Author: Sally R
Pairing: J/E post AWE
Disclaimer: For fun, not profit.
Author’s note: I wrote this as a little gift for fried_flamingo on her birthday. Valentine’s chocs for those who can spot her favourite Jack kinks…;)
Summary: Jack arched an eyebrow like the trickster he was and looped a conspiratorial arm about her shoulders, long fingers landing one by one upon her arm. “Now that, love, is a long and fascinating tale the telling of which will require time and rum…” He began to walk toward the city, taking her with him along the quay. “I happen to be in possession of a considerable quantity of time, if you, love, can provide the rum…”
Midsummer’s Eve fell a year and a day after Elizabeth had said farewell to her husband and watched him sail, forever, beyond the horizon. And for a year and a day she had mourned him, lived cloistered in her new and strange home.
Through the long winter nights, storm lashed and bitter, she had poured herself into her new duties and her new life, learned to navigate by the stars, learned the mysteries of ancient charts, and studied arcane passages of the Code until her eyes blurred in the dim light of tallow candles.
With the spring, she had gone to sea. Thirsty for sunlight and knowledge, she learned the lines of her ship like the lines of a lover’s body, tracing them with sensitive fingers until their shape was familiar and welcome. She learned to feel the helm shift beneath her touch, to keep the sails full and tight to the wind, to listen to the whisper of the waves and to read a storm in the flight of the birds, in the patterns of the clouds that raced ahead of the tempest.
When she returned to the Cove with the dawn of summer she was tanned and strong, her hair swept in tattered curls behind her as she challenged the Devil’s Throat and won an easy victory. She smiled, as she’d not smiled in months, and knew that soon her mourning would be over and that she, Elizabeth Swann, would be ready to seize the world anew and live a life of undreamt freedom. Against all expectations she had become the Pirate King, and she had forged herself a role, and an iron respect, among the shifting, gypsy population of Shipwreck Cove.
The days grew long, the summer sun poured liquid gold across the Cove late into the night, and a week before midsummer the Black Pearl ghosted into port with sunset aflame at her back.
Elizabeth watched her arrival from the quay, appreciating her unique strength and beauty with a new eye, a sailor’s eye. She was a ship, indeed, for which a captain might trade his soul.
Jack was, of course, the first to disembark. His usual swagger was unchanged, the glitter in his eyes just as she’d first known him. He had healed – as she had done – in the year they’d been apart. The fractured, haunted man they’d dragged from the Locker was gone and he was Captain Jack Sparrow once more.
There was a moment of taking stock when they first met, a moment of assessing alliances and enmities, but it was brief and resolved as soon as Elizabeth smiled. “You got her back,” she said, glancing up at the Pearl aglow in the burnished light.
“Did you doubt I would?”
“Never.” She smiled again, realising how much she had missed his brilliance in this long, dark mourning year. “And what became of Barbossa?”
Jack arched an eyebrow like the trickster he was and looped a conspiratorial arm about her shoulders, long fingers landing one by one upon her arm. “Now that, love, is a long and fascinating tale the telling of which will require time and rum…” He began to walk toward the city, taking her with him along the quay. “I happen to be in possession of a considerable quantity of time, if you, love, can provide the rum…”
And so the days passed. They sat in the vast expanse of the Great Hall long into the summer nights, and he regaled her with tall tales of jungles and swamps, of Barbossa’s terrible fate and the grave price demanded by the fabled Fountain of Youth. She believed less than half of what he told her, but delighted in the rum and the telling of the tale.
She delighted, too, in the cat-and-mouse play of their friendship. He would tease her with heat in his eyes, and she would lift her chin and call him a charlatan through a sparkling smile. And somehow, over the days, it seemed that her place by the empty fireplace would always be at his side, and that in the hot, sun-stroked days he would always seek her out, bearing mangoes or other treasures unearthed from the holds of the Pearl. Shirt loose and bare foot, he took her back to earlier day, simpler days, and sometimes she would find herself entranced by the sheen of sweat upon his chest, or by the little hollow at the base of his throat, or by the way the heat smudged the black balm beneath his eyes, turning them smoky and seductive. Other times it seemed that he watched her with the fervour of a midday sun, that the smile upon his lips was honest, and that the silences between them said more than all their bantering conversation.
It was all a game, though; an amusement in the long, slow summer nights. Soon he would be gone again, and somewhere beyond the end of the world her husband sailed for eternity. They both understood how it was, she thought, how it must be – they both understood the rules of the games they played, the limits and the constraints.
And so came midsummer’s eve, where the sun skirted the horizon well into the night and the Great Hall was filled with laughter and song. A year and a day since she had parted from Will, and the end of her mourning.
Jack lounged in his favourite low wooden chair and Elizabeth sat on the floor, her head resting comfortably against his leg as he wove another tale of misadventure and cunning. She smiled and laughed and sipped at the rich wine in her cup. Lifted, Jack had said, from a fat French trader with no appreciation for Chateau Lafite.
Across from her Ragetti and Pintel were at dice, and somewhere in the distance Teague picked out a gentle tune, mellow as the setting sun.
She was happy, she realised. At home. With a sigh she closed her eyes, resting her head more heavily against the worn fabric of Jack’s breeches. And then, somehow both unexpectedly and completely naturally, she felt his hand in her hair. A soft touch at first, almost absent, as if he was hardly aware of curling a few strands about his fingers as he talked.
Still within the rules of the game, no doubt.
Yet her blood fizzed a little, like champagne in a glass, and she found her sleepy contentment washed away in favour of a dangerously fluttering pulse. She didn’t move though, didn’t sit up and shake her hair free. Perhaps she was daring him to go further, perhaps she just liked the intimate sensation – she’d been alone for so long…
After a while a silence fell between them and on the other side of the hall someone began to sing softly to the tune Teague played. Behind her, Elizabeth felt Jack shift, resting his head back in the chair, and his fingers stilled.
She damped a brief flare of loss and reminded herself of the game.
But then, as she drifted with the song toward a hazy dream, he touched her again. A sweep of warm fingers against her neck, brushing tresses back from her face, trailing through her hair with gentle, deliberate intent.
The champagne fizzed, a bottle uncorked and rushing to the surface. She moved her cheek a little against his leg, pressing closer, and then with a shiver sat up straight and shook out her hair.
