She doesn’t scream upon first sighting him, which is something of a decent start; doesn’t point a pistol in his general shadowy direction, as Sparrow had that first time, either, or simply trick herself into not seeing him, as most people tended to do.
No, Elizabeth Turner merely rests a hand upon the swell of her belly and raises one perfect eyebrow at him. But then, what else was to be expected of a woman who kept her husband’s still-beating heart locked away in a box?
“James,” she says, tilting her head to one side, face thoughtful. “You aren’t real. You can’t be.”
“So it would seem. And yet, here I am,” he says, already bored with making the explanation when it should have been painfully obvious. “As it turns out, being dead isn’t always as final as one would think. A fact that you, of all people, should know, Mrs. Turner.”
“Ah,” she says, with a smile that, while soft, still manages to look somehow predatory. “My husband sent you.”
“Your husband sent me. With his regards, his regrets, and, much as it pains me to say, his everlasting devotion.” Truth be told, it doesn’t pain him all that much, not anymore. That battle was fought and lost, best left to the past. Besides, there were always others somewhat more worthy of pursuit than a woman blossoming with proof of another man’s love.
Almost as though she’d read his thoughts from the air, Elizabeth’s eyes narrow. “And Jack? Have you been off to haunt him as well?”
“I go where I’m told,” he says, shortly. The Pearl’s hold had felt dangerously comfortable on his preliminary visit, both exciting and familiar, but he feels no inclination to share that fact at this particular moment. “In death, much as in life, it seems I excel at following orders. As I’ve now executed them, I’ll bid you good day, Mrs. Turner.”
He vanishes mid-bow, leaving her to stare at an empty wall; one of the greatest advantages of being incorporeal, he’s found, is the ability to avoid uncomfortable truths altogether.
The next time he sees her, she’s sitting on a beach, grown so heavy with the child inside her she reminds him of nothing so much as the billowing sails of a galleon.
She doesn’t even deign to look up when he seats himself gingerly beside her in the sand, all her attention focused on a distant ship, the sails of which might possibly be black; the distance makes it difficult to say for certain. Elizabeth herself is bathed in gold, with her skin, her hair, even the white of her shirt gilded by the setting sun, and it occurs to him that he’s rarely seen anyone look so luminous, so perfectly serene and in their element as she does here. Only Sparrow comes to mind, at the wheel of his beloved ship, or perhaps behind a bottle of rum, as James had last seen him.
“Checking up on me again? It really isn’t necessary,” she says, finally, after the distant ship has sailed from sight.
“There are those who wish to be kept informed as to your well-being,” he says carefully, letting her make of his words what she will. Maybe he would have come even if he hadn’t been politely ordered to; he finds it difficult to say even now how much of what binds him to Elizabeth is the tattered remnants of past affection, and how much is simply the ties of shared experience, of watching the world go to ruin around them while they helped hasten its destruction.
When she smiles, it’s brittle somehow, sharp edged, reminding him too strongly of the past. It’s almost amusing, he reflects, the way in which water will smooth out rough edges of rock, yet it’s done the work of a whetstone on the pair of them, honing them into something hard and deadly.
Eventually, she shakes her head, narrowing her eyes in the glare off the water. “The sea is a brutal mistress, James.”
“You hardly need to inform me of that fact,” he points out; the sea had been his life, its siren song calling to him even now, leading him ever further down paths of temptation, and likely utter ruination as well.
“But you must love it still,” Elizabeth says, something heavy and aching in her voice, like the creaking of a ship’s timbers, late in the dead watches of the night. “You must, or you wouldn’t sail on the Dutchman now.”
There’s no response he can make to that, not without sharing parts of himself he’d rather stay hidden, so he holds his tongue and waits, years of command having taught him that an empty silence will inevitably be filled.
“It’s funny,” she says, leaning back on her elbows, not seeming to mind the damp chill beginning to seep up from the sands, like the ever-present chill in his bones. “I killed Jack, and brought him back. He helped bring Will back, that day aboard the Dutchman. And now Will’s brought you back, in a way.” She stares out to sea for a long moment, watching the sun as it slips below the horizon, fading out with a last orange flash. “I wonder, would any of you ever try to bring me back?”
No, he thinks, because we all know well enough to want the dead left in peace. And then, just as strongly, Yes, in spite of it all, because we’re all fools, the whole damned lot of us, all caught up together for eternity.
