Disclaimer: The usual, with fries on the side. I don't own anything except my ideas, and I can't sell those without the rights to PotC, so I'll just have to deal with it. xD

Author's Note: Thanks to Tammsla, my beta reader, for... beta reading. And to my pal Fae2135, who izzz amazing. This is my first potc fic, and helpful hints/tips/ reviews are love. AND, I'm finishing this fic this time! For real! xD

Perhaps the most shocking insight was not that he hadn't died by Bootstrap's hand, but that no one else on board seemed to have realized that crucial fact.

There were no cries of 'The Admiral lives!' only hushed proclamations to the contrary; the crew could hardly dare to hope that such a deed had been committed, yet they could evidently not bring themselves to believe otherwise. Why should they? The evidence was clear before them. Lured to the scene by Bootstrap's mad ravings, a number of the men who crewed the Flying Dutchman had seen what they thought to be a murder. The sharpened spar had indeed been plunged into James, splintering on impact so violently that it left no question of the damage it had done. He had toppled against the rail, sinking down in defeat, face mirroring the pain he had to have been experiencing.

Even Davy Jones himself had proclaimed the death, asking the late Admiral the question of whether his very near fatality should be prolonged another century in exchange for his freedom. Bound to the ship for a hundred years. James hadn't answered with words, instead choosing actions to define him, as had been his custom in life. He stabbed Jones and sunk down, breathing no longer. Finding no pulse, the fish-men had dumped him over the rail as meal for the ocean dwellers. He had hardly hit the water before a rousing hurrah broke out among the crew.

But it was all a façade.

His real death had been a slow process, spanning the course of his lifetime. Instead of one set event and time, his downfall had happened slowly. As a tree being felled in the forest, he had been chopped away, a little at a time. Small deeds, little decisions, minute fears and woes, each contributed to his eventual defeat. The first and final axe-strokes had been plunged by Elizabeth Turner.

xxxx

"Take care of her."

And with that, the Governor started up the stairs, leaving James and Elizabeth alone on the deck. Not that they were ever truly alone, with the bustling activity of the sailors all around them, but the men were well-trained, and knew not to bother their beloved Captain and Commodore when he was dealing with more… personal matters.

"Elizabeth." James greeted her passively, holding out his arm. Waiting until she placed her hand on it, he walked forward to the railing that separated them from open waters. "I'm- concerned that your answer 

was perhaps…" his voice faltered. For a moment, he fumbled for words, grasping at straws in a sorry attempt to convey his apprehension to the one woman who could unnerve him with so much as a smile. However forced it might have been. His gaze reallocated wildly, from the horizon to the rail, the rail to the floor. He would have done anything to avoid making eye contact; he would have done anything to avoid this plaguing sense of honour, and to just take her words at face value. "… less than sincere." Finally finding his voice, Norrington forced it from his mouth just as he forced his green eyes to light upon hers of such a rich golden-brown.

Elizabeth Swann froze beneath his sight for a split second. A fraction of time, yet not short enough for her discomfort to escape the keen observation of the Commodore. It was her time to look away now, turning her sights towards the ground as she spoke. "I would not give my word lightly." Her usually melodious voice was monotone, stifled as if reciting a schoolbook lesson.

He cleared his throat, hoping his voice would not crack beneath the weight of emotion. "Yes, I understand," he assured her, removing any doubt that he thought her a liar. He swung his head upwards in an attempt to keep his composure, the action masqueraded as an obliging nod. He took a deep, shaky breath. Though no expert in the matters of love, James knew of her affections to young Turner, and that they were deeply returned. Only now that William had been captured did Elizabeth accept Norrington's proposal, a fact that threw a slightly dubious light on her motives. "But is it so wrong that I should want it given unconditionally?"

Elizabeth tore her gaze from the floor, lifting her chin, failing in her attempt to convince him of her words' truth. "It is not a condition," she muttered softly. "It is a request." The strained smile she had been wearing slipped into solemnity. She did not know, perhaps, that he would have granted her request, whether his was met or not. Silence lapsed, broken only by the sea slapping against the vessel and the creak of the rigging. "Your answer would not change mine."

Beneath his stony exterior, James's heart did a somersault. It pounded in his ears, filling him with futile hope. Only with great difficulty did he manage to continue breathing. For a moment, he gazed upon her as she stared out onto the endless sea of blue. She was truly stunning. As rumpled as she was from her experiences with the pirates, Elizabeth retained a beauty that could not seem to be contained. Her pale skin was kissed with the sun; her hair bleached a gold that cascaded down from her head in waves, rustling lightly with the steady breeze. Her delicate oval face, with full lips, a straight nose, and accented cheekbones revealed little of the ordeals she had faced, instead mirroring a kind of resolution. Even in a cotton slip, she displayed an inbred regality as she broke the silence, turning her head to give him a soft smile.

