The next weeks past slowly, though not as painfully as Jack had imagined. He stayed, for the most part, aboard the Pearl – reacquainting himself, as it were, with the old girl. As he wandered her decks in the evening light, tracing fingers over lines and masts, he realised how long it had been since she’d felt clean to his touch, not layered with a patina of treason - first Barbossa’s, and then Elizabeth’s. Hers, the worser of the two, by far.
For so long he’d turned away from the mast as though it chafed at an open wound. But now, though he could still feel a tenderness, the wound was closed; when he saw the mast he saw rigging and sails, the power at the heart of his ship. And when he remembered the cold iron of her betrayal, he also remembered her fierce cry in his defence and the strength of her arms about him.
Better still, he remembered that, against all reason and expectation, she seemed to have a place for him in her heart. And simply knowing that washed away the bitterness until he could look upon their tangled past with something approaching dispassion; it was as it was, and let that be an end to it.
In truth, it was the future – his imminent return to Shipwreck Cove – that occupied his thoughts now. On the day his father had disowned him, Jack had sworn never to go back. He’d had to, of course, in the end; first to give up his birthright as Pirate Lord, and second to reclaim it. But with the brand still burning upon his wrist, and the Black Pearl freshly christened after her baptism in the depths, that had been a grim time and Jack had not lingered long.
He’d not asked Teague to return the piece of eight; he’d had no desire to see the man triumph over him, and even less to be welcomed home as a prodigal son. Breaking into Teague’s quarters had been simple enough, though the captain had made a point of anticipating him; the trinket lay upon the chart table, atop a letter bearing Jack’s name. He’d taken the coin, and left the letter.
Now, more than twenty years later, he found himself wondering what Teague might have had to say to him. Perhaps he would ask, upon his return.
His return to Shipwreck Cove.
It was enough to make him sigh as he stood gazing toward the island, and toward Lizzie – his beautiful, fiery, intoxicating girl. She, and only she, could have tempted him to return to the place of his birth, to the fiefdom of his wretched father. But return he would, if it meant being close to her. There was little – nothing – he would not do to be close to her, including cuckolding Will bloody Turner.
Not that this was the first time he’d dallied with another man’s wife – or even with another woman’s husband, when it had served his purpose – but this was different. ’Twas no dalliance, for a start, and William was… Well, if not a friend, then at least an acquaintance of some years. And there was no doubting that their lives – and deaths – had become somewhat entwined. There was connection enough, suffice to say, that he felt more guilt than was usual in bedding the man’s wife.
Which was probably why he kept to the Pearl, for each time he ventured ashore… Impossible not to look at her, yet every time their eyes met he was aflame. If he passed too close and their fingers touched he felt it detonate in the pit of his stomach, a resonance so deep that surely everyone else could feel it – like the summoning of the Kraken itself. And watching her sit near the fire, close to Will, was intolerable – impossible – and would drive him back to the beach and send him rowing hard for the Pearl just to have the burn in his muscles scour away the curling envy.
’Twas not even just about sating his lust – though there was some of that – but the pressing, breathless need to simply be with her, to hold her close, was unendurable. Better, for the most part, to stay safe aboard the Pearl and imagine it different back at the Cove – so many places to hide there, it would be easier. He hoped it would be easier…
On one such black and moonless night, as he’d been hauling the longboat into the water in an attempt to dampen the fire in his blood, he’d heard her softly call his name. She’d been in his arms a moment later, then lead him by the hand to the edge of the forest where they’d made a bed of their coats and loved each other in whispers and soft sighs. He’d not wanted to let her go when dawn had turned the night to silver-grey; each parting was harder to bear than the last, and from the pallor of her skin and the shadows in her eyes he’d known she felt the same.
“I should steal you away, love,” he’d murmured against the softness of her shoulder. “Like any pirate would, when tempted by such dazzling treasure.”
“What a pity you’re a good man.” Her smile had been sad and he’d wondered if, perhaps, she would have wished him to take the choice from her hands.
But that he could never do; unless they were given freely, what value would there be in her affections?
And so the days went on, punctuated by ardent trysts and furtive glances, until, fully a month later, Jack woke one morning and knew it was time to leave. Something in the air, in the rock of the ship, a shift in the wind perhaps; he knew not why, just that it was so.
