Summary: Elizabeth has never been one to let a silly little thing like reality get in her way.
Fandom: Pirates of the Caribbean
Word Count: 7,981
Spoilers and/or Warnings: Spoilers for all three movies, won't make much sense if you haven't seen them; various character deaths
Title, Author and URL of original story: Five Things That Never Happened To Elizabeth Swann by soda_and_capes
Notes: A huge thank you to my beta, sherylyn for venturing into the unknown territory of a new fandom with me.
I stand on the shore of the small island and watch until the Dutchman is out of sight, the last traces of daylight fade, and the myriad of stars appear. I should be heading back to the Pearl or even to Sao Feng's crew (I cannot think of them as my own, not yet). But I have a decision to make first. We discussed it, Will and I, in between more pleasurable pursuits. We talked about many things this day - there were too many old hurts between us to let them fester and stew for a decade - but foremost among them was what I was going to do. Will has a clear purpose now, and he, unlike Davy Jones, will not falter. And I shall be here once every ten years; but in between those sweet meetings, my path is less clear.
I find myself in the unprecedented position of having almost no claims upon my person. War has been averted so my position as Pirate King is largely meaningless - although I should probably check with Gibbs and Barbossa about that; I'm learning not to take anything for granted when it comes to the pirate Code. Technically I am captain of the Shanghai crew, but that duty could easily be passed off to one far more qualified than I. Port Royal holds little for me now that my father and James, and even Lord Beckett, are dead.
I wander around the beach, gathering the remainder of my effects as I ponder my situation. I have always thought better while moving, a fact which drove my father to distraction. As I buckle my sword and holster my pistol, feel their comfortable weight on my hip, I realize that the decision I have been agonizing over really is no decision at all.
The sea is in my bones now. I may not love Calypso the way the men do, but I understand her far better. We are sisters, she and I, and right now, my sister is calling out to me. I shall return to the Pearl and from there, the Empress. If the crew will have me, I shall endeavor to make myself worthy of the title that was bestowed upon me.
I feel a great calm settle upon me and I know I have made the right decision. But then my world goes white, as if I had been staring too long into the sun. Frantically, I try to draw my blade against this unexpected attack, but I cannot grip the hilt. It is as though I am no longer connected to my physical body and I feel a great wrenching, as how it must feel when one's soul is torn from one's body. I scream, and then blackness engulfs me and I know no more.
I come back to myself in a rush and dizziness makes me sway slightly. Instinctively, I reach out and grab - a window sill? My eyes fly open and I see that yes, I am standing at a window. The sill is painted a bright white and the shutters are thrown open to let in a pleasant Caribbean breeze. Before the implications of this sink in, I shift slightly and instead of the slight clank of metal I've become accustomed to, I hear only the rustle of petticoats. I look down at myself: sure enough, I'm wearing, not the jacket and breeches I had last donned, but one of those God-forsaken, breath-constricting dresses that are apparently the height of fashion. I stifle a scream - only partially because it is difficult to breathe.
Get a hold of yourself, Captain Swann, I scold myself. You've faced down an entire armada, all manner of undead pirates and Jack Sparrow! Surely a dress is nothing to get worked up over!
Having restored some of my equilibrium, I begin to look around. The view from the window is a familiar one - so I'm in Port Royal, then. But I am not in the governor's mansion; I must be in one of the smaller, stately homes meant for the officers of the Navy, the administrators in the Governor's staff and the wealthiest merchants. The small reading desk contains a number of papers, and I see the masthead of the Courant peeking out. I seat myself in the small chair and after a quick glance at the newspaper, I am glad I did. It is dated over a year later than the day I knew it to be.
Panic, my old familiar friend, begins to well up in me, and perversely, the tightening of my chest and stomach allows me to think again. Somehow I have lost over a year of time, time for which I have no memory. But even as I think that, I realize that it is not true.
I cannot possible describe the oddity of the sensation, of searching one's own memories and not knowing what one will find. Sitting there in that tiny chair, in a dress that barely lets me breathe, I recall a year of pain and loss, hidden beneath a veneer of smiles. I recall bringing news of the death of my father and Lord Beckett back to Port Royal, and then withdrawing from public life, leaving the governance in the capable hands of the men of the Empire. I recall a moment of purest joy when I discover that I took more than Will's seed from that day on the beach. Then I recall the crushing despair and loss at the uncontrollable bleeding that followed less than a month after learning I was with child. I recall how the mere thought of my husband might put me in the blackest mood; even now, except for the small part of my mind that seems to be somewhat detached from the rest, the thought of Will brings up a most painful ache. I recall, too, how I locked my husband's memory away in my heart and find my thoughts turning more and more to the sea - and Jack. That calls up an ache, too, but a different kind.
