Author: tarawhipped (aka Cameron... or is that the other way around?)
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: All characters and some lines of dialogue belong to Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy.
Setting: The late 18th century, on and off the Northeastern coast of Scotland.
Feedback: Aye, me hearties! Please be leavin' feedback on the Elemental thread on the Kitten Board.
Notes: 1. I am not a anyone who is will probably be able to tell. I tried to keep the nautical lingo to a minimum, using it primarily for atmosphere. Basically, starboard = right, port = left. If you want to know more, check out Wikipedia.orgs glossary of nautical terms.
2. Thank you terra for being weird enough to suggest a collaborative smut series. Thank you Carleen and Watson for taking that spark, fanning it into a bonfire, and inviting the rest of us to the party. Thank you Emmy, Debra, Cyd, Chris, Watson, and terra for the amazing stories. Thank you Mary and Car (and everybody, really) for the tireless beta work through many rewrites. And thank you all for not giving me (too much) grief when I changed my subject and pushed every deadline. Y'all have truly inspired me.

Tara wanted nothing more than to be lounging in front of a roaring fire, listening to the pop and crackle of the wood, sitting so close that she could feel the heat pulling her skin taut. She thought of her bed at home; sinking down into the feathery softness, a cocoon of blankets surrounding her. She remembered sneaking into the kitchen on wintry days, while the wind howled at the shutters, louder and fiercer than the plaintive wail of the wolves. She would crouch near the open hearth, tucked under a small table, and watch the cook and the maids at their work. Though they pretended not to notice the small girl with the big blue eyes, one of the maids would invariably set a steaming mug of chocolate on the table alongside a small crock of plum pudding. The dishes would go ignored until Tara reached up to set them back in place, whereupon they would be scooped up with a sly grin and taken to the wash bin. The visions were so clear she could almost feel the fire before her, the blankets around her, the mug warming her hands.

Almost...until another gust of wind bore down on her back, starting her shivering anew.

Tara peered into the night sky, trying to approximate how far she had drifted in the hours since her abrupt departure from her ship. The moon had begun its descent, but she knew she was still hours from daybreak. The chance of being seen by a passing ship seemed dim at best, and her hope was that with the morning she would spy land close enough to swim to. She had already been at the mercy of the elements for a full day, and knew she would not last much longer in the frigid waters of the North Sea off the coast of Scotland. Her clothes had dried somewhat before nightfall, but the damp air and biting wind left them heavy with moisture, quickly turning her woolen doublet to a cloak of ice with each arctic blast that struck the small boat.

Wrapping her arms tightly around her chest to still the tremors that wracked her body, she envisioned her room at home and the cozy fire that would be waiting for her upon her return. The thought of home gave her pause, and she huddled further down into the skiff, cursing those responsible for her predicament. In the immediate aftermath of her ordeal, all of her ire had been directed toward Lieutenant MacDonald. She would love nothing more than to see him hanged for instigating a mutiny against her, but his parting words had echoed in her mind for hours, redirecting her venom to a most unlikely target. Tara had barely had time to draw her sword and slice through the ropes holding the lifeboat before the crew advanced on her and unceremoniously tossed her overboard. As she'd swum desperately for the skiff, her first mate had shouted across the choppy water: "Don't bother heading for home! Your father will know of your death by the morrow, and I will be well paid for the deed!"

Baron Duncan Maclay had always made his displeasure with Tara apparent. He was a miserable wretch of a man, his years of foolhardy investments ruining the family, leaving them will little more than a small estate and a useless title. He had frequently cursed his wife for her failure to bear him a son, and Tara blamed him for driving her mother to an early grave not two years hence. Baron Maclay had initially scoffed when the King's ambassador had informed him of his responsibility as the local gentry to outfit and command a privateer in defense of the northern seas. Tara was surprised when a fortnight later her father had summoned her into his study and told her she would be taking command of the frigate Priapus in his stead.

The idea appealed to her almost instantly, if for no other reason than it offered escape from her father's house. The sea had long fascinated Tara, who read tales of Sir Francis Drake and Captain Kidd from the time she could hold a book. Her father, a farmer by trade, had done little to encourage her studies other than hiring the tutors befitting a lady of her station, and allowing her to tag along after the carpenter's apprentice, who was building a boat in his meager spare time. Xander became her best friend, and together they had learned all there was to know about shipbuilding and sailing. Upon finishing his indenture, Xander had set sail for London, intending to enlist in the Royal Navy. Word had come back that pirates had attacked his ship, and she had not heard from her friend in the intervening year. She feared the worst, and it gave her still more incentive to lead a crew against the barbarians of the sea.

A month of planning and supplying had gone into the venture before the day came to set sail. Tara's maid had crossed herself and fretted over the voyage beginning on a Tuesday, "an unlucky day if ever there was, Miss," she'd insisted, but Tara had dismissed the notion as the superstition of a simple, if well-intentioned soul. They had been at sea for scarcely a day before spotting a clipper with a flaming red banner flapping wildly atop its mast. As they neared the ship, it had swung about sharply and headed out to sea. Captain Maclay barked the order to give chase, noting through her telescope the name of the vessel....Prometheus. 'The thief who stole from the Gods themselves...a fitting name for a ship of bandits,' she'd mused.

They'd pursued the clipper until nightfall, when the blackness of the overcast night necessitated a halt. Morning found the clipper at anchor within sight, and the chase began again. For two days it continued, the frigate closing in on the swift vessel, which would suddenly change tacks and speed away. On more than one occasion as Tara peered through her telescope, she was sure she spied her adversary looking back at her. By Friday morning they were no closer to apprehending the Prometheus, and she began to notice the crew looking at her askance, questioning her orders and muttering amongst themselves about the indignity of being led by a woman, nobility or not.

