'Pirates of the Caribbean' belongs to Disney.
This story was inspired by a piece of fanart- Justawench's excellent photomanip 'Gaol', posted at Livejournal (I would include a link but apparently that's not allowed.)
Cutler Beckett was at his office desk, tending to the usual paperwork, feeling triumphant. Buoyed by the knowledge that, within these fortress walls, a long-sought fugitive was awaiting his pleasure.
Between signatures, Beckett's thoughts strayed to the particulars of yesterday's conversation with the man. A conversation which had ended abruptly, as he'd turned the captive over to Mr. Mercer. With instructions. Undoubtedly, the wretch would be far more subdued during today's negotiations.
The most urgent paper stack was completed. Beckett set down his pen, one hand stroked his chin, as his memory stretched further back. Recalling an exquisite, anxious face, lit by the crimson glow of hot metal. Cutler had refrained from branding the offender on the forehead, out of consideration for his youth, he'd said. But late that evening, with that fire-lit visage still haunting his mind's eye, Beckett admitted he might have had other reasons for limiting the disfiguration. Far more selfish ones.
Not that he'd had any chance to pursue them, before being awakened by a soldier reporting the prisoner's escape. Beckett fully intended to make up for that, now that he once again had the reprobate in his custody.
There was a knock on the door- a distinct fast rap. "Come in, Mercer."
Beckett's hard-eyed clerk entered. Without preamble, Beckett asked, "So, what of Sparrow?"
"Softened as per your orders, sir."
"How well did he hold up?"
"No better than that?" Beckett sounded disappointed.
Mercer shrugged indifferently. "I wasn't attempting to extract information from him. Just making it clear to him that our intent is entirely serious."
"As I did request. I assume he's now in the gaol?"
"He is. I have seven company agents keeping watch."
Beckett gave his pen a quick cleaning, before rising to his full, unimpressive height. "I believe I shall go see him."
A corner of Mercer's mouth quirked. "That you will, Mr. Beckett."
Cutler made his way down the brown brick corridor, making no acknowledgment of the company guards he passed. The usual large, dull, unsqueamish men, those. His attention was entirely focused on the slender occupant of one narrow cell.
Jack Sparrow was seated close against the bars, staring towards the gaol's one window. Though set too deep in the wall to provide a view, that opening did let in the occasional ocean-scented breeze. Sparrow was probably trying to catch a whiff of it.
The prisoner turned his head towards the approaching steps. Upon recognizing Beckett, he immediately looked to the floor.
Jack was unclothed, save for the alluring crimson head scarf and hair ornaments (it was Beckett's own order that he be permitted to retain those.) A black iron collar encircled his neck, from which a short chain hung, connecting to the wide shackles around his wrists. Heavy dark chains, of the sort used to restrain newly-caught slaves.
All part of Mercer's method, of course. The weight on Sparrow's neck and wrists provided a constant reminder of his captive status, as his nudity would impart an inescapable sense of vulnerability.
Beckett drew near. Jack stayed as he was, making no useless effort to cover himself, keeping his gaze down. But his sense of humiliation was betrayed by the red flush on his cheeks- an effect pleasingly similar to the branding iron's glow.
Cutler halted before the bars, eyeing his prisoner for a minute before speaking. "It's time to resume our discussion, Jack. Have you given any further thought, to my offer of reemployment?" The pirate did not respond, beyond a tightening of his jaw. "Not so fast to refuse as you were yesterday, I see- Mr. Mercer's attentions frequently have that result. As I'm sure you noticed, he's a master at inflicting maximum, discomfort, whilst doing minimum physical damage. This process could theoretically continue for days, or weeks, without endangering your life. Though, if you continue to be so stubborn, you may end up wishing it would."
Jack shifted a bit, but remained silent. Beckett happened to notice something; the 'P' on Sparrow's right wrist was inflamed red, the raised white scar tissue having been sliced off. No doubt the work of Mercer's blade. The man had an uncanny knack for discerning exactly what would cause a subject the most acute pain.
For some seconds, Beckett let his eyes wander further over the prisoner's body, noting the abundance of other irregularities. Tattoos, scars... bullet holes? So much fascinating skin, close enough to touch...
Beckett sternly restrained his gaze. This distraction must be mastered- he had a task to accomplish here. The rewards, he knew, would follow afterwards. Looking to Jack's lowered face, Cutler continued.
