OVER THE HORIZON
A/N: Some of the dates in terms of Spanish colonization in the Caribbean might be tweaked a little bit for purposes of creative license – no disrespect meant. And please forgive my Spanish. I took French in high school and I used one of those online translators for the Spanish dialogue in this story, which are, regrettably, not always accurate.
Happy (belated) birthday to Erin, my fellow pirate princess, Jump Street devotee, Deppaholic (Hansonholic, Sparrowholic, etc.)... but most importantly my very dear friend. Here's to you, darlin', and thanks for everything.
The sky was murky and overcast, the night air crisp and sharp, biting at Jack's skin like the wicked teeth of a disobedient young pup. Shipwreck Cove had always had an air of foreboding about it, as if it was its own solemn warning to any and all trespassers – a truly ironic thing, considering its purpose as a safe haven for unadulterated law-breakers. On this November night, however, the fortress felt particularly unwelcoming, and a small part of him couldn't help but wonder if it was this unusual brand of ominousness that kept his boots moving, one in front of the other, down the dock that led to the King's quarters.
Of course, it would be easy enough to blame it on the curious darkness and intriguing characters that milled about the cove for this most recent visit to the home of his father and place of his birth. That was the easy way out, figuratively speaking. The tattered and worn piece of parchment, folded neatly and tucked inside the waning breast of his jacket, told a different story. Come, his father had written, she's in trouble.
Four little words had him dropping everything, his priorities shifting in an instant… he needed no explanation as to who the "she" in the letter referred to, not that he would readily admit it, oh no. He'd had his crew guide the Pearl to Shipwreck Cove under the guise of the proverbial wine, women and song, and of course, a good night's sleep and a hearty meal that consisted of more than hardtack, salted meat and gruel.
True enough, he'd done his fair share of rescuing said "she" in the past. She was a perplexing paradigm of the archetypal damsel in distress, yet without a second's notice could have her sword at her enemy's throat, turning opponents even twice her size into quivering damsel's themselves. Their relationship was a complicated one, though he'd never for not one second doubted her capabilities.
Despite this, he was still perfectly capable of recognizing her biggest weakness, her undeniable lack of experience, which itself was a testament to each and every year of experience he himself had attained. No amount of natural skill and cunning, whether it as a pirate or a noble blacksmith, would ever do her any good so long as she was inexperienced.
Ironically, and most unfortunately, experience was something you gained via being captured, or shot (at the very least, shot at), or stabbed, or any combination of atrocities that those brave (or stupid) enough to choose their profession faced. Now Jack had known very shortly after meeting her, back on that fateful day when the Interceptor challenged the Black Pearl and lost… when he saw her brandishing that firearm, when she raised her hand and called him a wretch… he'd known then that she was destined for far more than a life of petticoats and high tea and calling cards.
And so he was instantly on his way, from the moment he received that letter, if you could even call it that. Sure, he would play his usual snarky self, grumble and gripe and be smug and sarcastic about how he was, once again, acting as Elizabeth's hero and savior or what-have-you. But no amount of cynicism or smart-assery would delay his response to her latest predicament, and he supposed it was that fact that troubled him most.
Despite his most valiant efforts, Elizabeth Swann had wormed her way under his skin, and like a splinter, thoughts of her festered and seeped through him like an infection. At first, that's quite similar to what thoughts of her were – unwanted and unceasing, no matter how he tried to rid himself of them.
In those early stages, it was easy enough to blame his obsession on his own sensibility. He thought about Elizabeth because he wanted her, in the physical sense, and could never, ever have her. She was unobtainable, and so naturally, was immensely desirable.
But on a gloomy night shortly before she used all the womanly attributes that made her so damn appealing to send him to his death, when he was pondering the kraken's pursuit and the implications that arose with it, he realized that he cared what happened to her… he suddenly understood what might happen should the kraken catch up with him, should Elizabeth become an unwitting victim to his own tribulations with Davy Jones, and he didn't like it. He didn't like the way it made him feel to know that harm should befall her, especially because of who he'd been before he even knew her. He wouldn't have worried so much had he known what she was plotting.
That was another thing that truly distressed him – how readily he forgave her after such a deed, how easy it was to rationalize that she did what she had to do, what would save everyone, what any true pirate would do, and all that. The ease with which the willingness to absolve her of his own murder came to him was as clear an indicator as he was ever going to get. He loved Elizabeth.
He loved her for her spirit, as ridiculous as the notion made him feel, the way she fought for what she believed in and those she cared for most, no matter the consequences. If there was such a thing as nobility in the soul of a pirate, she possessed it. He loved the way she fought with him, that damnable stubborn streak, her persistence and her tenacity.
Despite all this, an inherent knowledge of how he truly felt about the lass, he to forget about it, to move on, attribute said-feelings to lust. This went on for some time, for months after he'd last seen her, until he simply grew tired. Accepting how he felt was not necessarily easier than denying it, but at least his head hurt a little less at the end of each day, and at least he slept a little better at night.
And so Jack found himself at Shipwreck Cove, once again answering the call to rush to Elizabeth's rescue. He found his stride becoming a little longer, his legs moving a little faster as the dim candlelight emanating from her quarters came into view. His father was just as famous for his solemn vagueness as he was for his utter intolerance for abusers of the code. His cryptic message about Elizabeth could mean any number of things, illness, injury, imprisonment, and those were just the most obvious in a long line of possible ailments.
He finally reached her door and paused for a brief moment, listening for voices within, and when he heard none, he turned the knob and entered. A gentleman would have knocked first, but that was a quality he never attributed to himself, and though he knew Elizabeth was somehow miraculously able to see the good in him, he doubted that she thought of "gentleman" as an appropriate moniker for him.
"Eliz—oh." He stopped himself when the individual bore not a head full of golden locks, but instead a worn, wrinkled face with long, stringy hair hiding underneath a tattered bandana, not unlike his own. "What are you doing here?"
"You're pleased to see me," Teague grinned, leaning back in the ornate chair situated behind Elizabeth's desk, propping one boot-clad foot up on the smooth, wooden surface.
"As ever," Jack smirked. "And since you're here," he continued, pausing to glance around the seemingly otherwise-empty space, "and the good king is not…"
"She is not," Teague sighed.
"Would you mind terribly, then," Jack continued, ignoring the tightness that was starting to build in his chest as he reached inside his jacket and pulling out his father's message, "explaining this?" The parchment noiselessly floated down onto the surface of the desk.
"It explains itself, does it not?" Teague asked, leaning forward. He unfolded the wrinkled piece of paper, his old, tired eyes looking it over as if he'd forgotten his own words. "She's in trouble."
Jack rolled his eyes. He often found his father's mysteriousness amusing and something of an asset, but with Elizabeth's whereabouts and state of health still unknown, his patience was wearing thin. However, considering she hadn't been taken to her quarters at the Cove to recuperate, he determined somewhere in the back of his mind that the trouble his father spoke of was a "who" rather than an "it."
Suddenly, in the dim silence of Elizabeth's quarters, Jack became embarrassingly aware of his reaction to her most recent quandary… he'd come running, no questions asked (well, maybe one or two), to rescue a woman he wished the world to think him indifferent to. He tried to subtly clear his throat and relax his stiff posture, two tasks at which he was ultimately unsuccessful.
