Interlude for two captains

Interlude 1. Amicable partings and fond reunions

There had been no real argument about where they went to next, and once they had stowed the contents of the long boats and had crossed the reef they set course for Tortuga. Jack had been right when he had claimed that it was the safest place for them to go, perhaps the only place for them to go, and anyway both of the men showed marked signs of being in need of shore leave.

Behind them the island faded into a blue haze but somehow she felt that they were not saying goodbye, that it was only waiting, letting them go for the moment but that one day they might find themselves back here. Elanor had watched it thin and fade with Jack silent at her side, his hair lifting in the wind and his face inscrutable. But when the mists and thr horizon had swallowed it he had turned away without a word and gone to plan his shore leave with Mr had understood his silence, and his desire to stake a claim to normality, and left them to their anticipation, retiring to her cabin to check the calendar with a sigh before falling into dreamless sleep. The swim had been exhausting coming on top of everything else and she couldn't recall a time when she had felt more weary.

She rose when the morning was still new, stiff and soore and only half waking, to take her watch. As she stumbled up the stairs she wondered if her year was still in step with this world and what she planned to do about it should it prove to be the case.

It seemed that Jack had also retired below at some point and Mr Gibbs had taken the watch as Ariadne steered them into deeper waters and then turned the Chaser towards Tortuga. He was alone on deck when she appeared, blinking in the bright morning light, but though he had looked at her with concern he not had much to say and had gone to his hammock as soon as he had satisfied himself she was as well as she could be, all things considered.

As he left so Jack had arrived and whatever else he might have done in the time since she had last seen him he had obviously spent some of it in the shower, maybe trying to washthe lake water's scarlet stain from his skin. He'd not got rid of the legacy of their recent adventure but he was clean and his hair was still damp. He'd put on one of the shirts she had lent him when he first arrived and his skin still appeared burnt and angry above the soft white of the fabric, yet he looked in some way better than he had done when they came aboard and the swelling around his eyes was almost gone. It was clear enough that however ill it might have made them the lake water was not now going to kill them.

It remained to be seen if anything else followed on their drinking of the water of life.

They had drunk tea and eaten fruit on the deck and in a strangely companionable silence, then set about going before the usual early watch checks, working together in a a way that was almost natural now. Jack had learned the routine quickly and if the morning tasks were not what they would have been on his Pearl he had fully accepted them as legitimate seagoing duties and performed them well. Only when they had seen to the Chasers needs, and made sure that Mr Gibbs was soundly asleep and snoring, had they settled down, somewhat reluctantly, to talk about the events of the island.

The conversation had been stilted even so, though more because they were both trying to observe the others privacy than from any other cause. Whether this was a new experience for Jack she couldn't say but for herself she was painfully aware of how exposed they had both been down there. It seemed better not to mention the fact, or anything that would draw attention to it for both their sakes. Gibbs had been right in his supposition that some things would only ever be spoken between themselves, and some of them not even that, but by the end of that watch they had come to some form of agreement about what would and would not be spoken of and to whom.

The flask of fountain water, and the chart, were safety of the strong room and while the matter was still unfinished business in many ways there was nothing more they could do about it, other than wait. Jack seemed certain that there would be no more harmful effects, though he wasn't committing himself on whether he was hoping for any beneficial ones. He had inspected her carefully over breakfast and now he seemed ready to comment on his conclusions,
"Don't look so close to death now, leastways you don't. That glass of yours was not very flatterin' I must say, odd world where people wish to stare at every imperfection in such clarity, had I known how bad I looked before I might have given up there and then!" Jack had said with an uncertain smile as he peeled a banana.
"Not you," Elanor replied, "Somehow I don't think you would ever give up. Hope seems to be your middle name."
Jack shook his head as he took his tea and the smile became wry,
"Nothin' so useful luv. Marcus, middle name is Marcus, after the emperor if you can believe such a thing. Don't blame you if you can't, I have difficulties with it most of the time so I chose to forget it."
His smile faded and he rubbed the brand on his wrist without thinking, looking suddenly pensive,
"You're wrong anyway, I've come close to giving up a few times and one of them was down there."

Then he frowned and buried his nose in his mug as he wondered why he had told her such a thing, indeed why he had told her anything at all.

