A/N: Thank you so, so much to all of you who have reviewed! Reviews = faster updates. I hope you all like this chapter :)


Chapter XXVIII

I locked eyes with Jack and frantically searched his expression for some trace of emotion. Was I really nothing to him? After all this, could he really betray me in such a harsh way? Was my freedom worth less than an inanimate object?

But the spell had been broken. I really was nothing. Not quite a human, not quite a mermaid; at least not anymore. I had no place anywhere, let alone with him. I was a lost soul, a creature that had been rejected from both the ordinary and supernatural worlds. I was too mermaid to be human, and too human to be mermaid.

And the Pearl had always owned Jack's heart. It may have only been a ship to me, but it obviously held a deeper meaning for him. For a brief moment, I contemplated going willingly; perhaps I really ought to sacrifice myself for the others. It wasn't as if I was going to die – no, I was to become a queen.

But a queen of what? Atlantis was fading, and its chief was a man possessed by a god. And if I'd learned anything about gods, it was that they were treacherously fickle.

I did not want to stay here.

And I did… I did feel something for Jack. I don't know quite what it was. If he chose the ship without so much as giving me a thought, I would be hurt. There was no use denying it any longer, he did hold a sort of power over me, a power that was completely discrete from anything having to do with magic. Perhaps it was time I embraced this reality rather than shunned it.

"Well?" Barbossa drawled impatiently, bringing me back to the present.

Jack studied me carefully, but I kept my expression devoid of any sort of anxiety. To remain wholly detached and collected during a time of adversity was a mermaid's greatest talent. I would not let him know the sway he held over my emotions, for I did want not to give him either the burden or the satisfaction (for I do not know which he would consider it).

He opened his mouth to speak, but faltered and seemed to abruptly change his mind. "I – er – Cassie, I'm sorry to say, but I think I'm going to have to go with me colleagues on this one…" At first I felt crushed, but soon noticed an all-too-familiar mischievous glint in his dark brown eyes. I'd missed it before, with Cecily, but I would not miss it again. Jack had a knack for getting exactly what he wanted out of any situation, even if he had to play the trickster to do so. He hadn't truly abandoned me with Cecily, and he wouldn't truly abandon me now.

I could tell that Barbossa also noticed something was awry, which wasn't unexpected given the fact that he knew Jack quite well. But he didn't say anything. I suspected he was more concerned with simply getting what he came for than Jack's shenanigans, and I'm quite sure that, once he obtained a vial of the chief's blood, he would cease to care about what fate befell me.

"So we have an accord, then," the chief said gruffly.

"Aye," Jack stated. He folded his hands into a praying motion and turned his entire body towards me, before bowing his head apologetically. "I really am sorry, love." The unanticipated sincerity in his voice rattled me; perhaps I had been wrong – perhaps he really didn't have a plan, in which case I was in deep, deep trouble.

I grasped his hands earnestly and said, "Please, Jack, don't do this. After everything that's happened between us – "

He scowled dramatically and my fears were put to rest. He wrenched his hands out of mine and spat, "Love, I understand your sentiments, I really do, but – there's really no easy way to put this – I do not reciprocate them. I truly don't blame you for feeling this way. We had a good bit of fun, I'll admit, but that was all it was. Don't fool yourself into thinking that I actually cared for you."

I stood rigid, playing along. "But Jack," I whimpered, "It was more than just that…"

"I was under your spell, you she-devil," he exclaimed grandiosely, "How else do you think I could even begin to feel anything for such a monster?"

"You fancy the pirate?" the chief grunted, displeased.

"Nay, she does not," Barbossa answered hurriedly, "A harpy such as she cannot experience such a sentiment. This is but a ploy to aid in her escape." He roughly grabbed my upper arm and shoved me towards the chief's throne. "Take 'er," he said, "I'm sure ye'll think of a good way to get the fight out of 'er – she'll be docile as a lamb in no time. Now, your end o' the deal?"

The chief eyed me warily, but seemed convinced by Barbossa's testimony. He took his trident and pricked the tip of his left index finger, before waiting edgily for the three pirates to approach him. "Well?" he demanded.

Quickly, Jack stepped forward, vial in hand. We made eye contact as several drops of crimson fell into the glass, and I saw a glimmer of worry dance in his barely-distinguishable irises. Maybe he really doesn't have a plan.

Next came Barbossa, and finally Jocard.

"Thank you, your grace," said the latter, "We are humbled by your consideration. May many years of happiness rain down upon you and your new bride." It was plain to see that he wanted to leave Atlantis as swiftly as possible.

"You may go," the chief ordered dismissively.

And, without so much as another word, they did. They just… left. Jack didn't even spare me a glace as he and his companions travled back towards the entrance gates. I felt as if I'd been punched in the gut. Finally, my indifferent façade wavered and I gasped for breath. I was utterly forsaken. Alone, with this horrid man, in this loathsome kingdom.

The chief roughly gripped my face and turned it towards him, smearing blood on my cheek. "Stop your blubbering, wench," he commanded. "You are ever so lovely, my pet, and I can hardly wait to make you my wife." I nearly retched at the very thought. Infuriated by my obvious disgust, the chief raised the back of his hand. I stood firm, awaiting the blow; my coldness had been restored, and I betrayed no fear – only pure hatred.

Before he struck me, however, Jack's voice rang out through the temple. While we'd been distracted, he had returned without Barbossa or Jocard.

