"Greetings, Mr. Mercer," said Captain Jack Sparrow, grinning just a bit too widely at Beckett's henchman. "Lovely evening, innit?"
Mercer brushed himself off, wiping his face with the back of his sleeve. "What's the meaning of this?" he asked.
Jack sighed theatrically, glancing over his shoulder at his first mate – Barbossa, Mercer remembered, one of the most notorious pirates on the high seas. Jack had acquired quite the crew, it seemed. "See? What'd I tell you? Not a bit of gratitude at all. You save a Company man's life, and all you get is irritation and questions for your trouble."
"Mercer, who is this man?" Ancelote asked, her fingers tight around her pistol. She glared suspiciously at Jack as he turned to look at her.
Jack gave a low whistle. "Why, hello there, miss," he said, approaching. She lifted the pistol to his head, and Jack stopped. "Firecracker, is she?" he said. "I like 'em homicidal."
"There's no point in aimin' that at our captain, missy," Barbossa called. "We know ye've got no shot in there."
Ancelote reluctantly lowered the pistol, still glaring.
"I'd watch your back anyway, Captain," Mercer advised. "I suspect this one can kill you without weapons."
"Weapons!" exclaimed Savage from behind them. "Weapons! I'm missing mine! Weapons!" And with that, he passed out.
Mercer sighed, and wished that he were back in London with a full escort of Black Coats behind him.
Jack wrinkled his nose at Savage. "I think your backup's down for the count," he observed.
"He's not always this useless," Ancelote said. "He would have shot you all by now if he was himself."
"You mean not staggeringly drunk?" Jack had approached Savage by now and knelt to smell him. "Phew. Smells of it, too."
"A terrible time to be drinking yerself silly, wouldn't ye say, Mister Mercer?" Barbossa said with an unkind smile.
Jack stood up and pointed a finger at Barbossa. "It is never a bad time to drink oneself silly," he said. "Rum is always good. Right men?"
"Wonderful," Ancelote snarled to Mercer. "We've been saved by a filthy lot of drunken pirates."
"I'm curious about that," Mercer said, his hand still on his pistol. It needed to be reloaded, but if he had to he could use it as a club; and anyway he had a few other weapons handy. He always did. "Why would Beckett's worst enemy want to rescue us? And how did he know we were here?"
"Worst enemy?" Jack repeated. "I'm flattered, mate! Didn't know the little man held me in such high esteem."
"He does after what happened to Victoria," Mercer said, eyes narrowing. "Something you were party to, Sparrow."
Sparrow's eyes clouded. "I didn't know what he was going to do," he said. "And by the time I returned it was too late."
"A likely story," Mercer sneered.
"That's the truth," Jack said flatly. "I always speak the truth."
His crew shuffled and snickered behind him. Barbossa raised both brows in disbelief.
"All right, I mostly speak the truth," Sparrow sighed. He looked at his crew. They still didn't seem to believe him. "A quarter of the time?" he proposed.
They looked at one another, shrugged, and decided to accept that measurement. It was the most accurate they would get.
"There," Jack said, turning back to his prisoners. "A quarter of the time. That's not bad compared to your master, eh?"
Mercer snorted, but didn't reply. "So why the rescue, Sparrow?" he asked.
"I don't suppose the thought that I wanted to make amends crossed your mind?" Jack said, holding out his arms as though to embrace the two conscious Company crewmembers.
Ancelote looked to Mercer. Mercer just laughed.
"I'm entirely sincere," Jack said, looking wounded. "I thought, 'Rumor has it one Mister Mercer's in the area; maybe I ought to go apologize for what happened to the short one's beloved and explain how it wasn't my fault and all that.' So here we are, all jolly good friends, ready to make amends. Yes?"
"No," Mercer said flatly. "Your show of contriteness is deeply moving, but I'm afraid we have more pressing matters to attend to. If you really want to apologize, you ought to go to London and visit Beckett. Now, if you'll excuse us." He turned, preparing to lift Savage off the ground and drag him to the harbor. Or perhaps just shoot him. It might be easier without him.
He stopped when he heard the cocking of multiple pistols behind his head. "Well, see, it's not quite that simple," Jack said.
Mercer sighed and turned. Ancelote had a hand at her belt – probably where she stored a knife. "I assumed it wouldn't be," he said wearily. "Let me guess: you want to show your gratitude and friendliness onboard your ship?"
"Precisely!" Jack said. "So if you'll just walk this way, we'd all be much obliged."
"I'm sure," Mercer growled, stalking through the middle of the group. He was gratified when all of them moved aside for him, eyeing him nervously. All except for Barbossa, that is.
"Where yeh goin', Mister Mercer?" he asked, grabbing Mercer's arm in a viselike grip. "The ship be that way."
