TITLE: A River to be Crossed

SUMMARY: Elizabeth is in London, torn between the life she feels she was always meant to have and the one she was inadvertently thrust into. Which will win her favor?

DISCLAIMER: Jack'n'Lizzie etc. do not belong to me. I make no money from the writing of this fan-fiction.

SHIP: 100 percent Sparrabeth. Willabethers are welcome, but ye have been warned!

RATING: M (Smut warning – if you don't like, don't read!)

A/N: Slightly AU. (Will and Elizabeth don't ever get married – but he's still captain of the Dutchman. Make something up, it won't be explained here.) One-shot. Set post At World's End and during On Stranger Tides (anyone else miss her in that movie?). This is also a song-fic, set to "That Kind of Love" by Alison Krauss.

DEDICATION: To a dear friend, who knows who they are, in need of a pick-me-up. Hope this does the trick, darlin'! Here's to red wine and chocolate – and Tom Hanson and his Mustang. (Wrong fandom, I know, but I know you get it…) Thanks for always being there!

And for Hillary, who is missed every day.

Happy Holidays, everyone! Happy reading!

This was crazy. Elizabeth couldn't believe she was even thinking about it. She was just one person, one female person (a trait that frequently worked against her), what could she possibly do? True, she was dressed in her typical disguise of men's attire, which might prove to be helpful, if only for a little bit. And her femaleness was hardly a hindrance in her eyes. She never let being a woman stop her from doing anything she wanted to do. It was the rest of the world that expected nothing from her but afternoon tea parties and crochet pillows. Still, she was alone with no idea of what to do or who to even contact for help. But she had to try… it was the least she could do.

On one of her increasingly frequent trips to Shipwreck Cove in the past several years – the overwhelming solitude of life as captain of a ship where she knew she wasn't entirely welcome notwithstanding – she heard the first of many rumors: the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow had been captured in London and was awaiting trial. She knew that any trial for Jack would end with a noose around his neck, something she couldn't bear to even think of, and so she immediately used her authority as Pirate King to urgently summon the remaining Pirate Lords to the cove… just in time for another rumor to make its way to her ever-listening ears.

The second rumor suggested that dear ole Captain Jack hadn't been captured and wasn't awaiting trial at all. Yes, he was (apparently) in London, but with the intention of procuring a ship and a crew, which suggested one thing… He'd lost the Pearl. Again. The how or why didn't matter, though she suspected Barbossa had something to do with it. One thing she did know for sure was that either of these rumors was entirely possible, and something deep within her urged her to help in any way that she could.

It wasn't that she didn't think Jack entirely qualified of worming his way out of whichever mess he'd gotten himself into, quite the opposite. If anyone was capable of anything, it was Jack… but the memories she had of the last time she'd seen him four years ago persisted in her mind and she knew she had a debt to pay. Had it not been for Jack, Will would be dead and so would she… the former blacksmith's duty to the Dutchman was better than a watery grave, a fate she would have shared had Jack not pried her away as the maelstrom opened its mouth wide to swallow them whole. One could argue that Jack had done plenty of dastardly things that would justify her ignoring the present situation, but he was still a good man… and furthermore, was she so different? Had she not demonstrated herself capable of some of the very same things?

So there she sat, at the quietest table in the quietest pub she could find, which was by no means actually quiet. Elizabeth's choice of locale was close enough to the docks to be considered highly unrespectable, but not so frequented by fellow pirates that she might run into an enemy (or two) that she'd made (or rather, inherited, as she'd done very little actual pirating) since becoming king.

Her arrival in London earlier that morning had done very little to answer her questions about Jack's whereabouts – for all she knew, she was on a wild goose chase, with Jack being a very apt goose indeed. Despite her ever-present frustrations with the man, which she felt were completely justified, his last comment to her still rang in her ears, pulsed through her as if he was there now, and whispering them to her that once was quite enough. She let out a haggard sigh, her thumb roaming over the handle of her mug. It might have terrified her, caused her to feel the worst kind of guilt imaginable, but there was no use hiding from it anymore… once was most certainly not enough.

