Elizabeth was at her wit's end. Baby John had been fussy all week, and Nurse
could do nothing with him. He'd spent most of the day at Elizabeth's breast,
but even that panacea failed to calm him. The day had passed in a blur of
interruptions -- every time Elizabeth tried to do anything, Nurse would
reappear and apologetically present John to her. It was enough to make
Elizabeth question her decision not to hire a wet nurse. If only her father
hadn't been so adamantly in favor of it, perhaps she wouldn't have dug her
heels in so hard! Usually she was glad to feed the baby herself, but on days
like this, when he wouldn't stop eating and nothing seemed to satisfy him,
she wished she could simply hand him off to someone else and sleep.
As if that wasn't enough, Will had missed dinner, sending word with his
apprentice that he was meeting "an old friend" at the King's Arms. Elizabeth
knew full well what that meant, and as she rocked and nursed John into the
evening, she quietly fumed at Will's freedom to come and go as he pleased,
with no thought to John's appetites or moods. (Not to mention Jack's liberty
from constraints and obligations of any sort, although resenting that was
like complaining that the tide refused to bend to her will.)
It was nearly midnight when Will arrived home with Jack in tow. Elizabeth
had just put John to bed, and she was still in the corner rocking the cradle
when Will and Jack stumbled up the back stairs and into the bedroom,
laughing raucously and supporting one another as they recounted the tale of
a brawl that had broken out at the tavern. They were both half-foxed and
reeked of spirits and smoke; a dark bruise was blooming beneath Jack's eye
and Will's bottom lip was split.
"Bloody smugglers with no more sense than--"
"--tried to steal my--"
"But you showed 'em! That was clever--"
The story was impossible to follow, between them talking over one another
and Jack segueing into a convoluted digression about heathen rituals, but
Elizabeth gathered that they'd thoroughly trounced their opponents.
Ignoring Elizabeth's pleas that he keep his voice down, Will was
enthusiastically demonstrating a maneuver Jack had used when there was a
faint noise from the cradle. Elizabeth turned towards the corner fearfully,
but there was no further sound.
While her back was turned, Jack caught her around the waist and pinched her
bottom. It was the last straw. Elizabeth slapped him as hard as she could,
taking a vicious satisfaction in the red mark she landed on his cheek.
Jack grinned and spread his arms wide. "Aren't you glad to see us, love?"
At the same moment, Will asked, "Didn't Peter tell you I'd be late?"
Elizabeth frantically beat the air with her hands, indicating that they
should lower their voices. "Will you both be quiet? If you wake the baby,
I'll never forgive you!"
"Ah!" Jack steepled his hands and assumed an exaggerated look of sympathy.
Torn between a stubborn reluctance to reveal the source of her anger
(particularly in the face of Jack's patently feigned concern) and the desire
to rant at the injustice of it all, Elizabeth clenched her fists and bit her
lip. Will opened his mouth to speak and Jack shot him a warning look.
Finally the words tumbled out of her, filling the silence. "Nurse says he's
cutting a tooth or some such thing and he wouldn't sleep and he ate and ate
and ate and he cried all day and nothing we did helped and I'm so tired
!" Her eyes filled with tears and she ended on a long sob, provoked as much
by her inability to refrain from crying as by her frustration.
"We could still--"
Jack clapped a hand over Will's mouth. "That is, what can we do to make it
all better?" His free hand flickered and waved suggestively.
The thought of someone else's skin against hers made Elizabeth shudder. "Not
that! I can't bear to have anyone touch me right now."
Inspiration gleamed in Jack's eyes. "Ah, but what if no one touched you at
all?" His hand slipped to Will's shoulder and he spun Will to face him as he
continued, "You just sit back and watch." He leaned in, and touched
his tongue to Will's swollen bottom lip, delicately lapping at the cut. Will
froze, allowing Jack to taste his mouth thoroughly before he grasped Jack's
shoulders and pulled him into a lingering kiss. The firelight limned them
both in gold; from a distance (and with their mouths too busy to talk)
Elizabeth had to admit they made a very pretty picture, although she wasn't
quite prepared to forgive them yet.
Will's hands tangled in Jack's hair as they continued to kiss, knocking
Jack's hat to the floor. Meanwhile, Jack deftly unbuttoned Will's waistcoat
and pushed both it and Will's coat off his shoulders. In spite of their
drunkenness, they moved with casual grace; their long familiarity with one
another gave their gestures the fluidity of a dance. Soon they were both
stripped to their shirts and breeches.
Jack pulled away to untuck his shirt, but Will clung to him, continuing the
kiss, and it was only with the greatest reluctance that Will allowed Jack to
separate himself. Jack pulled his shirt over his head, revealing golden skin
and scars and the dark smudge of a new tattoo on his shoulder. Elizabeth
peered at it in vain, but in the dim light, it was impossible to identify
At Jack's urging, Will too removed his shirt. Jack's hands were stark
against Will's pale back, and Will leaned into Jack's touch like a cat. For
a moment, Elizabeth thought they'd forgotten her, but then Jack cut his eyes
at her knowingly as he tweaked Will's nipple. Will shivered, throwing his
head back, and Elizabeth felt a stir of desire. She could imagine how those
rough fingers felt, almost as if it were her own skin that they grazed.
Jack winked before bending his head to lick the hollow at the base of Will's
neck. Elizabeth's legs parted and she leaned forward. Her exhaustion was
transforming itself into loose-limbed lust and she gasped along with Will
when Jack bit down hard on Will's shoulder.
Will muttered something under his breath and scrabbled at the placket of
Jack's breeches, eagerness robbing his movements of their former
"Slowly, love." Jack gave Elizabeth a wicked sidelong glance. "Remember to
keep the lady entertained."
