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Rock-a-bye

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It’s midday, and he feels he could drop dead any moment now, under this bloody scorching sun.

He’s forgotten how long they’ve been trapped in this godforsaken island, it could be weeks or it could be months or even years, for all he can tell. He can hardly remember a time before this, a life before this handful of palm trees and the empty stretch of ocean in front of his eyes became the whole of his universe. 

He has only a vague knowledge that before he was alone, and now he has her.

She isn’t with him at the moment, though, she’s on her daily walk around the perimeter of the island, patrolling for any sails in the horizon. He’s told her countless times before not to waste her energy, but she insists.


And it makes him impossibly anxious, her walking alone under this unforgiving sun, out of his sight where she could faint and die and he would be none the wiser. He remembers trying to go with her once, and her giving him a look that chilled him to the bone, even in this infernal heat.


So he stays and place, silently counting the minutes until her return (he can’t remember the exact number right now, he only knows it’s important to keep counting, or he’ll lose his mind.
)

It seems like forever, and he isn’t sure how he knows it’s time (since he doesn’t remember what number he’s supposed to be counting to) but he just… knows. So he turns his head to the west — she always leaves from the east, and returns to him like a sun setting — and sure enough, he can see her lovely silhouette from afar.


He doesn’t stand up. She likes to make her full circle in peace, and he knows not to disturb her until she reaches the exact place her footprints in the sand started. Still, there are no rules against watching, so watch he does, because it feels like and eternity since he last saw her, because he feels sick with worry when she’s away, because his heart already beats a little easier just at the sight of her.


As she gets closer he can discern more of her features, her hair moving in the wind, her belly round with his child — he has no recollection of this happening, can’t even remember how she looked when she left this morning, but he accepts it as a fact of life, sighs and ponders some more on his infinite concern for his wife.


She’s in a good mood, it seems, for she lifts a hand to wave at him, her face pinched in annoyance at the brightness of the sun, but she smiling, and she’s greeting him, and it must be quite the thing because his heart starts galloping, and he’s itching to stand up and meet her halfway.


Instead he only waves back, and continues to think on this turn of fate. Despite the more than unfortunate circumstances, he can truly say this is the happiest he’s ever been, and something tells him it’s all going to turn out fine, in the end. He doesn’t know how, or when, but he’ll get his wife (how they got married when there’s only the two of them in here, he can’t remember, but who is he to question such good luck, eh?) out of this island, and she’ll safely give birth to their child in more appropriate conditions.

He relaxes, then, and leans back onto his elbows, content to just watch her until she reaches him, or until he dies of inanition, whichever happens first.

She’s barely ten steps away from her finish line when she stops, both hands going to her belly and rubbing it, her jaw clenched tight in something like concentration. He sits up immediately, watching more intently. She lifts a hand in his direction, asking him to stay put.

Then he hears it: wailing. Someone is crying out in desperate, high-pitched wails that tear at his very soul. It’s not his wife, but it comes from her body nonetheless, and she falls to her knees on the sand, doubled over the child inside her, tears running down her face as she tries to sooth her (and he knows, somehow, that it’s a girl)-

He finds that he’s been trying to stand up but he can’t, his legs are not his own anymore, so he tries to crawl… except his arms are limp and useless at his sides.


“Jack,” she calls, but all he can do is sit and watch her, and choke on his own screams
, panic and impotence crowding his chest until he thinks it might explode.

“Jack…”

 

 

 

 

 


“Jack!”

He wakes with a start, gasping like a drowning man reaching shore. 

“Jack!”

There is something… his wife’s foot, he realizes a moment later, lightly kicking at his hip. 

"Jaaack…“ 

For a few endless, agonizing seconds, he has to search the bed for her. Caribbean nights are hot, even during winter, and she has rolled away as far as the bed allows, lying on her front, facing away from him. Their only point of contact is where she’s still pushing at him with her foot.

“Lizzie,” he exhales, taking a few minutes to relish on the gentle rise and fall of her chest, then he’s hurrying to her side. He can still feel the stifling heat of the island in his dream, the sunburn on his skin, the fear constricting his heart. He buries his face into her hair and inhales, half expecting the scent of sand and saltwater, but he can only smell the lavender oils from her bath.

“Mmm… no,” she mumbles, blindly trying to swat him away. “No way. It’s your turn.”

He leans back to avoid getting punched in the nose and stares in puzzlement at the back of her head, waiting for her to explain what the hell she’s talking about. Then it registers in his brain that he can still hear the wailing from his dream.

