She lifted her gaze to meet that of Jack's window-reflection. His eyes were black as the night, unreadable. When he spoke, his voice was just as inscrutable, but his breath on her cheek was warm.
"After what I've done, I can't – I know I can't – possibly ask anything more of you. I won't ask for your promise," He ran his thumb over the smooth surface of the amber. "But think of this as mine: I will always be only yours. Let this be your reminder."
Amber eyes held night-black.
Ryenne gazed silently down at Jack's sleeping figure. He slept the sleep of the dead, the careless and uncaring, the corners of his mouth pulled down into a frown. He hadn't moved when she left her place next to him, had not so much as stirred in his sleep as she gathered her things. She wanted to lean in and kiss his brow, but she could not bear the thought of waking him. In an hour's time, he would rouse and discover her absence on his own. It was better that he didn't see her leaving.
She had thought about leaving a note, even gone so far as to sit and pen a few lines. But the words had seemed clumsy and empty, and could never explain her reasons properly. He would not understand. So she left what remained of her attempt at a goodbye in pieces in the fireplace.
In the end, she had simply brushed her hand across his hair, so clean and dark and soft, lightly enough that she barely touched it. Then, she slung her small bag over her shoulder, and shut the door silently behind her.
The house was completely still as she made her way down the stairs, and she felt her way through the heavy darkness. She felt locked in by the silence, a strange feeling of both distance and containment. She would not let her mind fixate on what she was leaving behind, who was leaving her. That part of her life was over. It was time to move on, and in moving on, attempt to survive. The amber pendant he had given her still burned against her chest. A reminder of the promise he had made. She had promised only to remember it, nothing more. And she would remember; the shadows of the future they could have had would haunt her always.
Was it fair, what she was doing? Perhaps not. It would doubtlessly make his leaving that much harder on him. But was the bargain that Jack had made fair? She was a prisoner now, because of it. She had gained nothing, and what she had lost...
She had her hand on the knob of the front door when Will's voice drifted from the sitting room to her right.
"You're not the only one he's leaving, you know."
She stopped dead in the hallway, but didn't turn. She couldn't meet his eyes, couldn't stand seeing the hard truth she knew would be in them. "You can't possibly know what I feel -"
"No, but I -"
" - So don't try to pretend that you do." The knob was like ice beneath her fingers. All she had to do was turn it and step outside. Somehow she couldn't make herself do those simple things. She closed her eyes as a sudden wave of weariness washed over her. "I can't stay here and watch him go. I can't."
Will was silent for a long moment. "Think of how hard you're making this for him. If you could just wait... Until he wakes up, at least. Let him leave with some peace of mind."
"And what do I get?" She opened her eyes to the darkness, expecting to feel the prick of hot, angry tears. Strangely, they were dry. "An empty little house? An empty bed? An empty life, chained to this bloody island!" Finally, she turned to meet Will's gaze. She expected to see some shred of sympathy there, or even anger, but his eyes were cold and hard.
"He was trying to build a life for you, a home."
"I didn't ask for a home."
He grimaced, struggled to repress it. "He didn't want you to have to run anymore."
She twisted the doorknob back and forth restlessly. "Maybe I liked running."
"So run then!" He threw down the book he'd been holding and erupted onto his feet, closing the distance between them in the space of a heartbeat. "Run away, you selfish girl! Go ahead and slink out that door! But don't expect me to defend your honor when he asks why you did."
Tears would have been a relief compared to the emptiness she felt at that moment. None would come.
She didn't stay to watch him storm away.
Outside, pale light was beginning to wash over the streets. The outlines of the buildings were hazy through a mist just beginning to dissipate, and the trees, thick with dark foliage, seemed to loom over her. She stood for a moment, unsure, and then began to hesitantly walk. Her feet, apparently, knew where they were going, though her heart was torn.
Her footsteps echoed on the empty street as she made her way down the sloping hill that ran by the Turner's house to the neighborhood below, the one closer to the docks. There, the houses were not quite so grand, though still neat and well-kept.
She stopped in front of one in particular.
There it was, just as she had seen it only the day before. Lace curtains in the dark windows, and the sun just beginning to outline its peaked roof.
She fished the shiny brass key Jack had given her out of the pocket of her dress and turned it over in her fingers. Then, she put it – very decisively - in the lock and opened the door. The entryway was dark, and immediately she felt the emptiness of the house pressing down on her. This was a terrible idea, she knew, but it was as if she didn't have full control over her body.
Almost trying to resist its pull now, she stepped further into the house. Her mind fought against the pressing emptiness, and images of how this might have - should have - been flashed before her mind's eye.
She hadn't had a home since she was sixteen, and even then it hadn't been much of a home. Her father had craved a son, which she was not, and her mother had been even more distant than he. The only home she had known was the cozy little cottage the Turners had occupied. There had always been a fire in the hearth there, smells of baking and cooking... As a child, it had been her dream to replicate the feeling of that happy place.
And then she had met Quinn. Having a home was no longer an issue, nor a priority; a pirates' home was his ship. His crew was his family. But now she had neither ship nor crew. All she had was an empty house and no one to share it with. No one to build a life with. No one to build a life for.
She tried, for a moment, to imagine herself a life in the little house with its papered walls and lacy windows. Tried to imagine placing wildflowers in a glass under the window, the smell of baking bread… But she couldn't bake. She couldn't cook. She knew nothing about keeping a home.
And there it was, the one thing she had tried to face, over and over again, and always failed to reconcile: she did not fit. Not here, not anywhere. A weak pirate, an independent daughter. A free woman chained to a past she would never be able to expunge from her being. And now, a prisoner who would not take the refuge given her.
There was a stack of stationery on the writing desk in the corner – an interesting addition she had not immediately noticed. Presumably Jack thought she would wish to write someone. Him, perhaps? She crossed to the desk – a truly beautiful chestnut creation, carved with swirls of vines and leaves – and ran her fingers over the expensive vellum. A pen lay next to it. Impulsively, she picked it up and scrawled the only goodbye she could manage.
I'm sorry. I tried.
The door, with its newly oiled hinges, closed behind her with barely a whisper of sound.
Jack woke with a shiver, like a bucket of cold water had been sloshed over him. He stared at the wall for a moment, willing the gray light diffused through the room to gather itself back up and return to the sun. It had no business being here already.
He lay still for a few moments longer, running through the things he would need to do in his mind. He had some time before he had to be aboard, but not much. Every moment had to count, because they would be the last of his old life, the last he had left to spend with Ryenne. He stretched out his arm behind him, wanting to feel the comforting warmth of her skin. His fingers closed upon empty sheets, already gone cold from her absence.
She's probably downstairs with Elizabeth and the baby, having breakfast. The thought soothed him momentarily, long enough to see him out of bed and into yesterday's trousers. It was then that the heavy doubt started to trickle in. Pulling on his shirt as he walked, he made his way down the narrow stairs that led to the family's dining room. He could hear voices. In his hurry to descend, he almost fell down the last few stairs. Why did he have such a horrible sinking feeling in his chest?
Will and Elizabeth jumped in surprise as the door banged open, but the shock was quick to fade. The expressions that followed close behind told him all he needed to know. He would not find who he had come looking for. Not here.
"Where is she?" The words sounded hollow and strange leaving his lips. Will shook his head, looking morose.
"She left, not more than two hours ago." He frowned, staring down at the untouched food on his plate. "I tried to stop her, Jack, but..."
"Where did she go?"
"I don't know."
Elizabeth must have seen the hard determination forming on his face, knew what he meant to do a split second before he even knew himself. "Jack, Norrington's men will be here to collect you soon. It'll be the noose for the both of you if you're not here when they arrive." Her eyes were sad, but she did not shy away from his stare. "You can't go looking for her now."
There was a tightness in Jack's throat, a burning pain like thirst. He swallowed hard, trying to speak past it. "I promised Norrington that she would stay on the island. What if she -"
Will cut him off with an abrupt gesture. "You can't worry about that now. Go upstairs. Take what measures you need to before..." He shook his head again, as though trying to dislodge a fly. "I'll go find her."
Jack fixed him with a steady stare. "See that you do." He knew the words were unfair even before they left his lips. Elizabeth turned her head away, as if seeing his desperation was unbearable, but there was an angry set to her shoulders that he knew well. Will would not be the only one combing the streets for Ryenne.
They readied themselves quickly, and it all too soon that they were stepping out the door, turning one last time to give him falsely confident smiles that didn't reach their eyes. Gripping the back of a chair, knuckles white from the strain, he nearly shook with the effort of not going with them. He wanted to run after them. Instead, he forced himself to turn and climb the staircase to his room. Little as he wanted to, he needed to don his uniform. Elizabeth was right: Norrington's men would be there before he knew it.
He hesitated as he reached the threshold, glancing around at the room that he had called his own for the past weeks. It seemed suddenly devoid of light and color. The sheets, so pristine and white, still held the impressions of his and Ryenne's sleeping figures. He had to resist the urge to bury his face in them, to search for a lingering trace of her scent. There was a package tied in brown paper sitting on the chair. He had put off unwrapping it until he absolutely had to, and now it could wait no longer. He was running out of time.
He stripped his hastily-donned clothing as slowly as possible, feeling as though he were stripping away layers of raw feeling and leaving only a numb haze in their place. It was this haze that allowed him to tear open the brown-papered package and look upon its contents without a stab of regret or distaste.
