Author's Note: This is a fun story! Well, at least I think so. The updates are going to be sporadic, but I promise to finish it. I hate when people start their stories and let them die. PS. Norringon rocks my socks!
Commodore James Norrington closed his eyes in resignation before plastering a fake smile in place and turning to the woman who had, quite efficiently, ripped his heart out.
"Miss Swann," he murmured, nodding his head.
Elizabeth Swann, previously beautiful, was now gorgeous in soon-to-be-wedded bliss. Her skin, much too brown for fashionable society, seemed to glow and her chocolaty eyes glimmered with her grin. The sight made James's fake smile falter.
"I'm so glad you could make it!" she exclaimed, reaching for his arm and giving it a friendly squeeze. He endured it and once her hand removed itself, he stepped out of her reach in case she went to touch him again. He wasn't sure he'd be able to stand it.
"I cannot stay long, but I just wanted to give my best wishes to the happy couple," he said, forcing his smile back into place. Unfortunately, his facial muscles weren't working properly and he was sure he gave more of a grimace than anything else.
"I shall grab Will, then," she said, turning away to look through the crowd of people stuffed into Governor Swann's elegant drawing room.
No, don't grab Will, James thought frantically. He was pretty sure that he wouldn't be able to be cordial to the young blacksmith.
He put on an outward appearance of being happy for the two, Elizabeth and Turner, but he was most certainly not. Both his heart and his pride had suffered a terrible blow when Elizabeth had chosen Turner over him. He had loved her, still did as a matter of fact, and watching the two of them smiling, laughing, hugging, kissing, was enough to make his already-low mood worsen.
It should have been him. He should be the one sharing private smiles with Elizabeth, touching her hand when he thought no one was looking, and whispering secrets in her ear.
Elizabeth waved frantically and James almost groaned out loud when he saw Turner approaching. James's plan had been to get in, drop off his gift (a truly forgettable globe paperweight), maybe say 'hello' to Swann, and get out again. He hadn't planned on talking to Elizabeth and certainly hadn't counted on talking to Turner.
"Commodore," Turner said with a definite air of frigidity while reaching for Elizabeth's arm. Like James could really steal her out from under Turner's nose. Like James could steal her at all.
"Turner," James replied with the same amount of ice.
Elizabeth, oblivious to the tension around her, began to chatter about wedding plans. It felt like another twist of the knife already embedded in James's chest. He looked heavenward, praying for patience, and then looked about the room. He resolutely Did Not Look at Elizabeth or Turner, though the crowd in the room was no better a view. They seemed to know exactly what he was feeling and it angered and embarrassed him with every pitying look he received.
He was about to make some excuse so that he could get away as quickly as possible when there was a sudden stirring in the room. A new kind of tension mounted around him, one of obvious interest, toward the doors leading into the drawing room. Elizabeth stopped in the middle of a sentence and followed the gazes to the end of the room and said, "Oh good. They're here."
James turned to see what everyone was looking at and felt the breath in his lungs rush out through his parted lips. His ears began to ring and the murmurs and whispers about the room seemed to vanish.
A girl stood in the doorway with two people who were obviously her parents, but James didn't notice them. His focus was completely on the girl, who had to be the most beautiful creature he'd ever laid eyes on. She even surpassed Elizabeth, which James had thought was not possible.
She was pale, the fashionable thing for women, and her dark hair was swept up into an elegant knot at the top of her head, leaving her long neck bare. Her blue eyes skimmed over the crowd in apparent disinterest. Her face was perfection; high cheekbones, a mouth with a full lower lip, a pert nose, and arched eyebrows of the same chestnut color as her hair.
She was quite thin and her collarbones stuck out a bit, though it just added to her over-all elegance. Governor Swann made his way to them and jovially shook the father's hand. The girl drew back a bit and looked at the floor demurely.
"Who is she?" James breathed.
