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Breathing Underwater

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In the end, ten years aren’t actually all that much.


She stays on the beach after Will has gone back to the Flying Dutchman. She lies on the sand and stares at the sky and tries to think about nothing at all. She says to herself over and over again that she’ll survive, they will survive this. She’s strong; she knows she can do it. It doesn’t keep her from going knee-deep into the water and kicking around, cursing the sea until her temper finally subsides. By then, she’s wet all over and she has sand on most of her body, but she feels a little better.

She contemplates staying on the island and waiting there for Will. She rows back to the Pearl in the morning, once she gets hungry. She then realizes how stupid and childish that idea was.

It’s not until three months later that she realizes she’s with child, and then she stays up all night, swinging softly in her hammock, staring at the one above hers while she tries to imagine a future for her child. She can’t see anything but open seas in its destiny.

She writes the news on the only piece of paper she finds lying around, seals it with wax out of practice and puts it inside a bottle. She throws it into the ocean at night and stays out for a long time until she can’t see it anymore. The moon will be full in a couple of days, and it illuminates a path on the water, dull silver against the blackness. She shivers, once, twice, and puts her arms around herself.

“You two sure are romantic fools,” says Jack from behind her, startling her. He’s got that annoying know-it-all smirk on his face. He won back the Pearl a week ago, and he hasn’t come down from the euphoria yet. “You could’ve just sent messengers.”

She just shrugs and stares ahead.

Jack chuckles and takes another swig of the rum bottle he seems to have been nursing for a while. He offers her a drink after a while, and it’s not until she’s swallowed a mouthful that she remembers she can’t drink anymore. Her throat feels coarse as she gives him back the bottle and sighs.

“Look at the bright side, love, at least it’s not my child,” he says with a grin, his fingers against his breastbone, and she has to laugh, because yes, thank goodness for small favors.

Her son is born on the Black Pearl in the middle of the ocean, far away from land so his father can see his birth. He stops crying almost immediately, lulled by the waves. The rum flows freely amongst the crew in celebration, and Jack declares himself the godfather, whether the parents approve or not.

Will has responsibilities to attend to and he can only stay the one day. Elizabeth watches him count his son’s toes, eyes alight in awe, and it tastes bitter to know she can’t have this for as long as she wants. He holds his son until the last moment before he has to go, cooing softly at him, and then he leans down and kisses her, almost reverently, their child between them, and it feels like family.

She doesn’t see him for almost a year after that.


She takes Will’s heart out of the chest and carries it in a fabric bag beneath her clothes everywhere she goes, so she can feel it beating against her skin.


Her son is three days old when she goes back to land. She hates the feeling of having to give up yet another thing – the sea, this time, or freedom, the same thing, but she knows that a pirate ship is not a place for a newborn. Her father is dead, the same as her honor and dignity in the eyes of society as an unmarried woman with a child in her arms.

It’s better this way. She never did fit into society, anyway.

Her upbringing means she knows how to sew, how to play two different instruments, how to eat a seven course meal appropriately and how to speak French without an accent. Her life means that she knows how to wield a sword, how to fire a gun and how to taunt men to do her bidding. This can get her a P branded on her skin and a one-way ticket to the gallows. She’s never been that fond of laws, though.

She gets an honest job the first months, teaching manners and French to a young aristocratic girl. She slips her chocolate during meals and teaches her every single dirty word she knows in the French language, just so she won’t feel like she’s betraying herself. William grows, a constant bundle of blankets by her side, and she looks at the ocean through the windows as she sings to him, songs about rum and freedom and bloodshed.

She gets a job as a barmaid after that, once William’s old enough to stay quiet for a couple of hours straight. This way she can follow the news on the ships currently sailing. She keeps tabs on the Black Pearl closely, so she’ll know when she and William will be able to go on board again. News spreads fast though, and soon, everyone in town knows that the Pirate King is working in a tavern. The men, pirate or navy alike, respect her, admire her, even, and it makes it a little more bearable. They often bring messages from Will, sometimes just a comment he made a man repeat until he was certain he’d relay the message correctly, sometimes long letters he leaves inside the dead’s clothing.