She left her cabin that evening after a restless nap, intending to take the night watch, but when she tried to relieve MacDonald at the helm, the first mate had steadfastly refused to leave the wheel. Tara had called for the quartermaster, fully prepared to have MacDonald confined until they reached port, but to her astonishment, the young man had laughed in her face. She'd acted decisively when the entire crew began stalking toward her in a wide semi-circle, trapping her against the bulkhead. She had brandished her cutlass with lightning speed, swinging it in a wide arc to ward back the men and slamming its razor sharp blade down on the ropes securing one of the lifeboats alongside the stern. She'd heard it smack down on the water and only just had time to pray that it landed upright before she felt herself lifted up and flung over the side.

All night and the following day she had drifted with no land in sight, no ship other than her own sailing farther and farther away. With no sails nor oars she was at the mercy of the tide. In a moment of boredom, she had used her dagger to carve 'Friday' onto the wooden seat of the skiff. Under the waning light of the moon, she decided it must be long past midnight and began carving 'Saturday' underneath her earlier mark. So engrossed was she in her task, she ignored several distant booms, mistaking them for thunder. The thought that she could catch the rainfall to drink made her look up at last, only to spy two ships engaged in battle and heading her way.

She watched enthralled, following by the light of canon blasts as the smaller of the ships tacked swiftly to and fro, attacking and retreating. The larger vessel drifted steady on, seemingly at the mercy of the other. Tara frowned at the sight, able to tell even through the dark and the distance that the larger ship was not some cumbersome galleon, but a frigate much like the one she had lately commanded. There was no reason for its poor maneuvering unless a complete dunderhead was at its helm.

As the vessels neared, Tara momentarily debated whether to call out. She could not make out the flags on either ship, and while one could be another privateer or a stray Naval vessel, the other might certainly be a pirate ship or a French corsair. Her sense of self-preservation quickly won out as another gust of icy wind tossed her boat toward the ships, and she determined that they were likely her only chance of survival. She watched and waited as the canon fire gradually dwindled down on one side, redoubling on the other. A number of small splashes off the frigate's port side told Tara that the crew was abandoning ship. The canons came to a halt and the clipper drew up alongside the larger vessel. They drifted slowly toward her in tandem, and were almost upon her small boat when she cupped her hands to her mouth and inhaled deeply.

"AHOY!" she cried with all her strength. She continued her shout for breathless minutes, waving her arms in a wide sweep, unable to tell if she had been spotted or not. She could see movement on both decks, and brought her hands to her mouth to call out again, but her words choked in her throat as the sails of the frigate erupted in flames. Tara could clearly see the ships in the conflagration, and her mouth fell open in horror as she recognized the Maclay family crest on the flag of the frigate. She stood aghast as fire engulfed the canvas, reducing it to ash that floated silently down to the water. Momentarily blinded in the darkness that followed, Tara had no time to panic before the clipper was upon her and she felt rough hands pull her out of the skiff and onto the ship's netting.

"Climb on up now, there's a good lass," a gruff voice to her left urged.

She complied without thought, grasping at the ropes with chapped fingers and hauling herself up each rung until she was again grabbed, dragged over the side, and deposited onto the deck, where she promptly collapsed.

"Poor thing...what were she doin' out 'ere on 'er own?"

"Dunno, but she be a pretty one. I say we keep 'er."

"T'aint for you to decide! We best be takin' 'er to the Captain."

"We can take 'er to the Cap'n when we's done wit' 'er."

Tara was only vaguely aware of the conversation between the two men as she sat on the deck, shivering in a haze of exhaustion.

"Or you can take her to the Captain now and save me the trouble of throwing the pair of you in the hold with the rest of the rats," a woman's voice commanded.

"Of course, Miss Summers, that's what we was jus' fixin' to do," the first man replied, bowing slightly at the first mate.

His companion muttered under his breath but complied, roughly hauling Tara to her feet and half-guiding, half-dragging her across the mid deck to the cabins aft, where they took her into a large stateroom, set her down in a chair, and beat a rapid retreat. A cabin boy scurried in moments later with a jug of water and bowl of stew, which Tara ravenously devoured. Left alone and sated by the first food and water she'd had in over a day, Tara slumped down in the heavy armchair.

She slowly felt the chill leave her body, replaced by a feeling of warm calm. Gradually she became conscious of movement on deck, the muted sounds of gruff voices and heavy footsteps drifting to her ears. When she listened closer, she could hear the clank of chains, and realized the crew of her ship was most likely being taken into the hold as prisoners. The thought cleared the last of the fog from her weary head, and she stood to take stock of her surroundings.

The cabin was clearly the Captain's. Wooden planks were barely visible under an assortment of rugs from the Far East, all of varying shades of deep red. One wall was lined with bookshelves, filled to overflowing with volumes in rich leather bindings. Built into the facing wall was a large mahogany desk, also filled with books and logs. The space above it was plastered with the most detailed maps Tara had ever seen; most marked with routes and notes in a precise hand. Against the wall between them, jutting out to the middle of the room, an enormous sleigh bed was draped in red and orange silks. As the chill receded from Tara's limbs, she realized that the furnishings gave the space a sense of warmth, but could not account for the temperature in the cabin.

She staggered on shaky legs to the corner between the bed and the desk, where a small stove radiated an intense heat belying its size. She had never heard of such a thing on a ship, and stood transfixed, mesmerized by the dancing play of flames visible through the top grille. Raising her hands toward the stove, she sighed deeply as waves of heat washed over her body. Her skin tingled pleasantly, and she slowly turned, luxuriating in the warmth that both soothed and invigorated her. Facing the bed, she noticed for the first time a large tapestry hung behind it, which she eyed curiously. A look of horror spread over her face as she recognized the myth of Prometheus stitched into the fabric, and realized the very pirates she'd been pursuing had captured her. Her breath came in ragged gasps, the humidity of the closed room turning oppressive and suffocating. Her head swum in a sea of red and orange, as if she'd fallen into the fiery pit of hell itself, and she spun around and raced toward the door to make her escape, but found the passage blocked.

The green eyes that met hers seemed to dance in the light from the oil lanterns, widening as they mapped the course of Tara's form. Ruby lips curled up at the corners, and one red eyebrow arched almost to the peaked hairline. Suddenly aware of the tattered state of her clothing, Tara felt the urge to cover herself from the pirate's lusty gaze.