Elanor smiled across at him, seeing his discomfort though not sure of the cause of it. Leaning forward she lowered her voice a little,
"Since we are sharing such embarrassing details I will confess that my middle name is Petronella after my other grandmother. Elanor Petronella I ask you!! So don't complain."
She looked him over carefully,
"Whatever it was is fading anyway, another day and I suspect we will be nearly normal looking again. Good thing too, couldn't have you wandering about Tortuga looking like that and scaring the ladies more than usual now could we."
He didn't rise to the bait and just smiled faintly over the rim of the mug, his expression part hidden by the rising steam.

She sighed,
" We aren't normal yet though, and Ariadne says not to be surprised if you feel a little odd. My temperature is still up and I'd guess yours is too, but I don't think we are likely to drop down dead. It was probably some form of allergic reaction or inflammatory agent that made us ill down there, a local one most likely and once we were out of the lake it began to ease."
"Didn't feel like it!"
He set down his drink and flexed his shoulders uneasily with the words, and she wondered if he still ached as much as she did.
"No I know, but there isn't any other explanation," was all she said.
He shot her a sharp look,
"Your ghost no help on it then?" he asked mildly.
"Not so far, but I haven't really questioned her about it. Sleep seemed more important at the time. But if the effects go on fading then I think we have to assume we're fine."

She had spoken nothing less than the truth at that moment, it was true thatshe had no intention of leaving it there, but that would wait until she was alone.

"So what was that place do you think?" Jack mused his eyes fixed on the sea beyond the rail.
Elanor shrugged,
"Who can say at this distance, it was very old."
He nodded vaguely,
"It were at that. Seen old places before though and never anything like that."
Looking back to her he gestured with his cup in her direction,
"And that ....... shelf it spat us out onto, what was that?"
Elanor paused for a moment and he narrowed his eyes and glared,
"You know! Out with it then."
She shook her head,
" I don't know, but I think I could take a guess."
"So.." he demanded.
"You wouldnt believe me, and anyway I might be wrong."
"Why wouldn#t I believe you? After seein' that place I could believe anything of it."
"Perhaps, but then again perhaps not."
"Stop talking in riddles woman! What was it?"
"I'm not sure, and I don't think I evercan be so just leave it will you, my head hurts enough as it is with out you snapping questions at me."

He opened his mouth to demand an answer then he noticed the tiredness around her eyes and he shrugged and let it go.
"Well, it's not my intention to be visiting there again, so it is of no matter." He squinted at her over his cup taking in ever detail of her, "let us hope you are right about the rest of it and that the place hasn't sent us on our way with another little suprise in store."

***

Though no new suprise made itself known their recover was not immediate, for while the obvious effects of the lake water continued to fade as the days passed the aches persisted, and for all their apparent recovery neither of them felt quite themselves. Neither mentioned it though, both putting that and the lethargy that seemed to have them by the throat down to the strange dreams that still came and disturbed their sleep. Neither of them were admitting to those either.

They reached Tortuga without incident and in good time, the sea seeming to clear their way and with the wind always at their back, filling the canvas and showing the Chaser's speed. Jack soon realised that this ship was faster even than the Pearl, perhaps much faster, and an idea that had been slowly growing in his mind sent out another shoot.

They anchored in the same bay as their last visit, the waters calm in the gathering dusk. Up on the headland they could see the shadows of the farmsteads clustered around the road. On land lay the things they needed, and more rum, yet neither Jack nor Gibbs felt any rush to leave and so they spent the evening in playing cards and drinking the last of the current rum stock. Both men knew that Polly's still would soon replenish that. Elanor didn't ask where they went from here, and neither man seemed willing to speculate, though some of the sideways looks she was getting from Jack suggested that he was planning another mad scheme and hoping to persuade her to aid him in it. Taking back his ship seemed to be the most likely idea, unless there was something else he had found on the map that he had a hankering for and that he thought he could persuade her to chase. For the moment she pushed speculation aside, content to wait and see.

They had put together another shopping list, but this time it would be Jack who went to the town and did the bartering while Gibbs was to wait at Polly's farm. Elanor had the feeling that Jack didn't want her and the ship out of the sight of one of them. Not that such a concern would stop him going, she had little doubt that he intended to seek some serious R&R in the port, even if he didn't know what week it was. In fact he had not bothered to hide that intention, though he had not taunted her with it as once he might have done, and he had been quiet and looked thoughtful when she had explained certain facts to him.

