Scrat Strikes Again!

Title: Scrat Strikes Again!

Author: Smenzer

Rating: PG

Pairing: James/Elizabeth

Genre: Comedy

Teaser: The sequel to "Just One Scrat". Now Norrington is aboard the Dutchman. How will he deal with Scrat? Set during AWE.

Disclaimer: The characters are not mine. They belong to whoever owns the rights to Pirates of the Caribbean and Ice Age. This is just for fun.

Author's Note: Please read "Just One Scrat" to better understand this story. This is set during AWE.

Admiral Norrington stared in dismay at the Flying Dutchman, which was to be his new assignment. When he had stolen the heart of Davy Jones and ran off with it to Lord Beckett, to get his old life back, this was not what he had expected. Perhaps he had been naïve to think things would go back to the way they had been before, with him in charge of Fort Charles as if nothing had ever happened. Still, it's what he had hoped. Instead Beckett had given him the title of Admiral and had pushed this junk assignment onto him. The Dutchman was in horrible condition and crewed by supernatural monsters that had once been men. He had no idea as to the morale on board or if the crew obeyed orders. By the state of the ship and the way it was literally covered in barnacles, mussels and all sorts of shelled creatures and the way long strips of seaweed hung from the sails and yardarms, it was clear none of them ever cleaned. Swabbing the deck should be done daily, so it was a serious dereliction of duty.

Worst, Jones and his crew were well known as bloodthirsty creatures. They loved killing. They had disobeyed Lord Beckett's strict orders to capture pirate ships. Beckett needed to question the captains and crew. Instead every ship was blown to smithereens until only broken bits of timber bobbed on the ocean. Would they follow his orders? He would have the heart with him, but doubt still lingered in his mind. None of this showed on his face, as he was quite skilled at hiding his emotions.

The Endeavor soon was alongside the Dutchman so he transferred over along with several marines. The first thing he noticed was that the Dutchman smelled exactly like the Endeavor: like cat. Beckett had been furious when he had awoken one morning to find hundreds of yowling cats on his ship. No one had known where the felines had come from, either. The night guards had seen nothing, it was as if they had just appeared out of thin air or had fallen out of the sky itself. Although the ship had sailed towards land as quickly as possible, it hadn't been fast enough. The ship ended up stinking something awful from lack of litter boxes. Beckett, however, had made a tidy profit from selling the many felines in port. Cats were highly prized for their rodent killing skills, especially in the colonies. Still, Beckett hated the smell, as he couldn't get it to go away.

Lord Beckett and his evil henchman followed him onto the cursed Dutchman. Norrington could see Beckett sniffing at the air, his nostrils flaring. Then his eyes narrowed suspiciously as he looked about, noticing several suspicious stains on vertical surfaces. Jones was coming now, his peg thumping loudly on the wooden deck.

"Get that off my ship!" Davy Jones commanded as he spied the elaborate chest that contained his still beating heart. Two marines carried it, one man gripping each end. Upon seeing Jones and his waving beard of tentacles, both marines gulped nervously. More horrible fishmen were gathering around behind their captain, each more awful looking than the next. Norrington was shocked by their appearance, even though he had seen them before on that island.

"Did you put those cats on my ship?" Lord Beckett asked Jones.

"What cats?" Jones replied. "I don't know what yer talking about. I don't have any cats."

"Well, it's clear you had them in the past as I can clearly smell them…" Beckett wrinkled his nose unhappily.

"That's mutant rat ye smell, not cat." Jones countered angrily, his head banging from the cat smell. Secretly Jones was pleased he had stunk up Lord Beckett's fancy ship, especially after the greedy man had stolen his heart and was using it to hold him hostage. Still, he didn't want to admit it. "Why would I have cats on board for?"

"Why do you have barnacles and all this other stuff on your ship?" Beckett waved a hand about; indicating the state the ship was in. "Who knows what goes on in that octopus head of yours? You may have hundreds of cats for your own reasons, but it's very rude to dump them all off onto my fine ship during the middle of the night! You shall owe me a great sum for the damage your creatures did to my ship, as I just cannot get that horrid smell out of the timbers…"

"SPARROW! It was Sparrow that gave them to me!" Jones shouted, his tentacles waving furiously and his lobster claw flexing as spit flew out of his mouth to strike Beckett on the face. "Darn that Jack Sparrow!"

"Well, that still doesn't change the facts it was you that gave them to me…" Beckett replied as he calmly wiped his face with a white hankie. "You had best do what I wish or pay the price. I need those pirates alive so I can question them."

000

Norrington stood on the deck of the Dutchman as he started surveying the ship itself. If this was to be his new command, he needed to get familiar with the ship and its layout, its capabilities. The Endevour had sailed away several hours ago so now it was just he and the small handful of marines that had accompanied him. The ship seemed to be solid enough under all the various layers of sea gunk, which relieved him greatly. At least he need not worry about drowning at sea. The ship was also considerably older in design than the ones he had sailed on before. As he strolled along the deck examining things, he could feel the eyes of Jones' fishcrew following him. A few in particular appeared to be following him. One had a hammerhead, one a face covered in thick mussels and the third looked like a blowfish with sharp spines. Steeling his nerves, Norrington was determined to not let them spook him. The Dutchman was his now and its crew his to command.

And then he came upon a strange site. Someone had left a coconut inside a coil of rope. Why in the world anyone would do that he just couldn't fathom. Food belonged either in the galley or down in the hold, safely locked up with keys less dishonest crewmen steal some of it. Turning on his heel smartly, Norrington faced the three fishmen that had been trailing him. "Why isn't that coconut down with the other supplies, crewman? Food shouldn't be lying about loose on deck."

"That area be out of bounds, Sir." Maccus replied as he nervously eyed the rigging overhead with a few of his extra fish eyes. "The Admiral put that nut there and there be orders from the Captain not to touch it ever."

