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Allegiance - Chapter 22

by The Stowaway


George Town, Grand Cayman

When the Dauntless, the Forester and the Black Pearl returned to George Town (the Mercury and the newly rechristened Harrier having been sent direct to Port Royal with their captives), the Navy ships tied up to the quay to offload while the Pearl anchored in the harbour to await her turn at the dock. It was early morning when they made port but mid-afternoon before the Forester ceded her place to the privateer.

Elizabeth, increasingly apprehensive, had refused to go ashore in the boat, saying she was quite content to stay aboard until they docked. Since it suited Jack's purposes to wait until the first bustle of arrival had subsided, he did not press her.

As the gangplank clattered into place Jack turned to Elizabeth with an infuriatingly cheerful grin.

"Well, Mrs. Norrington," he murmured for her ears alone, "Shall we go pay a call on the Commodore?"

Elizabeth put up her chin and glared. Jack chuckled.

"That's the spirit, Elizabeth," he said, "Put a bold face on it." He took her elbow and walked her down onto the dock. A passing officer supplied the information that the Commodore was at the Fort and they bent their steps thither, Elizabeth keeping her head down and her hat pulled low.

Once inside the Fort, Jack told the guard at James's office door to announce a messenger from the Black Pearl. They heard James's voice.

"Let him come in."

When the guard held the door open, Jack thrust Elizabeth through it and pulled it closed, remaining outside himself.

Elizabeth mastered her first urge, which was to snatch the door open and bolt. She stood, head down, and tried not to fidget. A cautious peek showed her James seated at a desk in the center of the room, writing something.

"Yes, what is it?" he asked. He did not look up. Elizabeth took a shaky breath and stepped closer to the desk, but did not speak.

James signed and sanded the document before him and set it aside. He looked at her and said brusquely, "Speak up, boy. What is your message?"

Elizabeth raised her head and met his frowning gaze. There was a silence.

"Elizabeth?" James said at last. His frown deepened. "What is the meaning of this?"

"I… I didn't go back to Port Royal," she faltered.

"Yes, that is obvious," James snapped. He came round the desk and stood over her. "Well?"

Elizabeth could feel her knees shaking. She forced herself to look up at her husband. "I stowed away on the Black Pearl," she said in a small voice.

"You did what?" James exclaimed. "In God's name, why?"

Unable to give him the true reason, she looked at her toes and shook her head miserably.

"Am I to understand," James said heavily, "That you - in defiance of all proper behaviour - stowed away on a privateer bound for battle on a whim?" His voice rose. "How dared you disobey me in such an outrageous fashion? To set propriety, decency even, at naught. To dress in that shocking manner and go haring off… You might have been killed, or worse. Answer me, Elizabeth. What have you to say for yourself?"

Elizabeth hung her head. She clasped her hands, wringing them distractedly. "I am sorry," she whispered.

"I daresay you are," James almost sneered, "after the fact." He paced hastily across the room and back. "Do you never think before you act? Your behaviour is that of a wayward child."

Elizabeth said nothing. James took another turn, his brow thunderous.

"And what was Sparrow thinking to allow you aboard," he cried, "Did he conspire with you in this?"

"No!" Elizabeth looked up, startled.

"He must have. How else, if he did not see fit to forbid you to sail with him?" James went on, his eyes narrowing as he looked past her, "I shall have something to say to him when next we meet."

Elizabeth found herself defending her rival, the irony of which did not escape her. "Captain Sparrow was furiously angry when he discovered I was on the Pearl, which was not until we were far out to sea. Indeed, James, you must believe me! He even said…" she swallowed. "He said I deserved that you should beat me for what I had done."

James was not mollified. "He should have put you ashore, nonetheless," he said angrily.

"How could he? To turn back would be to endanger the entire mission," Elizabeth replied. "He made no secret of the fact that he wished to be rid of me."

"And yet he allowed you flaunt yourself in that guise," James replied.

"But he did not!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "He put it about that I was a runaway schoolboy and he obliged me to stay in the cabin for almost the entire voyage. He even forbade the crew to go near me, lest they discover my identity. He took every care that my reputation should not be damaged."

"For purposes of his own, no doubt."

