Norrington laid Elizabeth's prone form in his bed and he and Gillette stood awkwardly on one side, looking down at her.
"The cabin's changed a bit," Gillette remarked in a desperate bid for conversation. "It looks like your rooms back in Port Royale." Bookshelves, close to overflowing with various volumes, lined the whitewashed walls, just as they had back in Norrington's old house. There was his old washstand with the porcelain shaving basin and pitcher his sister in England had sent him when he became post-captain, and there was the clothespress, and the desk and chair and a table that had once been in his sitting room.
Even the bed, with its down mattress and its crisp blue hangings, was a familiar staple from happier days before he'd resigned his commission. It was odd and somehow not in the least bit comforting.
"Astute observation, but not at all relevant," Norrington said calmly.
"If I might make a suggestion?" Gillette ventured. "Don't be around when she wakes up."
"I fear it would be worse not to," Norrington replied.
"You've jinxed us," Norrington said, looking at Gillette. He fought to keep his rising alarm and discomfort at bay.
"This is not a promising start to your reign as captain, is it?"
"Will?" Elizabeth asked, propping herself up on one arm. She blinked at them, her hair, that odd shade of light brown once again, falling into her eyes. "Oh, James. I expect Will is busy, isn't he?"
Norrington and Gillette exchanged glances.
"Busy, you say?" Gillette asked. "I suppose one could say that."
Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. "What's happened to Will?"
Gillette hesitated. "It's a long and complicated sort of story."
Norrington could not look at her. "You were preceded by your son, William, who told your husband that you were dead."
"Wha… no!" Elizabeth said wildly. "No, you can't, he didn't… where is Will?"
"We are getting there," Gillette informed her crisply.
"Captain Turner," Norrington went on, lifting his head, "was distraught. Since we ferry the souls of those who die at sea, we would know if you had, in fact, died at sea. Since you didn't appear, Captain Turner thought it unlikely that he would see you again while on The Flying Dutchman and thus forced me… "
And then no one could hear anything because Elizabeth started screaming. She flew at Norrington, frenzied, and managed to get in a few good blows that caused Norrington to entirely forget his reservations over fighting a woman.
"Gillette, we left the chest on deck. Do secure it. I give it to your keeping." Norrington seized her wrists as Elizabeth kneed him in the stomach and tried to bring his elbows down on his head.
"Yes sir!" Gillette shouted, running out the door and locking it behind him.
Norrington kept his grip on Elizabeth's wrists and kept her from hitting him in the head. She tried to twist out and, as the ship swayed beneath them, Norrington pinned her down to the bed, holding her wrists and pinioning her body with his.
"Now," he said irritably, "if you are quite finished Mrs. Turner?"
"No," she replied, letting loose a string of curses that Norrington had to respect for their creativity.
"I do not think that that is anatomically possible but I shall, in all things, do my best to obey," Norrington said. "Calm down and let me explain."
"What is there to explain?" she snarled, trying to twist out from under him and failing miserably. "You killed Will, you… "
"That is quite enough," Norrington said, holding her wrists in one hand and clamping the other over her mouth. "I gave him my word of honor that I would help him in any way he saw fit." He felt his jaw muscles tighten, his expression become set, stony, cold. "And he ordered me to take over the ship. I did so."
Elizabeth bit his hand and Norrington drew back a fraction of an inch- but enough for Elizabeth to try and push herself out again and to start the fight over again. Norrington couldn't tell what she could possibly hope to gain by this, but managed again to pin her to a table before she grabbed his sword.
Elizabeth swore at him.
"Do contain yourself." Norrington glared down at her. "Do you honestly think I could willingly do anything that I knew would hurt you?" Then, voice lower: "I thought you were dead as well. I never thought I would feel anything again."
"And what do you feel now?" Elizabeth asked, with a valiant effort against crying. "Tell me James. Honestly."
"Irritation, first off," he muttered, before continuing in a louder tone, "Pity. Slight pain. Guilt. Sorrow. Anger."
"Love?" How could she look so young still? How could she still look up at him and make him long for her so desperately?
Norrington met her eyes. "I thought you understood that that was an unspoken constant."
Elizabeth looked at him wordlessly and then arched up to kiss him.
"I'm still not letting you run free on deck to go after Gillette," Norrington murmured, a bit breathlessly, when she was done. "Nor am I handing over the key to the chest at any conceivable point in time- now or in the future."
