DISCLAIMER: Pirates of the Caribbean is the property of Walt Disney Studios. This work was created purely for enjoyment. No money was made, and no infringement was intended.
RATING: T (for language, adult situations)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I found this story going through some old things from way back when. It was written shortly after At World's End premiered as a gap-filler after the end of Dead Man's Chest. Will/Elizabeth all the way :-). I hope you enjoy it!
THE DEVIL TO PAY
Hurt. Grief. Confusion.
She saw these things in his eyes, and she hurt, too, because she knew she had made him feel this way. She knew she had done this to him. She watched him watch the shifting shadows of the swamp. She saw the tension in his form, the pain tightening his muscles, and her heart throbbed for it. He wouldn't look at her, and after all, why should he? She was filthy, coated in the crusty salt of the sea and sand and dirt, her once clean, alabaster flesh marred and hidden under adventure's tough and tumultuous love. She was beginning to realize that she felt unclean. His love had never made her feel this way.
Elizabeth longed to reach out and touch him. To simply touch him, as she had so many times in the past. He was so close, barely a foot from her, and she could easily raise her hand and lay it upon his where it rested on the railing of the balcony. But she dared not, for she couldn't risk spreading her darkness to him. She was reminded of what Jack had said. Will always acted with honor and nobility. Even if she could somehow manage to convince herself that she had done what she had with only the best intentions driving her, she knew she would never believe she had behaved honorably. Pirate, he had said. Thief. Liar. Traitor. The ends did not justify the means.
And the ends, as she was starting to understand, were not in and of themselves dignified and self-sacrificial.
Tears slipped from tired eyes, tears that cut tracks through the grime upon her once fair cheeks. She bowed her head as a hot breeze rushed over the swamp. Shame rolled over her, twisting her stomach and tightening her throat with roughly withheld sobs, and she prayed the rhythmic swish of the water against the wooden posts of the small hut would mask the sound of her short breaths escaping her quivering lips. The others were resting, spread across the floor of Tia Dalma's home under moldy and holey blankets. The swamp witch and Barbossa spoke in slow, hushed tones far behind her. Barbossa. The monster that plagued her sleep for weeks after her first adventure aboard the Black Pearl. Seeing him again frightened and unnerved her. What sort of twisted world was this that those that were dead warranted another chance and those that lived seemed to constantly suffer? Even though she couldn't discern what they were saying, she found their quiet, low words to be at once lulling and distressing. She wondered if they were as entrenched in dark and damning thoughts as she was. Surely they were pondering what had happened. The battle for the Dead Man's chest. Jack's sacrifice. The mission that lay before them. They were attempting to do what seemed impossible, to rescue Jack from the torture of Davy Jones' locker. None of it that would have been necessary, but they did not know that. How did it end like this? Why would Jack have let himself be killed? What did he hope to gain? Why did he stay behind?
They didn't know the cause of Jack's sudden conscience. They didn't know what she knew. They were fortunate, for it was one hellish misery to ponder such questions, but it was an entirely different demon to face the answers. Her heart quivered. The swamp sang. She felt sick. What sort of monster had she become? What sort of demon had taken control of her once naïve and innocent spirit? What had she sacrificed?
Will was looking at her, but when she raised her eyes, he looked away. She knew he had seen.
He had seen everything.
But he said nothing as he turned and moved down the balcony of the hut. Elizabeth swallowed through the dry roughness in her throat. He was limping badly. How had she not noticed before? Perhaps the drive of fear and excitement and panic had blinded her to his hurt. Perhaps it had blinded him, as well. She wouldn't have been surprised if it had. Will was endowed with courage and fortitude. Will was strong and powerful. Will was selfless.
And though his legs seemed to bend and shake as he walked away, he did not fall. Every strike of his boots against the wooden planks resounded with the heavy, anguished thumping of her heart in her breast. He walked further and further away, his form taut. She could only watch. The night beat down upon her, heavy and torturous and hateful, and she could only watch.
Eventually, over the roar of her own heart, she heard their voices. The monster and the witch. They had grown louder, closer maybe. Tia Dalma's sugary twang pierced the tenuous silence, as rolling and seductive as the sea. "Dis is da path we take," she murmured. Elizabeth stood taller, clenching her arms across her chest. "When de sun rises, we go."
"Singapore's no easy port to make." His voice still sent shivers down her spine. She wondered at that, at what was in Singapore that they thought necessary for their quest. "And we be carryin' unneeded baggage if ye want my opinion, and I'm thinkin' ye do else ye wouldn't have bothered wit askin' me anything at all."
"Dey come," she answered sharply. The vehemence in her voice was startling. She spoke with such enchanting authority.
"Even the whelp and his wayward lady?"
"Aye," she purred, "dey all come."
"As you wish."
A dirty hand appeared in front of her, snapping her from her reverie. She looked up to see Cotton standing in front of her, trying to pass as he entered the hut. "No rest for the wicked," squawked Cotton's parrot, who was perched upon the pirate's shoulder. Sharply Elizabeth raised her gaze, a rush of cold panic claiming her body. Did he know? She met the man's eyes but found them to be as empty as ever. Swallowing through a dry throat, she finally thought to move and allow him to pass.
Somehow taking this small, shuffling step broke her from her stasis. She couldn't stand still any longer feeling so wretched and lost. She heard the others moving behind her, but their conversations diminished into a muted throb of sound. Her heart pulsed angrily in her chest. The wind rose and tangled her honeyed locks further. She felt unsteady on her legs, taking care to set one foot in front of the other as she crept along the balcony. Given her weariness, the turmoil in her heart, and the tears in her eyes, it was more difficult than it should have been. And she looked for him. She found she could not breathe as her eyes desperately devoured the expanse of darkness that had enveloped the hut. He certainly could not have walked far with his injury; if it was troubling him enough now for him to let down his defenses and show it, it was probably serious. And this place was not very large. She would find him. She paused at the corner, scanning the blackness intently. There was no greater duty at that moment, despite their dire situation. Time might have been better spent in preparing, in monitoring their potentially dangerous companions, in recovering from the shock and trauma of the day's events, but she found she couldn't fathom doing anything other than facing him. She feared the encounter, yet she craved it. She wanted nothing so much as absolution.
Thus, when her watering eyes fell upon his darkened form some way down the narrow walk, her legs were in motion before the thought to walk had even graced her mind. The warped planks seemed to shift and bend beneath her boots. Her heart shuddered in terrified anticipation. Heat seared her lungs as she breathed. Her mind raced. What would she say? What did she hope to do? A cowardly whisper floated about her thoughts. Perhaps he didn't see. Perhaps he doesn't know. She was nearly beside him. He hadn't moved at her approach, standing as to favor his right leg, his face hidden as he looked out into the shadows. The yellow light from the hut behind him set him aglow in bronze and gold. The wind brushed through the darkness of his hair. She saw blood on his temple. Bruises on his cheek. Red upon his fingers. Why hadn't he taken care of himself? She ached to touch him. The hurt was like nothing she had before experienced, piercing her heart and settling deep in her chest with a heavy, chilly insistence. He was so close. He was hurting. She could help him. Perhaps he will forgive me.
"Do you love him?"
His soft voice seemed loud and rough in the wind. The simple words filled her until she could hear, think, understand nothing but them. The silence that followed was wrought with tension and unspoken anguish. She could conjure forth no answer, and even if her mind was not twisting and turning in misery, she doubted she would be able to find her voice. Her mouth had fallen open, but not a word came to her.
Will never turned. She could feel the anger, the grief and pain, radiating from him in dark waves. She'd never felt something so malignant and black coming from him. It agonized her to simply be caught in such a storm. And it maligned and murdered her heart to know she was its cause.
