Alone in his cabin, blessedly free from distractions for the moment, Jack leaned back in his chair and rested his feet on the desk. Pulling the cork from the one bottle of rum that remained on the desk, he took a swig and sighed.
It had been a hard couple weeks. The attack on the navy ship that had been doggedly pursuing the Pearl since they left Tortuga had left the entire ship drained of energy and wallowing in a sort of drunken stupor. They had defeated it, sent it to the depths of the Locker, but their mast had been taken down in the process and they had lost several good men to the Navy ship's cannons.
A hard time indeed...
They had been stranded in the middle of the sea, forced to ride the slight waves to where ever they took them, while his men set about repairing the ship and making her seaworthy again. Too far from land to take a longboat in, they had been forced to endure each other's company with little more to do besides drink rum and swap stories.
Jack, ever the morale leader, had retreated to his cabin to escape. There was only so much he could do to keep his crew's outlook on the situation upbeat. As their moods soured, so did his, and finally he followed the call of rum to his cabin.
A knock at his door made him cringe inwardly and he sighed at the sound. He wanted nothing more than to crawl into his bed on the other side of the curtains and ignore the pounding at the door. He knew the knock however, the particular rhythm ingrained into his mind from years of sailing with the man.
"Enter, Mr. Gibbs!" he called out. Gibbs did as he asked, a befuddled look on his face. The older man had long since given up asking how Jack knew it was he knocking at his door.
"The mast is fixed. We're ready to set sail. We just need a headin', sir."
Jack stood, the movement quick, almost cat-like in his strange sort of grace. Grasping his hat, he shooed Gibbs backward, ready to take over and get the ship moving again.
Gibbs stood his ground and Jack finally noticed the way he stood, awkwardly holding something in his hands.
"What is that?" Jack asked, making a grab for it but missing it completely as Gibbs stepped back slightly.
"Well, that's the thing, sir. This letter. It be fer you, ya see." He paused and Jack held out his hand.
"Where might this letter have come from, Mr. Gibbs? We have been out of port for weeks and I have heard nothing of any letters or missives directed to the captain of this very fine vessel." He arched an eyebrow.
"The Navy ship, sir."
"It seems their duty was actually not to send us to the depths. This letter. They was to deliver this letter. The captain of the ship...well, he handed this over to one of our men after he was run through. Passed it along to young Robert before he died." The lad handled a sword well, despite his age. He almost reminded Jack of...well, of someone else he preferred not to think on anymore, someone who had been banished to somewhere deep in the back of his mind.
"Well, hand it over. I don't know what you're so hesitant for." Jack growled the words and snatched the letter from Gibbs when the man proffered it.
Gibbs watched as he read it. He had read it himself countless times since Robert had given it to him. He had yet to make sense of it. The words were English, but the language was jumbled and the letter mentioned places Gibbs had not heard of. The only thing he knew for certain was that the writer of the letter sounded, well, not desperate, but very very certain of what he wanted.
As Jack read the letter, Gibbs watched his face first brighten in surprise and then suddenly darken. He reached to his waistband and pulled out his compass, a motion Gibbs was most familiar with over the years. Jack glanced down at it, his face twisting into a momentary grimace. The look was so fleeting that Gibbs wasn't quite sure he had seen it.
And then Jack was in motion, arms flailing as he rushed by Gibbs, still holding onto the letter. He stepped to the helm and took one more look at the letter before shoving it into some mysterious place on his person.
As he shouted orders at the crew, Gibbs stood nearby. It was the most animated Gibbs had seen the captain in years. "Where are we headed, sir?"
Jack pointed. "That way, Mr. Gibbs." He reached out to caress the helm, staring off into the direction he had just pointed.
"And what be that way?" Gibbs was testing the waters a bit. Jack knew what he was after, knew he was trying to find out what it was they were after now.
"That way is an island."
Gibbs rolled his eyes. "And what might be on that island? Treasure, perhaps?"
Jack turned to look at him then and Gibbs was slightly taken aback by the strange light in his eyes. "Aye, indeed Mr. Gibbs. The greatest treasure known to man."
When they arrived at the island, Gibbs realized it looked familiar, but he couldn't quite place it. It didn't seem to have any sort of real port. In fact, it didn't even seem to have any sort of civilization at all.
Jack whipped out his compass, checked it one last time. "Aye. Here, Mr. Gibbs." He turned away from the older man and shouted to his crew. "Lower the longboat!" The crew rushed to do his bidding.
"And what might we be looking here for, Cap'n?"
Jack leveled his gaze on Gibbs. "We are not looking for anything. I am going alone and, with luck, I will be finding something I lost long ago."
With those enigmatic words, he turned and lowered himself into the longboat.
The letter had contained very explicit directions, but left Jack somewhat in the dark as to what exactly he would find. By the time they had come to the island, a place he had been twice before, each time with different results, the sun was starting to go down. The Pearl had been instructed to remain for as long as Jack was on the island.
He didn't smell a trap, but Gibbs was going to follow him to the island in approximately 24 hours if he didn't return.
