Disclaimer: No profit has been generated by the distribution of this story. Canon characters and the world of PotC belongs to Disney for all legal and business purposes. Original characters are the intellectual property of the author. Thanks very much.
Special Thanks Due: To Sharon (Geek Mama) for beta-reading and reassuring me that it all makes sense. All mistakes are mine alone. To Joan, for unflagging encouragement and cheerleading. And to all of you who stuck with me through this nearly interminable work in progress—I don't think it would ever have been finished without you.
Author's Note: This is it, folks. I know it's been a long time coming, and I hope it's satisfactory.
No Oaths But These
As she stepped away from me
and she moved through the fair
and fondly I watched her
move here and move there
and then she turned homeward
with one star awake
like a swan in the evening
moves over the lake
The people were saying,
no two e'er were wed
but one had a sorrow
that never was said
and I smiled as she passed
with her goods and her gear
and that was the last
that I saw of my dear.
--"She Moved Through the Fair"
After over a week's exhausting maintenance on her hull, the Black Pearl has been pushed out of the shallows into deeper water and righted, her sails trimmed, her cargo reloaded. The afternoon has been spent at rest, the crew lounging about in the shade of the palms and mangroves lining the shore or in the warm sun of the beach.
Elizabeth, washing her grimy hands and face at the edge of the lagoon, looks up quickly at a light tap on her shoulder; but it's not who she expected.
"Come with me, girl," Anamaria says. "Got something to show you."
She leads Elizabeth up along the freshwater stream that flows into the lagoon, through a jungle full of birdcalls, green shadows and angled shafts of light. Some ways up the gentle slope, the creek widens into a clear pool both wide and deep, fed upstream by a small and merry waterfall.
Ana leaps up onto one of the flat slabs of rock at the pool's edge, already shucking her clothes without a hint of self-consciousness; Elizabeth hangs back, though she stares longingly at the water. "Don't any of the men ever come here?" she asks, worried.
Ana grins at her over one shoulder. "Not if they know what's good for 'em." She stretches lithe brown arms above her head, standing naked in dappled sunlight for a moment before she dives; her body slices through the water with the faintest of splashes. Reappearing near the waterfall, she calls, "An' they do know. I'd kill anyone I caught slinkin' about out here fixin' to get an eyeful."
"Even Jack?" Elizabeth says slyly.
Ana snorts. "Him! He's a one to tease, but we understand each other. I'm crew to him, an' he's Captain to me, an' that's the end of it. Don't think it even occurs to him I've got woman parts anymore. 'Specially not with you aboard, Lizzie-girl."
The words carry no bitterness. Elizabeth considers them as she unbuttons her blouse, the lure of a real bath overruling any shyness that might have survived sharing Ana's cabin this past year. "So you and Jack never—"
"No, we never." Ana chuckles. "That famous charm of his worked on me just once. 'Twas my Jolly Mon he wanted then, an' my Jolly Mon he got. That was enough to learn me better."
"You're a wiser woman than I," Elizabeth says, laughing ruefully. "It's a lesson I've yet to learn, I'm afraid."
"Oh, you hold your own. I've seen it." Ana glances sidelong at her, lying back to float on the surface. "An' he don't try so many tricks on you, either."
Elizabeth slips into the water; it's cool, but not cold. "Maybe he doesn't want anything of me, then."
She says it quietly, not meaning for the other woman to hear, but Ana gives her a sharp look. "If you really think so, girl, you're more fool than ye claim to be." She dives again and resurfaces a few feet away, shaking droplets from her dark curls. "But what he wants from you, he won't take or trick from you. Not if you ain't willin'."
But I am willing. Elizabeth frowns. Whatever Ana might say, she has wondered of late whether the novelty of her presence in Jack's life and on his ship hasn't merely expired, become a commonplace thing. Admittedly, her self-imposed mourning period for Will has prevented her from going to him, but he hasn't even tried to kiss her since that single night they spent in his cabin, in his bed. Still, the way he looks at her sometimes—
She ducks her head under the water, and wishes that she could wash away her doubts and fears along with the tar and salt-rime on her skin.