Elizabeth had always been intrigued by Jack. Who wouldn't be? He was a hunter and she was the prey. Or, in certain kohl-lined-eyes, the other way around. That bright Caribbean morning when she looked up, soaked and confused, to see a pair of dark eyes glinting down at her… she knew who he was immediately, without sense or reason, and though many days and nights had passed since that initial encounter, those eyes had remained with her wherever she went, whether she wanted them to or not.

Her opinion of the famed captain soured when she became his hostage nigh but a moment later, but he lingered at the forefront of her thoughts. In the months that would follow, he persisted within her like a moth to a flame, a pest that wouldn't go away, and while his ghostly presence brought more negative memories than positive, she couldn't deny that he was, nevertheless, there.

Circumstance would bring them together again, for better or worse. They bickered and bantered, and she felt no qualms over using her feminine mystique to get what she wanted from him. What did bother her, however, was how she felt when she saw how far he would be willing to take it, and how his eagerness made something deep within her throb. When his mouth hovered over hers, his eyes glazed over and half-lidded with the raw desire to capture her lips and claim them for himself, she came to the frightening realization that no man, not even Will, had left her with that kind of ache. He stopped and she'd said she was proud of him, which wasn't a lie, but she couldn't ignore that a part of her wished he hadn't.

It wasn't until after, when she'd used those same lips to effectively send him to his death, that she realized what those days of mocking and teasing had meant to her. Afternoons spent on the sun-drenched deck of the Pearl, using her words and wit to dance with the infamous captain, were forever seared into her mind… and she missed them. Furthermore, she missed him, and while she had trouble reasoning why, she still yearned to have those days back.

Sleepless nights spent with only a bottle of rum (a not-so-coincidental choice), and her guilt to drown in, left her more confused than she realized she could be. The spicy drink had left her with the astonishing revelation that the two men in her life, her blacksmith and the pirate whose death would never make him hers, were paradigms of her own self. Will represented everything she knew she was supposed to have, everything she'd been raised to believe was right and proper… a home, a husband, a family… Jack, on the other dirty, ring-encrusted hand, embodied everything she had come to crave, all the things she would long for but never vocalize. He was independence; he was not caring what other people thought… he was freedom.

These thoughts, despite her deepest fears, made it easy for her to reconcile her ever-changing feelings with simple longing, an itch she couldn't scratch. Jack was a fantasy, plain and simple; he was a challenge, a mountain to climb, a river to be crossed, and she was unable to resist… that's all it was. Still, she continued to lie awake at night, unable to admit or deny the fact that what she truly wanted most had shifted from saving Will to saving Jack. Only when she was able to acknowledge that everything would right itself when they saved Jack from the locker was she able to drift into the sweet release of sleep. And always, without fail, she would wake up hating herself the next day, hating herself for wanting Jack, and hating herself even more for realizing the difference between loving Will and being in love with Will.

Who would sell their soul for love?

Or waste one tear on compromise

Should be easy enough

To know a heartache in disguise

Why did she have to think about him so bloody much? Why him? She should know better… no good could ever come from loving Jack Sparrow. Sure, it looked appealing from the outside… adventure, intrigue, mystery, all in the arms of an enigmatic and perplexing pirate captain who had the uncanny ability to make her forget everything that was happening around her. She kept trying to reason with herself, or at least find a reason, but her own abilities were not so miraculous… The answers would finally come to her in a dream so startlingly real that she awoke confused, as if reality had become a dream and everything in her subconscious was actuality.

"The heart wants what it wants, Lizzie," he'd said, his gloriously hard, dark body against hers, his hot breath drifting over her skin like the tide on the shore. "That's neither your fault nor mine… it simply is."

It was then that she realized lust and desire were only part of what she felt for Jack, which had, undoubtedly, become such a wondrous and complex thing. She saw something in him that she saw in herself. There would never be anyone to challenge her, mystify her, if only one or the other were able to swallow their respective prides. Regardless of whether that could ever happen or not, one thing was entirely certain – she had to end things with Will. She couldn't string him along, allow him to hope for that future of babies and a home warmed by the hearth when she had these desperate, confounding feelings for Jack, even if she knew nothing would ever come of it. An emotional affair, at the end of the day, was still an affair… She swore she heard Will's heart break when she told him she couldn't marry him, could feel her own breaking, but she knew the fractures of a broken heart would have been deeper had she married him while fantasizing about another man.