Gibbs had met him with a nod, squinting out to sea. “We’ll be making sail, then, Captain?”
“Aye, send a man ashore and tell Lizzie and Will I’ve a mind to be at sea by tomorrow, no later. Load provisions and so forth… I’ll be with me charts should any have need of me.”
And so it was done. His journey back to Shipwreck Cove had begun…
Jack’s announcement that he would be leaving the next morning came as no surprise to Elizabeth. She too had felt the shift in the season and knew it was time to be underway. Will, however, met the news with a frown.
“So soon…?” His sigh was heavy, his fingers toying with the hunting knife Enri had given him some weeks ago. “Seems we’ve barely arrived. Is Jack so sure of his cure that he would leave so soon?”
What could she say to that? She’d seen him cured the first night, when she’d stood upon the deck of the Pearl and freed him of his chains, taking half his fate upon herself in a gesture of repentance, penance, and love. Instead, all she said was, “If we don’t leave now, we’ll not make it back around the Cape before the winter storms.”
He knew she was right, of course. The captain of the Dutchman knew the seas better than any, but perhaps he had hoped they would miss their chance and be forced to stay longer.
That was impossible. For many reasons.
“We must go,” she told him, sitting at his side near the edge of the plaza and poking at the dirt with a stick. “I must return to the Cove before winter.”
“You think they cannot survive without you, Elizabeth?”
She shook her head. “I… I have a need to return, Will.”
“Because of your son?”
She looked at him sharply.
“Our son.” Will amended. “You said he was happy with Teague.”
Flustered, she turned away. “He is. At least— Enri told me something of Teague’s treatment of Jack as a child, it makes me wonder…”
“I imagine Jack Sparrow would have tested the patience of Holy Mary herself,” Will muttered, not without bitterness. “I’m sure Liam is as happy as ever.”
Elizabeth nodded, then said, “But I miss him. I always do, when I’m away. And I want him to— I want to spend some time with him, Will.”
He was silent a while, then rose to his feet with a heavy sigh. “I had thought we’d stay longer here, Elizabeth, under the trees. It’s so beautiful. I can breathe here, and there’s so much life…”
“Yes, so much life,” she agreed, her gaze drawn to the Pearl, just visible between the bohios. “But my life lies elsewhere; I cannot stay.”
After a pause, Will said, “And what if I cannot leave?”
“I’m serious,” he said. “Ten years I spent among the dead – I can’t return to that dead city.”
“It’s not a dead city,” she protested. “It’s full of life, full of people!”
“Not a living thing grows there, Elizabeth! You don’t understand, I can see the timbers rotting before my eyes – I can smell the decay like I can in everything, in everyone. We’re all dying, Elizabeth, slowly, little by little, and I can see it.”
Horror flickered in her heart. “I didn’t know...”
“But here,” he waved an arm about him, “among the green and growing things…? Here I see life.”
“There’s more, Elizabeth. Yuisa says I have a purpose here – these people… Their dead return to them each night, their souls inhabit living animals. So much life here! And Yuisa can commune with them, use their knowledge to help and heal her people. But she’s old and when she’s gone there will be none to receive the wisdom of the ancestors…”
“You?” Elizabeth breathed. “I thought you had seen enough of death, Will.”
"And yet I cannot be rid of it." He smiled slightly, head shaking. “But don’t you see? These are not the misty shores of some far off land; for the Taíno there is no death, only new life! And here, I think, I might be rid of those dying voices that call me – will always call me – from the ocean. Here, I can help people to live, Elizabeth.”
There was a brightness in his eyes that she had not seen since his return from the Dutchman, a purpose – a calling. And her heart sank. “Yuisa told you this?”
“She’s asked me to remain, to learn from her so that in time I might assume her role as bohique.” He dropped to crouch before Elizabeth. “Stay with me,” he urged. “Please … Ten years I served, ten years you waited. And now we have a chance at life, at last. Don’t turn your back on it – on us.”
“But the Cove…”
“They’re pirates, they’ll survive without you as well as they did before Jack made you their King.”
Jack… Her throat clogged at the mention of his name, at the secret she carried. “Please, Will, don’t ask me to choose.”
