Disclaimer: I own nothing.

AN: This has been on my computer for ages. I decided to brush off the dust and rework it to get back into the fanfic groove again. It's been a while. Thanks for reading.

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James had always wanted to be a pirate.

Of course, his mother did not understand – didn't he mean that he wanted to be in the Navy like his father? A good man, not a beast that drank and stole and did the devil's own work. Surely, he did not mean that. She thought it had something to do with the sea, the call of adventure. Something that could be satisfied just as easily by a trip abroad or a lifetime of service and ceremony aboard one of His Majesty's ships.

But it was freedomhe wanted. A life of his own, boundless; there would be no laws or admiralties to hold him back and crush him into the cynical, wooden figure his father had become (he never laughed, now). And he never doubted that he could be both a good man, and a pirate.

So he battled invisible enemies with his invisible sword, found trinkets to bury as treasures, and saved his comrades and a certain special girl over and over and over. He was happy, playing out these scenes that were sure to become reality in a few years when he was old enough to leave home. And then his father died – murdered by pirates. They had slit him open like a fish, and his wedding band had been taken, along with the finger that wore it.

His mother was too lost in her grief to notice how he changed after that, taking on the place and personality of his father because he could do nothing else. His childhood was abandoned, replaced with a seriousness and sense of duty beyond his age. A hatred for pirates was built into his growing bones, a desperate need to bring justice and damnation down on their heads; but then, it was not really hatred that drove him into the Royal Navy and earned him a reputation as a hard, righteous man. His hostility masked his bitterness over the fact that the very people he envied, who he loved in some unthinking way, had stolen from him the only life he could have lived happily.

He thought sometimes that his mother confused him with his father when he came home on leave, in uniform. It was as if he, James, had never existed at all except as an extension of the man she had loved. He returned to that place as little as possible (and this perceived dedication allowed him to rise swiftly through the ranks, which darkly amused him), and when he heard that his mother died of a sudden fever, he whispered thank God and blocked that part of his past out entirely. At least one of them was free.

In time, he was not even the ghost of his father but a mere ghost. He was the uniform he wore, the duties he performed, and there was no man in the body called James Norrington. He had to close his eyes against sunrises and sunsets, when the world was beautiful and hopeful, because he could not bear this glimpse into a life that might-have-been.

And yet he was not fully deadened to the world around him. The shields of cynicism and intelligence and conformity could not keep everything at bay forever. He fell in love (if ghosts can feel). He should have known that tragedy would follow, again enacted by the pirates he loathed and admired. It could be no other way.

And now he stands on the deck of a pirate ship, one of them. Honour, responsibility, respectability have fallen from him, shed as easily as the wig he now uses to scrub the floorboards. He no longer has a persona to inhabit, to hide behind; he is not sure what he is now, and he does not think he cares. Piracy seems to suit him well. He thinks like them, swears like them, drinks like them – seeking oblivion and release from the emptiness that threatens to consume him. It is painful and somehow soothing to live like this (to live) though he is still holding back, afraid to be one of them completely. He sees her often now, alone, and he dreams of taking her. He is now that kind of man, a pirate (his lips quirk at the thought of it), and he has become ruthless, careless, thieving. He has caused death and despair, and he knows he is capable of so much more.

But he also knows that he will never take her. Damnably, he is a good man, though he does not quite believe that of himself.