Shadow and the Soul
by She's a Star
Disclaimer: Pirates of the Caribbean, shockingly, is not mine. Sorry to disappoint anyone.
Author's Note: I must confess, I lived a life more or less largely indifferent toward Pirates of the Caribbean until a few weeks ago. I saw the first one when it came out, enjoyed it quite a bit, and got mightily indignant about the fact that Will and Elizabeth were the canon couple when obviously Jack and Elizabeth were snarky, sexy, subtextual perfection. I distinctly remember blaming it on the fact that it was a Disney movie. Then, I saw the trailer for Dead Man's Chest, and with it, a split-second of the gorgeous J/E almost-kiss. I was hooked. Enthralled. Surely my wildest PotC-related dreams hadn't come true! I waited for the movie with something akin to desperation. And now that I've seen it twice, and my J/E-related prayers have been answered to unfathomable proportions, I am kind of hooked.
And, really, it is nothing short of a natural progression that fanfiction should follow.
This is basically a set of four ficlets, the first two taking place during/after key J/E scenes in the first film, and the second two taking place in the second film.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
-Pablo Neruda, 'Sonnet XVII'
Elizabeth is not exhilarated.
She is terrified.
After all, that is how a lady is supposed to be, when they've just been held captive by a pirate. This is a fact that doesn't cross her mind until her maid reminds her of it, but she muses upon it afterward, her fingertips tracing the medallion's familiar curves.
How very lucky she is, to be here now, safe in her warm bed in her home, the cold aftereffects of a brush with death being steadily ebbed away by the warmth at her feet. The entire encounter still seems rather surreal.
In a dreadful sort of way.
After all, it isn't every day that one comes face to face with a pirate.
Oh, this is no good. Feigning ladylike terror is pointless. In truth, it thrills her to her toes.
And not just any pirate, either, but Captain Jack Sparrow. She's read about him over the years, admired his cunning and his skewed sort of bravery. The twelve-year-old Elizabeth that has been buried under studied grace and embroidered handkerchiefs is positively giddy, recalling the sight of him.
For he'd certainly looked the part: swaggering and defiant, hair unkempt, dark eyes lined with kohl. He had smelled of all sorts of forbidden things: sea air and liquor – like freedom, she can't help thinking.
(Oh, but she is indecent, she concludes with a slight smile, and closes her hand tight over the medallion.)
And yet he had been undeniably odd – what sort of pirate goes about saving young ladies in distress, anyhow? Judging by what she's read, it is hardly a particular habit of Jack Sparrow's, either. She wonders what this means, if anything at all. She can't help enjoying the idea that he'd considered something about her to be worth saving.
This is precisely the sort of thing she isn't supposed to enjoy, of course: he'd proven himself an appalling scoundrel right away, pulling her unthinkably close to threaten the Commodore. She still recalls, vividly enough that it is almost like living it all over again, the sound and feel of him breathing against her, the tickling of his breath as he murmured into her ear. And then having her put on his things for him – it had been nothing short of grotesquely sinful, his maddening nearness and her fumbling hands; she flushes indignantly at the thought. There had been a quality of an embrace to it, no doubt infuriating her father and the Commodore out of their minds, and she realizes now with a start that it had been by far the closest she's ever been to a man.
(Although, in scandalous truth, she has imagined what it might be like, to be so close to Will – Will; shy, proper, terrified Will, who will refer to her as 'Miss Swann' until the day she dies, old and alone and owning an indecent number of cats. That is, so long as she keeps conveniently fainting through all of Norrington's proposals, which does not seem much of a challenge.)
How funny, and how fitting of her, that she should be pulled close for the first time by a pirate – disregarding the reason, of course.
Pirate. Pirate. Pirate.
It stays in her mind like a prayer, like the sweetest of songs.
Elizabeth is not drunk.
She is a proper lady, after all – after nineteen years of etiquette and dulled-down smiles and clothing nothing short of sadistic, she'd be furious if she wasn't. Just because she is on an island, most scandalously underdressed and swigging rum (never mind that ladies only sip) with an infamous pirate does not mean that she has entirely rid herself of decency.
After all, she has a plan. It's not as though this is for nothing.
She takes another admittedly unladylike swig and cannot help giggling as Jack warbles his way through the song she's taught him. He is, of course, entirely loathsome, but that doesn't mean she can't like him a little.
What's more, the firelight suits him quite well – he is all sharp angles and shadows, and despite the fact that he is currently pulling a most peculiar face (although, granted, the line "and really bad eggs" nearly seems to demand it) she can't help finding him oddly handsome.
