The Governor's daughter would be the death of him.
Already he had spied her below decks, examining the cargo, fingering the gunpowder kegs with soft lady-like hands. Her skirts were so wide that she had to bunch them up to fit into the smaller gaps further down by the cannons.
If her father knew she was down here, he would surely not be impressed. But James won't be the one to tell him.
The child turns to him, ringlets bouncing.
"Lieutenant! James!" she exclaims, her eyes lighting up at the sight of him.
"You should not be below decks unaccompanied, Miss Swann. Really you should not be below decks at all. It is not safe for a lady."
He hesitates to call her 'lady', because although she is, no doubt, of the highest breeding and class, swathed in silk and ribbons, she is still only a child. And one in possession of an undeniably unhealthy curiosity for everything she should not be curious about.
She says nothing, but her crestfallen mouth speaks volumes. She glides past him and heads above deck, her layers of skirts rustling with her small steps. He has the feeling she wishes him to know that she disapproves of this infringement of her freedom; unimpressed that it was he, of all men, who issued such a mandate.
James breathes a sigh of relief when they are both above deck, their absence not noted, and their re-emergence even less so. He straightens his coat, and pulls at his cuffs, trying to assemble some sort of outer calm from his inner restlessness.
He knows tomorrow he will find her in the hold again. Or like last week, investigating the brig, with her silk slippers stained and soaked through.
Already he realises that she has marked him out from the other sailors, although he does not know why. She is a charming young thing, quick-witted and smart, a persistent curiosity; a small shadow at his back. She is nothing like him; coiled and tightly bound under stretches of brocade, and a head full of protocol.
She will be the sort of woman, he knows already, for whom cities will crumble, worlds will end, and men will fight and die for. James is almost fearful of it, when he looks in her inquisitive brown eyes. If fate has its way, she is the rock on which a thousand ships will shatter.
"You will lend me those stories tomorrow, won't you, Lieutenant?"
Her whispered question breaks him out of his thoughts, as he notices she has crept, silent as a cat, up by his side.
"Your father would not approve, Miss Swann." He keeps his gaze out to sea, hands firmly behind his back.
The young Elizabeth glances up at him, her smile soft, but the challenge in her eyes.
"Well, I won't be the one to tell him, Lieutenant."
Miss Swann will be the death of him.
The Governor has lost her again. It seems to James that lately the Royal Navy's sole task in this town has been to locate the girl at times like these. At fifteen she should know better, but she resists where she can the strings of propriety tightening around her freedom.
The news never distresses James, as it does the Governor, because he always knows where to look. It is simply exasperating that somehow it falls to him, and not her father. It is he who must try and contain her, even though he knows she longs to be out of her cage.
Not far from the docks, where the land curves away, he always finds her on the beach; a small lone figure on the stretches of dirty white sand.
Even before he speaks she turns to him, as if sensing his presence. Sometimes he sits beside her, but today he doesn't. Instead he stands to attention and stares across the ocean.
"It looks so far," she says, picking up a handful of sand and releasing it slowly through her fingers. "The horizon."
He wants to tell her that it is - that every time you think you can reach out and touch it, it slips from your grasp, and all you can do is watch. The horizon is infinite, but it will never stop men from trying to conquer it, claim it, even though it is not theirs in the first place.
"I wish I could sail," she murmurs, the ribbons in her hair fluttering against the sea breeze, pulling tendrils of hair with them. "If I should choose to do anything, it would be to roam the sea and have adventures." She glances up to seek his approval, but immediately she realises she is confiding in the wrong person.
"The sea is not an adventure, Miss Swann. Particularly of all for a young woman." He does not wish to be harsh, but knows her father fears this kind of talk from her. James cannot help but feel partially responsible, for all those times he has let her into his office to gaze over his charts, or for all the small bound books of sailors stories that he lent her over the years.
"It is beautiful, yes, but wild; unpredictable." James ignores the lump forming in his throat, and furrows his brow.
