Worth

by Lara Wilson

Jack was gone. Will wasn't talking to her. Barbossa was inexplicably alive, but the plan to rescue Jack was mired in details and old arguments. Nearly a month had passed since the kraken's attack and with every day that passed, Jack was farther away.

And Elizabeth was more and more alone.

Tia Dalma had sent them to the Island of Saint Domingue and they'd been berthed in the capital city of Cap-Francais for two nights, waiting for someone to contact them. Bored and worried, Elizabeth slipped off the ship on the afternoon of the third day and entered the city. As she walked cobbled streets, listening to people talking in a myriad of languages, she realized she missed her home very much.

Longing filled her, and worry for her father, and she wondered if she'd ever see him again.

This life she'd chosen, which, at the time, had seemed so wild and fascinating, had brought misery and loss as well, but she didn't know how to go back and fix anything.

Unsure of what to do, Elizabeth stopped in the street and looked up at a store front. Determination filled her and she entered the shop.

*****

Two hours later, hair curled beneath a pretty pink hat, body clean and pampered and clothed in pink floral cotton and lace, Elizabeth twirled a matching parasol and stepped back out of the shop, her new pink purse considerably lighter, but her heart lighter as well. She hadn't worn a dress, or had a proper bath in months, and it felt good to be a woman.

It was still day and the shopping district was bustling with people. Keeping a close hold on her purse, she strolled towards a caf‚ across the square. She knew it wasn't quite correct for her to be out alone, but she was hungry for good French pastries and gentile company, so she ignored any looks she received and took a seat facing the square.

After ordering tea and what sounded like divine cream cakes, Elizabeth continued watching and listening to the sounds of civilization. Her thoughts began again to drift to all she had given up, and she wondered if she would ever get any of it back. There was still a price on her head, and she was still a pirate, and while she would have done it all over again to rescue Jack, that knowledge was growing more and more bittersweet as the weeks passed.

Stirring cane sugar into her tea, her thoughts turned to Will and how there seemed to be no hope for them. She'd tried to make things right, but he was so bitter, and all his blame was put on her and none on Jack, and Elizabeth supposed that was only correct. Her desire for Jack had been tangled irrevocably with her desire to be a pirate, and Will, while he was good at pirating, didn't have it in his heart.

But, Jack...he would take what she offered and let her sail with him, but there was no future there, and Elisabeth wasn't even certain she wanted one with him.

In a world where women's lives were tied to men's, Elizabeth was uncertain where her future lay.

If she even had one.

Even the cream cake, delicious thought it was, couldn't cheer her from her sober thoughts, and she was caught so deeply in them that she didn't realize that a man had stopped at her table. Looking up to ask him politely to leave, her words caught in her throat.

His appearance was something between the one she'd known most of her life outfitted in a naval uniform and wig, and the dirty drunk from a few months before. He was clean and well dressed, a sword and pistol at his sides, both well oiled. His clothes were navy, a color that had always looked good on him, and his neatly trimmed hair was pulled back by a navy ribbon.

Elizabeth recognized the ribbon. She had given it to him years before when he'd sailed forth to stop an uprising on one of the smaller islands surrounding her home.

He'd kept it.

"Elizabeth."

"James?"

James Norrington smiled down into her surprised eyes and doffed his hat. "May I join you?"

Her surprise turned to suspicion and she looked around, half-expecting to see armed soldiers coming for her. "Are you going to arrest me?"

His smile broadened. "I'm only a simple privateer for his majesty, Elizabeth. I'll leave the arresting to those who care." At her gesture, he sat and beckoned the waiter for a second cup. "This is a surprise. I wondered if I'd ever see you again."

"I wondered what I would do if I ever saw you again, James. You betrayed us."

At her darkening eyes, his smile faltered slightly and he dipped his head in acknowledgment. "For what it's worth, I tried to save you as well, but there was only one letter of pardon to be granted. I needed my life back, Elizabeth. I knew, oddly enough, that you of all of us would survive and thrive in the life you chose, but I was never meant to be a pirate."

"I'm not certain if that's meant to be an insult or a compliment," she replied a bit caustically.

"Take it as you will," was his easy answer as his cup arrived and he poured some tea. "So, why are you here?"

"We're waiting for someone. Jack and The Pearl were taken by the kraken. We're going to rescue him."