White shirt. Trousers. He pulled them on without thinking, tied his belt, dragged on the polished black boots. The weight of the new coat felt unfamiliar on his shoulders, the fabric stiff and itchy against his skin. He ran his fingers over the decorative braiding, the brass buttons, the numbness creeping further through him. His back stood to the mirror; he couldn't bear to look. To look would be to say goodbye to the last remnants of Jack Sparrow, the pirate. Jack Sparrow, the free man.
So he did not look. Instead, he wandered from room to room like a ghost, unsure how better to pass the remaining time until Will and Elizabeth returned. Looking out the windows at the street just made him more impatient, but he could not seem to stay away from them. He hoped he could pick out Ryenne's face from the mill of people below. He knew he would not.
Ryenne's room he did avoid – he could not stand the emptiness.
In one room, he caught a glimpse of the nursemaid cradling John. The baby was crying, his tiny face screwed up in an expression of utter outrage. Jack stood for a few moments outside the room, simply watching, until suddenly he couldn't take the noise any longer.
"Here, let me try," he said impatiently, crossing the room to the maid. She eyed him briefly before handing John over with a blatant look of relief. She was gone before Jack could even think to protest that he hadn't intended this to be a permanent arrangement.
He held the baby away from him for a moment, taking in the dark hair that already curled slightly, and the tiny fists that clenched and unclenched with an all-too-familiar frustration. The child had Will's looks. And Elizabeth's temper. Jack allowed himself a small smile.
Little John seemed to sense the change in his caretaker, his wails suddenly dying down to a series of dissatisfied burbles. He eyed Jack accusingly.
"Don't worry, lad. You'll have what you want soon enough." Jack said wryly, and sighed. "At least one of us will." He settled them into the rocking chair by the window. To wait.
Will had always thought of Port Royale as a small place, quaint and fairly quiet. Now that he was looking for someone, however, the place seemed vast and formidable, a veritable labyrinth filled with all sorts of nooks and crannies Ryenne could have disappeared into. He and Elizabeth had searched alleyways, shops and taverns, all with no success. They had combed the market, they had walked the pier. Elizabeth had even charmed her way into the fort to view the outskirts of the island from its parapets. No sign of Ryenne. It was as though she had vanished into thin air.
When he and Elizabeth had hurried from the house, leaving Jack behind with the promise that they would return with Ryenne in tow, Will had thought he knew what he was doing. He was so certain he knew where to look, knew where Ryenne would be. But the little house Jack had purchased stood empty.
The door had been unlocked, and there was a note. It was neatly folded in his pocket now. It said little. All it meant to him now was that they had come too late. And they were running out of places to look, running out of time.
He was just about to suggest they give up searching and return to the house – Jack should have a farewell from someone, Ryenne or no – when Elizabeth gave a sudden gasp and began to tug him down a shabby little side street. The buildings looked vaguely familiar.
"I think we've been down this way before." And there had been no sign of Ryenne then. Why should there be now?
Elizabeth shook her head, something like triumph in her eyes. "I've only just remembered. The boy."
"The cabin boy. Mistress Thayden's apprentice."
The lad, Quinn. How could he have forgotten? He quickened his pace, now tugging Elizabeth along behind him.
The tiny shop sat in a row of others, remarkable only in the hope it had kindled in them. The shutters were pulled and the door shut, but Will gave it a few sharp knocks. There was no sound from within for a few moments, but before he could raise his hand to strike it again, there was a faint shuffling, and the door opened a crack. Quinn's blue eyes peered out suspiciously, then widened as he recognized his visitors.
"Bloody hell," he muttered, opening the door wider. "Master Turner. What are you doing here?"
"I think you know full well, Quinn," Will said grimly. "Where is she?"
The boy shook his head blearily. "She?"
Will gritted his teeth. The boy was obviously being obtuse on purpose. "Don't do this, Quinn. Time is very, very short. Ryenne. Where is she?"
Now Quinn was more alert, his eyes growing round. "I don't know, I swear. She's not here. I haven't seen her since - ." He seemed to notice Elizabeth for the first time. "Oh." He began to slowly inch the door closed, eyeing them like a trapped animal.
Will and Elizabeth exchanged looks. The boy was acting very odd. Was he lying? Was she inside?
Elizabeth made the decision for them. "If she's not here, then you won't mind us having a quick look around, now, will you?" She put a hand on the door to push it open, but Quinn tried to hold his ground, sputtering slightly.
"You can't just come in here – what would Mistress Thayden say, we're not even open yet - " His protestations, however, died under Elizabeth's steely glare, and Will was impressed yet again by how formidable she could be when pushed. He followed her, feeling as if he was suddenly superfluous to the investigation, and Quinn followed him, still muttering and shaking his head.
A sweep of the small, cluttered shop and its back rooms, however, proved fruitless. Quinn had been telling the truth. Now he faced them, arms crossed over his chest, looking more tired and disheveled than annoyed. Will felt like a proper idiot.
He cleared his throat. "Well."
Quinn's blue eyes were flat. "Are you satisfied?"
Even Elizabeth looked a bit sheepish as the boy ushered them to the door. "Sorry to have burst in on you like this, it's just -"
"What's she done now?"
"That sounds like her." Quinn paused, one hand on the still-open door, the other sweeping them out through it. "You said time is short? Why? Whose time?"
"Jack's." Will's heart felt heavy. He would not have good news to bring back to the man whose life, as he knew it, was ending. He would not have Ryenne. He would not be able to say his goodbyes. "He's... going away. He and Norrington..."
Quinn bowed his head, a strange, satisfied smile creeping across his features. "I see. Well," He ushered them the last few steps out the door and into the street beyond. "Give him my best."
The door slammed shut in their faces.
Will could see the disappointment in Jack's face as he descended the stairs, little John cradled carefully in his arms. He knew he should say something bracing, offer some reassurance, but his tongue seemed suddenly thick in his mouth. He shook his head.
Jack's mouth twisted into a weak attempt at a smile. "I take it you didn't find anything."
"Nothing." Elizabeth sounded close to tears. "Jack, I'm so sorry -"
He waved away her apology with a careless hand. "Not your fault. I didn't think..." He shook his head ruefully. "I'd best go gather my things."
Elizabeth nodded silently, holding out her arms for John.
"She might still come back," Will said softly, watching Jack head for the stairs. The other man stopped and gave him another crooked half-smile.
"Thank you, Will."
But Will could see the exhaustion in his eyes, and it made his own helpless fury burn anew at what Ryenne had done. What he had let her do. Even though he knew that she was free to make her own decisions, he desperately wished he had done something to stop her, tied her to a chair, kept her there just for Jack's sake.
What was done was done, though, and there was no going back. A sudden, sharp knock on the door made him catch his breath, and Elizabeth's eyes widened. He glanced quickly at the grandfather clock that stood in the entryway: eight o'clock exactly.
"Punctual, aren't they," he muttered. When he didn't make any immediate move towards the door, Elizabeth gave him a pointed look. "All right, all right."
Standing on the stoop were two impeccably-dressed naval officers.
"Good morning, sir," said the one on the right in crisp tones. Judging by the scores of brass buttons and gold braiding on his coat, he was the higher ranking of the two. A lieutenant, perhaps.
"Gentlemen." Will wanted to slam the door in their expressionless faces. Instead, he nodded at them. "Please, come in. Jack will be down in just a moment."
The lieutenant frowned. "I'm afraid we're in rather a hurry, Mister Turner."
"I understand that, but he'll be just a moment."
They exchanged stiff glances with one another and filed inside, looking vaguely uncomfortable. Will could not blame them – it was, unfortunately, well known that the Turner's had had dealings with pirates in the past. It had earned them something of a reputation amongst the local soldiery. How could they ever trust the two people who had aided the escape of a notorious pirate – the very same notorious pirate they had come to collect? These men were probably under strict orders to watch for suspicious behavior and escape plots. He almost felt sorry for them, standing there in the hall, so incongruous to the warmth and comfort of his home. Almost.
It seemed barely a minute's time – and yet, an hour – had passed when he heard the scrape of boots descending the staircase. Jack stepped into view. He looked another man entirely, dressed in his Naval uniform. Will could not believe he had not noticed it before. For the first time since he had known Jack, the man looked like an upstanding member of society. He also looked careworn and sad.
"Good morning, Captain." Will almost jumped as the officers simultaneously snapped to attention, offering Jack a deferential salute. Was it possible they did not know who it really was they had come to collect?
"Good morning, gentlemen." Jack returned the soldiers' brisk salute halfheartedly, passing his rucksack to the more junior of the two. "I trust you have everything in order?"
"Aye, sir. The Fortune will be ready to sail with the coming tide."
"Excellent," He clapped a hand on the lieutenant's shoulder, forcing a tight-lipped smile. "If you'll give me just a moment, I'll say my goodbyes and we can be on our way."
Another brisk salute and they were out the door, leaving Jack and the Turner's alone in the wake of silence they left behind. Looking up at his old comrade – now a stranger - Will suddenly found that he had no idea what to say.
"I guess this is goodbye." Jack rubbed the back of his neck, would not meet their eyes. Elizabeth reached out to grip his hand. He flinched, but did not pull away.
"Are you sure you don't want us to come with? To the docks?"
He shook his head. "It's easier this way." He pried his hand from Elizabeth's and offered it to Will, finally lifting his head the fraction it took to see his eyes. There was a sheen on them that looked like tears. "Goodbye, Will, mate."
They grasped hands briefly. Will opened his mouth to speak, but the right words would not come. "Best of luck to you, Jack," was all he could manage. This was all wrong; it felt horribly wrong.