Back at camp some time later, a clean, combed, and dry Elizabeth emerges from her tent wrapped in a deep red sari, her hair bound loosely back from her face by a spare bandanna of Jack's. Much as she enjoys the freedom of movement provided by breeches, dressing in something other than her worn, salt-stiff sailor's togs reveals itself as a forgotten pleasure, and she hasn't had a chance to wear the sari since purchasing it on impulse in an Indian bazaar. It does not require a corset; the rich silk slides caressingly over her body, though she snags a few threads when she smooths the cloth. Turning her hands palm up, she examines them, smiling wryly to herself; they are calloused now, rough, a sea-rat's hands.
She pads barefoot to the grassy dune where Jack lies, the very picture of leisure: arms folded behind his head, long legs crossed before him, tri-corn tipped over his eyes to shield them from the sun. She is sure he is asleep, and bends to wake him, but before she can do so he says without stirring, "Need something, Lizzie?"
"How did you know it was me?"
"By a pricking of my thumbs," he says, grinning into his hat. "Also, no one else among my crew would scent themselves with rose-water." He pushes the tri-corn back, then, to squint up at her. "That's a striking costume. New, is it?"
She twirls before him proudly. "You like it?"
"It suits you." He tilts his head appraisingly. "You couldn't fight in it, though."
"I don't intend to try," she says. "You aren't expecting an ambush, are you, Jack?"
"Not at all. Nature of an ambush, m'dear. Many's an unfortunate buccaneer been caught unprepared and unawares while careened on beaches much like this one." He waves a languorous hand. "That's the pirate's life, you see—one must always be ready to face the unexpected."
She arches an eyebrow at him, his half-lidded eyes and indolent sprawl. "Oh, and you certainly look ready for anything, Captain Sparrow."
"Remarkable," he growls, "how appearances can be deceiving," and he reaches up before she can dart out of the way, pulling her down beside him.
"Jack!" She pouts on principle when he captures her wrist to prevent her from rising; but the sand is warm, and he is touching her, and her heart's not in the struggle. "Now see what you've done," she says, laughing. "My pretty things are all over sand."
"That suits you, too," he says, remorseless.
She glances at him under her eyelashes, thinking about the last year spent at sea, and all that they have and have not done together. Emphasis on the "have not." "Look at these," she says, by way of distracting herself from her own musings and his careless proximity, and spills the contents of her treasure-pouch onto the ground before him. "I have no idea what to do with them—most have no worth, except to me, and the others I wouldn't sell for the world."
He picks through the baubles: the sleek, long-shafted tail-feather of a cormorant, colorful clay beads from Zanzibar mixed with knobby Indian prayer beads, a tiny bone elephant, a silver mandala, a gold earring plucked from the ear of the Moor she killed on her first raid, and most beautiful of all, a single black pearl pendant that Jack himself acquired for her, by what means she knows not. Rolling the pearl between finger and thumb, he considers her, lips curving speculatively.
"Come here, love."
She moves closer to him, wary of the mischievous gleam in his eyes; but he only sits up, plucking her handkerchief from her head.
"What are you—"
"Hold still," he commands. He combs gently through her hair; she bends her head, leaning into him as he twists a strand or two together, expert fingers creating a slender braid. When he picks up the first bead, she knows what he's about, and laughs out loud.
Her hair is finer and thinner than his, and it takes him some time and much muttered cursing to achieve the effect he wants. But finally he says, "Ah!" and sits back; she shakes her head, setting the trinkets swinging, accustoming herself to the unfamiliar weight of them. The feather hangs over her left ear, the black pearl glinting like Jack's eyes in the periphery of her vision.
"I must look quite the savage," she says, laughing again as she re-ties the handkerchief, and he grins back at her.
"Like an Amazon," he agrees, obviously well-pleased with his handiwork. "Like a pirate, Hurricane Lizzie."
"You can't see the lagoon from the lee side, for the mangroves and the cay," Nichole tells Will. "But if you follow the beach northward, you should come upon the Pearl's berth easily enough."