Elizabeth let her head fall back onto the wood of the table with a thunk. "Damn."
"Why so dead set to kill me?"
"Rather to be free." She scowled up at him. "I want to go with Will."
Norrington released her. "You can try."
And so she did that night, when they dropped anchor again on the shore that didn't show up on the maps.
"I can't get off," Elizabeth said, panicked, fighting to get down the gangplank.
"I don't think you can," Bootstrap said, from his corner. He hadn't moved since Will had left. The ship had shifted to accommodate him. "I can never see my boy or my grandson again."
"And what about me?" she demanded, whirling on Norrington, almost in tears.
Norrington looked down. "You said that you were afraid of dying, Mrs. Turner."
"You said that you were afraid of dying, Captain Turner. The standard service is a hundred years at the minimum. My guess if that, since you failed to specify, the ship will decide for you."
Elizabeth looked like she was going to cry.
"Use my quarters," Norrington hissed, bending down so that the crew couldn't hear. "They're closest." And so she did, causing Norrington to stay out of the cabin for several hours.
Later that night, after a few more trips between worlds, Gillette forced Norrington to retire for the rest of the evening or rather, what little there was left of it. Elizabeth sat in the middle of his bed, clutching her knees to her chest. Her face was puffy and red from crying but Norrington thought that he'd never seen anyone so beautiful.
"Did you know," Elizabeth said slowly, "that I traded Calypso a year off of my life for a potion that would give me back my youth and beauty? For Will. So that… so that we could start again." She looked down. "It was… a few days ago. I wanted to live another five years, to see Will one last time, but… it turned out that I didn't have that sort of time. Calypso came and said that I had a year at most, so I… I suppose it doesn't matter. The year wouldn't've done anything at all." Then, with a bizarre sort of giggle as Norrington calmly put his hat and wig on their stands and meticulously folded his coat: "I only slept with him the first three times. I only spent three days with him altogether, and the last two days we stopped so he could spend time with his children." She began giggling and had to stuff her fist in her mouth to keep from laughing. "I never thought that I'd ever say that. I never thought….." and then the giggles dissolved into tears and Norrington held out the handkerchief in his breast pocket.
"Thank you," Elizabeth said, blowing her nose, though she didn't stop sobbing.
"Is there… is there anything I can do?" he asked, sitting down beside her.
And he did. And then stroked her hair instinctively and she clung to him and fell asleep on his shoulder as he sat against the backboard. And it was deeply, deeply, deeply awkward but somehow extremely pleasant.
He made Elizabeth the pilot, since Bootstrap clearly could not do his duty and no one could get him out of the corner, nor wanted to get him out of the corner for the mandatory lashing at his inability to perform his duties. Every night she waited until Norrington retired for the evening and curled up beside him- for comfort, Norrington expected, and, as a result, he never went farther than stroking her hair. A few times she kissed him, then thought better of it and went to sleep, which was somewhat of a blow to Norrington's ego, but, he thought, ultimately for the best. The officers and sailors said nothing to him about Elizabeth. He had gained their respect long ago and most everyone, at that point, knew how desperately he loved her and how careful he was never to push anyone beyond their capabilities.
Only Gillette ventured something.
As they stood together on the brig one night, Gillette said, "Would you like me to give Elizabeth the chest?"
Norrington glanced over at Elizabeth, bent over her charts and wished, with an irrational stab of longing, that she could love him in return. "No."
"You love her, do you not?"
Tybalt the cat jumped up onto the railing and Norrington petted him absently. "More than life. But I don't trust her. Almost every time we met she…."
"Double crossed you? Used you? Handed you your test-"
"Yes, yes, Gillette, you've made your point." Norrington scratched Tybalt on the head, making him purr.
Gillette looked at him sideways. "And are you happy?"
Norrington considered this a moment and lied. "Yes."
The next day he paced up and down the deck as they sailed between worlds, missing Will Turner who, at least, could fence with him. Gillette was not fond of fencing and much preferred verbal battles of wit; they were much less risky, he was much better at them, and he was much less likely to be disgraced in front of the crew on so personal a field.
Tybalt determinedly stalked Norrington's heels, his tail as straight as Norrington's posture.
"What are you doing?" Bootstrap asked, stirred momentarily out of apathy. When Norrington, lost in thought, failed to reply, Bootstrap tacked on a, "sir?"