Jack’s fingers came to rest on her shoulder. With a smile, she glanced at him and found him watching her like a cat with a mouse beneath his paw. “Let’s take a walk,” he said, so low none but she could hear.
She didn’t answer, perhaps didn’t want to consider how far the rules were being stretched. Certainly, she didn’t want to stop the game. Not now, not yet.
There were revellers outside too, playing at dice, smoking, drinking. She caught the eye of one man; grizzled, blade-thin and hungry looking in his shabby blue coat. His name, she thought, was Sullivan. He nodded to her, rattling the dice in the cup, enjoying the warm summer night and forgetting that winter would come swiftly on its heels.
Much as she was doing, Elizabeth supposed, as Jack led her along the docks until the lights of the Hall had faded and they were alone.
So beautifully alone. So dangerously alone…
The stars were bright now that the sun had said her brief farewell and she could name them all, could trace their patterns and meanings. Yet still they were beautiful, diamonds in the heavens, a mystery unsolvable and eternal.
But tonight the stars were not alone; the sky was alight with strange streamers of twirling lights, twisting and beautiful in greens and pinks. Elizabeth gasped, took a step back and found herself pressed against Jack’s warm body. “What’s that?”
“Read about it once,” he breathed softly, a little awed. “Never seen it, though. It’s called….” He paused, thinking. “Aurora Borealis.”
“But what is it?” She craned her head back so far she almost lost her balance until Jack steadied her with a hand, a hand that moved to curl about her waist, drawing her close against him. Suddenly she was more aware of his heat than of anything else and she closed her eyes, dizzy with the champagne fizz of it.
Just a game, always a game…
“Some say it’s the gods at play,” he whispered into her ear, “others believe it’s the spirits of the dead…”
She fell silent a moment, thinking of Will and the green flare that had marked his passing. A year and a day… And her life was reborn. “And what do you think it is?”
His pickpocket fingers were on her neck again, brushing through her hair, nimble and sensual. A delight. A foolish delight.
“Found a book once,” he murmured, “among the Captain’s effects on a lumbering great merchantman – Dutch, I think. This fellow supposed it was caused by the same force of attraction what points a compass north.” He sighed, she could feel the rise and fall of his chest against her back. “There’s less and less in this world, love, what can’t be explained by natural philosophy.”
His unexpected melancholy touched her and she closed her fingers over the arm curled about her waist. Opening her eyes, she looked up at the magical lights. “Either way, it’s beautiful.”
After a while, he said, “Aye.”
And then they fell silent until the lights faded and darkness returned. She turned around in his arms then, and found him watching her with such a look in his eyes… More tender than she’d ever imagined, more honest. His fingers were still in her hair, against her neck, and his arm still held her close.
Too far, a voice whispered. Just a game…
She paid it no heed, enchanted by the expression in his eyes as he drew closer. There was a question there, unspoken, and she closed her eyes so that she need not answer. Closed her eyes and lifted her hand to his throat, blindly tracing the lines of his shoulder beneath the soft linen of his shirt.
Perhaps he took that as her answer – perhaps it had been her answer – for he brushed a kiss against her lips, searching, hopeful.
Just a game…
She melted. The warm summer night, the champagne sparkle in her veins – she was alive again, after a year of death – and she could not resist him. She kissed him, slow and delicious, savouring the taste and the desire. He was warm, heated, his clever fingers trailing like firecrackers along her skin, through her hair, touching her as she ached to be touched.
“Lizzie,” he breathed against her lips, as if dazzled. “Didn’t think…” His mouth found her throat, she gasped, head dropping back; on fire now, burning. Needing. “God,” he whispered. “Lizzie…”
A sound close by, a kind of harsh grunt, started them both. Jack’s head jerked up and from the corner of her eye Elizabeth saw a blue-coated figure scuttle away into the shadows. Jack’s eyes narrowed and in that moment, a cool breeze blew.
A game. It’s all a game…
Jack looked back at her and she saw his eyes darken as she gave a nervous laugh. “Too much wine,” she said, moving away, pulling her arms from him and wrapping them about herself.
He paused, as if rapidly changing tack. “Too much wine,” he repeated, though whether it was agreement or dissent she couldn’t tell.
“We should— I should…” She made a vague gesture toward the Hall, toward the city in general.
In the light cast by the Hall behind them she saw him smile, a bleak self-knowing kind of smile. “Yes,” he agreed. “You should.”
They understood each other, she thought. Best to simply enjoy the game they played and not examine too deeply what lay beneath, for she doubted that either of them were prepared to live with the consequences of breaking the rules.
But it was only when he let her go that she realised how much she missed the warmth of his arms, how dull the rest of the night felt without him at her side.
And when dawn broke the following morning, the Black Pearl had already sailed.
The morning was bright and crisp, the low sun’s glare on the water forcing Elizabeth to squint as she ran along the crowded quay toward the deepwater berths. She wove her way easily between the various crews, calling a greeting here and there if she recognised a face, and keeping out of the way of the barrels rolling down gangplanks and the livestock being herded aboard departing ships.
Breathless by the time she reached the gangplank, she ran up quickly and couldn’t keep the smile from her lips. “Mister Gibbs,” she grinned as she jumped lightly onto the deck. “It’s so good to see you!”
“Miss Swann— Uh, Mrs. Turner.” He fumbled for a greeting with a scratch of his whiskers. “Not thought to see you down here so early.”
“The sun’s been up for an hour at least,” she said, glancing around the deck in the hopes of catching sight of Jack. “And I saw you coming in with the dawn.” She smiled again, reaching out to touch his arm. “I want to know everywhere you’ve been, everything you’ve seen.”
He snorted. “Aye, well, that’s a story and a half, miss, the telling of which might require a little libation to ease a man’s parched throat, if you catch me drift.”
“Of course,” she said, all seriousness. “In the Great Hall tonight, then? No doubt your captain will be holding court there.”
“Perhaps,” Gibbs said with an odd kind of wary smile.
Again she glanced around the deck. “So, where is he?”
Gibbs blinked. “Where’s who?”
“Oh.” He glanced back toward the cabin and frowned, or perhaps he too squinted against the sunlight. “He’s, ah, occupied.”
“Matters of business,” Gibbs blustered. “Ledgers, ship’s log… you know the kind of thing.”
