"Anne, please talk to me," Jack pleaded through the bars. The manacles on his wrists clanked ominously, and she kept her gaze definitively turned away.
"Ain't got nothing to say," she said, the first she had acknowledged him since the guard left them alone.
"We only have a few minutes left—" He stopped with a strangled sound, words he wouldn't say, but Anne heard them anyway. She tried not to think about it, neither the words nor that sound. "Surely there are a few things worth saying, darling."
"I don't want your goodbyes," Anne growled, tucking her chin lower.
Jack sighed, leaned against the bars of her cell, the closest he could get to her. The closest he'd ever get again. "You must see the sense to this, Anne. Think of Max, if nothing else. At least one of us should go home to her."
She finally shot him a look, gaze hard. "Had you fought like men, you'd need not be hanged like dogs," she spat, loud enough she suspected she'd been heard out in the corridor. Part of her knew it was unfair to lump Jack in with the rest of the crew, knew his behavior had been motivated by something other than a desire to get drunk and fuck off, but in that moment she couldn't bring herself to care. The result was the same. "We were so fucking close, Jack," she went on, quieter, frustrated. "All you had to do was say yes."
"Yes, well, suddenly my indecision has vanished," he said, flippant, then sighed again. "You and Max can still do this, you won't be alone."
"It won't be the same," she grumbled, looking away.
"Promise me you'll follow through on this, Anne," Jack said. "I know it's what you've wanted. Don't let all this distract you," he said, waving a manacled hand to take in their present circumstances.
"The fuck do you care?" she said. "If you'd wanted this too, you'd have said yes, and we'd have done it by now. You didn't, and now here we are. Maybe I will and maybe I won't. Maybe it means fuckall now."
They were silent a moment, then Jack said, "I realize now my hesitation must have looked like I was contemplating leaving you, and I — you must know, I could never do that to you, not willingly, not again."
Anne snorted, because what the fuck do you call this then? But Jack went on without acknowledging it.
"It wasn't you, of course it wasn't you. I was consumed by my own issues, and blind to everything else. Immortality scares the hell out of me, Anne, in ways I can't even articulate. But as it turns out, imminent death scares me even more. The choice is obvious, now, and should have been obvious from the moment you suggested we follow that map." He waited until he'd managed to snag her gaze, then said, "I shouldn't have hesitated, I should have trusted you, and I am more sorry than I can say to be putting you through this, darling. But I think we might have one last chance, if you get out of here. When you get out of here."
She made a vague what the fuck noise at him, encouraging him to go on.
"Do you remember the note, in the lower left-hand of the map?" he said quietly, eyes on hers. He couldn't say too much here, obviously, given then risk of being overheard, and she had to think a moment to come up with what he meant, despite the many long hours she'd spent studying that fucking map.
"Blood in the Fountain?"
He nodded, his eyebrows raised and something that might be hope his dark eyes.
"You think it'd work?" she said. "Even after...?" Words she couldn't fucking say either, when it came to it.
"Worth a shot, if you're going there anyway. Which I hope you will."
She stared at him a moment. "I'd need your blood, dumbass. And we can't be sure I'll get out of here with anything I have on me, so giving it to me now is a shit plan."
"At home— at Max's, my old sea-chest. At the bottom there's a coat, you'll know the one I mean. From the day of the rescue. Should be plenty."
She tried to think past the simmering adrenaline of her anger, tried to get at what he was suggesting. It was far from ideal, but it might actually work. So long as the map wasn't bullshit, and she could survive getting out of here, and she and Max could truly find the fucking Fountain. It could work.
"I'm still fucking pissed at you about this, though," she finally said. "It didn't have to be this way. Even if this works, I'm going to be pissed at you for the next century, at least."
Jack huffed a laugh in response, and Anne let herself look at him, really let herself see him, this last time — or last time for who knew how long, if this worked. Their captors had not been kind to him, but beneath the bruises and scabs, he was the Jack Rackham she knew, the Jack she'd always known, sardonic and calculating and wistful. And loyal to her, here at the end, in ways she knew she didn't deserve. Til they put us in the fucking ground she'd said to him, but she should have known he would never let her follow him down that path, if there was any other option for her.