And it certainly seemed like nothing would ever come of it. Jack's return from the locker did absolutely nothing to bring them together. She was too proud to admit that she was, in fact, desperately, frantically, overwhelmingly sorry for her role in causing his demise. And even if she had apologized, which she swore she wouldn't, he would've been too proud to accept it. So their time was spent avoiding each other, and she found herself, not surprisingly, without a blacksmith and without a pirate.

But the heart rules the mind

And the going gets rough

Pride takes the fall

When you find that kind of love

Jack was a consuming fire that, despite her best efforts, she could not snuff out. It was far beyond lust and passion now, though that was still very much at the forefront of her mind. With Davy Jones dead and Calypso free to once again rule the seas, she was finally able to walk away from the unfathomable man who, in true pirate fashion, stole her heart with no apologies or evidence that he might ever give it back.

She attempted a life on her own, free from any of society's expectations or promises of familial matrimony. However, as he always had, Captain Jack refused to leave her at peace. She could continue to lie to herself and others that her increasingly frequent trips to Shipwreck Cove were without the small hope that she might meet him there, but the effort to do so became so great that she gave up trying.

Elizabeth sighed, looking down at the now empty mug in front of her, wanting to fetch more ale but hardly having the drive to do so. She used to be so resolute, so sure of herself, so sure of what she wanted. She recalled a conversation with Jack on the Pearl, one of those sun-drenched afternoons she was so fond of, her mind drifting as she confessed what she'd been so afraid of…

"I was so ready to be married." It wasn't a lamentation, a long-lost dream that had fluttered away… it was realizing that married, at least to Will, wasn't really what she wanted anymore.

I can't help feeling like a fool

Since I lost that place inside

Where my heart knew its way

And my soul was ever wise

But she and Will were different people. If she'd changed, then so had he, whether he was willing to admit it or not. She was hardly willing to admit it herself, but that didn't change the fact that she could no longer be with him they way he wanted, the way she once wanted. The Elizabeth that he was in love with was not the Elizabeth she was then, and certainly not the Elizabeth that sat alone, at this decrepit, depressing pub in London, longing for the days when she was so self-assured.

The days of her and Will were long behind her now, and with them, her childhood and everything she'd grown up knowing was consistent and right. It wasn't as though her feelings for Jack left her with remnants of pain or darkness… she didn't hate herself for loving him anymore. The hate she felt was for knowing that she'd hurt a good man, Will being the only true friend she'd had in her adolescence.

Loving Jack had brought her a kind of unexplainable peace and completeness that she'd never known before, bewildering as it was. She supposed that people weren't really ever supposed to understand love, so as not to manipulate it and destroy what was so veracious about it. Any dark feelings came from knowing that he would likely never return those sentiments, and it broke her up inside. She knew she had destroyed any and all chances she might have had with him the moment she gave him that kiss and her I'm not sorry. And who was she to blame him?

Once innocence was lost

There was not faith enough

Still my heart held on

When it found that kind of love

Still… was it so wrong to want?

Elizabeth tipped the mug upward, able to see her reflection as it glistened in the faint fire glow of the tavern. Despite it all, she was in London, on the trail of her most preferred pirate, and she knew she wasn't going to get any closer by sitting alone, in a pub, feeling sorry for herself. Whether Jack wanted her help or whether he refused to touch it with a ten and ¾ foot pole (with Jack, nothing was entirely even), she was there to offer it.

She tilted her head back and took a deep swig, letting out an involuntary grunt as the liquid burned her throat, before reaching down to the small leather pouch on her belt. She pulled out a bit of coin and slapped it down on the table, bound and determined to do what she'd come to do – even if she wasn't entirely sure what that was yet.

She swung her legs out from underneath the table and lowered the brim of her hat to conceal her face. All it would take was a bit of proper good light to determine that she was a woman masquerading as a man. In so doing, however, she partially obscured her vision, and as she began to walk from the table, she found herself walking directly into something… or rather, someone.

