Title: ice and fire
Spoilers:At World's End
Word Count: 1,047
Summary: Five times Elizabeth thinks that James Norrington is perhaps a fate worth exploring.
Author's Note: Oh, Norribeth. You rock the bittersweetness so incomparably. And, just to avoid confusion, the first section takes place before CotBP (or, well, technically, in the same period of time as the opening scene), the second takes place before CotBP, the third takes place right after the Elizabeth/Norrington deleted scene in CotBP, the fourth takes place in DMC, and the fifth takes place in AWE. Whoo!
When I am with you,
My heart is a frozen pond
Gleaming with agitated torches.
-Amy Lowell, 'Opal'
The night air is wonderfully brisk as Elizabeth steps out onto the deck. She absently pulls her dressing gown closer around her, adventure pulsing in her veins in time to the steady rocking of the ship. After a moment's hesitation, she continues forward so quickly that she doesn't think to look where she's going – which, as it so happens, is right into someone else.
"Lieutenant Norrington," she breathes as she pulls back, startled.
"Miss Swann," he returns evenly, looking down at her. "Unless I was misinformed, I believe you ought to be asleep in your cabin."
"I'm not tired," Elizabeth responds unapologetically.
He doesn't say anything else, though; she must not be in trouble, she decides. After a moment's contemplation, she follows him to the ship's edge, mimicking his big hands by resting her own atop the railing. He glances down at her for a moment, as though bewildered, before returning his gaze to the sea and the darkened horizon beyond it. Elizabeth follows suit.
"I love the sea," she sighs after a moment, not quite meaning to. "It's so . . . big."
She looks up to see him smirking a little. "It is at that."
"That sounded stupid," she amends quickly, wrinkling her nose. "But you know what I mean, don't you?"
For a moment, he remains quiet.
"Yes," he agrees then, sounding almost kind. "I know what you mean."
Perhaps she likes Lieutenant Norrington.
"You hunt pirates, then?" she asks, in an attempt at conversation.
"I suppose I do, yes."
Elizabeth sighs, envious. "It must be terribly exciting."
He chuckles slightly. "It has its moments."
She imagines it for a second – her whole life like this, shaped by the excitement of the sea and the sky and nothing else of certainty, instead of the dreadfully boring existence as the governor's daughter that awaits her in Port Royal.
"I'd like to come with you," she declares aloud.
The Lieutenant seems flustered; his eyes dart to her and away again and he replies, standing straighter, "That will be quite impossible."
"I know," she says, a little surprised; she hadn't meant for him to take her seriously. "I'd just like to."
When she is sixteen, Elizabeth awakens to the disquieting reality that James Norrington is terribly handsome.
He comes to dine and she trips over her words, blushing scarlet – she trains her eyes on her plate but can't keep her mind from rebelling, considering the strong angles of his hands, the low lingering caress of his voice, and oh, his mouth, his mouth. Every word he speaks serves to taunt her; she is furious with herself and with him for doing this to her, for suddenly ceasing to be the same old boring-but-decent Captain Norrington. She yearns for the days when all she wanted from him were the pirate stories he so steadfastly refused to disclose.
She wonders, hating herself for it, what it might be like – she watches him when he is distracted by conversation with her father and imagines being alone with him, the feel of his fingertips tracing her skin. She doesn't consider the marriage bed, an embrace dulled by inevitable captivity. Instead, she closes her eyes and pictures some unending field in broad day, the two of them joined under the relentless sun, the overwhelming sky.
"Your answer would not change mine," she tells him – a lie, but afterwards, she wonders. She knows she is only doing what she must, knows she'd do the same again a thousand times over, but still the guilt comes, swift and heavy, at the memory of the smile that lit his face when she called him a fine man. She wonders what might have happened if she hadn't fallen, if Jack hadn't saved her; would she have accepted his proposal? By default, the prospect horrifies her; the idea of dwindling away, stifled by boredom and propriety, reduced to nothing more than a pretty silent thing hanging off his arm.
Still, she thinks of that smile and cannot entirely believe what she has held for years to be a basic truth – that she could never have been happy with him. Much as she might like to, she suddenly cannot shake the suspicion that he might love her; he glances at her briefly, fondly, from across the deck and suddenly it isn't so easy to believe that it was all business and necessity, a lovely little wife for a man of such high rank. She considers the way his voice falls over the syllables of her name.
If it weren't for Will –
She stops herself.
He is repulsive – a mess – a shadow of the man he once was, and she finds she doesn't know how to react to him, not seeing him this way. He has taken to saying the things that ought to remain unspoken; he looks at her with such sharpness in his gaze that she foolishly thinks she can almost feel it – the shock of it, the sudden piercing shiver. She is undaunted, stands taller, meets his gaze dead on; perhaps a war wages between them, with something darker and meaner at its center than the dance she does with Jack.
To think they might have been husband and wife.
"I did look at you that way once," she tells him, not knowing why, hopelessly bold and maybe a little cruel. "When I was sixteen, I was out of my mind for you. You were too late, that's all."
She makes to move past him and he catches her waist with one of his broad, calloused hands.
"Was I?" The words are quiet, like a lover's; a smirk twists his mouth.
"Don't be stupid," she says, brushing past him (hoping he can't see the way her hands shake).
He kisses her once, only once – desperate and whole and fleeting, leaving room for nothing else in her save for the sudden, aching wish that she'd said yes. She doesn't know whether she wants this for the sake of his salvation or hers.
In the years to come, she often thinks that if given the chance, she would have kissed him again.