"I would expect nothing less, my love," he replied, and they could hear their jailor approaching in the hall outside, keys jangling. Jack turned towards her, pressing his hands through the bars as far as the manacles would allow. "Anne, I—"
"I know," she said, taking his hands at last. For the last. "Me too. The only thing that's meant anything in all this bullshit." She held his gaze, hoping he heard the rest. There were more words she couldn't say, words Jack wouldn't make her carry in his absence. "You better not stay gone long," she said instead.
"I'll see you on the other side, darling," he said, as the executioner pried him from her grasp.
"You're absolutely sure about this?" Anne said, cell phone pressed between her shoulder and ear as she shuffled down the narrow aisle. "This flight, today? I'm getting really fucking sick of these false positives."
"Those were near misses, not false positives, there is a difference," Max replied, voice tinny over the — well it wasn't even fucking lines anymore was it? — in a way Anne still wasn't used to more than a century after telephones had become common. "He is here, somewhere, we simply have to find him. An aeroplane is, at least, an enclosed space with a limited number of people. It will be harder to miss him this time."
Anne snorted and rolled her eyes, knowing Max knew her well enough to hear the expression over the phone and halfway across the world. "It's not missing him if he ain't here to find."
Max sighed, and Anne could imagine her taking off the glasses she didn't need, rubbing at her eyes that didn't age. "We know he is here, Anne. We know it, the signs are clear, there can be no doubt. I know it seems hard to believe in this moment, but somewhere in your immediate vicinity is Jack Rackham, finally, at last. Try to focus on that. On the old feeling of him, the things we've kept alive in us, that familiarity. You will know him when you see him, I truly believe that. But remember, he will not know you, so you must be the one to find him."
Anne grumbled under her breath but didn't argue. "You meeting me in LA?" she asked.
"No, I am in Paris until the end of the week, at least. But I have arranged for a car to meet you at the airport, and had the apartment prepared for you. And do not forget, the garages are all on automatic sensor now, do not be concerned when you cannot find the button in the car. Text me when you are home, and I will carve out some time for a video call."
"Well here's hoping he's a futurist like you," Anne muttered, still parsing that long string of jargon, "so someone in this relationship will have the first fucking idea what you're talking about."
Max laughed, rich and easy, and said, "There is a link on the desktop of your phone called 'Max'. Press that and write a message to me — think of it as a telegram, dear one. And then I will call you later."
"Yeah, yeah. Love you."
"Je t'aime," Max replied. "Have a good flight."
The phone went dead and Anne shoved it into the pocket of her jacket, continuing the awkward shuffle through the coach section of the plane, an eye out for her row. She fucking hated air travel, and she hated it worse when Max wasn't with her. She wasn't looking forward to pacing the aisle during the flight, but Max was right, this was probably their best shot. If he was really here, if the signs weren't bullshit.
But she'd know him, wouldn't she? If Max was right about any of it, it was that. So either he was here or he wasn't. And in the next few hours, she'd know.
She found her row, slid into seat 22D, stuffed her faded old backpack under the seat in front of her, then took quiet stock of her neighbors. The seats to her right were occupied by a young couple, leaning into each other, clearly newly in love. Irrelevant. Across the aisle to her left, the window seat was empty, and in 22B a gray-haired woman with a neckpillow was already dozing. As Anne watched, a man in a cheap suit put his rollerbag in the bin over their row, then settled into the aisle seat across from hers.
And immediately began to chat her up.
Among the many things she hated about traveling alone, this sort of shit ranked pretty fucking high. It also made her wonder if she ought to start wearing a wedding ring, like Max did. The idea wasn't so odd, anymore, legal most places now, even. About fucking time. Not that it usually carried much weight with this kind of asshole, but it was better than having to listen to them.
She was about to tell the jackass in the suit to shove off when out of nowhere a ratty duffle bag collided with his face with a good amount of force, knocking his head back into the seat at a satisfying angle. Time seemed to slow as Anne looked up, following the line of motion, at the person holding the straps of the bag, tall and lean and smiling in a way that was both polite and totally insincere.
Those fucking sideburns, was Anne's first coherent thought.