Mercer bared his teeth in a feral snarl, but did nothing else. Given the chance, he would slice Barbossa to ribbons – but he wasn't in a position to do that now. Instead, he turned and barked at the pirates, "Make sure to pick up my unconscious associate – I might need him later!"
A group of pirates dutifully moved off in Savage's direction when Jack gave them a nod. Mercer turned away again, assured now that his second-in-command would be coming. He caught a glimpse of three pirates gleefully taking hold of Ancelote, and the look of disgust on her face as they got a firm grip on her. "I'll kill you, pigs!" she spat.
"Gents, please," Jack said. "Handle the lady gently."
There were depressed murmurs of compliance, and the pirates released her, mostly. Two still hung onto her arms.
Barbossa led Mercer through the deepening dark of Bombay to the harbor, and undoubtedly the Black Pearl, Jack's pirate ship – formerly a Company ship. Another insult against Beckett. If he had had a larger crew, Mercer would have killed this whole crew and stolen it. Beckett would have loved that.
They cleared the buildings, and Mercer caught sight of the top of a ship fleeing the harbor – the Redemption. He tensed at once, staring at the sails as they hurried towards the horizon. Catie was onboard that vessel – he was certain of it. Catie, and Winslow. Kidnapped, Savage had said – taken by the pirates for Winslow's use. Mercer ground his teeth. If he had the opportunity, he would go after her at once – but no, he had nothing. No crew, and no ship. There were billowing clouds of smoke and steam hissing through the harbor, undoubtedly from the Siren. His resources were quite slim.
"What is that?" Jack asked, coughing.
"My ship," Mercer said grimly.
Barbossa patted him on the arm in mock comfort. "Today's not your lucky day, is it?" he said. "Better luck tomorrow."
"I doubt it," Mercer said faintly, staring in the general direction of the Redemption. Most of the ship was obscured by smoke, but he could still see the crow's nest and a flag. He forced himself to turn away. "I don't suppose you'll tell me what this is really about?" he said.
"As soon as we have ye aboard," Barbossa assured him. He veered to the right, turning Mercer away from the remains of the Siren. They stumbled through the smoke for a bit and finally arrived at the Pearl. Barbossa dragged Mercer aboard and shoved him in the direction of the captain's cabin. At least they would meet in style.
Barbossa opened the door to the cabin and shoved Mercer inside. To his credit, Mercer didn't stumble. He moved calmly to a chair and dropped down, getting comfortable. He thought he ought to enjoy it, as it would likely be his last chance for a long time.
Ancelote followed on Barbossa's heels, shoved inside by a short, balding, and rotund pirate and his counterpart, a tall, thin pirate with an eye patch. "So long, poppet," the round one said, and the two left snickering.
Several more pirates appeared, carrying Savage on their shoulders. They dropped him in a heap in the corner and also left after standing respectfully aside for Jack. He waltzed through the cabin and dropped into a comfortable chair across from Mercer and Ancelote, who had also sat. For a long moment, the two Company members stared in silence at the pirates. Neither party said anything to the other for at least five minutes. Granted, Savage couldn't speak, but Mercer believed his side would win the unofficial silent contest anyway. Jack Sparrow wasn't the type to keep quiet about anything.
"So," Jack said, proving Mercer correct. "To celebrate my contrition, how about some rum, eh?"
"I'd rather know what you really want," Mercer said, fingering a knife inside his coat.
"See that, Hector?" Jack said, tsking at Barbossa. "Company men – and women, o'course – all business, no fun."
"I'll celebrate when I'm free of you, Sparrow," Mercer growled.
"Ah ah," Jack said, holding up a finger. "That's captain to you, Mister Mercer."
Mercer arched a disdainful brow, but didn't address the remark. "So what is it you need?"
Jack grabbed a bottle of rum, conveniently set upon a nearby shelf, and took a swig. "You, sir," he started, pointing an unsteady finger at Mercer, "Have my compass – the one I lent to Beckett's charming bride all that time ago."
Ancelote furrowed her brows. "A compass?" she said. "Surely you have another, Captain Sparrow."
"Not like this one," Jack said. "This one's special. And it's mine. And the lending period is up, and has been up for some time. I should charge interest."
"We wouldn't pay it," Mercer said flatly, careful to keep his hand away from his coat. The compass was hidden beneath its flaps, tied to his belt. Victoria had given it to him secretly, packing it in his bags. He hadn't noticed until halfway through the ship's journey, and even after he'd found it he'd avoided using it. No need to share this mysterious gift with a man like Savage if it wasn't absolutely necessary. "What makes you think I have this compass?" Mercer asked, his face betraying nothing.
Barbossa leveled a glare at him. "Ye'd best have it," he said, "Or ye'll soon find yerself in the depths of Davy Jones' locker."