She gets an envelope full of gold and stolen jewelry every month. It never says who it’s from, but she can recognize Jack’s handwriting in the short messages asking how the brat’s doing.

Barbossa claims the Pearl five months after Elizabeth disembarks, and Jack takes it back four months later. It’s hard to keep track of who is loyal to who. It makes Elizabeth smile, and think that pirates shall be pirates.

William learns to walk when he’s ten months old. Elizabeth lets out a sigh of relief the first moment she sees her son stumbling towards her on his own two feet, and it might just be her imagination, but she can almost feel the salty smell of the seas getting stronger.

Her son is eleven months and four days old when they go on board of the Black Pearl in Port Royal’s docks. It feels like she can finally breathe again, no longer surrounded by constrictive land.


Jack winks at her as he offers her the captain’s cabin for the night as a welcome back sign. It sounds suspicious, but William is fuzzy and it’ll be nice to have a last night in a comfortable bed before going back to the hammocks.

She puts William to sleep in the small crib she had to drag on board from Port Royal and when she turns around Will’s there, smiling at her, and she can’t help the gasp that leaves her lips.

They reach for each other at the same time, and then they’re kissing, panting into each other’s mouths as their hands try to touch whatever piece of skin they can find.

“Missed you,” says Elizabeth before biting his lip, and Will only grunts and pulls her up until her legs are around his waist, eyes closed and expression desperate. They fall onto the bed, limbs entwined, and she can see his skin glistening with sweat in the soft candlelight.

He stumbles across his own heart as he’s taking her clothes off, and then he dangles the bag in front of her and says, grinning, “Taking good care of my heart, Elizabeth?”

“Oh, shush, you, it’s supposed to be romantic,” she says, and he laughs before kissing her neck.

It’s fast and frantic, nails digging into skin and toes curling and his lips breathing her name out over and over again against her temple.

Afterwards, while they’re waiting for the sweat to dry on their skins, they talk in whispers about the things the other has missed until the candle goes out and leaves nothing but melted wax on the nightside table. When she lays her head on his chest, there’s no heartbeat under her ear, and it’s eerie, the way it sounds hollow inside him. It reminds her too much of the curse that binds them together the same as tears them apart.

“I can’t stay long,” he says just before she goes to sleep, but she pretends she can’t hear the words.

William wakes up in the middle of the night, and it’s Will that holds him and lulls him to sleep. It takes a long time, because William doesn’t recognize his father, couldn’t have, really, and he’s wary of strangers. It’s still a sight to behold, though, Will talking softly to his son, and Elizabeth watches them from the bed, eyes only open halfway and hair all over the place, feeling warm and content, at least for a while.

Will stays a little while in the morning, long enough to take his son by the hand on a short walk around the deck, pointing to things and saying their names. William doesn’t talk yet, but he seems interested, and anyway maybe it is time he learns the family business.

Ragetti distracts him for a while when Will says goodbye. He pulls Elizabeth to him, an arm around her waist, and it feels oddly like the day he released Jack from being hung, that silence between them as they look at each other.

“I’ll be waiting,” she says into his ear, and then bites his earlobe, feels him shudder against her. He just nods and kisses her deep, as if he wants to keep her yearning for him while he’s not there.

A blink, and then he’s gone.

The Flying Dutchman must be close, because he disappears into thin air just like she’d seen Davy Jones do. She’d be lying to herself if she didn’t admit that it makes a chill travel down her spine.


Barbossa takes over as Captain on the second year. Elizabeth actually says goodbye to Jack from the deck’s railing as he waves and winks and blows kisses to her and the crew from his little hole-infested boat. She doesn’t feel too bad about it, because she knows Jack took all the rum with him and Barbossa will probably be furious once he finds out.

He actually turns out to be a good Captain, if dishonest (which is a must, really, in this business) and ruthless. William takes a shine to him for some strange reason, and he can often be seen hugging Barbossa’s boots, to the great anguish of their owner, who considers it a disgrace.

