Her skin is so startlingly pale, but he forgets that it has never seen the sun; has always been hidden under layers of silk, and lace, corsets and ribbons. It is only he who touches it now, warming it, his hands reverent upon her.
He knows he is not her sun; that her world does not revolve around him. It is more that she is his; and without her he would wilt and die, having known the warmth of her and been deprived of it.
All his life, he had not thought it preposterous that when he was to marry (and he would marry), it should be a woman who had some inkling of desire to be married to him. He detested the thought of a marriage of convenience; like his own parents; borne out of necessity, and status, a need for heirs. James could not bear to think of a life like that, did not think it ridiculous that a husband and wife should perhaps even, love, each other. Sensibility told him enough that not all love affairs were conducted with the passion of Romeo and Juliet, (although hopefully without the unnecessary deaths at the end, he thought wryly), all he sought for was not a wife of status, but perhaps a woman he could love. One that could love him in return.
But when it came to Elizabeth Swann it seemed, all his superior notions of marriage flew out the window. He knew she did not wish it, that he was a last resort, an act of appeasement for her father. A Commodore was always a good prospect for a governor's daughter. A man who loved her certainly, but not the man she had wanted. The blacksmith had broken her heart, and James would pick up the pieces; trying to fit them together in a way that perhaps would make her love him, but until then was always willing to try.
And so he had taken her hand, quivering and cold, at the altar, ignoring the voice within him that said it was a mistake that he was doing all that he had said he wouldn't. He was to marry this woman who did not wish it, and yet as he looked on those eyes; that full bottom lip, he could not make himself care at his disobedience. He was binding her to him in the most primitive way possible, but this was Elizabeth Swann, and with her, as always he was undone. All he could articulate was that despite everything he loved her; he always had, and he always would.
The first night of their marriage, he had led her to a newly decorated room.
"It is yours," he had murmured, guiding her in and watching her mouth turn up a little at the corners, and glowed to know he had pleased her in even a small way. "Mine is down the hall."
And then he had turned and left her, wanting her to know that he would not take from her what she was not willing to give.
This continued for two weeks; their silences over breakfast becoming evermore sharper, her hands shaking; the sounds of her cutlery on the china the only thing piercing the quiet. He would watch her, and then leave for the docks, wondering if he could bear this charade, hoping that he could.
He had come home late that night, hands smudged with black ink from his letter writing, and she had been sitting on the stairs in the dark. The only light a sole candle placed beside her, precariously close to her skirts.
She has been crying, even in the shadows he can see this. Her face is pale, but the slivers of tears are visible; glistening on her cheeks, and she hastily tries to wipe them with her sleeve so that he does not see.
"You are late this evening." Elizabeth says, gathering herself up, and holding the candle aloft.
He has so many questions to ask, but they are strangled in his throat. "Yes. I had many reports to finish; the docks have been quite busy."
Elizabeth nods, her eyes flickering over his face, brow furrowed. "You work too much, James." He thinks he almost hears the concern in her voice, but does not want to fool himself.
He smiles, or as much of a smile as he can muster. "Then I will go to bed presently." Sidestepping her, he moves languidly up the stairs.
"As shall I." He hears her say, and he turns to bid her goodnight. But she catches his eyes, and gives him an almost secret smile, something he has not seen for her all this week, all these months. "I shall be there momentarily, James."
He is too shocked to say a word.
Elizabeth knocks lightly at the door to his bedchamber, and he finds it odd that she should ask for entrance to a room where she would always be welcome in his eyes.
She sidles through the door, closing it softly behind her, and he takes in her thin white shift, not quite reaching her ankles, her unbound hair. He has managed to remove his coat and shoes in her absence, the rest of the time spent pacing up and down, the floorboards hard under his feet. She looks so frightfully young.
"I thought you were…" her voice trails off, not quite sure how to phrase her statement, so instead she motions vaguely to the bed. He sees her nervousness now, not quite hidden by her confident exterior.
"I… I… um," his voice is a mere croak, "I hadn't… got that far yet."
Before he can say anymore, she crosses the room and stands before him balancing on her tiptoes. He finds himself taking a sharp breath at her proximity, her lithe figure pressed up slightly against him. Slowly she removes his hat (in his surprise he has forgotten to remove it), and then his wig, placing them both on his empty dresser. Then she unties the ribbon at the nape of his neck holding his own dark hair back.
"That's better," she smiles, twisting the black ribbon around the palm of her hand, the one with the scar. "I never did like those wigs."