"I quiver in terror," Mercer drawled. "You haven't answered my question."
"Let's just say I did a bit o' searching," Sparrow said. "Surreptitiously."
"Mmm." Mercer looked between the two pirates. "But how can you be certain it's here with me? My ship did burn, after all."
Jack momentarily looked panicked. "Burned?" he squawked. "Burned? You burned my compass?"
"I didn't," Mercer said, holding up his hands innocently. "You can blame one of your own for that – one Tyris Burton and his pirate crew."
"Blech," Jack said, making a face. "What're they after you for then?"
"Isn't being part of the Company enough?"
"More than enough," put in Barbossa, irritated. "So what ye be tellin' us, so far as I can tell, is that ye have no compass and thus no bargaining chip, which gives us the right to kill ye."
Mercer held up a finger. "I never said the compass burned."
Jack and Barbossa exchanged a glance. "Then where is it?" Barbossa asked.
"Now, why would I tell you where it was, knowing, as I do, that you intend to kill me once I do?" Mercer asked. Ancelote nodded in approval. "If you want to know, I expect our lives to be spared, and a favor done for me."
"Ridiculous," Barbossa snorted. "We make no bargains with Company men!"
Jack stroked his beard. "What sort of favor?" he asked.
Barbossa turned to stare at his captain. "Ye can't be serious," he said, incredulous.
Mercer leaned forward. "It will be a favor you enjoy," he promised.
Barbossa snorted, but Jack seemed interested. "How much will I enjoy it?"
"That depends. Just how much do you hate Tyris Burton?"
Jack raised an eyebrow. "Possibly not as much as you seem to," he said. "What's old Burtie done to you, anyway?"
Mercer's eyes narrowed. "Tried to kill me, set fire to my ship, and kidnapped a member of my party," he said.
"Ah," Jack said. "Well, that would be several excellent reasons to hate someone."
"I thought so," Mercer said, his expression grim. "I would like to recover the lost member of my party, since none of my other losses can be recouped. If you help me overtake Burton's ship and reclaim my lost member, I will lead you to the compass."
Barbossa and Jack exchanged uncertain glances. Mercer wasn't surprised. He wouldn't have trusted him, either, if he were in their position.
"Give us a moment to discuss this over wine and crackers, eh?" Jack said. "Or rum and… rum."
"A moment," Mercer conceded.
Jack rose unsteadily from his chair and wobbled his way out, followed closely by Barbossa, who paused long enough to shoot Mercer a poisonous glare before leaving.
When the door closed, Ancelote turned to him with a worried expression. "Do you know what they want?" she asked softly.
"Of course," Mercer said dismissively. "I have it."
"With me," Mercer said in a very low voice. "But they hardly need to know that. If they can overtake the Redemption and set Catie free, we'll have completed half our mission."
Ancelote looked doubtful. "They'll never let us leave the ship alive," she said.
"That was why I specifically said we would complete only half the mission."
That was not the comforting plan Ancelote had been hoping for. "Surely you can think of some way to escape them?"
"At the moment? No." Mercer rubbed his eyes. "But if I think of something, I'll let you know. And if you think of anything, let me know."
"Should we tell Savage, when he wakes?" Ancelote asked.
Mercer glared at the still figure in the corner. "I'd rather shoot the bastard than drag him around, but if we must, we must."
"He's not always so useless," Ancelote pointed out.
"Oh, no," Mercer agreed sourly. "Just when we need him most."
The door sprang open and Jack entered, a large grin plastered across his face. "Congratulations, gent and lady!" he said. "We've decided to accept your offer! We attack the Redemption, get back your crew member, and send you on your way once you hand over the compass."
"After the attack on the Redemption, of course," Mercer said.
Jack bowed. "Of course."
Mercer nodded shortly. "Good," he said. "We have a bargain."
"Marvelous!" Jack said. He turned, and Mercer noted that most of the crew was standing outside the door. "Now, gents," Jack said to them. "Toss 'em in the brig."
Mercer sighed and grumbled, "Somehow I knew that would happen next."
It had been seventeen hours. Beckett had been counting.
At first it hadn't been so bad. The midwife had come and, on the direction of Victoria's maid, Eleanor, had hurried upstairs to one of the closest guest bedrooms, where Victoria had apparently stationed herself. The door had been closed, and Beckett had been firmly locked out.
This did not bother him unduly so long as he received regular reports on what was happening. Eleanor saw this, even though he had not specifically requested it of her. He stationed himself in his home office and worked on various contracts. Eleanor interrupted at least once every hour to report that Victoria was doing wonderfully, but that she had hours still before the baby was born.
Beckett had slept for a few hours in the dead of night, but had woken up early to a good deal of hustle and bustle. He'd climbed out of bed and asked the servants what was happening, but they all assured him nothing was wrong and went back into the room.