Their attire was similar, both choosing to dress in typical sailor's fashions, though Tara's were sodden and wind-torn, the pirate's in fine condition. The blonde's canvas trousers had frayed at the hems, leaving her skin exposed above the tops of her black leather boots. Her usually crisp white blouse was stained from the varnish of the skiff and torn, as was her navy blue officer's doublet. She felt like a pauper standing before a queen. The pirate's trousers, likewise of heavy canvas, were dyed deep ochre, tucked neatly above the knee into the folded down cuffs of her rough brown boots. Her billowy blouse was of shimmering gold silk, her thigh-length velvet coat blood red, embroidered at the lapels with what appeared to be flames. Her face was framed by a thick mane of brilliant red hair, neatly tied back at the base of her neck with a ribbon.

Tara inhaled sharply.

"You're The Flame."

"I am indeed," the redhead answered with obvious glee, maintaining eye contact as she executed a deep bow. "At your service."

"Under the authority of His Majesty King George, I hereby place you under arrest!"

The pirate's laughter resounded through the room, tapering off only when the blonde snatched her dagger from its sheath in her boot and advanced on the other woman. The redhead held her hands out in a conciliatory gesture and backed out the door, followed step for step by Tara, who frowned in confusion that the woman made no play for the sword at her hip. Shaking off her trepidation, she backed her foe down the passage and onto the deck, her eyes darting around for other pirates and finding none in sight. She again stated her warrant. Again the redhead's laughter mocked her.

"You find me amusing, do you?" she accused, her ire rising as the pirate backed up to the mainmast and leaned against it casually.

"Well, I hardly think you're in a position to take me," The Flame grinned. "But if you want me in shackles, you only have to ask nicely."

Tara's eyes widened before narrowing to slits and she charged. The redhead easily spun away, but not before Tara had deftly grabbed the hilt of the pirate's cutlass and yanked it free of its scabbard. The Flame jumped back from the wild swing of the blade and darted over to the port gunwale, retrieving a pair of swords from a pile confiscated from the Priapus. She parried a chopping blow aimed at her neck and backed away from the blonde, who recovered quickly and attacked again. The sharp clang of steel rang through the night as the pirate deflected several more thrusts, each time sidestepping and retreating, a delighted smirk on her face.

"Why do you not fight?" the blonde demanded, stunned by the pirate's refusal to do anything more than defend herself. "Are you a coward as well as a thief?"

"Perhaps I do not wish to mar such pretty skin," The Flame replied with a wink. "Perhaps I am enjoying our dance too well."

"Dance!" Tara exclaimed, lunging unsteadily. The redhead twisted out of the way, trapping Tara's dagger hand against her side and wrenching the blade away. The privateer waited for the pirate to take her advantage, but the redhead refused to engage, circling the deck with a sultry smirk Tara was beginning to find as alluring as it was maddening. This was not how she expected a pirate to behave. "You think this a dance?"

"Aye, me beauty. You move well on your feet; are you as graceful on your back?"

The blonde's mouth fell open in shock. The flush she felt spread over her neck and face seemed to suffuse her entire body with more heat than the stove in the Captain's cabin. Just thinking about the cabin conjured images of the large bed, and she faltered.

"That's got you hot under the collar," the Flame teased, "and the petticoats as well, I'd wager."

"Your mouth is swifter than your blade," Tara spat, unwilling to admit her arousal at the redhead's banter. She charged, but the pirate moved into the blow, blocking Tara's sword and grabbing her around the waist.

"It is, indeed," The Flame said, darting in the capture the blonde's lips with her own. "And my fingers swifter still." She laughed and pinched her adversary's round bottom before skipping merrily away.

Tara's knuckles were white against the grip of her cutlass, her face and neck perceptibly red in the moonlight.

"How dare you!"

The blonde struck with one final weak blow and the pirate caught her blade in the crossed tips of her two swords. Their eyes locked as they stood, heaving breast to heaving breast. Blades clattered to the deck as the pirate grabbed the privateer in a torrid embrace. Tara surrendered herself to The Flame's warm arms and licked her lips in anticipation.

"OH! Sorry, Captain, I didn't realize you were entertaining a lady friend."

Blue eyes flew open at the interruption, and she turned to see a man backing away in embarrassment.



"You know each other?" the redhead asked incredulously.

"I feared you were dead!" Tara cried, rushing to her friend and hugging him tightly.

"Guess so," the pirate muttered to herself, retrieving the abandoned weapons and shuffling to her room.

The redhead's exit went unnoticed as Xander led Tara to a bench and sat down.

"My poor Xander! Lost these many months, and all the time captured by foul pirates!"

"What? No! Tara, Captain Willow saved me. I was captive for a time, on board the Buttuc Simian, but she freed me and many others. I've been carpenter on the Prometheus ever since."

"But...they're pirates!"

"I know this seems odd, but Captain Willow's a good pirate. She only attacks other pirate ships, and gives away the haul to those in need. Why, just this past month she gave five thousand crowns to an orphanage. She's very generous with her booty."

"She must keep some of it," Tara frowned. "The furnishings in her cabin-"

"All tokens of gratitude and friendship," Xander replied. "That bed? A gift of the Princess of Norway."

"The one who was lost at sea for four months?"

"The very one...though just between us she was only lost for a fortnight. She took a liking to the Captain, who finally had to forcibly put her off the ship."

"So you haven't been held against your will?"

"Not at all, though I admit to a fair bout of homesickness. We were on our way to take me home when that frigate began to follow us," he explained, tilting his head to port, where Tara's ship was lashed to the side with heavy ropes. "We toyed with it for days before a shift in the winds allowed them to engage."

Tara looked at the Priapus and shuddered. Mistaking the gesture for cold, Xander suggested she go in, and took his leave to man the watch. Reentering the passage, Tara's feet led her to the Captain's door. She knocked softly and heard a muffled reply of "enter." The pirate's back was to her as she crossed the threshold, and Tara was struck speechless by the sight of the woman's brilliant red hair, unbound by its ribbon and seeming to dance in the bright candlelight like the flames from the stove. The pirate tilted her head, but did not turn around.