She runs into Jack in a semi-deserted island near Isla Cruces as she’s teaching her son the proper way of digging up a treasure chest. He’s been all over, seen it all, or so he says, and he claims to be ready to go after the Fountain of Youth.

“Getting paranoid in your old age, Captain Jack Sparrow?” she teases.

“I’ll have you know thousands of women across the Caribbean agree in how youthful and attractive I am, Mistress Turner,” he says with a hand to his chest, looking affronted. “In any case, you proved to have no taste at all when you married that whelp,” he continues, and she has to snort.

They help William build castles in the sand for the rest of the evening, as they plan the mutiny to overthrow Barbossa. Just for old time’s sake.


She goes back to the swamp when William is almost three years old. She’s not entirely sure why, she just feels as if it is calling to her, and she’s already survived this long trusting her instincts, so why not.

The heat at the swamp is heady, thick and almost sweet-tasting. The trees are too close together, and barely any light filters through the branches, making the water look black and the shadows eerie. It’s daytime, but there are still candles hanging from the trees, encapsulated in tiny crystal bulbs. The roots that go over the water are twisted into odd shapes, and the buzz of the insects is almost like a song. The last time she was here, Elizabeth was too consumed by guilt to pay attention to her surroundings, but now, she can barely tear her eyes away from it.

She expects to find the hut empty, but when she enters she finds the woman she once knew as Tia Dalma sitting there, smiling at her with blackened teeth and old eyes.

“Welcome, chil’,” she says, all smiles, and Elizabeth knows she was expected.

Elizabeth bites her lip, wondering what the protocol is when talking to the sea goddesses. “Hello,” she says plainly after a while, because for the life of her she can’t figure out what to say.

William tugs on her skirts, almost hiding himself within the folds of the fabric, and when Elizabeth looks down she can see him frowning at Calypso with determination. It makes Calypso smile, looking coy and wild at the same time.

“Ah, ‘ere he is,” she says as she beckons them to her. The movement makes the trinkets around her neck and waist clang together and William’s eyes go very wide. He walks to her, and before Elizabeth can stop him he’s pulling on a round charm that she recognizes as her own piece of eight, the one that burned so long ago to set the goddess free. Calypso laughs, low and dangerous, and it echoes with the water of the swamp.

“Why am I here?” asks Elizabeth, but Calypso ignores her as she takes the necklace off and puts it around William’s neck, who touches it with curiosity. The breeze enters from the windows, and it makes the hundreds of jars and cages hanging from the ceiling swing around, occasionally hitting each other. There are eyes and chicken legs and heads and skeletons of snakes inside them, the liquid they’re kept in looking gelatinous. There are candles all over the hut, and the light they give off makes the room look colored in rich earth and red tones, a deceiving warmth against the green hues of the swamp.

“This one be a chil’ of the sea,” Calypso says, hand on top of William’s head, and it looks like she’s blessing him. “You take care of ‘im, for he is one of my own.” The words make Elizabeth feel chilled to the bone.

Calypso finally turns to look at her, through her lashes, and her gaze holds as much strength as waves hitting the rocks. She stands up, takes William’s hand between her own and walks toward Elizabeth.

“To your husband, girl, you say he could love me more. To Jack, you say he should love me less.”

Elizabeth puts out her chin. “What about me?” she asks, and Calypso laughs and comes closer, until Elizabeth can see all of the markings on her skin and smell the salt in her breath. Calypso puts a hand on Elizabeth’s jaw, peers into her eyes.

“You are already part of me, Captain Turner,” she finally says after a moment, elongating every syllable, and Elizabeth’s smile reflects that of the other woman.

William never takes off the charm around his neck, and while Elizabeth isn’t prone to superstition, she does believe it keeps him safe.


She throws hundreds of bottles into the sea over the years. She always gets a response, sooner or later.


The wind has finally subsided after the storm, although the air still smells like ozone and Elizabeth can still see lightening on the horizon. She’s alone on the deck, and her steering shift has just begun. She’s still soaked from the rain, but she’s in high spirits. The darkness soothes her.

