Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters; I just borrow them for fun sometimes!

A/N: Just some good old fashioned fluff. It ties into my "One Day" story, but it can be enjoyed by itself as well! Pre-COTBP but also contains some AWE spoilers.

Propriety and Pearls

Elizabeth Swann was not a morning person. She rather enjoyed keeping her blinds pulled tightly to lock out the morning sun until it was absolutely necessary to get up. On this particular day, however, she was not allowed the luxury of sleeping in. It was her birthday and, more importantly, the day she would be introduced into Port Royal society as a young woman. After a formal tea and a ball in the evening, she would be considered eligible to be sought after for a suitable marriage.

When Estrella came in to rouse her, she was already wide awake. She had not slept much the night before, tossing and turning in deep thought. She did not feel like a lady and had no interest in cementing her status as one. Elizabeth had found that she much preferred walking barefoot in the sand to swooning over luxurious heeled shoes like other girls her age. She was happiest when her hair was blowing in the salty breeze and she did not have to worry about impressing others. It drove her father mad, she knew, but she could not help it.

They had lived in Port Royal for several years and she had never felt that she really belonged there. In truth, she found that she missed the months she had spent on the sea when she was a young girl on her way to a new city. She felt gloriously free as she looked over the bow and had dreamed of being a great captain one day. She knew that this could never be, but no one could stop her from daydreaming about it.

As Estrella helped her dress, she let her mind wander to the true reason she missed her last sea voyage. Along the way, she had found Will Turner floating on a piece of driftwood amongst the wreckage of a ship. She had taken a liking to him immediately. When he regained consciousness, they became fast friends and spent the rest of the voyage walking around the deck together. They would talk about anything and everything, and she had to endure long lectures from her father about what was or was not appropriate to discuss with a young boy of a lower station. Elizabeth never cared about the differences between herself and Will; if anything, the stark contrast between their lifestyles drew her closer to him. Once they arrived in Port Royal, her father arranged for Will to be an apprentice to Mr. Brown, the local blacksmith. She was unable to see him often, but they tried to keep in touch as best as possible.

She was thankful that Estrella was dressing her in a simple dress for the morning. When she noted this, Estrella laughed.

"Well, miss," she replied. "I figure that you will be in most uncomfortable dresses the rest of the day. You should have the morning to relax a bit."

Elizabeth thanked her and said that she was ready to take her breakfast. Estrella nodded and walked with Elizabeth down to the dining room, where her father was sitting drinking coffee. He looked up when she entered the room and quickly stood.

"Ah, Elizabeth! Happy birthday, my dear. I cannot believe this day has finally come." He wrapped her in a hug and she forced a smile. He was so excited about her big day, the least she could do was humor him and lead him to believe that she was just as anxious.

"Thank you, father. I can hardly believe it, either." She sat at the opposite end of the table and began to nibble on her toast. Her stomach was in knots, dreading the rest of the day. If the horrendous ordeal that was picking out a "coming out gown" was any indication of what it would be like becoming a lady, she knew that it would be a very long one.

She had been late for the gown fitting because she had been walking down the docks with Will. She had snuck out to do so, and when Madame Leroux had come to the manor, her father had no idea she was not there. He was furious with her when she ran back into the house; her hair disheveled and sweat beading on her forehead. She apologized profusely and said that she had gone for a walk in the garden and had lost track of the hour. Elizabeth quickly ascended the staircase to her bedroom, where Madame Leroux was waiting impatiently. She had several gowns for Elizabeth to try on, none of which immediately caught her eye.

As Elizabeth stepped into gown after gown, she began to get lost in all the different colors and styles and layers. When she tried on an elaborate baby blue dress, she looked at herself in the mirror and, while she liked the way she looked in it, she felt tears sting the back of her eyes. This was not what she wanted, but there was no way to stop it. She then decided that she needed to steel herself and bear it. Many girls only dreamed of being as lucky as she, and she knew that she should be grateful for the luxuries her father's position afforded her.

After nearly an hour, Elizabeth's indecisiveness was irritating Madam Leroux, who had quickly grown tired of trying to convince her that each dress was even lovelier on her than the last. Elizabeth had sighed in frustration, ready to hang the idea of a ball altogether, when she saw it. A beautiful gown that she had not seen before, peeking out from below a large mountain of fabric and lace. It was simple but elegant, a soft gold satin dress with a lace overlay down the front bodice. She gasped and immediately asked Madame Leroux to help her put it on.