In the cradle near the bed, their daughter is still crying.

“Jaaack… I got up last time…”

And yes, usually he would find a way out of midnight duties, so Elizabeth’s insistence is hardly unfounded. But tonight, after his sojourn back in the locker, with fear still fresh in his mind, he feels only gratitude as he untangles himself from the sheets.

Gratitude that when he stands, his legs are his own again, gratitude that he can reach his daughter’s cradle, gratitude that his hands — cold and shaking as they are — can still lift her small, thrashing body. Gratitude that he can finally, finally hold her to his chest and ease her suffering.

It’s not hungry crying, or Elizabeth wouldn’t have sent him, and so far as he can smell, her nappy doesn’t need changing. No, Jack knows the cause of his daughter’s unease, because it’s the same as his own.

With gentle, shushing noises and a slightly steadier hand rubbing her back, he makes his way to the rocking chair by the window (ridiculous as it is for pirates to have rocking chairs, but then again he hadn’t been wrong in thinking it might be of use someday) and settles down. The back and forth motion is decidedly different from the heavenly lull of the waves under The Pearl, but it will have to do, for both of them.

Alondra Sparrow was born at sea — nearly 5 months ago, during a light summer storm that, thankfully, did not become a typhoon — and this is her first night on land, which means, naturally, that the steadiness all around must be terribly upsetting to her. Jack would know, as it seems he still can’t spend a night ashore without some form of night terror waking him, and then keeping him awake.

This has always been a problem for him, but undoubtedly it has worsened since his stay in the locker. The stillness, which before was only disconcerting due to a lifetime lived at sea, now causes a rising panic at the memories it unearths. He can mostly ignore it during the day, his perpetual sea legs providing almost enough sway to make him forget, but at night when he is inevitably forced to lie down and be still… it’s too much stillness, and his demons like make the most of it.

Not that he doesn’t have nightmares out on sea, of course, but it’s easier to go back to sleep rocked by his Pearl’s gentle sway, and besides, it’s hard enough to have any kind of troubling dreams in the first place, what with the comfort of Elizabeth’s soft snoring by his side. Elizabeth… It’s something he’s never told her (nor will he ever tell her, knowing she’d eat herself up with guilt if she knew how far the locker has truly affected him) and so far he’s had to battle it out by himself, and silently, to keep it a secret.

It occurs to him now, staring down at the downy blond hair in his daughter’s head, that maybe he has found a good mate to tide him over these difficult nights.

She’s still squirming and whimpering, she’s a smart lass, his girl, and she knows the difference between a miserable rocking chair and her home. “I know, dearie, I know, but there’s not much more I can do,” he whispers to her, knowing perfectly well that she won’t understand.

She squirms some more, then yawns a big hearty yawn, tiny hands flailing as if she wants to stretch her sore limbs, and Jack can’t help the stupid grin that takes over his face. She’s blinking at him know, eyes more alert each time she opens them, as if she’s decided that since she can’t sleep she might as well wake up fully. That’s fine by Jack, as he won’t be sleeping again any time soon, and he could use the company.

They stare at each other for a long time, in the soft moonlight pouring from the open window. He takes in the contrast between them, the darkly tanned skin of his chest, covered in tattoos and scars, thinks of the two bullet holes he can’t see at the moment, because her pale little head rests over them, her skin softer than any silk he’s ever touched.

It’s a familiar sight, as he still remembers the first time he saw Elizabeth’s bare back, before, when it was still milky white and unmarred by the hardships of the life she chose. It’s startling, though, to think that this state of perfection may not be permanent, to realize so early on that his daughter will probably not be soft and pale for the rest of her life, if for the rest of her childhood at all, given the life her parents will give her.

He knows, from the paleness of his own thighs, that he was bound to be pale as well, but he can’t remember a time of his life when the rest of him wasn’t toasted brown by the Caribbean sun.

Would she chose this life, he wonders, had she not been born into it? Would she grow to be some delicate flower, yearning for fine dresses and balls, the life of a governor’s daughter that her mother so readily refused? Would she begrudge them taking that option away from her? Would she regret her mother had not married some aristocrat? He’s a little surprised to find that he would love her no less, in any such case.

Jack wonders what she thinks of him, this funny man (at least he hopes he’s funny and not scary) with the weird hair and be-ringed fingers that must be cold on her skin when he holds her. He wonders if she likes him, he wonders if she thinks of him at all. He, on the other hand, thinks she’s perfect and that’s the end of it.