She did indeed, she’d become intimately acquainted with them over the past year and a half, but still… “Jack Sparrow keeps a log?”
Gibbs glanced at her and for a moment his eyes lost their rum-pot blur. “He’s always been more of a ship’s captain than you’ve given him credit for, miss.”
Somehow she felt as though she’d been dressed down; did Gibbs think he knew Jack better, then? She could still feel the burn of his lips, the heat of his fingers against her skin, the look in his eyes that night beneath the polar lights – she still felt that connection, bound deep as rock whatever storms might rage on the surface of the seas. “I know him better than you think, Mr. Gibbs.”
He shrugged and there was something sly about the gesture. “Then you’d best say good morning to him, Mrs Turner.”
As always, when she felt an ambiguous insult floating in the air, Elizabeth lifted her chin. “I shall,” she said. “Good day to you, Mr. Gibbs.”
He made no reply, but she could feel his eyes on her back as she crossed the deck to the Great Cabin. She was about to lift her hand to knock but her hackles were raised and she refused to gives Gibbs the pleasure. Jack was a friend – more than a friend – but more, even than that, she was King here. She would demonstrate her authority, even if it was only for the benefit of a rummy old codger like Gibbs.
Therefore, head held high, she opened the door and stepped inside. “Jack,” she said, loud enough for Gibbs to hear, “it’s— Oh!”
The woman draped across him yelped and scurried to a corner of the bed, dragging a blanket with her and shooting a deadly look in Elizabeth’s direction. She had a brief glimpse of Jack – all of him – before he tugged a corner of the blanket back and growled, “Bloody hell!”
“I’m so sorry,” Elizabeth heard herself saying through the rush of blood in her ears. Her back turned, she stared red-faced at the far wall. “Gibbs said—” Occupied? Curse the bloody man! “I’m sorry.”
“Do they not teach you to knock where you come from, love?” Behind her she could hear the woman giggle, heard a rustle of fabric and knew he was dressing.
“I thought you were— I mean, I didn’t know you were…”
“A man’s private bloody quarters,” he muttered. “I assume there’s some emergency or other? Some matter of life and death what can’t wait?”
She shook her head. “No, I was just…” Eager to see you? She felt foolish, suddenly, childish; of course he’d find himself a whore as soon as he got into port. He was Captain Jack Sparrow, what else did she expect?
Only a game, after all. All part of the rules…Part of the price.
“I’ll leave,” she said, turning to the door and dreading the look she’d find on Gibbs’ face. “I’ll—”
“Wait,” his hand on her arm stopped her.
She glanced over – careful to keep her eyes averted from the whore in his bed – and hoped to see a reflection of that tender honesty in his eyes.
Instead, all she saw was mirrored black. “We’d have come to find you,” he said with nonchalant ease. His shirt, flung loose over his shoulders, slipped as he moved and beneath it she could see the mysterious swirl of ink and bronzed skin. Her stomach clenched; she refused to call it desire.
“I was passing and saw the Pearl,” she lied. She’d always been a good liar. “Did you dock last night?”
“’Bout an hour ago,” he said, leaning against the bulkhead and studying her face. “There’ll be some to do in the Great Hall tonight?”
She nodded, tried not to remember the feel of his lips on her mouth – the taste of him; a midnight, rum-soaked tryst, no more. She would not envy the whore spread naked in his bed. “And now, excuse me – I have matters to which I must attend.”
Jack’s smile was slow and lascivious. “You an’ me both, darlin’. You an’ me both…”
The Great Hall was hot and crowded in these, the last days before winter seas made the Devil’s Throat impassable to all but the bravest – or the most fool-hardy – captain. Shipwreck Cove was crammed full with those trading spices and silk, tea and rum, sugar and perfumes, while others jockeyed for a winter berth with careening and breaming in mind.
Cooler nights meant fires in the grates for the first time in months, and the hiss and spit of the flames only thickened air already fugged with tobacco and the scent of tar, rum, and unwashed sailors.
It was a scent to which Elizabeth had grown accustomed, and she paid it little mind as she sat at the end of one of the Hall’s sprawling tables and nursed a murky bottle of rum. Her attention was fixed on the wide doors, thrown open to all and sundry, but though she had watched them for two long hours, Jack Sparrow had not made an appearance.
She’d seen Gibbs though, who’d tipped his hat and gone in search of drink and women. Ragetti and Pintel had gambolled in later, muttering together, before they’d joined the nearest dice game and – she presumed from the loud and mutual recriminations – proceeded to loose their share of whatever plunder the Pearl’s crew had accumulated in the past six months.
But still Jack did not come.
From across the room she saw the narrow, unfriendly face of Sullivan watching her, as he often did these days, with something dissolute and dark in his eyes. She wished he would leave, but the old man had no ship and seemed marooned at the Cove like a savage dog thrown out by its owner. He made her uneasy and she deliberately turned away so that she didn’t have to see him as she kept her watchful eye on the door.
Surely, Jack could not still be occupied with the whore?
A sudden heat rose to her cheek at the memory of that morning, images made more potent, perhaps, by the rum. In fragments, she saw the woman’s pale skin against Jack’s dark limbs, saw the way his head had been slightly thrown back, lips parted, remembered the arc of his back and the hard lines of muscle in arms and shoulders; a working body, lithe and strong. Beautiful, too. But she’d always thought him beautiful, hadn’t she? Those smoke-black eyes, sculpted features, sensual mouth…
She pressed a hand to her flushed cheek, afraid suddenly that her wild thoughts were visible for all to see. Yet the only man watching her was Sullivan, and his gaze remained as stony as ever.
Impatient, she rose to her feet and walked toward the fire, rum bottle dangling from her fingers. Why didn’t he come? Had he not missed her as she had missed him? Each time she blinked she could see his face, somehow more vibrant, more alive, than anyone she’d ever known. She wanted to hear his stories, to hear his voice, to watch him watching her with those impossibly vivid eyes and know that they shared a bond, an implicit attachment that must always remain undeclared and yet—
“Jack!” Gibbs voice rang out from a table at the other side of the Hall, and Elizabeth turned sharply toward the door.
He was there, at last!
With a smile, she began to push through the crowds toward him, his name on her lips. And then she saw it, something so strange that it stopped her in her tracks.