The gold she had recovered from the seabed was barely touched and would provide all they needed for some time to come so she had no concerns about Jack taking some extra for his own use. She had gone as far as suggested that it might be worth him seeking out his 'ladies', as Gibbs called them, and discovering what, if anything, they knew of the people searching for him. Not that she had really expected him to do anything else. When his fingers had strayed over some pretty baubles she had suggested that he might find their memory improved by a present or two. That he had chosen to take a couple of ebony combs as well as two matched pearl necklaces had surprised her, but she had said nothing. Elanor suspected that Jack had generous impulses, and more often then some might think, but that he was both annoyed and embarrassed by them. What little he had told her of his experiences in the locker strongly suggested that he had a perverse desire to be a worse man than he was, at least she if she was interpretating the locker world correctly. That might seem odd to one of her world but when she thought about the brand on his arm, and what it meant, she had to admit that such a desire might not be so illogical here.

And she had thought that her own world had gone mad and had wished for a saner and simpler time! Just went to show that her ancestors had not been so foolish, be careful what you wish for indeed.

***

That first day after Jack and Gibbs had departed to their respective celebrations of survival had been a blessed relief, her ship was her own again and she could draw breath and think a little about the events of past weeks without the distractions of the two men interrupting her or, in the case of Jack, watching her.

Ever since they had returned from the island Jack had seemed to be more than usually interested in her, if interested was the right word, for he hadn't actually said anything much at all, and certainly nothing unusual, at least not for Jack. But there had been something vaguely unsettling in the way his dark eyes had followed her when he thought she couldn't see him looking, for his expression was unfathomable. Half the time she thought he was plotting something but the rest of the time she thought that he wanted to ask her something and couldn't find the words. Sometimes she thought he was wondering about just what is was her 'ghost' had told her.

While the two men were aboard she had been careful not to ask much at all, what she didn't know she wouldn't feel obliged to pass on, but once they were gone she had wasted no time in consulting Ariadne. She expected that Jack knew this and was wondering how he could gain the same information for himself.

Now with them gone she could get down to discovering how much of the meanings and consequences of the events of the island she and Ariadne could piece together.

"The test shows no indication of danger, the water is safe to drink in the conventional sense of the word. Not even any microbes that might cause gastric problems. In fact little microscopic life at all, the water you brought back with you was almost distilled." Ariadne reassurred her.
"That's one blessing I suppose. I'll run another blood test on myself but I doubt that it will tell me much."
"A sensible precaution but I think you are correct in your assumption that if it were fatal it would have killed you already."
Privately Elanor wasn't so certain and wished that Ariadne had been provided with the necessary tools to analyse the stuff fully, but there had been no apparent need for such technical refinements when she set sail. So she had stifled her feeling that matters were not yet resolved and moved on to Jack and his watchful behaviour. Ariadne had already noted his scrutiny but seemed disinclined to be concerned about it.
'There appears to be nothing threatening in his regard, though it is true that he seems very concerned to know what you are doing, even more so than previously. On more than one occasion since your return he has approached your cabin then turned away, but his interest seems to be more considering than predatory. He knows I will not allow him to harm you, but in fairness I have observed no desire to do so on his part. In fact I detect a sense of uncertainty in him."

Elanor nodded slowly as that comment brought something clear in her mind,
"Yes so do I, and some confusion too, as if I'm a chart he can't quite read in the way he expected to."
"That seems to be a reasonable analogy. Did something happen on the island to cause this? Is the change something that, while trivial at the moment, might be a threat you or the ship's safety in the future?"
Ariadne never lost sight of her priorities however fascinating a subject might be.
Elanor thought about that then shook her head,
"No I don't think so. It's just that... well I suppose he saw more of me than I, or maybe even he, would have wished. I'm sure that I saw more of him than he is comfortable with. He's not a man who normally shows much of his true self, even when he seems to be drunk. I think that we have crossed some sort of boundary with each other, though I don't quite know how or when. I can't really tell you more than that, and I know that it doesn't make much sense."
She got to her feet and stretched, wondering why she felt so uneasy and unsettled, as if something was about to happen,
"But there was nothing there that made any sense."

