The night was silent save for the gentle rush of the waves below as the sky was enveloped in black velvet with a smattering of stars. James Norrington took in the quiet, a rare and welcome sound. For a moment he closed his eyes and listened to the waves, remembering what it was that endeared him to the sea in the first place. Upon opening his eyes, he felt footsteps reverberate as Elizabeth Swann joined him at the bow.
“James, what are you doing out here at this hour? It's late.” said Elizabeth in a tone that reflected her usual courtesy plus a twinge of worry. James smiled softly and gazed at the velvet curtain before him.
"I've loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night," he quoted.
"Galileo. One can only imagine how insignificant he must have felt studying our universe, just realizing how much he still didn't know. Do you ever gaze upon the horizon and think about how small we are?"
Elizabeth hesitated for a moment at James’s waxing philosophical.
“I always supposed we had more power than we gave ourselves credit for, not less,” was her eventual answer.
James darkened, barely resisting the urge to laugh in outright indignation. Power indeed, he thought. He took a generous gulp from his flask and, remembering Elizabeth’s recently acquired penchant for rum, offered her a sip, which she declined. She sighed and rested her elbows on the bow, inhaling the sea air. James at first averted his gaze, but eventually turned to face her, unable to resist taking in her form. Her hair, made blonder by the sun, was loose and unkempt. Her skin was tanned and across her nose and cheeks were a dusting of freckles. Her vest and breeches were attire better suited to a sailor than a lady. Her hat was simply ridiculous. Yet, somehow, he could not help but think that she had never looked more beautiful. Her outward appearance finally reflected the firebrand inside. Elizabeth, noticing James’ stare, stood up straight as though embarrassed.
“I...forgive me,” stammered James before taking another swig of his rum, this one more generous than the last, stopping only to feel the daggers of her brown eyes pointed at him. She placed her hand on his flask and lowered it from his lips.
“I think that’s quite enough,” she said decidedly, and this time James’s bark of laughter could not be suppressed.
“Elizabeth, have you forgotten who we’re accompanying on this voyage?” James asked, raising his eyebrows. "Our beloved 'captain' is hardly one to teetotal."
Elizabeth shook her head.
"You used to only drink medicinally," she noted.
"In that case, we can pretend that I have caught a cold," he countered, his patience reaching its end.
“This isn’t like you, James.”
“Oh, and I expect you think you’re an expert on the matter?” he snapped, taking another swig. Elizabeth pouted in a way that James read as disappointment.
“I think I have an idea. The James Norrington I know---”
“The James Norrington you know is dead,” he interrupted bitterly, but before he could raise his flask to his lips again, Elizabeth knocked it out of his hand and onto the deck. James bent down to retrieve it. Once he stood again, he shot Elizabeth another look, dropping his jaw in what Elizabeth interpreted as contempt. Elizabeth glared at James, her dagger eyes lined with fire. James thought for a moment that she was about to slap him. Perhaps there was a part of him that wanted her to.
"That wasn't very nice," he remarked in between gritted teeth, gripping his flask tightly.
“You’re not doing anyone favours by wallowing,” she shot back after several seconds of silence. James scoffed.
“I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”
“Good, because I don’t.”
“I’m going to sleep. I suggest you do the same,” she said, turning to leave. James, knowing that, at this point, he had exhausted every level of embarrassment known to man, blurted out, “I haven’t slept since June.”
Elizabeth turned back and rejoined him.
“Not a wink since the day of the storm…” James added, his voice trailing off, momentarily disappearing into his own mind before feeling a kind hand on his shoulder.
“Nightmares?” she asked.
“More like recollections. I close my eyes and, with precision, can recall each event. It's as if I'm actually there again. W-when I do try to sleep, dreams and reality become so immeshed that, more often than not, I wake up screaming.” James’ voice was low and wavered a bit, as though he were supressing a shiver. From cold or sorrow, Elizabeth could not tell for certain, but she had a fair guess. Elizabeth looked at James with grave concern. James sighed and pointed to his flask.
“That’s the reason for this. The closest thing I have to a sleeping draft.”
“James, I hardly think unconsciousness is the same thing as sleep,” Elizabeth scolded, and James smiled sadly.
“I know you disapprove of me, and for that I apologize.”
“It’s not disapproval, it’s fear. Fear that the man I’ve known since childhood, the man I could very well call my friend, doesn’t seem to like himself much.”
James couldn’t argue. What’s to like? he thought to himself. Elizabeth, in turn, took in James’ form, from his filthy coat to his shrinking figure to his slumped posture. He needed a good bath and a good meal. Yet, in spite of his filth and the scruff covering his jaw, she couldn’t help but feel endeared to him. The circles under his eyes could not mask their seaglass green. James caught sight of Elizabeth taking inventory and smirked.
“What is it?” he asked.
With a matching smirk, Elizabeth replied, “I am glad that you’re finally rid of that horrid wig.”
James chuckled and the two shared a few more seconds of silence before locking eyes. James’ features softened as he gently cupped Elizabeth’s cheek in his hand and the two pulled closer until they shared a kiss. James, overcome, prompted the kiss to grow more and more passionate until their tongues encircled. Elizabeth moved her way down his neck with her deliciously full lips. James ran his fingers through her soft, thick mass of hair. Then, in an instant, after realizing that he would need to either cross his legs or face the bow again, James jerked away, hoping that the tan and dirt on his face would conceal his flush.
"I-I'm such a cad. Forgive me, Elizabeth,” he apologized, straightening his tattered coat, turning towards the stars once more. Elizabeth smiled with an expression that said there is nothing to forgive and departed for the evening. James laughed from equal parts elation and frustration. He did not dare to attempt slumber, but he did close his eyes and just enjoy the moment. In the morning, the business of finding the chest would return, but for the night, he could just bask in the notion that Elizabeth, in some small way, still cared for him. He could, at the very least, make more of an effort to be considered worthy of her care.