That gave him 24 hours to figure out what was going on, 24 hours to figure out exactly what the letter meant.
He hoped it would take less time.
Less talk, more action…
He wasn't the type of man who liked to discuss things. He acted and acted quickly, often on selfish impulse. This trip was no different. The call came and he answered it with no care for what the rest of his crew might think. They wanted treasure. He wanted whatever awaited him on this island.
The longboat ran aground and Jack jumped lightly out, landing in just a few inches of water. He pulled the boat up onto shore, tugging it far enough inland that the rising tide would not disturb it. It would be right where he left it when he returned, hopefully sooner rather than later.
As the sun dipped beneath the horizon, leaving the island bathed in moonlight, Jack set off across the beach, removing his boots and greatcoat as he did so. It still smelled the same, a mix of sun-warmed sand and sea breeze, and the tangy scent of the coconut trees that had grown up near where the original copse of trees had been.
He smiled at that memory.
He walked quickly, digging bare toes into the sand as he trudged across the beach. He could feel the pull even stronger now and he reached into one of his many pockets and fingered the letter, felt its wrinkled surface against his weathered hands.
The fire was up ahead, just where he expected it to be. It was the same place as before, situated a good distance from the shoreline, yet not without its view of the inky black water and the amazing sky hanging over the horizon. Jack loved being in port, being surrounded by the sounds and smells of Tortuga, relished the bright lights of the port town. But whenever he was there he found himself impatient to be out to sea, to find himself beneath a sky full of stars, enjoying the peacefulness of the sea lapping against the sides of the Pearl.
It was freedom.
The last time he had been here, he had had his freedom taken away and yet managed to find a sort of unexpected release despite it all. A pistol. One shot. He hadn't needed it.
He wouldn't need it this time either.
Stepping closer to the fire, he saw the other person silhouetted in its light. The thin figure held something up, resting against one narrow shoulder. He smiled.
"Are ya goin' to hit me with that, love?" The words came easily, even after all this time.
"Jack," the other person breathed. "You came." He could hear the smile in her voice. She set the shovel down and he noted the mound of sand at her feet, raised slightly higher and still a bit damp from her digging it up.
"The chest?" He waved a hand to indicate the mound of sand.
She nodded. He stepped further into the circle of light. Her face was still in shadow, the light of the ever-moving fire not quite reaching the darkness that surrounded her.
She was different. Something about the set of her shoulders, the way she stood in the sand, one leg straight, the other balancing her out to the side. No longer the delicate maiden. She was grown, self-assured.
"The letter?" He pulled it out of his pocket as he spoke, thrust it out at her.
She reached out to take it and before she had a chance to place her fingers on it, Jack grasped her hand in his, felt the fingers, the palms, raised his eyes up to her shadowed ones in acknowledgement of the truth. No longer the pampered governor's daughter was this one. Her hands were roughened, evidence of a hard life. Calluses on her palms were positive proof that she was not living in Port Royal surrounded by her upper class brethren.
She pulled her hand away from his, the motion almost violent in its suddenness.
He smiled, a feral, wolf-like look.
She stepped back and clutched the letter to her chest. The letter. She looked down at it.
"Why, Elizabeth? Why did you summon me here?" His words were fervent, strangely heated. He suddenly shifted, moving around her, coming to stand with his back to the fire, forcing her to move to where he had been. Her face suddenly came into focus, the light of the fire hitting it for the first time.
Her eyes were dark in the flickering light, eyebrows arched over them. There were more lines on her face, just a few here and there that attested to her maturity. He reached out a finger and traced the line near the edge of her mouth. She hadn't been smiling much in recent times.
To her credit, she didn't jerk away from him again. Large haunted eyes met his. "The letter says it all." She looked away. His hand, still near her mouth snaked underneath her chin and pulled her face back up toward his.
He shook his head. "That letter said little." Curiosity reigns…the Island…I'll be waiting…
"But you came. You understood." Her voice was amazingly calm.
"I understood enough, love. I knew you were here. I knew you were waiting for me to come…"
"Isn't that enough?"
He dropped his hand from her chin, stepped back, held his arms out to his side. "Would it be for you?" She looked away. "I pulled the Pearl away from her course, made my crew come all the way here…"
"The Pearl? She's here?" She reached out a hand and grasped one of Jack's, her eager eyes meeting his. They shone with a strange light.
"She's in the harbor." He pulled his hand away from hers, pleased to feel her squeeze his harder in an attempt to retain the connection. "You haven't answered my question…Lizzie." He threw the name out at her, a sort of reminder of where they had been once, long ago.
She flinched and looked away once more. "I've been living at Shipwreck Cove, trying to play at being overseer of pirates. I read the Code, memorized most of it. I helped on ships for short trips away from the Cove. But I never really left." The honesty behind her words shone through despite the flat tone. "I lived in a small cottage overlooking the sea, falling asleep alone, waking up alone, always with the chest nearby. It was the first thing I saw in the morning and the last thing I saw at night. At first, I could hear the heartbeat when all was still and quiet in my cottage. It soothed me and made me feel connected to Will. But then it silenced…"
Jack had a sense these were the most words she had spoken at once since they last parted. He opened his mouth to speak, but her words interrupted anything he might get to say.
