Only you, who hold his heart, can save him…
Enri’s words had stayed in her mind all day, and haunted her still as she paced the length of the Pearl’s deck. She had been charged, eleven years ago, with holding safe the heart of one man. Never had she dreamed that the heart of another was also in her care, especially not the fickle heart of Jack Sparrow. When she’d thought of him over these past years she’d imagined him here, upon the deck of his beloved Pearl, sailing fast for the horizon in pursuit of fortune and glory. Not once, in all her imaginings, had she suspected that she lingered in his heart or mind. Their acquaintance had been so fleeting, in total no more than a few weeks, and though she still remembered the heat between them she’d never entertained the thought that a man such as he – a man of the wide, wide world – could have found anything of lasting interest in the girl she’d been then. That he’d wished to bed her she’d known, of course, but that there had been anything deeper was a profound surprise.
A shock like those that had run through the bedrock of Port Royal, rattling things that were best left undisturbed. Memories drifted to the surface, now, shaken loose and burnished gold by the light of Enri’s revelation. She’d told Jack, once, that he was a good man; he’d smiled an honest smile and said, All evidence to the contrary. She saw in that smile, now, something else – a hope, perhaps, that she’d believed her words.
And she had believed them, though not enough to trust him to sacrifice his life. Her chest grew tight as she remembered that kiss; the guilt she’d felt in wanting it so much had almost blinded her to the guilt of the betrayal itself – had blinded her, she realised, to his sincere response. Her eyes drifted shut, the memory so vivid after years of wilful neglect that it sliced like a knife. He’d kissed her with desire, but more than that, he’d kissed her with feeling and without a shred of artifice.
Only you, who hold his heart, can save him…
Guilt clotted in her throat as she realised he had kissed her with love, and must have believed it returned right up until the moment she’d shackled him to his fate, thus proving herself more pirate than he had ever been. A Pirate King, indeed.
Her fingers gripped the rail, heartsick at the memory. If Enri spoke the truth then her betrayal was more profound than she had ever realised – a betrayal of both his trust and his love. A betrayal for which she had offered him no remorse nor recompense; all friendship between them had ended with that Judas kiss, and she could not remember exchanging more than a few words with him in the days between his return from the Locker and the terrible final battle.
It seemed incomprehensible to her, now, that she could have been so cold. But time blurred much, and perhaps she’d preferred not to dwell upon her guilt in those heady days of terror. Had she known then, however, that she had touched his heart… Her head spun with the possibilities, her skin flushed with the thought of what might have been if only she’d—
A gunshot rang out across the deck. Elizabeth ducked and turned all at once, pulling her sword free as she moved. And then her heart stuttered to a halt. In the light of the ship’s lanterns two men stood upon the quarterdeck, one with his pistol to the head of the other.
It was Jack Sparrow – and Will.
“Hello, love,” Jack said conversationally. “I’m thinking we can make a little deal here. A trade, as it were. The life of your beloved husband in exchange for me beloved ship. What say you to that?”
“Will?” Slowly, Elizabeth got to her feet, her heart racing.
“This was never part of the agreement,” Will growled, jaw clenched in obvious fury.
“I promised I’d make no threat against your wench,” Jack said. “There was no mention of your good self in the accord.”
Elizabeth stepped forward. “Jack, what—?”
“Ah!” He cocked the pistol. “No closer. Now, order these men from me ship, or say goodbye to your Pirate Queen. Savvy?”
Will’s face was dark with anger. He was coiled tight, awaiting his chance if she could provide it. But there was a desolation in Jack’s eyes that touched her so deeply she could hardly draw breath. Enri’s words were too fresh in her mind, and Jack looked so very alone. So very in need of her, even as he threatened the life of her husband. The impossibility of the moment rooted her to the spot, and from the shadows to her right, Gibbs emerged.
Jack’s face fell as though the gallows had opened beneath his feet. “Gibbs?”
“Captain, you must—”
“Et tu, mate?”
“No.” Gibbs hurried forward. “Captain, this is no mutiny…”
Suddenly Jack seemed uncertain. His pistol darted from Will to stop Gibbs in his tracks. “Is it not?”
“I swear, it. But Jack…” Gibbs scratched at his head and glanced toward Elizabeth as if for support. “They said they can make you well again.”
