(Disclaimer: I do not own Pirates of the Caribbean or any of the characters, plots, settings, etc. I don't even claim them as muses. They just sort of sprang out from under the bed and... yeah. Anywhoo. None of it's mine. I am only playing in zee universe, kay? No suing for mass quantities of money, please. Starving college student!)

In hindsight, it had all started out innocently enough.

Elizabeth Swann leaned against the rail of His Majesty's new ship Relentless and breathed in the wind. She stood at the prow, as was her habit, and listened to the sounds of the sailors and officers manning the ship behind her. Grasping one of the lines that ran back from the bowsprit, she could almost be flying - with no ship, no people, and no responsibilities - just a star sailing over the ocean, with no promises to anyone but herself.

"Must you stand so close to the front, dear? I fear you'll go over."

Her father loomed beside her, and she turned to smile at him. "Father, I have no intentions of falling overboard. The taste of seawater lost its appeal after they made me walk the plank."

He shuddered, no doubt entertaining images of his precious daughter being hounded by Barbossa's cheerful band of demons. Her nightmares had ended within weeks of the entire debacle, but her father's continued even three months later. "Must we speak of that? Your young blacksmith has been hovering about the wheel, trying to convince the Commodore to let him have a turn at it. Perhaps if you distracted him..."

"Will likes to steer," she said bluntly. "Norrington had best let him do it if he wants any peace throughout this trial."

"You look more like your mother each day." Governor Swann's voice had grown wistful, and Elizabeth cringed inwardly in anticipation of another profound remark dredged up from her father's memory. "And act more like a rogue."

Well, that wasn't so bad. "I can't help it, father. I was, after all, held hostage by dreadful pirates, and I am simply so young and impressionable." She batted her eyes at him.

He patted her head. "I suppose I have Sparrow to thank for that. But please, do get Will away from Norrington, or I fear your blacksmith will receive his own taste of walking the plank - in the form of... what is it the Commodore likes to say?"

"A sudden drop and short stop? Or is it the other way around?" Elizabeth turned around and cupped her hands around her mouth. "WILL! JOIN ME!" She winked at her father as he winced. "No, Papa, you can't blame that one on Sparrow."

Will came along presently, his warm dark eyes glittering in the sunshine. "I do believe Norrington wishes he'd hanged me rather than that pirate last month," he said, placing a chaste kiss on her cheek. Governor Swann murmured a farewell and excused himself, leaving the pair to themselves on the prow. "Your father still isn't terribly pleased about all this, is he?"

"He must think there's some hope for you, else he would have let you pester Norrington until you swung from the yardarm." The Governor Swann had not been pleased with his daughter's choice of suitor; Will was, after all, merely a blacksmith - albeit the finest in Port Royal. Will had been ready to marry her the instant Jack Sparrow had leaped (fell seemed such a cruel word - particularly when he had been preparing to leap) from the fort wall and to freedom, but Swann had requested a courting period first. To see how you two suit one another, he'd said. Elizabeth supposed that was all well and good; Will remained unbearably shy around her - that one kiss on her cheek must have taken all his courage. During her younger years, they had been playmates, always cavorting about the blacksmith's shop - but those days had ended when she turned sixteen. Papa had reined her in, required her to be ladylike and adult. Her dear William Turner had become a happy memory rather than a friend.

Swann gave every indication of extending the olive branch, though. After all, he'd invited Will along on the sea trials of the Relentless, so clearly he was trying to get to know his future son-in-law. Then again... Corwin Norrington had been invited along as well.

But that might have been because he was the Commodore, and this was a ship in his charge. Not inviting him might have been like inciting a mutiny.

Or something like that.

Will nudged her. "You look thoughtful."

"I'm wondering if Papa brought you aboard so Commodore Norrington could dispose of you."

"You certainly have a way with words."

"Commodore!" Both turned around at the sailor's shout. "Ship to port!"

Elizabeth immediately swung her head to the left, spotted the thickly-made three-master that skimmed about over the water under full sail. "That doesn't look like one of the Navy's ships..."

"Look, sir - pirates!" Will doubtlessly found himself quite funny for the three seconds that followed his quip.


No sooner had the words been screeched from the lookout when the ship turned toward them - and yes, there was the black flag sailing from the mizzenmast. Will reached for her hand and began pulling her back to the main deck, to relative safety behind the ship's big guns. Elizabeth, however, lingered a moment longer - long enough to allow a scowl to creep across her face. "Oh, not again."

Commodore Corwin Norrington could hardly believe his good luck. Here he was, testing out the Royal Navy's newest pirate-hunter, and here, right in her scope, came a pirate!

Sometimes, life could be just a bit too perfect.

Now if only Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann had stayed home...

"Can you mark her, sir?" His lieutenant had ordered the gun crews to attention, but as yet no action had been taken.

