The After-Effects of Rum

Summary: She looked away, out to the horizon. "I love him," she whispered. And she could feel his eyes on her as he answered, just as soft, just as deadly. "I believe you. But which him do you love?" - The night the Black Pearl leaves Tortuga for Isla Cruces, Elizabeth takes care of an incapacitated James Norrington, and finds herself questioning everything.

"...because it is a vile drink that turns even the most respectable men into complete scoundrels..."
All he could hear were drums. Pulsating, throbbing, beating, the harsh sound of a thousand triumphing calls was coursing through him, make his mind ache with the enormity of the sensation. He groaned, and the call of the drums rose to a feverish pitch, and he felt as if his skull would crack and shatter under the immense pressure.

"Bloody... drums..." he muttered, as he opened his eyes and met the unfamiliar landscape of a small and cramped room that seemed to sway oddly every time he shifted his eyes. Why on earth was the room swaying? What could-

And then he remembered.

"Oh, right," he grumbled, as the after-effects of the rum hit him hard. However, even though he had never been much of a drinking man in the past, his tolerance for beverages of the debilitating kind had increased tenfold, due to much practice. He hadn't felt this ill in a long time, not since right after the hurricane. So why did he feel so sick, so incredibly and completely ill?

"James?" called out a voice from the depths of the swaying room. With a start, he realized that he recognized the polished and melodious tones, and quite vividly recalled the earlier events of the evening.

Against his body's will he pushed himself up to a sitting position, and the met the dazzling eyes of the young Elizabeth Swann. His eyes narrowed as he stared at her. "You struck me over the head."

Her determined and unrepentful stare looked back at him. "You deserved it."

"Quite likely," he conceded, and he sighed, slumping down to rest his head on the cool planks of the wall behind him. "How did I get here, exactly?" he asked, as he surveyed, with much clearer vision, the room around him. He had no recollection of ever having set foot in this cabin, much less having had collapsed onto the tiny bed he now lay on.

At this, Elizabeth's expression grew sheepish. "I brought you here. I mean, you were ill, and I felt badly for you."

"And when did I become the recipient of Elizabeth Swann's wonderful consideration and care?" There were acid undertones in his words, and any pretense between them was lost. The pain of their relationship that never was hung in the air between them, a giant elephant in the corner of the room.

"I..." she began, but did not finish, because that was all there was between them, unfinished business.

He sighed once more, and brushed several extremely sullied strands of hair out of his eyes. He knew that he looked and smelt disgusting, but he didn't care. The part of the man called James Norrington that had cared about such things had disappeared into the great abyss of mankind long ago. "You have no need to explain, Miss Swann," he stated gruffly, disengaging his eyes from hers as he closed them. "Thank you for your assistance my lady, but it was not required nor desired."

"No, it was offered. And, at any rate, you did not seemed inclined to refuse," she noted, as she placed herself onto the lone chair in the cramped quarters, looking over once more to the battered and dirty shape of the former Commodore, remarking with sadness the changes that had overcome him in the months since their last meeting. A strange guilt overtook her heart as she gazed at the tattered remains of his once prim and pressed uniform, as she studied the untidy brown mess that his wig of stature had become.

"I never meant to hurt you James," she whispered.

A long moment passed before he answered, slowly and softly. "Are you certain about that, Miss Swann?"

"Elizabeth," she pleaded, as his eyelids fluttered once more to reveal bloodshot orbs gazing back up at her.

"I truly and deeply loved you, Elizabeth. And if you cannot say the same for me, then everything you have done could not have been anything but intentional."

Unbidden and unwanted, she could feel hot tears tugging at the corners of her eyes, fuelled by the pain of losing and searching for Will, and the strange feelings for Jack that had resurfaced after so long. "I did love you once."

He turned to face her, a tired and broken man twisted and ruined by the cruel turns of fate. "Then I suppose that love was not enough. I suppose I was not enough. Not a pirate, a scoundrel, like the man that you love."

Her eyes burned with a passion borne of love. "Will is no scoundrel," she defended, fiercely and intently.

At this, the barely sober man grinned. "What convinced you that I was speaking of Will Turner?"

Shock grabbed Elizabeth tightly within its embrace as she realized what exactly the man before her was implying. She stopped, unable to speak.

"I have seen those longing looks, Elizabeth, that you believe that no one else notices. I have watched you watch him with something more than simple admiration in your eyes. And I remember that incessant hero worship you held for him as a child, so many years ago. It is Jack Sparrow that runs through your veins, Elizabeth, and you cannot hide from it."

"Don't be silly, Commodore," she answered, although a little too hastily to be entirely plausible.

"I have not been a Commodore for many months, Miss Swann."

She rose from the chair, though her mind and her heart were pulling her in a million different directions. "Will is my fiancé, Mr. Norrington, and I love him very much."

He laughed then, suddenly and not without a touch of bitterness. "I was your fiancé as well, if you do so recall, my dear."

"I love him," she repeated, whispering.

She could feel his eyes on her as he answered, just as soft, just as deadly. "I believe you. But which him do you love?"

Her legs suddenly became unsteady beneath her, and she reached out a hand to steady herself, as the former commodore's words permeated her mind and her soul. She loved Will. She loved Will.

She loved Will.

But repeating it incessantly did not make it completely true, and it did not remove the shadow of doubt that had crossed her heart and that had resurfaced all of those strange emotions that she had fought so hard to repress. James Norrington, the rum-soaked dirty pirate that he was, seemed to know her better than she had ever known herself. She turned and looked back to him, uncertain of what to say.

He nodded, almost sadly, and the skeleton of a smile appeared on his lips. Emerald eyes outlined with the red of too many alcohol filled nights met hers, and she could see what the world had done to him all in those defeated green orbs, silent and broken. And she knew that what he said was the truth, because those green eyes had loved her for so long and had known her so well, though she had never realized it.

"You really did love me," she said softly, sitting down on the edge of the bed and taking one of his mud-caked hands under her hold.

Suddenly the fog of rum disappeared from around him, and he squeezed her hand back, remembering all too vividly the life that he had once had. "I loved you with all my soul, Elizabeth. I loved you enough to let you go."

She returned his small smile, understanding now what she had to do. "Thank you, James."

He simply nodded, and watched her leave, as the drums returned in the absence of sound, and the land of sleep and dreams of a better life called him back to their realm, away from the cold darkness of an unforgiving world.