“Why?” His voice was all challenge, his eyes hard. “Is the choice so difficult?”
She looked away, couldn’t hold that gaze, because surely he would see the truth in her eyes. “You’re asking me to give up all that I am.”
“Am I?” There was a long pause as he rose to his feet. “Foolish of me – I’d imagined some part of you, at least, was still my wife.”
Elizabeth held her silence a while – there was nothing left to say. She was born for the sea, her heart beat with the rhythm of the waves and her days were marked by the ebb and flow of the tide; she could no more abandon her duty as Pirate King than she could abandon Jack Sparrow for a second time. They were bound now, inextricably and forever. In the moment she’d shared his death, their souls – and more – had been made as one.
“I waited ten years for you, and part of me will always be your wife. But I cannot stay here. I am the Pirate King, Shipwreck Cove is my home, and— Will, there’s something else you must know…”
The next morning, as the crew prepared to make sail, Jack came ashore to take leave of his brother – and to thank him, not for the first time, for saving him from himself. “You’ll not come with me?” he asked Enri as they embraced. “The world is an astonishing place, mate. Wonders you can’t imagine. And the women…!”
Enri laughed and shook his head. “I have two women here, Jack. I want no more.” Pushing back, he clasped Jack’s shoulders and with a serious expression said, “Fair well, brother.”
Jack nodded. “You too.” Then, almost as an afterthought, he said, “Have you any message for our father? No doubt I’ll happen upon him somewhere about the Cove, however hard I try to avoid him.”
A shadow fell over Enri’s face, though he forced a smile past it. “Only the message I’ve given him myself; that he’s welcome here at any time, to visit his grandchildren. They’ve heard many stories of the infamous Captain Teague.”
“He’s been no father to either of us,” Jack said in a low voice, “I’d not regret his absence if I were you. But I’ll pass on the invitation, as you wish. One visit from Captain Teague would be more than enough to keep your boys from turning pirate, eh?”
Enri gave a wry smile. “Hardly, with Captain Jack Sparrow for an uncle.” He clapped him on the arm. “Visit us again, Jack. Sooner next time, and without such a pressing need.”
“I will,” Jack said, and found that he meant it. “And thank you. I owe you a debt.”
His brother’s demur was interrupted by the arrival on the beach of Lizzie, overseeing the last of the provisions to be stowed for the homeward journey. When the casks – of rum, Jack hoped – were loaded into the longboats, she walked over to where he stood with Enri. Her wan face worried him immediately; she looked as though she’d not slept all night.
She just shook her head and turned a smile on Enri. “Thank you,” she said, “for everything. And for…”
She trailed off, but Enri nodded in understanding. “All will be well. Some things are meant to be, and I believe this to be one of them.”
Nervous, suddenly, Jack caught Lizzie’s eye.
“Will won’t leave,” she explained quietly. “He won’t return to the Cove.”
Dread seized him with a cold hand. “And you?” he said, more sharply than he meant. “Are you to stay with him, then?”
She looked wretched, anguished. “I— He begged me…”
“Ah.” Jack drew back, a sickly whispering in the back of his mind and the chill ghost of iron about his wrist. “Right and proper, of course, for the King to abide with her Queen and all…”
Her fingers were like a cuff about his wrist and he jerked his arm away. “Need to be aboard now. Need to be—”
“I’m not staying,” she said, grabbing his wrist again. “Jack? It’s Will’s choice. He chose to stay, but I can’t.”
Jack stared at her, his fragile mind balanced on a pinhead.
“I can’t stay here,” she repeated. “My place is…elsewhere.”
Relief was a jagged breath, a drowning man hauled ashore. “You’re…?” His glib tongue had been frightened into incapacity. “Then you’ll sail with me – us – with the Pearl?”
A smile briefly touched her lips and there was a promise in her answer. “Always.”
“You alone?” It seemed impossible. “Without William?”
“Will Turner is meant for the land, Jack,” Enri said, unexpectedly. “As you are meant for the sea. He’s chosen to spend some time with the Taínos, to learn our ways and, perhaps, to find his purpose. As you once did, many years ago.”
