So here it is, some angsty J/E melodrama for the festive season. Thank you to everyone who’s read my stories over the past year, I’ve really enjoyed hearing from you all! Merry Christmas and all the best for a happy and peaceful new year. :)
Like cool water, his fingers slid across the subtle rounding of her belly. “It’s funny…” His attention was fixed entirely on his hand splaying across her skin. “I can’t feel him, not a murmur.”
Her own gaze was riveted by the livid scar upon his chest, by the deep pallor of his skin and the silverfish light behind his eyes. She wondered if he meant that the child no longer lived and was horrified at her swift surge of relief.
Will lifted his head and smiled, though his eyes were flat and clear as a pond. “I didn’t mean to frighten you, there are plenty of souls I can’t feel – those who don’t know the sea. Wet his head upon the beach, and I’ll know him then – I’ll know him to the bone, Elizabeth.”
Shivering beneath his chill touch she slipped her hand down across her stomach, edging his fingers away. “What do you see, when you see a soul?”
“Hard to explain.” He propped himself on his elbow and she found her gaze drawn once more to his scarred chest. There was no movement there, no rise and fall, and it reminded her again that no living heart pounded in his breast. Three times they had met since his captaincy had begun, and each time he had seemed further away, more other. “‘See’ isn’t quite the right word,” he said, “it’s more like ‘feel’. I can feel what a man is, what he’s destined to become, all that he fears and all that he desires.”
He looked down at her and for a moment he was the man she had once known, her most faithful friend. She felt a beat of familiar trust and said, “What do you see in me, Will?”
“In you?” He touched her face, but it was a dead man’s caress. “Sadness, loss. Loneliness.”
Tears filled her eyes, the only heat in the room. “If I could change things…”
“Had Jack acted but a moment sooner?” Bending down, he kissed her brow, trailing icy fingers across her throat and her bare breasts. “Had he not paused to gloat at Jones’ demise? Yes, how bright the world would be if we could change such things.”
She closed her eyes against the cold of his touch, imagined herself under a burning sun, imagined heat. Imagined…
…his lips taking hers, pressing her hard against the bulkhead, his fingers knotting in her hair. “Tell me to stop,” he hisses against her lips. “Tell me you’ve not burned for this every night, sweated for it amid your guilt and remorse. Tell me you’re not aflame with it – right now.”
Her eyes flashed open, memory making her shiver.
Will touched her hand, his face falling. “I’m sorry, I can’t feel it now – heat or cold.”
Fearful of what he might see in her, Elizabeth sat up. On the other side of the cabin lay her clothes and she eyed them with a sharp longing, as if by covering her nakedness she might escape his knowing gaze. “It’s almost time anyway.”
“Yes.” He was still a moment, silent, and when she looked at his face she saw that his mind was elsewhere – with his ship, or his crew, or the sea. Perhaps they were all as one when it came right down to it. “The longboat is ready.”
“Thank you.” He reached out to touch her but she pretended not to notice and slipped free, crossing the damp planks of the cabin to where her clothes lay across the old chart table she knew he didn’t need. The seven seas were in his blood now, he could navigate them as surely as he could his own body. “When will you…?”
“Not for some months now, I think. You’ll be large with child next time.”
Elizabeth made no answer, dressing quickly and grateful for the warmth. “I’ll send word if I’m unable to— If the journey proves too much for me or the child, I’ll send word.”
Will stood and padded closer, coming to stand behind her and slipping a hand across her belly. It felt possessive and she longed to push him away; instead she held herself still and withdrew into her mind, returned to the heat of her memories.
“Hot,” he breathes. “God, you’re burning for it.”
“I’m so happy, Elizabeth, to know that you’ll not be alone anymore. To know that some part of me still walks beneath the living skies.”
Her eyes filled again and she closed them lest her tears fall. Dropping her head back against his shoulder she whispered, “How did we come to this, Will?”
“You know how.” His lips, like ice, pressed against her neck. “Pirates.”
Morgan Teague sat with his legs stretched out to the fire, his eye on the door. It wasn’t often he graced the Great Hall with his presence but tonight was an occasion of double note and he thought it worth his while to leave the comfort of his quarters.
