Disclaimer: I don't own it, I just amuse my fancies with it.
A/N: This is what came of 5 hours of polticial debate at a high school conference. Ha ha. Please enjoy it.
Sparrabeth, post AWE
Water was still all around the port--except for the few, infrequent swells rolling lazily towards the docks and beaches, stirred by a ship hidden just behind a towering rock formation, cloaked in velvety night, and the approach of a small row boat. The dock wobbled slightly and creaked as he stepped into it, the wood's protest against the heavy tread of his leather boots disrupting the sleepy silence of the Caribbean night.
He made his way through the deserted town street-littered with apple cores and other signs of daily activity—and up a slight hill to a statuesque wrought iron gate that stood guard before a winding path. Pulling a key from a silk ribbon as his neck, he conquered the fate easily and closed it behind him with the softest metallic clink.
The familiar gravel path leading up to the majestic gothic mansion looked in the summer night so different than it did in the blinding light of day when he has so often before walked it. The fresh, sweet-smelling grass, kept at bay by her meticulous gardener, was cast in a shadowy, mysterious glow of the full moon—looking almost other-worldly. He felt every miniscule rock acutely as he walked, every step seeming to crunch louder than the first—no doubt alerting the whole damned town to his stealthy arrival at the home of that 'ruined governor's daughter'.
That was it, was it not? Ruined, rebellious—hussy. Those words they whispered behind their hands with narrowed eyes and raised brows when she appeared in the town—words that never seemed to break her skin, he noticed, when she told him of their slurs with derisive laughter. He smirked, remembering. Held her head high she did, and walked past them all like the lady—king—she was. He passed the austere front entrance, with its gilded stone doors, and veered off the path around the rear of the mansion.
He stopped; looked up. Had he ever been here in summer? No...Always in winter or in autumn, or at the first touch of false spring—the cold months he knew must be hardest. And never at night, never. His eyes scanned the face of the mansion, drawn almost instantly to the French windows encircled by a stone balcony. One window stood open, and the warm summer breezy stirred the curtains—he knew them to be cotton—on the inside, making them dance and flutter. Her room, her windows. He knew them, memorized the one window out of many from turning around as he left and seeing her face behind the curtain, eyes following him ceaselessly as he made his way down the cliffs to his precious Pearl. Every time he saw her; every time I was agony to let her be. Because that's what she always asked of him. Let me be, Jack. Let me be.
He entered through the servants' door, and intimate entrance, a door he'd so often before slipped through to surprise her in the daylight hours. It led through the kitchen, where unclean dishes from supper were left forgotten in the sink—the mark of a maid's procrastination.
He stood in the grandiose entrance hall now, under the crystal chandelier. Why was he here? Why was the pull to this terrible Eden so much stronger than ever before? Because he'd tasted the forbidden fruit; because of that bloody compass. Something had changed last time. Physically, of course, but an imperceptible emotional crack as well—and now that stubborn
needle barely twitched from one set direction. Now…it was if he needed her, His focus was shattered. He shouldn't be here. I'm going mad.
Up the stairs. The glossy marble banister was ice cold; the soft thump of his heavy boots seemed to reverberate loudly all over the house. He paused for a moment on the landing and looked down to the hall where he'd just stood. The floor was immaculate. He slid his palm along the smooth stone railing of the balcony that led to the numerous rooms of the house.
He was out of place. An invader in the nightly serenity of her home, uninvited, sometimes the bearer of companionship and a cause for laughter—but that was during the day. When she was guarded. Restrained. More often, he was the cause of instability, or confusion in her eyes. He knew the turmoil he caused her, but he say the loneliness in her, and he came because while she couldn't decide where she stood or what she needed, he could appease his selfish want to see her. He could interrupt her life, watch her smile, and make her laugh. His sporadic visits—those dangerous forays into her world that almost overstepped the carefully drawn boundaries of platonic—were unpredictable to say the least. Sometimes she was warm, glad to see him, other times cold and reserved. His presence gave her a respite from the emptiness of her days, yet she often leapt at him like a frightened cat—claws and all. The fought. There were times they almost slipped to a point of ultimate taboo, but it was always she who held onto the edge with all her might. She kept everything level. Balanced. She had…until the shattering dénouement of their last meeting. He'd never forget that night—or the morning after. Her tears. Shame in her eyes. Just go, Jack. Please. Let me be.
A pale flickering of light danced on the floor from where her bedroom door stood ajar. He grasped the edge of the door and pushed it open gently, avoiding the creak its old fashioned hinges sometimes emitted.