Norrington stared at the hamerheaded man for a few seconds, clearly confused. "I'm the Admiral and I gave no such order."

"We don't mean you, we mean that mutant rat!" Clanker replied as he rubbed at his large red nose, remembering how it had been bitten once. "He's the Admiral. We needed a name for him, see?"

"You take orders from a mutant rat?" Norrington asked, shocked. Things aboard the Dutchman were worst than he had feared. Not only were the crew deformed and bloodthirsty, they were all mad as well! Nor had he ever heard of a rat that ate coconuts. They preferred grain.

"He could be anywhere, watching us…." Koleniko added as his large fisheye peered this way and that fearfully. "He beat the Captain in a fight, knocked him right down the stairs. I saw it with my own eye!"

"He kicked me in the eye…." Maccus pointed to the faint traces of scratches on his pinkish-gray face. "And bit Clanker on his nose!"

Clanker nodded his agreement. "The Captain said to leave him alone. And that's what we've been doing. You touch that nut and you're asking fer trouble."

Norrington stared at the three men as he pondered if they were pulling some sort of joke on him, but they seemed serious. The blowfish man especially seemed fearful, but he found that hard to accept. Jones' crew had a reputation for being bloodthirsty, so why should a little rat scare them? It made no sense whatsoever. As experienced sailors, they should be used to seeing rats onboard a ship. "From now on I'm giving the orders on this ship and you'll obey them. We will not fear rats and bow to their whim, as their just rodents. Rats don't even eat coconuts."

"But this be a mutant rat!" Maccus insisted as he wrung his human hand and his crab-legged hand together. "It be leaving us alone at the moment! If ye go touch its nut, it'll start acting up again!"

Koleniko and Clanker nodded in agreement, worried expressions clear in their fish eyes.

"We will not cater to vermin." Norrington said as he walked over to the coil of rope and bent to pick up the coconut. As he did so, his heart thudded faster than normal and a bead of sweat ran down his back. He half expected some giant rat to jump out of the shadows and bite his hand as he touched the nut, and he hated that he felt that way. He shouldn't feel that way at all, but the environment of the Dutchman was working on his brain. The ship looked haunted; with weird shadows and green slime everywhere. The appearance of the crew didn't help any. It would have been better of they had been all fish. That would be easier to accept - but his mind saw the human bits of them and focused on those, so their fish-like deformities seemed all the worst. It was like working in a nightmare and now some part of him was reacting to their wild tale. Norrington's hand paused for a few scant seconds and then he touched the coconut. Its hairy shell was rough against his hand, the nut warm from the tropical Caribbean sun. His fingers closed around it and he straightened up, standing straight once more with the nut firmly grasped in his hand. His heart beat quickly as a moment passed and then another. Still, nothing happened. "You see? Nothing happened. Rats do not eat coconuts. Now there will be no more of this nonsense about mutant rats and areas being reserved for this rat. This ship needs to operate smoothly and for that we need all the deck and supplies, including this coil of rope."

Maccus, Clanker and Koleniko gawked at him with open mouths and frightened eyes. Then they exchanged glances.

"You best remember we warned you." Maccus added as backed away from the ship's new boss.

000

Scrat was struggling up the mast, a heavy nut balanced on top of his tiny head. It had been very difficult moving the bad nut out of the giant, unattended nut pile, but he had done so. It had crashed to the deck and then had rolled a way off, Scrat scampering after it. Pushing with all of his strength, he had managed to get it to roll towards the trunk of the weird tree; the tree that didn't have any leaves. The next part had been much harder. He had managed with great difficulty to get underneath the incredibly heavy nut and then had started climbing up the tree's massive trunk. The perfectly round nut balanced on top of his head precariously and Scrat feared it might fall. His limbs aching and pain shooting up his arms from his fingers, he freed a single paw and reached up a bit higher, digging his claws again into the tree's wood. He tested his grip and it felt secure, so he moved his right leg up a bit higher.

The giant nut wobbled unsteadily, Scrat's large egg eyes filling with fear. He was already more than halfway to the place he had claimed as his nut storage area, a place high above the human's heads. Scrat knew very little about humans but he knew they didn't climb trees very often. This tree in particular was barren with no ripe fruit they might desire. That made it safe. The little saber-toothed squirrel moved his head this way and that, trying to stop the black nut from falling. It started to roll off his forehead and in desperation he opened his mouth, catching it in his jaws. His neck started to disappear into his shoulders, the weight of the black nut pushing on him relentlessly. His jaws aching from being pushed open too widely, he tried in vain to see the tree he was clinging to, but the round nut blocked his vision.

It was a bad nut, Scrat feared, but perhaps it was still usable if he could open its hard shell somehow. Maybe they were not bad at all but just a new type he had never encountered before. With no mammoths handy to step on it for him, Scrat had been forced to think and to think hard. There were only a few ways to open nuts. The easiest and most common way was to bite it open, but these black nuts were just too hard. The second way was to have a mammoth step on the nut, the animal's large weight cracking it easily. The third way was to drop the nut off a glacier or from the top of a tree, the fall breaking the shell open when it landed. The danger with this method is that another hungry creature might steal the nut's meat before Scrat could get down safely to claim it as his meal. It had certainly happened to him before, but he felt he had little choice.

He also felt compelled to move all the nuts to safety. All those piles of nuts sitting on the strange wooden ground with humans walking past them! The humans could reach down and take one of the nuts at any moment, one of his nuts! It was too much for him to stand! So Scrat had started to move the big black nuts to safety high up in the tree where he had found a strange nest way up near the very top. It wasn't exactly a hollow tree, but something he had never seen before. It had walls of a sort, but the walls had gaps where the nuts could slip out. Still, it was better than nothing.