"Miss Swann, I have lost too many good men to an ocean grave. Strong, brave men who loved the sea. She does not distinguish between the good and the bad, those who love her, and those who don't. All there is, is the lucky and the unlucky."
She turns her face to him, squinting against the sunlight.
"And which are you, Captain?"
"Lucky - so far."
A frown settles between her eyes, and she opens her mouth to speak, but the words seem stuck in her throat.
Miss Elizabeth Swann will be the death of him.
For her sixteenth birthday, she wore pale blue silk, trimmed with white ribbons, and he realises it is the first time he has ever seen her dance. She is as graceful as he had imagined, as if she was born knowing the steps that James has taken so long to learn.
He wonders when this sudden transformation had taken place; this swift progression from girl to woman, from bud to vibrant flower in full bloom. He cannot recall the same swell of her hips the last time he saw her, but admittedly he has been away with the Dauntless for some time. It seems she is no longer the roving child on the surface, but the fire in her eyes tells a different story.
James should ask her to dance, and he knows she is waiting for him. Sidelong glances and coy smiles are hints enough, but his feet and tongue are tangled. It is her that finally approaches.
"I saved the minuet for you," she says, her hand curling around his arm, fingers pale against the dark navy of his coat.
"Why the minuet?"
"Because I have seen your gavotte, James, and frankly, it is ridiculous."
His mouth curls up in a smile, despite himself. There may be more finery and ribbons now, but she still dreams the dreams of the free.
Elizabeth Swann will be the death of him, he knows, and sinks his head further into his hands.
James cannot even pinpoint the moment when everything changed, or even the time when his priorities reshuffled without his knowledge or permission. He tries to think back, to find a cause and effect for this situation, but thinks of her, and berates himself for it.
He does not know when he came to love her, only that he does. Even so, knowing when would change nothing, for it will not help him solve what haunts him. She is the colour in his world of grey (for his world does seem hopelessly grey now, compared to her), and he cannot help but turn his head in her direction.
James thinks perhaps she senses this change in him, as much as he has tried to hide it. All his thoughts of her are inked so indelibly on his mind, that he fears that they have etched themselves of his face too.
He is coming apart, and is powerless to stop it.
So he throws himself into his work. The Dauntless needs a Captain, but his heart is not in it. He does his duty with vigour, but dreams of future days when he could perhaps come home to her.
The Governor is less than subtle of his expectations, and hints heavily to him that perhaps this time is drawing near. The thought makes James feel sick to the stomach, and so he makes excuses. He cannot support a family yet. He would wish to provide for her better. He knows Governor Swann cannot argue these points; he also only wants what is best for Elizabeth.
It is not that James does not want to marry her. He does, most desperately. But in the same way, he does not want to disappoint her. As much torture as it is; loving Elizabeth as he does, he fears it is an even more dangerous thing to love her too much.
After all, this is Elizabeth Swann, and James is just one of many to her.
Elizabeth will be the death of him, but he thinks perhaps he is already condemned.
One Tuesday, not long after her nineteenth birthday, she invites him to circle the orange groves with her, and to his own great surprise, James accepts.
"I cannot reach the ripe fruit on the higher branches," she tells him as she leads him through the garden. The air is heavy. A storm is coming; James can smell it on the air.
They walk on in silence for a few minutes. James is acutely aware of her hand on his arm; the way that he adjusts his large stride to match her shorter one.
When they reach the fruit, he diligently picks each one for her. She selects only the roundest, most vibrant of them, placing each one he hands her carefully in the basket at her feet. Sometimes their hands touch, and his skin burns hotter than the worst of Caribbean days.
There is one particular orange that she spies, but he cannot reach for her.
"Use your sword," she prompts. Her eyes glint in the sunlight when he does, and it falls directly into her cupped hands. Her mouth curves into an amused smile, eyebrow raised at him, and all he can think to do is smile tightly back. Anything more and he would endanger himself, even with his heart already lost.