The air was steamy as the tropics, though the night beyond was bitter. A press of people, fire, and drink warmed the Hall, providing grateful refuge from the wild sea in this, the year’s darkest month. It drew in those who rarely came ashore, those who’d stop only to sell their goods and replenish their crew; it even drew in Jack Sparrow. Or so his father had heard.
Five months since the seas were reclaimed for honest pirates, and this was the first time the boy had set foot in the Cove. The stories had come, though, of Barbossa’s betrayal and Jack’s bloody retribution, and in the wake of the stories came the man. Black sails had crested the horizon at dawn and by midday the Pearl was docked on the East Quay.
Teague knew his son well enough not to expect him to come calling, and so he seated himself in the Great Hall to await the grand entrance. But there was another for whom he kept a weather eye open this night, and she would slip in silently and endeavour to lose herself in the crowd until she’d drunk enough to lose herself in her own pretty head. For her, Teague kept a more sombre vigil.
When the doors flew open, he didn’t stir. But he watched as his son, the legend, blew into the hall as if on the coattails of a hurricane. His men fanned out behind him, disappearing into the crowd, while Jack scanned the room with a captain’s sharp gaze hidden behind his sly charm. When his eyes met Teague’s he stopped and gave the briefest nod of acknowledgement, before sweeping off his hat and going in search of drink.
Some time later, as the fire began to dwindle, Teague felt Jack hovering nearby – ever the child in his father’s presence, both wanting and rejecting his attention. Keeping his eyes on the fire, Teague said, “Welcome back, lad.”
“Any port in a storm; couldn’t be helped.”
Teague smiled, but didn’t look up. “Heard you got her back, again. How long d’you plan to keep her this time?”
There’d been a time when the boy would have risen, snapping, to that bait, but tonight he held his tongue and moved to stand by the fire. Leaning against the beam that served as a mantle, he surveyed the Hall. “Haven’t seen her Majesty hereabouts. I suppose she keeps to her rooms in this nest of thieves, eh?”
“Not so much.” Teague looked up then, into his son’s face. The madness he’d seen at their last meeting had faded, if not passed, though there was nothing open about his intense gaze. As always with Jackie, he took a whole lot more than he ever gave back. “She’s been with her husband this past day, due back tonight.”
There was a moment of blankness, then Jack’s chin lifted. “Ah. Yes, would be unlike Miss Swann to abide by any kind of rule, mystic or otherwise.” A slight smile followed and had Teague not know better he might have mistaken it for pride in the girl. “Tonight you say?”
A flicker of humour, dry as a bone, touched his son’s face. “Of course.”
“She never mentions you by name.” Teague said, lifting his pipe to his lips and lighting a taper in the fire. “Why’s that do you think?”
“How should I bloody know?” Jack took a long drink and wiped his mouth. “Perhaps it’s guilt.”
“For sending you to the Locker?”
“Or for bringing me back.”
Teague looked at him again, at the concealing smile and the smoke-smudged eyes; even as a babe Jack had stared at him thus, as if he could read a man’s secrets. Teague had found it unnerving then, twice so now. He looked away, just in time to see Captain Swann threading her way through the crush of sailors, a bottle dangling from her fingers. Ghostly in the firelight, she looked frozen to the marrow and the men moved aside quickly when they recognised her face.
Teague glanced over at Jack, about to point her out, but there was no need; Jack stared, stock still, and for a moment his face was open as a child’s. Every line and shadow told of turbulent waters and treacherous shores, of loss and longing and matters unresolved. Suspicion roused, fear trailed subtle fingers along Teague’s spine. “Have a care, Jackie,” he said in a low voice, “she belongs to the Master of the Dutchman now and he ain’t one to be betrayed.”
But his son wasn’t listening, for Elizabeth had turned around and in a fierce collision of sea and stone her gaze found Jack’s. They stood still and silent while between them surged an ocean of trouble, its stormy depths black with danger.
The crowd shifted all around, the air thick with drunken laughter and the acrid stench of gunpowder and unwashed men. She felt the heat on her skin, hot like a steaming bath, though inside she was ice – her heart, her blood, her very soul was ice. She tried not to remember the cold feel of his dead flesh against her skin, tried to forget her revulsion, tried not to hate him for being what he had become. The choice had not been his; she had held his hand upon the blade, she and Jack had chosen his destiny. How could she blame him for that?
