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Triangulation, part 1b

by Melusina

 

Fandom: PoTC    Rating: NC-17    Pairing: Jack/Will/Elizabeth    Full Header   Triangulation, part 1b

 


Chapter 9: Confessions


Elizabeth rented a room under an assumed name, but Will found her anyway. Within a week, he was at the door of her lodgings, sporting a faded black eye and a nearly healed split lip and drenched from an unexpected rainstorm.

"I am given to understand that I owe you an apology," he said stiffly. "I have neglected. . . ." He broke off, hesitated, and started again in a softer voice. "I know I've no right to accuse you. . . ." His face crumpled. "Oh, Elizabeth, how could you?"

"How could I? How could I, indeed! How dare you!"

Will spread his hands out and quirked his lips, acknowledging the inherent weakness of his position.

Elizabeth sighed. "I suppose you'd better come in."

She took her time fussing with Will's damp cape and hat and preparing tea. Finally ensconced before the fire with their tea and toast, they were both silent, neither sure of where to begin.

Will took Elizabeth's hand and toyed with her wedding ring. "Elizabeth, please believe that I never intended to hurt you - I only meant to protect you and the child. You were so. . . . I thought you wanted to be left alone." He paused awkwardly. "Jack. . . ." He looked up to gauge her reaction. "I gather you know about that?"

Elizabeth nodded curtly.

Will winced and continued. "I . . .I was lonely and. Well. I shouldn't have. . . ." He gave her a forlorn look. "Jack can be quite persuasive."

Elizabeth relented. "Under the circumstances, I can hardly reproach you."

She took a deep breath. "There's something you must know. Jack and I- The night we spent on the island." She blushed but met his gaze steadily. "He kissed me and I . . . allowed certain liberties."

Will's eyes were wide with shock and hurt, but he merely repeated, in a wry tone, "Under the circumstances, I can hardly reproach you."

Elizabeth felt a desperate need to explain herself, although she wasn't sure what to say. She could hardly tell her husband that Jack had seemed the very incarnation of the romantic pirates she'd read about, and that he'd been very persuasive indeed, touching her in ways that Will had never dared. "There was rather a lot of rum."

"With Jack there always is." The resignation with which Will made this somewhat obvious observation seemed ridiculously funny to Elizabeth and she laughed until tears streamed down her cheeks. It was all so terribly absurd and yet there was something liberating about finally having no more secrets from Will. He joined in her laughter and somehow things were more comfortable between them.

Will knelt beside her chair and took both of her hands in his. "Elizabeth, I do love you. I want you to come home."

"Home?"

"The Pearl - it's as close to a home as we're likely to get."

"And what about the baby? Jack's just about reconciled to having two females on his ship, but surely he'll draw the line at a child."

"Jack wants you to return as well. He says we can make accommodations for the baby. He has a plan."

"And we all know how well those turn out," she replied dryly.

Of course, she agreed to return to the Pearl with him. Perhaps she'd only been waiting for someone to beg her to come back, to treat her as though she was something essential that couldn't be left behind.

Chapter 10: The Price You Pay for the Chains You Refuse


Author's Note: "Born in the caul" means that the amniotic sac didn't break until the baby was born, leaving a "veil" of membrane over the baby's face. The chapter title is from the Richard Thompson song, "Beeswing."

*


Jack's plan proved to be a friend in Nassau, an ex-pirate who'd married a wealthy widow. He thought perhaps his friends might be persuaded to take Elizabeth in until the baby was born, and then foster the child.

Elizabeth had never known her own mother, who had died in childbirth. She'd never played with dolls or begged to be allowed to hold a baby. She viewed her unborn child as a nuisance and an inconvenience and one she was well shut of. But it pained her to think of abandoning her baby. Of never knowing if she was good with her hands like Will or if his hair caught the sun like her own. Still, pain or no, she would sacrifice this child to keep her place on the Pearl, to be near Will and this last bit a thought she found it increasingly difficult to avoid - Jack.

*


By Elizabeth's calculations, they had three months before the baby came. She insisted on waiting until the last possible moment before going to Jack's friends. Will didn't dare argue with her, not when she was in this mood, although he wished she wouldn't cut it so close. Instead, he devoted himself to making her comfortable. She spent most of her time lazing in their cabin, napping and reading.

In a different life, the one where he was a law-abiding blacksmith, Will supposed that he would have been eagerly anticipating the birth of their first child. But they were hedged round by the choices they'd made, and there was no other way. So long as Elizabeth was satisfied, Will would make no complaint. And if the babe was a boy, perhaps in a few years he could join them. Little Tommy, the cabin boy, was only nine years old. Nine years was a long time, but not a lifetime. Perhaps someday Will would have the chance to know his child.

Will took care never to be alone with Jack. Will had made no promises to Elizabeth - they avoided any discussion of their respective liaisons with Jack - but it didn't seem fair to her to continue dallying with Jack.

Jack in turn kept a respectful distance from both Turners, although he asked after Elizabeth regularly and once brought her a pilfered crate of pomegranates and oranges from Spain. The gift delighted Elizabeth even more than the copy of Robinson Crusoe Will had found. She favored Jack with a warm smile and insisted that he share the fruit with her and Will.

Will had never eaten pomegranates before. He was amazed by the tiny jewel-like seeds, each one a burst of tart sweetness on his tongue. The red juice stained Jack's fingers and lips and left little red spots speckling his white shirt. Watching Jack roll the seeds on his tongue, Will couldn't help but think of how they would flavor his mouth. But Will was well versed in the ways of forbidden fruit. He had Elizabeth, which was more than he'd ever hoped for. It was too much to ask that he have Jack too, and madness to risk the one for the other.

*


As the Pearl neared New Providence Island, clouds gathered and the sky turned an ominous green color. Soon rain was pounding the deck and high waves buffeted the ship. They dared not get closer to shore until the storm abated. Elizabeth, far too ungainly to be of help, was confined to her cabin.

Two days into the squall, the spasms in her back became more definite and regular. This had happened before, but this time, the pains didn't go away after a few minutes, but instead came harder and faster. She didn't know much about babies, but she'd heard enough to know that the baby's arrival was imminent.

