The Wicked Wench burned.
On the deck of the Sentinel, there was nothing Captain Jack Sparrow could do. Already Beckett and his men had held him back from diving over the railing and swimming across the open water in a last-ditch attempt to save his beloved ship. Now two very burly sailors had their hands clamped down on his arms, forcing him to watch as the smell of woodsmoke, burning pitch, and gunpowder profaned the clean salt breeze.
Jack's face twisted into a mask of fury as the Wench's powder magazine suddenly blew, spraying wood splinters a hundred feet in the air ahead of a mushrooming fireball. That was his ship out there, his freedom. Captain Jack Sparrow was no landsman. He was nothing without a ship to captain and the wide ocean spread before him.
From the look on Cutler Beckett's face, the latter was about to be eternally denied him too.
"Chain him," Beckett ordered. "Let him watch his ship sink, then bring him to my cabin."
Jack instinctively cringed at the word 'chain'. Bloody iron.
The Wicked Wench was soon lost to the waves, and it wasn't long before Jack, now distinctly uncomfortable and bound with iron manacles about his wrists, was hauled into Beckett's stateroom belowdecks. The man himself had his back to the door, looking into a small brazier that had been set up. He did not look up as the guards led the younger man in, only gesturing towards some iron bolts on the wall. They chained Jack to it, who struggled all the while, trying to see if he could pull free or otherwise wriggle his hands out of the manacles.
"You won't be able to break those chains, Jack," Beckett said without looking away from the brazier.
Jack grinned, flashing a couple gold teeth. "Always worth a try, mate," he quipped. At the moment, he didn't feel quite as cocky as he acted. He didn't like seeing Beckett standing there at the brazier so nonchalantly- and he could smell Cold Iron.
Well, in this case it wasn't exactly Cold Iron. This iron smelled uncomfortably hot.
The source of the scent was revealed as Beckett turned a little to look at him. The pale man toyed with a long iron brand as he gave a snort of derision. "You've proven to be a liability. And I do not tolerate liabilities." He spat out the last word.
Jack's eyes fell on the brand, its tip submerged in a pile of glowing coals, and he thrashed, desperate to escape his chains.
"Oh stop that," Beckett ordered. "You'll never break free."
"I don't like bein' chained up." He gave another jerk. The links rattled, but he was no closer to freedom than before. Their jangling seemed to taunt him, audible reminders that he was well and truly trapped this time.
Beckett smirked at his prisoner. "You'll have to get used to it. It's only what you deserve for freeing precious cargo."
Precious cargo? Precious cargo? Jack bristled, the chains momentarily forgotten in his anger. "They were human beings," he said coldly. "Not cargo. I told you when I signed on I wouldn't be carrying slaves." He had, hadn't he?
"They were property of the East India Trading Company under your care," Beckett snapped. "You deliberately absconded with your cargo. For that, you deserve punishment." He motioned to the two sailors. "Tighten his chains and leave us."
Jack's eyes flicked around. Was there any chance he could make some miraculous escape? With the iron manacles about his wrists his options were severely limited...
The sailors tightened the chains enough that Jack could barely move, then left. Beckett hardly waited for the door to close behind them before picking up the brand and inspecting its glowing red tip. A slow, cruel smile curled over his lips. "Do you know what it means to cross the East India Trading Company, Jack Sparrow?"
Jack cringed involuntarily at the sight of the brand. "It's Captain," he retorted. "Captain Jack Sparrow." Anything to keep from thinking of that red-hot piece of iron touching him, burning his flesh...
The younger man eyed the brand again and couldn't repress a horrified shudder. "I'm thinking I'm not so certain I want to be enlightened."
Almost more frightening than the glowing cherry-red brand was the look in Beckett's eyes- cold and hard as Cold Iron itself, just as ready to burn. "A pity," the Company's man said, though there was no sign of any actual pity in his demeanor. "Either way, you will be punished. You stole from the Company, and so you shall be marked as a pirate."
Jack knew in his heart what was coming, but he couldn't keep himself from asking the question, as if asking would delay the inevitable just that little much longer. "Marked?"
Beckett raised the brand, a cruel look in his gaze. "Marked," he repeated softly. When his prisoner renewed his struggles against the chains holding him, he only chuckled. "There's no use struggling, Jack."
"Never hurts to try," the pirate growled. The rattle of iron chains rang tauntingly in his ears.
His captor gave a wry little smile. "It always hurts to try in these matters." Stepping close, he ripped Jack's sleeve to expose a stretch of darkly bronzed skin.
Terror rose in Jack's throat, nearly choking him. He had one last desperate ploy left to him. "You don't know what you're doing, Beckett," he said, dark eyes locked on Beckett's cold ones. "You really don't."
The older man smirked. "No," he replied, watching Jack struggle. "I think I do. I am marking a criminal." He pressed the brand to the back of Jack Sparrow's forearm.