"Walking," Norrington replied.
"Crawling from place to place is rather undignified, wouldn't you agree?"
"Aye aye, sir."
"I am glad you still see reason, Mr. Turner. It almost restores my faith in the human race, though, as you are an ex- member, I am afraid that such a showing has not improved my thoughts on those unfortunate souls still living." He nearly tripped over Tybalt at a turn and scowled down at the cat. "If you keep doing that, I will revoke your name. You'll become a meddler with a suspicious past and then you'll assume a supercilious aspect and no one will play with you. Take that… Iago. No- that villain Don John from the comedy, for you certainly make much ado over nothing, you overgrown-"
"Are you talking to the cat, sir?" inquired a midshipman, coming up to him. The midshipman was a young, goggle-eyed lad, scarcely old enough to have been put onboard a ship, who had cried at the thought of death and who, more often than not, would sit off in a corner with Tybalt when not on duty.
"Yes?" Norrington snapped, distinctly ruffled at being caught revoking the cat's name privileges. "What is it, Mr. Bradley?" He knew the answer before it was given, with an instinctive pull at his memory to look up and scan the rigging. "The Dutchman's lagging a bit. Port a little and bring her against the wind. Send up a few hands to sheet home the mizzen topsail."
The midshipman gaped at him in astonishment.
"It means 'unfurl the biggest cloth-like thing in the middle of the ship on the biggest wooden pole'. Are you following, Mr. Bradley, or did you need further clarification? The cloth-like thing is very square and white and a wooden pole looks like the most prominent part of a rude hand gesture."
" Aye aye, sir. Just… how did you know?"
"Part of the crew, part of the ship," Bootstrap muttered, sinking back into the shadows. "Separate yourself from it and everything goes wrong."
"I do know the parts of a ship Mr. Bradley," Norrington replied dryly, ignoring Bootstrap. He had a horrible flash of memory of the last time Bootstrap Bill had informed him of the fact. Norrington had gotten stabbed through the chest with a large hunk of wood, which had been one of the most unpleasant experiences of his life and afterlife.
It was a very undignified way to go.
"I am surprised that none of the other officers could have enlightened you. It seems we shall have to have a few vocabulary lessons. It is a wonder that we have not all died a second time when no one knows what a 'sail' is." Norrington pressed his lips together, willing himself not to take his temper out on an innocent midshipman who would never grow up. "What is a sail, Mr. Bradley?"
"The big white, square, cloth thing," Mr. Bradley said obediently.
Norrington flashed a smile made himself ruffle Bradley's hair in an affectionate sort of manner and remembered, with a flare of memory yet more painful, of doing the same thing to Will Turner's son that first day on shore, when the smallest Turner had learned how to knock the sword out of an opponent's hand. He suddenly could not speak, but Mr. Bradley smiled brilliantly at this show of approval.
'Another puppy,' Norrington thought, half- dispirited, half- hopeful.
"Well sir, er, I was going to ask one of the officers, sir, but Lieutenant Turner, sir, she and Lieutenant Gillette are sort of … of dueling with words, sir, and the other officers are starting a betting pool that third lieutenant Gordon started… "
"Thank you, Mr. Bradley. That will be all."
Bradley saluted, wreathed in smiles, and scurried off to convey the orders. Norrington felt a curious sense of loss at his company and wondered, a bit absently, why it had taken him almost a century to be even vaguely comfortable with children. It was a bit late to realize that he wished he had had children. Of course, to have children, he had to have a wife, first. Any other option appalled his sense of honor and decency.
His thoughts circled back to Elizabeth again (with Commodore Turner, lying in his own blood, constantly before his eyes, whispering, in a voice breaking from strain and exhaustion and blood loss, that he had pretended to be his, Norrington's son) and he plunged right back into abstraction and bitterness.
Norrington sighed and leaned against the railing. Focus on the problems at hand.
To whit, Gillette and Elizabeth did not get on at all and were causing problems among the crew and with the ship itself. If he went up to intervene, they would insist that nothing had happened and treat each other with icy indifference. The sarcasm on the forecastle would terrify both passengers and lower officers alike and Norrington would grow so angry with himself he would refuse to sleep for days and work until his undead body threatened to die on him again.
The wind changed slightly and Norrington willed himself into stoic stillness. At last, he said, "Do forgive my seeming ingratitude for your intervention, madam, but I did so think that I had had a second chance with Elizabeth already."