By the time Will came to check on her again, the contractions were coming one on top of the other. The world had narrowed to the rhythmic pressure and the brief moments of respite in between. It occurred to her that something must be very wrong. Surely it was not normal to feel this much pain. No woman could survive it. I'm going to die, she thought, just like my mother. The thought was oddly comforting. Soon, she would be dead, and this agony would cease.

Will's voice was frantic and fearful. "Elizabeth! How long has it been like this?" He half dragged, half carried her to the bed. His hands were cool on her feverish skin. He pulled off her skirts and her bodice, leaving her in her sticky, bloodstained shift.

"The storm's calming. I'm going to find someone to help."

Elizabeth managed a nod before the next pain hit.

Will returned with Anamaria. She and Will were both haggard and wet through from the rain. A less likely pair of midwives couldn't be found.

"I've never done this," Anamaria gestured at Elizabeth's prone form, "but I've seen it done I'm the oldest of seven. Do you feel like you need to shit?"

Elizabeth shook her head.

"Then it'll be a while yet. Nothing to do but wait."

Elizabeth moaned as another crushing pain descended, and Will flinched. Anamaria rummaged around the cabin until she found a bottle. She poured a shot into a dirty cup and offered it to Elizabeth. Not finding another cup, she passed the bottle to Will, then lit the lantern, settled back in a chair, and pulled out a deck of cards.

Hours passed and the pains grew harder. Just as Elizabeth thought it could get no worse, something changed. The pain became more focused and she had an overwhelming need to bear down.

With Anamaria's help, she struggled into an upright position and squatted on the bed. Going purely on instinct, she pushed and pushed with all her might. Finally, something gave and the baby slid out in a wet rush, into Anamaria's waiting hands. Elizabeth fell back in exhaustion, amazed that she had somehow survived.

*


For the first time in hours, the cabin was silent. Then there was a tentative knock at the door and Will opened it to reveal Jack, holding onto the door frame to steady himself.

Jack looked drunker than usual and quite morose. "Is it . . . over?"

"Thank God, yes." Elizabeth replied, her voice weak with exhaustion.

Jack's face cleared. "Well, what is it then?"

"A boy." Anamaria said as she swaddled the baby in a blanket and handed him to Will. "Born in the caul too."

This meant nothing to Will, but Jack looked exceptionally pleased.

He slapped Will on the shoulder. "Fine luck! A baby born in the caul can never die by drowning. Good omen for a future pirate, eh Will?"

Will looked down at the scrawny, red-faced infant and said, "Doesn't look much like a pirate now, Jack."

"Doesn't look much like a baby either, mate. But we must have faith, aye?"

*


Elizabeth stayed in Nassau for a month. Her son was a bonny, bright-eyed boy with the look of Will about him. When she nursed him, she felt herself softening - brushing the fine hairs on his head and admiring his tiny fingers. Terrified that she might unwittingly be trapped into loving him, she forced herself to hand him over to the wet nurse and bound her breasts to dry up her milk.

Jack's friends were kind and welcoming, but Elizabeth was anxious to return to the sea. She wondered what adventures Jack and Will had found, what prizes they'd seized. She had less than nothing in common with the woman who would raise her child, and Elizabeth quickly lost patience with Sarah's gentle attempts to draw her out. Before two weeks had passed, Elizabeth was spending all her time watching the ocean, looking for the Pearl's return.

Chapter 11: The Best Laid Plans



Will didn't like to admit it, but things were a little more comfortable on the Pearl after they left Elizabeth and the baby in New Providence. He missed her, he couldn't wait to see her again, but he was also glad to be free of the lingering awkwardness between them. The past few months had been stifling and it was a relief not to have to worry about Elizabeth and her moods.

They were to return for Elizabeth in a month. During that time, Jack planned to sail north to the mainland and do a little raiding along the coast. "Raid" in this case appeared to be code for "drink and whore in every town large enough to boast a house of ill-repute."

Which is how Will came to be sitting, for the fifth night in a row, in a whore-house, drinking steadily and fending off advances from painted women in distractingly low cut gowns.

Jack sat back with his feet propped on the table, and waved an arm magisterially, sloshing ale everywhere. "Will, m'boy, I'm going to get spectacularly drunk. And then I'm going to bed one of these fine ladies - no two of these fine ladies, and then I'm going to drink some more. What say you?"

Will thought, but did not say, that "lady" was a generous term for the brazen hussies who were, even now, perching themselves on his lap and putting their hands in all sorts of interesting places. Will did not like to think what Elizabeth would say if she discovered he'd been whoring up and down the American coast while she was recovering from childbirth. But a month is a long time, and Will's desperate attempts to not think of Jack in that way were becoming increasingly futile. Will wondered which temptation Elizabeth would find least objectionable. He groaned and put his head down on the table, savoring the feeling of the cool wood against his flushed face.

Jack disappeared with a saucy brunette, and a plump, pretty blonde took Will's hand and made to lead him up the stairs. When he resisted she bent down and whispered, "Your friend's paid for you. He told me about your problem and said I was just the girl to fix it."

"My. . .problem?"

The whore made a lewd gesture with her hand. "You know, your get up and go problem?" She patted his arm reassuringly. "No worries, it happens to all men sometimes. But we'll fix you up, right as rain."

Her meaning sank in. "I have no problem of the sort, I'll have you know!"

Her hand slid down the front of his breeches. "Ah, it seems your problem is already cured! Well, we wouldn't want to waste it now, would we?"

Will would never know if he would have succumbed to this offer, because at that moment Jack reappeared, an excited gleam in his eye. "So it is that he's a eunuch? Well, too late now, love." And he swatted the whore on the arse and propelled her away from their table. As soon as she was gone, Jack put an arm around Will and leaned in close. "D'ya see that gentleman over there, in the blue coat?"

Picking up on Jack's hushed tones, Will nodded.

"That's the new customs inspector, just arrived today from England. Were we to waylay said inspector and appropriate his seal, we could use it to confiscate goods hither and yon, all in the name of the crown. Until, that is, word got out that the seal was stolen."

