not! I've never been named Jack Sparrow."
"Captain, love. I've never been a governor's lass."
"I've never been in love with a ship."
"I've never been in love with a whelp."
"I've never been so insecure as to insist that I be addressed as 'Captain' on every possible occasion."
"I've never forgotten to address said insecure pirate—who is, in fact, not insecure at all—as Captain."
"I've never been illiterate."
"I've never burned rum."
"I've never killed anyone."
"That's a tally for you, love."
"Well, you're still alive, aren't you? I've never been dead."
"I've never been at fault for bringing about the death of one who is, in fact, still alive."
"I've never liked you, you know."
Jack paused thoughtfully. "Are we playing still, or are we not? If we are, then let's carry on and all that, and I'll say that I've never liked you either. I suspect, however, that I will then merit another tally for me collection. It's still a very small collection. Then I'd imagine to meself what would happen if these bars didn't happen to be where they are, so that perchance you and I—"
"Are you quite through?" demanded a familiar, exasperated voice.
Elizabeth, who had been attempting to comprehend at least a single word of what Jack had suddenly taken to carrying on about, was, for several moments, unsure that she had heard correctly. After all, she would be completely and utterly mad to suspect that she had just heard an inquiry from James Norrington.
And yet, was she so mistaken? Jack had heard him too, it seemed.
"Commodore!" he exclaimed merrily, as if greeting an old friend.
Elizabeth blinked once, and then twice more, furrowing her brow and unfurrowing it successively. James could not be here when word of her imprisonment had not yet even reached Governor Swann in Port Royal. Furthermore, he would not be here, for she had refused his hand in marriage perhaps more harshly than she had done with Will; and, following that, she had become a pirate—a bit of one, in the very least—a path which James scorned.
Disregarding the straw in her lap, she crawled upon her knees to the very front of her cell, in which the door was located. Once there, she commenced to disregard her manners as well, for her mouth unconsciously fell open and she stared shamelessly. Were Jack not now engaged in conversation with a man she had not seen since the Black Pearl had been sunk by the Kraken three years before, she would not have trusted her own eyes and ears.
"James," she breathed, unable to contain the shock in her voice. She wondered how she had not heard his approach; the footsteps of their guard always resonated as he descended the narrow flight of stairs which led to where they were being held.
The former commodore turned to her, not looking at all surprised to find her there. Rather, his unshaven face was washed with relief upon spotting her.
" Elizabeth!" he exclaimed, ignoring whatever Jack had been telling him. He strode to her, though he did not reach through the bars to touch her hand. At that moment, the gesture was missed; she would never grow accustomed to seclusion. "Are you alright?"
"Yes, I am," she said quickly, then added, "I'm not harmed, at the very least."
"You see, Commodore?" Jack interjected. James ignored him.
"However did you manage to find us?" Elizabeth asked. "Or was that not your intent?"
"I was directed here by Mr. Sparrow. It would appear that he bribed your guard into smuggling a letter outside. I happened to intercept it by chance. I cannot quite fathom how his messenger knew precisely how and where to find me."
Elizabeth snapped her mouth shut. "I didn't know you could write," she told Jack accusingly. Nor did she know how he had once more come into possession of his compass, which was indubitably how the messenger had found his heading.
"'Course I can write. Me Captain's Log, and all that."
"Indeed," said James. His lip curled upward in slight disgust.
"Why did you come?" she inquired suddenly. "You owe no favor to either of us."
"On the contrary, I have been in your debt for the past three years."
"What do—?" she began.
"I'm terribly, terribly sorry to cut short your reunion," Jack suddenly said rather loudly. Elizabeth could hear the scowl in his voice. "But methinks, and perhaps I'm wrong, that this is the part where we're escaping, not chatting over tea and crumpets. Savvy?" He paused. "And if you're not about to give up the keys, Commodore, I'll set Lizzy on you."
"'Lizzy'?" James echoed, arching his brow.
She shrugged, at a loss for an explanation.
