Work Header

Horizon Smudged

Work Text:

She should have expected him to turn up. Jack, like a bad penny, or the worst kind of stain, has to appear at the end of the world.

The voices in the street are pitched high and frenzied, the crown's fallen, rioting and looting can't be far behind. They say the shadows are eating people. That supernatural beings have come from the darkness to take them all.

Elizabeth believes in the supernatural, of course, she's sailed with it and through it enough to know that there are things that defy explanation. If the deep dark is eating people, best to stay in the light.

She shuts the wooden slats over her windows, puts her sword on the bed, turns her lamp up all the way and leaves her dress behind. She hates petticoats, corsets and finery, slipping into old trousers, leather boots and a linen shirt is like leaving a prison of muslin and silk. The shirt is just barely down, covering her bare breasts, before Jack pokes his head around the corner.

"We'd best be making our escape, forthwith and most expediently."

"I'd be ready faster if I didn't have to worry about you watching me dress."

"I could watch you undress, if that suits your fancy better, my dear, but we are in a bit of a rush."

They make a break for it in the dawn. She clutches the ornate little chest in one hand and her sword in the other. Will's heart will be safe, even if her own possession of it is a tenuous thing. The streets are full of human bones and the stench of ammonia clings where there once was flesh. Everyone who was out in the dark is dead. The Black Pearl is no sanctuary, but now she's their sanctum. The moment Elizabeth sees the black sails on the horizon, out past the edge of the cape, she laughs.

Jack's painted eyes run her over but he shrugs and returns his gaze to the town.

"Whatever unnatural demons these be, they're not on the water. No one aboard ship has met that rather stinking end."

She looks him over, he's the same as he was two years ago when he left her here to wait for Will. Will's on a ship, of course, and already dead in a manner of speaking, it's not as if she needs to worry for him.

"I don't suppose you know what it is?"

Jack shuts his telescope and tucks it away, then lowers himself from the edge of the boat to sit beside her. The oars dip into the water behind them as his men take them out to the Pearl. His fingers fold over themselves and he stares at his hands. The silence suggest he knows, but she has an inkling that this silence is born of fear, not of secrets.

He takes a breath, sitting up, then-- "No. I can't say I've run afoul of this particular petulant kind of sorcery before."

"Has Barbossa? Have any of the other pirate lords? Are there tales? Songs? Something scratched drunkenly into the bottom of a barrel with the point of a dagger?"

"Clever. The bottoms of barrels are often places of secret information." He grins for a moment, then hides his teeth behind still lips. "No."

"Of whom do we ask questions of which no answers exist?"

He scrambles up the side of the all too familiar ship, lowering his hand to her. "That, actually, Hector might know. He dabbles in the witchy and unworldly more than I do, being dead and returned to the land of the living and all that."

She doesn't mention that Jack too is dead and returned. Arguing gets her nowhere and in the pit of her stomach she feels like she's finally come home. She belongs here, surrounded by the creaking sails with her feet on the deck. The Pearl smells of the sea and possibilities and even the monkey seems to be glad to see her.

"Well well, Mrs. Turner, your presence again be a sight for sore eyes. I would mention the ill-luck that comes with taking a woman on a sea-going voyage, but being that the end is nigh and the scent of hellfire and brimstone nearly be upon us, allow me to welcome you aboard my ship."

"Your ship?" Jack narrows his eyes. "My ship."

Captain Barbossa takes a breath, ready to speak, but one of the men, Gibbs, interrupts.

"Captains, I hate to be the bearer of news that will fall badly on your ears. Elizabeth was elected the pirate king, and according to the code, if she be on this ship, her station is higher than that of any captain."

The pirates behind him mutter, nodding their heads.

"Keep to the code."

"Aye, the code never steered us false."

"A woman's ill luck, but 'tis worse to fall afoul of the code."

Jack shoots Gibbs a look that speaks of death but nods.

Hector chuckles. "Well, then, yer majesty, how do ye suggest we proceed in this time of supernatural death and horror?"

Elizabeth looks at them both, then her eyes fall on the crew. They love Jack and Hector both, but there's fear etched on every face.

"We need information."

"Aye, that would be a useful thing, but where do you suppose abouts we'll be able to collect said knowledge?"

More muttering and both captains, however proud they both are, look away.

Gibbs frowns. "Sailing upriver, as unpleasant a prospect as that was, is no longer an option. Never thought I'd be missing that."

Elizabeth looks at Jack, who always knows more than he's willing to say. "Is Calypso gone then?"

"Not gone, exactly. She's here in a more metaphorical sense than a physical one. She's more sea than flesh, you see."

Barbossa takes a step back, then pivots, heading for the rail. "She's here. Part of the sea around us, as free and merciless as the North Seas in winter."

"She must have some mercy if those creatures on land haven't reached us." Elizabeth glances back at the village and steels herself. She wasn't happy there. There's little joy in a widow's life, even a counterfeit one, and the town took none too kindly to a woman who wanted to be left alone, but no one deserves to be turned screaming into a pile of stinking bones.

"Perhaps they can't swim."

