A Delicate Predicament
A/N: All notes from Part 1 still apply, except Anamaria isn't in this part. So, without further ado, on to Part 2, and the conclusion of our tale ...
As they made their way to the docks, Elizabeth was aware of Jack watching her surreptitiously from the corner of his eye, and wondered—not for the first time—what he was up to. His initial hostility at their reunion, she had halfway expected. It had always been thus between her and Jack—fire and ice, taunts and teases, insults and verbal sparring. But this sudden change in him … this solicitousness, this handling her as though she were made of delicate, fragile porcelain … disquieted her. What had changed from the time she stepped away, to embarrass herself in the alleyway rather than in front of Jack, and the time she returned?
And how would he take the proposal she intended to make him?
In one thing, Jack had been correct. She had regretted not having had a chance to give him a proper good-bye. Though she had decided, that day on the rain-soaked, battle-besieged Pearl, to tie her future to Will's, she could not deny that there was … something between her and Jack. A connection that defied definition.
Over the past weeks, her night-time dreaming, which had once been filled only with Will, and sweet memories of their one day together, began to change … Jack's face, Jack's body, coming to replace Will's … Jack, holding her … Jack, kissing her … Jack, doing all the delicious things she and Will had done with one another …
… and more …
And she would awaken … trembling with want, burning with need …
Jack, whom she had dismissed from her life, and likely would never see again.
Here. Now. Again. With her.
Like a miracle.
Or, like my worst nightmare, come to life, she thought, seeing again his cold eyes, hearing the bitterness in his voice, back at the Faithful Bride.
Was it too late? Did he truly hate her that much?
She nodded a brief greeting to Tai Huang as she and Jack boarded the Empress, told him he was in charge for the night, and steered herself and Jack straight for the captain's cabin. Once there, Elizabeth wasted no time in offering Jack a seat, pouring him a glass of obligatory rum, and getting straight down to business.
"As I told you at the Bride, I've all but decided to give up the Empress." At Jack's smirk, she quickly added, "And, no, not because I've also decided to give up piracy. The plain truth is, Tai Huang and his men want to return to familiar waters … they never bargained on plying the pirate trade so far from home. And I have no intention of making Singapore my own base of operations. Everything I lo—" She caught herself in mid-word, felt her cheeks flush as Jack looked sharply up at her, eyes dark and penetrating, then quickly revised, "Everything I know is here. I'd be as much a fish out of water in Singapore as they are here in the Caribbean. Besides …" she lifted one shoulder in a small shrug, "A Chinese junk, in these waters, is hardly inconspicuous. And, as you well know, conspicuity is not an asset when it comes to eluding the notice of the Royal Navy."
He gave a half-smile and a bob of his head, the bangles in his hair flashing with candlelight at the motion, and her heart lurched as she realised how much she had missed the mere sight of him. "I do see your point, luv."
"And as I have no intention of returning to Port Royal (for obvious reasons), or for that matter to Shipwreck Cove (for more complicated ones), my thought was to join up with another Pirate Lord. You see, these weeks on the Empress have impressed upon me just how much I need to learn about captaining a ship, and commanding a crew. I have learned much from Tai Huang about the workings of the Empress, but eventually I will need a new ship, and it occurred to me it would be best to ally myself, at least temporarily, with an experienced captain, one able to school me in the areas where my own experience is rather … lacking."
Jack seemed lost in contemplation of his rum, for he remained silent for a moment, staring into his glass, before replying, "And did you have a specific Pirate Lord in mind for this … alliance?" His eyes flashed with dark humour as they flicked back up to her, "And if you dare say Hector Barbossa, I swear, I'll draw me pistol and shoot you where you stand!"
She hesitated, suddenly unsure of herself, just as she was equally sure that he already knew what she was going to say. That he was taking inordinate pleasure in making her say it … "Well … it had occurred to me … What I mean is … I thought the ideal solution would be …"
Jack sighed with mock impatience, the bright gleam in his eyes belying the truth. "Just spit it out, Lizzie. Tell me what it is you want." He smiled, slow and wicked. Oh, yes … he was enjoying this, all right!