The whore was with him, at least she assumed it was the same woman. But she wore no scarlet dress, no rouge upon her cheek or lips. In fact, Elizabeth noticed with rising panic, she was dressed in britches and coat, her long black curls loose about her shoulders. But worse, dizzyingly worse, was the fact that her hand was held firmly, comfortably, in Jack’s.
He raised a hand and waved to Gibbs, not noticing Elizabeth half buried in the crowds as he sauntered past. She watched him, though, with a sinking realisation. He leaned down and spoke quietly into the woman’s ear, she laughed and nodded, smacking him playfully on the chest. Jack smiled like a new morning, slipping his arm about her waist and kissing her temple with a tenderness that stilled the heart in Elizabeth’s chest.
It was plain, for all to see, that this woman was no whore. If she hadn’t known it to be impossible, Elizabeth would have said she had the look of a fiancée. Someone pushed past her – she’d been standing still too long – and Elizabeth almost lost her balance, staggering slightly and drawing Jack’s attention.
For an instant a frown drew his brow into two lines of unease between his eyes. “Elizabeth?”
“Jack!” She smiled like a loon, desperate to hide the swell of emotion. “I was just…” Waving the bottle of rum she took a good long drink, then another. God knew, she needed it.
Jack raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
When the bottle was empty, Elizabeth wiped her hand across her mouth and watched the world spin. All except Jack, who remained resolutely stationary at the heart of the maelstrom. “Charlotte, love,” he said to the woman at his side, “you’ve not met Captain Swann, I think?”
The woman smiled. It was a smile like summer cherries in winter; pert and pretty but not quite right. “Only this morning,” she said with a glance at Jack that provoked a horrid, secret smile between them.
“A proper introduction, then,” Jack said extravagantly. “Charlotte Danbury, may I present the illustrious Captain Swann, Pirate King and wife to the Captain of the Flying Dutchman. Captain Swann, may I present the beautiful Captain Charlotte Danbury, currently lacking a ship of her own and serving as Lieutenant aboard the Black Pearl.”
Elizabeth stared – even through the ineffectual numbing of the rum she knew she was staring. “You sail together?”
“For the past four months,” Charlotte smiled, drawing closer to Jack. Her eyes, Elizabeth thought, belonged to a shark. “Lost me ship to privateers last spring, and Jack picked me up as crew in Nassau.” She looked up at him with an adoration Elizabeth found faintly nauseating. “I hope to find me self ship in due course, but in the mean time…here we are.”
“Here we are,” Elizabeth echoed, reaching for the back of a chair, missing and ending up sitting on it – hard. “Here we all are, at Shipwreck Cove. Together…”
Jack frowned. “Is it wise,” he said carefully, “for the Pirate King to get so jug bitten in a place of such…ill repute?”
Raising the bottle to her lips again, Elizabeth drained the last drop. “That’s hardly your concern.”
He shrugged, although whether he was accepting or denying her point she couldn’t readily tell. “Gibbs is calling us over,” he said quietly, and when Elizabeth looked up she saw that he was talking to Charlotte Danbury.
The woman smiled. “Honour to meet you, Captain Swann,” she said, staring down at where Elizabeth braced herself against the table, fervently wishing the world would stop spinning.
“Any friend of Jack’s…” But her voice did something strange and she found herself unable to finish, unable to do little more than smile.
Jack himself said nothing, just nodded to her even as he curled his fingers around those of the woman – his lover – and led her through the crowd toward Gibbs.
Elizabeth didn’t move, didn’t leave. Numbed by wine and a slowly dawning revelation, all she could do was sit and watch. It was a peculiar, sobering kind of agony to see his fingers toying with her hair, to watch the way he pulled her close, or how he stole a kiss. To watch him smile, and laugh, and drink rum in a golden world which she could not enter.
He loves her.
She knew it, saw it, felt it.
And in that knowing other truths were revealed, truths that had perhaps been only shallowly hidden but which now lay exposed and raw beneath the sun.
He loves her. As I love him.
Of course she did, she had all along, though she’d never had the courage to admit it until now, when it was far too late.
By the time Elizabeth left, the crowd in the Hall had diminished to sprawled groups of tale-tellers and drunkards determined to see the night through ’til dawn. She had slept a while, face down on the table while the riotous night spun around her, and she was soberer now. Unfortunately.
Too late, voices whispered with a tricksters glee. He belongs to another.
Jack was still there when she pushed herself to her feet, sat with Gibbs and others of his crew by one of the fires. The flickering light cast shadows over his face, light and dark, hiding and revealing as he regaled them with some tall tale or another. His audience was entranced, as always, beneath his magician’s touch and Elizabeth ached to join them. But the woman at his side, coiled possessively about him, kept her at bay.
With some effort, she pushed away from the table and made her giddy way to the doors. Her mind was still blurred but, beneath the fogging rum, reality was painted in the clear, sharp lines of a Giotto; she’d thought Jack hers forever, thought him irrevocably snared. Though she’d feared for his safety, listened keenly for tales of his exploits, and dreaded the news of his loss, she’d never – not once – imagined another’s claim upon his heart.
What a child she’d been! She’d believed she would always be first in his eyes, always be the object of his desire. And now…? Now, like a girl waking from a dream into the complexities of adulthood, she understood the truth; the world moved ever on and so did Jack Sparrow. Quick and clever, alarmingly perceptive, why would he play her futile, teasing games when he could love a woman who would love him in return?
She stopped at the doors, steadying herself against the doorframe as the first breath of chill night air spun her again. Her skin prickled slightly, as if eyes were upon her, but she refused to indulge the idea that Jack had noticed her leave. Too many games had already been played, she’d not imagine him wanting her now when all evidence was to the contrary.
It was time to wake up.
And so, with a deep breath, she walked out into the dark night of Shipwreck Cove and began to make her way along the narrow, winding passages toward her rooms at the top of the creaking, impossible city.
There were few people around and the moon was long set; she imagined it must be past three. The quietest time of night – and the most dangerous. In a city of thieves and cutthroats, darkness was always a threat. On another night, when she wasn’t three sheets to the wind and imbued with the fearless stupidity of a drunkard, she might have kept one hand on the hilt of her sword and one eye over her shoulder.
