Jack lay back on the bench, smoking a cigarette, staring at the stars above him. The smoke curled up over his head, obscuring the view.
His mind turned inward, Jack thought about the events that had brought him to this place—the Titanic. He had been on his own for five years, since his parents' deaths in a fire when he was fifteen. During that time, he had seen much of the world. He had traveled all over the United States, and had eventually worked his way to Europe on a tramp steamer. In the year and a half that he had been in Europe, he had studied and learned more about his art, traveling from country to country. He had gotten off the tramp steamer in Italy, where he had met Fabrizio, and they had traveled together, first to France, then to England, where, in a smoky, poorly lit pub, they had won tickets on the grandest ship in the world, the Titanic.
And now he was on his way home. Not literally, of course—New York was a long way from Chippewa Falls—but he was still returning to America. He thought about the land he had left behind, trying to picture what it would be like to return there, but for some reason he couldn't picture himself back in the United States. He wondered why for a moment, then shrugged, deciding that he had been away too long. In a few days, he would be back in his native country, and he would grow accustomed to it again.
Jack was pulled form his thoughts by the sound of pounding footsteps and someone crying. He sat up as a young woman in an expensive evening gown ran by, heading for the stern. She hadn't seen him.
Concerned, Jack got up, following her, his cigarette dangling forgotten from his fingers. He walked cautiously up behind her as she slammed against the base of the stern flagpole.
She stopped for a moment, breathing hard, then headed for the railing. She still hadn't seen him. Jack watched her, wondering what she intended to do.
He got his answer as she climbed over the railing and stood poised over the water, staring down. Moving slowly, he came up behind her.
"Don't do it."
She gasped, almost losing her grip on the railing, as she turned her head to look at him.
"Stay back! Don't come any closer!"
He could see the tear stains on her face. "Take my hand. I'll pull you back in."
"No! Stay where you are. I mean it. I'll let go."
Jack came a few steps closer, taking one last drag off his cigarette. He nodded to her, indicating that he was going to throw the cigarette overboard. After doing so, he looked at her.
"No, you won't."
"What do you mean, no I won't? Don't presume to tell me what I will and will not do. You don't know me."
He shrugged, with more casualness than he felt. "Well, you would have done it already."
She glared at him. "You're distracting me. Go away."
"I can't. I'm involved now. If you let go I have to jump in after you."
She stared at him. "Don't be absurd. You'll be killed."
He shrugged off his jacket. "I'm a good swimmer."
"The fall alone would kill you."
Jack took off one of his shoes. "It would hurt. I'm not saying it wouldn't. To be honest, I'm a lot more concerned about the water being so cold."
She looked down. "How cold?"
He pulled off his other shoe. "Freezing. Maybe a couple degrees over." He paused. "Ever been to Wisconsin?"
She looked at him in surprise. "What?"
"Well, they have some of the coldest winters around. I grew up there, near Chippewa Falls. Once, when I was a kid, me and my father were ice-fishing out on Lake Wissota. Ice fishing's where you chop a hole in the—"
"I know what ice fishing is!"
"Sorry. Just...you look like kind of an indoor girl. Anyway, I fell through some thin ice, and I'm telling you, water that cold...like right down there...it hits you like a thousand knives stabbing you all over your body. You can't breathe, you can't think...at least not about anything but the pain. Which is why I'm not looking forward to jumping in there after you. But like I said, I don't see a choice." He stepped closer. "I guess I'm kind of hoping you'll come back over the rail and get me off the hook here."
"That's what everyone says. But with all due respect, Miss, I'm not the one hanging off the back of a ship here. Come on. You don't want to do this. Give me your hand."
Slowly, she took one hand from the railing and gripped his hand. Turning around slowly, she looked at him, blinking to clear the tears from her eyes.
"Whew." He sighed with relief. "I'm Jack Dawson."
She smiled back, shakily. "I'm Rose DeWitt Bukater."
"I'm gonna have to get you to write that one down."
She laughed slightly as she began to climb back over the railing. Suddenly, her foot caught on her train, and slipped from the railing.
Rose didn't have time to do more than shriek in terror before her weight and momentum dragged both of them overboard. They hit the water with a splash, narrowly missing being pulled into the propellers.
The icy water was as cold as Jack remembered. He gasped, spitting out salt water, as he struggled to stay on the surface. Rose was struggling, her movements hampered by her gown.
"Help!" she screamed. "Wait! Come back!"
The ship moved on. No one had noticed their plight. Rose's screams, and the sound of the two of them hitting the water, had been drowned out by the sound of the engines.
They looked up, hoping that the ship would slow, that it would turn around to come back for them, but it continued on into the night, growing smaller and smaller as it moved ever westward, away from them.
Rose was crying and shivering violently in the bitterly cold water. "I'm sorry, Jack. I'm so sorry," she wept, struggling to stay afloat.
Jack didn't answer her, feeling a momentary stab of anger at her. Her foolish, impulsive actions were going to cost them both their lives. But as Rose's shivers slowed, as the bitter cold penetrated deep into both their bodies, he knew that he couldn't blame her. Whatever her reasons for doing what she had done, he was certain that she had never intended for this to happen. Her eyes were wide in the darkness, begging for his forgiveness.
As Rose's movements slowed, and finally stopped altogether, Jack remembered his thoughts just before Rose had come running past him. He hadn't been able to envision himself back in America, and maybe this was why.
As the last of Jack's consciousness ebbed away, and he began to sink into the water after Rose, he realized that he had never been meant to return home, and, for whatever reasons, fate had decreed that he would follow this woman to their deaths in the bitterly cold ocean. And, as a brilliant light surrounded him, and he saw Rose standing in the light, waiting for him, he knew that he could never blame her for what had happened. In that moment, he forgave her, and was overcome with a feeling of peace that would last for eternity.