"Of course you are."

"We are!"

At her outrage, he could only smile deeper. "I have no doubt you will succeed at anything you set your mind to, Elizabeth. What I am more interested in is why you are here in this caf‚ alone."

She dipped her eyes to her cup and finally took a sip before replying. "I needed some time alone. You're right, I am a pirate and I love it, but I find myself...lonely and missing all I left behind." She fingered the lace on her sleeve. "Pretty things and smelling like a lady and...my father."

James' look turned sober. "He's alive, Elizabeth. He was sent to England in disgrace, but no charges were brought against him."

Relief flooded her and she gave him a tremulous smile. "Thank you, James. I had no way of knowing. We don't dare return to Port Royal."

"You wouldn't like it there, anyway. It has become an oppressive place. I much prefer the French colonies like this one. There's life here."

"And French fashions," she added, trying to lighten the mood, a much easier thing to do with the knowledge of her father.

"That's a very pretty frock you're wearing. I'm not sure how it will do in the rigging of a ship."

Elizabeth grinned. "It might provide some amusement to the crew."

"A well-disciplined crew would keep their eyes on the deck."

"Well, we both know a pirate crew is anything but well-disciplined. And what about you, James, would you look up?" She felt herself blush at her own boldness, and his look only deepened the color in her cheeks.

"I am not certain I remain gentleman enough to restrain myself."

"You do know that privateers are only one sheet of paper from piracy," she said softly.

"And you like pirates."

"Always have." Their eyes met and held fora long moment until James broke the gaze and cleared his throat.

"There are some gardens nearby. Would you walk with me?"

"I'd love to."

*****

The gardens were in bloom--exotic orchids mingling with more mundane but still lovely roses. They strolled down shady paths, past tinkling fountains, and other couples enjoying the warmth of early summer. Elizabeth twirled her parasol in one hand and felt the crisp broadcloth of his coat beneath the other. For the first time in months she felt normal, and while that had once bored her to tears, for one afternoon it was something she needed.

Stopping at a secluded bench, James seated her, then joined her, clasping his hands in his lap. Elizabeth closed the parasol and looked up at the wisteria shading them. A bee flitted by and she smiled. She hadn't stopped and smelled the flowers in longer than she could remember.

"Were you granted a ship with your letters?"

James nodded. "And a crew. It's a good ship, nowhere as fast as some I've recently sailed, but it sits high and well. I'm taking a cargo of sugar and rum to London in two days. As a privateer I have more leeway to trade with the French than proper merchants, and everyone in England clambers for French goods. It's a fair life. Not what I had planned, but..." He shrugged his shoulders and looked at her. "In that, we are in the same boat."

"Ship." Elizabeth smiled at her joke and, on impulse, unlocked his hands and took one. "A handful of months and my life is changed forever. I don't regret that. My own actions, perhaps, but we all live with the choices we make."

He looked down at their joined hands. "A pirate's life is often a short and bloody one, Elizabeth."

"I know, but it's what I am. Jack understood that."

"And Turner doesn't," he added shrewdly.

"Will is a very good pirate; it's just not what he wants to be. After we find Jack, he'll find a port to call home."

"And you?"

"I don't think my life is with Will anymore," she said softly and a bit sadly.

"Is it with Sparrow?"

"You always saw more than Will ever did." Elizabeth squeezed his hand gently, and met his knowing eyes again. "No, I don't think my life is with Jack. I don't think that's what I want. In our world it's believed that a woman needs a man to make her life complete. I've a mind to disprove that notion."

James chuckled. "Only you would, Elizabeth."

Her face lit up. "I'll do it."

"I know you will. You're also the most stubborn woman I've ever known."

"It's probably a good thing we didn't marry, then."

"The only thing that would have saved us is that I would have been at sea most of the time," he teased.

"But, I would have stowed away."

They laughed together until something serious passed over James' face and Elizabeth softly sighed.

"Will we ever meet again, Elizabeth?"

"That's inevitable. Fate has entwined our lives."

The kiss was inevitable, too, and when their lips parted and she smiled with gleaming eyes at him, he returned her look with a slight smirk.

"Just swear you won't scuttle my ship."

"Now, James, you know what a pirate's word is worth."

"You're word is worth everything, Elizabeth." And he kissed her again.

End

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