"And why on Earth would you be set upon me?"
"Jack would have me seduce you to obtain the keys," she muttered.
James flushed, then looked at her with interest. "I see. Would you have really?"
"I don't think this is quite the time or place to be asking such—"
"COMMODORE!" Jack cried loudly again, his tone now only feigning merriment.
James sighed. "You truly have changed, Elizabeth." He reached into his pocket and briefly searched, during which time she watched him carefully. He was dressed in the exact manner that their guard had been; James seemed to have taken great care to resemble him as closely as possible.
After a moment, he withdrew a long, rusted key upon a single metal ring. And after another moment, she was free.
Before James could brace himself, she flew to him and nearly smothered him in an embrace. His shoulders were rigid, but he did not push her away.
Jack let forth a small noise of protest, and Elizabeth quickly released the former commodore. He did not meet her eyes again before he silently—and begrudgingly—unlocked Jack's cell.
Elizabeth followed him with trepidation, smoothing her breeches in a manner that could have suggested that she was struck by shyness. She watched as Jack jumped nimbly to his feet and grasped James's hand; she smiled to herself when they both quickly returned their hands to their respective sides.
While she knew that she must seem dreadful in appearance—perhaps even savage—Jack looked no worse for wear than when she had last seen him. In fact, his garb looked positively clean.
"Was there a maid in the cell with you?" she asked dryly as Jack swaggered toward her.
"You've much to learn about the art of persuasion, love," was his only response. He slipped his arm through the crook of hers as she rested her hand upon her hip. Lizzy shivered, though she was not certain of the reasoning behind it.
She bit her lip and returned her gaze to James. "Thank you," she told him at last.
"What, no thanks for me?" Jack asked, twisting his body to face her. He still held fast to her arm.
Elizabeth lifted her chin and nearly smirked at him. She did not know why. "Thank you, Jack."
James cleared his throat. "We should leave now. Elizabeth. Sparrow," said he, addressing them. "There is a rowboat waiting for you by the docks. My ship is anchored offshore; it won't be difficult for you to locate. The hour is late; I doubt that you will be spotted."
Having said all that he meant to divulge, James began to ascend the stairs by which he had come. Elizabeth watched his coat disappear through the trapdoor in the ceiling, feeling something compelling her to linger.
In his customary swagger, Jack started up the steps behind him. Elizabeth watched this as well, feeling something swell inside of her. She felt warm again, looking at him and knowing that he was there. She could remember, at one point or another, that Will had once made her feel similarly. Yet that would mean that she had feelings for Jack. How, she wondered, would she have come to possess them? Such a notion surely would have come to her mind whilst she was locked away with nothing more to think of than the abnormal nature of her relationships.
Jack had prevented her from brooding and wallowing and pondering…
Elizabeth, on a whim, held out her hand and caught Jack's shoulder before he managed to go too far.
"Jack?" she said softly.
"Aye?" He turned to her.
"What was it that you meant to say before James interrupted you?" she asked quickly, all in one breath.
"Before…" He looked puzzled for a moment. "Ah! I remember!" He batted his eyes at her rather flirtatiously. "What was on me mind was what would've happened if there weren't any walls between us. Literally, of course."
"And what would have happened?" she inquired, recalling the scene to her mind.
He shrugged. "The usual sorts of pleasantries. Stealing, for example."
She was taken aback. "What would you have stolen? There was hardly anything of any value in—"
She was abruptly cut short as he leaned toward her and pressed his lips against hers, committing the act of thievery in question. It lasted for only a moment, the kiss he stole. But it was long enough, apparently, for when Jack broke away, he was grinning mischievously as if he knew something that she did not.
"Hurry up now, love," he said, his voice suddenly throaty. He swiveled dramatically upon the heels of his boots till he faced the staircase. "Don't want to go missing our boat, now, do we?"
She could nearly hear the waves calling to her, and could nigh feel the night air against her skin. What she tasted, though, as she touched her fingertips to her lips, was rum and sea salt.