"It seems I owe you an apology, Captain Willow," the blonde stated. "I misjudged you."

"It happens," Willow shrugged.

"Still, I was wrong, and I am sorry."

The redhead nodded. "No need to lose any sleep over it."

Tara bowed her head and bit her lip. "Speaking of sleep, I don't want to impose, but where should I...," she trailed off, looking up shyly at the bed.

"Xander's cabin is at the end of the passage, starboard side," the pirate replied, her voice flat.


Willow stood and turned in confusion to face the startled blonde. "I thought-"

"He's a friend....a dear friend, but that is all!"

The pirate's grin spread the width of her face, and she bounced on her feet before wincing and grabbing her side. When she pulled her fingers away, they were wet.

"You're bleeding!" Tara exclaimed, rushing to the woman and guiding her to sit on the bed.

The pirate started to protest the severity of the wound, but held her tongue when the blonde began to undress her. Green eyes grew cloudy and dark as she was divested of her coat and shirt. Tara ripped off a length of her own blouse and wetted it with the drops of water remaining from her repast. Kneeling before the injured woman, she daintily swabbed the wound clean and found it to be more a scratch than a puncture. She felt a wave of relief wash over her, and as she held the cloth firmly against Willow's skin, her eyes drifted up over the pirate's naked torso, stilling at the sight of pert breasts.

"I like your eyes on me...I'd like your hands even better."

Tara blushed and lowered her gaze before abruptly standing, wringing the cloth in her fists. "This doesn't appear to be s-serious, but it should s-still be dressed."

The pirate sighed and leaned back on her elbows.

"There's some bandaging in the drawer there," she relayed, nodding her head at the desk. She sat up straight when she saw Tara tug on a handle. "Not that one!"

The blonde frowned at the object lying on a scrap of blue satin. She lifted it daintily from its place, turning it this way and that.

"That's me telescope!" the redhead blurted.

Tara opened her mouth and promptly closed it. The smooth leather cylinder, tapered on one end to a rounded point, was roughly the same size as the tool in question in collapsed form, but it was clearly solid. A quick glance at the blushing redhead was enough to relay the object's true purpose.

"A telescope...for your pants?" the blonde inquired sweetly.

"Oh, um. Various sounds of hesitation."

Tara gazed up through her lashes at the pirate, enjoying the sight of the redhead squirming in embarrassment. "With a ship full of eager seamen, I'm surprised you need this," she remarked, placing the object back in its drawer.

"Well, I 'ave climbed a mast before, but I much prefer exploring an underground cavern."

Tara smirked at the redhead's saucy reply. "I'm not really much for the timber, either."

Willow stretched out and took Tara's hand, pulling her onto her lap and stroking the side of her face tenderly. With deliberate slowness she leaned in to press her lips to the blonde's, waiting for Tara to deepen the kiss. The latter did so enthusiastically, opening her mouth to the pirate's delving tongue and meeting it with her own. By the time they parted for air, Willow had deftly unbuttoned Tara's shirt and peeled it back to reveal the bounty within.

Tara threw off the hindering garment along with her doublet and recaptured the pirate's lips with unrestrained passion. Willow flipped the blonde onto her back and half covered the woman's body with her own, her bare skin aflame everywhere it met Tara's. One hand caressed the blonde's neck, eliciting a whimper as it bypassed the woman's breasts for the valley between, passing over the stomach to the buttons of her trousers, where it paused. Tara grasped Willow's neck and pulled her down in a heated kiss. When the pirate's hand remained still, the blonde covered it with her own, guiding it between her legs and squeezing once in silent permission. The redhead gasped, nuzzling Tara's neck and hesitating another brief moment before releasing the first button.

"So tell me," Willow whispered, her breath warm against the blonde's ear as she eased the second button through its hole and continued on to the next. "Do ye think there's a cave nearby willing to be rummaged?"

"Most certainly; an unexplored one at that."

"Arrrr," the pirate purred happily. "In that case, due diligence must be taken. Mustn't rush these things."

Tara's heart thumped in her chest as she felt the final button freed. Liquid fire pooled within her, aching for release. Frustrated by the redhead's leisurely pace, she lifted her hips and shoved her breeches down to her knees. Willow's eyes flared and she pushed herself off of the bed, never breaking eye contact as she pulled off the blonde's boots and dropped them to the floor, where there were soon joined by Tara's remaining attire. The privateer scooted back to the center of the bed and grinned, crooking one finger at the pirate, who accepted the invitation at once, crawling up to lie at the blonde's side. They kissed with abandon while sure fingers slid over the top of one shapely thigh before turning inward and caressing up the sensitive skin. Tara's eyelids fluttered and her mouth fell open at the pirate's sensual touch. She moaned into Willow's lips as the pirate probed between her engorged folds.

"Ahh! I've found the entrance; it's warm and wet indeed. This calls for closer inspection."

Willow shifted to hover over the supine blonde, who squirmed impatiently until the pirate's lips dipped down to wrestle with her own. The redhead kissed her thoroughly before retreating, spending attentive moments at Tara's breasts, but not lingering overlong from her quest. She blazed a trail of kisses over velvety skin and wiry curls, shortly arriving at her goal, where she huddled between the blonde's spread thighs. Perfect contentment glowed on her face as she delicately parted Tara's labia.

At the first sensation of Willow's mouth on her sex, the privateer's body went taut as a spar. The redhead's lips stroked languidly over Tara's dripping folds, her tongue diligently mapping every inch of flesh. The blonde was already writhing with rapidly building pleasure when the pirate's tongue entered her, and she cried out as a blast of heat erupted from her center. Needing to touch as much as be touched, she reached out with shaking hands and cupped Willow's head; her fingers tangling in the flaming red locks. The pirate looked up and caught hazy eyes with her own as she thrust her tongue ever deeper and inhaled through her nose, the intoxicating scent making her light headed. When Tara's fingers in her hair went from caressing to clutching, Willow knew she was ready for more. The redhead curled her free arm around one bent, spread thigh and soothingly petted Tara's side, all the while bathing her fingers in the copious moisture spilling out onto her hand.

