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It's Not Gay if it's Underway

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"Captain wants to speak to you," Maccus said.  Will studied the man's face, or what was humanly left of it.  He learned nothing, as usual.  The crew were tight-lipped and unreadable when it came to the one who bound them there.  Fear and devotion, he thought wryly.

The captain's quarters were lit by candlelight, small flickers between skeletal coral formations on the wallsthings born on the seafloor that Will had seldom seen wash ashore.  A massive organ, half wood half barnacle had become part of the back wall, it's hollow pipes creeping up to the high ceiling in a way that made Will's skin crawl.  There was nothing in the room that would indicate a human being had ever found rest thereany semblance of it was covered, grown over, repressed.

Will didn't see Jones anywhere, and for a second he wondered if this might be his opportunity to look aroundhe had the key's location, perhaps he could find a clue as to where the chest would be.  But a presence behind him cut the thought short, and he realized Jones had entered the room without the use of the doorway.  He turned to face the captain, his heart jumping into his throat.

"Mister Turner," Jones began, stepping around Will as if he were just another thing in the way.  He walked toward the back of the room, to the organ while Will remained rooted by the door.  Jones picked something off a surfacea flash of silver on a chain, and stuffed it into his coat pocket.  He turned to face Will, shadowed under the looming pipes. 

"You're a skilled dice player," Jones said.  Will stared across the space between them, his fingers twitching by the sword at his belt.  Jones looked at him with that maddening gaze: half-mocking, half-amused, as he sniffed and regarded the furniture.  "Do you play music as well?"

"You didn't call me here for compliments," Will said.  "I know where the key is, and you know I mean to take it from you."  Will's fingertips were poised on the hilt of his sword.  "I'm not dying without a fight."

Jones snorted a laugh.  "I could have taken your life where you stand.  I am part of this ship, and it answers to me."  He stepped forward, his inhuman leg striking the floor with a hollow echo.  "Any corner, any surface, I can reach through to pull the life from you."

Will's hand wavered on his sword.  He saw Jones' gaze linger on the weapon, and the tendrils of his beard curled.  His eyes shot back up to Will's, violence growing within them.

"What will it be?" Jones asked, unblinking.  "You die here, and I give your body to your father to cast into the sea," he wet his lips, "or you serve me and live to see your dearly beloved?"

Will's hand slowly withdrew from his sword, but he remained where he stood.  "I don't intend to be bound to you by service."

Jones let out a noise between a scoff and a snort.  "A fact I am well aware of, seeing as you bested me twice.  The terms of our wager will be respected, but I am asking," his eyes narrowed, "for your word."

"What," Will mocked, "I swear not to take your key, and you swear not to kill me?  I'm supposed to trust you?"

Jones drew his head back, tendrils writhing in annoyance.  "I am many things, Mister Turner, but I am not a liar."

He spat the word out like a curse.  Will sensed he had hit upon a wound from the past, and returned Jones' gaze in silent defiance.

Jones was the first to move, and with the dull thud of his leg on the floor he closed the distance between him and Will.  He held out his right hand, the tentacle curling back to allow for a handshake.  Will stared at Jones, his eyes wandering to the fold in his neck under which the key layhis gut telling him to take it now, fight it, risk death--but he knew now that road had become impossible.

He took Jones' hand, the texture strange, locking eyes with the captain as the tentacle snaked around Will's arm.  Jones didn't seem to notice or care, perhaps it was unintended, or perhaps he had grown to control each individual new appendage that grew out of his cursed form.  Will withdrew, yanking his arm out of the snare, and Jones regarded him with a newfound amusement. 

"Well," Jones looked down at Will, eyes flickering like a cat toying with a trapped bird.  "It seems we have reached an agreement.  Show yourself out."

Will turned and strode out the door, cursing under his breath.

 

 

"So what, then?" Bill asked.  "You're going to leave the ship without the key?"

The two huddled by the rear mast, the cold spray biting through Will's clothes.  They had found a brief reprieve from the bosun's orders and spoke in hushed tones. Will looked at his father evenly, his jaw set.

"No.  I'm going to free you from this ship, whatever it takes"

Bill shook his head, his eyes wide.  "But you swore.  You can't lie to the captain, he'll know.  He always knows.  He'll know and he'll kill you and I'll be here, forever.  You swore."

Bill continued to mutter, his gaze faraway, and Will felt a cold knife through his heart.  His father's fear was inescapableyears of cruelty under the whip shredded away whatever hope or reason he had left. 

Will placed a hand on his father's shoulder, the sharp edge of a shell pricking his palm.  "He won't know."

Bill nodded, his head bobbing like leaves in the wind.

They heard the approach of another crewmate and parted, Bill receding into the mast and Will feigning very particular care to the ropes beside him.  The bright yellow eyes of the cursed eel man passed between them, and finding nothing to berate, continued on. 

Will's gaze wandered over the ship, and he saw Jones standing at the helm, speaking to Maccus.  Will studied the captain through the corner of his eye, prying for weakness or tellsbut he did have tells, Will knew.  For as much as his form had changed, the man beneath was still inescapably humanWill had seen during the dice game the twitch of his jaw, his many-tentacled beard curling as he peered at his roll, and the rare but unmistakable flicker that shone in his eyes when something was, for a moment, pleasing to himamusing, even.  Jones said he never lied, but Will wondered if the truth be that he was, in fact, a poor liar. 

Jones had a temper, wit, and humor, though the latter most often exercised to no one's laughter but his own.  He said something to Maccus and the other man gave a brief snort, while Jones rolled his head back, bellowing with mirth.  Jones turned and saw Will's eyes upon him, and for a moment he held Will's gaze in a wordless challenge, and Will quickly returned to his work.

Will quickly learned that Jones never abided by a schedule, nor did the older half of the crew.  The endless days and cursed years dragging on into oblivion had rendered night and day irrelevant.  Jones directed the ship when needed and withdrew to his quarters when not, from which came the deep reverberations of the pipe organ, shaking the timbers of the ship.

The older crew, barely distinguishable from the ship itself, muttered incomprehensible words to themselves and moved slowly, languidly, like nags tied to a plow, their paths worn into the planks beneath them.

Will waited and listened as the melancholic music carried on, from slow dirge to crescendo, and Will saw Jones in his mind's eye pouring his rage across the keys, breathless, carried in song.

The music stopped as the moon began to dip below the sea.  Will took note of the remaining crew above boarda few of the eternal, he called them, oblivious to him in their madness.  Will made his way to the door of Jones' quarters and, with a careful push, slipped inside.

The room was dark as before, but here he saw Jones at the keys, back to him, hunched and unmoving.  Will remained still for a few moments, waiting, watching.  He saw Jones' shoulders rise and fall, steadily. Carefully, he navigated across the room, wincing and freezing at the first tiny creak of a floorboardbut the creak of the ship was far greater, and he moved quickly to Jones' sleeping form.

The back of Jones' head pulsed like a heart.  Will held his breath and knelt beside him to see his head drooped over the keys, beard hanging limp like the many roots of a plant as he twitched fitfully in dreams.  Will paused and absorbed the sight: Jones' rage quieted, lost to memories, his strange face softened, and somehow vulnerable.

Will excused the thought and leaned in close to see the iron key tucked beneath Jones' beard.  He flexed his fingers, looking around the surfaces for anything to help pry it lose, but the room was bare.  Will drew in a deep breath.  He knew what this wasfoolish desperation, inviting death if he failedbut he had to save the soul of his father, or be damned himself. 

He reached his hand into Jones' beard.  The tentacles found him, snaking tenderly between his fingers though Jones remained still asleep.  He kept his hand perfectly still as they curled and tested his skin before seeming to acclimate to his presence.  Holding his breath, he reached farther, weaving his fingers through until the key was mere inches from his fingertips.  Jones let out a grumble and his lips twitched.  Will waited, and he settled.

He finally gripped the key, and as soon as his skin touched iron, Jones awoke.  A split second turned to infinity as their eyes locked, and in the depths of Jones’ gaze Will saw colors like a tempest upon the sea.

Jones snapped up and slammed Will against the wall.  Will struggled, his neck pinned in Jones’ claw still wide enough to breathe, his nails scraping uselessly across the hard shell.  He looked up and saw no sign of effort on Jones’ partand Will realized he had deeply, lethally underestimated the captain’s strength.

Jones turned his head, feeling the key still resting where Will had failed to take it.  He looked down at Will and his nostrils flared.

“You broke your oath,” he said.  Will ceased trying to free himself and sank against the wallbracing himself for the inevitable.  Jones continued, “What am I to make of this?”

The ship creaked around them, filling the silence.  Jones leaned back, still holding Will in his vice, and he looked him up and down.  His eyes lingered on Will’s arms which were tensed against the wall, ready to spring.

A laugh began deep in Jones’ throat, and he withdrew his claw from Will’s neck to rest its oppressive weight against the center of his chest.  “Or are you here, perhaps, for something else?” 

Will stared, his mind blank.  Jones tilted his head, a smirk playing on his lips, and the tendrils of his beard reached out into the space between them.  He leaned down until his face was beside Will’s, and he spoke in a tone softer than he had ever uttered before.

“The word is key ,” he said.  Will felt the tentacle of Jones’ right hand curl around his upper thigh, and Jones’ eyes met Will’s with an unmistakable question.  

Will shoved back against Jones and scrambled away, tripping onto the floor, as Jones stood staring down at him with a look between surprise and disappointment.    

“Ah,” Jones sniffed.  “You were here to break your oath.”  He turned and sat down at the organ with his back to Will, and Will rose to his feet, his mind fumbling in confusion.  Jones continued, “I’ll let the bosun know you’ll be needing the cat again.”

“You’re not going to kill me?”

Jones jerked his head back to fix his gaze on Will.  “If you’d like a quick death, I’ll gladly deliver it myself,” he snorted.  Will peered at his expression.  A lie .  “Take the whipping and be off my ship at the first sight of land.”

 



Will found his father after the beating had been given, and Bill helped him sit down to begin cleaning the wounds.  He winced as Will removed his shirt, shaking his head sadly.

“It reopened the ones from the other day,” he said.  “You have to be careful, son.  You can’t keep doing this.”  He dabbed a cloth in a bucket of water and brought it to Will’s skin.

Will’s jaw tightened and he let out a groan.  “Better than the alternative.”

“What, death?”  Bill scoffed.  “There are some things worse than death.  Endless pain is one of them.”

“I mean,” Will’s voice caught in his throat.  A crewmate passed by, and Will watched them leave before he spoke again, quietly.  “I mean, Jones offered me another alternative.”  He made a noise in his throat, stifling his disgust.

Bill set the cloth down.  “What?”

“You know,” Will waved his fingers at his own body in an incomprehensible gesture.  Bill scowled.

“Speak clearly, son.”

Will pursed his lips and leaned forward.  “He wanted me ,” he said.  “ My body .”

“Oh.” Bill sat back, nonplussed.  “He wanted you carnally?  Why didn’t you?”

Will’s mind ground to a halt.  He stared at his father, failing to understand.  His lips moved, but no words came out.

“What?” Bill said again.  “You’d rather be whipped?”  He let out a short laugh.  “At least Jones lets you tell him when to stop, which we can’t say for the bosun’s lash.”

A strangled, guttural noise bubbled up in Will’s throat.  “How do youwho told you about what Jones does?”

Bill blinked.  “He did.  I mean, he showed me.”

Nothing could have prepared Will for the knowledge.  He stared wordlessly at his father, as Bill’s mind tumbled haplessly back into memory.

Bill straddled the captain’s face on the floor beside the towering pipe organ, Jones’ hand gripping deep into Bill’s thigh.  Every tentacle had found a place and purposeBill moved his hips slowly, groaning, letting the instruments upon Jones’ beard please him a dozen different ways.  Jones never spokecouldn’t speakinstead drawing sounds out of the moaning man atop him like slow music.  Bill bit his lip and squeezed his eyes shut, muttering under his breath.  “Here I go again…”

Bill excused the memory with the smallest shrug.  

“Any port in a storm.”

Will leapt to his feet, knocking over the bucket of water and strode off across the ship.  A few crewmates hurried out of his way, but Maccus moved to intercept him, planting himself between the irate Will and the captain’s quarters.

“You can’t just

Will barreled into him with the full force of his body, knocking him aside, and before the other man could react, Will had thrown open the door to Jones’ quarters.  The door slammed behind him with a boom.

Davy Jones ,” Will cried, “ did you fuck my father?

Jones was leaning on his claw against his desk, the tip of his pipe having just barely passed between his lips.  He met Will’s gaze and took a long drag, and the smoke drifted up the sides of his face, filling the space above him like dark clouds.

Jones groaned and bucked up, lifting Bill off his face and flipping him over onto his back on the floor.  Bill gasped as the wind was knocked out of him, and Jones’ tentacles drew themselves slowly, achingly out of his body.  Bill looked down at the trails of red pucker-prints left along the inside of his thighs and around his still-erect shaft.  Jones straddled Bill’s waist, eyeing him down with hunger in his eyesBill followed Jones’ hand to the monstrous bulge trying to force its way out through his clothes.  Jones freed his desire and slid down Bill’s body, drawing his nails down the other man’s skin before throwing apart Bill’s legs and plunging himself in. 

“Any port in a storm,” Jones said.

“So that’s what you do?” Will spat.  “You bind men to servitude and then take what dignity remains?”

Jones shot a glare at Will, his gaze prickling.  “You know nothing of what you speak.”  He ashed his pipe on his claw with a sound like knocking wood.  “Every man on this ship who was dragged from death’s door had a choice: submit to the cruelty of the sea, or serve the Dutchman.”  He stowed his pipe and sniffed.  “Once they are here, their choice ,” he lingered on the word, “is still their own.  I have only taken from your father and every other man in my service what was freely given.”

Jones turned to his desk to begin marking something on a piece of parchment.  Will looked down at his own hands, his jaw tightening.  It was true, what Jones said.  He had not pressed Will after his overtures went unrequited.  Nor did he go back on any wager he made in the dice game, or break an oath once sworn.  Will suddenly startled, his brows knitted.

“Every other man?” Will said.  “You’ve doneevery ?”

Jones looked back up with an eyebrow arched, as if being asked the most nonsensical question in the world.  “With the exception of Maccus, who remains as a brother to me, a ship is a place where the mores of society fail to keep hold.”  Jones resumed writing.  Will found himself rendered mute again, and Jones let out a huff and set his quill down.

“Mister Turner, if you are done questioning the way I run my ship, there is work to be done.”

 

 

The crew was gathered around the dice table once more.  Jones was still at work in his quarters, and the atmosphere was loose, relaxednearly human.  Crewmates jeered and goaded each other on, daring the players to place higher and higher bets on their own fate.  Will stood in the back beside his father and the four trusted mates and watched a table of newcomers gamble their lives away.

Will wet his lips and peered sidelong at the elder crew members.  “Do none of you play anymore?”

They looked up at him, surprised, and Maccus shrugged.  “It tends to lose its appeal after the first fifty years.”  He nodded at the table.  “But I never get tired of watching the guppies gamble themselves to hell.”

The newest crewmates had been picked up a few weeks prior in a shipwreck.  Newly-formed scars snaked down their limbsOgilvey had done what he could to mend them, and it would be a good many years before their bodies were turned and the sea-life creeped up to claim their skin.

The crew was absorbed in the game, but Will continued to peer not-so-subtly at the men beside him, questions drumming in his mind.  Angler noticed, and he snarled at Will, baring rows of razor teeth.  “ What?

Bill’s eyes darted back and forth between them, ready to intervene.  Will dropped his head as his ears reddened, and he coughed unconvincingly.  Bill let out a bark of laughter.

“Is this about the captain again?” Bill asked.  The trusted mates all turned their eyes on Will, but he couldn’t meet their gaze.  “Truth be told, I didn’t know if you’d come out of there alive after barging in.  Captain must have been in a merciful mood.”

Will’s jaw tightened.  “I had questions that needed answering.”

“I’ll bet you did,” Bill said.  He looked off and gave a deep sigh.  “My biggest regret was leaving you behind.  I knew that world all too wellthe airs, the pomp, the lies.  I didn’t want you to grow up in that, believing everything people told you.”  Will remained quiet.  Bill continued.  “A man deserves to be free, in whatever way he needs.  You are how you are because I left.  Maybe you’ll understand someday.”

Penrod looked between father and son, his antennae flicking in annoyance.  “What the hell are you two on about?”

“Oh,” Bill cleared his throat.  “Will finds it odd that the captain and crew seek each other’s pleasure.”

The trusted mates exchanged baffled glances.  “What,” Ratlin said, “you’ve never been on a ship before?”

“Me and my best mate were crewing the Walrus when we first had a go.”

“What does he expect people do at sea?”

Maccus cut in.  “High-bred society man, that’s what he is.”

Will’s entire face had turned a deep red.  “Forget I asked,” he grunted and made to leave.  Bill caught him by the arm and glared at Maccus.  

“Don’t insult my son,” he warned.  “He’s risked his life to save me.  That’s more than any of your kin have done for you.”

“And yet,” Penrod smirked, “both of you are stuck here.”

“He’s not sworn, he can leave whenever he chooses,” Bill countered. 

“Then why doesn’t he?” Angler said.  “Or is he here to gawk at how men of the high seas live?” 

Will and his father exchanged a glanceWill’s eyes burning with the promise to free his father’s soul, and Bill seeming, through exhaustion, grief, and defeat, to warn him not to.

A thud sounded from across the ship, and they all turned to see Crash rolling a heavy barrel towards the dice game.  He hoisted it upright with a grunt and planted it in the center of the crowd and gave it a triumphant slap.

“What’s this?” Maccus pushed his way through to the barrel.  Crash’s face quivered in what could only be delight.

“Got it off the last shipwreck,” Crash said.  “Smells like wine, but there’s only one way to find out.”

The crew erupted in cheers.  The dice players abandoned the game, grabbing their cups and jostling the others to make it to the front.  Crash wedged a whale hook under the top ring and wrestled with it until it finally loosed and the lid came free.  The dice players dunked their cups in as the rest of the crew ran below deck to find any bowl-shaped items that remained.

“Jones allows this?” Will asked.  Bill shook his head and laughed.  

“The captain doesn’t give two shits as long as the work gets done.  It’s the small pleasures like this that keep the crew from offing themselves.”  The air had instantly turned jovial, crewmates clunking their cups together as wine sprinkled the deck.  Bill looked again at his son.  “He can be cruel, but you can’t say he isn’t fair.  Hey,” Bill snapped at a passing guppy.  “Give me your cup.”  

The new recruit looked at the line of trusted mates and quickly handed his cup over.  Bill chuckled as the man dashed off to find another, and he handed the wine to his son.  “Drink.  I don’t have much taste for it anymore.”

Will looked around at the gathering and decided there was little else to do.  He tipped the drink back, finishing it in a single swig, and Bill pounded him on the back.  “There’s my boy.  Enjoy what you can, I’m going to have a word with Ogilvey.”  He gave Will a smile and wandered off to a corner of the ship.

Will carefully nudged his way through the sharp bodies surrounding the barrel and drank another cup.  It wasn’t half bad.  He wiped his mouth on his sleeve before scooping out another and made his way to a group of still-human men at the dice table.  They looked up and their conversation died, regarding him with something between respect and caution.  Will realized he was the only new-looking member who associated with the older mates, so they must have assumed he held great power.

Will took a seat and tried his best at a disarming smile.  “I’m Will, if it hasn’t already been said.  I only just arrived, my father has been here for decades more.”

The men remained tense, sipping their drinks quietly.  The biggest one of the group, a giant brute with a single eyebrow was the only one who looked Will in the eyes.  He held his gaze and took a long swig of his drink before speaking.  “We were just talking about how you kicked down the captain’s door.”

Ah .  His unpunished break-in to Jones’ quarters.  Will struggled to find the words to explain it, but the brute let out a low whistle.

“A thin waif of a man like you, taking a man like him ,” he let out a gruff chuckle.  “Makes me wonder.”

“Makes you see things in a different light,” another man added sagely.

“I” Will’s voice caught in his throat.  Whether it was the wine or something about the way the brute said, taking a man like him, Will felt something stir below his belt.  Is this why they did it? he thought.  The power of it all?

 “Anyway,” the brute tapped his empty cup on the table, “You degenerates keep my spot until I come back.”

Will nodded and stared into his deep purple brew, immersed in thought.  The wine was making his mind wander, and as his mind wove for him unfamiliar scenes and sensations, his body continued to warm.  One of the other men gave his shoulder a small nudge.  

 “What’s your story?” the man asked.  He had a deep scar across half his faceWill remembered the wreck that they had plucked him from.  Will shrugged, half-present.

“A man I trusted traded me to Jones to settle his own debts,” he said.  The man winced.  “Jones refused, now I’m here, unsworn, passing time.”

The man’s eyes went wide.  “Unsworn?”  His mates murmured in shock.  “You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.  What I wouldn’t give for that.” The man turned back to his drink.  “I’d find myself a wife and a nice plot of land somewhere.  But if that’s not your cup of tea,” he eyed Will, “best to do what you already know.”

“I have a wife,” Will said, his words coming slower.  “Fiance.  Elizabeth.  We were to be married.”

“And hasn’t every other sea-faring bloke got an Elizabeth ,” the man laughed and his mates joined in.  He tipped his cup toward Will’s.  “Looks like you’re almost out.  Best grab some more before it’s gone.”

Will left the table, feeling dimly annoyed.  But it soon passed as the wine dulled the edges of any sour feeling and pulled him down paths yet unexplored.  He refilled his cup against his better judgment, emboldened, and he eyed the group of trusted mates once again.  Another swig of courage sent him striding up to them.  

Their moods had been lightened with drink, and they regarded him with mild amusement as he spoke.

“I haven’t done anything with Jones,” he said flatly.  