"Beg pardon," she grumbled, mustering the best masculine voice she could, keeping her gaze trained on the floor. Her eyes already adjusted to the dim light, she found herself focusing on an oddly familiar pair of dingy boots. Her breath caught in her throat, remembering those same boots drying in the sun with the help of discarded driftwood, on an island that likely still smelt of burnt rum…

A small part of her still screamed to run away, to dash out of the tavern as quickly as she could and disappear into the chilly London streets. Another part of her (she assumed the pirate part, for it never seemed to listen to its more rational counterpart), forced her head slowly upwards, meeting the owner of a pair of achingly memorable kohl-lined eyes.

Upon seeing her, his head cocked to the side, nostrils flaring somewhat, his mouth dropping open ever so slightly. "Lizzie?"

She was thankful her eyes didn't burn with the tears that wanted to fall, thankful she didn't display that kind of emotion – this way, despite her entire purpose for coming to London – she could maintain a certain level of indifference. Still, she couldn't help but smile. It had been four years, four excruciatingly long years, and he'd hardly changed a bit. Sure, a few things here and there were different… a reddish X marked his cheek, something she would have to ask about later… his hair was lighter, and a part of him seemed older, farther away.

"Jack," his name escaped her lips in a throaty whisper, completely unintentionally, and she found herself falling against him. She felt him stiffen, and something inside her chest began to hurt, until she felt reluctant arms come around her. She recognized that his stiffness came from the surprise of her embrace, not from her, and she was glad for it.

Though beauty is rare enough

Still we trust

Somehow we'll find it there

When Elizabeth finally broke away from him, she was relieved to see his face had relaxed, a lazy grin spread across that ever-tempting mouth of his. "S'been a long time," he finally said, taking a step backwards. "I hardly recognized you underneath all that dirt. When's the last time ye had a good scrubbing?"

Not surprisingly, as her feelings for Jack were frequently dampened by an urge to slap him, she felt a steady wrath fueled by embarrassment boil up inside her. Her pride, which was so easy to dismiss when he wasn't around, came flaring back like a barnacle on the hull of the Pearl.

"You're hardly one to lecture me on hygiene, Jack Sparrow," she said, crossing her arms.

"Captain Jack Sparrow," he insisted, and she was hardly surprised. The smirk on his face remained. "Some things never change, luv."

"Some captain," she scoffed. "I understand you've lost the Pearl again." She saw something in his face harden, his already dark eyes blackening, and she wished she hadn't said anything. The Black Pearl, and his separation from her, had always been a sensitive subject, as she remembered the bullet he'd once put in Barbossa's chest over the matter. Almost as quickly as that darkness had flared, however, it seemed to subside, and he was again smirking at her.

"Then a poor captain, but a captain nonetheless," he told her, before shrugging. "Or so I've been told." He motioned to the now-empty table behind her. "Care for a drink?"

With no guarantee

It seems to me

At least it should be fair

"I've just had one," she managed to squeak out, struggling not to lose herself in him. He was so casual, so carefree, as if they'd seen each other only yesterday. She wondered, not without sadness, if that carelessness came from not missing her in the slightest bit.

"Your loss," he shrugged, scooting around her and sliding onto the bench she had recently vacated. She watched his indifference, torn between anger and dismay, as he motioned to the barmaid across the room for a drink. He turned to her, and with the same indifference, motioned for her to sit. Unable to deny him, despite her best efforts, she did as instructed and sat opposite him.

"You're looking well," she finally managed to say, only glancing up slightly as his drink was delivered to him. He only smirked and she had half a mind to ask him if he was capable of anything else as he took a long swig.

"So are you, dirt and all. Monarchical life must be doing right by you, though I always assumed it would." She was tempted to deliver a swift kick to his shin beneath the table, but stopped short when she realized, in his own backwards way, that he'd paid her a compliment. She watched as the good captain reached inside his vest and pulled out a worn, tired looking piece of parchment. He slid it across the table at her, though she didn't pick it up.

"What's this?" Elizabeth asked, faintly recognizing the penmanship on the outside.

"You tell me," he said with a shrug, leaning back in his seat, one hand remaining firmly gripped on the mug before him. "A little bird bearing a remarkable, though much more mature, resemblance to your present company, happened to mention that you've been fluttering around Shipwreck Cove with a mind to find said present company."