"Such a beautiful cave," she cooed, her soft voice serving to calm her own racing libido as much as relax the blonde. "I'll have to enter it carefully."

Tara moaned incoherently as Willow easily slid her middle finger into the wet channel, penetrating quickly through her maidenhead. Tara drew in a sharp breath, her inner muscles automatically clenching around Willow's finger before the pain subsided. The pirate's tongue pressing flat against her clit speeded the process, and it was only moments until Tara was writhing in pleasure under Willow's expert attentions. The pirate's mouth seemed to be everywhere at once; sucking on her swollen nub, nipping at her inner thighs, lapping up the nectar that spilled out around her slowly pumping finger. Sweat beaded on Tara's forehead and ran into her eyes. Unwilling to let go of the redhead, she turned to the side to wipe her face on the pillow. Her half-closed eyes fell on the stove that, to her hazy vision, seemed to glow and pulsate, and she could almost see the flames burning higher and hotter as her eyes rolled back and she screamed Willow's name.

The pirate sated herself at Tara's well before crawling up to curl against her side, a smug grin spreading over her face at the sight of her flushed, limp lover. She brushed aside the damp hair that had fallen across the blonde's cheek, and pressed her lips to Tara's forehead. Tara tugged weakly at Willow's waistband, but the redhead eased the hand away and kissed it reverently.

"There'll be time for that later," she whispered. "Sleep now."

The exhausted woman opened her mouth to protest, but a great yawn swallowed her words, and she was asleep in an instant. Willow slipped off of the bed and donned her discarded clothing before silently tiptoeing out of the room.

Tara woke many hours later to find Willow diligently writing at her desk, and the blonde smiled as she covertly observed the pirate's profile. She could see the freckled brow furrowed in concentration, and could not repress a giggle at the tip of pink tongue poking out between pursed lips. The redhead started at the sound, turning to grin at her lover and hopping out of her chair.

"You're up! Did you sleep well? Are you hungry? I didn't know how long you'd sleep, and I didn't want to wake you, but I can have the cook bring some food. There's some water here if you like, or I can get some rum from the storeroom...though it's a little early for rum, but it'll warm you right up if you're cold. Oh my god! You must be cold! I let the fire burn down...I'll just run get some wood-"

Tara laughed heartily at the frantic redhead, who closed her mouth in a playful pout.

"You're laughing at me."

"You're just not at all what I expected from a p-pirate," Tara admitted shyly. "Especially one as infamous as The Flame. I am a little chilled, but you could come over here and w-warm me up."

Willow complied instantly, kicking off her boots and scurrying under the covers. She wriggled closer and wrapped her arms around the blonde, who sighed and laid her head against the pirate's chest.

"What did you expect?" the redhead teased, caressing the Tara's naked shoulder.

"Oh, you know...bloodthirsty, humorless, sooner have you walk the plank as look at you."

The pirate's chest convulsed with laughter. "You've read too many stories, my dear. There are pirates who fit that description, it's true, and a great deal more who align themselves with one crown or another and call themselves privateers," she sneered.

Tara's eyes widened and she blushed against Willow's chest. She cleared her throat discretely.

"If you don't mind my asking then, h-how did you become a p-pirate?" she inquired, arching her back as cool fingers tickled the bare skin along her spine.

" business," the redhead dismissed. "I hated it when I was young, always being left behind while my parents were off at sea. I first stowed away on their ship when I was six. They were so mad they headed back to port and dropped me off, but I kept trying. They finally gave up and took me on as cabin girl when I was nine. It was so exciting! I learned everything there was to know about commanding a ship by the time I was fourteen."

"So they passed on the business to you?"

"Oh, no...they're still out there somewhere. They know to keep away from me else I take back their ill-gotten gains," Willow stated, her voice betraying only a fraction of bitterness. "I could never abide by their banditry."

"Yet you named your ship after a thief," Tara countered, her voice expressing more curiosity than judgment.

"'Tis true Prometheus was a thief, but he stole fire from vengeful gods as a gift to humanity. Where is the wrong in that?"

Tara made no reply but to nuzzle her head further into the crook of Willow's shoulder.

"I would have parted ways with them eventually, but they thought it was best if I had my own ship after..."

The pirate trailed off, and after a moment of waiting for her to continue, Tara craned her neck to look up at the woman, whose face was nearly as red as her hair. The blonde arched an eyebrow and quirked one side of her mouth into a grin.

"After...?" she prompted.

"Well, you see...and this was a long time ago, mind you," Willow squirmed. "I wanted to learn all aspects of life on board, and was working in the galley, and the serving girl was only a couple of years older than me, and, umm..."

"You diddled the galley wench?"

The pirate's mouth fell open at Tara's statement, much to the delight of the blonde, who took advantage of the opportunity to give Willow a proper good morning kiss. The wrestling of tongues led to their bodies following suit, and they spent a good many minutes rolling around playfully until their laughter made breathing labored and they snuggled together contentedly.

"Enough about me," Willow remarked at length. "I want to know what twist of fate brought you to be in a dinghy on the open ocean."

Tara heaved a sigh and began her own tale, beginning with a brief glimpse of her home life and concluding with the moment she was rescued by the pirate's ship. The redhead gasped when she learned that the blonde had been Captain of the very ship she had lashed against her own. Though she tried to remain calm, Willow grew ever more agitated when Tara told her of her mutinous crew and of the first mate's villainy. She stood at last and paced her cabin furiously.

"To think that I had those cowardly wretches pulled out of the sea! I should have left them to drown like the bilge rats they are!"

"Willow, no. You showed mercy-you're not a killer. I'd be happy to see them jailed, but mostly I want to know why...and what my father has to do with it."

The redhead nodded, still seething with venom, and stalked to the door, where she pulled one of several colorful velvet cords that hung down from a hole in the ceiling. Moments later came a knock at the door, and she parted it a crack to address the quartermaster.

"Mister Finn, bring the prisoner MacDonald up from the hold. Feel free to use force."

