She's been married for seven months now. It feels more like seven years. Time has trickled by in tiny, infrequent drops and uncomfortable silence has weaved itself throughout their home more often than not. He never tries to touch her. He knows she doesn't want it. Usually, they spend their nights in a bed with an invisible barrier between them. From time to time, she looks into those eyes, so green and broken and filled with ache for the woman he is too respectful to take, though he has every right too. Guilt washes over her and though she wishes she could be looking into Will's deep, brown ones every night instead, that life is a distant dream and she knows it.
Though it kills a part of her to lie to him so blatantly, she occasionally summons all her skills as an actress and tell him that she wants his touch. With her goading, he concedes, but never quite believes that she isn't thinking of the younger and more free Turner lad, and so it is always timid and silent. He looks down at her in the night, and she sees the love in his eyes, but it infuriates her that it is masked so stiffly and frigidly and she can't appreciate it. Can't appreciate the way he seems so afraid of breaking her, so afraid of forcing something on her because he only wants her to be happy.
Their conversations never become deeper than they had been during their awkward courtship, and she always finds herself counting the days until he will sail away before she can stop herself and she is left guilty and shamed. When he's gone, a part of her misses him, for he is a good man, and he does care for her, but the knowledge on both sides that her heart does not belong to him creates a tension thick and cold like ice, a tension that makes her feel like she is walking on eggshells in her own home. When he is home, she wears an eternal corset, and when he leaves, the cords snap loose as if cut by a knife and she can breathe again.
He tries to find things to do during the day when he is in Port Royal to avoid her. Away from the home, when possible. Locked in his study, if he must. Today he takes refuge in the garden, sharpening his swords. She enters the kitchen and her eyes find the spot in the back garden where he stands. She watches, because in spite of everything, she is drawn to the way he concentrates so fully, and the tightness in his shoulders as he works. She stands in watching him through the back window. He does it with such precision and structure, even when no one is watching. She wonders if anything could ever break through it. Just then, it happens.
The creature, a huge, fuzzy brown blur, charges at from beneath the hedge without warning. It is almost as tall as his waist and when it crashes headlong into him and the man who is rarely seen without the straightest posture nearly falls over at the impact, for he had been so immersed in his work. She puts a hand to her mouth as he almost doubles over in shock.
"Bloody hell!" he shouts standing upright again, and her eyes widen. She wasn't sure such words were in his vocabulary. He turns to the dog furiously and glares at it. She watches its stance and needs only to be worried for a moment, for it crouches down and yaps at him and she can tell instantly that despite it being fully grown and monstrous it's just an excited pup. Before he can move out of the way, it pounces and grabs hold of his trousers by the ankle and begins to tug gleefully. He tries to shake the dog off, but of course the motion only convinces it further that it has found a new companion to engage in a joyous game of tug-of-war with.
"Get off me, you filthy mongrel! Get on home, bloody fleabag!" he shouts to deaf ears. He shakes helplessly for a bit while the dog wags its tail madly, growling playfully. James eventually gives up and plants the commandeered foot on the ground, sighing. He rolls his eyes as the pup clings on, trying to get him to do that fun shake again.
"Not that this hasn't been delightful," he drawls. "But I believe it is time we both go our separate ways." The dog ignores him and continues attempting to engage him in play. Elizabeth laughs, surprising herself. For all her feelings of entrapment and the inevitable bitterness she has towards him, the part of her that acknowledges that he is a good man whom she should not harbor such hostility towards finds the image positively cute.
The dog holds on, trying to lift the firmly grounded foot off the ground. She watches James and sees a smirk indicating he is quite pleased with himself rise to his face. It always arrives on his face when he's come up with an idea. He reaches for the rag he's been polishing his blade with and waggles it in the dogs face. Its eyes light up and its attention is held long enough for James to throw it to the far end of the yard. The dog bounds after it in an instant, and James turns back to his work, satisfied.
"Bloody mutt," he mumbles, glancing down briefly to inspect the damage. Just as he begins to pick up his sword again, the pup returns and nudges him at the back of his thigh. He turns slowly and looks down at it with as much condescension as he can muster towards an animal that can't appreciate it.
"Don't you have a home of your own to go to?" He glares down at it, and refuses to take the rag the young dog offers, so proud of itself. As he glares, the fervent wagging of its tail slows as it looks at him in utter confusion. Eventually, it stops altogether and its head droops dejectedly. She watches James. He tries to look firm and unmoved, but almost immediately his stern brow softens and he looks thoroughly ashamed of himself for crushing the dreams of such a happy critter. He sighs, and kneels down beside it, not seeming the slightest bit concerned with the damp muddy ground and what it will do to his trousers.. Elizabeth finds herself more and more riveted with every second that passes.
