He was too broken to save her. She was too desperate to care.
AN: 1. First, do not flame me for 'betraying Will'. I happen to adore Will/Elizabeth. I also happen to love J/E. Will gets dibs, though. EVERY TIME.
2. Yes, I've realized that this is a bit of a hobby: you can see similar scenes in Patient, Everything For A Price, In The Clutch Of Circumstance, Rain Falls, and Walking Among Spirits. I happen to like breaking characters into pieces. Cruelty? Sure. Most authors are imaginary sadists. So are they out of character? I don't think so, though I could be wrong: they're broken.
3. This, like several other stories, was partially written at work and finished during the wee hours of the morning.
4. Don't think that Jack can be broken? You underestimate the power of pain, little one. And you underestimate how total captivity can destroy someone who so absolutely needs his freedom.
He lay on the ground, limp in his chains. Even through the interlocked steel, she could see how dangerously thin he had become, how pale. The ornamented locks of hair had been severed, stripped of all value, and discarded on the floor around him like blighted straw. What hair remained unsheared was caked in blood and bile, no longer that careless mane of his but miserable lines that bounded his weary head to the floor.
How long had he been there, before he allowed such humiliation to befall him? Before he gave up trying to escape? How long had it taken to break Jack Sparrow?
Captain Jack Sparrow, she reminded herself, though heavy tears were streaming down her cheeks. She knelt beside him, working carefully at the chains so they would do him no further injury as she coaxed them from his still form. His captors did not watch, just as they had not argued when she had begged for the key to his bonds. Broken and near lifeless, he was simply too far gone for them to care anymore.
The chains were cast aside, a tangled web on the floor, and she cradled his head in her arms, gingerly seeping water down his throat. Still he did not wake. She climbed to her feet and hoisted him up behind her, half dragging, half carrying him out of the hellish cell, through one corridor after another, until at last his sunken face was touched by sunlight. He was surprisingly light-- /how long since he had eaten? /-but still she was exhausted before they reached the dock. Passersby gave her long stares, but she ignored them as she continued, unaided and undaunted in her long march.
Two days passed before he woke. His eyes had opened before, but they had been empty, cold. Now their light was murky and vague, but at least they evidenced some shred of life. They began to drift, but when they fell upon her, they paused, recognizing what they beheld.
"Jack?" she whispered. He groaned faintly and squeezed his eyes shut. "Jack, please don't sleep right now. Please..." He hadn't eaten in too long. She doubted that he would survive if he stayed like this for much longer. Her begging merited the slow opening of a single eye. "Jack, you need to eat something," she explained lamely.
"...Rum?" his voice was cracked and raw with disuse, but the word was unmistakable. She allowed a tear-brimmed laugh.
"Yes, Jack. You'll get rum, too." His head shifted to form a slight nod, and his lips edged into something reminiscent of a smile.
She expected him to be ravenous, but he ate slowly, gingerly. He didn't speak during the meal, didn't make a sound. Even the noises of his chewing and swallowing were ghostly and faint.
Days passed before he gained the strength to walk again-his gait was dizzy and particular, so unlike the boastful drunken swagger of earlier days-and still he spoke rarely, keeping his voice low and soft, as though afraid that others would hear. He was able to eat more, walk more, but he would do neither unattended.
"Have you given up already, Jack?" she asked quietly. He studied her deeply for a moment before he answered.
"Have you?" was his reply. For a long time, neither spoke. Jack Sparrow-- /Captain Jack Sparrow? /--staggered across the room and sank into a chair. "I'm...tired," he said finally. Elizabeth gave a faint nod.
"I'll...I'll let you rest, then," she said. Even if he had protested, she was gone before he had a chance to speak.
The house itself was unfamiliar. The world outside-though still scorched by the Caribbean air-was not quite any place he remembered. Yet he couldn't be sure-even Tortuga seemed little more than the faint memory of some dream. Elizabeth had given him enough food and water (he seemed to have quite lost his taste for rum), but he seemed to have stopped healing altogether. She could not restore his broken hopes.
She cried at night. There were no sobs or cries or sniffles or noise, but he could hear her. Those silent tears fell like cannon fire, leaving behind echoes so loud that they made the silence bleed.
"He's dead, isn't he?" he forced himself to ask at last. She nodded, and there were tears on her cheeks, though her face was bone dry and the cruel sun had burned the trails of her mourning into oblivion.
"Fever," she explained after a long silence. That was all. No further excuse or explanation was given. Jack nodded.
"A good lad," he admitted grimly. He did not extend his eulogy.
I went looking for you because I thought you could bring him back. Because I thought that your compass, or your tricks, or anything, could bring Will back to me.
I wanted to die. Was that what Barbossa felt, being cursed? I doubt it. I'm not sure why I held on as long as I did. I kept imagining that you would come. That you would think of me.
You frightened me, Jack Sparrow. You've always frightened me. Your hands and your walk and the smirk on your face and the look in your eyes. But never as much as when it was all gone and I thought you were dead in that cell.
You've carried me out of that cursed hole a thousand times, but only once did you stay with me after I woke up. All the rest were dreams, I think, and illusions. Sometimes we returned to the Pearl, and she wasn't gone anymore, and we were happy. Those were good dreams.
I was afraid.
I hated waking up.
When I dream, I see his face. Will's. Alive and grinning and being too polite because that's his way. I hate waking up after that. I don't want to remember. It hurts to remember.
It shouldn't have hurt so much to walk such a short distance, but it did. He staggered into her room, his noisy entrance muffled by the sight of her heaving shoulders as she sobbed into her pillow. He knelt beside her, smoothing his hand over her back, silently pleading for the violence of her grief to subside.
"Shhh..." he began, language lost to him. Under his guidance, the convulsions diminished to a mournful tremble. Still her tears flowed, soaking into the pillow, as heavy as molten lead.
Somewhere, the fractal shards of his soul were shaken.
"Stop crying, love," he tried again to hush her.
Laugh. I'll make her laugh. Or at least, I'll make her smile again.
"Now don't you go punishing that poor pillow, Lizzy. It's had quite enough to worry about without having to escape drowning."
I'll kiss away her tears. I'll make her so dizzy she won't remember how to cry. She had stilled entirely, and he pried her from her bed and into his arms.
"Now let's get you cleaned up. And a drink, too. You can't go bad with good rum, lass."
I'll coax her into forgetting. I'll seduce her into being happy again. He wiped away her tears until his sleeves were soaked, and still he brushed the moisture from her face, never letting her go.
I'll probably end up making her angry with me. She'll slap me and condemn me as an improper scoundrel, but that will be normal. At least that will mean she can fight again.
The first kiss he imparted on her was broken when she pulled away, not looking him in the eyes. He refused to let her escape his embrace, though, despite the discomfort. At last she buried her head in his shoulder, taking whatever strength he could offer. He stroked her hair, careful not to pluck at it, and held her closer.
"Don't worry, Elizabeth," he said quietly, a hint of his old swagger rekindled in his tone. "You're with Captain Jack Sparrow now, savvy?"