Reasonable enough words, but Jack knew there was more at the heart of this than Will’s desire to plant crops – he could read it in Lizzie’s pinched face and shadowed eyes. He wondered, briefly, if this was how she’d looked as she sat in that cursed longboat and watched him die. “He knows, then?”
“I had to—” She was miserable. “He had to know, Jack.”
“Was always your choice, love.” He glanced over at Enri, who was regarding them both with some sympathy. “See that she gets aboard the Pearl,” Jack said. “Tell Gibbs to leave a boat for me.”
“What?” Elizabeth’s fingers tightened about his. “Jack, what—?”
“Can’t leave it like this,” he said, dropping her hand and stepping away. “Need to speak with him, before I go.”
“Don’t fret, love. Get back to the Pearl, make her ready.”
“Jack, don’t. Please, I need to—”
He held up both hands. “No choice in this, Lizzie. Cursed honest streak, remember? Blame me mother.”
And with that he turned and ran, up the beach and back toward the village. He could hear Elizabeth throwing curses after him, but he didn’t slow or turn around and she didn’t follow.
He was glad, because cursed or not, his honest streak could not be denied; he’d not leave things like this between himself and Will Turner.
Surprisingly, he found he was a better man than that.
It wasn’t difficult to find Will, sitting in the village plaza in close conversation with Enri’s bony old mother. She caught Jack’s arrival with her beady eyes and put a hand to Will’s arm in warning.
He turned around and Jack stopped dead, held still not two feet distant by the piercing look in the man’s eyes. More anger than he’d expected; ten years aboard the Dutchman had changed him, indeed. Jack lifted his hands, carefully. “Listen, mate—”
“Can’t you just be gone?” Will rose to his feet, lethal and graceful. “There’s a fair wind, Jack. Why are you lingering like a bad stench?”
“Couldn’t leave things so awkward between us, Will. I wanted to—”
Will’s fist came out of nowhere and connected with Jack’s face in a bright crack of pain. He stumbled back, barely keeping his feet, and waited for the next blow. Or worse. But none came. After a moment he blinked watering eyes and saw Will glaring at him like a thunderstorm. Gingerly Jack worked his jaw and prodded at his cheek; nothing broken, it seemed. “I definitely deserved that,” he muttered.
“I only took your ship, Jack,” Will said in a low voice.
Straightening, Jack regarded him a moment. “Didn’t intend to take anything,” he said carefully. “On my soul, I swear. Ten years I steered clear of her, mate, though you were gone. ’Twas only when I wasn’t myself that I came back, and even then in chains. I wasn’t looking for this.”
Will’s lips pursed, his glare directed at the ground between them. “Ten years?” he said after a moment. “I’d not thought— Are you saying that you’ve loved her all these years? Even after the way she—? Even after she betrayed you?”
“Why else do you think I saved you from Jones? ’Twas not so I could gaze upon your pretty face, whatever Cotton may say about it.” He sighed and rubbed at his sore cheek. “Couldn’t bare to see her so distraught, could I?”
“Never thought you capable of such love, Jack.”
“Surprised myself, as it happens.”
Will lifted his gaze, still hard and angry. “Let me hear you say it.”
Jack took a step back. “I do,” he said warily. “I do love her. A lot. More than a lot. A great deal. In fact I’d die for her – again.”
“Any fool can do that.”
It was a fair point. “I’ll keep her safe, then, I swear. I’ll live for her alone.”
“As I have done, these eleven years and more? I wouldn’t recommend it, Jack. Tends to end in disappointment.”
Shaking his head, Jack slowly lowered his hands. “I’ve died by her hand, Will. I’ve seen her married to another man and bear his child. There’s little she could do to me that she’s not already done, and yet I love her still.”
Will made no response to that, though his shoulders slumped like sails in a shifting wind.
“And she loves you too,” Jack said, more quietly. “She’d not leave you.”
“Like the sea loves the shore, only in passing.” Will sighed, a deep longing breath. “I couldn’t persuade her to stay here, where it’s green and beautiful. She prefers the rotting timbers of Shipwreck Cove – your world, Jack.”
He grunted. “The Cove is a feculent den of maggots, for sure, and my father the foulest of the lot. But Elizabeth is born for the sea mate, not the land – I knew it the first time I laid eyes on her, which was, as it happens, beneath the sea.”