"You know," he began amiably as he walked through the columns, "I'm starting to rethink my decision…"

I was so moved by the sight of the eccentric captain that I actually felt tears prick the backs of my eyes.

Immediately, the chief realized that he was about to be played for a fool.

"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded in rage. He pointed his trident at Jack, who looked a little unsure of his next move. Time to improvise, I decided. I wiped the tear from the corner of my eye and blew it into the chief's face; it burned him like acid. As he howled in surprise and fury, I was able to wrestle the trident out of his hand. The floor beneath us began to tremor.

"That can't be good," Jack muttered, eyes wide.

I started to dash away, but the chief yanked me back by my hair. I hissed in pain and, above all, anger. Without hesitation, I drove the trident into his chest. Immediately, his expression became slack and he began to cough up thick, dark blood. After only a matter of moments, he collapsed on the steps to his now-bloodstained throne.

The dome above us began to crack like ice.

"That is very, very not good!" Jack stated in panic. He grabbed my wrist. "Just leave it!" he yelled as I tried to dig the trident out from the chief's corpse.

As we ran towards the gates, the whole city seemed to collapse around us. It was utter chaos. The townspeople shrieked and scrambled about like frightened rats, too preoccupied to even notice that we'd murdered their chief.

Suddenly, water began pouring through the cracks in the dome, crushing everything around us in violent streams. Anyone unlucky enough to be hit with one of the rivulets was killed instantly from the sheer pressure. The danger was not drowning, but being squashed.

"Where are the others?" I yelled over the madness.

"Gone," he answered, "The Leviathan took them back to the surface."

"Then how are we going to escape?" I demanded, nearing hysterics.

By this time, we had finally made it to the tunnel. However, a torrent of water started gushing in, propelling us to the small, rocky shore in rather unpleasant manner. I landed hard on the stones, scraping my knees and the palms of my hands; Jack experienced the same effect.

Water was flowing into the cavern at an alarming speed, but we were momentarily removed from any immediate peril.

"You came back for me," I stated in wonder as I tried to catch my breath.

"You're surprised?"

"I thought you'd left."

"I never was good at compromising," he mused aloud.

I parted my lips to speak, but no words came out; I didn't know what to say.

"If you mean to thank me, you're welcome – but now's not really the time, savvy?"

"Right. What do we do?"

"You – you're the key. Time to make yourself useful, love. Chop chop!" He clapped, before gesturing to the water.

"But – I don't know that way out," I protested, "It's like a maze out there, you didn't see it because you were inside –"

"It's not as if we have any other choice," he interrupted frenziedly, "I have faith in you, dearie, now let's get going!"

With an anxious sigh, I stepped into the water. When my tail formed, I gave Jack his coat back as he waded beside me. My stormy green eyes bore desperately into his; I would be fine, but he… he could run out of air.

"I know," he acknowledged softly, indicating that I didn't need to warn him. "But at least I got what I came for, ey?" He gave me a lopsided grin, but I wasn't able to match it.

I gripped his biceps and urged, "Here goes nothing – Take a deep breath."

He did, and soon I dragged him beneath the water, moving as quickly as I could.

Mermaids were impressively fast swimmers – that much was true. But it was difficult to utilize this talent when you didn't know where you were going. Once my head was underwater, I could clearly see where we'd entered. I darted swiftly through what I thought was a short channel, hauling Jack by the fabric of the arms of his frock.

The problem was, it wasn't a short channel. It was network of tunnels, with various forks and twists. I didn't know which way to go, and time was slipping away. I came to a particularly vague looking fork in the path and had trouble deciding which way to swim; Jack started madly pointing to one of the sides, so I obeyed him. I glanced down and was relieved to see that he was using his compass.

Eventually, we reached the graveyard of sunken ships. From this point, things were fairly straightforward: just swim up. But the labyrinth of various ruins complicated things. I wove around the wreckage until I could finally see the surface.

However, I soon noticed that Jack's compass was limp in his hand. Fearfully, I turned his body so I could see his face.

His eyes were closed. He seemed not to be conscious, so I shook him.

Nothing.

In all the commotion, I must not have seen him run out of air.

I started to panic and I could feel my heartbeat escalate. No, no, no, this can't be happening! Jack couldn't die. He just couldn't. Not like this, not after everything he'd already survived. It wasn't fair. We were so close...

I abruptly realized something: I could save him. The Mermaid's Kiss.

Without a second thought, I covered his mouth with my own and breathed air into his lungs, all the while dragging him upwards.

When we finally reached the glorious surface, Jack began coughing vehemently and spitting up seawater.

"Are you all right?" I demanded, sounding disturbingly maternal.

"Just peachy," he rasped with a grimace.

I silently thanked the gods, but was startled by how strongly I was being affected. I just wanted to…

Before I could think any further, I smashed my lips to his. This was not the Mermaid's Kiss. No, this was most definitely a human kiss.

Albeit surprised, he reciprocated enthusiastically.

After several moments, we pulled apart.

"As much as I appreciate your concern, love," he started cheekily, "I think we have other things to worry about at the moment." He was looking past me, and I spun around to see what he meant.

I was faced with the sight of far more ships than we'd arrived with, and one of them was named the Meermin.


A/N: So, we're nearing the end... This is very sad for me, especially since I've had so much fun writing this story - and I mean SO much fun. I can't even describe it. I hope you've all enjoyed it so far, and I obviously would like to thank all of you for reading. Please review! I know we can make it to 200 before the end!