"You are not the only one," he answers nervously, running his hand through his loose hair, enjoying the feel of the weight off his head.
Elizabeth grabs his free hand, and turns it palm up. "Ink?" she asks, her eyebrows rising quite mischievously. "I would never have thought that you would allow yourself to get so scruffy, James." She is obviously rather pleased with her observation.
He finds himself returning a tight smile. "There is probably a lot you do not know about me, Miss Swann."
He regrets the words as soon as they are out of his mouth, and withdraws his hand, lest he see the hurt look in her eyes.
"You forget, Commodore," (the dropping of his first name does not escape his notice), "that I am Mrs. Norrington now." There is haughtiness to her tone that makes him laugh, reminding him of the Elizabeth he knows, the Elizabeth he loves, and he turns back to her with a small smile. Relieved, he sees she is smiling too, and she sits with a soft thump on the corner of his bed.
"Oh, James," she sighs, "what has happened to us?"
He can tell her exactly what has happened to them. He can trace their story from the moment he saw her as a precocious twelve year old on the sailing from England. He can trace it from the day she turned sixteen and he waltzed with her under the governor's twinkling eye. He can trace it from the day he proposed to her on the parapet and told her she was a fine woman. To the day of their marriage where he tried to ignore that she still loved a blacksmith even though he had broken her heart. He could trace it to this moment where she was sitting in his room, on his bed; his heart beating in his mouth, aching for her.
He wants to tell her all of this; how he married her knowing she did not love him, knowing that she is coming to him tonight only for the need to consummate this thing they call a marriage, and to make sure she does not disappoint him. And god help him, he wants it so badly, but is loathed to take it.
Perhaps she knows his answers, so instead she stands, and comes to him.
"Do not regret this, James. Do not regret marrying me."
He moves to speak, but finds her fingertip on his lips, and freezes.
"You are a good man, James; a fine man. And any woman should be happy to call you their husband," Elizabeth smiles softly, lips parted, and removes her finger satisfied that he will not speak.
"And it is true, in the past, I have been… wounded." She says this words with heavy regret, and he knows that she is thinking of Will, and so he sets his jaw. "But in time, it will be alright. You will see." She takes his hand in her small one, and her skin is unbearably cool. "In time, things will get better."
He hears the unspoken words.
In time, I may love you.
And until then, she is bound to him, and so he will not give up trying.
Her lips are sweet and ripe, and he kisses her, thinking of berries, and apples and orchids. She comes to his chamber every week; one evening out of seven and never on the same night as the week before. He lets her have this control, and he revels in those nights where she knocks on his door (for she still always knocks) and slides between the sheets beside him. Sometimes she is there waiting for him when he returns home from the fort, and sometimes she comes later when he is almost on the verge of sleep. James knows that it is this control that she likes; the knowledge that he demands nothing, and it pleases him to know that she comes anyway.
Their lovemaking is bittersweet, tainted with his suppressed desires, and her lost memories. He touches her with worshipping hands, making sure she knows all pleasure before he takes his. Their rhythms are steady and constant, like waves lapping on the shore, but sometimes he finds himself wishing for a tempest; wishing that a storm would come and push them off balance. He knows that she cannot doubt his love for her; his kisses are soft, and she does whimper under his touch, but he longs for her in such a way that he does not dare show.
Sometimes he is so desperate in his need for her, his hands shake and he wants to take her roughly, have her cry out his name; bite his lip. He wants to feel her fingernails on his arms, or scoring down his back – at least then, his pain would let him know her passion. He wants to know that she needs him; wants him; that he has forced out the memories of William Turner, until there is nothing left but him in her mind, until he is her sun, just like she is his.
But until then, there is something within him; something screaming to get out, begging her to see that he is not the dull boring Commodore, whose only interest is in maps and propriety, duty and tracking down pirates. He wishes Elizabeth could see that he would rather navigate her each and everyday, discovering and not just performing this perfunctory ritual that she has created. It is not that he is ungrateful, far from it. James is, if anything more than grateful that she chooses to give so much of herself to him. And yet at the same time, he is wounded by her thoughts that this is all he requires, that this will sate his desire for her. He has no wish to be a chore, a unspoken request to be satisfied, but every time he feels her cool feet pressed up against his bare legs, he forgets his questions and doubts, and lets her lean into his body.
Every time he knows she loses herself a little bit more.