But Will was ever strong and stoic, even when he deserved release. Even when it was warranted. Even when she wanted to feel the raw edges of his emotions cut her. So when she failed to answer and the awful quiet endured, he only asked again. "Do you love him, Elizabeth?"
"Will, I –"
"Just answer my question." His tone was low and seething. He shifted to look at her. She believed she hardly recognized him, though she imagined he felt the same of her. She felt the same of herself. His eyes shone in watery suffering. He was quiet then, his lips pressed into a thin line. Hers were quivering, and she bit them to stop. "Please."
Desperate to mend the horrible hurt she saw shimmering in his eyes, she gasped and blurted, "Of course not."
He was quick to counter. "Then why? Why? How could you?" His tone rose in exasperation as the first of his emotions seeped through the dam about his torn heart. The cracks in the barricade were widening and its supports were floundering. She feared the torrent and looked away, feeling the harsh sting of tears in her eyes. "You can't both love me and kiss another!"
A rush of pain stole her breath, and she choked on a sob. "Please, Will, you don't understand," she gasped.
"Then tell me the truth," he demanded. For a moment, she thought she would. She believed she might. This horrid filth pushed at her lips, demanding its release, and she wanted nothing so much as to be free of this poison. But she faltered. Even if she could somehow convince herself that she felt nothing for Jack Sparrow, the truth was no more comforting or appealing. Will would hate her. Of that, she was certain. "Elizabeth," he hissed in mounting anger, "tell me: is he what you want?"
She couldn't answer that. She didn't know why, but she feared it was because Jack was what she wanted. That damnable compass… Will would not submit to her reticence. "Is he? Do you want a man who lies and cheats and steals to get what he wants? Do you want a man who betrays those he calls his friends? Do you think you'd be immune to his immorality?"
Tears bled from her closing eyes. The rotting planks beneath their feet blurred. "I…" His voice faded in pain. "I've only ever tried to be what I thought you wanted, Elizabeth," he finally managed.
She choked on her grief. "You have been, Will. More than anything I've ever wanted."
His anger was quick to replenish the fire in his heart. "Then why?" he cried, the fury finally ripping its way into his tone. His eyes were bright and furious and alight with so many emotions. She wanted to look away, fearing the fever she found there, but she could not dishonor him further. "Is this the truth? Have I been blind? Had none of this happened, would you have left me one day in search of him?"
Elizabeth ached, her heart throbbing miserably in her chest. She wanted to deny it, but her voice was lost to her. Her mind was sundered and silent, and she couldn't manage anything she wished to say. They were quiet then for another long and anguished moment, and he turned his eyes to the night. Then he spoke, and his voice was so low it was nearly a whisper. Like the tenor of a weary wind rolling across a gray sea. "I love you. I have loved you since the day I met you, since the moment I saw you. I had never seen something so beautiful. Everything back there… Everything was gray and dying and cold. And it rained and rained. It never stopped. You remember? The cold, hard rains in London…"
She thought it strange he should speak in such a way. Still, despite her worry, she nodded in stupefaction, and he continued as though he had seen her. "When I saw you… It was like seeing the sun for the first time. Ever since then, I've been warm." She felt him smile. But it was a fleeting sense of peace, and it was riddled with something else. Something anguished and smoldering. A colder wind blew from the sea beyond the swamp, and he swayed in it. "I can do nothing besides love you, Elizabeth…"
"I know," she whispered.
"Do you?" he roared, his voice cracking as the raw edges of his emotions cut through his equanimity. "Everything I have done from the moment I left Port Royal I have done so for you. If I could have traded my life for yours, I would have."
She closed her eyes and looked away in shame. She hoped he was not expecting her to acknowledge that, but she knew in her heart he was. "I know."
"Then do you care? Or have you truly thrown everything good to the sea and become a pirate?"
She could stand this pain no longer. "Will, please," she pleaded, grabbing his shoulder to turn him to face her. But he yanked away, pulling to the side to wrest himself free of her grasp. And he tripped and slammed to the floor on his knees. Fear arched through her like lightning scraping a blackened sky. "Will!"
His arm was wrapped about his heaving chest, his other hand shaking as it pressed to the wooden planks to support him. "Leave me alone," he growled. He raised flashing eyes to look upon her, his tense form trembling violently. "I don't need your help!"
She knelt beside him, grasping his arm, heat pulsing through her to melt the ice about her heart. It was a fire borne of fear and grief and worry. Of love. She felt a different heat radiating from his body. The burn of a fever. "Will," she whispered desperately. "Oh, Will… You're hurt…"
His glare was a knife that cut through to her very soul. How dare she? How dare she presume to care for him now after what she'd done? But he said nothing, though his cheeks were wet with tears and sweat and the spray of the sea, though the pain in his eyes ran deeply and darkly. "Why did you hide this?" she asked miserably. He didn't answer, but he didn't need to. He'd hidden it for her. He'd hidden it to do what he could to save them. He'd hidden how he had hurt so that she wouldn't, and he'd done it until now, until he didn't have the strength to lie. He couldn't conceal his wounds anymore, not those on his body or on his heart. "Why, Will?"
He met her gaze, finally and truly, and the anger that had held his handsome features into so tight a scowl all but disappeared with a blink of his brown eyes. She knew what it was he felt. Regret. Sadness. Misery for forcing her to engage in a conversation that had hurt her. He could never hurt her, even when she deserved it and even when she had hurt him. "Elizabeth, I …" But whatever he meant to say was lost to him. A rush of delirium claimed his face, a swirl of fever, memory, and emotion twisting in the brown orbs that suddenly were absently watching her. His lips moved, but he seemed unable to speak. And then his eyes closed, and he slumped against her.
Panic rushed over her. "Will," she cried fearfully, shaking his limp body. She felt herself tremble as she pulled him into her arms, cradling his head against her breast. With her free hand she laid her palm across his forehead. She had not been imagining it. His skin was burning hot to the touch. Icy horror claimed her, twisting her stomach and tightening her chest until she could barely breathe. His countenance was twisted in hurt, and he was gasping shallowly. Tears blurred her gaze. "Will! Somebody help me! Please, somebody!" She could hardly hear over the roar of her heart thudding against her sternum, but she prayed someone was coming to aid her. "Hold on," she pleaded, caressing the side of his face gently. His eyelids fluttered, and his lips shifted around a breathy word. She couldn't discern what he said, but she imagined he was calling her name. "I'm here. I won't let you go. Somebody come quickly! Please!"
A thunder of frantic footsteps echoed through the silent, mournful night, shattering the false sense of tranquility. A moment of relief left her rattled, and she looked up to see Gibbs, Pintel, and Ragetti rushing towards her. Her world had truly become a very skewed and surreal place if she considered this group of pirates to be help. But aid her they did. It was not in the nature of these scoundrels to render anyone assistance; they lived in a cutthroat world, where compassion was viewed as weakness, and they had no cause to help a man who would sooner stab them in the back than return the favor. Still, inexplicably and despite the multitude of greedy betrayals and disloyal faults, their little group had formed something of a bond, and she was grateful for it.
"Miss Elizabeth!" Gibbs called, pushing past his two comrades to reach her first.
She wasted not a breath. "It's Will. He's sick. We have to get him inside." Her words rushed from her lips, slurred with heavy fright and desperation. "Please, you have to help me!" she begged.
Gibbs' face betrayed his concern. "Ye dogs, grab his feet. Step aside, Miss Elizabeth!" A moment later all three of them had lifted Will and were carrying him back inside the hut. Elizabeth hovered closely, her wide eyes following their every step to ensure that Will was adequately supported, that he was not hurting more for their movement of him, and that he knew she was with him. Once they stepped inside the dilapidated shelter, the candlelight chased away the shadows and she saw Will's face clearly. His pallor distressed her greatly. She cursed herself for letting him suffer. His arm fell loose from where Gibbs had draped it across his stomach, and she grabbed it and held his hand tightly.