"Aye, Captain! Right away!" the officer barked, spinning on his heel and marching away.

Tara sat on the side of the bed, a quilt wrapped around her shoulders, and looked forlornly at her tattered clothes. Willow rummaged through a trunk and handed the blonde a fresh outfit.

"These should fit, more or...less," the redhead grinned lasciviously.

The shirt that hung loosely over the pirate's frame stretched nicely across Tara's chest, and Willow continued to leer as she pulled on a boot, frowned, wrenched it off and pulled it back on the proper foot. The blonde winked knowingly as she finished dressing in the colorful velvet finery. Willow draped her sword belt over her shoulder, retrieved another from her weapons trunk and handed it to Tara. The women paused in the doorway and gravitated together in an intense embrace. Blue eyes bored into green.

"Shall we, Captain?" the blonde whispered.

Willow opened the door with one hand, lacing the fingers of her other with Tara's.

"After you, Captain."

The Prometheus sailed due west at a steady clip, followed by the Priapus, freshly rigged with spare sails and commanded by Willow's first mate. The Flame had dispatched Buffy and a skeleton crew to the other ship following the tumultuous, yet informative interrogation of MacDonald the day before.

Tara was flabbergasted to learn that the traitorous sailor's name was not, in fact, MacDonald, but Donald Maclay...the bastard son of her father and a local whore. As shocking news as that had been, it paled in comparison to what else the young man had revealed. The Baron himself had ordered Tara's death, which Donald agreed to carry out in exchange for being named sole heir.

"I should have just run you through with my sword!" he'd sneered when confronted with Tara, very much alive.

"You will pay dearly for this, I promise you!" Willow had countered, ordering Finn to remove the scoundrel to the hold.

Tara herself had remained largely silent throughout the proceedings. Afterwards, in the privacy of her cabin, Willow tried to comfort the blonde with speculations that the young man could have lied, but Tara had no doubts that what he'd said was true.

"What do you want to do?" the pirate had asked softly.

"I want to confront him. I want my father to look me in the eye and admit his treachery. He broke my mother, but I want him to know that he cannot break me," the blonde stated through gritted teeth.

"I and all that I have are at your disposal."

The women had embraced, soothing words and kisses eventually giving way to arousal, and they'd fallen into bed in a tangle of limbs. Clothing fell away in a flurry of impassioned hands while lips met again and again in frenzied exploration. Their bodies entwined-arching, writhing, grinding against each other in exquisite friction and building to eruption.

They'd emerged hours later to present their plan to Willow's crew. A hearty cheer went up among the pirates, who immediately set to work making the Priapus seaworthy. Monday morning the ships were trimmed and ready to sail. Willow and Tara stood side by side on the wheel deck of the Prometheus.

"Willow?" Tara asked in confusion as the redhead indicated the helm.

"She's yours to command."

"But it's your ship, and you know these waters so much better than I."

"I trust you," the pirate smiled.

"I was thrown off my ship after four days," the blonde countered.

"I trust you."

Both Captains smiled, momentarily losing themselves in each other's eyes. Willow nodded and Tara took a deep breath, laying reverent hands on the smooth mahogany and calling out the order to secure the anchor and set the sails. Willow waited until the ship lurched forward under power of the brisk wind before moving to stand behind Tara, wrapping her arms around her lover's waist and resting her chin on the blonde's shoulder.

Both women were loath to be apart, but as the day wore on each insisted the other take a brief respite. By late afternoon they were again together on the bridge, Willow at the helm, going over every last detail of their plan. Dusk was rapidly approaching when a whistle from the crow's nest signaled the appearance of land. Tara peered through her telescope at the familiar coastline. They carefully entered an isolated cove, and Willow gave the order to drop anchor.

"My father's private dock is on the other side of those rocks," Tara directed, pointing at a low outcropping of boulders at the southern tip of the cove. "The town is a bit further south, around the jetty. We should be able to approach unseen."

"Xander! You're up!" Willow called out, and the carpenter rushed to the gunwale to drop his pack down to the waiting skiff. "You know what to do?"

"Head into town and let the masses rejoice in my escape from evil pirates; casually insist that they throw me a welcome home party immediately, and try to keep them as drunk and distracted as possible."

"Exactly. The more people you can keep occupied, the less chance of anyone getting hurt. How long do you need?"

"Couple hours, tops."

"Best of luck. Off you go!"

While Xander rowed away, the frigate pulled up alongside the Prometheus and their collective crews set to work transferring Tara's belongings and anything else of value to the pirate ship. It was full-on night by the time they were done; the moon and stars shone bright in the cloudless sky.

"Sorry boys, the rum barrels aren't coming over. Spread them around the decks and crack them open!"

The planks joining the two ships were withdrawn, and Willow addressed her first mate across the divide.

"The dinghy will follow you in and bring you back here," she stated, tipping her chin toward the small boat floating off the bow, her two best oarsmen already aboard. "You ready?"

"Aye, Captain!"

Willow and Tara clasped hands and crossed the mid-deck to climb down into their own waiting skiff, already laden with several oarsmen, a number of trunks, and Donald, bound, gagged, and guarded by Quartermaster Finn. The oar blades were wrapped in cloth to dampen the sound, and the boat made its silent way toward the estate of Baron Maclay. Willow observed the Priapus head away from them, Buffy skillfully tacking into the wind. Tara directed the oarsmen to a strip of shoreline near the mouth of the dock, where she and Willow disembarked.

They paused under an outcropping of trees and watched as the frigate made its lumbering turn to shore and jerked forward, its sails filling with wind. Willow waved to Finn to approach with the prisoner, who struggled against his bonds and his captor. The group crept toward the stately manor house, keeping to the shadows where the forest met the open fields. Tara led them to the front portico, where they crouched behind several pillars to wait.

They had a clear view of the dock down the gently sloping hillside, and they waited with baited breath as the frigate drew near. It was several hundred yards away when they saw a small flash of what they knew to be an oil lantern being broken on deck. The conflagration spread quickly over the rum-soaked timbers and up the mast to the sails.

