Author: Sally R
Rating: PG (for now, R later)
Spoilers: Set after a fictional AWE, therefore contains no spoilers for the real one!
Summary: Behind her was silence, she could hear nothing above her own breathing. When her head had cleared she lifted her eyes to the mirror. Jack stood watching her, face impassive. Had she not been close enough to see the rapid rise and fall of his chest, she would have considered him perfectly composed – but for the fire in his eyes.
Author's notes: This is the prologue to a complete nine chapter fic, which I'll be posting over the next few days - definitely before AWE premiers! Hope you enjoy it. :)
Cross posted to pirategasm and sparrabeth.
Elizabeth flung wide the window to admit the offshore breeze, closed her eyes and breathed deep. But the night air stirred only marginally against the gauzy curtains and its tang was tainted by the loamy scents of land. It was a poor substitute for the fierce wind aboard ship, but all that could be had at near eleven o’clock at night, when no lady of reputation would go walking barefoot upon the beach. However much she might wish to.
When she opened her eyes again Elizabeth’s gaze was drawn instantly to the horizon, sketched in starlight against an ocean that glimmered beneath a fat, harvest moon. It called to her like home, its song as powerful as the duty that had returned her to shore not two weeks earlier, with Will rowing hard at her side and her father waiting upon the dock.
The Black Pearl – and Captain Sparrow – had remained at a discreet distance until the dust had settled, but now she sat at anchor in the harbour and Jack... Truth be told, Elizabeth had no idea where he might be. She’d not seen him since he’d handed her down into the longboat, his fingers squeezing hers tighter than needed and lingering longer than necessary. He’d said little, just looked at her intently before cocking a grin and passing on his best regards to her father. What he’d done with himself since, she didn’t know, although she imagined he held court in one of Port Royal’s less reputable establishments. He had enough tales to keep him in rum for a year and no doubt each one grew with the telling.
She had expected him to set sail as soon as the Pearl was re-provisioned, but he had been two weeks ashore now, with no sign of departing. Why he loitered she knew not – some nefarious purpose of his own, no doubt – but nonetheless she was glad of it. While the Black Pearl remained, that part of her life was not over; a hint of salt and tar lingered, she could still taste the bite of rum instead of more genteel brews. And she could still imagine herself free as the wind.
Elizabeth sighed, the press of it tight against the stays of her dress. It was all imagination now, a childish dream of freedom; she had been reprieved the gallows once and would not tempt such a fate again – for her father’s sake, and Will’s. Dearest Will, who had risked everything for her time and again. How could she repay such devotion with reckless desertion?
Besides, though she had once dreamed of pirates and adventure, she’d sampled the freedom of the lawless life and knew the bittersweet truth of it; greater than she had ever dreamed, darker than she had dared imagine. There was not one without the other; no glorious freedom without black-hearted betrayal. She’d tasted both and knew – without doubt – that she could not live with the consequences of the freedom she craved.
And so she had chosen; chosen Will and peace of mind. Gentle happiness over wild adventure. The rewards of duty over the thrill of self-interest. It was the right choice. She knew it was the right choice, and yet… Her eyes drifted shut again and she yearned for the sea breeze. Oh, how she yearned for it tonight.
Melancholy tears prickled her eyes, but she refused to succumb to regret. With determination she blew out a breath and turned her back on the window. Enough, now. Enough.
Inside her bedroom the lamps burned golden, their light glittering over the gorgeous confection of silk and lace that stood in the corner – the dress she would wear in the morning. The last one, of course, lay at the bottom of the sea and she was glad of it. Too much gold, she thought now. Too much froth.
But in the fortnight since her return there had been no time to have another sewn, and she could brook no further delay – she simply had to be married. So she’d chosen to wear her mother’s dress, a decision that had brought tears to her father’s eyes, as well as her own.