Elizabeth's goodbye was not so restrained. Despite any unpleasantness that had been between them in the past, tears ran in streams down her face as she planted a hard kiss on Jack's cheek. "We won't stop looking, Jack. We'll find her. I promise."
He smiled weakly in return, ruffled John's dark hair. "He's a beautiful boy, truly. I'm very happy for you."
The last Will saw of his friend was the flash of sun on the carriage's windows and a grim, but determined, expression.
Ryenne had made a terrible mistake, and she felt it keenly. The crowd swirled around her, pressing and crowding and milling about. Dazed and slightly panicked, she stared with wide eyes around the docks. Everywhere around her was the smell of tobacco and fish and unwashed bodies, mixed with the stinging salt of the breeze and the heaviness of the air. It looked like a storm was building in the north, the dark clouds building and moving towards Port Royale, but not blocking out the sun – not yet.
The docks were busier than she had ever seen them, packed with the commotion of sailors returning from long voyages, and of ships preparing to depart. She shoved her way through them all, searching for some sign of Jack, for someone who could point her in the right direction.
Suddenly she saw him, a small, pale man with a thick sheaf of papers. He stood in the midst of the chaos, but seemed untouched by it, watching and making notes with a practiced eye. The harbormaster. She arrowed towards him, arriving slightly out of breath.
"I'm looking for a man," she blurted out. He looked up with an expression of polite interest.
"My dear, as you can see, there are quite a few of them around. Can you be any more specific?"
She felt like a fool. "He's…a captain. His ship is leaving very soon, and I must see him."
He eyed her from over his spectacles. "Ah. I see. We have three ships leaving on this morning's tide, but I'm afraid I must tell you that the storm has forced us to move the schedule up a bit. We don't want them getting caught in the harbor when it strikes, you see. In fact – " He checked a timetable. "One of them has already left. Do you know anything else? Anything that could help me determine exactly which captain you mean?"
Her heart sank and her breathing hitched, but she racked her brain, refusing to believe that it could have been his ship. "It's a navy ship, and he's…new. This is his first voyage as captain. Please." It was all she could do to keep the tears out of her eyes. "I have to see him."
The harbormaster rifled through his papers, then pulled one to the top. He gave her a kind smile. "Thank you, that's very helpful indeed. I know exactly to which you refer." He read from the sheet. "The Fortune. A King's privateer ship. Destination: the west coast of Africa, orders classified. Captain: George Caelar. Am I correct?"
She felt like she had been hit over the head. George Caelar. That had to be him. But why had he used that name, the false name he had intended to use as a disguise against Norrington? At her lack of response, he gave her a quizzical look. "My dear, are you quite all right?"
"Yes! Yes, thank you. Thank you so very much." She was about to turn away when she realized she still had no idea where she was going. "Um…where can I find The Fortune?"
The little man scanned the long row of docked ships until his eyes lighted on one near the end of the quay. He pointed. "She's just down there. Number seven." He squinted at it, furrowing his eyebrows. "I'd hurry if I were you – it looks like they're just about ready to make way."
It sounded like he was saying something else, but Ryenne was already whirling away, running through the crowd, her eyes so focused on The Fortune that everything else seemed blurred and inconsequential. She was vaguely aware of sailors shouting and cursing her as they were forced to move out of the way, but it didn't matter. He was here. She would see him one last time.
In what seemed like no time, she was skidding to a stop in front of a privateer brig flying the Union Jack, a smaller version of the British flag set against a field of red. Beneath it, another flag flew, though it took her a moment to realize what it was: a black sparrow outlined against a rising sun, set in a field of blue. A cruel joke from Norrington, or had they made it to Jack's specifications? It didn't matter. This was his ship.
And she was too late.
The gangplank had already been rolled away, the lines cast off. If she craned her neck, she could see what had to be the first mate, striding confidently about the deck giving orders. Sailors were everywhere, climbing in the rigging to set the sails, weighing the anchor, and obstructing her view. She scanned the scene anxiously, looking for the familiar build and dark hair, but even through it all, Jack's absence was conspicuous. She watched as the distance between the dock and the ship grew. It was already too late to talk to him, but if she could have just seen him…
There. He was suddenly right there, at the railing, looking down at her as the band of water separating them grew wider. The look on his face was oddly blank, but she held his eyes, willing him to know how sorry she was, that she knew what a terrible mistake she had made. He gave her no sign that he understood, but he didn't break eye contact.
Then the same cold wind that was drying the tears from her cheeks caught The Fortune's crisp white sails, and they bellied out. The ship seemed to leap from the line as it caught the tide, and Ryenne knew her heart was going with it, even as her feet felt cemented to the dock.
And that was it.
He was gone.
She had come to see him off. But she had been too cowardly to say goodbye, to say the words that her absence had spoken all too easily: she did not want what he had left to offer.
She did not want him.
The anger welling up in Jack's chest left a sour taste on his tongue.
Port Royale was disappearing quickly behind him, and with it, Ryenne. He bid them both good riddance. He had other duties to see to now.
"Captain, she's close now, coming up on the port bow."
Ryenne stepped up to the railing and raised her spyglass. The ship they had been trailing behind for days was fast approaching now. Her heart skipped a beat when she caught sight of the name inscribed on her hull – the Fortune. After months of searching, they had found her at last.
With a grin, she turned to address the scraggly man at her shoulder. "Hoist the colors, Mr. Gibbs. Let us give them a proper greeting."
"Aye, Captain." He called the order to the crew, who let up a whoop of celebration. They, too, had been waiting for this moment. The moment they would reclaim their infamous Jack Sparrow.
She raised her spyglass once more, hoping to catch the briefest glimpse of the man himself, but something was terribly wrong. It took her a moment to realize what, exactly, it was.
The ship was closer. Much closer. Too close, in fact.
And her guns were at the ready.
Gibbs was back at her shoulder in a flash. "Captain! She's means to fire on us! What do we -"
His words were lost to the sudden roar in her ears. There, on the Fortune's foredeck, was Jack. His eyes were dispassionate – staring across the vast space, right at her - as he raised his arm to give the order. The spyglass slid from her fingers and hit the deck with a muffled clang.
She had only just opened her mouth to call the retreat when the first cannonball struck.
Ryenne woke with a jerk. It was the same dream she had been having for six years now, and still it made her heart leap into her throat and hammer violently, made her break out in a cold sweat. As always, she could not banish the image of Jack's emotionless gaze from her mind. She would never forgive herself for what she had done to him, and, if her dream spoke true, neither would he.
It was difficult to believe that it had been six years since she had last seen him; six years since he had set foot in Port Royale, and hardly more than five since-
"Good morning, Mummy!" A small body came flying through the bedroom door and onto the bed, knocking the breath from her lungs. Unruly dark hair, flushed pink cheeks, and big, amber eyes. Rosie was her father in miniature, right down to the impish grin on her little face.
"'Morning, sweetheart. Next time, you might try a longer running start. I think Mummy still has a few ribs left unbroken."
"Okay!" Her daughter beamed at her, and Ryenne groaned inwardly. Children, she had come to find, were astonishingly literal. "Will you come downstairs now? We made breakfast for you!"
"Did you, now? I hope you let Quinn do most of the cooking this time."
Rosie's look was earnest."He let me stir the oatmeal, but he said I wasn't allowed near the eggs."
"Remind me to thank him for that later."
"Nothing, sweetheart." Ryenne climbed out of bed, shivering, and pulled on a long, thick dressing gown. Rosie was practically dancing around her ankles, impatient to show off her handiwork. Sometimes, she reminded Ryenne of a small puppy, all ebullience and unburdened joy. More often, she reminded Ryenne of Jack.
Not today. I won't think of that – of him - today, Ryenne chided herself, following her little daughter down the attic stairs and into the tiny kitchen below.
Downstairs, Quinn had spread a delicious repast on their battered table: hot, steaming oatmeal with honey stirred in, thick cream, and a colorful assortment of fruits to go with it. The smell of fried egg and sausage pervaded the air, and there was a handpicked bouquet of wildflowers arranged tidily in Rosie's favorite teacup – the blue one, with the chip in its rim. A plate of small cinnamon cakes took the centerpiece, though, and Ryenne's mouth quirked into a smile. Her favorite. Quinn was just taking the kettle from the fire as she descended the last stair, and the floral aroma of strong-brewed tea made her mouth water.
"Quinn, you've outdone yourself," she said, taking a seat as Rosie flew by in an attempt to pounce on him. He fended her off with one hand, holding the hot kettle as far from her as possible with the other.
"Yes, well. Somebody insisted on more than oatmeal, it being somebody else's birthday today." He grinned down at Rosie, who was suddenly studiously looking anywhere but at her mother.
"I see." Ryenne feigned a severe look, but then broke down laughing at the little girl's chagrined expression. "Oh, darling come here. I love it." She rested her chin on Rosie's hair and gave Quinn a smile. "Thank you, too."
He looked embarrassed, for an instant like the shy boy who had befriended her all those years ago. "It was nothing," he said softly, though his eyes said otherwise. Then he cleared his throat, suddenly back to business. "Elizabeth said she'll be bringing the boys over later this morning. She has a few errands to run in preparation for tomorrow night."
Ryenne pursed her lips as she reached to accept the brimming tea cup he offered. "Will no one listen to me? I don't need a party."
"Nonsense." He smiled down at her, a familiar twinkle lighting up his blue eyes. "We've been planning this for ages. You wouldn't want to disappoint all of us, would you?"
She sighed. "No, I suppose not." The smell of cinnamon cake wafted temptingly toward her, making her stomach rumble and her resistance crumble. "I guess we can discuss it later."
