She likes Jack, but she doesn't love him or trust him or anything else. She knows at times he's a nice man and a damn good pirate, but she's not entirely comfortable around him for reasons she doesn't want to contemplate at the moment (or ever). She's not comfortable around most of the crew aboard the ship save one, the one she's looking for right now.
They did not part on amicable terms – she doubts that's possible when broken engagements are involved. She knows something happened when he went to pursue Jack, knows he resigned his commission but it's been ages since she's seen him, more a result of his avoiding her, she thinks, than anything else.
She wants to believe he welcomes her company, thanks her for pulling him out of the muck, but she's not sure – he hasn't been the most talkative and keeps to himself. It must be awkward, she thinks, based on what he was and what the crew is but that still doesn't allow for lack of etiquette, or politeness.
She's also unsure of why she's seeking him out, when she remembers barely tolerating his existence prior. Loneliness, fear, a dozen ideas come to mind but it's also curiosity she can barely contain.
He's leaning against the deck, looking out at sea when she finds him. She supposes he'll notice her when she stands beside him, waiting silently, but when he doesn't –
He is not the man she remembers. The coat, once meticulously maintained, is dirty and torn, hanging from shoulders that seem broader, stiffer than before (if that is even possible). She had never seen his hair beneath the wig or the hat, never knew it was that dark, never saw him without smooth, polished cheeks – never saw him when he didn't look every bit the proper officer.
She tries not to think that this is only one side of him she would have seen had things turned out differently but it's impossible, between his comments earlier and the way he doesn't look at her.
"I cannot possibly imagine why you're here," he says. His voice lacks the calm precision of old, sounding uneven and hoarse, unlike how she remembered him.
"I just – I wanted someone to talk to. Someone I know," she tells him, leaning forward on the rail. He continues looking out to sea.
"You and I don't know each other, Elizabeth," he says softly. "I don't think we ever did."
"Of course we do," she protests. "You've known me since I was a child." The words sound hollow and empty, drifting out to the night sky.
He turns to look at her, and it's the same eyes she remembers, same mouth drawn in a familiar tight line. "What could we possibly talk about?" he asks. "Pirates? The sea? Will Turner?" He shakes his head sadly. "None of those topics are appealing at the moment."
"Fine," she says, shaking her head angrily. "I just thought you'd want some company." She's caught off-guard by the biting nature of his comments. He used to be so polite – but then, she expects, losing everything and ending up in pig squalor on Tortuga could make someone lose all manners.
"On the contrary," he says, pushing off the rail and walking away, "I've become quite used to being alone."
She does not rise to the bait, is not sure what could come of it if she did. She chooses to storm off, angry at him and the night sky and Will and probably even God and when she reaches her room, she realizes that he is right, and they don't know each other at all.
He works hard with the rest of the crew, scrubbing the deck and hoisting sails. He's good at everything, she realizes and of course he would be – he was, at one point, an officer in the Navy.
This does not seem to surprise anyone else, so she wonders why it shocks her so. Perhaps it's because she's only seen him in uniform, ordering sailors around. Perhaps it's because he's never done these things in front of her. Perhaps it's because she's never paid this much attention to him before.
She helps, as best she can, but she's too busy watching him to really get much done. At mealtime he sits quietly and eats slowly, staring at the table with a great deal of concentration. She watches him then, too, and after dinner when they return to their posts she's startled to feel him whisper, "Is there something the matter?" in her ear.
"Nothing," she responds, and he crosses in front of her.
"Nothing wrong with my hair, or teeth?" he asks, running his finger through the curls, smiling a perfect smile and rubbing his thumb and forefinger against his beard.
"No," she says, startled by this apparently lack of propriety from someone who seemed to be the very figure of it.
"Good. Wanted to make sure I don't look too funny – can't think of another reason why you keep looking at me." His smile is cocky and self-assured, but it doesn't reach his eyes.
They're green, she realizes suddenly. All the time she's known him and she only learns this now.
She finds him once again looking out to sea, watching the last rays of the sun dance across the waves. They're two days away from whatever island the compass has directed them to, and she can't rest with all that's going through her mind. Neither, it seems, can he, though she does not ask what he's thinking – she does not want to know.
She's brought a bottle of rum, a peace offering stolen from Jack's cabin earlier today. Holding it out awkwardly, she hopes he accepts it.
He takes a swig, wiping his mouth off with his sleeve and says, "I never really liked rum until I landed in Tortuga."
She frowns. "Really? Never before?"
"No." He turns towards her, facing her as he speaks. "The officers managed to obtain things like brandy and wine and other, finer drinks that weren't considered vile and loathsome and degrading to the human spirit," he tells her. "Never really wanted it until Tortuga."
"We all wondered where you were," she says, taking a sip of the liquid and feeling it burn a trail down her throat.
"I was wallowing in self-pity," he says. "I wanted to be as far from Port Royal as I could be."
She says nothing, hands him back the bottle and watches as he takes another drink. She follows the line of his neck, illuminated in the moonlight and watches his throat bob as he swallows.
There is silence between them as her thoughts run free and her mouth becomes unhinged.
"You're right," she says. "We don't really know each other."
His jaw tightens and he nods. "It was not for lack of trying, on my part. I didn't realize until too late I was fighting against insurmountable odds."
"What are you talking about?" she asks, confused. "I was always polite to you."
"I never called your manners into question, Elizabeth," he says. "You were and still remain the very image of a fine woman."
"Then what are you trying to say, James?" she asks, feeling her jaw tighten in anger.
"Only that I shouldn't have tried to win your affections," he says, looking her in the eye and she's caught, for a second, between wondering what emotion is flickering over his face and if he really meant what he said.