"You are a… fine man, James," she told him, gazing up into his stolid face.

Involuntarily, Norrington's lips twitched up into a slight smile that refused to vanish, no matter how hard he tried to keep it hidden. The hard lines of his severe face softened, emerald eyes lighting up as his delight fed and grew, even as Elizabeth's face sobered. With great difficulty, James regained his composure, squaring his shoulders and nodding curtly in true naval style. "Well," he said, feeling like a fish out of water as he gulped in air enough to speak. "Very well," he repeated with a sense of finality, as if somehow her words sealed the pact between them. He was unable to keep up with his pretence of staidness for long.

Abandoning the formalities of his station for just a brief moment, he turned to face Elizabeth. Voice fraught with emotion, he whispered, "Excellent." And it was. He forced himself not to notice that her smile reflected none of the elation he felt.

xxxx

The water pressed in around him, filling his lungs and displacing the air that had previously occupied the great cavity in his chest. Bubbles streamed from his open mouth, and he lolled listlessly beneath the waves, eyes glassy and vacant as he struggled to peer through the murky darkness. It was silent; oppressively so, except for the rush of the sea in his ears, and the muffled crashes of cannon fire from above. The shadows of the two great ships blotted out any light, casting James into pitch blackness as they sailed above him, their keels and hulls only meters from crashing into him.

Seconds passed, stretching out into long, agonizing minutes of loneliness and apathy. The waters caused him to drift where they willed, pulling him along, shoving him in a continual downward spiral. He could have tried to swim, but his limbs were leaden. He should have attempted some drastic action, made some attempt to escape, but his mind was numb. Just like the rest of him. The moonlight pierced the waters, streaming down in fantastic rays that succumbed to the darkness before they reached the ocean's floor, but lit up the surface region brilliantly. The particles of sand and tiny creatures glittered like stars in the light, but such a serene vision only brought a harsher, more terrible pang of guilt and loss.

His hat floated somewhere on the surface, his heavy brocaded coat weighing him down, counteracting the buoyancy of the wooden spar through his stomach that would have sent him bobbing to the surface. James was suspended in time, in space, now venerable to the moon's revealing truths. Turning his head away, he squeezed his vibrant green-grey eyes shut against the picture of the light dancing across his skin, unable to look at himself. He knew why death would not take him, even now, when he deserved nothing but to perish, and he regretted it.

He regretted it all.

xxxx

The night was tranquil. The gorgeous, silver light of the moon only halted by the occasional illuminated cloud that whipped across the inky sky, sending deep shadows flitting across the glittering surface of the water. He stared at the mesmerizing dance of light and darkness, face unreadable, as if carved out of stone. Since childhood, the sea had enslaved Commodore Norrington, captivated him with her unpredictability, her danger, her serenity, and her beauty that never deserted her, no matter what her mood.Her mood was almost playful now as the waves licked at the side of his ship, whispering sweet nothings into the ears of the sailors serving aboard it.

The cool breeze chilled the sweat beading beneath the fabric of his white blouse, whisking it from his pale skin and mixing his musk with that of the salty ocean. Abaft of the main mast, his jacket and waistcoat folded neatly beside the towering post that loomed above him. His sword was in his right hand, fingers delicately gripping the hilt with an ease that hinted at his expert skill as he swung it through the air, testing its feel. Beautifully made, the weapon had been gift from the governor, fashioned by the hands of the man against whom Norrington now contested for the love of Elizabeth Swann.

Ironic to no end, it was however one of the best blades that James had ever come into contact with, and he would therefore continue to use it despite his satirical musings. Its edge was keen, the hilt perfectly balanced. Not only practical, it was fair to look at, inlaid with gold and bound with gleaming leather. It sang as he thrust forward and parried invisible foes, his motions automatic, fluid, and technically sound. Each movement driven by a purpose, not a single step out of place or wasted. It was a ritual James followed as often as he could. Familiar to his crewmen, they gave the space and time he needed, only occasionally stopping to watch him with a solemn pride.