"James, you are unjust," Elizabeth cried. "Captain Sparrow's first thought was for you. He protected me from disgrace, fought brilliantly against the pirates and brought me safe back to George Town for one reason only."

She took a deep breath.

"Because he loves you."

James stared at her, appalled. "What did you say?" he asked.

Elizabeth did not answer him. She went to the door and opened it. Jack was standing just outside; he had been listening. As he entered the room, Jack met her eyes with a look of amused approval.

"Impressive, darling," he murmured softly.  She nodded toward her husband, standing before his desk, and would have left the room. Jack prevented her, taking her hand and leading her to James.

"Good to see you on your feet, Commodore," Jack said, placing Elizabeth's hand in James's, "And here is your strayed lamb, returned safe and sound."

James looked from one to the other. "Jack, I don't know what to say…"

"Thanks are customary, I believe," Jack replied, with a lopsided grin.

There was a knock upon the door and an aide stuck his head in. "Captain Groves to see you, sir."

"Tell him five minutes," James replied and the aide withdrew. Looking again from Elizabeth to Jack, James sighed.

"There is a deal to be said," he told them, "But this is neither the place nor the time. Jack, take Elizabeth to the inn, if you please. I will join you there as soon as I can."

They walked to the door. Elizabeth glanced back to see that James had seated himself once more at the desk. She thought he looked paler than when she had arrived. As she opened the door he raised his head.

"Jack," he said. Jack looked around. "Thank you."

Jack smiled, winked, and drew Elizabeth out of the room.

*************

Some hours later, Elizabeth was pacing restlessly up and down the private parlour at the Blue Turtle while Jack lounged - boot heels crossed upon the table's edge - sipping rum and watching her fret.  She was dressed in a cotton gown, faded but clean, procured for her by Sally Hobson.

When she stopped for the fiftieth time at the small window and peered down at the street, muttering under her breath, Jack chuckled.

"Calm yourself, Elizabeth," he said. "He didn't beat you, nor has he repudiated you (more's the pity). All in all, I'd say you're luckier than you deserve."

Elizabeth hunched her shoulders and cast him a baleful glance. "I am well aware of that, thank you, Captain Sparrow," she snapped.

He grinned and made no reply. Elizabeth resumed her pacing. Her lips moved from time to time, as if she were rehearsing a speech. Jack, his eyes half-closed, observed this with deep appreciation; the corner of his mouth twitching.

As if she had come to some resolution, Elizabeth turned suddenly and placed her hands upon the table, leaning forward, her expression earnest and determined.

"Understand this," she stated flatly. "I will never give up my husband. He is mine."

Jack's slow answering smile was compound of insolence and amusement. He took a long swallow of rum.

"And mine," he replied.

Elizabeth straightened, her fists clenched.

"Why couldn't you be a gentleman?" she cried. "Someone who would acknowledge my claim and withdraw honourably?"

Jack laughed out. "For that matter," he retorted, "Why couldn't you be proper well-bred female? Someone who would be shocked, have the vapours and go home to England - or to Hell, for all I care - and leave him to me?"

"Captain Sparrow!"

"Mrs. Norrington?"

Silence fell once more. Elizabeth, whose increasing agitation would not allow her to keep still, was pacing again. For some time the tap of her heels upon the bare floorboards and the muted clamour from the common room below them were the only sounds. At last Jack stirred, sitting up and dropping his feet to the floor.

"What would you do to keep your husband, Elizabeth?" he asked.

"Anything I must," was her unhesitating reply.

Jack nodded as if he had expected that response. "Then there is a way to resolve this problem," he told her. "A compromise, if you will."

She stopped and stared at him, suspicion and hope in her eyes. "What do you mean?"

"We could share," Jack said.

Elizabeth gasped. "Absolutely not!" she cried.

Jack sat back with a shrug. "Just a suggestion, love," he said. "But if you're unwilling…"

"It is unthinkable!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "You mean the three of us…?"

"Ah, but it's not truly unthinkable, is it?" Jack grinned. "Be honest; you are thinking of it right now, are you not? Imagining how it might be if we were all…?"