"Oh, I am so sorry," the newcomer said, and his voice— it wasn't anything like Anne had expected, and yet exactly right. "I didn't see you there," he went on. "But I do believe you're in my seat. 22C?"
Suit-shit looked annoyed and said, "Pretty sure this seat is A, C is by the window."
"The posted signage would seem to disagree with you," he said with that same smile, gesturing to the placard above the seat that clearly showed A next to the window.
The jackass flushed red and shot a glance at Anne, and she realized she'd been staring. She jerked her gaze away, sneering.
"Yeah, well, my mistake," the jackass mumbled, and then bothered the woman in 22B to let him into his rightful seat.
Anne surreptitiously watched as the newcomer squashed his duffle bag into the overhead compartment, her head spinning. He was tall enough that it wasn't even a reach — easily as tall as he'd been the last time around, with that same slouchy stance. After one last good shove to the duffle, he settled into the aisle seat across from hers, and Anne had to remind herself not to stare, to only steal glances as the rest of the passengers filed on and into their seats.
He looked different, of course, softer somehow, and at least a decade younger than he'd been when he'd died. His hair was a shade or two lighter than she remembered, but so similar to his old style that the effect was the same: a mess on top and too long in back, but somehow he made it look intentional and fashionable, no matter the century.
Other than the broad sweeping sideburns — sculpted from the hair in front of his ears, she noticed on a second glance — he had no facial hair to speak of, which changed the balance of his face in interesting ways. His eyes were as dark as ever, and Anne found herself grateful for it, grateful to recognize those eyes she'd once known so well.
The shape of his jaw was different, his shoulders narrower, but beneath all the differences, he was the Jack Rackham she'd known, the Jack she'd always known, sardonic and calculating and wistful. Max had been right, she'd recognized him instantly, even before he'd spoken. He hadn't spared her a second look though, so maybe that was something else Max was right about, that he didn't remember anything from before. They had some theories on how to jog his memory, but Anne had been half hoping that it wouldn't be necessary. If he didn't remember, there wasn't much she could do until they were on the ground in LA, anyway. Max was the one who knew about this shit.
As the flight crew began the final steps for takeoff, Anne glanced across the aisle again to find him watching her sidelong.
"I hope that wasn't as painful as it looked," he said conspiratorially, leaning an elbow on his armrest and angling himself towards her across the aisle.
She looked over at him, unsure what to make of that comment — and realizing suddenly that she had completely forgotten how to be like this with him, how to be strangers. If she'd ever known, really. "I dunno, I kind of enjoyed watching him get smacked."
Used-to-be-Jack grinned, ducking his head to hide it. "No, I meant the part just before that, actually. Him talking at you. I hope it wasn't too painful for you."
Because of fucking course Jack had done that on purpose. It wasn't quite walking up and slitting the throat of her abusive fuck of a husband in the middle of a tavern, but of course Jack had to make that kind of entrance. Every fucking time.
"Nothing I couldn't have handled," she said, shooting him a look. "But I appreciate the backup."
"Glad to help," he replied easily. "Feels like we ought to stick together— you know, aisle mates and all."
He smiled at her pleasantly, then turned back to his own space as the flight attendants made their way down the narrow aisle.
Anne snuck glances at him throughout the safety announcements, noting all the differences, all the fucking uncanny similarities. Evidently she wouldn't be forced to wander the aisle at all, thank fuck, but she had to find some way to make her staring a little less obvious. The last thing she wanted was to make a scene and scare him off. As soon as they were in the air, she pulled her backpack from under the seat in front of her to fish around for her earphones.
Across the aisle, the person who had been Jack huffed a laugh, and Anne looked up out of habit, out of instinct.
"The, ah, Jolly Roger," he said, gesturing to a threadbare patch on the front of her backpack. Max had bought it for her sometime in the 1970s, she'd forgotten when exactly. Forgotten it was on there, even, when she'd hurriedly packed for this last-minute flight. Still smiling in bemusement, used-to-be-Jack pushed up the unbuttoned cuff of his overshirt to reveal that same flag, inked in black on the inside of his forearm, skull grinning toothily up at Anne. It was more accurate to the original than her patch was.
It's fine, she could still hear him saying, defeat in his voice. His old voice. It's fine. And here it was fucking tattooed on him like he'd been born with it.