Whining to himself, Scrat struggled higher and higher, his aching paws forcing himself up and up. Finally the weird nest was just above him, his black nose striking its bottom side painfully. This was the most difficult part and Scrat didn't know if he had enough energy to go through with it. He had already rescued so many nuts from the human's neat little piles.

Humans were so stupid! Didn't they know one couldn't store nuts on the ground? They'd go bad! There had been some loud commotion earlier, all the weird-looking humans rushing off to one side to talk to some other humans. The senseless sounds they made grew in volume and they waved their paws in the air. Seeing as no one was watching him, Scrat started taking his nuts to safety.

And here he was now, another nut almost in his nut-storage area. Bravely he picked up another paw and moved it to the bottom of the nut storage that stuck outward from the tree. Normally climbing out over this overhang was not a problem at all, but the black nut in his jaws seemed to weigh as much as a mammoth by now. He was weak and tired, his muscles shaking with weariness. He needed to keep his head up, the nut pressed to the bottom of the overhang. If his neck muscles failed and his head tilted backward, the nut would roll right out of his jaws to fall all the way to the distant ground. The nut didn't fit into his jaws properly anyway as it was too large.

Slowly he inched out onto the bottom of the overhang, the immense weight trying to tear him free. Determined, Scrat made it to the edge and started pulling his body up over the precipice into one of the gaps that lined his nut storage area. More and more of his body was in the safe area, firm footing underneath, and then he collapsed with relief, all the air huffing out of his thin body. He lay there for long moments, the big black nut still partly in his jaws. His eyes closed and he rested, even his bushy tail was limp and lifeless.

After he had rested, Scrat pushed the black nut towards the others. His nut storage area was round with the tree's trunk smack dab in the middle. It seemed to be made of the same stuff as the odd ground down below, stuff that looked like wood. He would have to find something to fill up the open gaps in his storage area so the nuts wouldn't roll out. The tree itself continued up a bit higher and then it just stopped, the top perfectly flat like a piece of floating river ice. It was without doubt the weirdest tree he had ever seen! There were other trees, too, two more to be exact. The tree in the center was the tallest and the fattest around. Scrat hadn't explored that one yet as he had this one.

Rested somewhat, Scrat sat up on his haunches, his tail quivering. He needed to check on the humans. Scampering out, he ran down the tree with ease until he was once again on the weird circular platform that was about halfway up the tree. From here he could see almost everything on the ground. He peered over the edge and looked downward, his sharp eyes focusing automatically on his coil of rope nest. The old humans hadn't dared to touch his hairy nut, but new humans had arrived.

NO! One of them had his nut!

Taking careful aim, Scrat leaped off the edge of the platform and fell through the air towards the thief.

000

Admiral Norrington had been about to walk away from the coil of rope where he had found the coconut, but a strange sound floated to his ears and so he paused. Tilting his head slightly, he listened carefully. What was that unearthly sound? It certainly wasn't the usual creaking and groaning of a ship nor the flutter of the canvas overhead. It sounded a bit like a large whistle of a cannonball flying through the air. Yes, that's what it reminded him of but he hadn't heard the loud BOOM of a cannon firing. Realizing the other ship must be much farther away and the retort hadn't reached his ears yet, he ducked down. "INCOMING!"

The whistling was louder now and an angry growling seemed to accompany it. The next moment something struck a hard blow to his bent back and he yelped in surprise as several sharp stings dug through his fine jacket to reach the skin of his back. The blow knocked the air out of him momentary and his face slammed into the deck as he was forced down onto his knees.

James had no idea what it was that had struck him but it certainly wasn't a cannonball. A cannonball would have ripped right through his body and had left a bloody mess before continuing on through the deck itself. No, this was something else.

He felt the thing scamper up his back and across his head, sharp little claws pinching his skin.

And then he knew what it must be as his green eyes shifted to the coconut he still held in his hand. "The mutant rat…"

He felt his wig moving and the next thing he knew was that his expensive wig and hat was pulled free of his head. Taking a much-needed breath of air, James forced himself to his hands and knees, the coconut released to roll across the deck. The creature than leaped off the top of his head and landed on the deck in front of him. Upon seeing it, a little gasp escaped from between his lips, as he had never seen its like before. It looked like a cross between a rat and a squirrel with huge egg-like eyes, a long snout with incredibly long teeth and a bushy tail. Sharp claws were on his feet and his expensive wig had become tangled on one of its back claws, his fine admiral's tricorn lying on the deck next to it.

Vermin had stolen his wig, the new wig he had just bought!

To James' utter surprise, it then narrowed its eyes and growled at him! Growing or no growling, James darted a hand forward to snatch his wig back. He couldn't afford to lose it, as he had to be dressed properly while on duty! His previous wig had been a total lost cause, ruined by mud, filth and so on. They were incredibly expensive and he didn't have a spare. The thing than darted forward and came flying through the air right at his face, hind feet first. It kicked him several times on his nose while making a truly hideous screeching sound. Frightened, James tumbled over sideway and quickly covered his face with his arms.

Was it rabid? Animals were supposed to fear people, to run away!

Taking a chance to peer out from behind the safety of his arm, he saw the creature running away and dragging his wig after it. "My wig!"

James scrambled to his feet and ran after the mutant rat, but to his dismay it dashed straight up one of the masts. He could see it climbing straight up as quickly as it could go, its sharp claws leaving nasty little holes in the wood. James' sharp eyes noticed a lot of holes, holes that looked recent, as they were not yet covered with green slimy gunk or mussels. The thing must have been doing a lot of climbing up and down this particular mast and now it was carrying his wig away! What was it doing up there, in the crow's-nest?