Her room was cool; the open window let in a warm summer breeze that stirred the curtains on her bed and window and teased the candle's flame. A full moon outside the window cast the room in a silvery glow, almost making the solitary candle unnecessary. He could see the outline of her figure from the door way, asleep on the white satin sheets of her bed. He swallowed and moved towards the bed, stopping at the edge where the moonlight fell over her.
The covers were rumpled around her; she'd fallen asleep on top of them. A book lay open next to her, face down on the bed, its pages bend. Her sleep was untroubled and angelic; her chest rose and fell in steady rhythm and a mass of bronze curls cascaded over her shoulder, spreading over the pillow. She wore a summer night gown, white cotton and cut low; it bunched around her thighs, sliding up as she'd shifted in her dreams. He closed his eyes. The woman could give him a heart attack in her sleep.
He wanted to touch her, to draw his thumb over her lips, comb his fingers through her heavy silken curls, run his hands over every inch of her smooth, unblemished skin, kiss her until she cried his name. How would she react, awakening to him at her bedside, watching her, invading
the privacy of her vulnerable nights? She stirred in her sleep, shifting her arms. A loose strap fell off her shoulder, baring her neck and the dip between her shoulder and collarbone. He moved forward, picked up the forgotten book, and laid it closed on the nightstand. He couldn't stay here. The sight of her, lightly clothed, beautiful and tempting, elicited both a raw need and a deep longing. He let his eyes sweep over her one final time, clenching his fists, digging his nails into his palms, and left her room, etching every detail of the clandestine scene into his memory.
He stood in the hall, bracing himself against the wall, breathing ragged. Never again. He could never come here again. She was better off; he was better off. No more chaos, no more self-destruction, lies, tension—only her, left in peace to her monotonous days as faithful wife and only him, drowning a sharp longing in rum and whores and tossing that compass to the bottom of the ocean. Leave her alone. It was what she asked for, what she claimed she wanted. End the teasing and the haunting, the pain, the uncertainty, and the frustration. Say goodbye to this wicked game.
He turned his back to her door and looked down the hall. There was the boy. Her son, who—according to her—idolized him. He would look in on the boy, finish his self-appointed duty of skulking night guardian, and make sure he left the house in peace. It was easier this way, at night, to say goodbye. When he couldn't see their eyes. They need never know he'd been here.
He stepped away from her tempting door and moved towards the end of the hall, where the boy's room was. A soft noise distracted him; he stopped, listening, sure he'd awakened someone. Nothing. He shook his head, telling himself he was imagining things, and started forward—when he heard it again. Soft. Almost like a kitten's mewling. He glanced to his right, trying to gauge the direction of the sound's origin; he was level with an open bedroom, one he'd never known to be in use before. He considered the opened door a moment, his head cocked. Curiosity got the best of him and he moved to enter the room, perhaps to prove it was nothing more than a cat. Pushing the door fully open and stepping inside, he discovered how mistaken his assumption was.
The room was flooded in moonlight so bright there was no need of any other illumination. He could clearly see, courtesy of the uncovered, white-washed window, the bassinet that stood before it.
He swallowed hard and approached it in a few soft strides, a muscle in his jaw jumping agitated. He rested his palm lightly on the cloth-covered edge and looked in, his pulse hammering. This was no cat.
The baby was stirring fitfully, nestled among blankets of white and pink silk. A girl. He gripped the edge of the bassinet; his knuckles turned white. He reached down and fingered the silk blanket, broken thoughts colliding in his mind, his instincts reeling. The girl stirred again, her soft kittenish cry louder this time, and without thinking, almost instinctively, he picked her up before she woke the household with impatient wails.
She squirmed slightly, furled and unfurled her fists, and turned her head towards the crook of his arm. She seemed so small, so breakable in his arms, her sleeping face angelic with an innocent he hadn't seen in the world for years. He touched the silky down of dark hair on her head gently, thinking of her mother's light copper curls. It was as if the entire world fell silent around him, broken only by the muted chirp of crickets outside the window—until her heard the quick, soft flutter of footsteps behind him. His muscles tensed at the sound of the voice he longed to hear.
She sounded disbelieving and scared; he turned to face her, his features stoic and his eyes searching, unsure of what to expect. She looked small and uncertain, standing in the doorway, her captivating hazel eyes wide and her lips parted slightly. Her copper hair cascaded over one shoulder and down her back, messy from sleep but beautiful all the same. She shook her head slowly and stepped forward, pressing her lips together briefly to stay their trembling. She looked from him to the baby and met his eyes again; her shoulders shook slightly a d she blinked, trying to hide her tears from him. She always hid her tears from him.