That will be the rum talking, of course.
She feels quite flushed as she stares into the fire. Come morning, she will be rescued, and in her right mind, and none of this will seem nearly as important or as strange. It is all only a matter of waiting.
"Right, then," Jack says abruptly, abandoning his new favourite tune in mid-verse. "Now, this won't do at all."
"What?" she asks, caught off-guard and afraid despite herself that he's somehow read her thoughts. She sets down the rum bottle and crosses her hands primly in her lap.
"When one has been introduced to a song as great as our present little ditty – and I have you to thank for that, love," he throws in, waving a hand in vague acknowledgment, "–they surely can't in good conscience just sit still, now can they?"
"In good conscience?" she can't help inquiring quizzically.
"Figure of speech," he amends dismissively, making her giggle again. She really quite wishes he would stop that. "But the fact of the matter is, darling, that we are in dire need of a bit of dancing."
"Dancing?" Elizabeth spits the word out the way she dearly would have loved to her first mouthful of rum.
He grins. "Precisely."
Well. The very idea is preposterous.
"I—I refuse!" she sputters.
"Oh, come now," Jack encourages, waving away her protests. "I promise not to mock you mercilessly."
"Mock me?" Elizabeth repeats indignantly. The nerve of him! Indignation and liquor singe her veins.
"Well," Jack amends, "maybe a little bit."
She is enraged. "I'm hardly the one who can't so much as walk without stumbling all over the place, thank you!"
"Swaggering all over the place," Jack corrects, holding up an admonitory finger. "There's a difference."
"There most certainly is not," Elizabeth snaps, and crosses her arms in front of her chest. "If anyone's dancing prowess is to be mocked mercilessly, it will certainly be yours, Mr. Sparrow."
"Oh, shut up," she grumbles.
He contemplates her for a moment before shrugging. "Suit yourself, love."
And without further ado, he is leaping around the fire like a madman, slaughtering the poor defenseless song with flourish. She tries to focus intently upon precisely how much she despises him, but the rum and the firelight have stirred a giddy warmth in her and almost without realizing it, she begins humming along.
Feeling reckless, she reaches for the abandoned bottle of rum and takes a most unladylike swig. It's almost pleasant, she decides, in a revolting sort of way. Strangely intoxicating.
And then, all of a sudden, her free hand is caught by one of his; she is dragged to her feet, and Jack beams devilishly at her as he bounds around the fire, beginning a fresh chorus of yo-ho's. She finds she can do nothing more than watch – this apparently is not satisfactory to him.
"I have to tell you, Elizabeth darling," he calls from the opposite end of the fire, and momentarily ceases his leaping in favour of faintly less obscure head bobbing, "you're the most abysmally-boring-while-inebriated person I've ever encountered. Which is saying something indeed."
"Miss Swann," she corrects archly, and cannot shake the sense that she is fighting a battle that has already been lost. "And I'm not drunk, thank you!" She cannot resist adding, after a moment, "Or boring."
And suddenly, he is very close, his eyes sparkling. "Prove it."
She leans into him, an answer to the challenge. "Maybe I will."
He appears to be most intrigued indeed. "Oh, really? And how . . ." an errant hand drifts forward, toying idly with a lock of her hair, "do you plan to go about doing that, eh?"
The fire throws out sparks to light his face (his mouth, she most certainly does not think) for an instant before reminding her why it burns in the first place.
Elizabeth pulls away from him and twirls gracelessly, without abandon; "Drink up me hearties, yo ho!" she cries out, more a shout than a melody.
He stares at her for a second; stumbles; and then there he is again, without a doubt the most preposterous man she's ever met, answering her – "A pirate's life for me!"
He is laughing and soon, so is she; they run circles around the fire like barbarians and he catches her waist and spins her 'round and all the world seems to fade and go utterly clear all at once. Her eyes catch his and she feels dizzy (and oddly enthralled, as though she might choose never to look away). Very dizzy indeed, looking at him.
But that will be the effects of the rum, nothing more. Perhaps she is a bit drunk after all.
Elizabeth is not curious.
She loves Will – and with good reason. Will is handsome and noble and good; Will is everything she's wanted for the last half of her life, and the first time she'd kissed him she'd felt like a fairytale princess waking up. With Will, she will always be beautiful and sacred and safe. In his arms, she becomes untouchable by anything else.
With all her heart, she most certainly loves Will.