"Thank you." He set the tea kettle back onto the stove and settled himself into an empty chair, allowing Rosie to clamber clumsily into his lap.
Ryenne could not help but smile as she surveyed her little family and the surprise they had so painstakingly prepared for her. Of all the things she never could have anticipated, alone and empty on the docks the day Jack left, the possibility that she might one day have such a wonderful, makeshift home was top of the list.
Quinn had grown into quite the man: his shoulders had broadened out, and with his sparkling blue eyes, warm tenor, and easy laugh, it was no mystery why so many young women frequented his shop for often flimsy reasons. Still, though, he had never had an eye for any of them, no matter how many times Ryenne had offered to find a flat of her own; instead, he had always insisted that she stay with him in the small house that sat behind the apothecary. Once Rosie had been born, it had just made more sense to stay – after all, two were stronger than one alone, and, in a rare fit of honesty with herself, she had realized that she really did need all of the help she could get.
The last few years had not been easy; though Quinn had inherited Mistress Thayden's apothecary when she passed, it didn't bring in much money, and often he and Ryenne had had to take on whatever odd jobs they could find to help stretch their income. They had fallen into a routine: once Quinn had taught Ryenne all he could about the running of the shop and applications of various herbs, tinctures, and poultices, they had alternated the watching of the shop and the carrying out of their other duties.
The populace of Port Royale initially had not reacted all that well to an unwed mother living in their midst, and Ryenne had born more then her share of scathing looks and backhanded comments anytime she dared go to the marketplace. But with Quinn's help, she had learned that carrying herself with dignity and a certain pride had made her untouchable to the more mean-spirited residents, and now she was at least respected, if not completely accepted. Though everyone knew better, they mostly pretended that Quinn was Rosie's father, and not much more was said about it. It was ridiculous, but it worked, and that was all that mattered to Ryenne.
"So quiet all of a sudden! What's going on in that head of yours?" Quinn passed her a cake, neatly quartered and buttered, a playful smile on his familiar features. Ryenne smiled back, feeling tears prick the corners of her eyes. "Is something amiss?"
"No, no – it's all perfect." If only the emotionless gaze from her dreams would leave her alone, it would be. "I'm just happy, is all."
"I'm glad." There was a shadow in Quinn's eyes, behind his smile. Ryenne had seen it there before, but she took the proffered cake and said nothing. She would not think about that – about him - today.
"It's so good to see you again, Jack! It's been too long!"
Ever since he had set foot in port the week before, Jack had put off coming here for as long as he had been able without seeming rude. It wasn't that he hadn't been looking forward to seeing his friends; he had. It was more the worry that they would not want to see him, or would look at him differently. He had been gone for so long. He was different. It would have been foolish to think otherwise.
Fortunately, however, that hadn't seemed to matter to them in the least. Elizabeth had veritably thrown herself at him, and Will was grinning in a way that tore at his heart with the reminder of the adventures they had shared. Now they settled in the sitting room, enjoying the sea breeze from the open windows.
"No one's called me Jack in years. Strange, isn't it? I've been Captain George Caelar for six years, now." His mouth twisted wryly at the thought. His alter ego, the dignified commander; his secret identity, the pirate in hiding. Sometimes it worried him that the feeling of being split in two was fading. When it was gone, who would be left?
"Commodore Caelar, if you play your cards right."
That was the last thing he wanted.
"Not hardly." He shook his head at Will's quizzical expression. "I'm not in Port Royale for a promotion; it's a test. Norrington says there's been an upsurge in pirate activity in the surrounding waters these past few years. He's trying to see where my loyalties lie."
Elizabeth arched an eyebrow. "And where do they lie, Captain?"
"With my family, of course, cousin."
She laughed. "Ah, yes. How could I have forgotten?"
And there they were, falling back into rhythm. It was almost like coming home.
"Perhaps it's because our dear Cousin George hasn't stopped by for a visit in nearly a decade." Will poured them all a finger of bourbon from the decanter and flashed him a smile that meant that he didn't mean it as more than a lighthearted nudge.
Jack matched him grin for grin and swirled his glass of bourbon, inspecting the clear, golden light that shone through it. "A captain's life is a busy one. But you've received my letters?"
"Of course. And you've received ours?"
"Of course. Congratulations on little Jamie, by the way." The thought stunned him as much now as it had when he had first received Will's letter. William Turner, now a father of two boys. Unbelievable. He had been a newly-minted father the last time Jack had seen him. "How does John like him?"
"He's a wonderful big brother -" Elizabeth was cut off by the sudden thunder of young feet pounding energetically down the front staircase. "Oh, and speak of the little devil..."
The door to the dining room flew open and a scrawny, bespectacled little boy scurried in, a pained sort of impatience on his face. "Mum, you said we were going to see Rosie today!"
"We are, but not just yet."
"But, you said -"
"Patience, my little man!" Elizabeth's voice suddenly sounded strangely tight. "Enough of that, now, I want you to come and meet Cousin Jack." She turned the boy around, the better to introduce him.
Jack could hardly take offense at the boy's suddenly sullen expression. In truth, it made him want to laugh. The lad was the spitting image of his father, right down to the sulk. "Pleased to see you again, John."
John glared up at Jack through his tiny wire-rimmed spectacles. "Pleased to meet you, Cousin Jack." He whirled about to face his mother once more. "Can we go now! Today is Ryenne's birthday, and Rosie said -"
"Alright! Alright!" Now Jack understood the change in Elizabeth's tone. "Go upstairs and fetch your brother. I'll be up in a minute." She flashed Jack an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry, Jack. I did promise."
Jack waved her off good-naturedly. "Don't worry about it. I understand."
"You'll stay for dinner, won't you?" She was already halfway out the door, shooting Will an expression that vaguely resembled concern as she went. Jack nodded, hardly noticing. There was something nagging at him now.
"Will, who is Rosie?"
Will suddenly looked distinctly uncomfortable.
Ryenne closed her eyes and tilted back her head, enjoying the feel of the sun on her face, of the sand between her toes. Even living as close to the port as they did, she always enjoyed coming here, where the lip of the land merged with the tempestuous sea. She could think of no better place to spend her birthday than here, listening to the crash of the waves and the squeals of the children as they danced clumsily through them. Quinn had even brought the tattered quilt from his bed to spread over the sand. They shared it now – he, already deftly mending a shirt from the pile they had brought with; she, basking in the warm glow of sun and sea.
"Are you happy, Ryenne?" The sound of his voice, so concerned and serious, seemed suddenly at odds with the peaceful atmosphere. "Truly happy?"
"Why wouldn't I be?" She brushed her hand over his arm reassuringly and smiled, hoping to banish that grave expression from his face. "This is the first time I've felt like part of a family since I was sixteen."
"We could be a real family, you know."
She closed her eyes again, this time in frustration. "Quinn, please. Don't do this again."
"Why not? Ryenne, look at me and tell me why not." She recognized that stubborn tone in his voice and complied, propping herself up onto her elbows and opening her mouth to respond. He was not about to let her, however."Listen to me: I've taken care of you – of Rose – for years. I've helped raise her, I helped bring her into this world. I love her! And I love you!" His hand fumbled for hers on the blankets. She did not have the heart to pull away. "Why shouldn't we be a family? All you have to do is say yes."
She avoided his gaze for a moment. This was not the first time he had brought up such an idea. She was running out of reasons to refuse. It was not that she didn't care for him, it was just that... "I'm too old and broken for you, Quinn. You need a sweet young girl who will fawn over you and give you ten golden-haired children." She sat upright as he started to pull away, rising slowly to his feet. "What about Mary Howard? I've seen the way she stares at you, always coming into the shop for the most ridiculous -"
"I don't want Mary, Ryenne! I don't want a fawning wife and ten children!" He paced a few impatient steps, then changed his mind and dropped back down on the blanket beside her, cupped her face in his hands. He was so close now that she could see the tears forming in his blue eyes. "I want you!"
"This is about him, isn't it?"
She bowed her head, unwilling – or unable – to answer. Reflexively, her hand rose to her throat, where the familiar weight of the amber pendant rested. Quinn's eyes darkened at the sight.
"It's been six years, Ryenne. He's not coming back."
"You don't know that."
"All I ask is that you just think about what I'm offering. Wouldn't you like Rose to have a proper family and a father who loves her?" He held up a silencing hand her pained expression and stood once more. "You don't have to answer now. Just think on it." He bent and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead, then ran to join the children, who squealed delightedly at his arrival.
"We are a family, Quinn," she said softly, watching them. But if they were, why was it so hard for her to just take that final step?
It was past midnight when Jack left the Turner's. The stars were brilliant above the deserted streets, and the moon cast a pale wash of light over the harbor, but Jack had no eyes for it. His mind was fuzzy with drink, shock, and exhaustion, the latter a direct result of the former two. He had tried to leave twice after hearing the Will's news, but both times the other man had convinced him to stay, first with the promise of the full story, and then with drink after hearing it. They had finished the bottle of good bourbon and moved on to the wine that had been on reserve for Ryenne's party by the time Elizabeth had returned. She'd been furious, but after seeing Jack's state, had put the boys to bed and gone out to find more.
At first, Jack hadn't known how he could ever forgive Will and Elizabeth. That they had been able to keep this news out of their letters for all these years…he had barely been able to comprehend it. The scale of the deception was just too big. And damn it all, he had asked how Ryenne was doing, and what she was doing, and whether she had found anyone new. They had only said that she seemed well, she was still there, she was working in Quinn's shop, and that Norrington was pleased with her behavior. There hadn't been a word about her living with him, or…raising a child with him.
