THE GOLDEN AGE

SUMMARY: The end of the "golden age" of piracy looms near, and Jack and Elizabeth have been captured. While recovering from hours of interrogation and torture, and with the end looming near, they're left to swallow their banter and formulate an escape… or die.

DISCLAIMER: Jack'n'Lizzie etc. do not belong to me. I make no money from the writing of this fan-fiction.

SHIP: 100 percent Sparrabeth. Willabethers are welcome, but ye have been warned!

RATING: T

A/N: Slightly AU. One-shot. Before you all get mad at me for making Jack OOC, remember the circumstances – the poor man's just been tortured by the Royal Navy. So let's cut him a little slack, shall we? (Fear not, I still love him.)

Huge thanks to my friend sweetness328 for her much-appreciated feedback and deeply important proofreading. Thanks, darlin'!

Enjoy!


"Alright, in you go."

Elizabeth winced, again, in pain as the younger of the two officers shoved her, none too delicately, into another unfamiliar room. She nearly hit the table as she went in and had to steady herself against falling from the weight of his thrust. Her arm still thrived with pain, the worst she'd ever felt in the entirety of her life, and she cradled it against her stomach, looking down at the red, blistered skin.

She moved towards the door, frankly unsure of what was going to happen next, when she heard him behind her.

"Lizzie…"

She whirled around, the sound of her own name startling her. She hadn't expected him to be there, and having been shoved in with her back to the room, hadn't even seen him. She quickly closed the few feet between them, falling to her knees before him and moving her hands to the manacles that bound him to the chair. They hadn't been unlocked and after hours of interrogating she didn't have the strength to free him.

"Jack!" she cried, tears stinging her eyes when she looked up to his bruised and bloodied face. Despite the ever-burning "P" on her forearm, he'd clearly taken the brunt of their captors' cruelty. His breathing was irregular and he looked down at her with tired, defeated eyes. They no longer held the mischievous spark she had come to love.

His face was sweaty, though from the poorly ventilated space or the arduous pain he'd clearly been enduring, it wasn't obvious. His lip was split, bruises already marring his chiseled, tanned face. One eye had started to swell shut. The kohl that lined his eyes, made them so dark and enchanting, had run down his face towards his elegantly high cheek-bones, though there was no telling whether it was from tears of pain or the sweat that dotted his brow and lip… she couldn't imagine Jack crying, though. He'd always been so strong, so guarded with his emotions. Then again, if the physical pain he'd been forced to endure was anything close to what she'd been forced to endure… she shuddered at the thought, a series of revolting images of Jack's abuse flashing through her mind.

Her chin trembled at the sight he made, never having seen him so overcome. Her hands shook as she reached up for him, cradling his face. She let out a broken sigh when he leaned into her, closing his eyes.

"Oh, Jack," she whispered, wanting to climb into his lap and wrap her arms around him, but knowing he likely wasn't strong enough to hold her. To see him, like this, so tired and so uncharacteristically Jack, was devastating. His breathing was ragged and he squeezed his eyes further shut. She wouldn't make him speak, wouldn't make him open his eyes. When he was ready, he would. "It's alright… we'll get out of this," she finally said. "This is all my fault."

At this, he finally opened his bleary eyes, looking down at her with a furrowed brow. "No," was all he said.

"If I hadn't left the Pearl on my own… like you told me not to… you wouldn't have had to come after me and this wouldn't have happened," her voice strained from effort, though she wasn't sure if it was from the effort not to cry in front of him or from sheer exhaustion. Both, perhaps.

"I shouldn't have tried to keep you there," he told her. His voice sounded different, not like his usual light, circular method of speech. "It was wrong of me to try to confine you there. Besides…" he sighed, clenching his jaw for a moment before gathering the strength he needed to continue. "Lizzie, darlin', I was a wanted man long before I ever knew you. I'm just sorry I've gotten you involved."

"I chose a life on the Pearl," she reminded him. "If that gets me involved, then so be it. I have no regrets. Besides, had I not left on the Black Pearl, I'd be wasting away on a spit of land for once-every-ten-years. I'd be imprisoned nonetheless."

He offered her a weak smile and somewhere deep inside she began to feel better. She let her hand stroke down his face, intending to settle it over his chest, having wanted to touch him there for months. Their tango of shameless flirting and struggle for dominance over the other had reached its boiling point when all of this happened. She'd left the ship while it docked in Tortuga, to think, mostly about Jack, and whether or not she should get it over with and just let him take her already… Her desire was no longer deniable and why should it be? She was a pirate, this much she knew to be true. Why shouldn't she take what she wanted? And what she wanted was Jack. Whether it was simply want or something deeper than that, she had yet to determine, but she wasn't going to waste her time a moment longer.

Her marriage to Will had been over before it began and they both knew it. Even Jack had known it, not that it was any of his business (or so she'd told him many times), but he knew it. She and Will had spent their one day, until ten years had passed, discussing what to do next. She remembered how proud she'd been of Will. It was he, not her, who first acknowledged how different they'd become. They'd started out as a humble blacksmith and a governor's daughter and had both become pirates. They arrived at the same path, though at a fork, ready to head in different directions.