"So why summon me?" he asked coolly. He adopted an attitude of nonchalance and turned to look about the cabin, casually picking up knick-knacks and examining Elizabeth's personal belongings, how they were arranged neatly on rows of sparsely occupied shelves. Despite this apparent indifference, he listened like a cat on the hunt, waiting for any tidbit of information from his father that would alert him of Elizabeth's whereabouts.
"You're aware of 'er 'usband's most recent predicament, are you not?" Teague asked, rising carefully to his feet and leaning over the desk as if examining some unseen chart or map.
"Why do you keep answering my questions with more questions?" Jack scowled, his brown furrowed forward as he turned to look at his father over his shoulder.
"Sometimes the answer is in the question," Teague replied with a wink, his feral grin revealing flecks of gold not dissimilar from his son's.
Jack let out a hefty sigh, his patience leaving little room for his father's anecdotes or analogies. "Yes. Captain Turner is off gallivanting about the seven seas of the afterworld leaving his dearly beloved Mrs. Turner behind in the real world to fend for herself," he declaimed, nearly cringing at his reference to the former blacksmith as Captain (a title only partially earned, in his opinion) and to Elizabeth as his Mrs. "I still fail to comprehend what any of this has to do with me."
"Well, with the good captain otherwise engaged, who else is left to save the damsel in distress, eh?" Teague pondered aloud, returning to his seat at Elizabeth's desk.
"You could do it," Jack shrugged.
"I'm not the type for saving damsels," Teague protested.
"Never too late to learn," Jack smirked before flashing back to a rainy afternoon aboard the Flying Dutchman, before he defied Jones' expectations and taught himself how to fly. He shook his head, bringing himself back to the present, to his father's tired and aged face.
"I'm too old, then."
"Agreed," Jack replied, half-sitting, half-falling back into a high-back armchair between the desk and a small, porthole window.
"Watch it, boy, I'm not too old to whip you," Teague warned, waving a wrinkled, ring-clad finger in Jack's direction.
"So what is it, then?" Jack asked, leaning into the cushion of the chair and taking a deep breath. He'd have to give up on notions like "why me?" for the time being. Arguing with his father was like attempting to weather a storm with no sails. Besides, he still didn't know where Elizabeth was or how much time he still had before things became truly dire. "What has befallen King Elizabeth this time?"
"Her crew arrived here at the cove not long ago without her, sayin' she'd been taken by Diego Marques and his crew after a confrontation went awry," Teague explained.
Jack felt his stomach drop. Diego Marques was no man Elizabeth should be messing with. He was the captain of the imposing Hija del Cielo, a treasure galleon under the authority of the king of Spain. Treasure galleons were typically easy prey for pirates in the Caribbean, and Marques would have been no different from his Spanish counterparts were it not for one thing: his impressive catalog of experience, something Elizabeth was still very much in the process of building herself… Jack knew instantly that it was her lack of said-experience that must of possessed her to cross paths with Marques, who himself would not have been bothered to approach Elizabeth or her ship and crew without provocation.
Marques' experience, itself, was of ambiguous origins. Jack made it his business to know everything he could about potentially dangerous opponents, no matter what region of the globe they came from, but Marques remained something of a mystery. What was certain was that his career began on a treasure galleon and was so currently, but the in-between was shrouded in darkness.
"Why would Marques capture Elizabeth and let her crew go free?" Jack thought aloud, the back of his hand coming to rest against his mouth.
"With their captain in custody they were likely given a choice," Teague shrugged. "It's unlikely Marques had the capacity to take all of them aboard as his prisoners. The way her quartermaster tells it, Marques offered them a peaceful retreat or complete decimation. They chose the former."
"Cowards," Jack muttered.
"It was the right choice, son," Teague disagreed. "Their return to the cove alerted the brethren of Elizabeth's predicament. They were outnumbered. Had the remained and try to fight Marques and his crew for her freedom, they would have lost, and neither you nor I would know that the king requires assistance." The older captain took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair, a lazy smile creeping across his face. "Had you taken pause, you'd have realized that as well. Don't let your affection for the girl cloud your judgment."
Jack scowled, trying to ignore his father's last comment, but knowing full well that, once again, he was right. "So where is she now?"
"Santiago de Cuba, most likely," Teague surmised. "They were nearby when she was forced to surrender to Marques. My guess is they'll be shipping her back to Madrid for a trial—"
"Treason against the king of Spain."
"Aye," Teague continued. "Despite her recent career change, she's still very much a public figure in England."
"'Tis likely even more so," Jack agreed. "She's a prime catch. He'll probably receive a commendation from the bloody king himself."
"So she's English, protestant—"
"And a pirate to boot," Jack sighed, rising to his feet. "Doesn't stand a chance."
"When do you leave?" Teague asked, peering up at him from his seat at the desk.
The brig of Marques' ship was hardly befitting of a court-appointed vessel. At least Elizabeth expected it to be clean, or perhaps just cleaner than any given pirate ship anywhere in the Caribbean.
The brig was dank, dark and damp and in a forsaken corner of the belly of the ship, with not enough room to stand up completely straight, and so she sat on the floor with her knees pulled tight to her chest. Somewhere in the near-distance she could hear water dripping and the discomforting chirp of rats gnawing on whatever sustenance they could find. The smell of human waste was faint, but undoubtedly present.
Her backside was cold and numb from what felt like days of sitting. At least two days had passed since her capture, since which she had yet to see the light of day. A small part of her wondered if she would ever see it again. The contents of her cell consisted of nothing but the clothes on her own back, the restraints that bound her wrists, and a chamber pot that she was able to use with only a great amount of difficulty, given the way her hands were bound. Meals consisted of the arbitrary hardtack and salted meat, served early in the morning and somehow expected to last her all day.
She looked down at the manacles around her wrists and the vision of a pair of tan, strong, dirty hands bound by manacles of the same design flashed into her mind. It had been warm on that afternoon several years ago, and the heat that radiated from his chest was a stark contrast to the cool iron of the manacles' chain tickling her throat and the barrel of the pistol pressed firmly against her temple.
It wasn't as if she had previously misunderstood Jack's motives on that day that she finally laid eyes on the infamous captain. He was driven by an urge to save himself, and now, sitting here, with the end of her own life looming imminently near, she had gained a new perspective.
With nothing but her chamber pot and the rats to keep her company, she'd had plenty of time to think and reflect, and it was hardly surprising that the majority of her thoughts somehow circled right back to the elusive and enigmatic Captain Jack Sparrow. In fact, he had encompassed what felt like the majority of her thoughts since she'd last seen him, since he'd told her that "once was quite enough" and she'd been left wondering if he spoke the truth.
Although she supposed it would be a lie to say she hadn't thought about him long before that moment, or even long before she'd made that decision to cuff him to the Pearl's mast and leave him to face the kraken alone. She didn't regret doing it – it was the right thing to do, the thing that ultimately saved them all, even Jack. What she did regret was that there hadn't been another way, another way to relieve them from the kraken's trail that didn't result in Jack's death.