"They are creatures then?" Hector asks, leaning on the rail with the feather in his hat stirring slowly in the breeze. "Have ye set yer eye on one?"

"Just their leavings."

"Aye, that's all anyone ever seems to see. The leavings of the beasts from the heart of darkness. We've stuck to the sea and it's done us no ill so far."

"We can stick to the sea until we run out of food, then we'll have to land. We can try to keep our landings brief, just grabbing whatever is closest to the shore, but something will happen and we'll need an answer."

Before either of them can argue, she lifts her hands. "Something always happens. I think we need to know and I'm still the king."

"Aye." The word repeats through the crew and that's something.

Elizabeth drops her voice to a whisper and leans on the rail between Jack and Hector. "How long am I king?"

"Until ye resign the office, yer timely demise, yer untimely demise or a meeting of the nine pirate lords in which ye are deprived of yer position, whichever comes first."

"And the pirate lords?"

"Scattered to the four winds, with their blood high and hot on the joy of the battle and the promise of a mighty, untameable sea."

"Of course."

"So, if you're not intending to die, you may be king for quite some time, Captain Turner."

Elizabeth toys with the idea of correcting him, catching the chest holding Will's heart in her gaze. "The Dutchman wouldn't know anything, would she?"

"If we could find the Dutchman without risks to our life and limb, I'm afraid the answer would be in the negative. The Flying Dutchman and her captain belong to one particular kind of magic, this evil that feats on the flesh of men, is truly another." Hector fidgets with the hilt of his sword. "Calypso may be our only chance."

"You are of course cognisant of the great fun we had the last time Calypso stood on this deck?" Jack takes off his hat and balances it on his hand.

"We're not asking her aboard."

"We are asking her for help." He flips it back, looking to Elizabeth. "We narrowly escaped a watery grave at her gentle hands and that was when we were trying to be kind to her. Writing a wrong nearly sent us all to Davy Jones, how will our petition go over?"

"We set her free, her response was hardly directed at us."

"Let us hope."

Eventually, they have to seek the old pirate library itself. A collection of piratical books seems nonsensical and Elizabeth shudders to think what kind of state they may be in, but they need knowledge and that frequently comes in the pages of a book. Even pirates have accepted that. Somewhere in the ancient pages there will be answers. They need to know what they're fighting if they want to know how to stay alive.

They land at Shipwreck Cove in the morning and the few bodies on the dock are old enough not to smell rank and bitter. Jack steps across one with a wince and Elizabeth lifts a femur.

Something on it breaks into dust, floating away on the wind. She imagines that happening all over the world and looks up to make sure the sun in high overhead.

"Unnatural." Jack whispers, leaning close to her.

"So it would seem, Jack."

Hector follows them, his hand never leaving his sword. Shipwreck Cove is deserted and quiet as a tomb, especially considering how crowded it was the last time she was here. They make their way up through rigging and ladders, never daring the inside of any of the strange structures. Climbing gives her something to do, and after the long sail here, it's nice to be something other than the Pirate King, even if she's doing an impression of a monkey, worming her way ever higher.

The Chamber of the Brethren Court is festooned with old skulls, which are somehow comforting after the fresh skulls below. Jack and Hector follow, taking lanterns from the wall and lighting them. The flames fill the room with safety, chasing invisible demons that may or may not be there out of the way. How much space do they need? Could they be along the walls? Do they have to step into the shadows?

Why can't the world end sensibly with the dead walking or fire raining from the heavens instead of invisible demons?

The back corner, the darkest one of course, has the books. It's the closest thing to a piratical library: a stack of dusty books behind rusty swords and stray pieces of wood. Jack plucks a rolling pearl from the floor and starts to tuck it away.

"That's not going to be worth much with no brothels to trade it in, Jackie," Hector says, pulling back the debris.

"Perhaps." Jack breathes on the pearl, something that fell from a sword hilt. "Perhaps I'll just hang on to it. The world might right itself someday."

Elizabeth's not optimistic but Jack tucks the pearl away within his layers of clothing. They bring the lanterns even closer to the books before they tackle them. Buried beneath rolled maps and dusty parchment are books with bones on the covers, those covered in jewels, and finally one older than the rest.

"That one has an eldritch look to it."

"Aye," Jack nods, agreeing with Hector as he pokes the book like it's a dead frog. "It's mustier than the rest."

She's trusting the instincts of two men she can barely trust not to steal the ship from under her feet, but Eizabeth feels something as her fingers brush the cover. It's incredible old. The leather's cracked and the pages don't feel like parchment, too brittle, too uneven.

Elizabeth scoops it up and holds the dark book to her chest like an infant. A scroll falls, clattering to the floor and all of them jump. A foot kicks the lantern and they reach for it in unison. The light is life.

"Do we need the rest of these?"

"No, why would we need maps to treasures that may not exist? We can't spend the gold and what would we do with the jewels? Stack them up and wear them on Sundays?" Hector pours his disdain into his voice but he and Jack share a look.

"Might be nice to have them in one place, a sunny place, for safe-keeping."

"Aye, ye may have a point, we might need the jewels again, when the world's gone proper and there's ale and pleasurable company once more."