"Not entirely," said Calypso.
Norrington did not turn to look at her, though he could feel the damp salt spray on the back of his coat, could feel it increase as she drew closer. "Will you let her go? Or at least let Will back on?"
"Y'have no need to pressgang de old captain back on," Calypso informed him. Her skirts smacked against his stockinged calves in a reproach.
Muttered: "For my own personal sanity, yes."
"Y'talking to de sea, James Norrington. What part of dat is sane?"
Norrington found himself in agreement, though he did not quite wish to admit it.
"Y've moved off de edge of de map. Y've moved beyond sanity."
Norrington tapped his fingers against the railing, the only outlet he would allow himself for the tense, nervous energy building up between his shoulder blades. "It seems unnecessarily cruel to continue to separate them."
Calypso's grin was wicked. "No one ever said dat de sea wasn't cruel."
"You know, you really are taking out your bitterness over your failed relationship with Jones on others. Seems something of an error to mix one's private and personal life."
"You are, wid your second chances."
"You are the one dispensing those chances, madam."
"And can take dem away."
"Aye aye, madam," Norrington replied, with a salute to keep the bitterness at bay. "What is your will?"
"I whan you to decide in dis matter. What your heart say?"
"I have no idea," Norrington said, honestly. "It's locked up in a chest somewhere belowdeck."
"What does y'head say, and what are y'thinking of doing regardless?" She knew him far too well. The sea had seeped into him, almost replaced his blood. Calypso knew him as she knew the unexplorable caves at the bottom of the ocean, knew him as Gillette knew his wines, knewNorrington as he knewhis swordand how to wield it.
"Well, madam, the logical thing would be for Elizabeth to leave the ship. She cannot even pretend to get along with my first lieutenant, who has been my first lieutenant for nearly sixty years, off and on, and has been my best friend for yet longer. We would both die again before being separated. Elizabeth herself wishes to leave. She wants to see her husband, who is no less eager to see her, judging by his hasty exit from his duties. Since- since there is this very bizarre bond that defies all logic between the Captain of the ship and the ship itself, I could try to manipulate it to allow her off-"
"Not widdout my express approval. And I express no approval. You and de ship are close, but I am de sea, and all ships must obey me."
Norrington turned to look over the railing and faced the actual sea. He was utterly trapped. He had spent a life governed by the sea, in its variable nature, with its calms and its tempests. He had pledged his afterlife to the same force. "Have I no other options, madam?"
"Interpret me as y' wish, James Norrington. I know tings y'cannot know, I do tings y'll never understand. I have a logic dat y'cannot follow." Her smile, half- pleased, half-dangerous, reminded him of sandbanks unexpectedly popping up in clear water, of sudden squalls in clear afternoons. One could not confine a force of nature.
"Do forgive me, madam, for wishing her to be happy," he said, as stiffly and formally as he could make it sound.
"And y've staked y'happiness on dat." It was an unequivocal truth. He had a miserable 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' situation circling him. They had always circled him. Norrington could not be happy with Elizabeth this miserable and potentially homicidal, yet the idea of her and Turner spending the rest of eternity together was equal death to his abortive attempts at happiness. He had to base his happiness in people- he had to, though it hurt him so irreparably, though he was so bad at it, though it almost never resulted in that spark of joy that set him alight and made him incandescent with sheer joie de vivre. Norrington did not know how to do anything else. He was happy when he saved people, when he was thanked, when he was loved, when he was commended. The chief joy of action, of risking his life, of fighting so hard and with so little thought to himself was the idea that he would be serving others and earning their respect.
Calypso looked oddly kind as she walked over to him, balancing easily against the bobbing of the ship. "Put y'happiness in something dat cannot be taken from you. I give you dis advice James Norrington- do not look outside y'self."
"I dislike myself too much to look inside," Norrington replied, biting down on his bewilderment and hiding behind his sarcasm. "Besides which, madam, it is a little difficult to fix human anatomy so that my eyes can look inside my body instead of outside. I have no idea what goes on inside now, either, since I have no heart, which, doubtless, causes innumerable complications in my inner parts. I imagine my death must have significantly rearranged them as well, since, when one has a block of wood driven through one's torso, some organs are bound to shift during said process. No- I think I should prefer to remained unenlightened."
She pressed her hands over his heart, the seawater soaking through his brocade. It was familiar and alien, like swimming after a long stretch of time, like scrambling up the rigging like a midshipman as a captain. "Peace."
