It was a sight that never ceased to rouse the deepest fear in him, pirate though he may be. Regardless of how many times he flouted death with a glittering smile, to dance away with a swirl of his hat and sword.
Jack had always fought the urge to vomit or piss himself when his eyes fell upon the gallow's cross beam.
He wondered, rather wryly, if it was part of Norrington's sadism to place him right in full view of the grisly noose and its platform below. He had expected no more and or less, pirate that he was. He just ferverently wished it wasn't by rope. Better a death met on the water, by bullet, or tide. Not hanging helpless and strangling to the gawking crowd. Not that dying snarl of instinctive fight for the breath that would never come again. If mercy were to grace him, the best he could hope for was what was crudely referred to as a "short drop and a sudden stop." Better his neck snap instantly and end his suffering that much sooner than drowning in the air. It made him shudder anew.
His ending, he knew, was inevitable. He had seen unnatural immortality in all its decayed grace upon the faces of dead comrads, men he had sailed with, fought and swore, and drank with. Jack had seen unnatural ressurection, too, in all its rotted, corrupted glory in the tattered remnants of bone and skin when Barbossa had appeared in the moonlight. Were he given the choice, he would have taken the coward's way of a shot to the temple by his own gun. It held far more freedom that the sickening parody of life awry that each of Barbossa's men had clung to. Sold themselves, body, honor and soul, in a last, stupid attempt to stall what could never be altered. It was to no avail, Sparrow knew. Once the curse had lifted, they had snarled and died at the end of the noose like any other of their mortal kin.
And, now, in the crawling hours before his demise, he swallowed, wished for rum to stave away the knowledge that he would soon be joining them. Drumming his fingers against the cold bricks at his back, he considered the straw strown about the stone floor of his cell. There was hardly enough worth bothering to scoop up and arrange into some semblance of comfort for sleep. Wearily, he raised the shackles at his wrists, that wept blood from cutting into his skin, before letting them flop back to the ground with a loud clink. There wasn't any bloody way to sleep with shackles, even if he were permitted a cloud of heaven to doze on. With a sigh, Jack watched the bloody shades of sky turn from black to scarlet as dawn rose over the still city, and the sun dribbled gold over the water. His beloved Pearl was nowhere in sight, and for that, he was grateful. At least his crew had a chance.
It was the sounds of footsteps, guns being shouldered on unbending shoulders, as the long line of red coats streamed down the dark stairwell and arranged themselves in an orderly row in front of his cell. Jack met their glares with a dazzling smile of gold and silver teeth,as he tipped his hat in mocking salute.
"And to what do I owe the honor of the King's finest coming down here to visit a scurvy, pock-ridden pirate?"
His dark brow curling in confusion, he rose with grace, sliding chains and straw away from his tattered clothes, swept his hat off in a courtly bow. His mocking grin abruptly fell away when he saw Norrington striding forward with his mouth in a stern, proper scowl, and his arms formally tucked behind his back. Norrington was dressed in the finest of brocade and gold, wig powdered snow-white, pristine stockings nearly blinding, and his eyes cold and unrevealing. He halted abruptly before the prison bars, and regarded Sparrow with scathing indifference. Casting a commanding glance over his shoulder, he gave the regal and chilled order, of "Dismissed!" And, like the well-trained dogs they were, they obeyed the orders without question, and quietly strode away in one neat, orderly line.
Jack backed away, warily, the rude clink of chains only emphazising just how helpless he truly was, and at whose horrific mercy he was now at.
"Commodore. To what do I owe the not so pleasureable honor of your travails among the rabble?"
Norrington raised eyes the color of sea ice to peer down at Jack, revealing nothing of his thoughts, before he allowed his gaze to shift to the window.
"It is my not so pleasurable duty to inform you, Sparrow, that your appointment with the gallows will be at noon sharp."
Jack's mouth fell open, and shut just as sharply, the tremor rattling his chains as he swallowed hard, fought for the words.
" 'S a bit soon, mate. Bloody hell, that's...so bloody soon." His voice was so soft, as he raised burning eyes to Norrington. Norrington looked away, unable to hold that gaze so full of storms, and pain.
Somehow, the frigid chill of Norrington yielded to display a rare flash of humanity, as he sighed, bitterly.
"Normally, I don't trouble myself with informing prisoners of the Crown when they'll meet their demise, Sparrow. But, this is a death you do not deserve, and it is nothing less than a travesty. Permit me, if you will, a small act of mercy."
Norrington permitted himself the allowance of a very sharklike smirk as he slid the bottle of rum between the bars and into the disbelieving fingers of the pirate. Jack stared at the cold bottle, eyes sliding warily to Norrington and then back at the bottle. With a cynical, calculating glare at Norrington, he worked golden teeth around the cork, pulled it free from the bottle with an audible pop, and spat it out.
