A/N: Thank you so much for all the amazing reviews! :)
Disclaimer: Jack, Elizabeth, etc. belong to Disney.
Slowly, Elizabeth made her way back to the tavern, her mind racing, irritation and bewilderment plaited in her every thought, as she tried to make a coherent picture out of the chaotic collection of all those strange pieces of information that she had.
The Black Pearl was anchored on the other side of the island, in a small bay that not everybody in Shipwreck Cove even knew about. She had been stolen by Barbossa soon after they had defeated Beckett and Jones, soon after... soon after her and Jack's paths had gone into different directions... That part of Jack's story was true. Barbossa had taken the ship as well as the map, setting out to find Aqua de Vida. Unfortunately, the map he had stolen turned out to be incomplete...
Elizabeth rolled her eyes at the memory of Pintel and Ragetti telling her about it with utmost amusement. She could not understand how the minds of those two worked. They had not even seemed bothered by the fact that they had taken part in – almost – a mutiny against Jack again, only to join his crew once more when the ship had fallen back under his command.
The next bit of the story was rather amusing, and Elizabeth had found herself smiling inwardly when she had heard that three months after losing the Pearl, Jack had miraculously caught up with his ship, and one day was spotted sitting in the crow's nest, bottle of rum in his hand and a smile on his face. Ragetti had said that Barbossa had not even wanted to believe that he was there until he had seen him, and until Jack had pulled out his pistol, and unceremoniously fired, granting Barbossa a bullet in his right foot. Later, Barbossa had been marooned on an island with a pistol, one bullet, and one apple.
Elizabeth was not sure whether the crew had been tired of Barbossa and genuinely realized that they preferred Jack as their captain, or whether they had supported Jack simply because he had the map to the Fountain if Youth.
Either way, Jack was in charge of his ship once again, and for the hundredth time Elizabeth wondered why he wanted her to believe otherwise...
She also learnt that the Black Pearl had been damaged in the battle in which they had got involved on their way to Aqua de Vida quite accidentally, trying to aid a small merchant vessel that had been attacked by another pirate ship.
That was also an interesting part of the story. Since when pirates were helping merchants defeat their ships from other pirates?! Elizabeth made a mental note to confront Jack about it.
Even though she felt less and less inclined to confront him about anything, and more and more tempted to come back to the Empress and sail away without even giving him a word of explanation.
He had lied to her. Again. She was already angry when he had told her that he wanted her to settle his debt, that the only reason behind his letter was to make her pay Mistress Ching for releasing him, using her hard-obtained, earned money and treasure to regain his freedom.
Yet, she still did not really know what to think about his letter. Perhaps he thought that making her believe that the Pearl was gone would make her pity him more? Maybe he wanted to ensure her compassion? Did he think that she needed to pity him to help him? Why could not he just write her the truth? She would have come. If he had simply explained his situation to her. She would have come. She would have...
Elizabeth entered the tavern, taking a wary look around.
She tried to analyze her emotions and decide why she had come in the first place. Had she come because he needed help? Had she come because she suspected that he might have been in danger? Had she come because he had asked her to come?
Or... or had she come because she was in need of a pretext to come... and whatever would have been in his letter she would have come...
"Captain Swann, the Pirate King, and yet a rare sight in Shipwreck Cove. "
Mistress Ching's voice shook Elizabeth off her reverie, and she suddenly noticed she was standing in front of the woman whose eyes were piercing through her with dangerous curiosity. Strange as it was, Elizabeth had always had an impression, that out of all the Pirate Lords, Mistress Ching was most displeased with her being voted the Pirate King.
"Makes a poor king the one whose only aim is to be seen," said Elizabeth, putting her pistol on the table, and sitting down. Mistress Ching's eyes shifted from Elizabeth's face to the weapon, and then to Elizabeth's face again.
"It's not one's face but intentions that should be kept hidden," retorted Mistress Ching dryly.
Elizabeth's regarded her with narrowed eyes, and forced a small smile. "Only vicious intentions need to be kept secret," she said, glancing at the two men that also sat at the table. "I see no reason to keep the truth hidden if the intentions are pure."
Mistress Ching gave her a wry smile, her eyes lightened with false amusement. "No intentions are pure, Captain Swann. It's either your naivety or wickedness speaking now," she said, studying Elizabeth's face intently.
"I'm afraid I find neither of those accusations offensive," said Elizabeth with a small smile.