“I’ll be quite well, once I have me ship—”
Will lunged for him, making a grab for the pistol, but Jack was too fast. He jumped for the quarterdeck rail, sword drawn in a cold whisper of steel. “So, this is how it’s to be?” he said with a feral grin. “Good.”
With a that, he launched himself from the rail to twist mid air and land upon the main deck with the easy grace of a cat. “Captain Swann,” he purred, stalking toward her, menace in all his features and his pistol aimed. “What were you thinking, to be stealing my ship, love?”
She backed up, her hand on her own weapon, hesitant to draw. “We’re trying to help you.”
“Oh, the lies you tell with those pretty lips of yours, eh? Believed them, though, didn’t I? That was my first mistake.” His eyes hardened to granite. “Won’t make it again.”
“You have every reason not to trust me, Jack. I know it.” Her memories, so recently stirred, fluttered like butterflies about her head and she had to resist the ridiculous urge to blurt a sudden apology. “But I swear we mean to help you. Your bro—”
Jack’s head jerked back, the flash of a silver blade at his throat. “You swore you’d not threaten Elizabeth,” Will growled from behind him.
“I lied.” Jack smiled, a harsh curl of his lips. “I do that a lot.”
“Lower your weapon.”
“Or what?” His eyes met Elizabeth’s, naught but shadows in the darkness. “If you plan to kill me, at least make a proper job of it this time, eh? No half measures.”
“I’ve no wish to kill you,” Will grated, casting a grim look past Jack to Elizabeth. “But she is my wife.”
“And my murderer. Ironic, that.”
Will pressed the knife closer. “Lower your weapon.”
“I’ll not.” Jack closed his eyes, the hand holding the pistol beginning to tremble. “I’ll kill her, I swear it. You’ve got no choice.”
“For the love of God, just do it.”
Elizabeth met Will’s gaze in a moment of horrified understanding. “No,” he breathed, stepping back, lowering the blade. “I won’t…”
There was a quivering pause while Jack stood as if Will still pressed the knife to his throat, waiting. And then his eyes flashed open, dark and empty. “Feckless son-of-a-whore,” he hissed, whirling on Will like the devil himself, “then I’ll bloody well make you!” Sword raised he hacked down so ferociously that Will was forced to throw himself out of the way.
“No, Captain!” Gibbs yelled, rushing forward. “Remember where you are, Jack!”
“Go to hell, you treacherous bastard.” Jack turned, raised his pistol and fired, all in one smooth movement; Gibbs went down, clutching his shoulder, and chaos exploded.
Desperate, Jack fought like he was possessed – and perhaps he was. Elizabeth never seen him so fierce, so ruthless. He was wild, rage evident in every slash of his blade, every frenzied charge. Hopelessly out numbered, he would not stop until he dripped with sweat and bled from a dozen gashes, gasping for air as the men, lead by Will, cornered him at last against the mainmast. “You can’t win,” Will said carefully. “Drop your weapons.”
“’Tis a vicious way to die, in the end,” Jack gasped between breaths. “Alone and afraid. Abandoned, as it were. Wouldn’t wish it on anyone, not even her.”
“Put down your sword,” Will urged.
“But worse than death, is madness,” Jack carried on as he backed toward the mast, almost as if talking to himself. “The only sound in your head is your own voice, talking around and around and around. Nothing but words, and them no more than a bit of empty air—”
He gasped when his back bumped into the mainmast and spun around, staring at it in horror. “No. No, I’ll not.” He backed up. “I’ll not do that again. No.” The sword suddenly fell from slack fingers and he pressed his hand to his head. “Stop it. Stop it. Don’t think about—”
He spun back around, eyes wild, face like milk; beautiful, almost, with his sculpted features laid bare and damp hair curling below his ears. Hardly himself at all, without the habitual costume he’d discarded in Shipwreck Cove; in that moment Elizabeth saw the truth of him and it broke her heart – so deeply alone, so damaged. “It’s coming.” He stared at the deck in terror. “Can’t you feel it? ’Tis a vicious way to die, in the end, and I can’t—” He pressed his pistol to his own head and began laughing.
Elizabeth darted forward – “Jack, no!” – but someone held her back.
“Careful,” Will whispered. “It’s you he wants.”