The last look between them turns into a scrabbling for maps and books. Elizabeth rolls her eyes towards the rickety ceiling and clears her throat.

"Right, ye are yer Eizabethness," Jack says, straightening up, chagrinned. "No treasure maps." He still clutches several to his chest and Hector has some stuffed in his coat. "But no, I mean, no unreasonable ones. No dead ends. These we're just keeping for posterity."

"To preserve the ancient rite of cartography, should it start to die out with the men who drew these."

As they climb back down, sliding through ropes with maps, necessary or not, tucked into every spare crevice. Elizabeth has a sack with a few books but the one against her chest is what they need. She can feel it.

Perhaps she's always had a sense for eldritch things. She knew the coin was important when she plucked the piece of Aztec gold from Will's chest. She spares another thought for the ghostly husband she sees but once a decade and puts him from her mind. Elizabeth has more to do than think of him, even when she does, it's not only him. Her thoughts betray her as the Jack's compass once did.

Night falls with a hush and even though the Pearl is safely out in the cove, all of them sit awake on the deck, listening to the scrabbling of foul creatures across the water. There's no food for them on shore tonight and the darkness on the land in Shipwreck Cove seems to have its thoughts and desires. Tonight, the land is angry, hungry and alone.

Elizabeth puts her mind to the book, turning fragile pages with cloth around her hands so she doesn't smear the ink that still looks wet. Jack peers over her shoulder, his hat in his lap and the trinkets in his hair clinking.

"Think there's a reason all the writing in this unearthly tome looks like freshly inked blood?"

"What else do you expect a secret book of dark things to look like? Gold leaf and excellent penmanship?" Elizabeth turns the page past a history of werewolves and waits for the bleeding letters to darken on uneven surface. It might be papyrus or linen, some kind of paper older than the printing press.
As if in response to her quip, the book's lettering evens out, as if it's trying to please her. Elizabeth rests her hand on it, letting her fingertips slip free from the thin cloth between her skin and the page.

"Don't need blood," she whispers, hoping personal sacrifice won't be required. "Don't you dare need blood."

Touch seems to be enough. On the next page, the dark ink coalesces in the centre of the fold, a knot of darkness that pours outward in uneven letters, as if written in a shaking hand.

"A tear in the veil between worlds can unleash deadly creatures, the likes of which not seen before the dawning of light and hope." She stops, hoping the words will change.

Jack rolls his head across her shoulder then looks up, eyes serious. "If this is a sign of other worlds, I'm happy to stay in this one."

"Me too."

"Quite selfish of the others to sneak into ours, isn't it?"

"Incredibly so." Elizabeth pours over the words, running fingertips across them as if the letters need her reassurance to remain. Dark things from beyond what lies beyond. Things that live on life, feasting in the darkness.

She stops on the last line, tracing the words she can't believe.

They can't swim. They're not repelled by water or undone by the primordial magic of the sea, the demons of living darkness can't swim.

Laughter bubbles in her chest, like the sea releasing the air forced beneath the surface by a cannonball.

She points to the words when Jack startles. His lips form words then fall apart when the meaning reaches his mind.


Shaking her head, she buries her head in her hands.

Jack touches her hand, his rings warm against her skin. "This is it isn't it? The end of the world. Everything pear-shaped, bottomed-out and becalmed."

"That sums it up. The world's torn, the demons are upon us and we're sitting here."

"Under the stars."

"What?" Elizabeth stares at him, then follows his eyes up to the sky.

"The stars are still here. We may be the last ship of people with eyes in our skulls to see them, but the stars are still here. That's something, Elizabeth Swann the Pirate King, don't you tell me it's not."

Kissing him tastes of rum and she wonders if he can taste the fear in her mouth. The last time she kissed him she lied, now there's no room for that. Who lies at the end of the world?

Her boots are still on when she straddles him on a hammock in the captain's quarters. There's only a divider and a curtain between them and the crew but it doesn't matter. What matters are the tattoos on his skin and him between her thighs. The Pearl rocks beneath them both, she pitches over him and he rises to meet her.

The damned book of cursed things watches them from the deck beneath, the letters still.

Sweat coats her and her shift sticks to her chest. Jack's half out of his shirt and his coat sleeve's still stuck under his shoulder. He drags his fingers through her hair, sorting the tangles they've made.

"We'll need women."

"Elizabeth, I don't know what you've heard, but you'll be enough for me."

Slipping from the hammock, she grabs the rum from the corner and pulls the cork with her teeth. "I'm more than enough for you, but the crew out there will need someone. There must be survivors, women who found safety. We have room here. It'll be cramped at first, but there are other ships. There must be."

"Elizabeth, my liege, this is starting to sound like a plan."

She fills her mouth with rum and kisses him while it stings her tongue. "If I'm to be king, I'm going to keep my subjects happy. If we stay out of the darkness, raid the shores in daytime, we'll survive."

"The stars need someone to gaze upon them." Jack's not looking at the stars, but rather the promise of her breasts beneath her shift.

Elizabeth pulls it over her head and returns to him, naked but for her boots. "That we may be able to do."

"Aye, your highness, I believe we could."