Now, this was more like it. A chance to blow off some steam, and one which would be much less likely to result in Elizabeth having his head. The inspector looked to be an easy mark; too drunk to sit up straight, he was leaning heavily against the woman beside him, his wig askew and his coat sleeve trailing in a pool of ale.

After another tankard of ale, the inspector and his companion started up the stairs. Jack motioned the blonde over again. "Darlin', my friend's changed his mind and he's ready for a go - but only if I come with him to hold his hand, as it were."

The blonde smirked and cozied up to Jack. "So that's how it is. Well, boys, what are we waitin' for?"

They followed the blonde up the stairs, just in time to see the tail of the inspector's blue coat entering one of the rooms. Jack halted. "You know what this party needs? A bottle of rum and some more female companionship. Why don't you trot downstairs and remedy that problem, while my friend and I get settled?"

As soon as she was gone, Jack cocked his pistol and slowly opened the door to the inspector's room. The inspector was in the bed, his face buried in the whore's considerable bosom.. Before either could make a sound, Jack's pistol was pressed to the inspector's temple, and his other hand was wrapped around the doxy's mouth.

Jack's voice was low and seductive, more that of a lover than a brigand. "Are you gonna scream?"

She shook her head, eyes full of fear and Jack's hand slid across her face in a parody of a caress. He gestured at the inspector. "Fix 'im up, will ya?"

Will tied the man's hands with a stocking and gagged him with his own cravat. Meanwhile, Jack rifled through the inspector's luggage, pocketing his seal and a few odds and ends that caught his eye.

He grabbed the whore and pulled her to her feet. "I'd love to stay and. . .chat, but we've got places to be and things to pilfer." He spun her around and tied her hands with the other stocking and gagged her as well. Then, winking broadly, he slipped the inspector's fat purse into her pocket. "For your troubles, love!"

Then Jack snagged the wig off the inspector's head and somersaulted out the window. Will followed right behind.

*


The next morning, Jack woke Will at an ungodly hour, ready to implement his plan. Will stared at Jack's clean-shaven face.

"What're you gawkin' at? If I'm to impersonate a gentleman, I have to look the part, don't I?"

"Are you going to cut your hair too?"

"Never! It'll fit up under his wig. And I'll be needin' to borrow some clothes. I'm not near the dandy you are - none of mine are so fine as yours."

Stealing a wagon was child's play. Boats, ships, wagons - apparently Jack could sweet talk or otherwise con his way into every variety of transport.

Gibbs drove the wagon, Jack played inspector, and Will did his best impression of a dunderheaded lackey. When they arrived at the warehouse, Jack presented the seal.

"It seems that there are some. . . irregularities with these spices. It is my duty to confiscate them until such time as their provenance can be proved in a court of law."

He made a surprisingly effective gentleman, dressed in Will's green coat and the custom inspector's wig. But it was his voice that astounded Will. Crisp and faintly bored, with perfect enunciation, nothing like Jack Sparrow. It nagged at Will's memory. He knew that voice - who did Jack remind him of? When it hit him, Will almost laughed out loud. Norrington. Jack was doing a spot-on imitation of Commodore Norrington.

The guards looked confused, but acquiesced when Jack threatened to file a complaint. With Will and Gibbs' help, the guards loaded the wagon. Jack stood by, watching and tapping his foot pointedly.

Leaving the warehouse, a low-hanging branch caught Jack's wig and it slid off his head, revealing his unruly mop of hair. The bemused looks on the guards' faces changed to recognition. One of the guards cried out, "That's Jack Sparrow!"

"That's what comes of having your face on handbills," Jack muttered.

Gibbs whipped the horses and the wagon picked up speed, the sounds of pursuit close behind. They had a head start and had soon put significant distance between them and their pursuers. But Gibbs took a curve in the road too sharply, and the wagon teetered precipitously and then tipped over. Will landed in a bush with a mouth full of sand. Barrels and spices were scattered all over the road and Jack was cursing a blue streak somewhere to Will's left.

Will jumped to his feet and started cutting the horses loose. He and Jack could share one horse and Gibbs could take the other. Gibbs mounted his with little grace, but managed to get the horse pointed in the right direction and, with a little prodding, the horse produced a respectable gallop.

Will mounted the other horse and looked to Jack expectantly. He was just standing there, eyes wide and rolling around in his head, an awful look of horror on his face. Will urged him on impatiently, but Jack seemed frozen. Will looked back uneasily, grateful that there was still no sign of the guards.

"It's just a horse, Jack. Surely you can ride?"

"No, I can't ride! I'm tellin' you, I can't stand the damn things."

Despite the gravity of the situation, Will couldn't help laughing. The famous Captain Jack Sparrow, terrified of a horse! It was too much to be believed.

Thoroughly enjoying himself, Will held out his hand. "Well you're going to have to now, or we'll be caught. C'mon up."

Jack backed away. "No, no, I think I'll just walk. It can't be far now, can it?"

In the distance, Will heard hoof beats and shouts. He tensed and reached out for Jack again. The horse shied and Jack darted backwards.

Will calmed the horse a bit and then, speaking in the same soothing tones, said, "Jack. You've got to get up here now. Elizabeth is fond of you and she'll never forgive me if you're hanged." He wheeled the horse around to the other side of Jack and then leaned over and grabbed his arm quickly before he could move away again, dragging him onto the horse. Jack shrieked - there was no other word for the ridiculous noise he made - and Will burst into laughter again, as they set off toward the Pearl.

*


Safely back at the Pearl, Jack wasted no time in opening a bottle of rum. Once the ship was launched, he and Will took the bottle back to Jack's cabin.

"You took entirely too much satisfaction in that."

Will didn't even attempt to hide his mirth. "Jack, you're the bravest man I know. How did you come to be afraid of horses?

"I'm not afraid of 'em, I just don't care for 'em much."

"Wait 'til Elizabeth hears about this, Jack, you'll never live it down."

