A/N: I've missed writing James so here's something short and sad.
Raucous singing and laughter followed them out into the hot air of the bright Tortugan day. Elizabeth ignored them as she supported James on one side. His weight jostled her as he tried to walk by himself but his seeming drunkenness wouldn't let him. He kept stumbling and she kept catching him.
Where had her commodore gone? She wanted to say a million things to him but none of them would come out and besides, he said nothing to her. She led him around the back of the Faithful Bride where laundry lines stretched between the backs of the nearby inns. She found a washbasin and made him sit on a stool while she dipped a rag into the murky water and began dabbing the muck from his face. He avoided her gaze as she worked. The exhausted shadows beneath his eyes and the stubble that coated his jaw belied the man she once knew and she wondered if she could scrape away enough filth to bring that man back to her.
Elizabeth wrung out the rag and wet it again. "I…I'm sorry," she whispered. For smashing that bottle over his head, for siding with Jack, for not loving him, she wasn't sure. It just felt like something that needed to be said.
She reached up to wipe a bit of mud from his brow but he grabbed her wrist, staying her hand.
"You have nothing to apologize for. I only wish you needn't see me like this."
A pang went through her. "James…"
His gaze flickered to hers and the pain in those green eyes stopped her from saying more. "Why are you here?"
"I came looking for Jack."
His expression darkened. "The pirate."
Elizabeth shook her head. "It's not like that. I need him to save Will."
"That simple, is it?"
"James." Her voice contained a warning. She remembered James as she had last seen him, heading to a tribunal regarding the loss of the Dauntless. He had cast her a weary smile. All she knew was that the ship had been lost in pursuit of Jack Sparrow but that Jack himself had escaped. And then Beckett had waved about that warrant for his arrest. She'd been too preoccupied with Will's and her predicament to give it much thought but now she wondered exactly what had happened at that tribunal.
"What is it?" she asked. "What brought you to this?" And was it because of me? she didn't say. When he didn't answer, she added, "Please talk to me."
He gave a derisive snort. "I failed to do what I sought to do. The world is not kind to men like me."
"What kind of man are you?"
"Rigid. Jealous. Resentful."
Elizabeth's left hand folded over his own that still had her wrist. "Honest. Honorable. Kind. You are a good man, James Norrington, and not deserving of any of this."
"I'm not sure I can believe that."
"I'm not asking you to. I'm asking you to come with me."
He lifted an eyebrow. "You've got to be joking."
"It was your idea first, remember?"
"Join Sparrow's crew?" he scoffed. "I'm not even worthy of that much." There was bitterness in his tone.
"You just wanted to get revenge. You were going to kill Jack."
James just stared at her as if daring her to reject him for it.
Elizabeth pressed her lips together. "I know it's not what you wanted. I don't know what Jack's up to or that he won't get us all killed. But it's a chance. For both of us."
James seemed to consider it. "To become a pirate."
"To be free," Elizabeth corrected. "From this…madness."
James drew his hand out from between hers, his gaze now distant. He still smelled strongly of rum, his coat was caked in layers of sand and grime, his wig sopping and tangled, dirtied almost the same shade as his natural hair.
"Please come with me. This is no place for you."
He hesitated, his gaze flickering between her and the tavern where the rowdy crowd had tossed him aside like so much refuse. The pained look flashed across his face again and Elizabeth was determined to draw the full truth of that pain out of him. Not now, but when he was ready to tell it.
Finally, his gaze settled fully on her. "Things couldn't get much worse and I have nothing left to lose, so why not?"
It wasn't the sentiment she was hoping for, but it would have to be enough. Clasping his hand, she helped him to his feet and the two set off, leaving the tavern and its indifferent inhabitants behind.
They had a ship to catch.