When the laces were drawn and she stood before her mirror for the thousandth time that afternoon, she knew that she had found her dress. It was not nearly as elaborate as the countless dresses she had already seen, but that was what appealed to her. It was beautiful in its simplicity. The color brought out the honey tones of her eyes and the full skirt was actually comfortable, something she did not expect from any sort of ball gown. It had been a long and strenuous day, but she was satisfied. Even if she had no desire to become a lady, there was no issue with wanting to be a pretty one.

Governor Swann's coughs at the other end of the breakfast table brought Elizabeth back to the present. She gave him one last smile as she finished her food and stood up. He stood up along with her and asked her where she was off to. She shrugged noncommittally and said she was not sure, but she had hours until afternoon tea so her whereabouts should not be a problem. Her father immediately gave her a stern look.

"Now, Elizabeth, I don't like you wandering the streets unchaperoned. It is not proper and today, of all days, you should remember that. Know your place, my dear. If I were you, I would go to the parlor and spend the morning reading before tea. There is no use going out in the sun and exhausting yourself. You have a long day ahead."

Elizabeth looked at her father and bit her tongue. She knew better than to refuse him but she knew she could not stay cooped up in the manor all day without driving herself insane. She chose not to speak and nodded curtly before exiting the room.

Estrella was in the parlor, straightening up for the ladies who would be there later that afternoon. Elizabeth coughed softly to call attention to herself and Estrella looked up, startled.

"Hello, miss. Do you need anything?"

"No, Estrella, I'm fine. I…well, as you said, it is going to be quite a trying day and I fancy a walk in the garden to clear my head for a bit. If my father asks, would you mind telling him that I am napping in my bedroom?" Elizabeth smiled hopefully, knowing that sometimes she had to convince her maid to do her bidding.

Sure enough, Estrella's face grew doubtful and she glanced around the room fretfully.

"Oh, miss, I'm not sure today is the best day. You've so much to do and time is of the essence and I don't want your father to be angry…"

Elizabeth quickly crossed the room and grabbed Estrella's hands in her own. She hated to resort to pleading, but she knew she had to get out of the house before she lost her mind.

"Please, Estrella, you don't understand. I need to walk, I need time to myself. If I don't, then there's no way I'll be able to keep my composure at the tea, let alone at the ball. Please?"

Estrella reluctantly agreed to cover for her, and Elizabeth quickly ran to her room to shed her outer dress. She knew better than to leave the house in nothing but her cotton underlay, so she grabbed a brown vest that she kept for occasions just like this. She threw it on and opened her window, taking the route down the trellis as she had done so many times before. If there was anything less ladylike than climbing down the side of her house, she did not know of it. She dusted her hands when she reached the ground and began to take the well-worn path behind the garden to the beach.

Elizabeth had walked this path countless times over the years, a path that hid her from view and led her to a secluded stretch of the shore, away from the busy port. It was her favorite place on the island and she went there to collect her thoughts and daydream about her future. She quickly walked to her favorite spot; a flat rock that jutted out from the shore over the sea. She tiptoed from rock to rock until she reached it and sat down. She removed her shoes and slowly dipped her feet into the cool blue sea, leaning back to appreciate the sun's warmth and the light breeze that ruffled her hair.

This was her haven. Hearing nothing but the crashing waves and being able to retreat to her own thoughts soothed her like nothing else. The smell of salt in the air and the small sting on the palm of her hands from the heat that emanated off of her perch lulled her into a sense of peace. She had brought Will there a few times before, and they had walked barefoot in the surf, talking about their dreams and planning the many adventures that they would go on together one day.

As Elizabeth reminisced, she felt her smile fade and her stomach churn slightly. She knew that, starting today, her time with Will would be cut drastically. When she was younger she allowed herself to get lost in her and Will's fantasies about sailing the high seas , but as the years went by, Will began to slip in reminders about what was proper and what was not. No matter how close they had become, he still called her Miss Swann, even when they were walking alone and barefoot in the sand. When she would spout off whatever new pirate story she had heard, he would shake his head and tell her that pirates had no revering qualities. She would laugh off his remarks and quickly attempt to lighten the mood by lightly kicking water in his direction. The subject would change and they would go back to being a blacksmith's apprentice and the governor's daughter.