Crossing the room she stood before the dressmaker’s dummy, the simple wood draped in ivory splendour, and ran a finger over the old fashioned neckline of her mother’s gown, caressing the pearl brocade upon the bodice. Creamy white, of course, but still… Though it savoured of betrayal, she loved the idea of wearing pearls to her wedding. No harm would come of it, no one but she would notice or consider—
“Ought to be black, love,” a voice said behind her. “Glistening dark, like me soul.”
She turned with a gasp, and there he was, lounging against the window frame with that self-assured smirk upon his face. In the confined surroundings of her bedroom, Jack Sparrow looked larger than life; an outlandish figure, with his mass of black hair and affected swagger. She could almost feel the fresh scent of the sea, of the ship, wash over her – although, perhaps, it was only rum she could detect upon his breath. He flashed a smile. “No ‘Good evening, Captain Sparrow, so pleased to see you’?’”
“Surprised,” she said, a flush of excitement running through her like life itself. “What are you doing here?”
He didn’t answer right away, sauntering across her bedroom as if it were the most curious place in the world. His lips curved into a dissolute smile as he trailed his fingers along the edge of her bed, and then his attention was caught by the dresser that stood against the wall. He strolled closer, casting a professional eye over the jewellery laid out for the morning.
“Don’t even think about it,” Elizabeth warned, wishing she had a sword to back up the threat, but she only had silk skirts at her side.
Jack turned a wounded eye on her. “As if I would, on the eve of your wedding and all. Besides, ’tis all glitter and no value.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You came here for some purpose. If it wasn’t to rob me, then what?”
Turning away from the dresser, he pressed his hands together and sketched a little bow. “To offer me apologies, darling. Unfortunately I will be unable to attend tomorrow’s festivities, unable to celebrate the long delayed – and, truthfully, unwise – nuptials of yourself and Will Turner. I shall be unavoidably detained, engaged, and occupied elsewhere.”
Despite the absurdity of the statement, Elizabeth felt a beat of disappointment. “Jack, I don’t think you were invited.”
He waved the fact away with a flicker of his fingers. “But you hoped I’d attend just the same, eh? To snatch you from the gallows at the opportune moment, as it were.”
“It’s a wedding, not a hanging.”
“Ah.” He stepped closer, the evocative sea-scent of him unsettling. “And where’s the difference, for a woman such as yourself? They both bring your life to a crashing end; short drop and a sudden stop, eh?” His gaze ran the length of her, a mixture of derision and desire. Then suddenly he reached out, spun her around until her back was to his chest and presented her to herself in the mirror. “Look,” he whispered against her ear. “Look at what you’ve become, Miss Swann.”
She saw the exaggerated rise and fall of her chest above the restraint of her dress, the way her hair was piled upon her head; a woman of society once more. And behind her stood Jack – wild and dark – his face against hers and one hand flat across her corseted stomach, keeping her flush against him. “Captain Sparrow,” she said breathlessly, “I demand that you release me.”
He smiled dangerously. “Had you a sword at your side, love, you could demand it. As it is, all you can do is hope.”
“You had better hope,” she growled, trying to ignore the heat of his iron grip about her waist, the warmth of his chest against her bare shoulder. “You had better hope that Kitty does not walk through that door and scream. Not even I— Not even my father could save you from the gallows after such an assault as this.”
In the mirror his smile grew wicked as he eyed the length of her exposed neck. “Then why don’t you scream?” He gently blew a teasing breath against her skin; she shivered, her whole body shivered involuntarily, and Jack grinned like Lucifer himself. “Go on then, darling, scream. Call for help.”
Finding her breath in ragged gasps she said, “I would not see you hang tomorrow, Jack Sparrow. It would dampen the mood at my wedding.”
“Ah.” He studied her neck intently, leaning closer all the while, until slowly, agonisingly slowly, he pressed a heated kiss against her skin. “Is that the reason?”
Her answer was no more than a breath, her head lolling against his shoulder in a facade of surrender; her body was betraying her, yearning for his touch. For more. For the blaze of fire, for adventure, for everything impossible. And if she gave in now, if she opened herself to his kiss, then it would all be hers. She would burn bright, like the stars. For a night. Or a week. A month. Even a year.