Satisfied, she sits under the tree, and starts peeling one of the fruit with her bare hands. Her fingernails dig in under the skin, tugging away the outer surface with steady movements. He observes her silently.
When she is done, she splits the orange in two, and offers him half. James takes it gingerly, running the soft flesh under his fingertips, but does not eat.
He watches her out the corner of his eye; unwilling to let her know that he is studying her. She has grown so much, and yet not at all in the years that he has known her. She is still the sun in his world, and he cannot help but try and get closer; garner a little piece of her warmth to covet as his own.
She makes his heart ache; ache with need and desire and lust and everything else that he had been trying to ignore. These feelings hang on his heart, and drag it down harder and deeper until there is nowhere further to go, and he is lost for her. He has become accustomed to associating these feelings, with her; the steady dull ache of wanting something he fears to possess, or to claim. He cannot decide if it is better to live in this limbo; to live in hope, rather than to sink like a stone at her feet. James tries to decide how this small creature has managed to bring a Captain of the Royal Navy to his knees, but he cannot articulate it; cannot put into words this power she wields over him. This feeling that keeps him suspended from life, as if he is unwilling to progress without her there beside him.
She controls him absolutely; totally; unquestionably. The thought of her lips sends him to stutters. The thought of her lips pressed against his (in his weaker moments) undoes him altogether.
He is a piece of string, and she will unravel him time and time again.
"Thank you, Captain." She pouts a little with the words, lips stained with juice, plump and luscious. His throat catches, almost closes over.
"You are welcome, Miss Swann."
"Do you not enjoy oranges?" She motions to the fruit uneaten, resting in his palm.
"I... I'm not hungry." It is true; he is not. No food can sate the real hunger he feels.
"Not even for oranges?" Elizabeth loves oranges more than any other food, he knows.
"Not even for oranges, Miss Swann. But thank you." He offers her his untouched half, which she takes with a smile. The clouds are drawing nearer, ominous and grey, the remaining patches of sky are streaked blood red with the sun. "Shall we head back to the house?" he asks, offering his arm.
They are not even out of the groves when the skies open up, and the rain tumbles down. It is hard and strong, drenching them both in seconds. They shelter under a tree, out of breath and wet through.
Some of her hair has fallen out of her pins, and rivulets of water streak their way down her face and neck, but James does not think he has ever seen Elizabeth look as wonderful as she does in that moment.
"Oh! My dress!" she scowls, glancing down at the mud caked hem. "It's ruined! I must look a fright."
"I... I think you look beautiful."
The words are out of his mouth before he can stop them, and he can feel the blush rising in his cheeks, even under the cool curtain of rain. James looks up, a stilted apology on the tip of his tongue; ready to plea for forgiveness for his boldness, until he sees she is not offended, nor even laughing at him. Perhaps he expected something else: pity, maybe, for the poor tongue-tied Captain who sets his sights on an unobtainable horizon. That would be a reaction he would have expected, but there is not even a hint of this on her face. No, it is something entirely different.
"Elizabeth," he murmurs, savouring her name on his tongue.
Her eyes are wide, full of intrigue, and he considers kissing her, but doesn't.
Instead she kisses him. She tastes like oranges, and rain, and her lips are soft whispers against his. He wants her, wants this; and it takes him everything in his power not to press her up against the trunk of the tree, and kiss her harder, show her everything that he cannot say. His heart beats a rapid rhythm in his chest, and he is so acutely aware of how close she is, how small she is, compared to him. The floodgates have opened, and there is no turning back.
Elizabeth pulls away suddenly, shocked, perhaps with him as much as herself. Her expression is unreadable but steady; almost examining him, but she does not break from his gaze.
"James." A quick curtsey and she is gone, skirts flying as she takes off through the rain towards the house. He stands motionless, frozen, watching her retreating back, wondering if this will be enough for him, but knowing it will not.
By the time the sun has come out again, his mind is made up. He will ask her to marry him when he is made Commodore.
He thought he would have more time, in order to win Elizabeth. But the letter of promotion arrives three weeks later.