The world was a different place, vaster, older, and more frightening than she’d ever imagined. Teague’s voice, a low rumble of destiny and dread, filled her mind with impossible images and terrible, looming doom.
He’d dismissed her, but she had no idea where she was or how to return to the Pearl. All around vast sweeps of wood stretched up, criss-crossing over the passage in which she stood and lit with lanterns that rivalled the stars.
Strange sounds filled the night, shouts and barks, a gunshot that echoed through the twisting heights. But it was the silence that she found most terrifying, the gaping dark passageways and stairs, the silent tread of a footpad behind her.
Keeping close to the wall, she decided that her best option – short of returning to Teague and asking for directions – would be to head down. Keep going down until she reached the sea. She kept a hand on her sword as she walked, heart hammering and head pounding with all that he had told her – all that this day had brought.
How have I come to this?
She was Elizabeth Swann, she was meant to be married and happy by now. She was meant to be in Port Royal with Will, and her dear father… But that, she thought with a plummeting chill, would never happen now. That life was over, and this— A hand grabbed her arm.
She screamed, reached for her sword, but her attacker was too fast. He seized her wrist and—
Her breath was a rasp of relief. “Jack.”
“Didn’t mean to frighten you,” he said, releasing his hold on her and sketching a slight bow. “Sorry.”
She rubbed at her wrist; vaguely, she noticed her hands were shaking. How strange.
“Is it true then?” he said. “Should I be tugging me forelock?”
“What?” Jack was all in shadow, only a glint of light reflecting in his eyes.
“Your majesty, and all that?”
“Oh.” She shook her head. “I can’t— I’m meant to be in Port Royal, I was to be married by now and…” Against her will, a thick knot of tears tightened in her throat and she had to look away to get them under control.
There was a pause and then his hand squeezed her shoulder. “You need a drink, love,” he said, more gentle than usual. “Come on.”
He urged her ahead and she was grateful for his presence, anchoring her spinning mind and piloting her through the labyrinth as if he'd been born there. It occurred to her, then, that perhaps he had.
“In here,” he said after a while, stopping before a barely visible door. When he cracked it open she could smell smoke and rum, a soft hum of conversation and lamplight spilling into the passage. Jack’s hand on her shoulder propelled her forward and she stepped into a small, cluttered tavern full of shadows and corners. A few crusty looking characters were slumped over tables, but either they were so deep in their cups they’d not heard the news or they simply didn’t care, because no one looked up as Jack tossed a coin to the barkeep and guided Elizabeth toward the furthest, darkest corner.
A couple of high-backed benches – perhaps they might once have been church pews – were wedged into the corner, a rough table jammed between them. “Sit,” Jack said, sliding in next to her as the barkeep bought two leather flagons.
“Drink up,” Jack said, pushing one toward her.
Elizabeth struggled for a smile and lifted the cup to her lips. It smelled like rum, but she longed for the mellow warmth of tea. With a sigh, she took a sip. “It’s a pirate’s life for me.”
Jack’s smile was brief and directed at the table. “It’s true, then?”
“It’s impossible.” She shook her head, savouring the rum-burn in her throat. “Jack, how can this be possible?”
He looked up, but his eyes were full of shadows. “Who cast their vote for you?”
He thought for a moment, then nodded. “Makes sense, all things considered.”
“Not to me it doesn’t.” She took another sip of rum; it didn’t burn so fiercely now. “None of this makes sense. I should be at home, I should be—”
And suddenly she was back there, feeling her father’s lifeblood slick against her fingers, watching the light die in his eyes. Someone was pulling at her, trying to drag her away and—
She sucked in a breath.
Jack’s hand was on her arm, his brow creased in concern. “Let it go.”
“I know, I—” But there were tears on her face and the hand she lifted to wipe them away was shaking.
“You’ve not had time to grieve for your father,” Jack said, squeezing her arm. “And now my bloody father… Shouldn’t have let you keep the coin, love. These aren’t your burdens.”
It was strange, because she watched her hand close over his before she truly knew she was moving; his skin felt warm, the gold of his rings cool against her fingers. “Perhaps it’s fitting,” she said with a shaky smile. “After the way I…”
“You did what was right by you and the crew, Lizzie. Might not like it, but I can’t argue with it.” He paused, turning his hand over to thread his fingers through hers. “And you came back for me – at the fort in Port Royal. You could have let me hang.”
“No,” she said softly, watching the lamplight glint on his obsidian ring. “No, I couldn’t.”
His gaze briefly met hers before darting away, a flicker of his rare, genuine smile touching his lips. “Other matters at stake now,” he said, though he made no move to release her hand. “Teague’s up to something, I can smell it – just don’t know what’s in his head.”
Elizabeth drew closer, lowering her voice. “He agreed to make this sacrifice and free Calypso.”