"FIRE SHIP!" came a cry from the manor, and in moments servants began pouring from the house, looking in horror at the sight of the burning ship rapidly approaching, its fearsome presence predictably instilling panic in the spectators, who fled down the hill and out of harm's way.

Willow heaved a sigh of relief at spying the crew dive over the starboard side, trusting their safety to her shipmates as she quickly followed Tara through the open door and down a long hall. The blonde marched directly to her father's cavernous study and flung open the door just as the powder stores on board the Priapus exploded louder than a hundred claps of thunder.

The Baron sat behind a large desk, a quill in one hand. He was passing a rolled parchment to a bespectacled man sitting across from him and jerked his head up at the explosion. He caught sight of his daughter in the doorway and stood up sharply, his face turning red with rage as he charged around the desk. Tara calmly drew her sword, and he stopped dead in his tracks, looking aghast at the two women.

"What is the meaning of this?!"

"I should ask you the same, Father. Is that my death certificate you just signed, or perhaps you've changed your will?"

"Miss Maclay! You're alive!"

Tara glanced at her father's solicitor, who peered at her as if she were a ghost and backed up to the large fireplace.

"I am indeed, Mister Giles...despite my father's best efforts."

"How dare you!" the Baron exclaimed, taking several menacing steps toward his daughter. He cowered back as Willow unsheathed her cutlass and pointed the blade at his chest. "I will not be threatened by two little girls!" he sputtered.

"You aren't just dealing with them," Finn stated, dragging Donald into the room and shoving him to the floor. The burly sailor crossed his arms and stood in the doorway, effectively blocking the exit.

"I think you'd better explain, Baron," Giles remarked, frowning at the parchment in his hand and tossing it into the fire.

"Yes, Father...explain. I want to hear from your own lips that you sent me out to sea to die at that...mongrel's...hand," she snarled, jerking her head at the bound man on the floor.

Donald was, at that moment, using the blade well hidden in his boot to inconspicuously saw through the ropes that held him. He paused for the moment that eyes were upon him, then continued his efforts, which paid off as he felt his bonds fall away. He scooted back against a bookcase and felt around the corner for the broadsword he knew his father kept there.

"I owe you nothing! Worthless excuse for a child! I could have owned half of his valley if you'd agreed to marry!"

Willow stood at Tara's side, her eyes narrowing at the Baron.

"So when you couldn't marry her off, you decided to have her killed?"

"It's none of your concern," he snapped, turning to sneer at his daughter. "Just look at you-no man would have you now!"

"I need no man," Tara stated defiantly, entwining her free hand with Willow's.

The Baron's eyes bulged, but before he could speak, Donald sprang to feet, grabbing the sword and ripping off his gag.

"Bitch! You're nothing but a pirate's whore!"

He swung wildly at Tara, who easily parried his unsteady blow. The Baron raced around his desk and jerked open a drawer, but before he could grasp the pistol inside, Willow had his arm bent behind his back and her cutlass at his throat.

Donald recovered and charged again, his blade striking hard against Tara's. What she lacked in size and strength she more than made up for in skill, countering each of her half-brother's attacks with ease. She stood with knees slightly bent, her sword held aloft in a relaxed but firm grip, her left arm curled behind her for balance. Seeing her half-brother struggling under the weight of the broadsword, Tara continued to spar, backing Donald toward the fireplace. Reflected flames danced over the cold steel of her blade. As the duel wore on Donald became more incensed, while Tara maintained her poise. He seemed to sense his disadvantage, and lashed out a continuous assault of words.

"You think she loves you, do you? That you'll go sailin' off together? Ha! She'll leave you here to rot and go back to her whorin', thievin' ways. 'Course you'll be dead by then, so no matter. Here, maybe I'll take a poke at 'er after I's done wit' you!"

Tara's calm demeanor exploded at the threat to Willow. She shouted out her rage, slashing at Donald with all her might. The scoundrel held the hilt of his sword with both hands, but as the blows rained down again and again he fell to a knee and lost his grip, the blade clattering to the floor. The blonde trembled, her cutlass raised above her head, her eyes flared and unblinking. Donald cowered at her feet, his head bowed and one arm raised in supplication. Tara breathed in deeply and slowly lowered the weapon. Her blade still at his throat, Willow ushered the Baron around the desk to stand in front of Tara, who trained icy eyes on her father.

"Tara, your family's taken care of you for-"

Willow soundly whacked the Baron in the head with the knuckle guard of her cutlass, and he slumped to the floor. The blonde raised an eyebrow at her lover, who shrugged.

"He bothered me."

"Me too," Tara concurred. "Thanks."

"Well then...shall we take these two back to the ship?" Willow enquired, giving Donald a sharp kick to the gut when he tried to stand.

"What will happen to them?" Tara asked softly.

"That's up to you," the pirate replied, taking her lover's hand and squeezing in reassurance. "They could be sold to another Captain, who will very likely sell them on again, and will most certainly spend the remainder of their very short lives in painful servitude, or they can be dropped off on a deserted, but habitable island along with the rest of your crew, to fend for themselves."

The blonde was silent for a good while, staring at her father's hunched form. As much as she wanted him to suffer as her mother had, she could not bring herself to inflict the horrific punishment on him.

"Leave them to face their compatriots," she decided at length.

Finn sent one of the servants, who had just begun returning to the house, to have the oarsmen bring up the trunks, which were safely tucked away in Tara's bedroom. The quartermaster and the oarsmen then roughly hauled the Baron and his son back to the waiting skiff to transport back to the Prometheus. Mister Giles apologized profusely for his unwitting part in the Baron's evil scheme, and set off to draw up new papers formalizing the transfer of title and estate to Baroness Tara Maclay. In her first official order as mistress of the house, Tara doubled the staff's salaries, asked her maid to draw her a bath, and gave them all the rest of the night off.

As the last of the servants departed, Willow and Tara stood in the entrance hall, stealing shy glances at each other.

"So I guess you need to get back to your ship...," Tara mumbled, her hair falling like a curtain around her bowed head.