Maybe Max was wrong about just how much they could expect Jack to remember on his own.
"Always been a favorite of mine," she answered neutrally, eyeing him.
"You know whose flag it is, then, of course?" he replied.
"Jack Rackham's," she said automatically, and watched his face closely, waiting for the twinkle in his eye, for the moment his expression would crack to let her know he'd been fucking with her all along.
She'd waited three hundred years for that look, and apparently she'd have to wait a little bit longer.
"Ah, and there history would agree with you — while leaving out some rather important and salient facts. While Rackham was undoubtedly using this flag by the time of his death in 1720, he'd been known to use others earlier in his career. His iconic flag was, in fact, a rather late addition to his legend, not recorded at all before 1718 or so. And sightings of it continued for nearly another fifty years after his death, which the official histories never account for."
She did know that, of course. She remembered it — not well, her grief and desperation at the time having driven her nearly further than Max could reach — but of course she knew it better than anyone.
But if Jack was going to fuck with her, she could fuck with him right back. "What're you saying? Rackham came back from the dead?"
"No, no, nothing like that. Undead pirates, purely a Disney invention," he said, flashing her a grin, even while that I'm-fucking-with-you twinkle stubbornly refused to surface. "No, I believe Rackham's partner in crime, Anne Bonny, survived him. There are records for the deaths of most of his crew, but Anne Bonny simply disappears from the historical account. It's my belief that she escaped Jamaica and returned to piracy, under Rackham's flag."
If he did remember, if he'd recognized her as quickly as she'd recognized him, this was a fucking weird-ass roundabout way of telling her so, but also the sort of weird-ass roundabout-ness that just screamed Jack. "Do you think Rackham would've approved of that?" she asked.
"Oh, most assuredly," used-to-be-Jack replied. "The woman was a force of nature, taking on her world the way she did, in that era of history. If Rackham didn't approve, then he wasn't worthy of her in the first place."
"Are you fucking with me?" she asked before she could stop herself, narrowing her gaze at him across the aisle.
He looked over at her, eyebrows raised in surprise, the picture of innocence. "No, not at all. I truly believe that. And besides," he went on, smirking, "I would never joke about pirates, Anne Bonny least of all."
He didn't say her name right, she decided. Said it like it was one long name, the syllables running together, and pronounced Anne all wrong, none of the emphasis he used to use. If he was fucking with her, he was doing a shit job of it. She glanced over and found him watching her a bit sheepishly.
"I'm sorry to prattle on — pirates are a bit of a special interest for me, you see — and I haven't even introduced myself. I'm Jack," he said, smiling pleasantly at her across the aisle. Just like fucking that. I'm Jack, with that utterly innocent expression, what the fuck.
Not fucking with her, she decided. Pretty sure at least. Which just made it that much fucking weirder. "What, like Rackham?"
He flushed a little but wore it well. "Well, when your given name can be shortened to the same moniker as that of one of your childhood heroes, why not? Life's too short."
He seemed to be totally unaware of the fucking surrealness of all of this. "...I'm Anne," she said, looking at him sidelong, suddenly missing her hat, after all these years. "And I don't mind the pirate talk. Obviously," she added, with a nod to her backpack that she'd stashed at her feet again.
Jack shot her a look, eyebrows raised. "Ah, I see I'm not the only one with a namesake in this discussion — though that does beg the question, then, how precisely you spell Anne. With or without the E. Anne Bonny, of course, is nearly always spelled with that trailing E, even at a time when the records can barely agree on a spelling for Rackham. Which has always led me to believe that Anne Bonny must have been somewhat protective of her name, particular as to its spelling. Where would you say you fall in this whole E discourse, Aisle Mate Anne?"
She raised an eyebrow at him, challenging. "Well, what do you think?"
He considered her a long moment, eyes narrowed. "You look like an Anne-with-an-E sort to me."
"You can tell that by looking?"
He shrugged. "It takes a certain sort of strength to carry around that extra letter your whole life, defend its existence." He smiled, self-deprecating, and Anne was momentarily caught up in the play of his expressions on this new face, so similar, so fucking different. "Or perhaps I am merely projecting — having recently dropped from Jackie to Jack myself."