They are moored under mangroves themselves, the small Gyrfalcon tucked into a discreet inlet, sails furled on her single mast to keep them from fouling on reaching branches; leaves and shrouds of moss overhang the deck, and her hull scrapes rhythmically against the tangled roots beneath the water's surface. Will looks out at the beach, at the green island rising in slope after gentle slope from the sea, and his heart quickens with anticipation and no small measure of anxiety. Elizabeth is here somewhere, alive, unconscious of his presence. What will she do, what will she say when she sees him? Will she see where he's changed; will she have changed? In the two day's journey from Hispaniola, he has found that he can no longer imagine the meeting that lies before him, can barely recall her long-beloved face; a year's practice has taught him to forget all too well. What if he fails to recognize her?
"You could come with me," he suggests hopefully.
Nichole shakes her head; in the deepening shadows, her face is shrouded, inscrutable. "I have no business there. This is between you and your wife. My presence would only...complicate matters."
"Will you wait, at least?"
"Until the dawn tide," she says. "No later."
He hesitates, feeling that there ought to be farewells but unwilling to give voice to them. "Thank you," he says, finally. "You didn't have to do this, you know."
He should be eager to leave, to step ashore, to see the woman he has thought for so long to be dead and take her in her arms. Still, he lingers, and still he cannot find the words that would speak to the woman before him; all his eagerness has turned, by some twilight alchemy, to dread. "I owe you yet another favor, then."
"You owe me nothing," she says, with one of her brief half-smiles; maybe she has understood something of what he might have said, after all. "The hour grows late, my friend. You should set out before full dark."
He nods, turning away to the waiting boat, and wonders why it feels like losing something.
As night begins to fall, a group of native islanders descends upon the Pearls' little camp from the inland hills; Elizabeth leaps up, gripping her pistol, as the host of painted dark faces and feathered spears materializes out of the jungle. But Jack is already greeting them, shaking hands with the warriors, bowing to the bare-chested women as if they are ladies of high society. When a boy brings forward a drum as big as he is and sets it up near one of their bonfires and a group of women appear bearing two whole roast pigs and a quantity of other foodstuffs, Elizabeth understands: this is not a war party, but a reception of sorts.
"You know these people?" she asks of Jack, quietly, when he returns to her side.
"Old friends," he avers. "Did a small favor for the tribe years ago and they made me a sort of honorary chief—why're you laughing?"
"I'm sorry," she says. "It's just—sometimes I think I will never know all there is to know about you, Jack Sparrow."
"I sincerely hope not," he says, grinning. "Here, you must meet Yemaya—that's the grand old matriarch holding court over yonder, the one favoring us with the gimlet glare. She's their High Priestess and will be quite offended if I don't introduce you. Treats me like a younger and often transgressive son, she does. Wonderful lady," and he takes Elizabeth's arm, guiding her through the suddenly crowded encampment.
Yemaya receives them as graciously as any queen. A tiny, birdlike creature bedecked with more beads and trinkets than Jack himself, she wears a necklace of shark's teeth and pearls round her neck and, incongruously, a faded sailor's pea-coat over her more traditional garb. Jack jabbers to her in what must be the native tongue, a quick, rolling, long-voweled speech. Elizabeth catches her own name more than once, and drops a deep curtsy, bowing her head; she feels suddenly very young and nervous, and thanks her father silently for years of tedious diplomatic training.
"I'm very pleased to make your acquaintance," she murmurs.
The old lady fixes her with a disconcertingly sharp-eyed gaze, directing what sounds like a question to Jack. Elizabeth sees his eyes widen in surprise; he chuckles, but casts an uneasy sideways glance at her even as he answers smoothly. Whatever he says makes Yemaya smile; her merry reply, however, seems to unnerve Jack further, and he speaks at length, his gestures placating and a bit frenetic.
Yemaya, unmoved, takes Elizabeth's hand, and regarding them both gravely, places it in Jack's with a few solemn and commanding words. Elizabeth looks back at Jack, and discovers, as is usual when she hopes to read his face, a singularly undecipherable expression in residence there. He dips his head, thanking the priestess or perhaps excusing them from her presence.
"What was all that about?" she demands, once they have got away. By the fire, the Carib boy has begun a slow rhythm on his drum, and several of the Pearls have brought out their own instruments, tuning up an impromptu orchestra. The noise tugs at something in her, melodious and haunting
Jack gives her an odd look, but says, "Nothin', love. Wasn't important."