Jack screamed in pain as the hot iron seared his flesh. His entire arm seemed to be on fire, not merely the P-shaped mark the brand had left, but lightning bolts of sheer agony stabbing into him. He thrashed, still screaming- but the screams changed, reaching a higher pitch than a man's throat ought to be able to produce.
It wasn't just Jack's screams that changed. His very form seemed to flicker around the edges like a projected image, and another figure could be glimpsed beneath it- until at last Jack vanished completely, leaving only a nearly androgynously-slender young woman dressed in a colorful tunic and leggings. Her head was bowed, her face hidden by a curtain of moonbeam-colored hair. The silken fall did nothing to hide a very striking feature- a pair of long, pointed ears. She was shaking, whimpering in pain, the perfect milky skin of her right forearm marred by an ugly red burn shaped like the brand Beckett had just marked Jack Sparrow with.
Beckett stared at his captive, stifling a little surge of fear at the strange transformation he'd just witnessed. What witchcraft was this? "What are you?" he asked, setting the brand aside as he surveyed the pale, pointed-eared woman now before him.
She looked up at him. Her face was long and narrow, all sharp planes and lean angles. Slanted eyes of an almost unearthly deep green stared back at him with hatred, streaming with pain and humiliation, and teeth too sharp to be human were bared at him.
Enchanted, Beckett leaned a little closer. "What are you?"
She snapped at him- a futile gesture, but Beckett jerked back anyway. With a scowl, he picked up the brand again, the implication being that if she refused to answer him, he would use it again.
The pale woman growled- not a human's poor imitation of a growl, but an angry rumble that rose from her chest that made Beckett's skin prickle. "Some hobgoblin call me," she said as if quoting, and he imagined that her voice would be a sweet alto when it wasn't harsh with fury and pain. "And sweet Puck. You, on the other hand, can call me Pissed Off Faerie Who Is Going to Rip Your Guts Out."
"Charming." Beckett eyed his captive thoughtfully. Puck. The name rung a bell in his mind, though he wasn't quite certain if he dared believe it. "Puck," he repeated slowly. Yes, he did know that name, gleaned from stories he'd heard long ago and dismissed as superstitious nonsense. An elfin trickster had no place in the world of man. But now, though.. "A faerie? So you are more than just a wives' tale..."
"I'm your worst nightmare, human," Puck spat venomously.
Beckett snorted, deciding the best way to deal with this faerie was with disdain. "You can't imagine the nightmares I have," he retorted. Even as he spoke, he had to wonder why she wasn't escaping or using her magic. Had any man ever managed to catch a faerie before?
She growled at him, showing her sharp teeth once again as her eyes flashed with a green light that could only be her magic. He eyed this display curiously. "So you really are a faerie..." But that still didn't explain... Then it dawned on him. "Ah, yes." He glanced at the brand he still held. "Iron. It binds you as well as burns you."
Puck growled again. Better to growl than to give into the searing, blinding pain that the touch of the iron brand had left her. She wanted to be free of these cursed chains, wanted to give in to the fury of the hobgoblin within her.
"You can't do anything more than growl, so you may as well shut up," Beckett said coolly.
She obeyed reluctantly, eyes narrowed as the mortal surveyed her with a little smirk. "What luck. A faerie in my power."
Oh no. She was not about to let this mortal use her. She was the Puck. She was Oberon's servant, bound to no other unless she chose to grant some human her favor. Empty night, it was because she had given a human her favor that she was even in this mess. The hobgoblin tugged at her chains, only to stop with an agonized hiss as she jarred her branded arm. The pain sent bolts of white fire up her spine to stab at her.
Beckett smirked at her. "The things that I could do now..." he murmurred. "With a faerie in my power, the possibilities are endless."
Gritting her teeth, Puck forced herself to arch a scathing eyebrow. As much as she hated to admit it, he had her bound with Cold Iron. She would be forced to obey him so long as she was chained. It was the one real trump card that mortals had over members of the Third Race. Still, that didn't mean she liked the situation at all- and it didn't mean she'd obey him eagerly.
Beckett eyed her thoughtfully. "Though there will be a difficulty explaining you looking like... this..." He gestured at her slim form.
Puck went still, pushing past the pain to think, to plot. He was right. He couldn't exactly explain how he'd managed to get his hands on a faerie on a ship out in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Well, he could, but doing so might strain credulity. She'd played the role of Jack Sparrow well- eccentric and tricky, but very mortal. Who would believe that he was in truth- these days, anyway- a persona of a fae trickster? Not all men were superstitious enough to accept that idea. And if it got out that he had a faerie in his possession, that could create complications she was willing to bet he wouldn't want. If he wanted her, he needed her- in the form of Captain Jack Sparrow.
Maybe, maybe she could get out of this and exact her revenge on her tormentor.
Her lip curled in disdain. "Well, genius," she said coldly, "So long as you have me chained up like this, what you see is what you've got. I can't change when I'm bound with iron." She could do some magic, but anything that would harm the human who had her bound was just as impossible as a transformation. Those were the rules.
Beckett raised an eyebrow. "I don't dare release you, though. What a conundrum."