That caught her off guard, and she looked over at him again. "Jackie, huh?"
"Short for Jacqueline. I have a... complicated relationship with gender. Jackie was my mother's compromise, and I held on as long as I could, but I just couldn't..." He trailed off into an expression of frustration.
"Jack suits you anyway," she said after a moment, hoping there was still something in him that could read her tones of voice as easily as he once did.
He shot her a grateful look. "I knew you would understand, Anne-with-an-E. We cannot be other than we are."
Jack was surprisingly easy to talk to, once she stopped looking for that I'm-fucking-with-you smirk. They'd talked plenty before, all those years ago, but Anne knew she was different now, that three hundred years with Max had changed her. They couldn't have talked like this back then, not really. Not with her openness and his lightness.
There were things she couldn't tell him yet, not while he still lacked his memories and certainly not in public, but she told him what she could: about Max, and some of the places they'd seen, and the little business in New Orleans that occupied most of Anne's days. They discussed pirate movies and history, Jack's childhood in Philadelphia of all places, how excited he was to see the Pacific ocean for the first time.
All through it, it was clear he didn't remember her or that life before, at least not consciously — his subconscious seemed to have taken up the slack. They'd find a way to jog his memories, once they were on the ground again. Max would know how.
The longest break in their conversation was when the drinks cart paused in between them. By the time their flight landed in LA, they'd exchanged email addresses, but they naturally fell into step beside each other after they disembarked. LAX was, as always, a warren of crowds and construction, but she was in no hurry to lose Jack's company, so she stuck by his side even as the faster moving travelers wove around them.
By the third time they'd stopped to look at the signs directing them toward baggage claim and all, she was having trouble keeping herself from smiling at his evident annoyance.
"First time in LAX?" she finally asked.
"That obvious?" he said, making a face. "My confusion with the signage only continues to increase," he went on, waving in agitation at the temporary sign in front of them and the construction zone around them. "I take it you're an old hand at navigating this monstrosity?"
She shrugged, still trying not to smile. "More or less."
"I suppose I need to find ground transportation," he sighed, "if you would be so kind as to take pity on me and help me find my way, Aisle Mate Anne?"
"Where are you headed? Maybe I can give you a lift." More time could only be a good thing. Even knowing she had a way to contact him again, she didn't want to let him out of her sight any sooner than she absolutely had to.
"I'm on my way to San Diego, to meet an old friend of mine. There's a train from Union Station. Once I figure out how to get there. I think there's a bus or something."
"Nah, public transport in LA is a fucking nightmare. I have a car waiting for me, at least let me drive you to Union Station. Come on."
She touched the back of his hand in passing and turned to lead the way in the direction of her car pick-up, slipping between the clumps of travelers. After a moment she realized he wasn't keeping pace with her, paused and glanced back at him. He was still standing where she'd left him, staring down at his hand as people parted around him like a rock in the surf, his ratty duffle forgotten at his feet.
"Jack?" she called, taking a few steps back to him when he didn't acknowledge her.
"I have had this dream so many times, and I never understood..." he murmured, more to himself, turning his hand over as he continued to stare.
"The fuck's gotten into you?" she asked.
His gaze snapped up to hers, dark eyes intense and utterly focused on her. "Anne," he said, and something about it brought her up short, her heart hammering.
It was completely different from how he had been saying her name, exactly like how she'd wished he would—
For a long moment, all she could do was stare at him, holding his gaze across the few feet that still separated them.
"...What? Just fucking now? Are you fucking kidding me?"
He shook his head, looking dazed. "Yes, just fucking now. You touched my hand and I—" His eyes sought hers again, so familiar in his changed face. "I wasn't fucking with you, earlier, Anne. I wouldn't— that wouldn't be my first instinct— it isn't my first instinct, to fuck with you in this moment, to draw out this farce any longer than strictly necessary."
And all at once it hit her like a punch to the gut. It was really him. Jack Rackham. Standing in front of her after three hundred fucking years.
"So what is your first instinct, then?" she asked, not quite sure what to do with herself, either.
He took half a step towards her then stopped, hesitant, hands splaying open helplessly at his sides. "Darling."