The wind seemed to pick up then and the sails made a loud flapping sound as they filled to capacity with a strong breeze. The ship gave an unexpected lurch as it passed over a much larger swell and to James horror cannonballs were raining down at him! He gave a startled shriek and leaped aside, hoping the heavy balls of iron would miss him. He heard them hit the deck and the ship shuddered, a few balls rolling and bumping against his sides. Once the bombardment was over, he crawled uneasily to his feet and stared upward just in time to see the rodent disappear into the crow's-nest high above.

Now what was he going to do?

"Look, the Admiral is having a problem with the Admiral!" A voice snickered from behind him.

James turned, feeling heat rise up into his face. In all of his years of command never had a mere rodent bested him! The thought was unheard of. He noticed a pinching feeling on his nose then and cautiously touched it with his hand. To his dismay, it came away slightly bloody. At least it hadn't bit him though. The scratches felt light enough and should heal with time.

"We told you not to touch that nut…" the blowfish fishman said.

"That thing is vicious. Ye best put its nut back!" Maccus suggested as he stared up to the top of the tall mast with a worried expression on his face.

"I…" James was uncertain what to do or say in such an odd situation. He felt naked without his wig, his shaved head feeling cold. It was outright embarrassing to be bested by a rodent of all things and then to have such mutant riffraff as witnesses made it worst somehow. If he put the nut back now, then he was giving in to the demands of the fishmen crew and they may not follow his orders later. And if he didn't, could it incite a mutiny? It was just a single coconut and somehow he suspected these fishmen didn't eat nuts.

James straightened up and made sure his uniform jacket was hanging properly. "Very well, one of you fetch the coconut and put it back into the coil of rope."

The blowfish fishman quickly ran and did so, retreating rapidly afterwards.

"Now who will go retrieve my wig?" James asked as he scooped his admiral's hat off of the deck. Holding it in his hands, he frowned. He knew that without the wig on his head, the hat would be too large and wouldn't fit at all. James waited a few heartbeats but no one volunteered to go get his wig. The fishmen exchanged nervous glances and shuffled from foot to foot. Sighing so softly no one could hear him, he pointed a finger at Maccus. "You there! Go fetch my wig!"

"Me?" Maccus asked, fear appearing in his eyes. "But I don't want to go near that mutant rat! It kicked me in me eye!"

James scowled, looking his most fierce. "That is an order!"

"But it might be up there yet!" Maccus protested loudly. "I don't want to get bit or kicked again! It bit Clanker on his nose you know…"

"Yeah, it bit me!" Clanker complained loudly as he too watched the mast for any signs of movement. "If you want that dumb old wig so bad, then you go get it!"

The fishmen laughed loudly.

James' hands tightened into fists, one hand squeezing the rim of his tricorn. This assignment was growing worst and worst by the minute. Not only had a rodent attacked him but also the same rodent had been stealing cannonballs! Why it would do so made no sense whatsoever. And now the deformed crew refused to follow his orders and was actually laughing at him! It was enough to make him scream! His Navy training, however, wouldn't allow him that luxury. He controlled his fury, swallowing it back down. "Very well, I will retrieve the wig since none of you are man enough to do so. You had best pick up all of those cannonballs and put them back where they belong. The fact that a mere rat steals them from under your noses shows how lax discipline is on this ship."

"Yes, Admiral. We'll pick up them cannonballs right away!" Maccus bowed and signaled the others to go gather the loose balls of iron that lay scattered on the deck.

Hating the fact that the fishmen were bullying him into rescuing his own wig, he moved to the railing of the ship and climbed up onto it. Gripping the slimy, seaweed-coated ratlines, James stared upward glumly. It was a long way up and the ratlines were in horrid condition. He knew it would be all too easy for him to slip on the mucky coating and fall to his death. Worst, he suspected such a fall wouldn't hurt the mutant crewmembers at all. They were already dead if he wasn't mistaken - and if not dead, then in some bizarre limbo state between living and dead – yet they expected him to climb up to the top. He stood there for a moment, watching the crew running about wildly and disordered to get the cannonballs, often bumping into each other in their haste and dropping them again. Then the mad scramble started all over again, the hammerheaded fishman yelling at them loudly.

Taking a deep breath to calm his nerves, James started upward carefully.

000

Scrat clung to the side of the tree trunk as the entire tree tilted oddly to one side, his little heart pounding with fear. Would the tree fall and would he be crushed on its impact? It wouldn't surprise him as bad things were always happening to him. As it tilted a bit more, he saw one of his precious nuts appear at the opening up above. The next instant it fell out and whizzed past him. It was followed by another and another. Scrat pressed his thin body as close to the tree's trunk as he could, fearful that one of the incredibly heavy bad round nuts would strike him on the head but they all passed him by with many inches to spare. Normally he would try to catch a nut as it fell, but these were just too heavy and so he let them go. Besides, he had wanted to push the nuts out of the tree anyway so they would crack open.

He heard the humans down below making their odd grunts, their voices loud and angry. Pausing, he peered below and saw them. The one that had tried to grab him was lying on the odd wood-like ground and the others were standing near him. And what was the weight clinging to his right hind foot? Whining, Scrat tried to twist around to see his hind foot but he couldn't. Whatever it was, it was making his toe hurt something awful, the weight straining his entire foot and ankle. With the tree tilted like it was to one side, the pain was worst, as he had to cling harder so he wouldn't fall.

He carefully lifted one paw at a time and dug his claws into the wood, moving upward. If he could just reach his nest so he could tear the human thing off of his poor foot! The tree tilted back again so it was upright once more and the little saber-toothed squirrel climbed faster. Soon he reached the nest and sighed in utter relief as he stretched outward on his belly to rest. His large egg-eyes closed and a goofy smile appeared on his face. After relaxing like this for a few moments, he got up and twisted his body around to examine the strange human object that was stuck to his toe.