She closed her eyes briefly, opened them to find his eyes still fixed intently upon her. "I thought … I could come aboard the Pearl. Be a part of her crew, while you taught me everything I needed to know…"
There was a brief flicker of triumph, of satisfaction, in his eyes. "Give up the Empress, eh? And come aboard the Pearl?"
"Yes," she said, simply.
"With me?" he purred.
She could only nod in assent.
She was surprised by his abrupt snort of laughter. "Perhaps you would like to reconsider that course of action…"
Her spine stiffened as her heart dropped into her boots. He doesn't want me. Not on the Pearl. Not in his life. "I'm serious, Jack…"
He looked at her, eyes dancing with amusement. "I've no doubt you are. However, there's only one small problem with that plan, darlin'."
"And what's that?"
The laughter in his eyes diminished, as a strange expression, akin to a wince of pain, crossed his face. "The Pearl's not here."
It struck her, then, that she hadn't seen the Pearl in port when she arrived. That was why she had not expected to see Jack at the Faithful Bride. It had never occurred to her that Jack would be there, without his Pearl. "What do you mean, not here?"
"I mean, not in Tortuga. Not, as far as I know, within a hundred bloody miles of here."
She had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. "Oh, Jack … you didn't …? Not again …?"
His expression turned sheepish, and he fidgeted in his seat. "Aye. I've lost her … to Barbossa. Again."
"Oh, Jack …! When … How?"
"A little over a fortnight ago. We stopped here to restock supplies … and to give the crew a bit of shore leave … a chance to take advantage of the comforts one cannot find onboard a ship." At her sharp look, he added. "You understand, Lizzie. Men have needs, don't they?"
They certainly do, she thought. And women do, too …
"And is that how you lost her … Barbossa took her whilst you were seeing to your own 'needs'?"
Jack squirmed under her gaze, and she was sure she had hit the mark with unerring accuracy. "No need to go into details, luv. Let's just say I was otherwise occupied when Hector decided to reassert his spurious claim as captain of the Pearl."
She suspected what Jack meant by "otherwise occupied" and felt a stab of jealousy piercing her heart…
"I see," she said, tersely. "And have you any idea where he might be bound?"
His grin returned. "I know exactly where he'll be bound … thanks to these …"
He opened his coat, reached in and pulled out a long, tubular object, which he placed on the table in front of him, and unrolled, revealing …
She sucked in breath, sharply. "Barbossa's charts!"
"No, luv," he slanted a wicked grin. "Sao Feng's charts … my charts, now!" His grin widened. "Finders keepers, darlin'. A core principle of the Pirate Code!"
"Like Barbossa and the Pearl…?" she said, archly.
He grimaced. "That's entirely different, luv." His voice lowered to a possessive growl. "The Pearl is mine. She always has been, from the very first."
She finally started to understand her role in Jack's plan. "I see. And you, being without a ship at present, hope to enlist my aid … and my ship … to pursue Barbossa, and take back what you consider yours."
The grin returned, at full-bore strength. "Knew you'd see it my way, luv! Great wits jump together, eh?"
She held up a hand. "Now, wait just a minute, Jack. I know the Pirate Code, too, and there's another key tenet which, I think, needs to be considered. Namely: What's in it for me?"
His grin faltered just a bit. "Besides the supreme satisfaction of thwartin' Barbossa yet again, and helpin' me regain the Pearl?"
She shook her head. "Not sufficient incentive. Try again."
He seemed nonplussed a moment, then, brightening, stabbed a finger at the chart, at a point along the Florida coast. "See here, Lizzie? The Fountain of Youth! That's what Barbossa's after—a permanent cure for death! Eternal life. Think of it … what it would mean if I could secure a quantity of the Aqua de Vida! You and I, luv … we could become immortal!"
She gave a snort of disbelief. "Fables and legends, Jack! Don't you think that if there really had been this famed 'water of life' that it would have been found, long ago?" She fixed him with a steely gaze. "Still not enough!"
Jack's face darkened, and he threw up his hands in frustration. "Lizzie, why can't you just be a good egg—do a favour for an old friend, out of the kindness of your heart—and lend me your ship? After all, you won't be needin' it, soon enough."
She flashed him a confused glare. "And what do you mean by that?"
Jack started squirming again. "Well … that other little thing you were goin' to tell me. That private and personal thing …"
"And how do you know what I was going to tell you?"