One look at her face and old Thatch behind the bar handed over the rum without asking for coin. She paid him anyway, more grateful for his silence than anything else, and lifted it to her lips. The first taste burned and she revelled in the heat, drank it down fast and longed for the world to fade.
In the far corner of the hall, to the left of the second great fireplace, there was a dark alcove which had become her own these past months. Solitude, darkness, and rum; she craved them as much as heat as she pressed through the crowd toward her private haven. To her surprise she glimpsed Teague sitting by the largest fire, pipe in his mouth, studying the room with those eyes that reminded her so much of his son. He hardly ever came down to the Hall, preferring his books and the company of women, and she wondered why—
Shock stopped her dead. Someone bumped into her and cursed, but she barely noticed because Jack Sparrow was standing close to his father’s chair, staring at her. Jack Sparrow…
He was back, after five long months.
She smiled and found it turned into a laugh. And then he smiled, a crooked kind of expression that disappeared as he started walking toward her, weaving through the crowd as if through the raindrops. Her heart thumped hard, her head suddenly swimming with a dozen different thoughts and feelings, and she dared not meet him in the centre of the Great Hall with all eyes watching. Turning, hot and panicked, she pushed her way through the carousing pirates toward the dark haven of her hidden corner.
Two steps from safety, his hand caught her shoulder. “Elizabeth…”
She turned and there he was, all gold and black in the firelight. His eyes were molten and she longed for his heat, for the fire and iron of him. For five months she’d thought of little else, and now… “You’re back.”
“Of course not.” She almost choked on the lie, it tasted big and ugly in her mouth.
Jack smiled his bitter smile and looked away. “Charming as ever, Lizzie.”
“I didn’t mean—” A thousand conversations had passed between them in the silence of her mind, all that she would say about those dark days of war and everything she had lost. I thought you destined for the Dutchman. I thought we’d all die. I was afraid… But now that he was there, vivid and real, the words slid from her slippery mind.
He eyed her shrewdly, beneath hooded lids. “You look ill. Pasty, like a fish.”
His fingers touched hers, the heat of his skin scalding her from top to toe before she realised he was stealing the bottle from her hands. He shook it to see how full it was and took a long swig. “Too much of this, eh? And not enough grub. You’re skinny as a whore, love.”
“How dare you!”
“Me?” He grinned, hiding everything beneath that golden mask. “I’m Captain Jack Sparrow. Did you forget?”
She felt heat in her cheeks for the first time in too long and folded her arms in an outrage that bordered on delight. “Hardly.”
“Good.” And there was something in his eyes as he said it, an unspoken truth, that made her heart race. He drank again from her bottle, avoiding her gaze, and waved an arm toward the door. “Me, I’ve been eating naught but hardtack and weevils for a month. What say we find some food before we drink ourselves to merry oblivion?”
Elizabeth hesitated only a moment, her mind darting back to that place of silver cold that had become her marriage bed. Guilt tugged with icy fingers, but she brushed them away, letting them melt in the fire and darkness of Jack Sparrow’s wicked smile.
With her flesh still chilled from her husband’s caress, Jack’s heat was impossible to resist. And why should she? No harm could come from breaking bread with him, not now. Too much had changed for there to be any danger, no matter how her heart pitched and rolled, no matter how her ripening body yearned for his touch.
No harm could come of it now.
She walked with a sway, loose hipped and not as he remembered. The self-righteous daughter of the Royal Governor was gone, replaced by this rum-soaked girl who tossed tangled hair over her shoulder and led him through the dark streets of the Cove like a native.
While others might pity her reduced circumstances, he saw freedom in her demise. Elizabeth Swann had not been born for the life of a gentlewoman, at the beck and call of some old codger with whiskers and gout. She suited this place with all its dangers and violent glories; she was at home here, and yet her complexion was milky and her eyes devoid of the fire that had been his downfall.
The memories of their tryst were blurred by madness and death. He’d barely been in his right mind that night, when he’d sought her out in anger and desire and she’d drowned him afresh. All words were lost in the murk, but he remembered her warmth and a fleeting moment of brightness between them. Happiness, perhaps? He didn’t know. Triumph and vengeance were the measures of his life, and he knew nothing of happiness. They, neither of them, had been born for such prosaic pleasures.