"Then it must be both," replied Mistress Ching. "What is it that you want from me, Captain Swann?" she asked, narrowing her eyed expectantly, and Elizabeth had a strange impression that the woman already knew her purpose there.
Elizabeth took a deep breath bracing herself for what was to come. She felt oddly embarrassed by the entire situation. Of course her actions could be seen as mere act of gratitude toward Jack for voting her the King, but... but somehow she knew that people would assume that she had other reasons for helping him.
And truth to be told, she was not sure what her true reasons were...
Jack stood by the window, looking down at the empty road, his fingers tapping the window sill impatiently. Elizabeth should have been back by now, unless something happened...
Not that much could happen, seeing that everything was rather well-prepared. Unless she had just got upset (which she actually had...) and decided to sail away...
"That was rather risky, mate," muttered Jack under his breath, furrowing his brows.
But it was not like he had had a choice, had he?
Would she come if he would have written the truth?
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the original version of his letter to her...
I hope this letter finds you well, and that it finds you at all. I wish I could deliver it myself, but then I'd have to read the answer to it from your face, and that's not an easy task, and I'm afraid I couldn't afford a wrong reading of it, or finding the answer wrong...
No reasons in this letter, I don't have much to say as there are never words good enough to say what is worth saying.
Come, meet me in Shipwreck Cove, start from the point from which we should have started. It was a good moment to start... Too late to start from then again, but it's never too late to start from today – there are so many todays, Lizzie, so many days that start with the sun rising, end with the sun setting, nights when you can't see the stars, nights when you can't see anything else but stars. Come.
Don't lose the map. It took me half a night to draw.
Tai Huang leaned slightly forward, his eyes widening to the point at which they became almost perfectly round. "This is nearly all that we have," he said cautiously after a moment of silence.
Elizabeth bit her lip, trying to appear calm and certain, despite her absolute irritation. Infuriating women. Infuriating town. Infuriating Captain Jack Sparrow.
She was not sure whether she was more upset with Mistress Ching's unwillingness to negotiate the price or rather with her apparently deficient negotiating skills. And she suddenly remembered her first negotiating failure when she had handed the medallion to Barbossa. What had she been thinking?!
And what was she thinking now, sacrificing almost all the treasure she had gathered in the last half a year for that insufferable man.
"I know," she said confidently, steadily returning her first mate's intent, cautiously worried gaze. "But we won't be giving it away for long," she added on an impulse, forcing a smile, when she noticed a flicker of a smile crossing Tai Huang's face.
Well, it was not the wisest thing to do, but not doing it would have been infinitely more stupid.
"Tell Mistress Ching that it was a pleasure to be a guest in this fancy mansion," said Jack with a smile, following a member of Mistress Ching's crew down the corridor.
The man glanced at him, but did not say a word, and Jack twitched his nose in silent disapproval, but he was not given much time for contemplating the man's lack of manners, because soon the tall door were opened, and he was let outside.
Not without a feeling of relief he saw Elizabeth standing just a few feet away, waiting for him.
"Lizzie!" He exclaimed cheerfully, swaggering toward her with his arms wide open, but Elizabeth pursed her lips, stepping away from him.
"Don't you even dare talk to me now!" she said irritatedly, glaring at him. "Or ever."
"Liz-" he trailed off with a grimace when she raised her hand as if to slap him, but then she thought better of it, and dropped her hand with a groan, swirling around, and starting to walk away.
Jack waited with his eyes closed for the slap to come, but it never did. Instead, he suddenly heard Elizabeth scream, his eyes snapping open at the sound.
Three men appeared as if out of nowhere attacking her as she tried to fight them all at once, sword drawn, clashing of metal resounding dully in the darkness.
Pulling out his own sword, Jack ran toward the group, knocking down one of the opponents with the back of his pistol. To his surprise he noticed that the faces of the men looked oddly familiar, and he quickly recognized them as the members of Mistress Ching's crew.
"They're not supposed to be doing this," he muttered to himself with a frown, but unfortunately Elizabeth was close enough to him to hear it.
"What?!" she exclaimed, having recognized the men herself from her former meeting with Mistress Ching.
Jack winced at his loud thinking, and then the understanding dawned on Elizabeth. "You weren't kept captive by her!" she almost shouted, raising her sword to block an attack. "It was a scheme!"
Jack's sword flashed in the air, cutting his opponent on the arm. "Well, it's not anymore," he answered, avoiding looking at her.