Scrat's big black nose sniffed suspiciously at the white object. He had never seen anything like it before and it stunk of human scent very strongly. Poking it with his front paw, he was relieved it didn't move or do anything besides lying there. It was large, much larger than he was. It was soft, too, and appeared to be made from long pieces of fur that was tied together somehow. It reminded him of the long hairs on a woolly mammoth, yet it didn't smell like mammoth at all. Whatever the thing was, it was warm and would make him a good nest to curl up within. Clawing with his front paws, he soon had the thing off his poor toe.

Dragging the powdered wig to where he wanted it, Scrat crawled within and was met by a cloud of white dust. Sneezing loudly, the little squirrel crawled around and around in his new nest, big clouds of orange-scented wig powder springing up around him. The strong floral scent crawled up his nose, causing him to sneeze again violently. Waving his little hands in the air, he tried to push the dust away but it was useless. The dust was like a thick fog and seemed to be everywhere. Eyes watering, Scrat tottered forward, feeling carefully for the edge with his front hands.

He heard the humans down below making their odd grunts, their voices loud and angry. Perhaps the falling nuts had hit a few of them on the head or they were fighting over the meaty edible bits, presuming the shells had cracked open. Scrat pictured the ugly, two-legged creatures scrabbling with their thick and clumsy fingers inside the broken nutshells, his nutshells. Anger grew within his thin chest as he remembered how he had struggled to carry the too-heavy bad nuts aloft. The cloud of powder, now somewhat diminished to a stiff breeze, turned into a pinkish haze.

Shrieking a fierce war cry, Scrat raced back down the tree's fat trunk to rescue his cracked open nuts.

000

James carefully climbed higher and higher. Normally heights didn't bother him at all. When he had been a young midshipman, crawling up to the sails and yardarms had been an everyday job. There he had been required to balance in all types of weather as he released or gathered the canvas sails. And once a middy got used to the dazzling heights high above the deck, where the deckhands looked like tiny ants, there was no greater freedom.

But this, this was something totally different and only years of hard work kept James calm. The various types of seaweed, kelp and moss that covered the ratlines stunk with the fetid odor of spoiled vegetables and horrid greenish-black brine coated his hands. Twice now ratlines had snapped under his weight, the rotten rope parting without warning, and only his firm grip had stopped him from plummeting down to his death. After each incident he would pause, his heart beating too fast within its ribcage, his body pressed firmly against the slimy ropes. For a few moments he would stand there, frozen like a fresh middy fearful of heights. Then he would peer upward and see how far he had yet to climb. The crow's nest was coming into sight and so he pressed onward, carefully trying to test each bit of rope before stepping on it with his full body weight.

Still, James found himself questioning what he was doing. Was his wig really worth such risk and was it worth his life? This duty station was far from what he had hoped for when he had stolen the heart. For a long moment he thought fondly of Elizabeth and when he had seen her last. She was still the love of his life, but he just couldn't stomach the happiness and joy she had shown for William Turner. Where was she now? Did she lie at the bottom of the ocean somewhere, killed by Jones and this very ship? He had tried to protect her for a short time on the beach, but then he had run off with the chest. Had he done the wrong thing? He didn't know, but he had heard the Black Pearl had been sunk. Perhaps he should have stayed with her and fought for her love. Perhaps, just perhaps, he could have squeezed Turner out of the picture.

Reaching upward, James climbed the last few feet to the round wooden container near the top of the mast. Cautiously he peered within; ever mindful the devious creature might jump out at him. Perhaps it was rabid or very territorial. A bite up here may be fatal if one didn't keep a cool head and remember exactly where they were: hundreds of feet up above the deck.

A moment passed and then another, yet nothing happened. Boldly James inched up a bit higher, his entire head above the slick wooden rim of the crow's nest. Almost immediately he spotted his wig lying abandoned within. Thankfully the sharp-fanged creature wasn't anywhere in sight. Perhaps it had heard him coming and had already fled for safety elsewhere. Gripping the edge of the slime-coated wood as best he could, he climbed higher until he could crawl inside the relative safety of the lookout post. Picking his wig up, he brushed it off carefully and then placed it back on his head. Some of the hairs were out of place, no doubt for getting tangled on the mutant rat's hind claw, but that could be easily hidden with his tricorn. Pulling his admiral's hat out from within his jacket, he placed it on his head as well.

Standing tall, he looked out over the sparkling sea and spotted distant sails on the horizon to the west. "Ship!"

000

Scrat reached the bottom of the tree trunk and paused, his nose sniffing the air. His tail quivered and shook nervously, but he didn't see any of the dumb humans about at the moment. Stepping out onto the strange wood-like ground, he searched for the slightest signs of nutshells but didn't see any at all. Scrat looked this way and that, sure they must have fallen somewhere around here. Nose to the ground, he sniffed for even the tiniest fragment of nut but the only thing he could smell was that awful stink of saber-tooth cat. Had the humans already eaten all of his precious nuts?

Then a loud commotion broke out and humans appeared from everywhere at once. They ran with mammoth-like footfalls across the odd ground, the vibrations causing Scrat's whole body to bounce up off the deck. Several were running his way and so he dashed back up the tree's fat trunk. The humans shouted their strange gibberish; gibberish that any animal knew was not words. Humans didn't know how to talk and so they made nonsense sounds.

Wide-eyed, Scrat clung to the side of the tree's strong trunk as he watched the humans do strange things. One of them ran over to the pile of bad nuts and picked a nut up. Instead of trying to open the nut, it was stuck inside a strange black device. It reminded Scrat of a fallen tree trunk that was lying on its side. A moment later a horrible BOOM shook the air.

Frightened out of his little mind, Scrat dashed back up to the top of the tree.