"Well, it's obvious, luv … isn't it?" He waved an elegant hand at her, sweeping her form from head to toe.
"Perhaps you'd care to enlighten me." Her eyes narrowed. "What is it you think you know?"
"Well … about … you know…"
"I'm afraid I really don't know. And even if I did know, just how did you come to know it?"
"Well … Anamaria told me!"
Now she was completely confused. "Anamaria? And how does Anamaria enter into this matter?"
"She was there … back at the Faithful Bride. She told me."
"I see. And how in bloody hell would Anamaria know what I was going to tell you?" Her head was starting to spin, and she pinched the bridge of her nose, feeling perhaps the beginnings of a headache coming on. But that was an expected collateral effect of talking with Jack Sparrow. His circular conversation, at times, was enough to make anyone dizzy!
"Well … she's a woman, luv. Women know these things… particularly about … other women, and … well, women's things…"
Elizabeth's heart skipped a beat. Was it possible? Had she been that obvious? Had Ana been able to see… to recognise… what Jack, apparently, was blind to? About her feelings for him…?
"Oh, yes … of course. And just what did Anamaria tell you?"
"About … well … about your … er …" His voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper, and his eyes peered knowingly into hers, as if they shared some deep, dark secret, "… condition?"
"My condition?" she parroted. She had absolutely no clue what Jack was talking about. "What condition?" He opened his mouth, and she held up a warning finger. "And if you say 'well…' again, I'm going to go find one, and bloody throw you down it!"
"You know …" he said, making a series of arcane gestures in the direction of her person, the meaning of which were entirely a mystery to her, and in fact looked no more or less than Jack in the throes of some sort of spastic fit.
"Jack, I've already told you, over and over, that I really don't know!" she said, her patience near the breaking point. As he widened his eyes, and his gesticulating became even more pronounced, she said, in exasperation, "And would you tell me what, in God's name, has gotten into you?"
He stilled, and again he gazed keenly into her eyes, his lip curling suggestively. "The pertinent question, I believe, darlin' … is what, exactly, got into you … about six weeks back, I'd say?" At her blank expression, he went on, but with a hint of uncertainty lacing his tone. "You know … the baby."
Her face froze in shock as the meaning of his words finally became clear. She surged to her feet, the sudden rush of motion setting her head reeling in earnest. "The what?!"
He surged to his feet as well, reaching out over the table to grab her arm in a firm yet gentle grip, steadying her. "The babe in utero … the junior whelp … the little Ferryman … the pending pirate princeling…"
Her face went through a series of strange contortions. "But … I'm not … I mean, I couldn't be …" Her expression finally settled on wide-eyed horror, as Jack helped lower her gently back into her chair. "… could I?" she finished, weakly.
He cleared his throat, and looked away briefly, as though in embarrassment, before continuing, in lowered tones, "Ana told me to ask you … when's the last time you had your courses, luv?"
It was a question she hadn't expected. She thought back, her mind feeling thick and sluggish, like so much treacle. So much had happened over the past few months … she hadn't really been keeping track … never really had cause to, after all. What need had a virgin to chart the phases of the moon, to know when she might conceive, or not?
But she wasn't a virgin anymore, was she? Not since the island ... not since she and Will had …
Elizabeth sucked in her breath, closed her eyes and whispered, with feeling, "Oh, bloody buggering hell!"
She dropped her head into her hands as the truth hit her full-force. How could she have been so stupid? So deaf and blind to what her own body was telling her? Granted, she had had many … distractions … over the past few months. But still …
She felt something brush across the top of her head, and realised it was Jack's hand, stroking her hair. Jack's arm, stealing 'round her shoulders. Then the other arm as well, pulling her into a loose embrace.
"You mean … you really didn't know?" Jack murmured into her hair.
"No, I truly didn't." She laughed, rather manically. "You know, I've been rather busy these past few months … what with freeing you from the Locker, losing my father, almost being ravished by a delusional Asian pirate who was convinced I was a sea goddess, seeing said pirate impaled and killed before my eyes, being captured and imprisoned on the Dutchman, escaping, watching a man I've known since childhood get skewered by my fiancé's cursed father, becoming a Pirate Lord, then a Pirate King, preparing a fleet for a war we couldn't possibly win, but somehow did, seeing my brand-new husband pinned to the deck of a sinking ship (do you detect a theme here, Jack, about the men in my life and pointy objects?), having my life saved, losing my virginity, saying good-bye to my husband for the next ten years, and to the man who repeatedly saved my life, having to rebuild said saved life and find my own way, alone, in a strange and hostile world …"
She drew a deep, shaky breath. "And now, on top of it all … this." She sighed. "Oh, Jack … what am I going to do?"