Anne didn't need more of an invitation than that. She closed the distance between them in a few quick steps and didn't stop until she had barrelled into him and wrapped her arms around him. Jack embraced her just as quick, holding her tight and leaning down to kiss the top of her head.
"I cannot believe you did it, I cannot believe you pulled this off, Anne," he whispered fiercely, cheek pressed to her hair. "I can't believe we're standing in the middle of LAX in twenty fucking eighteen and you did it, you marvelous woman, you absolute force of nature."
She huffed a laugh against his chest, and only then realized that she was crying. "I can't fucking believe you have that tattoo."
"You continued to use it," he said, sounding awed, and a bit like he might be crying too. "For fifty years! You kept it alive, made it so notorious it's nearly synonymous with pirate, made sure the world knew it, so I could find it again. Do I disapprove of you continuing to use it? Are you mad? I could not possibly be more proud of you—"
He cut off with a choked sound and Anne clutched him tighter, ignoring the people streaming past them, the boarding calls echoing over the PA system, the news on televisions chattering overhead, the construction on the other side of the flimsy barrier wall. There was nothing else in this moment but the reality of Jack Rackham, alive in her arms, after so fucking long.
"Thank you for finding me, my darling," he said, holding her as tightly as she held him. "Thank you for not giving up on me."
Eventually they continued on out of the terminal, Anne leading the way to the private car service Max used.
"I had a car dropped off for me," she told the attendant behind the counter. "Last name's Beaumont, under either Anne or Max."
"Yes, Ms. Beaumont, we were notified that your flight had landed, so your car is being brought up now. It should only be another minute or two, if you'd like to have a seat."
Jack shot her a look as they settled into adjoining chairs in the empty lounge next door. "'Ms. Beaumont,'" he mimicked with a mocking twist to his voice.
"Oh don't you start," Anne said, swatting at him. "Just the latest in a long line."
"Beaumont is an interesting choice, though."
She shrugged. "Over the years I've learned it's best to just let Max have her way in things like this, only put my foot down on shit like not changing my initials. At least these days we can say we're married, instead of trying to claim we're sisters or whatever the fuck."
"I'm sure that's lovely for you," he replied, his tone not quite as light as he'd aimed for, she thought.
"She's missed you too, you know," she said, knocking her foot into his. "We both have."
He looked at her sidelong, almost shy. "I don't wish to intrude, darling. I know how the two of you were before, and given the way you talked about her on the plane, I can only imagine that bond has strengthened over the intervening time."
Anne rolled her eyes. "Wouldn't have gone to this much trouble to get you back if we didn't want you with us. The both of us."
"Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the effort," he said, tracing the back of her hand with a fingertip for a moment. "But I would understand if things have changed since 1720."
"It was a long-shot and we pulled it off. That's all that's changed. Shut the fuck up about it and enjoy the moment, will you?"
Jack shook his head, smiling over at her again. "I still can't believe this actually worked, and yet here we are."
"I can't believe you made me wait that fucking long."
"Came as quick as I could, darling. Just got a little sidetracked along the way. Being dead and all."
"Three hundred fucking years, Jack!"
"Ah, no, two hundred and ninety-eight, thank you very much. I had planned to celebrate that anniversary in style, Anne. You've borne witness to the depths of my obsession with my previous life already," he went on, gesturing at the tattoo on his arm. "We'd even talked about going to Jamaica for the anniversary, Chaz and I—" He cut himself off suddenly, eyes gone wide. "Oh my god, Charles. We have to get to San Diego."
"...For your school friend?" Anne asked, trying to keep up with his sudden shift.
"No. Well, yes — my closest friend in the world, as it turns out — but I am suddenly quite certain that Chaz is Charles."
"Vane, you mean? What the fuck?"
"It has to be. I haven't the faintest fucking clue how, but it has to be."
"Vane's the old friend you flew out here to visit? What the fuck, how long have you known him?"
"My entire life. Inseparable since childhood — we were born in the same hospital two days apart, for Christ's sake. Whatever brought me back seems to have brought Charles along for the ride."
Anne shook her head, stunned. "Guess we're going to San Diego, then."