Elizabeth felt her cheeks grow hot and she was grateful for the poor light surrounding them… perhaps he wouldn't be able to see their crimson color after all.

"I like to be informed as to the whereabouts tabs of my court," she lied, again folding her arms over her chest. She was beginning to regret her decision to come to London. If all she was going to do was argue and lie to him, then it was all a waste, despite the fond memories she had of his wit and banter.

But if it's only tears and pain

Isn't it still worth the cost?

Like some sweet saving grace

Or a river we must cross

"Ah," Jack nodded, understanding what she was saying, though apparently not noticing that it had been a lie. Or, if he did, he pretended not to. "A king never goes hunting with his brother, eh?"

"Imagine… you're the only one who's remained entirely elusive," she sighed.

"I like to defy tradition," he said with an easy grin.

Elizabeth snorted and he scowled at her. "That's apparent." When she noticed the glare of his eyes, she sighed, leaning forward and into the palm of her hand. "Jack… it's been hardly five minutes and so far we've only managed to offend each other. Have we nothing better to discuss?"

"You tell me, dearie," he smiled, folding his arms behind his head. He let out a small puff of a sigh before leaning forward again, one elbow on the table. "So let me guess, then. Dear, sweet William has been captured and-or imprisoned by some hellish entity and you've come in search of my assistance to rescue him." Proud of his assumption, he took another long swig from the mug before him. When he put the mug down, he saw a look on Elizabeth's face that must have been surprise, her mouth partially open, eyes wide.

"N—no," she stammered. "Will and I aren't together. You know that." Surely he had to know. Surely he'd seen how strained things were between her and her former fiancée all those years ago after rescuing him from the locker… didn't he?

"Pity. I was sure the two of you would've wormed your way back together by now," Jack said nonchalantly, clicking his tongue, gripping the handle of his mug in an attempt to stop his hand from shaking. It was all he could do to hide his elation at this most blissful news.

It seemed that his dear Lizzie had finally gained some sense. Not that there was anything wrong with the boy. In all probability, more women on God's green Earth would chose a Will over a Jack any day of the week, and he knew it. And yes, she could do a hell of a lot worse than Will Turner. But all birds, swans and sparrows alike, were meant to fly free.

Jack knew he could never give Lizzie tradition. He had, however, been raised largely by what most would consider to be a single mother, and when it mattered, he was entirely capable of treating a woman right. He often felt confounded that Elizabeth was the first woman he'd desperately, achingly wanted in ways that weren't just physical. He'd become the kind of cliché he swore he'd never be – the careless, daring rogue who didn't believe in love until he fell right into it, and like tar or quicksand it had sucked him in and stolen his very breath, completely against his wishes.

But that didn't change the fact (as much as he tried to believe otherwise) that it had happened. He'd fallen in love with Elizabeth Swann, damn her, and seeing her here, before him, was like a strange beacon of light. He was the moth to her flame, and for a long time he'd hated her, hated himself, for it. How could he possibly be in love with someone who'd so effortlessly succeeded in murdering him?

Left with nothing but his ship and his thoughts for what felt like centuries on end in the locker, he'd come to realize that Elizabeth and his feelings for her were something he had absolutely zero control over. He could continue fighting it, but what would be the point? Maybe if he accepted that she had worked her way under his skin and into his blackened heart, he'd finally achieve some peace.

If we don't understand

What this life is made of

We learn the truth

When we find that kind of love

While it was true that Jack had never really let Elizabeth's attachment to the blacksmith (or former blacksmith, he supposed) prevent him from the shameless flirting and banter he so enjoyed, he knew he would never be able to take it farther than that, or a decent kiss, at most. That good man that lay buried deep within him, the one that Lizzie and only Lizzie had seemed to believe in, prevented anything more.

It wasn't for Jack's lack of wanting her – oh, how he wanted her. Ardently. More than he'd ever wanted any woman, perhaps ever. For a long time he was able to tell himself that it was because she was this great unattainable being. Not only was she a governor's daughter, the prim and proper type who would surely never stoop so low as to give herself to a pirate, but she was most certainly in love with a one William Turner, the bloody epitome of a knight in shining armor, if he ever saw one.