The complexity of her relationship with Will Turner was something that confused Elizabeth to her very core. He was, without doubt, her closest friend. At the same time, she felt a growing and unwanted distance between the two of them and she was powerless to stop it. Her father liked him but warned her every chance he could that she should not spend as much time with him as she would like to—no suitable man would want to engage in a courtship with a lady who constantly ran about with a blacksmith.

She had ignored her father's comments for years, but she was starting to see that he was right. She did not want to agree but she knew that she could not go against her father. She was to become a lady of society and find a smart match and settle down. Her heart felt heavy at the thought and she sighed, slowly bringing her right foot out of the water and dipping it back in.

A soft cough brought her out of her reverie and she quickly turned her head to see Will Turner standing behind her.

"Miss Swann? What are you doing here?" he asked hesitantly.

"Will! I was just…sitting. Thinking. I don't know really. I just needed some time to myself." She quickly stood and smoothed out her cotton dress, taking the hand he offered to assist her off the rocks and onto the sand.

His face fell slightly and he nodded.

"Ah, I see. Well, if you want to be alone, I don't want to interfere…" He began to step back but she stopped him.

"No!" She cried. She quickly realized how desperate she had sounded and regained composure. "No. It's all right if you stay. It would be nice to talk for awhile." She smiled at him and he nodded in assent.

"If it's not too bold, Miss Swann, what were you thinking about?"

"Will, for the thousandth time, it is Elizabeth. Honestly. And I wasn't thinking about anything of consequence, really…just about life in general I suppose."

They began walking slowly down the beach and Will could not help but notice Elizabeth's beauty in the late morning sun.

"Well, Miss Swann," he emphasized her name, smiling when she rolled her eyes. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"I wish there was, Mister Turner," she shot back playfully. "But unfortunately it is just problems of a somewhat feminine nature." She noted his blush and had to refrain from laughing. It was so easy to set him off balance; she could not help but tease him from time to time.

He coughed and willed himself into composure before nodding. Then, without warning, Elizabeth stopped walking and sighed deeply. He turned to face her and saw that her eyes had filled with tears.

"Will…I'm frightened. Today is the day that I have dreaded for so long and now that it is here I am afraid I am unprepared for it. Things are going to be so different from now on, and there is nothing I can do to change that. I'm so sorry…"

Will knew exactly what she was referring to. While he was not of a high enough station to be invited, Elizabeth's coming out ball that evening had been the talk of Port Royal for several weeks. He knew that after that night she would be considered a young woman, no longer a girl. She would be expected to attended formal teas and balls and cotillions nearly every day of the week—leaving her very little time to spend with him. He, too, had been dreading this day for a long time. However, he knew that Elizabeth was meant for great things, and her position in society placed her at a great advantage. Their childhood dreams of living on the sea had long since become hazy fantasies. Propriety was the new priority, and he did well to remember it, especially when she did not.

"Miss Swann, I understand; don't worry. You will be fine, I promise. Just because we cannot see each other as much as we have before does not mean I won't be here for you. If you ever have a need of me, we can arrange to meet here. I know it will be hard for you to slip away, but I assure you we can manage it."

She refused to let the tears fall and nodded. She was not entirely convinced, but she did know that she trusted Will more than anyone. If he said he would be there for her, he would be. If he had faith in her, then she could find the strength to get through the day.

Suddenly she realized that she had lost track of time. Elizabeth knew she could not risk her father's anger and Estrella's trust and therefore could not be late to her own tea. She quickly picked up the hem of her skirt and sighed.

"I hate to leave, Will, but I'm afraid I must."

Will nodded again and reminded her that she knew where to find him if she needed him. She smiled gratefully and began to walk away from him, without turning her back to him yet.

"Thank you for everything, Will. Goodbye."

"Goodbye, Miss Swann." He dipped his head politely and watched as she slowly turned and began to walk swiftly back to the path that would lead her home.

She quickly climbed the trellis back to her room and pulled herself through her open window to see a frantic Estrella pacing the floor.

"Miss! Thank goodness you're back! The ladies are waiting downstairs; we must get you dressed quickly—fashionably late was ten minutes ago!"

Elizabeth quickly obliged and allowed Estrella to dress her and pull her hair into a large twist. There was no time for ornaments or curls, so she quickly powdered her face to hide its recent exposure to the sun and made her way down the stairs.

She made sure to keep her back perfectly straight and walked down each stair carefully, as if she were treading on eggshells. Estrella went in ahead of her and announced her to the group of ladies seated in the parlor. She greeted them all politely and stiffly sat down in the chair designated for her.

