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Salt up the stem

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It all made sense because, you see, Elizabeth never wanted anything long after she had it. At least, almost never. Also, of course, because Will was never really the pirate. Elizabeth was the pirate.

She kissed him and wed him and it was lovely for a while. But when it came time, when she could not stand the call of the sea and the creak of the ships any longer she said she had to leave. She said he could come along and he said all right but they both knew he would not. In spite of everything, he was a blacksmith, not a pirate.

When Elizabeth left, she knew exactly where to go, how to find the ghost ship. The black sails, the wind, the salt spray had haunted her dreams.

::

The thing about Jack is that he always spoke the truth. The thing about James is that he appreciated grand gestures. The thing about them together is that someone had to remind James to swim.

When James's world went spinning over and he slipped into the deep, Jack caught him and pulled him ashore. James's eyes went dark when Jack licked the salt from his skin.

When Elizabeth finally found them, no one was surprised.

::

After Elizabeth had been at sea three days she threatened to cut off her hair. It blew all about her face in the wind, and by the end of her watch it had twisted into knots and snarls that brought her near tears to comb out. The next day Jack caught her on her way below decks and took her to his cabin. He drew out a jar of light oil (a gift from James), bade her sit, and drew the comb (a gift from an island princess) through her hair, slowly, gently, teasing the tangles loose. He hummed low and dreamy in her ear, and she grew drowsy with rocking and rhythm. He told her to come to him tomorrow before she went above. She dreamt of mermaids.

In the morning he braided her hair, fastened it with beads and bone, and pinned it as a crown. When Elizabeth went above, the rising sun caught her as James turned to say good morning, caught her and made her glow, caught his breath. And he breathed Elizabeth.

James breathed Elizabeth and the sea and the topsy-turvy world, but mostly the sea and the rope and the wood for when it came right down to it, what James loved best was the ocean.

::

Whenever the water was calm and the Pearl slowly drifting, James would say he was going for a swim. Elizabeth, bold, refused to turn away when he would arise dripping from the sea, water streaming from his dark queue. She said she could not bear to miss his smile, when the swim smoothed the furrow from his brow. She said he shone. She said she had never seen him so happy. Perhaps she had never seen him happy at all.

He would go below deck to dress, sometimes returning quickly, sometimes not, lured and captured by Jack's wicked tongue. When he reappeared he tangled his fingers in hers and watched the sun scatter golden coins across the water.

::

They always knew where Jack was, for he was never quiet. Jack at the wheel sang in full voice, Jack about ship hummed, Jack in speech was lyrical. Jack when Elizabeth traced his scars and James kissed him deep, well. Maybe sometimes Jack was quiet.

The rest of the time, Jack's voice twined with the lapping of the waves, the pull of the ropes, and the creaking of the beams. A song that cradled James in his hammock and rocked him to a sleep he had never found on land.

::

The ocean was vast but the Pearl was a world unto itself. The crew was used to Jack's . . .eccentricities. They took to Elizabeth because she immediately wore breeches, glad to be free of the constraints of life on land. And they took to James when they realized he could best them all with the sword.

Some afternoons he would practice dueling with Elizabeth, her feet light on the deck. When battle came, she would be prepared. She would rather die than be shielded. No damsel in distress.

::

James had always loved the ocean. He had learned it and protected it, and then he learned that maybe it didn't need protecting after all. Maybe he did.

He called to Jack to dive, and they raced around the ship. Elizabeth peered over the rail, laughing and cheering. James was the faster swimmer but Jack was more graceful. Casting a quick eye around deck she stripped down to smallclothes and threw herself into the sea. They turned away from her splash, then turned back, circled her, bobbing and shining, touching and tasting in the water.

That night on deck, they drank as the moon grew full and silver, painting streaks across the sea.

::

On the Pearl it all made sense, you understand.