People do impulsive things when they know they're about to die, Will had mused, a clear reference to their decidedly impulsive union. His eyes wouldn't meet hers, but stared out to the Dutchman, his new home, his new life, bobbing peacefully in the waters offshore.

You asked me to marry you, she said quietly.

He looked back at her, a grin on his face. You said yes. He confessed to her that had he known he'd end up bound to the Dutchman, he never would have married her. He couldn't ever ask her to make that kind of sacrifice, to sit around and wait for one day every ten years. It was unfair to bind her to a marriage where they would spend more time apart than they ever would together. She had been, not for the first time, humbled and honored to know such a good man as Will Turner. And so she had promised to still be there that one day every ten years, if only as a friend, for he'd truly been the best she'd ever had. She would always love him, a special part of her heart forever reserved for only him, but now she was free to live her life and perhaps, one day, love another?

Elizabeth's thoughts returned to matters at hand as she could feel the heat reverberating off of Jack's body. She was intoxicated by him, intrigued and attracted, even now in this deplorable, aggrieved state. Even more so, she had to admit. He was, without a doubt, the most interesting person she'd ever known. It stunned and scared her that only this, their capture, and seeing him so hurt, hearing his cries of anguish as they tortured him from down the hall, did she realize how much she truly loved him.

She had never seen this side to him, hadn't even known it to exist, though she knew it always had for his previous encounters with such captors remained forever embedded on his lean, muscular body as horrific scars. Now he was quiet and reserved, all seriousness, without any of the witty comebacks or plays on words or broad hand gestures that made him him. It frightened her and she wanted, needed, to bring him comfort.

Her raw arm brushed ever-so-lightly against the fabric of his shirt and she reeled back, hissing in pain, and again cradled it against herself.

Her tear-filled eyes darted up again, a pang penetrating her chest to see the anguished look on his face, his mouth slightly agape, as he stared down at her. "Let me see, luv," he said quietly, his voice rippling on the verge of a subdued rage.

"It's nothing," she insisted. She would show him later, when they were far removed from this place, when his bruises started to heal and he was free to cradle it himself, the way she knew he wanted, the way she wanted.

"Let me see," he repeated. Reluctantly, she propped herself up on her knees, elevating her position, and turned her arm towards him. Again, she watched as his jaw clenched, watched as fury boiled behind his eyes as they flashed from her wounded arm back to her face. Her cheek was red, but not bruised… no more than a hard slap. Her upper arms were covered with the rolled up sleeves of her blouse, preventing him from seeing if there were bruises there, but judging by how she'd been manhandled into his cell, he wouldn't be surprised if they were already beginning to form.

"It's nothing," she said again, trying to shake the hardened look from his eyes, but to no avail.

"It, Lizzie," he said calmly, sounding more like himself than he had since she'd been there, "is most certainly something. I'll slit the throat of the beast who did that to you."

"No, you can't," she protested, reaching up and placing a hand on his knee. "We're in enough trouble as it is."

"Only because we got caught," he reminded her. She looked to his face, eyes shining with tears, to see him smirking at her. While she was immensely relieved to see the slight return of her Captain, the ache deep inside her at the sight of him, beaten and weary, began to throb. She'd never seen him this hurt before. She knew he was trying to maintain some sense of his devil-may-care personality for her benefit, but every moment or so his head would roll, and she worried he might lose consciousness.

Seeing him like this, as she never had before, was suddenly very overwhelming and tears spilled down her cheeks. She didn't hide her face from him, feeling unashamed, but instead leaned into his knee, grasping tightly onto his pant-leg.

"I can't believe this has happened to you," she cried, holding onto him as though she were afraid letting go might make him disappear. Suddenly everything he'd endured, all the scars that marred his body, came flooding to her mind and she found herself crying harder and harder.

Thinking about their captors, men in white wigs, who hid behind a title and a position and used their authority to establish their superiority over men like Jack… treated him and others like him as though they were something other than human and prided themselves on it, using words like honor and right and justice. What justice, she thought, allowed for such inhumane treatment, branding and beating people as though they were animals before chaining them up… it infuriated and saddened her and so she wept, clinging to Jack, a silent apology for her former self, a self that long ago, in a corset, associated herself with those white wigs.

"Elizabeth," Jack said patiently, shifting slightly, as though trying to provide more of himself for her to lean on. "Don't cry. Not for me."

"I don't understand," she sobbed. "I don't understand how they could do this to you…"

"To us."

"You've been given the brunt of it, Jack," she sniffled, wiping her eyes and nose with the back of her hand. She looked up at him, her mouth falling open. His eye, which had just started to swell when she arrived, was now completely swollen shut. She had to bite her lip to suppress more tears.

"You've a frightfully nasty brand on your arm that suggests otherwise," he argued. "Did they ask you questions, Elizabeth? Before… that?"

"Yes," she sniffled. "They wanted information about other pirates… Barbossa… Charles Vane… your father, even. Mostly men I've heard of but don't even know. They assume all pirates cohort together at the end of the day."

"Did you tell them anything?" he asked.