“A portentous meeting. I met her at sea too, don’t forget – after our battle with the Black Pearl.”
“Portent all around us, eh?” He shuffled his feet a moment. “Were you to sail with us…”
Will shook his head. “I’ll not return to the Cove, I need land beneath my feet. That heap of dead ships is no place to live.” He cast Jack a hard look. “No place to raise a child, either.”
“There’s worse,” Jack conceded. “Seems as though your boy’s doing well enough there, despite the interference of Teague.”
A slight frown touched Will’s brow. “I meant your child, Jack.”
“I don’t have a—” He felt his eyes go wide even as his heart stopped beating.
“Ah,” Will said with a slender smile. “So, she hasn’t told you then? How very like her. She was always one for keeping secrets.”
If he said more, Jack didn’t hear because he was running for the beach like a lunatic pursued by the devil himself…
As the crew prepared to set sail, Gibbs kept one eye on Captain Swann. She stood at the ship’s rail, gripping it with white fingers, gazing back at the beach with an intensity that was not to be disturbed. Neither Jack nor Turner were aboard, a fact which left Gibbs distinctly queasy. Was a bad business, always, when a woman got between two good men – and while he might have fancied Jack’s chances once, Turner had been consorting with the dead these past ten years and who knew what devilish tricks he’d picked up.
Gibbs strained his ears for the crack of a pistol shot until he saw the woman stiffen and lean forward slightly. Someone was running down the beach, arms flailing in a manner that could only belong to Captain Sparrow. Gibbs repressed a smile, expecting to see Turner – or half the village – on Jack’s heels. But he was alone as he hauled the longboat into the waves and began to row like a madman for the Pearl.
Elizabeth stepped back from the rail, her narrow face waxy. She almost looked ill, Gibbs thought, and quickly crossed himself against some catching fever. Her gaze darted to the captain’s cabin, then back to Jack’s boat, uncharacteristically irresolute. Afraid… Gibbs shifted uneasily and wondered what manner of trouble she’d brought aboard this time.
To her credit, at least, she didn’t flee to the cabin; shoulders straight and head high she braced herself as Jack’s boat thudded hard against the hull of the Pearl and, a moment later, he appeared at the top of the ladder. He was wet through from hauling the boat into the sea, his dark eyes stark against a face as white as Elizabeth’s. He said nothing, just came to a halt and stared at her as though – impossibly – lost for words.
She was equally eloquent, chin lifting slightly under Jack’s piercing gaze.
“So it’s true, then,” he breathed at last.
Captain Swann made no answer. “Gibbs,” she said shakily, “secure the longboat and weigh anchor. You have your heading.”
“What of Captain Turner?”
Her chin lifted, at once defiant and guilty. “He elected to stay behind.” With that, she snatched up Jack’s hand and hauled him toward his cabin. He followed in silence and without protest, which was an ill omen in itself. And what was ill-omened for Jack Sparrow…
“Bloody woman,” Gibbs grumbled as the cabin door shut fast behind them. He waited a moment in anticipation of the sounds of breaking furniture and the like, but all was silence. The mystery, it seemed, would endure a while. With a shake of his head, he sucked in a breath. “Stream anchor and cable, you indolent dogs!” he yelled. “Hoist the topmast stay-sail, and keep the bloody sheet to windward!”
If there was trouble betwixt the captain and his lady, then the quicker they returned her to Shipwreck Cove the better. For them all….
Jack strode into his cabin and stopped in the middle of the room with his back to her. Quietly she closed the door behind them and waited, watching him; navigating through such unfamiliar waters, she was hesitant to move too fast. Despite the benefit of a slowly dawning realisation, she was still unsure of her own feelings about the child; she hardly dared to imagine how Jack might feel, with it freshly sprung upon him.
This was not what she would have planned.
In the silence she could hear his breathing, deep and fast. Breathless from his row to the ship, perhaps, or from the news Will had broken – none too gently by the look of Jack’s bruised cheek…
She longed for him to turn around, so that she might see his face; astonishment was all she’d seen when he first came aboard, and now she dreaded seeing something darker. Anger, perhaps, or – worse – indifference.
