It was raining.
Elizabeth stood in front of the window, staring blankly through the streaks the downpour made against the glass. It felt strange to be at home once more, though it had been more than a month since the merchant ship had found them adrift in the Caribbean, the wreckage of the ship around them. The fog had lifted and brought them into its path, fortunate to be alive since all of them were dehydrated. Her return home had been met without suspicion on the behalf of her father even if he found it strange that it coincided with the arrival of Commodore Norrington, in the wake of losing his ship and crew to the hurricane. Without her, he might have captured the Black Pearl, but she had driven him into the storm. Elizabeth felt responsible for what had happened, but there was nothing she could do, for to reveal the truth would be almost as destructive to his military reputation as the lie.
For the past half hour James had been in conference with her father, the murmur of their voices distant from the upper hall. She had not spoken to him since their return and wondered how he would seem, for in recent weeks he had altered, his reputation in tatters. It had hurt him more than she had ever dared to imagine, diminishing him in spirit as much as in name. Hearing his footsteps coming down the hall, she went out to meet him, his descent slowing as he saw her awaiting him at the foot of it in the gloom. James experienced many emotions as he looked at her, not the least of which regret as she reached out to him and then remembered her place, drawing her hand back again. All barriers that had fallen between them in their travels had been resurrected and all he encountered in her presence was pain. "James," she said, and he almost hated the sound of his own name, "I heard what has happened. I'm sorry."
"Under the circumstances it is hardly a surprise," he answered.
Rain reflected against their faces through the near window and he lowered his gaze, turning over his hat in his hands.
"Father told me you are leaving tomorrow… must you go?"
Humiliation awaited him if he remained; the realization that he would eternally be remembered for his failures rather than his numerous accomplishments. Once it would have meant a great deal to him if she asked him to stay. But each had made their choices and must now live out the consequences. "There is nothing for me here," he answered, and felt a small amount of pleasure that this seemed to torment her. As he had returned to the tattered remains of his life, had seen the ruin allowing her to influence him had brought about and started to resent what lingered between them, as much as he hated the memories of their future. The influence of the island lingered with him even in its absence and the ghosts of what might have been would be his burden to carry alone.
Quiet infiltrated the house and unnerved by it, James said softly, "I must go."
Their footsteps echoed in the lower corridor, Elizabeth accompanying him as far as the front door. The sound of the rain increased as she opened it and glancing at her, he went out into the downpour. He got as far as the front gate before she ran after him, the cold seeping through her gown as all the care her maid had put into her hair that morning was undone. "James," she cried, and he turned back to her, silhouetted for a moment in the lane. Elizabeth stopped, her hand resting over her heart as she realized he had been the one in her forward-memory, the flashes the siren had shown her, the man who had caught up their daughter and twirled her through the air. Suddenly, her heart ached so hard it took her breath away and she realized it was too late, that he would leave her forever.
He waited for her even though his coat was soaked by the time she reached his side. They stared at one another, an inexplicable remorse passing between them. "James, promise me someday you will come back."
It seemed such a petty plea, for he would have nothing to return to, yet she willed him to promise her. James saw much in her eyes, misery and doubt, sudden fear and the discovery that after this moment their lives would never be the same. Her hair hung in a drenched mess around her face and she was shivering in the cold. He thought about how much he had wanted her, still wanted her, and the fact that in two months she would marry William Turner. Nothing had changed. If he remained, he would always bend to her will, relent when she appealed to him, risk anything for her, and having nothing in return apart from her gratitude. He would leave until she no longer dominated his every thought, until he could look at her without regret, until he either regained his commission or drank himself into an early grave like his father. Searching her gaze, he said, "Elizabeth, you cannot have us both."
There was no resentment in his words, no hatred, but it pained her as he walked away without a backward glance. Elizabeth watched as the coach rumbled down the lane, unmoving until her father shouted from the house for her to come indoors before she caught her death of cold. She was thoroughly wet by the time she reached the threshold and sensing her inward distress as she slumped on the nearest bench, the governor said, "I'm sure he will recover. James has always been a fine man."
A fine man, she thought dully. That was what he had always called James, but until it was too late, she had not realized the truth in it. And as her father shut the door and called for her maid to come and attend to his daughter, as she fought back a torrent of hot tears that she did not want to have to explain, as she remembered all that he had confided in her and done for her, at the cost of his reputation and station, she realized that she had lost him forever.