It was the stench of it he first noticed; a gut-full of rotting corpses festering in its own foul decay. Death, beached upon pristine shores. The stuff of nightmare; of his nightmares, now and forever. Her gift, given cruelly and never taken back.
He glanced over, away from the monster, and saw her standing with the others upon the sands. There had been a time was when such a sight would have either enticed or vexed him. Now he felt nothing. Not even anger. Perhaps he’d have softened for a word of apology, for a kindly look. But there were none, and he was glad of it. Fractured by the horror, still in pieces, his pain was sharp as broken glass and the balm of her remorse would only have stung his splintered soul.
Jack Sparrow was not the man – nor the fool – he had once been. Her betrayal had taught him well.
A breeze drifted past his face, reminding him of the airless eternity he’d endured. His pulse quickened; there was nothing so terrifying as the breaking of a man’s mind. Nothing so cruel. A hangman’s noose was clemency next to it, except that it ended in death.
He reached out a hand and laid it on the rotting hide of the monster. Dead now, food for the gulls. His own mortality would not be bought so cheap.
He didn’t turn at the sound of her clipped accent, taut as a line in a storm. But he wondered that he’d ever found it beguiling. “Come to get a closer look?" he said. "Not so fearsome now, eh?”
He supposed that served as answer to both questions. “Stench is as bad, though,” he said quietly, lifting his hand from the beast and wiping it on his shirt. “But worse, inside. Much worse…”
Silence hung like the stink in the air, black memories crowding in. His lip twitched into an angry smile and he turned to see her regarding the monster with unreadable eyes. He wondered if she looked at him so; a beast of the sea.
“I had no choice,” she said at last, a rehearsed and threadbare lie. “You would have doomed us all.”
“Would I now?”
Her eyes flared, her piercing glare fixed on him. “It was after you, not us. Had I not done what I did…”
“Murdered me,” he cut in. “Let’s not be shy of the facts, darling. Now, had you not murdered me, then what…? Do go on.”
Her chin jutted. “Then we would all be dead, and there would have been no one to save you from the Locker!”
“Oh, I think there would.” His gaze drifted to the Pearl and Tia Dalma. “But that’s beside the point, isn’t it? Who’s to say you’d all be dead?”
“Facts, Jack,” she snapped. “The Kraken took the Pearl—”
“Yes, I remember that bit.” Terror. Tearing pain, suffocation, panic. The black emptiness of death, and then nothing. Nothing but nothing… “Quite vividly, as it happens.”
Her gaze dropped, a hint of colour – he dared not call it shame – rising in her cheek. “If you’d been in the longboat with us…”
“If…” He let it hang there, waiting for her to understand. At last, slowly, she raised her head and met his eye. “If, hmm?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “You would not have elected to stay behind.”
“Jack… You’d already run away. I saw you, pulling for land. You—”
She blinked. “Yes, but that was to…to…”
“To doom my crew? Or to give’em a chance? And what sense would there be in doing the first at risk of me own life, eh?”
Her chin jutted forward. “I suppose we’ll never know.”
“I know.” He turned away from her, his eye roving the mountainous peak of the Kraken. “You called me a good man once,” he said into the air. “Did you mean it?”
Another silence, then, “What I did… I didn’t do it lightly. I’ve paid a price for it.”
“Not so heavy as mine, I’ll warrant.”
“You carry your own sins, Jack. You can’t blame me for that; the debt was yours to pay.”
He half turned, watching her from the corner of his eye. “You know nothing of my debt, love, nor of my payment. But had you allowed me a nobler death, my account might have been lighter.”
“I couldn’t take that chance,” she protested. “There were too many lives at stake.”
“Makes it easier for you that way, doesn’t it?” He glanced at the tree line; Barbossa and the others were beginning the search for fresh water and he couldn’t let them get out of sight. “Assuages some of the guilt, I suppose, to think you were sacrificing me to save your dear William. A fair trade, in your view. The life of a worthless pirate for that of an honest blacksmith, eh? The man you love.”
“It wasn’t like that. I never said you were worthless, and leaving you there was the hardest thing I’ve ever—”
“Yes, very noble, I’m sure. Sacrificing my life for your own. Quite worthy of a song.”
“I had no choice, I—”
“You had a choice,” he growled, Locker-rage burning low and hot. “You could have trusted me.”
“Don’t you see?” Her laugh was bitter. “That’s exactly what I couldn’t do, Jack. Everything you’d told me was a lie.”
He supposed she was right. They, neither of them, could trust the other. Nor anyone else. And because he knew she wouldn’t believe him – because she never had – he decided to tell her the abysmal truth. “I’d have died for you that day, Elizabeth. And done it gladly.”
She started, a subtle tightening of skin across muscle. Something like fear in her eyes. Or guilt. “And now?”
“Now?” He shook his head. “Now I don’t plan to die for anyone, not even myself. Not ever.”
An indulgent smile played like a forgotten memory across her lips. He used to be enchanted by that smile. “Everyone dies in the end, Jack.”
Her eyes grew sharp. “What are you planning…?”
“Sweetheart,” he said, moving past her, “if I had any such plan, which I’m not saying I do, you are – most definitely – the last person I’d tell. Savvy?”
He was three steps up the beach when she called his name. He stopped, turned on his heel, and waited for her to speak. “For what it’s worth,” she said, slowly closing the gap between them, “I was sorry. I am sorry.”
And there was something in her eyes, a warmth… But no. He’d tasted death by her hand, been cast into eternal damnation by her Judas kiss. He would not be snared again by the soft pull of her perfidious heart. He smiled, feeling it sharp as a knife. “The deepest circle of Hell is reserved for betrayers and mutineers, love. Save your ‘sorry’ for the day you face your final judgement, for I want none of it.”
Her head lifted, surprised yet defiant. “Then you will not forgive me?”
After considering it a moment he said, “No.”
He held up his hands. “You made your choice, love. I suggest you live with it, eh? The day will come, soon enough, when you’re held to account.”
And with that he was off, catching up with Barbossa before the treacherous cur could commandeer his ship, or his crew.
There was no one, but no one, in this world he could trust and death lurked like a shadow on his shoulder, fresh from the Locker and eager for his soul. But he would not turn around. He would not give it quarter.
Death alone was his enemy now, and Jack Sparrow would do anything – to anyone – in order to conquer it.