His heart roared in his ears even as he stopped, sheathing his weapon at his side and bending down to pluck his uniform from the deck. He breathed steadily, regulating the amount of air that flowed into his lungs, anxious to refuel his body after a vigorous workout. After wiping his forehead with his sleeve, an automatic habit James had never quite rid himself of, he slipped back into the formalities of his station with the same ease he used when shrugging on his jacket. The dancing light in his eyes cooled to a smoldering intensity, and he let out a heavy sigh.

He felt eyes on his back, and he turned around, tugging his vest straight and doing up the buttons. Swinging his head upwards, he stared through the darkness, voice caught in his throat. It was Elizabeth. He felt suddenly exposed, hoping that the sudden flush in his skin would be attributed to his exertion, rather than his discomfort beneath her contemplative gaze. He cleared his throat, coaxing his voice to full functionality. He wished to inquire of how long she had been standing there, but instead turned his attention on her needs. "What may I do for you, Miss Swann?" he queried, careful to keep his tone level, betraying nothing of his self-conscious feelings.

She smiled nervously at him and stepped out from the shadow of the mast, her pale skin glowing in the liquid silver of the moonlight."I-" she paused, suddenly frowning. She seemed to have forgotten the purpose for which she had approached him, but after a moment of internal reflection, continued the statement she had broken off. "I wanted to say thank you, for sending me these clothes." She plucked at the marine's jacket that hung off her delicate frame, tilting her head slightly as she gazed at him from a distance.

"I regret, Miss Swann that I was not better prepared for you." He had not thought to carry a dress on board in case he actually did manage to rescue her. "Though I appreciate your gratitude." The commodore inclined his head to her, his throat suddenly dry and scratchy. He cleared his throat, unable to keep his eyes off of her. Even bedecked in the red uniform of a marine, she still took his breath away. He had striven to find a proper fit for her among his contingent of men, a difficult task, but had managed to come fairly close to her size. Though the sleeves hung past her gentle hands, the white tips of her fingers managed to peek past the cuffs. The jacket, blouse, and breeches were simply a touch too large. But they were dry, at least, and warm.

"No, Commodore, don't apologize," she countered, pausing a moment. "You've done so much… for everyone. For me." She took a step closer, peering up into his face with a minute smile, seemingly torn between conflicting emotions.

"Miss Swann, it's really no trouble," he said hastily, uneasy at her proximity to him. "And please, call me James."

"James." She whispered the name quietly, as if testing it out for the first time. Though she had said it before, there was now a weight behind it. It seemed to mean something, flowing from her lips. "Yes, I suppose I will," she decided aloud, "but only if you call me Elizabeth."

"You drive a steep bargain," James conceded, managing to return her smile, if only just, "but I assent… Elizabeth."

xxxx

He hadn't stopped saying her name since.

His mouth formed it silently, intoning the blessed word 'Elizabeth' like a mantra as he remained suspended in the eternal limbo between death and life. Never truly dead, never truly alive… never satisfied. Immortality was a great joke. He had known it from the first, but had intentionally blinded himself to the fact. Without death, there seemed to be no life. He was suspended in nothingness, his depravity now more literal by the void of water around him.

Cauterizing his heart against the wounds, he had only managed to stop the bleeding by searing it, scarring it, killing it. It was nothing more than a useless organ, now, not even moving, for it was not blood and oxygen that kept him alive. It was his mistakes that prolonged his agony. James had never been ignorant, but he had been foolish. He had been a bloody idiot, a slave to all of the vices he had hunted in the form of pirates. Disillusioned, distraught… there was no excuse for his behaviour, and now he was forced to face the consequences.

James finally moved, his long fingers lacing around the spar of wood that jutted through his stomach. He tugged, straining against its friction to liberate it. His muscles did not ache, his arms never tiring until they had succeeded in their quest. The wood drifted away, floating upwards and disappearing. Norrington shed his jacket, the heavy material sinking down into darkness in a flash of gold and navy. He 

tore at his wig, wrenching it from his head and pushing it away. It remained floating beside him for some time, leering.

He could shed his station. He could remove the past. But he couldn't escape who he was. He had built up incredible defences, towering walls and battlements to keep the inevitable pain away from his tender heart. But his good intentions had turned on him, and his walls were now a prison. Just as nothing could enter, none of his emotions were able to escape, until starved and withered within him. After so long in solitude, he was no long able to remember how it felt to laugh, or cry, and the powerful sensations of the outside world were terrors to him.

He wanted freedom, but was too afraid to take the next step towards it.

