Author's Note: If Will and Elizabeth had any sense, they'd resolve their dear little quandary this way. Don't hold your breath, my friends. Spoilers for "Dead Man's Chest."
The Communion of Saints
by S. Risen
The nightbugs were driving Elizabeth mad. Nothing in this damn swamp would sit still or stay quiet or otherwise pay heed to her very bad mood. She could go back into Tia Dalma's cabin and shut the noise out if she liked, but there were people in there, and that was worse than bugs.
Misery was not in Elizabeth's nature. Another woman—a wiser one, perhaps—would stand at this damp cypress railing and hyperventilate, frantically trying to scrub her hands clean of imaginary blood like Lady Macbeth. (Oh, that comparison was doing wonders for her mental state.) Instead Elizabeth glared into the tea-dark water and strangled her hat. Anger came easily to her. Tonight it would play watch dog and chase off… anything she didn't much want to feel.
The door opened and shut. "Elizabeth."
Guilt, for instance. Particularly the variety that tingled coldly over her forehead and into her hairline.
"What, Will?" If she wasn't angry, she would do something obscene, like cry.
"Are you all right?"
She kept her back to him, but her mind supplied the image anyway: he leaned against the door, arms folded, head tilted to the side. His eyes were dark and intense and perfectly sincere in their concern for her wellbeing.
"I'm fine," she murmured. She might have gotten away with it if her voice hadn't cracked. Or if it were true.
"Is it Jack?"
"In a manner of speaking."
"You…" Will was steeling himself to ask the question they might have danced around all night. But it frightened him most, so he would ask it first. Elizabeth understood this even as she dreaded it. "You love him?"
The note of hysteria in her laughter frightened her. Even dead, Jack was an object of the present tense. That was funny. She had ruined things for all of them, possibly forever. That was funny, too.
Will wasn't laughing. He came to the railing and stared, not at her, but at her reflection below. "Is that a yes or a no?"
"Will, please." Perhaps this was not the answer he was looking for.
"I see," Will replied, which was ludicrous.
"No, you—" She clamped down on the petulant outburst before it gave her away as the willful child that she was. "You don't understand," she whispered.
His bitter, impatient sigh nearly brought her to tears. "Perhaps you'd care to explain."
And there it was. The choice. She could confess to nursing a deep attraction to another man, or to murder. Or to both, as honesty would dictate. Then there was the distant (but appealing) fourth option of throwing up her hands, stalking inside, and slamming the door after her.
"Jack did not… elect to stay behind," she started, faltering and cringing over her own piratical circuitousness.
"He did not choose to stay behind. Before… he had taken the longboat and left us all to die when the Kraken appeared. But then he came back. He came back and made the shot that blew the powder kegs. And while everyone was piling into the longboat, I told him… I told him he was a good man, after all, and I…"
"And you kissed him," Will said harshly.
Elizabeth swallowed painfully. "I kissed him, and backed him across the deck, and reached behind him—"
"I don't want to hear—"
"—and chained him to the mast."
The silence that followed was of kraken-like proportions, and Elizabeth was equally terrified to touch it. Will just looked at her, his mouth open a little bit.
In the end, he managed to say, "Why?"
Miserable, defensive, she said: "So that at least some of us could get out alive. The kraken wanted him, just him."
Will studied her, not with the look of horror she had been imagining, but with a kind of vindicated understanding. So he had known she could do it—he hadn't spent all this time thinking her sweet and soft and harmless. Good, then. Good.
She wanted to kiss him very badly for looking at her like that, but kisses aren't meant to come on the heels of murder confessions. "Do you..." Did he still mean to marry her as though she'd never chained anyone to a sinking ship? Elizabeth was impatient for her wedding night.
"I left him once, too," Will said, still giving her that perceptive, crystalline look. "A year ago, on the Isla de Muerta. I knocked him over the head with an oar and left him there for Barbossa to find him and kill him."
Elizabeth's chin tucked protectively to her neck and she looked at her honorable, knightly Will from under her eyelashes in disbelief. "You did that?"
"I thought he meant to trade me for his ship."
Elizabeth shook her head and smiled mirthlessly at the swamp. "And you told the rest of us that he fell behind."
He shrugged. "And you told us he elected to stay behind."
Their eyes locked avidly and searchingly; one would have thought they were looking for the words "It's true, it's true!" stamped in each other's irises. Elizabeth laughed first. Neither of them was amused, but they laughed together for a full minute, pressed close and shaking with relief.
"I can't believe we're going to the end of the earth to bring the useless rat back," Will said. Elizabeth couldn't stop laughing.
"Do you think he'll be angry with us?" she managed between giggles.
Will considered it seriously for a moment, sighed, and said, "Not if we bring rum."