He was suddenly not sure if he wanted the sword fight with Mistress Ching's guards to end, if it meant dealing with angry Elizabeth instead.
"I wouldn't be doing this if I were you," said Tai Huang with a small smile, the tip of his blade pressed against the neck of the man that held a sack filled with gold in his arms.
The other four members of Mistress Ching's crew were also stopped in their tracks on their way back from the Empress.
Tai Huang reached for the man's pistol, and cocked it, pointing it to the man's forehead. He nodded for the remaining members of Elizabeth's crew to take the sacks. Then, using the ropes taken from the ship they tied Mistress Ching's guards to the nearby trees.
"Pass the King's regards to your Mistress," said Tai Huang with a mocking bow, putting one gold coin in one of Mistress Ching's men's tied hands.
"It was a pleasure, but we really have to be going," said Jack with a brief half-smile, kicking the grains of sand from the road into his opponent's face, while Elizabeth managed to knock her opponent's sword out of his hand.
Quickly, Jack grabbed Elizabeth's hand, and they ran together toward the docks, Elizabeth being too overwhelmed by the fight to remember to snatch her hand away.
"I'm not taking you on board of my ship, so it seems to me that you should run in the opposite direction," she said breathlessly, turning her head to look at him. "Your ship is docked on the other side of the island," she added pointedly.
Jack grimaced. "Did I fail to mention that I'd gotten her back already?" he asked hopefully, tightening his grip on Elizabeth's hand.
"Oh yes, you did fail to mention quite a few things," she answered under her breath, not looking at him.
"I'm guessing that the Pearl being already off the Cove's welcoming shores is one of them?" he asked, risking a smile, but receiving an icy-cold look in response.
"I wish you a pleasant swim to your ship, then, Captain Sparrow," said Elizabeth freeing her hand from Jack's grip when they reached the Empress, Tai Huang waiting by the gangplank. He gave Elizabeth a small nod, and she responded by giving him a smile, the smile that vanished as soon as her eyes shifted back to Jack.
"Surely ye wouldn't mind taking me on board for a little while just to drop me off on my ship, luv?" asked Jack lightheartedly, narrowing his eyes.
Elizabeth opened her mouth to retort, but then Tai Huang turned her attention to the group of people running toward them. "Time to set sail," he said in a low voice.
Elizabeth bit her lip in annoyance, seeing Jack's smirk without even looking at him.
"Go away!" Elizabeth leaned against the door to her cabin, but Jack's foot was already making it impossible for her to close it.
"No," he said stubbornly, suddenly pushing the door so hard, that Elizabeth nearly fell to the floor.
"It's my cabin and I don't want you here!" she shouted, hands rolling into fists.
Jack studied her flushed face for a moment, hair in disarray, the exhaustion caused by the sword fight setting her eyes aglow. The exhaustion and anger and...
He slammed the door shut, not taking his eyes off her.
Elizabeth gritted her teeth. "You have no right!" she started for the door to open them and push him out of her cabin, but he caught her before she reached the door, and spun her around, closing her in his arms, his eyes suddenly so close to hers that she could see her own face reflected in them.
"I have a right," he said in a surprisingly low voice, and she tried to recall the last time she had seen that strangely serious, resigned expression on his face...
The rum runners' island... when he had told her the truth about his escape...
"Oh, so you do have a right to lie to me, use me to settle your fictional," she stressed the word angrily, "debts, force yourself onto my ship, break into my cabin without my permission-"
"No," he interrupted her, and she suddenly became aware of his hand on her back, his other hand sliding into her hair...
"I will-" she started threateningly, but he silenced her with a kiss before she managed to express her threat more eloquently.
She tried to push him away, punch him on the chest, but he pulled her closer, and her fists uncurled, leaving her with her hands splayed on his chest, the beating of his heart strong under her palms.
"I have a right to do what I want to do, because I want it" he whispered, breaking the kiss.
For a moment she was unable to say anything with her breath coming in short gasps. "Why?" she asked at last, opening her eyes, her lips feeling as if he was still kissing her. "Why did you do all of this? Why did you want me to come? Why... all those lies-"
"Lies?" A trace of a roguish smile flitted across his face. "There were no lies, 'Lizbeth. I did owe her money. Besides," he continued, despite Elizabeth rolling her eyes at him. "She did break the agreement by sending those rascals after us. She was supposed to just take the gold-"
"My gold!" Elizabeth widened her eyes at him in indignation.
