Weatherby watched his daughter twirl opposite her fiancé on the dance floor. They made a handsome couple, it was true; of an age and both attractive people, Elizabeth's natural fire contrasted well with young Turner's precise, graceful execution of the steps. For the moment, Weatherby was managing to smile, because it really was a lovely sight, almost enough to make him believe that this marriage was not as doomed as he feared. As the music drew to a close, though, Elizabeth found an excuse to slip away from her partner almost immediately, and Weatherby felt his mask begin to slip. Already, she was tiring of the boy. It was not obvious, and most likely no one but Weatherby had noticed, but there it was: four months ago, when they had first become formally engaged, she had stuck to his side like glue at any event they attended, deftly deflecting any underhanded attacks on him with a flick of her sharp tongue. Now, though she still danced with him, and only him, throughout the evening, between dances she would just as soon vanish from sight as remain on his arm. The future did not bode well, Weatherby decided grimly.
Elizabeth picked idly at the budding roses. She knew she should not, she knew that Lady Sybil took great pride in the silly things and would be deeply vexed to see them harmed, and yet she did it anyway. Why, she could not say, except that the nervous tension that had erupted in her had to be taken on something, and better the plants than one of the poor, ridiculous members of the gentry currently parading their airs up at the house. Elizabeth scoffed to herself. It was funny: She had always previously enjoyed balls – the dancing, the merriment, the excuse to pretty herself up in exquisite dresses. In times gone by, she had glided through the halls arm in arm with Millie Albrecht, whispering together about the blushing young men who danced with them, and giggling over Mrs Norwich's latest feather-related fashion disaster. And yet lately, she found herself growing more and more frustrated with them. Millie was a six month wedded woman now, and spent her evenings seated with the other ladies, chattering needlework and clumsy maids and other such inane topics, no longer able to amuse her old friend. Instead, Elizabeth found herself struggling to acclimate her own future husband to his new social circle, all the while making sure that she herself was an unimpeachable image of perfect propriety, in order to ensure that no one could find any further fault with the pair. Elizabeth blew a stray curl out of her face; sometimes, she envied Commodore Norrington. If it pleased him – and it often did – he was free to stand all by himself in a corner, ignoring the entire room. He could afford not to care about public opinion, because he was Norrington, Commodore at thirty and the finest commander this station could remember seeing, and an imposing man besides. Short of major public scandal, the opinion of Port Royal's elite was of little real interest to him.
A new bud snapped off completely in her fingers, and Elizabeth felt suddenly embarrassed. If Will were here, he would reproach her, she thought guiltily. He wouldn't scold her, of course, never that. He would look at her with those warm, steady eyes, and ask her quietly why she was being so careless with the fruits of Lady Sybil's labours. And Elizabeth would blush and feel terribly ashamed, because he was such a good man, always thoughtful and considerate of others, and she, notoriously wayward and selfish, was so very inadequate next to him. A sudden surge of inexplicable irritation overcame her, and she reached out and viciously tore off another bud, smothering it cruelly between her fingertips.
Behind her, there was a smart crunch on the gravel, and Elizabeth spun, startled, as she felt a furious blush rise to her cheeks at having been caught.
As he watched him flounder on the rapidly-emptying floor, abandoned and lost in an unfamiliar crowd who generally thought less of him than they did of their pet lapdogs, Weatherby's heart went out to the boy. He couldn't help but feel a certain fatherly fondness for the lad, having watched him grow from a scruffy urchin to a decent young man on his own coin, and it honestly pained him to see him so obviously out of his element. Weatherby pinched the bridge of his nose, taking a sip of claret, and wished his stubborn daughter would see sense.
Contrary to what she seemed to believe, Weatherby wanted his daughter to be happy. He wanted it more than he had ever wanted anything in his life, and over the years had gone to great lengths to achieve it. As a child in England, he had all but let her run wild, much to her late mother's disapproval, and once she had become a young lady in the Caribbean, he had reigned her in just enough to avoid jeopardising her good name and future, and no more. He bought her books on pirates and naval warfare which she devoured in an afternoon, persuaded then-Captain Norrington to teach her something about navigation and map-reading so she would understand what she was reading, and only mildly disapproved when she snuck off to play with William Turner down by the waterfront. He had done everything in his power to give her happiness in her childhood, and it was for this reason that he found it so distressing to watch her throwing away her chance at it in adult life.