“You’re drunk,” he said, stopping her in her tracks.
Her laugh was angry and she didn’t turn around. “Who isn’t?”
“Last time I saw you drunk, you brought His Majesty’s finest down on me head.”
Silence. Her head fell forward, then she tossed it back and turned around. “That was a long time ago, Jack.”
“Not so long.”
“It was a different life!” Swinging her arm wide, she sloshed rum over her hand. He watched it catch the light spilling from a nearby tavern as it dripped onto the rotting boardwalk. “I was a different person.”
“Two years ago, no more.”
She cocked her head, eyes narrowing. “Is there a point to this?”
Drawing closer, he reached out and closed his fingers around the neck of her bottle. “I was just wondering why a bride, such as yourself, would feel the need to drown her sorrows upon returning from a night in the arms of her dearly beloved husband.”
Her eyes were like chips of stone and she gave no answer.
“Ah.” He didn’t move, not a muscle, despite a hot surge of triumph in his gut. “Not so dearly beloved after all, then.”
Her chin lifted in that gesture he remembered so well, jaw clenching. “Would you have me dance for joy, Jack, that my husband is— That he’s…” Her eyes filled and she turned away, wrenching the bottle from his hands and drinking deep. “Must you laugh at everything?”
“I’m not laughing.”
She wiped at her eyes and he glimpsed a smile. “Incorrigible.”
“Always.” He drew closer again, resting a hand on her shoulder. His heart raced when he felt her shiver, eyes fixing on the pale curve of her neck. His father’s voice whispered caution in his mind, but he chose to ignore it. “Is he still—? Is he still the man he was?”
She fell silent, more than silent. It seemed that she sank into herself, became less than she had always been. “How could he be?”
His fingers on her shoulder tightened; he could feel her bones beneath her shabby coat. “He loves you still.”
When she spoke, she didn’t turn around and her voice was no more than a whisper. “He’s so cold, Jack.”
There was a strange sensation in his chest, a dangerous pressure as though his heart were struggling free of his ribs. He recognised it and feared it; such feelings drove men to greater acts of madness than even the Locker could induce. He looked at his hand upon her shoulder, long tar-stained fingers tight against the green of her coat, and willed himself to let go. The whelp always was a cold fish; that’s what he should say, or something like it. Turn away, Jack, walk away. Run.
His fingers didn’t move. “The Black Dogg is just here, do you know it? Best caldeirada outside Lisborne and always a good blaze on a cold night.”
Still she did not turn. “I have no coin.”
“As it happens, I’m fairly flush in the pockets…”
Her head moved, her face a pale crescent in the dark. “Are you offering to buy my supper, Jack?”
“Aye,” he said, urging her toward the inn’s grubby entrance. “No doubt for some nefarious purpose of my own, eh?”
This time she looked at him, a smile in her eyes. “No doubt.”
And as she spoke he found that his fingers at last left her shoulder, moving to the small of her back, then her waist, as he pushed open the tavern door and they slipped into the warm fug of smoke.
Her eyes were fixed ahead, but she made no protest and Jack felt the same helpless terror he knew when perched on the crest of a wave and awaiting the inevitable plunge.
Fate had him in her jaws, and there was nowhere to go but down.
The dead floated in mystified circles, waiting for him to pluck them from their watery graves and deliver them to the misty shores beyond. He felt no pity for these lost souls, nor their end so lonely and cold, for it was but a passing trouble and soon forgot. They had severed all their ties to the world of dust and heat, would never again feel the beat of the sun upon their head nor the firm tread of earth beneath their feet, and their journey was almost at an end.
But his stretched ever on, and distantly, so distantly, he could feel his heart beating and knew that it tethered him still to the living world.
Sometimes he wished it closer, longed to feel his blood burn in his veins as it had in life, but knew that if his heart beat once more in his chest then it could no longer bind him to the shore, and nothing would keep him from drifting into the eternal mist. This was the price he paid for one day of life in every ten years of death, and he prayed that the day would be worth the long night.
It was a harsh bargain indeed, and one he would not have chosen for himself, but the bargain had been struck and he must pay the price.
Oh, envy those who pass swiftly beyond death - would that he could know their comfort!