Tia Dalma was waiting for them. "Take him to da back," she ordered calmly. Her black eyes glimmered in the wavering illumination from the candelabra she held. The pirates didn't question her, squeezing through the narrow and cluttered corridors of the small hut to reach a tiny room nestled in its rear corner. Inside the darkness was nearly consuming. Only one nearly depleted candle sat in a rusted holder upon a tiny, nicked stand. Its pale wax had pooled upon the tabletop. There was a pallet in one corner adorned by musty blankets and rumpled bedding.
Without direction, the three scallywags dumped Will's leaden body on the bed less gently than was proper. Elizabeth flashed furious eyes at them. "Be careful!" she cried, falling to her knees roughly beside him. Tenderly she resettled him to lie on his back.
Gibbs shot the other two louts a disapproving look before returning his sympathetic gaze to the young woman. "Is there anything you need, Miss Elizabeth?"
"Just leave," she seethed, unable to stand the sight, the sound, the smell of them any longer. They reeked of the sea, and the sea had no place in her heart in that instant. The venom and anger in her tone surprised them into compliance, and they slunk from the room, possibly ashamed and most likely simply disturbed. She waited until she knew they were gone, watching a dark stain on the wall. The sight grew watery and distorted as tears burned her eyes, but she refused to cry. She had hurt Will, and she had to help him now or everything they meant would diminish into a shade of what had once been vibrant and true.
She set to unfastening his sword belt, her shaking fingers fumbling momentarily at the buckle. She rid him of it, tossing it to the side. She unbuttoned his vest and pushed it away. Then she saw the blood, a crimson stain that had spread from his lower right side. Fear burned her throat, a tear escaping her eye, as she pulled his shirt free from his trousers. She swallowed her trepidation as she lifted the dirty linen. There was a laceration, and she'd seen enough sword wounds to know what had caused it. There were bruises as well, old and newer, that covered his chest. Elizabeth sighed softly, struggling to maintain a grasp upon her composure. Hesitantly she touched the angry, inflamed slash.
"Dat ain't be da source of 'is sickness." She turned, startled by the intrusion. The witch stood in the door. She carried a dusty basket of supplies in one hand and her candelabra in the other. Her mottled and messy skirts swished as she sauntered closer. Elizabeth narrowed her gaze, unsure of what to make of this woman. She carried with her the scent of sea, as strong as a wind tearing across the tumultuous surf, and she exuded such power. Power that was barely tamed and somehow terribly tainted. She seemed to walk as a wave rolled upon a beach, slithering closer with a harsh and forceful kiss of affection before receding with a threat to return. The young woman couldn't say exactly what bothered her about this woman, but she felt Tia Dalma was hardly what she seemed and more than dangerous. She appeared earthy and seductive, but cruel and wild. Elizabeth doubted she was truly their ally, but nor did she consider her an enemy. She simply sensed Tia Dalma had her own ambitions, which was much like everyone else in their unusual little party, but hers were more striking and fearsome than any.
She came closer, a warm breath of salty spray filling the room. Elizabeth watched her every move, entranced by the grotesque beauty of dirt and danger. The witch set her candle stick down upon the floor on Will's other side. She knelt. "A wounded heart beats all da same."
The young woman swallowed through a dry, aching throat. All thoughts of her crimes, of her mistakes and desires, fled for the sake of a single, frenzied hope. "Can you help him?" Her voice was so soft for a moment she wondered if she had even spoken.
"Yes, for what it is worth." The witch smiled, revealing a gruesome set of wet and blackened teeth. They seemed perpetually covered in ink. The cryptic answer unsettled Elizabeth further. Tia Dalma's eyes were black orbs ringed in yellow, and in their depths there were secrets untold and unwanted. "Help me raise him."
The two women set to the task of lifting the young man's upper body. With surprising tenderness, the witch pulled Will's leather jacket from his arms while Elizabeth held him upright. His vest was soon to follow, and when it did, Elizabeth gasped. The bloody lines across his back were unmistakable. The ruby liquid had seeped into his tunic, creating a gruesome series of crossing marks. "Oh, Will," she whispered, her voice weakened with grief and worry. "Who did this to you?"
"Davy Jones," Tia Dalma answered as she made to rid their charge of his linen shirt as well. "He is cruel as he is powerful." She reached into her basket and produced a dented tin. When she unscrewed the top, a pungent, sour aroma was loosed. Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. "Hold him. Dis will help save da flesh." She pulled a flask free as well and set it to the wooden planks of the hut. "And dis will lower him fever."
Elizabeth carefully arranged Will to pull him towards her chest, exposing his brutalized back to the witch. The wounds were vicious. There seemed to be five of them, each deep lash crusted with blood both dried and fresh. The skin was torn, reddened, and hot to the touch. She couldn't fathom the pain he must have faced as these wounds were continually aggravated by the strenuous fight and contact with the salt water of the ocean. Elizabeth's heart broke for the suffering he'd endured while she had been betraying him. She nearly lost herself in the swell of anguish inside her.
But the witch's actions drew her attention. From her things she had also procured a small bowl of water, and she dunked a ragged, but relatively clean swatch of torn linen into it. She washed the wounds carefully, methodically cleaning away the crusted blood, dirt, and grime from Will's back. The young man tensed unconsciously as she worked, but Elizabeth hushed him quietly, combing her fingers through his hair and idly remembering anew how she loved its thickness. Unwittingly the feel of his tousled locks, soft and silky between her fingers, drew her into a memory. Though it seemed like ages had passed since she had left Port Royal, it had not been long ago that she had run away late one night to the smithy. She had been so burdened with wedding plans (and the stress that came with such things) that she had been desperate for some sort of reprieve. Her father was amiable enough, but she had seen the touch of doubt, disappointment, and disgust in his eyes. And, of course, there was the bulk of aristocracy of Port Royal, most of whom (despite her protests) were invited to a wedding they found entirely improper and indecent. A girl of noble breeding did not wed an orphaned commoner sired by a pirate. She'd been unable to stand the whispers, the glares, and the disrespect shrouded in a guise of fake joy any longer, so she'd fled to Will's arms, dragging him from sleep one night and down to the beach.
They'd lain in the sand, half undressed. She'd wanted more than kisses and touches that came so close to something beyond propriety. He'd stopped her as she'd pulled open his shirt and ran her lips and teeth down his chest. They weren't yet married, and he was nothing if not a gentleman. He'd told her he wasn't sure he could prevent himself from going too far. She'd told him she didn't care. But Will had been adamant; he couldn't allow her to dishonor herself in any way, least of all for him. There were times when she wished he would be the pirate she knew he could be. When she desired nothing more than for him to realize his own worth. To take what he could simply because he wanted it and could take it. She'd whined that a few weeks meant nothing when they were so deeply in love and so close to their wedding. Still he'd refused, clearly torn and tortured for doing so. She'd submitted, gathering him in her arms, weaving her fingers through his loose hair, and they'd lain quietly and watched the night sky. It had been marvelous. They never spoke, save for one moment in which Will had softly and simply said, "I love you." She'd known he meant it with every bit of who he was and what he wanted for them. And she didn't realize until right then that she hadn't answered him.