"Oh. Actually, I was thinking about giving up piracy," the redhead replied with a casual wave of her hand. "In fact, I already told Buffy the ship was hers."

"You did?" the blonde squeaked.

Willow nodded. "I uh, thought it might be nice to try something else-farming, for instance-unless you don't want me to-"

"No, I do! Want stay. That is...if you want to."

"Some of those trunks in your bedroom are mine, you know," Willow grinned.

"Really now?" the blonde smirked, sauntering over to her lover and draping her arms around the slim shoulders. "That was awfully presumptuous of you. Do you always get what you want?"

"I don't know...this is the first time I've ever wanted anything," Willow breathed, her wide, hopeful eyes making Tara's heart flutter.

Their lips met, moving leisurely against each other until a heat rose between them and they looked to the staircase in unison. Arm in arm they ascended, pausing every few steps to kiss until they at last reached the top at last and stood between Tara's bedroom and the bath.

"This tub...will it hold two?" Willow grinned.

"I'm afraid not, Sweetie...and if it did, we'd never make it to bed."

The redhead's pitiful pout became a moan as Tara sucked the protruding lip between her own.

"Why don't you go first," the blonde whispered, her breath hot against Willow's ear. "I'll build a fire."

After several more kisses, Tara nudged her lover toward the bath and entered her room, where she soon had a cozy blaze burning in the fireplace. She smiled as she heard Willow humming in the tub, and set about unpacking their combined trunks. She had barely begun when her eyes widened at an object nestled amongst the redhead's undergarments. Arching an eyebrow at the open doorway, her mouth curled up on one side, and she hastily removed the object, slipped it under the mattress, and closed the trunk.

Willow strolled naked into the room and it took all of Tara's will to limit herself to one kiss before dashing off to take her own bath. She hurried through her routine and returned, her breath catching in her throat at the sight of the redhead sprawled against the pillows, hooded green eyes drinking in the blonde. Tara pushed the door closed behind her and walked to the near side of the bed, reaching out to caress her lover's skin from her toes to her hip. She cupped the rounded flesh and squeezed, her eyes darkening as Willow arched into the touch. The redhead grabbed Tara's wrist and pulled her down, their bodies sliding against one another as each insinuated a leg between the other's.

Their thrusts found a rhythm, and Tara could feel her wetness dripping down to meet Willow's at the juncture of their merged thighs. Whimpers of need became exerted grunts and finally long, drawn out moans of pleasure. Willow sunk down into the pillows, panting heavily, her eyes drooping closed in mute satisfaction. She murmured happily as Tara descended her sweat slicked torso. The blonde settled between Willow's legs, her chin resting on the firm stomach, her hands kneading the small breasts. It was mere moments before the redhead's hips began rocking again. Tara pushed herself up and off of her lover, who opened her eyes and looked curiously at the blonde. Tara rose from the bed and reached under the mattress. Green eyes widened in shock.

"That' peg leg!" she shouted, grimacing at the high pitch of her voice.

Tara smirked at the response. The smooth wooden shaft was attached to a triangular strip of soft leather, from which several buckled belts looped loosely.

"Your peg leg's a little short, sweetie," the blonde teased, giggling at the indignant expression she received. "I don't see how you could possibly walk with this appendage."

Willow blinked, speechless. Her mouth dropped open when Tara's careful study of the apparatus ceased and she stepped into the loops, pulling the harness to her hips and drawing the buckles tight.

"Just as I suspected," she mused, hands on her sides as she gazed down to inspect herself. "Most cumbersome. I hardly know what to do with it."

"Come here and I'll show you," Willow rasped, holding out her hand.

Tara took the offering and allowed the redhead to pull her into bed and guide her onto her back. Willow curled against her side and kissed her, their tongues wrestling heatedly. The redhead reached between Tara's legs, her fingers slipping below the harness to thrust into her lover. She withdrew her fingers slowly, kissing away Tara's whimpered protests and bathing the wooden appendage in her lover's nectar.

Willow sat back on her heels alongside Tara's hip and continued to stroke the shaft. Heavy lidded blue eyes fluttered open to peer at the redhead, who gazed back with mirth and undisguised lust.

"Permission to come aboard, Captain?" Willow smirked.

Tara nodded slowly, and Willow flung one leg over the blonde's body, holding herself up on all fours and dipping her head down to kiss Tara. Willow grinned wickedly as she retreated, her hands roaming up Tara's sides to take purchase of the Baroness' ample bosom. The blonde gave her lover a saucy wink.

"All hands on de-ahhhhhh!"

Both women moaned as the redhead eased her body down onto Tara's extension. Willow sat back on her calves, her hands kneading Tara's breasts as she slowly rode her lover. Tara gripped Willow's spread thighs, gasping as each downward push pressed against her mound. They maintained eye contact as Willow increased her pace, their breathing labored and broken. Their tempo quickened; sweat beaded and ran freely; staccato cries burst from their throats as Tara counterthrusted. Hands roamed without restraint over pliant flesh. Mouths fell open and vision blurred. Their bodies moved as one, and with a final understanding glance through cloudy eyes, Tara reached for the hardened nub between Willow's legs just as the redhead reached back to enter her lover with two fingers and simultaneously bore down with her hips. Their passionate screams rivaled the explosion of Tara's ship.

The sun was high off the horizon when the lovers at last stirred, smiling lazily and allowing their eyes to feast on each other. A hint of a giggle escaped Tara's lips, and Willow raised a quizzical eyebrow. The blonde reclined on her back and pulled her lover down in a leisurely kiss before answering.

"I was just's was only a week ago today that I left this house so gladly, and now I can't think of anyplace I'd rather be."

Willow beamed and covered Tara's body with her own, her lips tracing the contours of Tara's face. After a moment she stilled and pulled away sharply. Tara frowned at the horrified expression she saw.


"You began your journey on a Tuesday?! Don't you know how unlucky that is?!"

Tara burst into laughter and pulled Willow back down to nestle in the crook of her arm, kissing her freckled temple.

"Don't be silly. My journey brought me to you. I consider that very lucky indeed."

Next in the Elemental series: Water by JustSkipIt

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