Truth be told, she'd consistently had Jack somewhere on the peripheral area of her mind since the moment she'd met him, since the very first time he'd ever called her "darling." Perhaps it was ridiculous, that she'd been captivated so easily the moment a pretty face slung her with a flirtatious nickname and a charming smirk. She felt even more ridiculous in the following weeks and months, knowing that there was something about him that had her permanently transfixed.
It may or may not have been ridiculous, but she knew for certain it was frustrating. Here she was, with the adoring affection of a one William Turner, who was good and kind, honest, brave, handsome… He was safe and familiar, a friend since childhood. At the time that she met Jack, Will was everything she wanted. She loved him, deeply, and knew that he loved her.
The only problem was that she had yet to determine the difference between loving someone and being in love with someone. Love was love in her youthful naivety, and she had some difficulty expanding that horizon until feelings for Jack began to emerge, strange and foreign at first, but inarguably persistent.
The love she felt for Will was not unreal and she never doubted its validity, even now. The basis of that love, however, was a fierce loyalty to the young boy she'd met at the tender age of twelve, who she'd seen grow up and become a young man who risked everything to save her from the clutches of a pirate crew who mistook her, due solely to her own deed, as someone else. That love was not the kind of love that one felt in the deepest parts of their heart and gut, that was passionate and fervent and unrelenting.
What was truly ironic was that she hadn't fully understood or even accepted her feelings for Jack until after he was gone, sent to the depths of the locker by a strange amalgamation by both of them. Davy Jones and his mollusk-esque pet were in pursuit of Jack purely by his own accord, that she knew even the great captain could not argue, but it was she who assured Jack would satisfy his debt be becoming fodder for the ocean-dwelling beast.
Elizabeth's ever-irritating desire for Jack was wracked then with a rapidly building sense of regret, not necessarily at the deed itself, for no one could contend that she saved lives that day, but rather that she'd run out of time to find another way. She abhorred leaving him there the way she did, allowing him to think that deceit and trickery were so easily available to her against a man she generally trusted, who generally trusted her.
When she was a child, her father often told her that "one regret leads to another," and his wisdom was inexplicably true in the case of her decision to feed Jack to the kraken, like an offering left to some sort of pagan god. Her ominous regret at doing something as profound essentially choosing to end the man's life prevented her from ever addressing it with him once he had returned.
She had always felt like the unsanctioned leader of the expedition to retrieve Jack from the locker, despite Barbossa's captainly status, but never had to courage to speak of it with him… All she could hope for was that Jack recognized her efforts to rescue him as a genuine attempt to right her wrong and apologize, to undo her fateful "I'm not sorry."
No use worrying about it now, she mused to herself, as somewhere above she heard a door open. Her captors hardly paid her any mind, and this unexpected interruption into her reveries about Jack and all that was left unsaid was quite possibly an indication that she would soon be led to her literal end.
The hour lingered sometime between day and night, after dusk but before true nightfall. The candles in Captain Marques' cabin had been lit and he stood quietly and contemplatively at his desk, at an angle where he could still see out the window that elegantly framed the city of Santiago de Cuba. He had anchored his ship away from the main harbor, where he could discreetly and cheaply await dispensation from his king to necessitate an execution. Hopefully the prisoner would not grow ill and die in the brig before that time came…
It was a shame, really. She was young, beautiful, strong-willed, and clearly had extensive knowledge of the sea and ships to boot… were she not English, were she not a protestant, she would be the exemplary model of a good captain's bride. But, as fate would have it, she was not, and instead of warming his bed with her slender but agile and surely capable body, he would be signing her death warrant.
Marques shrugged, thinking of her toned muscles and high cheekbones, her smooth, pillow-like lips. Perhaps he could see to that she warmed his bed first after all. There would be no repercussions from seeing to both tasks.
A heavy-handed knock rasped on his cabin door and he turned so that he was behind his desk, facing the entryway.
"Introduzca," he said, not loud enough to shout but just loud enough so that the soldier on the other side would hear him. The door opened slowly and he could only see the silhouette of one of his crewmen behind the fair prisoner as they both stood in the doorway. Marques smiled. "Puede dejarnos, gracias."
Elizabeth subtly glanced over her shoulder as the soldier holding her arm released his grip and gently shoved her into the foyer of the cabin. Without so much as another word, he turned and left her alone with the ship's captain, closing the door quietly behind him.
"Please, Miss Swann," he said, his Spanish accent heavy and full "Be seated," he invited, offering her a smile that was a little too kind for her liking and motioning to one of two chairs sitting opposite his desk.
"Thank you, sir," she replied curtly, her hands still bound, "but I've been seated for two days." She chose to ignore the amused chuckle that emerged from him at her stony demeanor. She did not mean to be entertaining. Why were men always so arrogant? "And I prefer to be called Captain Swann," she added, not caring whether she was humorous or not.
"You're hardly in the psotion to be making demands, are you not?" Marques said with a sigh, sitting in his own chair. She couldn't exactly argue with him, and a small part of her began to feel ridiculous as her eyes flashed down to her bound hands. He smoothed back his thick black hair as he sat before leaning back comfortably. "Besides, I see no ship, no crew… in fact, as I recall, they left you behind and took your ship the moment they were given the opportunity. Hardly the qualifications of any captain I know." Elizabeth felt her cheeks turn red. How dare he… Before she could offer a retort, he sighed again. "But very well, if it pleases you, I'll use your title."
Elizabeth narrowed her eyes ever so slightly, unsure of what to make of his casual, ostensibly friendly demeanor. "Would that be one of my final requests, then?" she asked hesitantly, wondering why she hadn't been informed of the status of her plausible death sentence.
Marques, picking up on her trepidation, offered her a smirk, and any ideas she had of this being a friendly encounter flittered away from her. "Only if the king permits it."
"You mean your king."
"My king, yes."
"Have you any doubts?" Elizabeth asked, embarrassed at her inability to look directly at him, her eyes downcast, focused on her worn boots.
"Not really," Marques replied nonchalantly, looking at the back of his hand, examining a mole there. "I see no reason for the king to disagree with my recommendation, anyways."
Elizabeth knew her strength was already compromised, but this sudden confirmation that she would, in fact, be executed in the days, weeks, or possibly even months to come left her feeling shaken. She was reluctant to accept her captor's offer of a place to sit, but with her hands still tied, crippling her balance, and her knees feeling as though they could give way at any moment, she hesitantly crossed the few feet from the doorway to one of the high-back chairs opposite Marques' desk. She sat down more quickly than she intended, and the thankful sigh that escaped her upon resting was all the more humiliating.
"Why do you wish to see me now, then?" she asked, her suspicion that there was more to this in-cabin visit filling her with a slight sense of dread. "Why not just leave me in the brig?"
Marques smiled, looking at her before he spoke. Each time he smiled at her, she felt a little more uneasy, hoping that it wasn't too obvious. "I simply wished to inform you in person of your predicament, as any gentleman would."
"Then it would be wrong of me to assume a more sinister purpose for my visit?" she asked, each syllable tinged with the slightest hint of sarcasm.
