Darkness and Decisions

The Pearl already had the air of a ghost ship. Sitting patiently on the suddenly still ocean, with a cloud shadowed sky high above, she had a feel of other worldliness that not even the small fires still burning here and there dispelled. The heat of the sun was already leaching from her timbers leaving her cold and stiff.

Jack felt the change in her and despaired. There would be no deals to save her this time.

Unable to stand the sense of loss he pulled his hand free of the line and stared around, accepting that this would be last time he would see the Pearl above the seas.

High above him her canvas was dark and billowed against the breeze. But it would not carry him to the four corners of this world again, only one horizon awaited the Pearl now and it was the deep currents, not the wind, that would carry her there. Jack forced himself to watch as the ropes flexed with the canvas, as if they knew what was coming and wished to run away too.

Except where they were already weighted down with death.

He had known the man tangled in rigging, not well it was true, and maybe not as well as he should have, but he had known him. Now the man was dead, like so many others before him. Dead because of a debt that wasn't his, dead because his captain had believed that he could best the devil.

Dead because his captain had been wrong.

Just as the others would die. The Kraken would take the Pearl back to the depths as ordered, but that would not be enough to save them. Jones's beast would know that he was not on her and would pursue him, and therefore would pursue them, until the end. It would make no distinction between its prey and the small, frail, bodies that he huddled with, and there was indeed a lot of water between them and land, too much water for them to have much of a chance. Not if he was with them.

Yet he could not leave them.

There was just the one boat now, just one small, slim, chance of escape. If they left him behind with his ship the beast would ignore them, allow them to reach land, and they would be safe. But they would not leave him behind, and he found that he couldn't command them to. He had tried to say it but had failed, staring blindly at the deck as they had argued around him, knowing only too well what needed to be said. But the words had not come, even though he knew that living meant being land bound the desire to live was still too strong, and his belief in himself not yet completely lost. The belief that he would find a way to avoid the fate that Jones demanded for him still smouldered somewhere within him, and that ember prevented him from saying what he knew to be the truth, that if he went with them they would die. It stopped him from saying the words that he knew he had to say to save them, 'leave me'.

Two words, that was all that was necessary, but though they screamed in his head he found that his lips wouldn't shape them. Instead he had stood in silence as they had agreed to abandon ship, knowing their thoughts but unable to speak the words that would release them from their fate.

'Leave me' he thought desperately, 'leave me. If I go with you then you will not see land again. Someone say it. Please, someone say it. Tell me it's the only way and leave me. Abandon me along with my ship. Pull a sword, or pistol and tell me it's the only way. But don't make me admit defeat, don't make me chose to die. Don't ask that of me. Don't ask me to be noble, can't you see that I can't do it. Captain Sparrow dies here I know that, just don't ask Jack to chose it.'

But even as the words ran around his head he knew that they would never say them, and he understood why. Gibbs was as good a pirate as ever stood before the mast and would not walk the path of mutiny, certainly not now with the memory of Barbossa and his cursed crew still sharp. The other two miscreants were too unsure in their renewed mortality to dare to say it and Will…? Well, Will was still as he had told Jones, brave and noble, it would not cross his mind that such words might ever be said. Not for the moment at least.

He heard them scurrying behind him, ignoring his silence and turned back, heard the boat knock against the hull as someone climbed aboard, waited for the words that didn't come. He stayed where he was, staring up at the rigging and dead man outlined against the sky, knowing that he had only one chance that this decision might be taken from him.

Elizabeth.

Elizabeth, who had looked at him with such gratitude, and then such sorrow; who he can hear approaching, who is now standing behind him.

"Thank you Jack."

He turned towards her, towards his last hope of release. Elizabeth, who stares at him without pretence, and yet who looks more uncertain now than he has ever seen her.

"We're not free yet luv," he will not lie, not now and she knows that. Not to his only hope.

Elizabeth, whose eyes are dark and wide with the understanding of what he means, and shadowed with some half decision still waiting to be made complete. Elizabeth who hangs back from saying what needs to be said, but who hasn't yet turned away from the truth of it.

Elizabeth. Pale faced with a choice she doesn't want to make. Yet her eyes betray her, telling him that her decision is already half made.

He watches as the cold truth of his words slide into her heart and waits for the response that he both hopes and fears will come. Still she delays,

"You came back."

They both know what she means.

He lets the word lie between them, there nothing more for him to say, the only words that matter now are hers.

She steps closer, the indecision still unspoken, but her smile betrays it,

"I always knew you were a good man."