A companionable silence fell between them, with none of the awkwardness that had marked their recent interactions. Will braced himself for an advance from Jack, wondering if he'd have the will to resist this time, but it never came. Instead Jack cuffed him on the arm and said, "Don't fret, it won't be long now and your fair lady'll be back on the ship and back in your bed."

Will sighed. "I do miss her - it's not the same without her here."

Jack nodded in agreement and held up the bottle. "To Mrs. Turner."

Will solemnly clanked his bottle to Jack's and they drank deeply.

*


Will awoke convinced he was being tortured for his various crimes. His mouth was dry and sour tasting, he felt like a spike had been driven into his skull, and bile rose in his stomach every time the ship shifted in the water. When he opened his eyes, he was momentarily disoriented, and then he remembered the previous night's marathon drinking session. He must have passed out in Jack's bed. Looking around, Will saw Jack sprawled on the cabin floor, still asleep. As if he felt the weight of Will's gaze, Jack stirred, and bounded to his feet, looking as bright as a newly minted penny.

"Good morning to you, young Will." Jack's voice boomed in the small cabin and Will's head throbbed with pain. What the devil did he have to be in such a good mood about?

"Ah, feeling the effects of last night's fun?" Jack picked up a bottle from the floor and shook it, ascertaining that it was not completely empty. He handed it to Will. "What you need is a bit of the snake that bit you. It'll fix you right up."

Reluctantly, Will up-ended the bottle and swallowed down the dregs.

"If you're gonna be sick, I'd 'preciate it if you didn't do it in my bed." Jack kicked a bucket over to the side of the bunk. He stripped out of his shirt and pulled a somewhat cleaner one from his chest. After pulling his shirt on, he poured some water into a basin and splashed in on his face, then offered it to Will. "There's more water in the pitcher. Wash your face and drink some water and go back to sleep - you'll feel better when you wake."

When Will awoke, light was coming through the cabin window at an angle that suggested it was late afternoon. His head still ached, but it was no longer so bad that he couldn't think, and it seemed possible that he might live.

Jack was sitting at the desk, poring over some navigational carts and eating bread and cheese. He turned and scrutinized Will. "Well, you gonna pull through?"

Will sat up in the bed and nodded.

Jack held out his plate. "Want somethin' to eat?"

Will realized that the queasy feeling from the morning had been replaced by a gnawing hunger. The bread was stale and the cheese was somewhat linty, as if it had been traveling in someone's pocket, which, upon reflection, it probably had, but Will devoured it all.

"S'ok, mate, I was done with it anyway," Jack said mildly. He took the plate from Will and his hand brushed against Will's.

The contact was shocking and when Will looked into Jack's eyes, the world spun a bit. Will wondered if he could possibly still be drunk. The plate clattered to the floor and Jack toppled into the bed with him. Then they were kissing and it was different from before - slower, lazier, both needier and more assured. There was no question of where this was going and Will could only wonder why he'd been denying himself all this time.

Jack rolled on top of Will, pressing their cocks together. Will rubbed his face against Jack's and nuzzled his neck. Finding the spot behind Jack's ear that always made him moan, Will nipped at it and then swiped it with his tongue. Jack responded admirably and soon their clothes were scattered on the floor. This too was new. Before it had been furtive, half-clothed, over quickly, before Will could change his mind or have an attack of conscience. Now they took the time to learn one another's bodies, lavishing care and attention on one another as if they had all the time in the world.

Jack had two scars on his chest that looked like bullet wounds, white, long-healed flogging scars down his back, and ragged pink scars flowing down the inside of his left arm. High up on his back there were hard black dots of shot buried under the skin. At the base of his spine was a patch of silky hair and when Will stroked it, Jack shuddered and groaned.

The leisurely pace sped up. Jack rolled Will onto his stomach and ran his tongue up Will's spine, then mouthed the nape of Will's neck. Slick fingers slid into Will. He rubbed himself against the mattress and cried out, too loud for discretion.

Jack placed his hand over Will's mouth. "Shh, love. We don't need company right now." Jack's voice was tender, full of dark humor. "Spread your legs for me." Jack entered him slowly, fitting their bodies together like two halves of a puzzle. He began to move, angling his hips so that he brushed against that sweet spot that made Will see stars, and Will bit down hard on the meaty flesh of Jack's palm. Jack wrapped his hand around Will's cock and Will thrust into it helplessly.

Unaccountably, Will thought of the last time he'd been with Jack, of how he'd smelled of Elizabeth. Will imagined Elizabeth's body under Jack's, her face ecstatic. That was all it took and he trembled with release. Jack sped up then, thrusting deeper, and he bit into Will's shoulder to stifle his cry as he came. When he was done, he rolled off Will and lay close beside him running his hands over Will's body. Will was loose limbed, boneless, and he drifted off to sleep with the sure knowledge that whatever happened, this was right and proper, necessary, and that somehow all would be well.

Chapter 12: A Debt Paid


When the Pearl returned, Elizabeth put a few strands of the baby's hair in her locket and boarded without a backward glance, filled with relief that the tedium of her enforced rest was over. She felt an untenable regret at leaving her son behind, but she refused to dwell on it. She had done the only possible thing under the circumstances, and there was no sense crying about it now.

Things were different between Will and Jack. They shared obscure jokes, used any excuse to touch one another, and seemed in perfect accord in all things. But their intimacy did not exclude her. If anything Will was a lustier, more fervent lover than before. His ardor left little doubt that he loved and desired her, whatever his feelings for Jack.

Some of the restlessness in Jack had calmed and he was relaxed and gentle with Elizabeth. Elizabeth found she could no longer muster much jealousy of his friendship with Will. There was too much history among them now, and it seemed petty to resent Jack for wanting Will as much as she did, or - if she were perfectly honest - Will for wanting Jack as much as she did. It felt as if they were on the verge of something too complicated for Elizabeth to explain.

When Elizabeth again found telltale marks on Will's sleek skin, she had a vision of Jack and Will together in the flickering lantern light and recalled the sharp feeling of lust and anger that had lanced through her. The memory incited her passion and she was wild in her lovemaking, scratching and biting and leaving her own marks on Will's body - a message to her husband's lover, although she was not certain what she meant to convey.