Marques shrugged, repeating his air of nonchalance, frustrating and infuriating her at the same time. "I could, perhaps, put in a humble word for you…" he said smoothly, "if you were willing to do something for me first."
Elizabeth's irritation was near a boiling point. She was well aware of her temper, but even the more reasonable side of herself knew that he was teetering dangerously close to crossing the line. And he called himself a gentleman. "Something?" she asked, eyebrow cocked.
"An arrangement could be made, yes." Elizabeth watched him as his eyes dropped down from her face, smudged in dirt, to her chest, lingering there as an eerie smile curled onto his mustache-cladden mouth.
Elizabeth flew to her feet, her stature her only defense, if she could even call it that, against his prying eyes. "If you're suggesting that I would be willing to give you my body in exchange for my freedom, you should know, Captain Marques, that I would sooner sell my soul to the devil himself!"
Marques remained seated, his eyes cold, his moth drawn in a hard line. He slowly rose to his feet and Elizabeth resisted the urge to swallow when she saw his hands ball into fists. For a moment, she was sure he was going to strike her, but his arms remained at his side. When he spoke, it was calmly, but his displeasure was nevertheless present in his tone.
"Well, Miss Swann," he said coolly, "you will soon have your chance. I tried to reason—" Before Marques even had the opportunity to finish his thought, the door burst open and another one of his men came flying in, almost out of breath judging by the way his chest moved up and down.
Elizabeth's eyes moved from the younger soldier back to Marques, watching as his already prominent brow furrowed, making his two separate eyebrows look as one. His cheeks flushed red and his fists squeezed together even tighter. She could see veins emerging in his neck and on his forehead and she knew that her temper was clearly unmatched by his.
"Cuál es el significado de este?" he shouted.
"Perdonar la interrupción, pero señor," the soldier seemed to plead, "un hombre se ha acercado al buque..."
In all the years of education Elizabeth's father provided her with, she learned her fair share of foreign languages. French, Latin, but never Spanish. Still, in her travels she had picked up on some Spanish, enough to vaguely comprehend that a man had approached the ship. Whether he had come in a ship of his own or in a mere rowboat was unclear, but regardless her interest was picqued.
"Llevarlo al bergantín, voy a ocuparme de él más tarde!" Marques gristled.
"Pero señor—" the soldier protested.
The soldier paused, his dark eyes falling towards Elizabeth and then darting back to his captain anxiously. Even in the dim light of the cabin, she could see beads of sweat forming on his forehead and upper lip.
"Afirma ser el… Capitán Jack Sparrow."
Elizabeth could have sworn her heart stopped beating the moment she heard his name pass the young man's lips. Of course the man who approached the ship was Jack… only Jack Sparrow was mad enough to approach an entire ship full of Spanish men without a crew to back him up. Of course Jack was coming to her rescue, after all, he always had, hadn't he? In one way or another?
"Jack?" Her head shot around, looking frantically between the two men in front of her. "Jack Sparrow?"
Marques shot her an angry glance. "Be quiet!" he demanded. His eyes returned to the other man, his face now steady but solemn, his voice equally low. "Es posible?"
"Sí, dice que quiere hablar con usted acerca de la niña." The young soldier said quickly. But Elizabeth could comprehend enough of what he had said to feel slightly faint… He wants to talk to you about the girl.
Marques fell silent, those cold, dark eyes looking at Elizabeth, as if carefully calculating his next move. All she could do was stare back at him, expressionless, fighting the urge to smile. She knew Jack and she knew him well. He would be cool, calm, and collected, and so she needed to be to, if only to aid him in whatever plot he had to get her out of this mess.
"Rebién," Marques finally said, "pero asegúrese de que está acompañada. Yo no quiero que sea él quien tratando nada. Él no hará reírse de nosotros."
Elizabeth watched as the young man nodded quickly before running from the room. She then turned back to Marques.
"You can try that if you like," Elizabeth said calmly, "but Jack still manages to make fools out of most men."
Marques shot Elizabeth a look that suggested he was once again losing his patience with her, but she was hardly of a mind to care. Her heart pounded in her chest so hard it was a wonder she couldn't hear the thudding in her ears. Marques opened his mouth to speak to her, but before he could answer her the door swung open and in stepped Captain Jack Sparrow himself, flanked by two of Marques' men, who each had a tight grip on one of Jack's arms.
"Jack—!" Elizabeth could hardly contain herself, relieved beyond any sort of relief she had ever felt before upon seeing him, even if it was in his current, captive state.
"Alright, alright," Jack muttered, looking back and forth between the two men who held him tight as they marched him to the edge of Marques' desk. He did not, however, look at Elizabeth, and she tried to remind herself that he had a plan, had to have a plan… but she still wished he would acknowledge her, if only with a brief glance.
"What is it you want?" Marques asked, his words and tone short, not once commanding his men to release him.
"You know, mate," Jack started, and Elizabeth braced herself for another bout of the logic that only he could produce. "Perhaps you should be a little kinder to your guests, eh? Especially the ones who have something to offer you."
"What could you possibly have to offer me, pirate?" Marques practically spat. Elizabeth, all the while, watched the exchange between the two men, waiting for any kind of clue or indication from Jack as to what she should do next. She knew it seemed daft, but she trusted him, explicitly.
"Well," Jack sighed. "I would love to tell you, really, but perhaps we should send the children to beddy-by, shouldn't we? We really don't want all of this falling on impressionable ears." Elizabeth had to stifle a giggle.
Marques looked annoyed. "What?"
Jack sighed again, this time equally as irritated as Marques seemed to be, and looked at either of the two guards holding his arms before looking back to Marques. "Is it too much to ask for a little privacy?"
Marques pondered for several moments before addressing the two men, saying, "Dejadle ir y, a continuación, nos dejan ser."
"Qué pasa con la niña?" one of them asked, and Elizabeth's breath caught in her throat, knowing they were talking about her.
"Leave the girl, this concerns her," Jack said. Elizabeth looked towards him, and finally he looked at her, his eyes gentle and reassuring, not at all cocky and arrogant like he usually was. He was exactly what she needed and he seemed to know it. She smiled at him, once again glad he was there, and fought the urge to cry.
"You don't get to make demands on my ship!" Marques said angrily, pointing a finger at Jack. Jack held up his hands in a defensive gesture, carefully sitting down in one of the two chairs across from the large wooden desk. After a moment of regaining his composure, he looked to the two soldiers. "La niña puede permanecer," he cast an unsteady look at Elizabeth, "Por ahora."
Elizabeth was relieved, watching as the two men nodded towards their captain and swiftly left the cabin, leaving her alone with Jack and Marques. Marques stood standing behind his desk, Elizabeth stood standing beside her chair, while Jack sat comfortably, brazenly propping his feet up on the wooden surface before him and leaning back, stretching as he did so.
"Give me your pistol," Marques demanded, looking at Jack. He noticed the second pistol on Jack's belt and pointed to that one as well. "Both of them. And your sword."
"You first," Jack scowled. "We'll place all weapons on the desk, equidistant between us both. Fair's fair, isn't it?"
Marques scowled back, eyes burning, but hesitantly nodded and placed his pistol and sword on the desktop. Jack nodded and followed suit.