He had worked through the remainder of the night, dressing at three in the morning and preparing himself for the day ahead. When there was finally light outside, he sent his temporary clerk and bodyguard to alert headquarters that he would not be coming in. He'd continued working at home, pausing only to eat breakfast.
Throughout the morning he'd started to hear high-pitched screams emanating from the guest bedroom. At first he told himself that someone would alert him to what was happening, but his hourly reports had ceased at around six in the morning. He saw servants running past him, but even when he called after them none of them would pause to share what they knew. They carried clean rags and buckets of water and innumerable other items past him, looking harried and exhausted. Their grim expressions terrified him.
It was eleven in the morning now, and he found himself entirely incapable of working. He sat instead at his desk, head buried in his hands, and listened to his wife screaming. The screams were louder now and more frequent.
"What in damnation is going on down there?" he shouted as Eleanor ran past his door.
"She's fine," Eleanor panted. "No time. Baby coming." And she was gone.
Beckett heaved an enormous sigh and sat back in his chair. He had no particular desire to witness the birth of his child – he'd heard it was a disgusting process and didn't want to be involved unless it was absolutely necessary – but he thought, as the father of the baby and the husband of the woman giving birth, he had a right to know what was going on.
"Eleanor!" he said sharply as the woman bustled past him again.
"No time!" she called back.
"Eleanor!" But she ignored him.
He sat back at his desk and tapped his fingers impatiently against the desk. Eleanor hurtled past his door again, running this time. That worried him. Had something gone seriously wrong? She'd been in that room such a long time, and everyone looked so concerned…
At that moment, a sharp, keening cry broke through the house – a baby's cry. Beckett was on his feet and out the door before he'd even realized he was moving.
He ran down the hall and went to stand in front of the guest room door, stripped down to his shirtsleeves. He tried to still himself, but he had to move – all his nerves were on fire. He had a child. His baby was born. He paced impatiently outside the door. When would they come out to tell him about his son?
It took what felt like an hour. It was probably about fifteen minutes. Then the door opened, and Eleanor came out, sweaty, exhausted, red-faced, and smiling.
"Congratulations, my Lord," she said with a curtsy. "Your baby is very healthy."
"Son?" Beckett asked.
She bit her lip. "Daughter," she said.
Eleanor looked shocked. "You should be happy that both your baby and wife are healthy, sir!" she said.
"Oh, I am," he assured her. "But Victoria will be boasting about this for months."
Eleanor stared at him blankly for a moment. Then she laughed. "Oh, I'd forgotten," she said. "You insisted it would be a boy, and she insisted otherwise."
"I hate it when she's right," he growled. He brightened. "Can I at least see my daughter?"
"Not at the moment," Eleanor said. "Both wife and daughter are being bathed, and Victoria will need to sleep, poor thing. She's been awake far too long."
"I've seen her in the bath before," Beckett said, pushing past Eleanor.
"My lord – !" Eleanor protested, but too late; Beckett was already in the room.
The room was a disaster. The servants were removing the sheets from the bed; Beckett caught glimpses of blood and other bodily fluids everywhere. The room smelled strongly, too – a mix of sweat and blood and other things. Basins of water stood everywhere, along with discarded wet cloths. Upon seeing Beckett, the servants began frantically attempting to pick everything up.
He waved dismissively at them. "Take your time," he advised. "You've had a long night."
The servants nearly collapsed in relief, murmuring fervent thank you's to him. He was inwardly amused. Apparently his generosity always came as a welcome surprise to the servants.
He stepped gingerly through the obstacle course of items and entered the bathroom, where Victoria lay slumped in a tub full of warm water. The servant bathing her looked up and blushed upon seeing Beckett. "She's very tired, m'lord," she said hesitantly. "Perhaps you should – "
Victoria's eyes fluttered open. "Cutler," she said.
"Tori." He moved past the servant, knelt, and took her hand.
Victoria smiled lazily at him. "You were wrong," she said.
He groaned again. "Tori, can't you let it rest at least until you can walk again?"
"No," she said. "No, I can't." She nodded to a new servant who had entered behind Beckett. "Look at her. Isn't she beautiful?"
He stood at once and turned to face the servant. She held a small bundle in her arms, a red-faced and wrinkly – but clean – baby. "Here," the servant said, handing the baby to Beckett. "Support her head on your arm – there. And hold her bottom."
Beckett balanced the unfamiliar weight in his arms, staring down at the little creature he held. He was struck by her smallness – the tiny toes, the little fingers, the nose and ears. The baby blinked at him with bright blue eyes and then drifted off into sleep, the picture of innocence.
"Helena, do you think?" he asked faintly.
"Helena," Victoria agreed.
He smiled and rocked the small child. "Welcome to the world, Helena Beckett," he said.