Puck gave him a surly look as he pondered. He needed Jack for his plans. But with Puck bound, he couldn't have Jack. Therefore...
"If I release you, will you turn into Jack Sparrow?" Beckett asked at last.
She pretended to mull this over. "Yes."
"Do you swear?"
Her eyes narrowed as if in annoyance. So. He'd heard that faeries could be bound with a promise. So, he knew a little about her kind. But just how much, precisely?
The next minute or so would tell.
Puck grimaced, as if reluctant to give her word but seeing no other choice. "I swear that I will become Captain Jack Sparrow if you release me," she said grudgingly.
Beckett eyed her for a moment, then nodded in satisfaction. "Very well."
He unlocked the chains.
The hobgoblin slumped to her knees, cradling her branded arm to her chest. That, at least, was no act of a trickster. Her arm burned fiercely where the iron had seared into her skin. But she was free, at least, and Beckett had made a fatal error. He just didn't know it yet.
"Now," the human said after watching her whimper and nurse her injury for a minute. "Jack Sparrow. If you please." His tone made it clear he expected her to obey. After all, she'd promised, hadn't she?
Gritting her teeth, Puck reached for the form of Jack Sparrow and slid into the mortal shell she'd created for herself over the past three years. He cradled his arm- like Puck, he now bore the P-shaped brand, and they would both carry the mark for all their days.
"That's better," Beckett said with a sniff. "On your feet."
Jack glared up at his captor and staggered to his feet.
"So you've learned to take orders. Good." When Jack continued to glower at him, Beckett added, "We'll have to work on that defiant streak of yours."
"Yes... I suppose we will." In a flash, Jack Sparrow became Puck once more and lunged at Beckett with an angry snarl. She clamped her good hand around his throat, pushing him back against the table. He had erred, and now she was going to make him pay for what he'd done.
It was true that a faerie could be bound with iron and promises. But there were limits even to that. A promise had to be extremely carefully worded, and the only real way to bind a faerie to such a promise was to make her- or him- swear to it three times. And once he or she had escaped iron restraints, they were no longer compelled to obey the person who had bound them.
Beckett had also made a critical error in binding Puck specifically. Hobgoblins in particular were cruel creatures, and while Puck was generally good-natured, she was more than happy to indulge that side of her when it came to Master Cutler Beckett. "You burned me, mortal," she snarled. "You will pay for that."
The mortal gasped and clawed at the hand around his throat. "You... you won't... make it out... alive..." he choked out.
Puck's cold chuckle made the hair on the back of Cutler's neck stand on end. "Are you willing to bet your life on that hypothesis, Cutler Beckett?" she asked softly. Despite his sudden terror, he glared back at her in defiance.
"I'd stake a great deal on it, yes."
She leaned close and actually seemed to be purring as she murmured in his ear. "I can leave anytime I want. I could drop you in the middle of the deepest, darkest jungle in Africa right now and leave you there to rot for what you've done to the Puck."
He smirked. "Even with the iron in your skin?"
To his horror, she leaned closer, running very sharp teeth over the curve of his ear in a twisted parody of a lover's attentions. "It will take a lot more than a branding to bind me, human."
Beckett shuddered. While his knowledge of faeries was limited to fireside stories told to frighten and entertain small children and his knowledge of Puck in particular was even less, he now recalled a tale or two about what happened when you angered a faerie. Flinching away, he could just catch the expression on Puck's face- part malice, part hunger, part bloodlust. He shuddered again and tried to steel himself. "Then kill me. What is keeping you?"
She pulled away and patted his cheek with a hand that now bore long, wicked claws. "Because, Cutler," she purred, "I like to play with my food."
He swallowed hard. "Charming." Clearly he'd gotten in too far over his head here. Only one thing for it then. "He's gone mad!" he screamed to the guards outside. "Help!"
As he'd hoped, the guards crashed through the door, causing Puck to turn away from Beckett with an angry hiss at her fun being interrupted.
"Where's Sparrow?" the first guard demanded while his companions stared at Puck in shock.
"Just shoot the woman!" Beckett yelled.
The hobgoblin twisted, putting Beckett between the guards and her own slight form. She snarled over Beckett's shoulder.
"Shoot her, you fools!"
They obeyed, aiming for Puck's head. She hissed and dropped away from Beckett to avoid the bullets, even as Becket himself went down on his knees, clutching at his shoulder where one of the lead balls had caught him. Puck wasted no time, pouncing on him and slashing at his chest with her claws.
One guard gathered enough courage to lunge forward, stabbing at the hobgoblin with his bayonet. With a last furious hiss, she vanished in a flash of bright green light.
"What was that?" one of the men asked, slowly lowering his weapon.
On the floor, Beckett clutched at his chest and cursed. "I'll find her," he swore. "I'll find that creature and kill her myself..."
AN: Yes, I know in Gargoyles canon Puck is male. But faeries are shapeshifters anyway so the point is generally moot. There will be companion fics later on, I promise!