"No," she shook her head. "I have very little information on Barbossa as it is. And I wouldn't dream of giving up Teague."

"Good girl," he nodded, smiling. "Let them swing us both. Though it'll be a shame not to see their disappointment at not receiving the information they want." She fought not to gasp. This was a very different Jack from the one she'd met on that day back in Port Royal. That Jack would have sold out every last pirate he knew (excluding, maybe, his own father) in order to save himself. Additionally, that Jack wouldn't have entertained the idea of letting himself hang. He'd be too busy formulating a plan. Was he so defeated, tied to this chair in this rotting prison in Nassau, that he had truly given up?

"We'll get out of this, Jack," she told him, not knowing if she herself believed it or not. The look on his face, of utter support and admiration despite knowing that he didn't really believe her, made her heart ache and yearn for him with a voracity it hadn't ever before. Before it had been about desire, of wanting to taste him and feel him. Now it was about something else, something more, something she'd never felt for anyone, not even Will.

"If you say so, Lizzie," he sighed. Determined to prove that she would find a way out of this, for the both of them, as he had done so many times in the past, she left her place at his leg and began to rummage around the dirty floor. Jack's brow furrowed as he watched her move, and he let out an exasperated sigh. "Elizabeth, you'll get filthy."

"Jack," she said, pausing her movement to look back at him. "This has been perhaps one of the worst days of my entire life. I was slapped, shaken by the shoulders until I thought my head might fall off, and branded like cattle. Then, on top of it all, I'm thrown in here to see you wounded and beaten and so uninspired that it breaks my heart to even look at you. I hardly care anymore if I get filthy." She moved back to her hands and knees, looking around for something, anything, that she might be able to use to free him from his metal constraints. "Besides," she continued, speaking as she searched and holding up her branded arm for emphasis. "I'm a bloody pirate, I'm already filthy."

"Elizabeth," Jack said, his voice strong and familiar. She looked over to him. That look had returned to his dark eyes, that look he'd had over months of banter and innuendo and flirting… the look she loved and had so missed in recent moments. "When I get you back to the Pearl, I'm marching you straight inside me cabin and making love to you, whether you protest or not. I've wanted you for years. I've had enough waiting for you to come around to my side." It was a lie – of course he wouldn't take her against her will – but the rest was true. Seeing her stubborn resolve, hearing her acceptance of what she'd become, sent a jolt through him, lit him aflame.

Elizabeth smiled. Everything she wanted, everything she needed, was wrapped up in human form and sitting less than three feet away from her. And knowing that he desired her, whether she came to him in corsets and petticoats or breeches and blunderbusses, made her heart ache with love and desire.

She turned her head, so he could just see her smirking at him. "You better." She moved to the opposite corner, looking for any discarded scrap of metal that might aid in her efforts. "And so you know, Captain Sparrow," she continued, mindful over giving him his rightful title, "I've always been on your side. It just took me too long to fully accept it." When her back was again turned to him, she grinned. She'd never imagined Jack using phrases like "making love" before. It thrilled and terrified her.

After feverishly searching the other two corners, all the while feeling the heat of Jack's gaze on her, she came up empty-handed. She leaned back on her heels and let out a frustrated sigh. "Dammit!"

"Elizabeth," he said her name again. Every time he did, she felt a rush go through her, reminding her of a silly young girl whose stomach fluttered at a long line of handsome suitors. Though she knew Jack was the only suitor that would ever truly suit her. She stood shakily, still weak from her imprisonment, and came to kneel before him, as she had before. She still didn't trust the strength of his lap, though she so wanted to sit there.

"I'm not giving up," she assured him.

"I don't expect you to. But Lizzie…" Jack's eyes looked away from hers and a part of her knew what he was going to say, as much as she didn't want to hear it. "There won't be an escape. Not this time. They've made sure of it. Luv, it's the end of our golden age… pirates are being executed left and right, or dying in pools of their own blood on their own ships. I always knew it would end some day. I just didn't imagine it would be like this. An' I certainly never wanted to take you down with me."

"I chose my own path," she said, closing her eyes. Seeing him like this, so ready to give up, felt like confirmation that the end, was in fact, near. This is what he had been like that day back on the Black Pearl, when she'd sent him to his "death" with a kiss and an I'm not sorry. She could still hear his voice, see the look on his face when he'd reminded Gibbs that the Pearl was only a ship…

She felt tears burning in her eyes. This wasn't how she imagined things ending, either. "You promised…" she said unsteadily, taking a deep breath and gathering her wits. She wanted to be strong for him like he'd been for her in times past, remembering his hands on her shoulders as he yanked her off the Dutchman, carrying her to safety and saving her from a watery grave. "You promised you'd make love to me in your cabin."

"So I did," he said, nodding slowly. "In another lifetime, Lizzie, perhaps there'll be another cabin… another me, another you."

I don't want another you, she wanted to say. I want you.

"I'll hold you to it, then," she said quietly, knowing that at any minute, an officer would likely come to carry her away. She squeezed her eyes shut… she couldn't think of it, the thought too painful. She couldn't imagine not ever seeing him again.