"Jack, I'm not stupid. That wasn't nothing. What did she say?"
"Very well." He examines his fingernails assiduously, walking faster. "She asked if you were my wife."
Elizabeth stops short, dragging him to a halt as well. "And what did you tell her?"
"No, of course! I told her no. That we were friends and shipmates, nothing more."
"Oh," she says, stung. "Is that all?" Nothing more?
He rolls his eyes. "Yes, Lizzie, that was all. No need to worry. I didn't claim you as my concubine, or even my mistress. Unless you wish I had?"
She can't answer that last with dignity, but she presses on, "And that bit with the hands? What did she say then?"
"Just some nonsense," Jack mutters, and drops her hand as if he's suddenly realized he was still holding it.
She glares at him, hands on her hips. "Jack—"
"All right! She offered to do the honors herself."
"You see," he says plaintively, "there was a reason why I would have liked to keep such an insignificant piece of information to myself. But no, you had to ask. You can never let well enough alone, can you?"
She ignores this, thinking of Yemaya's solemn pronouncement over their joined hands. "Jack! Are we—did she—!"
"No, m'lady, we aren't and she didn't." He turns dark eyes, finally, to meet hers, and her breath catches at what she sees therein. "However. When I told her, thanks ever so much, but I didn't think you would approve, she said—" and he rattles off something in the native tongue.
"What does that mean?"
"'The true bonds of the heart require no oath but this'," he says softly. "An imperfect translation, but the best I can give you, I'm afraid."
"Oh," she says again, and her heart thumps in her chest.
"Oh," he mimics, rocking back on his heels. "Indeed. Just what I said myself. Oh."
"And that was just some nonsense, was it?" She tries to keep her voice light, but the tremor in it will not be quelled.
"I don't know," and he, in turn, sounds suddenly and uncharacteristically serious. "What do you think, Lizzie? Was it?"
She finds she cannot answer him in words; instead, she steps forward deliberately, and reaches up to tangle her fingers among his braids and trinkets, holding his startled gaze as she covers his mouth with hers. And he seems to consider it answer enough.
Her time for mourning, she decides, is over.
Blue twilight gives way to a warm, moonlit evening as Will reaches the hidden lagoon. He immediately recognizes the distinctive dark bulk of the Pearl at anchor out on the water; swallowing hard, he realizes that part of him has not believed until now that she would really be here. Deep down, he believed that he would be too late, that his bird would have flown already, the Black Pearl slipping away and vanishing forever on the wide, trackless sea and taking with her the last good thing left over from his old life.
Music, laughter, and the scent of cooking food floats across to him from the widest stretch of silvery beach, where a lively crowd moves in and out through the glow of several bonfires: a curiously idyllic tableau, in which he must play an outsider, the intruder in the shadows. He sucks in a deep breath and makes his way resolutely towards the camp, searching the knots of sailors and dark-skinned islanders for a familiar face.
And he sees her in the midst of the company, suddenly, a slender figure draped in red cloth bright as flame, her hair loose around her shoulders except where it is braided and adorned with charms that flash in the firelight, her sun-bleached head tipped back, laughing out loud in un-self-conscious joy. Laughing and dancing with a bare-chested Jack Sparrow, his hands gripping Elizabeth Turner's waist, her arms round his neck, their gazes locked as they move in tandem through the lively steps. Jack swings her around, lifts her up, pulls her close, his eyes intent on her face...
There is no mistaking that look, nor the answer shining forth in Elizabeth's eyes.
He stands frozen, unable to breathe, to turn away, to call her name. Nichole warned him about this. She'd been right, right all along.
He should never have come here.
Then, without warning, she looks up and straight at him, the roses in her cheeks withering away to leave her pale as winter, and the spell is broken. He backs out of her view into the shadows from whence he came, and turns, and walks quickly and unsteadily down the beach away from her. Away from them.
Jack and Elizabeth. Oh, God.
She's left him behind. Why couldn't he have done the same?
Jack and Elizabeth dance.