I am still contemplating all I have learned two days later. There is a storm coming in, but I am not holed up behind barred shutters like my maid and the rest of my household staff. Stubbornly, I am up on the widow's walk - I shy away from thinking just how apt that name is now - watching the masts in the harbor sway in the wind like so many trees. Dusk comes, and with it the rain. In the failing light I see a lone ship making a dash for the relative safety of the harbor. The lash of the rain, soaking me to the bone, and the familiar set of the tattered sails bring a comfort to me that I have apparently not known in over a year. A familiar silhouette comes down the gangplank and my heartbeat quickens. Resolutely, I turn away, not wanting him to see me waiting.
I am unsurprised, though, some minutes later, when I hear the slight clink of chains and almost immediately feel the cold metal pressed up against my throat.
"I knew you'd warm up to me," a familiar voice whispers, hot in my ear.
"Bastard," I reply warmly, unable to keep the smile off my face.
"Sticks and stones, love."
I laugh, and can't help but whisper a naughty version of the rhyme that I overheard in Tortuga. "Sticks and stones may break my bones but whips and chains excite me. . ."
Abruptly, the chain around my throat vanishes. "Oh, do they now?"
Still smiling, I turn to lean my back against the railing and face my would-be captor. "Hallo, Jack."
"Good evening, Captain Swann," he replies with a mock bow. "Or is it Mrs. Turner?"
My smile dims somewhat. "Out here in this weather, it's Captain Swann, definitely. A respectably married woman like Mrs. Turner would hardly be caught out in storm like this, let alone conversing with a known pirate," I rally, trying to keep the bitterness out of my voice. The bitterness is not my own, yet it is, born of a missing year's worth of frustrations. "So what brings you to our fair port this evening, Captain?"
A slightly raised eyebrow tells me that I haven't fooled him at all. "Well, it was to kidnap you, but now I think a rescue might be more in order. Be a love and let us go someplace where it's a little bit drier, would you? And a spot of rum wouldn't go amiss either."
I open the hatch in the roof and lead him down the spiral stairs into my bedroom. The impropriety hardly registers. Jack flings himself into the tiny chair and I pour a large drink for him from the sideboard. After a moment's pause, I pour one for myself as well.
"What is going on, Elizabeth?" he asks bluntly, far more direct than I've ever heard him be.
"God, I wish I knew, Jack," I say, letting all my frustration and confusion bubble forth. "One minute I'm standing on that island, watching Will sail away and the next thing I know, I'm here and I've lost a year's worth of time! I mean, I haven't lost it, I lived through it, obviously, but I don't remember any of it. Only I do. I think." I pace back and forth, gesturing wildly with my hands, heedless of the wet trail my gown is leaving. "I went searching through my memories of the past year and I found them, only I don't remember living through them, which hardly makes them memories, now does it? And isn't that just the stupidest thing you've ever heard?"
"So what happened in these memories that you don't remember remembering?" he asks.
I turn away from him and go to the window. I can't bear to face him as I say, "I lost the child I was carrying. Will's child." My voice is so quiet, it's a wonder he can hear it over the storm. "And after that, I could hardly bear to think of him at all. And I miss the sea so much." I clench my hands into fists, fingernails cutting into my palms, and will myself not to cry.
Warm arms wrap around me from behind. "Oh, Lizzy, I'm sorry," he breathes. There is more sincerity in his voice than I have ever heard before and it is my undoing. I cry. Sobs wrack my body as Jack holds me from behind and I cry as I have not cried since my mother died. Anger and action have always been my grief of choice, not tears. Finally spent, I slump back against the man behind me, who has stood as firm and unmoving against the storm inside the bedroom walls as he would against the one outside.
"Come back with me, Lizzy." His words are more seductive than the most ardently crafted love poem. "Come back to the Pearl and the sea." His hands weave interesting patterns up and down my spine. He smells like the sea and musk and change. "Leave this place before it destroyed you." I faintly hear a snapping of threads. "And for God's sake, get out of that dress!" he says in a more normal tone and takes a step back. That's when I discover that he has undone the buttons on my dress and cut off yet another corset. I peel off the sodden garments and dive for my wardrobe.