He stood at stiff attention and warred internally. After a moment he got past his ever-ready sarcasm and reserve and gritted out, "Then, madam, please tell me something I can understand."
"Take joy in action and in de constant. Reward is uncertain."
Norrington could not think of a polite way to express his sentiments on such advice but still managed to restrain himself to a heavy- handed, "That was supremely helpful, madam. I just cannot tell you how much more I understand as a result! Really, just… amazing fulfillment of my second request to you in my entire afterlife. Such graciousness and condescension."
"Interpret me as y'like," she whispered, her voice the sound of breakers on the sand. Calypso dissolved into seafoam and saltwater, soaking him utterly and splashing Tybalt in the process.
"Why does this always happen?" Norrington growled, taking off his boot and pouring its contents into the ocean. A hiss alerted him of his bad aim. "My apologies, Tybalt. See? I've given you your name back. If reward is not certain, consolation prizes are, damn it."
He borrowed the handkerchief off of a seaman and dried off Tybalt in a cursory fashion before handing the cat off to the delighted midshipman Bradley, bellowing the crew into a few drills, and then bellowing more when they did not do the drills right. When he had sufficiently rid himself of his foul temper and terrified the crew into astonishing efficiency and efficacy, he walked back to his rooms with all the dignity he possessed while creating new rivers on the deck.
Calypso had unknown depths, most of which his brocade had ineptly absorbed.
Elizabeth, apparently having finished her quarrel with Gillette, sat on his bed and looked up at him as he came in. Norrington took off his hat out of respect, and dumped a full pint of seawater onto the floor. When he pressed it to his chest out of embarrassment, it made a strange squelching noise and caused a miniature waterfall.
The silence was deep and very awkward.
"I'm planning on bathing, Captain Turner," he said.
"As is apparent."
"I assumed so. It would, perhaps, be best if you absented yourself."
"I've been married," Elizabeth replied pointedly.
"Not to me, madam. I would prefer it if you absented yourself." If only for his own sake. Norrington walked behind the screen hiding the tub and looked out from behind it at Elizabeth. "At least have the decency to turn around, Captain Turner. Not everyone cares to flaunt propriety."
Elizabeth huffily did so as, with a pop, The Flying Dutchman made a new room around the tub and filled the tub with hot water. Norrington uneasily patted the side of the ship. "Er, thanks."
After bathing, he changed into a clean shirt and breeches, adjusting the linen cuffs on his sleeves as he walked out of the room.
"Don't you have a valet?" Elizabeth asked, facing him. She had, as he rather expected, but wished otherwise,ignored his request entirely and made herself very comfortable on the bed.
"No, I do not," Norrington replied, buttoning the collar of his shirt. "I have never felt the need of one."
"Or a ship's steward?"
"Oddly enough, the ship itself has always seen to my needs."
"Who brought me clothes then?" Elizabeth tapped a trunk at the foot of the bed and looked up at him curiously.
"If not Gillette, then I assume the ship did. It… changes to respond to the needs of the captain and the crew." He ran a hand through his untidy, wet queue of brown hair and sat on the bed beside her. "It is an odd adjustment to make, but the Dutchman is a good ship- supremely helpful and capable in all respects. I could not have imagined a better flag ship." The timbers creaked in what Norrington interpreted as pleasure.
He surely was going mad.
"Here, let me," Elizabeth offered, apparently in a domestic mood. She pushed his hand away from his hair and picked up a brush on the bedside table. She knelt behind him, gently brushing his hair out. Norrington closed his eyes. It was a strangely soothing experience. "You know, I've been thinking… "
"I know. But I did hit on a question I can't answer. Why is it you still love me?"
Norrington could not answer and wished he would never have to. The rawness in his throat surprised, him; the bitter, sorrowful taste in his mouth still choked him when he choked back his feelings. Any reasons he had once had, which had once been as sharp and clear and set and defined as the Articles of War, had long since festered like an old wound and crusted over in hideous scars that blocked out everything but the feeling of pain and slight revulsion at the thought of their cause.
"It's been fifty-six years since I first rejected you and still you…."
Hastily, bitterly: "I've always had something of a masochistic streak."
"You love me to punish yourself?"