"Now that that's taken care of, what do you suppose we can do about this?" Jack asked Marques, motioning towards the manacles that still bound Elizabeth's hands in front of her.
"I don't think—"
"Come, come, we are a civilized people," Jack argued. "And she is but an itty bitty little thing. Couldn't hurt, could it?" Marques sat, stone-faced, for several moments. Elizabeth was sure he was going to ignore Jack's request, and was filled with surprised elation when she heard him pull a set of keys out from one of the desk drawers. Keeping both eyes fixed on Jack, she watched as Marques rounded the desk, selected a small key from the ring of many, and unlocked her manacles. She greedily rubbed the red sores around her wrists and promptly sat down, casting an unheeded look of gratitude towards Jack as Marques returned to his seat behind the desk.
"You should consider yourself lucky that I even entertained the idea of giving you an audience," Marques muttered, crossing his arms as he leaned into the high back of his chair.
"Yes, yes, I'm very threatened," Jack said, waving his hand nonchalantly. He leaned forward, resting an elbow on the edge of the desk. Marques too sat forward, eyeing the weapons there carefully. "Now. About the girl."
"Yes, about the girl," Marques replied sternly.
"Excuse me!" Elizabeth said, leaning forward herself. "The girl in question happens to be sitting right here and she doesn't appreciate being talked over as if she isn't!"
"Then perhaps she shouldn't speak of herself in the third person," Jack retorted quickly. Elizabeth was tempted to go on, but really, what was the point? Arguing with Jack was like shoveling a walkway while it was still snowing.
"What business do you have with her?" Marques asked, eyeing her up and down, making her once again feel more than uneasy. Jack smirked, leaning back again.
"Think about it, mate," he reasoned, one hand moving about as he spoke. The candlelight flickered of the emerald of one of his rings and Elizabeth, not for the first time since meeting him or even since he'd appeared that evening, found herself mesmerized in his presence. "What good is she to you, really?"
"Captain Sparrow," Marques replied with a chuckle, as if unable to believe that Jack even had the audacity to ask such a question, "this is not a matter of benefit. It is a matter of morals, and this young lady has none, and neither do you, as far as I am concerned. Remember, it was not I who attacked Miss Swann, it was Miss Swann who attacked me. The rules on such a thing are very clear in España—"
Elizabeth, feeling unsteady, glanced to Jack, who's confident smirk never once left his face. "Is it not always a matter of benefit?" he asked Marques. "You're a smart man, Diego, I've never doubted it, cross me heart, even," Jack rambled, marking an "X" over his heart. "But defeating an inexperienced little English girl will make you more of a laughing stock than a hero."
"Inexperienced—?" Elizabeth began, but Jack's hand shot in front of her and she was instantly quiet. She had to remember that Jack was the one with some sort of crazy plan, as he always was… she could find time to be offended later.
"What are you aiming at?" Marques asked, skeptical with the slightest hint of intrigue hanging in his voice.
"Simply this," Jack replied, sitting up. "Would you disagree that defeating said inexperienced English girl would hardly earn you the same accolades as defeating, say… a much more notorious individual?"
Elizabeth noticed the air of swagger and confidence leave Jack's tone and face, and something inside her began to wilt… surely he was not suggesting what she desperately feared he was suggesting… he couldn't be… she couldn't let him…
Once again she was interrupted, this time as Marques held up his hand, cocking his head to the side ever so subtly and leaning forward in his chair, looking at Jack intently. "What is it you're suggesting, Mr. Sparrow?"
She watched, her breath trapped in her throat, as she looked from Jack to Marques and then back to Jack. His eyes caught hers, and they were dark and serious, holding none of the self-assured glisten they usually possessed. The only other time she could recall him being so serious was when she saw her father floating in that rowboat beside the Pearl, Jack behind her, telling her they hadn't made it back… and she felt sick.
Suddenly, he tore his eyes away from her and looked back to Marques, his voice steady and solemn. "Let the girl go free and let it be my name signed on that warrant."
"No!" Elizabeth cried, her hand darting out towards him as tears sprung to her eyes. Before her fingers could make contact with his, she drew back, eyes blurry, chin jutting out defiantly. "No, I won't let you."
"This is not your decision, Lizzie," Jack said, clearing his throat.
"Like hell it is!" she argued. "Jack, please…"
"She must mean a great deal to you if you are so eager to lay down your own life for hers," Marques interrupted, a zealous smile on his face, amusement present in his tone. Once again, Elizabeth looked at Jack, begging him with her eyes to look back at him, watching him as he watched Marques. "Tell me something, though. What's to stop me from killing you both? You're both unarmed, on my ship…"
"Absolutely nothing, save your sense of decency and honor," Jack interjected. "Think about it. You'll receive all the fame and attention you could ever need from being the man to finally put an end to the life of the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow, as well as the adoration and affection of the public for being so kind and merciful as to let this poor, unknowing lass go free. As soon as she's out of sight, I'm all yours… so to speak."
"This is not happening, I won't allow it," Elizabeth said firmly, crossing her arms, watching Marques as he pondered. Nigh but a moment had yet to pass before another smile crept across his lips.
"Deal," Marques stood, standing, extending a hand across the desk. Elizabeth watched, mouth agape, as Jack rose opposite him and unsteadily shook his hand.
"I suppose it would be unreasonable of me to request a moment or two alone with Lizzie, then?" Jack asked, looking tired, and Elizabeth quickly stood up.
"You bastard, how could you be so casual about taking a man's life?" she demanded lunging at Marques. He stepped quickly out of reach and Jack grabbed onto her waist, pulling her back. Marques laughed but otherwise ignored her outburst.
"I can agree to a few moments," he said to Jack. "I'm a reasonable man." Elizabeth watched as he stepped towards the far corner of the cabin, standing with his hands behind his back, watching them like a predator about to descend on its prey.
"Jack! What are you doing, this is madness!" Elizabeth protested, forcing herself to gain what little composure she had left as she blinked away a few stray tears. His persistent smirk returned to his face and for a brief, fleeting moment she felt relief, felt hopeful that he had something else planned after all, but when his eyes remained tired and serious she felt something within her sink again.
"Perhaps I'm a little mad, then," he conceded, waving one hand in the air.
"Please, Jack, this is not the time to be charming. I cannot let you do this." She grabbed the wayward hand and tugging it back down by his side.
"Well, that's a very good thing, because it's not up to you, is it?" Elizabeth groaned, not sure if she was overwhelmed with frustration or gratitude.
"Jack, it's my life that's in jeopardy, you don't need to get involved," she protested.
"In case you haven't noticed, Lizzie, I'm already involved. The dice have been cast, love… decision's been made. Take your freedom and enjoy it."
"No…" she said, sharp tears returning to sting her eyes once more. "Jack, no."
"Elizabeth, I need you to trust me."
"How can I trust you right now?" she cried. "How am I supposed to let you give up your life for me? You can't, I won't let you!"
"You can and you will," Jack said forcefully, taking both of her wrists in a way that was strong enough to hold her still, yet not so harsh as to cause further pain to the already tender skin there. "You will," he repeated. "You will walk away and you will stay away from Marques or all of this will have been for nothing. It will be fine, darlin'. You will be fine."