She took a deep breath and glanced around the room. The women were all older than her; members of the highest rank of Port Royal society. They asked her several questions about what she had read and how she took her tea. As she sat, she tried her best to keep focused on the conversation.

"Elizabeth, my dear," a particularly refined woman began. "We want you to know how thrilled we are that you have finally come of age. We know that you will do us all proud tonight at your ball. We have made sure to invite every eligible bachelor in hopes that you might make a good match tonight—no need to waste any time!"

Elizabeth allowed herself a polite chuckle and nodded her head, a fake smile plastered on her face. As the woman turned to speak to the other ladies of the room, Elizabeth could not help but turn her face away from them all and allow her smile to turn into a scowl. She rolled her eyes, knowing that she was not nearly ready to be someone's wife. She took another deep breath to compose herself and turned back to the conversation, back to her façade.

The tea lasted shortly over an hour, but it seemed like an eternity. Elizabeth could not take much more and had to refrain from jumping out of her chair when Mrs. Lennox, the leader of the Women's Society of Port Royal and the head of every young woman's coming out tea, announced that they should leave and let Elizabeth get ready for her big night.

She managed to keep a steady hand as she bade her guests farewell and told them she would see them all shortly. As soon as they had all left, she leaned over and took off her painful heels before climbing the stairs back to her bedroom. She threw herself facedown on her bed, not caring if her dress wrinkled.

Estrella soon followed and had to stop herself from scolding the poor girl. She knew that Elizabeth wanted nothing more than to live her own life, free and happy, and she knew that Elizabeth felt the walls closing in on her. She sat down on the bed and hesitantly patted Elizabeth on the back.

"Now, now, Miss. You're doing splendidly. Now let's get you out of that dress and into your ball gown. I've brought your supper up so that you won't have to worry about eating during the festivities tonight. And, if you are hungry afterwards, I have some sweets stowed away that I can bring you privately before you go to bed."

Elizabeth turned her head at that and smiled at Estrella. She had come to see her as a confidant and sister over the years, and knew that she would always look out for her.

"Thank you, Estrella." She sighed and rolled over onto her back before sitting up. She took a few bites of her supper but realized she had no appetite. "If you would like, we can go ahead and start getting ready. Let's surprise my father and be early for once, yes?"

Estrella smiled and nodded before standing up and retrieving Elizabeth's gold gown.

Elizabeth walked behind her changing wall and allowed Estrella to help her change clothes. She could not help but relish the feel of the satin gown as she was being laced up, and she played with the lace that hung down from her sleeves at her elbow.

When the dress was on, she stepped out and walked to her mirror. She smiled and walked to her vanity, where she began to put on touches of rouge and colored pencil to accent her features. Estrella began tugging at her hair and twisted it into an elaborate bun. She pulled out hair for curling and spent nearly an hour assuring that every tendril was in place before bringing Elizabeth a pair of lovely earrings.

Elizabeth looked at the jewelry, her eyes full of question.

"Your father wants you to wear these this evening, Miss. He said that they were your mother's, that she wore them on their wedding day. He also bid me tell you happy birthday and that they are now yours to keep."

Elizabeth smiled and placed the earrings in her ears before sliding off her chair. She took a deep breath and walked over to her mirror one last time. She could not help but smile for a moment, but then felt the familiar sting of tears behind her eyes once more. This was it; there was no turning back. She was officially a woman, fit to be an ornament for some captain in the King's Navy.

Estrella noted how beautiful she looked and Elizabeth thanked her before bracing herself for her grand entrance. She peeked out of her bedroom and heard the sound of people's voices carrying up the stairs. She knew it would be crowded and she knew that she would have to make a good first impression. She felt her stomach twist into yet another knot when her father appeared at the end of the hallway.

"Elizabeth, you look breathtaking! Such a beautiful woman you have become! It is time, are you ready?"

Thinking to herself that she would never really be ready, she put on a brave smile and nodded to her father before taking his arm. They began to slowly descend the stairs, and she felt immediately uncomfortable as the room grew silent and every eye focused on her. She noticed the crowd begin to murmur their approval as she finally reached the bottom stair and curtsied deeply. When she raised herself, she was immediately surrounded by several young girls her age.

"Oh, Elizabeth, darling, you look simply gorgeous!"

"Why, wherever did you get that dress? It's so unique!"

"Elizabeth, doesn't it seem like just yesterday we were dreaming of this day?"