Carelessly, I fling garments aside, hoping beyond hope that there is a pair of breeches buried somewhere at the bottom. At last, triumphant, I emerge and duck behind the changing screen. The sodden cotton shift I had left on quickly joins its equally soggy brethren on the floor and a moment later I emerge, mouth full of hair pins as I attempt to tame my long mane. As I finally get it under some semblance of control, Jack gallantly removes his own hat, and I am so stunned, I can only stand there, stock still, as he places it securely on my head.
Then I grab his hand and drag him back up the stairs and out onto the wet roof. We scramble down the side of the building - not such a hard task for those of us accustomed to climbing all over a ship's rigging - and run for the harbor.
A tiny part of my mind wonders if I'm betraying Will. Resolutely, I push that thought aside. I am not betraying him, I decide fiercely, I am saving myself so that I can help save him. Will gave his heart to me for safe keeping. I shall never betray that trust and I will meet him on that island on the appointed day. But my heart has long been divided in twain. Half of it now sails on the Dutchman, ferrying souls from this world to the next. I now run to join the other half on the Pearl. No matter which way you look at it, my heart is at sea, and I cannot spend ten years on land.
We run up the gangplank and I prepare to greet my old friends. But as soon as my feet hit the deck, my world goes white again. I try to scream for Jack, but I am too late. The connection with my body has been severed again, and again I am plunged into blackness.
I come back to myself with another rush of dizziness and I steady myself on the smooth surface - a table? - in front of me. Resigned to finding out just how much time I've lost now, I open my eyes. My first reaction is one of annoyance - how did I end up in another one of these God-forsaken dresses? Last I remembered, I was running helter-skelter with Jack for the Pearl. And I most certainly was not wearing a dress.
The sound of footsteps causes me to turn towards the doorway, just as a tall man in Navy dress appears.
"Good morning, Elizabeth," he says with a friendly smile.
"C-commodore?" I gasp. Last I had seen him, James Norrington had been bleeding out his life on the deck of the Flying Dutchman, as an admiral of the East India Company. But here he is, very much alive and dressed as a Commodore of the Royal Navy. Something is very wrong here.
He looks at me quizzically. "So formal, Elizabeth? You haven't called me that since the wedding."
I smile brightly, if falsely, and try to dance my way out of the hole I've created for myself. "You just look so. . . official this morning." I stand and begin to fuss with his collar in what I hope is a wifely way.
He smiles and kisses me - on the cheek, fortunately. "Official ceremony this morning, my dear. Lord Beckett has arrived and has hopes of establishing the East India Company here. I believe he shall fair well."
My body smiles even as that small, detached corner of my mind shrieks in horror. "He has a reputation for being as much against pirates as you are," I hear myself say. I have no idea where these words are coming from, but they seem to be the correct ones, the way Norrington - James - my husband - is smiling at me. "It will be nice for you to have a bit more support for your position. I know my father can be too. . . soft sometimes."
"Now, Elizabeth," he chides me gently. "You must not continue to blame him for failing to protect your young friend, Mr. Turner." I get the sense that this is an old, worn argument. "The boy was in possession of a piece of pirate gold, after all, and that, no doubt, is the reason he was kidnapped. But now, I'm afraid, I really must go. I shall return before the ball this evening. Good bye, my dear."
I endure a chaste kiss good bye and see my husband - how strange that sounds! - safely out the door. I return to my interrupted breakfast and see the newspaper, folded neatly beside the bowl of fruit. Bracing myself to find out just how much time I lost, I open it up, and do a double take. I look again, but the date has not changed. Somehow it is several months earlier than the day I stood on the island and watched the Dutchman sail away. Over a year earlier than the time it just was, before I found myself here.
Something is very wrong. But this would certainly explain how James Norrington is alive and well and still a Commodore. And how I seem to find myself married to him. Having exhausted the possible sources of information on the outside, I turn my thoughts inward, in the hopes that my own mind might provide some answers to this puzzle.
What I find is possibly even more disturbing than memories I have no recollection of living through. Instead, I find two conflicting sets of memories. One set, that seems to inhabit the small detached corner of my mind, are what I would call my own "true" memories. Memories of Jack and the pirates, of Barbossa and Davy Jones and Calypso, of being made Pirate King and marrying Will in the middle of battle.