She shook her head, unwilling to accept it, yet unable to consider another possibility. She opened her eyes and found his dark ones staring at her, having never removed themselves from her. She might not ever know the feeling of his body over hers, the ecstasy that she knew only he would bring her, but she would be damned if she didn't taste those lips again. She rose from her knees, unable to reach him from the ground, or standing up, and so she carefully straddled him, still mindful of not causing him further pain. She placed her hands on either side of his face, lovingly feeling each bump, each cut, each bruise, a silent reminder that despite it all, to her, he was beautiful. She leaned against him, her lips hovering over his.

"A befitting end," he whispered, his breath hot against her lips. He smirked and she felt her belly flop. She loved that smirk. She was so close to him, their lips nearly touching, when a heavy bell began to ring. She tore away from him. "Or perhaps not," he sighed, agitated.

"What's going on?" she asked, masking the panic in her voice. No sooner had she asked the question did the sound of cannon fire erupt from the harbor outside. The whole prison, which Elizabeth knew had been built before she'd even been born, seemed to shake upon impact.

"I don't know," Jack offered honestly, a startlingly uncharacteristic answer. She didn't know if she would be seeing more of this Jack in the future, didn't even know what kind of a future they would ever have with the looming image of a hangman's noose in the back of her mind, but she liked it. So long as he didn't cancel out the other Jack altogether, that was… she loved all sides of him. "Though I'm willing to wager we're under attack." He began to move his arms, as though trying to shake the manacles free from his wrists.

Despite knowing their efforts would prove futile, she went to him again, trying to pry the manacles open. Within minutes her fingers were beginning to blister and she noticed equally reddening blisters around his wrists, the skin raw and starting to peel. Her recently acquired brand continued to burn, though she pressed on. Only several more moments passed before the cries of their fellow prisoners could be heard, evidence that the prison's attackers, be they officials from another nation or unsavory adversaries like she and Jack, were flooding the halls.

"Get behind me, Lizzie," Jack said sternly, stopping his movements.

"Like hell," she muttered, standing in front of him. His concern for her was both extremely touching and immensely exasperating. She stood up, standing in front of him. Of the two of them, she knew she was more capable of protecting him than he was of her. She jumped and successfully suppressed a gasp when a heavy boom resounded against the cell's wooden door, as if all of a man's weight had been thrust into it.

"Again!" She heard from the other side. The accent was heavy and familiar, though adrenaline kept her thoughts scattered, preventing her from identifying its owner. The sound of Jack, fighting with his manacles, captured her attention and she looked down to see him yanking and pulling against his chains.

"Elizabeth!" He muttered, frustrated, fingers outstretched as if reaching for her. The boom resonated again. Quickly, unable to deny him and even more unable to resist her instincts, she sat in his lap, forgetting about her previous concerns. She wound her arms around his neck. If they were going to take her from him, it wouldn't be without a struggle. She grasped onto the fabric of his collar. His arm came around her as best as it could, given his constraints, and she felt instant, unexplainable comfort.

A third boom made the door shake and she glanced over to see the hinges coming loose from the crumbling walls. Elizabeth's hope and fear fought with each other. These intruders were either here to liberate them from their prison or to expedite their impending deaths. Which was the more likely, she honestly didn't know.

A fourth and final boom sent the door spiraling sway from its hinges, shards of wood splintering into the far corners of the cell. An African man of gargantuan size blocked the light from the adjacent hallway, his features undistinguishable. She felt Jack's hand tighten around the loose fabric at the back of her blouse and heard him draw in a breath as if about to speak when that distantly familiar voice sounded again.

"Step aside, Obadias." The man who beat down the door did as he was told and in stepped another African man, slightly smaller than his companion, but still much larger than she and even Jack. Elizabeth felt herself leaning closer into him, able to smell the salty sweat gathered on his face and neck, knowing full well that what Jack lacked in stature he more than made up for in wit and cunning. If there were still a hope left for them, he would find it.

Feeling genuinely afraid and needing to draw from his quiet strength, she looked to his face, watching as his good eye narrowed and widened, focusing as best he could in the dim light. She watched, unable not to, as his face scrunched up then relaxed in realization, a slight grin curling onto his dry lips.

"Captain Jocard," he practically sighed, and she felt the muscles in his shoulders relax. "You always knew how to make an entrance." Captain Jocard, of course. Elizabeth felt safe enough to release the death grip she had on Jack's shirt. She'd only met him once, the first and only time she'd ever attended a meeting of the Brethren Court, but she quietly scolded herself for not having recognized him sooner.

She watched, eyes wide, as Jocard threw his head back and let out a deep laugh. He pointed at Jack, the amusement evident in his dark eyes. "De same 'as been said about you, I'm afraid."

"So I've heard," Jack said, nodding slightly. "If you're here, who's that causing a fuss out in the harbor?"

"Villanueva," Jocard said, a wicked smile revealing gleaming rows of bright white teeth. "As well as de trusted men I left on my own ship." Elizabeth watched in a satiated mixture of awe, relief and the slight remainder of fear, unable to find her voice. Jocard looked to his escort and cocked his head in her direction. The larger man stomped towards her.