“Did he now?” Jack’s smile turned into something bitter and sharp-edged. “Did he say when?”
“I take it he’s not got the ninth coin?”
“Davy Jones’ coin? No, although he seemed certain of getting it.”
Jack nodded, his gaze darting around the shadowy room before he leaned in and murmured. “Dear William.”
“Plans on murdering Jones.”
“So…” She frowned. “So then Will inherits the coin?”
Jack’s eyes were dark; she saw secrets in their shadows. “Among other things.”
A silence fell between them, full of things unsaid. She could feel them pressing around her, ghosts and phantoms of lives lost and lives that never were. Maybe they were simply her regrets. She shivered. “I don’t like this place. It feels…”
“Dangerous?” When she nodded Jack smiled again, a flicker of gold in the lamplight. “That’s because it is dangerous, love.”
Elizabeth lifted her cup and took another drink; the taste and heat of the rum steadied her. At least, that’s what she told herself. “Do you believe in it all? In the prophesy and the bound goddess?”
“Yes – when it suits me. No, when it don’t.”
She smiled. “And does it suit you now?”
Jack jerked his head in the rough direction of the port. “Beckett’s out there with a murderous gleam in his eye, and Jones straining at the leash. I’ve no desire to return to the Locker, so the Cove’s the safest place to be. For now.”
“And if it becomes more dangerous here, what then?” Her fingers tightened around his hand. “Will you leave?”
Will you leave me here alone?
His gaze slipped away from her, that sweet boy’s smile flickering across his lips. “We’re all pirate’s here, love…”
“So you’ll keep to the Code? Do what’s right by you?”
He darted a look at her. “Can’t ask for more than that, eh?”
She fell silent, watching their hands clasped together on the table. Like so much else between them, it was a fact they were both carefully ignoring. “Why did you come back?”
“To the Pearl, that day. I saw you leave, Jack. You took a longboat and rowed for shore. Why did you change your mind?”
She thought he might laugh, or simply shrug it off, but he did neither. For an instant his eyes were clear as a starlit night. “Are you sure you want to know the answer to that, Lizzie?”
“I—” She couldn’t hold his gaze, had to look back down. “You’re a good man, so—”
“I’m not,” he said hotly. “That’s not why.”
A shadow fell across the table. “Elizabeth?”
Her head snapped up. “Will!”
Beneath her fingers, Jack’s hand slipped away as he rose to his feet. “Young Mr. Turner, how delightful!” He swayed a little, waving his cup under Will’s nose. “Rum?”
It was the first time Elizabeth had seen through his performance.
Will’s nose wrinkled. “No, thank you.” His gaze fell on Elizabeth. “Barbossa came back hours ago. Where have you been?”
She swallowed a mouthful of rum. “Talking to Captain Teague.”
“In his quarters.” Her chin lifted. “Jack… Jack was just—”
“Escorting her home, mate.” His long fingers plucked at Will’s vest, smoothing out invisible creases. “The Cove’s a dangerous place for a young lass to be wondering alone, even if she is our majestic Majesty.” He took a long swallow of rum, tilted sideways, and lifted a finger as if stopping Will mid flow. “In fact, more so because she’s our mellifluous Majesty.”
Will rolled his eyes and turned away. “Barbossa says it’s not safe for you here, Elizabeth.” He reached down and took her arm, brooking no argument. “.”
As she rose, she glanced back at Jack; he was watching her with sober eyes and a not-quite-drunken smile upon his lips. “Keep a weather eye, your Majesty. Storm’s brewing.”
She said nothing, just nodded. Jack’s answer was no more than a gleam in his eyes.
But when Will took her hand to lead her from the tavern, Elizabeth found herself missing the cool press of gold rings and the deft grace of a pickpocket’s fingers.
What that might mean, she dared not imagine.
Kasumi was a shadow against the mouldering, upended hulk. She lay like a blade along the stub of shattered bowsprit jutting out across the narrow passageway, and the moonlight fell past her, casting no shadow.
Thus had she been taught to walk the night, silent and deadly in word and deed. Watching.
She watched now; not a muscle had moved in over an hour, yet she could be gone in the blink of an eye. Such speed, however, would not be required in this place of slovenly drunkards. Secrecy, however...? Shipwreck Cove was full of secrets and Kasumi intended to unpeel each one like a mikan, relishing the juicy flesh within.
In the street below walked a young man, alone and wary. He was a stranger here and unused to the ways of the Cove; unused to the sea, Kasumi thought, from his gait. Yet here he was, and none but those invited ever passed the Devil's Throat.
The boy interested her.
Her interest deepened when he stopped outside the very door she'd been observing and, after a moment, pushed it open and stepped inside.
It was no coincidence.
Sometime earlier, Kasumi had watched Jack Sparrow lead their newly crowned King through the very same door. This youth, then, belonged to Sparrow's entourage – or, perhaps, to the mysterious Elizabeth Swann.