"No, but it did work out that way very neatly, did it not? I can no longer explain why, Elizabeth." Still bitterly, though his eyes were still closed and Elizabeth still threaded her fingers through his hair: "Be satisfied that I do and I suffer daily for it. Does that help at all in the face of your lost husband?"
"I never thought 'til death do us part' would apply," Elizabeth said absently, before she pulled painfully on his queue and kissed him.
Norrington did not protest as she clung to him and kissed him almost painfully, as if trying to leave herself and meld into him. He did, however, draw back, as instinctively as a man would draw back from an open flame when she turned him around and began sliding out of her shirt.
"I doubt you want this to go so far, Mrs. Turner."
"James Norrington," Elizabeth said, pulling her shirt off entirely and revealing that she did not, in fact, wear a corset, "You are an honorable idiot and for some reason I can't help but like you."
"Ah," Norrington said, unsure of how to respond.
"Don't you want this?"
"I thought that much was obvious." Look up, focus on her face….
"Then shut up and kiss me." Then, roughly, when Norrington looked at her skeptically, remembering the continual pain of rejection: "Will is dead and ever since you died I've been plagued with dreams of who I might have been, what I might have been, where I might have been if I had stayed with you. My eldest son told me nearly every day that he wished you were his father." She turned away from him and hugged her chest, looking so helplessly young, so alone and wounded that Norrington nearly thought that Elizabeth could love him. The hope suddenly flooded him, blinded him in blazing bursts of cannon fire and he had to clutch his hands together hard enough to make the knuckles white to keep from reaching out to her.
Elizabeth sounded almost bitter. "He would have been better off, wouldn't he?" Her voice trembled. "Would I? I need to see… I need to see if there is anything more than Will for me." With a half-hopeless look: "Will's gone and I won't… there is a very real possibility that I'll never see him again. I've spent so much time wishing for him, being in love with him, I don't suppose I ever really lived except when he was away. Now he's... away forever, most likely, since I don't know how long I'm to serve…." She blinked back tears and Norrington wrapped his arms around her and kissed her, losing himself in her sun-streaked, unbound hair, her warmth, her softness. And she clung to him like a drowning sailor to a rock and all was summer-sweet and strangely bitter, like cut mangos in sea water.
When they were finished, they lay tangled together and Norrington clutched Elizabeth tightly, half- terrified that she would vanish like the morning mist.
"You're not at all like Will," she murmured, pulling the sheets over them and wrapping her arms around his chest. It was comforting, lying skin to skin, pressed so tightly against someone that neither could immediately tell where the other ended and they began.
Norrington nearly laughed. "I'm not sure if I should entirely like to hear this comparison."
Elizabeth grinned broadly. "James Norrington, I do believe that I made you laugh. I'm not entirely sure how I managed this Herculean task. Have you ever laughed in your life?"
"Not in recent memory."
She rested her head on his chest then, her hair spilling out over them like another blanket. Norrington, out of habit, stroked it and let it slide through his fingers like sand.
"I think I could come to love you," she said, closing her eyes. "You're nothing like Will, but I could come to love you." Norrington suddenly couldn't move or breathe and Elizabeth didn't look at him as he fisted a hand in her hair and tried to see if she was real or not.
"What a cruel man you are," Elizabeth said into his chest, "asking me to answer questions you can't." And then she kissed him again and Norrington felt that he would gladly condemn himself to hell if she could keep kissing him, if he could indulge his vain hopes and pretend that she loved him back. She tasted of temptation and though he knew he could regret it, though he knew each time he reached out past the boundaries he had set for himself he would only hurt more, he kissed her back and lost himself in her until she slept and he laid beside her, sleepless. Then he quietly dressed and walked out of the cabin.
He walked up to the top deck and stood at the railing, ignoring Tybalt's friendly overtures. Gillette, on duty, walked over and raised an eyebrow. "You appear to have dressed yourself somewhat distractedly, James. I don't think I've ever seen you look like that except when you became a post- captain and Groves and I took you out to celebrate at that… "
Norrington shot him an annoyed look. "Don't compare the two situations."
Gillette stood next to him and tapped the wooden banister. "I don't like her."
"I hadn't noticed," Norrington replied dryly, pulling a ribbon from his breeches pocket and making some attempt at tidying his hair.
With a sigh, Gillette leaned against the banister, propping his elbows on the railing. "I speak as a friend. I've known you ever since we were young, stupid midshipmen and you got your first black eye defending a half- French whelp who hadn't yet learned that his father's wine would win him popularity. You, oh scarily studious one, used to help me with my sums and I used to help you with your languages."