But this night, burdened by painful self-knowledge and a desolate heart, she paid no attention to the black-eyed windows and gaping, dark passageways. Neither did she hear the soft pad of feet following, urgent and hungry. Dangerous. Nor the harsh breath and quick movement as a hand reached out and grabbed her hair, pulling her back hard against a rangy, stinking body.
She snatched for her sword, but another hand was there first, pulling blade from scabbard and throwing it across the narrow alley.
“Now, now,” a voice rasped in her ear. “None of that, Princess.” She felt cold steel at her throat. “We don’t like that, do we?”
Sullivan. Her flesh chilled, her mind starkly – terribly – sober. She’d seen the twisted lust in his eyes, seen the anger; she knew what he wanted from her.
In her boot she kept a knife, but she couldn’t move with the blade against her neck and his hand fisted in her hair. Breathing hard, trying not to sound afraid, she said, “Don’t do this.”
His foul breath drew closer to her face, his mouth against her ear. “Oh, but I want to. And so do you. Don’t think I don’t see it in your eyes, you little whore. Don’t think I don’t see how much you want it. I can smell it on you. Rampant, stinking little strumpet.”
He let her go suddenly, pushing her against the wall. She spun around as he closed on her, his knife glinting in the darkness. “I’ll kill you,” she hissed, reaching for the blade in her boot. But she was too slow and the rum made her clumsy.
He seized her wrist and slammed it hard against the slimy hull behind her. “Princess,” he purred and she recoiled in horror at the feel of him, hard against her hip. “Think you’re so much better, don’t you? So much better than the likes of us. But I’ve seen you whoring yourself in the street, haven’t I?” He was pulling at her clothes now, frenzied and urgent, one hand crushing her wrist and the weight of his body holding her fast against the wall despite her struggles. “I’ll show you, stinking whore of a—”
Suddenly he was yanked back, hard and a knife lay across his throat. “Feculent, maggot-ridden scum,” hissed a voice, “tell me why I shouldn’t slit your throat right here. Right now.”
Sullivan stilled, chest rising and falling. “A little fun between friends, none of your concern, brother.”
With a shaking hand, Elizabeth drew her knife and stared in disbelief as Jack Sparrow moved into the dim lamplight. There wasn’t a trace of humour in his eyes, nor a trace of light. “Not good enough,” he whispered against Sullivan’s throat. “Not good enough by far.” And with that he swiped his blade across the man’s throat, a spray of red mist arcing into the night as he pushed Sullivan violently to the floor. The man’s fingers scrabbled at his cut throat in futile desperation.
Horrified, Elizabeth turned away. Her legs were weak, mind still rum-addled, and Jack grabbed her arm, hauling her quickly up the twisting alleyway. Behind them she could hear the death-rattle of Sullivan’s choking, gurgling breaths and felt herself begin to tremble; her world was cascading into nightmare, and the only constant was the feel of Jack’s fingers biting into her arm.
“If it hadn’t been you, t’would have been another,” Jack growled, hurrying her along. “No doubt you weren’t the first, neither. Men like him— Worse ’n bloody rats, love. Don’t waste a moment’s pity.”
“No.” But her mind was scarlet with the memory of his attack, of his rancid breath and foul intentions – of his blood-soaked death. The rum and the fear and the horror were taking their toll, she felt herself cracking, splintering as she hurried through the damp, decaying alleys.
She slowed, she must have done, because she found that she’d stopped. Jack was looking at her with those dark mirror eyes of his and her face was wet with tears, though she hadn’t known she was crying. Then, somehow, she was leaning forward and suddenly his arms were around her. “Shhh,” he whispered. “No harm done, eh?”
But his voice wasn’t his, it was cool and distant and his arms felt awkward, as if he were holding back, touching her from a distance.
For a moment she pressed her forehead against his shoulder, taking brief comfort, before she pulled away and wiped her face. “Thank you,” she said, hauling in the lines of her runaway feelings. “If you’d not been there…”
His smile was a brief glimmer of light. “Fortuitous that I happened to be passing at the opportune moment. As it were.”
“Yes.” She sniffed and took a deep breath, pressing a hand against her head. “I could have had him.”
“Aye, if you’d not been half-sprung.” His face grew serious. “Time and place, Lizzie.”
“I know,” she sighed. “It was stupid.”
Jack shrugged. “Might have done the same me self, once or twice. Lesson learned, though, eh? ‘Tis always best to be less inebriated than you appear.”
She smiled at that. “Yes. I do know better, it was just…” With a sigh, she looked at him, let something of what she felt show in her eyes. “It was a difficult day.”
He shifted, a flicker of confusion creasing his face before it resolved into determination. “Elizabeth, this morning—”
“Oh, don’t remind me!” She said it with a laugh and hoped it didn’t sound too forced. “Gibbs’ idea of a joke, I think.”
“Was it now?” Again, that little twist of a smile. “I’ll have words.”
There was a silence, Jack seemingly lost in thought.
“You should get back to Captain Danbury,” Elizabeth said, trying to keep her voice even. “She must be wondering where—”
“I’ll see you back to your rooms first,” he said, nodding up the alley. “There’s worse than Sullivan in these rotting streets.”
She couldn’t deny it, nor could she deny her relief at his company. Her sword lay abandoned near Sullivan’s body and her knife seemed an inadequate defence against the denizens of Shipwreck Cove this night. “Thank you,” she said, as gracious as she could.
They walked in silence for a while, Jack a little behind and at her shoulder, as if watching over her. But because she couldn’t see his face it made it easier for Elizabeth to say, “Captain Danbury seems an interesting woman.”
There was a little pause before he answered. “Aye,” he said carefully. “Good sailor too, good pirate.”
“Do you love her?” She didn’t know why she said it, but the rum and the danger had knocked her askew, making her brave. Even so, her stomach churned and she felt a sick heat in her cheeks as she waited in dread for his answer.
She had to wait a long time, listening to nothing but the tread of their boots on the Cove’s labyrinthine streets. At last, he said, “Not sure as I believe in love, nor that I’d want it if I did. Didn’t serve old Davy Jones well, did it? Nor you and young Turner. More of a burden than a pleasure, it seems.”
Surprised, she glanced back at him. He was gazing straight ahead, not looking at her. Hesitantly, like a snowdrop in January, hope blossomed. “That’s not true, Jack.”
