A/N: Okay, I really did have good intentions of getting this chapter up for the weekend, but...school had other ideas. So...a thousand apologies. I'd promise that it won't happen again, but it probably will. Stupid real life...Anyway, thanks so very much for the reviews! They make me feel all warm and fuzzy and inspired to write. Keep 'em coming! Requests are still open (within reason).
Disclaimer: You know the drill. Not mine. We all worship the Mouse. Etc, etc, etc.
James Norrington had always been a man of action. Whenever he was on shore leave, he was itching to get back to sea, and whenever he was on patrol, he was dreading the return to land. The sea was as much a part of his life as eating or sleeping. As he made his way through the streets of Port Royal, however, he couldn't get home soon enough. Funny how two little words like "I do" could so drastically change a man's life.
The patrol had been unscheduled, and was only performed in response to several reports of trouble in nearby waters and rumoured sightings of the Black Pearl. James had only been married for a week and had still technically been on leave, but as the only commanding officer present at the time, he'd been obliged to lead the journey. The "trouble" had turned out to be nothing but a petty disagreement between two fishing companies, and the sightings had been proven to be merely exaggerated tales, but nonetheless two weeks felt entirely too long to be away from his wife.
He finally reached their modest house and let himself in quietly, not wanting to trouble Steven. As he turned around, however, he found the elderly servant already standing there. "You know, it scares me sometimes how efficient you are," James muttered, relinquishing his hat and coat. "I didn't think you would be expecting me."
"Of course I wasn't," Steven replied crisply as he took care of the items. "But thirty years of serving under first your father and then you has taught me to be prepared for far worse than an unexpected arrival."
"Indeed," James shot back dryly. "Where is-"
"Mrs. Norrington was in the parlor, last I checked."
James silently made his way down the hall, intending to sneak up behind Elizabeth, but stopped short in the doorway to take in the unusual sight. There, standing on a ladder in front of the window, was Elizabeth. She seemed to be struggling with some rather uncooperative drapes, but it was what she was wearing, not what she was doing, that caught his attention. By means unbeknownst to him, she had managed to procure a pair of rather form-fitting trousers (which looked suspiciously like the ones she had worn en route to Isla de Muerta) and a worn-out shirt, and was currently wearing both to work in.
He stood there for several minutes with his mouth half-open, unsure of what to say. Finally, he cleared his throat. "I see you decided to take me up on my offer."
Elizabeth gasped in surprise and attempted to turn around, causing the ladder to wobble underneath her. James only just got there in time to catch her as she lost her footing and fell from her precarious perch. "James!"
"Are you alright?" he asked in concern, still holding her in his arms.
"Yes, I'm fine," she replied breathlessly. "Though I'd much rather be on my own two feet at the moment."
James reluctantly complied, setting her down and straightening his wig. "What on earth possessed you to climb up onto that ladder?"
"What on earth possessed you to sneak up behind me?" she countered.
"I asked first."
Elizabeth huffed stubbornly and began smoothing out her shirt. "I was hanging the drapes," she finally said. "I'm obviously not quite as tall as the window, and so I used a ladder."
"And dare I even ask about your choice of apparel?"
Elizabeth merely shrugged. "I couldn't very well climb up a ladder in a dress," she replied, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "I would have inevitably fallen."
"Somewhat like you did just now?"
"Only because you snuck up on me!"
James resisted the urge to rub away the dull ache that was forming behind his eyes. "Why couldn't Geoffrey hang the drapes?"
"He's busy preparing supper."
"As much as I'd love to see him attempt it, I'm rather fond of the old man and would rather not see him injured," Elizabeth retorted. "Besides, it needed a woman's touch, and before you ask, Estrella is at the market."
Their gazes remained stubbornly locked for several silent minutes before James finally sighed and looked away. "Very well, the point is conceded," he muttered, passing a weary hand over his eyes. "Though I do wish that next time you'd wait for me to come home before you start risking your life."
"It shall be done, O Valiant Protector!" she replied, placing a hand on her forehead in mock-distress.
Not wishing to start another argument, James merely nodded. "I am going upstairs to change out of this uniform," he announced. "We shall continue this discussion over supper, but until then, I'm afraid I must take your leave, milady." Bowing and kissing her hand, he turned and strode out of the room.
"So I take it your trip went well?" Elizabeth asked, breaking the silence as the two ate.
"It did indeed," James replied with a short nod. "And you? Did anything of earth-shattering proportions transpire in my absence?"
Elizabeth pretended to consider for a moment. "Miss Williamson is now engaged to a rather well-to-do gentleman from England, and her mother cannot begin express how proud she is-- though she does seem to manage every time I see her. The Jacksons are moving up to the American colonies to seek their fortune in tobacco farming. Oh, and Miss Lydia Roderick from down the lane would like to know if you could perhaps arrange a meeting between herself and Lieutenant Gillette."
If not for his military training, James very likely would have spit out his drink then and there. "Gillette?" he repeated incredulously.
"Yes, Gillette. Apparently he is, as she put it, 'quite a catch.'"
"Indeed?" he asked dryly, not quite sure what to make of the news. "That's rather…interesting."
They fell back into silence, the only sound to be heard the occasional scraping of utensils against plates. "…I must admit, I expected your trip to last longer, James," Elizabeth finally commented without looking up from her meal. "Don't these conflicts usually take quite some time to resolve?"
"They can," he agreed. "But fortunately, this one turned out to be a mere misunderstanding that was quickly sorted out. We were only in the area for about two days, and that was only as an extra precaution."
"Ah, then I presume that the reports of the Black Pearl were false as well?" she asked mildly. "Or did you encounter her?"
James suppressed a sigh and shook his head. "No, we did not," he replied guardedly. The question had been posed innocently enough, but one look at Elizabeth's eyes told James the motivation behind her words. "I assure you, Mr. Turner and Mr. Sparrow remain quite safe."
"James, that's not what I-"
"Elizabeth," he said quietly, cutting her off. "If this marriage is going to work, we must learn to be honest with each other."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Elizabeth said, forcing a small laugh. "I was merely inquiring-"
"Please don't lie to me, Elizabeth."
"You and I both know what you meant."
"I do not delude myself into thinking that-"
"Damn it, James, let me speak!"
James looked up in surprise, taken aback by his wife's sudden outburst.
"Yes, I was concerned for the well-being of Mr. Turner," Elizabeth began shakily. "As I well should be; I'm perfectly aware of the fate that awaits all pirates. But don't you dare presume that it goes any further than that. We're married now, James. We had the wedding, we exchanged the rings, we said the bloody vows. And one way or another, this is going to work. Good night."
"Good night, James," she repeated, this time more forcefully. Without another word, she stood up and hurried out of the room.
Sighing wearily, James finally gave in to the pounding headache he was getting and rested his head in his hands. He didn't know how long he'd been sitting there staring at the wall when a rough hand on his shoulder drew him out of his thoughts.
"If I may ask, is everything alright, sir?" Steven asked hesitantly.
"Yes, Steven, everything is just wonderful," he muttered sarcastically, finally raising his head. "Have you seen Elizabeth?"
"Last I saw her, she was headed for your bedroom. She seemed terribly distressed about something. Should I go fetch her?"
James shook his head resignedly. "No, that won't be necessary."
Steven nodded and began to leave, but James placed a hand on his arm to stop him.
"Oh, and Steven, you may want to begin preparing the guest bedroom…I suspect I may be in need of it tonight."
A/N: Review...you know you want to