"Really? I didn't know I was that deplorable," she says, feeling wounded by his words but he shakes his head, smiling.
"I didn't mean that as an indictment against you. You really need to stop thinking I'm so horrible. I'm just saying," he turns to look out to the night sky, trailing off, "I've never failed at something before then and I went ahead, knowing – "
"Knowing what?" she asks.
"Knowing that I would never be what you wanted, Elizabeth."
"I'm sorry, James," she tells him but he smiles, genuinely this time and takes another drink of rum.
"No matter. I wouldn't have made you happy being all prissy and proper," he pauses, eyes taking on a funny glint, "though since I'm now covered in – "
She hits him, and he catches her arm.
"I'm sorry," he says. "That was a bit too much."
"It's closer to the truth than you think," she says. "Though Jack's right – you smell funny."
He laughs and she laughs and it's like something, hovering over them, has been dispatched, the Ghosts of the Past and Lost Opportunity and What Might Have Been.
They stay in companionable silence, the bottle of rum passing between them. He is silent and contemplative, but her head is spinning. His words trigger remembrances not only of what Jack has been saying the moment she's stepped onboard, but what she's been thinking ever since that moment when she chose her own course for once. She's always been proud of that moment, defying convention and expectation for what she truly wanted, but she's never actually thought about repercussions of her actions until now, or question what she wanted.
By the time they finish the bottle, they are leaning against each other for support or maybe warmth, as the breeze is quite cool but that might just be the rum. The rum is also making her head spin and her body feel warm where it presses against his.
"You look tired," he says, taking the bottle away and throwing it into the ocean then, carefully, turning her in the direction of her cabin. He walks her towards it, albeit shakily and when she stops at the door there's something, some words hovering on his lips which he chokes back as he turns to leave. She starts to call out after him, feeling she should say something but she can't think of what to say and watches him leave, a solitary figure retreating into the mist.
When she was younger, and when it became obvious that he wanted to court her, she would sit during her lessons and think about how i awkward /i it would be to marry him. She could not imagine sharing a house let alone a bed with a man so stiff and proper, so utterly flawless and cold that she feared she would freeze upon the slightest touch. It would be a domestic farce, and terribly boring, to be married to one such as James.
Now, alone in her cabin, she wonders idly if he would be the sort to kiss a woman softly or would he try to possess her, body and soul? She cannot imagine him greedy but the thought of him – the man he is now, human and warm to the touch – does not push the thought of him taking and taking from her mind. So odd, that she thinks about this now with the drink coursing through her veins but she cannot help it and when she sighs into the darkness, his name is on her lips.
She has been drunk and now she suffers the repercussions: the sun is too hot, the sea too cruel, her stomach too rebellious.
He gives her hardtack, tells her to sit and wait it in the shade while the rest of them toil on the sun-bleached deck. He smiles when she acquiesces without a fight.
She watches the line of his lean figure as he helps with the ropes and sails and wonders, again, why she never considered any of this before.
There is talking, and then there are his lips against hers. They are much softer than she expected, salty from the sea and bitter from the rum and warm to the touch.
Kissing James is not like kissing Will, which she expected but didn't; she hadn't really kissed anyone before Will so this is new and not unwelcome. Lips are different, pressure is different, hands against hips are different. And when he pulls away, startled, the look is different.
"I – " he starts, then stops, gathering his words and mental fortitude which she wants to damn to hell right now. "I'm sorry."
"Why?" she asks, frustrated and leaning back against the door. They are in an alcove, far away from the others and with one roll of the ship she falls against him suddenly and found herself comfortably in his arms.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I just – I always wanted to do that." He smiles a bit nervously, again not reaching his eyes, and she smiles too.
"I don't mind," she says simply, leaning forward to kiss him once more. He responses again, and fingers are traveling up and down bodies. He brushes past her breast, earning him a moan and so he does it again, bolder, more confident and she's shivering under his touch. And again, he pulls away.
He studies her. "You will regret this."
"Not as much as I regret other things," she says back and is surprised how honest she is. Regret that she never tried to know him well enough, regret that she thought so harshly of him now that she finally knows him. She does not regret what might happen when she kisses him again.
He presses her back against the door, one hand on her hip and the other gently touching her face (she is surprised of this kindness – they have had a lot to drink). For her part, she can't help but slide her fingers under the tattered vest and shirt, seeking and finding smooth skin. He stiffens at the contact before kissing her with more fervor, pressing against her harder and she can feel all of him.
It makes her blush and press back.
He lifts her, groans as her legs encircle his hips, groans as she fumbles with the fastenings of his breeches, laughs as he fumbles with her own.
"I've never had to deal with breeches before…" he says, and she kisses him, not because she wants him to stop talking but because she does not want him to stop kissing.
She doesn't say she's never, either, because she knows one thing about him and that's the fact he's virtuous among all other things and would never risk her honor. She should feel something about this loss but when she touches him, feels him shudder against her, feels herself shudder when he touches her, she wants and she can't stop.
It hurts, at first, and she bites his lip as he eases in slowly, bracing one hand on the wall behind her, the other sliding down her hip, down between them and that feels very nice.
He moans into her hair, she moans into his shoulder as they rock together, half their own momentum and the rest the boat's and he finishes before her but lets her catch up until she is clawing at his jacket and gasping into his mouth.
Neither of them say anything the next day, existing instead in companionable silence (he teases her when she says something ridiculous and she hits him in reply) and there are no more nights, just rowing out to an island with sand and dunes and Will, returning triumphant.
She watches his retreating back when he runs with the chest, wondering once more if she knows him any better now, and feeling that perhaps she does, and perhaps she doesn't.