His gaze slid toward her, a glimmer of light in his eyes. “’Tis a comfort, at least, to know that there’s one person I can trust to watch me back. Someone who’d weep if I were lost.”
Elizabeth blinked, feeling grief hot behind her eyes. “Not just one person, Jack. Surely you know that.”
He looked away, that confusion pulling his brow into a frown again. “There’s a comfort too, in someone to warm your bed at night.”
To that, she had no answer. But his faith in the woman disturbed her; how often had he misplaced his trust? How often had he paid a bitter price?
When they reached her rooms, they stopped. Jack glanced about him as if the walls and doors were distantly, distastefully familiar, and the silence between them stretched taut. Much might have been said had she the courage, but “I owe you a debt, Jack,” was all she dared risk.
He shook his head. “No debt, love. ’Twas freely given.”
Another silence fell, and into it shot a brief flare of madness. She imagined lifting her lips to his and not letting go, not pulling back, allowing the moment to take them, entwine them, free them…
“Goodnight, then,” Jack said, watching her closely.
Startled out of the dream, she nodded. “Yes. Goodnight.” And then, because of the dream and the rum and her blood flushed with danger, she leaned in and kissed his cheek. “She has a shark’s eyes,” she whispered against his skin. “Take care, Jack.”
He moved back, warily, lifting his chin to gaze at her speculatively. “Make sure you lock your door tonight,” he said and his tar-black gaze told her nothing. “Have Teague set a guard from now on.”
And with that he was gone, disappearing like a ghost into the shadows of the Cove.
When she woke the next morning to a thick head and heaving stomach, she saw something glint on the chest at the foot of her bed. Blinking and bleary, she moved closer. It was her sword, the one she’d dropped when Sullivan attacked, and next to it sat a note written in the elegant, practiced hand of a ship’s captain.
Keep a sharp eye. Here be dragons.
It was signed simply, Jack.
The winter winds brought few to Shipwreck Cove, but as the darkest days approached a ship was seen floundering through the Devil’s Throat, almost swamped in the churning seas.
Elizabeth watched her progress from the balcony outside her rooms, wrapped warm against the biting wind and wondering who would be mad – or brave – enough to attempt the passage in such weather. She did not recognise the ship’s lines, low and lean and somehow reminiscent of the Dutchman in her blackest days.
It didn’t surprise her to learn, later, that she was named Seawolf.
It did surprise her, however, to learn that her captain was none other than Charlotte Danbury. That piece of news brought her down to the Great Hall for the first time since Jack had left two months earlier. He’d been gone by the time she dragged herself from her rooms, head sore and sick, and so too had all evidence of Sullivan. No doubt his body had provided a feast for the sharks that lurked beneath the quays and docks of the Cove; a convenient way for people to disappear.
The Hall was busy all day now, its fires a draw for the Cove’s winter residents, and Elizabeth soon found Captain Danbury, huddled with a haphazard collection of men Elizabeth assumed to be her crew. She recognised none of them, to her relief.
Danbury looked up as she approached, irritation evident in her eyes. Older than Elizabeth by ten years at least, it was clear she saw the girl Elizabeth had once been, and not than the woman she had become; it was an advantage Elizabeth intended to exploit.
“Captain Swann,” Charlotte said, without a hint of respect.
Elizabeth smiled. “Captain Danbury, you’re welcome in the Cove. What business do you have with the Brethren that you’d risk the Devil’s Throat so late in the year?”
“No business,” she said curtly. “Needed to re-supply, is all.”
And that is a bald face lie.
Elizabeth let it pass, in search of more vital information. “The Seawolf seems a fine ship.”
With a thump of her heart, part dread and part anticipation, Elizabeth said, “So you’ve parted company with Captain Sparrow then?”
Danbury cut her a cold look, her blue eyes frosted. “So it seems,” she said, which was hardly an answer at all. Her expression grew suddenly shrewd, as if she’d remembered something of importance. “You knew Jack, I think, some years ago?”
Elizabeth gave a nod. “In Port Royal.”
“You were lovers?”
A year ago, she might have blushed. Today, she simply shook her head. “Never that.”
Danbury smiled. “Your loss,” she said with a gleam in her eye. “For all his strangeness, he was an artist beneath the covers.”
It was somewhat like standing against a tempest, holding her own against this woman. “I’ve no doubt of that,” Elizabeth agreed, keeping her tone mild. “He was in good health, when you parted?”
A smile, sly and quick, seemed to escape Danbury’s control. “Well enough, all things considered.” Her tone sent a chill through Elizabeth’s blood. “Though it was some weeks ago, now.”
“And where does he sail? Not so far north, I’ll warrant. He was born for the sun.”
Charlotte blinked and Elizabeth had the impression that her eyes could slice like a blade, cutting straight to the truth. “I know not where he sails,” she said carefully. “Off the map, perhaps.” She smiled then, a brash parting of berry-red lips. “He called you Lizzie, did he not?”
Elizabeth frowned. “Sometimes, yes. Why?”
“Jack Sparrow trusts few people,” she said with a sigh that was a little too transparent, a little too exasperated. “But you, I think, are one of them.”
It was a strange, disjointed conversation and Elizabeth found herself dwelling on it as she went about her business that day. Did Charlotte’s appearance here, alone, mean that she and Jack had simply fallen out? Or had that sly, escaping smile indicated something more sinister? The Pearl, at least, was not in her possession, but that didn’t mean Jack was safe. It didn’t mean he still lived.
She chewed the question over and over as the days passed, but could find no answer. Then, when the Seawolf had been in port almost a week, she returned to her rooms in the dark of early evening, and there she found an answer of sorts.
Everything had been turned over, chests emptied, the bed upended, and the content of all her shelves scattered across the floor.
Sword drawn, blood racing, she ventured further into the room.
Two steps later, a blade was to her throat. “Where is it?” Danbury’s voice was flushed with impatience. “I know he gave it to you, tell me where it is or I’ll kill you where you stand.”
Elizabeth went very still – except for the hand that crept slowly, oh so slowly, to the knife in her belt. “You’re mistaken,” she said calmly. “I have nothing you want.”
Danbury yanked her hair, sending ruby-red images of Sullivan’s death through her mind, trailing anger in their wake. “Do you think me a fool, girl?”