There was a moment of silence, and then his voice came again, gentle and tentative, "Well, luv … I understand, from women whose occupation requires them to know such things, that there are methods women can use to become … unpregnant …"
She pulled away from his arms and stared up at him, letting the horror show in her eyes. "Oh, Jack … no! If I am … with child … then it's Will's child … it's a part of him, and of me. I could never destroy that child. Never!"
Jack's smile was warm, comforting. "Somehow, I knew that was what you were goin' to say! But the question remains, luv … what are you goin' to do?"
'You' … not 'we' … she noticed.
Even though he was there, with her, she suddenly felt all alone … and a bit afraid.
"I don't know, Jack. I've never been in this … situation before. What do ladies usually do, when their husband's gone, nearly everyone she's ever known has … passed on, and her present 'home' is a pirate ship?"
"Well, if you're givin' the Empress up, as you say, it might not be your 'home' for long." He smiled. "However, once I get the Pearl back … perhaps …"
Her heart leapt. Was he saying what she thought he was saying? It never was advisable to take things for granted with Jack, but even knowing that, she felt a small spark of hope flicker to life within her …
"In the meantime … perhaps it's best we return immediately to Shipwreck Cove … get you settled in there, snug as a bug, while I'm off trackin' down Hector and his ill-gotten gains …"
She turned the possibilities over in her mind, then nodded, having come to a decision. "All right, Jack. You may use the Empress to pursue Barbossa … to win back the Black Pearl …" she held up her hand as a satisfied grin lit his features, "but on one condition." His grin faltered a bit, as though he suspected what was coming. "That I go with you."
He shook his head, resolutely. "Definitely out of the question!"
She stiffened, and threw him a challenging look. "Why?"
He huffed and sputtered, his voice rising in disbelief. "Why? Because you're … well … you know." He swept his hand up and down, taking in the entirety of her body.
"I'm what?" She set her jaw in determination. "Helpless? Incapable?"
He rolled his eyes. "You know that's not what I mean!"
"Do I really, Jack? Then perhaps you should explain to me exactly what you do mean…"
"I mean, you can't bloody well go gallivantin' all over the Caribbean, while you're … increasing."
"And why not? Does being pregnant make me less of a pirate? Not fit for sailing? For God's sake, Jack, I'm not even showing! I don't even feel pregnant …" She recalled getting sick in the alley, back at the Faithful Bride. "Well … outside of a spot of nausea now and then. But that will pass. In any case …" she shivered, despite herself. "I am not going back to the Cove! There's something about that Captain Teague that absolutely unnerves me …"
Jack crooked a smile. "Be careful, luv. Truth to tell …" He seemed to hesitate a moment, before confessing, "…the man's me father."
She shot him a pointed look. "Well, I suppose that explains a lot…"
"And, despite all the rough waters that exist between him and me, I can say with absolute confidence that the man would never hurt you. In fact, he's probably the one most qualified, and motivated, to keep you safe. Besides meself, of course …" His smile turned into a leer. "But, one word of caution, luv. Though I'd trust the man with your life … tempting morsel that you are, I can't entirely rule out the possibility that he may try to seduce you …" She thought, behind the humour, she detected the flare of heat in his eyes.
Despite her current predicament, she found herself returning Jack's smile. "Like father, like son…" she quipped, recalling the old saying about the apple not falling far from the tree. "But I think not. I don't believe Shipwreck Cove is the place for me."
His face grew serious again, his voice low and earnest. "Lizzie, you really should consider winterin' at Shipwreck Cove, at least until the babe is born. It'll be safer for you, and there're resources there you'd have at your disposal: midwives … a fair to middlin' surgeon (once you sober 'im up) …"
His eyes lit up with exaggerated wonder. "And Christmas is coming up! Nothin' like Yuletide at Shipwreck Cove …" Jack waved his arms about, illustratively, "It's an occasion not to be missed …very festive, with the town draped in swag, rum punch flowin' like water, dancin' and revelry in the streets, and ev'ryone decked out in strange and colourful costumes …"
"And that differs from every day at Shipwreck Cove, how?" Elizabeth retorted, acidly, with an arch of one fine eyebrow.