She pulled her arm free. “No, he’s trying to end it, don’t you see? This is my doing, Will. I did this to him. I left him in the Locker. All these years...”
Jack was ghostly in the lamplight, as if his body was as lost to the world as his mind. “Can’t get me now, eh, beastie?” his laughter was brittle, precarious. “No pleasure in being ripped limb from limb, with the water in your lungs, black and bitter. ’Tis a vicious way to die, in the end. A vicious way to die…”
Slowly, Elizabeth crossed the space between them. “Jack…” It felt like miles of empty ocean.
He cocked the pistol, eyes squeezed shut, hand shaking as he pressed it to his head. “’Tis a vicious way to die, vicious, vicious way to die…”
“Jack, please. This won’t end it.”
“Can’t—” A sound escaped from deep in his throat, a choking sob. “Can’t endure it again…”
“This won’t free you.” Tentatively she reached out her hand, covering the slender fingers that held the pistol. They felt like ice beneath her touch, rigid and immovable. “Jack, I—”
“Don’t touch me!” He lashed out and the butt of the gun caught her face, knocking her backward, ears ringing with the crack of the firing pistol.
Gibbs scrambled to his feet when he heard the second gunshot, his injured shoulder be damned, and pushed himself to the front of the crowd.
He almost wished he hadn’t.
Prone upon the deck lay Elizabeth Swann, her face covered in blood. Jack Sparrow watched her, still as death, his dark eyes bleak against his ashen face; he hardly seemed to notice the dozen weapons pointed, with murderous intent, toward his head.
Will Turner knelt at his wife’s side, taut lipped but not grieving. Gibbs took a breath. If anyone knew the stink of death it would be Turner, and he seemed calm enough. Will reached out a hand and stroked it over his wife’s forehead and she roused at his touch, coughing and spitting blood. “Easy,” Will said, helping her sit. “You’ve a broken nose, at the least.”
“Never mind that,” she said in a low voice, one hand wiping at the blood on her face. “Help me stand.”
Will did as he was bid and Elizabeth swayed upright, clinging to his arm for a moment. Then, when she was steady, she turned toward Jack. Gibbs had expected anger in her dainty features, but he saw only pain there – and not just because Jack had drawn her cork. Cautiously she approached him, careful not to get too close. “Lower your weapons,” she told the men quietly. When they hesitated she cast them an imperious look. “I said, lower your weapons.”
Grudgingly the men did as ordered, and into the following silence Jack Sparrow spoke. “’Tis a capital offence, is it not?” he said in a toneless voice. “The striking of a King.”
“In British law, perhaps,” she agreed. “But we are not subject to their law, are we?” Her face softened, one hand twitching as if she wished to touch him. “Oh, Jack… What have I done to you?”
“Not enough,” he said with the palest hint of a smile. “And entirely too much. I’m quite mad, you know. Unfit for command and all that.” He nodded toward the longboats. “Let me go, and you’ll not see me again, that I swear.”
“If I let you go,” Elizabeth said softly, “no one will see you again, will they, Jack? Except, perhaps, the crew of the Dutchman.”
His expression didn’t alter. “’Tis an unendurable torment, the unravelling of a man’s mind. You’d not permit an animal to suffer so.”
“No,” she agreed. “But you’re a man, Jack Sparrow. A good man, and I intend to see you whole again.”
His head cocked, pale smile turning bitter. “A good man? No, I’m a pirate, Elizabeth. And a pirate is worse than a dog, as it turns out, because you’d not have chained a dog and left it for the beast to feed upon, eh?”
There was a long, heavy silence before Elizabeth spoke. “Perhaps I thought so once,” she admitted eventually, her voice trembling between dignity and remorse, “but I was a child then and knew nothing of myself, nor the world. Now I am a Pirate Lord – King of the Pirates – and my son was born and raised in Shipwreck Cove. I—” She sighed and smiled all at once. “What I did that day was cowardly and weak; I cannot remember it without abhorrence. But that I have never apologised, that I never told you how much I—” Again, she made as if to touch him but drew back at the last moment. “It’s unforgivable, and yet, when you are yourself again, I will beg your forgiveness, Jack.”