"Don't speak Jack." His eyebrows shot up. "I need to finish this." He held up his hands in surrender, a silent gesture to allow her to continue. "The heart is still beating…"
"Thump thump," Jack said quietly, remembering the first time they all heard Davy Jones' heart beat within the walls of the chest.
She continued, ignoring his soft words. "But I stopped hearing it unless I put my ear close to it and concentrated. I started feeling restless. Not for Will. I was restless for the sea." The words were quiet and sad.
"I'm sorry." He spoke quietly, reached out a hand and squeezed her shoulder briefly.
She shook her head. "Don't…" She pushed his hand away. "I needed to leave." She waved a hand in front of her face, looking every bit as agitated as she no doubt felt. The words seemed to pain her and Jack wasn't entirely sure if the pain had to do with Will…or with something else. Finally, after a long pause, she continued. "I needed you." She leveled her eyes on him at last, unflinchingly honest.
He reached out a hand toward her and suddenly found a rum bottle in it.
"Rum, Jack?" There was humour in her voice. It surprised him.
"The rum's not gone." An equal amount of humour had entered his voice.
She fell down on the sand suddenly, landing lightly on her behind. Wrapping her hands around her knees she looked up at Jack. He shrugged and sat down next to her.
Memories…so many memories.
He raised his rum bottle. "To freedom."
Elizabeth smiled and raised the rum bottle he didn't know she had as well. "To theBlack Pearl."
Echoes of times long past. Two people who had changed, grown, outlooks on life shifting and altering in some way. She curious, he a good man. Peas in a pod as Jack had always said.
For a time, silence between the pair reigned. The lapping of waves against the shore was the only sound that reached them. Both sat facing the sea as they did long ago. Both were lost in their own thoughts. After a time, Jack spoke. "Are you returning to the Pearl with me?" It was as close to an admittance of what the compass pointed to as he could get.
"Do you want me to?" Despite her earlier confident stance, she still showed signs of her somewhat innocent nature. Jack was glad to note that hadn't changed entirely. Pirate she might be, but a part of her would always be the governor's daughter, raised in a life of privilege.
He countered her question with another question. "You don't want your own ship,captain?"
She looked suitably surprised at that. "I hadn't thought of that," she mused.
Jack's eyebrows shot up. He had spoken without thinking. He didn't think she would consider it. She looked at him out of the corner of her eyes, a grin upon her face.
"No. I don't want my own ship. Captain I might be. Pirate King I might be. But I know the reality of a life upon the high seas."
Jack leaned over toward her, his voice a whisper. "Even I was mutinied upon." He spoke as if she hadn't heard that fact about him.
"I know that Jack." The grin opened up into a smile and she leaned back, lying down in the warm sand.
Jack leaned back, rolled over onto his side, using his hand to support his head as he stretched out alongside Elizabeth. He reached his free hand out and brushed her hair back from her face. She closed her eyes briefly, allowing the light caress.
"It must be awful for you, Elizabeth…being stranded here…" She had been trapped for far too long. She had finally come to realize that waiting on Shipwreck Cove for her entire life, spending one day every ten years with Will, was as unfair to her as it was to Will. She was wasting away, a pirate living on land, anxious for the sea, for the feel of a rolling deck beneath her feet.
"Here is where I belong." She rolled to her side, mirrored Jack's position. "I want to return to the Pearl with you."
She inched closer to him and he remembered words from long ago…I'm not entirely sure that I've had enough rum to allow that kind of talk…She had no rum in her now, save a sip or two from the bottle resting in the curve of her stomach.
"I know, Jack." She moved suddenly, launching herself up on her hands and knees, her lips coming close to Jack's. His eyes met hers, the question obvious. The last time she tried to kiss him, he had backed off, the memory of their first kiss far too strong in his mind still. "Curiosity reigns," she whispered and brought her lips to his, kissing him softly. It was just a brush of lips against his, quiet, sweet.
"So it's back to the Pearl with us, is it?"
"For how long?" It was unlike Jack to request any sort of commitment. In his entire life, the only thing he had ever committed to in his entire life was the Pearl.
"For as long as we want it?" Elizabeth, the woman who had been "so ready to be married," seemed to be gone. Jack stood, offering a hand to the surprising woman at his side. She took it without comment standing up next to him.
"For as long as we want it," he agreed.
No more words were needed. In unison, the two turned away from the fire, setting out across the beach. Elizabeth, walking slightly behind Jack, stopped for a moment and turned back to the fire. She rushed back while Jack looked on, confused.
When she returned to him, she held the rum bottle up. Jack smirked, turned away from her and set back out toward the Pearl. As she caught up to him, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, pulled her closer to him. "That's my girl, Lizzie. The rum must never be gone."
A/N: Please review if you get a chance!!