The other set, the ones that seem directly connected to my body, are entirely different. I never fainted and fell off the battlements, Jack never had to rescue me. He had been captured and duly put in jail, but broke free when the Pearl attacked. My memories of the attack, too, are different. The pirates never made it up to the mansion, instead contenting themselves with ransacking the town below. I learn later, from James, that Will was dragged off to the ship right before it set sail again. I believe it is because he wore the pirate medallion, which I had given back to him some years earlier. I hold a grudge against my father for not preventing the attack, for not protecting Will, for not doing anything to try to rescue him. I married James nine months previous and ever since I have been hounding him to mount an expedition to eradicate the pirates who took away my oldest friend.
The dichotomy between my two lives could not be more striking and for the first time in many years - however you count them - I feel completely trapped. These are not my thoughts, not my feelings! Except that they are, and I can easily see how, had my life gone the way this Elizabeth's had, I might end up in the same place.
Then it occurs to me that the life I had just lived - returning to Port Royal, losing Will's child, running off with Jack - might be no more or less real than the life I now find myself in. That thought calms me some; it follows, then, that the life I chose standing on the island might still be out there for me somehow. I simply need to find my way back to it.
The idea that I might have gone mad does not even enter my mind. After all, I have sailed off the edge of the world, to a reality created entirely from Jack's mind. If that can exist, who's to say there are not multiple realities out there for me?
Of course, that still leaves me stuck in these horrid dresses, married to James Norrington and apparently being the number one supporter of pirate eradication. Unless I can get myself out of here. I scrunch up my face in concentration and try to will myself out of my body. Cautiously, I open one eye. No, no luck. And now the maid is looking at me oddly. I wave her off, take the paper and retreat to the library to spend the rest of the day in contemplation and novels.
It is late afternoon when Norrington - no, I must think of him as James - returns. My own preparations for the ball began some hours before. Just because I prefer life on the high seas does not mean I do not know how to make myself ready for a ball at the governor's mansion. It was, after all, my home for eight years. When the last curl is in place and the last button has been done up, I go in search of my husband.
I find him, not waiting impatiently at the door, but still up in our bedroom. He is standing at the window that faces the harbor. He has an odd look on his face, and I move as silently as I can, so as not to disturb him. The warm light of the afternoon touches him and he looks almost hungry as he watches the ships below. There is a longing in his eyes that I am all too familiar with.
"Like clipped wings," he offers quietly, not taking his eyes off the water.
I understand, I want to say. Better than you could ever imagine. But I don't. Instead, I slip my arm around his and say, "Are you ready, dear? We should be going."
He comes back to himself with a slight shake of his head and offers me a slight smile. He does up his cuffs, dons his jacket and we proceed down stairs to the waiting carriage. As soon as I settle myself into the seat, I am hit by the now-familiar whiteness, but this time I do not fight the sensation as I am torn from my body once more.
There is a brief moment of dizziness that I am fast becoming accustomed to, so I try to force myself to relax and let my psyche settle into whatever madness I've been dropped into this time. When my perception clears, I find myself in a dense jungle forest, facing two pirates with a small black chest on the ground between them and suddenly I know where - and when - I am.
Although I know what is coming next, I still stop and stare along with everyone else as the large water wheel calmly rolls by, with Will and James fighting atop it and Jack scampering along behind. Collectively, we shake ourselves from our stupor and a thrown axe signals the start of the mad scramble back to the water.
I manage not to trip and fall on my face as two swords are tossed between myself and the two pirates, trying desperately to keep Davy Jones's creatures at bay. In the corner of my mind that remains my own, I am reminded of the frantic maneuvering of three crews between two ships that had gone on in the cove of Isla de Muerta on my first. . . excursion with Jack and Barbossa.
Then I feel reality shift and deviate from what I know. In front of me I see the wheel, which had been rolling along so well, hit an exposed root and begin to wobble. Thrown off balance, one of Will's sword thrusts goes wild but the next bounce throws the Commodore straight into the blade's path. His side is pierced and a red stain quickly grows as he topples off the careening wheel. My heart is in my throat as I see my current fiancée follow my first off the edge and plunge to the ground. Neither of them moves when they land and Will's neck is at an angle that should not be possible. Unless one of them has acquired some sort of piratic immortality, my wedding day has been further postponed.