The sound of dripping water tore Elizabeth from her thoughts. She looked up and found Tia Dalma's piercing gaze settled firmly upon her. The young woman wondered shakily for how long the witch had been scrutinizing her. However, before she could think to question the other woman, Tia Dalma looked away. Her stern face disappeared with a tiny twitch of her lips into a smile. She dipped her fingers into the can she had procured before and they emerged coated in a tan salve. This she began to rub into the lash marks on Will's back. He tensed in Elizabeth's arms, and though she didn't understand, she soothed him by tightening her grip upon him. She wondered why he seemed so bothered. Then she watched Tia Dalma. Her fingers painted a picture upon his back, tracing the long cuts almost seductively. She touched him as a lover might caress her mate. Elizabeth could do naught but watch, stupefied and mystified by what she was doing. The witch's hands left a trail of glistening gel in their wake, and Will released a gentle sigh against Elizabeth's shoulder. Fear, anger, and not a small bit of jealousy rose up inside her as Will relaxed further under the witch's dancing fingers. "Who are you?" she asked when her mind finally returned enough from shock to manage a lucid thought.
Tia Dalma didn't respond for a long moment, seemingly entranced by the bronzed skin and smooth, hard muscles she touched. Elizabeth clenched her teeth and pulled Will further from her. This seemed to break the other woman from her thoughts, and she looked to Elizabeth. Her eyes seemed abruptly hard and harsh, and Elizabeth nearly recoiled from her change in demeanor. "Do you know wit what you trifle, Elizabeth Swann?" she hissed softly.
That icy voice slipped inside her, rifling about her addled thoughts with frigid fingers. She swallowed uncomfortably. "What do you mean?" Her voice was timid, much to her idle disgust. As much as she wished to ignore it, she knew exactly to what the witch was referring.
Tia Dalma's long, dark fingers dipped into the can again. When they emerged, she used both hands, and they slid like snakes from Will's lower back to his shoulders. The young man shivered in Elizabeth's arms, releasing a whispery moan. Then the young woman felt those hands, soft yet so insistent and strong, invade her embrace with Will and steal him away. "You sent witty Jack to da locker." The accusation hurt so greatly that she actually released Will to this strange, unnerving creature. "You were da one."
Tears flooded the young woman's eyes. Tears that blurred shadows and golden light and bare skin and blood. She felt cold without the heat of Will's fever seeping into her skin. Tia Dalma had drawn the young man into her embrace now. The woman ignored Elizabeth, both holding Will tenderly and washing his chest. The beads of water rolled languidly down his skin, across the rising and falling planes of his stomach. Twinkling beads of ruby red and muddy brown. Their descent downward, over cuts and scrapes and bruises, was oddly mesmerizing. She watched, unable to tear her eyes away, and everything seemed so slow and purposeful. Each drop of water. Each mark on his body. For a long moment, Elizabeth was lost. Lost in the memories of what she had done. The sour taste of Jack's lips. The stink of sweat and the sea that clung to him. The fearful rush of excitement and satisfaction in doing what she had wanted. The maelstrom of emotions roared inside her, twisting and turning her about so rapidly that she couldn't make sense of it. "There was no other way." She heard herself whisper the words. Words that amounted to a pathetic defense. "I had to…" She couldn't finish, because she had no concept of what to say to justify what she had done.
"Da choices you make," Tia Dalma said, "Dey can't change da way of da world." She wet the cloth again, wringing bloody, dirty water from it. Then she laid the damp cloth to Will's sweaty forehead. Perhaps had her mind not been so overwrought with a strange, unsettling malaise, she would have thought it revolting that another woman, let alone one so mysterious with dubious intentions at best, was holding, caring for, and touching the man she loved so intimately. But she was stricken. Everything was a terrible contradiction. She had done a terrible evil, but she knew it had been necessary. She loved Will, but she felt so distanced from him. She didn't love Jack, but she couldn't banish him from her thoughts. She feared this woman, yet somehow she felt a kindred spirit in her. It was inexplicable and worrisome, like a crushing weight upon her that she was incapable of bearing alone. But she was alone. She could trust no one, not one of these pirates, and the man she did trust no longer trusted her.
The rolling, melodic purr of Tia Dalma's heavily accented voice invaded her thoughts. "What would you do?" It was the same question as earlier, but now it was spoken with an intimate seriousness. This question was meant only for her. Tia Dalma's eyes flashed violently, and Elizabeth saw lightning rip across a stormy sea. Now she held Will tighter, possessively, protectively. "Hmm, Elizabeth Swann? What would you do for him?" The young man's head tipped backward onto her shoulder, and now she brushed her hand into his hair. The backs of her fingers caressed his cheek. He was shivering. "What would you give for him?"
Elizabeth shook her head numbly, her eyes wide and fearful. "I don't understand," she murmured, her face pale. "Is he…" She couldn't finish. She couldn't bring herself to even imagine it.
"Not now," the witch responded, "but dere is a destiny about him. Him heart is precious, and what comes of it is da only ding you can control. Fate wills as it wills." Elizabeth didn't understand, and she didn't know what to say. Tia Dalma stared at Will's unconscious face. Even asleep, it was twisted in pain. Suddenly Elizabeth remembered how he smiled, how his brown eyes glowed when he told her he loved her, how rich and true his laugh sounded to her ears. How she believed she could be content with nothing else in her life save the sight of him happy. She'd forgotten what it looked like. For a long moment, the two women only observed their charge's fitful, agonized rest. Tia Dalma's eyes were filled with something strange, something warm and nearly mothering. "Do you love him?"
The world grew heated and blurry. She blinked tears free, and they rolled anew down her dirty cheeks. "I was to marry him," she answered.
"Don't matter, dat," returned the witch. Like the wind twisting haphazardly across the sea, she changed her direction, and her gaze was steeped in judgmental scrutiny. "Jest a ceremony. Be you thinkin' dat bind him to you and you to him?"
Legally and civilly, yes. But she had fallen in love with Will Turner long ago, when he'd been just a boy and she'd been a young girl dreaming of pirates. So she shook her head. Tia Dalma smiled. She reached across Will's prone form and grasped Elizabeth's wrist. The witch's touch was strong, hot, and powerful as she pulled the young woman's hand towards Will's body. "Him life… It not be meant for what you tought you wanted. Him life belong ta fate. But him heart belong to you." Elizabeth inched closer, drawn by Tia Dalma. To have such a thing uttered aloud freed emotion from the cold vise about her soul. She'd known that. She always had. Hearing it again awakened something she had foolishly cast aside. "What would you do wit it?"
Elizabeth didn't answer at first, uncertain at this strange conversation, and when she finally thought of what she meant to say, Tia Dalma spoke before she could. "Would you keep it safe? Protect it, hmm? Cherish it even when da nights grow powerful sharp wit such an ache of loneliness?" She shook her head. "Be true ta him if your love be true. But know what it is you face. Da path he walk is a hard one. Da burden he carry is a heavy one. You would bear it." At that, Elizabeth felt jolted by abrupt wariness, and she tried to pull away. The witch wouldn't let her. "You would bear it!" she whispered, hissing those upsetting words again. "If you love him, you will bear it."
It became too much. "I love him," she declared in a low, thick voice.
Tia Dalma smiled widely, betraying those disgusting teeth again. "Den dere will be no choice for you when da time comes."
"What does that mean?" she asked quietly, shaking her head. "What does any of this mean?"
"Destiny rights wrongs," Tia Dalma said ruefully. Appreciatively even. Gently she handed Elizabeth Will's limp form, and the young woman accepted his body against her. "You care for him now. Den rest. Tomorrow we start on our journey." The witch rose to her feet then, a blast of a cold wind brushing through the room as she did so. It smelled of the ocean, pungent and tangy, but when she left the breeze disappeared as enigmatically as it had come. The candles wavered but the tiny flames held fast.
Elizabeth was left bewildered. She sat in a daze for what seemed to be an eternity, feeling lost, so terribly lost, and battered and bruised by everything that happened. She lingered, unfeeling, unknowing, adrift on a sea of turmoil. She wondered then at who she was. At who she had let herself become. At how far she had moved from the young girl who had only thought it exciting to meet a pirate.
At how much she had hurt herself, hurt Jack, and hurt Will.