Maccus snorted.  “Nor have I.  Do you want a medal?”

Will shouted over their laughter, “I meant,” he gestured with his cup, “I don’t want the crew spreading these rumors of me.  I don’t care how anyone else chooses to pass their sentence, but it’s not what I intend to do.” 

Ratlin spoke, the timbers of his face quaking.  “For somebody who doesn’t seem to care,” his voice was like wind through an old house, “you certainly seem to care a lot.”

The mates erupted in laughter again.  Will shot a look at Ratlin.  “Why go to him?  Why defend him when he’s made you a specter of a man you once were?”

The mates looked to Ratlin, waiting for his replyhe gazed out over the crowd toward the door of the captain’s quarters.

Ratlin’s body was already timber and rope, but Jones decided to give him more.  He drew out a length of thick braid from a spool and tied Ratlin’s arms up to the wall.  Jones ran a thick finger across the tip of the rusted fishing hook that had fused itself to Ratlin’s shoulder decades prior, and his eyes flashed hot.  “As much for your safety as mine,” he growled.  With a lurch, he brought his face beside the other man’s, letting his tentacles seek out the cracks of Ratlin’s cursed face.  His hand crept down to Ratlin’s lower half, groping, searching there.  Jones tilted his head, his brows furrowed.  Ratlin let out a breathless gasp as Jones finally grasped what he was looking for.  Jones grinned and wetted his lips.  “Plenty more wood down below.”

Ratlin shrugged his oaken shoulders.  “He’s made me more of a man than I ever was.”

Maccus cleared his throat uncomfortably and tipped his head to the group.  “Right, it’s about time I turn in.  Have a good night.”  He gave Ratlin a good knock on his back and headed to his quarters.

Angler answered the question in Will’s eyes.  “They grew up together.  Not much else to say.”

The group resumed drinking.  Will’s thoughts wandered to Jones before the cursethe legends never agreed beyond the tale of a man consumed by his love for the sea, cutting out his heart so he could sail forever.  Beyond that, whether a woman was involved was a matter of translation.  But he couldn’t imagine Maccus ever divulging the details.

Will felt a poke at his side and he saw Penrod’s claw there.  “Another round?” The man took Will’s cup without waiting for a reply and scuttled to the barrel.  The trusted mates seemed unbothered by Will, as much as he had just goaded them.  Perhaps they were tired of the silent, shaking fear from the new crewmembers and simply wished for new conversation, no matter the tone.

Penrod returned with more wine, and Will eyed it as he struggled not to sway.  Still, anything to ingratiate himself with Jones’ inner circle, and he accepted it, splashing a little on his shirt.  “Thank you.”

“Can’t hold your alcohol?” Angler laughed.  

Will smirked.  “My former captain never shared his rum.”

“Ahh,” Angler bared his teeth.  “Jack Sparrow, wasn’t it?  There’s a man who’s never said an honest word in his life.  I don’t envy the lot that serves under him.”

Will choked on his wine and buckled over in a cough.  How he wished Jack could have heard a cursed half-fish bound to an eternity of servitude choose that over crewing the Pearl .  Angler pounded Will on the back, and he righted himself.

“What did he do?  I mean,” Will cleared his throat, “besides the lying, cheating, and backstabbingwhat was his debt to Jones?”

Angler laughed.  “Of course he never told you.  Captain raised Jack’s ship from the depths after Beckett sunk it.  Jack promised us a hundred souls but never delivered a single one.”

Will balked.  “He delivered me.”

The group exchanged looks and broke into laughter.  Will spoke out above them, his face indignant.  “What?  Why not me?”

“You’re, well,” Penrod looked him up and down, “a bit scrawny.”

“Prissy English boy,” Angler added.  “You can barely keep up with the work, not to mention the captain doesn’t even want you for his own fun.”

Will’s jaw hung open, and he took a deep breath, gathering his thoughts.  The wine had fully replaced his blood.  “He did, ” Will said. 

Penrod’s antennae-eyebrows went up.  “Oh, did he?  No further denial, then?”

“He made to take me, but I refused,” Will said.  The group shook their heads in disappointment, opinion of Will falling back to deck level.  

“English sensibilities,” Angler scoffed.  “Go crawl back to your hammock if you’re done mingling with the scum.”  The group turned away, and Will felt his stomach sink.  He couldn’t lose the crew like this.  He drew himself up and called out, head swirling in drink.

“I’d do it,” Will said.  The group looked back.  “I’d have Jones.”  

They returned, the mood changed.  Angler stepped up to Will, glaring down at him with his glowing eyes.  

“You think you could take him?”

“What,” Will replied, all bluster, “think it’s that hard?”  

Angler cocked his head and looked back at the group.  Penrod’s antennae twitched.

The two shared a tense glance around Jones’ impressive form.  Angler lay on the bed before Jones on his back, his mouth open, razor teeth bared.  Penrod stood behind Jones with one lobster claw hooked around the captain’s waist, the other fondling his balls.  The moment broke as Angler threw his head back in a cry as Jones slid the full length of his tentacle into Angler until the knuckle hit his sensitive skin.  Jones grinned at the painful, pleasured expression on Angler’s face before shouting back at Penrod.  “Harder!” he called.  The small man reached around the captain’s waist to grip Jones’ desire in a lobster claw.  Penrod drew his cursed claw up and down, the inside ridges of the hard shell rubbing deep into Jones’ shaft, and Jones gave a groan of approval.  His finger plunged in and out of Angler, gaining in rhythm until neither could hold.  Penrod’s arm was yanked forward, slamming him into Jones’ back as the captain buckled over, letting out an echoing moan.

Angler sniffed.  “Hard indeed.”

Will brought his face an inch from Angler’s, his breath a fruited vapor.  “I’m not afraid of him.”

Angler held up his arms and made a mocking, sweeping motion toward the captain’s quarters.  “Then prove it, pretty boy.”

Will threw back the last of his wine and, taking a moment to steady himself, took great purposeful steps toward Jones’ quarters once more.  The three elder crewmates watched him, faces dancing in amusement.  Angler nudged Ratlin in the side and whispered.

“You think he’s coming out of there dead or alive?” he asked.

Ratlin shook with mirth, his great oaken form creaking.

Will pushed open the door to the captain’s quarters, uninvited, for the third and final time.  Jones had his back to the door with his head bent over the keys, playing a slow, mournful tune.  Will stepped loudly into the center of the room, and he stared a hole into the back of Jones’ head until the music stopped.  Jones did not look up when he spoke.

“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t kill you for your impudence.”

The malice in his tone could have shaken a holy man.  Will remained, his heart pounding ambrosia to his head, silent.  Jones’ head twitched, and the tentacles of his face begin to writhe.

“So be it.”

Jones whirled around and struck, a dark specter hurtling across the space, Hell itself burning in his eyes.  His claw was raised, ready to pin, to rend, aimed at the fragile flesh of Will’s neckwhen he froze, a hair’s breadth from his prey.  Jones looked down at the man before him and the corner of his lip twitched.

Will had undone the buttons of his shirt, laying his chest bare in the flickering candlelight.  Jones remained poised, not a single muscle flexed, as his mind seemed to churn.  Will arched his neck in a challenge and finally spoke.

“I’m not here for the key.”

Jones slowly lowered his claw, his eyes narrowed.  Will locked eyes with the captain and, not looking away, began undoing the buttons of his trousers.  Jones’ gaze followed Will’s hands down, and Will saw the man’s jaw tighten, his breathing quickened.  Will wetted his lips and reached his hand around his own manhood, pulling it out for Jones to see.  Jones swallowed, visibly, and Will let a satisfied smile cross his face.

“You want me,” Will said.  “Why haven’t you taken me?”

Jones closed the space between them, and Will suddenly appreciated the full size and power the captain held.  Jones reached a hand toward Will’s face, his blue eyes like still, deep water.  It was then that Will’s eagerness and the strength of the drink sent him leaning too fast toward Jones, and with a grunt, he fell into Jones’ arms.  Jones caught him, tentacle wrapped around his bare waist.  

Jones brought his face beside Will’s, his brows furrowed, and he sniffed.  His head reeled back.

“You’re drunk.”

Will ignored the statement and rested his hand on Jones’ face.  His tentacles did not respond, and Jones examined Will’s limp form with great pity.  Will continued to draw his fingers along the coarse skin of Jones’ cheek, and the captain merely sighed.   

With surprising ease, Jones lifted Will like a fainted damsel and carried him to the far corner of the room.  Will hadn’t noticed the rarely-used bed tucked in the corner, hidden by various sea formations.  Jones heaved Will onto the blankets where he gave a loud groan, the wine in his stomach now shaken up.  

“Are you going to kill me on a bed?” Will slurred.  Jones plucked a blanket up with his claw and draped it over Will’s lower half.  He turned away, but a thought struck him and he looked around, spotting a small bucket, and dropped that onto the bed beside Will.  Will squinted at the bucket, barely able to lift his head.

“Sleep,” Jones commanded.  “And don’t purge on the bed.”

Will’s head fell back and he held a hand to his throbbing forehead.  “The older crew” his throat gargled, and he swallowed hard, “they said I couldn’t

But Jones was already out the door, and it slammed shut behind him.  Will never finished his thought, and he drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

 

Will turned over in bed, feeling the cool sheets against his face.  For a moment he thought he was back in Port Royale: soon the sun would peek through the blinds and his day's work would begin.  Just a few more minutes of blissful calm before dragging himself to the smithy's fire, he thought.  He lingered in that space between dream and reality, letting out a long sigh.

He heard the scratch of a quill from somewhere in the room.  He opened his eyes to find himself in near dark and the steady sway of a ship beneath him.

Jones.

Will lifted his head and winced, the world spinning, and he fell back with a thud.  The wine.  Last night.  Had they…?

He drew himself up on his elbows and crawled to the edge of the bed.  The bucket was still there, and he sat upright with great difficulty and grabbed it to his chest.  He let out a discouraging cough, and the scratching stopped.  

Will's eyes finally adjusted to the dark figure in the room, and he saw Jones pivot around from his desk to shoot him a glare.

"In the bucket ," he warned.

Will would have hurled the bucket at Jones if he'd had the strength.  He collected his wits, pushing through the hangover's irritable fog.  For the first time since waking, he noticed his body was drenched in sweat.

"What did wedid you do?" he asked weakly.

Perhaps Will was too pathetic in that moment for anger, and Jones simply rolled his eyes.

"You're a poor pirate who can't hold his drink.  We did nothing." 

Will was silent.  The night's events were filtering through in pieces, and he couldn't recall anything contrary to Jones' word.  Something constricted in his chest, and with a disquieting realization, he couldn't tell if it was relief or resentment.  Jones' face twitched.  "Do you wish it otherwise?" 

"No," Will quickly replied.  "No, Iwasn't in my right mind."

Jones snorted and gave a derisive smirk.  "I've never seen a man so desperate as you.  He drew the word out, and Will looked away.  "The crew must have led you to this." 

Will set down the bucket and stood, not meeting Jones' eyes.  "They did."  

He turned and made for the door.  His face was burning, scarcely able to contain his shame.  Hot tears pooled in his eyes and he struggled to hold them in.  How utterly stupid he'd been.

Will hadn't heard Jones rise or cross the room, and it was as he was reaching for the door that the voice came from his back.

"Wait."

Will turned slowly to face Jones.  The captain's expression was calculating, as if studying a ship for leaks.  Will's still-sluggish haze kept him from reacting when Jones' hand shot up his neck.

Will gasped, expecting the crushing force against his throatbut none came.  His fingers encircled Will's neck, gently, as the tentacle snaked down across his collarbone and under the edge of his shirt.  It pressed against his skin, settling in like a creature of its own, and Will realized in shock that Jones was leaving his marks there.

Will felt his skin pucker underneath Jones' touch.  He opened his mouth, but no words came, and his heart quickened.  Jones' gaze never broke from his, though it was still as strange and prying as before.

Jones finally released him, seemingly satisfied with his work.  As his hand withdrew, a soft " Mm" came from Will's throat, and Will coughed, trying to mask the sound.  Jones raised a single eyebrow.

"For the crew to cease its taunting.  Perhaps then they'll allow you to fulfill your duties."  Jones sniffed.  "Not that you ever achieved much to begin with."

Will quite suddenly turned and left, with Jones likely thinking it was the insultbut Will knew that the tension growing in his lower half was not related to anger.

 

 

Bill found his son gazing out over the sparkling sea with a twinkle in his eye.  As he neared, he saw the marks along Will's neck, and surprise lit up his features.

"Well, now!"  He slapped Will on the back, startling him.  "My boy has become a man.  Tell me it was as good as I had it."

Will choked on his spit.

"What?" Bil leaned back against the railing.  "I missed out on the rest of your life, we may as well share it now."

"I don't want to share him," Will said.  Bill raised his eyebrows, and Will fumbled.  "I meantfather and son having the same man, it's not right." 

"Oh, we don't do it anymore," Bill said.  "It's been a few years.  Ever since my mind started leaving me, he's found, well, greener pastures."  He cleared his throat.  "Anyway, crew's saying we have a mark half a day south, just a few miles off Nassau.  It might be your chance to jump ship, grab one of their longboats and go." 

Will balked.  He'd had no idea they'd be coming that close to landin truth, there was no point since his capture when he ever actually knew where they were.  "And then what?  Row for miles in open water?  It's a gamble of whether I'd make it ashore at all."

Bill shrugged.  "It's that or eternal damnation.  You said it yourself."

They shared a thoughtful moment of silence before Bill excused himself to resume his work.  Will looked back over the rolling water to weigh his destiny.

It was late afternoon when the crew spotted sails on the horizon.  Penrod made his way up to the crow's nest and Jones and the rest waited down below.  Will felt his pulse quicken in proximity to the captain, and he avoided looking his way.

Penrod scuttled down, handing a spyglass to Jones.  "French flag.  Heading northeast.  We can be on her in an hour, maybe less."

An hour? Will looked around the crew, awestruck.  He had greatly underestimated the speed of the cursed ship.

Jones squinted through the glass and replaced it in his coat pocket. "Secure the hold and prepare to dive.  We will make the full approach from below."

The crew scattered save for the newest recruits and Will.  They exchanged confused stares, until Jones finally noticed them.  He snapped his great claw in Maccus' direction.

"Maccus, tie down the fresh blood before they perish."

Jones made to leave, but a thought seemed to have struck him, and he whirled back around.  He fixed his wide eyes on Will and pointed his terrible claw at him.

" You, " he growled, "are not sworn.  You cannot breathe the sea as we do." 

Maccus and the new recruits stood tensely by, waiting on the captain's orders.

Jones' smacked his lips with a pop.  "Lock yourself in the powder hold, and do not move until we surface."  

He whipped his head back to the new recruits and feigned a lunge.  They flinched, cowering back, and Jones gave a snorting laugh before departing.  

Will slowly crossed the ship to the hatch, watching the crew scramble to tie down the guns and loose line.  Maccus had brought the recruits to the center mast and was winding lengths of rope around them, their faces drained of color.  

"Just until you get your sea legs," Maccus said with a laugh.  

Will noticed Jones stalking between the men, seemingly surveying preparations.  He stepped up behind Clankerthe biggest man aboard, always dragging around the guns and carrying shot.  Clanker felt the captain's presence and turned, and Jones flicked his head in the direction of his quarters.  With an affirmative grunt, Clanker passed off his work to another man and followed Jones.  

Will watched them silently, and his jaw tightened in a prickle of resentment.

"Get to the hold, you dumb fuck," Maccus shouted.  The new recruits were lashed to the mast,  whispering frantic prayers and weeping, as the ship gave a great creak.  Will fled below, barreling through the doors until he made it to the powder room and slammed the door behind him.  The room was lit by strange, luminescent sea things stuck to the walls.

Under normal circumstances, a fully submerged ship even with all its hatches and doors closed would still see its powder soaked.  But as Will fiddled with the lock on the door, he saw movement in the corner of his eye, and he pulled back in surprise.  

The living wood of the ship crept out from the door frame and percolated through the gaps.  It grew like seaweed, sealing the room off, and Will knew then that the crew and the ship were intertwined: a single living being.

He heard dull thuds from the ceiling and looked up.  He had been on the ship long enough to recognize the rhythm of Jones' stride, claw leg thunking the floor.  Will suddenly realized that in addition to there being not one, but two dry rooms on the ship, Jones' spacious cabin was one of them.

And he had sent Will down below.

Will didn't have time to marinate in his indignation, as the ship pitched forward, sending the barrels rolling against the wall.  He threw himself into a corner and braced.  The sound of the Dutchman diving into the waters was unlike anything Will had heard before.  He felt the sea take them, surging, stealing the air out of every corner, the timbers quaking against her might.  His stomach churned, but the ship held, groaning, plunging still deeper into the sea.

In his mind's eye he saw the new recruits tied to the mast, their eyes wide as their lungs filled with water.  

The ship slowly leveled, and Will sidestepped the rolling barrels until they settled neatly back in place.  He waited a few minutes before settling down, eyeing the glowing creatures on the walls in the stuffy, cramped place.  An hour, maybe less, Penrod had said.  

What to do for an hour?

He considered sleeping, as uncomfortable as it was, but being unconscious when the ship surfaced would surely lead to a fatal barrel accident.  He was in the middle of another thought when he heard a thump on the floor above.

" Put your back into it," came Jones' unmistakable growl.

Will froze.  The boards directly above him were thin enough to hear everything.  Jones had sprung upon Clanker as soon as the ship leveled.  Will imagined the captain had him now pinned to the floor, bending the large man to his will.

"You need to fuck me, not amuse me," Jones ordered.  

A meek reply, "Sorry, sir ." 

There was a shuffle, another hard thump , and one of them let out a strangled moan.

Will's mouth fell open.  It was Jones.  

Will sat in overwhelmed silence as Clanker continued to work the captain against the floor above.  He could hear the sound of Jones' claw and leg scraping against wood as he absorbed every thrust, letting out varying groans and sighs.  

Will felt the seam of his trousers begin to tighten, and he pressed a hand down on his arousal.

"Take myhrrm," Jones grunted, command preemptively filled.

Will's hands began unbuttoning of their own accord, and he closed his eyes.

Clanker took Jones from behind, railing the captain face down on the floor of his own cabin.  Jones' eyes were pinned shut, his face contorted in pain and pleasure, arms struggling to hold himself up against the powerful force that had him.

"The wall," Jones managed between gasps.

Clanker pulled himself out, roughly flipped the captain over, and lifted him by the waist with a heavy groan.  The two men were equal in mass, yet Clanker managed to lift Jones and heave him bodily against the wall with a thudding echo.  Jones swore.

Will massaged himself, a red flush creeping up his chest under the puckers that Jones left him.

Clanker took Jones' member into his hand and pumpedroughly, inhumanly, as if hauling an anchor up from the sea.  Jones' head fell back, his expression tortured, but no command came from his lips.  Right before it seemed Jones was about to release, Clanker stopped.  He searched Jones' face for a moment before turning the captain, chest slammed against the wall, and entered him again from behind.

Will continued to pleasure himself to the sounds coming from aboveClanker's domination of Jones dragged them both mere seconds from the edge before he changed tactics, denying the captain's release. 

Jones was insatiable, Will thought, as sweat pooled above his lip.  From his precarious spot on his barrel, he envied the sounds of movement, of every inch of space exploited for their continued pleasure.  Will had to keep readjusting himself multiple times before he thought he would release, feeling a new splinter or barrel edge digging into his skinwhich only drew out his frustration.

The rhythm increased above, and he could tell Jones was near the end.  Finally, mercifully, Clanker allowed him to finish, and Jones' moans dragged on, wave after wave, subsiding over the course of a full minute.

Will swore and tried desperately to finish himself, but it was as if the ship itself knew Jones was done, and the vessel pitched back.  Will cried out, falling over in a tumble of barrels.

The Dutchman broke the surface and Will heard the water rushing out from her, as he lay motionless on his back, his head throbbing.

The door remained locked, but a presence materialized in the room, and a voice spoke out.  It was Jones.

"Make for the deck and spring across once the guns are"

He stopped, mid-sentence.  Will lay in the center of the room, his trousers down to his knees, his erect member exposed.

Will and Jones met each other's eyes.  Neither spoke.  Jones' beard, for the first time, lay utterly limp, each tendril hung like a drying fish.  His blue eyes were fixed unblinking on Will's, straining not to veer down.

Before Will could react, Jones sank back into the wall, de-materializing out of the room.

Fuck.

Will made for the door, buttoning his clothes and flying up the stairs.  The sounds of gunfire boomed around him, the Dutchman already shredding through the surprised ship's hull.  Will emerged into sunlight, blinking hard through the smoke and glare, and spotted the crew already throwing nets over to jump to the other ship.

Maccus ran by with an armful of swords, shoving one into Will's hands before equipping the new recruits.

" Move!" 

Will and the others ran for the railing, and with a great leap Will threw himself across the divide.  He clutched onto the woven net and dragged himself up the side of the other ship.  

The deck was brutal chaos.  The French crew had been caught completely unprepared, guns not even loaded, only a few men armed.  The Dutchman's crew slashed through them, gaining more than a fair advantage by the stunned horror paralyzing half the men.  

When Will and the new recruits boarded, a brief glimmer of hope passed through the nearest man's eyesbut the recruit nearest Will plunged his sword deep into the man's heart.  The man sank to the floor, realization fixed on his dying face.

Will saw his father battling two men by the helm, and he sprinted over, dodging swords and claws along the way.  He engaged with the stronger man, sending him careening back with a swift kick to the stomach.  

"Just in time," Bill said.

The two fought side by side, steel ringing, and moments after Will disarmed his man and had him cowering at sword point, Bill ended his own opponent with a deep cut.  He looked over at Will's quarry.

"Go on, finish him."

Will hesitated.  The man gestured wildly, speaking prayers or pleas to them both.