His name was about to fall from her lips when he moved. Peeling off his sodden coat he flung it over the back of a chair and scrubbed his hands over his face. Then, slowly, he turned to face her. His gaze was clouded – with disappointment, perhaps? She felt her soul grow cold. “How long have you known?” he said quietly.
“Almost two weeks.”
He nodded, no more than registering the fact. “And you’re sure it’s—?”
Her heart sank harder and faster than she’d thought possible. A ridiculous apology was on her lips and she stifled it with a click of her teeth. Instead, she said, “There’s no need to fear, Jack. I’ve raised one child alone, I’ll not shackle you with this if you—”
He was across the room in two strides, his long fingers digging into her arms. “Two weeks?” he said heatedly. “Why the bloody hell didn’t you tell me?”
“I— I didn’t know how, and I wasn’t sure—”
“Yet you told Will?” His hands loosened, face softening into something she belatedly recognised as confusion. “Lizzie…? A child?”
“’Tis difficult to take in.” His eyes closed a moment, and she felt a flutter of hope. “A child… I’ve never imagined—” He looked at her suddenly. “I thought we’d taken care to…?”
“Not that first time, Jack. In the dream.”
After a moment she said, “I couldn’t let Will sail with us without telling him, Jack. He deserved to hear the truth from me.”
“So he did, though no more than I.”
“And if you hadn’t run off like that…!” She sighed. “Jack, I wanted to tell you. I’d hoped…” A laugh escaped, more bitter than she’d expected. “Part of me, I think, imagined you might even be…pleased. Or at least not averse—”
“Pleased?” he said incredulously.
Hurt, she tried to pull away from him. “Very well, if you—”
He kissed her, hard and fast. “Be quiet,” he said, hands either side of her face, “and give a man time to draw breath, woman.”
“Shhh….” His fingers pressed over her mouth, then moved to trace her lips with endearing bemusement. “Bloody hell, Lizzie. A child? Not an hour ago I was anticipating a lifetime of stolen kisses, and willing myself to be grateful for it. But now I find that, not only has your husband freed you, but that you’re carrying me bloody child! I hardly know which way is up, or if I’ve slipped into some other mad delusion and am currently talking to a very attractive turnip! But if I have, then I’ve no desire for sanity because it could never be so sweet as this.”
Unbidden, an astonished smile crept onto her lips. “Oh Jack…”
“Pleased?” he echoed again. “If ever there was an underestimation of a man’s way of thinking, that would be it, love. Pleased?”
Ready tears sprung to her eyes. “I thought you were angry…”
“I— Lizzie…” He kissed her in lieu of words, a more eloquent expression of all that he felt, and then pulled her into his arms and held her warm against his chest. “You’ve made a liar out of me,” he murmured roughly. “Promised Will I’d live for you alone, but now I find there’s another stealing a share of me thieving black heart.”
“Not so black,” she said, lifting her face to gaze into his eyes, full of light and as beautiful as she’d ever seen them. “But broad as the horizon, Jack Sparrow, whatever you may say. And deep as the ocean.”
“For you,” he agreed, kissing her lips again, his hand curving over her hip to splay flat across her belly. “And for this one; God’s never wrought a more unlikely miracle, love. ”
“Not unlikely, Jack – destined. Have you not felt the draw of it between us?”
“Aye,” he admitted with an embroidered sigh, “from the very day you toppled from the fort like some bloody omen of doom.”
She smiled. “And I always thought there was providence in the fall of a sparrow, not a Swann.”
“What’s in a name, love?” His eyes glittered with humour. “That which we call a Sparrow, by any other name would fly as high; we were always peas in a pod, you and I.”
She kissed him again. “And now we’re more than that.”
“Don’t rightly know what we are; we’re sailing off the edge of the map, Lizzie. There may be monsters.”
“Are you afraid?”
He regarded her seriously, as though weighing the mettle of her heart. “Not anymore.”
Resting her head against his shoulder, she smiled into the soft fall of his hair. “Because you’re Captain Jack Sparrow?”
“No, love,” he said. “Because you’re Captain Elizabeth Swann, and I’d trust my life to no other in these weird, uncharted waters.”
Continued in Chapter Nine