"Can you believe that Captain Henslowe is here? Isn't he a fine man?"

Elizabeth tried to smile politely but quickly became lost in the chatter going on around her. She did her best to respond to everyone, but was thankful when her father dragged her away for some formal introductions. When Elizabeth noticed that her father was bringing her in the direction of several smiling men in uniform, she felt an uncomfortable swooping feeling in her stomach. She had forgotten one of the purposes of the evening—to find a suitable match for her.

Her father introduced her to several men, all of whom smiled broadly at her and heartily agreed with her father whenever he commented on her exquisite beauty. She could not tell if a single one of them was being sincere and she found that she did not care. She knew that she just needed to make it through the next few hours and then she would be free to go back to her room and her own bed, where she could spend the night dreaming about what she really wanted in her life.

Just as she was beginning to get lost in a sea of unfamiliar faces, her father pulled her to a corner where a man was waiting that she had actually met before.

"Ah, Elizabeth, I trust you remember Captain James Norrington from our journey here?"

James smiled at Elizabeth and she smiled back, nodding.

"Of course! It's so nice to see you again, Captain. I trust you are well?"

"Well, indeed, Miss Swann. You look lovely tonight."

"Thank you, Captain, and thank you for coming."

"Of course. I was delighted to be invited. I trust that you are enjoying your time now that you are done with your daily lessons?"

"Yes, indeed. I must admit that studying history and languages became quite taxing over the years. I am glad to be rid of them, honestly." She allowed herself another smile. While he was twice her age, she could see that Captain Norrington was at least genuinely interested in what she had to say.

"Ah, I understand completely, Miss Swann. I was never one for languages, either. I much preferred spending time on the sea rather than pent up inside."

She began to nod in agreement, but stopped herself when she heard a short cough from her father. She knew that she had to give every gentleman an equal share of her time throughout the evening, and it was time to move to the next.

"Well, Captain, it was lovely to see you and I hope you enjoy your evening," Elizabeth stated as she curtsied for what seemed like the thousandth time that hour.

"Indeed, Miss Swann. I hope you have a splendid birthday."

She smiled and thanked him before following her father across the room.

Meanwhile, outside of the manor, Will Turner ducked behind a patch of bushes to avoid being seen. He knew that he had no business being there, but his meeting with Elizabeth earlier that afternoon had concerned him. He felt the need to make sure she was all right, even if it was only by looking through a window.

He crept over to the windowsill and slowly peered into the manor, searching for a glimpse of Elizabeth amongst the throngs of people. He did not see her immediately, and had to duck quickly before someone glanced his way. A young man looking through the window of the governor's house would hardly be considered appropriate, and he did not want to get in trouble. He waited a few moments with his back against the wall before slowly turning back to the window.

Suddenly, as if by divine intervention, the crowds parted and he saw her plainly. She looked more beautiful than he had ever seen her, and more like a woman than he had ever seen her as well. Her hair was elegantly piled atop her head and the gold satin of her dress complimented her skin perfectly. If he were closer, he knew that her eyes would be accentuated by the color as well. He felt an odd pain in his chest and realized that she had taken his breath away. He unconsciously put a hand to his heart, feeling his pulse quicken. She was the loveliest creature he had ever beheld, and he knew that he would be hard-pressed to ever get close to her again.

His racing heart fell to his stomach as he once again reminded himself that he was watching Elizabeth's coming out to society—her transition into womanhood. She was in there meeting several young men, all of whom would be fools not to want her hand in marriage. Will felt his muscles tense, knowing that he could never compete with them, knowing that he would never be worthy of her. He continued to look at her until he worried that someone might see him. He placed his back against the wall once more and let himself sink to the ground. He sat in the grass and thought about the changes this night would bring. He had given his heart to Elizabeth Swann long ago, and he knew that he would never get it back. He had grown up with her, watching her mature and seeing her in her moments of rare abandon, when she could forget about what her father expected of her and simply be herself. He cherished those moments, and it was then he always fell deeper in love with her. When he was with her, he felt happier than he ever thought he could feel, and he had been dreading the day that she would have to surrender to her father's expectations. She was a woman now, and she must behave accordingly. Will always prided himself on his ability to maintain composure and propriety around Elizabeth, but deep down he wanted nothing more than to be able to hold her and call her his own. He wanted to call her by her first name and take her on the many adventures they had talked about, but he knew that it could never be. As he sat outside, listening to the music drifting out into the garden, he worried that he would never get to see Elizabeth in that air of abandon again.