"Nothing about this is fine," she disagreed. "Jack, I—"
Before she could finish her thought, a part of her mind remembered that day that with a simple movement of her hand, she clicked that manacle shut and told him she wasn't sorry. She realized she was causing his death all over again, inadvertently anyways, except this time there would be no coming back, no way to rescue him. She felt overwhelmed and helpless and the tears that had been forming in her eyes began to fall as she gripped the collar of his shirt. Last time, she sent him to his death with a kiss. This time should be no different.
She pulled him in to her and leaned up into his face, pressing her mouth against his. She held him close like that for several moments before releasing him, a lazy smile spreading slowly across his lips.
"Once wasn't really enough, was it?" she sniffled, wishing she had been braver for him, wishing she could do something to stop all this, to save him as he was saving her.
"Hardly," he smirked.
"Can you at least tell me why?" Elizabeth whispered, still holding out hope that there was more to this than it seemed. She watched him as his smirk faded to give way to a simple smile, genuine and unassuming, like she'd never seen before on his face. He raised one hand to her jaw, the backs of his fingers brushing against her skin so softly that her eyes fluttered shut.
"Why do you think?"
Before Elizabeth could open her eyes, the sound of men shouting and running outside caught her attention. She looked up to see Jack turn around as Marques rushed to the door. He flung it open just as one of his crewmen came running towards him, shouting something in frantic Spanish.
"What's going on?" Elizabeth asked Jack, hoping he could better interpret what he was saying, but he was already occupied elsewhere. Quickly, he used Marques' distraction to whirl around upon the desk. He snatched up both of his pistols and shoved them into Elizabeth's hands. He then tucked his sword under his belt while swiping Marques to the floor, behind the desk, and reaching for Marques' pistol. By the time Marques turned around, both of them were armed and ready.
Once again, Marques' face turned bright red as he stalked to the window. Elizabeth craned her neck and could see the black sails of an old, familiar ship looming into vision, the red sails of her own junk ship close behind. Less than a moment later, the Hija del Cielo rocked under the full blaze of cannon fire. Elizabeth couldn't suppress a smile… she knew there was more to the plan.
"Captain Marques… this is how this is going to work." Jack said steadily, calm and confident, just as she expected him to be, just as it should be. "From what I understand, Captain Swann and her ship and crew have already subjected your pretty little vessel to its fair share of damage, which I gladly saw for myself upon approach. Either you release she and I both within the next five minutes or you don't, and the Black Pearl will finish you off and we all go down."
"You… LIAR!" Marques shouted. "Scoundrel!"
"You, sir, are outnumbered and outarmed," Elizabeth chimed in, feeling so very proud of the crew that clearly ran, but only for help, and returned once they'd found it. "You may have won the battle, but not before we damaged your ship, as Captain Sparrow so dutifully pointed out."
"The question now is," Jack continued, "what's more important to you? Your life or your pride?"
Marques was furious. Hands once again balled into fists, he stalked towards them, pausing halfway across the room when Jack cocked his pistol. "What's to say you won't destroy my ship after I've released you?" he glowered.
Jack smirked. "I'm not a greedy man." He paused. "Well… yes, I am, but I'm wise enough to know when to walk away." Marques stood silent, face still red, fists still clenched. "Tick-tock, Señor Marques."
The Black Pearl and The Empress sat anchored side by side, in one of the Caribbean's many sheltered coves that was far away enough from Santiago de Cuba so as to stay protected from the Hija del Cielo, yet not so far that it hadn't been reached before sunrise. Both ships left Marques behind, screaming a litany of profanities in Spanish, but not before Jack had his crew relieve the Hija of her armory, or "extra weight" as he had described it.
Elizabeth sat on the floor in front of her cabin window, barefoot and distracted, though not necessarily tired. Her knees were tucked up against her chest and a single lantern provided a dim source of light and heat off to the side of her. Jack was somewhere… she wasn't entirely sure… bouncing back and forth between the ships' decks ordering about his crew and hers. He was a far superior captain, after all, or at least she believed so after the evening's events.
She couldn't believe she had been foolish enough to think she could take on a ship the size of the Hija and an experienced leader such as Marques and win. She was lucky he hadn't killed her on the spot, his pension for diplomacy his only weakness, which in many other cases would not have been a weakness at all.
Elizabeth had always known that a great deal of the pirate "business," so-to-speak, was luck, and that any time it could run out… Jack, it seemed, had proven to be something of a good luck charm. Once again, he'd gotten the both of them out of serious trouble, trouble that she'd managed to get into entirely without him. As she sat on the floor of her cabin, she considered herself fortunate to even know such a man who could make roses out of weeds.
Far out on the horizon, the tiniest glimmer of orange touched the sky. A new day would be beginning soon and Elizabeth hadn't the slightest idea what to do with herself. She should be tired, exhausted, even, but she was wide-awake, the adrenaline still pumping furiously through her veins. How could one be expected to sleep on a night like this, really? She sighed, resting her chin atop her knees, wishing she would feel drowsy at least to relieve herself from her troubled thoughts concerning Jack, what he was so willing to do, and how she felt about him.
Before she even had time to ponder the daunting, four-letter "L" word for the trillionth time, there was a knock on her door. She had yet to open her mouth to permit entrance into the confines of her private quarters when the door gently swung open and he was there, an impish grin on his face, as if entering a secret club he had always longed access to. Without so much as a "hello" or "how do you do," he crossed the threshold and stood over her, leaning against one of the hand-carved wooden columns.
"Crew's settling in for the night… well, morning, by the looks of it," he announced, gazing out the window towards the impending sunrise. "Few men left on guard, we'll finish what work needs to be done later. Not much good when they're this tired, the lot of them." He rubbed the back of his neck with his hand.
"Of course, they deserve to rest," she agreed quietly, tearing her gaze from his face and willing her heart to beat a little more quietly. She hated how uneasy she felt around him, like a silly, boy-crazy young girl. But then again, she assumed Jack had this affect on quite a few women, given the attention he always got when visiting Tortuga or Singapore. "Are you not tired?" she finally asked, trying to not think of his dark eyes or strong arms, and instead focusing on more practical matters.
"M'fine. Sleep will come when it needs to," he replied, still staring out the window.
"Indeed," she sighed. Following his eyes and longing for his unmatched focus.
Jack glanced down at her, watching her as she gazed wistfully out the window. She seemed so frail and fragile sitting down there on the floor, the emotion behind her eyes shallow and distant, a million miles away perhaps. He couldn't help but wonder if she was thinking about Will, cursing himself for ever hoping that she would ruminate so fervently about his own self. Still, the look on her face was one of quiet anguish, and he couldn't stop himself from inquiring about it.
"You alright, Lizzie?" he asked her, leaning against one elbow as he looked down at her.
She looked away from the window and up to him, nodding, a gentle smile gracing her lips. "I will be," she assured him, "I have too many thoughts, that's all."
Jack stretched, then slunk down onto the floor opposite her, crossing his legs in an attempt to make himself more comfortable. "Aye, I supposed you would," he sighed. "Any you'd care to alleviate yourself of?" he asked, hoping beyond hope that the first words out of her mouth would not be William, Turner, or any combination or variation of.