I pause only long enough beside them to close their eyes and slide the pouch out of James's pocket and then I keep going. I want to scream and cry and wail, and I feel my heart breaking as I run. But I do not stop because stopping means certain death from the undead, barnacle-laden fish-pirates behind me and the only thing to do now is run run run to the water, to the long boat, to the safety of the Pearl. Jack is in front of me carrying the chest. I know not what he wants with it, but it matters little now. It is our only protection and we must get it to safety before Jones can reclaim it.
We burst through the last of the brush to the beach just in time to see Jack drop the chest in the boat and turn on one of Jones's minions with an oar. I sprint for the boat, dragging my two oldest pirate captors behind me - how many months, years, lifetimes ago had I demanded parley from them? We reach it just in time to see Jack overwhelmed. I don't think even Jack Sparrow's luck can get him out of this one.
"Row," I scream. "Row for the Pearl! We must make it back."
"But wha' about the Captain?" Ragetti asks, even as he pulls with all his might.
"There is 'aught we can do for him. We must get this heart back to the Pearl," I reply. I can feel a layer of ice settling around my heart, cutting off my pain, allowing me to function. "They will take Jack back to the Dutchman. Jones will be so busy gloating over his capture that he may not learn of his missing heart for some time. Jack's life will buy us a chance to take the Pearl and get away. Savvy?" It is the least I can do for Jack, for Will, even for James Norrington.
The two pirates start in surprise but nod vigorously and we skim through the water towards the shelter of the Pearl. I try not to look back to where the bodies of three men I respected and loved lie. I check to make sure the key is still in the lock of the chest and then we scramble on board.
"Weigh anchor and set sail for Port Royal, top speed," I order, and make my way to the captain's quarters.
"What about the Captain?" Mr. Gibbs protests.
"The Code, Mr. Gibbs," I remind him pointedly. "Unless you particularly want to be here when Davy Jones realizes that we have his heart." I gesture slightly with the chest. "Savvy?" His eyes, too, widen but he nods firmly and starts barking orders. The crew has no choice but to accept me now.
It is only within the darkness of the cabin that I allow myself to grieve. Although I know this is not how it happened for me, their deaths are real in this here-and-now. And so is the pain.
We are met at gun point at Port Royal. Alone, bearing the pouch of pardons and the chest, I descend and allow myself to be escorted to the headquarters of the East India Trading Company.
Grim-faced and silent, I toss the pouch in front of Lord Beckett. He smiles that oily smile of his. "Surprising perseverance, Miss Swann," he says as he signs the four Letters of Marque. I say nothing, but place the chest on his desk and hand him the key. He allows me to leave. We understand each other perfectly.
Only once I am back on board the Pearl do I begin to relax. Will and James have been taken from me forever here, but there is still a chance for Jack.
I look out over the bow and set my jaw. "Bring me that horizon, Mr. Gibbs." If there's a way to bring Jack back, it's out there somewhere.
As I resolve to find it, no matter what, the world goes white and I feel myself being ripped from my body once again.
The dizziness is less this time, and I come back to myself quickly. The soft sound of lapping water and the smell of vegetation tell me that I am in one of the countless bayous that dot the larger islands. The familiar shifting of my body tells me that I am rowing a small boat up one of the labyrinth of rivers. I allow myself to continue the rhythmic pace and take stock of my situation.
The knowledge flows into me softly, like the sluggish flow of the water I traverse. There is no panicked disorientation, no disbelief. Perhaps it is because this situation is an easy one for me to accept. Perhaps I am simply growing used to sifting through a mind that is different-yet-the-same, searching for knowledge that I have-but-have-not.
I look down at myself and discover that, once again, I am in a dress. However, this time it is soft and loose, made of all the colors of the bayou, and flows over the swell of my expanding stomach. A quick glance at my reflection in the murky water shows large gold hoops in my ears and a brightly colored scarf confining my hair. My eyes are dark with kohl and my lips are stained - I must be taking lessons from the Jack Sparrow school of paint. But the overall effect makes me look less like a bright-eyed school girl, or even a pirate lord, and more like what I am becoming - an ageless witch-woman of the islands.
Upon Will's departure, I chose not to go back to any life I had known before. Instead, I followed a third option. Strange, how the same mind can come to such different conclusions. I took myself to Tortuga and asked a few discrete questions. Tia Dalma was not the only witch-woman in the islands - just the only one who was a goddess bound in human form. Armed with the answers and my own determination I seek out and find a teacher.