There were so many things he wanted to do at the moment. Hold her, scream at her, make love to her, shake her—he wanted to see her tears. But all her could do was look at her, unable to draw his eyes from her amber orbs. And her eyes mirrored his—full of the same pain, guilt, regret, anger, and angst his hid behind a rum-induced glaze…but also, in her eyes, was present a deep sadness, a crushing loneliness that penetrated him to the soul. The silence between them was heavy, agonizing; he didn't have to ask her. He knew. He knew when he walked in the room; he knew when he heard her shivering voice. He broke the silence, his voice more brittle than he intended—but soft and unthreatening at the same time:
"What's her name?"
She seemed to compose herself at the question; she averted her eyes, folded her arms around herself in a protective gesture and licked her lips. She answered quietly, almost steadily, and he heard shame and humility in her tone:
She spoke the nickname as an afterthought, perhaps out of habit and affection. She was looking back at him now; her head still tilted, her dark lashes wet and heavy, shielding her eyes. His stony gaze never wavered, he didn't know what he felt—anger, or despair, he couldn't place it—and before he knew it, he asked:
He couldn't finish. Didn't have to; she answered him with the tears that spilled over her pale cheeks.
He turned from her, back to the bassinet, swallowing hard again, unwilling to let her see the emotions in his eyes. He touched the baby—Felicity's—soft hair again, accepting her, and settled the now soothed infant back into the downy silk coverlets. She slept now, unaware of the atmosphere around her, and he let himself watch her a moment, gripping the edge again. Felicity. Lissy.
He took a step back and when he turned around, she was there. He didn't think; he reached for her and held her shaking body close to him, one hand resting gently on the back of her head. She reached for his lapel, gripped him tightly, as if it were her who bound her to life. Her fingers fluttered against his neck, he held her gather, letting her press her cheek into the hollow of his shoulder, turn her face against his neck. He felt her heart beating, heard her muffled sobs. He was never going to let her go.
"Elizabeth," he breathed, his voice almost husky, his lips pressing against her hair and the crown of her bowed head.
She was murmuring now, he could feel her warm breath against his neck, her soft lips grazing his skin. He felt her cleave closer to him, gripping his hair, and her choked whisper reached his ears:
He didn't answer. This wasn't the place for her to finally lose her resolve—not with a precariously sleeping infant mere feet away. He put his hand over hers and removed it from his neck.
"Not here," he said rather gruffly, brushing tears from her cheek as she lifted her face. "Come," he led her from the room, his face still unreadable, gripping her arm firmly above the elbow.
Her arm was tense in his grip, her breathing short and uneven. He shut her heavy bedroom door behind them and, opting to avoid the bed, pressed her against the wall, leaning into her—and here she really started to cry.
He pulled her head against his coat again, tangling his fingers into her messy hair, trying to quiet her. Her crying tore at his soul; her heart-rending sobs displayed pent-up emotion that he knew—that he had partly caused—had finally overwhelmed her after all these years of austerity, solitude, and denial.
He kept touching her hair, kept his one arm firmly around her waist and pressed against the wall behind her back. He pressed his lips against the top of her forehead and clenched his teeth, staring at the wall behind her, desperate to ease her distress. He moved his arm around her shoulders, squeezing her, and she clutched his shoulder—and in a thick, muffled voice, repeated her misplaced apology.
He couldn't stand to hear her say those words again. He lifted her face to his, hand on her cheek, and found her eyes:
"Why do you keep apologizing to me?" he demanded quietly. She looked back at him, still half sobbing, caught off guard, obviously not expecting his question. She licked her lips and her voice shook as she answered:
"I hid—I kept her from you. I let myself, I—"
"That's not your fault," he interrupted sharply, tightening his fingers in her curls. "She's not your fault." He softened his voice and began a gentle massage of the back of her neck in an effort to soothe her. "How could you have told me, love?" After all these years of coaxing her to stop hiding from him, he just wanted her tears to stop.
She just looked at him with despair in her eyes and shook her head with trembling lips. He loosened his grip around her shoulders and pressed her until her back was against the wall. He rested his hands on her shoulders and waited until they stopped their shaking, until her breath came easier.