Elizabeth's voice seemed very far away as she answered, "Lord and Lady Warrick, with their daughter Cassandra. They've moved over from England for the girl's health. She didn't do well with the English climate and was told she'd fare better in warmer weather."
James nodded absently and continued to watch her as she was introduced to the many people who had begun to swarm around the new arrivals. To James's amusement, most were young men. She nodded to each, giving a few a delicate curtsey. She never spoke, however. She was completely reserved, the opposite of how most young women of Port Royal behaved. They were more likely to be a bit louder, less inhibited than they would have been in England, for they could get away with it here in the Caribbean.
"She's a bit younger than me," Elizabeth was saying. "But we used to play together before I moved here myself. She always was a sickly thing, however."
"It appears the Caribbean air is agreeing with her," James said. Elizabeth looked at him sharply and he merely smiled politely.
Cassandra was terribly uncomfortable. Her corset was too tight and her hair had too many pins, most of which had been jabbed into her scull by her evil new maid; a sinfully perky young girl by the name of Annie.
Cassie surreptitiously shifted in her seat, trying to loosen the dreaded corset, but to no avail.
Her discomfort was not just from her physical ailments. In England, she'd never really left her house. Not for any sort of ball, musical, party, or even tea. She'd always been too ill. So she'd never been around people other than her servants and her family.
Now, however, she was surrounded by new people who seemed to enjoy staring at her.
"Do I have something on my face?" she whispered to her mother. Margaret Warrick, mother extraordinaire and Cassie's best friend, looked at her quickly and did an inventory from the top of her head down to her feet, hidden under her skirts.
"No dear," Margaret replied. "Why do you ask?"
"People keep staring at me as if I have some sort of exotic growth on my face," Cassie murmured. Margaret smirked, but said nothing further.
The afternoon crawled on, and Cassie didn't move from her spot. Not because she was being deliberately unsocial, but because she tired easily if she moved around too much. Especially now, she thought grumpily, that she was wearing a corset. Who thought of such a device anyway?
A man, she decided as she shifted again. Only a man could come up with something so irritating because a woman would never willing devise such a garment for herself.
A tantalizing breeze came from the open doorway leading to the gardens and Cassie nearly groaned. The warm air from the drawing room was making it hard for her to breathe. She could feel her heart pounding uncomfortably and knew that she would need fresh air soon.
"I'm going to take a turn about the garden," she murmured to her mother.
"Not too long, dear," Margaret said worriedly.
"I'll be fine," Cassie said with a grin. "Just need fresh air."
Margaret nodded to show she understood and Cassie slipped out onto the terrace. The sun was beginning to set. She'd been there for hours and had yet to see Elizabeth. She supposed that was to be expected, as it was a party specifically for her childhood friend.
Still, thought Cassie irritably. The woman could have at least said hello.
Cassie's heart began to pound a bit harder and she felt a touch of anxiety. She looked around and saw that she was not the only person out on the terrace and so moved to the stairs that lead down to the maze-like garden. Perhaps if she could find a secluded spot, she could loosen her corset a bit and get a real lungful of air.
She slipped into an opening in the maze and hurried along. All she needed was a private area. Her lungs began to burn and she couldn't stop the convulsive coughs that erupted from her mouth.
This will have to do, she thought frantically. She couldn't inhale enough air. Her head was getting light on her shoulders.
Buttons, where are the buttons?
She tugged at the front of her dress in vain. She coughed harder to the point where she couldn't breathe at all. Her lungs felt like they were being stabbed, her vision wavered and her legs gave out from under her, sending her roughly to her knees. She didn't have the breath to cry out in pain.
Suddenly she felt hands at her back, tugging at her dress.
No…Stop, please… But she didn't have the air to protest.
Her dress gaped open and fell down her shoulders. Now someone was ripping at her corset stays and when they gave, she gasped in a breath.
"Slowly, now," a deep voice said from nearby. "Let your body get the air it needs."