He had always been afraid.

xxxx

Of all the emotions James felt, he was most determined to ignore the gripping terror that pierced his heart. His face reflected only determination as he hastily surveyed the carnage around him, leaping onto the deck. The enemy that had invaded his ship was not of this earth. Walking skeletons, tattered rags only half covering their garish bones slaughtered his men, immune to the death that the blades should have delivered. They were spectres that had marched out from the mouth of hell, demonic and cruel. But they were still pirates.

James could deal with pirates.

He cocked his pistol and aimed. The weapon sparked, and recoiled beneath the terrific crack of the exploding gunpowder, sending a ball hurtling through the air to bury itself in the nearest skeleton's head. Not that such a wound kept it down, but the creature was distracted long enough for one of James's men to sever its head from its body. Unfortunately, it was still living, writhing around and thrashing aimlessly. It was kicked off the side.

"Cut at the limbs and the head, men!" James ordered, now whipping out his sword and plunging into the fray. The deck was slippery with blood oozing from the corpses of naval men, but he splashed through the puddles of crimson, delivering his own swift justice to the murderers who now tried to decimate his ranks. He cleaved limb from torso, ruthlessly stomping on the flailing limbs once they toppled to the floor. Adrenaline raced through his veins, searing him with an acidic mix of elation and revulsion at his triumph over his foes. The threat to his life sent chills cascading down his back like a waterfall. Each step he took displayed the confidence he brought to his swordplay.

Still, they would not die.

James bested them at every step, yet they continued to come. The crewmembers around him were not faring nearly as well against the immortal fiends, and by now the cries of the wounded and dying were nearly louder than the clang of metal on metal. Sweat was beginning to bead on his forehead, slipping out from beneath this wig and stinging his eyes. He was fit, but those he fought were untiring. Unflagging. Unwavering. Until the dull rasp of sword on bone turned into something quite different.

A wet, sickening sound greeted James's ears, and he wrenched his blade from the suddenly human pirate, staring at the bloodied blade with a mix of curiosity and relief. He swallowed hard, and watched as his enemy fell at his feet, the first of the pirate blood mingling with that of the navymen. Seeing their fellow fall, the attackers surrendered. He fixed his stern look back on his face, anger and victory in his gaze as he lifted his sword to the sky. "The ship is ours."

xxxx

When James was pulled up onto the ship, he noted with no small degree of irony that it belonged to the East India Trading Company. They were disillusioned and in a rather frantic state, and for a few minutes, Norrington hadn't even been sure that they would pick him up. But they had, and he was grateful for the break in swimming. Thankfully, they asked few questions, not bothering to question their new arrival lest it interrupt their flight.

Playing the part of a man who had been stranded in the sea for some time was no challenge. It wasn't difficult to pretend that his lungs were weakened from gulping down so much water, or that his limbs were leaden with exhaustion. He had seen it far too many times, and had come close to truly drowning on numerous occasions. Like reliving a memory, James slipped fluidly into the role, experienced from his years as a commanding officer at putting on a rather convincing façade.

It was unsurprising that none of the men recognized him. They had probably served under many officers in their day, and this particular ship may never have actually seen the face of the Admiral they obeyed. Shivering, moaning, and coughing, without uniform or any indicator of his rank, James probably not have been recognized by anyone but his closest compatriots, and most of them were dead. After two days of remaining silently in the hammock he was given, the time seemed right to venture out.

Haggard, pale, with closely cropped brown hair and borrowed clothes too big for him, he didn't cut a very impressive figure. He didn't want to cut an impressive figure, and it was only because the captain of the ship was an honourable man that he answered James's questions at all. It turned out that the armada of the EITC had dissolved, fleeing with their tails between their legs like so many whipped curs. The combined might of the Pearl and the Dutchman had destroyed the Endeavour, and with its flagship gone, the fleet Cutler had painstakingly raised abandoned their quest.

Before he had been dropped off at the port of Kingstown, Norrington had gathered just one last bit of information: Jones was no longer in station, instead, William Turner.

He felt for Elizabeth. Unable to be with the one she loved.

James understood first-hand how very much such a blow would hurt.

xxxx

Everything about him hurt.

Not just his aching muscles, or the inflamed gash that stung across his ribs, but his very existence brought him agony at every front. He stared blankly down at the list of names before him, holding the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger and kneading it mercilessly to try to dispel the headache the plagued him. His temples throbbed. Barely able to focus on the words through the involuntary tears that sprang to his reddened eyes, Norrington sighed heavily. So many casualties.