Time would prove to him that his feelings were not simply the result of unrequited lust, as he had so desperately hoped. He wanted her in every way he could have her, and why shouldn't he? She was a beautiful woman. Oh, the things he could teach her… His recently acquired love for this mysterious and frustrating woman did little, if not nothing, to quash his more carnal desires, but he couldn't deny that he found himself wanting it to be more than that. For the first time ever, he truly wanted her in every way. Most of all, he wanted her to love him the way he loved her.

Try as he might, though, his pride would not abate, and every comment that came out of his mouth (especially at the present moment), he knew made him seem ever the indifferent wretch he'd always been.

Cause when innocence is lost

There is not faith enough

We learn the truth

When we find that kind of love

Elizabeth watched, feeling fidgety and yet motionless, as Jack waved his hand for another drink. There were periods of awkward silence and mindless chitchat as they waited for it to arrive. Their interactions were all the inane "how-have-you-beens" and "I'm-fine-how-are-yous" that she never imagined she would have with the enigmatic Captain Jack Sparrow.

When his second drink finally did arrive, it was already halfway gone before she saw that frustratingly guarded and unbelievably cocky side of him begin to, once again, emerge from behind the mug.

"So what is it, then, Lizzie?" he asked, swallowing down a large mouthful of ale.

"What is what?" she replied indifferently, feigning both innocence and irritance.

"Come now," he smirked with a click of his tongue. "London's not your stomping grounds, so-to-speak, nor is it mine. Is it coincidence that we should both end up in the same pub on the same desolate evening?" He quirked his eyebrows at her and took another drink. "I hardly think so."

"Perhaps the problem is that you hardly think for failing to consider a coincidence," Elizabeth said coolly with a nonchalant roll of her shoulders. "Stranger things have happened, anyways."

She looked up to see his eyes narrow, though the ever-presently infuriating smirk remained plastered on his dimly lit face. "I see, then. You're bored."

"Beg pardon?"

"You're bored," he said, channeling her nonchalance in a way that made her wish she'd never attempted it. He signaled for a third drink. "Both your parents have preceded you to the grave. Norrington's met an equally unfortunate fate, so there's a third party that's not around to fuss over you." Elizabeth watched him as he spoke, feeling hot and cold at the same time. "And then there's William." She felt the hair on the back of her neck stand on edge. The mention of Will with what was clearly deliberately hurtful intentions made her feel tense and weak all over. "William's life, for perhaps the first time ever, no longer revolves around you. So who's left? Me. Dear ole Captain Jack's the only one around to satisfy that insufferable itch, aren't I?"

Elizabeth needed scarce but a moment to determine she'd heard enough. She could recognize that his words were nothing more than a strategic defense to her chilly disposition and not altogether unwarranted, but that didn't mean they had hurt her any less. She stood up with such calamitous force that her seat toppled over behind her and hit the floor with a wicked thud, spawning the attention of those who were standing or seated in their immediate vicinity.

"I honestly don't know why I ever bothered trying to help you," she spat out, tears beginning to form. She could feel her eyes brimming and burning with the fullness of them, but whipping away her tears would only bring attention to the fact that he'd bested her. Without another word and without looking back, she turned away and pushed through the crowd towards the door.

The London night air was cold and it bit her skin through her worn leather jacket, but the warmth of the pub was not inviting enough, nor as pressing as her need to escape. Once she was sure she was out of Jack's line of vision, she quickly and angrily smeared away her tears, walking at a brisk pace to nowhere in particular. Her misguided haste to find him upon arriving in London earlier that morning felt more important than booking a room somewhere, and so she found herself in a distantly familiar city with no place to go.

She came to a deserted alleyway and thought it a wise place to venture, if only to take pause and gather her wits before determining what to do next. She was about to round the corner when a heavy hand clamped down on her shoulder and she found herself whirled around to face Jack again.

"Have you any idea how dangerous it is to draw attention to yourself in a room full of thieves and then take off like that?" he growled at her. She watched his face, all the while trying to wrench free from his grip, as he glanced over his shoulder and tugged her down the alleyway. When he finally released her, she hauled back and gritted her teeth as her firmly packed fist collided with his jaw. He stumbled backwards several steps and she felt a twinge of remorse as his hand came up to gingerly cradle the side of his face.