"I like mathematics," Norrington protested. "It's always logical."
"Unlike you when it comes to one Elizabeth Turner." Gillette looked strange and severe in the splashed pools of yellow light from the lamps.
"Haven't you ever been in love, Gillette?"
"Multiple times, and gotten tricked by more women than I should like to remember. Granted, there were times when I was deliriously happy because of some woman or other, but none of them were Elizabeth Turner. You, on the other hand, have fallen in love precisely once and refused to get over it." Norrington could not say anything in reply and Gillette set his jaw. "There are two ways this could end, James. If you're very lucky, she might someday, some way, fall in love with you- maybe as much as you love her, but I highly doubt it. Even if she does love you back as completely, I don't know if you could handle all the happiness. You have never been good at handling overabundances of emotion. Then we come to the second, the most likely and most logical conclusion. She will continue to act as she always has and use you and metaphorically, if not literally, kick you in the groin. Eventually, your sense of honor will override your sense of judgment and you will ask me to give her the chest and then she will stab your heart and I will be forced to live with the consequences of her goddamned revenge on you." And then, whirling on him, suddenly furious, French accent coming to the fore: "And I will not do zat Jammes! I wheel not! Carving out your 'eart was bad enough and I wheel not do zat again! You cannot ask me to! I zought you would die! No one told me 'ow eet all worked out!"
"I will not," he repeated, mastering himself once more.
"I will never ask you to," Norrington replied, putting a hand on Gillette's shoulder. "I am sorry I had to ask you the first time."
Gillette impulsively hugged him and Norrington awkwardly hugged him back.
"Impetuous Frenchman," Norrington said, making it half- insult and half- endearment.
"Stodgy Brit," Gillette replied roughly, clutching at Norrington's brocade coat.
Then, after a moment: "She did say that she could love me."
"Don't base all your happiness on that," Gillette warned him muffledly. There was the unspoken thought that, as hard as it had been for them to die, it would be much harder to lose your best friend again.
"I won't do that again," Norrington agreed and Gillette let him go, reassured. "I got the same advice from Calypso, though hers was a very mystic sounding 'Look inside yourself' which sounded a bit more like an exploration of human anatomy than human psychology."
Awkwardly: "Yes, but I suppose there is some merit to introspection. After thinking over it, I find that I can be… reasonably content- happy, even- with a task before me to complete. I need some purpose to pursue, some service to perform, some… "
"Noble quest, like Galahad and the Grail Knights?"
Norrington smiled. "Possibly. There hasn't been much call for knights on white horses in quite some time. I can't ride, regardless." He looked out into the darkness, trying to keep himself buoyed up in the present, not to slide down and become buried by his own reflections, drowned by the nagging guilt of his known and unknown failures. "I can be happy with them, if only as penance for my inability to perform other tasks." Then, quieter, heartfelt, gruff: "I … I enjoy your company. I find myself happy with you."
Gillette looked away a bit sheepishly and picked up Tybalt, who, easily contented, began to purr. "And that's it?"
"Would you like me to list things?" Norrington inquired dryly, pulled back from the abyss of his own thoughts. "I'm fond of mangos, I enjoy the company of cats, I like maths, and I take pleasure in reading. Fencing is fulfilling." They walked down the stairs towards Norrington's cabin.
"And Elizabeth?" Gillette asked, with a raised eyebrow.
"I will love her if she lets me," Norrington said.
"And if not?"
"Then I will find happiness elsewhere, and hope she will as well." Norrington felt the corner of his mouth twitch up, in his rarely seen flash of a smile. "Right now, I am happy."
And he was. He felt the flash of time stretch out over long waves of time, and thought, perhaps, that even though he did not deserve Heaven, he might find some contentment in this Purgatory, and as Gillette saluted him and Elizabeth sleepily smiled at him as he walked back into the cabin and Tybalt twined around his ankles, he thought that perhaps, just perhaps he might find some measure of redemption.
"Perhaps," a voice said, and the air suddenly felt damp. Calypso's misty kiss on his forehead was wet and briny and smelled of the ocean, of dawn, of promises.
He felt clean and young and old at once and suddenly, extremely happy at this new baptism, having the benediction of the sea, Elizabeth and Gillette, and a ceaseless quest to bring him absolution.