Before Will could react, Bill reached across and slit the man's throat, spilling blood over Will's boots.

"You don't get to choose their fate," Bill said.  "Don't let Jones ever see you pause."

More men poured up from below, these much better armed and prepared than the rest.  Gunshots fired off, and Will surged forward with the rest of the crew, forcing the new arrivals into close combat. 

Will heard Jones' stride and the slash of steel behind him.  He turned to see Jones intercepting a wounded man who had tried to throw himself at Will.  Jones broke the man's neck with a snap of his claw.

Will engaged two men at once, his years of sword training holding true.  In minutes, he ended both with quick, merciful cuts.  He felt the approving eye of Jones upon him and pivoted to assist Angler in subduing the French captain.

The French captain's whole crew lay dead around him, and he stared up at the misshapen beasts who now weighed his destiny.  Jones pushed through to stand above him, and didn't speak for a time, seeming to savor the moment.  Will realized that this must be why Jones didn't always use the Krakenbloodsport fueled the captain and crew in a way nothing else could.

Jones leaned down toward the man's face and spoke softly.

"Your last words?"

The other captain sputtered in English.  "Please forgive my sins."

Jones drew back with a scoff.  "For once, I'd like to hear something I haven't heard before."  He jerked his head at Maccus, who shot a single bullet through the man's head.  The French captain folded to the deck, his legacy ended.

Jones stalked through the ship, pondering the wreckage.  The crew scattered, some scouring the hold for goods, others picking through dead pockets.  Bill and a few others prepared the rigging for transfer of any large items, and Will stood by and watched.  

He thought of his father’s suggestion from before.  The longboats had gone untouched, but it was still light out: they’d arrived much faster than he anticipated, with the fight over in almost an instant.  He’d have to wait for a battle in the night and slip away during the chaos.  And that would only be, of course, after he obtained the key.

Jones made his way back across the deck, and Will found himself standing awkwardly beside the captain, surveying the crew's looting.  Jones finally spoke.  

"I trust the powder room was comfortable enough for you?"

Will crossed his arms and cleared his throat.  "Yes, yes it was."

"Hm."  

The two watched as Ogilvey dropped a crate on Clanker's foot.  Clanker swore, and he threw a full weighted punch at Ogilvey's wooden shoulder with a loud knock .  Ogilvey trembled and muttered apologies.

"Before one takes command of another ship," Jones began, startling Will, "it is a great boon to have responsibility lifted from you."

Will blinked.  Jones went on.  "I find that being freed from power provides a certain…clarity before a fight." 

Oh.  Will swallowed.  "Right."

Jones looked him up and down, and Will finally met his gaze.  Jones spoke plainly.

"When it is not before a fight, I will call for you." 

Will stared, his body suddenly very warm.  Jones smirked and strode back toward the Dutchman, kicking a stray pistol out of his way.

 

 

It was twilight when the Dutchman pulled away from the looted wreck.  They left the empty and bloodied vessel there as a warning, should anyone pass by who doubted that Davy Jones sailed those waters.

The crew were enjoying the spoils of their victory, those who could still eat munching on fresh provisions, with plenty of drink to go around.  

Will finally had a chance to see the new recruits up close after they'd gone under.  They were lined up before the dice table, where Crash had laid out a cloth with needles and several inkwells.  He was holding a match to one needle, turning it slowly in his fingers.

The first recruit sat down and provided his arm, his expression not scared, but proudaffirmed.  Will saw that his skin had changed, taking on a greener tinge with thin blue veins snaking down from his neck.  Crash made the first poke and the crew let out a raucous cheer.  

Someone tapped Will's arm, and he turned to see his father there with a cup.  "Drink?" Bill asked.

Will's stomach lurched.  "Not for a while."

Bill laughed and passed off the cup to another mate.  "I know the feeling.  Give it a week."

They watched the initiation unfold, and finally the recruit stood, brandishing his new tattoo.  It was a simple trident, smaller than a piece of eight.  Maccus approached and gave the man a full cup of drink, which he downed in a single gulp.

The now full-fledged crewmate pumped his fist in the air, and the crowd pounded the deck with their feet, whooping.

"Fairly tame considering everything else that happens here," Will remarked.  Bill nodded.

"When pain and suffering is ordinary, you have to do something kind to be memorable."  He paused.  "Oh, but the cup is filled with blood from the defeated crew."

Will choked.  " Blood?"

Bill shrugged.  "Catholics do it."

The newly tattooed crewmate passed by Will, and for the first time Will saw thin horizontal slivers along his neck.  Will pictured it then: the recruits tied to the mast, water filling their mouths, thrashing, until their bodies took on the sea and gills fluttered open on their necks.

"I don't think I could ever go through that," Will said, gesturing to his own neck.  

"Oh, that," Bill chuckled.  "Bit of a relief for me after spending all those years stuck at the bottom of the sea.  Ask any man to go through what I did and not sell his soul for gills.  You know," Bill went on, "not many people know this, but there's worms that live down there.  I'll tell you, one time…"

Will's thoughts wandered as his father rambled on.  He watched the crew's celebrations, this time sober, his mind considerably more at ease.  He glanced over at the door to Jones' cabin, and was suddenly surprised to see it ajar.  

Will peered through the crowd, wondering if Jones had decided to watch the initiationbut instead, he felt a hand on the small of his back.  Jones leaned down, breath cool in his ear, his voice low.

"You're needed."

 

 

What followed was a blurWill didn’t register the eyes of the whole crew pinned on him as he and Jones made for the captain’s cabin.  He didn’t notice the sideways nudges, the smirks, the low whistles, nor the newly initiated passing glances between themselves in the silent question of when they would be next.

Penrod appeared beside Clanker, confused.  “What’s all this?”

“Pretty boy’s going in for another round,” Clanker said.  “Never seen the captain take anybody on that fast.”

Ogilvey hummed.  “I think he’s got nice legs.”

The door shut behind them.  Will’s whole body tingled, and he struggled to remain nonchalant.  He assumed there would be some kind of prelude, a pause for explanationbut Jones didn’t waste a breath.  

Jones’ body encircled Will’s, pushing him back up against the wall beside the door.  Will let out a gasp as Jones’ many tendrils fell upon his skinpulling, puckering, snaking through his hair and drawing out soft, self-aware moans.  Jones’ hand dropped down to Will’s trousers and felt him there.

“You’re quite eager, now,” Jones remarked.

He freed Will’s member and gripped it in his remaining fingers as Will groaned, struggling to remain present.  Jones allowed the long tentacle to venture down farther, studying Will’s face.  Will thrust against Jones’ hand impatiently, and Jones pushed him back against the wall, forcing him to remain still.  He found Will’s opening.  Slowly, the tip of the tentacle entered, and Will’s face contorted in discomfort. 

“Stop, stop,” Will gasped.

Jones withdrew, his brows furrowed.  His body separated from Will’s, tendrils curling back against his own chest, though his giant claw remained stuck into the wall beside Will’s head.  He regarded Will with suspicion.

“Have you ever lain with a man?” Jones asked.

Will’s face burned red.  “No.”

Jones snorted.  “English…”  He wrested his claw from the wall and leaned back, surveying Will from his full height.  “Do you truly wish for this?  Or are you here, yet again, in an effort to prove your worth?”

Will didn’t speak for a time.  Jones scoffed.  “What I did was hardly anything.  You’re incapable of weathering more.”

“I want to prove that I’m strong enough,” Will blurted out.  Jones cocked his head, and he suddenly let out a harsh laugh.

To whom? ” Jones asked.  “To the crew?  They are cruel and simple men like all others who will find no shortage of reason to mock you.”  His eyes passed over Will’s fragile arms.  “And you need not come to this room to prove anything to me.  What happens here has no bearing on my opinion of any man nor his value to the ship.”  He glared down at Will.  “So who’s left, then?”

Will clenched his jaw.  To his own frustration, Jones’ derision had not quelled his arousal.  Jones continued.  “If what you seek here is to prove your own worth to yourself, I cannot provide that.”

Jones’ words were distant.  Will wanted Jones to release him, to be taken in his hand again.  Jones looked down between Will’s thighs.

“I’m sure you can find another crewmate to assist you.  Or, perhaps, the powder room.”

Jones began to turn away, but Will reached out and took his arm.  “Go slowly,” Will begged.  Jones shook Will’s hand free.

“If you have nothing to anchor you besides a fleeting notion of your own relevance, you will not last.”

Will bit his lip, anger welling up.  “I have my fiance, Elizabeth.  Each day I survive aboard this ship is a day closer to seeing her.”

Jones snorted.  “I’ve never taken a man on this ship who walked out, still thinking of a woman.”  

“And I aim to free my father, whatever it takes,” Will spat.

“Ah,” Jones huffed.  “Your unending filial duty, and why I nearly killed you before.”  He paused.  A thought occurred to him, and he looked down.  “Though, now that you’ve mentioned it…”

One of his beard’s tendrils descended beneath the others, fishing around his own neck.  Will heard the clink of iron and his heart jumped into his throat, and Jones drew out the hidden key.  It was now looped through a leather string, upon which were several pieces of eight, holes bored through them.  

“For safekeeping,” Jones said, “after your last failed attempt.”  He shook the key, making a sound like a wind chime.  Will was frozen, his eyes pinned on the key.  Jones raised an eyebrow and took Will’s chin in his hand, directing his gaze back up to his eyes.  

“Do I have you now?” Jones asked.  Will nodded into his hand, his cheeks flushed.

Jones began lowering himself to his knees, and Will’s vision blurred, his heart echoing in his ears.  But whatever he had expected, it didn’t comeusing his tendrils with shocking dexterity, Jones instead took the keystring and tied it around Will’s erect cock.  

Will stared in utter confusion as Jones stood, cricking his neck.  “Turn,” Jones commanded. 

Will obeyed, and Jones reached around, taking him once more in his hand.  He leaned into Will, pressing him to the wall, his voice over his shoulder.

“If you remain hard and do not come before me,” Jones said, “the key will stay where it is.  It is yours to walk away with.”

Jones slid his hand down Will’s shaft.  The string jingled faintly, and Will’s eyes closed, body tense.  Jones stroked once again, this time harder, with a sound like coins spilling from a purse.  Will moaned out loud, and Jones’ tentacle began searching its way around his thighs.

“I will not stop until you say key ,” Jones said.  The tip of the tentacle entered, and Will braced himself, his legs shaking, but he did not speak.  His cock throbbed, bound tight by the string, key and trinkets dangling below.  Jones worked his way slowly into Will, massaging him with his fingers and prying deeper, as his beard wrapped around Will’s face behind.  One of the thicker tendrils wandered into Will’s mouth, and Will gasped, feeling the slippery texture prod against the inside of his cheek.  It did not venture any farther than that, the suckers seeming to relish the taste of his tongue.

Jones’ tentacle flexed inside Will, and he rode through the discomfort, feeling sparks of pleasure mingled between.  He bit down hard on his lip, trying not to say a single word.  

The tentacle withdrew, and Will heard the sound of clothes being undone.  He peeked back over his shoulder to see Jones’ cock exposed in the lightand with immense relief he saw its surface had not been claimed by barnacles.  It looked to be the same texture of the rest of Jones’ skin, though measurably larger than Will’s own.

Jones continued stroking Will, easing his body forward.  His tip made to enter, but Will’s legs faltered with nothing to brace against.   Jones sniffed in annoyance.

“I forget you’re still unsworn.”

Will blinked.  Did the crew meld their limbs to the floor and walls to brace against Jones’ force?  Before Will could ask, Jones lifted him like a dog, carried him to the bed, and dropped him there, face up.  He slid over Will with surprising fluidity and hoisted Will’s legs up over his shoulders, taking his cock again in one hand.  His great claw clamped onto the overhang, and Jones pushed himself inside Will’s waiting body. 

Will’s back arched, his legs spasming from the sensation.  The responding chime of the key and coins reminded him of his purpose there, and bade him wait.  Jones thrust again, and Will’s eyes tightened in faintly blooming pleasure.  There was a certain way Jones moved, when he thrust into him at that angle, that began to nurture a new ecstasy.

All thoughts left his mind as Jones plowed into him, the captain’s own pleasure growing too.  He continued pumping Will’s cock, and had Will weighed his goal rationally he would have removed Jones’ hand to allow him to last longer.  But his body moved of its own accord, and with each thrust he was forced harder into Jones’ hand, caught between two inescapable pleasures.  Jones stroked him harder, grip tightening, and Will let out a crying moan.  The key continued to jingle.

Will’s body writhed on the bed, fists clenched tight around the bundled sheets.  He brought a fistful of cloth to his mouth and bit into it, his whole face strained.  Jones gave a breathless sound of amusement.  

It was too muchWill’s jaw turned white around the cloth.  He let out a prolonged cry as Jones brought him to his peak and sent him over.  Will lurched against Jones’ hand, spilling onto his own body.  Jones still pumped into him, but slower now, drawing his orgasm out.  Every thrust brought another soft jingle and another painful twitch of Will’s spent cock.  Jones finally relented, pulling slowly out of Will, who felt very much like a gutted fish.

Jones examined Will’s now limp cock.  Will watched helplessly as he reached down and slid the key string easily off.  Jones shook it once before handing it off to a tendril that buried it deep within his beard.

“A bit too soon,” Jones said.  Jones pivoted off the bed, his lower half still bare.  He fished Will’s trousers off the floor and threw them behind him.  “Tell Ogilvey I’m waiting.”

Will replaced his trousers with shaking hands, his body burning.  He stood, achingly, and walked as naturally as he could to the door.  He stopped to lean heavily against the door frame.  He looked back at Jones, who was seated at the edge of the bed, his unnatural cock still hard.  

Jones caught Will staring.  “Test yourself another time,” he said, and he laughed Will out of the room.

 

Chapter Text

                                                                                                                      

 

Will sat up in the crow’s nest, his legs dangling over the edge as he leaned heavily on the railing.  Sweat trickled down the side of his face.  He wiped his upper lip with a sleeve and squinted against the midday sun.  

They were a full day’s journey past Nassau now.  The Dutchman glided south over calm seas, leaving his father’s idea for escape farther and farther behind with every moment.   Will knew little of the area, his only experience having been on the Pearlwhich wasn’t much experience at all.  He’d traveled far with Jack, certainly, but guided only by Jack’s strange compass, traditional navigation gone out the window.  An albatross dipped down from above, its long white wings casting a brief shadow on Will’s face.  

The daytime crew was out working below: all of the freshly-sworn, who were still shaking off their mortal habits, unable to work in perpetuity yet.  Maccus was still out supervising, and it had been his suggestion to send Will up to the nest.  He’d seen Will emerge from Jones’ cabin, a shaking and spent mess, and a rare moment of pity had possessed him.  Or perhaps he realized Will would be little use to them in that state.

The new crewmembers eyed Will with awe as he dragged himself up the mast, struggling to climb as naturally as possible.

Will shifted on the hard planks with a groan, and he massaged his sore thighs while keeping his eyes on the horizon.  His thoughts roared like a distant storm.  The puckers across his arms were still tender to the touch, and every time his mind wandered back to Jones’ body against his, his skin tingled.  

Another time, Jones had said.

Will rubbed his face, roughly, willing his thoughts to clear.  He reminded himself of his obligationanother time meant another chance to win the key.  He would have to be stronger and find a way to best Jones.

A face materialized in the mast beside Will, and he startled.  Penrod’s lobster eyes quivered  down at him.

“Any sign?”

Will shook his head.  There had been word of an abandoned vessel in the areanot that they had any intention of investigating the cause.  But there could be dry powder to salvage, which was always needed.  

“Hm,” Penrod pulled farther out of the mast, the front half of his spiny body looming above Will.  “How was it, then?”

“What?”  Will looked up, shielding his eyes from the sun.  

“Your second time with the captain,” Penrod went on.  “It gets better, doesn’t it?” 

Will paused.  “Second?  What do you mean by” but he remembered Jones’ charitable act too late.  Penrod popped out of the mast and scuttled beside him.

“So it was the first!”  Penrod laughed.  “Me and Angler thought so.  Captain never takes anybody who’s too deep in drink, and you were walking worse than a three-legged dog.  Came out looking too fresh, I said.”

Will turned back to the sea and didn’t speak for some time.  Penrod circled around, his eyes bobbing close to Will’s face.  He pried Will’s expression as Will did his best to avoid it, the knot growing in his chest.  With a gasp, Penrod scuttled back.

First first?”  Penrod whispered. 

Will turned around, his eyes hardened.  “It doesn’t count if it’s with

“Oh it does , and I thought you had a wife,” Penrod cut in.  

Will’s heart clambered into his throat.  “Iwe were engaged, but we never had the chance.  Our wedding was postponed, and fate sent us apart.”

“And before you were engaged?” Penrod’s left eye wobbled.

Will felt his whole being tearing at the seams.  His promise to Elizabeth was beginning to darken beneath the very real and present memory of Joneshis sore body attesting to this.  When he spoke, his eyes burned.  “I only ever wanted to marry Elizabeth.  From the day I met her, I knew I would wait for her.  Whatever I had to do, to earn her trust, her respect, and a place beside her, I would do without question.”  His voice cracked.  “She is the only one I would give myself to.”

Penrod snorted.  “Well, that’s nice.  Too bad it didn’t happen that way.”  He nudged Will in the arm with a chuckle.  “Still fun though, wasn’t it?  Keep an eye out.”

With the scratch of his claws against wood, Penrod vanished back into the mast.  Will assumed that in moments Penrod would inform the whole crew of their conversation, once again turning him into the subject of all idle gossip.  The crew was truly starved of anything interesting on boardthough Will realized that his life, in all its mundanity, was something that kept them tied to their mortal pasts.

Will sat bolt upright and peered out over the water.  A white sail was bobbing above the horizon.  

He hurried down the mast, as quickly as his tired limbs would take him, and found Maccus leaning at the bow with Penrod.  The two looked up at him, and an amused smirk flashed across Maccus’ sharp teeth for an instant before vanishing.  

“Seen it?”  Maccus asked.

“Just above the horizon,” Will pointed, “South-southeast.  It doesn’t seem to be moving.”

Maccus rolled his great shark head, cracking his neck in several places with a satisfied sigh.  “Right, then.  Start making room for salvage.”  He stalked off toward the helm, and Penrod gave Will a knowing look before following.  

Something crackled beside Will, and he turned to see his father coming out of the railing.  He would have to get used to this.

“Not as exciting as killing the French,” Bill began, “but we could do with some fresh stores.  Still have to feed you and the newer ones.”

Will breathed a sigh of relief.  The news hadn’t yet reached his father, or at the very least his father didn’t care enough to pry into his son’s carnal past.  A thought suddenly struck Will, and his brows furrowed.

“How does the Dutchman get news of ships to salvage?” he asked.  Bill blinked.  “And…how do we know where any trade vessels are at all, if we’re cut off from the outside world?”

Bill let out a low hum.  He turned his back to Will and leaned over the railing, staring down the side of the ship.  Will crept up beside him and joined him, looking down into the water.  The two stared down for a time, watching the Dutchman carve through the sea.  With a growing ache in his heart, Will wondered if this was another one of his father’s lapses in sanity.  

Suddenly, Bill pounded his fist on the railing and began hollering at the water.  “ Come up, you water-logged cretins! ”  He stomped his feet, shaking the timbers.  “Show your salty mugs!”

Will looked from his father to the water in confusion.  Bill continued to make a racket, drawing the attention of a few other crew members who gathered around the prow. 

The water below them bubbled.  Will stared, his eyes widening in wonder.  Three figures breached the surface, their forms clinging to the wood, crawling their way slowly up the side of the ship.  They stopped just above the spray and swiveled their gargantuan heads to face Bill.

Hmmmmmmmmmmm? ” 

The sound shook against every bone in Will’s body.  The creatures, like the very oldest crew members, had lost all traces of their humanity, and they had taken the form of cursed, shrunken whales.  Their flippers stuck to the timbers, their bodies sleek and graytiny eyes on the sides of their massive heads flitted around, searching for the one who summoned them. 

MmmmmmmMMMMMMmmmmmmmm…”

They continued with their inhuman noises.  Bill seemed absorbed in conversation, nodding and muttering in assent, as Will steadied himself against the railing, feeling his stomach quake from the echoes.  He considered finding the nearest bucket in case he needed to empty himselffrom either end.

“Right, right,” Bill said, scratching his chin, “you don’t say.”

Bill Turner!

Jones’ voice boomed across the ship.  The curious crew scattered, leaving Will and his father with the cursed whales.  Jones stomped over, his claw leg striking the wood as he descended upon them, his face writhing with fury.  He leaned over Bill, spitting in his face with every word.

How many times must I say it,” he bellowed, “leave the beasts alone!

Will wilted against the railing, but Bill stared impassively up at Jones.  His mind really was leaving him.

Jones went on.  “They are doing vital work aboard this ship, and they needn’t be interrupted by conversation with the likes of you!”

Bill nodded.  Jones snarled at him in frustration and slammed his claw fist down on the railing with a resounding thud .  The whale creatures retreated back beneath the water’s surface, leaving no trace behind.  

“I was just showing my son,” Bill said.  Without even a glance at Will, Jones rolled his eyes and stalked away, absorbed in other duties on the ship.  Will finally relaxed, and Bill looked at Will with a pleased smile.

“I like talking to them every now and then,” Bill explained, “seeing as nobody except the captain ever does.  They see with their voices, miles and miles away from us.  Heavy ships, small ships, empty ships, they can sense it all.”  Bill looked off toward distant water.  “It’s incredible, it really is.”

Will cleared his throat.  “It’s probably best if you don’t summon them again for a while,” he said quietly.  Bill didn’t reply.