They've both had a little too much rum, and Jack has carelessly discarded his shirt some time ago; he smiles his golden smile at her, his dark mane tumbling haphazardly around his bare shoulders, and she thinks he's far too beautiful to be true, like some magnificent, untamed creature of myth. A faun, perhaps, or a minor god, only with scars, and all hers. Her heart speeds up to match the drums; it seems as though it's just the two of them, whirling dizzily on the sand, the stars spinning overhead, the pipes and the fiddle skirling high and wild and enchanting.
And then, abruptly, they are no longer alone. There is someone watching them from the edge of the firelight, standing a little apart from the others. She gasps and stumbles, and Jack catches her against him when she would have fallen. They stand still in the midst of the dancers; Elizabeth tries to glimpse again the face she has seen, but her view is blocked by the swirling tide of bodies.
"What's the matter, love?" Jack's voice is husky, breathless, his mouth barely an inch from hers. "You look as though you've seen a ghost."
"I think I have," she says shakily. She pushes away from him, dodging through the crowd towards where she thought she saw...but no. It can't have been him. It must have been someone like him, an illusion, a vision, a dream.
She almost believes it, until she sees the lone figure hurrying away along the shore. She knows the set of those shoulders, the length of that stride, now breaking into an almost-run.
"Will," she whispers, and inside her something fragments, her stomach twisting, throat closing painfully tight, like a vise. "No. Dear God, it's impossible. Will—"
Behind her, Jack says sharply, "Lizzie—" but she pays him no mind, fairly flying down the beach after the fleeing apparition.
"Will Turner! Wait!"
Ahead of her, finally, he stops, turns slowly around, and now she's near enough to see his face again.
She draws a shuddering breath that's more than half a sob, and throws herself into his arms.
A startled Anamaria glances up from her dice game, at which she is trouncing her distressed opponents handily, to see Jack Sparrow stalk past her, straight through the crowd to the water's edge. He doesn't stop, just keeps going until the water covers his shoulders, where he pauses briefly and then dives into the waves, swimming for the Black Pearl.
"Oh, bugger," Ana says, and leaps up, abandoning her hard-earned winnings and bewildered fellow players, though she remembers to collect her lucky dice. "Oh, bloody hell. Should've known this'd happen sooner or later. What's the damn fool done this time, I wonder?" And whether by this she means her Captain or his Lizzie, she has no clear idea.
One of the men points wordlessly down the beach. She stares at the two figures embracing there, then back towards the swimmer, who has now almost gained the Pearl.
"Oh, bloody hell," she says again, and starts for the boats.
Some folks, she reflects, just don't know when to stay dead.
But before she can reach the tide-line, a wrinkled claw closes on her elbow. She whirls, to find Jack's little Carib matriarch eying her knowingly.
"Wait, child," says Yemaya. "Wait and see. This story's not all told."
He is real, after all, solid and warm and Will.
"You're alive," she says, unnecessarily, into his shirt.
"Yes," he says. "And so are you." But his arms go around her only mechanically, and he stands stiffly in her embrace.
"But—how? I saw—You blew up!"
"I got out," he says shortly. "I survived."
She steps back, and sees the same remoteness in his face as she felt in his body. "Will? What's the matter?"
"I saw you," he says, and his eyes are hard. Not Will's eyes, surely. "You and Jack Sparrow. Together. Just now."
A hot flush rises in her cheeks; she cannot stop it. "I...Will, I thought you were dead. For a year now, a whole year! And I—Jack—"
"Don't," he says harshly. "You smell of rum, Elizabeth. Like him. And this—" He reaches out for a moment as if to touch her beaded hair, and drops his hand to his side. "Lord, you are a pirate now. He's made you just like him, hasn't he?"
"No," she says, defiant. "I've always been like him, Will." Peas in a pod. "You just see it now, that's all."
"Perhaps," he says. His face is closed. "There are so many things I didn't see about you, Elizabeth. I'm sorry."
The words cut her to the quick; she cannot speak.
He continues, "And I'm sorry I didn't come before—I thought you were dead, too, that Morena had executed you. I'm pleased to find you well. That's why I came. And to invite you to come home with me, of course, but—" here he shrugs, and moves as if to go.