He was staring at her as if the woman had grown two heads, his eyes bright as stars shining on a midnight sea. When he blinked, tears glistened on his face and he looked away, out into the night, head shaking in a silent denial. Gibbs felt the urge to turn away too and yet he found he couldn’t help but watch as Elizabeth hesitantly reached out a hand and, this time, touched Jack’s shoulder. He flinched, she almost drew back, but then he looked at her and must have seen something in her eyes because his face crumpled. “My soul, Elizabeth, for an end to this…”
She briefly touched his face, a mere flutter of her fingers. “Not your soul, Jack.” She held out a firm hand to him, as if to shake. “Only your trust.”
“Of that, I have none left to give.” He stared at her as a mongoose might eye a cobra and refused to take her hand until, eventually, she lowered her arm in evident chagrin.
The impasse was broken by a soft, accented voice that came from somewhere behind Gibbs. “Manicato,” Enriquillo Barahona said, “what trouble you have found this time.”
The look of utter bewilderment upon Jack’s face was enough to make Gibbs turn away at last, prodding the other men about their business. Only Will Turner remained, his face like the stormy skies as he watched Elizabeth and Enri lead Jack Sparrow toward his cabin.
The Gorrión still sailed off their bow, and Will was tempted to return to her and to Shipwreck Cove. The familiarity of the sea beneath his feet brought back too many memories of that deathless life he’d lead, surrounded by the dying and lost to the living world. Calypso still spoke to him in the soft wash of the waves against the bow, he had a distant sensation of death – as if he could hear the echoes of dying voices that had once called him like a clarion over the waves. The call was no longer his to answer, but it seemed that the closer he came to the sea the louder the call became and he knew, for certain, that he would never be rid of it entirely. The wound on his chest might have healed, but the scar and all it represented would always remain.
Elizabeth, though, did not understand – could never understand. The sea called to her too, but in a different way; it was the seductive call of a lover, of freedom and of the horizon. And while he longed to escape its siren song, she ran toward it with arms outstretched and a laugh upon her lips.
Never had he seen it more clearly than tonight. Captain Elizabeth Swann was a woman of the sea, but, more than that, she was tied to Jack Sparrow in ways Will had never imagined. He had not consorted with Calypso for a score of years without learning something of Jack’s place in the pantheon – trickster that he was, the man was as much part of the sea as Davy Jones or Calypso herself. To be in the thrall of Jack Sparrow was no light business, and it seemed that Elizabeth felt she owed him a debt. This could not, Will knew, end well.
He watched her now from afar, as he had used to watch her. Once rank had separated them, then destiny. Now no more than the breadth of the ship, and yet it appeared as wide as the ocean. She seemed unreachable tonight, standing by the ship’s rail and staring out into a night lit at last by a pallid moon. The fog had lifted and a breeze snapped at the reefed sails, impatient for the dawn.
They had never talked about that day aboard this ship, when she had seduced Jack Sparrow to his death. The guilt of it had eaten at her during all the months it took them to restore him, but in the end all she’d said of it was, You thought I loved him?
He had, of course, and wasn’t sure she hadn’t thought the same. The kiss he’d glimpsed between them had been like none he’d shared with her during a year of betrothal; a hungry, fierce kind of kiss. Less tender, and yet somehow more of everything else. Love notwithstanding, he knew she’d desired Jack as much as Sparrow had obviously desired her. And now…?
She and Jack had not met since the day Will’s captaincy of the Dutchman had begun and yet it was as though not a single moment had passed since that dreadful day. The scent of death lingered harsh about Jack, like Damocles’ sword ready to fall, but it was an old stench, an old death and Will began to see that Jack had never really been restored to life. Part of him tarried in the Locker, though Will had scoured its depths to free the souls Jones had trapped there. Which could mean only one thing; Jack Sparrow remained because he chose to, because he would not let go of the death that had brought him there.
He would not let go of Elizabeth.
Will watched her now, limned in the moonlight, lost deep in thought. Jack rested in his cabin with the man Gibbs had named Enriquillo Barahona and Will had not needed to be told the man was Jack’s brother. Yet for all their similarities, Barahona had nothing of the sea about him and that, in itself, Will found fascinating. He was a man of the land, solid and peaceful. It was the kind of peace Will longed for, a safe quiet peace. And yet Barahona’s presence niggled at Will – another secret Elizabeth had kept from him.