They came upon the abandoned ship in short time, and found that it was indeed absent any living soul.  Will stepped across the plank that bridged their vessels and landed on the empty ship’s deck with a thunk .  Jones and Maccus appeared behind him, and Will couldn’t help but notice Jones’ anger had not subsided, and there was a palpable tension between the two.  Maccus quickly walked off to assess the stores below, and Jones made a point of walking clear around Will, avoiding his path entirely when he could have (and often had) demanded Will move out of the way.

Will watched him, perplexed, but Ratlin called his attention to the ship.  

“Stains all over,” Ratlin remarked.  Will looked down at their feetdark brown pools and smears showed clearly on the wood.  Crash came hurrying over from a corner of the ship, a black cloth clutched in his hand.  He presented it to Jones who took it, shaking it out with his claw.  

“Black flag,” Crash muttered.  Jones held it up to examine the drawing upon it.  Will couldn’t see what it was, before Jones gave a snort and handed it back to Crash.

“The Demeter,” Jones said.  “A well-known pirate crew with considerable history to its name."

Will and Ratlin circled the ship, following the dark stains to their inevitable ends: each terminated at the railing, bodies heaved overboard.  By the age of the stains, it had been at least two days since anyone last breathed on board.  Will peered over but saw nothing in the waterall of the crew had been consumed by the creatures that lurked below.

Maccus and the others rolled out heavy barrels from down below while the ropes were rigged to transfer the goods.  Will threw his back into it, hoisting the powder over and helping his father sweep the hold for any edible stores.

They found little, save some grains and potatoes, which would have to suffice for those on the Dutchman who still partook of mortal food.  Will felt like most of his energy these days came from the eels they managed to catch in the baskets and salvaged liquor.

Will and his father returned above deck with three sacks of food between them and watched the rest of the salvage go over.  Jones and Maccus supervised as the ropes swung overhead and spoke in low tones.

"The Demeter's done then?" Maccus asked.  "After all she's been through?  Never thought I'd see the day."

Jones huffed.  "Live long enough, and you'll see them all fall." He removed his pipe from his coat and began rifling through the rest of his pockets.  With an angry snarl, he called out to Will and his father.

"Report on the state of tobacco salvage!" 

Bill looked down at his lumpy sack of barley.  He squinted up at Jones.  "None to speak of, captain."

Jones thrust his pipe back in his coat and glared silently at the proceedings.  Will found himself beside Ogilvey, and he cleared his throat.

"Anything on Jones' mind we should all know about?" Will asked.

Ogilvey looked at Will, then across the ship at the fuming captain.  He averted his singular eye in discomfort.  

"You should speak to him yourself."

They heard a ripping sound from up above, and the two ducked as part of the main mast came crashing onto the deck, mere feet away from them.  With it came three barrels that had been mid-transport, slipping free from the rigging and tumbling down with a thunderous noise.  One barrel lost its lid on impact, spilling all its powder in a black arc upon the deck as it rolled.  Maccus was on it, throwing his weight onto the barrel and stopping it with a grunt.  He glared up at the broken mast and spoke in a snarl to the nearby crew.

“Get the rest of the powder over.”  He then spotted Ogilvey and Will and jerked his head at them.  “You two, get the lid back on this.”

Ogilvey and Will hurried over and began grappling with the barrel to bring it upright.  Jones appeared beside Maccus, his mood unimproved.

“We might have raided another ship in the time we’ve wasted here,” Jones said.  

Maccus scowled at the fallen mast.  “She’s been shredded clean through with gunfire, it’s a miracle she’s still afloat.”  His eyes traced the dark stains on the deck.  “Whoever got here first had a score to settle.”

“More likely, it was just business,” Jones said.  He looked out over the water, his gaze piercing.  

The gears in Will’s head turned, and he frowned.  “You think the crown did this?”

Jones’ eyes snapped to Will.   The captain held his gaze for a moment before suddenly looking away in deep discomfort.  Will’s face went coldhe was, it seemed, at the center of Jones’ angerbut somehow not its recipient.

“The world is changing, Mr. Turner,” Jones said quietly.  “For near two hundred years I’ve sailed, and civil engagement has done naught to quell piracy.  We have yet to see the empire wield even greater depths of brutality on the seas here.”

Will said nothing.  He searched Jones’ face, but the captain was focused intently on a small gathering of the crew on the other side of the ship.  Hadras poked his seashell-head up from the huddle, a look of excitement on his face.

“Captain!” Hadras called out.  Jones twitched, and his claw clacked once.

Hadras broke away from the group with something clutched carefully in his hand at chest level.  Will peered past him and saw the crew crouched by a heavy crate.  It must have been hidden in the Demeter captain’s quarters: a personal stash.  

As Hadras approached, Will saw that he had a pipe in hand, inside which was a small cut of tobacco.  Jones’ eyes went wide, his nostrils flared.

“Thought we’d have you try it before bringing it over, in case it’s no good,” Hadras said.  “There’s a small rope in there, fifty pounds at most.  Need to make sure it’s to your liking.”

Hadras handed Jones the pipe and removed his flintlock pistol from his belt.  Will’s mind was working slowly toward realization as Hadras fished a bit of dry cloth out of his pocket and stuffed it below the hammer.  

Jones looked from the flintlock, to the powder spilled upon the deck, and back to Hadras.  His mouth opened in a snarl, but before he could speak, Hadras clicked the trigger.  

Sparks fluttered down from the pistol.  Jones lunged across the spacenot at Hadras, but to Will.  He hunched over Will, shielding him as the powder ignited in a blast.  

They were sent flying back, and Will’s head hit the deck.  Jones remained over him, a dark blur, shouting something back over his shoulder as Will’s head filled with ringing.  He saw the other three sprawled amidst the ashes, stirring slowly, as the rest of the crew descended upon the scene.  

Will felt a slow trickle on his lips and tasted blood.

Jones was speaking, but it was some time before he could make out any of the words.  Crash had hurried over to kneel beside them, and he was tearing off a long string of cloth from his already tattered shirt.  

“Wrap his arm.”

Will looked down, squinting against the pain to see a deep gash in his left forearm where a splinter from the deck had struck him.  Crash lifted Will’s arm and quickly spun the cloth around, squeezing it tight.

Jones stared down into Will’s eyes, his expression fraught.  Will’s eyes began to roll back, his eyelids fluttering, trying to stay open.  Jones brought his hand to Will’s cheek and nudged him roughly.  

“Stay awake,” he commanded.  “Look at me.”

Will held Jones’ gaze.  Both were searching for somethingWill had never seen Jones so concerned, so deeply troubled.  Jones’ thumb was still pressed to Will’s cheek, and Will thought he felt it move tenderly against his skin.

The other three were already up, their bodies supernaturally buoyed by the curse.  Maccus and Ogilvey were limping off toward the Dutchman as the rest of the crew hurried to clean up the mess.  Hadras appeared at Jones’ side, his head bowed, hands up with his palms pressed together in a plea.

“CaptainI wasn’t thinking, I acted rashlythis is my fault

Jones spun around, his terrible claw outstretched.  It collided squarely with Hadras’ face, and the sorry man’s seashell-head detached from his body with a pop and went flying across the ship.  Will heard its distant scream fade until it landed with a thunk amidst the broken mast, rolling over the wood.

Hadras’ body gave one final apologetic bow, then scooted away toward the wreckage.   

Jones turned back to Will, who was struggling to sit uprightJones pushed him back down with one hand.  

“We’ll move you to the Dutchman where Manray will see to you,” Jones said.  He positioned himself to lift Will, but he was unable to wedge his claw under Will’s body.  His expression soured, and with a frustrated sniff, he turned to Crash.  “Carry him over.”

Crash lifted Will like a newborn lamb, and he and Jones stalked back over the plank to the Dutchman.

Will was laid on a table in the long-since-used mess area, which had been taken over by the crewmembers’ overflowing loot from their time aboard.  There was all manner of currency, jewels, and pearls, spilling from open chests, and wedged between paintings, books, and old clothing, most of which was falling apart from exposure to the sea.  Will had learned that the men hoarded what they could, believing that once their sentence was served they could return to the world to spend it all.  He had yet to hear of anyone who had made it that far.

Crash left and Manray materialized, a curved needle and a spool of fishing line in hand.  Will looked away as Manray unwrapped the cloth over his wound, feeling his arm grow damp again.

Manray let out a tired tigh.  “Have to do it quick,” he said.  “Can’t numb him with drink like this.” 

Jones held Will’s gaze as the needle went in.  Will flickered dangerously close to unconsciousness, but Jones leaned over him and brought a hand to Will’s head.  He held Will by the hair, turning his face so their eyes stayed locked together.  Despite the pain, Will felt anchored.  He let himself slip into Jones’ eyes and breathed deeply, jaw twitching.

Manray finished his work and cleaned the wound with a wet cloth dipped in liquor.  Will winced, and he felt Jones’ thumb move in a slow circle through his hair.

“Right, all stitched up.” Manray replaced his tools in a little pail.  He looked between Will and Joneshe opened his mouth to speak again, decided against it, and left the room without another word.

They were both silent for a long while.  The sounds of the crew working came through the floorboards above, angry shouts and rolling barrels.  Will thought to breach the subject of Jones’ anger that whole day, as Ogilvey had been right, it was something about himbut Jones gave him the answer outright.

“The terms of our wager were unfair to you,” Jones said.  “Had I known you were inexperienced in every regard, I would not have demanded such…performance from you.”  He removed his hand from Will’s head.  “What I asked was impossible, and I do not wish to be known for cheating at my bets.”

Will sat upright on his good arm.  He searched Jones’ even, matter-of-fact gaze.  “And that’s why you’ve been in a foul mood all day?  Over fairness?”

Jones smacked his lips.  “My crew trusts me to set fair terms in all manners of their service here.”

Will stared, the pain in his arm drawing most of his ability to think.  Still, he shook his head.  “I don’t believe that.”

Jones sniffed.  Will went on.  “I think you feel sorry for me.  You pity me.” Will’s jaw tightened.  “I don’t need your pity.  I make my own fate, and whatever will lead me home to Elizabeth is worth the pain.  I would never give up a chance to take the key from you,” Will paused, “no matter the terms.”

Jones leaned back, raising an eyebrow.  He looked around the room, and his chest puffed up before he turned back to Will.  “And should future chances arise,” Jones said, “you would accept?”

Will had lost too much blood to feel anything.  He slid off the table with a groan and turned his back to Jones, heading up toward the hatch.  “Give me at least a day,” he grumbled.

He clambered up the hatch, leaving Jones in the dark with his plunder.

 

 

The crew gave Will a wide berth after the accident, unsure of how to handle his fragile human form and Jones’ reaction to it.  Hadras was strung upside down from the main mast for the better part of three days until Jones finally relented and ordered him to be let down.  On the fourth day, perhaps sensing that he was showing favoritism, Jones ordered Will to be whipped once for staring too long at the sea.  Jimmy Legs delivered the lashing, nervously.

Manray materialized next to Will twice a day to deliver a strange poultice of what looked like mashed seaweed to spread over his wound and provided fresh cloth.  Will learned that he had been a doctor in the Royal Navy before they were set upon by the Spanish, and he had been one of three survivors, hidden away in the hold.  When Jones arrived, the two others swore their undying loyalty to the crown, saying they would remain righteous men to their graves.  Jones was happy to send them there.  

When he turned to the third man, Manray had gathered up his kit and was waiting with his hat on.

“And you agreed to join?” Will asked.  “Knowing they were all pirates here?”

Manray shrugged.  “Makes no difference to me whose wounds I tend to.  Doctors don’t get to be choosy.  Turn your arm.”

Will complied, his thoughts wandering back into memory.  “Do you miss anything from before?  You must have had a whole life back homeback in England.  Not like the other men.” 

Manray let out a long sigh.  He patted the cloth on Will’s arm, testing its strength.  “You can draw lines in the sand between us men and those men all day long, but when it comes down to it, they’re just as loyal and hardworking as anybody I knew who served.”  He paused.  “Well, the standards were low at times.  What I mean is, once we’re here, we’re all the same.”  He replaced his tools in his medical pail.  “We’re all here because we’re desperate.  Especially you.”

He vanished into the wall, and Will stared after him.

It was evening, and the Dutchman glided through pale, moonlit seas.  A few lanterns had been lit around the deck as the men milled around, drinking the little alcohol they had left.  Several were gambling, but the mood seemed generally subdued and contemplative.

Will found Jones at the bow, leaning sideways with his head tilted over the water.  His eyes were narrowed and his tendrils wound themselves around each other.  As Will approached, he gave a quick nod and tapped his claw on the railing twice, and Will heard the sounds of bubbles from over the side.  Jones drew himself up to his full height and peered down at Will.

“Where are we going?” Will asked.  

Jones considered Will for a few moments, weighing something in his mind.  He finally spoke, but when he did, there was a tone of warning in his voice.

“We have the direction of a moving ship half a day east,” Jones said.  “The area is, and has for eighty years, been a route for English vessels.”

Will’s chest tightened.  Jones went on.  “As long as you are aboard my ship, you follow my command.  No weakness, no hesitation.” Jones paused.  “And if you had any hope of prostrating yourself before them and securing your passage home, you may as well shoot yourself now.”

Will hadn’t even considered the possibility of escaping that way.  Jones was right, thoughno ship could stand against them, and it would have been a foolish plan from the start.  On the other hand, he was only provisionally free, dependent on his cooperation with Beckett and the British crown.  Open betrayal of a government ship would dash any efforts toward his freedom.

Then again, if none survived…who would be left to report back?

Jones studied Will’s face, his tendrils waving slowly, until Will finally spoke.  “I have no intention of fleeing tomorrow,” he finally said.  “And it benefits me to leave no man alive who can attest to my actions.  You have my word and my loyalty.”

A smile crept across Jones’ face.  He looked upon Will indulgently, his eyes moving downward.  “Let’s hope I can gain your loyalty for the days beyond tomorrow.”

Will’s heart quickened, and he returned Jones’ hungry gaze.  When he spoke, his voice was low and inviting.  “Care to revisit our wager?”

Jones held his gaze, his mouth open.  Will saw Jones’ body begin to lean in of its own accord, tendrils reaching out toward Will’s neck, before Jones caught himself, drawing back.  And then he let out a bellowing laugh.  It was merciless, derisiveJones’ whole head squeezed with exertion.  He continued to shake from the stomach up, and Will scowled as the whole crew turned to stare.  Two of Jones’ tendrils curled up to dab at the corner of his eyes, and he finally settled with a long sigh.  

Desperate ,” Jones said.  

He walked away, leaving Will at the bow, seething.   Jones clacked his claw in Ogilvey’s direction.  “You, Crash, and Greenbeard.”

The three crewmembers set aside their drinks, leaving their games behind.  The hulking procession was watched by all with a low murmur, as they followed Jones into his cabin.  The door slammed shut behind them with a final, resounding thud .  Will spat over the side of the ship and pushed through the stunned crew to the dice table.

Jones dove into the other men with a hunger and ferocity that surprised even the seasoned sailors.  They fell into a rough tangle of cursed limbs and barnacled fleshJones could have sworn patches of their skin fused together, but only for momentsthey were all part of the ship, and so all bound as one.  They moved like a maelstrom from the walls, to the floor, to the bed, and back up again, Jones drawing his nails down exposed flesh, following sharp edges down with his mouth until he found what he desired.  

He had Ogilvey in his mouth, the man moaning in deep baritone as Jones' beard ensnared his whole lower half.  But a moment later, he had taken Crash in his hand too, at once pumping Crash's cock and bringing him to climax while thrusting his whole face against Ogilvey's groin, taking him deeper into his mouth.  Greenbeard had Jones from behind, seemingly an afterthought, as Jones was intent on drawing every sound imaginable from the other two men.  

Ogilvey came in his mouth, hips thrusting against Jones' hold.  Every tendril on Jones' face gripped into Ogilvey's thighs, keeping him there, and he continued to suck him with overwhelming intensity as Ogilvey gasped for breath.  Crash came seconds later, unable to hold himself back any longer under Jones' mad hunger.

Jones was somewhere else.  The sensations were like distant gunfire, sparking through a fog that had settled in his mind.  He fought to clear it, with greater force, speed, and sound upon the other men, tethering himself to their bodies, following their exhalations.  Jones tasted Ogilvey, and for a moment the familiarity brought the room back into sharp focus.  But an instant later, the men's forms receded into the walls, until everything was a dark blur.

Jones withdrew, slowly and almost without notice.  Ogilvey saw his movements begin to flag, his body heaving, and he stepped back.  The other two followed Ogilvey's lead and separated, looking to one another, a question lingering between them.  Jones remained kneeling on the floor, his eyes far away.  He did not look up, and the men continued to hover, the unfamiliarity of it palpable.

The ship creaked around them.  Jones finally spoke. 

"Out."

The three men retrieved their clothing and hurriedly dressed.  None dared to look at Jones, only sharing fleeting glances between themselves before they filed out the door.  

Will looked up from the dice table at the men emerging from Jones' cabin.  The rest of the table followed his gaze, and Ratlin let out a low hum.

"That was fast…" the oaken man muttered.  

The three men said nothing and quickly descended below deck to their bunks.  Something was wrong.  Will stared after them with a frown, and Penrod nudged Will and gestured at his dice cup.  

"Are you in?"

Will startled, and after a pause he set his dice aside.  He rose slowly, his eyes on the door to Jones' cabin.  

Penrod followed his gaze to the door then back.  "You're going in?  The night before a fight?" 

Will wanted his feet to move, but nothing happened.  

Penrod went on, “You know he’s very… particular about what he asks.”

Ratlin stirred.  He rested his heavy wooden fingers on Will’s arm and spoke in a low, cautious tone. 

"He didn't call for you." 

Will was silent for a time.  His body quieted, the words settling like a damp cloth over embers.  With an acknowledging grunt, he turned back to the dice game and sat down again.  

"Great," Penrod said.  "Another round?"

Will picked up the cup, feeling its heavy weight in his hand.  He was not what Jones needed.

The crew continued to play, even after the very last of the wine stores had been emptied.  Will didn't look to the captain's cabin again that night.  An hour after the men left, the sounds of slow organ music came from within, echoing through the still night air.

Chapter Text

Will was awoken roughly by Maccus the next morning.  Maccus nearly knocked him out of the hammock he had strung up in the powder room, handling him like a girl with her least favorite doll.  Will opened his eyes, and in his sleepy fog he nearly screamed at the sight of a shark looming over him.

“Get up,” Maccus growled.  “New plans.  Our prey’s changing course and heading closer toward shore.  We’ll have to do everything above water this time.”

Will rolled out onto the floor, shaking out his sore muscles.  “Right,” he grumbled.  “Where do you need me?”

“Report to Ogilvey, it’ll be a fireheavy fight.  She's a sturdy one.”  Maccus headed out the door, and after replacing his coat Will strode off to the gunports.

Ogilvey was waiting alongside the rows of heavy cannons.  Only two other crewmates were there, along with the powder barrels they'd salvaged from the last wreck.  Will had never been needed there, on account of them surprising their last prey from below.

Will looked around the space with a frown.  "Only three of us for this many guns?"

Ogilvey and the other crewmates exchanged amused glances.  Will heard a crunching, crackling noise behind him, and he turned around to see living figures shifting in the wood beside the ports.  Arms and faces broke themselves free, leaving perfect imprints behind, though the rest of their torsos remained stuck.  

"They handle the reloading and firing," Ogilvey said, "so you just have to make sure there's enough shot and powder next to them.  Cuts down on work quite a lot."

One of the figures gave Will a friendly wave.  His whole body shivered.

Ogilvey went on.  "You three will be down here until our mark is in range.  Oh," Ogilvey jerked his head toward the nearest crewmate, "I don't think you've met Morey.  She's been under the ship cleaning the hull for the past two weeks." 

Will's eyebrows went up.  Morey met his gaze with a small smirk, showing off several rows of tiny, sharp teeth.  She had served long enough for the curse to have covered most of her form with eel-skin, a splotchy bright yellow-brown pattern that had claimed half her face.  The other half was scarred and tanned by sun, sea, and work, and her eyes issued him a cruel judgment.

"Probably saves time not having to careen the ship," Will managed. 

Morey spoke in a hiss.  "I saw a dolphin kill its mother on Tuesday."

Will nodded appreciatively.  Ogilvey cleared his throat. 

"No idle chatter.  Get to it." 

He left the three to organize and prepare the wall-bound gunners.  Will and Koleniko listened in patient silence, pushing barrels about, as Morey continued detailing her time below.

"A whale gave birth beside us while we were anchored," she went on.  "I helped cut the umbilical cord."

Will opened his mouth in a question, but Koleniko shot him a harsh look, shaking his head.

"There were fifty-five thousand, four hundred and seventy seven barnacles this time.  It's the first time in five cleanings that it's been an odd number."  Morey let out a low chuckle.  "Very interesting."

Will heaved a crate of shot beside a waiting gunner, who gave him a thankful pat on his head.  He wiped his brow and let out a long sigh, unable to keep quiet any longer.

"Does that number mean anything?" he asked.  Morey whirled to face him in a blink, her movements as fast as an eel's.  Will stuttered.  "As in, could it bebe a sign of anything?"

Morey let out a long humit reminded Will of the whale beasts' speech.  "Perhaps," she said.  "Ill fortune may befall us in our next fight."

Koleniko finally spoke up.  "Don't curse us before she's even in sight!  We've already lost the element of surprise."  He crossed himself before picking up another crate and moving on.

Morey grumbled and continued working in silence.

After an hour, they heard a call from above deck.  The three hurried up, shielding their eyes from the sun and made their way to the bow.

Jones was there, spyglass to his eye, one leg propped up against the railing.  Will felt a tightening in his chest, but remained back, out of Jones' vicinity.

"She's light on the water," Jones said.  "Not a trader."  

There was a disappointed murmur among the crew.  Jones closed the spyglass with a thunk .  "There will be plenty more merchants with enough drink for you all another day," he said.  He looked out over the crew.  "For now," he smacked his lips, "satisfy yourself with loyal English blood."