But in the end the blaze would consume her, destroy her, and leave her life in ashes. Her father, Will, everything she valued, would be destroyed in that glorious inferno, and when the fire had burned out – when Jack had moved on to new waters – she’d be left alone.
His teasing fingers brushed her collarbone and he murmured something against her flushed skin that could have been her name. Her head was spinning, her body turned to liquid, and she knew that this was the fork in the road, the pivotal moment. Her whole life hung in the balance.
“Jack…” Weak kneed she stumbled away from him and into the dresser, holding herself there, hands splayed upon its inlaid surface while she tried to catch her breath. “Jack, please stop…”
Behind her was silence, she could hear nothing above her own breathing. When her head had cleared she lifted her eyes to the mirror. Jack stood watching her, face impassive. Had she not been close enough to see the rapid rise and fall of his chest, she would have considered him perfectly composed – but for the fire in his eyes.
Slowly, still leaning on the dresser, she turned around. “This is impossible.”
“Nothing’s impossible, love.”
She smiled at that, fondly – sadly. “Not for you, perhaps. But I’m not like you, Jack. I’m an ordinary woman, I just want a good life.”
“You’re a pirate,” he corrected, stepping closer but making no move to touch her again. “Deny it as you will, you’re a pirate in your heart – a freebooter, a gentleman – woman – of fortune. And a bloody good one, at that.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “That’s over, Jack. That part of my life is to be forgot. Tomorrow I marry Will and…and I will have the life I always wanted.”
“Always?” He lifted a hand, still not touching her. “Was it…embroidery of which you dreamed in yon bed, Elizabeth? Or was freedom?”
She couldn’t take a step back because the dresser was behind her, but she lifted her chin and prayed for strength. “Freedom is a childish yearning. I have duties here I will not abandon.”
He held her gaze a long, scorching moment, but she would not yield; she fought the desire tooth and nail and at last he turned away. His frustration was evident, but when he looked at her again the heat in his eyes was gentler, tempered by resignation. With a sigh he reached out and brushed her face with the back of his fingers. “The Pearl leaves with the morning tide,” he said in a low voice. “You could still—”
“No,” she said. “I can’t, Jack. You know I can’t.”
“You won’t, more to the point.” He ran his knuckles across her cheek and into her hair; she thought she might die from the anguish of it. “’Tis at midday, then? When the moment comes?”
“Yes. Atop the fort.”
“Fitting.” He smiled, and with more gentleness than she’d imagined, tugged loose a lock of her hair and began twisting it between his fingers. “Tis where many a pirate has met his end, eh?”
“Please stop that.”
“That,” she insisted, “with my hair.”
“Oh.” His fingers stilled. “That.” And then, with a quick tug and a flash of silver, the lock of hair was gone.
Elizabeth gasped, one hand flying to her head as Jack twirled the slender tress between his fingers. “Something to remember you by, darling.”
“How dare you—?”
“Now, now,” he soothed, reaching to his belt. “I’ve something in exchange, as it were. Think of it as a gift upon the occasion of your doomed nuptials.”
Her glare melted when she saw what he offered her. “Your compass?”
“In case you ever need a new heading,” he said with a quick smile. “A change of course in bad weather, so to speak.”
“But how will you find your way? How will you—?”
“No use to me, love.” He took her hand and pressed the compass into it. “T’will only lead me to one place now, and that’s the one place I can never go, eh?”
She looked up into his eyes – beautiful eyes, she’d always thought – and for a moment saw honesty there. And something else, something surprising and honest. “Oh Jack…”
He placed her other hand over the compass, then stepped back, looking suddenly over his shoulder. “And to remember me by, if you wish.” His smile skirted the edge of sadness and Elizabeth felt her heart tumble.
“But where will you go?” she asked, hearing the sound he must have already heard – footsteps approaching her room. “What will you do now?”
“Anywhere. And anything I like,” he said by way of an answer. “What else?”
