This is the last chapter. Yes, the very last. This story has been short but it has been a great challenge to write, and I felt it was finished now. I am incredibly, incredibly honored by how encouraging you all have been. This has been a delight, as well as a privilege to hear your amazing feedback. I am so grateful to all my dear readers, reviewers, encouragers, and friends. "Legends of the Pirate King" is still in progress, and I will probably begin another at some point. This has been a blast.
Inspiration for this chapter provided by the ballad of Tam Lynn, a legend that I thought profoundly mirrored the story of the Flying Dutchman and the difficulties surrounding that couple we love, sparrabeth. If anyone has noticed, the plot structure loosely follows one of my favorite childhood stories—brownie points if you can guess what it is. (A hint is that the last few lines of the first chapter are very much like the beginning of that story). Before I get more sappy and sentimental, I will say one last "thank you!" and give you the final chapter:
Spoiler: Come on you guys. I am a diehard sparrabether. Do you ever actually think I would KILL JACK!?!? I mean, in a permanent way? I'm insulted.
Even as his heart stopped beating, Elizabeth's broke. She had felt the pain of loss before, the anger, the sorrow… she had walked the long slow road of recovery. But this was different. This was as though the bullet had entered her heart. He was her heart. "You are worth fighting for, and worth dying for. You always have been for me…"
She was on her knees, too late. She had him in her arms, had his blood streaming over her, warm and unstoppable. She pressed her hands to the wound and clutched at his still face, his eyes half-open and glassy.
The gun in Barbossa's hand was still smoking. The faces across the deck weren't blank any longer. And the sun was gaining strength in the sky. Everything would move forward. Elizabeth had to stop them.
She met Barbossa's eyes. Maybe he couldn't believe he had done it. Maybe he was experiencing the twisted delight of revenge. It didn't matter. She was still a pirate, and she was still a king. "What shall we fight for?" So quickly he couldn't react, Elizabeth leaped forward over Jack's body and seized the map. One chance.
"I have fulfilled every instruction here," she shouted to no one in particular. "And now I name my heart's desire—"
"No!" Barbossa yelled, and the men all trained their guns on her, falling forward, fast and decisive.
"My heart's desire is for this man's life," she cried firmly, "the life of Jack Sparrow."
At once, everything around her broke loose.
With only one thought, Elizabeth threw her arms around Jack's body, covering him, shielding him against the sudden rush of wind. A shrill sound, a fiery hurricane's flood of fury engulfed them, beat down upon them, pulled them mightily through dark depths. The ship, the men, the morning vanished from sight. Elizabeth's hair tore around her, her mind silenced by the overpowering roar, her body bruised and nearly shattered by the force of the storm. With all her strength she held Jack in her arms. He was all that mattered. All she wanted. The storm would not have him.
A voice was in the air, a voice that was both familiar and strange, both shrill and commanding. Was it the voice of William Turner, or the goddess Calypso, or her own voice beating furiously around her? The voice said, "You must fight me for him. You must fight for your heart's desire. You must prove your worth. You must fight me for him."
"I will fight," Elizabeth shouted hoarsely into the storm. "I will fight for him, I would die for him. You will not have him."
Again the voice, the voice that was fast becoming the only reality she knew, "If you would have him, you must not let him go. For the moment you do, I will take him and you will forfeit your soul for daring to do battle with me. No one gains their heart's desire so easy."
"You will not have him!" she was screaming. And the storm was screaming back, challenges, ancient horrifying lies of the futility, the worthlessness of love. In her arms Jack was changed, his skin coiled and sliding from her grip, but she held on, tighter than ever. Again he was changed, his skin ice in her grip, freezing her, destroying her insides and torturing her mind, but she did not loosen her hold. And a third time, he was changed, his skin that of burning iron waiting to be hammered into place, and she was seared and scorched by his glowing heat until she could smell the burn of her own flesh. She did not let go. "I love you, I love you, I love you," she whispered over and over to the ever-changing being in her arms. He went on changing— his skin like stinging nettles in one moment, and the blade of a sword the next, still yet a living flame, and then all the pressure of the sea. She had no awareness except him, no thought for herself, no understanding except the pain and the knowledge she must not let go, not ever. The storm would not have him.
And then the storm changed its mind, changed its plan. A dark old way it had, used before on many a hero. Elizabeth's eyes were opened by a sudden noise—the voice of her son, calling to her in despairing tones. "Mother, mum, I'm frightened, where are you mother? They aren't kind to me, they hurt me… oh mother." Through the thickness of the storm she could see him, kneeling and alone in a pool of tears. Her heart wrenched and nearly died, but she did not let go, did not move. And next there was Will, only a child again as well, the boy she had known from a lifetime ago. He said nothing, only looked at her with a gaze as penetrating, as accusing, as adoring as ever she had imagined. The beat of his heart formed each blast of wind, each crack of thunder, each of her fading screams. She saw her life stretching before her—first as a betrayed child, then a willful girl, a romantic young woman, a stubborn fiancé, a determined rebel, a lustful pirate… she saw herself hurting those she loved most, saw herself always at the mercy of fate and destiny. She shut her eyes and clung to Jack, her heart breaking again and again. In her arms Jack was pale as death, yes he was dead… it didn't change anything. The storm would not have him.