He brings her things from the docks that he thinks she might like; copies of maps traded off sailors, ribbons and once, a pair of pearl earrings. She thanks him prettily with a resigned smile, and kisses him softly on the cheek.
Their unease has melted into a steady companionship; a façade of a marriage in all ways but the one that matters most to him. Once a week, she still steals away to his bed, pressing her soft hands against the taut muscles of his back. But in the daylight she is often absent; her eyes glazed and vacant. Her haphazard needlepoint sits neglected on her lap, and instead Elizabeth focuses on nothing in particular when she sits out on the balcony facing the sea. He does not like to know what she is thinking on those days.
One day he tells her that he must go away with the Dauntless.
"How long for?"
He wishes perhaps his absence could stir a little more emotion from her than that.
The days are long and hard at sea, and he writes to her most of them, telling her of his duties and men, the weather and how much he misses her. James doubts she will appreciate such sentiments but he expresses them anyway.
He sees her on the dock when the Dauntless finally reaches port. She is a fine silhouette, in her cream silk, her hair shining gold like an angel. He secretly likes that she waves to him wildly, even though it is not proper.
"How have you been?" he asks in the carriage on the way home, the brocade on his cuffs becoming suddenly very interesting.
"Fine," she answers, reaching for his hand and smoothing down his cuff. He feels the weight of her head lolling against his shoulder. "But I'm glad you're back."
James notices the small changes in her first, little things that perhaps would go unnoticed by others. One day she scolds him for placing his hot tea directly on the surface on his new desk, and hands him a saucer. Another she brings him a book of poetry that she thinks he might enjoy, borrowed from her father's library. There are still days in between where she is absent and unreachable to him, but they are becoming further and further apart and he is glad for it.
He buys her a globe so he can show her where he has sailed, and tells her tales of the sights he has seen there. She listens with childlike enthusiasm, and he is careful not to mention pirates, although he knows that she is thinking of them. The next day she brings him flowers from the garden and arranges them in a vase on his desk.
"White," she says cheekily, when he glances up at them. "Like your ridiculous wig."
He still kisses her ardently on the evenings that she comes to him, and more often than not now, she falls asleep in the crook of his arm. One morning, when she thinks he is still asleep, he wakes to find her out of bed and trying on his navy coat, the shoulders too broad, and falling far below her knees. She smiles at him.
"When did you know you wanted to join the navy?" she asks, admiring herself in the looking glass. He does not think he has seen anything more beautiful.
"I just knew," James answers, catching her eyes in the reflection, and they both know he is not talking about the navy anymore.
"Groves is getting married," he tells her one morning over breakfast, "and there will be… a celebration…" He does not quite know how to say it.
"For men only?" she looks up cheekily from her tea. "At the tavern?"
He nods meekly.
"That's alright, James. I trust you."
The look on her face makes his heart soar.
His colleagues have already drunk copious amounts of brandy, and were quite determined to coax their superior into joining them in their inebriated state.
"Come now, Norrington. Your little lady will surely forgive you one night's debauchery?" Gillette asks, waving to the bartender for a fill up.
"It is not Elizabeth I am worried about," James smiles from behind his glass.
"No!" a rough voice says behind him, "after all, she 'as been plucked by a pirate, and a blacksmith; you should be the one scared of her!"
Norrington turns with his hand on the hilt of his sword, to face the culprit, a heavy-set blackguard with more rum than sense, and an amused toothless smile on his face.
"C'mon, Commodore. We all know the only reason ya married her was because no one else would have such soiled goods!" – a chorus of laughter echoed from this man's companions, all dirty, all drunk. "Although, if I were you, I wouldn't mind a piece of that pretty little peach, pirates wench or no!"
James sees white and launches himself at the table, his hand reaching for his sword.
He tastes the coppery tang of blood at the corner of his mouth, and move his head; finding it beating like a thousand naval drums out of time.
Trying to gather his surroundings, he knows he is walking; he is being propped up. He turns and sees Groves on his left, sporting an impressive black eye, and a young lieutenant on his right, a bleeding cut at his hairline.
"Bloody idiot." James hears Gillette's voice but cannot see him. "You nearly killed him, James."
Now he remembers. He had fought like a wild thing, his hands closing around the man's throat, watching his eyes bulge until one of his big nasty friends had punched him in the jaw, and no wonder everything hurt.
He growls low in his throat. "Did I not succeed?" His knuckles are bruised and bloody and his white shirt is torn. Where is his sword?