She whirled away, her face flaming. "I will not listen to you!" She pressed her hands to her scarlet cheeks. "I will not."

"Not even when your husband's happiness is at stake?" Jack asked.

Elizabeth sobbed once, clapping both hands over her mouth an instant too late to stifle the sound. Her shoulders slumped. "You fight dirty, Jack," she said at last, over her shoulder.

"You said it yourself; I am no gentleman."

Jack rose and sauntered over to her. Elizabeth turned her shoulder to him and he grinned at her profile.

"Come darling, admit it," he said softly. "You're as much a pirate as I am; we're peas in a pod."

Stony-faced, Elizabeth stared out the window. "I am sure I do not know what you mean," she answered with dignity.

"Don't you?" Jack chuckled. He put a finger under her chin and turned her face toward his.  "Look me in the eye and tell me you aren't tempted."

Elizabeth stared into the dark eyes that laughed down at her with the warmest expression she had yet seen in them. She flushed and looked away. "You are a bad influence, Captain Sparrow."

"I certainly hope so."

A step sounded in the passage and the door opened to reveal James, back at last from the Fort. His face was drawn with weariness and he was very pale. Elizabeth's heart smote her; she had brought him to this, and on a day when celebration of the great victory should have had the whole of his attention. She started forward.

"James," she said, taking his hand. "You have over-tired yourself."

He sank into a chair and leaned his head back. "It has been a long day," he admitted.

"Have you eaten?" Elizabeth asked, "Shall I ring for tea? Or will you dine?"

"Nothing, I thank you," James shook his head, eyes closed. "A glass of wine, perhaps," he added after a moment.

Jack's hand appeared at her elbow, holding a full glass. She accepted it with a nod and touched James's hand.

"Here, darling," she said.

James opened his eyes with an effort and took the glass. After a few sips, some colour came back into his face. He looked up at Jack and Elizabeth standing before him.

"Sit down, both of you" he said, testily. "Don't hover so."

They drew two chairs to face him and Elizabeth sat down. Jack retrieved his tankard of rum and poured a glass of wine, which he handed to Elizabeth. She set it untouched on the floor beside her chair.

"I must begin with apologies," James said. Elizabeth opened her mouth but James held up an imperative hand and she subsided, her hands clasped tightly in her lap.

"Elizabeth, I broke the vow of fidelity I made to you on our wedding day and there has not been a moment since in which I did not feel remorse for that betrayal," he went on. "Done is done, however, and I can only beg your forgiveness."

"I love you," Elizabeth whispered.

James then turned to Jack.

"To you, Jack, I apologize for my weakness," James said, "In giving in to an inclination that was as selfish as it was reprehensible. To indulge, whatever the temptation, in behaviour that could result in the ruin of us both was unforgivable."

Jack leaned back in his chair. "I think," he drawled, "That I have just been insulted. I pride myself on being well nigh irresistible. For you to imply that it was mere weakness on your part that allowed me to succeed in one of the trickiest seductions I ever pulled off is to sadly lessen my triumph."

James flushed and his answering scowl was minatory. "You would jest with the hangman's noose about your neck, I think," he growled. "Very well, call it your 'triumph', if you will, and let the memory of it satisfy you. Our… connection… must end; has ended, in fact."

"Has it, James?" Jack murmured, smiling wickedly. "Are you so certain?" He licked his lips - slow and lascivious - and grinned as James's flush deepened and he looked away.

James cleared his throat, shifting uncomfortably. "Of course it has ended," he said. "How, in honour, can it be otherwise? My vow to my wife…"

Jack interrupted him. "Ah, but if your wife approves?"

James's head whipped around, his eyes wide with astonishment. He looked from Elizabeth to Jack and back again. "Elizabeth," he gasped. "What in heaven's name can he mean?"

Elizabeth straightened her shoulders and drew a steadying breath. She raised her chin and met James's gaze as firmly as she could. 

"Captain Sparrow was not quite accurate," she said, choosing her words with care. "I do not approve, exactly. I do not, however, object."

James shook his head in disbelief. "I do not understand you," he said.