"Wait!" She follows him, takes his arm; he doesn't pull out of her grasp, and she takes his stillness as a signal to continue. "I'm sorry, Will. Sorry for everything. God knows I loved you. Love you, I love you still. And I'm glad, so glad that you're alive! But—"
He looks down at her, and something cracks in his expression, though she still can't define what lies behind it. "But you love Jack Sparrow, too. I know. I saw it in your eyes."
"No, I—" And she breaks off, closes her eyes, opens them again and faces him squarely. Only the truth will do, now. "Yes," she says softly. "Yes, I do. I love him, Will."
"And he makes you happy. This life—" he waves a hand at the water, the starry sky, and the Pearl between— "This makes you happy."
"Yes," she says. "It does."
And then Will Turner does something that startles her exceedingly: he takes her hands in his, and leans to kiss her on the forehead. "Then I'm glad," he says simply, though his voice is thick with emotion. "Jack's done what I could never do. Goodbye, Elizabeth." And he releases her hands, and starts to walk away.
"Will!" she cries, as soon she can speak.
He turns, waiting.
She dashes the tears from her cheeks, resolutely. "Are you happy, Will? In your new life, are you happy?"
"I will be," he says, and his smile only goes a little crooked from pain before he turns away for the last time.
"Goodbye," she whispers to his back, once so well-known, as she once knew the rest of him; and the wind snatches the word from her mouth, leaving her standing on the silver sand, alone, her heart aching with too many emotions to be voiced or counted.
Some time later, she also turns, and traces her own footsteps back to the now-fading fires.
Will boards the Gyrfalcon wearily, drawing up the little dory behind him and lashing it in place; he's surprised how home-like it seems to him after the few hours he's spent away, and he lingers on deck, trying to sort through what he's feeling and give it a name. After awhile, Nichole emerges from her cabin to join him. She says nothing, just leans on the doorframe, considering him, as if he represents an anomaly she hasn't quite planned for.
"You came back," she says finally, matter-of-factly. She could as easily be discussing the weather.
Will leans his elbows on the Gyrfalcon's rail, watching the little waves lick gently at the hull. "Yes."
"She's not coming with you."
"No." He waits for the rush of regret, of loss, of anger, but what there was of it is already spent and done. He feels strangely at peace. Almost...relieved, like he's just faced a firing-squad and, unexpectedly, been pardoned...
Silence descends. He can feel her watching him, though she does not stir from her lounging position.
"I suppose this is where I tell you I am so very sorry," she says at last.
Her voice is deliberately casual; her gaze, however, when Will turns to meet it, is anything but. "Are you?" He keeps his own tone light. "Sorry, that is?"
"Not in the least." She says it quietly, but there is a challenge in the words, and in her eyes.
He laughs then, and sees surprise flash across her face. "In that case, neither am I." And by way of accepting the challenge she has offered, he steps across to her, takes her gently by the shoulders, and kisses her.
Nichole makes a tiny startled noise against his mouth, and tenses under his hands, eyes widening; for a second, Will realizes, they both think she is going to push him away, to spring at him in fury like an affronted wild creature. But when she does finally move, it is to surge against him, to wrap one hand round the back of his head and pull him down into the kiss, which under her lead becomes rapidly deeper and more demanding. And when she pushes him backwards with a fierce, triumphant smile, he finds himself stumbling in the direction of her stateroom.
He lets her guide him, because they are on her ship and she knows the way, and because she has not yet stopped kissing him.
At the cabin door, though, she breaks away, halting them; they are both breathing hard. Her smile has faded, and she's favoring him with that keen, searching look he's come to know so well.
"What is it?"
"I'm not her, Will," she says softly.
"I know," he says; but she still grasps his upper arms, holding him away from her.
"Nichole," he says, and stops. But he must admit this to her, and to himself. "I loved my wife. Part of me always will. But..." He looks down at the Gyrfalcon's boards, at the clean, straight lines of tar that bear witness to their Captain's exacting standards, searching for the right words. "I loved an ideal of Elizabeth without really ever knowing her, or loving what she was. The real woman...she escaped me. She always has. Loving her became a duty to me, a duty I held myself to because she was my wife and I a good husband." He dares to glance back up at her, and fancies that the intensity in her gaze has subtly acquired a new quality, although it is one he would be hard pressed to define. "My life with her is over," he says to that unnamed expression. "She was a fantasy, but you are real to me, Nichole. I know you, and it's you I want now. You and only you. I swear--"
"Don't," she says quickly. "Such oaths only beg to be broken." But the spark in her eyes has leapt into flame. She opens the door and waits for him to follow her inside.