There is something in her voice that disturbs him and the air is suddenly chill. Uncertainty stirs in him as he watches her move closer, searching for a sign of what is coming, still waiting for the words that, like him, she will not say. Yet this time there is no reading her. Her eyes are wide and lost as they wander across his face, lingering on his eyes and mouth as if committing a picture of them to memory, and he knows that it cannot be delayed any longer, that the moment is upon her. But there is something else too, something that makes him hold his breath, something that stirs fear and the sudden urge to pray.

Yet still she hesitates, both past and future are pressing upon her and she is not yet sure which one to heed: that at least he understands, for he knows that for her to leave him is to leave some part of herself. He still fascinates her. He is the pirate of her childish dreams and imagining, the man of the stories she whispered to herself in the lonely darkness to keep the fear and loss at bay; the treasured companion of her escapes and sleepy adventures. He has always known that, and the power of it.

There had been times in recent weeks, and he knew each one of them, when she had flirted with dreams of him again, and with the idea of a life wandering the oceans of the world with him. It was his legend that enchanted her, he knew that too; the air of danger, so carefully disarmed by the courtesy and the gentleness with which he had always treated her, had drawn her towards him from their first meeting. He had played along, allowing himself to flirt with a dream in return, a dream of a woman whose love and pleasure wasn't bought with coin, and of finding some way back to a time before they burned the brand on his arm.

Yet he had always known it for a dream, and not only because Will had taken Elizabeth's heart even as the stories of Jack had captured her imagination. But because he had seen the shadow of darkness that lurked at Elizabeth's core and known what a life with him would have turned her to. Known that he wanted no part of doing that, nor, too, of the person she might well become.

Elizabeth didn't know Jack at all, but Jack feared that he knew Elizabeth only too well.

Only now does he find that he cannot read her face and that realisation sends a creeping cold into his veins. Then she blinks, and he knows that she has decided.

But there are none of the expected words, no demands or entreaties; instead she comes closer, her eyes sliding away from his to fasten on his mouth, lashes sweeping down to shield the emptiness left by the deciding. Then her hands are reaching for his shoulders as her lips find his, granting him the taste she had earlier denied.

But he knows that she gives it as his reward for dying.

He lets her bear him backwards, though he could stop her, allowing her to lead him this time, knowing that she must do this as best she can; knowing that he owes her that. He makes no move to hold her, risks no touch that might shake her resolve. Only his mouth answers her silent plea, her expression of regret, and that but gently. She will spare him the decision and he will make it no harder, let her make their leave taking what she will.

Her body presses against him as the mast halts his retreat, but still he doesn't reach for her. He waits now, the ever faithful Pearl solid at his back. Her fingers tangle in his hair but her mouth is cold and slicked with salt, her lips speak not of passion or love but of desperation and sadness and loss. They speak of regret and grief.

He knows then that this is her goodbye.

The others are at the boat, he can hear Gibbs chivvying Will and knows that she must break from him soon, draw back to say the words they both know are coming.

Yet he doesn't expect the steel closing around his wrist, or the blackness in her eyes and the twist of her mouth as they draw apart; but the snap of the lock leaves him no doubt of her intent. He knows now the full measure of her choice, and he looks into her face and smiles his understanding as he sees the shadow looking back at him, accepting the meaning of the chill as he feels her fingers trail across his suddenly helpless hand.

Only then do the words come,

"It's after you not the ship. It's not us. This is the only way, don't you see!" her voice is low and cold, though she moves closer as if to kiss him one more time,

"I'm not sorry,"

He wishes that he could believe her to be lying.

But he understands, though something in him cries even as he accepts it, he understands. Another dream broken on his life's shore, another treasure lost to the sea. For she has gone beyond the brutality of truth, strayed beyond the exigencies of need, to cruelty. She will take not only his life but she will also steal the thing that matters most to him. Elizabeth will leave him to the Kraken, and she will leave him shackled and helpless. No longer the bold pirate of her dreams but a hapless blood sacrifice to her need, her love, of Will.

He watches her face as the shadow deepens, claiming the girl of dreams for its own. Jack knows then that the governor's daughter is lost and she will never return. Grief and sadness hold him silent, for Elizabeth is gone for ever, lost to this killing of him, and there is no knowing who it is that he leaves to Will.

As he had regained the best in himself so she has found the worst in her.

But he cannot let her go in silence, yet there are no words to tell her that he knows. None that is but one. He tilts his head to better see her eyes, and smiles as he says it,

"Pirate."

A statement, nothing more, let her take of it what she will.

For a moment he thinks it might just be enough, then the darkness tightens its hold and she is gone.