Elizabeth went to him and took his hand. She knelt beside his feet and looked up at him with a smile. "James, beloved, if there is one thing I have learned from all of my mistakes these past weeks, it is that your happiness ought to be dearer to me than anything," she said, "I do not deserve you else. If Captain Sparrow is necessary to that happiness, then how could I refuse?"

Here, James would have interrupted her, but she pressed two fingers to his lips and continued.

"Captain Sparrow is a good man and has stood your friend - and mine, for your sake. When I consider what many wives are obliged to endure in the way of vulgar mistresses and dashing widows, then the thought of sharing your love with him becomes… well," and here she blushed. "I do not object."

James stared at her in wonder. "You mean this," he said at last.

Elizabeth nodded. "With all my heart," she replied.

"But propriety…"

"Propriety be damned," Jack interjected. "How we order our lives, in private, is the concern of none but ourselves."

"This is a fever dream," James said. "It must be. Or perhaps I have gone mad." He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the high back of his chair. He looked, of a sudden, utterly spent.

"Either way," he said, after a pause, "Further discussion must wait until morning. I crave your indulgence; I must rest."

Elizabeth leapt up and took the empty glass from him as he rose, swaying, to his feet. She then put her arm around his waist and guided him through the door that Jack held open. They crossed the hall and entered James's chamber.

Working quickly, Jack and Elizabeth divested James of his outer garments and helped him to bed. He sighed as he stretched out on the cool sheets, after a few moments, he opened his eyes.

"Much better," he said. He frowned slightly. "That gown is better than breeches, Elizabeth," he remarked, "but it does not become you."

Elizabeth glanced over at Jack, who grinned at her and raised an eyebrow. "You heard the man," he chuckled. "Well?"

She put up her chin at him and began to undo her laces. Jack laughed and began to strip.

"What are you doing?" James cried.

Elizabeth stepped out of her gown and, clad only in her borrowed shift, climbed into the bed and lay down next to her husband.

"Why, what do you think I am doing?" Propped on one elbow, she smiled down at him. When James would have looked over at Jack, she laid her palm along his jaw and turned his face to hers. "I am over here," she murmured, and kissed him.

She took her time, pouring every bit of skill at her command into what she was doing. She nipped and licked and teased his tongue with her own, just the way he had taught her. James, not being made of stone, was soon lost in the kiss; his arm went around her waist and drew her close.

When Elizabeth raised her head, James blinked at her - stunned - his lips red and a little swollen. The mattress dipped as Jack joined them.

"My turn, is it?" he grinned. Before James could protest, Jack seized his head in both hands and pulled him into a blistering kiss, raw and urgent.

Elizabeth's eyes widened as Jack devoured James's mouth. She found it strangely exciting to watch a man kiss her husband. When James moaned, she gasped aloud.

Jack broke the kiss and looked over at her with a grin. "You, too, sweetheart," he said, cupping her skull with one hand and drawing her mouth to his.

As the extraordinary sensation of kissing someone not her husband overwhelmed her, Elizabeth was dimly aware of James's hand, broad and warm, against the small of her back and she sighed into Jack's mouth. He pulled back a fraction and whispered a single word against her lips.

"Pax?"

Elizabeth smiled. "Pax," she answered.

Jack kissed her again, quick and hard, and released her and they both looked down at James. He lay gazing at them with a bemused smile on his face.

"This must be a fever dream," he stated. "It cannot be real."

Elizabeth lay down and snuggled against him as Jack made himself comfortable on James's other side.

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on," Jack quoted, chuckling.

"And our little life is rounded with a sleep," Elizabeth finished for him. "Speaking of which, husband, you need your sleep."

"Aye," Jack said, "you must be rested so that we can 'continue this discussion' in the morning, eh?"

Elizabeth giggled at the suggestive leer that accompanied these words and James burst out laughing.

"I give up," he said. "You win, although I do not doubt I shall regret this. Now not another word. Go to sleep, you two, while I still have a shred of sanity left. Good night!"

Jack reached out and extinguished the candle and the room was plunged into darkness, save for the bright swath of moonlight across the foot of the bed.

Elizabeth kissed her husband's cheek and settled her head upon his shoulder, her hand resting upon his chest. In a moment, Jack's hand came up to cover hers.

They slept.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Fin.
 

 

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