Because marrying Turner would not make her happy, of that Weatherby was certain. He had suspected as much on the day the wretched Sparrow had escaped, and it was becoming plainer every day. As she herself had said, she had believed herself to be marrying a pirate – fierce, challenging, exciting – the kind of man she had always dreamed of, who would grant her the freedom she so longer for. And on that day, perhaps she had been. But the day had come to a close, as all days must, and on the next, she had woken up and found herself engaged to a blacksmith, a calm and gentle man, whose greatest desires in life amounted to a hot forge in which to practice his craft, and a loving wife to give him comfort and bear him a family. He suspected she was beginning to realise that this was not quite the same thing.
Weatherby sighed to himself as he watched his soon to be son-in-law finally escape the crowds. He wished he could make Elizabeth realise that the idea, so dear to her heart, that somehow childhood affection was a good basis on which to choose adult companionship was a childish fantasy, nothing more. She was a clever girl, of course, and would come to the realisation on her own eventually, but with the wedding a mere two months away, it would likely not be soon enough.
Will was lost. Actually and metaphorically. He had been attempting to find the water closet, more for the sake of finding an excuse to leave the crowded ballroom than out of any actual need to relieve himself, and had accidentally stumbled into Sir Jonathan's bedchamber instead. Thankfully, it had been unoccupied at the time, but he had nevertheless fled the scene in a hurry, lest someone discover him and accuse him of impropriety. Again. Will rested his head in his hands, sighing deeply at the memory. That had not been a good day.
After his flight, he had somehow found himself in the courtyard, where he now sat on an empty stone trough, contemplating his next move. Nearby, the door to the kitchen stood open, the bright orange light flooding out as cooks and scullery maids bustled about, readying trays for the footmen to bring up. They joked and laughed as they worked, snatches of it floating out to him on his makeshift perch, and Will found himself envying them. Their lives were so simple, so beautifully straightforward. All they had to do was behave lawfully and 'sir' and 'madam' everyone with a nicer hat than theirs, and they were considered good, upstanding citizens. No one jumped out at them at parties with snatches of poetry they were expected to finish, no one smiled condescendingly and then giggled behind their fans when they mistook the punchline of a joke for a peculiar type of flower because it was in Latin. His life had been life that once. He'd got up in the morning and made swords, good swords that people came from miles around to purchase. At some point towards the middle of the day, he'd briefly stop his work for something to eat, and maybe cross the street to the little shop, for supplies and to smile at the shop keep's pretty daughter. Then he'd be back at his anvil for the rest of the day, absorbed in his work to the exclusion of all else, folding and plying the metal until he had a weapon that the Commodore himself would be pleased to wield – he had told him so himself. When dusk finally fell, he would leave aside his tools and stroll down to the Dusty Turtle for a quiet pint of ale and a story or two from some drunken sailor on shore leave. It had been a nice life, Will reflected sadly, not terribly exciting, but quiet and peaceful, and no one had ever asked him to wax poetic on the finer points of Handel. He sighed. And then, all his dreams had come true.
Elizabeth hadn't spoken to the good Commodore in almost four months. Since breaking off their engagement to be with Will, she'd seen him perhaps half a dozen times, and then always from a distance, in the street or leaving Father's office after a meeting. After that fateful day at the Fort, he'd set off in pursuit of Jack, only conceding temporary defeat when an encounter with a hurricane off Tripoli had threatened to take the Dauntless down, and her crew along with it. Since his return, he seemed to have decided to disregard the social side of life altogether, declining invitations to garden parties and balls alike in favour of remaining barricaded in his office doing God only knew what.
It was for this reason that she was most surprised to find him walking briskly across the gravel towards her.