It didn't matter that Rosie wasn't Quinn's child. That made it even worse. The fact was that Quinn had been there for her, while he had been off captaining for the King's navy, taking only the most dangerous missions and blindly refusing offers that would have allowed him near Port Royale, even for short stays. He had been too angry to even consider the fact that they might have been able to put things right, if he had just been there. Instead, they had deserted each other, and she had built a life for herself and their daughter. A life without him.
After Will and Elizabeth's apologies had subsided and the drink had set in, however, Jack had realized that it hadn't been their fault at all. They had been trying to protect both him and Ryenne, the best way they knew how. What would he have done, had he known that this had been the result of his and Ryenne's brief time together? Would he have reneged on his deal with Norrington to go back and be with them, even though it would have put them all in danger? There was no way for him to know for certain. Instead, he was now a decorated naval captain with a solid career before and aft, and though it almost hurt to think of it, there was no denying that if he remained on his best behavior, there was the possibility that he could indeed make commodore someday. Who could have ever guessed it of Jack Sparrow, scallywag and outlaw?
No, he understood their motives. It had not made the shock any easier to bear, but it also hadn't destroyed their years of friendship. What was difficult was what to do now. He had a more than adequate income; would Ryenne accept help, if it were discreet and came through Will and Elizabeth anonymously? Judging from what they had said about Ryenne's refusal to accept their help in the past, he doubted it. Should he go to Ryenne and talk to her, find out what she wanted from the damned woman herself? She probably had no desire to see him, and he was admittedly not all that clear on his feelings about seeing her right now. Will and Elizabeth had known not to make him promise to attend the party the next night, but it was still there as a possibility.
He laughed drunkenly to himself. "Happy birthday, Ryenne. Here I am. Glad to see me?" He tripped on an uneven cobblestone, and the echoes of his laughter died against the buildings.
There was only one thing that he knew he needed, beyond any shadow of a doubt: to see his daughter. To see what his and Ryenne's love had produced, those six years ago.
Wandering through the night, Jack paid no attention to where he was until he found himself on a little side street near the docks. The night had turned chill, and he felt his senses returning to him somewhat. Why was he here? He blinked blearily at the cramped little houses and storefronts until his eyes lighted on one in particular. Thayden's Apothecary, Will had said, and there it was, the faded, battered sign hanging above a rough wooden door. There were no lights on, but he trained his eyes on the dark windows of the second-floor garret as if, with enough effort, he would be able to see through them to the occupants within.
The sound of footsteps brought him out of his reverie. It was a guard, making his solitary rounds. He stopped and saluted Jack, who had forgotten that he was wearing the uniform that clearly marked his rank and station.
"Evening, Captain," said the other man. "Anything I can help you with? Not lost, are you?" The guard was clearly trying not to look too curious as to why an upstanding officer was lurking around side streets in the middle of the night, but Jack saw the speculation in his eyes.
"No, thank you, soldier. I was just returning to my quarters. Carry on."
The man paused, then said, "Officer's bunks are all up on High Street. My rounds are taking me that way; I can escort you, if you like."
It would have been suspicious to refuse, so Jack nodded his weary acquiescence, refraining from giving the apothecary one last, longing look.
But as they made their way back towards High Street, where Jack's cold, empty house sat in a pristine line with the rest of the officers' residences, he felt like more of a prisoner of his situation than ever before.
Ryenne could not sleep. Instead, she paced the floor of the tiny attic room she shared with Rosie - back and forth, back and forth. Quinn's words were still swirling around in her brain, refusing to be put aside as they had been so many times before. Why was she pushing him away? Every point he had made was valid. She cared very deeply for him... But did she love him? She wasn't sure.
Her fingers kept restlessly fumbling with the amber pendant around her neck, turning it over and over again.
She had loved Jack, but those days were gone now. She had thrown away her chance to have a life with him, imperfect as it would have been. Now Quinn was offering her a new chance, a chance at something even better than what Jack had had to offer.
He was right, he had taken care of her and Rosie all these years. He had been there, holding her hand through the frightening and difficult hours of childbirth. He loved Rosie as he would love his own daughter. He loved Ryenne. He had provided them with a livelihood and a happiness that Ryenne had never thought to have again. He was sweet, he was loving, he was more than handsome enough... and the best part: he would always be there. Every day. To help cook breakfast and to play with Rosie. He would not disappear, off to sea for months – years – at a time. He would always be there.
And he was offering all of this to her, a broken, damaged woman with no hope of finding another man as good as he. It was generous offer.
The clasp on the pendant stuck as she tried to unfasten it. For a moment, she feared she would have to break the chain to free herself from it. But it was only a moment. The chain made the slightest whisper of sound as she gathered it into her fist, holding the amber up to the weak light trickling in through the window. The stone, once a rich golden cognac, appeared sickly and yellow in the moonlight. Her throat felt naked without it.
It's been six years, Ryenne. He's not coming back.
"You're right, Quinn," she whispered. "He isn't coming back."
It felt strangely freeing to say those words aloud, to abandon the pendant on the cluttered surface of her bureau. Freeing and sad; bittersweet. After six years of waiting and hoping, she was moving on.
The creak of the stairs seemed to echo through the little house. With every squeak and groan, Ryenne flinched, hoping the noise would not wake her sleeping daughter. She needn't have worried.
The kitchen looked achingly familiar, even in near-blackness. Ryenne paused a moment, drawing her dressing gown tighter around her and gazing lovingly at all the little things she had come to take for granted. The bundles of herbs hanging from the rafters to dry, the collection of chipped but beautifully-painted teacups, the wildflowers from breakfast that still adorned the battered little table. All of the small things that brought their home warmth.
The door to Quinn's room was to her right, a mere few steps away. It stood ajar, almost an invitation. With one foot on the threshold, she hesitated. If she made this choice now, it could not be unmade.
His face was serene in sleep, his lips parted slightly and all the cares erased from his brow. But for all his serenity, he was a restless sleeper. His coverlet had been pushed from his shoulders, leaving him bare to the waist and her free to study the clean, muscular lines of his back. He was not the boy she had once known. Not hardly.
One of his arms was folded neatly under his head. The other stretched across the bed toward her, reaching for her even as he slept. Beckoning. Shedding her dressing gown in favor of the thin shift beneath, she obeyed.
The rustling of the bedclothes woke him, and he blinked sleepily at her for a moment, as though he could not believe what he was seeing. But it was only a moment. A small smile played about his lips as he untangled the sheets from his waist, lifting them to let her crawl in. She arranged herself beside him hesitantly, flinching when she felt his arm encircle her waist and pull her tight against him. The feel of his skin on hers was something alien, but not altogether unwelcome. Her fingers traced nervous circles over it, trying to memorize every scar and callous. He did not speak, save for a single, contented sigh.
It wasn't long before his breathing evened again, and he relaxed against her. No matter how hard she tried, though, she couldn't close her eyes. Conflicting feelings were warring within her: how right it felt to be held again, how simple and easy their companionship was, how good he had been to her all this time, and still… how odd it felt to be in his bed. Had she made a mistake in coming here?
Quinn shifted in his sleep and the weight of his arm slid from about her waist. In the moment of its absence, her question answered itself. She rolled over and buried her face in his chest, almost frightened by the sudden revelation: she needed him.
The sound of his heartbeat in her ear soothed her. She pressed her ear against his chest, allowing herself to relax as she listened steady rhythm there. In time, perhaps she would grow to love him as he loved her. For now, this was enough.
Someone was breathing on Ryenne's cheek. Given where she had fallen asleep the night before, she was prepared to make an educated guess about who it was. She was forced to give up this hypothesis, however, when a sticky little finger began to poke her persistently in that same cheek. Rosie had apparently noticed that her mother had gone missing from their narrow bed and come looking. Ryenne sighed.
"Mummy!" Another impatient poke. "Mummy!"
"What is it, sweetheart?"
"Why are you sleeping in Quinn's bed?" There was a groan, somewhere behind her. It seemed Quinn was awake and listening, as well. "Does this mean I can call him "Papa" now?"
"Not exactly, poppet." Ryenne opened her eyes a fraction. Rosie's face was mere inches from her own, her amber eyes wide in innocent curiosity. Her looks weren't the only things she had inherited from Jack; Ryenne was quite certain that she had never been as doggedly curious as this child. Hoping to deter her from further questions, she swung her legs out of bed. "Breakfast, sweetheart? I think we still have some cakes left over from yesterday. How does that sound?"
Rosie's eyes lit up. "We can have cake for breakfast again?" At her mother's nod, she tore from the room, whooping.
Ryenne sighed again. "I'd better go make sure she doesn't bring the house down on us."
"Ryenne..." Quinn's fingertips brushed her arm, attempting to draw her back down onto the bed with him. The question in his eyes shone clear as day: Had she accepted his offer at last?
She replied only with a smile, standing to follow Rosie into the kitchen. "I'll put the kettle on. You'd best get dressed – we both have a long day ahead of us."
It was shaping up to be a very long morning. Already, Jack had supervised numerous repairs to the Fortune's weather beaten rigging, settled a dispute over wages with his second mate Cary, and sat through a formal brunch with the other captains in charge of patrolling Port Royale's waters. All the while, he had nursed a blistering hangover, thanks to his attempts at forced forgetfulness the night before. But he had not forgotten, could not forget: he needed to see his daughter.