"Just for clarity's sake, let us review your situation once again. You have been living a vagabond existence, without social standing or permanent residence. No ship of your own anymore, nor any realistic chance of acquiring one, since you are without family, funds, or connections. You have only your overvalued 'freedom', and even that is precarious at best. You can never be sure whether the next crew you sign on with might recognize you, and turn you in for the bounty. Indeed, that scenario accounts for your current incarceration." Cutler did not fail to notice Jack's hands balling into fists. "But I can provide another option. Secure employment with the East India Trade Company, pardon for your previous crimes, command of a company ship, a steady income. And all I require of you is a more tractable attitude."
At that, Jack's darkly flashing eyes did rise to meet his captor's. "I have no patience fer such euphemisms, Beckett. Call it what it is; you intend ta make me yer bloody concubine."
"Only between assignments. At all other times you'll be allowed to pursue that seafaring life you so enjoyed, prior to losing your ship to mutineers, differing only in that you'll be required to operate within legal parameters." Beckett added, "I can assure you I do understand the value of discretion, as does all my personal staff. Our onshore arrangements will not be made common knowledge."
"But I'll know about 'em, won't I?" Jack's blush was gone. He had something to focus on now, beyond the highly disagreeable circumstance of being bound and naked in the presence of an enemy.
Beckett continued his reasonable arguments. "There's many a sailor- less impoverished than you- who would gladly pay that price, or more, for what I'm offering."
Jack waved his hands a bit in their chains. "Well, then why don't ye shanghai said poor sailor, an' make yer offer ta him?"
Beckett's expression darkened. "I am not retreading this ground, Sparrow."
Jack was actually a bit tired of that subject, too. Particularly since he was quite sure he already knew the motive behind Beckett's special interest in him.
/ It's fer the same reason you prefer ta acquire untamed horses anу break 'em yourself, rather 'en buyin' a nag that's already gentle under the saddle. The challenge of bending another to your will is what appeals to you- the more resistance to overcome, the better! You see me as a Wild Beast, what happened ta catch yer fancy the day you branded me... declared me a pirate, outside the protection of any law. A safe target fer any unwanted attentions. But I got away, before you'd done more 'en mark me, so you've been yearnin' ta possess me ever since.
/ Sorry to disappoint, but I don't plan on remainin' in yer clutch much longer, you sawed-off git. /
Though Jack was careful not to let his contempt show, Beckett still frowned. Stepping closer, he intoned, "My patience is not without limits, pirate. You do realize it's well within my power to take whatever I want from you, and give you nothing in exchange."
Jack twitched, but kept his tone level. "That's not yer preference, mate, or you'd have done it already."
"It is, as you say, not my first choice. Because I also desire command over your considerable captaining skills, and the profit they can earn for this Company. It's simply good business for me to try to keep resentments between us to a minimum."
The fine eyebrows jumped incredulously. "Have ya not considered that handin' me over to yer trained hyena could also produce hard feelin'?"
"Mercer has done very slight harm to you, compared to what he's capable of. Let me be entirely clear on this, Sparrow; your life, your health, your very sanity, are entirely at my mercy. The sooner you acknowledge this as a reality to be dealt with, the better your chances of retaining any of them." His tone softened. "You should also understand, this does not have to be a one-sided deal. I can be quite generous to those who serve me well."
The pirate's mouth thinned. He could be on the verge of gaining the one thing he needed, before he could enact his escape plan. But he must maneuver carefully- everything depended on Beckett's perceiving the idea as (at least partially) his own.
Jack turned his head a bit, beads clacking against the metal ring, giving the EITC man a sideways glance. Suggesting he'd like to believe him.
Beckett smiled- it was an easy matter, to convince people of what they wanted to be true. "Is it really so difficult to believe I can be kind, Jack?" The prisoner appeared uncertain. "Perhaps I could provide a demonstration. Is there anything you'd like me to do for you, here and now?"
/ A chance! / With feigned hesitancy, Jack's hand crept up to the hard band encircling his neck. "I would be appreciative if you'd take this thing off me. It's bloody uncomfortable, an' theer's absolutely no need fer it inside o' this cell."
Cutler looked thoughtful. A small bargain could be a step towards gaining the larger prize. And, he was tired of denying himself entirely.
"I will do that, if, in return, you'll allow me an inspection." At Jack's alarmed stare, Beckett reassured, "Nothing overly intrusive- I only want to take a close look at you. Cooperate, and I'll have the guards remove those chains. You have my word." In a lower voice he added, "Or, you can keep them on. Quid pro quo, Jack. You already know that's how the world works."
Part of Jack's mind rejoiced at his success, while another cringed at the price he'd have to pay. / But it's less than 'e could've demanded. You never expected ta get out of here completely untouched, did you? Just close your eyes an' pretend it's a bad dream. / He wavered a moment, averting his eyes, before giving a single sharp nod.