As if to answer his silent questions, she smiles a toothless, gurgling smile and waves her arms at him, wanting to play with his dreadlocks, which is something she has been doing most of her short life, whenever he holds her. He laughs at her enthusiasm, depressing thoughts vanishing upon the face of this simple kind of happiness.

He inclines his head in such a way as he can still watch her, but his hair hangs over her where she can reach for it, swatting at the locks and swinging them all over in her attempts to grasp one. Her finer motor skills are not yet good enough for that, but he guesses practice makes perfect.

“Oh, there you go,” he cheers when she almost catches one. “Keep trying, Londrie, papa knows you can do it.” She only giggles in response, but she keeps trying. It’s a truly ridiculous nickname, he knows, and Elizabeth hates when he uses it, but he’ll be damned if he has to call his own daughter by her full name, so really it’s only Elizabeth’s fault for choosing such a difficult name to find a nickname for.

He hadn’t known whether to laugh or frown when Elizabeth had announced her choice of name should they have a girl.

“You want to name our little bundle of joy after some serving wench?”

They’d been on the coast of a little Spanish town, San Fernando or something religious like that, and Elizabeth had more than once expressed an interest on learning the language, but he never thought her interest went as far as fawning over the name of the girl serving their drinks at the tavern.

“Not after her,” she had exclaimed, clearly as repulsed by the idea as him. “I really liked her name, but that doesn’t mean it’s because of her.”

After this explanation he had decided it was safe to laugh, just a little, at his wife’s reasoning.

“Did you know Alondra means 'Lark’?” He had answered, and Elizabeth’s eyes lit up.

“See? Isn’t that just perfect? A bird name that won’t horribly clash with whichever of our last names she chooses to use in the future.”

A lesser man might have been offended by such a comment, but given that his wife was still, and would forever continue to be Elizabeth Swann regardless of her marital status, he only found himself smiling wider at her.

“Think about it, either Alondra Sparrow or Alondra Swann sounds nice enough,” it was half a question, and Jack really didn’t know why she bothered seeking his approval, he didn’t have a preference and so would be content letting her get away with whatever name she wanted.

“A mite soft for a pirate, but then again, I guess the world isn’t wide enough to hold two Elizabeth’s of the same kin, savvy?” And truly, he would’ve been more than fine with a daughter as fiery as his lizzie, but he believed firmly in letting sons and daughters search their own identity, instead of forcing one on them by repeating long outdated names.

And if he hadn’t been thoroughly convinced, Elizabeth’s answering smile would have been enough to win him over.

“Alondra, it is,” she confirmed, her British tongue lazy on the 'r’, and he made a mental note of making sure she got the correct pronunciation of that rolling sound, which was really the most charming thing about the name, before the baby came along and she used the name so often that it would be impossible to correct anymore.

And he had succeeded, to some degree. She had taken it a little too seriously, but really, he wasn’t surprised by her determination.

By now she mostly says it right, when she’s alert enough, but she still falters sometimes, late at night and half asleep as she rocks her fussing babe. Alowndrwa, it comes out, but Jack has learned not to tease her, lest it get him a glare and her back turned to him when she gets back into bed.

(“Not all of us grew up sailing all over the world, savvy?” She had told him once, and he could sense the frustration for all those years she spent gazing at the sea through the golden bars of her cage.

“Well, 'tis never too late to start, love,” he had answered, an apology of sorts, but more of a promise, really, to help her regain all that wasted time.)

And it’s because of this herculean effort she has put into correctly pronouncing her daughter’s name, that she hates Jack’s nickname with a passion. It only makes him smile wider whenever he does use it.

He’s brought out of his thoughts by his Londrie herself, yawning and settling further into his arms, her arms now lying still over her own belly. It would seem she has tired herself out with her little game, and decided the rocking chair is enough comfort for her to go back to sleep.

Which is a good thing, because Jack’s neck was starting to hurt from the awkward angle at which he was holding his head. He sighs in relief as he stretches his neck in all possible directions, and feeling pleasantly drowsy, he leans back on the chair, readjusting Alondra so she rests a little higher on his chest, her front pressed to his and her little head nestled on his shoulder.

Yes, this might be even better than the Pearl, he thinks, as he can now feel the hummingbird thrum of her little heart against his own. A better lullaby than any ocean. He might have to take over midnight duties from now on.

 

 

He closes his eyes, still thinking himself unable to fall back asleep, but wanting to give himself over to this new-found comfort. When he opens them again it’s to early morning light, and Elizabeth standing beside the chair, staring at them with the softest of smiles on her face.