"Beg pardon, Your Majesty," he said in a quiet, strong voice, his accent so heavy she almost didn't understand him. Before she could resume her grip on Jack's vest and shirt, she found herself lifted off his lap, instantly feeling the warmth of his body dissipate as she was carried away from him. She felt slightly unnerved by their most recent encounter, recalling (without fondness) the last time they'd all been in the same room and the chaos that followed.

Elizabeth watched, her nervous eyes darting between Jack and Jocard as the larger man pulled a pistol from his belt. Her heart leapt into her throat when she saw him raise it towards Jack. She lunged forward, crying his name, but was stopped when Jocard's henchman grabbed her firmly by the shoulders, holding her in place. Tears of fear and fury sprang to her eyes as she wrenched beneath her captor's strong hands, to no avail, and again she cried Jack's name. She watched, fatigued and helpless, as Jack turned his head and squeezed his eyes shut. Unable to stop Jocard and unable to watch, she too closed her eyes and turned her head. All too suddenly the pistol fired and she let out a gasp and a whimper at the sound of… metal hitting metal?

Her eyes flew open to see Jack, one hand dangling free. The chain that connected his manacled wrist to the thick wood of the chair was blown cleanly in half.

"My apologies, Your Highness," Jocard said, a lazy smile on his face.

"Quite alright," she managed to squeak out, knowing how strained her voice must have sounded. The large man behind her let go of her shoulders and she smoothed out her clothes before crossing her arms, mindful of her most recently acquired brand. "The other one?"

All three men laughed and she felt her cheeks flush, embarrassed and perturbed. She breathed in sharply through her nose. Should they get out of this, she would find time to be mad at Jack later.

"Patience is a virtue, luv," Jack said, again closing his eyes and averting his head as Jocard took aim for a second time. Elizabeth involuntarily jumped as the gun was fired, but when she saw Jack's second wrist, no longer bound to the chair in which he was sitting and stiffly moving of its own accord, she let out an audible sigh of relief.

"Yes, well," Elizabeth said quickly, not willing to embarrass herself again, "patience is hardly helpful when you're short on time." She moved towards him again, watching as he steadied himself on the arms of the chair, attempting to stand upright. She could see the muscles tensing in his legs as he worked to get himself standing. Giving into instinct, her arms shot out, trying to help him up.

"I can do it, m'fine," he muttered quietly. She ignored the slight pang in her chest as he brushed her hands away. Still, she understood his masculine pride and took a small step backwards – hers was a world surrounded by men, the only woman aboard the Black Pearl, and she'd had plenty of time to gain an understanding of how the opposite sex operated.

After several failed attempts and several more curse words, Jack managed to get to his feet. He turned to look at her, a triumphant grin plastered across his bruised face, but the movement proved too much and he began to wobble. In an instant, she was at his side, tucking herself under his arm to steady him. In nearly the same instant, Jocard was at the other side, the two of them providing Jack with a complete pair of human crutches.

Elizabeth heard Jack breath in steadily through his nose, followed by the slightest of noises coming from somewhere in the back of his throat. She grasped onto the back of his shirt, tugging gently, an unspoken way of telling him that he didn't need to justify needing help, didn't need to come up with some witty line or smartass comment.

"We need to hurry," Jocard insisted. The noise of cannon and gunfire had not abated, making it blaringly apparent that the battle still raged in the harbor just outside.

"How will we make it out in that chaos?" Elizabeth asked. The sound of crumbling walls, of the feeling that the prison might collapse at any minute, was more than enough to leave her with a pit in her stomach.

"Chaos breeds distraction," Jack said lowly. "We'll make it out fine."


"That was hardly fine!" Elizabeth hissed through gritted teeth, looking out the large set of windows in Jocard's cabin. Jocard had offered her his bunk, but she was restless. She watched, ever-alert, to make sure that the British authorities were not in pursuit. Her arms were crossed, her recently branded forearm resting casually atop the other.

The four of them had made it to Jocard's longboat, sheltered in the reeds, where two more of his men stood watch, waiting for them. The group made it back to Jocard's ship with relative ease proving Jack right – the battle masked them, like being encased in fog. At the end of the day though, Jocard's crew suffered the loss of five men and it was reported that Villanueva had lost at least seven. Once they were safely on board, however, a retreat from Nassau Harbor was hastily made, enough damage wreaked to prevent them from being followed… for now, at least.

Jack chuckled from across the room. She shot her head in his direction, glaring at him, a prompt disguise for the relief she felt. If he felt well enough to laugh at her displeasure, as he had so many times before, then she knew he'd recover just fine. She breathed in deep and fought the urge to close her eyes, wanting to surrender to her weary body, but forced them to stay open.

Jack sat in a tired looking chair towards the center of the cabin, a woman who she assumed was Jocard's lover (or possibly even his wife) stood before him, partially blocking him from Elizabeth's sight. A rum bottle was clenched greedily in his fist and hung down by his side as she stitched a laceration above the eye that wasn't swollen shut. Jocard himself stood shirtless, hunched over his desk, eyes fixated on a map barely illuminated by a flickering lantern.