"Last time we take you out, Commodore." Groves says from next to him, puffing a little with the exertion of having to half drag James down the road. "At least next time, pick on someone with fewer cronies, so we don't have to bail you out."
Next thing he knows he is deposited unceremoniously in his own drawing room, and he hears her come flying down the stairs.
"James!" she is wearing only her dressing gown, but doesn't seem to care even in front of all these officers; and that is what he loves about her. She is on her knees at his side, and he closes his eyes under the soft touch of her hands.
"Estrella! Some hot water and towels, please." Elizabeth orders with such efficiency that he thinks she would make a good commodore herself. He lets his head loll on the back of the chair, the weight of holding it up too much for him.
Leaving his side, Elizabeth turns on the gathered naval audience, standing awkwardly in doorway of the room, none of them knowing where to look, or what to say.
James listens half-heartedly as she berates them, imagining the fiery look in her eyes, the determined set of her jaw. She holds no fear, does this creature of his, this fearsome yet beautiful squall of a woman. He chuckles, amused that Elizabeth sees it fit to scold quite a few ranks of his Majesty's British Navy, but it comes out as a cough. His chest feels amazingly tight, and he can feel a burgeoning bruise erupting on his right shoulder.
"Now, out! You've done enough for my husband for one night, thank you very much!"
Smiling, he thinks how much he likes it when she refers to him as her husband, and then he surrenders to the darkness again.
In his dreams, someone is crying. It is dark, and humid and he can't see anything, but he can hear it still clearly. He groans and tries to move, but find his body is uncooperative; no, not uncooperative, just sore.
"It's okay, James." Her voice is soft and whispered, and he can feel her breath warm against his cheek. "Don't try and move yet."
Tilting his head to the sound of her voice, he opens his eyes and finds Elizabeth in the darkness, curled against his side. She is still wearing her dressing gown, a spot of blood smeared across the creamy collar. His blood?
"I want to move," he answers stubbornly, trying to extract himself from the layers of blankets she has piled atop of him. "Elizabeth, anyone would think I have pneumonia, not a few bruises."
"Actually…" she retorts, pushing him firmly back down onto mountains of pillows she seems to have procured, "you have two broken ribs, a black eye, and probably a more than just a few bruises…"
"But I'm not dead, am I?" he smiles, sitting up a bit and trying to hide a wince.
She tries to smile, but instead she is crying and he doesn't know exactly what he has done, only that she is upset. It hurts him more than all his bruises and aches put together.
He never tells her the reason for his bruises; although it is not for her lack of asking. He feels the truth would hurt her far more, and he does not want her sympathy for gaining these injuries while protecting her honour. Grazed knuckles heal, and ripped shirts mend, but he does not want to reopen any still fresh wounds in her mind of blacksmiths and pirates, of cursed gold.
She does not skirt around him now like she used to, and she is not so preoccupied during the day. If anything, she is by his side more constantly, like Hades to the underworld, guarding over him and his demons. James only needs to move, and she swoops on him, skirts flying, giving him more tea, more parchment (for he still has reports to write even if he cannot participate in active duty), or suggests she reads to him in the evenings by the fire.
Instead of her weekly visiting ritual to his chamber, Elizabeth has taken up permanent residence there. There is evidence of her presence everywhere, from her delicate shawls scattered on chairs, to the two or three tombs of books placed haphazardly on her beside table. The room no longer smells like shoe polish and leather, but of more feminine smells; rose water and lilacs, and James finds he likes it after all this time.
Although he does not reach out to her in the night (for this would be a violation of their unspoken understanding), he wakes often to find her pressed against his side, her leg thrown over his, or hand on his chest. It warms his heart, and yet hardens it at the same time. Perhaps she cares for him, like a child would a wounded bird, but it is not love.
The doctor declares him fit, and James resents him for it. He does not know when being with Elizabeth replaced his desire to return to the duty of king and country, but then he thinks that perhaps it was always that way and he just never knew.
Instead he throws himself back into work with ferocity; making up for his absence, trying to remind himself why he does this. James knows that she has sent his compass awry with her magnetic force, and he is determined to realign it. There is no point setting his coordinates to something that does not wish to be found.
He takes her to a ball, because he knows she likes them, even if he does not. He buys her a new gown, of striking blue silk, and she looks as beautiful as he has ever seen. She dances giddily with everyone, but with James most of all. He likes the way that she smiles at him as if he were the only person in the world, and holds fast to his arm as he spins her. He is not much of a dancer, but finds with her, he soars.