000

James practically slid down the slimy ratlines and only moments after spotting the distant pirate ship, his boots touched the deck. The front of his fancy Admiral's coat was stained with horrid greenish-black gunk, the stains noticeable against the gold and cream that ran down the coat's front. A few especially thin strands of weed dangled off the coat's golden buttons as if they were loose threads. Normally he would take time to try and clean it, but pirates had been spotted. His blood burned with the excitement of the chase, his eagerness to catch them evident on his face. He shouted orders to the fishmen crew and to his relief they were obeyed. He was in his element now and he vowed that this time the pirates would be caught alive, no matter what. Lord Beckett needed to know where their meeting was going to take place and so he would control Jones.

The battle was over before it had even begun, the strange Asian pirate ship immediately falling to the triple cannons of the Flying Dutchman. Wasting little time, he ordered the Dutchman to pull alongside the other ship and then he swung over, boarding it. Although the smaller pirate yacht suffered some damage, she was still very seaworthy. Most of the major damage had been to the ship's captain's cabin and none under the waterline. The ship would be put in tow and he quickly gave that order.

"Who is in charge here?" James demanded as he stared at the skinny Asian pirates. After a few brief seconds, then parted and pointed at someone. To his utter surprise, that someone was a female and he quickly realized it was none other than Elizabeth Swann. And it truly was Elizabeth. She wore a richly embroidered floral robe in green and red, precious pearls and jade sewn into the neckline. The robe was made of the finest silk from the Orient, the material smooth and shiny. Her hair was done upward but many of the strands had come loose and hung about her face. Still, she was utterly beautiful and once again she stole his heart.

"Elizabeth!" James breathed, his mind going blank for a few seconds as joy sprang alive in his heart and a smile spread across his face. "I had thought you dead! I had heard the Pearl was sunk and I had feared the worst…."

To his delight, Elizabeth dashed forward into his arms and buried her face against his strong chest. He felt her arms circle around his waist as she clung tightly to him for a moment. Only too late did he remember the awful state his coat was in from climbing the ratlines and he feared the brackish slime would stick to Elizabeth as well, ruining her beautiful outfit. That would be unforgivable. As a gentleman it was his duty to keep himself clean and proper so such a thing wouldn't happen. Still, what had Elizabeth been doing on this ship of scummy pirates?

"Elizabeth, surely you are not their captain as they say, are you?" James asked, sure that they must have kidnapped her somehow. Yes, she had seemed to care for Jack Sparrow and had placed her misguided trust in the man, but that didn't make her a true pirate. Somehow he just couldn't see her going that far. "Surely they have kidnapped you!"

"I'm afraid I am their captain." She replied as she stepped away, a streak of greenish slime sticking to one cheek. She, however, didn't seem to notice it. Her brown eyes took on a hard edge as the initial warmth of finding him faded rapidly. He could feel her gaze rake him from head to foot and back again. "I see you have what you wanted and thus left the rest of us at Jones' mercy. I had thought better of you, James."

James opened his mouth, but nothing came out. What could he say to that? It was true that Jack Sparrow had been relying on the Heart to save himself and the Pearl. By stealing the Heart right from under their noses and tucking it away in his ruined Commodore's jacket, he had signed their death warrant more or less. Of course, he hadn't been thinking very clearly at the time. Perhaps it had been the large amounts of rum he had swallowed in Tortuga or the humiliating experience of actually asking Jack Sparrow for a job. Or perhaps he had been jealous and angry with Will Turner. Most likely it had been all of those things rolled together that had led him to do such an awful thing. He should have stayed and protected Elizabeth, except she kept kissing Turner…

"Do you have what you want now, Admiral?" Elizabeth asked him coldly as she took in his promotion in rank.

"This job isn't what I had expected…" James admitted as he reached into his pocket to find a hanky to clean her face. His long fingers closed around it and he pulled it out, offering it to her. "I must apologize for my current state of uncleanness. This ship is in horrid condition…"

"Do you know that Lord Beckett had my father killed? I don't know how you can stand working for such a vile monster!"

James' blood ran cold at her words. He had seen Governor Swann not that long ago and found it hard to believe that he was dead, yet he saw certainty and fact in her eyes. "Surely you are mistaken, Elizabeth. I was told he sailed to London…"

"I've seen Father and he's dead." Elizabeth stated as she took another step away from him, ignoring the offered hanky.

The expression on her face and in her eyes made it plain as day that she had lost all faith in him. How could he have been so stupid that day? He had never truly meant to hurt Elizabeth, even if she had broken his heart. The problem was he still loved her. Just seeing her again before him made that perfectly clear. How his heart had soared with happiness when he realized that she was right there on the deck of the Asian pirate ship, alive and well! But how his greed had ruined any chance he had with her! James' heart sank at the thought and he pondered if he could make it up to her somehow. He was still a gentleman, wasn't he? And it certainly wasn't proper to lock her in a cell with those pirates. "The Captain shall have my cabin."

"I will stay with my crew, Admiral." Elizabeth stated coolly as she walked past him to head to the cell below decks. "And you have chosen your side as well. A pity it isn't my side."

000

Scrat waited until it grew quiet and then slowly crept down onto the deck once more. His bushy tail quivering, he inched over to the large pile of bad nuts. As much as he loathed the idea, it seemed as if he would have to carry another nut up into the tree in an effort to crack it open. His stomach rumbled with hunger and he whimpered in misery. Looking this way and that, he saw that none of the humans were in the area. Scampering to the top of the pile, he examined which bad nut would be the easiest to dislodge. Picking one, he started to push on it with all of his strength. He gritted his teeth, his eyes closing to mere slits as every muscle in his body strained. Finally the nut rolled free and hit the deck with a loud thud.