"I had every intention of paying you back, luv. Sooner or later-" he sifted her hair through his fingers almost absently, and she felt shivers running up her spine, nervousness beginning to creep over her.
"That won't be necessary," she cut in, shifting her head to shake his hand off, but accidentally it came out more as if she was leaning into his touch. "You didn't really think I was going to lose even one coin for your sake, did you?"
Jack grinned. "Ah, all the better, then."
"Jack," she pulled away, when he inched his lips closer to hers again. "You didn't answer me. Why? Why did you do all of that?"
He looked at her for a moment in silence, as if trying to decide whether he should tell her the truth or not. "'Cause all of that was easier," he whispered at last, almost inaudibly.
Elizabeth wrinkled her forehead. "Easier than what?"
"Than this," he said after a pause, a piece of paper appearing in front of Elizabeth's face.
She looked between the paper and Jack's face before taking the letter out of his hand, and slowly unfolding it.
He made a move as if he wanted to loosen his embrace around her, but then apparently thought better of it, and tightened it slightly instead.
Elizabeth read the note, her heart sinking and fluttering with every sentence, and even when she finished reading, she still stared at the letter, stalling for time, not knowing how to look at him... what to tell him...
"You don't feel it?" he asked all of a sudden, in such a blank voice, that for a moment she thought it was just a casual question...
She looked up at him hesitatingly.
"Those... lights..." he said with a twitch of his nose.
"Lights?" she closed her fist, slightly crumbling the piece of paper in her hand, finding the strange seriousness of his abstract words alarming.
"Little sparks... they come and go... flicker..." he looked away, but then looked back at her. "When..." he brushed the backs of his fingers across her lips, and she trembled.
"I know," she said, hardly hearing her own voice. "They burst into colors, into those... small glittering pieces..." she closed her eyes, but quickly opened them again. "Jack, I can't," she shook her head, preparing herself for a sad look in his eyes, but he was... smirking.?! "Jack-"
Smirking and kissing her again; kissing her lips, her cheeks, her hair...
"I said I can't," she said with a weak hint of annoyance in her voice, tilting her head to the side when his lips descended onto her neck, trailing soft kisses across her skin. "And I don't want to," she added, trying to open her eyes. Surely if she could only open her eyes she could stop feeling all of that...
"Do you see them now?" he asked so quietly she was not sure he had said anything at all. "Lizzie?"
"Yes," she whispered before she could stop herself. "But..."
"So many colors..." his voice held a trace of such sincere fascination that she found herself fascinated as well.
"Yes... flashing..." she breathed, not really knowing what she was saying, and whether she was really seeing anything... But it ceased to matter as soon as his hands glided under her shirt, his thumbs stroking her skin while his lips followed a chart that she had not even knows was there, his every kiss more enthralling, more flaring, more freeing...
The sheets felt so cool under her bare back, the pillows so soft under her head, his hands so rough, lips so impatient, and she listened to her name that carried the meaning of hundreds of words, the calm and the storm shimmering in his voice, banishing the reality from her mind.
There would be time for the guilt and the blame, and he would have both, hear about both, she would not be left alone with them. But they were not a part of tonight, they belonged to the ghosts of the past, to the hosts of the future, not to tonight.
Tonight there were only her palms wandering blindly over his scars, her lips lost among the criss-crossing paths of his belated escapes, his lips not releasing her skin even for a moment...
He caught her gaze for a split second, a withered hand cupping her face, his lips aflame, pressing smiles to her lips a moment before the world shuddered and burst into the night, rainbows like shadows falling over them, and there was an end and a beginning in each of his kisses. He kissed her lips with defeated reverence, and she was falling into the scent of his skin, the taste of his lips, the rhythm of the sea that, she suddenly realized, was somewhere between them, in them, waves crashing, rain falling, life pulsating in his veins when she pressed her lips to his neck, his face buried in her hair when everything fell apart and for a moment her heart was everywhere, her eyes saw everything, and she would not have found her way back from the sparkling skies if it was not for his hands cradling her face, his arms wrapping around her, lips touching hers, as she allowed the dreams to claim her, the overwhelming feeling of freedom drifting into sleep along with her, and she knew that it was going to still be there in the morning. In tears, but there nonetheless. Shadows of regret looming over the sea, gleaming in the rays of the rising sun. But she was safe from them for now, safe from everything as long as her skin was pressed against his, as long as she could hear the beating of his heart under her fingertips, as long as she could sleep with the memory of his voice chanting her name and those several words that had the power to bind a soul to a soul forever.