His eyes landed on Will, and lingered there for a moment too long.  Jones turned back to the other ship.  "Drive her into shallow water and keep her against the shoals."

Will peered out past the distant shiphis breath caught in his throat.  He knew the island beyond.

"We've come as far south as Tortuga?" he said quietly.  

Jones heard him and turned back around.  "We'll be making no port calls in that den of thieves," he said.  "Not even for your rations."

Will's jaw tightened.  Jones' words were hard, but his voice had softened since before.  He and Will shared another prolonged look before Bill nudged his son.  The rest of the crew had parted in preparations, and Bill led Will away to the stern.

"I talked to the other men this morning," Bill whispered.  "Jones is off.  We lost our bearings late last night which is why we came up on the other ship in such an inopportune place."  He shook his head, the seaweed at his ears flapping.  "Hasn't happened as long as I've served here."  He gave Will a long and difficult look.

Will scowled.  "And you think that's my doing?" 

Bill shrugged.  "You seem to be at the center of it."

"He's a hundred years old," Will spat.  "I'm not responsible for the torment he inflicts on himself."

Bill paused.  "Two hundred.  But maybe you're right."  

He walked off, leaving Will alone.  

They came up on the other ship fast.  Will still hadn't adjusted to the Dutchman's supernatural speed, and he hurried to clean his pistol and sword.  Tortuga loomed beyond, like an old specter.

"Brace to receive fire!" 

Ogilvey scurried below deck to ensure the walled crew were ready.  The English ship was already turning, its gunports open.  They were close enough for Will to see a line of men at the railing, waiting.

Maccus came up beside him and looked out at the other ship with a grunt.  "It's a different world," he muttered .  "Can't remember the last time we chased a ship in broad daylight who didn't surrender."

The two looked over at Jones who stood at the helm, eyes pinned on their quarry.  

They saw the smoke from the other ship before the first cannon hit.  The Dutchman weathered the impact, shaking like a great beast awoken from slumber.  They sped on, closing the distance until Jones gave the order to fire.

Their guns rained iron on the other ship, shredding through the deck.  The Dutchman took another hit, this time below water, and Will heard a sad, low hum.

"Get ready to board," Maccus said.

The Dutchman had managed to clear the first line of men, but more came up from below to replace them.  They stood at the rail, firing at the Dutchman's crew who jeered back through the ricocheting bullets.  Will ducked behind a crate, and a bit of it splintered off under fire.

Through the commotion, Will heard a serious of thuds behind him.  He looked up to see Jones standing over him, his eyes on the other ship.  A bullet stuck into his thigh just above Will's head.  He didn't move.

"Don't die," Jones muttered.

The crew took off over the railing, swinging on ropes and hurling the nets over.  Jones launched himself over the railing, hanging onto a heavy line.  Will followed, throwing himself across the gap and onto the nets.

He managed to scramble in through an enemy ship gunport.  He swung his legs in, kicking down one gunner in the chest before he loosed his pistol and shot the second point blank.  He drew his sword and sunk his blade into the downed man's throat.

The man's eyes twitched, fixing Will with a dying question.  Will sprinted toward the hatch, dodging swords while Dutchman crew crawled in after him to take out the other gunmen.  The cursed crew could weather blows at close quarters, but he needed open air to let his sword fly.

The ship was heavily armed.  From the looks of it, they were a suppressive force, sent by the crown to quell an equally violent prey.  A bullet whizzed past Will's ear, and he ducked back, looking for the source.  Koleniko had come up beside him, the spines on his fish face puffed out.  

"Sniper up above," he said, jerking his head toward the crow's nest.  Will dodged through the steel, smoke, and splinters, circling around until he was under the mainsail with his back against the mast, out of the sniper's sight.  Koleniko backed up against the other side.

Three men encircled them, and Will lunged out to engage the closest.  He felt a sting in his left arm under Manray's stitches.  Koleniko covered his back until Will finally dropped the first with a clean cut.

A bullet flew past and struck Ogilvey in his fighting arm.  He dropped his sword with a grunt, and suddenly two men were on him, pinning his large body to the ground.  Will managed to dispatch another sailor, but the way to Ogilvey still wasn't clear.

"I have this, go help him," Will said to Koleniko.  

A third man had appeared beside Ogilvey's struggling form with shackles, chained to which were two heavy cannonballs.  The two other man had managed to drag him to the railing, and Will sworethey couldn't kill the Dutchman's crew outright, but they could send them to the bottom of the sea.

"You still look well."

The last sailor facing Will spoke, his sword raised.  He had the voice of authority.  "Tell me, is it too late to save your soul, or are you this willing to die for the devil?" 

The man was unnaturally calm.  Will saw a line of ribbons on his jacket, and steeling his resolve, he raised his blade.

They fought, the officer matching Will's speed and parrying his blows.  Will saw that the man stayed on the defensive, careful and calculating, almost as if it were practice.  Will lunged out aggressively, hoping to catch him, and the man danced back with a satisfied smirk.  A bullet grazed Will's scalp, and he cried out, backing up against the mast.  

He was trying to draw Will out for the sniper.  Will glanced up the mast then back at his adversary. 

"I'll admit," the officer said, "you fight much better than the rest of the riffraff.  Ex-Navy man? Or just well-raised?"

Will felt a warm trickle of blood down his forehead, and he blinked away red.  "Neither."

This time, Will kept on the defensive.  The two clashed swords with carefully measured strength until, haphazardly, Will swiped his sword at the man's side.  It only knicked his clothing.  

The man gave a derisive laugh and raised his sword once again.  There was a clatter on the deckthe man looked down to see his pistol and belt had been cut from his side.

"You!"

In a flash Will kicked out, sending the pistol sliding to the railing and off the edge of the ship.  In the spare second of time while the man was too stunned to react, Will launched himself onto the mast and began scrambling up.

He didn't look back down until he was halfway up, hidden behind a tangle of rope and sail.  He saw that Koleniko had been joined by Maccus, trying to fight off the men on Ogilvey, but the sniper was still stalling their efforts.

Will climbed until he was just below the nest.  He brought his dagger out of his belt and clenched it in his teeth.  He took one last deep breath before heaving himself over.

Will pounced on the surprised man in a tangle of fists and limbs.  He kneed the other man in the stomach, wrestling him face down, but the man bucked up and knocked Will's head back against the railing.  Will gasped, dropping the dagger from his teeth with a clatter.

The man lunged, and they continued struggling, hands fighting for the dagger.  Will saw a loose length of rope on the railing, and in a burst of desperation he threw himself toward it.  The man's hand fell on the dagger, and before he could turn, his neck was encircled in rope.

Will wrenched him back from behind, the rope bound tight.  The man fell against Will, Will's breath hot in his ear as the man struggled for air.  

"You...f-fucking...traitor…" 

Dagger still in hand, he brought it down on Will's thigh, sinking it into flesh.

Will threw the man sideways with a cry, rolling them both until the man was face down with Will pinned on his back.  Will's right eye was blinded with red as continued to pull up on the rope.

The man flailed, his body weakening.  Will could feel little, the heat of the battle numbing what would be dire pain.  Finally, the man gave two last shakes, and his body went stiff.

Will fell back, throwing the rope aside to cradle his burning hands.  There was a row of long rifles against the railinghad he been in better condition, he would have turned them on the sailors below.  But he loosed the dead man's belt from his body and ripped a sheet of cloth from his shirt.

He gritted his teeth through the pain as the dagger came out.  He hurriedly bound the wound, pulling the belt tight over it to stem the blood, for now.  Doctor Manray would be happy to see him again.

His head lolled to the side and he peered down at the fight.  Jones' crew was turning the tide, with Ogilvey thankfully freed.  Will couldn't find the officer from before, but a fair number of sailors lay face down, dead.  He wouldn't be able to make his excruciating climb down as long as there were sailors still alive with pistols.  Will leaned back and closed his eyes, struggling to ignore the pain. 

 

 

"Hold is secure, that's the last of them."

Will came to as the Dutchman's crew gave cries of victory down below.  This was shortly followed by the sounds of hauling cargo and flipping bodies over to check their pockets.

He heard Jones' crab leg pacing the deck.  It suddenly stopped.

"Where is he?" 

"Who?"

" Your son , you useless wretch."

This was followed by even faster pacing, as Jones' circled the ship.  

Will brought his head over the railing and blinked through dried blood.  He saw his crewmates looking about, until Penrod finally spotted him.

"Up there!"

Jones looked up, and his body went rigid.  He saw Will's head lolling over the railing, half covered in blood.  The crew froze.

Will shifted, bringing his legs over the side with a wince.  "I'm not dead," he yelled down.  "Hope none of you wagered too much on that."

The crew laugheda visible calm swept through Jones, and he watched Will climb painstakingly down as the rest continued looting.  Bill was waiting at the bottom when Will finally landed with a groan.

"Should get that leg looked at, son," Bill said.  "And that whole...face."

Will and Jones met each other's eyes.  But as before, Jones was the first to break away.  He began to walk off, but Will staggered after him and grabbed his arm.  

Nearby crewmates scurried back.  Jones looked between Will's hand and his face, and not a trace of indignation was there.

"Did you see an officer?" Will asked.  "A tall man, decorated, at least past fifty."

Jones' body seemed to deflate.  He gently nudged Will's hand off his arm.  "You can peruse the dead if you so please."  He paused.  "Why?"

"He knows my face, and he could very well know Beckett, given his rank" Will said.  "I can't risk losing my bargain for freedom."

Jones' expression soured.  "Freedom," he muttered.  He turned away with a snort.  "We've left none alive.  Ask the crew."  

With that, Jones made to stalk away, but Maccus came jogging toward them.

"Captain" he began, breathless, "did we loose any of their longboats in the assault?"

Jones wrinkled his face.  "Not that I'm aware. Why?"

"Runaway!"  Penrod cried.

The entire crew raced to the railing, following the line of Penrod's shaking lobster claw out over the sea.  

A singular longboat bobbed in the water, headed for Tortuga.  It was too far away to make out the man inside, or to shoot, for that matterbut Will knew.

Jones kicked a nearby body, cursing as his tendrils writhed.  Will's whole body went cold.

"How ," Jones bellowed at the men, "did you let an entire boat escape notice?"  The crew stared at the deck, knowing their good fortune was about to turn.

"Maybe," Bill began, and Will psychically begged his father to stop, "it's a good thing if one man is left to tell the tale.  To keep the fear alive."

Jones raised his good hand and smacked Bill full across the face with a whip of his tentacle.  Bill gave a small "ow."

"Half our strength comes in mortal men not knowing our numbers," Jones snarled, "or our weapons, or the fact that they can simply chain us to cannonballs and send us into the depths!"  He gestured at Ogilvey, who looked away in shame. 

Jones stepped forward and towered over Bill, a specter of death.  "The world is no longer stilled by monsters," he warned.  "Next time, they will be ready."

"I'll go ashore," Will said.  The whole crew turned to him.  Jones' eyes went wide.  

"I'm the only one of us who can blend in," Will went on.  "I'll find him on Tortuga and make sure he never speaks again."

An approving murmur went through the crew.  Jones stalked up to Will, looking him down with his jaw drawn tight.

"You're in no state to do this," Jones murmured.

"Let Manray patch me up until nightfall, then I can make it there under the cover of dark," Will said.  "Nobody will know I've come from your ship."

Jones considered this for a long while, holding Will's gaze.  Finally, he sniffed and looked away.

"Very well," he muttered. 

Will limped off toward the Dutchman, knowing nothing of the trial to come.

 

 

It was an hour after sunset when Will finally clambered into the longboat.  The Dutchman had been steered as close as it could to the island without falling in the way of other shipsor being identified from shore.  They dropped anchor and Jones paced the deck in tense silence.

Manray had looted medical supplies from the Navy ship, so he was finally able to mend Will’s wounds properly.   Will emerged from below deck in clean bandages, feeling considerably better.  Jones stopped pacing and regarded Will with cautious relief. 

Bill came up to Will and gave him a gentle pat on the back.  “All fixed up, then?  Boat’s ready for you.”

His sword and pistol had been cleaned and placed inside, alongside a single lantern and  a small purse.  Will climbed in and opened the purse, revealing an entire fistful of pearls.

“What am I supposed to do with this?” he asked with wide eyes.  

“That’s your allowance,” Bill said.  “Buy some food and a whore or two.”

Jones growled and leaned over, snatching the purse out of Will’s hands.  “That is not his purpose there.  He’ll quickly die at the hands of a thief for carrying that much wealth.”  Jones shoved the purse back to Bill and fished around in his pocket.  He produced two pieces of eight.

“For the docking fee,” Jones said, and dropped the coins into Will’s palm.  

Will didn’t protest.  He wouldn’t linger on Tortuga any longer than he had to, given the state he was in.  Even a hot meal couldn’t sway himhis stomach churned at the reality of what he would have to do.

There was no way he could beat the officer in a fair fight.  He eyed his pistol lying at the bottom of the boat.  He would have to find the man in whatever place or position he was in, approach him unseen, and shoot him in cold blood.

Jones spoke in a low voice.  “If you do not return before sunrise, we will assume you have failed.”  He held Will’s gaze, his eyes flickering.  “Do not fail.”

Will took the oars in hand, and Maccus began lowering him down.

“Good luck, my boy,” Bill said.  

The boat settled on the water, and Will began the long row to shore.

 

 

Tortuga was the same den of debauchery Will had remembered it as.  The harbormaster demanded three pieces of eight, citing new taxes and codesneither of which Tortuga hadand Will argued with him until a very drunk man came by and clocked the harbormaster out cold.  Will gave his two coins to the drunk man and made his way to the inn.

The officer had undoubtedly shed his uniform before making it that far.  At least Will remembered his face, and he knew enough about the man’s circumstances to guess where he might be.  He would have needed a meal, a room, and passage aboard a ship the next day.  He wouldn’t risk sending word back to his superiors and waiting that long for someone to retrieve him.

Will was welcomed by the stench of sweat and sour ale when he walked in the doors.  The place was chaos, with lively music, fistfights, and pickpockets circling around, looking for their next mark.  Will found a chair back against a wall and settled down there, watching the room carefully.

It was difficult to see through the crowd of dancing men and their ladies for the night, but he made out that someone had set up a table in the back corner, out of sight of the main door.  There was a line of some sorts gathered in front of it, the attendees in various states of desperation.

“Oi,” a man had wandered up to Will and gestured at the empty chair beside him.  “Anyone sitting there?”

Will shook his head.  The man picked up the chair, spun around, and hurled it at another man across the room.  The second man ducked, and another fight ensued.

Will got up and circled around the wall, navigating past men in various states of undress and ale splashing his way.  The line of people still blocked whoever was at the table, but he recognized his quarry there.  There was no mistaking his posture and air of authority in a line made up of drunks.

Will ducked behind a passionate couple and strained his ears as the officer made it to the front of the line.

“I’m seeking passage off the island and transfer to a Navy ship,” the officer began.  “Whatever business you have going on here will be ignored, at least for the duration of my delivery.”

The arbiters seated at the table laughed.  Will’s eyes went wide as one of them spokea voice he could never forget.  “We’re not a ferry, mate.  You either sign your name here or make room for the next bloke.”

Jack Sparrow.  

The officer cleared his throat.  “I don’t believe you realize the gravity of your actions here.  I heard you mention the Dutchman’s name, and I know you’re about to send every man on that list to the devil’s doorstep.”

The men in line behind the officer began to murmur, and Will could sense the attitude in the room shifting.

So that was it, Will realized.  Jack’s trading stranger’s souls to save his own hide .

Jack gave another dismissive laugh.  “Who said anything about the devil?”

Will’s hand went to his pistol.  Whatever mad scheme Jack was up to was none of his concern.  He had set Will on this path, but in the process Will had discovered his father, alive.  He needed the keyand he needed Jones for that key.

Another man in the line stumbled to the front, swaying with drink.  He was smeared in dirt, his clothes disheveled, his head drooped.  The dirty man peered at the officer, bringing himself inches from the other man’s face.  The officer returned his gaze with unveiled disgust.  

“This doesn’t concern you,” the officer began, “you”  He froze.  Recognition dawned on his features, and he let out a gasp of surprise.

“Commodore Norrington?” the officer whispered.  “Is that really you?”

Will froze.  

Disgraced Commodore,” Norrington spat back.  He pointed a finger at the officer’s nose. “Captain Warren, high on your horse as always.”

No.  Will’s body went cold.  They can’t know each other

Warren looked Norrington up and down, his eyes wide with disbelief.  “How did it come to this?  I’d heard you lost your rank, but I’d assumed you’d settle down quietly somewhere and leave all this ship business behind.”

“Well,” Jack cut in, “I hate to interrupt this heartwarming reunion, but could you,” he flicked his fingers, “scoot on out that way?  You’re scaring our recruits.”

The line of men had entirely dissipated at the words “commodore” and “captain.”  Those within earshot turned up their coat collars and looked away, trying and failing to appear as law-abiding as possible. 

Norrington swaggered up to Jack’s table and slammed his fists down with a bang.  “You ruined me,” he hissed.  “You and your good-for-nothing accomplice Mr. Turner, who you’ve no doubt left for dead like everyone else who crosses your path.”

Will slowly rose, keeping his head low and circling around to see Jack.  He didn’t know what he had expectedthere Jack was, lying and cheating his way through life, same as before.

“For your information,” Jack began, “Will Turner has found his place among a very well-known crew, and he is, might I say, doing the Lord’s work.”

“Oh?” Norrington snorted.  “I find that hard to believe.”

Warren checked his pocket watch and looked around the room.  He was no doubt weighing his options for the night.  “Gentlemen,” he began.  “I’m going to find another inn and resume my search in the morning.  Good evening.”

Norrington and Jack were still locked in a bitter staring contest.  Warren gave a polite nod which neither noticed and turned to leave.

Finally .  Will made his way through the crowd to start tailing Warren.  But on his way, a chair slid out from behind a woman, and its edge rammed directly into the freshly bandaged knife wound on Will’s thigh.

Fuck!”  

Will screamed and doubled over, clutching his leg.  The woman gave a weak, “Oh, sorry,” while the rest of the inn-goers turned to stare.  

All three men recognized Will at once.  A disbelieving Norrington, an ecstatic-then-suddenly-suspicious Jack, and a bewildered Warren.

“You…?” Warren breathed.  “You followed me all the way from the Dutchman here?”

Before anyone could react, Will closed the space between himself and Warren.  He grabbed the other man by his collar and drew his pistol, pinning the barrel against the man’s temple.  Norrington was flabbergasted, while Jack appeared delightfully amused.

Will noticed Gibbs seated beside Jack for the first time.  Gibbs, ever the voice of reason, eyed him with a warning gaze.  “That’s a Royal Navy captain, Will,” he said.  “Think carefully about what you’re doing.”

“So what if he’s a captain?” Jack said, enjoying the drama of the moment.  He stood and shouted out to the watching crowd, “Who here has killed a captain?”

A smattering of hands went up in the group.  Jack turned back to Gibbs with a grin.  “See?  Will’s in good company.”

“Shut up,” Will said.  He pulled the hammer back.  “I’m nothing like you nor anyone else in here.”

“Will?”

Time ground to a halt.  All other noises quieted as Will’s ears filled with the sound of his own beating heart.  His hand began to shake, and he turned his head slowly toward the voice of the woman he had loved for half his life.

She was there.  Watching him.  He blinked several times, and his eyes darted over toward Jack and the othersand they in turn were watching her.  She was real.

“Elizabeth!” Jack said, clapping his hands together.  “Right on time.”

“Will?” Elizabeth stared at him, her expression uncomprehending.  Her eyes flickered in the lamplightWill felt his heart pulled out from his chest.   “What are you going to do to him?”

Will swallowed hard.  “I need to free my father,” he said.  “This is the only way.”

“Whoever your father is,” Warren began, “I’m sure we can negotiate a fair pardon

The Dutchman? ” Norrington finally spoke.  His drunken mind was playing a very slow catch-up.  “So you ,” he pointed at Jack, “put him ,” he pointed at Will, “ on the Dutchman ?  And now you’re sending more men to follow him?”

“Will’s been on the Dutchman?” Elizabeth whispered.  She turned on Jack.  “ You did this?”

Jack slowly stood up from his little chair, holding his hands up for mercy.  “There are so many very small and very fine details regarding what transpired between your beloved and I,” he said.  "But rest assured that it was all done for our collective benefit."

"I don't need your excuses," Elizabeth said.  She drew a bundle of papers from her coat.  "Will," she held his gaze, and his heart trembled.  "This is a full pardon, signed by Lord Beckett.  We can go home.  You're free."

All eyes were on the bundle of papers.  Norrington drew himself up and licked his lips.

Elizabeth went on.  "Whatever you think you need to do, don't.  We can leave all of this behind."  

Will's arm quivered.  His hands were slick with sweat, from him and Warren both.  

Warren finally spoke. "Whatever pardon exists in those papers, it will not absolve you of this," he warned.  "There will be no going back."

A shot rang out.  Smoke drifted up from Will's pistol, and he looked at Elizabeth, his cheek flecked with blood.  

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

He released Warren's coat, and the man slumped to the ground at his feet.  

The whole room stared in heavy silence.  Elizabeth opened her mouth, a terrified question in her eyesbut Norrington struck first.

"Murderer!" 

He fell upon Will, grabbing him by the coat and slamming him to the wall.  Elizabeth seized Norrington, and Gibbs and the rest of Jack's crew jumped into the fray.  Will squirmed out of his coat and sprinted for the doorand a bottle flew after him, shattering into the back of his head.  

Will crumpled.  Jack was poised post-throw, his arm outstretched.

"Will!"