Wrinkling his nose cautiously, he sniffed the liquid, and a radiant smile broke forth as he hefted it high. It was every bit the most blessed manna from heaven his beloved rum was supposed to be.
Norrington permitted himself another small smirk as Jack promptly drained the bottle, throat throbbing as he gulped it down with an ease that left Norrington disgusted and awed. Sparrow must have had a head of iron and a stomach of steel to down that much rum and not be absolutely unconscious at that rate.
"Thanks, Mate. You have no idea how much I need it now. I just hope ye didn't do anything bequeathing of a betrayal and poisoned it."
Norrington chuckled, shook his head. "Believe me, Sparrow. If I wanted your demise, I would have simply shot you. There's not much sport in shooting a pirate who is encased in chains and hopelessly drunk."
Jack shrugged, sadly. "True, mate. All, too true...IF there were such a thing as being hopelessly drunk. Drunk on hope, or hopeless without being drunk are states we all fall in. Or even drinking in the hopes of getting drunk so that one may escape being hopeless, eh? But there's even less sport in stringing up a man by a rope and snapping his neck as a lesson to the masses." Jack's dark eyes drifted to the shadow of the gallows, and one hand unwillingly caressed his neck.
Norrington flinched, allowed some of the iron veneer to reveal the turmoil and the toll of duty.
"There is no lesson to be learned in the dying, Mr. Sparrow, as there is no chance of your choosing any path besides that of a pirate, and therefore, a law-breaker. You have had several chances to save yourself from this fate, Jack. And you took none of them."
Norrington's voice was harsh with rancor as he raised those icy, condemning eyes to face Jack. "I derive no pleasure from your demise, Mr.Sparrow. But I would know why you refused to turn away and live while you still had the chance."
The look of brutalized futility was fleeting as Jack mastered with a cocky grin and a graceful sway. "And what the bloody hell makes you think that being caged by land and law is living, Commodore? It's naught but a slow death when you're imprisoned, once you've tasted the freedom of the water and the wind. 'Twould be a pitiful trade...m'e freedom and life for a few useless years of boredom and rot. I'm most flattered, though, that you're not pleased with my hanging. But, if it eases your guilt, mayhaps it would help to remember that I consider this the price I pay for that freedom. And, mate, it's bloody worth it."
Norrington sighed, sadly, as he extended a hand through the bars. Jack eyed it, suspiciously, but then clasped it and shook it with a firm grip.
"Pirate though you may be,I wish it were not this way...Captain Sparrow." Norrington smirked to see Jack's eyes bulge at Norrington's use of his title. It was an honor that was given to a worthy opponent, not a condemned prisoner. Jack smirked, and dofted his hat in a grand salute.
"All the best to you, Commodore Norrington."
Norrington rose to his full height, his prim and proper posture fully restored and his stockings still gleaming white despite the filth around him. "I will see to it that you recieve another bottle of rum before...noon"
Norrington announced, not turning around, though Jack saw the flinch across his spine as he marched away.
Jack's dark eyes lingered after his parting shadow with a wry grin. "Aye. Truly, Commodore, you are one of the King's finest."
It was the silken shuffle of small feet, as well as the rising sharp demand of the feminine voice in contrast to the aquinesing muttering of the guards. Jack shifted in his shackles, and watched curiously when he heard the footsteps coming down the dark corridor. To Jack's suprise, Elizabeth glided forward, lifting her skirts to prevent the muck from staining the satin. When she saw him, the prim and proper lady-like mask abruptly shattered with her cry of "Jack!" as she flew forward, arms outstretched towards the bars.
Jack met her with a welcoming grin, as he swept himself into a lordly, mocking bow, his dark eyes sparkling with mirth and gratitude. She hadn't forgotten him, after all.
"M' lady, Lizabeth. What, pray tell, brings you down here to lighten and brighten the otherwise rather drab walls of the prison cell, lass?" The words were spoken with his usual warm cadence, as Elizabeth siddled up to the bars uncertainly. Jack's eyes had gone storm dark and narrowed, and though the bars seperated them, she felt her heart break. Jack winced at the shining threat of her tears. He'd rather face the lash of her tongue and stinging slaps than the broken, surrendering sobs. It would be far less painful.
"Now, now, Lizzy. Tis no need for that." With a crooked grin, he tore off a bit of the ragged sash about his waste, bowed with a flourish and presented it to her. "'M bloody sorry. They don't exactly provide me with the finest silk for a lady's delicate tears down here."
Elizabeth raised her eyes to his, brimming with so much pain that she squelched with a visible shudder.
With a haunty huff, and a feminine shiver of her various lacy garments, Elizabeth raised her head, and with all the chilled, regal veneer of a well-bred lady, dismissed the guards with a very unlady-like snarl. Obediently, they bowed, and left.