But Elizabeth had bound him to life with her love, and Sparrow’s cunning, and Will would not leave her friendless in the world. He would not leave her and their child unprotected.
Touching his fingers to the water he drew another soul aboard. The bewildered sailor blinked and looked about him. “What ship is this?”
Captain Turner put a hand to the man’s cheek and told him, felt dying tears slip between his fingers before the sailor opened his eyes and smiled.
“Soon you will be with her again.” Will lifted his hand to the misty shores beyond. “And all this will pass.”
In his empty breast a heartbeat echoed and he felt the tether stretch taut.
It was folly, she knew, to bring him to her rooms. Madness, treacherous madness. The rum, perhaps, had weakened her will – the cold had sapped her strength. Perhaps her delicate condition had unhinged her mind?
She laughed, a wild giggle that was out of place in her death filled life. It was better than crying, she supposed.
The door behind her closed; she could hear him breathe, soft in the quiet room. A fire had been lit and it danced merrily in the grate, oblivious to her darkness and powerless to lift the gloom.
“Well, then…” He spoke quietly, no trace of his usual bluster.
She was giddy from the rum and glad of it; the smudged edges of her conscience were easier to ignore that way. “How is it,” she said, “that I can still be cold?”
“’Tis a bitter night.”
“It’s not the weather.”
He drew closer, his heat on her back greater than any blaze. “I know, love.”
“Whenever he—” But tears clogged her throat before she could continue, keeping the truth inside where it belonged. She squeezed shut her eyes and instead whispered, “Touch me, Jack.”
His catch of breath was harsh and she almost laughed because she’d never thought herself capable of surprising Jack Sparrow. Except once, of course. Except once…
“’Tis a tempting cup you offer,” he said, close enough that she could feel his breath on her neck, “but the draught within maybe deadly. Once bitten, eh?”
“Do you fear me, Jack?” She felt herself swaying, eyes closed, drifting back toward him. Would he catch her, if she fell?
“Not you, love.”
“Ah.” She tipped her head, offered a black smile to the ceiling. “No wife was ever better protected than I, you see? No man would come within ten yards of Captain Turner’s wife; my honour is ensured forever.”
A beat of silence followed. “What do you want of me, Lizzie?” His voice was rough, raw with a kind of distressed anger. “You tempt me to— I’ve run from the Dutchman before, and we both know how that ended. Would you chain me again to that bloody mast?”
“No!” She spun around, vision blurred by unshed tears. “No. I—”
The heat in his eyes slammed her to a halt: anger and desire, fear and passion. Only once before had she seen such feeling and her heart broke, for she knew it now for what it was – an uncompromising, dangerous, irresistible love. “God help me Lizzie.” In the space between two heartbeats, she found herself in his arms, his warm fingers on her face and throat, his mouth upon her lips. “My ruin, you are, my bloody ruin.”
She had no words to deny it, so kissed him harder until his back was to the door and her body was pressed against his. “Had we never met,” she whispered against his mouth, “our lives would be so easy.”
“Less bright,” he said and she could feel the smile beneath her lips. “Duller and—”
He stopped suddenly, head moving back to knock softly against the door. For a moment she didn’t understand the light in his eyes, but then his hand slid to her waist and across the firm rounding of her belly.
The moment between them was golden, bright as the sun and delicate as crystal. It broke her heart that she must shatter it, but to do otherwise was impossible. “It’s not yours.”
“Ah.” Flat as a millpond, his gaze reflected everything and revealed nothing. “Yes, good. Better that way.”
She moved closer, to kiss him again, but he held up a hand to stop her. “Too much,” he said, his gaze slipping away. “You want too much, Lizzie. And you’d not thank me when you’d slept off the rum, not when you’re carrying his child.”
Shame made her cheeks burn with a different kind of heat and she turned away, walking unsteadily to the fireplace. With one hand braced against the mantle she said, “You must think me the worst kind of harlot.”
His silence was excruciating, but when he spoke his voice was warm. “If I thought you a harlot, love, I’d have you on your back by now.”
Tears trailed her cheeks and she let them fall, watched them hit the hearth. Inside, the cold grew deeper. “You’re a good man, Jack.”
“So you’ve said.”