"Elizabeth," he greeted when he realised she'd seen him, nodding curtly to her as he closed the remaining ten paces or so between them. Elizabeth wished she had a fan with which to hide her expression. She wasn't quite sure why his appearance should astonish her so; unexpected as it was, she had been acquainted with the man since her childhood, and at this point, she felt, knew him about as well as she properly could. And yet somehow, tonight, in this light, there was something off about him, unfamiliar and strange and most devilishly subtle.
"Commodore Norrington, good evening," she returned politely, staring at him as discreetly as possible as she tried to work out what it was. Norrington, for his part, did not appear to notice her scrutiny.
"I hope you are having a pleasant evening?" he enquired after a moment, sounding stiffer and more awkward even than he had before their broken engagement, if that were possible.
"Quite lovely, thank you."
"Good, good." He looked terribly uncomfortable, and they stood for a moment in silence as he looked everywhere but at her. It struck her suddenly how difficult this must be for him, all the more so for having left it so long.
"We would never have been happy, James," she told him gently, feeling that the sooner he realised the truth of that, the happier they would all be. At her words, unexpectedly and improperly frank, she suspected, he stiffened momentarily. As he took them in, though, they seemed to deflate something inside him, and he turned away, leaning back on the low stone railing that fenced in the rosebushes. For a brief moment, he allowed himself to close his eyes, before turning back to her.
"I love you, you know," he said sadly. At the simple misery in his eyes, her heart went out to him.
"I know," she agreed, immediately wondering whether that was true. "But all the same, we would never have been happy." He sighed.
"Well, you wouldn't have, anyway," he conceded, his tired eyes fixed on a small stone cherub frolicking across from them.
"Neither would you," she insisted firmly, following his gaze to the statue. There was no sense in letting him dwell on imagined happiness. "I would have been a terrible wife for a Commodore. I can't cook and all my sewing is lopsided, no matter how I try, I forget myself in company as often as not, and I doubt I would be able to host a garden party to save my life."
"I know that," he said, and the sheer surprise in his voice that she should not be aware of this fact made her gaze snap back to him. He was staring at her with an expression she couldn't quite read, astonishment mixed with frustration mixed with a hint of something that looked entirely too much like amusement at her expense, but surely couldn't be.
"Then why-?" she asked, bewildered and slightly rankled by the look he was giving her , but he cut her off.
"Miss Swann," he began, enunciating every word as though he had just realised he was talking to an idiot. "With all due respect, I have known you since you were a child. Did you really think I had failed to notice that the, ah, feminine arts are not exactly your forte? Half of Port Royal is aware of that! Did you honestly think I had not taken this, if you will pardon me, rather glaring reality into account when I made a proposal that had the potential to bind you to me for life?"
When he put it like that, she had to admit that it did seem rather unlikely. It was just that she'd never really considered it from that particular angle before. Or at all, actually.
"Elizabeth, please, think," he pleaded, pinching the bridge of his nose as though her lack of comprehension caused him physical pain. "When a man wants a pretty songbird for his parlour, he does not go out and try to barter for a hunting falcon. For God's sake, I don't even like garden parties!"
There was a pause as she stared at him in astonishment, and he returned her stare with a look that said he couldn't quite believe she'd be so stupid..
"You called me a fine woman," she muttered softly after a moment, as much to herself as to him.
"You called me a fine woman," she repeated, more loudly this time. It was a silly thing to say, but somehow, at this very minute, it was all she could focus on. Somewhere, deep in some dark, forgotten corner of her mind, a horrible realisation was beginning to stir.
"Well?" he snapped irritably, clearly not seeing the significance of that at this pivotal moment in their relationship. "You are a fine woman. What of it?"
"No I'm not!" she cried accusingly, suddenly and irrationally angry with him. "You know I'm not, you just say so!"
James exhaled in frustration.
"Well, ostensibly I was proposing marriage to a well-bred young lady, you know," he returned sharply, annoyed at having been so easily caught. "I had to say something."
"You could have tried the truth!" she shot back furiously, preferring to give vent to her frustration rather than consider its source.