With a long look behind her, Elizabeth's gaze lingered at their shadows, as she gripped her hands into neat little fists beneith the lace gloves before she turned back to Jack. Jack's wary scowl wavered and gave way to a frown of concern. "Jack." It was a sob.
"Lizabeth?" Her name was softly spoken, as Jack stood uncertainly, inches from her, the bars making hideous shadows across his sun-bronzed face. "Lass. Why the weeping? Surely it's not just my hansome face and winsome ways have finally won ye over?"
Elizabeth managed a broken smile as she crinkled her nose in mocking distain. With a small flourish, she raised the hand to reveal the small diamond glittering like a star on the delicate band of gold. "I think not,
Jack. Will asked me to marry him, and I...aquinessed to his request."
Jack smirked at the warm glow in her smile as she mentioned her beloved's name. "So, I lost me chance at ye. No matter. I wish ye both the best, lass. Hopefully, he won't be a eunach after all, hmmm?" He waggled his eyebrows, and winced as Elizabeth slapped him aside the cheek.
Elizabeth stared at him, torn between the burbling laughter and the impulse to wail at the unfairness of it all.
"I came here, Jack, to give you something that might save you. For Will, and for me. Neither one of us can stand the thought of you...just..." She stopped, too stricken to continue.
Jack only folded his arms, wearily, and finished for her, "Being strung up by me neck until it snaps? I don't exactly favor that meself, darling. And what makes you think that you can save me?"
With that mysterious, promising smile, Elizabeth dug slender fingers into the ankle of her silken shoe, and held her hand out to Jack.
He recoiled in sickened horror to see the glittering malice of the Aztec gold that she cupped in her hand, as if it were the first fruit in the hand of Eve.
Panting, he staggered away, waving his hand in anguished dismissal. Dismayed, Elizabeth's smile crumbled as she held the coin in shock.
"Jack? What is it? This can save you!" Her shrill plea was rapidly yielding to a hysterical wailing as Jack paled beneath the bronze tan, and shut his eyes for a long, tortured moment.
Despite the heat, he felt the memories slice like a blade of ice through his heart. Flesh yielding to empty gaping holes. Barbossa's perverse grin of rotting teeth and tatters of the human he once was mockingly holding the blade over his still beating heart. And the horrible, horrible dying as that blade slid into his chest, and he tried to scream, but could not force the breath from his paralyzed lungs...the sickening sound of his guts being run through, and his own flesh failing in the naked moon light.
He heard Elizabeth's gasp, saw her pale face, and forced himself to cast aside the fear. No, better the teasing smile and the mocking playfulness than her being forced to see his dark, chilled anguish. He felt his lips curve, the teeth flashing.
Jack groaned in empathy, gave her a theatrical roll of his eyes and shook his head. " 'Snot...right. Lass, I admire and appreciate the gesture...and the hand that offers it," he purred into her fingers as he raised her hand to grace the knuckles with a suprisingly chaste kiss. "I don't want the damn thing. And I would feel much better if you threw it to the depths so that it finally dies and lets the dead rest."
Elizabeth faltered in anguish, confused at the rejection of Jack's salvation, worked her mind to plead.
Jack had already waved it down with a resolute shaking of his head, and a sorrowful glance.
"Bloody hell, 'Lizabeth! Do ye not recall the ironic complication of the fact that we've already seen how unpleasant being undead can be? Barbossa be cursed,but even I pity his fate! Understand this..Elizabeth. Tis far better for me to die once and be done with it than linger as some haunted phantom on the shores that no man was ever meant to sail. Trust me, lass. I've been...unliving, one of the living dead,whatever the bloody hell you'd call it. And it's not an existance that I'd ever, ever want to experience again. Not for all the water in the ocean, or all the treasure of the deep."
Elizabeth nodded with bitter understanding. "I didn't think that you would take it. And I give you my word that it will be flung into the depths as deep as you wish." Sadly, she slid the coin back into her boot, with a small sniff. She startled in suprise when Jack mockingly waved another piece of his sash towards her.
Jack grinned once more, with a shake of his head. "Tis only a sash, love. As I said, they don't exactly calculate the creature comforts in the construction of these most lush accomodations."
"It's not fair, Jack! Will and I tried, so hard to have this decision reversed! Even Norrington wrote to the King to plead your case, and Father threatened to step down from his post, before he has to enforce the order to execute you. But, it wasn't enough, Jack. I'm sorry." She whispered, brokenly, lips trembling, and eyes fiery with untold grief for her friend.
Jack reached for her, cupped her cheek in a scarred hand, the brand and the shackles catching the light as he nudged away a tear with his thumb.
"Love. 'S going to be alright. Now, stop the weeping, for me, please? I hate seeing ye cry. Better a slap and a snarl on ye. 'Smore fitting."
Elizabeth couldn't help the small snicker that burbled up, or Jack's warm grin of triumph.
"Bloody pirate." She murmured, softly.
Jack smirked. "Rum-burning wench!"