“No.” The hilt of the knife was in her hand now, cool and firm. “But you’re a fool to think me a girl.” With that she snapped her head back, felt it impact on the woman’s face, and twisted out of her grip. Danbury clutched her bleeding nose with one hand, spitting fury as she reached for her sword.
Elizabeth’s was already drawn. “Where’s Jack?” she asked, circling the woman. “Tell me, and I might spare your life.”
Danbury laughed. “Do you think I fear you, little brattling? You’ll tell me where it is, and beg for mercy before you die.”
With that she launched herself at Elizabeth, a snarl upon her lips. The fight was brutal, a blur of blades and movement, sending furniture crashing.
Enough to bring Teague’s men running.
“Tell me,” Elizabeth gasped, breathless, her left arm dripping with blood and useless at her side. “Tell me where he is!”
Danbury smiled, cold and cruel. “Dead.”
Elizabeth brought down her sword in a vicious blow, fury making her careless. Danbury feinted to the side, drew her off balance, and suddenly Elizabeth was falling. Her feet were kicked from under her and she landed with a breath-stealing thump on the floor. Danbury’s sword was at her throat, her face streaked with blood still welling from her nose. “Tell me where it is.”
“I don’t know,” Elizabeth replied, teeth gritted against the inevitable.
From behind her there was a kafuffle and someone shouted. “Hurry, men are coming!”
With a curse, Danbury glanced around the room. Lashing out in frustration, her booted foot kicked a book across the floor, sending it sprawling against the wall.
And then she kicked Elizabeth’s head, and the world went black.
Later, cold fingers of air touched Elizabeth’s face, rousing her to pain and sickness. With a groan, she rolled to her feet, swaying woozily. Danbury was gone and an icy wind gusted through balcony doors left open to the winter night. Dazed, Elizabeth staggered toward them, but her eye was caught by something beyond – the swaying blink of a ship’s lanterns far below, bobbing toward the Devil’s Throat.
It could only be the Seawolf making her escape.
Questions tumbled one upon the other. What had Danbury been looking for? Why did she think Elizabeth possessed it?
And what had become of Jack Sparrow?
The winter storms were furious, as if Calypso herself conspired with Teague to keep Elizabeth trapped in the Cove and unable to put to sea. She rankled against the lines that held her, cursed the seas that would not let her leave to search for news of Jack.
Night after dark night she tossed and turned, picking apart her encounter with Charlotte Danbury and alternately taking comfort and drawing despair from her memories. She could hardly be sure of her own recollection, not after the vicious blow to the head had jumbled her mind and left her with weeks of blinding headaches. Was Jack dead? Had she lied, to be cruel, or had her cruelty truly stolen his life?
Unanswerable, tormenting questions. And the storms raged on, churning through the Devil’s Throat like death itself.
But as February stretched toward March, the winds began to drop and Elizabeth started to supply the Empress, readying her to sail.
“Best stay here,” Teague told her one night, as she paced before the fire of the Hall and willed him to stop his infernal strumming. “News will reach the Cove afore you can go out in search of it.”
But staying was impossible. She had been still, been passive too long.
So she made ready, waiting only for the wind to change and the Throat to calm enough that passage would not drown her crew. And she would have sailed had the first ship to arrive from the world beyond not been the Black Pearl herself.
She came at least a week before the Throat was truly passable. But the Pearl was no ordinary ship, and though she bucked and rolled, tacked and tacked again, she made it safely through the Throat’s roiling seas and hungry rocks, sailing for Shipwreck City as if the Devil himself drove her.
Elizabeth had watched her perilous progress from her balcony, heart in her throat and stomach pitching like the ship. Was Jack aboard? Did he live? Or did another have the helm of his beloved Pearl?
She could hardly bring herself to breathe, so tight was her chest. And as soon as the Pearl was clear of the Throat, Elizabeth darted from her rooms and ran down and down through the city’s twisting streets toward the quay.
By the time she arrived, the Pearl was docking at the far end of the wharf, lines being thrown and made fast, shouts of greeting and questions passing back and forth. A crowd of curious spectators had gathered to watch this unprecedented early arrival and Elizabeth had to restrain herself from freeing her sword and cutting a path through the milling pirates. Let me past, lest me past, she screamed silently. I must know, I have to know!
Free at last from the crowd, she pelted down the quay in time to see the gangplank being lowered, in time to see a figure darting down before it had been secured and jumping lightly onto the quay, running toward the city.
A wonderful, familiar figure, hair flying, trinkets glinting in the early spring sunshine. Her hands came to her mouth to silence a sob of relief, and he skidded to a halt at the sight of her, going suddenly very still.
“Said you were dead.” Jack’s face was barely his own, pale and tormented. He was drenched from his passage through the Throat and looked like he’d not slept in weeks. “Said she’d killed you.”
“No.” Elizabeth laughed, stupidly and without a thread of humour. “I mean, she tried. I almost had her.”
He was staring, wild and in pieces, the way he’d been in those dark days after the Locker. “Thought you were dead. My fault.”
She shook her head, drawing closer, watching him. In those bleak eyes she saw more truth than she’d ever seen before, laid bare and broken. No tenderness now, just need and brutal honesty. “Not here,” she said quietly, aware of curious eyes upon them. “Come on…”
She’d been a child once, foolish and arrogant in her games. But those days were long past and it was a woman’s hand that reached for his, leading him through the crowd, up the steep alleyways toward the quiet warmth of her room.
Not until the door closed behind them did she speak, turning the key in the lock and studying his exhausted, troubled face. “She betrayed you.”
Did it break your heart?
He blinked slowly, as if he were waking from a stupor, long lashes dark against his too pale face. “Did she hurt you?”
“Only when she told me you were dead.”
A flare of anger. Elizabeth cooled it with a hand against his chest. “Where is she now?”
“Dead.” The gaze that lifted to hers was barren as the Locker, devoid of remorse or sorrow.
Elizabeth simply nodded. “You look tired.”
“World stopped spinning when she told me—” He broke off, struggling to control something he was too broken, too weary to contain. “Had to get here. Had to know.”
It broke her heart and freed it all at once. Gave her the courage to touch his face, to draw his gaze. The longing she felt in her soul was reflected in his eyes, deep and enduring; she wondered that she’d not seen it before, although perhaps she’d chosen not to. Chosen to ignore the price he’d paid for her games. There were no games now, though, nothing but the truth. So she brushed a kiss across his lips and held there, a breath away.