She was the reason Kasumi lay watching the tavern; she was the secret Kasumi wished to peel first. Painfully beautiful, slender as a willow and aching to be touched, she seemed strangely unaware of her power; a well chosen caress and a whispered promise would have sent the Brethren sprawling at her feet, had she wished. Yet the girl sat in silence throughout the meeting of the Court, her wide, appraising eyes seeming to drink them all in but offering nothing in return. She’d even seemed surprised by the vote.
And yet this was the woman who had lured Jack Sparrow into the mouth of the beast, had stolen his coin and his place at the Brethren Court. She could not be the innocent she appeared, and Kasumi was determined to lay bare her truths.
However, as she’d watched Jack Sparrow guide the girl through the labyrinth, one hand curled about her slender shoulder, Kasumi had come to realise that he may have been the architect of his own destruction.
She knew him well. They played the same games and they always won – always, except for the single time she’d tried to play Jack Sparrow… She permitted herself a smile at the memory; the thrill of encountering such a worthy opponent had almost led her to permit him a Pyrrhic victory, simply to savour the taste of defeat at his hands.
But such was not her way. She had long ago learned to cleave desire from duty and, until tonight, she had thought Jack Sparrow equally disciplined. She could not be sure from this distance, it would require closer investigation, but Kasumi had been schooled in the art of reading a man’s body and she had seen something helpless in the way he’d shadowed Elizabeth Swann.
Was it possible that Jack Sparrow had become a slave to his heart?
Across the passageway, the door opened again and the boy stepped out. Not alone, however. Elizabeth Swann followed and – most interestingly – her hand was clasped in that of the boy.
Kasumi stilled her breathing, opened her ears, and slowly began to unpeel the mikan.
“Elizabeth,” the boy whispered, drawing her into a strip of shadow near the wall. “Are you all right?” He touched her face with the hesitation of a would be lover. “I was worried.”
“I’m fine. Will, you mustn’t worry about me so.”
“But I do. Always. This…” He gestured about him. “You weren’t born for this.”
She paused. “But you were?”
Kasumi couldn’t see the boy’s face, but she could sense his discomfort. “Piracy’s in my blood. My father…”
There was a silence, one filled with secrets. “We will free him, Will.”
He nodded and rested his forehead against hers. “We should have been married by now, Elizabeth. Remember? We thought, by spring, you might be… That we might be…”
It was interesting, Kasumi noticed, how Elizabeth turned her head a little so that her eyes were fixed once more upon the door to the tavern. “That life is over, Will. You must know, we can never return to Port Royal.”
“I know.” He straightened and Kasumi could read desire in the urgent lines of his body. “We’re off the edge of the map, Elizabeth. Everything is different now.”
“They say war is coming, with the East India Company. And with…other things.”
His hand was on her face again, his lips pressed longingly against the bridge of her nose. “The world’s turned upside down, Elizabeth. You’re all that I’ve left to cling to.”
Her eyes closed. Were those tears upon her cheek? “Oh, Will…”
“Tonight, Elizabeth,” he whispered fervently. “Before the storm comes, before I have to— Elizabeth, let us have tonight.”
Kasumi wasn’t sure, but she thought she saw Elizabeth nod before they disappeared into the shadows of Shipwreck Cove, leaving her to ponder what she had witnessed. What, she wondered, was the boy’s role in all this?
Five minutes after they were gone, the tavern door opened once more; Kasumi smiled, coiling slowly to her feet and balancing lightly upon the bowsprit.
Jack Sparrow glanced each way along the passage, then began to follow in the lovers’ footsteps toward the docks. Silently, Kasumi landed behind him.
Her knife was almost drawn when his sword nicked the soft skin of her throat. “Hello, love.”
Raising her empty hands, she smiled. “Suzume, it’s been too long.”
“Not long enough, it seems.” He cast a pointed glance at the knife in her belt.
“A mere precaution. I’m here on Brethren business only.”
“Are you now?”
Kasumi smiled, unable to not play the game. “And pleasure, of course.”
“Of course.” With liquid grace, he sheathed his blade.
“You’re returning to your ship?” She took a step closer, watching trouble surface in his eyes. “I’ll walk with you. These streets are dangerous.”
He looked away, frowning slightly. “Not to me ship, no…”
Kasumi hid a smile. He knew then, or guessed, the intent of Elizabeth Swann and her eager young lover, and it disturbed him. He was weaker than she imagined; a love returned was debilitating enough, but a love unrequited was a crippling blow. She’d not thought Jack Sparrow foolish enough to permit such a frailty.
“What say you to visiting the Great Hall?” he asked suddenly, full of false cheer.