"Jack, if you're using my Empress to go after Barbossa and the Pearl, I am going with you. End of discussion!"
Jack seemed to deflate. "Lizzie … be reasonable …"
"And 'reasonable' is staying at Shipwreck Cove, with your womanising father and a town full of strangers, when …?"
When I'd much rather be with you …
The unspoken phrase hung in the air between them.
"But you're their king …" Jack pressed on. "That's got to count for something…"
"Jack, be realistic. These are pirates. And there hasn't been a Pirate King in over a century … I doubt they'd show much deference to one now." She sighed. "What it all boils down to, is I'm a woman, expecting a baby … nothing kingly about that."
Jack fell, incredibly, silent.
"And," her eyes narrowed and she lifted her nose in the air, "if I'm Pirate King, and you are one of my lords, then … in my capacity as your liege, I command you to take me with you!"
"Lizzie…" he whinged.
"Jack!" she said, firmly.
"Why must you be so … bloody-minded!" he grumbled.
"Why must you be so … arrogant!" she countered.
His eyebrows disappeared under his headwrap, eyes flashing as they widened in outraged astonishment, voice rising two octaves as he said, incredulously, "Me, arrogant?" He flicked his fingertips at her, dismissively. "You … pampered, spoiled Governor's daughter!"
"You … unkempt scallywag!"
"Pirate!!!" they both said, in unison, practically nose-to-nose.
They stared at each other, chests heaving, eyes blazing with incinerating fury …
Jack raised his hands, and they fluttered around her head, as though he was repressing the urge to throttle her, and for a moment Elizabeth feared she had pushed him too far — that he actually would lay hands on her! But when his hands, finally, did alight on her shoulders … it was only to pull her close …
She opened her mouth to speak, but suddenly Jack's mouth was on hers, stifling her words, stealing her breath, and flooding her body with the kind of warmth she hadn't felt since the day of her honeymoon, when she had parted from her Ferryman husband, and had nothing to look forward to but a decade of lonely nights and a cold, empty bed …
For a few moments, she froze, letting Jack's lips move over hers, but too numb to respond. Coming momentarily to her senses, she leaned back out of the kiss, staring up into Jack's hooded eyes, her own wide with shock, face hot with anger, embarrassment … or perhaps something else? "What are you doing?"
He laughed, lightly, but with dark intent, and his eyes sparked with a combination of desire and humour. "Well, luv, if you have to ask, then I mustn't be doin' it right …"
This time, when he lowered his head to hers, he wrapped his arms around her still-slender waist—which, she knew, would soon soften, lose its shape as the child within grew—pulling her tightly to him. Her arms flailed for a moment, hands beating the air in the vicinity of his head, before she surrendered, melted against him, arms sliding under his elflocks to close around his neck.
For a long moment, she lost herself in the tide of sensation wrought by his oh-so-wonderful mouth, but when she felt his tongue sweep across her lower lip, seeking entrance, she gasped and pulled away. "Jack … we can't do this!"
He smirked, and gold twinkled in the candle-glow. "Clearly, as just demonstrated, we can …"
A twinge of guilt assailed her. "But … Will …"
He bent his head to nuzzle her neck. "Oh, I've got the will, all right …" he whispered hoarsely against her skin.
"No … I mean …" She swallowed, thickly, "… what about Will?"
His deep sigh was a hot tickle of breath in her ear. "Right now, I'm concentratin' on Elizabeth. If Will wants me, too, he'll just have to wait his turn …"
She choked on her quickly stifled laughter, and she felt him grin against her neck.
"Jack …" she hummed low in her throat as his lips began working at that sensitive spot, right behind her ear. How did he know about that? "… you're not going to dissuade me from my purpose."