She coughed again, her whole body spasming, and she fell forward onto her hands. The corset fell away, there was nothing obstructing her lungs, but she still couldn't breathe. She clawed frantically at the grass, urged her screaming lungs to work!
Strong arms wrapped around her and the next thing her bewildered mind knew, she was being held and someone was rubbing soothing circles into her back. A large hand pressed her head into a hard, broad shoulder and that deep voice was whispering soothing words into her ear.
"Breathe slowly," he murmured. "Slowly out, slowly in. Come now, that's it."
Her body continued to shake and she coughed a little, though it was, miraculously, getting better. As her disorientation eased and she could breathe freely, she came to the realization that a strange man was holding her while her dressed was practically falling off. Not only that, he was stroking her back.
With a flurry of movement, she pushed herself from his lap and fell gracelessly onto her rump before scrambling backward. He reached for her and she lurched back further to get away, landing in the tall hedges lining the path. She jerked away, not before her hair caught, and ended up back on her rear.
"Are you alright?"
She looked up at the man who had held and almost sighed with relief. A naval man. She recognized the uniform. Not to mention the wig. He had concerned green eyes and his lips were pursed.
"I-I'm fine," she stammered.
"Are you sure?" he asked, leaning toward her.
"Quite sure, thank you," she said. "Just a coughing fit, nothing too serious."
He quirked an eyebrow. Feeling more embarrassed than she had in her entire life, she gingerly moved to her feet and pulled half-heartedly on her dress.
"Will you be needing this?"
He held the corset, which looked oddly small in his large hand, and she shook her head vehemently.
"I'm never wearing that thing again," she muttered darkly. He had an odd expression on his face, as though he were trying not to laugh, and tossed the corset aside.
"Do you need help getting…buttoned?" he asked politely. Cursing herself for flushing red, she nodded. As the buttons were in the back, she wouldn't be able to do it herself.
She turned her back to him and flushed harder. The first time that a man was to see her practically half-naked, and it had to be with a complete stranger because of a coughing fit.
He worked quickly, deftly buttoning her up without a word.
"Will you be needing any help back to the party?" he asked solicitously.
"I can find the way, thank you," she said, reaching up to make sure her hair was semi-presentable.
"Are you sure?" he asked. "I'd hate it if you got lost or had another fit."
She shot him a hot look and replied, "Thank you, really, but I'm not a child. I'll be fine. And I trust that this…episode…will not be mentioned again?"
He was looking more and more amused as the situation progressed.
"I promise I shall not say a word," he said with a quirk of his lips.
"This is not amusing," she said irritably.
"No, no not a bit," he replied, though his slow smile was saying otherwise.
"Oh, get out of my way," she huffed and he generously, or so he probably thought, stepped aside and she made her way back.
Arrogant male! Who was he, anyway? Who did he think he was to treat her like some unfortunate child?
James watched as Cassandra Warrick stormed away and couldn't suppress his grin. She'd probably be embarrassed when she got back to the party, for the leaves in her hair were more than a little obvious.
He hadn't planned on walking through the maze but he'd heard her coughs and knew something wasn't right. Thank God he'd been there when he had, otherwise she might not have been able to get her breath back.
He'd been watching her throughout the afternoon. A face like that, how could he look away? He seen her slip through the doors to the outside and had followed, though she'd been gone by the time he'd gotten to the terrace. On a whim, he'd gone out into the gardens.
It had been terrifying to come across her on her knees and gasping for breath.
Now she was fine, and more than a little miffed, but he couldn't help the fact that seeing her red-faced and petulant had amused him. She had such an icy demeanor inside the party, and to see that shattered had rather endeared her to him for a bit. That is, until she had stormed away.
No, she was exactly like the rest of the females of Port Royal. With the exception of Elizabeth, who was beyond the pale. No one, not even the ethereally beautiful Cassandra Warrick, came close to the perfection of Elizabeth Swann.