Will's guilt reflected in his eyes, but she stopped his confession with a kiss. What could he do but lie or make promises that he couldn't help but break? Better not to speak of it and leave things as they were. After all, they were pirates. They had broken with convention, morality, and law. Why should they not arrange their marriage to suit themselves?

*


Elizabeth was on lookout when she spotted white sails on the horizon. The Pearl gave chase and gained on the ship slowly over the course of the afternoon. The Dutch frigate was faster than most merchant ships, but the Pearl was faster still and before evening, they'd closed the distance between them.

The ship, the Roos, did not surrender, but began firing as soon as the Pearl was in range. The Pearl's guns thundered back and smoke filled the air. Jack ordered grappling hooks used to pull them closer, and the pirates scrambled over the bowsprit onto the Roos.

Elizabeth followed Will onto the merchantman, giving him a look that dared him to say a word. The main deck was chaos - men pressed together and fighting in too close quarters, blood spattered on the boards, the crash of metal against metal and the sick thud of metal connecting with flesh.

Despite several months without practice, her skills came back to her swiftly. Her feet found the familiar patterns and her muscles stretched and warmed with each lunge and thrust. It was wonderful to have shed the extra weight and awkwardness of pregnancy and to be once again quick and agile.

Looking for Will, Elizabeth climbed to the forecastle. From her vantage point, she could see that the frigate's crew was fighting a lost cause. They were severely outnumbered, several of them were already injured, and there looked to be at least one casualty. She spotted Will and Jack, both holding their own: Will intent on his fight with a tall redheaded sailor, Jack nearby, grinning maniacally as his sword flashed through the air.

The frigate's captain was purple faced with rage. He shot randomly into the melee, not seeming to care that he was as likely to hit one of his men as one of the pirates. His shot grazed Will's ear and Will instinctively jerked away. His opponent took advantage of the opening, closing in to deliver a fatal blow.

Elizabeth, moving almost without thinking, pulled out her dagger, and threw it. Her aim was true, but the dagger spun in the air and the handle rather than the blade, smacked the redhead in the neck. The blow distracted him long enough for Jack to shove Will out of harm's way and parry the redhead's blow. Moving with surefooted speed and grace, Jack riposted, dispatching the redhead with ruthless efficiency. Sighting Elizabeth on the forecastle, Jack saluted her with his sword and shot her an almost fond look of approval, before climbing up the shrouds. In a moment, he was swinging through the rigging and then sliding down a lose line, landing on the quarterdeck with a resounding thud. Before the captain could react, Jack's knife was at his throat. The captain, not being a fool, ordered his men to stand down.

*


The pirates corralled the Dutch sailors in the bow and began ransacking the ship and taking stock of their loot. For the time being, the cargo of sugar and cotton was left in the hold, but smaller items were brought onto the deck.

As quartermaster, it was Anamaria's job to ensure that the treasure was fairly divided among the crew. The cargo in the hold would be sold and the profits parceled out, but the rest of the plunder was divided into equal shares on the spot. In preparation for this process, Will was making piles of like items: here a pile of clothes, there weapons, jewelry and smaller items dumped into a chest. There was something pleasing to Will about the symmetry of it all. His innate sense of fairness was unable to resist such a tempting problem. While he worked, he unobtrusively observed the drama unfolding on the deck.

Captain Verdooren, late of the Roos, stood in a stupor, staring into the distance, clenching his fists and cursing under his breath in Dutch. Meanwhile, Anamaria and Jack were coming to an accord regarding Verdooren's ship.

Jack still owed Anamaria the ship he'd promised her. She'd been biding her time for the perfect prize, and the Dutch frigate, fast and maneuverable with a shallow draft, was ideal for her purposes.

"We can take her into Havana. There's plenty there who'll buy the cargo - no questions asked." Anamaria cast an appraising eye over the frigate. "She needs a few repairs and while we're at it, we'll add some guns. When I'm done with her, she'll give the Pearl a run for her money."

Jack looked horrified. "Mind your tongue, girl!"

Verdooren roused from his stupor with a horrified look. "You've a woman on your ship? You fool, don't you know women are bad luck at sea?"

Anamaria flashed a mocking grin. "Aye, bad luck for some. Maybe your rose will have better luck with me at the helm."

Realization set in. He began to struggle with his bonds, kicking at Anamaria in impotent fury. "You unnatural bitch, that's my ship you're talking about."

Something like sympathy flitted across Jack's face. "Not anymore, mate. Not anymore."

*


Jack and Elizabeth sat on the quarterdeck, watching the other pirates haggle over the treasure below. Jack was idly tossing belaying pins into the air. Showing off a bit, he juggled them over his head, easily catching each one in turn. For all his talk of treasure, he never seemed overly concerned with the division of spoils. Elizabeth suspected that it was the chase that really interested him. For herself, she'd had enough luxury to last a lifetime. The attraction of this life for her was the freedom from the social strictures that had bound her. Out here on the water, far from the civilized world, anything seemed possible. A woman could command a pirate ship, a man could love another man - the only law was lawlessness. Even the Code was only a guideline.

Elizabeth's philosophical musings were broken by a loud thump on the main deck. The lid of a large chest was thrown back, revealing a well-dressed gentleman holding a pair of wheellock pistols. Before he could get off a shot, Jack threw the belaying pin in his hand, following it with the other two as they fell into his outstretched hands. The first pin hit the gentleman's right hand, knocking the pistol out of it. The next hit his left hand and the third his head. With a stunned look, he crumpled into the chest like a rag-doll.

Jack gave an aggrieved sigh. "Do I have to do everything around here?"

*


Four men from the Roos' crew agreed to sign the articles and sail with Anamaria on the renamed Black Fortune. Several more of the Pearl's crew volunteered to sail with the Fortune into Havana, where she would rendezvous with the Pearl and Anamaria would find the rest of her new crew.