Elizabeth knelt at Will's side, feeling the side of his face.  Jack clicked his tongue and jerked his head toward Will.  Gibbs and the others pushed Elizabeth out of the way and bound his feet and hands.

Elizabeth protested.  "What are you doing?  Mr. Gibbs?" 

"Sorry love," Gibbs said, and he and the men hoisted Will up.  Jack circled around and stood by Elizabeth.  He rested a gentle hand on her shoulder.

"It's for the best," he said quietly.  "We'll see if we can talk sense into poor William." 

The crew carried Will upstairs to an inn room, clearing out the terrified people within.  Elizabeth followed close behind, wishing to the world it had all gone differently.

Chapter Text

Elizabeth stood in the corner of the room, her arms crossed.  The crew set Will upright on the bed with his limbs still bound, and he stirred.  Jack posted sentries outside the door and in the hall and sent everyone else except Norrington and Elizabeth back to the ship.  The body of Captain Warren was dragged into the room and stuffed into an empty wardrobe.

The three watched as Will blearily opened his eyes, his left eye bloodshot.  He began shaking his legs out against the restraints, but groaned and clutched his thigh.

“What’s wrong with your leg?” Elizabeth asked.  

Will tested the ropes around his wrists and sniffed.  “I’ve been stabbed in my leg, stitched in my arm, and gashed on my head.”  He looked at Elizabeth, his eyes hard.  “I wish we’d been reunited under better circumstances.”

“The Dutchman did all that to you?”  Norrington sneered.  “It seems you reap what you sow.”

“Actually,” Will rolled his neck with a wince, “Warren’s crew did.  He was the loose end.”

Jack had remained silently contemplative in the corner, and at this, he looked up with wide eyes.  He met Will’s flickering gaze, and spoke in a low tone.  “You’ve changed, mate.”

“Haven’t we all?”  Will continued to wrestle with his arm restraints before finally sitting back with a defeated sigh.  He shot a harsh look at Jack.  “What do you intend to do with me?”

“Well,” Jack stepped carefully around the room, keeping out of Will’s reach.  “Seeing as your  disregard for subtlety has reached all new heights, the most charitable course of action would be to keep you safe and hidden away until all this business with Jones is over.”  Jack paused.  “You don’t happen to have the key, do you?”

Will scoffed.  “The bloody key…”  He stared off at the wall, past Elizabeth.  He began running the tips of his fingers against his palms as his eyes grew distant.  After a long silence, he startled and noticed her there.

“Elizabeth,” he spoke softly, his face changed.  “My father is alive on the Dutchman.  I need the key to Jones' heart to compel him to set my father free.  Everything I’ve doneI’ve done to save his soul and mine.”  His words were desperate, intense.  “I need your forgiveness.  I love you.”

Elizabeth took a slow step toward the bed.  She faltered, her voice catching in her throat.  “We can’t be free after this.”

There was a bang on the door.  It opened, and Gibbs peeked his head in.  “They’re asking about the Navy man,” he warned.  “The madame and the barkeep say if the body’s not gone before sunrise then it’s our necks on the line.”

"Why?" Elizabeth asked.  "Why should any of them care?" 

Gibbs sighed.  "Wherever free men are, spies aboundand Tortuga's no exception.  I'd give us three days before Lord Beckett knows what's happened here, with the winds in his favor."  Gibbs eyed the wardrobe.  "The madame and her ladies would be happy to slit our throats if it saves their own hides."

“Oh good, more threats,” Norrington burped.  He settled into a chair in the corner.  “I suppose now wouldn’t be the worst time to sober up.”

Jack strode over and dragged Norrington up by his coat.  “Up, you useless sack.  Help him fetch the body.”  He jerked his head at Gibbs, and Norrington begrudgingly opened the wardrobe and helped hoist the dead man up and out the door.   Jack followed them out, pausing in the doorway.

"It'd be good of you to know," he began, "dear Will , that you and I are invested in the same end.  You want your father free, and I have a debt I'd rather not pay, so once we have the heart and kill Jones"

"No. "  Will spat, his face twisted.  "I'm not killing him."

Jack and Elizabeth shared a bewildered glance.  There were urgent shouts from the hallway, and Jack sighed and rubbed his eyebrows in exasperation.

“We can address the sudden return of your moral qualms in the morning.  You two can have this room,” he said.  "No funny business.  Make sure he doesn't" Jack made a series of stabbing, strangling, and maiming gestures.  "I've had enough bad luck for one night,” he muttered. 

The door shut behind him.  Elizabeth and Will were silent for a time.  Slowly, Elizabeth approached the bed and sat at the far end from Will.  She spoke quietly, choosing her words with caution.

“I know how difficult it must have been finding your father aboard that ship,” she began.  “We have all made choicesand he chose that life, but you needn’t do the same.”  She searched his blank expression.  “You can walk away now.  We can find a ship, make a home somewhere far from Port Royal.  Just come with us.”

“I can’t.”  

They stared at each other in silence.  Elizabeth clenched her jaw, struggling to keep her voice level.  “So that’s it?  I wait for you, for how long?”

“Until he lets me win,” Will said.  

Elizabeth frowned.  “Who?”

“Jones.  I need to win the key in a wager,” he said quietly.  

Elizabeth blinked.  Her voice was incredulous.  " A wager ? He's playing a game and betting the one thing that could kill him?  What could he possibly gain?"

Will was silent.  Elizabeth drew closer, her brows knitted.

"Will?  What did you offer him?"

He leaned back against the headboard, closing his eyes.  "I'm so sorry," he whispered.

Elizabeth slid next to Will and cradled his face in her hands.  “Will?”  She ran her fingers through his hair and they fell upon the scab from the bullet wound.  She drew a sharp intake of breath.  “You’re barely holding together.  Look, forget Jones, just promise me you’ll rest through the night and think on things in the morning?”

Will had already slipped into slumber.  Elizabeth held him there for a timehis brows unknitted, the peacefulness of sleep settling across his face.  She lowered herself onto the bed next to him and lay an arm over him, though the rest of her body curled in hollow discomfort.  

The sounds of muffled merriment and music drifted up from downstairs.  Elizabeth drew a deep breath and spoke to the emptiness around her. 

“I don’t know how much longer I can wait for you,” she whispered.  She closed her eyes and fell into a dreamless sleep.

 

 

There were screams from down below.  Elizabeth sat upright with a start, the first rays of morning peeking through the moth-eaten curtains.  Will lay next to her sound asleep.  

Loud bangs sounded along the hallway outside as doors were thrown open, followed by more shrieks and fleeing guests.  Gibbs’ voice sounded from nearby.

“What in the devil’s name!”

Something–or someone was slammed against a wall.  Elizabeth scrambled to her feet, looking between the door and the second-story window, then at Will defenseless on the bed.  She heard Jack yell out.

“You’ll never take me!”

There was a pauseand then someone spoke in a voice like water hissing over a fire.

“We’re not here for you .”

The door to the room burst open.  A womanor a demonwith eel-skin and needle-teeth walked in, followed by a hulking man with the head of a shark.  Their eyes passed over Elizabeth and then settled on Will, still bound by his hands and feet, just awakening on the bed.  

The woman looked at Elizabeth and gave a gruesome grin.  “Fun’s over.”

In a flash, the man made for the bed.  Elizabeth let out a scream and lunged, but the woman caught her, hurling her back against the wall.  The man hoisted Will like a bag of barley over his shoulder and raced for the door, the woman fast behind.  Elizabeth flew after them but they had leapt over the railing onto the floor below with a crash.  

The impact did nothing to thema table shattered beneath the shark-man's terrible force.  Elizabeth stared after them in shock as they tore through the tavern and ran out the front door.

Gibbs, Norrington, and Jack all stood at the railing, their jaws hanging open.  The other inn patrons were curled against the walls, shaking in horror.  There were distant cries from outside as the monsters passed that gradually faded into silence.

“Well,” Jack cleared his throat.  “We did our best.”  He flicked his hands at the crew.  In a hurried shuffle they emptied out of the inn, keeping their heads low with their bags tight to their chests.  Elizabeth found Will's discarded coat in the room and, after a moment's pause, she put it on over her shirt and followed them out.

The crew squinted in the harsh morning light.  There were a handful of stunned street goers as Jack led them back to the ship, but on the whole the island still slumbered. 

"Are they going to kill him?" Elizabeth asked, striding beside Jack.  

Norrington snorted.  "Why would they?  He's done precisely what they wanted.  More like they're throwing him a soiree for successful treason."

They clambered up onto the ship, Elizabeth's mind still spinning.  "Why would he remain loyal to them?  To such an end?"

"Either…" Jack yanked on a line of rope, freeing the ship from one point on the dock.  "Either his conscience has convinced him that he owes his mind, body, and soul to freeing his two-timing absent father, or" Jack paused. "The squid is simply to die for."  

He turned to Elizabeth, his eyes twinkling.  "Regardless, our motives are aligned.  You want nothing more in this world than to save Will, yes?"

Before she could reply, Jack took her hand, placing something in her palm.  She looked down to see his compass there.

He pressed her fingers over it and held her gaze.  "You want the heart of Davy Jones," he whispered.  " That is the only way to save Will."

Elizabeth opened her hands, and the compass needle began to spin.

 

 

They arrived on a small spit of land a day and a half east.  Elizabeth kept to herself for the duration of the voyage, dodging Jack's attempts at conversationshe only spoke as much to provide him with the direction of the chest.  

Norrington seemed consumed in thought.  As soon as he sobered and cleaned up, he kept to a corner, his face more sour than usual.  Every time Elizabeth walked by, his eyes never left hers, cold and calculating.  She kept the pardon papers secure in Will's coat, which she wore even while she slept.

They found a safe spot to anchor the Pearl, and the three of them rowed out in a longboat in tense silence.  The compass in Elizabeth's hand felt heavy, the needle wavering ever so slightly.  She eyed the two shovels sitting in the bottom of the boat.

They were led to a spot close to the shoreElizabeth circled several times, the sun beating down on them.  

"Any day now," Norrington said.  She shot him a glare.

"It should be right here," she said, jabbing her boot into the sand.  Norrington lumbered over and stuck the shovel down.  

"Let me help," Elizabeth said, and took up the second shovel. Norrington watched her out of the corner of her eye as she threw her back into it, working beside him.

Norrington's shovel finally hit something with a thud.  The three gathered around, and the two men pulled up a heavy wooden chest from the sand.  Elizabeth stepped back behind them as Jack threw open the lid.

The chest was filled with letters.  Jack carefully brushed them aside to reveal a second, smaller chest within.  He lifted it, turning it to examine the strange black ironwork and its unique, two-pronged keyhole.

"Ah.  There's the problem, then," he muttered.

There was a sound of unsheathing steel beside him, and in a flash Norrington had brought a dagger to Jack's throat.  Jack's lips curled up in a smirk, and he held up his hands, peering sidelong at Norrington.

"And how are you going to get off this island with that chest, mate?" he asked.  "Do you have a second, secret ship hidden beneath all that grime on your nose?"

There was a resounding thunk, and Norrington slumped to the ground.  Elizabeth stood behind him, shovel gripped tight in her hands.

Jack pivoted, squinting up at her against the sun.  "Perfect form, love.  You know, I've always trusted you to

Thunk.

Elizabeth threw the black chest into the longboat and began pushing the boat back onto the water.  She glanced back over her shoulder at the two men unconscious in the sand.

"Not sorry," she muttered, and she heaved herself into the boat.  

The chest sat between her feet, its presence like a dark specter.  She almost thought she could feel a slow, rhythmic bump from within, but she rowed on, convincing herself it was the boat.

The crew were waiting at the railing after hoisting her up, the chest sitting in her lap.  She clambered out and met them, her jaw drawn tight.  Gibbs pushed to the front with a fire burning in his eyes.

"You mind telling us what in God's name happened back there?" he asked. 

Everyone looked back out at the island.  In the time it had taken her to row back alone, her arms aching, Jack and Norrington had awoken.  They waved their arms wildly on the beach, distant blurs hurling coconuts into the water.

Elizabeth smiled patiently and licked her lips.  "I saved your hide.  The Kraken is chasing Jack, but it can't follow him ashore.  As long as he's on that island, Jack, the crew, and the ship are all safe."

The crewmates looked among each other and began murmuring.  Gibbs shot her a warning glare.  

"Or do you think we should all bear the burden and risk our lives because of Jack's poor decisions?" she went on.  "Did he even bother telling you all when Jones cursed him?  Or did he wait until it was too late?

Gibbs bit his lip.  "Jack may be a cheat and a liar, but it still doesn't sit right with me, leaving a man behind."

"Once we take care of Jones," Elizabeth replied, "Jack will be free of the curse, and we can come back for him again without otherworldly monsters on our tail."  Her eyes twinkled, and Gibbs gave an acknowledging tilt of his head.  She went on, "I'm sure he'll manage a week without rum.  Does that sound fair to everyone?"

The crew gave approving nods.  Gibbs considered this for a moment, and then he finally shrugged.

"Jack's dealt with worse," he said.  "If any captain knows how to weather a marooning, it's surely him.  Weigh anchor!"

The crew parted and hurried off to get the ship underway.  Elizabeth looked back at the island, a thought crossing her eyes.

"Where are we headed?" Gibbs asked.  Pintel and Ragetti were hovering nearby, trying their best to look as though they weren't eavesdropping.  Elizabeth shoved the chest into Ragetti's arms with a stern look, and he jumped.

"You're on chest duty," she said. "Don't you fucking lose it."

Ragetti threw a nervous salute, nearly dropping the chest in the process. He scurried off with Pintel close behind.

Elizabeth drew the strange compass out of Will's coat pocket once more.  She flipped open the lid and gazed off toward the horizon. 

"Follow my heading," she said.  "I need to find someone who knows Jones' heart better than anyone else."

Gibbs watched the needle swivel, almost as if it were itself a thinking being, until it finally settled on a direction.  He peered at the compass then out over the sea.

"I think I might know where we're headed," he said.  

 

 

The crew paddled nervously upstream once more toward the house on stilts over the bayou.  It was the second visit Gibbs and the others had made there in such short time, but Elizabeth was so far unacquainted with its inhabitant.

She clambered up onto the dock and drew Will's coat tight, eyeing the biting insects.  Ragetti stumbled after her, Jones' chest clutched under his chin, and Gibbs and Pintel followed.  She hadn't trusted bringing any othersand it would be rude to walk into a stranger’s home with a full crew, unannounced.

But perhaps they weren’t unexpected: the door opened before they even knocked.  In the lamplight stood a woman, her eyes dancing with untold secrets, and Elizabeth's voice caught in her throat.

"We've come seeking your aid," Elizabeth managed.

The woman smiled.  She was at once somehow deeply unknowable, yet a part of her prickled the back of Elizabeth's neck in familiaritylike a breeze carrying the taste of a distant shore.  She looked Elizabeth over, her gaze lingering for a little too long, then shot a glare toward the other three.

"You're back," she said, unamused.

Gibbs lowered his gaze.  "Elizabeth, this is Tia Dalma.  An old friend of Jack's." 

"And I see you've traded Jack for someone more..." Tia Dalma licked her lips, "fate-touched."  She gestured inside.  "Come in." 

The interior of her home was covered in trinkets and magic.  Not a surface was free, and from every inch of the ceiling hung strings of bones and wood which rattled when touched.  Elizabeth wove through the space, taking great care not to disturb anything.

"I have seen you three before," Tia Dalma began, waving dismissively at the men, "and I have seen you," she said, catching Elizabeth off-guard, "but in the eyes of another."

"She means through Will," Ragetti offered helpfully.  Tia Dalma looked at Ragetti, ready to ridicule him, but her eyes fell on the chest in his hands.  

Her lips opened, and her face clouded in horror.  A hand lifted to her heart, faltering before it touched skinElizabeth saw a flash of silver, a locket, hanging there.  She looked between the four with her tone markedly changed.

"Why did you bring this to me?" she said.  

Gibbs and Elizabeth exchanged a look.  Elizabeth spoke quietly.

"We need your help opening it," she said.  

Tia Dalma turned and began busying herself with a bundle of dried plants on a table.  “It will not opennot here, not anywhere, not without its key,” she snapped.  “Or did you not see the lock?”

“Then help us use it against him,” Elizabeth pleaded.  Tia Dalma whirled back around, the plants in a hand, fizzing with smoke.  She strode up to Elizabeth, bringing herself inches from her face.

“You have no notion,” she hissed, “of the kind of devilry you’re dealing with.”

She lunged out with a hand, gripping the collar of Elizabeth’sor rather, Will’s coat.  Pintel made to jump in, but Gibbs placed a hand on his chest, warning him off.  Elizabeth stayed frozen as Tia Dalma leaned in.  

“You will not bring monsters to my

She stopped.  Her brows furrowed, and with an expression of deep confusion, she brought her face to the leather of Will’s coat.  Her lips passed over it, and then she tilted her head, ear brushing Elizabeth’s skin, as if listening to something within.

Tia Dalma drew back as suddenly as she had struck.  She addressed the three men by the door.  “Leave us.”

Gibbs and the others startled.  “Now, hold on a minute” Gibbs began.

Tia Dalma shot him a look of unmitigated violence.  He bowed his head, muttered an apology, and ushered the three out.  

The door shut behind them.  Elizabeth watched Tia Dalma carefully, bracing herself for whatever could come, but the strange woman merely gestured at a chair.

“Sit.”

Elizabeth complied, one hand flexed and ready to reach for her pistol.  Tia Dalma sat across from her, regarding her with something like pitied amusement.  She spoke again, and the hairs on Elizabeth’s neck stood up.

“He has taken your love,” she said. 

Elizabeth swallowed.  “Yes, I know that.”

Mind ,” Tia Dalma went on, “and body .”  

She held Elizabeth’s gaze, her eyes flickering in the darkness.  She watched the faintest struggle of understanding cross Elizabeth’s face.  

“Right,” Elizabeth said, “he’s bound in servitude

“They are lovers ,” Tia Dalma said.

The room went silent.  Elizabeth’s lips partedthough no sound came out.  Her eyes flicked between Tia Dalma’s gaze and the wood grain on the table before herher blood felt cold, her own skin foreign.  The room began to spin, and Tia Dalma waved the still-smoking bundle of plants under Elizabeth’s nose.

“Don’t lose yourself, now,” Tia Dalma said sternly.  “He’s not the first man to give himself to Davy Jones.”

“We” Elizabeth stuttered, “he said that he would never love another soul.  We’ve waited for each other, through all these years, through everything.”

Tia Dalma leaned back, eyes rolling up to the ceiling.  Elizabeth went on.

“He’s never shown interest in anyone elselet alone a manI can’t think of a single time he

“Yes, yes,” Tia Dalma waved her hand dismissively.  “Whatever it takes to soothe your wounded heart.  The question remains,” she said, lips curled in a smirk, “what you will do, now that he is no longer yours?”

Elizabeth stared at her, her eyes hard.  “Well, I’m sorry if this is all very amusing to you,” she spat.  “I didn’t realize you drew pleasure from watching other people’s lives fall apart.”

“Betrayal is the nature of mankind,” Tia Dalma declared.  “You are young, you have many more years in which to learn this.”

Elizabeth cocked her head in a question.  Tia Dalma was not an old womanher skin was smooth, unblemished by timeshe was scarcely a few years older than Elizabeth herself.  

Tia Dalma read the question in her mind.  She leaned forward, placing her hands on the table between them.

“But surely you have learned by now,” she said, her voice a deep whisper, “the world is far stranger than it seems.”

Every bone in the house began to rattle.  The lamplight flickered, and the walls shook, and Elizabeth braced herself against the table.  Tia Dalma remained unmoving, eyes cold and piercing as ice on the sea.  

In those eyes, Elizabeth glimpsed reflections of worlds beyond their own.  Tia Dalma’s skin rippled, as if it were becoming liquid, but she still remained whole.  It was as if there was another being within her, struggling to wrest itself freeand the only thing keeping it contained was the flesh and bone prison around it.  

With a jolt, Tia Dalma released the table and fell over onto the floor.  Elizabeth hurried to kneel beside her and reached out a cautious hand to help.  Tia Dalma took it, dragging herself upright again.

“It is beyond my power to help you,” she muttered.  “I am nothing.  Davy Jones made it so.”

The pieces fell into place.  There was a small commotion outsidethe three men, no doubt roused by the shaking house, were trying the door, which had somehow locked itself.  Elizabeth took a moment to stare in wonder at the woman before her, and then she spoke.

“Come with us,” she said.  Tia Dalma’s eyes narrowed in suspicion.  “I swear to you,” Elizabeth spoke in a whisper, “they will both pay for their betrayal to us.”

A look of pure mirth crossed Tia Dalma’s features.  She held onto Elizabeth’s hand, running her fingers across it with a grin.  “And what else would you promise me?”

The door was kicked open, and Elizabeth drew back, her face flushed.  Tia Dalma turned slowly to the men, her mood considerably improved.

“Make room in your boats for two more,” she said.  Gibbs startled.

“Two?”  He looked around the room.  There was a rustle and a crash from somewhere in the back of the house, and Elizabeth whirled around in confusion.  Gibbs sighed.

“Ah, right, you mean the monkey we gave you,” he said.  

Human footsteps sounded from the back.  It was Gibbs’ turn for confusion, as the whole group peered at the tall figure emerging through a curtain from the dark.

“C-Captain!”  Ragetti threw a salute, dropping the chest in the process.  It fell with a wet crunch onto his toes.  Ragetti let out a ragged scream, and Pintel fell to the floor, cradling Ragetti’s foot like a dying bird.  

The two began shouting incomprehensibly as the newly-alive Captain Barbossa rolled his eyes.  “Fucking idiots,” he muttered.  His monkey scrambled up his coat and perched on his shoulder, giving a screech of delight.  

“So,” Barbossa said over the noise, “where are we headed?”