Her name is, appropriately, Teuta, and she is older than dirt. She also specializes in, among other things, midwifery. She nourishes my body along with my mind. I learn to read the strange lights that glow in our little cove and to fish up all manner of sea creatures. She teaches me to read their entrails and then cook up a fine stew with their bodies. We honor and use every part. I learn curses, sewing, hexes and medicine. I learn to cast dice and bones; Teuta prefers pigs knuckles, but I stick with crab legs - I owe at least that much to Calypso. I become equally well versed in voodoo and repairing the roof of our small cabin. I think the only time I have ever been happier is when I was fighting back to back with Will on the Pearl.
Secure in my place in this life, I dock my little boat, haul up my catch for the day and continue the lessons with my teacher. I study hard and learn quickly, for when I have mastered these things, I shall set about learning how to return a soul back to this world. Ten years is far too long to wait and my daughter shall not grow up without her father. Not if I have anything to say about it.
Days become weeks, which stretch into months. In due course, Teuta shepherds me through the pain of childbirth and presents me with a small bundle. I name her Anne, after my mother, and Willa, for my husband.
It is the longest I have ever spent in one of these realities - always before I was only there for a matter of hours or days. The small, detached corner of my mind occasionally worries about this, but for the most part it is easy for me to accept. If I am stuck here in this version of my life, it is hardly a burden. I have a purpose and a daughter and a kindly teacher. And if all goes well, I shall have my husband as well.
The first step to learning how to return a soul to this world, Teuta says, is to learn to speak with those in the next. This prospect does not fill me with dread, as perhaps it should. Instead, I look forward to speaking with those that Will has charge of. I consider and discard many choices but in the end, there is really only one person who can be my first ghostly summon.
I prepare my circle under Teuta's watchful eye, inscribing symbols on the floor in my own blood. Calmly, I speak the words of power to open the door between this world and the next, and watch as the mist begins to grow and shift.
A sad smile appears on my face. "Hello, James," I say to the coalescing form in front of me. "You won't believe what's happened since I last saw you." And then whiteness envelopes my world.
I come to myself in a rush of rain and salt spray and the clash of swords. I am on the deck of the Pearl and I believe Will and I have been married for approximately five minutes. And then there is no more chance to think, only to react with the reflexes trained into me by my now-husband. I may not be the master swordsman that Will is, but a year of exacting study under him allows me to more than hold my own.
I see Will swing over to the Dutchman and my stomach turns to lead. I know what is coming next and damned if I'm going to watch Will die - again - without doing something to try to change it. I hardly need Gibbs's encouraging "Go!" to grab a rope and swing over to the barnacle-encrusted desk myself.
"You'll see no mercy from me!" the squid-faced captain declares as I land next to him. I see Will retreating before his father, fighting strictly defensively, so as not to harm the mindless man. Not wasting time on witty ripostes, I engage Davy Jones in swordplay. Finally, Will breaks free of his father, and joins me with an anguished cry of my name. Now we are two-on-one but I, at least, know that it will do us no good unless Jack can get his hands on that damn heart.
Suddenly, I skid on the slick deck and Will immediately moves to help me.
"Ahhh, love," Jones sneers at us. "A dreadful bond. And yet so easily severed. Tell me, William Turner, do you fear death?" he asks, turning his entire focus on Will.
"Do you?" Jack's voice easily cuts across the howl of the storm and the sounds of fighting. We all turn and, miracle of miracles, he's holding the beating heart in one hand, knife in the other. "Heady tonic, holding life and death in the palm of one's hand."
"You're a cruel man, Jack Sparrow."
"Cruel is a matter of perspective."
"Is it now?" Jones asks with a wicked glint in his eye. He spins back to Will, but I know what is coming and am moving before he finishes his sentence. I mean to only shove Will out of the way, but I when I feel a sudden pain in my side, I know I've miscalculated.
Well, this will certainly change things. Under my breath, I begin exercising some of the extensive vocabulary that I have picked up from the various pirate crews, as Will hovers anxiously over me. I did not intend to save Will by dying for him.
Just then, Bootstrap Bill shakes free enough of the compulsion of the ship to attack his captain. While Jones is distracted, my eyes meet Jack's for a long moment. Will may hold my heart - I wince a little as I think just how literally true that will be in a few minutes - but Jack is the other half of my soul. He understands what I am asking without words and suddenly, he is at my side, dropping the heart on the deck and gently placing his hand on top of mine to guide the knife as my strength fails.