In her bed, his face is earnest as a boy's, but his hands are those of a man, skilled and sure. He touches her with something like reverence, and bends to kiss her scars. As she straddles him to take him into her, he breathes her name like a prayer. She stills momentarily above him, in astonishment and wonder, until he opens his eyes. They are dark with desire and sudden doubt at her hesitation, and she takes his head gently in her hands and kisses his parted lips until there is no more doubt, and moves again: question and answer, both unspoken.
When they are done, he leans on one elbow, his other hand at the curve of her hip, tracing a lazy pattern there. She watches him, waiting for him to withdraw into awkwardness or perhaps guilt, but he shows no signs of either. It is she who retreats first, unaccountably embarrassed by the tenderness in his regard, looking away and down at his hand touching her instead. It is very brown next to her white skin and calloused from his work at the forge these last months: rough but somehow capable of this feather-light caress, of sending slow shivers of warmth through her core to places she thought were cold and dead. Like her heart...
"I can't ask you to marry me," he says suddenly.
Caught off guard, she stares at him wildly. "What?"
"I'm sorry," he says hastily, misinterpreting her alarm. "I mean...I'm already married. Technically. So I can't...But...well, Marie offered me the smithy. So you could stay with me. Live with me."
"No," she says, without thinking; and sees the hurt bloom in his eyes. He pulls his hand away, and moves as if to sit up, but she drapes one leg over him and rolls until she's on top of him again, propping her chin on her hands, her elbows at either side of his head, effectively pinning him. "I'll stay with you," she says, her lips an inch above his. "When I'm there, I'll stay with you. But I won't live with you. Or off you."
He looks confused for a second; but then he smiles, and it's like the sunrise. "Nichole D'Bouvoire, I believe you are the strangest woman I've ever known."
"If I were the man of the two of us, and you the woman, you would not think it so strange," she says, with a little laugh. "I have a business to run, and a ship to sail."
"The call of the sea." Will's voice is thoughtful. "It seems to me I used to hear it much more loudly."
"You shall sail with me, if you hear it again," says Nichole, and lets her mouth drop to his.
The Black Pearl's Great Cabin door is shut. Elizabeth lifts a fist to knock, then thinks better of it and reaches for the latch, finding it unlocked.
"Took you long enough, didn't it?" Jack says irritably from within, as she eases the door open. "Here, go rouse those lazy, sodden dogs from their carousing and get them aboard and above. I've no wish to spend another day on this sorry rock. We sail tonight."
Elizabeth steps inside. He is standing at his navigation table in a familiar pose, wild dark head bent slightly, brooding over his charts. One be-ringed hand curls casually around a dubious-looking bottle.
"Well?" he barks, without glancing up. "'S not like you to dawdle, Ana. What was it you wanted, then?"
"Jack," she says softly, and sees him go quite still. "It's me."
Silence. Except for a whitening of knuckles round the neck of his bottle, he does not move or look at her. Finally he says roughly, "You've come back for the rest of your things, I suppose."
"Jack, I'm not—"
"They're still in your trunk where you left them. Gibbs or somebody will be happy to help you with the load. Tell 'em it's Captain's orders."
"Handsomely, now. Tide's changin'. I don't have all night, y'know."
"Jack!" she almost screams. "Will you listen for once, instead of behaving like a perfect ass!"
Silence again, for just a moment. Then he whirls on her, theatrically. "Very well, Mrs. Turner. It seems I have no choice but to play Bottom to your Titania, and as such I am, you might say, all ears. Just what is it that you have come to say?"
"Don't you Mrs. Turner me," she snaps, and then stops. There is a storm brewing in his dark face and lowering brow. With that bottle in hand he cuts an arresting and thoroughly piratical figure, but it's the dangerous glitter in his black eyes that gives her pause. He's as displeased as she's ever seen him, and it is she who has made him so.