Gibbs slapped Pintel on the back of the head, and he and Ragetti quieted.  Gibbs picked up the chest, eyeing the two with disdain, and turned to Barbossa. 

“We saw you die,” Gibbs said.  “What manner of curse or witchcraft is this?”

Tia Dalma waved his questions aside.  “All will be explained in time,” she said.  “For now, we find a way to open a chest without its key.”

Barbossa peered at the black chest in Gibbs’ hands.  A slow, disquieting recognition dawned on his features.  “Is that?” he asked.

Tia Dalma gave him a stern nod.  Barbossa ran his fingers through his hair in frustration.  “Jesus, I’ve been out for long.”

Elizabeth drew Jack’s compass from her pocket and flipped the lid open.  “I don’t think this will point me to an idea,” she said, her jaw tight.  “I need to know the place or the object that’s needed.”

Tia Dalma stepped forward, and the compass needle swiveledfor a fraction of a second, it rested directly on her.  But she pressed her hand on it, closing the lid with a snap .  Her fingertips traced Elizabeth’s wrist, and she gave a knowing smile.

“I know the path we must take,” Tia Dalma said.  “Davy Jones may no longer be of this world, but the one who crafted his chest is.”

“Was ,” Gibbs said.  The group turned to look at him.  He cleared his throat.  “Surely, was.  I mean, legends of Davy Jones date back near two hundred years, so the craftsman who made the chest is hardly still alive.”

Tia Dalma drew back.  “This is true,” she said.  “But his lineage remains.”

Barbossa picked a half-finished apple from a nearby table, brushed it off, and took a bite.  He handed the rest to his monkey and strode toward the door.  “Let’s make haste then,” he said.  “I’m eager to see what’s become of my ship.”

 

 

The group rowed their way back to the Pearl with Tia Dalma seated between Barbossa and Elizabeth, staring out over the bayou.   Elizabeth rowed in silence, at once drawn to Tia Dalma’s gaze but careful to avoid it, unsure of how to act before a living sea goddess.  Ragetti had his foot propped up and Pintel refused to let him row, so Gibbs grudgingly took over the second pair of oars on the other boat.

“Sure is a nice place to settle down,” Pintel called out to Tia Dalma over the drone of insects.  “I’m sure you never get bored out here.”

Tia Dalma spoke in a low murmur.  “Two centuries parted from the sea, wasting away into nothing.”

“I’m certain you still look as fresh as the day they bound you,” Barbossa muttered.  Tia Dalma shot him a glare.  

“You look good,” Elizabeth said, putting her back into her rowing.   “You should see what women have to do these days to keep themselves young, thanks to men like him.”

Tia Dalma gave her a smile, and Barbossa rolled his eyes.

When they arrived, the crew was beyond shocked to see their former captain returned from the grave.  More crucially, they were worried what their most recent allegiance to Jack, and subsequently Elizabeth, would mean to him.  Tia Dalma’s presence only further aggravated their confusionseveral of the Christian men refused to let her on boarduntil finally Elizabeth shouted over the clamor.

“If anyone takes issue with our new allies,” she called out, “then you can speak to me at the end of my sword.” 

The crew fell silent, and Barbossa had his answer of where the ship’s loyalty lay.  He watched the men get to work, following the course Tia Dalma set for them. 

Elizabeth was at the helm, eyeing Tia Dalma from a distance.  A small group had gathered around her, seeming to be both curious and cautious, politely inquiring into her background.  Barbossa crept up beside Elizabeth and spoke in a low tone.

“I’d be careful dealing with her,” he warned.  “You wouldn’t want your new captaincy to end with your crew swearing fealty to a goddess.”

“As long as my captaincy doesn’t end in either a curse or death,” Elizabeth retorted, “I’m doing much better than you.” 

Barbossa frowned, but gave an acknowledging nod.  “Fair point.”

“Miss Dalma,” Ragetti hopped up to Tia Dalma, supported by Pintel under one shoulder.  “Do you have a cure for a broken toe?”

Tia Dalma raised her eyebrows at him.  “Which one is it?”

“The big one,” Pintel replied.  “He can hardly walk.”

Tia Dalma loosed the satchel at her shouldershe had filled it with odds and ends, trinkets, and vials before they leftand she procured a small glass bottle filled with powder.

“Keep off the foot,” she said.  “Take a pinch of this in your drink morning and night.  It will ease the pain, but your body must do the rest.”

Ragetti took the bottle, holding it like a precious gem.  “Thank you, Miss Dalma.”

She waved them away, and the remaining group crowded closer with new aches and ails needing treatment.  Tia Dalma looked up over the group, and her eyes met Elizabeth’s.  Elizabeth felt a flush rise from her neck, and she hurriedly looked away.

Barbossa shot a glance between her and Tia Dalma.  He looked back and forth, his eyes widening in growing realization.

“Don’t tell me” he stammered.  

Elizabeth cleared her throat.  “Hm?”

“Oh no,” Barbossa’s voice dropped to a hissing whisper.  “You had better not .”

“Why not?” Elizabeth snapped.  “I have no one left.  The man I love cares nothing for me.  Besides,” Elizabeth swallowed, “you weren’t there when she showed her power.”

I was in the other room! ” Barbossa snarled.  He planted himself squarely in Elizabeth’s line of sight, blocking her view of Tia Dalma.  “Don’t meddle in forces you can scarcely understand.”

“Said you, right before touching cursed Aztec gold,” Elizabeth smirked.  Barbossa let out a frustrated sigh.

“I may not be the best moral guide in existence,” he said, “but I am your only one aboard this ship.  Look,”  Barbossa pulled back his shirt-collar, craning his neck to the side.  

Elizabeth felt her breath catch in her throat.  A stretch of skin, from his shoulder to his collarbone, was riddled with decayjust as he’d been under the curse.  The tendons were exposed, skin hanging off them like gray threads.  

He hurriedly re-buttoned his shirt and sniffed.  “I am only here under her power,” he said.  “Which she can oh so quickly take away.”

Elizabeth bit her lip.  Tia Dalma walked by, the group of ill-stricken sailors trailing after her.  They exchanged a long look before Barbossa snapped his fingers by Elizabeth’s ear.

“You have a job to do,” he said.  Elizabeth sighed and turned back to the helm.

"Right," she said.  "Let's kill Davy Jones."

Chapter Text

Will didn't even remember where he was, or when it was, as Maccus and Morey burst into the room to steal him back to the Dutchman.  For a second, the feel of a solid bed beneath him brought a knot of embarrassment to his stomach.  Had he gotten piss-drunk again and propositioned Jones…?

But Elizabeth's screams and the snarls from Maccus and Morey cut through the haze to the present.  He didn't even have time to sit upright before Maccus slung him over a shoulder and barreled out.  A hoarse cry caught in his throat as he watched Elizabeth, her eyes wide in horror, reaching out across the room, as if she could tear away the empty space between them.  But she vanished from sight as Maccus rounded a corner and hurled himself over the railing.

Will winced from the impact.  He realized now that his hands and feet were still tied, the rope having dug raw, red lines into his skin as he slept.  He heard the distant yells from Jack, Gibbs, and the rest of the crew, before he was brought out into blinding sunlight.

They made it quickly to the docksracing past terrified, hungover pirates on the way.  There was only one seaweed-covered, improbably old longboat therethe one Will had rowed in onand he realized that his two crewmates must have swum all the way over.  Maccus set him down seated upright and wasted no time pushing them off into the waves.

Morey was vibrating with excitement, shooting glances over her shoulder back at the town.  Maccus rowed them alone on impossibly powerful strokes, a wrinkle in his nose.

Will shook his bound hands at Morey.  "A little help, please?" 

"Ah."  Morey took Will's hands and, in a flash, sawed into the ropes with her razor teeth like a pig tearing into a corncob.  The ropes fell away, ends frayed before Will could shriek out.  

"Feet now." Morey dove down and lifted his legs, and Will fell backwards with a thud as she shredded through the ropes.  She finished, sighing contentedly as he righted himself with a glare.  She picked a few fibers out of her teeth and flicked them away. 

Will rubbed the raw, red marks on his wrists.  "I thought Jones said to leave me behind if I wasn't back before sunrise," he said.

Maccus huffed.  "He said nothing of the sort."

The Dutchman loomed before them, still anchored at the edge of the bay.  Will choked back a gasp.

"Why is it still here?  In broad daylight?"  Will asked.  "Isn't he worried someone might attack?"

Maccus fixed Will with an unreadable stare.  "Seems he's willing to take more risks than any of us bargained for." 

They reached the ship, and the three clambered up the side with Will at the rear.  The whole crew was poised to haul anchor and go, all waiting tensely for the captain's command.  Maccus and Jones were already speaking before Will's feet hit the deck.

"had him tied up on a bed, like a lamb ready for the spit." Maccus said.  "Clearly not of his own accord.  Well, unless he's into that sort of thing."

Jones turned toward Will, his eyes flickering in the early morning glow.  "Did you take care of it?" 

Will took a deep breath.  He retold the events of the night prior, Jones absorbing every word with keen interest.  Jones' face twisted at the introduction of Jack, but then his tendrils fell quiet at the mention of Elizabeth.  Maccus and the rest of the crew stood by, eyes flicking between the brightening shoreline and the open sea with discomfort.  

Will finished his retelling, and Jones turned to Maccus with an eyebrow raised.  

Maccus gave an affirmative nod.  "Jack and his crew were there.  A woman was in the room too." 

Jones' nostrils flared.  "And the body?"

Maccus cleared his throat.  "Saw something that looked a lot like an Englishman in the pigs' breakfast on our way out."

Jones finally waved his hand at the crew.  The tension vanished, and the crew began shouting and shoved off toward open water. 

Jones finally spoke to Will, his tone flat.  "You can take the day off," he said, and he turned and walked away.

Will felt the blood boil in his veins.  He strode after Jones, his voice rising.

"That's it?" he said.  "Not even a well done or a thank you for cleaning up after my crew ?"

Nearby crewmates cowered back as Jones spun around.  He lunged out at Will with his claw, pincers grabbing Will by the neck.  

Will braced himselfbut no great harm came.  He found that Jones' grip was nowhere near hard enough to warrant a struggle.  It was a warning, for show, not hurt.

Will met Jones' gaze and spoke quietly.  "If it's my day off," he said, "I'd like to revisit our wager."

Jones' eyebrows went up in surprise.  A moment of strange silence passed between them, until Jones slowly led Will back to his cabin, claw still around his neck.

 

 

Jones leaned over Will's aching body, bringing his face to the man's ear.  His voice was low, a heated warning. 

"I'm not done."

The lower half of his body surged against Will, a wave pounding, and Will arched with teeth clenched, each gasp scraping out the back of his throat.  Jones paused, lowering his face down again, breathing heavy as the tendrils of his beard sought out Will's slick skin.  Will closed his eyes, feeling them snake through his hair, curling around the shape of his jaw as one tested the edge of his parted lips.

"Done?"  Will managed to gasp before he felt the tip touch his tongue.

Jones gave one final merciless thrust, sending Will flat onto the bed with his face down, teeth biting onto the bedsheets.  Will felt Jones' remaining fingers dig a line down from the nape of Will's neck along his spineWill's back curved instinctively, and he sworeuntil the hand reached where Jones was buried into him, and he pulled out in one long movement.  It drew another gasping cry from Will, and he looked back over his shoulder at Jones expecting to see that same smug expressionand the captain's smirk was there, yet somehow softened by pleasure.

Jones sniffed and drew back, and he began fumbling to replace his clothing.  Will watched as he navigated his few good fingers, one-handed, careful to re-button what had been undone. 

"I'll do it," Will sat upright and brought a hand to Jones' chestJones flinched.  Will drew back and met Jones' suspicious gaze.  " May I?"

Jones snorted and allowed Will to re-do the buttons, scrutinizing his every move.  Will finished without incident, his hand lingering there.  Jones looked away and cleared his throat.

"You lost again," he said, "this time under fair terms."  The key was lying discarded amidst the tangle of bedsheets, and Jones carefully replaced it under his neck.  They sat facing each other, in the midst of the steadily creaking ship.

Will returned his unreadable gaze.  For a moment he was seized by the wild urge to take Jones' face and kiss himto embarrass Jones, to waste his precious goodwill, to invite an incomprehensible act into that strange space.  To impart an act of humanity on what was no longer human.  Perhaps then Jones would have to acknowledge that he was needed.

Yes, he knew Jones needed him.

For all the captain's harsh bluster, he knew something had changed.  The crew even said it themselves: he was slipping, and taking risks he hadn't taken in at least a century or more. 

Will flitted between Jones' eyes, seeking something there that would tell him what he wanted to know.  Finally, Will spoke.

"Why gamble the key?" 

Jones narrowed his eyes.  Will went on.

"The first time we cast dice, you were willing to trade my father for me.  I can understand that," he said.  "A life equal to another life.  But the second time...you bet your key.  Why risk that?"

Jones tilted his head.  "You asked ."

"Yes," Will stammered, "but you knew who I was before you sat down at that table.  Jack told youhe told you about my fiancee and everything I had to lose."  He paused.  "Why gamble your entire life to ensure that I would never get to live mine?  Pure cruelty?" 

Jones was, for the first time, fumbling for words.  He managed to give a halting reply.

"Able-bodied crewmen are hard to come by in shipwrecks," he said.

"A lie," Will retorted.  "You can turn anyone into an undying crewmember stronger than a mortal man."  Will licked his lips.  "So here I am, part of your crew, but still not quite.  Did you see something else in me?" 

Jones twitched with irritation.  Will knew he had pushed him back into a cornerand like a wounded animal, he could strike back.

"You assume our wager only went one way," Jones said.  "You bet an eternity with this ship against the smallest chance of finding my heart."  Jones tilted his head, eyes twinkling.  "What were your intentions with that?" 

Will's face grew flushed.  He stuttered.  "It's to free my father"

"My father, my father, " Jones mocked, and he threw his head back in a cruel bark of laughter.  "Have you seen him at all since your return?  Do you know whose side he took when the crew weighed sending Maccus in to find you?"  Jones laughed.  "He never came to find you all the years he sailed with Jack.  You cannot expect kindness from a man who only serves himself."

Will was silent.  Jones huffed.

"All of this is beside the fact that you continue to remain, day after day, aboard my ship, unswornno less when your love appears against all circumstances to offer you a way out."  Jones stood and glared down upon him.  

Will muttered, "And you continue to gamble your life for a moment in bed with me." 

"What?" Jones snarled and brought his head closer.  Will smirked but did not repeat himself.  Jones drew back, his eyes foggy.  

"I have lived far more than my share of time," he said, his voice low.  "Perpetual boredom marked only by the passing of another decade and another myriad of men dead."  His tendrils churned.  "I may choose to stake my life on a moment's amusement.  You should reflect on how you wish to spend your short existence."

He turned his back to Will and walked off to the organ at the wall.  Jones sat, drawing his fingers across the keys in thought.

Will remained in Jones' bed, and he slowly lowered himself back down, feeling the various stab wounds and stitches on his body easing gratefully against the mattress.

"I think I'd like to spend my short existence on a real bed," he said.  He thought he heard Jones snort from the organ.

A moment's amusement.   Will clenched his jaw.  Jones still wouldn't say it.

"Was Jack frightened?" Jones suddenly asked.

Will looked up and met Jones' eyes over his shoulder.

"He was terrified," Will said, "terrified of you."  

A cruel smile spread across Jones' face, and he turned back to his haunting music.

 

 

Jack and Norrington lay side-by-side, naked on the beach at Isla Cruces, their wet bodies coated in sand.  They were wheezing in ragged breaths, Jack's hand clutching Norrington's wrist.

Far from post-coital relaxation, their mood was of barely conceivable torment.  Their clothes made a shredded trail from the water to their small shaded spot under a tree, where their reddened, pin-pricked forms lay, every nerve in their bodies on fire.

"Jellyfish," Norrington wheezed. " Fucking jellyfish."  He grabbed another fistful of sand and rubbed it vigorously into a sting, swearing.

"Don't do that" Jack yanked Norrington by the wrist.  "You're making it worse.  We'll find food elsewhere."

Their venture into the tide had been short-lived.  Small and edible fish did school by the beach, but they were flanked on all sides by fist-sized jellies.  Jack squinted back toward the jungle behind them. 

"We've got other options," he said.  "And there's always plenty more coconuts"

"Fuck coconuts," Norrington spat.  Jack eyed the mound of empty coconut halves behind him.  Elizabeth had been merciful enough to leave them with their swords and shovels, making survival considerably easier than his first marooning.  Norrington's attitude, however, was another matter.

Jack licked his parched lips.  "Look," he said, "if you're tired of coconuts and tired of jelly stings, then I'm afraid the only reasonable path forward is into the bloody jungle."

"And get roasted alive by natives?"  Norrington said.  Jack let out a long sigh and lay back.

"I shouldn't have told you that story," he muttered.  

Norrington crawled to his feet, swaying uneasily.  "I'm going back in."

Jack scrambled forward in the sand and lunged at Norrington's legs.  Norrington yelled out as his knees buckled, and Jack wrestled him to the ground.

"No...you're...not!"

The two continued fighting.  Jack managed to maneuver Norrington into a headlock from behind, weighing him down with the rest of his body.  Norrington began grabbing fistfuls of sand to fling wildly over his shoulder, missing Jack's face.

"Perdón, señores… ?"

The two froze.  They both looked uptheir sweaty, sand-covered bodies heaving in exertion.  A Spanish priest in a white robe, seeming very confused, stood several yards off.  Jack scrambled to his feet.

"Where did you come from? "  Jack shot back in Spanish.  The priest gestured back toward the jungle.

"We have come to recover old texts from the monastery," he said.  " Our ship is moored on the other side of the island.  Are you pirates or British servants?"

Jack and Norrington exchanged a glance.  Norrington made a motion with his hand, giving Jack permission to speak.

"Well, " Jack stuttered, seeking the right words, " which of those would grant us your mercy and understanding?"

The priest crossed himself in a blur then raised his hands to the sky.  "Sinning thieves against the crown," he said in halting English, "I bring you into my fold for the forgiveness of God." 

Jack's face lit up with a cheery smile.  "Never thought I'd be happy to hear those words," he said. 

"Come," the priest said, "we have food and water to share."

"Wonderful," Jack gathered up his clothes as Norrington followed grumbling behind.

"I don't want to be brought into anyone's fold right now," Norrington muttered.

The jungle was nowhere near as threatening as Norrington had imagined itbut still, the bugs did sting.  They followed the priest down a seemingly invisible trail to a ruined building surrounded by a whole expedition of holy men.  

The priest pointed to a table of provisions that had been set up in the old courtyard.  "Please," he said.  "Help yourselves."

A stern manthe priest's superiorstrode up and pulled him aside.  The two began conversing in Spanish, the superior shooting suspicious looks at Jack and Norrington.  Jack gave him a disarming wave, and Norrington managed a pained smile.

The superior approached them, his arms crossed tight.  "We will take you to the nearest port," he said, "after our work is done."

Jack took the man's hand and kissed it.  " Gracias , mate.  You're doing the Lord's work." 

The man pulled his hand back and walked off.  

Jack and Norrington enjoyed the expedition's food stores over the next few days.  Norrington had been offered a white priestly robe of his own to wear, as his own clothes were in tatters.  He had refused the first few times until finally the superior priest shoved the fresh clothes in his arms, demanding he change.  Apparently, they had all become very uncomfortable with a growing hole over his left nipple.

Norrington shuffled his way to the food table beside Jack, suppressing his embarrassment in his new outfit.  Jack let out a high-pitched giggle. 

"Father Norrington," Jack began, "I'm afraid I have sinned in a most unforgivable way."

"Shove it," Norrington muttered.  He picked at a bread crust, littering the table with crumbs.

The priests came and went from the ruined buildings in the area, hauling tomes and bundles of manuscripts between them.  They generally left the two pirates to their boredom, exchanging a few greetings here and there.  Jack seemed to be fully enjoying the break, with Norrington itching for freedomand it was on this third day of their mutual existence that the head priest himself approached them.

"Misters pirates," he said.  A small, beaten journal was clutched in his hands.  He had a look on his face that said he'd very much prefer not to talk to them at all.  

Jack and Norrington sat up. 

"We have found a book," he went on, "that we cannot read."  He opened the small journal and offered it out cautiously toward them.  "It is not Spanish, Italian, or Latin.  It is some kind of perverted English."

Norrington accepted the journal and peered at its contents with Jack looking over his shoulder.  He flipped a few pages.

"Well, I can see why you'd say that," Norrington said.  "This English is so old it's practically German.  Luckily for you, I had an excellent tutor at the academy."  He squinted at a dark splotch on a page and scratched it with a finger.  "The penmanship is terrible, but if you'd like to know its contents, I would be happy to translate."

Jack wrinkled his nose.  "Never liked German.  Not real sea-faring people, so it's no use to me anyway."

Norrington glared at him.  "It's useful enough for me to help those who saved our lives," he hissed. He looked up at the priest.  "Do you have paper and ink to spare?"

Jack hovered around Norrington throughout the painstaking translation process.  The priests eyed the pair with interest, no doubt wondering what forgotten histories the book might hold.  Jack breathed down Norrington's neck as the latter struggled not to elbow his nose in.

"What's that word say?"  Jack asked for the umpteenth time, jabbing a finger on the page.  Norrington wiped the greasy fingerprint away, and replied in a grumble.

"It means breast. "

Jack leaned forward, hands flat on the table.  "Breast?  What kind?  How many?" 

"The context is, Stab the knife into the man's breast," he replied.  He set his quill down with a clatter.  "It's a madman's descent into serial homicide.  There's nothing in here that would interest either you or our priestly friends."

"Not true," Jack said, and he picked up the stack of translated papers.  "I love violence as well."  He shot Norrington a glare.  "Do not think me a man of such singular interests." 