"Certainly it appears that there was some distortion of reality, and of time." Ariadne returned calmly, "that is possibly why you perceived us as losing contact,"
"Perceived?"
"I was not aware of any loss of contact, yet the calls you mentioned were not received, and the time you spent underground by the clocks here agree with Mr Gibbs assessment, though you say that for you it seemed much longer?"
"Yes, much longer, days in fact. Your conclusion?"
"That much of what you saw and felt took place inside your minds, or some constructed reality that you and Captain Sparrow shared."
Elanor nodded,
"Oh I'd agree that place was a construct, but who built it and why? What purpose was it supposed to serve? What was that lake and what is the water we brought back? The compass seemed certain that it was the fountain of youth but it was most...... odd. Until that crucible thing started to fill there was no sign of either a waterfall or a fountain. Was it us being there that set it off or would it have happened anyway?"
Ariadne was silent for a moment,
"We do not have sufficient data to hypothesise either about the water," she said eventually, "or about the compass and its readings. The scanners have collected full geographic data of the area around the island, perhaps when that is fully analysed we will have a clearer picture."

Elanor had agreed and they had left it there, but she remained uneasy and she could not shake off the feeling that Adriane was too.

Now three days on the relief of being alone was wearing thin and she found herself wondering what the pair of them were up to. Though if she were honest she had pretty good idea. She sighed as she looked down the coast line to the direction of the port, she would trust Polly to keep Mr Gibbs in one place and safe, but there was no denying that Jack was taking a significant risk, and she rather expected that he was taking more of it than he needed to.

But she had no right to complain, he was just a man after all and one without family or ties. A man who had long ago learned that friend could become foe without warning and that his life could be snatched away at a moment. A man who had been at sea a long time too. She could not blame him if he sought a little easy pleasure and forgetting when he had the chance. She only wished that she could manage the same.

But she could not; this world was more dangerous for her than it was even for Jack, and while she might be resistant to alcohol, disease and even the STDs of this time and place, an unguarded word could bring a far worse fate down upon her head. Better that she stayed away from all but the few who knew something of her already, those who had their own reasons for protecting what little they knew of her secret. Elanor had long ago lost her belief in the incorruptibility of any man or woman, particularly the poor and the desperate.

She had told herself her restless feeling was nothing more than the realisation that today was Christmas Eve. At least it was for her. Christmas and she was more alone than she had ever thought to be, even the satellites she had once relied upon for contact should she need it were gone. Was it Christmas in Tortuga she wondered? How did they celebrate? Whatever it was no doubt Jack would be in the thick of it, enjoying himself to the hilt. She could only hope that he remembered what he had gone for, and the fact that he was being sought desperately and for more than the usual reasons. Yet her unease persisted and the fear that she might face the new year yet more alone still would not go away.

With a sigh she descended down to the lower stores levels to where the freezers kept safe the few luxuries she had brought with her for this day. Having made her selection she returned to the deck,
"Ariadne, " she called, "some music please and don't worry about the noise, I don't think anyone is going to hear us."

***

If anyone had asked Jack why he was returning to the ship two days early he would have said it was because the news he had gathered of the searching for him suggested that he might be safer elsewhere else. Yet some small voice inside him knew that wasn't the whole and unvarnished truth. What that truth might be was something he preferred not to dwell on.

Having seen, and spent time with, both Giselle and Scarlett, and having heard their tales of the searchers, and with Christmas eve almost upon him, he felt a sudden urge to be somewhere else. He still had gold in his pockets but the supplies would be ready for collection the other side of the feast day and there was no longer any reason for him to be here. Other than his own pleasure that was, and for some reason that wasn't as... pleasurable as it should have been. That same little voice kept telling him there was rum to be had on the ship and far less danger. But that was not the truth either, and he couldn't deny that a strange restlessness had taken hold of him and that neither rum nor the inviting glances of the ladies of the town could ease it. With a shake of his head at his own intransigence he had cursed the water of life for complicating matters, for he had no doubt that he was still affected by that bloody lake.

As a last resort he had taken himself across to the more respectable area of the town and to a tailors where he acquired a new shirt and a spare pair of breeches, as Elanor had suggested. With those packages tucked into his coat he headed back towards the quay, when on a sudden impulse he picked up a string of glass beads as he passed through the market. The beads were old but strangely pretty and he had shaken his head at his own foolishness as he dropped them into his pocket, no doubt the lady captain had no knowledge of Christmas and it was most unlikely that he would get any benefit from taking her a gift. But somehow the sight of the ship as they had rowed away, and the knowledge that she was being left to her own thoughts and memories without hope of relief, had made him feel uncomfortable. While glass beads would not change that, be they ever so pretty, they might, or rather his giving of them, might provide a distraction for her.