Despite the fact that he was now sober and had bright daylight to aid him, the streets of Port Royale somehow seemed harder to navigate than they had been the previous night. It was nigh unto an hour before he found himself on the cramped little side street he had been searching for.
Stopping to survey the area, he decided that the best way to go about it was to be upfront. He had just placed his hand on the apothecary's door when the sounds of children playing echoed from what seemed to be the back of the building. He tentatively made his way down the crooked little path between the apothecary and the house it practically rested against, stopping at a small, whitewashed gate.
On a cramped stretch of grass surrounded by trees, three children were playing – or, as Jack soon saw, fighting. No – he amended his assessment again. Two of the children were fighting, and one, the smallest, was merely toddling about with a long stick in his hand. It was the former two that held his attention.
A boy and a girl, both brown-haired and red-faced from the shouting, were toe-to-toe, their foreheads nearly touching. The boy was John. His glasses were askew, and his fine clothes were wrinkled and dusty. The girl...Jack found himself gripping the wooden spikes of the fence with white knuckles.
The girl looked just like Ryenne.
"You said I could be the knight this time, John! You PROMISED."
"DID NOT! Besides, you're a girl! Girls can't be knights!"
"YES. I. CAN." Each word was punctuated by a whap with the stick she gripped in her tiny fists. Delighted by this new turn of events, little Jamie let out a squeal and toddled over to join in with his own.
Jack did not know whether to step in and save poor, beleaguered John or to laugh. The girl was a spitfire, just like her mother. When John finally managed to wrench the stick from her hands, she came at him with flying fists.
This appeared to be too much for the boy.
"Stop it! Stop it!" He pushed her away, pointing an accusing finger. "You're not supposed to hit! I'm telling on you!" When she stuck out her tongue in response, he disappeared into the apothecary's back door.
Jack took this as his cue to leave. As much as he wanted to simply stand and gaze at his daughter, John would surely be returning with one of two people any minute, and neither was a person he wanted to see. Unfortunately, before he could slip into the shadows of the house and disappear, he was spotted.
"Hello!" How had he neither seen nor heard her approaching? She stared up at him now with those oh-so-familiar amber eyes, her every feature alight with curiosity. "Who are you?"
"My name is Jack." His heart melted when she smiled. "And what's your name, sweetheart?"
"I'm Rosie." Of course he already knew that; Will had told him. Still, it was a pleasure to see her puff up with pride at the sound of her own name. He leaned over the fence, offering a hand she did not hesitate to shake.
"Pleased to meet you, Miss Rosie."
"Do you want to come -" Whatever she was about to ask was cut off by the sound of the back door banging open. Jack took a step back, but it was too late to escape now. A figure was rounding the side of the apothecary, and it wasn't John.
"Rosie, what's this I hear about -" Quinn stopped dead in his tracks as he noticed Jack for the first time. "You?"
"Yes, me." Jack allowed himself a sour smile as he surveyed his former cabin boy, now a full-grown man by the look of it. He had filled out quite a bit, and his looks had greatly improved for it. Jack didn't like it one bit.
"This is Jack, Papa. Can he come and play with me?"
Despite the discomfort of the situation, Jack found himself trying to quash a smile. The way Rosie had opened her eyes as wide as they could go in an attempt to get her way was just too familiar.
Quinn sighed in exasperation. These tactics were not new to him, and the sudden sting of jealousy he felt at that fact made Jack snarl inwardly. "No, sweetheart. Why don't you go inside and apologize to John?"
"Rose, please. Go inside."
Obviously knowing when she was beat, the little girl trudged away, kicking at the grass and muttering to herself.
Jack wiped the half-smile from his face. He didn't like the look Quinn was giving him. There was something territorial about his stance, the way he had planted his feet and moved to block Jack's view of Rosie as she went inside. "You've certainly changed. You're not the scrawny little weasel I remember."
Quinn's voice was dangerously level. "Yes, well, raising a family is hard work. I'm sure it would change any man."
"A family." Jack grimaced at the longing he heard in his own voice. He tried to imbue it with some disdain. "She calls you 'papa,' does she?"
"Yes, she does." He crossed his arms over his chest, refusing to be baited. "Why are you here, Jack?"
Was that triumph in the other man's eyes? Jack wasn't sure. "I'm in Port Royale by assignment, not request."
"Yes, Elizabeth told me you were in town. But why are you here?"
Now Jack was certain it was triumph. He was starting to have trouble keeping himself from lunging across the fence to grab the other man by the throat. "I came to see my daughter." His jaw felt tight with the effort of the words.
"Don't you think it's a little late for that?"
"I don't think it's your place to decide, Quinn." At the flush of anger creeping across Quinn's cheekbones, Jack decided to try to ease the tension a little. Much though he would have loved to beat the other man to within an inch of his life – not the most noble desire, but it would have been dishonest to deny its existence – it was not the kind of thing that he wanted to engage in at the moment. Not with three small children likely to come running if they heard anything. "Where is Ryenne? I'd like to see her."
"She's out," Quinn said, his voice short. "She won't be back till later. Much later."
"I see." Feeling like there wasn't much more to be done for the conversation, Jack turned to go. He was several paces down the path when Quinn's voice came from behind him. He was still at the fence.
"We're engaged, Jack. Ryenne and I are engaged. And we're very happy."
It was like a colony of bees had suddenly set up residence in his skull. The buzzing was all he could hear, and his eyes refused to focus on the dirt path ahead of him. Engaged. He refused to look at Quinn, knowing that if he saw even a shadow of that triumph again he would not be able to stop himself.
He would kill the other man.
So he kept his feet moving. He needed to get away from here, from the daughter who did not know her father, and from the man who had taken the place he should have had in his family's life. He needed space to think, and for this damned buzzing to stop.
Most of all, he needed to talk to Ryenne. Elizabeth had told him he was more than welcome to attend the party they were holding in her honor. Well and good. He would be there.
It had been quite a while since the last time Ryenne had had occasion to get dressed up. Despite herself, she was rather enjoying it. She and Elizabeth had spent the afternoon in Port Royale's most prestigious dress shop, cooing over shawls and laces and silk ribbon. Ryenne had intended to find something to spruce up the lavender frock Quinn had bought her for the Christmas previous. What she had found instead was a lovely creation sewn of dove gray silk that cost at least a month's wages. Or would have, had Elizabeth not insisted on making a present out of it. Chagrined as she was at accepting such an expensive gift, Ryenne could not resist. It was now draped over the only chair in Quinn's room, waiting to be put on.
It was not the only extravagance she had allowed herself today. With Quinn's help, she had hauled the bathtub into the privacy of his room and filled it with steaming water. She had also stolen a bar of creamy, lavender-scented soap from the apothecary shelves, along with a vial of rose oil. It was worth the trouble, though, when she was in her shift again, sitting amid a light cloud of perfume, brushing her hair and feeling as close to blissful as she had in years. She was even starting to look forward to the party – the wine and music and dancing. It had been so long.
Long enough, apparently, that she had forgotten what a trial putting on fancy dresses could be. The laces had seemed easy enough when the seamstresses had demonstrated them – easier than rows of miniscule buttons, anyway – but it was an entirely different story now that she was attempting them by herself. Taking a moment's pause from the stretching, straining and general contortion she had been performing, she entertained the notion that she might have bitten off more than she could chew. But it was no matter – she would simply have to put on her house dress and wait until she got to the Turner's to put on the lovely new gown. She could be patient.
She was already halfway out of the dress when she heard the door creak open behind her. She sighed.
"Rosie, what did I tell you about knocking before you -" Clutching the gray dress to her chest, Ryenne craned her neck to fix her daughter with a stern look. It quickly turned to surprise, however, when she saw who it was she had actually addressed.
Quinn stood in the doorway, as though unsure whether or not he should enter or leave. The strangest expression was on his face; she couldn't quite place it. He had been acting oddly ever since she and Elizabeth had gotten back. She did not know whether or not to be concerned.
He cleared his throat awkwardly. "Elizabeth said you might need some help."
Despite her boldness the night before, she felt suddenly shy and vastly uncomfortable. "It's alright. I was just going to -" She shook her head, averting her face so he would not see her blushing. "You should leave, Quinn. I'm not decent."
"Why should that matter?" He seemed to come to a decision with himself and took a few steps into the room, shutting the door and motioning for her to turn back around. "Here, let me take a look at it."
She said nothing as he crossed the rest of the distance, just watched from the corner of her eye as he came to stand behind her. He had gotten so tall; how had she not noticed it over the years? His presence felt like heat, a palpable wave of desire and longing. He was quiet as he first straightened the laces of the dress, then drew the sleeves up and over her shoulders. The brush of his fingers on her bare skin sent a slow shiver through her. After a moment's hesitation, his hands found their way through the open back of her dress, running up her sides before trailing back down to catch hold of her hips. He was so close now that she could feel his breath on her neck. Something inside her cried out in panic, while yet another part cried out for more.
"I love you, Ryenne." The whispered words were followed by a feather-light kiss, and then another and another, working their way from the base of her throat along her collarbone and onto her shoulder. Her breath hitched, despite herself, and she closed her eyes.
"Quinn, I -"
He sighed, resting his forehead against her hair. "Please, Ryenne. Don't. I need to hear that you love me."
"I do love you," she turned her head ever so slightly, allowing her cheek to rest against his. She hadn't meant to hesitate, but he noticed nonetheless.
She guided his hands gently away from her hips. "But I'm not ready for this. Not yet."
He sighed again, and this time she could hear the longing in it. He bowed his head for a moment, eyes closed and fists clenched loosely at his sides. "I understand."