In between one breath and the next one, Will’s there, behind there, lips caressing her neck and the sigh that leaves her can almost be considered a moan. She turns her head to catch his mouth, and his hands tighten against her jacket. He’s pressing her against the helm, and doesn’t let her turn around when she tries.

“We were passing through – there was a shipwreck not so far from here – and I thought I’d come and say hello,” he says into her ear, voice low, frustrated. He executes his job exemplarily, like everything he does, but he has nothing but contempt for it. In some ways, he’s still too soft to deal with death every single day.

If she could, Elizabeth would take the responsibility from him.

“Glad you did,” she says, breathlessly as he kisses her chin, open mouthed and sloppy. His arms get around her, slipping lower and lower, and she moans, let’s her head fall onto his shoulder.

“I don’t have much time,” Will half says, half pants, but she’s so busy kissing every bit of his skin she can find that she doesn’t pay attention to the words. His hands slip inside the waistband of her trousers, and she feels like her chest’s about to burst open, her heart’s beating too fast.

He kisses her ear again, and then she’s alone in the darkness, her breathing out of control. Her back is cold after having Will pressed against her, and it almost feels like a dream-like haze, like it had all been her imagination. His saliva drying on her skin is real enough, though. She presses her forehead against the helm and curses Calypso and Davy Jones and the world, in general.

She laughs, because she doesn’t know what else to do.


William meets his grandfather when he’s five. The first thing he ever says to him is: “Is it true you used to have a starfish stuck to your face?”

Elizabeth covers her face with a hand, and wishes the earth could eat her whole as she realizes she really shouldn’t have let her son spend so much time with Jack.


Elizabeth takes command of the Empress twice, once when William is four and another time when he’s nearly eight. She likes the freedom of it, being able to go whenever she wants, but the crew doesn’t trust her as they did Sao Feng, and she sometimes misses being among familiar faces.

It’s not fair to keep her crew so far away from their land, so she mostly keeps to Asia in the times she’s Captain. William learns to swear in Malay, Cantonese and Mandarin, and she starts to train him in the art of the sword, Will helping from time to time in the off chance he gets to meet them. She sees temples and cities underwater and samurai battles. She takes her son to the water streets of Singapore, watches him as he tries to see everything all at once. They buy a bright yellow bird in a wooden cage from an old lady on another long boat, more than twenty other cages next to her, the birds chirping all at once. The smell of rank water mixes with the oily scents of food and hundreds of people hurrying over the unstable wooden bridges over the canals.

She sees a dragon off the coast of Korea, thin and snake-like, like the mache paper ones they pay tribute with in China, red tail swirling as it flies by the ship, long claws barely touching the water. The scales on its belly shine as much as the ocean does by sunlight. The men of the crew bow to it, hands pressed against each other at forehead height, and she does the same, if only because such a creature demands respect. It leaves red sparkles on its way that shine like fireflies once the sun sets and that don’t dissappear until many hours later.

It’s magical.

But then she comes home to the moist heat of the Caribbean and its clear waters and she knows where her heart is.


They find the Fountain of Youth on the seventh year of the curse.

It’s placed across hell, a desert, and an ocean, and it’s buried deep on the bottom of the sea. It’s a year-long journey the last part of which is spent underwater on the Flying Dutchman, the living part of the crew protected by a giant bubble that encases the ship, courtesy of Calypso. Elizabeth puts her hand through the bubble once, and the pressure of the water makes her ache and gasp in pain. William points excitedly at all the multi-colored fishes that swim right next to them, and sometimes, they can hear the whales singing, a low, distorted sound that resonates inside the ribcage.

There are mermaids guarding the doors to the fountain, and they all have to cover their ears. Then there are the proper guards, half men, half creatures of legend, and when they come aboard, almost rupturing the bubble that lets the crew breathe, the deck fills with cries and the sound of steel hitting steel. William is entrusted to his grandfather, who takes him to the lower decks. Both Elizabeth and Will know they can trust him with their lives.