"Oh yes, I'm sure that would have gone down marvellously," he sneered mockingly, rolling his eyes. " 'Dear Miss Swann, daughter of the Governor of Jamaica, I humbly request you hand in marriage, for you are quite the most vexing, exasperating, maddening, impossible woman on this bloody island!"
He was breathing hard as he finished his tirade, and Elizabeth stared at him in shock. It occurred to her suddenly that she had never seen James Norrington angry before. She'd thought she had, when she was a child and had run off from him while he was supposed to be chaperoning her, or when she'd displeased her father in his presence by going swimming in just her slip, but evidently not. She knew, because she had never seen him like this, ever; she most certainly would not have forgotten if she had. His cheeks were flushed with colour, nostrils flaring and jaw clenched, green eyes flashing with rage in the moonlight. And then, suddenly, it wasn't rage they were flashing with, but something else entirely. In the instant before he lunged, Elizabeth felt herself go breathless, and then he was on her, his mouth hard and desperate against hers as his hands found her hips, pulling her to him. He tasted of salt and something quite his own, with a faint hint of strong drink hovering somewhere in the mix. Instinctively, she wound her arms around his shoulders, drawing him down as she angled her face to his. He moaned helplessly as she opened her mouth to him, the sound sending a shiver down her spine before pooling in her stomach, warm and heavy.
Kissing James was different from kissing Will, and very, very different from anything she had ever imagined while he was courting her. His lips, which she had always privately assumed to be cool and clammy like a freshly caught eel, were hot and cracked, at once rough and hard and unbearably soft. As he lapped needily at her, he wrapped his arms around her back, tightening his grip and holding her in place with almost alarming strength as he pressed his entire length against her. Some distant part of Elizabeth was shocked to find herself pressing back with every bit as much ferocity, arching up into his warmth as she plundered his sweet, delicious mouth with her own. One arm firmly latched to his shoulder, she ran a hand up the back of his neck, tugging playfully at the tiny hairs there, before moving still further up and slipping under that damnable wig. The hair there was thick and soft, damp with sweat as she buried her hand in it, pulling lightly and enjoying the shudder her attentions produced. He kept his hair long, she realised, pulling it back into a tail and tucking it into a little bag under the wig when he was in uniform. Suddenly, she wanted very badly to see him without the wig, without the coat and the waistcoat and all the other trappings of the Commodore, just the man in his shirtsleeves, dark hair loose and curling around his face. At that moment, though, he scraped her bottom lip with his teeth, and Elizabeth promptly lost her train of through as she whimpered, kissing him with renewed passion.
When they finally had to break for air, he was still holding her closely against him, and Elizabeth could find no will to break away. They stood together, panting for breath, her arms around his neck as he leaned his forehead against hers. Under the stiff fabric of his uniform, she could feel his shoulders quivering with need, and a lock of dark brown hair had escaped the confines of the queue, and was plastered against his temple. His mouth was red and swollen, lips lightly parted as he struggled to regain his breath, and she found herself wanting to taste him again, so badly it was almost overpowering.
"James," she whispered, simply for the sake of putting something between them.
"Elizabeth," he returned, gazing up at her through his lashes, green eyes dark and hooded with lust. Then he kissed her again, quickly, a fast, hungry kiss that he seemed to struggle against, almost frantic in its desire.
"Marry me," he gasped, so close that she could feel his every word ghosting across her lips. Elizabeth shivered, a little, involuntary tremor running down her back, and found she couldn't speak. Couldn't speak, because it occurred to her that the only reason she wasn't at this very minute agreeing to marry this witty, fascinating, intoxicating man, with more facets than she had ever imagined, was that she couldn't. For just a moment, she wondered whether that ache in her chest wasn't her heart breaking, but surely not.
"I can't," she murmured, reaching up to touch his face, willing him to understand the implication. "You know I can't." His expression tightened under her hand, a pained cast shadowing it, chasing away the tendrils of passion. He closed his eyes, allowing himself to lean against her for one more second, before pushing her brusquely from him and walking away in the direction he had come. Elizabeth was left staring after him, hidden amongst the tall rose bushes, oblivious to the sounds of merriment still drifting out from the house.