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Lethe

by Melusina

 

Fandom: PoTC    Rating: PG    Pairing: Elizabeth/Will, Jack/Elizabeth    Full Header

 


At the end of the world, everything was different.

There was endless sky and water, each mirroring the other, and endless twilight, with nary a sign of the sun nor the moon. Strange seabirds called and whirled around the sails and the air was cold and thin. When they found the Black Pearl, she was rimed with frost; ice crystals shone like jewels in Jack's hair, but he was hale and whole, beneath the ragtag assortment of coats and comforters he wore.

Elizabeth had dreaded this meeting for months, but Jack merely smiled and said he'd known he could count on her. (Neither of them felt the need to clarify what it was he could count on her to do.) Will was so glad to see Jack that he forgot to maintain the forlorn fašade that he'd carried with him across the ocean. The relief on Will's face loosened the knot that had been sitting in Elizabeth's chest since they'd abandoned the Black Pearl so many months before.

Barbossa announced that his obligation was fulfilled and that he was sailing on. There was no question that everyone else would return with Jack.

The Pearl was more tattered and ghostly than she'd been under Barbossa's command, but Jack assured them she was seaworthy, and now that he had a crew, they could return to more familiar lands. Three days' sailing led them to the mouth of a sluggish, brown river. Jack piloted the ship into a deep channel, and they sailed upriver for many days, seeing nothing but hazy blue-green trees, until they rounded a bend in the river and Elizabeth thought she could see figures standing on the fog-shrouded banks, reaching out their arms and pleading.

Ragetti said they sounded like angels, singing so sweetly, and before anyone could stop him, he'd clambered over the side. He didn't even try to swim; as soon as he hit the water, he sank into the murky depths. When they fished him out, he'd forgotten what little he'd known. Pintel nursed him tenderly, and in time, Ragetti regained some of his memories, although he never seemed quite the same as he'd been before.

Afterwards, Elizabeth wondered what it would be like to wipe her mind clean and start over, ignorant of what had gone before. With Will once again avoiding her and Jack watching her with taunting eyes, oblivion seemed a tempting prospect.


At the end of the world, everything was the same.

On and on they sailed, up the unchanging river. Without knowing how he'd come by the knowledge, Jack knew beyond any doubt that their course was correct. However, he had no more idea how long the journey would take than he knew how he'd come to this land. One minute he was being devoured by Davy Jones' pet monster and the next he was adrift on this strange sea. And from that time until the moment that Elizabeth had set foot on the Pearl, he'd needed neither food nor water. In fact, he'd been untroubled by mortal appetites of any kind. It was a mixed blessing; he'd welcomed the return of normal cravings, but there were times when it would have been more convenient not to need satisfaction of one sort or another.

Elizabeth had her booted feet propped on the table, her legs sprawled wide in her breeches, and she was eating a blood orange. Sticky, red juice ran down her chin and leaked through her fingers, trickling down her arm and staining her sleeve. She took a long suckling bite and licked her lips, and Jack had to turn his head.

Damnable woman! She had to know what sort of effect she had, flaunting herself like that, and her the only woman on the ship.

Her hair had slipped from her braid, and fell across her eyes. She peered through it cannily and Jack was reminded of her kiss, so tender and treacherous. Pretty girl, but not Jack's type, he assured himself. She was too clever by half, and there was no way to know what was artifice and what was truth.

If he could've stayed awake on the island and watched her sleep, perhaps he could have known her true-self, stripped of the masks she wore and the games she played. But he'd missed his opportunity, and there was little chance of catching her unawares again, not with Will in the picture.


At the end of the world, nothing was the same.

Will and Elizabeth were searching for Jack, who'd ventured onto that dim shore in search of fresh, drinkable water. The trees grew close together, and the thick fog obscured everything before and behind them; even the tree tops were hidden from view. Were it not for the line that Will had tied to a stump on the bank, they would have no hope of finding their way back to the ship. Will gave the rope a hard tug ever so often, to ensure that the other end was still secure; Elizabeth followed just behind him, letting the line run loosely through her fingers.

Every time Will turned to check on Elizabeth he wished fervently that she hadn't come. The situation was awkward enough when they were surrounded by the rest of the crew, but it was unbearable to be alone with her. What he couldn't understand was why she continued to pretend that everything was the same between them. He both dreaded and longed for the moment when she would tell him the truth: that she loved Jack. Instead, she seemed determined to keep up the fiction that she intended to marry Will. Will wished he had the courage Norrington had shown, to give her up with his blessing, but he couldn't bring himself to set her free. Not, at least, until she asked for her freedom.

As they walked on, calling Jack's name, the fog seemed to seep into Will's brain, until he could hardly recall his purpose. He was alone, and that wasn't right. He remembered that someone was supposed to be with him, but even that vague memory flitted away from him when he stumbled into the small clearing. Watery light illuminated the break in the trees and tall silvery flowers bloomed profusely. Walking forward in a daze, Will tripped on something and plummeted to the ground. Hidden amongst the flowers, there was a man sleeping. Will felt a momentary shock of recognition before sleep rolled him under like a crashing wave.


At the end of the world, nothing had changed.

Elizabeth wandered through the sweet-smelling mist, unable to remember who she was or what she was looking for; she only knew that she must find it. Unshed tears burned in her eyes and the rope she grasped stung her hand.

The stifling air was stirred by a cool breeze, scented with some exotic flower. Elizabeth yawned and leaned against a tree, then carried on a few more feet to a small clearing. There on the ground were two men. Memory stirred and Elizabeth gasped in fear, thinking them dead. But then Jack gave a snort in his sleep and Will twitched. All was well.

The weariness that she'd been fighting overwhelmed her, and she curled up beside Will and tumbled into sleep.

She awoke to a sprinkling of rain. She couldn't recall her dreams, but her cheeks were sticky with dried tears. The rainwater was cool and soothing, washing her face clean.

Will bolted upright with a pained cry and looked around him in confusion. Elizabeth smoothed the tangled hair back from his face, murmuring soothing noises until his ragged sobs quieted. While Jack slept on, they sat in silence, their heads leaned together.

In time the rain stopped and the sun came out, burning off the fog. The woods, which had seemed so mysterious, now had the neat and tidy look of an orchard. At the bottom of the ridge, Elizabeth could see the Pearl's sails, dark against the blue sky.

"Everything's different now."

"Not this." Will took her hand and pressed their palms together fiercely. Once her hand had been white and smooth; now it was as rough as his. "This has never changed."
 

 

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