"How long until we reach Shipwreck Cove?" Elizabeth asked, wanting badly to accept Jocard's offer to rest in his bunk, but wanting more to maintain any level of composure that she possibly could. She didn't want Jocard – or even Jack, for that matter – to think their king was weak.

"Three days, per'aps more depending on de weather," Jocard said, breathing in deep. He turned his attention to Jack. "De Pearl waits for you."

Elizabeth arched her neck ever so slightly. Jack maintained his steadiness, following his strict instructions to hold very still (lest he wish to have a needle in his eye), but she felt she could almost see him melt into the chair, immense relief washing over his marred features.

"And the crew?" he asked, his lips barely moving as he spoke.

"Your crew is unharmed," Jocard informed him, easing back into his desk chair and reaching for his own bottle of rum. "Once dey knew you and de King were captured, dey fled for de Cove."

"Smart," Jack mused, nodding his appreciation as the woman tied off his stiches, bowed her head to Jocard, and quickly left the room.

"Dey been taught well," Jocard agreed.

"Why did they not return for us?" Elizabeth asked, careful that her voice held a certain quality of gratitude. She didn't want Jocard to think her ungrateful for their very heroic, very un-pirate like rescue.

"Too conspicuous," Jack answered, tilting his head back slightly to drink from his bottle. She'd always chided him, playfully teased him about the consumption of his most beloved beverage. Now she could think of nothing else she'd rather see him do… if she could not ease his obvious pain, she'd be glad that bottle could.

"Dey'd be expectin' it," Jocard agreed. "Looking for de Black Pearl to liberate her captain. Besides, Villanueva and I, we show a united front. We show we not go down so easy."

Elizabeth smiled. It was rather humorous to hear vows of strength and unity coming from the lips of pirates. But she knew he was right. Their world was coming to an end, the golden age of piracy fading into the horizon almost as if it had never existed at all. Pirates banding together was an unusual but necessary tactic to prolong the inevitable.

"So my crew awaits me, then, eh?" Jack asked. He leaned back in his chair and let his good eye slide shut, gently placing his now-empty bottle on the floor beside him.

"Aye," Jocard confirmed. Elizabeth watched, standing upright again, as he rose from his chair and puffed his chest out, stretching and grunting with the effort to do so. "De stay loyal to you, Captain Sparrow. You should be proud."

Elizabeth expected Jack to say something, but he only smirked. Other than the quick flicker of movement on his lips, he remained completely still. She didn't know whether to be glad he was resting or concerned at his lack of trademark personality.

"You stay in here," Jocard continued, scratching his exposed belly as he involuntarily stomped across the room, his overwhelming stature leaving him with little choice. "I have someone send a hammock."

"No need," Jack said after him, waving his hand. "One bunk will suit us both." Elizabeth instantly felt crimson sweep into her cheeks. Her urge to slap him at his indiscretion, regardless of his injuries, was balanced by seeing the return of his so-called personality. Jocard, in turn, responded without words, but rather with a hearty laugh that illuminated the otherwise quiet space. In a moment's time he was gone, and Elizabeth regretted not getting another chance to thank him for his help. She'd remedy that as soon as the morning came.

Several silent moments passed before she worked up the nerve to speak, having nearly forgotten how bold they'd both been back in that cell. As much as she thought herself a pirate, a part of her would always be wrapped up in a corset, reminders of the lessons taught to her regarding men and propriety fighting with her desire to throw herself at the captain who had stolen her heart and locked it away where she would never get it back.

"We should get you to bed," she finally said, walking towards him and holding out her hands for him to grab onto. "You need rest." She felt her stomach flop when he looked up at her, his desire was evident, the mischievous twinkle returning to his dark eyes (well, eye) that she had worried she might not see again.

"Anxious for me to fulfill my promise, eh, darling?" He took her hands gladly, allowing her to help him rise to his feet. She fought the urge to say yes, to let him guide her to that bunk and do all the things she'd fantasized about since nearly the moment she met him, but her practicality won out.

"Your promise stipulated our location would be in your cabin," she reminded him, walking with him to the bunk with a steadying hand on his back. His shirt clung to his sweat slicked skin and she was more than tempted to go to the washstand and offer him a sponge bath. "And I'll hold you to that promise," she managed to squeak out, making him sit on the edge of the bunk by applying gentle pressure to his shoulders.

She fought a grin at the dismayed moan that escaped from his throat, coming to sit beside him and tentatively taking one of his hands in both of hers. She turned it so that it was palm-side up, her fingernails delicately tracing the "P" shaped scar on his forearm, the one that had long-since healed.

"A matching set," she sighed, looking anywhere but his face. She hadn't considered whether avoiding it was due to the immense tightness that welled up in her chest whenever she saw how hurt he was, or due to her own awkwardness.

"Mine never ached for a twin," Jack assured her. "I've always known you had pirate in your veins, Lizzie. I never wished to see a scar such as mine seared into your flesh."

"I know," she said, her voice small and quiet. "But you're no more deserving of such a torturous mark than I, Jack. The pain will go away, as yours did. I'll be fine." Her eyes finally gained the courage they needed to look him in the face and she watched as he drew in another unsteady breath, scooting backwards and leaning against the pillows. He swung his feet up, dirty boots coming to rest in her lap.