Leaping off the pile of bad nuts, Scrat dashed after it. To his dismay, the nut was rolling in the wrong direction and if he didn't catch it, it would strike the feet of the nearest human. Increasing his speed, Scrat took a flying leap and belly-flopped onto the rolling nut. The nut rolled right over him, squishing him momentarily but Scrat refused to give up. Digging his rear claws into the ground, he clung to the nut's smooth round body with his hands and teeth. The nut came to a sudden stop and the saber-tooth squirrel sighed in relief.

A clump of the strange humans was just a short distance away, gathered in a loose group. They were making their odd sounds, excitement clear in their voices. He could hear a second sound coming from them as well, like rattling stones falling down a small slope. Scrat had no idea that the fishmen were gambling again and truthfully he didn't care, he was just thankful that their backs were to him. Getting in front of the huge bad nut, he started to push it back towards the bottom of the tree. Hopefully he could carry it high enough and then drop it, breaking its tough outer shell open to reveal the meat within.

Crawling underneath it with great difficulty, he soon had it balanced on his head and started the hard journey up the tree.

000

James stood near the rear of the ship, staring at the Empress in tow. His feelings were mixed and for the second time in his life he felt lost and confused. The only other time he had felt this way was after he had lost his commission and had slunk off to mope on the Island of Tortuga. No, that wasn't exactly right. Losing his commission had been his own fault. He had been careless and lost his ship due to a bad command decision. He had been angry at himself for being so negligent, felt guilty for the death of his crew and had a broken heart for Elizabeth turning him down for a mere blacksmith.

This was different. He had been sure he had been doing the right thing when he went to work for Lord Beckett. Beckett had represented the law and the Crown of England, didn't he? All of his life he had believed in the Crown and what it represented: the law. He had presumed that the law would be fair and just as it always had been. But if what Elizabeth had said was true, if Lord Beckett had murdered Governor Swann…

Governor Swann certainly wasn't a criminal. He certainly didn't deserve to die.

With her father dead, wasn't he responsible for Elizabeth's safety? Weatherby would never forgive him if he let her hang! And she certainly would hang if the ship reached port or met up with Beckett's ship somewhere. That was something he couldn't bare to watch.

James allowed his green eyes to drift downward to the stained hanky clutched in his hand where it rested upon the barnacle-covered railing. He had tried to clean the front of his admiral's jacket with it, but he feared it was a lost cause. The brackish, foul-smelling gunk seemed to have sunken into the fibers already, causing horrible stains. He was beginning to realize that this wasn't a real post no matter what Lord Beckett had told him. No, this was a way to get him out of Beckett's hair and yet get an unpleasant job done at the same time. No doubt the man didn't trust him, either. But who could blame him? He had committed a horrible crime by stealing the Heart from his companions and leaving them for Jones, hadn't he?

The ship was an utter disaster, the fishmen just as likely to laugh at him as to follow his orders, they gambled right out in the open while on duty and they took orders from a mutant rat. Nor had he seen Jones himself since he had first come on board, the Captain's absence clearly felt. Worst of all was the horrid stench of cat that crawled up into his nose no matter where he went onto the ship. Elizabeth catching him working here, under these conditions, had been truly embarrassing.

This wasn't the Navy that he loved.

Sighing, James stiffened his back and his resolve. There was only one thing he could do and that was to rescue Elizabeth. If he acted quickly, he could free all the pirates before anyone realized what was going on. The hour was late and hopefully most of the mutant fishcrew were elsewhere. He had no idea if they slept or if they needed sleep, but the deck was quiet. It would be easy for them to crawl across the rope to the Empress and escape. His mind made up, James headed below decks to go put his rescue plan into action.

Before he knew it, he was standing before the large cell and stuck the key into the lock, unlocking it. Opening the door, he motioned with his arm. "Hurry before someone finds out what's going on…"

Elizabeth sprung to her feet from where she had been sitting in the dirty cell, confusion clear in her brown eyes. "James, what are you doing?"

"I'm choosing a side, your side." James admitted as he nervously peered down the dark and damp hallway, the walls coated with mold, moss and things best not looked at too closely. "I … I feel horrible for what I did before, Elizabeth. I was wrong and selfish to run off with the Heart. I know that now and I can only beg for you to forgive me."

"Of course I forgive you. We all made mistakes that day…" Something, some emotion flickered in her eyes but he didn't exactly catch it and then she motioned for the pirates to move out of the cell. They filed out quickly and silently, heading for the exit. Then Elizabeth exited last and followed him up onto the deck.

The pirates were already crawling across the ropes to the Empress and Elizabeth turned to face him. "Join us, James."

James' breath caught in his throat at the words from Elizabeth, the words he had hoped to hear. Could she really mean it? At one time he would have been shocked at such an offer to go pirating, but working on this ship was worst than being stuck in Tortuga surrounded by pirates. It was his most horrible nightmare come to life.

He closed the distance between them and took Elizabeth into his arms. To his surprise, she didn't protest and instead stared upward into his eyes. Even with her hair in disarray and the greenish-black stains from the horrid gunk ruing the front of her silk robe, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. His heart beat faster as he worked up the nerve to actually kiss her. He knew he shouldn't as it wasn't proper, but then she had never cared very much for properness had she? No, she liked pirates and if he actually went with her, then he'd be a pirate as well, wouldn't he? He had also noted that no marriage ring was on her finger so he had presumed that she was still single, even after all of this time. Perhaps, just perhaps, he had another chance to make her his bride.

Bending forward quickly, James pressed his lips against hers, stealing a kiss. Her lips were soft and warm, everything he had hoped they'd be. To his delight, she didn't protest but pressed her lips back against his. Perhaps he should have done this a long time ago… After a few heartbeats that seemed to last forever, he pulled back and stared into her warm chocolate eyes.

"You will come with me, won't you James?" Elizabeth asked again, a bit of worry appearing on her face now. "Surely you must agree that Lord Beckett is in the wrong!"