With a sigh, he crossed the deck and came to stand near her at the rail. She looked over and offered a wan smile. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I didn’t mean to drag you into this.”
“You meant to sail without me,” Will said, his own smile equally feeble.
“I left word with Teague…”
Will had no answer to that. Instead he said, “Why didn’t you tell me? About Jack – about his brother?”
“It was— When Enri came to us six months ago—”
“Six months ago?”
She straightened, chin lifting somewhat. “You were still newly ashore, and Teague wished it kept quiet. Enri told us of Jack’s…of his—”
“Madness?” Will said darkly.
“Yes…” If anything she looked paler, vulnerable for all her iron strength. “I suppose I didn’t want to believe it. Jack has always been…odd, after all. I didn’t want to believe that I had been the cause of it.” Her eyes were wide and luminous in the moonlight. “My betrayal of him, that day. Enri says… Oh Will, Enri says that Jack felt— That he felt—”
“He loved you.” The realisation buffeted him like a squall. “Jack loved you, and you betrayed him.” Oh, a bitter, bitter betrayal that. Worse than he had ever imagined.
There were tears in her eyes when she nodded, and she pushed them away with the back of her hand. “I didn’t know,” she whispered, staring out at the moonlit sea again. “If I’d known…”
The silence hung like a dead man between them.
“Then what?” Will said eventually. “What would you have done, Elizabeth, had you known?”
She shook her head, tears falling freely now. “I shackled him to the mast, Will. I thanked him for saving us all, I told him he was a good man, and I left him there to die alone.” When she looked at him, her face was roped with devastation. “The Kraken may have torn his body to pieces, but I destroyed his mind – his heart. Which of us, do you think, was the most wretched beast?”
Unable to help himself, he gathered her into his arms. “You did what you believed right,” he murmured against her hair. “Jack would have done the same.” But even as he said the words he knew them for a lie. And so did Elizabeth.
She pulled away, shaking her head and wiping her face. “Jack could never be so… Davy Jones, perhaps, would have been as cruel.”
“Don’t compare yourself—”
“Why not?” she snapped. “Why not, when it’s true? I sacrificed the life of a friend, Will – a friend who had saved my life more than once. I sacrificed his life for no greater purpose than to save my own!”
“Not just your own…”
She laughed bleakly. “Was there anyone on that longboat who didn’t risk the life I’d saved to bring Jack back? They would all have rather died fighting at his side than lived in a world without him.” She pulled away, wiping her face with both hands.
“Then why?” Will asked quietly. “Why did you do it?”
“Because he’d lied to me, betrayed you. And because I…” Her head dropped – guilt, shame, and remorse in all her looks.
Yes, he thought, she knew, even though she couldn’t say it; she had killed him because she’d desired him - loved him – and hadn’t known how to live with that truth. “Elizabeth…”
Her face was bitter with self-recrimination. “Now you see what I am, Will. Deserving of my title, wouldn’t you say? No blacker-hearted pirate than the Pirate King.”
He didn’t answer that, instead asking a different question. “Do you love him still?”
She flinched and looked away. “All I can feel now is shame, Will. And a determination to help him, if I can. So much has changed, I—”
Her attention was suddenly caught by something further down the deck; Jack’s brother had emerged from the captain’s cabin. Elizabeth took a couple of steps forward, then hesitated.
“Go,” Will said quietly. “Death is close about him, he should not be left alone.”
Her wide eyes were fearful, but as determined as ever. “Come with me. Help me—”
“No.” He smiled, and wished it were less rueful. “I would gladly die for you, Elizabeth, but do not ask me to— Were I a better man, then perhaps I could help you. But this you must do alone.”
“Will…” She squeezed his arm. “I do love you.”
“As the sea loves the shore,” he smiled, though he felt it as a hard lump in his chest.
She cast him a quizzical look, but Enriquillo beckoned her now and she was drawn to him – to Jack – as a moth to a flame; Will could only watch and pray she wasn’t consumed by the fire.
“He sleeps, at last,” Enriquillo said as soon as Elizabeth drew close enough to hear his low voice. “I persuaded him to drink the tea I brought with me, and it has eased his mind enough to let him rest. That will help, I think.”
