A/N: One shot for those who were indignant and upset over Norrington. And I know you all were.
He sees her a great deal before he'd expected to, and for a long moment they stand there, mouths agape and eyes wide as they try to take in the fact of their presence: his, hers, here. Then she's in his arms with characteristic disregard for propriety, and he's grateful for it, breathing in her hair, because if she hadn't moved first he would have felt compelled to ask.
"How are you here?" comes muffled against his shoulder and he feels safe enough, with her hair half covering his face, to smile.
"Now that, Miss Swann, is a very long story. Perhaps— if you don't mind—" He puts her gently away, fingers grasping her narrow shoulders, and peers into her face, searching out years. He finds them. He falters, saddened. "I did not expect— to see you here so soon. Please. Tell me that time has gotten away from me."
Elizabeth smiles and Elizabeth laughs.
"Time escapes us all, I'm afraid. D'you know, I can remember when I was but a girl, coming over from England, and I called it a boat and you oh-so-very-gently corrected me? 'I think you'll find the correct term is ship, Miss Swann,' you said, and you smiled a horrible prim smile that said you were not at your ease with children." She looks directly into his eyes. "I remember all that. Tell me there was a real smile somewhere, behind it all. Tell me, James."
He drops his hands, and a few seconds later, his gaze. "I wish I could, but I cannot remember. Time is not the only thing that has gotten away from me. And it has not left the deepest mark."
"As far as I can see, its left no mark at all," she retorts, and strides like a young girl still over to the railing, which she leans against, backwards, elbows up and hands out, facing him. "Tell me, James. Tell me how you got here."
"Do you know what I do remember," he says, and she can't be sure if its in response to her request, "I do remember you. First a blacksmith. Then the pirate. Although you said the blacksmith was a pirate. He wasn't though. He really really wasn't. Do you know what he is?" He peers at her and she makes no answer. "A pilot!" he says, and erupts into laughter. Something she hasn't heard from him in years. (Once, at a party, and she was fourteen and just learning to dance and even clumsier than the tall man across from her. Oh, he'd laughed.) Something she's a little disturbed at now. She walks to him and takes his hand, soothing him, quieting him.
He drags in breath. He stills himself. He speaks.
"For what?" Softly.
"For lying to you. Over so many things. And that—" He pauses. "You had to see me die."
She brings his hand up very slowly, and presses it to her lips.
He looks at her suddenly, almost desperate for her to know and understand. "I was caught in the middle, you see. Davy Jones was not fulfilling his commission, he wasn't overseeing the movement of souls to their final place. And I was dead then. And I couldn't put it off. I remember someone calling my name."
"Me," says Elizabeth, to his hand.
"And I was alone in a boat with a lantern that gave no light."
"No," says Elizabeth, to his hand.
"And I did not know where I was going," says Norrington softly. Elizabeth closes her eyes, draws his hand to her cheek. She wants him to be frustrated, indignant, angry, blustering about the incompetence of the arrangement. She doesn't want him to be lost. And he so clearly is.
"And so," he says, swallowing and returning his gaze to her, "when the Flying Dutchman came for me, I could not expect the worst, as the worst had already happened. Instead I found your blacksmith. He offered me a choice." He glances around then, and back at her. "I suppose you can see what I decided, Miss Swann. Only— well, no, it isn't by now, is it? Mrs. Turner."
She smiles against his palm, turns her head this way and that, and her skin felt warmer, smoother, than it had before.
"Wife and mother," she says.
"And what of the pirate?"
"He became a blacksmith," she tells him, and makes a face at him. She is indeed looking more youthful, more like she had when he'd known her in life. Herself. Elizabeth.
"I've no doubt he met with no good end," he says staunchly.
"As far as I know, he's met with no end at all. To my knowledge," she says. "Jack goes on as ever Jack must."
"He left you behind at the last, then."
"And the first. And the second. Jack's always leaving people behind, sauntering away." She sighs. "And just when you think you've done the final double-cross, he finds another corner to cut, another cutlass to break, another island to be marooned on and miraculously rescued from." Her eyes are dark and weary. "They all leave me behind, in the end."
He watches her.
"Is it your time?"
She frowns, slightly. "I was not," she says deliberately, "keeping track. Tell me, James, has your captain returned yet?"
"Returned?" he says with some surprise. "He's only just left."
She drops his hand, she bows her head.
"Oh," he says, helplessly, and since he can't make himself reach for her, he keeps his hands at his sides, twitchy, watchful, and ready. "Oh, Elizabeth, I— I'm sorry."
"He'll find me there," she says, and her voice is again muffled. "I can't fade away. And then he'll come back and he'll have to find me here. Oh James. On the last day."
He does reach for her then, and she lets him hold and comfort her for a moment before she looks up. Steps away.
"Why didn't you follow me, James? You told me you would."
"There was no time," he says unconvincingly.
"There was. There would have been, if you hadn't stood there and argued. Why didn't you follow me?"
He looks at her. This is, or was, or has been, death, and if there's no truth now there never will be. "I did not look to die, Elizabeth. I have never done anything I did not think right at the time— or perhaps, justifiable in the end. But— live without you? Neither of the others wanted to, no matter whether they denied it. Neither of the others thought they would. Confidence. I alone, Elizabeth. I knew when you were gone, there was no getting you back. Live without you—"
"You would have lived."
He sighs with all the worldiness of the otherworld; all the weight of the universe; all the melancholy of the empty soul.
"I would have lived," he agrees. "But I cannot, now. There's been death, and the dead, and while I have died, I am not dead. What changes? The longer you stay aboard this ship, the more you become part of it."
He hasn't changed at all, but she won't tell him that. Won't give him the satisfaction. She can't feel her skin returning to its youthfulness, and the lightness she feels must be of the spirit and not of the body, for the spirit is all she has left. The sun is approaching the horizon, and soon her captain will return to conduct her carefully on her last journey.
She says, staring at the water, "Who will become king now?"
"Elizabeth," he says, tentatively, "you never stopped ruling."
She had asked him once, when young and small, to tell her a story. He'd been unable to come up with one on the spur of the moment, at least, not with one suitable for the ears of a child. Then she grew up, and with corsets and fashion got a mind of her own; she went in search of others to tell her stories. And she found them, he had to admit; she had a way of drawing storytellers to her. Will, outlining grand schemes and the perfection of love. Jack Sparrow, sketching the dark and twisted and carnal and mortal and immoral and turnips. Barbossa, stringing few words together in the onomatopoeia of the sea. Words of sound and weight and meaning. Words of destiny.
Perhaps it wasn't the story that mattered. Perhaps it was only the voice.
He draws closer to her once more. He thinks, perhaps he can have this. If he's careful. If he's quiet. If he lets no one know.
"At the ending of the world," he begins to tell her, "all destinies at last become one."
She listens as he tells her of the only future she has, eyes weighty on his and gravitous, full of anticipation, reflecting his own yearning gaze. She learns from him her last destination, and the fullness of regret that the journey has been so brief. She accepts his apologies, for everything, even the things he wasn't responsible for. He's taking her burden on his shoulders for one last time.
He's right; its the voice.
She kisses him goodbye this time, and they stand at the railing watching the dark water, hand in hand, and miraculous.