Trust Jack not to understand the first thing about love. Well, Elizabeth capitulates, she supposes he knows certain kinds – he certainly thinks highly of himself, after all, and he speaks of his beloved Pearl only in the most reverent of tones. But that's the sort of man he is: no understanding whatsoever of the finer kinds of love, the kinds that inspire poetry and sacrifice. What was that he'd said, before he'd recognized her at the dock at Tortuga? "My first and only love is the sea." Granted, it was an attempt to escape unwanted attention that was perfectly typical of him, but perhaps there was some truth in it regardless.
Which is perfectly fitting. After all, he is a pirate. If a pirate is to love anything, it's the sea.
The man is in essence Narcissus with a very pretty boat. He'd certainly never dream of sinking so low (and that's the way he would think of it, no doubt: 'sinking') as to truly care for a woman, especially not her.
This is perfectly fine – splendid, in fact. Elizabeth doesn't like him at all.
She enjoys him, she will grudgingly admit – but that's hardly the same thing as liking. Perhaps it's because the first time he'd seen her properly, she'd been lying on a dock in her undergarments with her hair all in wet snarls – hardly the image of a proper lady – and thus, he's never treated her like one. To him, she is only Elizabeth, no matter how many times she might instruct him to call her Miss Swann (a pursuit which she has finally given up) – Lizzie, even, for only he would dare to be so bold. He sees her just as she is, and it's both a blessing and a curse: it is lovely, to not have to pretend to be beautiful or selfless for a little while. Even with Will, whom she loves with all her heart, she can't quite allow herself to be the way she is with Jack – Will is so pure, so dear and good, that she finds herself trying to be better in his presence. She doesn't care nearly enough about Jack to bother trying to impress him.
She doesn't know precisely what it is that drives her to stand so close to Jack; to let the first thing that pops into her head fly out of her mouth, regardless of how inappropriate it might be. A need for freedom, she supposes – for Jack is certainly that. And she does like the way he fights back: instead of capitulating because she is a woman, allowing her the final say in some maddening act of gallantry, he matches her every word and action – talks crueler, steps closer. She likes the sense of not quite knowing whether she will win.
But this business of any of that meaning something – now, that's ridiculous. Norrington's jeering, and the stupid bloody compass – she's rather tempted to throw the both of them overboard. She and Jack are only playing with one another, that's all, but she doubts she would ever have the slightest amount of success attempting to explain as much.
It's the sort of thing that doesn't need an explanation, she decides crossly. For what is there to say about it: silly, never-ending arguments and his constant pronouncing them two peas in a pod and the maddeningly faint brush of his hand against her face, her eyes open to watch his close in willful surrender.
Elizabeth snaps the compass shut.
They're equals, that's all, and what could be more dreadfully unromantic than that? It's hardly a matter of the heart, of desire.
Elizabeth is not sorry.
For there is no sense in apologizing for doing the right thing, the only thing. What can't be sacrificed in the name of the greater good? This is something she understands, something everyone should understand, something she tells herself over and over again that he would never bother to, for all the goodness beneath his devil-may-care exterior.
It was the only way. It's as simple as that.
And so she will lie here in the dead of night pretending to sleep, and she won't imagine Jack's blood on her hands; she is no murderess, and no siren either – spinning her words and actions like hypnotic melodies, leaving men to crash against the rocks. She did the only thing that she could do, and she'd do it again (and again and again she does not think, does not recall the dizzying millisecond where it stopped being a distraction and became a kiss goodbye). After all, captains are meant to go down with their ships.
Her eyes are open because closing them brings back the image of his face; the faint traces of a smile turning up his mouth, his dark eyes stripped of mischief and pretending, instead filled with a simple admiration. If she hadn't damned him already, by necessity, she would do so now of her own free will – damn him for not staring at her in loathing, disappointment, disgust the second he felt the shackles close around his wrist. He'd done the worst thing he could possibly do: he'd looked at her with reverence. Jack Sparrow, with his brazen selfishness, his unyielding devotion to himself and the sea and nothing else, had looked at her as though he'd loved her. He'd granted her absolution at once, without so much as contemplating the necessary things: betrayal, hatred. He'd had the nerve to save her: him, the one man she'd counted on never to so much as try. (But then again, a small maddening voice in the back of her head reminds her, that's how you met, wasn't it? At the beginning, he saved you.)
In the dark, she bites her bottom lip hard to stop the tears she will not cry, her mouth still haunted by the taste of his.
It is silent, but she hears him.
Pirate. Pirate. Pirate.