A soft moan drew her attention. And then she snapped from her melancholic haze. "Will," she whispered, looking down to him. He was shivering violently against her. His fever was raging. Tenderly she settled him back to the pallet. Gathering Tia Dalma's paraphernalia, she set to washing the rest of the blood and grime from his body. Carefully she wiped the wet cloth over the laceration in his side, fingering the torn flesh. It was deep, but she believed it didn't require stitches, and that was just as well as she highly doubted she possessed the skill, the energy, or the fortitude to do it. She lifted the can of salve to her nose and sniffed it experimentally. It was rank, and she scrunched her face and nearly tossed it to the side. However, she felt Tia Dalma would not hurt Will (though she found it strange she could be so sure of this and yet nothing else about that woman). Thus she dunked her fingers into the aromatic stuff and began rubbing it to Will's various wounds.
She worked silently, mindlessly, for some time. Her hands seemed to move of her own accord, and she was idly grateful for that as her mind was gone from her. Finally she had finished, wrapping Will's chest in a roll of surprisingly clean linen bandages. Then she took the flask, the brown bottle glittering in the candlelight, and she cautiously uncorked it. Sniffing the contents yielded no useful information, for unlike the ointment it smelled of nothing. Elizabeth looked to Will, worried about his fever. If this drink would alleviate it, she would trust in that.
It took some effort, but she managed to get Will to swallow a few mouthfuls of the concoction. He was greatly delirious and mostly unconscious, offering weak whispers she couldn't quite hear. After laying down a few clean linens to protect his back, she drew the musty blanket over him, disliking its rough, scratchy texture. Then she blew out a few of the candles, leaving one burning upon the small, nicked table, and closed the door. Outside, the swamp was ominously silent. She couldn't hear the others, though she stood behind the sealed door and strained to listen above the pounding of her heart. Concerned and a bit frightened, she hurried back to Will's side. She rid herself of her vest and then grabbed both her sword and his. Keeping them clenched beside her, she lay next to Will and burrowed into his warmth, feeling shaken and cold.
It was quiet. Terribly and unendingly. The thrum of her heart against her chest deafened her, and she swallowed through a dry throat. Exhaustion slid over her, robbing her of the shreds of control to which she had barely clung these last hours. Tears dripped from her eyes, tears that turned her vision blurry. Shadows drifted before her, across his face, down his chest. His skin shone in perspiration. His brow was furrowed, and he rasped hoarsely. His rest was not at all peaceful. She felt the heat of his fever, searing and sickening, and she cringed as wave after wave rushed over her. It was like the sun, beating down on her, overbearing and crushing. The sun in her eyes as they rowed away from the Black Pearl. The sun burning her skin as Jack's lips smothered hers. Guilt scorched her heart.
Sleep pulled her down, the torment of the day simply growing too heavy to bear. She escaped its tenacious pull only once. She'd heard a steady beat, a strong pulse that was powerful enough to draw her from oblivion. For a long, senseless while, she wondered at the sound. Then she drowsily opened her eyes to find herself with her head pillowed to Will's chest.
What had Tia Dalma meant by the things she had said?
There was no answer, only the soft rush of his breath and the unending rhythm of his heart.
Elizabeth dreamed of bizarre and unsettling things that night. She dreamed of a voyage through black and brutal seas to a place where mortal men dared not tread. She dreamed of a gathering of brutish folk, of foreign faces and alien ideas, and this gathering swayed and shook in the face of grave threat. She heard her own voice shouting, crying orders to nobody and everybody, and the wind was ripping through her hair. A fleet stretched across a tenuous sea. Hers and theirs. The ocean twisted and screamed, and a storm unlike anything she had ever seen blasted the planes of her mind. She tasted salt water and rain.
She tasted Jack. She dreamed of him, his kohl-rimmed eyes twinkling as he skewered her thin lies and wavering denials with that knowing smirk. She was spinning, flying weightlessly and hopelessly, tethered to the tip of that compass as again and again it lost its way. She pointed to him. His lips moved, and even though she couldn't hear the word, he knew what he said. Pirate.
She wanted to argue otherwise, but she couldn't. There was a magnificent roar, and Jack was yanked away from her, wrapped in tentacles, dragged down by the beast into the crushing depths of the ocean. She screamed, reaching for him, but she was too late and he was too far away from her. He didn't escape, and after all, how could he? She was the one who had done this to him. The Kraken pulled him down and the water rose in a cacophony of waves and thunder, and when he was gone, she was alone.
No, not alone. The sea settled, and she saw Will.
He was shouting at her. There was anger in his eyes, anger and hurt, and the storm grew more violent. The wind screamed and the sky burst and she was drenched in a thousand heated tears. She drowned in them. Her voice was lost in the maelstrom. He couldn't hear her pleas for forgiveness, her cries for absolution, her declarations that she loved him still. He was so strong, so beautiful, drenched as he was by the ocean and trembling in emotion. She tried to run towards him, but her legs refused to move as though some great invisible force chained her to this single spot. Like Jack had been, Will was out of her reach. And when he turned away from her, he never looked back, and after all, why would he? She was the one who had done this to him, too.
There was a burst of color as lightning raked the sky. "Him life belong to fate."
The world shifted. He was dying. "But him heart belong to you."
She howled such an intense misery as she watched a sword find its way into Will's chest. His mouth opened in a scream, but she could hardly hear his cry. She didn't know if it was because the storm was so loud or if his voice was so quiet because he couldn't get the air into his damaged chest. Fear rushed over her, terror that was icy as her panic was hot. She found herself beside him, grabbing his hands, begging him to stay with her though she knew her demands were silent and her desperation futile. Part of her was shocked beyond rational thought, her mind unable to comprehend what it was that she felt, saw, and experienced. Another part of her knew this to be a dream. And yet another part wondered why.
But she couldn't hold onto him, no matter how desperately she tried. His life was draining into the torrential rain, a crimson stream that was thin and diluted though his heart pumped it thick and true from the mortal wound. She screamed as his eyes closed. How could this have happened? How could she have let this happen?
She heard something else then. A soft squish and then a knife driving into wood. Words. Over and over again, like some grotesque chant. "Part of the ship. Part of the crew." She didn't know what that meant, but as she watched the last breath softly rush between Will's pale lips, she knew she had great cause to be mortified. To be enraged. To hate everything for which those words stood, even if she didn't understand. Something awful was about to happen, equally as terrible and torturous as what just had. She couldn't stop it. She knew she couldn't, even though her heart wailed its frustrated anguish. This moment was not hers to control.
Finally her voice broke free from its silence. She screamed with every bit of her spirit. "No!"
Then she was flying. Jack's arms were around her, pulling her away so that she could see no more, lifting her into a clearing sky. His embrace was different, far from thrilling, strong and comforting. Something inside her had changed, though she couldn't say when or where. In the place of doubt there was only miserable, choking anguish. "It's alright, love."
It wasn't, but she closed her eyes and submitted to his charm.
There were other things in this dream. Monsters covered in crusty barnacles and mutated into sea creatures. The roar of the ocean as she twisted and churned with wild freedom. Vows spoken in a heated moment. Grief and shadows.
But all of this paled in comparison to something else. Something novel and exhilarating. Something teeming with love and joy. She felt a warm, gentle breeze brush across her cheeks and thread its fingers through her hair. The sun was setting. There was a young boy rushing through long, green reeds of grass towards the edge overlooking the sea. And she came to stand beside him, listening to him singing a shanty, and then she tugged the child to her side lovingly.
A flash of green on the horizon.
Her eyes opened and she gasped.