Jack opened his mouth to say something, but one of the overly-cheery staff members came to get them then, leading the way down a short hallway to an elevator. When the doors opened on the private garage below, Anne was relieved to find that it was the Maserati waiting for them and not one of Max's new Tesla toys. She still hadn't quite wrapped her head around the fuel needs of those, and she was glad Max had remembered she'd said so.
She tipped the valet and slid into the driver's seat as Jack settled into the passenger's side.
"This is your car?" he demanded once the doors were closed behind them.
"Fuck no, this is Max's car. Like I'd drive anything I can't wrench myself," she snorted as she secured her seatbelt and put the car into drive. "It just ain't worth keeping a vehicle out here, I'm in LA so rarely. Easier just to use one of Max's."
Jack blinked at her in surprise. "One of Max's?"
She shrugged. "I've given up trying to keep track. The sun never sets on the Maximillianne Empire and all that."
"Hang on, M.E. is Max? What am I saying, of course she is, you are, with a name like that, with an empire like that. But there is clearly some history I'm missing there."
She focused on merging with traffic before responding to him, too busy swearing at LA drivers under her breath. "'Course there is. Fucking three hundred years, Jack! But broad strokes, there ain't much to tell. You already know I stayed on the Account through... guess it must have been '68 or so. By that point everyone who'd known about Flint's treasure was dead, so we went back for it. Took us awhile to find all the caches — Ben Gunn was stuck on Skeleton Island for years, kept finding bits of the treasure and re-hiding it, went completely off his fucking rocker — but we had time. More time than we knew what to do with, really. When we had all the treasure we could find, we sailed for the mainland, for what's the States now, bought some land. Max did what she does, started building a new empire. Eventually bought Skeleton Island and the cays around it outright, just in case we'd missed any of the treasure. But you know how Max is, always on to the newest thing, always investing the profits into some new venture. Sorta ballooned over the years."
Jack was silent a long moment, and Anne glanced over to find him watching her, a calculating grin on his face. "So you and Max were the final recipients of Flint's treasure? Simply sailed off into the sunset with it? Amazing. Fucking brilliant. If the history books had any idea...!"
Anne snorted in amusement. "She'd have been here, if she could have. She's in Paris on business, we got word about your flight so late there wasn't time."
"Ah, yes, well, it was fairly last-minute travel on my part as well. Though how you knew I would be on that flight is a mystery to me, much less in that row!"
"You'll have to ask Max about the signs, I have no fucking clue how those work, they just do. It's how we knew you were back in the first place. But I don't think she knew where you'd be sitting, kept telling me I'd have to walk the aisle looking for you."
"Glad to have spared you that at least. I'm still a little surprised you recognized me so easily, given everything that's changed."
She looked at him sidelong before turning her gaze back to the 405 freeway.
"You have to admit this is all a bit different," Jack went on, gesturing at himself. "Not sure I would even recognize myself on the street."
"Your hair's the same, dumbass."
Jack shot her a confused look, then reached for the visor to flip open the mirror there and examine his reflection, one hand in his hair. Messy on top, too long in back, those fucking sideburns.
"Ah. Well, clearly bits of me have been slipping through for some time now. But no, this is actually— I shaved my head, five months back? Six? I needed a change, desperately. I haven't had the faintest fucking idea what to do with it as it's grown back in, besides just let it be. Somehow that seems to have formed... this."
"Now that is difficult to picture," Anne admitted.
"It was a rash decision, but I don't regret it. It's all tied up in this whole... fucking Jacqueline thing. That was a bit of a tangled knot to unravel even before I had the rest of my memories bouncing around my head. And now, I don't know what the fuck to think."
Into the silence that followed, Anne said, "You're you. That's all I care about."
He sighed and it sounded a little ragged. "Thank you, darling. I know I have done absolutely nothing in this life or the last to deserve a day like this with you, but I am ever so grateful for it."
"The fuck you talking about, 'a day like this.' Three hundred fucking years, Jack! If you think I'm letting you out of my sight even once in the next century, you're fucking wrong. You're stuck with me, like it or not."
Jack smiled, ducking his head to hide it. "As I said, nothing in this life or the last to deserve this. But you won't hear a complaint out of me."
"Good. Because you're outvoted anyway."