“And I’m…” Lifting her head, she sniffed and wiped her eyes. “I’m a fool to have—”
His hand touched her shoulder and she stopped. “You’re no fool,” he said. “You’ve a harsh life here, Lizzie, harsher than you deserve. Should be me upon the Dutchman and William at your side – I brought you this life and I’m sorry for it.”
“We chose together, Jack. We chose his fate together.”
“If I’d acted more swiftly...”
“Or if I’d never— If I’d admitted the truth…”
There was another silence, his fingers stilled upon her shoulder. The room held its breath. “What truth?”
She let herself drift backward until she felt his chest against her back; she knew he wouldn’t let her fall. “Don’t you know?”
“Wouldn’t be asking if I did.”
“It doesn’t matter now; it’s too late.”
His head came to rest against hers, though she couldn’t see his face. “I’ll hear it anyway.”
And he deserved it, she supposed, even if it was too late. She kept her eyes on the dancing flames, imagined them reflected in his eyes. “Did you think it was guilt alone that drew me to the Locker, Jack? I’ve killed men before, and since, and never felt the need to snatch them back from the devil.”
Against her back she could feel his heartbeat racing and into her mind flashed the image of her husband’s scarred flesh, of his lifeless breast. “Speak plain, Elizabeth.” Jack’s voice was rough and his fingers bit into her shoulder. “What are you—?”
“I loved you, Jack.” The words tumbled out, easier than she’d imagined. “I loved you then, when I— When you died. I loved you when I married Will, and I— I love you still.”
“Bloody hell.” She turned, saw him watching her with skittish apprehension and a nervous smile. “You have had too much rum.”
She gave a bitter laugh, amused and devastated by his fear. “Tell me now that I’m no fool, Jack.”
“I can’t.” His smile disappeared, like sunlight on the ocean it masked darker depths. “You are a fool, a perilous bloody fool. Treacherous as rocks beneath the surface, love, and beautiful as the Siren what lures sailors to their death.”
Her cheeks flushed and she looked away, a wash of mortification rising into her face.
But he wouldn’t let her escape, his fingers seized her chin and forced her to look at him. “And I’m no better. Worse, perhaps, because I knew the rocks were there and wrecked myself against them even so.”
Confusion pushed shame aside and she tried to understand his meaning, tried to read it in the dark flash of gold in his eyes. Tried to understand him.
“Did you think I came back for the Pearl, love? Or for Gibbs, perhaps?” He shook his head, his fingers softening and beginning a slow caress of her jaw; it felt like fire dancing across her skin and stole her breath.
“You…” It was a struggle to form the words because his fingers had slipped into her hair. “You came back because you’re a good man.”
“Wanted you to think I was; wanted you to remember me so. Truth is, I couldn’t have lived with your blood on me hands.” His smile was touched with a note of disbelief as he looked into her eyes. “Never imagined you felt… Seems we’re fools together, Lizzie, you and I. And no doubt it will kill us both.”
“What? No, we—”
He kissed her then, hard and deep, before pushing her gently away. “I must go.”
“I’ll sail tonight.”
“He can’t know!” A sudden squall of temper flared. “Did Jones teach you nothing? My bloody father’s right, the Master of the Dutchman ain’t to be cheated. Not by me, not by anyone. And definitely not by you.”
She shook her head and took a step forward. “Will won’t hurt me.”
“They cut out his heart, Lizzie. Do you think it won’t change him?” He gestured between them. “Do you think this wouldn’t change him, if he knew?”
“I’m not afraid of him.”
“Then you should be.” He reached out, the tempest dissipating, and let his fingertips brush her belly. “For the sake of the child, you should be.”
Our child. “Jack, please…”
“A tryst, a tumble, that’s one thing. But this?” He shook his head. “There’re worser things than death, Lizzie, and I’ll not have you know them.”
Her fingers touched his where they rested against her stomach. “Don’t go.”
“No choice, love.”
His hand cupped her face, and for a moment he looked at her with such feeling that she could scarcely breathe. With a sigh he pressed his lips to her forehead, her eyelids, then her mouth – a devastating kiss, warm and bitter with regret. But as he drew back the cold rushed in to take his place and when she opened her eyes he was gone.
The door stood open and through it blew the winter wind.
Elizabeth thought the chill of it might kill her.
(although probably not…)