“But will you—?” The footsteps were closer now. Kitty, no doubt, ready to turn down the bed and undress her as though she were a child. “Will you return to Port Royal?”
“It’s not impossible,” he said, his quicksilver grin fading fast. “But it is improbable.”
She took a step closer to him; he took an equal step back, toward the window. “I can’t bear it if this is to be goodbye,” she said, her hands tight about the compass. “Jack, I can’t bear it…”
“Can’t bear to leave either, eh?” And there was just enough hope in his eyes to slay her. When she didn’t answer he said, “Then it must be borne, love.”
Kitty knocked, a sharp rap that was never worse timed. “If you’re ready for bed, Miss Swann…?”
“Just a minute,” Elizabeth called, running quickly to turn the key in the lock. In a low voice she said, “Jack you must—” But he was already gone. The window stood open, the gauzy curtains fluttering. She darted across the room, heart racing and breaking all at once. “Jack!” she called softly from the balcony, not daring to shout because behind her Kitty was rapping on the door again. Elizabeth strained her eyes, but could only see the soft sway of the trees, and beyond them the harsh line of the midnight horizon.
He was gone.
Lifting trembling fingers to her hair, she felt those few short strands – the only evidence of his theft – and her heart throbbed with the bittersweet pain of it; part of her, at least, would always be aboard the Pearl, would be sailing, free as the wind, with Captain Jack Sparrow. In her hands she turned his precious compass over, tracing its smooth black case with her fingertip, and made half a move to open it. But she snapped it shut before she could glimpse the face; tomorrow she would pledge herself to Will and the life she had chosen, it was no time to be dreaming of impossible horizons. That part of her life was over, and to be forgotten.
So instead she lifted Jack’s compass to her lips and pressed a kiss to the lid, then opened her dresser drawer and slipped it to the very back. Straightening, she eyed herself in the mirror again, uncertain who looked back – Miss Swann or Elizabeth. Somehow she had become divided along the way. And now she must hide one part of herself, along with the compass, and become Mrs Turner, a wife, a mother. A dutiful daughter once more.
“Miss Swann?” Kitty’s impatient rap on the door came again. “Are you well, Miss Swann?”
“Quite well,” she said, watching herself speak the words in the mirror. “Just one moment.”
Crossing the room again she paused – hoping for a final caress of the sea breeze against her cheek – before she closed the window, forever stilling the restless flutter of the curtains.
Not twelve hours later, Elizabeth Swann stood in her pearl strewn gown atop the fort in Port Royal. Behind and around her gathered the best of colonial society, and before her stood a man she loved. When Will Turner took her hand in his and earnestly spoke the vows, she believed every one without question. Whether her own vows held such conviction she didn’t dare speculate, but Will’s heart was in his eyes and she could see his faith in her burning bright as the sun.
More fool him, she thought and it sounded like Jack’s voice in the dark corner of her mind.
Ignoring it, she smiled into Will’s eyes and listened with a full heart as the clergyman pronounced them husband and wife. In the courtyard below the clock tolled midday and Will Turner bent to kiss her, little more than a brush of his lips against hers at such a public occasion, but a promise of more. She smiled at the tender gesture, her hand squeezing his and—
The boom of a ship’s guns echoed against the fort. Once, twice, three times. Elizabeth exchanged a quick glance with Will, and together they raced to the wall. Beyond the harbour, smoke drifting from her port guns, sat the Pearl. “Do they mean to attack us?” her father asked anxiously.
Elizabeth shook her head, smiling despite the tears in her eyes. “It’s a salute.”
“A farewell,” said Will, his hand finding hers and holding tight. “And a blessing, in his own way.”
She simply nodded, watching the Pearl gracefully come about, her black sails filling as she raced for the horizon. Elizabeth lifted her hand to her hair, to those few short strands, untameable now and free as the wind. Free as the Pearl.
“God speed, Jack Sparrow,” she whispered into the Caribbean breeze. “God speed…”
Continued in Chapter One