Many of them were men he had served with for months, or even years, others just boys that had no business dying so young. He stared up into the cloudless sky, feeling exposed beneath the silvery light of the moon. Though the fighting was over, there was still much to be done. Lined up in neat rows along the deck, the bodies of the fallen were being sewn up into sacks of sailcloth by haggard members of the crew who were still fit for duty after the battle. Other men were cleaning, covered in grim up to their elbows as the scrubbed away at the bloody decks. The prisoners had been led to the brig already, and their terrific yells echoed hollowly about the bowels of the ship.

James's duties were nearly endless, and he doubted that he'd get much sleep in the days to come. He had to write letters to the families of the men who'd died beneath his command, but he didn't know if his hands would be steady enough to even begin such a monumental task. Now that the threat of the pirates was over, he would go ashore to the island to retrieve Mr. Turner and Mr. Sparrow as he had promised Elizabeth. Now that the threat was over, he would certainly fulfill his promise.

"Lieutenant Gillette," Norrington called, rising from his seat on an overturned barrel to get the attention of his fellow officer.

The man halted in his tracks and saluted, awaiting orders.

"Would you kindly inform Miss Swann that she may freely roam around the ship with no further cause for worry, and that I will be returning with Mr. Turner within the hour."

"Aye, sir."

Folding the paper that documented the names and ranks of the deceased, and tucking it away neatly in a pocket hidden in the inside lining of his uniform jacket, James made his way to where a rowboat and a handful of marines were waiting for his orders. He stepped into the boat, and was just about to give the command to lower it into the water when Gillette stormed back onto the deck, waving his arms and shouting rather inarticulately.

Apparently, Elizabeth was no longer in the room.

Norrington sighed heavily, torn between great amusement and frustration that his future wife would disobey such direct orders that were only given for her safety. He opted for amusement, but only internally. Her fiery spirit was, after all, one of the reasons he was so enamoured with her. Turning with a solemn face to one of the men beside him, Norrington offered the marine a tiny smile.

"You've been relieved from your duty, soldier. We are rather in need of the extra space, it seems." The man responded with a salute and climbed from the boat. "Williams," remembering the name, Norrington addressed him directly, "please send a second boat after us. I believe it may be advantageous. You never know what one may find in a pirate's lair, after all." This time the man's face split into a grin, and he nodded, catching James's drift. "That will be all, thank-you." And the tiny rowboat hit the water with a quiet splash.

The journey to the island was made in silence, the morose air that had hovered over the ship following its commander. Despite the small levity he had offered to the marine, Williams, he was in no way forgetful of the great loss his crew had suffered. It had been a victory, but there was no victory without bloodshed, and it had been at a great price. He saw the men sitting around him the boat were quite pleased to be alive, even a little bit glad to be off the ship and away from the lifeless bodies lying on the deck, and he didn't blame them. He wouldn't have stopped them if they felt like talking, or laughing, or even joking. The worst was over, and they had cause to be glad.

But instead, they seemed to notice his solemn air, and strove to adhere to the standards he set by his silence. They rowed their boat through the cave, along the stream that was littered with gold and into the rather large harbour that rested in the middle of the hoard of pirate treasure. Even James was momentarily stunned by the sheer number of the valuables that were piled everywhere, but duty soon overtook awe, and he sprang from the boat with his men at his side to slap Jack Sparrow in irons, collect Elizabeth and the blacksmith and bring them all back to the Dauntless.

It was rather a sober affair. A long search of the premises were conducted, and when James was absolutely sure there were no more pirates hanging about- no more live ones, in any case- he and his men gathered up some of the loot and began to load it into the second boat. In addition to the initial amount, he took enough to give to the families of the deceased. As if gold could be any recompense for the lives of the brave young men who had fallen. But it was a start, at least. Enough to get them through the tough times now that the primary bread-winners were unable to provide.

James's men filed in and out of the cave carrying armfuls of the treasure, but their journey soon became one directional, leaving him alone in the cave. The corpse of Barbossa lay nearby, a constant sentry, as if guarding the treasure he had earned even in death. James felt a sting of jealousy that he would never see the man hang, but a dead Barbossa was better than a live one, no matter how he died. It seemed that hell would have a difficult time spitting him out a second time.

Bathed in the stream of pale moonlight, the chest of cursed Aztec gold seemed all the more ominous, a testament to the cruelties of the pirates who had used it for their own selfish gain. Keeping Barbossa's crew from justice, from death, the gold had been James's greatest enemy, and he hated it. But he didn't dare leave it. For it someone else found it… he didn't even want to think about the consequences.