"Help me get these off, dearie," he said, placing an arm under his head. She grinned at him, noting how he hadn't asked for help, but rather requested it, as a captain might his cabin boy. It was a clever ruse to once again preserve a certain sense of masculinity. She knew Jack too well and a part of her was proud for being able to see through him.

She did as he asked, gently pulling them off his feet and setting them neatly on the floor beside them. She was about to offer to remove his effects before sadly remembering they'd been taken by the authorities and in their haste to evacuate Nassau, had been left behind. She chose not to remind him, thinking of his fondness for his hat and pistol and his most cherished, special compass. She forced herself to remember that escaping with their lives was of utmost importance… if ever presented with an opportunity to retrieve his personal items and reunite them with their only proper owner, she would do so.

"Jack," she began, allowing him to keep his feet in her lap. The last time she'd seen his feet without his boots felt like forever ago, on an island that she hoped held as many fond memories for him as it did for her… she was surprised, not for the first time, by how lovely and well-kept they were. "You've never told me how you got your scar."

"O'course I have," he said, frowning and leaning forward slightly. She shook her head. "Haven't I?"

"Afraid not."

"Well, then, our timing is disturbingly appropriate," he sighed, leaning backwards again. "I earned myself this scar while rescuin' our rescuer in a most daring and dangerous rescue."

Elizabeth laughed. "Oh?"

"Aye," he nodded slightly. "Captain Jocard, our most generous benefactor, escaped the confines of the most wicked slave trade from the bowels of a wretched plantation in Charleston. Or Savannah. Can't remember which." Elizabeth listened to him speak, loving to hear him as he told his stories, or rather, the stories of others. She offered a silent thank you as she pressed her thumb into the ball of his foot, massaging gently. He issued his thank you in a low moan that made something deep within her throb.

"Anyways," Jack continued, forcing his eye back open as Elizabeth set to work on his feet. "Jocard made himself a new living, a free living, on a ship of passing pirates that had recently liberated a nearby port. He worked hard and made his way up through the ranks to become quarter master, and then first mate, and then captain.

"He maintained this most esteemed level of authority for several years before they were overpowered by a much mightier, much more powerful slave ship. He and his crew were captured and were to be sent back as the property of their former masters."

"Who would exact their punishment accordingly," Elizabeth said, her voice flat and distant.

"Aye," Jack replied before shrugging his shoulders slightly. "Or they would have had they not met the Pearl 'forehand."

"You liberated the ship," she said, a small smile forming at the corners of her mouth.

"I liberated the ship," he confirmed, smiling himself. "I liberated the ship and gave Jocard what he needed to make it his own. Freed his crew and gave the slavers a choice – work compliantly or spend their time in the confines they found suitable enough for their captives."

"So that's why you were branded?" she asked, releasing his foot. "When were you captured?"

"Just short of a month later. Held scorching metal to me skin and dared to call it a 'warning.' Execution is what it was. They placed a noose around my neck without letting me swing."

"By way of letting others do their dirty work," Elizabeth nodded, beginning to realize what he meant, remembering the day James had grabbed his arm, called him a pirate, and was prepared to hang him then and there… the very day he saved her life without a second thought, without knowing who she was and without knowing what would happen to him once he did.

She had often found herself wondering if he still would have jumped into the bay to save her as he had, knowing he would face captivity afterwards. To this there was no simple answer. Captain Jack might not have. But Jack, just Jack… he would most certainly would have. She heard him clear his throat and realized that he'd misjudged her silence as way of something critical, judgmental.

"Lizzie, I was a pirate long before I earned this…" he said quietly, motioning downwards towards the scar on his arm. "And I've remained one long since. Still… find me a more noble reason for earning such a brand and I'll sail straight back to Nassau without complaint."

"I don't know that I can," she replied, beginning to really feel the burn behind her eyes, the incessant need to slide them shut and go to sleep right where she sat. Still, she pushed on. "Though if I could, I wouldn't let you sail back to Nassau."

"Oh no?" he asked, the eyebrow above his good eye wiggling at her suggestively. The eyebrow above his swollen eye hardly moved at all. "And what means of persuasion would you use to deter me, hmm, Lizzie?"

Elizabeth smiled at him, tempted to use her words and womanly curves to be just as suggestive, before remembering how weak they both were… if they were going to do this, she wanted it to be perfect, and now was not the time nor the place. "Jack," she finally said, her brows knotting together as she remembered something else from earlier that evening.

"Yes, luv?"

"Why… why did they put me with you?" she asked. "Why not just keep us separated?"

Jack turned his head away from her, took a long, deep breath, and then exhaled in an obvious show of anger, frustration… what precisely she couldn't determine.

"Because…" he started, his hands balling into fists. Either he didn't know or he didn't want to tell her. Perhaps some of both. After several moments, he started again. "Because they were going to use you to get to me."

Elizabeth watched him, his every emotion made evident by his furrowed eyebrows and darkened eye. "What do you mean?" she asked softly, almost afraid of the answer. "Because we were captured together? They assumed we were… that we…?"