She felt her heart sinking immediately. She did not want their new life together to start out this way. Taking his face in both hands, she drew him swiftly down and kissed him with all the promise she could muster. He responded immediately, wrapping his arms around her once more and crushing her against him. The kiss seemed to last hours. It was over in seconds.
This time, it was he who pulled away.
"No. This can wait." He planted another gentle kiss on her lips and took a step back. "I love you. I don't want to force this."
She was almost disappointed when he turned her around again and started to fumble with the laces of the dress. And it surprised her. Had she been so lonely, these past six years? She hadn't realized how much she had craved a man's touch until now.
"I really do love you, Quinn." The words sounded hollow, as though she were trying to convince him of their truth. Or trying to convince herself.
"I hope so." The words were so quiet, Ryenne was unsure whether or not she had been meant to hear them. He sighed yet again, still fiddling clumsily with the laces. When he spoke, his voice had a falsely cheery ring to it. "Enough of that, now. If we don't figure out this blasted dress and get Rosie ready soon, I fear it will be the worse for us. Elizabeth said that if I don't get you to the party on time, my life may be in grave danger."
Ryenne laughed weakly.
Despite Rosie's every attempt at thwarting their plan to bundle her into her best dress and coat, Ryenne and Quinn somehow managed to make it to the party intact and on time. It was a good thing, too, for Elizabeth had outdone herself yet again. Ryenne had to admit that it was less than surprising; though the Turner's did not hold social functions often, when Elizabeth saw sufficient occasion, she made the event memorable. Tonight would be no exception.
During her stay with them, Ryenne had never had much occasion to visit any part of the Turner's house that did not directly correspond with her needs. It had been easy to forget that Elizabeth was the daughter of the governor, and easy to only associate their house with the coziness of the sitting room and study. The truth of the matter was that their house was actually quite impressive, and more than capable of accommodating a large number of guests, which it was currently doing. Ryenne was certain she had met half the people in attendance only once or twice, and a handful not at all. Still, it was a merry gathering. People who had never before spared her a passing glance were now wishing her the happiest of birthdays and requesting dances, offering to refill her glass, complimenting her dress and choice of hairstyle. She could hardly breathe, for all the attention.
Thankfully, Quinn remained protectively at her elbow through it all, charming and pleasant where her awkward manners failed. They had barely spoken since their almost-tryst, what with Ryenne putting all of her effort into making sure that Rosie, who hated dressing up, stayed clean and presentable until they had been ready to make their way to the Turner's. In a way, she was glad that they hadn't had time to talk. Her feelings about that afternoon were muddled, and all she wanted to do was enjoy the evening without having to deal with any of the mess she was increasingly aware of being in. If Quinn felt differently about it, he had kept silent on the issue, putting perhaps too much of an effort into acting as if nothing were wrong. It was equal parts worrying and relieving.
He was not the only one behaving strangely. Though Elizabeth had greeted them at the door with a smile and warm embrace, she seemed to grow more agitated by the minute. Quinn had merely chocked it up to the pressures of playing hostess, but Ryenne was not so sure. Every time she tried to find out what might be the matter, Elizabeth waved off her concerns and sent her to meet someone new, and Ryenne began to suspect that Elizabeth was flat-out trying to avoid her.
Finally, she had had enough. Spotting Will lurking by himself near a long table sagging under the weight of pastries and assorted delicacies, Ryenne sidled towards him. He hardly looked pleased to see her coming his way, but he didn't make any attempt to move, which she took as a good sign. Ever since Jack had left, their relationship had been, to put it gently, strained. He had been furious with her the day she had walked out, and though she had tried more than once to explain it to him, their relationship had remained somewhat unstable. Still, if anyone would know what was going on, it would be him.
She busied herself selecting a few pieces of fancily-cut fruit. "Will, is something the matter with Elizabeth? She doesn't seem well. If it's about Rosie and John's fight earlier…"
He eyed her, his expression unreadable. "It's not that, Ryenne. She knows how children are."
Ryenne couldn't keep the frustration from her voice. "If that isn't it, then what is? She's the one who insisted on the party, but if it was going to be too much for her, she should have said something! I can't enjoy this if something's wrong, and she won't talk to me."
Will put down his glass of champagne rather more forcefully than was necessary, his eyes fierce. "You know, Ryenne, you might try thinking of someone other than yourself for a change. You can't enjoy the party?" He had kept his voice low, but the couple strolling by arm-in-arm still looked at them askance. "Did it ever occur to you that maybe, just maybe, if Elizabeth had wanted to talk to you about this, or if she even could have, then she would have?" Making a sound of disgust, he strode away, the crowd swallowing him up almost instantly. Shocked, Ryenne stayed behind, trying to comprehend what had just happened.
"What was that all about?" It was Quinn, the last person she wanted to see right now. He offered her a fresh flute of champagne, the concern on his face genuine. "I thought you and Will had patched things up years ago."
Ryenne snorted, incredulous that that could have been his impression of their relationship. "Not exactly. I didn't know it was this bad, though. I only asked him what was wrong with Elizabeth." She stared into her champagne, watching the bubbles rise and burst.
Quinn remained silent for a moment, then gently cupped her chin, raising her face so that their eyes could meet. "Ryenne, put this from your mind. When Elizabeth is ready to talk to you, she will. Until then…this is your night. You should be enjoying it." The strains of a lively contra dance suddenly filled the ballroom. Quinn's eyes lit up, and he quirked an eyebrow at her. He loved dancing, something Ryenne had always found surprising given his normally restrained demeanor. She, on the other hand…
Ryenne pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes at him, already knowing what she was going to do. "Do I have to?"
He just grinned. "Yes."
The party was already in full swing when Jack arrived. Everywhere around him, the cream of colony society drank champagne and made merry, in honor of a woman who had once made her living from robbing them all blind. If not for the black mood he was in, he might have found it funny. As it was, he simply wanted to say his piece and be done.
He had spent all afternoon mulling the words over in his head. What was it he wanted? He knew the time for Ryenne and he was passed – Quinn had made that clear enough – but Rosie was still young. His assignment in Port Royale would not take him away for many months. He could not stand the thought of spending the time so near his daughter, yet unable to see her. He wanted to get to know her. He wanted her to know him. He wanted her to understand that he had not abandoned her, that if he had only known...
"Jack! I'm so delighted you came!" Though the embrace she gave him was warm enough, the expression on Elizabeth's face said clearly that she had been having second thoughts about having invited him to the party in the first place. He smiled ruefully.
"A generous lie, and I thank you for it." He waved off her protestation. "I don't intend to make any trouble, Elizabeth. I just want to speak with her, just once, and then I'll be on my way."
She nodded sadly, gesturing toward the mill of dancers that galloped about the center of the hall. "She's there."
For a moment, he could not pick her out from the crowd, lost in the riot of colorful frocks and faces as she was. And then, suddenly, she was there, clasping the hand of some hawk-like gentleman Jack had never seen before as she moved through the dance. The sight of her was like a physical blow. It took him a moment to remember how to breathe again.
She looked exactly the same, and yet, like another person entirely. Her face was flushed with laughter and tendrils of hair had come loose from her simple chignon, but her every movement radiated a grace and confidence he had not remembered. He watched, entranced, as the dance took her from partner to partner, spinning and bright-eyed at the excitement of it.
Then one partner in particular took his place with her just as she whirled, losing her balance slightly. He steadied her as she fell against him, laughing. It was Quinn, and way he looked down at her...
Jack turned away, his stomach tight. A server passed by with a raised plate of wineglasses. He snagged one and drained it, nearly choking – the wine was strong, an old, expensive vintage, not the kind meant for gulping - but he didn't care. He needed it, and thus fortified, he went to take his place among the dancers.
"Just one more, Ryenne. Come on!"
She laughed, trying to catch her breath. "I need to sit down. Do you have any idea how much this dress weighs?" She tried to free her hand from his grip, but he refused to let go.
"One more, then you can sit for as long as you like. Please." His eyes were so blue in the light of the candles, his look so earnest. Ryenne didn't have the heart to refuse.
The music started up again, a particularly lively tune that brought pleased smiles to the faces of the guests lining up for the dance, and drew a groan from Ryenne. "Last one, Quinn," she grated out, nonetheless unable to keep a smile from her face.
Once the dance started, though, Ryenne was glad she hadn't refused. She was quickly able to lose herself in the music and the steps, for once glad that dancing had been a part of her education, so long ago. The people moved around her in perfect harmony, and it felt like she was finally a part of them, no longer an outsider to be reviled and avoided.
And then it all came to a shuddering, halting stop. He was there, right in front of her, his hand held up to hers and a gentle smile on his face. Despite the decorated uniform, despite the proper hair and well-polished boots, she knew him immediately.
"Happy birthday, Ryenne," he said, pitching his voice just over the music. Oh, how she had missed that voice. Her own, however, seemed to have deserted her.
She was supposed to be moving, she knew – a simple turn and on to the next partner – but her feet had somehow cemented themselves to the floor. Every light suddenly seemed too bright, every sound was thunderous. Her head was swam, the shock and champagne blurring the lines of her vision. Someone jostled her, uttering a good-natured curse, and abruptly she found her voice again.
"I need a drink."
When they reached the edge of the crowd and yet another glass of champagne was pressed into her hand, she started to come back to herself.
Perhaps not totally back to herself.
Jack's face was solemn as he looked down at her, but there was a hint of desperation in his eyes. She wanted to leave the party, to go someplace with him where there was nobody else to see this, but she couldn't tear her eyes from his face, couldn't make her feet move. He cleared his throat hesitantly.