He sketches an impatient gesture with his free hand. "It's your name, innit?" Once he might have said it lightly, but now he just sounds bitter and impossibly weary. "C'mon, then, m'lady. The sooner you can be gone, the sooner I can be gone. Let's have out with it and be done, savvy?"
"You have no right to be angry with me," she says, keeping her tone even with an effort. "You know you have not. He was dead—to me, he was dead—and now he's alive again. What did you expect me to do? Slap him? Let him go away again without saying a word to him? He's my husband, Jack!"
"I know," Jack says, heavily. "Believe me, I know. And if I could have expected any of this, I wouldn't have expected you to do anything else." The anger has ebbed from his eyes, leaving them bleak, lightless and fathomless. "I'm sorry, Lizzie. I was a fool to believe that you ever belonged to me."
"You were indeed," she murmurs. "I belong to myself, Jack. You taught me that." She steps forward, holding his gaze, moving slowly as if he's a wild creature that might spook and bolt, or charge. "Tell me," she says. "Do you really want me off the Pearl?"
"Doesn't matter whether I do or not," he says, voice tight. "'S your life and only yours, as we've established, and how, where, or with whom you choose to bloody lead it, that's no bloody business of mine, is it? Your decision. What I want makes no difference."
"No." She steps again. "It makes all the difference."
She's almost close enough to touch him now; too close, for he spins away, pacing to the cabin's long windows to stare out at the dark water. "Maybe old Gibbs is right after all," he says after a moment. "A woman like yourself, Elizabeth, you spin a man 'round like a boat with no keel, until he doesn't know which way is north, or up or down for that matter. Until I don't know myself whether I want you gone or not." His fingers splay on the glass; he adds, low, "You should go to him, love. It's what you want. Don't stay on my account."
He's left the bottle on the table. She picks it up, fingers the lip as if it was his; it's still warm from his grasp. "That's the thing, Jack," she says. "Will's already gone."
"Then why are you still here?" he demands, petulant, impatient. "Does it amuse you to plague me? Is that it?"
"I let him go, Jack. Without me. I told him—" She draws a deep breath; it hitches in her throat. "I told him I loved another man, you see. I couldn't lie to him. And so he went away."
He doesn't respond, doesn't even move; for a moment she thinks he hasn't heard her. As it is, she barely hears him say her name, "Lizzie," on a breath, like a laugh or, perhaps, an oath. She only knows that he has started to cross the room to her, that she has met him halfway, that he is crushing her against him and kissing her fiercely.
"So I take it this means you'll permit me to stay," Elizabeth murmurs, when they finally come up for air. "I hope so, because I really have nowhere else to go, unless Yemaya adopts me into the tribe."
"Terms conditional upon your good behavior," Jack says, his lips on her throat. "God, Lizzie—"
"I am always good," she says, with a wicked smile, and touches him again so that he trembles with need.
"You are both a liar and an incorrigible minx." The ragged edge to his words stokes the rising heat in her belly and between her thighs; his bed seems miles away. They can make that journey later. For now, she pulls him down with her onto the cabin floor.
"Pirate," she says against his hungry mouth.
"Temptress." His hands roam over her body, and he scowls down at her. "Blast you, why are you wearing such difficult clothes?"
She laughs, reaching up to release the hidden pin that holds the cloth of the sari together, and speech falters and fails for some time after that.
At last, when they lie still together, his head pillowed on her stomach, their fingers tangling together on her breast, she asks him, "Did you truly think I would leave you, Jack? That I would change my mind?"
"Certainly wouldn't be the first time," he says. "Nor the last, I'll wager."
"Perhaps not." She lays her hand along his cheek. "But I made this choice long ago, Jack. I think I made it when I first hatched my wild scheme to escape Port Royal, though I didn't know it. I was looking for the Black Pearl, even then."
"You were looking for freedom," he says, and turns to kiss her palm.
"No," she says. "For you, Jack Sparrow. I was looking for you, all along."
He lifts his head at this, flashing her a brilliant grin. "Why, my love," he drawls, "of course you were." So saying, he gathers her in his arms to kiss her long and deeply; and she needs no more claim, or vow, or declaration now, than that which she reads written in his eyes.