All characters belong to The Walt Disney Company, not me.
Notes: Written for POTC Fest. Prompt: "Norrington/Elizabeth, sublimation." Thank you to Schemingreader for beta-reading.
I GAVE MY LOVE A CHERRY
By Rex Luscus
He'd begun laying it away two years ago, when he'd first realized that the only thing he wanted more than flag rank and unmolested English trade in the Caribbean was for Elizabeth to be his wife. When it grew apparent that there would be no marriage, no family and no point to a house, he was left with a small fortune he didn't know what to do with. So he took his checklist of future projects, closed his eyes and put down his finger.
There was no altruism involved. Half the men who set foot in the tropics died of fever within the first year, doubling the expense of manning any ship in the West Indies, so a replacement for the bit of netting strung between two sticks that served as a hospital in Kingston would actually be an investment. The Admiralty had agreed, the assembly had pitched in, and James's future family home was transformed into a community institution.
Hospitals were horrible places, of course. He was happy to finance one, but not eager to get near it. When he ran into her there, he panicked until he saw that she was quite hale, and then he asked her what in God's name she was doing there.
"They're short-staffed, and I don't have many opportunities to occupy myself and be useful at the same time," she replied.
If I'd known you were going to expose yourself to disease in it, I'd never have built the bloody thing, was the first remark that came to mind. Instead, he said, "Very admirable, Miss Swann," tipped his hat, and escaped. One thing he'd learned was that objecting to her actions only encouraged her.
"Don't you worry about her falling ill?" he said to Governor Swann one afternoon at the fort.
"Of course, but I can hardly stop her," the man sighed.
James repeated the sentiment to Turner, who echoed Swann in blunter terms. "She's not a child, Norrington. And she's not yours to protect anymore. Not that she ever was."
He was fairly certain that if he was to retain Elizabeth as a friend, Turner would be an impediment.
They were right, of course. Worrying about her safety was just one more way of not letting her go. And it irritated him that he'd tried to turn his energy to something else, only for her to insinuate herself there as well. In frustration, he gave his senior captain command of the post and put to sea.
Life ashore and life at sea were so distinct that when James had been in need of profound and immediate forgetfulness before, he'd found it by the second or third day out. Why it wasn't working this time, he didn't know. Possibly because his cabin was saturated with her--hopeful thoughts of her, unfortunately, that now came back in all their foolishness at the sight of the objects he'd been gazing at while having them. A few of those evocative objects were more dangerous than others; the globe in particular he had to avoid. Odd, since he'd never before found anything particularly erotic about globes, and now their voluptuous shape triggered all the longing that at the time had at least borne a hope of being fulfilled.
He took satisfaction in flushing out a nest of ragged buccaneers from the inlets of Andros Island, but it was mitigated by the mighty crack on the head he received in a gale on the way home. For three days, he drifted in and out of something similar to consciousness (not from the blow but the resulting fever, the surgeon said) and one day he opened his eyes in a wide bed that was not rocking. There was netting around him, and an open window over his head was admitting cool air.
"You'll want this," she said, and a small hand behind his neck lifted his head while a glass tipped water into his mouth.
He looked up into her face. "Why can't I ever seem to get away from you?" he rasped.
She smiled. "It's not intentional, I assure you."
He shut his eyes as she lowered him back to the pillow. "That's why it frustrates me."
A wet cloth was laid on his forehead. A bit of water trickled into his ear.
"I know you're not a child," he murmured. "I just worry."
"Shh," she said.
The next day, he asked weakly, "Am I going to die?"
"I don't think so."
Well, then. So he was not to have his high melodrama in which she wept over his body as he faded from this world after all. Instead, a grudging, anticlimactic recovery in which he complained loudly, got on her nerves, and dribbled soup down his front. It was certainly what he deserved. Yet he had to wonder, why did some men get hats with ostrich plumes while he was stuck with mosquito nets and holey nightshirts? He had always cultivated dignity, and yet so often it eluded him. Perhaps he courted it too openly. Didn't the Greeks have a word for that?