"Alright then, give it here," he says, reaching for it. Instantly the dog springs to life again and jumps back, daring him to grab it. James reaches forward further and the dog takes another jump back. He shakes his head in disbelief and Elizabeth is stunned to see the widest grin on his face she's ever seen. She finds herself grinning too and is unsure of how to react to the sudden rush of tenderness she feels.
She watches him eventually grab hold of the rag and engage in an energetic tussle with the delighted brown dog for a good ten minutes. Finally, the creature begins panting and James' shirt begins to look damp and they both drop the rag. James reaches over and scratches it behind the ears and rubs its head. Then he moves to its back and she can see lines of concern furrow his brow.
"You're skin and bones, mutt," he mutters softly, and she has to strain to hear it through the open window. Then he gets up and heads toward the very window she stands in and she gasps, not wanting to be caught and unsure of what would come of it. She moves herself to a spot where he can't see her, and she momentarily feels a wave of indignation as she watches his strong hands lift up a loaf of bread that had been cooling in the windowsill and remove it. Her loaf of bread. She's still learning to cook, and she's not very good at it, but she takes pride in it. Enough pride to make her indignant over the theft of it. But she's developed a liking for the dog just by watching it, and she supposes she can handle sharing with the starving creature.
Once she feels safe enough to return her spying window, she begins watching again, perplexed by the fascination the scene is causing, when normally she avoids even looking at James when she can get away with it. She watches him break off bits of bread and feed it to the mutt, and she's amazed by the tenderness and fondness with which he looks at it. The annoyed front was clearly just that, for he looks completely delighted and in his own world as he strokes and feeds the wriggling pup.
But she supposes she shouldn't be all that surprised to see such genuine fondness in those green eyes. She catches him looking at her that way from time to time, that same half smile and dreamy gaze etched across his countenance. It always disappears as soon as he realizes she sees him, and she knows he's ashamed to love her when she can't love him, afraid to seem lecherous as he watches his own wife.
She feels a few tears of guilt spring to her eyes as she thinks of it, but brushes them away and watches her husband feed the grateful dog once again. She thinks of all she's seen here, the affection, the smiles, the giving in and sitting gladly on the ground, though it's mucky and soaked from the morning's downpour. She thinks of the laughter she's heard escape his lips as he tussled with the creature, deep and jovial and surprising. She's been unfair. She knows it. There's a man fully capable of emotion standing in her yard, who would have shared his laughter and good humor with her in an instant if only she hadn't made him so terrified of imposing upon her unwanted. With a new sense of resolve, she pushes herself of the countertop she's been leaning on and marches out the back door.
He hears the swing of it and looks up, startled and slightly embarrassed. The dog looks up too, and seems torn between continuing to swallow down chunks of her bread and greeting a new potential friend. She appears to win, for it bounds towards her and leaps up to lick her face, resting his paws on her shoulders and covering her dress with muddy paw prints. She laughs.
"And who might this charming fellow be?" she asks, walking towards a very awkward looking James, the mutt dancing gleefully back and forth between them. He seems surprised that she's smiling so genuinely, and uncomfortable over the fact that he's sitting in the mud so laxly, but knows it would be stranger for him to jump to his feet immediately, so he clicks for the dog to come over to him and speaks up at her.
"I haven't got a clue. The rascal just sauntered in here like he owns the place. I must have left the back gate open by mistake," he says and she's unbalanced how attractive the faint blush on his cheeks is.
"Is he a stray? He's very friendly. You'd think a street dog would be a bit more skittish," she says, trying her hardest not to show how awkward this attempt at reaching out to him feels.
"You're quite right," he says, and she's saddened when she sees the stiffness returning as he adjusts to her presence. "but if he has a home it can't be a very good one. His ribs are protruding fiercely."
She drops to her knees beside him in the mud, and his eyebrows raise ever so slightly as she does so. She begins examining the dog more closely. His fur is matted, and though she could tell from the window that the dog was far too lean to be healthy, seeing him up close is heartbreaking.
"We simply must get some food into the poor creature," she says.
"Y-yes," he agrees, not meeting her eyes. "Definitely."
"Of course, it seems you're a step ahead of me," she says, staring pointedly at her half eaten bread loaf. He blushes.
"S-so it would seem."
