Sea Turtles and Mermaids
Of all the ways Elizabeth had imagined Jack Sparrow coming back into her, she never would have expected the way in which he did. She had put young William to bed not more than two hours earlier, in hopes of having a moment to herself. She didn't begrudge the child for he was her life and sole source of joy, but there were times when the chores of motherhood were overwhelming, she felt guilty for pining for the freedom of her youth and so relinquished her melancholy thoughts to the hours of William's slumber.
She stepped outside, careful not to let the rickety door creak as she pressed it closed. Pulling the shawl up around her shoulders, she fought the urge to shiver. She had endured worse in her lifetime and the climate on the bluff where her cottage overlooked the sea was hardly severe. There was no wind that night; the earth itself seemed to hold its breath. Elizabeth inhaled, but couldn't smell the ocean. It unnerved her. Wrapping her arms around herself, she took one last look at the horizon and went inside. It was still years until Will's return and his parting words left her nothing but remorse in the space between.
Stepping into her son's room, she assured herself that he was asleep and placed a kiss on his forehead. She returned to the dining room and went back to drinking her now cold tea.
A loud crash sounded outside the door. She flew to her feet, adrenaline inducing sudden alertness. She hitched up her nightgown and retrieved the shiv strapped to her thigh. She had given up many things in the past five years, protection had not been one of them. She strained to listen, but there was no other noise or forced entry. Running quickly into the kitchen, determined to catch whatever it was unawares, she threw the window open and climbed through, she landed on her feet soundlessly, but not without jarring her knees. Straightening up with a grimace, she forced herself to remember that she wasn't a girl of nineteen anymore. Knife in hand, she stalked around the house.
It was dark and hard to see, but she could make out the form of a man leaning against the doorframe with his back to her. She took a few steps closer, holding her knife in front of her.
"Step away from that door or I will put my knife in you." She said firmly.
The man shifted a little, but made no attempt to heed her words. Elizabeth frowned, anger starting to bubble inside her. "I swear it," she shouted, "Turn and face me, you coward!"
The man's hand shot out and caught the other side of the doorframe to steady himself as he turned. A glint of silver caught by the moonlight on the man's outstretched fingers made Elizabeth's breath catch in her throat. It couldn't possibly…
But as the man turned to face her, even with dark hair shadowing his blood caked face, he was unmistakable.
"Jack." Elizabeth gasped with horror as she saw him.
"Couldn't answer the door like a normal bloody woman?" he growled. He smiled devilishly at her and then his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed to the ground before Elizabeth reach his side.
Once Elizabeth got over the initial shock that Jack Sparrow was there in front of her, she had been able to shake him back to consciousness and prop him up on her shoulder. He had walked inside but leaned heavily against Elizabeth. She managed to get him into a chair and then went to get towels and a basin of water.
"Are you alright? You're bleeding." Elizabeth said, dipping the towel into the water and wringing it.
"Just a few scratches and bruises. Had much worse than this before." He said with a grimace. Elizabeth pressed the towel to the large gash on his temple and he hissed and jerked away. "Bugger fuck, Elizabeth!"
She raised an eyebrow at him and gently blotted at the wound. "Perhaps more than just a scratch, then?" she reprimanded him. She tossed the cloth into the basin. "We need to clean you up. I'll draw a bath."
"Don't need a bloody bath. What I need is rum. Lots of rum. Rum by the barrelful."
"Drink this," she said, handing him a glass of water, "And when you're clean, you can have rum."
He glowered at her, but nodded. "Alright. Where's the loo?"
Once Jack had sunk into the steaming bath and scrubbed his face clean, Elizabeth pulled up a stool to the bathtub's edge, eager to catch up with him. She noticed that without the dirt, blood, and kohl ringed around his eyes, Jack looked haggard. Dark circles and wrinkles made him seem gaunt and aged, and it broke Elizabeth's heart to see him this way.
She touched his shoulder, signaling him to lean forward so she could scrub his back. She carefully wiped the dirt and grime from his back to reveal scars and tattoos.
"What has the world done to you?" she whispered, remembering when she asked James the same question on Tortuga.
Jack looked back over his shoulder, giving her a dark look. "Demon lampreys, run in with a shark, cannibal pygmies, laced opium, the French, and a one armed pirate named Walter. Not in that order."
Elizabeth could not help but smile. That was Jack, ever lacing the truth with fiction. She did not doubt that he had suffered much in these past five years, he had the bruises to show for it, but she didn't know if pygmies and demon sea creatures were the likely cause. She sighed, thinking that she would never know the real Jack. He was there, right in front of her, naked even, but webs and walls and unspoken desires were layered between them.
"How did you get here?" she asked, trailing the washcloth over his shoulder and over his collarbone. She tried not to examine his exposed skin too carefully.
His lips curled into a smirk. "Sea turtles and mermaids." he murmured. He must have seen the frustration in her eyes, because he caught her wrist in both his hands. Elizabeth dropped the washcloth and stared into his obsidian eyes. All traces of his smirk had disappeared, seriousness remained in its place.
"Elizabeth, let's not. It's been five years. I'm fine. I can handle it from here." he gestured vaguely about himself.
Elizabeth nodded, handing him a towel from the cupboard. "I'll have your rum ready for you." She said, slipping out of the bathroom.
Leaving a bottle of rum on the kitchen table, Elizabeth went to go check on William. She stood in his dark room, watching the steady rise and fall of the boy's chest. It was a few minutes before she heard the footfall of boots on the wood floor and warm breath on the back of her neck.
"You have a child."
"Do you think I'd have stayed in this tiny shack for five years if I hadn't?" she shot back.
"He's perfect. Looks just like his mother. Wonder if he'll have her penchant for murderous adventure. Or perhaps a lovely singing voice, taking after his father?" Jack said.
Elizabeth could hear the tease in his voice. She hit him playfully on the arm and led him back into the kitchen.
"I can't stay." Jack said suddenly, "But thank you for all of this."
"Jack, you can't. Not yet." Elizabeth said, tearing stinging her eyes. She felt cheated to have him back for only a fleeting moment.
"I must. Barbossa is days ahead of me now. The world will be a sorry place if he finds the Fountain of Youth before me."
"You'll come back, though? And please don't wait another five years before you return." She pleaded.
"Of course," Jack replied, "You think Will and I would leave you behind?"
Elizabeth shrugged and then found herself wrapped in his arms. He smelled of soap, nothing like the pirate she had once known. She clung to him, reveling in the comforting embrace. For five years she had done nothing but give of herself, and she had forgotten what it was to be on the receiving side.
"You will taste immortality with the rest of us, Elizabeth. And your son too, if he wants it. Keep a weather eye out for my colors and your beloved flash of green. We'll be back for you soon enough." Jack released her, and went to the door but not without snatching the bottle of rum of the table before leaving.
"Goodbye, Jack." Elizabeth whispered with a smile. But he was already gone.
That night Elizabeth slept in the same bed as her son, his light breath tickling her skin. A smile of hope never left her face. She dreamt of mermaids and sea turtles, and eternal adventures out on the turquoise seas.