The following has SPOILERS for At World's End~*~
"Time and Tide"
In a green flash, the sea has swallowed the Dutchman.
And she stands, in the rising tide, listening to the familiar rhythmic beat she'd come to know from its place behind flesh and bone.
She fingers the cool metal lying on her breast. She'd half expected him to take it with him. But he has given her the key to his destruction.
The wind rushes by, tangles in her hair, blows sea foam against her legs and she shivers in the failing light and casts her eyes across sand and water. The sky and sea feel suddenly too large and too empty.
No hint of sails on the horizon.
She picks up the chest and walks.
She has to choke back the suddenly funny urge to sing a hymnal as she throws sand to cover the chest, dulling the resonant heartbeat.
There are no trees or driftwood to mark the spot. She draws an X in the sand and then erases it with a swish of her boot.
All that's left to find this treasure are the steps she numbered in her head and the sparrow she's drawn on her map.
Because who would ever think to look for the heart beneath a sparrow?
Moonrise and she pulls the longboat away from the grasping tide, settles down in her black chemise, using her shirt and breeches as pillow, her jacket as a counterpane.
She looks up at the stars and remembers another night on a beach miles and months from here. Finds Aquila following Cygnus. Cassiopeia on her throne where down is definitely not up.
She falls asleep to the sound of the tide and dreams of stars fallen into the ocean, of white sands, of black feathers against her face.
She’s up before the dawn and riding the tide out into the depths, rowing east, around the Island. Light breaks across the waves, half blinds her so that she almost runs the longboat up on one of the many half submerged shipwrecks that give the Island and its cove their names.
The boat glides into the cove like she’s had years of practice.
She fancies the image she’d cut standing in the prow of it, one foot up on the edge, surveying all that lay before her. The idea sinks as her small movements make the boat tilt dangerously in the current.
She moors the boat and scrambles up on one of the ship decks turned docks.
The noise of the city can be heard over the creak of old wooden skeletons and the break of waves. Lights burn in the distance and she can smell gunpowder and cured meat over the fetid salt laced air.
And rum, warm and spicy beneath it all.
Her long stride carries her, calm, purposeful.
There must be someone who’d sail with a Pirate King.
She spends two days draining dry the barrels housed in the more reputable areas of Shipwreck City, though for such a city, home to all manner of thieves and beggars, reputable is relative.
She thinks she might have picked a fight one evening. There’s a spot the color of mottled gunpowder on her forehead and her lip is split. There’s a trace of blood and a few stray threads of fabric on the edge of her cutlass.
She thinks she won.
A bottle in one hand, the other on the handle of her cutlass, she walks the length of the city. And when she happens upon Captain Teague she pauses a moment to wonder if Jack Sparrow has melted, asks him what manner of heat or magic he encountered for such effect, and passes out.
She wakes to a pounding in her head she hasn’t felt since the morning she’d burned a cache of rum and a taste in her mouth as dry and dead as those ashes.
“Not a fitting state for royalty, now is it, my liege?” She’s not sure if those last words are meant to be sarcastic.
Opening her eyes, she sees Teague sitting in a mean wooden chair across the room.
“What’s that?” she asks, blinking against the new sunlight slinking pale and bright through the greasy window.
“A pirate king without a ship,” he says.
“I’ve come to commandeer one.”
His eyes brighten, his lips split and she wonders if the stretching skin might not slide to the floor.
“Picked up quite a bit from my son, ‘aven’t you?”
The ship is smaller than The Pearl, but graceful, sails buoyant with the warm wind. The wooden flanks gleams gold in the daylight and will look, she thinks, like a beacon when the sun falls into the ocean.
“She’s in need of a captain. Been stuck in port far too long. I can hear her aching for open waters.”
Elizabeth turns to Teague, raises an eyebrow.
“The language of ships. Spend enough time with them and you’ll learn to speak it too.”
He turns back toward the city. “I’m certain we can find a few men willing to sail under a woman and a pirate king. …If that’s your desire?”
Elizabeth turns to the west, blue and silver and gold rippling waves as far as the eye can see. And she turns to the ship rocking gently against the dock.