The sun was creeping up over the edge of the horizon when Norrington finally made his way back to his ship, locking the chest of coins in his cabin for safe keeping until he could otherwise dispose of them.

xxxx

It was daytime, now. It had been daytime thrice already. His journey to the small island had taken that long. Though he moved constantly, his arms and legs never once faltering in their continuous struggle against the water, he had been far from it, and dearly without a ship. And he hadn't wanted anyone to follow him. Sodden, he pulled himself upwards, his long fingers seeking the cracks in the rock face as he fearlessly scaled the fantastic cliff. The beach dwindled into a tiny strip of golden sand below him, miniature palm trees blowing in the wind. Already he was hundreds of feet high, but he pressed on. He soared skywards, like the rest of his life should have.

Norrington had always possessed potential. He was the centre of high expectations, a pillar that supported the enormous and sometimes ridiculous dreams that others had for him. He thrived beneath the pressure of his rank and station, excelling in his command. But instead of being satisfied with what he had done, his 'potential' only ever increased, until he was somewhat less of a man and somewhat more a god. People looked up to him as if he were flawless. Whether they liked him or not, they saw him as an ideal rather than a person, and the line he walked became thinner and thinner. If he fell from his pinnacle, he wouldn't only bring himself down, but the dreams that other people had latched to him. Believed by some to be almost perfect, it was simply a greater disappointment when he proved them wrong.

Burdened down by years of heightened prospects, when James finally had given way, it had been a messy affair. It wasn't a clean break, but a splintering, shattering fall that demolished everything he had ever stood for. His morals had crumbled beneath him, just as the rock beneath his fingers now gave way 

under his weight. He had fallen as hard and fast as he now fell. Spread eagle on the beach in a depression of his own making, James reflected bitterly that it hadn't hurt at all. It was hard to hurt a dead man.

xxxx

Though he outwardly appeared as he always did, immaculate and stern, James felt dead inside.

He cursed himself for entertaining false hopes, for dreaming that Elizabeth would chose him over the Turner boy when the time came. He had known it was too good to be true, that she loved the blacksmith, but he had blinded himself to the fact at her insistence and his own fear of rejection. But she had shown her true colours, and the image of her lips locked against William's haunted him. The fault was his. He had done too little too late to prove to her that his affections were genuine. By that time, another had won her heart.

He cursed himself for not putting a stop to his foolish attempts at love before they had surfaced, for not asking for another post somewhere far from Port Royal the moment he had found himself attracted to the fiery governor's daughter. For not doing anything to either halt or forward adoration's advance, until it had taken its own course and left him alone. But he hadn't, and however hard he fought to ignore his pain, it consumed him. However hard he struggled to distance himself from the chest of Aztec gold, it too consumed him.

He had been meaning to obliterate it. Each hour he had looked at it, he had meant to destroy it. Those cursed coins were evil, a threat to the citizens of the British –or really any- empire. Men would always try to reap the benefits of evil, twist it and attempt to harness it for their own gain, and James didn't feel like giving his enemy such an advantage. So he was to destroy them… except that there was something beautiful about the way they shone in the light of the setting sun. Something… entrancing about the web they threw around his mind, reeling his thoughts to dwell on them.

Promises. Promises of immortality and glory, but most tempting of all, numbness. Blessed relief from the pains and pleasures of life. Nothing to distract him, nothing to take away from his duty, his job. Glittering like stars in his grey-green eyes, each of the leering skulls etched in gold seemed almost eager to be drafted into service. But he didn't dare take them. Or did he? Standing upon a barren strip of land with no witnesses around, it seemed a very real, intriguing prospect.

Tired of being hurt and used, of enduring the derision of those who did not share his views on how matters should be handled. He was fed up with stuffy aristocrats who gave their opinion as law, when they knew nothing of justice. He was tired of life. James did not believe in suicide and being neither living nor dead seemed a reasonable alternative. He thought of his morals, of his duty, but most of all of Elizabeth. His morals had got him nowhere, and Elizabeth brought him only agony. What did he have left but to serve? And if so, why not serve to the best of his ability.

Could he not offer more if he reserved nothing –needed nothing- for himself? Better to everyone alive rather than dead, for he knew of no beneficial dead men, there was no reason that he should not invest in extra security. He was compromising his values, he knew. He was setting himself up for destruction, for nothing good could come of his actions. But he was weakened, and he was unwilling to suffer any more on behalf of a woman. So he reached down into the chest, and plucked a solitary coin from its depths.