They continued south at a fair clip, conversation flowing between them even easier than it had on the plane, now that they didn't have to hold back. But when her phone began to buzz in her pocket, Anne realized what she'd forgotten to do. "Ah, shit," she said, keeping one hand on the wheel and digging the phone out of her pocket with the other. "Answer that, would you?" she added as she all but tossed the telephone at Jack.
He caught it neatly and answered it before its next ring. "Hel-lo?" he asked in greeting, clearly unsure what to expect. Anne cast a quick glance at him before turning her gaze back to the freeway, and saw his face break into a wide grin. "Max," he said, and Anne couldn't help smiling a little as well at the warmth in his tone. "Yes, she did," Jack replied to something Max had asked. "We were seated across from each other, actually... Ah yes, I did wonder if that was your influence... No, no, we're— somewhere in Orange County anyway, I haven't a clue. Headed vaguely south-ish."
"Put her on—" Anne stopped when she realized she didn't have the word, waving one hand at the phone pressed to Jack's ear. "Make her voice loud enough so I can hear."
"Speakerphone, darling," he supplied, shooting her a grin, then did as she asked. "Sorry Max, say that again?"
"You are driving south...?" Max's voice came through the little brick of technology in Jack's hand.
It finally hit Anne, in that moment, driving Max's ridiculous car down the broad freeway, the Pacific sparkling out the passenger's side window and the voices of the two people she loved best in the world mingling in the little cabin, that they'd done it. Really, truly, fucking done it.
All they had was an address and a slip number, but Jack knew how to make his phone tell them the best route there, and before long they were winding through San Diego, nearing the waterfront. Eventually they had to park and go the rest on foot, and Jack led the way down the jetty with a shit-ton of confidence for someone who had never been west of the fucking Mississippi before.
The sailboat wasn't much to look at, but clearly well loved, maintained in a way a lot of the day-trip sailors hardly bothered with anymore, in Anne's extensive experience. As they neared they could see a man sitting on the deck, his back to them as he worked on a rope splice. Jack increased his pace, clearly recognizing him, and Anne took a moment to catalog this new Vane. His skin was dark beneath a sun-bronzed tan, and he wore a thick bundle of neatly locked dreads gathered at the nape of his neck, and he was still as broad-shouldered as ever. And like Jack, despite the changes, there was some undefinable thing about him that was distinctly Vane.
"Chaz!" Jack called when they were still a few yards away, waving when the man on the boat looked up.
"Jack!" he said cheerfully, standing and turning towards them as they approached. "What the fuck, I wasn't expecting you for a few hours yet. I would have met you at the train station if you'd texted me." He stooped and produced a sturdy-looking board and laid it across the gap between the jetty and the boat.
"Yes, well, something came up," Jack said as he came aboard. "Charles, I'd like you to meet—"
"Anne Bonny," used-to-be-Vane said with a grin, startling her. "About fucking time." He held out a hand as she stepped on board, and after a moment she shook it. His palm was calloused against hers, hinting at years of sailing.
"Charles," she said with a little nod, not quite sure how to react.
Vane blinked a few times and uttered a little huh before Jack's agitation drew both their gazes.
"You knew?" he asked, sounding surprised and affronted.
"First night out at sea alone, I knew. Nice to have a few more of the details back, though," he said, nodding at Anne with a grin as she blinked back at him silently.
"And when exactly were you planning on telling me this?" Jack demanded.
Vane shrugged. "Why do you think I've been pushing for you to come out here? Seemed like a face to face sort of conversation. Thought it was just you and me though, glad to see you two ran into each other somewhere along the way."
Must have been that damned coat, she realized. Vane had been with them the day of the rescue, must have bled on it too.
"Anne, your what the fuck face hasn't changed a bit," he added with amusement. "Hang on, you look exactly the same, how's that fucking possible? When Jack and I—" He waved vaguely at he and Jack, how different they each looked.
Anne shot Jack a look and he grinned, turning to Vane.
"Now that, my friend, is a very interesting story," Jack said, throwing an arm around Charles and pulling him towards the boat's little galley, "worthy of your best booze."
Anne smirked and followed after, letting the sound of Jack's voice lead her onward.
"...Tell me Charles, what do you know of the Fountain of Youth?"