But she could taste his doubt and wasn’t surprised when he made no move to kiss her. Drawing back she smiled sadly. “Take off your coat, you’re wet through.”
He didn’t move, just stared at her with those haunted eyes.
“No games,” she said carefully, wondering if he understood.
When still he didn’t move, she took the sodden fabric in her hands and began to yank his coat from his shoulders. But it was too wet, it wouldn’t come away, and weeks of fear and frustration melted into his silence, into his bleak-eyed stare, and she felt herself sinking into hopelessness. Tears pricked her eyes, disappointment coiled in her throat as she struggled with his sopping bloody coat, and she failed to swallow the harsh sob that tore from her throat.
And suddenly, roughly, she was in his arms. Cold water seeped through her clothes, making her shiver, icy fingers tangled in her hair and he sighed softly against her ear. He was shaking, or she was, and all she could do was hold tight as he rasped, “Thought you were gone, Lizzie.”
She closed her eyes, breathed him in, drew comfort and fear from the same shaky breath. “Never,” she hissed. “I’ll never leave you.”
His forehead pressed against hers. “Elizabeth…”
“I should have told you,” she whispered. “Should have told you a long time ago, Jack.”
He didn’t answer; he was holding his breath.
Elizabeth closed her eyes, brought her fingers to touch his cheek, traced his lips. “I love you.” She followed the confession with a kiss, felt his warm breath curl around sensuous lips. Tasted him. “Let me show you.”
He kissed her then, slow at first, cautious as she peeled away his coat, his shirt, and ran warm fingers over the chilled skin of his chest. His breath was a rasp when she kissed him there, at the hollow of his throat, his eyes dark and questioning when she untied the bandana from about his head and lost her fingers in thick, wild hair. So different from Will – untried and unmarked, save the livid brand of destiny upon his chest – Jack’s body was a chart of sorts, to his life and to the untold mysteries of his soul. Black ink, raven hair, eyes like midnight, and rum-dark skin; he was almost too vivid, there in the pale spring morning.
Almost. And perhaps the girl, Elizabeth, would have been overwhelmed, would have run away from the intensity of those storm-tossed eyes and called it a game. But the girl was grown, and Elizabeth Swann had sailed through many a squall; she was not afraid.
And so she welcomed the tempest, embraced the hurricane. Cried out as he filled her, crashed over her in waves, and exalted in the ecstasy of drowning. His body, rough muscled and lithe, yielded fervently to her touch, and when he gasped and shuddered, pouring himself into her, tears slipped silently from her eyes and she clutched him tight lest the storm carry him away at the end.
Later, in a pool of golden sunlight, she rested her head against his chest and traced the curlicues of ink upon his skin. His eyes were heavy, sleepy, but his fingers were warm and restless on her back, as though he traced unseen patterns upon her skin.
Marking me for his own.
The thought made her smile.
“What is it she wanted?” she asked eventually, ending the question with a kiss against his chest. He tasted of salt, his own and the sea’s.
Jack slid her a sloe-eyed look. “Compass,” he said with a drowsy sigh.
“Your compass?” She lifted her chin to look at him better. “Why?”
His eyes drifted up to the ceiling, long lashes sketched against the window’s light. Her heart skittered a little; he was beautiful. “Someone sent her,” he said with a twist of a smile. “To charm it from me. Don’t know who – yet.”
“But you didn’t trust her? You left it in the Cove?”
His eyes were on her again. “Eyes like a shark; you warned me.”
“I was jealous.” She bent her head and kissed his shoulder. “But I’m glad you listened.”
He shook his head. “You paid the price,” he said, tracing a finger along the thin scar that ran through her hairline; Danbury’s parting gift. “Shouldn’t have left it here.”
“Is it here, then? In my rooms?”
“Weren’t always your rooms, love.” And this time his smile was bright, mischievous, and twisting up where he lay he knocked his fist once, hard, against the elaborately carved headboard. A small door swung open…
Elizabeth grinned and reached inside. “But when did you hide it there?”
“You were three sheets to the wind, love. Could have held a parade in here and you’d have not woken. That night, you remember?”
The night Sullivan had attacked. “You returned my sword.”
“And this too.” He took the compass from her hand and turned it over, careful not to open it, before setting it aside and reaching for her again.
She settled against him, snaking an arm about his waist and relishing the comfort of his embrace. “And so these were your rooms once, Jack? Teague never mentioned it.”
“How like him.”
Elizabeth smiled. “All this time I’ve been sleeping in your bed, and never known it.”
“My father has a bloody twisted sense of humour, love.”
He yawned as he spoke and his face was still too pale, so Elizabeth answered only with a kiss and watched as he drifted to sleep.
When she woke again it was some hours later; a slash of golden light speared the far side of the room, chased by growing shadows, and Jack slept on. He’d not moved a muscle in hours – it was the sleep of the dead. She rested a hand upon his chest, comforted by the steady rise and fall, and as she moved she glimpsed the compass discarded close to the edge of the bed.
She considered it a moment, glanced at Jack, then carefully reached over and picked it up.
The thing you want most in the world…
No doubt, in her mind, where it would point should she open it. However… Gently, she set it on Jack’s chest. He didn’t stir. It made no sound when she opened it, the lid lifting smoothly to reveal its slowly spinning needle.
Head braced on her elbow, Elizabeth watched it turn once around the dial before settling, to her unbridled delight, firmly toward herself. She smiled, grinned, and reached out to close the lid, when—
Jack’s eyes opened, lips curling into his familiar smile. “Satisfied?”
Her smile didn’t dim as she tossed the compass aside. “Not yet,” she said, reaching down to kiss him, ghosting her fingers over his chest and making him shiver. “But I have confidence in you, Jack Sparrow. I’m sure you never disappoint.”
“Never,” he agreed, slipping his hands across her back, skimming her hips, her thighs – and what lay between. “Just ask the nuns.”
She broke away, stared at him. “Nuns?”
His grin was the Devil’s own. “Long story, love. We’ll need rum.”
“Later then.” It was a promise made against his ear, a little flicker of her tongue making him gasp. “Much later.”
And so the storm rose again, generous as a summer monsoon, and Elizabeth let herself wash away. Once more, and forever.
Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed it, and happy Valentine’s day! :)