"Are you agreeing to my proposal?"
"We have an accord. You'll understand why I don't offer ta shake on it." Jack lifted his arms the short distance allowed by his bindings.
Beckett stepped back from the bars, giving a hand signal to the two nearest guards. Knowing the procedure, one positioned himself outside, pistol drawn. The other unlocked the door, grasped the inmate's arm, escorted him to the widest portion of the cell. Beckett grinned in predatory anticipation, as he removed his jacket and hung it from a hook in the corridor. Rolling up his shirt sleeves, he entered the cell.
The guard's two beefy fists were firmly clamped on the links closest to the prisoner's wrists. Jack stood tense, head half-bowed- not the very picture of submission, but probably the best Beckett could expect, at this stage.
"Don't move." Beckett parted the thick curtain of hair and pushed it forward, gaining an unobstructed view of Jack's back. Lean, honey-dark, lash-crossed. He set his hands on the narrow shoulders and started down, feeling the other's vague shudder. Less sternly, Beckett added, "I've no intention of hurting you. This is just to slake my curiosity."
Mindful of that earlier blush, and knowing that effective taming was a gradual process, Beckett started conducting the type of examination he might give to a potential livestock purchase. Checking the circumferences of limbs and torso, probing muscle and sinew, inspecting the facial features. Stroking that impressive mane, that fine jaw and throat. Fingering the many interesting marks on the skin- Mercer's were fresh, most were far older. Chronicles of an uncommonly eventful life.
The guard moved aside, or turned his charge as indicated, but never relinquished his hold. Jack kept his eyes shut the whole while- occasionally he flinched, or caught his breath, but controlled the urge to squirm away. He came close to doing so towards the end, when, allowing himself a purely sensual indulgence, his captor leaned close against his back, hands wandering leisurely over Jack's chest and sides.
Beckett brushed dredlocks aside from one ear, spoke gently. "My clerk is scheduled to have another session with you, in about four hours. I suggest you spend the time considering whose touch is really more objectionable; Mercer's or mine." His lips brushed the earlobe. "Let one of the guards know when you're ready to speak with me."
With some reluctance, he let go and stepped from the cell. "Remove his chains." Cutler heard the metallic clanks, as he set about putting his jacket back on. By the time he turned, the guard had re-locked the door and was hanging the neck band on a vacant peg.
Beckett took a last appreciative look at the man in the cell. Jack stood, leaning slightly backwards, both hands moving on the nape of his neck. Arms gracefully flexed, eyelids half-lowered, lips curved in a small, relieved smile.
To his captor's eye, the pirate had never looked quite so beautiful.
Beckett returned to his office, his expectations high. But after three hours of uninterrupted paperwork he wondered if Jack was delaying just to be dramatic, or was genuinely reckless.
Well into the fourth hour, a third possibility suddenly occurred to him.
So minutes later, when an agitated Mercer burst in, Beckett was not utterly surprised at the news. He listened, glowering, to his underling's account- Jack had somehow picked the lock, knocked out a guard & taken his uniform, and was now nowhere to be found. It was possible he'd gotten out of the fortress by way of the drainage system. Once outside, in the residential area, it would be easy for the fugitive to steal a change of clothes- he could be disguised as anything by now.
Mercer concluded his report with a recommendation that they post a watch on all the docks, to inspect outgoing cargo and passengers. Beckett issued the order, though with no real hope of results. Once out of actual sight Jack Sparrow could be as damned elusive as his avian namesake.
As Mercer left, Beckett stalked to his window to glare at the ocean view. Once again, that despicable, maddening, lovely Wild Beast was somewhere out there. Recalling his last glimpse of the pirate's face, Beckett bristled, understanding the meaning of that satisfied smirk. His only consolation was his gut certainty that someday, somewhere, he'd have Jack in his power again.
Beckett sullenly scanned the tumbled clouds along the horizon. "Enjoy your freedom while you can, Sparrow. This world is shrinking- it's only a matter of time before I catch up with you..."
His voice trailed off as he spotted something. One of those clouds did not look like a cloud. By some odd chance, the wind currents had sculpted it into a shape remarkably similar to a rearing horse.
Beckett blinked, but the shape remained. One he supposed he'd always remember. He noticed another detail, above the phantom animal's back; a long trailing streamer, suggesting a broken tether line...
A few miles out to sea, safely ensconced in a partly-canvased longboat aboard the frigate Finlandia, Jack Sparrow smiled as he contemplated that same singular image. A proud untamed creature, sporting a long matted mane and laughing dark eye, racing along the horizon.
Jack would never forget that sight, either.