Jack and Barbossa, on a lifelong competition over the Pearl, are the ones that fight with the most zest, knowing that whoever gets to the Fountain first wins (whatever it is they might win). Jack talks and talks as he thrusts, and all of the guards that fight him end up more dizzied by his speech than by his sword.

Will and Elizabeth end up fighting back to back, covering each other’s weak spots, and they have to grin at each other, adrenaline coursing through their veins. He swings right and she swings left and they balance each other out. Duck, parry, thrust, it’s almost a life lesson. It feels as if no time has passed since they first fought for their lives together.

It’s Pintel that reaches the Fountain first, when the battle is over. Will laughs at the look of despair on Jack’s face, tells him there’s always the next chance. Jack hits him in response.

She doesn’t want to be immortal, but she keeps a small vial for herself and William, just in case the curse doesn’t break. She wants to be there every time Will steps on land.


Will and her have a fight in the eight year. It starts over nothing, she can’t even remember what afterwards, but then it escalates until she’s yelling at him how he promised to be there for William’s birthday and Will recriminates with how insensitive she is and how that happened years ago and then they’re yelling nonsense, blaming the other for every single mistake they’ve made in their lives. They’re standing on the Flying Dutchman’s deck, which is anchored in the Madagascar docks - the Empress is just a few yards away, swaying lightly with the waves.

They end up yelling at each other like they have never done before, both of them trying to hurt the other one with every single word. It’s just been too much time of wanting too much and having nothing at all – it’s too hard, having to pretend to be content with a few stolen hours every few months.

Elizabeth is red-faced when she ends the fight by stepping off the ship onto the docks. It’s childish, and she knows it, taking advantage of his curse, but right now, she’s furious enough not to care.

They stare at each other, then, Elizabeth looking up and Will looking down, silently, and when she looks away and starts walking towards solid ground she can hear the sound of a fist hitting wood and Will’s soft groan of pain. She doesn’t look back.

When they see each other again, three weeks later, they’re still mad, but Elizabeth was almost stabbed and she’s feeling raw, but alive. The sex is rough, almost painful, and she takes delight in his gasp as she presses him up against the wall of her cabin, her hands holding his wrists so hard they’ll leave bruises.

He turns her around and holds her up, puts a hand under her skirts and makes her tremble. She bites his lip as he enters her without warning, and then they’re both moaning, her heels pressed against his back and his fingers digging into her hips.

“You’re worse than the curse,” he whispers, his mouth touching hers, and she laughs darkly, pulls on his hair.

“I never said I’d be easy to tame, Mister Turner,” she says back, her forehead against his.

He shakes his head, kisses her with his eyes open. “Always knew you could never be tamed,” he says, and it doesn’t sound resigned, but admiring, and she knows she chose right.

When she comes, it’s with his mouth on her neck, and his name on her lips.

The tension dissipates after that, and they can finally look on another in the eye. Elizabeth’s always known life is no fairytale, but knowing that happy endings hardly ever come true unless you fight for them makes her feel as if she’s finally grown up.


The last time they see each other before the ten year deadline is over, they’re alone in a little raft just a few yards away from the beach. The waves lap at the boat’s sides, moving it gently from side to side. It’s nighttime, and they’re lying close together, looking up at the stars through an old telescope that’s orange with rust from all the salt in the air. William’s asleep at their feet, too tired after the day to stay awake for any longer. He’s curled himself into a tiny ball, and Will mentions how much like a cat he is.

“You will be there, won’t you?” asks Will suddenly, lips set in a tight line, and she doesn’t have to ask what he means.

“Do you even have to ask?” she says, quietly, and he smiles a bit. His heart beats faster in her pocket.

Will’s not there when she wakes up the next morning, because while they were sleeping the ocean dragged them onto the island, and the boat is settled firmly on the sand. Elizabeth sighs, and ticks off another day of the curse in her mind.

She spends the day showing William wild birds and exotic plants.


She’s only been on solid ground for two days when the horizon turns green and the curse is broken. She can’t do anything but smile at the way Will lights up when his feet first touch the ground after ten years.

Then he’s holding his family close, and she knows the adventure has just begun.