Corwin snapped his spyglass shut upon seeing the dagger marked on the flag. "A dagger, which would that be?"

"Gerrarrd," the bosun whispered. "Wickedry."

That gave him pause. Wickedry had been a fear even when the Black Pearl had sailed under her curse; in the absence of the famed walking skeletons, she had improved her reputation even further. Relentless, though, had been designed with catching the likes of Wickedry and her fast-sailing pirate kin, and Corwin dearly wanted to see how his new ship would perform. "Then Wickedry shall fire her last today, shan't she? Bring us to her, and prepare to open fire!"

The crew sent up rousing cheers, and Corwin held back a satisfied smile as he heard Governor Swann attempting to cajole his daughter into retiring. Of course the girl would stay put; she had a taste for adventure, unladylike as it was - and the hunting of pirates was a grand adventure indeed.

"Oh, let her stay, Governor," he said. Elizabeth sent him a startled look. "So long as she remains in the shelter of the aft deck, this should be over soon enough." And if a stray cannon damages poor Mr. Turner, well, life's unfair, isn't it? Corwin had never been overly-fond of the young blacksmith, but who could blame him if his initial distrust turned to outright dislike after the entire pirate debacle? Elizabeth had vowed to wed him, damnall, not some eager-faced pup who gawked at everything in sight. He signaled to his crew. "Ready, men?"

"Are you quite sure it will be safe?" Governor Swann asked, worrying his handkerchief. Corwin bobbed his head.

"This will be entirely too easy, Governor. Now, if you please, we have a pirate to kill."

From across the gulf between the two ships, the first shots were exchanged. They fell short and went long as the two vessels gauged the distance and their gun crews made adjustments. Wickedry had been designed with long venturing in mind and had come off a successful hunt; her crew was in this for the blood. Relentless charged hard in the manner that only a new and fresh ship could, her larger cannon pounding away.

It would have been an evenly-matched fight at best, a thorough drubbing at worst. Wickedry might have been a feared vessel in the Caribbean, but it would take more than just Wickedry to knock aside the mighty Relentless.

That is, if Relentless's rudder hadn't taken a most-unfortunate hit at an inopportune moment.

Everyone aboard Relentless felt the ship jerk as the shot connected. Elizabeth half-expected to see her father faint clean away the moment it happened, but Governor Swann somehow clung to consciousness by leaning back against the entry to the captain's quarters. She and Will, of course, were having the time of their lives goggling at the Wickedry as she closed ground.

"Damage?" Norrington called from the forward guns.

"She's not responding to helm, sir!"

The note of panic in the sailor's voice was enough to draw further attention. Elizabeth stepped back from the rail and noticed for the first time how large Wickedry looked. Norrington raced up to the helm, and she heard the shouts and bellows that followed him - rudder, sir! They took it clean off!

"The rudder is gone?" Will reached for the cutlass he had stowed at his hip. "Elizabeth, perhaps you had best--"

"Help them fix it! I agree." She took the stairs to the aft deck two at a time before Will could correct her, promptly poking her head over the stern. Stupid exaggerating sailors. The rudder itself was still attached to the ship, but the shot had damaged the mechanism. Norrington scowled.

"Damned lucky hit is what it is..." He began bellowing a series of thoroughly-incomprehensible orders to the crew, and those that weren't manning the guns were sent aloft to work with the canvas. "Brute strength is what they want, brute strength is what they'll receive."

Wickedry had taken the first bite. Relentless, moving sluggishly at best, took aim once more with her port guns.

One shot ripped through Wickedry's canvas.

The others missed.

Wickedry loomed closer.

"Lieutenant," Corwin murmured, so as not to disturb the cowering governor, "prepare to repel boarders."

"Aye, Commodore."

"Miss Swann, perhaps you should step inside - and calm your father down." He sent a meaningful look towards the governor, who had placed a hand over his heart and looked quite close to hyperventilating. Elizabeth might handle herself admirably on the battlefield, but the decks of a vessel in combat were still no place for a woman.

"I concur, Commodore." To his great surprise, Elizabeth gathered her father up and guided him into the captain's quarters. He proceeded to pat himself on the back for his wonderful diplomatic skills when Elizabeth stepped back outside and shut the door behind her. The look she gave him forbade further discussion. "My father is comfortable."

You are an infuriating woman! He might have said such a thing aloud, if they had been alone. She probably would have slapped him for it, and his cheek tingled at the thought.

"Sails to starboard, sir!"

"Good Lord, not another one!" Corwin snatched up his spyglass and squinted over the water. Perhaps if Dauntless had come out to make sure all was well... but no ensign flew from the trim three-master. Indeed, no flag flew at all. "She's got... a mark on one of her sails... a black circle..."

Of course, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann could not possibly let that one go. As one, they sprinted to the starboard rail of the ship, mindless of the cannonballs landing in the water all around them. "The Black Pearl!"