But he doesn’t give either response, supporting her with an awkward arm around her shoulders instead. “It doesn’t seem likely there should ever be such a need,” he says. “After all, we three have been dead at one point or another, while you’ve ended up as Pirate King.”
“A pirate’s life for me,” she says, a mocking bit of song, and the smile she gives him might as well flash a bit gold; somehow it makes his world feel a little less bitter.
“Why on earth would you choose to curse an innocent child with that name?” he asks, looking into the dark eyes of Elizabeth’s son.
“It’s a perfectly serviceable name,” she says, glaring at him over the baby, nestled between them in the sands. “I suppose you would have preferred I call him James.”
He shrugs, and keeps his voice light, and his eyes on the sea. “I would have thought you’d name him for his father.”
Her glance is almost as cutting as the blade at her side, and it’s difficult to hold back his smirk, though he does make the effort. “I don’t recall that Will sent you along with any naming suggestions,” she snaps, gathering up her baby. “So Jack will do fine. It happens to suit him very well.”
“May God help us all, then. I very much doubt the world could handle two Jack Sparrows.”
“Couldn’t it?” she asks, her voice gone dangerously soft, and while he meets her eyes well prepared to sneer and scoff and bluff his way through this fog, he finds her gaze too steady and open, and he remembers why he once thought he could love her.
“I’m not blind, James,” she continues, shaking her head. “There’s a fine line between revenge and obsession, between repulsion and fascination. I know.”
It’s tempting to ask just how much she knows, and how well, but being dead is quite lonely enough already, and sad as it may be, she is one of the few connections he has left to the world of the living; to drive her away would be nothing more than a fit of pique he’d soon regret.
Still, he has never been a man to shy away from prodding at old wounds, no matter how misguided the notion may be. “Yes, I suppose you would know. Your dearly beloved husband sent me off to the Pearl to hand deliver directions to the Fountain of Youth, after all. Perhaps your immortal Captain Turner craves some company.”
“Perhaps he isn’t the only one,” she says, but her tone is mild, lacking the acerbic bite of Miss Swann of Port Royal; she’s grown harder to provoke these days, but then, they’ve all grown harder.
“My son wouldn’t exist without Jack Sparrow,” she says, and he’s still sorting through the many varied responses he could make to that statement when she speaks again. “If he hadn’t been in Port Royal that day, I would have died. And you would have carried on as a proper, law-abiding Commodore, and Will would have remained a decent, respectable blacksmith. Everything would have been different.”
James has always known this, of course, known exactly what and who set him down the path that led him here, led him to be a slightly spectral presence on a beach, discussing the past with his former fiance. Still, to hear it all laid out stark and harsh, to wonder what could have been, makes him wish that those beyond the grave still had the ability to lose themselves to drink.
“Out of all the people on earth – my God, out of all the pirates on earth – why did it have to be Jack Sparrow?”
Her laughter is quiet, a mere huff of breath as short and strained as he feels. “Some things are best left unexamined, James.”
She takes his hand a moment later, and her touch is warm as the sand that’s been baking white in the sun, warm enough that his fingers momentarily forget to feel cold. “Life is changeable, and it can be as kind or as cruel as the tides. We should enjoy it wherever we can, take our pleasure where we may. We are pirates, after all.”
Little Jack cries then, and she turns away – just like his namesake, a master of interruptions, James thinks – but though it’s patently ridiculous, he still feels as though he’s received some kind of blessing, gained some measure of freedom he’d been missing, as though everything has clicked into place and he finally understands where he belongs.
And, he noticed, the tide was lapping at their feet; not that he was a man who believed in signs and portents, yet the sea was still in whatever could be called his blood these days, and it would never do to ignore her. He had left Sparrow hanging a bit, the last time they’d spoken; perhaps it was time to remedy that, at long last.
“I’d best be on my way,” he says, giving the baby a stiff pat in token of farewell. “Ships to visit, Captains to report to, all that sort of thing.”
“You’ll give him my love?” she says, face turned to the horizon.
She does not specify, and he does not ask.
“We’re like the waves, the four of us,” she says, and the roar of the surf is so loud he can scarcely hear her, so loud and wild it almost makes him feel alive again. “Always pushing in and pulling away in the same breath.”
It’s true that they’re all caught together, all mingled in the same net – and yet it isn’t, for James knows perfectly well that waves always find something to break on, sooner or later. “That would depend,” he says, “on who precisely is meant to be the beach in this analogy.”
But they both know the answer to that; the sails on their horizons will always be black.