“What is her name?”
The crew is prone to muttering under its collective breath about women aboard a ship, even women named captain and king, but they listen to her and that’s all that’s important.
And when she barks the way she learned in Barbossa’s stead, they move.
Her bosun is prone to grunts and gestures, though, far as she can tell, he still has his tongue and the rest of the crew answers in similar tones.
They are less than two days at sea and she thinks she might go mad and shoot one of them just to stir up words rather than non-verbal rhythms, when she hears the call from the Crow’s Nest.
By the time she’s come out of the cabin he’s been hauled aboard her ship, looking none the worse for having spent who-knows-how-many days in a dinghy with a makeshift sail and—of course, she notes, spying the clutch of his fingers—a bottle of rum.
He blinks at her. The kohl that lines his eyes smudged with sweat and sea water. He fingers the compass on his belt briefly and she thinks she hears him breathe “Bugger” but she can’t be sure.
“Captain Sparrow, welcome aboard the Oneirata.”
He falters a moment, then blinks.
“Pretty ship, love, truly. But don’t you think she’s a might small for two captains…”
She sees the way his eyes light, the way his hands move over the curve of rope and rail, that covetous touch she’d seen on the Pearl enacted on both wood and skin.
“I do,” she says. “I could be in need of a first mate, if his conversation proves more congenial than what I’ve heard these past two days.”
He grins then and it glints gold like the sun. “In that case, I have a proposition for you…”
“Just imagine it, darling. 10 years and 10 years and he’s not aged a day and you, you have shed your smooth skin and your gold hair somewhere between the sea and the sun…and the rum.”
“Not the most flattering method of making a proposition, Captain Sparrow.”
“S’merely the truth of a life at sea, darling.”
The cabin is quiet save for the crash of waves, the creak of wood, and then:
“Set the heading, then.”
“We’re going?” he asks, fumbles the rum bottle, and tries to cover his surprise with a well-timed swig.
“I’ve had enough of death for some time, Jack,” she says, gazing through the windows to the gold lit waters, the sun bleeding red over the horizon.
“Haven’t we all,” he whispers and leaves the cabin.
“I confess, love. I had thought the outcome might be a bit more impressive,” Jack Sparrow said, looking at his hands in the moonlight. Dark and bejewelled and none the worse for wear from their days of trudging through the Island jungle, shifting roots and cutting branches from their path; yet, bearing still, the signs of sun and time.
“Aqua vitae, Jack,” Elizabeth says sliding her dagger from her belt.
Jack watches her, eyes shuttered as she draws the blade quick across her palm.
He reaches for her, without thought, pries her fingers open, and watches the cut recede. He runs a calloused thumb across her palm, clears her blood away, revealing whole flesh.
“So we find the legends are true,” he whispers and for just a moment Elizabeth thinks she sees a flash of green in his eyes, but it might just be a trick of fire or moon light.
Time and tide shift grains of sand and the beat of human hearts.
But ten years have not much changed the western shore of Shipwreck Island.
She watches her son run across the grassy cliff, his stride a little awkward on solid ground, tricorne precariously perched on his dark head, voice carrying the pirate song across the wind.
Yo ho he sings and she remembers herself at his age standing on a ship wondering what it would be like to meet a real pirate.
She breathes in the scent of tide stirred sands, watches the sinking sun. The green flash reflects across her son’s face and he turns his black, black eyes up to her when she reaches his side and the worldly mirth in his young smile still amazes her.
She puts her arm around him, pulls him to her and soon finds her movement mirrored, with an arm draped over her shoulders, a warm brown hand on the curve of her neck, fingers resting on her pulse.
“Pirate, love,” he whispers, finding her heartbeat steady and strong.
And she stretches to her full height. The sheath of her dagger shifts against her thigh, the leather a delicious texture against her naked skin. That compass of his presses into her hip; it has remained unopened for months.
She places her son’s tricorne on her own head, ruffles his hair when he narrows his eyes at her, and gives him a grin that rivals Jack Sparrow’s.
Below them, the Dutchman has dropped anchor and there is a longboat heading for shore.