“And how will he be in the morning?” Will’s warning was fresh in her mind, though no sharper than the horrifying image of Jack pressing a gun to his own head.
“There is no way to know, but he must not be left alone.”
“Agreed.” She peered closer at Enri’s face, ashy in the moonlight. “You look tired.”
“’Tis the swell of the sea,” he said with a sigh. “The breeze has picked up, has it not? I am best on deck when the ship begins to roll.”
She took his arm and led him further from the cabin. “Then stay on deck. I’ll sit with Jack.” Enri looked uncertain and Elizabeth was afraid that her presence might be more aggravation than comfort. “Unless you think it’s a bad idea…?”
“No,” Enri decided firmly, although whether his decision was precipitated by a sudden pitch of the ship, Elizabeth didn’t know. He smiled weakly. “When he wakes, he’ll ask about Gibbs.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Then I shall tell him the truth.” She patted Enri on the back. “Ask Pintell for some ginger root to chew upon, it works wonders for the sickness.”
After Enri had left, staggering across the deck with a strange inversion of Jack’s onshore swagger, Elizabeth lingered outside the cabin. Her conversation with Will had disturbed her greatly, most particularly his final question.
Do you love him still?
In truth, she hardly knew if she’d ever loved him at all. It certainly wasn’t a possibility she’d allowed herself to contemplate; Will Turner was her childhood sweetheart and one true love, her husband now. Besides, surely loving Jack Sparrow was as foolish as loving the moon? He might shine bright in the sky and cast his glow about you, but he danced to his own tune and owed allegiance to none but himself. It would be madness to give her heart to such a capricious man…
With a sigh she pushed the confusing thoughts aside and turned to face the cabin door, opening it quietly. It was dark inside, lit only by a single lantern burning on the chart table, and dimmed, no doubt, to help Jack rest. Elizabeth found her hands trembling as she pushed shut the door behind her and stood, her back against it, surveying the cabin.
Jack slept on his bed, his coat and boots discarded. The black bandana he’d worn about his head was also gone, permitting dark curls to fall across his face. Elizabeth had never seen him sleep before and she was startled by the fey beauty it accentuated. No wonder he had cultivated his mop of dreadlocks, his braids and beads; without them, he looked more like Icarus fallen than the legendary Captain Jack Sparrow.
Carefully, Elizabeth crossed the cabin and settled herself into a chair close to his bed. The air was heady with an aromatic scent which she assumed was Enri’s ‘tea’ – a kind never to be served in the governor’s mansion, no doubt – and she let the aroma fill her mind. Beneath her the Pearl rolled gently, at rest and rocking her like a child’s cradle. Her limbs grew heavy, the ordeal of the day taking its toll, but her eyes did not shut – they remained fixed on Jack Sparrow. Even in sleep his presence filled the room, and after an eleven year absence it was impossible to look away.
She’d missed him, she realised, missed him more than she’d dared to let herself feel. There was a connection between them, after all, one that she shared with no other – the intimacy of betrayal, of desire denied. And above all the ceaseless call of the sea; they both felt the pull of the tide in their blood. Captain Swann and Captain Sparrow, was there not destiny in that?
Peas in a pod, love.
So he’d said, once. It had frightened her then, but more than a decade later she felt the truth of it and rejoiced – he was a pirate Lord, she a pirate King. Peas in a pod, indeed.
Her sleepy mind drifted and she smiled as she remembered those innocent days. She’d run through them like a child, her head full of storybook nonsense until Jack had offered her a glimpse of the truth on that spit of land in the middle of the wide blue sea. Her heartbeat quickened at the memory of that night, of his closeness. She’d feared for her virtue despite thrilling to the touch of his hands upon her skin; desire and distrust, the two emotions that defined all her dealings with Jack Sparrow. She knew now, of course, that the only danger to her virtue had been from her own girlish passions – Jack would never have forced himself upon her, his heart was too good for that. But he’d danced and sung with her, laughed with her, drunk with her… Seduced her, thoroughly, with his talk of freedom.
She could see him now, behind her sleepy eyelids; the flicker of the flames dancing in his eyes, the glint of gold in his smile, and the heat of his body next to hers, too close for propriety yet frustratingly far. He’d lit a fire in her that night which had never been extinguished, and it burned still, deep in her heart.