As the ball continued inside, Elizabeth began to lose track of everyone she had met throughout the course of the evening. She had danced with several potential suitors, smiling and curtsying graciously after each waltz. She had sipped on champagne and engaged in light conversation with Mrs. Lennox and the women that had attended her tea as well as the girls her age. Her head was beginning to spin as she thought about everything the evening stood for and everything that was to be expected of her from that night on. Suddenly, she felt disoriented and short of breath. The crowds of people dancing in circles around her made her feel dizzy and she wanted nothing more than to stand in the middle of the room and scream just to see if anyone would really notice. She did not scream, however. She politely excused herself and began to walk towards the backdoor to the garden. She kept her composure while she was still in people's view, but as soon as she stepped past the threshold and into the garden, she broke into a run. She kicked off her heels and turned quickly, headed for the path to the beach. The tears that she had held back the entire day finally began to fall, slowly at first but quickly escalading into steady streams down her cheeks, smudging her carefully applied rouge. She began to tug at her hair, pulling out the perfectly arranged pins and allowed her curls to fall down around her shoulders.

"Miss Swann? Miss Swann! Are you all right?!"

She turned sharply at the voice behind her and was shocked to see Will standing there, looking thoroughly concerned and just as shocked to see her.

"Will!" she cried, forgetting herself and running to him, throwing her arms around his neck.

He stumbled at the unexpected weight of her form rushing into him, and gulped as he realized the compromising position she had placed them both in. He looked around cautiously before he allowed his arms to wrap themselves around her in a strong embrace. He had never seen her cry like that before, and he did not have the slightest idea how to react to it.

When she finally pulled away and wiped the tears off her cheeks with the back of her hand, he swallowed hard and led her to a nearby bench in the garden.

"Miss Swann, what are you doing out here? What's wrong?"

She choked back her sobs and took a deep breath before speaking.

"Oh, Will, I just don't think I can do it. This is not me. I am not meant for this life and I hate feeling trapped all the time. I want to do as I please but that can never be and I hate that I feel so helpless. It just got to be too much and I needed to get out. I felt suffocated; I couldn't breathe…" She hiccupped through her tears, suddenly realizing that she must look a fright. She gasped and in vain began attempting to rearrange her hair into the elaborate style it had been in before she carelessly let it fall.

In a moment of sheer insanity, Will found himself reaching up for the hand she had twisted in her hair.

"Don't," he said softly. "You look beautiful. I promise." He felt his face immediately blush at his forward comment, and he looked away quickly.

Shocked by his heartfelt compliment, Elizabeth slowly let her hair fall back down around her shoulders and gave Will a small smile.

"Thank you, Will. I'm so sorry for my behavior, I did not know anyone was out he—hold on a moment, why are you out here?"

Will felt his face blush an even deeper scarlet and was thankful that the night sky hid it from Elizabeth.

"I…I was concerned for you and I just wanted to know you were all right. So, I…well, I came up here to check on you. I haven't been here long, I promise. I just looked through the window for a moment to see how you were doing and I saw you dancing and smiling and I thought…well, I thought that you were doing fine. I was just getting ready to leave before you came out here. I am so sorry for the intrusion; I know I should not be here. I'll leave at once." He quickly stood from the bench, but stopped short when he suddenly felt her small hand grab a hold of his own. She looked up at him, her eyes still shining with unshed tears.

"Please, don't go, Will. Not yet. I'm glad that you were here for me, just like you promised you always would be. I appreciate your concern, I truly do." She tugged on his hand and encouraged him to sit back down. He obliged her, and felt his pulse quicken once more as he noticed she did not release his hand—rather, she entwined her fingers with his own. He took a deep breath and forced himself to look into her eyes. She was smiling softly now, the moonlight illuminating her beauty even more than the lights of the ballroom had.

They sat in silence for several moments, listening to the soft chirping of crickets and letting the salty breeze soothe them. Neither of them wanted to break the moment, but Elizabeth knew that she could not stay. Her father would be looking for her, and she knew that if he found her outside with Will Turner and without a chaperone, she would never hear the end of it. She squeezed Will's hand once more and looked at him sadly.

"Thank you again, Will, but I'm afraid I must return. Unfortunately, I'm the guest of honor and I'm expected to be present." She laughed through the last of her tears and took several deep breaths to regain her composure. She wiped her face once more and began to place her hair in a more acceptable style before she went back into the manor.