"He seems to be well on his way to fattening up," she says, trying to sound jokingly stern, but worried he won't pick up on the fact that she's teasing. It's not as though she's ever once tried to joke with him before, in seven months of marriage.
"With the raisin bread I slaved over all morning," she says, lips twitching, eyebrow raised. He watches her, and she's ashamed of the way his eyes light up with the vaguest glimmer of hope as he seems to realize what she's trying to do. He shouldn't have to be so afraid to hope after all this time. She gives the slightest of nods to encourage him and she sees his shoulders loosen the tiniest bit.
"Forgive me if I speak too plainly," he says, raising an eyebrow to match hers. "But I took the liberty of sampling this thing you call bread, and I believe you should be grateful that our friend here was even able to stomach it."
She snorts with laughter. Real and highly unladylike laughter. Then she immediately tries to look affronted. "Excuse me, James, but I think the cuisine served at sea may have caused permanent damage to your taste buds, because my bread has received nothing but the grandest compliments."
He bites his lip, smiling, and scratches the dog, shaking his head. "And do you really think that your father, though an honest gentleman in every way, can be trusted as an unbiased critic in this matter? Love has been known to blind in the past."
She pouts dramatically, "Is this how you encourage earnest young sailors who are trying their hardest to succeed despite a few minor flaws, Commodore?"
He still seems unsure, incapable of believing that they are teasing each other so lightly, but he's terrified of letting the moment slip away, so he quickly evokes the wit she's never quite appreciated and quips, "If the 'minor flaws' of my men were proportionate to the failings of your raisin bread, I believe my entire fleet would be resting on the bottom of the ocean as we speak."
"James!" she says smacking his shoulder, flabbergasted and impressed. He chuckles, and she knows instantly that she will do all she can to hear that light and highly amused laugh again and again. But despite how lovely it sounds, it doesn't stop her from breaking off a bit of her bread, jumping towards him and shoving it ungracefully into his open mouth.
He sputters and tries to push her away, and the dog who had been calmly allowing himself to be scratched by the couple becomes disgruntled at the lack of attention and tries to join in by jumping on Elizabeth again. He's almost as tall as her while she's kneeling, and because of her awkward position and the suddenness of the pounce she's nearly knocked over.
Like a shot, James' hand shoots around to her back and steadies her. It lingers there until he knows she is steady, and perhaps just a moment longer, but as soon as it's gone she wants it back. This makes her uncomfortable, because she's convinced herself that all she will ever want, forever, is Will, but the absence of that strong but gentle hand feels wrong. She blinks on purpose to break the eye contact and laughs, petting the dog again to remind him that he's not forgotten.
"We shall certainly have to teach him some manners if he's to stay with us," she says.
"Stay?" James blinks.
"You do want him to, don't you?" she asks, now unsure. He gives the dog another stare and sighs.
"Oh, I suppose I do. He's certainly caused quite a bit of trouble since his arrival," he smirks, wiggling his torn trousers at her. "But the mongrel has far too much charm to be turned out."
"Well, then," Elizabeth smiles, kissing the pup on the head. "He'll need a name."
"Flea-infested Plague rather rolls off the tongue, don't you think?" he mutters as the dog begins digging in the dirt beside Elizabeth for no apparent reason, getting her filthy in the few places he hasn't yet destroyed .
"James," she says, covering the dog's ears with her hands and smiling at him. "You'll hurt his feelings. But I'm afraid I'll have to admit that my bread won't be enough to get him healthy again. Not," she warns. "Because there's anything wrong with it, of course. But he's a dog. He needs some meat."
James nods, and she stands up. Then, feeling nervous and exhilarated, she offers an outstretched hand to him to help him up. He ogles it for the briefest instant before taking it, smiling.
"Alright then, let's find the poor creature something suitable to eat," he says. Once he's up, he begins to let go of her hand, but she doesn't let him. They walk towards the house, their new dog leading the way proudly.
In an hour, they decide on a name. That night, he leaves her panting for breath. She falls asleep happier than she's been in over seven months. The next day, they both blush with embarrassment when her father finds them in the garden, soaked and covered in soap, trying to rid Bandit of fleas and knots and mud. In a month, she softly tells him the truth about her mother in the quiet of the night; that she didn't die, but she left on a whim, leaving her confused and hurt, leaving her father a broken man. He holds her tight and kisses the top of her head as she speaks and doesn't let go until morning. In two months, she goes a whole day without even thinking of the blacksmith William Turner. In three months she knows that James Norrington has her whole heart and will have it forever.
A/N: There you have it. My first non-angsty Norribeth. Feedback is love.