Only in Dreams
The night he died she dreamed of him. Once upon a time, when he entered her mind as she slept, he appeared stiff and stone-faced. So stone-faced that she never even bothered to look at the features, knowing they would be blank. She saw the wig, so white and ridiculous, and the coat, impeccably smooth, each button buttoned precisely the way a button should be buttoned. Thoroughly, properly and completely predictably. She always awoke from those dreams with a sense of dread that filled her entirely, so fully that the pain reached down to her toes and she felt physically ill as she imagined a future with the man who may as well have been a plank of wood for all the emotion he showed. She dreamt of waking up and seeing empty eyes on an empty face every morning for the rest of her life and all she wanted was to run to Will to see his smile and hide from the loneliness that would await her because she would be too cowardly to deny him. Those dreams hurt.
Last night, her dream was different. She wakes up with a wholly different kind of ache coursing through her, and this one hurts so much more. She knows she can't linger on it, that she must get to work and instruct her crew and be who she must be. But flashes force their way to the forefront of her mind in spite of her attempts to stop them. She feels more ill than she's ever felt before, except perhaps for the day Jack died at her hands. She sees his eyes everywhere, intense and green and not blank at all and wishes she could forget them. She never let him in before, never allowed herself to believe that his feelings were real. She was wrong, but she was blissful in her ignorance. She wished to be ignorant still. In a single kiss, the first he'd ever had the courage to give her despite the many opportunities he'd let go of in the past, in that one kiss, he changed her dreams. In his kiss, so tender, yet containing a passion he'd never shown (or she'd refused to see, she acknowledges, ashamed) he infected her with painful thoughts of what might have been.
She loves Will. She does. But had she allowed herself, had she not been so stubborn, so convinced that he and only he could make her happy, might she have been able to love that noble fool who gave up his life for her without the slightest hesitation with equal intensity? For most of her life she never bothered to look into those eyes, and thus, when his overpowering presence entered her sleep night after night, the eyes were just a vaguely fuzzy part of his nightmarish form. Now, they're all she can see, asleep or awake. She sees in them an agonizing possibility as they watch her with genuine love. A love made no less genuine than Will's just because she hadn't wanted it. A love that remained genuineafter all this time, in spite of the fact that she hadn't wanted it. In spite of the fact that she'd used it, torn it up and thrown it back at him with far too little remorse. He died for her. It touches her deeply but leaves her entirely wrought with guilt and self-disgust.
In her dream, she saw a life that could have been. It's the first time she's thought of a life with James since before he selflessly let her go to Will, back when the dreams were anxious and filled with misery. Once she had dreamed of painfully silent dinners in a large and empty house, him at one end of an impossibly long table, her at the other as she desperately tried to think of something to say to crack the quiet. She dreamt lying in a bed with her back to him, and his to her. In those dreams, she felt so cold, despite the warm Caribbean nights.
Now it's different. She went to sleep that night, silent tears streaming down her face as she recalled the plummeting feeling when he shot the rope. It wasn't just the physical drop towards the sea that ran through her. It was her heart dropping as his lie was confirmed, as she realized he would not follow, and the consequences he would face for it. He did it for her. The thought ran through her head over and over again while she lay on the rocking cot, tossing and turning until sleep hit at long last.
Then she was sitting on a blanket on a beach, the warm sun and light breeze gentle on her skin. She looked over to see him, tall and broad, holding a brightly colored kite over his head. A small boy, laughing with delight, held the string tightly, running faster than his tiny legs seemed capable of doing properly. He fell onto the sand and rolled. James gasped and turned to look at her, amusement and pity and paternal tenderness sparkling in eyes that were no longer obscure but dazzling and alive. He grinned and winked at her before quickly turning and trotting along the beach to help the boy up. With very little effort, he picked the small boy up and dusted him off, spinning him around. Two laughs rang out, one squealish and small, the other deep and loving. Watching the scene, her cheeks began to hurt from smiling.
Change of scene. She lay beside him in the dark, the sounds of the sea through the open window creating a soothing atmosphere. He gazed down at her with the same love she saw as he told her to make her escape, promising to follow even though they both knew he wouldn't. In their large bed,he reached over, smiling and traced the lines of her face with his fingertips. Time was lost as they passed over her features, rough and hardened from his life at sea but they moved with a gentleness that should have been impossible. He reached her lips and she kissed them softly and sleepily, a contentedness washing over her and filling her. The love in his eyes on the ship was panicked and desperate. But in their quiet room, there is no lurking danger and it's relaxed and sweet and adoring. In her dream, she tried her hardest to convey returned feelings with her own eyes, trying to make up for all the time she'd left him alone when he was alive.
Flashes like those continued throughout the night, until she awoke to a knock at her door. She had demanded to be woken up a few hours before they reached the Shipwreck Cove to plan. But as soon as she heard the rapping, she cursed it, because waking meant being punched hard with the realization that she would never see him again. She would never get to look into those eyes and see the emotion she had refused to see all her life. She would never get to slow down and study it and see just how deep his feelings ran. She had allowed herself to fall into the too easy categorization of him as a stiff, repressed military man incapable of the reckless true love Will had shown her. Now the chance to know the inner workings of his heart and mind was gone.
She had a fleeting taste of the very real human being behind the uniform in those last moments, and that is all she will have forever. She will never get to learn what made him laugh and what (besides her, she thought, ashamed again) could lighten those green eyes. She'll never know if he ever dreamed of something more or why he loved the sea and whether their reasons were the same. She could have asked dozens of times, but she bothered, so caught up in her foolish conviction that he had nothing to offer her but security. She was so resistant to a marriage for convenience that she never stopped to think. And now his hopes and his secrets will never be shared. She will never be able to do more than forlornly speculate about the life that slipped away from her moments after she realized how much it was worth.
She knows she'll be happy with Will. She still loves him for the same reasons she chose him over James and broke his very real, if hidden, heart. But she sees now that there are different kinds of love, and that perhaps a love that grew over time, through little realizations might have meant as much as her fanciful, love-at-first-sight romance with Will. The loss of the chance to ever know, or to at least sincerely apologize for causing him pain hurts.
She doesn't know whether she'll get a chance to sleep for a while. She doesn't know how long the meeting will last, or if a battle is to follow. She doesn't expect rest to come for quite some time. She's glad of it. She once dreaded sleep because it brought unpleasant thoughts of a future her romantic heart didn't want. Now she dreads it once again, because now she will dream of a future that can never be.
A/N: tears I really took James Norrington's death hard. But writing this helped with the grief. Anyway, I love reviews and would really appreciate any feedback!