As the day passed towards evening Jack said his farewell to the ladies and crossed to the poorer quarter of the town to Sampson's inn, he sat for a hour or so and listened to the landlord's story his brow furrowing whne he heard of thr two men and theoir questions. The descriptions were not certain but one certainly sounded like the young lad who had survived Beckett's sinking. It was the other that was more worrying.

It made his descion for him. As night darkened the alleyways he said farewell with casual grace to the lasses that had clustered around him before taking his leave of the landlord, who agreed wholeheartedly with his caution and presented him with two bottles of his special Christmas rum. As the first blush of dawn spread across the sky on the morning of Christmas Eve Jack slipped out of the town, taking a secret ride in the back of the first cart he found heading up the headland road. He slept most of the journey away, the bundle of his new clothes tucked under his head and the remaining gold and the beads buried deep in the deepest inner pocket of his coat. The Christmas rum he had placed with great care beneath the straw.

He woke at the time he had decided for himself and lay watching the sky as the clouds piled in, then he slipped out of the cart unseen just as the little cluster of homesteads appeared.

At first he had started out towards Polly's farmstead, or more particularly her still room, but as he breasted the rise he saw the Chaser in the bay, the darkening clouds throwing her whiteness into relief, and found himself turning away and down the path towards the cove where the long boats were tethered. For a moment he stood uncertain, chewing at his lip while wondering what to do, it didn't seem to him that he had decided but he still found himself settling the rum where it wouldn't roll then untying the boat and starting the pull towards the ship.

***

The strange sounds started halfway across the bay, like tribal drums, a wailing wind and the heavenly host all rolled into one. They sent his heart rate rocketing as he rowed harder and wondered, with some trepidation, what it was that had got aboard the ship. He had wondered if the island of the water of life had had another suprise up its sleeve, he thought grimly as he pulled on the oars, looked like it had and that it were not a welcome one.

The sounds got louder and stranger the closer he got to the Dawn Chaser, but they g0t more familiar too, and by the time he was tying up the longboat he thought it might be some form of strange music. That however didn't ease the anxiety, he had seen for himself and in greater detail than would be wished, that music could be the prelude to some very nasty forms of mayhem. Had Elanor's ghost turned on her or had some other form of spirit from that damned lake hijacked her? He hurried up the ladder, making as little noise as he could manage, drawing his pistol as he reached the rail and sticking his head over with considerable caution.

Whatever he had been expecting it was not what he saw. On the decks Captain Elanor was alone and apparently in one piece, though her wits seemed to have gone wandering for she was moving in time to the sounds, at least some parts of her were, and in a manner that could not be described as at all ladylike.

Jack eased himself a little higher and watched with raised brows as she gyrated and capered about the deck, her body flexing and hips swinging in a manner that was both familiar and novel and more than a little... . exhilarating. Carefully and soundlessly he settled himself more comfortably, telling himself a little observation was needed if he was to know if she had truly gone mad, but aware of the smile that was lifting his lips and the slight tightening in his chest. She was very graceful, and even more flexible, and quite unaware that he was here and..... he rather wished she would stop what she was doing given that his activities in Tortuga had not been as unbridled as once they might have been.

The music was getting louder, the beat heavy and insistent, a throb that seemed to reach inside him and twist his gut and set his heart pounding. He must have made a sound for suddenly she span around to face him and stopped, her arms still raised above her head and her hip jutted to one side. For a moment they were both frozen and then she blinked at him and let her arms fall standing straight and unconcerned, he noticed that she had a spoon in her hand.
"Jack? What's wrong? Why are you back so early?" her voice was calm and friendly enough.
"It's Christmas," he said then wondered why he had said it.
Slowly he hoisted himself to the deck, and flapped a hand at the air, still vibrating with the heavy and seductive sound.
"What's that?" he demanded.
Elanor smiled,
"Where I come from it's considered music."
He stared at her for a moment while he absorbed the idea,
"Is it now. And what about the...." He flapped his hands in her direction swaying in time to the beat as he did so.
Her smile widened,
"We call that dancing."
She saw his startled look and laughed, coming forward with her hands extended,
"Want me to teach you?"