"I just need to know one thing, Ryenne, and then you'll never have to see me again, if you don't want to."
Her breathing suddenly felt labored. She knew what he was going to ask. Had she waited for him? Was there anything left between them?
God, was there?
She had to stop him before he went any further, so she said the first thing that came to mind.
"How long are you going to be in Port Royale? Are you just here for repairs?" The words were already out before she realized that she didn't want to know the answer to that at all. Jack looked taken aback.
"My commission here is for ten months. Ryenne, I need to-"
"It must be so strange to be back, after all this time. And look at you, how many awards is that, anyway?" She laughed, feeling slightly drunk, and ran her fingers over the gold braiding of his coat. Suddenly he grabbed her hand, looking at it intently. She snatched it back.
"Your hand." He looked confused, and strangely hopeful.
"What about my hand?"
His eyes, when he raised them to meet hers, were indecipherable. "You're not wearing your engagement ring."
"Engagement ring?" Now she was confused. "What are you talking about?"
"Please tell me you know."
"Know what? Jack, you're not making any sense at all. Why would I be wearing an engagement ring?" I'm promised to you. She didn't say the words; she wasn't sure they were true anymore. Her hand drifted, unthinking, to her throat, where the amber pendant had faithfully rested. Until yesterday.
He sighed and dropped her hand, looking everywhere but at her. When he spoke, it sounded more like a confession than an accusation. "I went to see Rosie today."
Ryenne closed her eyes. "Jack, I -"
"Will told me about her. I had no idea, Ryenne." The hurt in his voice cut at her. She had approved Will and Elizabeth's decision not to tell Jack, thinking that it would be easier for him, out there in the world, if he didn't know. "Quinn was there."
"Yes, he was watching the children."
There was a long silence, and then..."He told me that you were engaged. To him. And Rosie... she called him 'papa'. I thought..."
She was having trouble breathing again. It was suddenly so clear. The way Quinn had been acting when she got back, the way he spoke to her, touched her...he had seen Jack, had lied to Jack, and hadn't told her a thing. She didn't realize she had dropped her champagne glass until she heard it shatter on the floor. There was a roaring in her ears.
Quinn had lied to her.
"I'm not engaged, Jack." She could not keep the anger from coloring her tone.
She had trusted him, had felt guilty, even. And he had manipulated her.
"You're not engaged?"
"No, I am most certainly not." She was so angry her hands had begun to shake. She flinched when he caught them in his own, drawing her towards him. There was a blazing look in his eyes.
"Then, forgive me, but there's something I have to do."
Before she had a moment to realize what he was doing, he drew her into his arms and kissed her. It was like lightning coursing through her body, awakening her from a six-years-long sleep. There was another kind of roaring in her ears now.
She realized a minute too late that it was Quinn shouting.
He ripped her from Jack's arms with a violence she had not known he possessed, sending her crashing into the table behind her. Screams rang out across the room as he and Jack collapsed to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs and flying fists. It was Will who ran into the fray to separate them, narrowly avoiding a wild punch thrown by Quinn.
Quinn's lip was bleeding and his face was livid. Two men held him by the arms, keeping him from lunging at Jack. He hadn't stopped shouting the entire time. Only now Ryenne could make out his words.
"Bloody bastard, you've ruined everything, I was so close! I worked so hard, and you had to come back, didn't you, you just had to come back! I've been with them this whole time, and you just had to come back." His eyes were strangely bright, like he was holding back tears, but still he struggled against those restraining him.
Jack had regained his feet, and it seemed as if only massive self-control was keeping him from flying at the other man. When he spoke, however, his voice was level. "No, Quinn. I didn't ruin everything. You did, just now."
Quinn shook his head slowly, a look of incredulous horror creeping across his face. "No." His voice was barely above a whisper. "No." He turned to Ryenne, frantic. "Please, Ryenne. I was only trying to do what was best for us, for our family."
She was suddenly keenly aware of all the eyes fixed on her, the baited breath awaiting her response. A moment ago, she had been ready to throttle him. Now all she wanted to do was sit down and cry. The party had turned out to be a memorable one indeed.
Quinn was still staring at her with that wild look in his eye. She didn't want to look at him, wanted to look anywhere but at him. She forced her gaze to hold steady. "Why did you lie to me, Quinn? How long have you known that Jack was here?"
"Yesterday morning, when Elizabeth brought the boys over. She told me then."
Yesterday morning. But it hadn't been until yesterday afternoon that he had proposed, had tried to convince her that Jack would never come back. She had believed him then. And he had known...
Ryenne felt sick.
Quinn saw the realization on her face and shrugged off his captors, rushing to grab her by the shoulders before she could turn away. "You have to understand, Ryenne. I love you. It was the only way I could keep our family whole."
Now she could not look at him. Her eyes traveled over his shoulder to Jack, who looked even more worried than Quinn. If she had known he was there, only one day sooner... What would she have done? If Quinn had not deceived her, would she still have wanted to leave him, to bring an end to their little makeshift family? Did it matter, now that she knew?
There were tears in Quinn's eyes, tears streaming down his face. Her own was strangely dry.
"Why didn't you allow me the chance to decide for myself?"
"Because I knew what you would choose." His hands ran restlessly up and down her arms, and he closed his eyes when she flinched at his touch. "And I suppose that's my answer, isn't it? I could never compete with him." He released her, wiping the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. "I just need to know: if he hadn't come back... Could you have loved me?"
Her voice was hollow, expressionless. "I would have tried."
He bowed his head. "I suppose that's it, then. Everything we've had, all of the good things..." He looked at Jack, who had made no move to interrupt them, and then back at her. His eyes were empty. "I wish you both well."
Then he threaded his way through the throng of people, and was gone.
Ryenne looked about her at the remnants of the party. Murmurs were already beginning in the crowd, all of these people that she didn't know already beginning to discuss and dissect her life. The knowledge was suffocating. Will and Elizabeth were standing to the side, their expressions a strange combination of horror and relief. The missing tears were just beginning to prick Ryenne's eyes when Jack's hand touched her arm. She looked at him, knowing that for the first time in so long, their desires were in perfect accord.
"Rosie can stay here tonight." Elizabeth's voice was soft. "It's no trouble."
"Thank you." Ryenne shot her a look of gratitude, of apology, before turning back to the man at her side. "I think I'd like to go home now."
She thought she would never see that wonderful smile again. Never before had she been so glad to be wrong.
"I think I'd like that too."
After six long years of waiting and hoping, Ryenne found herself amazed at the change three short weeks could bring. She had worried, those first few days with Jack, that one morning she would wake up and everything would be as it had been; she would find herself sharing a meager breakfast with her fatherless daughter and the man she wanted to, but did not, love. But things were not as they had been: she and Jack were together.
Despite all of the wounds they had inflicted on each other, somehow opening up their relationship had been as easy as opening up a well-loved book left on a shelf. Not that it hadn't been without its share of pain; they had had so much to talk about, so much to relearn about each other, that sometimes it still seemed like an impossible task. Jack was so different, now, the ways of the navy seemingly ingrained into his very being. It hadn't erased the pirate he had once been, but had tempered it, revealing a man of dignity and dedication.
Rosie had been confused about the situation at first, and then angry. Having the man she had thought of as her father ripped away and replaced with this solemn stranger...Ryenne hadn't envied her lot. But she was resilient, as all children were, and soon became fascinated by Jack – especially once he promised to show her The Fortune. The little girl seemed to already have saltwater in her blood, something that both worried and amused her mother.
Still, the child continued to ask after Quinn. The questions grew fewer and fewer by the day, but Ryenne longed for the time when they would cease altogether. Thinking about him was like probing a sore tooth: painful, but reflexive. After moving out of the flat they had shared, she had found herself afraid to venture to that part of Port Royale, worried that she might encounter him on the street. But it hadn't taken long for word to reach her that he had sold the apothecary and signed on with a merchant vessel as second mate. What he had lost, and the loss that Rosie now felt, pained her. After all, his motives had, for the most part, been good, though the deception had been a betrayal that she still could hardly comprehend. She hoped that he would find happiness, but it was a relief to have him gone.
Jack was not so forgiving, but he was always careful not to speak of it around Rosie.
The days began to fall into a rhythm of sorts. Jack rose early to attend meetings at the fort, and she and Rosie spent the hours of his absence adding warmth to the once-abandoned little house that was now becoming their home. A glass of wildflowers that Rosie had "rescued" from the overgrown back garden sat on the windowsill, bright against the faded lace curtains. Spices hung from the kitchen ceiling in bunches to dry. Ryenne was even learning how to bake, and though her attempts thus far had been more than abysmal, she was progressing. The life she had never thought she could imagine in the little house was coming to fruition all around her.
She stood at the window, watching John and Rosie romp around in the garden. They were engrossed in one of their games, the nature of which was unclear, but seemed to involve a lot of throwing of dirt clods. Whatever it was, it brought a smile to her face.
"She reminds me of you." The feel of Jack's arms around her had not lost its ability to make her shiver with happiness. She did not think it ever would.
"Funny, I was just about to say she reminds me of you." They stifled a laugh as a clod of dirt struck John in the chest and Rosie's crow of victory, only very slightly muffled by the window's glass, reached their ears.
"Either way, she's got quite a bit of pirate in her."
Ryenne smiled ruefully, fiddling with the amber pendant around her throat and gazing past her mischievous daughter to the sea beyond. Somewhere out there, the Black Pearl was sailing on without them. And for the first time in years, she did not miss it. She had found her home.