The remaining men from the Roos, including her still irate captain, were marooned with a cask of water and their weapons. Elizabeth supposed she could hardly blame the man for doing what he could to protect his ship and cargo, but she would gladly have slit his throat for shooting at Will. For once, she regretted that Jack was not a particularly bloodthirsty pirate.

Chapter 13: Games of Chance



Author's Note: Lomber is a Spanish card game that was popular throughout Europe in the 18th century.

*


Upon arriving in Havana, Anamaria contacted a merchant she'd dealt with in the past, who was willing to ignore niceties such as receipts and bills of lading. He agreed to meet them at a tavern near the docks.

Anamaria loitered outside the tavern, keeping an eye out for the merchant. Unable to resist a game of cards, Jack sat down with a group of Spanish soldiers and was drawn into an interminable game of lomber. Through chance, skill, or most likely, deception, he won steadily. Elizabeth and Will found a table in a dark corner at which to wait.

Several mugs of ale later, Will slid down the bench, closing the distance between them. Elizabeth could feel his leg, tucked up against her own. Imperceptible in the dark room, Will's hand casually drifted under the table and rested on her thigh. When she squirmed and started to protest, he whispered, "quiet, or someone will guess what we're doing." Her eyes grew wide and Will grinned wickedly. Elizabeth didn't have to ask where he'd learned such tricks - this had Jack written all over it.

"So how long do you think we'll wait for this fellow?" His tone was offhanded; all the while, he was unbuttoning Elizabeth's breeches and his eyes were burning into hers.

Elizabeth made an effort to match his calm. "I can't imagine it will be much longer. He stands to profit much more than we by this transaction."

Will's fingers brushed against her sex, and Elizabeth barely suppressed a moan. Fearful of attracting attention, she looked around the room, but the soldiers and whores and drunken louts, intent on their own gambling and flirting and drinking, had no interest in the two men - for so they seemed - having a quiet drink in the corner. Will removed his hand. He slid one finger into his mouth to wet it - a mesmerizing gesture that sent shivers of desire running down her spine. His hand slipped back into her breeches and his wet finger began circling, teasing, flitting. Elizabeth gasped. Will arched his eyebrows and shook his head, ever so slightly. She bit down on her lip to keep from crying out.

"Looks like another storm's coming. I hope we can come to an agreement quickly, or else we'll be stuck here until it clears."

He continued to make small talk, but Elizabeth was too far gone to follow what he was saying. The maddening movement of his fingers demanded all of her attention. She rocked against his hand. The bench wobbled and squeaked loudly. She gripped the tabletop, digging her nails into it, reminding herself that she must be discrete.

Then his tempo increased and he pressed just so and the agonizing tension that had been building in her body exploded. Her eyelids fluttered closed. She bit her lip harder and tasted blood. Slowly, Will dragged his fingers over her one last time and then moved his hand away. She sagged against the wall, opening her eyes to see Jack standing across from her, his mouth twitching in amusement.

"Very interestin','" he drawled.

Elizabeth struggled to regain her composure, overly conscious of the sheen of sweat on her skin, of the unsated lust in Will's eyes, of the hungry, speculative look on Jack's face. Possibility crackled in the air.

Jack reached for Will's hand, then stopped and cocked his head. His posture shifted in an instant, all the lazy sensuality replaced with alert expectation. In response, Will's body straightened and his face assumed a wary expression.

The door swung open, revealing a commotion in the street. Anamaria fell through the door, pursued by several Spanish soldiers, and the tavern erupted into pandemonium. Drunken customers stumbled to their feet, turning over benches and tables in their hurry. Cards and mugs and coins crashed onto the floor and whores fought and scrabbled for the scattered coins. Voices screamed and cursed in Spanish. The soldiers Jack had been gambling with drew their swords and rushed at the door, colliding with the group that had been chasing Anamaria.

Anamaria recovered her footing and yelled, "The game's up. The bastard sold us out." She lunged at the soldier in front of the door and kicked him in the groin, then slipped back out onto the street as he collapsed. The soldiers nearest the door ran off after her, leaving a sizeable contingent in the tavern, blocking the door.

Jack and Will picked up the bench and rushed at the crowd, battering their way out of the corner. Elizabeth used her sword to guard their backs. The sexual energy that had coursed through her a few moments before was now channeled into violence. She gave herself over to the moment, allowing the lessons Will had drilled into her body to guide her sword. She felt clearheaded and sharp, as deadly a weapon as any Will had forged.

Having used the bench to clear enough space to fight, Jack and Will tossed it into the crowd and drew their swords. The three of them had almost cleared a path to the door when more soldiers arrived. Elizabeth looked around desperately for another exit. A balcony ran around the outer edge of the common room. Private rooms opened off the balcony. If they could get up there, they could escape through one of the windows.

Pivoting towards the stairway, Elizabeth thrust her sword into a soldier's neck, leaving her inner arm exposed. As her blade made contact, he sliced the inside of her arm with his sword. Blood drenched them both and the soldier fell to the ground. Pain ricocheted through her. Her sword dropped from her hand. The world reeled and grew dim around the edges. Through sheer will, she kept herself from fainting.

Some wordless communication passed between Jack and Will, culminating with them both looking up. Jack leapt onto a table, flipped into the air and grabbed hold of the balcony rail. He rolled over the rail and landed on his feet, as nimble as a cat.

Will shoved Elizabeth towards the rope that suspended the chandelier. "Hold on."

Elizabeth, too dazed to question, grabbed the rope with her blood-slicked hands. Will wrapped an arm around her and used his sword to slice through the bottom of the pull. Freed from its restraint, the chandelier plummeted to the ground, crushing those below and obstructing the staircase. Elizabeth and Will soared to the ceiling. Will vaulted over the rail onto the balcony. Jack caught Elizabeth and lifted her onto it as well.

One of the doors off the balcony opened, and a Spanish officer stepped out, a pistol in his hand.

Will drew his sword, shouting, "Get her out of here!"

Jack's face was strained. "What about-"

"I'll catch up - go!"