He stumbles across her late one night in his study, long after he thought she had gone to bed. She is on the floor in the middle of the room, wearing only her shift and dressing gown, her feet bare, toes curled. There are papers and atlases strewn everywhere, and her beloved globe is at her side. He watches her in silence from the doorway, enjoying seeing her in this light; undone and relaxed. Every now and again she refers to a large map at her side, tracing the inky lines and coasts under her fingertips. Her mouth moves in silent whispers, echoing the names of these magical places that she will probably never see but can still conjure up with a blink of the eye.
"Where are you going?" he asks, finally breaking her revere, and sitting on the floor next to her.
"Africa," she murmurs, lifting up a parchment for his inspection. "Have you ever been?"
"Only down the coast," he replies. "Not aground."
She smiles at him, running her finger along the marked shoreline.
"Why did you not tell me?"
He is confused. "Tell you?"
"About what happened that night."
Elizabeth says nothing more, only reaches for his hand, her own fingers grazing the knuckles that still bear the scars of that evening he would rather forget.
"What was I to say, Elizabeth? How was I to tell you?"
He is right of course, and she knows it.
"Are you so frightened of me?" Her question is quiet, almost a whisper.
He is, of course. James is terrified of this tiny creature that holds his heart in her hands, whether she knows it or not, and surely she must know it. He has faced cursed pirates, hurricanes, and slave traders with more valour than he possesses in her company.
"You are far too honourable sometimes, James," and he knows she is not talking about that night anymore. Her lips are soft against his neck, her breath warm against his ear. "You should just learn to take what you need. Be a little selfish."
And so he kisses her without pretence and without thought, softly on parted lips. Just once.
"I'm not a doll. You won't break me."
"It's not you I'm afraid of breaking, Elizabeth."
She is wearing that secret smile of hers, the one that he can never quite describe.
"I won't break you, James. Not again. Not anymore."
Her lips are soft, and sweet, and she tastes like mangos although he doesn't know how. James does not expect her to be bold, but she is, her mouth searching, tongue exploring, and he lost. She is pressed up against him, around him, and all he can feel is her.
"I have been cruel in the past, James, and I'm sorry," her mouth whispers against his own. "I was wounded, but you have healed me, and I want this. I want you. You are the only thing I will ever want."
The words are elixir to his ears, and he feels like he is drowning in her; much like he always has, but this time it is better. Infinitely better.
"James," his name on her lips sets him afire, and he pushes her back amongst the parchments, a map of Africa at her back, the Americas at her feet. She is all that is in between and he will discover her anew.
Her hands are quick, and her touch is fleeting, a fresh desperation to her that he has not felt before; but he likes it, and wants it, knows it is for him this time. Her whimpers are insistent, small gasps escaping from the base of her throat, like she cannot catch her breath, and he does not want her to. He wants her to feel this loss of control as acutely as he does; wants her to know what it is like to be frantic and undone. He draws off her dressing gown, still the one with the blood smeared on the collar.
"Why did you never touch me?" she asks, as his tongue moves languidly down her neck, tracing the jutting form of her collarbone.
"I did not know if you would wish it," he answers truthfully, for he can speak nothing but truth to her now.
"But I did, and I do. Because I am yours, and so happy for it."
"I thought your heart was not mine to claim."
"You did not need to claim it; it was given freely."
James smiles, and kisses her awaiting lips, feeling her eager hands. He will discover another Africa tonight.
Two months later he finds her in his room, back to him gazing out the window, eyes following the ocean.
She is crying.
He does not wish to disturb her, but she hears his entrance and turns abruptly; like a startled thief.
"James. I did not hear you come home," Elizabeth says, hastily wiping her tears with the tips of her fingers. She gives a tight smile, and his heart lurches.
"What is the matter?" He has not budged from the doorway, his hand clinging to the frame as if it were the only thing keeping him upright. A wave of nausea creeps into his stomach, the first since his initial sailing all those years ago as a green naval officer.
"James, I…. I…." She seems to have trouble finding the words.
"I am… I am… having a baby, James." The tears threaten to spill again, and his heart tightens. She is unhappy about this.
He says the only thing he can think to say. "I…. I am sorry, Elizabeth."
There is silence apart from the rustle of her skirts as she approaches him, taking his hands in her own, and folding herself into him.
"Don't be silly, James. I'm not."