"Elizabeth. Tell me what happened, darling." He commanded quietly, rubbing his thumbs in circles against her shoulder blades. The motion seemed to calm her; she gathered her breath shakily and spoke rather steadily:
"It all runs together, the days after—after you left. Everything was so much harder after that…night. I felt like…I'd lost everything." She swallowed hard and averted her eyes. Her voice lowered and she spoke thickly: "I found out I was pregnant—I think I knew all along. I didn't want to believe it; I remember—remember staring at my reflection and thinking…this is the end. And then I got up and took the days as they came…some were harder than others. When it really—really sank in I…" She looked back up, her eyes glittering wet again, and reached up with tentative fingers to touch is cheek. "I guess I hoped you would show up again. I thought of you. I," her voice caught again, and she swallowed to clear her throat. "I wanted you her...with me."
"You told me never to come back, love."
"Yet here you are."
The corners of her mouth turned up a bit, in a sad, ironic smile. He drew her to him again, twisting her curls around his finger, his chin resting lightly on her head.
He stared at the wall behind her, hearing her words over and over in his head. He thought of her alone in this empty house, bearing their cross on her already heavy shoulders, facing living proof of their indiscretion. And he, who had haunted her home all these years, teasing and tempting
her, felt the weight of blame on his shoulders. He had called her bluff, and this was the consequence of indulgence. He was guilty.
Elizabeth pulled back, pressing her palms against his chest. She looked at him, pressing her lips together, and turned her head away, looking at the floor. She looked so ashamed. Jack reached out and pressed the knuckles of his fingers against her damp cheek, but she pulled away at his touch and walked towards the middle of the room, hugging herself, her back to him.
He felt everything between them acutely: breached trust, hurt, desertion, lust…sadness. Everything was clear, out in the open. It seemed that now was the defining point in their affair. So many things hung in the balance, so many doubts; uncertainties. There could be happiness, there could be heartbreak. But he was going to take the chance.
Jack went towards her, stopping a few steps from her turned back. He reached out and lightly took a strand of her hair in his fingers.
"I never should've come," he said. The words, bitter and sorrowful, said everything. That he regretted his selfishness, the pain he caused her, the years of unrest. It was his way of giving her back control of her life, of the chance to tell him, once and for all, to let her be Elizabeth Turner, wife of the Dutchman's captain. And in those words, in his tone and gentle touch, he gave her the words he'd never said and left it to her.
Elizabeth turned as the last words left his mouth, her hair pulling out of his hand and tumbling down her back. A single tear fell from her eyes as she raised them to his face, barely hesitating.
"No," she corrected, "you never should have left." And in that, conveyed her regret in her lies, denial. That she had been too afraid to take what she wanted and end the trial that endlessly wounded them both. That in the end, no one was preserved and everyone got hurt. That she needed him.
"I didn't want to hurt Will," she said quietly, her eyes darkening. She focused on his shoulder, suddenly remembering her promise to another. "I don't know how I'll ever explain…her. Felicity. When he comes. I broke my vows, my promise to him," she let her hand slip from Jack's arm and turned toward the fluttering curtain. He followed her onto the balcony, overlooking the majestic cliffs that formed the island's border against the night ocean. She turned to him, her hands behind her, gripping the railing; she was bathed in moonlight.
"He can't change it," Jack gave, leaning against the window's side, keeping her in his sight. His words told her he wouldn't stand for any abuse towards her when that one day came. "He'll accept it," he said with finality.
"It won't be easy," Elizabeth said softly, a soft wind stirring her curls. Jack's responsive laugh was far on the sarcastic side.
"Nothing is easy. Haven't ye learned that yet?"
She allowed a small smile at his jest, and pulled her arms to herself, crossing them. Vulnerability crept back into her eyes and she tilted her head to the side slightly, as if gauging his credibility.
"This will never work," she said, half-heartedly, raising her eyes to the sky, more than half serious. She was afraid to let herself depend on him. Afraid to offer up her heart and her children's to this man who was the essence of freedom. Jack was in front of her in an instant, holding her hands against the railing.
"Never say never." He muttered against her lips, pulling her head back to indulge in a kiss full of passion and finally freed desire. It was all worth it to be able to kiss her with reckless abandon, and to have her give back with all the surety of true feelings. She pushed gently at his chest, releasing his mouth, and raised an eyebrow at him, her cheeks flushed. For the first time in these long years, the sparkled with something akin to mischief. This was his Lizzie.
"Was this not what got us in trouble in the start?" she queried, stopping him a moment. She slipped her arms around his middle beneath his oat, and in an instant of quiet seriousness, asked:
"Do we just put everything behind us? The fighting and the things we've done to each other? And hope it doesn't haunt us?"
With equal seriousness, he leaned her over the balcony and, holding her curls in his hand gallantly, threw her words back in her face.
"Let it be, Lizzie."
What would happen, would happen.
Reviews are appreciated