Jack dragged Elizabeth towards one of the private rooms, but she resisted, unable to leave without assuring herself that Will was safe. She turned and watched in horror, as the Spaniard cocked the pistol and drew the trigger, firing into Will's chest. Will fell backwards, his body crashing through the rail and tumbling to the common room below.

Chapter 14: Where Oh Where is My Sleepy Eyed Boy?


Author's Note: Chapter title is from the John Prine song, "Sleepy Eyed Boy." This chapter contains dubious and invented geography. (Hey, the mouse started it. What? You thought Isla de Muerta was a real place?)

*


In a blur of motion, Jack lunged and thrust his sword into the officer's chest. Elizabeth screamed and ran to the rail. Will's body was spread out on a table, his shirt red with blood. Jack yanked on her arm, shouting at her to move, but she was frozen in place. He slung her over his shoulder and carried her into one of the private rooms.

He gestured at the window, which looked out onto the stables. "Think you can make it?"

Everything was happening too fast. Elizabeth felt dazed from blood loss and fear. "But . . . Will?"

An anguished look passed across Jack's face. "Love. . . ." He shook his head. Before she could protest, he tossed her out the window. She fell and landed in a pile of hay. Dust and chaff filled the air and then Jack thumped down beside her.

After that it was a delirious, dizzying nightmare: a warren of grimy alleys and dark back streets, Jack dragging and supporting her, his voice urging her forward, blood soaking her clothes and pain stabbing through her body, a rocking dingy, and then, somehow, she was on the Pearl.

Elizabeth slept, and awoke feverish and disoriented, to the sound of thunder. She could hear the storm, building in intensity, and mixed in with the thunder, cannons firing. A hit, and the ship shook with the impact. The Pearl's guns fired and lightning illuminated the blackness outside her cabin window. Something exploded, and flames reflected off the glass. Then they were under way, sailing into the storm.

She faded back into sleep, and awoke parched and lightheaded, blinking at the light pouring in through her cabin window. Jack was asleep in a chair by the bed, his face hidden by his tousled hair. It seemed that there was something important that she needed to remember, but her mind shied away from it.

"Will," she whispered, as the memories assailed her. She pressed her hands against her eyes, holding back the tears and trying to find some sliver of hope.

Elizabeth considered the number of times she had thought all was lost, only to find a miracle. Perhaps there was a chance. There had to be. Will couldn't be- But if he was alive, he was hurt and imprisoned, and he didn't have much time.

She stood, shakily, and noted that she was no longer in her clothes from . . . when? The night before? Or the night before that? Someone had washed the blood off her body and dressed her in a clean shirt. She felt her arm - her wound was neatly bandaged, no longer wrapped in the scarf Jack had used, in the midst of their escape, to staunch the bleeding.

Elizabeth shook Jack's shoulder hard. "Jack, wake up."

He came awake all at once and passed his hand across his eyes, pushing the hair out of his face. "Mornin'."

"Jack, what are we going to do about Will? We need a plan. He's hurt-"

Jack cut her off brutally. "He's not hurt. He's dead. The plan is to save our skins, because if the Guarda del Costa catch us, it'll make Norrington's noose look like Sunday chapel."

"We don't know for certain. . .I refuse to accept that my husband is dead!" Elizabeth heard the rising tone of hysteria in her voice and despised herself for it.

Jack stood and shoved her against the bulkhead. His impassive mask slipped and grief and rage showed plain in his face. "He was your husband and my . . . friend. And. He's. Dead. Savvy?"

"Jack, maybe the shot didn't kill him. He could have been captured. We can't sail away and leave him there!"

Jack's voice was flat. "We can and, in fact, we have. We're two days out from Cuba, the Guarda is huntin' us and the mizzenmast is shattered. We're headed for a safe spot where we can lay low for a while and repair my ship. If that's acceptable, Widow Turner."

Elizabeth slapped him as hard as she could. There was a long moment of silence.

Then the unthinkable happened. "Elizabeth . . . I'm sorry." Jack's voice was mournful and as gentle as she'd ever heard it.

She knew then that everything he'd said was true. There was no hope. And she collapsed into his embrace, her tears soaking his shirt.

He held her until she couldn't cry anymore, silently stroking her hair. He cared for Will, as well, and that thought comforted her. It seemed a blessing beyond measure that there was someone else who would miss Will, someone to grieve with her.

Elizabeth touched the livid handprint on Jack's face. His eyes were bloodshot and tired looking, and most of the kohl had worn off. He looked younger and more exposed. Blood and grime stained his shirt and coat, and there was a long scorched place on his sleeve. She wondered if Jack thought he'd made a bad bargain, saving her, but losing Will. She looked away.

As if he guessed her thoughts, Jack tilted her chin up and forced her to meet his eyes. "It's good you're safe." He looked as if he wanted to say more, but nothing came out for a long while. When he spoke again, his voice was crisp and practical. "Anamaria and her crew got away before us and we lost them in the storm. There's an island south of here, Isla del Cerdo. We agreed to meet there if we got separated. We're limpin' a bit, but we should be there in a day or two."

*


It soon became apparent that the Pearl could not make it to the rendezvous point Jack had set with Anamaria. The Pearl had scuttled the Guarda's sloop, but at the cost of a mast and some damage to the hull. The ship was taking on water and wallowing badly. Jack knew of a closer island where they could make some repairs and jury-rig a mast. After that, he hoped to meet up with Anamaria and the Fortune.

The Pearl arrived at the island the next evening. After a tense consultation with the ship's carpenter, Jack reported that it would be at least a week before the Pearl was seaworthy again. "May as well do it right. No need to rush. If Anamaria tires of cooling her heels at Isla del Cerdo, we'll catch up with her nearer to Jamaica."

The crew camped on the beach and spent their days repairing the ship and fishing. Nights were occupied with the usual pleasures - music, drink, stories - whatever it took to fill the hours before sleep.

On Jack's orders, Elizabeth spent most of her time resting and recuperating from her injury. She begged some work sewing sails, but was strictly forbidden to help with the heavier repairs. The evening gatherings she avoided altogether. She walked the beach alone, and slept off by herself, fitfully and haunted by nightmares: Will's body endlessly falling, Jack's flesh disappearing into bones in the moonlight and crumbling to dust, her lifeblood pouring between her legs, Will and Jack on the gallows, the sound of her own screams echoing in her ears.