"And what purpose is that, luv?" He pressed a kiss to her earlobe, his lips trailing along the arch of her cheekbone, making their way slowly back to her mouth. Her right hand slipped under his greatcoat, rested a moment at the rise of his hip, before moving on, fingers lightly tracing the line of the sash wrapped 'round his waist, pausing to toy with the buckle of his belt…
"To come with you …" Her left hand slid over his shoulder, up the back of his neck …
"You can't … too dangerous," he mouthed against her skin, and she couldn't suppress an anticipatory shiver as her right hand continued its journey, found what she was seeking … felt the press of the hard length fitting neatly against her palm ...
Her fingers closed around it, and she smiled briefly in satisfaction …
Her fingers travelled up his nape, to bury themselves in the tangle of his hair. "You know, there's one thing you haven't taken into consideration, Captain Sparrow…" she whispered against his mouth, heard him moan deep in his throat, felt his breath quicken against her own …
"And what's that, my most wise and beautiful King?" He tilted his head, and sought to close the minuscule distance between her lips and his…
Her hand tightened suddenly in his hair, yanking his head back as her right hand pressed sharp, cold steel against his throat. He froze.
"That I can take care of myself!"
She saw his eyes go wide with the dawning knowledge that, whilst he had been quite pleasantly … distracted, she had slipped his own dagger from his belt, and turned it upon him!
He cleared his throat, nervously. "Never doubted it for a moment, darlin'," he said, flashing his teeth in an anxious flicker of a grin.
She smiled, shark-like, at him before releasing him and backing away, removing the knife from his throat, turning it in her hand and then offering it back to him, hilt-first. He eyed her warily as he took it, and slipped it into its customary place in his belt.
"Now that that question is settled," she said, letting the hardness drain from her eyes, "It's long past time we had that little discussion." She held her hand out to him, encouraging him to take a seat next to her on the bed.
He gave a salacious grin. "Ah … inviting me into your bed, Lizzie … at last!"
"Oh, would you just shut it, Jack, and listen!" As he settled next to her, she reached out and took his hand. Threading her fingers through his, she started, tentatively, "Jack … Will and I talked, that last day … on the island …"
Jack laid his free hand upon her belly, where the babe inside her was growing, though not yet evident. "Clearly, you did much more than just … talk," he said, with a suggestive arch of his eyebrow. "Unless I've been woefully misinformed all these years regarding exactly how these things happen …"
She swatted his hand away impatiently, though she couldn't prevent her lips giving a telltale twitch of suppressed mirth. He laughed, and, disengaging his hand from hers, swung his feet up on the bed, arranging himself comfortably against the headboard, hands behind his head, ankles crossed. It struck her how natural he looked there … as though he belonged there.
And how much she wanted him to stay there …
Pushing away such thoughts, at least for the moment, she stood up, turned, and glared at him. "I wouldn't get too comfortable, if I were you."
His familiar grin warmed her, in so many places. "You know me, luv … ever hopeful."
"When you're not being impossibly hopeless!"
His only response was a wave of his hand, which she took as encouragement for her to go on…
"What I've been trying to tell you …" Her expression darkened, and she lowered her eyes, her voice tightening as she fought the sudden urge to weep, "… is that Will said he didn't want me to wait for him. You see, before he joined me on the island, he had had a chance to talk with Bootstrap, and the rest of the crew … found out exactly what was expected of him, in his role as Death's Ferryman. His first order of business, it turned out, was to clean up the mess that Jones left behind … finish ferrying all the souls that Jones had abandoned and neglected for nearly two centuries." She sighed. "I had hoped that there was a way around the terms of Will's indentures to Calypso's service, that would still allow us to be together, on occasion … our thought being that, if he was prevented from meeting me on land, then perhaps I could meet him, occasionally, at sea.
"But apparently that is not possible. Any time he spends with me and not attending to his duties would be considered deserting his post, shirking his responsibility to Calypso and the sea's dead, as Jones had done … with similar results. Each time we were together … every stolen moment Will spent in my arms … would cause him to become … less human, and more like Jones." She paused, and when she spoke again, there was a tremor in her voice. "That's a price neither of us is willing to pay.
"So…" she hesitated, drew a deep breath before continuing, "Jack … he's set me free." She saw a look of shock cross Jack's face, "Oh … he still loves me, and wants me to be there in ten years' time. He won't be denied his one day … nor will I deny him that. The fact is, I still want him, and I doubt that will ever change, even if one day every ten years is all I get to have with him, until I'm too old, or … well … gone. But …" She drew another deep breath, avoiding his gaze, buying time, gathering courage for the admission she was about to make. "And I know how horrible this sounds, but … Jack … I also want you." She spread her hands, indicating that she was finished.