“The Great Hall?” she said, in contempt. “You may have lost your own coin, Jack Sparrow, but I am still Pirate Lord. You would have me visit the Great Hall, where the floor crawls with the lowest form of thugs and brigands?”
"Well, love, according to me father, it seems I am the lowest form of thug and brigand and, therefore, not fit for the majesty of the Brethren Court..." His eyes glittered brighter than a blade, though his smile was weary. "Are you coming, or what?"
Kasumi tilted her head. “What has death done to you, Suzume?”
He cast her an unreadable look. “You have no idea, love. No idea at all.”
Beneath his touch, Elizabeth’s skin was fluid, molten, though below the surface he could feel her strength, like tempered steel. Will traced the lines of her back with his fingers, followed the outline of her shoulder and arm; though he’d hung lanterns around the little shed, their golden glow did not seem to fall upon her. Instead, the moonlight that trickled through the tiny windows painted her in stark contrasts of light and shade, blue embers glowing through the black coals of an icy fire. He waited until his breathing had steadied before speaking.
“Did… did I hurt you?”
She shook her head but didn’t turn, her whispered answer, a single word. “No.”
Will shifted, the coarse flour sacks bundled beneath them seemed rougher than they had been earlier, when he’d taken such pains to make this as perfect as possible for her, to try and give her some semblance of the comfort to which she had been born. How foolish of him to think that sackcloth bedding in a draughty shed that could ever compare to the fine linen and eiderdown of her father’s mansion. It had been absurd to believe that this would fix anything. Would she think him debauched now? Willing to take her by any means possible, no matter how filthy the surroundings, just to slake his own lust? How ironic that he now felt more empty than ever before.
And yet hadn’t there been something there? Something in the way she had moved and sighed beneath him, how she had opened to him…. She had wanted this as much as he; of that, there was no question in his mind. Her hands, their calloused palms a stark contrast to the silk of her skin, had slid across him impatiently, urging him inside. Her movements throughout had not been those of an unwilling lover and his breath had caught when her hand had grasped his, pushing his fingers down to the spot where their bodies joined.
That her virtue remained intact, he had no doubt, would never have doubted it even if the proof had not been there for him to see. And yet she had been so eager, so hungry that in the midst of their coupling, he had drawn back to look upon her face, beautiful, yet etched now with lines that spoke of knowledge beyond her years and in that moment he had wondered who she was, this woman he held in his arms. She was so changed, so different from the eidolon of his dreams and he wondered if the girl he’d known for so long had ever been real at all.
She had arched and moaned against him, as Will’s gaze had traced her features, when suddenly her eyes had closed, her head falling back, and her fingers had reached out to clutch at the back of his neck. So overcome was he with the untamed passion of her expression that he had felt his body tighten and shudder in a final moment of release and he had spilled inside her. Beneath him, she’d stilled, as he gasped against her neck.
Now they lay just inches from each other and yet Will had never felt so far away.
“What if…?” He paused and swallowed. “What if there is a child?”
“There won’t be.” Her voice was a whisper.
“How do you know?”
“I just know, Will.”
Slowly, he withdrew his hand from its gentle meanderings across her skin. Nothing was fixed, nothing was better. Between them, the distance seemed to stretch, tattered and frayed as the sackcloth on which they lay.
“I’m sorry, Elizabeth,” he whispered, swallowing the catch in his throat. “I thought it would be better for this. I thought it would make things right. I was wrong. It was a mistake.” He sat up and ran a hand though his hair. “I’m sorry.”
Behind him, he heard her shift upon their makeshift bed, then felt her hand upon his back. “No, Will. Please don’t say that.” He looked at her over his shoulder. “Don’t be sorry.” With gentle hands, she pulled him back down so that they lay face to face. Her fingers played with the strands of hair that fell across his face.
“Elizabeth, don’t you feel it? It’s different now. Don’t you feel how it’s changed?”
Still her fingers danced across his face, through his hair. But despite the tenderness of her touch, upon her lips there was a sad smile. She nodded. “Nothing is the same. We can never be… we can never be…” Her voice caught and, in the moonlight slanting through the tiny window, her eyes shone silver.
“I know,” said Will. “We can never be.”
“Don’t wish this undone though, Will. Please don’t wish that. For I do love you and I know that you love me.”
“Always,” he said, and felt the burn of water pooling in his own eyes. Elizabeth’s touch left his face, travelling down over his shoulder, his arm to take his hand in her own. She traced her finger over his coarse palm.
“Blacksmith’s hands,” she said with a smile. “Don’t ever be sorry for that Will -
for what your are.”
He nodded, understanding the truth in that. Leaning across the divide between them, it seemed that the distance was not so great as he had surmised, and his lips found hers in one final, beautiful kiss that he knew would never come again.
“And what are you, Elizabeth?” he whispered against her mouth, but she gave no reply and, as sleep finally claimed him, Will’s question remained unanswered.