*


Elizabeth's arm was sore and itchy and her mind kept repeating the same phrase over and over again, "He's dead." Maybe if she heard it enough times, it would seem real. She paced restlessly on the beach, unable to stop thinking about the fight in the tavern. If she hadn't been hurt, if she hadn't been so bloody stupid, then Will wouldn't be dead. For that matter, if she hadn't convinced him to run away and play pirates with her, none of this would have happened.

She stared out at the inky water, so intent on her guilt and self-recriminations that she never heard Jack approach. "Come and sit with us. Have some fish - you haven't eaten anythin' to speak of in days."

Jack would keep following her and pestering her to rest, to stay close, to eat. He was nearly as bad as-

"I'm not a child. I'm perfectly capable of determining when I need to eat. I don't need to be coddled and cosseted." She no longer knew to whom she was speaking - Jack or Will's ghost. She broke off her rant abruptly. "For the love of God, Jack, leave me in peace."

Jack held up a bottle. "There's still plenty of rum." The enticing tone he affected was belied by the hollow look in his eyes.

Elizabeth swallowed back the biting retort on her lips and allowed him to take her hand and lead her to the fire.

When the last sailor stumbled to his pallet, Elizabeth and Jack were still awake, sharing a bottle. She was loose and warm, all the sharp edges dulled. So this is why Jack drinks so much, she thought blearily. She slid back onto the damp, packed sand and closed her eyes, listening to the waves crash into the shore.

"You want a blanket?"

"No, just. . .don't go."

Jack's voice was tinged with relief. "Right here." And she slept through the night snug in the crook of his arm. And if she dreamed, it was only of the ocean and the sky.

*


Elizabeth began sharing a pallet with Jack, bedding down only after they'd consumed vast amounts of rum. Every night they drank so much that her teeth felt numb. So much that Jack traded his peculiar swaying gait for a slower, stumbling awkwardness completely devoid of his usual grace. So much that they both could pretend, for each other's sakes, that they were not heartsick with grief.

Once, in the night, Jack reached for her, and without fully waking, she opened herself to him, uncertain if it was a dream or reality, if it was Jack or Will whose body pressed against hers in the darkness. His touch was frantic, fumbling, and he spent himself quickly and slept more peacefully afterwards. Another, more coherent night, he kissed her and whispered, "You taste like him. Or he tasted like you. You taste like each other."

He was her shelter, her solace. When she woke in the night, she needed to feel him warm and alive beside her, to touch the flesh that overlaid his bones, to feel his chest rising and falling, reminding her to breathe.

*


Night after night, Elizabeth and Jack sat on the beach, drinking under the cut glass stars. In their time on the island, the fat yellow moon had waned to a crescent and nearly disappeared. The repairs were finished, and the next day they would set sail for Isla del Cerdo.

Jack was lying with his head pillowed in Elizabeth's lap, snoring softly. She was dabbling her toes in the surf and carding through his tangled hair, idly fingering his various beads and trinkets and braiding and twisting the loose pieces. Playing with Jack's hair was a pleasant distraction, something to divert her mind from its tireless rehearsals of guilt and sorrow.

She was not happy, but Jack had a trick of putting her at ease and quieting the despair that tore at her heart. They spoke of Will obliquely, if at all, but they were both acutely aware of his absence. When they were together like this, she could almost feel Will there as well, their combined focus drawing him back to them.

Jack's eyes opened suddenly. "Well my brave, bold Bess, are you ready to go adventurin' in the morn?"

"I'm ready to do anything but sit on this island and drink myself into a stupor."

"I'll have you know, drinking yourself into a stupor is one of the five required activities for pirates."

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "And what are the other four?"

Jack ticked them off on his fingers. "Pillaging, plundering, cheating, and whoring."

"Aren't pillaging and plundering the same thing, really?"

Jack sat up indignantly. "Certainly not! Pillaging is usin' force to take what doesn't belong to you. Plundering is more forcin' folks to give you things."

At her skeptical look, his hands fluttered in the air. "It's in the song -

"We pillage, we plunder, we rifle and loot," he sang, slightly off-key. "See, two entirely different things."

Elizabeth nodded gravely. "Well, that settles it." She rolled onto her stomach and propped herself up on her elbows. "I don't suppose I'll ever be a proper pirate, then, for I've no intention of going whoring anytime soon."

"Don't knock it 'til you've tried it, love. There's some women as would rather go with a woman than a man. Y'know, our Anamaria. . . ." his voice trailed off suggestively.

Elizabeth's mouth fell open in wonder and she punched his thigh. "She never!"

Jack smirked. "Nice to see you can still be shocked."

"Nevertheless, I think I shall have to settle for being merely four-fifths pirate."

They fell quiet for a while, Jack finishing off the last of the rum and Elizabeth drawing patterns in the sand with a bit of shell. She wondered how the baby was. Was he getting fat and round? Did he have Will's sweet smile? Maybe they could- No, she couldn't bear to leave the baby again, not now, and it would tear her in half to leave Jack.

When next Jack spoke, his voice was serious. "What d'you think of a scoundrel who forswears an oath made to a fallen comrade?"

Jack could only be referring to one person. Elizabeth straightened up and watched Jack suspiciously. "Speak plainly, Jack. What do you mean?"

Jack hesitated. "It's like this, see. A while back, when you and Will joined us on the Pearl, Will made me swear, on everything that I hold most precious, that if anything happened to him, I'd take you back to Port Royal and return you to your illustrious father. Sealed it in blood 'n' everything."

Panic forced the words out of Elizabeth's mouth in a rush, tumbling over one another. "I can't go back there! Jack, I'd rather die. Don't-"

"Shh, love. I'll not send you back to your gilded cage, no matter what I promised. I 'spect I'll rot in hell anyway - what's one broken oath more or less?" He brushed his lips across her forehead, as if to seal the promise he'd broken. "I just thought you ought to know 's all."
 

 

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