Will nodded and released her hand, watching as she readied herself. As they both stood up she gave him one last smile before turning back towards the house. Suddenly, he remembered the other reason he had come to the manor.

"Oh! Um, Miss Swann?" He called after her.

She turned back to him and began to walk in his direction.

"Yes, Will?"

"I, um, I forgot to give you this." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a very small drawstring bag and handed it to Elizabeth. She looked up at him, her eyes wide with surprise, before looking back to the bag and loosening the strings. She turned the bag upside down and grasped a delicate chain, holding up to see it better. It was a very thin silver chain with a single white pearl strung on it. She gasped and turned toward the light coming from the house to get a better look.

"Will! It's…it's beautiful! But you didn't have to—"

"I wanted to, Miss Swann. It's a pearl that I found on the beach one day, right after we finished talking about how we wanted to find out the meaning of life, do you remember?" Elizabeth nodded and he continued. "After you left, I was walking down the shore and I found a clam and opened it to find this pearl and I realized that part of that clam's purpose is to make pearls. I wanted to give it to you, so I saved it for today."

She smiled and held the perfect pearl delicately in her palm.

"Thank you, Will. Thank you so much."

"Of course, Miss Swann. I just want you to know that I have faith in you. You'll find the meaning of life one day, I'm sure of it. You'll discover your purpose. Keep a weather eye on the horizon and you'll see. I just hope this helps you to keep that in mind." He dipped his head respectfully and began to walk away from her before he lost complete control of his emotions.

She noticed his steps and quickly closed the distance between them, giving him a chaste kiss on the cheek.

"I'll cherish it, Will. I promise." She turned to go back inside, glancing at him one last time from the doorway.

"Happy birthday…Elizabeth," he said, loud enough for her to hear. She grinned broadly at him.

"Why thank you…Mister Turner," she replied cheekily before stepping into the house and closing the door behind her.

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Elizabeth Turner looked at her husband as he sat in their bed, reading before they went to sleep. The next day was her birthday, the first she would be able to share with Will in ten long years. He had returned to her just months before, and she still had to convince herself that it was not all a dream.

They had been sitting quietly in the soft candlelight of their bedroom after putting William to sleep, he reading and she contemplating her life thus far. They were quite content to simply sit together, as they had done so many times growing up. Elizabeth found that she and Will had a level of intimacy that went far beyond words, and thoroughly enjoyed simply being next to him.

She continued to look at him and smile until he felt her eyes on him and turned in her direction.

"Elizabeth? Are you all right?"

She nodded slowly and leaned towards him, nudging his arm with her shoulder. He knew that was his cue to lift his arm and he did so, allowing her to slide up next to him and into his embrace. He lowered his arm around her shoulder and held onto her waist as she wrapped her free arm around him, fitting herself perfectly against him. He sighed in contentment and kissed the top of her head softly. He, too, had to constantly remind himself that they were finally together after all this time.

"I was just thinking about the night of my coming out ball, do you remember?"

"How could I forget? You looked so beautiful and then went and wrecked it all when you ran outside!" he teased her. She looked up in mock offense and scowled at him. He quickly kissed her nose and assured her that he was only kidding before encouraging her to continue.

"I was so upset and you were so kind to me. I'll never forget that, Will, not for as long as I live." She unconsciously brought a hand to the pearl necklace that Will had given her the night he returned from his duty as the ferrier of souls lost at sea—after his long ten-year absence. She smiled to herself and then sat up quickly. Will looked at her curiously as she leapt out of bed and ran over to the small wooden box where she kept her most precious possessions. She rifled gingerly through the items until she found the necklace Will had given her so long ago. She gave him a smile from across the room before bringing the necklace back to bed with her. She quickly unlatched the chain and allowed the pearl to fall into her palm. She took the necklace she was already wearing off her neck and placed the pearl onto it.

She gave Will a satisfied smile before settling back against him. He pulled her tightly against him and embraced her strongly before he blew out the candle next to the bed. They slid down and lay next to each other, her back fitting perfectly against him. He softly ran a hand through her hair and felt the necklace that now held eleven perfect pearls around her neck.

As he closed his eyes to go to sleep, he whispered in her ear.

"Happy birthday, Elizabeth." She smiled drowsily and grabbed his hand in hers before she replied.

"Why, thank you, Captain Turner."