"Of course I'll come with you." James stated as he saw that the last of the Asian pirates had now crossed over to the Empress. "This is not the Navy that I love. I realize that now and I am truly sorry that your father has passed away due to Lord Beckett. But you must hurry across before we are discovered."

"I will not leave without you!" Elizabeth cried wild-eyed as she grabbed his arm and tried to pull him forward.

Just then one of the horrid fishmen appeared from around a corner. His eyes were filled with madness and a starfish was glued to the side of his head. His hair was long tangles of dark seaweed and he was in poor condition just as the rest of Jones' fishmen crew. "Part of the ship, part of the crew.. can't leave, yer not allowed to leave the ship…"

"Stand down!" James ordered the fishman as he stumbled closer to them. He did not remember seeing this particular one before but there were so many of them. That was another reason he was leaving: he was outnumbered and they didn't care to obey his orders very much. It was a very dangerous working condition and mutiny was a real possibility. Nor had he forgotten their bloodthirsty nature.

To his utter horror, the fishman then pulled out his sword and continued forward, the mad look in his eyes increasing.

000

Scrat inched further up the tree trunk, the heavy bad nut balanced poorly on top of his head. Several times he had almost lost it but had managed to grip it just in time. He had gotten slightly used to the odd sway the tree seemed to favor, first a bit this way and then a bit that way. The saber-tooth squirrel knew he was very high now, almost to his nest. His paws were growing tired though and his strength was fading. He couldn't remember the last nut he had ate at all and sharp pains of hunger shot through his thin body.

Just then the ship lurched backward as the front rose upward steeply due to a swelling wave.

The nut fell off of Scrat's head and the little squirrel cried in misery as he watched it starting to fall. Boldly he leaped after it, his arms outstretched and his mouth wide-open as he shrieked. He was determined to be there when this nut broke open. If he wasn't, the humans would steal all of the nut's meat and sweep up the bits of shell as they had clearly done the first time.

Humans were nut thieves!

000

"You can't leave … can't leave the ship.." Bootstrap muttered in madness as he inched forward, his sword raised to strike. A cannonball fell out of the sky and struck the fishman right on his head, the strength of the impact shoving his neck deep into his body. His eyes rolled up into his head and his sword fell from numb fingers. The next moment he fell over backward onto the deck with a loud thud.

James gawked open-mouthed at the unconscious fishman lying before him as the cannonball rolled off into a corner.

The next instant the mutant rat fell out of the sky, landing on top of the comatose fishman's chest. The rat appeared flattened out for a moment, his large egg-eyes closed. Then his bushy tail quivered and he slowly sat up.

"Oooohhhh, look how cute he is!" Elizabeth cried as she pushed past James to peer downward at the mutant rat sitting atop Bootstrap. "And he saved us, James!"

"What? That thing?" James uttered, truly shocked that Elizabeth would see it as cute. Didn't she know it was a dangerous rodent and was possibly carrying some ghastly disease? It was responsible for many of the disasters on the ship! "Elizabeth, you don't know what that thing is. Why, even I don't know what it is! It steals cannonballs and carries them up the mast! It stole my wig earlier and is responsible…"

But his words fell on deaf ears as Elizabeth pulled a nut out of her robe's pocket and held it out to the little animal. "It's the most cute little animal I ever saw!"

Scrat whimpered hungrily when he saw the nut in her hand, his little ears pushed back. Still, the brown nut she held was the most delicious thing he had smelled for ages. Even better, he knew he should be able to crack it open easily with his teeth. Darting forward bravely, he snatched the nut from her hand and hugged it to his chest as a happy smile spread across his face.

Then Elizabeth held open the big pocket on the side of her robe, the bottom of it heavy with several large nuts. The nuts had been in the pocket of the silk robe when Sao Feng had given it to her and she had just ignored him. She supposed Asian cooking used nuts.

Scrat sniffed the air, his big black nose moving. The human had more nuts. Why had she given him a nut? People always took his nuts.

"Come on little fellow…" Elizabeth urged as she held the pocket open and knelt down near the saber-toothed squirrel.

"Elizabeth," James said as he realized what she was trying to do. "Surely you're not going to take that critter with us, are you?"

"Well, we can't leave it here! It saved your life, James." Elizabeth pointed out as she turned to glance up at him. "It'll die here as there's no food. Besides, sooner or later this ship will go dive under the ocean…"

James sighed as he realized that Elizabeth was right. If it weren't for the mutant rat or whatever it was, he probably would have been run through with a sword by than madman. Then he would have died a lonely death here on the dirty, slime covered deck. And he very much wanted a chance to win Elizabeth's hand and love. Still, he loathed thinking of the mischief the thing would create on the Empress.

Uncertain of what he should do, Scrat inched closer to the pocket and peered within. Spotting the several plump nuts inside, he looked upward at the human. She was looking down at him with big brown eyes, making the strange sounds humans made, but the sounds were soft and gentle in tone. His heart beating rapidly, he crawled up the super soft silk and wiggled into the pocket with the nuts.

"Now we can leave." Elizabeth said, as she made certain that the pocket was secure, pushing a little pearl button through the buttonhole. She certainly didn't want to loose the cute animal to the ocean.

James helped her up onto the railing and watched as she crossed over rather quickly. Truthfully, her skill on the rope surprised him and he followed right behind. Once he reached the deck of the other ship, he cut the ropes free with his sword. He watched the thick ropes fall onto the freezing sea and then turned to follow Elizabeth into his new life.

The End?

Author's Note: It took me longer than I thought to finish this story, but I finally finished it. Maybe if I get some ideas I'll write another chapter to this. I will admit the whole point to this story was to have Scrat hit Bootstrap on the head with a cannonball to save James.