At his prolonged silence, she looked up, to find him staring at her, his dark eyes glittering. Why doesn't he say something? "In any case … that is the important thing I wanted to tell you, when I first saw you at the Faithful Bride." She held her breath.
"Why didn't you?" he asked, his voice soft.
"Well … you didn't seem happy to see me … in fact, you were so bloody hateful to me. And, I must confess, I nearly didn't tell you, just now…" She looked away. "I mean, how could I declare my affection for you, when I'm carrying my husband's child? Had I any right to make such a declaration?" She looked back at Jack, felt her eyes sting with impending tears. "And how could I hope you'd want me, knowing I was pregnant by another man?"
He unfolded himself from the bed, came to stand before her, his eyes already telling the truth. "Lizzie!" he said, his voice softly chiding, and thick with uncustomary emotion.
Her hand found his. Clasped it to her heart. "Jack. You're the only person I have left from … before. The only person I care about, and who still cares about me. The only person I know I can trust, which might be madness in its own right. The fact is … I don't want to face this alone, to go through it with strangers. I'm really not sure I can do this, without you."
He snatched his hand away, shook it as though her flesh had burnt him. "Well, you've managed to do … this thing … without me." He waved in the general direction of her midsection. "And I don't quite know whether I should feel honoured, or insulted, being your second choice," he sulked, with comic exaggeration.
"Jack … I know relations between us have always been … strained … complicated." She collected her thoughts, and tried to explain. "When I was a little girl, growing up hearing the stories about you, I was enthralled, captivated. You were my hero. I wanted more than anything to meet you.
"Then I did, and found out you weren't everything the legends said you were. I thought I hated you then, for shattering that child's illusions, taking away her hero … as I once hated my father, briefly, when he told me as a child that there was no Father Christmas."
Jack's eyes widened in mock horror. "You mean, there isn't? Bugger! I'm truly crushed, Lizzie! Warn a man before you spring a revelation like that 'pon him!"
She gave him a quelling look, and he quieted, although with a cheeky smirk.
"Then, when we met again in Tortuga, and sailed to Isla Cruces … something happened. It's as though I fell under some sort of spell, some enchantment that, for a while, made me forget about Port Royal, and Beckett, and even Will. All I could think of was you. It was James … God rest his poor misguided soul … who reminded me why I was there in the first place. And then, when that infernal compass showed me what I desired most…" She let her voice trail off. "I tested you, I tempted you, and you resisted temptation, did the right and noble thing… and I was proud of you, for confirming my faith in you, but also, in a way, keenly disappointed …"
She didn't even have to look at Jack, to know he must be smirking at her admission.
"Then, when Will appeared on Isla Cruces and told us what you'd done … how you'd sold him to Jones and into servitude on the Dutchman in payment of your debt, I started to hate you again. Even more so, when you fled in the longboat, abandoned us, left us alone to defend the Pearl against the Kraken. Most of all, I hated the fact that I had been so wrong about you, when I told you, with foolish confidence, all I had earlier.
"When you came back, I was surprised, relieved, ecstatic. For a moment, you became that hero from my girlish dreams … brave and strong and unbeatable. But by then, I had also had time to figure out what the Kraken was after, and what it meant for us all. Knew that we were still facing certain death, all because of your presence. Whether we remained on the Pearl, or fled in the longboat, it didn't matter — either way, we were doomed. We wouldn't be able to outrun the danger, as long as you were with us. And so I thought to myself: What would Jack do, if the situation were reversed?" She looked down, suddenly unable to meet his eyes. "And I acted accordingly…"
Jack's brow knit in horrified bewilderment. "William thinks like me, and it leads to bodies, barrels, and bottles with little love notes to Beckett. You do, and it's shackles, ravenous tentacled beasties, and the Locker." He shook his head. "Just how bloody mad do the two of you think I am?"
Her gaze snapped back up to his face as she crooked a sardonic eyebrow. "Do you really want me to answer that?"
He frowned, muttered. "Hmmm. Perhaps not."