"They assumed you were my girl," he said quickly, his face flashing forward to catch a quick glimpse of her before looking away again. "They were more than prepared to hold me still while they practiced any given assortment of… obscenities…" he trailed off, his head remained turned to the side. When he spoke again, his voice was so low and soft, he didn't even sound like himself. It scared her. "They assumed I loved you."

Elizabeth felt the burn return to her eyes, though this time it wasn't from exhaustion. She squeezed them shut, not able to look at him and unwilling to look anywhere else.

"Lizzie," she heard him whisper. "Elizabeth, look at me." As if he commanded her very soul, her eyes shot open and she looked up to him, hot tears spilling down her cheeks, his face and body obscured by the moisture brimming in the corners of her eyes.

"What…" Elizabeth stopped herself, the squeak that had emerged from her lips surely not belonging to her. "If they had…"

"Come up here," he said sternly, cutting her off. She said nothing, didn't even nod her head, but obediently crawled up the bunk towards him. She sat beside him, though at what she felt was a safe enough distance, staring down as she played with her own fingers. She had every intention of maintaining that distance when she felt his strong arm wrap itself around her waist, his hand planted firmly on her hip. Before she could squirm away or voice a protest, he was tugging her closer until they were right on top of each other, her thighs against his. Still, she would not look at him.

She cleared her throat, pulling out courage she didn't know she had to finish her thoughts. "If they had done that, what would have happened?"

"Well," he sighed, his arm moving upwards until it came to rest on her shoulder, then up further still until she realized he was gently pushing her head down to his shoulder. "Let's be glad they didn't." He paused. "If they did… I would've told 'em just about anythin' they wanted me to, regardless of truth or consequence to get them to…" He paused again, this time letting out a nervous chuckle. "I would have let them go back to work on me if it meant ensuring your freedom."

The words hit her strong and fast, her pace of her heartbeat reaching a painful thudding in her chest. She felt the heat coming off his body, any and all doubts she may have had about his intentions or desires stemming from more than just his groin wiped cleanly from her mind. He loved her. He loved her.

"Jack?" she whispered, feeling no urgency to wipe away her tears. She sniffled before speaking again.

"Yes, Lizzie-Beth?"

"I would have done anything," she confessed, feeling a weight she hadn't even realized she'd been carrying lift itself from her shoulders. "I would have done anything to make them stop."

Jack turned down to look at her, smiling, flashing her specks of gold. He swiftly tucked his fingers under her chin, tilting her face up so she was forced to look at him. Without waiting for an invitation and without waiting for a protest, he pressed his lips to hers in a kiss so gentle it wouldn't have offended even the mildest of temperaments. Yet beneath it all was a subdued passion that made her long for his cabin on the Pearl, almost forgetting about his physical pain, or even hers. "I know, Lizzie," he told her, his voice steady, his grip on her strong and sure.

"You know?" she asked, her voice still tired, nearly straining under the power of it all, though the edge of hope that hung off each syllable was enough to make him laugh.

"I've always known. M'Captain Jack Sparrow!" he smirked, his available hand coming up to twirl the ends of his mustache. An image of him from years past, the soft glow of a raging bonfire illuminating his fine features, suddenly flashed to her mind, and she smiled.

She leaned up and into him, placing a second, gentle kiss against his weathered, split lip. "What you are, Captain Sparrow," she whispered, fully aware of the low, throaty quality of her voice, "is arrogant." She opened her eyes to see the smirk had not yet left his face.

"And you love me for it," he insisted, scooting down so he lay flat against the bunk, tugging her down with him so that she lay on her side against him. One of her arms came up to wrap itself around his torso, her hand and fingers sliding underneath his shirt to lay flat against his stomach in possessive comfort.

"I love you in spite of it," she corrected, leaning down and placing a soft kiss against the exposed part of his neck.

"Oi!" His voice suggested bitterness, but his warm hold on her did not abate, and she grinned as she lowered her head back down against his chest. "No offending the captain."

"Jack?"

"Mmm?"

"Do shut up."

He laughed, his hand leaving its place on the small of her back so long, elegant fingers could weave into her hair. "I love you too, Lizzie." He fought the urge to let out a satisfied groan as she pulled herself more on top of him, one leg sliding over his until they were a tangled mess of flesh and limbs. "Now sleep, darlin'. Dream of the Pearl."

Elizabeth released a noise that was something between a "yes" and an exhausted mumble. His fingers moved slowly and carefully, soothing her until he felt her muscles relax and her breathing steady. As she slept against him, he couldn't help but wonder if the day's events were an ominous foreshadowing of what was yet to come. Whether or not they would be captured again, and whether or not they would be lucky enough to be rescued or manage their own escape, he couldn't say. Whichever it was, he knew Jocard was right. The golden age of piracy was drawing to an end.

Jack looked down at the wondrous creature who lay sleeping soundly in the crook of his arm. Whatever was in store for him and every other pirate that roamed the oceans, one thing was for certain. His golden age with Elizabeth was just beginning…


A/N: Reviews are appreciated! Thanks for reading!