We’re devils and black sheep, really bad eggs…
She awoke with a start. The lamp had burned low, the room was silent, and Jack was gone. Panicked, she jumped to her feet but stopped when she saw him on the other side of the room, standing quietly, one hand gently caressing the back of a chair. Elizabeth took a breath, calming the racing of her heart, and slowly approached him. He didn’t turn around, so quietly she said, “Trouble sleeping?”
His hand stopped moving and after a moment he turned and stared at her. “We’re not free yet, love.”
“No,” she agreed, taking a step closer. His eyes, almost fevered in the low light, consumed her. “I—”
And then he kissed her. His mouth was hot and hungry against hers, the first touch of his lips igniting her latent passion like a tinderbox. Thoughts of Will slipped guiltily through her mind, but she could not stop – would not stop. A decade after her kiss had destroyed him, she would undo her terrible mistake. Eagerly, she pressed herself against him and he stepped back, his body lean and hard beneath her touch, his shirt sweat-damp and his skin hot. But though her fingers found their way into his hair, he made no move to touch her. None at all. He just kissed her as though it were the end of days.
And then, abruptly, he stopped. He pulled back, gazing at her with a knowing smile playing about his lips.
“Jack?” Her breathing was ragged. “What’s wrong…?”
For a moment she thought he might kiss her again, but though his lips grazed hers he simply whispered, “Pirate…”
Her heart stuttered. It was a joke, then? A tease? She backed up. “If you think this is funny, I—”
But he wasn’t looking at her. He’d turned away and was pulling at his wrist, just as he’d done that morning in the Great Hall. “Bugger,” he muttered. “Bugger, bugger, bugger…”
Elizabeth backed away, blood pulsing in her ears. Her stomach turned over because suddenly she knew what this was and she was horrified.
Jack started suddenly, staring down at the cabin floor and staggering as if it had lurched beneath his feet. When he looked up again there was terror in his eyes and he flinched, his whole body recoiling, eyes screwed shut. After a moment he recovered himself, “Not so bad,” he muttered. And then, “Oh.” He bent down as if to retrieve something and place it on his head.
This was his death, relived before her very eyes; his last moments aboard the Pearl. Elizabeth knew it with a dreadful certainty and she longed to look away, to run from it, but she refused to be so weak. Of anyone alive in the world, was she not the one person who deserved to witness this?
Jack made to draw his sword, then, though all his weapons had been confiscated. It seemed to make no difference, for his lips curled into a fierce snarl and he growled, “Hello, beastie.” With that cry he charged forward, sword arm swinging, until he suddenly arched back with a harsh gasp and collapsed to the floor.
And then he screamed.
He screamed like she’d never heard a man scream; terror, agony, rage – it was all wrapped up in that animalistic howl that shredded Elizabeth’s very soul. She couldn’t move for the horror of it. And then Jack jolted awake, eyes wide as saucers, his shirt clinging to damp skin, and shivering as though in the grip of fever.
Dropping to her knees at his side, she reached for him, but he shrank back until he was pressed against the cabin wall, wild eyes darting to and fro. “Where…?”
“Aboard the Pearl.”
“Am I dead, then?”
Her heart clenched. “Bad dreams, Jack, that’s all.”
“There’s no wind,” he said suddenly, licking a finger and lifting it above his head. “Of course there’s no bloody wind.”
“We have a breeze, Jack. The fog has lifted, can’t you feel it?”
He blinked his strange, unseeing eyes. “My soul, I do swear, for a breeze. A gust, a whisper, a kiss…” And then his face crumpled and sank into his hands, a harsh choking sound coming from deep in his throat. “God’s mercy, will you not let me end this?”
It was too much, his torment was too much, her guilt intolerable. Heedless of anything else, she crawled over to him and pulled his head against her chest. His struggle was feeble and she paid it no mind as she wrapped her arms about his shaking shoulders. “I will end it,” she promised. “On my life, Jack, I will end it. But not in death, there’s been too much of that.”
He didn’t answer, but his arms found their way about her waist, his face buried against her shoulder as he clung to her, desperately tight. And in that moment Elizabeth felt as fierce as any creature of the sea; she was the Pirate King and she would defy death itself to bring Jack Sparrow back from the depths into which she’d cast him.
Continued in Chapter Five