Darkness enveloped her. For what seemed to be an eternity, she lay staring into the shadowy abyss above her. Her heart was thundering. She felt like she was falling, but there was something hard and unforgiving beneath her. The vertigo rendered her senseless, but eventually her eyes adjusted to pierce the night and memory slammed back into her head, chasing away the remnants of slumber. They were in Tia Dalma's hut. Jack had been lost. She had chained him to the Black Pearl and left with the others while the Kraken had attacked. She had murdered him, and Will had seen the kiss. Will had been devastated. Will had been hurt.
She leaned up, drawing a short breath, and looked quickly to her side. The candle had burned to nothing, plunging the small room into heavy blackness. Just a touch of golden illumination seeped through the cracks in the walls from the swamp outside. She saw him beside her. He was lying on his right side, turned away from her so that she could see the wretched, glistening wounds across his bare back. He was shivering. "Will," she whispered. Hesitantly she touched his arm, curling her fingers over his bicep. It suddenly didn't matter to her that he was ill, that he had been injured and undoubtedly needed rest. The ghosts of that distressing dream drifted about her addled thoughts, and though its edges were growing less sharp and vivid with each passing moment, she needed him. She needed his comfort. She needed to see his eyes and hear his voice. A flash of his face twisted in pain as the blood drained from his pierced heart turned her skin to ice. She needed him now. "Will!"
He was either too weak or too deeply asleep to fight her as she pulled him onto his back. He groaned softly as she did so, and she leaned over him, drawing the blanket and coat away from his body. Frantically she stared at his face. Faint lines of pain appeared around his closed eyes and tightly sealed lips. He looked beautiful, even as bruised and bloody as he was. She'd forgotten that. He was beautiful and he was noble and he was pure. And he was hers. Even if she left him, if she became the world's enemy, if she forsook the life they had once wanted for adventure… He would always be hers. She knew that beyond any doubt, because he loved her. Truly and deeply. And he had since the moment he had laid eyes upon her.
She brushed the back of her hand upon his cheek. His skin was rough with many days worth of stubble, but she enjoyed the scratchy feel to her soft fingertips. She traced the contours of his face, sweeping down from his brow, across his cheeks, and along the strong lines of his jaw. Tenderly she glided her thumb across his smooth lips. His eyelids fluttered and then opened. Even in the heavy blackness she saw the fire in the unveiled brown orbs. "… Lizbeth…"
The sound of his soft voice freed tears from her eyes. She pressed her hand to the side of his face close enough to his mouth so that she could feel the heat of his breath. "Will," she whispered, staring into the fathomless depths of his eyes. There were so many things she wanted to say to him. She wanted to apologize as she hadn't truly done before. She wanted to swear to him that Jack and piracy and the whole damned sea meant nothing to her. She wanted to tell him she loved him.
But she couldn't because his shaking hands had woven through her hair to pull her face to his. Their lips met, tenderly and tentatively for but a moment, and then the kiss turned passionate. Searing. Will's grip upon her turned strong and insistent, and she parted her lips to him. Greedily he devoured her, stealing her breath as his tongue swept inside her mouth. She was idly surprised by his fervor, but she wasted only a thought on it before a rush of pleasure rid her mind of logic. Everything departed her. Thoughts of what had happened. Thoughts of what she had done. Thoughts of Jack. She didn't try to hold onto them, submitting to the wet heat of his kiss. Familiar things, things she had forgotten these last weeks, stirred longing in the very pit of her belly. Will tasted sweet to her, and though many days had passed since he had last worked in a smithy she thought the tang of molten metal still clung to his body. She was reminded of the kisses they had shared in secret when she'd snuck away to see him while he worked. She was reminded of how excited she'd been to imagine herself kissing him as his wife, to envision their wedding night and finally becoming his lover in body as well as spirit. She'd grown impatient towards the end. That seemed so long ago.
His lips pulled from hers, leaving her breathless but throbbing with desire. Thankfully they were swift in resuming their contact as he kissed along the side of her jaw. They danced sensuously down the tanned column of her neck, and she moaned as he pulled her atop him. For only an instant she worried for his torn back and side, but if she caused him pain, she couldn't tell. His grasp was tight upon her, suggesting that he wouldn't allow her to escape, and she found his unbridled desire exciting and enticing. She straddled him, her chest pressed to his, their hearts thundering wildly against one another. His rough fingertips loosed themselves from her tangled hair to run down her arms. Feverishly he kissed her neck and down her chest. Passion consumed her, forbidden and heated, as his hands slid under her tunic and up her body. She quivered when he touched her, when his teeth, lips, and tongue explored her in ways no man ever had before. The shadowy world tilted when pleasure arced up and down her like lightning jolted a stormy sky. She felt fear and nervousness. This was hardly fitting for a young woman of her station and breeding, but she was so far from the world of propriety that she found she cared even less now than she had before. She felt love and lust. She wanted nothing more in life than him.
Will gave a deep, soft growl that vibrated her very core as he tugged the hem of her tunic free from her pants. She leaned up as he rid her of it, and then his rough fingers resumed their sweet torture. She cried out, grasping his chin and pulling his mouth to hers. The kiss left them panting, desperate as they were to fill themselves with each other's bodies. She pinned him to the floor, grabbing his hands and weaving her fingers through his as she rained frenzied kisses upon his burning skin. He struggled and squirmed, displeased that she had taken control, and his hips writhed impatiently against her. Smiling, she scooted down, her hands leaving his to caress the planes of his chest. She pressed her lips downward, entranced by the smooth skin and hard muscles that fluttered beneath her tantalizing touch. Careful of the bruises and lacerations, she trailed her kisses to his stomach. Her hands fell to his belt, and for a moment she simply stared, realizing with every moment that passed there was a diminishing chance of changing their minds. There were other men here, and their privacy could well prove transient. But she smiled slowly because she didn't care. Take what you can. She'd heard Jack say that to Gibbs once or twice during their adventure. When you can.
Deftly her fingers attacked the buckle, the shaking digits fumbling a moment before successfully pulling the thick leather free. Quickly she loosed the ties of his trousers. He groaned, gasped, and reached downward to grab her, tracing his fingers lightly along her back. His body was tense. Perhaps he was nervous. Perhaps he was once more having second thoughts. He was denying desire for the sake of decorum. He was choosing to stop to serve some image of propriety and honor that held no gravity in her heart. Perhaps he had doubts when she was never more certain of anything in her life.
And again he would choose to be a good man rather than a pirate even when he had no cause to be anything else.
But that wasn't the case. He kissed her roughly, and his lips tasted salty with sweat. His hands in her hair grew insistent, twisting the honeyed locks about his fingers to the point of paining her. She submitted to him, somewhat surprised by his wild strength, as he ravaged her mouth and crushed her slight body to his own. She knew then that he would love her, please her, take her with every bit of selfish and wanton power she had always desired.
She pulled away, drawing air into her shivering form, and when she looked down at his face, she stopped.
His eyes were swimming in desire and love, but more than this, they were mired in fever. Delirium. She didn't see him in his gaze. He was lost in the heat consuming him, lost to her but more importantly lost to himself. She knew in the deepest part of her soul that he wanted her, that he wanted this, but she knew as well that he wanted it in an honorable way. Stolen kisses and guilty pleasures were not enough for him.
And right then and there, she knew she would never make him accept them.
She couldn't hurt him like that. His heart was hers, and she couldn't betray him like that. She couldn't make him into something he was not. He was not a pirate, not truly, because no matter how much he might love the sea, no matter who his father was, he was a good man first and foremost. A good man who did what was right even when it was not what he wanted and even when it hurt him. A good man who was moral and true and never given to act on a selfish whim. She had fallen for a good man.
And right then and there, she knew she could never love Jack Sparrow when she so deeply and completely loved Will Turner.