The fever wasn't done with him, and more nonsense thoughts came. Sleep brought him a riddle his nurse had sung when he and his sisters were small. How can a maid love her sweetheart without longing? He hadn't cared at the time, small boys not being much interested in love; it was another pointless riddle, like cherries without stones and chickens without bones. But in his delirious half-sleep, it seemed vital he remember the answer. Because it wasn't the love that hurt; it was the longing.
Soon he was back on his feet, in the fort, at his desk, drafting orders and contracts and official reports. Commanding a station meant more respect and responsibility, but a less urgent environment, fewer demands on his attention from moment to moment. This was unacceptable. He needed another project, hopefully one that would serve its purpose this time, and his checklist delivered one that seemed foolproof.
St. Lucia was forever being tossed between England and France like a hot potato, and it was high time somebody claimed the damn thing. The commander of the Leewards agreed, Parliament and the Admiralty approved, and soon a teeny tiny war was underway. James was good at war. He loved the way its chaos resolved into order, in obeisance to his will. But St. Lucia went over without much of a fight. He came away with barely a scratch. No deafening bedlam, no blinding smoke or smell of blood or shock of deferred pain. It was more like a real estate negotiation. Martinique was a big place, it turned out, and the French colonists liked it better there anyway. So much for foolproof.
When he returned to Jamaica, it was all still waiting for him.
Elizabeth wanted to be friends. Perhaps she was feeling a sudden upsurge in sisterly affection, or worse, guilt. He was powerless to resist. Telling war stories in a rich drawing room to an adventure-starved girl who should have been born a boy, he was reminded that this was how Othello had won Desdemona. And look how that had turned out. (They'd had a few good weeks, at least. But you had to be pretty pathetic if you were envying Othello.) His stories, however, didn't transform him into a lover; rather, he was a conduit for the stories. Still, part of him thrilled to see her eager gaze turned on him, regardless of the cause.
It couldn't last. He didn't have that kind of endurance--he who'd waited until the Spaniard had surrendered to faint from loss of blood, who'd stayed afloat for three hours in a storm before his surprised crew hauled him back aboard. In this matter, he was soundly beat, and eventually he had to tell her so.
"I don't understand," she said.
"Really? I'd have thought it was fairly clear."
"I don't know--I guess I never realized that it was me you wanted to marry, and not just the governor's daughter."
Like the pain of a wound in battle, the full impact of those words took a while to sink in. Of all the awful things he'd felt since losing her, the one he'd been spared was regret. She was destined to love that Turner boy; there was nothing he could have done. Now that small comfort was turning inside out. She'd thought him a status-seeker. She hadn't known. He'd never let her know. Perhaps he'd thought it was written all over his face; it had certainly felt that way. But Turner had let her know. Maybe it was just that simple.
He left for sea again. The Admiralty may well have started to look at him slantwise, as often as he relinquished his command. Standing on the quarterdeck during the mid watch, letting his vision go double in the fairy light of the binnacle lamp, he saw that he was repeating it. He'd been capable of one pain-driven confession, and now he was turning away again. Refusing to look it in the face.
As the glow on the compasses made his eyes water, the answers to those riddles suddenly appeared in his mind. A cherry without a stone was a blossom. A chicken without a bone was an egg. Love without longing was love fulfilled.
To think his fevered brain had put so much hope in those answers. They were useless out here at sea, where love would not be fulfilled, and any blossoms had long since turned to fruit. Riddles looked backward, to when the impossible still seemed possible. Their message was, if I'd only known at the time. A meaningless idea. His ship moved on through the dark, and he concluded that he was no longer running away. He was running on, from a choice he had already made; he was following the path that choice had laid out for him.
He went down to his cabin, and this time, when he took out the checklist, he didn't close his eyes. At the top, in big copperplate letters, it said: 'CATCH JACK SPARROW'.
It was the one thing that would not bring him face to face with her again. Once he marched Jack Sparrow up to the block in irons, he would never have to worry about her earnest face pursuing him, or endure her naïve offers of friendship. He would just have to avoid her eyes, because even prepared, he wasn't sure he could stand her look of contempt just yet; and eventually, the feelings would die, like fruit rotting on the limb.
Besides, Sparrow was nothing if not clever. With any luck, it would take a very very long time.