"If I gave you away, what would you do?"
"I'd find my way back to you."
She was in one of his nightmares, she began to think. Trapped inside all of his worst fears, and her own. In pain and unable to cry out, thinking she could not win, she was not strong enough to save him. "Yo ho, Yo ho, a pirate's death for me…" She was fighting against everything—every promise she had ever made, every soul she had ever hurt, her past, her present, the very fastness of the earth seemed to rise against her. The storm had once last weapon. Distinctly through the noise she heard Jack's voice, younger and rougher and more persuasive than ever.
"It would never have worked between us, darlin', you see? The price of love is too high for a pirate, after all. It isn't a matter of right or wrong anymore, love, it's a matter of price—you can't afford it."
Alone before the storm, utterly beyond help or hope, she pressed her face into the cold reality of Jack's body. She had already given up everything for him, and would give it up again. She had made her decision the night he stood on her window ledge offering his hand to her… her rescuer… Captain Jack Sparrow. She had betrayed him once and then betrayed everyone else in the world for him. She had made herself a pirate and kissed him once, and then he had made her a pirate a thousand times over again as he changed her understanding of good and bad, right and wrong, life and death. Her decision was already made. "I'm sorry Jack," she whispered in a voice that was barely human. "I don't want to live without you. I went on once before, but I can't again. I won't. I don't care what it costs me. I'll never give you up."
All at once everything stopped. Silence, calm. A soft sunrise on the horizon. An island around them. Elizabeth blinked and tried to understand, tried to take it in—she was drenched and hurt and she could scarce believe… She wasn't sure whether she had fallen asleep or woken at last from a nightmare; whether she had died, or whether she had been brought back to life.
"Lizzie," a voice said. "You did it."
It was Jack. Alive, himself, tangled braids brushing against her, laughing kohl-black eyes meeting hers. With the utmost care he unhooked her arms from around him, kissing the palm of each hand, the soft place on each elbow, the curve of her forearm. Gently he brushed the wet hair from her face, meeting her forehead to forehead, nose to nose, and then at last, mouth to mouth in a deep, honest kiss.
"You've won your heart's desire," Jack whispered, looking around at the island,their island, feeling the warmth of the sun caressing them, the freedom of a new day before them.
"And have you won yours?" she asked, very softly, the hidden corner of a smile playing at her mouth. He laughed, losing his care as he threw his arms around her, and they fell entangled into the sand together.
"Do you even have to ask, love?"
"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there." Rumi.
Sunlight washed over the island in deep waves, over a bright cottage and beyond that, a ship anchored in the bay. The Caribbean breeze stirred the heavy palms that leaned over shimmering blue shallows on the north side. Gulls cried noisily and landed on a rough-built single dock stretching out towards the anchored ship.
A man was coming down the dock, towards the cottage on the island. Sun-darkened, sable haired, his movements were quick and sure and his black eyes were lined with creases from smiling. His garments were simple, his feet bare. He paused to glance ahead, and then, setting down the heavy chest in his hands, he began to run towards the island, a wide, boyish grin on his face.
Elizabeth was already running towards him. They met in the sand, as Jack grasped her waist and swung her around in the midst of laughter and kisses. Golden in the light, Elizabeth rested her face in the curve of his neck, drinking in his scent, feeling the familiar lines of his body, the solid realness of him in her arms.
And then Jack held her back for a moment, nodding his head in the direction of the dock. Elizabeth turned around in a flurry of hope. Her son was climbing down the ladder of the obsidian-black East Indiaman anchored there. Taller, jauntier than she remembered, and looking for all the world like his father. He smiled and hesitated, but Jack gave him a beckoning look and he came to them, fast crushed between Elizabeth's hugs and tears.
Overhead, thin white clouds drifted by lazily, heralded by a thousand shades of blue. The sounds of merriment and laughter traveled towards the house, where a little black-eyed girl tottered in the doorway. Jack swung his daughter up in the air, nuzzling her face before he gently guided young William inside.
On the threshold, Jack took Elizabeth into his arms and kissed her with deep passion, reveling in the salty taste of freedom. "You're home," she managed to whisper, caught between pleasure and pure happiness. Her son stood beside her, returned to her at long last. Her daughter sat at her feet, the girl's head covered in soft brown curls. And Jack bent close to kiss her again, his face shaded by the Westering sun, his mouth warm and his smile exultant.
"I'm home," he returned, both profoundly content and darkly mischievous as he kissed her again. The trade winds were picking up outside, carrying the call of exotic lands and unfound treasures, brisk and sharp with adventure. Jack and Elizabeth stood in the doorway allowing the wind to wash over them, breathing of it deeply, letting it rush away with the darkness of the past and carry new possibilities for the days ahead, and then Jack held out his hand to Elizabeth. "My lady," was his bright invitation. Elizabeth looked out the door over the bay, where the sun was setting into an unbounded horizon. And then she turned back, a smile on her face, and took his hand.