"In truth, you're the very soul of contradiction, Jack. Changeable … unpredictable. Brave, and cowardly … selfish, and giving … immoral, and altruistic … devilishly clever, and impossibly scatter-brained. Like opposite sides of a coin, and like a coin, once flipped, one never knows which side will be revealed when it lands. It certainly makes it exceedingly difficult to get to know who you really are, when that definition seems to shift like sand from one moment to next.
"But, nevertheless, I did see something in you. Though you hide it very well, it's there—beneath all the swagger, the eccentricity, the unflagging devotion to self-interest and to drowning yourself in profuse quantities of rum—burning in you like a tiny spark, just waiting to flare into bright existence. Will saw it, too, perhaps a bit sooner than I did. It's what made him risk all to save you from the gallows."
She let her fingers trail down the open "v" of his shirt, skimming down the tanned skin, pressing where she could feel his pulse vibrating through her fingertips. "It's what's here." She looked up at him, allowing her eyes to reveal her true feelings. "Deny it all you want. But you do have a good heart, Jack. You're a good man."
"All evidence to—"
She stopped his words as the fingers of her other hand pressed against his lips, then replaced her fingers with her own lips as she kissed the corner of his mouth.
"Jack … I don't know where this is going … where we are going. If this is love, or simply lust, attraction or obsession … but whatever it is … whatever this connection is between us … I'd like to explore it … see where it goes …" The fingers upon his chest continued their journey downward, pushing the fabric of his shirt aside, trailing tantalisingly over his naked stomach, and toward points below …
Jack's eyes suddenly went wide, his lips twitching as he gasped, swallowed hard, and cleared his throat. "Aye! Explorin's good …I'm all for a little … explorin'! But, Lizzie—"
"Hush…" she whispered against his lips. She covered his mouth, feather-softly, with her own, felt his lips continue moving under hers, unintelligible sounds emanating from deep within his throat, muffled against her mouth, as he still tried to talk.
She slapped the side of his face, playfully, with her unoccupied hand. "I said … hush!"
Then she set about making sure his mouth was well-occupied with other matters …
After a long, long while, while hands and lips wandered freely, they came up, breathing hard, gasping for air. Enervated, knees suddenly weak with desire, Elizabeth sagged against Jack, laying her head against his heaving chest with a deep and audible sigh, her arms slipping round his waist, the side of her head pressed to the warm, firm flesh, comforted ineffably by the sound of the heightened heartbeat thrumming under her ear.
Again, she felt as though she was soaring above a maelstrom, clinging to Jack like a lifeline, letting her cares fall away, letting the air and the wind and Jack's strong arms take her, until it seemed there was nothing in the world but her, and him. Nothing else.
She was with Jack …
She was safe…
She heard him chuckle, felt it rumble in his chest, below her cheek. "Who's the 'wobbly-legged pirate' now, eh?" One hand cupping her jaw, he tilted her face up to his for a brief, tender kiss, then wrapped her more securely in his arms, settling her head upon his shoulder. She heard the smirk in his tone as his voice drifted down to her ear, brimming with male smugness. "Now, admit it, darlin' … you've been waitin' a long time, spent many a sleepless night, dreamin' of my kiss."
She smiled and breathed a little ha! against his skin. "I'm not admitting anything of the sort."
"Stubborn woman!" he said, but his voice was filled with fond affection.
"Now … about that little alliance you proposed, once we get the Pearl back … for you to join me crew, and have me …" one hand strayed down to the swell of her arse, and pulled her more tightly against him, "teach you all the things you don't know…"
She turned her face up, gave him a quick kiss, reached down and snagged his wandering hand, taking it into her own as she whispered against his lips, "Why don't we sleep on that, and discuss it in the morning?"
He smiled, and, to her, the glint of his golden teeth and the reflected fire in his eyes were like the sun rising, sparking off the untamed sea, bringing with it light, and life, and hope as he let her lead him to the bed. "You took the words right out of me mouth, luv…"
She smirked. "Must have been while I was kissing you…"
As she sat down on the bed, and pulled him down to her, he had time for only one word before their lips met again in harmonious, mutual accord, rendering words impossible, and unnecessary…
A/N: If you liked this fic (or, heck, even if you didn't), please do leave a Review! Feedback is what I live for ...