He watched her as she leaned back, resting her head against the paneled wall. "I don't even know where to begin," she admitted. "Had you not been there…" Wait, what? You? As in him? Not Will? He had to stifle a grin as her eyes returned to their spot looking out the window.
"Right place, right time, love," he quickly said, clearing his throat, maintaining his carefree disposition. "No need to go thinking you owe me something."
"But I do," she replied just as quickly, sitting forward again. What you were offering Marques… I don't even… how could I possibly repay you for that?"
"Lizzie…" Elizabeth watched as his eyes fell away from hers, his body tensing up, becoming more distant. "It was part of the plan, darling. A way to keep Marques intrigued and distracted so's our ships could catch him by surprise. Give us the upper hand, as it were. Nothing more."
Of course. Elizabeth felt something within her begin to sink. Why on earth would Jack give up his life, for her of all people? She looked up and away from him, silently praying for the tears not to flow, trying desperately to forget the immense feeling of love she had felt for him upon realizing that he was offering his life as a replacement for her own. It was all just a ruse, another ploy from the most consummate storyteller she had ever known. She was so focused on not looking at him, on pretending it didn't affect her the way it seemed, that she didn't see the look in his eyes, the look that told her there was so much more to his actions that evening that he was capable of conveying to her or to anyone.
Sure that her cheeks were visibly red, Elizabeth cleared her throat, trying her hardest to hide any trace of disappointment. "You're a master manipulator, Jack," she said. "Marques was wary of you from the start, but you won him over in a matter of moments." She looked to Jack and smiled. "And now you can start telling everyone the story of how you defeated the famed Capitán Marques and relieved his entire ship of any and all weaponry without firing a single shot."
"Unless one would count cannon fire as a 'shot,' I suppose I can," Jack mused. He looked over to her and noticed the traces of sadness lingering behind her eyes, the fake smile she clearly plastered on her face solely for her benefit. "Chin up, Lizzie," he said softly, subtly leaning forward at a feeble attempt to be closer to her. "It's over and done with. Time to put it behind you."
"Oh, Jack," she sighed, closing her eyes shut tight. "I'm so disappointed in myself. I can't believe I… what I thought I was doing… I put myself, my ship and my entire crew at risk. It's a wonder they ever had the decency to come back for me at all. I had no business attempting to—"
"Come, come, darling," Jack interrupted, climbing onto his hands and knees and crawling the foot and a half distance between them. He sat beside her, watching carefully for her reaction. When he sensed no discomfort or objection to him being so close, he leaned back against the wall. "We all start somewhere," he reminded her. "How else does one learn, really?
Elizabeth paused, thought for a moment, bit her lip, then looked to him with skeptical eyes. "Do you know that not a single member of my crew is less experienced than I? Some fierce captain I make."
"Tai Huang, my quarter master… he's been at sea longer than I've even been on this earth," she continued. "His father was a captain, you know." She paused again, almost unable to believe she was about to say what she was, in fact, about to say. But she knew it needed to be said. She could feel a fresh onslaught of tears stinging her eyes as she opened her mouth to speak. "The Empress will flourish under his leadership."
Jack was silent, stunned. This was not the fearless, brave, take-no-prisoners Lizzie she'd become in the few short years he'd known her. He never once doubted her capabilities as a captain, even though at times he was loathe to admit it, especially to her. However, he also trusted her judgment, and so long as she found true validity in what she was saying, apart from any doubt from being shaken by her encounter with Marques, he would endorse any decision she made.
Still… just to be sure…
"What are you saying, Lizzie?" he asked, leaning forward and looking at her face, which had returned to its spot gazing out the window.
"It's not my time, Jack. I'm not ready," she said swiftly, as if she had been waiting to say it for some time, as if she had needed someone to confide in. "What was I thinking? To take command of a ship with nigh but several days experience as a captain? On the departure of my husband, no less?"
Ah… there it was. Will. Jack gritted his teeth, but pressed on anyways. "Do you miss him?" he asked quietly, fearing whatever answer she was bound to give. He even surprised himself, really, and didn't know whether to be proud or ashamed of this sudden sensitivity to Elizabeth and her feelings… he really was in deep trouble.
"All the time," she confessed. "I love him." She stared off wistfully. "Loved…"
"Loved?" Jack could swear he felt his ears burning. Loved? Really? As in past-tense? As in no longer? He was glad for the first time that evening that she wasn't looking at him. She wouldn't see the ridiculous impish grin tugging at the corners of his lips.
"I still love him," she announced, quickly looking to him. Jack cleared his throat and put on a serious face. "Just not the way I used to." She buried her face in her hands and let out a soft sob. "I'm a horrible person, a terrible wife…"
While Jack was in no position to deny his feelings of elation that Elizabeth no longer felt the mushy sentiments towards the blacksmith-turned-captain of the Flying Dutchman, he hated that it was having such an effect on her. No wonder she needed to relieve herself of her own captainly duties with such emotional turmoil going on inside… a break would be good for her, mentally, at least.
He reached forward and hesitantly placed a hand on her upper back, rubbing in slow, small circles as she cried. He had little experience dealing with women so fragile. In fact, he outwardly avoided it. But Elizabeth was not some average, emotional female. She hadn't been since the day he met her.
"Elizabeth, you are as good a woman as I have ever known, and that's the truth," he told her. She picked her head up and turned slightly so as to see his face as he spoke, watching him with wet, red, puffy eyes. She sniffled. "But you can't change how you feel, or rather don't feel, and knowing you, you've already tried so as to stay the devoted little wifey. Let it go, love. You're human."
Elizabeth was stunned. To hear such touching, sweet words from Jack, and twice in one night, no less, was astounding. She didn't know what to say, and so she said nothing. She simply watched him as he spoke, in awe of him.
"And what's more, you're the pirate king, Lizziebeth. That's more than just a captain and more than I can say about any man I know."
Elizabeth watched, amused, as his eyebrows rose and his upper lip quirked upwards, thinking about the gravity of his words. "More than you, then?" she asked, sniffling again, wiping her face with the back of her hand.
"Of course not more than me, I'm Captain Jack Sparrow!" he quickly defended. He watched her smile, but her eyes were still distantly sad. "Elizabeth, listen. Sao Feng chose you to become the captain of his ship and I knew 'im well, he was a smart man. A rat bastard if there ever was one, but a smart man nonetheless."
Elizabeth found herself staring at him, eyes wide, mouth slightly parted. Jack clearly thought that Sao Feng miraculously chose her because he recognized some kind of unspoken greatness within… but it was all a misunderstanding. She couldn't let him think she possessed that kind of significance, not when he had been brave enough to be so kind and comforting, a side of him she doubted he chose to show many others.
"Sao Feng chose me when he thought I was Calypso," she admitted quietly, wanting to avert her eyes from his, but finding herself incapable. She watched as his brow furrowed slightly, a perplexed look on his face. She almost smiled then, for she didn't know that the great Captain Jack Sparrow could even be perplexed in the first place. "I never told anyone, not even Will…" she continued. "The reason Sao Feng wanted me on his ship to begin with was because he believed I was Calypso."