Will, realizing what is happening, lets out an anguished cry and draws the attention of Davy Jones again. Jones sees the stabbed heart and staggers backwards off the ship. My vision is fading quickly and the relentless chant of the crew begins to dull my senses.
"Get him out of here," I order Jack, because Will is in no state to do anything right now, and I will not have either of them go down with me. Where I will be going, they cannot follow.
I feel a hand softly brush my brow. "I'll keep him safe for you. See you topside in a few, love," Jack whispers in my ear and then he moves to bodily drag Will away.
Blearily, I see Bootstrap Bill approaching me, knife in hand. "The Dutchman must have a captain," he says apologetically.
I muster a faint smile for my father-in-law. "Do it," I whisper and brace myself with the last of my strength.
Between the storm, the maelstrom and my own waning perception, I do not remember what it is like to die and have my heart cut out. For this, I believe, I am grateful. I dimly recall the ship submerging and that detached corner of my mind, that up until now had been busy occupying itself with remembering all the curses I'd learned in all my lifetimes, shrieks in horror. It is a natural reaction to what the mind perceives as drowning, but I firmly tell myself that I can't drown any longer and so please shut up and let me get on with the business of healing the gaping wound in my chest.
I feel strength flowing into me - or perhaps that is just sea water - and within minutes I can stand again. I climb up to the prow and survey my crew. Someone - Bill, probably - has assembled them all, and they are peering curiously at their new captain.
"Gentlemen," I address them, "your debts are paid in full. Davy Jones has gone to settle his score with Calypso in person and you are no longer bound to this ship. However," I raise a hand to cut off the cheer that goes up, "however, there is still a fight going on up there." I gesture towards the surface. "Up there, one man thinks he can control the sea. One man seeks to take away the freedom of the salt and tar. I am captain of the Dutchman now, but before, Sao Feng chose me as his successor, made me one of the pirate lords. The Brethren Court elected me their king. I am bound to you now, but I have a prior obligation to them, to all the men and women who love the sea as we do, to all who crave the freedom of the waves. Will you join me, gentlemen? Will you show Lord Beckett what it means to be the crew of the Flying Dutchman? Will you say me aye?"
The resounding "Aye" that comes from the crew heartens me. "Prepare to surface," I order, "and man the canons. It's time the Dutchman switched sides."
The crew scrambles and I ride the prow to the surface like a living figurehead. We break through the waterline alongside the Pearl and I nearly break out laughing at the perplexed looks of her crew. Obviously, Jack hasn't told anyone anything - or at least nothing coherent. I cannot suppress the grin that threatens to split my face when I see Jack and Will, but I do refrain from waving. We have a job to do, after all.
I see the Endeavour making its stately way towards us and a quick glance at Jack establishes our plan of attack. "Man the guns and bring us around to the port side of the Endeavour," I order. "The Pearl will come up along starboard and we'll bracket her and blast her to smithereens."
"Aye, Captain," the once-again-human crewman nearest to me replies with a blood-thirsty grin.
The end result is almost anti-climactic in its ease, although the complete annihilation of the ship is rather satisfying. With the destruction of their flagship, the rest of the armada breaks and turns away. I stand quietly from my vantage point at the prow and watch with half an eye as my crew joins the rest in celebration. Most of my attention is focused on the deck of the Pearl.
The sound of footsteps alerts me to the fact that I have company and I half turn to see Bootstrap standing at attention.
"You're no longer bound to the Dutchman. You're free," I remind him gently.
"Aye, that's a fine thing, but, by my reckoning, I still have an obligation, as I understand it," he replies with a slight smile, and suddenly I can see where Will got his heartbreaking grin. "If my son cannot be joining us, isn't it my duty to keep an eye on my daughter-in-law? If you'll have me, that is."
I cannot help but smile back. "On the wheel, then, Mr. Turner."
"Aye, Captain Turner."
"And signal the Pearl to follow us to that cove," I call after him. "I have a date with my husband."
I gaze out over the prow as we make for the small speck of land in the distance. This is not the life I would have chosen for myself - in this or any other lifetime - but I think I can be content. The duty of the Flying Dutchman is not such an onerous one and is far out-weighed by having my very own ship to sail for eternity. There is no place I cannot chart, now. Once every ten years, I will come back to this island and to Will. And in between, who's to say that we can't meet on the sea? The prohibition is simply against setting foot on land, after all. Besides, he will wait for me. How could he do otherwise?