She couldn't help but smile at that. Jack was infuriating, but there was no
doubt that he could be exceedingly entertaining. As if sensing that
her anger was softening, Jack blew her a kiss.
Will's gaze skittered to Elizabeth as he fought for control. Eyes locked
with hers, he stroked his hand across the bulge in Jack's breeches, flicking
his thumb expertly until Jack's composure shook. Will smirked at Elizabeth
and she had to stifle an entirely inappropriate giggle. "Slowly, right,
Jack?" Will unfastened the top button of Jack's breeches and Jack made a
small noise in the back of his throat as he nodded.
Will's fingers dipped into the gap in Jack's waistband, brushing lightly
across his belly, and Jack tightened his grip on Will's arms. Without moving
his hand, Will kissed Jack again. There was no finesse this time; it was
sloppy and wet and desperate. From her perch on the rocking chair, Elizabeth
could smell the masculine tang of sweat and rum that poured off their bodies
and she slipped her hand beneath her shift.
Her thumb rubbed circles along the inside of her thigh as Will dropped
easily to the floor and mouthed at Jack's navel. One hand clasped Jack's
hip, steadying him, and when Will looked up at Jack, Elizabeth was struck by
the smug amusement on his face; he'd learned that look from Jack, as well as
the trick of taking the upper hand while on his knees.
With excruciating slowness, Will unbuttoned Jack's breeches, licking and
sucking on the skin he exposed. Jack leaned back against the wall,
glassy-eyed and panting, and when Will took him in his mouth, Jack's head
thumped back against the wall with a hollow sound.
Elizabeth watched avidly, her fingers sliding in the slippery heat of her
quim. For once, Jack's face was an open book, betraying all his yearning and
need, as well as a desperate tenderness. It seemed to Elizabeth that it was
only in these moments that she saw him for who he truly was, with no masks
or pretense, and the thought stole her breath away.
Jack looked up and whispered, "Oh, Bess. . ."
The last bit of Elizabeth's resentment melted away and she was at his side
in an instant, kissing him furiously as he spent himself in Will's mouth.
They landed on the hearth rug in a tangle of limbs, and then there were more
sticky kisses and murmured endearments. Will would have taken Elizabeth on
the floor, but Jack insisted on carrying her to the bed, where he and Will
made their apologies very prettily. Afterwards, she fell asleep between
them, snug and warm and safe.
But the day's troubles followed her into sleep. In her dreams, she'd
misplaced John and, although she could hear his frantic cries, she couldn't
find him anywhere. The house seemed to grow new rooms and Elizabeth wandered
the strange corridors until she was quite lost. Distracted by the curious
objects that cluttered the walls and shelves, she forgot to look for John.
Finally she arrived at a heavy wooden door and when she pushed it open, she
discovered that she was on the deck of the Pearl. Somewhere John was
laughing and Jack was singing a familiar tune, but her eyes were dazzled by
the sun and she couldn't see them.
And then, like swimming to the surface of a deep pool, she began to wake,
still hearing Jack singing softly and the baby's bright laughter burbling up
in counterpoint to the song. She opened her eyes to see Jack bouncing John
on his knee while Will looked on. Will was wearing Jack's hat and John was
gnawing on piece of hardtack. She didn't like to think how long Jack had
been carrying it around in his pocket, but if it kept John quiet, she
Jack finished the song with an off-key, "meeee," and swung John up in the
air, making him giggle all the more. It should have been incongruous to see
the baby clasped in his tar-stained hands, but Elizabeth thought it was
Will covered his face with Jack's hat. "Boo!"
John chortled merrily.
"He's a good lad."
"Good as gold," Jack agreed.
They contemplated John with identical expressions of bemused satisfaction,
while he babbled contentedly at them. Unable to contain her amusement,
Elizabeth burst into laughter.
Jack started guiltily. "He was kicking up a fuss in the wee hours, but we
didn't like to wake you. Thought your temper--."
"Jack's a wonder with him," Will interjected diplomatically.
"Nothing to it, really!" Elizabeth huffed indignantly at this, and he
amended, "That is, I'm sure I'm incapable of appreciate the numerous
sacrifices required by maternal devotion. And no doubt a good night's sleep
puts him in a better humor as well." Abruptly, Jack stood and passed
the baby back to Elizabeth. "I suppose I'd best be on my way, before the
servants are up and about."
He bent to collect his scattered clothes and Elizabeth spotted the tattoo on
his shoulder. In the early morning light, she could make out a pattern of
three intertwined knots.
He stiffened, and with deliberate nonchalance said, "Oh, new ink."
The skin was still scabbed. Elizabeth rubbed her fingers over the raised
Will cocked his head as he studied the tattoo. "What does it mean?"
"Mean? Damned if I know -- Gibbs says it's lucky; that's good enough for me.
Can't have too much luck, I always say." He pulled his shirt over his head,
as if to end the conversation.
Jack wasn't even gone, and she missed him already. Elizabeth put the baby on
her hip and touched Jack's face. "Stay. Just for the day. Please?"
Something like panic flared in Jack's eyes and then his expression went
cheerfully bland. "Time and tide, darlin'." He kissed her forehead and
hurriedly donned his clothes.
Will's brow was furrowed, but whatever conclusions he was coming to, he kept
them to himself. Jack slapped him across the back heartily and Will stole a
quick kiss before clapping Jack's hat on his head. "Don't be a stranger,
Jack balanced on the windowsill. "Never fear, the wind'll blow me back this
way before long." He dropped out of sight.
John blinked in confusion and began to wail. Elizabeth jiggled him gently.
"Don't worry, Johnny-bird, he'll be back soon."
Will wrapped his arms around them. "Yes. He will."