After a moment of silence, Jack shrugged. "A silly misunderstanding, doesn't change a thing," he mused. "You're still the Pirate King, love. Why do you think I voted for you, anyways? When I'd already promised me vote to every other Pirate Lord in that room, no less. You're a natural-born leader, Lizzie, if there ever was one. And I should know, after all."
"You're Captain Jack Sparrow?" Elizabeth asked dryly, one eyebrow arched.
"A captain," he reminded her, "and an experienced one, at that."
"It doesn't really change anything," she said quietly, tracing the lines on the palm of her hand distractedly.
"So you're giving up then?" he asked, thrusting his shoulders forward in a way that conveyed his disappointment.
"No, not giving up," Elizabeth assured him. "More of a hiatus. Time to reassess, time to think," she thought aloud. "Time to learn before I go attacking treasure galleons more than twice my size."
"Lizzie, darlin', I think that lesson's been learned," he said, nudging her shoulder. She turned, smiled softly at him, then looked away again. After several more moments of silence, he finally asked in a voice so quiet it surprised even him, "Where will you go?"
"I don't know," she sighed, shrugging. "Shipwreck Cove, I suppose. Maybe talk to your father, some of the other retired captains there. I could learn a lot from them, if they'd be willing to teach me."
"S'a terrible idea," Jack said quickly, and Elizabeth shot her head in his direction.
"You really want to be spending your time with a load of crusty old pirates who could no sooner find their way out of their ale mug than to teach you about captaining?" he asked her. "Besides, should they sober up, I guarantee you their focus will be on those instead of giving you any information of value," he said, pointing at her chest.
Elizabeth folded her arms over her breasts, scowling at him. "I should tell your father you said that," she glowered.
"No one's more aware of his age than me father," he said nonchalantly. "Look. You should pursue someone who's still at it, love, someone who won't occupy your time telling you of the good old days and a bunch of malarkey that likely never happened anyways."
"You're one to talk!" Elizabeth said, a tone of amusement in her voice, thinking of all the tales and legends that surrounded his own persona, most of which she knew for a fact were perpetuated by his own self. He quirked an eyebrow at her, the corners of his ever-tempting lips curling up in the beginnings of a smirk. As he stared at her, she could see something genuine behind his eyes, and the terms of his pseudo-offer began to sink in. "Jack… what are you saying?"
"You're already familiar with the Pearl…" he shrugged, not watching her as he spoke. She'd never seen him so uneasy before, as if he were offering her the ship itself. Something about it touched her deeply, and she realized that what he was offering was much more than captain lessons. "Perhaps she's a good place to start, eh? You could learn from the best, I'll provide you with a far superior education than any of those old gents falling asleep over their rum."
"Oh, Jack…" Elizabeth whispered, biting her lip, fresh tears forming in her eyes. After all he'd already done, this gesture was overwhelming, even more so given her feelings for the man. "Do you really mean it?"
"Elizabeth," he said solemnly, "I never say anything I don't mean." Elizabeth giggled. "Alright, I say plenty I don't mean. But I mean this. Very much so."
Elizabeth could feel the warmth of her own tears kissing her cheeks, and once again she was overwhelmed by him. The sheer genuine gratitude on his face and in his tone was more than she ever expected to receive from him, especially considering all that she hadn't done to receive it. It was over, in a matter of speaking, the struggle within herself to deny her feelings for him. She loved him, plain and simple, and she felt an inner-peace concerning that love, regardless of how he might feel about her.
She once took his life with a kiss and she was suddenly compelled to thank him with one, the swelling of her heart clouding her inhibitions. She half-turned, leaning into him, and without pause or warning, placed one hand on the side of his face. She looked at him with unrecognized delight as she noticed his eyes soften, his brow knot every so slightly, unspoken permission for what she was about to do.
"Lizzie—" he whispered, but before he could tell her to go for it or stop, she leaned her head into his and kissed him. How soft his lips actually were surprised her on that day she sent him to the locker, and it surprised her again, a tantalizing contrast to the texture of his moustache. He was immediately receptive, placing one of his hands on the back of her head, fingers intertwining with those golden tresses he so admired, the other hand resting on her back, pulling her as close to him as he could.
When the necessity for air breached their kiss, he pulled away from her, and when he did so, her eyes were closed, a placid smile on her face. It was as if she had freed herself in kissing him, in more ways than one, and he was thrilled beyond recognition to have provided that for her.
The morning sun was spilling in through the cabin window now, illuminating her from behind and making her appear as if to be glowing. He smiled at her. It was little wonder Sao Feng had mistaken her for a goddess. She was one, in human form. And she had just kissed him.
"Is that your way of accepting my proposition?" he asked quietly, one of his long, elegant fingers tracing its way down the side of her face, tucking back a strand of hair as she opened her eyes, still smiling.
"I think I have little choice in the matter," she said, grinning, interlacing her fingers with his as his hand trailed down her side to rest on her upper thigh.
"No choice at all," he said sternly. "I'm kidnapping you if you say no. You can't kiss a man like that and expect him to sail away without you." She giggled. In all seriousness, he would never force her aboard his ship or into her bed without being completely sure of her utter willingness to do so, and he knew she knew that.
"Well, then, I suppose I should say yes," she conceded, the tips of her fingers tracing around several of his bejeweled rings, their hands still interlocked. He watched her face as she did so, relieved to see her so relieved. All the months he'd spent denying what he felt for the sake of what? His pride? His reputation? Like it or not, he loved Elizabeth, and he'd be damned if she ever went another day without knowing it, in one way or the other.
"Lizzie… just so you know…" His tone was all seriousness again and she looked up at him, giving him the audience she felt he deserved. "…It wasn't so far-fetched an idea," he admitted. "It wasn't really just part of the plan." Jack was masterful when it came to his words and to see him struggling to find even the simplest ones spoke volumes in itself. She could sense precisely what he was trying to tell her, and whether the words were literal or not, she loved him even more for it.
He chuckled uneasily and she gave his hand the slightest squeeze in an attempt to tell him it was okay, no matter how he wanted to say it, it could be said. "I suppose that was one of those things I said that I don't really mean, saying it was just part of the plan, anyways." He took another pause, eyes cast downwards, before clearing his throat, sighing, and becoming serious again. "Had our options been more limited…" he said earnestly, "I would have…" He looked at her, eyes locked on hers, his voice dropping to an octave just above a whisper. She'd never seen him like this before and his willingness to show her that side of himself was truly stirring. "I would have made sure that Marques let you do free. By whatever means necessary."
"Jack…" Elizabeth smiled, leaned towards his face and kissed him once more, slow and soft, her thumb brushing his cheek as she pulled back. "You have no idea what that means to me."
"All the same, love," he said quietly, a simple smile on his face. "I just wanted you to know."
She kissed him again, letting her actions be her sign of appreciation. "I love you, too."
A/N: That's it, I hope you enjoyed! While this was not a song-fic, I got my title from a lyric from "93 Million Miles" by Jason Mraz. The song is about always being able to go home, and furthermore, recognizing that home is more than a place, but a state of mind.
Please review, it would be greatly appreciated!