I feel the salty breezy on my face and smile as the island grows closer. Then, slowly, gently, like a fog rolling in, whiteness engulfs my vision once again. This time I am not ripped from my body, but lifted softly in cradling hands, and I faintly hear throaty, feminine laughter; that all but confirms my growing suspicion of who is behind this wild ride that I have been on. Take me home, sister-dear. I cast my thought into the whiteness and relax into oblivion.
I awake with a start, and the grittiness in my eyes is only partially due to the sand beneath me. In the dim light of false-dawn, I see the Pearl, still anchored just off shore. Frantically, I look down at myself and am relieved to find I'm wearing the breeches and jacket I donned after Will left. It was all just a dream, then.
But no. A dream does not leave one's head feeling full to bursting with new knowledge. I know the taste and feel of three different men, although this body has been with but one of them. If I ever needed to rail against pirates, I could do so with the greatest conviction. I place a hand over my breast and am somewhat surprised to feel skin unmarred by a deep scar and a heart beating within. My mind is filled with mystical knowledge.
Experimentally, I sketch out a series of symbols in the wet sand and chant the invocation of Ala, one of the African fertility goddesses that Teuta taught me to honor. I feel a familiar-yet-unfamiliar rush of power, and my smile grows wide when a faint blue nimbus encircles my abdomen. I am doubly blessed; I can still use all the knowledge I gained in those other lifetimes, and I shall have a son to present to Will when next we meet.
It is with a much lighter heart that I row back to the Pearl. The crew greets me tentatively, as if they're sure I am going to collapse into a weepy puddle of femininity at any moment. I think my constant smile and sparkling eyes confuse them.
"You'll not be staying, then?" Mr. Gibbs asks, although he sounds like he already knows the answer. I suppose he might, he's known me longer than anyone else here.
I shake my head. "This ship already has two pirate lords fighting over her," I say with a nod to where Jack and Barbossa are still countermanding each other's orders. It'll be a wonder if they can get anywhere. "I have a ship of my own waiting for me. Take us to the Empress, Mr. Gibbs."
"Aye, Captain Turner."
Captain Turner. I like the sound of that. So that is what I shall be - at least for the next eight months, until I grow too big to safely waddle around deck. Perhaps I shall have my crew drop me off with Teuta when the time comes. Or perhaps I shall find someone in Shanghai to deliver my son. But either way, he shall be raised at sea; it is only fitting for the son of two captains.
I lean against the rail and watch the water slip by. I am more now than I was before, and I feel much more secure in myself. Although it is not how I would have chosen to gain that confidence, I believe I know who to thank. Carefully, I prick my thumb with my knife and allow a few drops to fall overboard, while murmuring a prayer of thanks to Calypso. Briefly, I think I see her face in the crashing waves. Or perhaps it is only a trick of the light.
"Already pining for your lost love?" a familiar voice asks behind me.
I turn to Jack with a smile. "Not hardly. As long as I am at sea, he and I are never truly separated." I reach up and caress his cheek with the back of my hand. "Just as you and I never are."
He pulls back a little and it is the closest I have ever seen the great Jack Sparrow to being flustered. He rallies manfully, though. "I already told you, darling, it would never work between us."
I break out laughing, peels upon peels of laughter ringing out over the water. I want to tell him how wrong he is, but I do not. Perhaps some day. He and Will are the only two people who might believe my tale.
Instead I smirk at him and change the subject. "We'll have to play catch-me-if-you-can in the South Pacific some day. The Pearl may be the fastest ship in the Caribbean, but by the time I'm done with her, the Empress will be but a speck on your horizon."
He raises and eyebrow at me, all cocky arrogance again. "Oh really? I'll tell you what, then. When we drop you off at your ship, you head west, I'll head east and the first one to reach Shanghai, which is almost precisely not quite half way around the world from here, wins."
"And just what will I be winning?" I ask.
Jack pretends to think about it for a minute, but the sparkling of his eyes gives him away. He's been wanting to do this for a long time. "The winner gets both ships for a year. When I win, you shall remain captain of the Empress but will fly the Pearl's colors for a year and sail under my command. If, by some strange miracle, you should win, I shall do the same for you. Now, do we have an accord?"
And we shake on it.