He watched her watch him. His eyes were half-lidded and laden with pain and weariness. The ardent desire faded as quickly as it had come. Confusion took its place. He was not himself. The heat that had set Elizabeth's body ablaze disappeared in a cold wind of saddened understanding. Surely they could continue and she would finally be granted something that so often drove her to act on impulse. But she doubted he would remember come morning much beyond fleeting sensations and pleasured moments. And he would suffer with the guilt of what he had done. The fact that he was ill with a high fever and that she had been more than willing wouldn't ameliorate his shame. She couldn't do that to him.
Thus, before his dry lips parted with the breathy question she knew he would ask, she silenced him with a soft kiss. He was trembling beneath her, quaking with fear and fever, and when she pulled away, his shaking hand reached for her. She caught it in her own, and she kissed his palm as she pressed it to her cheek. She observed his teary eyes slip shut, and she tenderly caressed his face to ease him back into slumber.
She sat still for a long while, watching as he peacefully rested. Things that were before hidden by the storm of passion she now heard, saw, and felt. The swamp was singing quietly, humming as animals croaked and chirped and buzzed. The night was hot and heavy and so very black. Her body ached with weariness. After fumbling in the darkness for a moment, she found her shirt and dressed again. Carefully so as not to disturb him, she untangled herself from Will's embrace and returned to lie at his side. She drew the blanket and jacket up over them again. And then she turned away.
The first of her tears silently fell some time later. Without a doubt she knew she had done the right thing. For the first time in what seemed to her to be forever, she had done what was right. It hurt and left her wanting. She wondered how Will dealt with such denial. She supposed it couldn't pain him so greatly. He'd lived a life where he rarely got what he wanted, needed, or deserved, and so he treasured the things he did have and contented himself with that. He cherished her. She'd lived a life of ease, filled with promise and comfort, one where nothing she desired was ever denied her. The pain of wanting and not having was sharp to her, where to Will it was likely common and easily ignored. She'd never realized how truly different they were.
He was stronger than she was, than Jack was, than pirates and good men and everything in between, because he took the difficult life he faced and still did the right thing without doubt or even consideration of the opposite and more often selfish action. The road he walked was fraught with suffering, but he walked in still in hopes of simply making her happy. She feared what that would do to him.
She felt as though they had been set upon a path towards a fate she couldn't change.
And that frightened her most of all.
When she awoke the following morning, she did so alone. Will was gone. Elizabeth rolled over, dizzy and disoriented, to find the pallet beside her empty. Muddled, she stared at it for a moment, her hazy mind struggling to piece together the events of the night before. She remembered a distressing, terrifying nightmare, but its contents were but blurred impressions of things she'd rather forget. She remembered fevered kisses and caresses, but Will was not with her. Where had he gone as sick and injured as he was? Panic tightened her chest, and she scrambled to her feet. Bleary sunlight leaked through the walls into the room, and she squinted against the sudden pain in her head. His sword and belts were gone, but his coat and shirt remained as well as her things. Her mind raced with frenzied thoughts. Was he alright? Had his sickness gotten worse? Where was he?
She gathered her things and fled the room. Her heart was thundering in her chest, and she was dizzy with worry as she bounded through the narrow corridors of the hut. The small house seemed utterly empty, and she pondered to where everyone had gone. Had she been left behind? She felt sick with fear to simply contemplate the idea. The witch had told them. She'd told them of Elizabeth's duplicity, that the young woman had been responsible for Jack's death, and they had abandoned her. All things considered, she supposed that was the treatment she deserved even though indignant anger burned through her. Still, she searched desperately, hoping with every bit of her frightened spirit that she was not alone.
Relief left her trembling when she saw Marty, Pintel, and Ragetti moving a few meager supplies out to the dinghy they had used to reach Tia Dalma's home the day prior. She watched them a moment and then slipped into the cluttered, dingy living area of the small hut. For a long, quiet, and tense moment she stood there amongst the gruesome tokens, strange totems, and unusual creatures. Then she heard Will's voice. It was low and muffled, but she believed it was coming to her left. She followed its sound, squeezing between a few racks of disgusting jars and canisters to reach another narrow hallway. At its end was a small room, and she pushed open an old and rotted door.
Will's back was to her, and she grimaced as she saw the vicious wounds. Still, as sore and horrific as they looked, they were improved from the night before. The linen bandage she had wrapped about his middle was still secured there. He pivoted to look over his shoulder when he heard her approach. His face was pale and a bit haggard, and his eyes seemed guarded. But his lips turned ever so slightly with the hint of a smile.
But then her eyes drifted past Will, and she spotted Tia Dalma behind him. The mysterious creature met her gaze and smiled slyly. A cold shudder tickled at the small of her back, but she stifled it and narrowed her gaze strongly and defiantly. For a long moment, the young woman and the swamp witch simply stared at one another, and a silent war of wills commenced from which the victor would emerge empowered. It was as though Tia Dalma was testing her, determining whether or not she meant Will further harm, discerning if the girl had learned anything at all. For her own part, Elizabeth remained adamant until the witch looked away. And she did look away. She murmured something low to Will, something that was clearly meant for only him to hear, and she trailed her fingers down the side of his face. He tensed slightly (a fact which pleased Elizabeth immensely), nodded to her words, and then she walked away. When she swept past Elizabeth, her grin turned soft and caring, and her eyes were suddenly as open as a calm, cool ocean. She took Elizabeth's arm in her hands and she leaned close to the young woman. Her voice was a soft, saddened whisper. "For what we want most," she said, "dere is a price dat must be paid in da end."
She left them alone after that, after the swish of skirts left the air unsettled with a tang of waves thrumming against distant places. Elizabeth found herself shaken by what Tia Dalma had said once more, and all the strangeness of their conversation from the evening before flooded her mind. If the woman wished to tell her something important, why not speak of it simply? These riddles and thinly veiled threats drove her mad! But she banished those thoughts and looked to Will. She was worried about him, worried about what they had said and did the day before. As she stared at him, she felt sick and bothered anew, and a thousand different emotions pushed and pulled at her composure. She didn't know what to say to him. She didn't know how to act around him. A measure of awkwardness, of fear and discomfort, had slid into their relationship that had never been there before. It hurt terribly. He was a stranger to her. She never imagined that this could happen to them.
Eventually he broke the heavy, tense silence. "Thank you," he murmured, reaching towards a nicked and dilapidated old chair for a pile of clothes. He grabbed a red linen tunic and set to unfolding it. "For taking care of me."
She shook her head. There was the inclination to run to him, to hold him, to assure him that everything was well between them. She had hoped, perhaps irrationally so, that the rise of the sun would blast away the darkness that had crawled between them and make everything clear and pretty again. That morning would erase night. But it hadn't, and she wasn't sure what to do about that. "Of course I would, Will," she said. "You… You look much better." She wanted to tell him that she loved him, but she couldn't find the courage or energy.
He slid his arms into the sleeves of the shirt and gingerly set to dressing himself. She watched the muscles of his back shift beneath golden skin, and she saw the wounds stretch and twist. She heard him draw a short breath and imagined the grimace on his face, but she made no move to help him. She wasn't sure it was her place any longer. Eventually he pulled the tunic down over his chest and tucked it into his black trousers. Then he turned to face her. His lips formed a little smile. She wondered if he remembered anything of yesterday. She wondered if she was simply fabricating this doubt plaguing her heart. "Are you well, Elizabeth?"
The question startled her. She folded her arms across her chest, ducking her head to hide tears in her eyes, and nodded. There was a flash of hurt that twisted his expression. "I…" His voice faded as he grabbed a folded black jacket from the chair. He pulled it on before fastening his belts over his clothing and returning his sword to his waist. "I want to apologize to you," he finally managed.
She didn't understand. "Why?"
He turned to face her finally, and she could tell he was nervous. He shifted his weight, and in the dreary illumination of the new day she could see the sweat covering his face. It was likely from his breaking fever, and it also might have been due to the oppressive heat. But somehow she knew he was riled. "My memories of yesterday are… hazy, at best. If I said anything untoward to you, I'm sorry. I didn't want to hurt you."