"I suppose I deserved that," he said contemplatively, sheepish eyes darting towards her.

"How dare you use Will to try to hurt me!" she shot back, ignoring him. "Of all the things I've ever done to you, he's never had any part in any of it! And he certainly has nothing to do with why I'm here now!"

"I know," he said quietly. "M'sorry."

Elizabeth paused and blinked, unsure of how to react. The numerous things she'd heard come out of Jack Sparrow's mouth had taught her to never be surprised by him, but she'd yet to hear a genuine apology.

"Apology accepted," she found herself uttering, mostly unsure as to whether or not she truly accepted his apology or whether she said she did for lack of a witty comeback. She folded her arms over her chest out of a feeble attempt to protect herself both from Jack and the cold night air.

"So why are you here, then?" Jack asked her, continuing to rub the tender spot on his jaw where she'd hit him. It didn't hurt nearly as much as he pretended it did, but he figured he owed her at least that much.

Elizabeth fell silent. A part of her felt unwilling and unable to answer him. Yet there was another part of her knew that if she ever wanted to make it past this awkward, uncertain territory that she and Jack continued to tango in, she would have to take the first step. And honesty was the first step. How could she ever expect Jack to be honest with her if she wasn't willing to provide him with the same courtesy?

"I heard…" Her gaze fell to his face, away, then back again. "I heard several things. I didn't quite know what to believe, but I knew I wanted to help. It's the least I could do after—"

She was cut short when Jack let out a long groan and rolled his eyes. "Dear God, 'Lizabeth, we're not still apologizing for that, are we?"

She blinked again, not for the first time, speechless in his presence. "Well, I—"

"Water under the proverbial bridge," he assured her with a wave of his hand. Taking note of her stunned silence, he kept talking. "Yes, you killed me. Yes, it was a dastardly thing to do, a wicked, deplorable, regrettable—"


"Aye. Right." He closed his eyes briefly and shook his head. "You also brought me back. And whatever your intentions, I've little doubt they were more genuine than those of any other on that mission."

"I was selfish," she murmured, gently tugging at the skin on the back of a knuckle, desperate for anything to focus on other than his face, other than the dark eyes that sucked her in to a point where she never wanted to climb back out. She felt frustrated and foolish and a fresh set of tears welled up in the corners of her eyes as another silence passed between them.

She was so focused on not focusing on him that she didn't realize how close he was until his hand was on her cheek.

"The makings of a very fine pirate," he whispered to her, her eyes fluttering upwards to see him, once again, smirking at her. "Lizzie, don't cry."

"I'm just tired," she mustered, glad her eyes weren't so watery that she couldn't focus on his face as it drew closer to hers.

"Tired?" Jack's voice was nigh but a throaty whisper.

"Tired," she repeated, the hair of his goatee tickling her face before they finally met. The gruffness of his facial hair was an intriguing, intoxicating contrast to the surprising smooth, softness of his lips. The warmth of his mouth and the heat of his body filled her with a resounding completeness she hadn't fully realized she'd been missing for so long.

Only when the necessity for air presented itself did he pull away from her, and even then she longed to be that close to him again. "Apology accepted," she found herself whispering, her eyelids feeling heavy in the most blissful way.

Jack chuckled, deep and low in his throat. "Happy to oblige, luv."

Elizabeth looked up at him, more than tempted to pick up where they'd so recently left off, when another matter sprang to her mind. She reached forward and wrapped her fingers around his. A mischievous grin curled onto her lips. "Now that that's accomplished, I think it's fair that we achieve what I came here to help you achieve."

"Oh?" He grinned, pressing against her and attempting to bend down and kiss her neck, a thousand dirty thoughts running through his mind.

"Not that," she sighed, suppressing a moan and a giggle all at once. "There's a damsel in distress who's quite in need of rescuing from her captor."

"A damsel, eh?"

"Yes," Elizabeth said, smiling. "Her name is Pearl."

A/N: Thanks so much for reading! Now go review! (Rum and cookies for those who review!)