She knew he meant what he said, but she didn't want to accept it. She had hurt him! She had betrayed him! She had kissed Jack, killed Jack, and even though she knew she didn't love the pirate, she had still done these things and lied. She had made her choices alone, choices that had and would continue to affect them all. He didn't understand or know the truth, but she had not made any effort to explain herself, so what should she expect? And even if he thought she loved Jack, why was he still putting his own feelings second to hers? "Will, I hurt you," she said angrily, shocked that he could still be so complacent. "I hurt you!"
He didn't know what to say to that. He was silent, his eyes guarded. She couldn't read him. Not now. Maybe not ever again. She missed the innocence she had once loved. "I don't want to argue," he said softly. "This isn't the time."
He was certainly right about that. They were likely minutes away from embarking on this journey, and no one could say where it would take them. But she wouldn't be denied this. "Now might be the only time," she said quietly, holding his gaze though he seemed worried and weakened by the intensity of her glare.
"What is it you wish for me to say?" he finally asked. "That I forgive you? That I am not hurt?" He shook his head and looked away. "We make our choices. If you choose Jack, I cannot begrudge you that."
Elizabeth gritted her teeth. "If you want me, take me. For the sake of everything good, William, fight for me!"
His eyes flashed in anger. "I have been," he seethed.
"You're too good a man," she answered, clenching her jaw. "We're amongst thieves and scoundrels and wretched louts. They won't honor allegiances. Why should we? Why should you? They'll use you." She shook her head, remembering how Jack had lured Will onto the Flying Dutchman to settle the pirate's debt with Davy Jones. "I don't want to see you hurt."
She was provoking him, and she knew it. She wanted him to feel enough for the both of them. She wanted him to vent his fury at her because at least that was preferable to this awkward emptiness that had taken the place of their comfortable infatuation. "It's too late," he coldly declared. "Please, I have no wish to fight!"
She thought back to the day he had declared his love for her and what she had said to her doubtful father. She stepped closer to him. "You're the son of a pirate," she declared, "and a pirate yourself."
That was enough to free his anger. "No," he hissed, and a breath later he seized her arms and firmly pushed her to the wall. She gasped in shock. He wasn't violent, but his eyes were ablaze again. He pinned her there, and she could feel the heat of his emotions as he leaned close to her face. "No, I'm not. Not by blood and not by choice."
She trembled, fearful of him and yet not, because she knew he would never hurt her but she had never seen him like this before. "Will, I–"
But he didn't let her finish, and she quivered in the face of his control over her. "Does he take your breath away, Elizabeth?" His hands left her arms to slide rapidly up her shoulders. She found she couldn't look away from his gaze. It was powerful and demanding. "Does he make your heart thunder like it does now?" His fingers were about her neck, and she knew he could feel her pulse race beneath them. The roughened, callused digits grasped her chin, and tipped her head upward towards his. His lips brushed over hers. She couldn't think. "Does he kiss you like I do?"
And with that, his mouth sealed over hers powerfully. Possessively. She moaned in surprise as he deepened the contact, plunging his tongue into her mouth. He stole her breath, her thoughts, her heart. Fire burned through her. She clung to the moment, desperate to lose herself in what he offered. Perhaps he did remember the night before. Perhaps…
But he pulled away, turning his back on her and leaving her trembling and panting and wanting against the wall of the hut. She could see his shoulder shaking, though with what she didn't know. Desire. Fear. Rage. Perhaps all of those things and the weight of everything he carried, willingly or not. Silence returned, thick and suffocating. The room spun about her. Finally he spoke. His voice was soft, battered, and weary. "I'm not a pirate, even though everyone and everything seems intent upon making me one." She imagined the corner of his mouth lifting in a rueful smile. "Perhaps it's simply destiny."
Hearing him say that hurt horribly. What had that witch done to him? How had she manipulated him? Of course, Elizabeth realized immediately and with much despair that she was as guilty as Tia Dalma. She had lusted after adventure and freedom, and she had inspired and perhaps even demanded Will to do the same. She had never been cruel about it, but how could she possibly delude herself into thinking he was too blind to realize it was the call of the sea she found so attractive in Jack? The answer was she couldn't.
The sound of rustling cloth drew her from her thoughts. Will had drawn his mussed hair into a sloppy tail and secured it with a tie. Then he yanked a dirt encrusted dagger from the arm of the chair where it had been lodged in the arm. The dingy blade twinkled in the sunlight before he slid it into the sheath upon his hip. And when he turned to face her something else glinted as well. A small hoop of silver in his left ear. Her mouth fell limply open. "Will, your ear…"
He lifted a hand to touch the earring, as though he hadn't known of its existence. He sighed. "I awoke to find it," he murmured softly. His voice was flat and empty, so she found it hard to gleam what he thought of that fact. The young woman couldn't understand it. She'd been with Will the whole night. Who had done this to him? When? Why?
However, the answers came as quickly as the questions. Tia Dalma had done it to mold Will to accept some fate that clearly at once scared and excited her. Elizabeth felt frightened as well. Will saw it in her face, and his expression betrayed his worry. He was different. So was she. They couldn't be who they had been before their wedding had been so tragically interrupted. She had changed him into something he didn't want to be.
She spoke before she had even thought of the words. "What happens now?" she whispered. Tears burned her eyes, blurring the world until he was a mesh of blacks and reds and gold and browns. "What happens to us?"
Will paused as though he was uncertain how to answer that. Perhaps he was. Perhaps there were no answers to be had. Eventually he declared, "We go to World's End. We do what we have to do to make things right." His expression hardened. "I'll kill Jones and save my father."
She'd never seen him so driven before, and she couldn't help but feel a bit jealous and sorrowful that he was so impassioned about someone other than her. That he would do things, become things, that he despised for another's sake. She could hardly believe how much it hurt. How had she lost him?
Her lips quivered. "And then?"
His voice dropped to a pained, quiet tone. "I don't know."
He had always reassured her, comforted her, in the past. Even when she had been locked away in that dingy prison cell and he had been rushing away to find Jack's compass and free her, he had made it all seem so very simple. He would do whatever was necessary to see her safe, and then he would marry her. She longed for such constancy, because it was gone now, and he wasn't lying to her.
He left her then. As he passed her, pain swelled and twisted furiously between them, but neither did anything to ameliorate it. And when she was alone, Elizabeth leaned back against the wall. Tears filled her eyes, heated, angry, anguished tears that she refused to cry. She felt dead inside as though all the emotion she had within her was spent, leaving her raw, aching, and empty. Despair was a hollow thing, an endless, swirling pit that sucked her down and enveloped her in an inescapable grip. She didn't know herself anymore. She'd killed a man. And Will couldn't love her as he had and he never could again. She'd ruined everything. Finding Jack, even if he could be found, would not bring Will back to her. It would not lift this stain from her spirit. It would not undo what she had done.
Tia Dalma's enigmatic words punished her senses. "Be true ta him if your love be true. But know what it is you face. Da path he walk is a hard one. Da burden he carry is a heavy one." Elizabeth closed her eyes. "If you love him, you will bear it."
"I love him," she whispered to hot and hateful world.
But there was no response. After a moment, she heard the others singing. "Some men have died and some men are alive and others sail on the sea…" She didn't recognize the melody. Tiredly she opened her eyes. The morning sun was burning as it streamed through the dirty windows of the hut. "With the keys to the cage and the Devil to pay, we lay to Fiddler's Green… Yo, ho, haul together! Hoist the colors high! Heave ho, thieves and beggars, never say we die…"
Cotton's parrot shrieked, "The Devil to pay!"
Wearily she wondered how much she yet owed for the choices she had made.