He licked a finger and turned through the pages.  Norrington tapped his fingers on the table impatiently.  

As he read, Jack's brows furrowed, his eyes widening in growing disbeliefhe flipped back and forth between pages, breathing fast.  

Norrington sat upright.  "What's going on?" 

Jack hurriedly laid the pages out on the table, shoving bread crusts and cheese rinds onto the ground.  He went from page to page, touching each as he scanned them, eyes flicking wildly back and forth.

He finally looked up at Norrington, his voice low.  "It's a ritual."

Norrington squinted.  "A ritual ?"  

"Shh shh shh," Jack hushed him.  He glanced back at the priests.  "See these words you left?"  Jack indicated scattered foreign words in the translated text.  

"Yes, that was quite annoying.    I'm afraid I never had any use for the island's language." 

"It's a Celtic ritual.  Those names are godsdeities, spiritsthe man is calling upon them for aid."  Jack spoke in a whisper.  "If the priests catch wind of this, they'll burn it as heresy."  

"Then perhaps that's for the best," Norrington said.  He made to gather up the pages but Jack threw his body in front of him with a yell.  A few nearby priests looked up.

Jack gripped Norrington's face, squashing his cheeks together and forcing his nose to the papers.  He spoke in an urgent whisper.  "This is the ritual that made Davy Jones immortal."

Norrington looked up, lips still puckered in Jack's fingers.  "You're joking ," he managed.

"I'm as serious as the state of your left nipple," Jack said.  He opened up the journal, cross-referencing a page of translation.  "See it says Dullahan here, and look, there's the headless bloke who carries his head around," Jack pointed to a crude, hurried drawing of a figure holding a head in the journal's margin.  "But it's a play on this," he picked up another page, "and instead of his head , he removes his heart"

"Have you finished it?"

The superior priest's voice sounded behind them.  The two spun around, and Jack frantically stuffed the pages into his coat pocket.  He cleared his throat.

"I'm afraid it won't be to your liking," Jack blustered.  "It is a very long, very boring retellingof the minor intricacies of a vast and unendurable subject, which could be described as more commonly known to man as"

"Sex," Norrington said.  The two turned to him, eyes wide.  Norrington gave the superior priest a wry look.  "It's a diary from a promiscuous gentleman who made no distinction between woman, man, or beast."  He sorted up the remaining papers and folded them neatly, placing them in Jack's hands.  "I believe its contents would be unfit for the eyes of servants of the lord." 

The superior priest gave a look of disgust and crossed himself.  "I thank you for your time.  May God bless you and cleanse you." 

The priest left, and Jack and Norrington exchanged a look.  Norrington eyed the place in Jack's coat hiding the bundle of papers.

"Don't lose it," he warned.  "It may be of use to us yet."

 

 

The expedition set sail the next morning with Jack and Norrington hunkered below.  The priests had agreed to take them north, at which point lay a trading post where they could barter passage to Port Royal.  The two stayed out of the priests' ways, offering manpower when they could, but the ship was already well-run and disappointingly without liquor.

Jack secluded himself in a corner of the hold, seated cross-legged in a circle of crates.  The papers were laid out in front of him, their surfaces littered with odds and ends he had scraped together from around the ship.  He passed the hours re-reading the translation aloud, muttering through the candlelight.

"Bones, bones, bones…"

Jack stood and began perusing the stores.  He ducked his head into a large barrel, let out a small " Aha " and scratched around at the bottom.  He emerged with a handful of dry chicken bones in his fingers and turned around.

" Fuck!"

Jack shrieked and dropped the bones.  Norrington was standing at the edge of the circle, staring at him.

"So this is where you've been the past twelve hours," Norrington sneered.  Jack squinted back at him.

"It's already been that long, has it?"

Norrington snorted.  "We make landfall in an hour, and from there it's a short sail back to Port Royal."  He looked over the assortment of items on the floor.  "Jesus, how many pockets did you pick?"

"None, thank you very much," Jack said.  "I prefer to wait until people set things down." 

"Right," Norrington let out a sigh.  "Anyway, I wanted to make sure our intentions were aligned for our meeting with Beckett."

Jack let out a choking gag and swayed, steadying himself on a crate. "Don't tell me you've already"

"We passed a small trader two nights ago, and I sent word ahead."  Norrington's expression was calculating.  "They know our route, so if you try to make an escape at the next port, there will be mercenaries waiting for you."

Jack wrinkled his nose and sat on the crate.  His moustache twitched.  "And what are our intentions with Beckett?"

"Full pardons in exchange for the information on Davy Jones' heart." 

Jack let out a laugh.  He shook his head, savoring the disgruntled look on Norrington's face.  "You said Beckett wanted the key to Jones' heartnow how will he be satisfied with neither key nor heart?"

Norrington gathered up the papers in a huff.  Jack stayed where he was, watching Norrington stash the bundle in his priest robe.

"I suppose I'm relying on your powers of persuasion," Norrington said.  "After all...it's your life on the line."

He left Jack alone in the flickering candlelight.  Jack traced the edge of the dagger at his belt in thought, then with a grumble he gathered up the scattered bones.

 

 

Norrington escorted Jack to the next ship of their journey, Jack miserable and hunched, clutching a small bag of goods to his chest.  When the priests and Norrington had demanded to see in it, Jack opened it to reveal old hunks of bread and cheese stuck together in a greasy mess.  The priests let him go, and the two managed to secure a single hammock on a trader headed to Port Royalprovided Beckett pay their fare on arrival.

Jack and Norrington got settled in, and eventually they arrived at the single hammock.  Jack gave Norrington a pat on the back.  

"As tender as I imagine your warm embrace, I'll find myself a spot down by the...bread."  

Jack headed toward the stores, and Norrington fell into the hammock for the night.

 

 

Port Royal loomed ahead, not the same as Norrington had left it.  There was even more bustle at the docks, and Beckett seemed to have started up new construction on the waterfront.  Ever bent on endless progress.

Norrington searched above deck for Jack, then remembered where he'd been found before.  He walked into the storeroom and found Jack lying in the middle of the floor.

The floorboards around Jack were stained dark, and several empty bottles rolled back and forth with the sway of the ship.  Jack's entire front appeared stained too, and around him were shreds of old bread and cheese.

"For the love of God," Norrington groaned, "can you go a single day without making a mess?" 

Jack didn't move.  Norrington leaned in closer, squinting through the dark.

"Jack?"

Jack sat bolt upright and let out a hacking cough.  Something flew out of his mouth and pinged against the walla coin ?and Norrington stumbled back.

Jack let out a long sigh.  He squinted around at the dirty floor, brows furrowed, until his eyes caught on one of the empty bottles.  "Oh." 

"Get up," Norrington stepped forward, feeling something give a wet crunch underfoot.  He lifted Jack by the arm.  "We're nearly there, and Beckett is waiting."

He led Jack out above deck, and Jack shielded his bloodshot eyes against the blinding sun.  Norrington looked him up and down in disgust.

"You look like you slept in your own vomit," he said, and released Jack's arm.  Jack's skin was pale and sticky with drink, his eyes sunken.  Norrington saw that he still had that bag strung over his shoulders, likely heavy with rotting food.  "You need a fucking bath." 

Jack said nothing, swaying as they came into port.  A line of armed men was waiting down below, and behind them were the watchful eyes of Beckett himself.

They were escorted in silence to the governor's hallNorrington kept his hand over his robe where the papers were stashed.  Jack stumbled on, his two guards leaving a few extra feet between him and them.

The guards left them in the room alone with Beckett, and finally Beckett spoke.

"So how is it you wish to barter for your freedom?"  His eyes passed between the two.  

Norrington reached into his robe and produced the bundle of papers.  "We have information on the ritual granting Davy Jones' immortality."

Beckett raised an eyebrow, his curiosity piqued.  The clock against the wall ticked heavily.  "I thought it was Calypso who granted him eternal life." 

Jack winced and raised a finger.  "See, that wouldn't make any sense now, would it?" he said.  The two looked at Jack, Norrington masking his own surprise.

Jack took a step toward Beckett's desk.  "Calypso gave him the role of ferryman ," Jack went on, "which in itself does not keep one from dying.  The whole reason the gods can't ferry souls themselves is that to pass into the land of the dead, you must be capable of death."

Beckett leaned back against his desk.  "Go on."

Jack licked his dry lips.  "Jones served her dutifully for ten years after which he was infamously betrayed, and then came the…" Jack motioned across his own chest.  " That ...was the start of his immortal life."  Jack pointed a shaking finger to the papers.  "And that secret is contained in those papers."

"Hm."

Beckett turned his back to them and procured a small notebook from his desk.  It was as if he had just been informed of an errand he had to run.  "I suppose that's why Jones can no longer ferry souls, even if he wished to," he said.  

Jack snapped his fingers.  "Precisely." 

Beckett turned back around, his eyes cold.  "And you'd like to trade the secret of immortality for your freedom?" His voice dripped with malice.  "The secret that's haunted man for millennia, since the first killing blow landed, brother against brother?  You just happen to have that secret, written on a page?"

Norrington's hand wavered, the papers quivering.  He swallowed hard.  

Beckett flipped open his little notebook.  "I have two open appointments with the gallows for you in a week," he said.  "What a disappointing waste of time."

Norrington startled.  "Hold on a moment," he stuttered, "Jack I can understand, but me?  I already paid for my inaction in his pursuit, and now I've brought him here to you.  Surely" his voice caught in his throat, "the scales are now balanced?"

Beckett looked up, his expression devoid of compassion.  "Inaction upon inaction," he said.  Norrington's eyes quivered.  "I heard tell that you witnessed the murder of a Navy captain in cold blood.  And just as before," Beckett snapped the journal shut, "you let him walk free."

Norrington began to plead, but Beckett held up a hand for silence.  "Time is capital, and I will not have you waste any more of it."

Jack's eyes flicked around the room.  Beckett's pistol lay at the edge of his desk, and with a lunge he sprang at it.  Beckett noticed too late, and Norrington was too dumbstruck to actand Jack cocked the pistol, aiming it at Beckett.

"Guards!" Beckett called.

The doors behind Jack opened, and he suddenly brought the pistol to his own head.  The men froze.

A creeping smile crossed Beckett's face.  "Jack Sparrow," he whispered, "we both know there's nothing you value more than your own wretched life." 

Jack grinned and pulled the trigger.  

The shot rang out.  Beckett's eyes went wide, and Norrington stumbled back, his jaw open.  Smoke rose up from the pistol and Jack's hand fell, his legs shaking.  A thin trail of blood snaked down the side of his face.

"Lord have mercy," one guard uttered.

But Jack didn't fall.  Through the ensuing, unimaginable silence, they all heard a faint plink.

A small ball of shot fell from the side of Jack's head and onto the floor.  Jack turned, his wound facing Beckett.  Beckett watched the bullet hole seal over, his eyes filling with a new, raw, unquenchable hunger. 

As the group stared, Jack plucked the papers from Norrington's sweaty hands and thrust them into the fireplace.  Norrington gave a strangled cry, but Beckett met Jack's gaze with a smirk.  He licked his lips, eyes falling on the slowly-pulsing satchel on Jack's shoulder.

"Well played," Beckett said.  "So now we need you."

Jack grinned back, his eyes flashing dark.  "Now you need me."

Chapter Text

Barbossa glared at Elizabeth over his bowl of fish soup.  The Pearl's new captain leaned back, kicking her boots up onto an empty chair and studying the other dining crewmates.

"Not hungry?" Barbossa asked, his tone sour.

Elizabeth shrugged.  "I had two helpings before you were all served."  

Barbossa's lip twitched.  "Ah, yes.  The benefits of captaincy."

Elizabeth toyed with a loose strand of hair and stared off in silence.  She finished scanning the room and looked back at the table, visibly subdued.  Barbossa shook his head with a snort.

"She eats by herself now, or hadn't you noticed?" he said.  

A clatter sounded from the far side of the room.  Ragetti had one leg up on his chair and was spinning a plate atop the edge of a knife.  It appeared that he'd had one in his other hand too, but it had already come crashing down.  Pintel and the others were now screaming and pounding their fists on the table for the last plate to stay up in a wild, animal frenzy.  Ragetti shook like a leaf, as if he had never faced so great an expectation in his whole life.  

Barbossa and Elizabeth shared a tired look.

"I'm heading up," Elizabeth said.  

Barbossa stood.  Elizabeth fixed him with a scowl.

"You haven't finished your soup," she said.

Barbossa tossed down his spoon. "It's shit soup."

Elizabeth drew up close, her nose inches from his.  She bared her teeth in a snarl.  "I don't need you chaperoning me everywhere I go." 

"I think you do.  But if you disagree, feel free to order me to stay below."  Barbossa smirked.  "Or is there some part of you that's afraid of what might happen if I'm not there?"

Elizabeth narrowed her eyes, then turned and strode off above deck with Barbossa close behind.

They came up to the searing midday sun and a forested island peeking over the horizon.  Tia Dalma stood a ways off at the bow, her eyes foggy in deep in reflection.

Elizabeth spoke in a grunt.  "I'm not afraid of you or her." 

Barbossa chuckled.  "Of course.  Not of anyone present ." 

The wind picked up behind them and the Pearl carried on.  The crew prepped the long boats and dropped anchor in the shoals, and Elizabeth rounded up a landing party.  Tia Dalma watched her from behind the others.

"Right," Elizabeth began, "we're looking for someoneor even several peoplewho descended from the man who forged Davy Jones' chest."

Ragetti's hand shot up.  Elizabeth suppressed a sigh.  "Yes?"

"How many greats is that?" Ragetti asked.  Pintel looked down at his hands.  "Was it great grandfather?  Great-great?" he counted on his fingers. "Or great-great-great

The group heard a click as Barbossa cocked his pistol.  Ragetti fell silent.

"I have a fair question," Gibbs said.  "How do we even know they're here?"

Elizabeth opened her mouth, then shut it.  She met Tia Dalma's amused gaze and finally lifted a hand toward her.  

"Tia Dalma, if you please…" 

The goddess smiled and circled around slowly to the front.  She kept her eyes on Elizabeth as she spoke.  

"Centuries before any of you drew breath," she began, "the greatest ironworkers of the world were the Yoruba.  They were makers of all things from melted earthweapons, tools, art...and locks.  They were then dispersed through the islands," she shot a look at the pirates, some of whom averted their eyes, "and it was here that Davy Jones found a man to do his work."  

Gibbs squinted.  "Right," he cleared his throat, "and I suppose you just threw bones to find where it was?"

Tia Dalma brought a hand to her heart with a smirk.  "Can't a woman have some mystery left to her?"

Elizabeth clapped her hands.  "Into the longboats, the lot of you.  We're wasting precious time.  You two," she pointed to Tia Dalma and Barbossa, "you're with me."

 

 

The crew landed on shore and hiked their way up the island.  The land showed signs of having been cultivated at one time, but heavy foliage had grown over everything since, and only faint trails remained.  The terrain was less than hospitableRagetti dropped the chest once and sent it tumbling back downhill, causing the whole party to wait on its retrievalbut they finally reached a small settlement beside a river.

A group of women was gathered by the water with fishing baskets, and they startled when they saw Elizabeth's crew.  Tia Dalma approached them with her arms outstretched, speaking in their tongue.  They conversed for a minute, cracking a few smiles and seemingly joking at the crew's expense, before Tia Dalma asked a question.  The three women suddenly grew solemn.  The eldest pointed her to a lone house on a hill.

Tia Dalma returned to Elizabeth and nodded toward the house.  "She lives there."  Barbossa took a step forward, but Tia Dalma stopped him with a hand on his chest.  "No men."

Tia Dalma waved to Ragetti and he came forward with the chest.  He dropped it into Elizabeth's arms, and Barbossa eyed the new captain.

"We'll be waiting here for your speedy return," he said.  Elizabeth rolled her eyes, and she and Tia Dalma made their way up to the house, leaving the rest of the crew by the river.

Elizabeth nudged open the door with her shoulder.  Something shattered on the wall mere inches from her face.

"Shit! " Elizabeth stumbled back, and Tia Dalma took her place, shouting sternly through the door.  The inside of the house was quiet.  Tia Dalma motioned for Elizabeth to try again, and with a deep breath she gently pushed open the door.

"What do you want ?" a voice called out.  Elizabeth blinked through the darknessan elderly woman sat in a chair opposite them, walking stick in one hand, and a fresh glass bottle in the other.  Tia Dalma came in after her, and the woman startled, regarding her with curiosity.  "Are you new here?"

"You speak English?"  Elizabeth blurted out.  The woman set down the bottle with a grunt.

"My father was English.  Unfortunately."  She stood and hobbled to a table, flicking crumbs off its surface.  "Got malaria and died two weeks before his first grandchild was born."

Elizabeth squinted through the dim light, studying the woman's features.  Tia Dalma placed a hand on Elizabeth's back, and Elizabeth felt a hot shiver go up her spine.  

"Oh, right," Elizabeth cleared her throat.  "We need your help opening this chest."

Elizabeth walked over and placed the chest with a clunk on the table.  The woman stared at it, then at her.

"I know nothing of this," she said.  "My son was the ironworker." 

"Is he…dead?" Elizabeth said.

The woman waved her hand.  "May as well be!  He sailed off with dreams of riches, and I've not heard a word from him for years."  She scowled.  "Maybe a hurricane will send him back home next season, maybe not."

Elizabeth let out a tired sigh and turned to Tia Dalma.  "We don't have time for thiswe have to find someone else who can forge a new key."

"Or forge it yourself," the woman said.  The two looked over at hershe was leaning back, turning a bottle of rum in her hands.  "The forge hasn't been touched in years, but all the molds remain."  She took a slow swig and smacked her lips loudly.  "I watched my son work for years.  I could teach you in my sleep." 

Tia Dalma took the woman's hand in hers.  "Thank you, Auntie?"

"Omoye."  The woman waved her bottle toward the back door.  "I will be out to instruct you after I finish."

Elizabeth and Tia Dalma found the simple forge covered in leaves and a fine layer of sand.  Birds chirped from the trees nearby, and there was a refreshing breeze across the island.  Elizabeth began the laborious task of preparing the space for work, as Tia Dalma unearthed a pile of old molds beneath a large sailcloth.

She knelt and carefully picked through them.  Elizabeth looked over.

"You know what the key looks like?" she asked.

Tia Dalma held a heavy block between her hands.  She pulled apart the two halves, revealing the hollow imprint of a strange, two-pronged key.  She held it up for Elizabeth with a grin.

"Did you have any reason to doubt me?" 

 

 

The furnace glowed bright, sending hot sparks fizzing into the air as Elizabeth worked the bellows.  Her body was drenched in sweat and every muscle strained as she raced about under Omoye's orders.  The old woman placed back and forth beside the flames with her walking stick, striking the stone to punctuate her commands.  

Thunk.  "More heat!"  Omoye cried.  Elizabeth grunted as she heaved still more firewood into the forge.  

Tia Dalma had drawn up a chair to watch from a cool distance.  Her eyes followed the slick trails on Elizabeth's arms and back, and Elizabeth caught her gaze, then looked away with a flutter in her chest.

"Keep your eyes on the metal!" Omoye barked.  

The sun sank low over the sea before Elizabeth finally poured the liquid iron into the mold.  Omoye sat down, fanning herself with palm fronds.  Elizabeth slumped against the wall beside Tia Dalma.

"I need a drink," Omoye said.  She got up again and turned to walk off to the house.  Elizabeth looked after her with a plea in her eyes.  "What?" the old woman snorted.  "You can go back to your ship if you want rum."

Omoye vanished inside the house.  Tia Dalma let out a low laugh and produced a small bottle from her satchel, holding it out for Elizabeth.

"Oh God, thank you," Elizabeth took it, her fingers settling over Tia Dalma's.  Her breath caught in her throat.  Perhaps it was the exhaustion, perhaps the heat, but in a swift and impulsive movement, she leaned in and kissed Tia Dalma.

Tia Dalma responded in kind, their fingers interlocking and the bottle fell quietly into the sand.  Bright stars speckled in Elizabeth's vision as she closed her eyes.  She wasn't sure how long it lastedshe was taken far away, the taste of the sea on her lips, wind at her back as Tia Dalma's hand came up to snake her fingers through her damp hair.  

As suddenly as it had begun, Elizabeth pulled away.  Tia Dalma searched her eyes, then gave her an unreadable smile.  Elizabeth cleared her throat and retrieved the bottle to sip from it hungrily.  

Tia Dalma spoke in a whisper.  "Guilt is a useless thing."

Omoye came back out, grumbling with a plate of bread.  "I have extra," she explained.  "I didn't make it just for you."  She dropped it in Elizabeth's lap with a clatter.  "Eat while your key cools."

Elizabeth tore into the stale bread, avoiding Tia Dalma's gaze until they heard a knock at the front door.  

Omoye jumped.  "Who is that?" 

"I'll get it," Elizabeth stood and hurried around the side of the house.  Ragetti was standing on the threshold, wringing his hands and looking more haunted than usual.

"Captain?" he began.  His good eye quivered.

"What now?" Elizabeth scowled. 

"I know Miss Dalma said no men were allowed, but the crew thought" Ragetti stuttered, "well, that I'm the least threatening man on board."

"Fair point," Elizabeth mumbled.

"I was sent by the loyal members of your crew to tell you that Barbossa is spreading talk of a vote for captaincy."  Ragetti's voice cracked at the last words.  

Elizabeth's eyes went wide.  "Seriously ?  He didn't even have the decency to speak to me himself?"  Elizabeth strode off down the hill with Ragetti close behind, all thoughts of the key vanished.  "He waits until I'm indisposed and then he poses a vote?"

"Well, the vote hasn't technically happened yet," Ragetti stammered, "but he's been preaching up a storm about the dangers of a woman leading the crew."

They arrived at the beach where Barbossa had corralled the landing partyall senior crewmembersaround a large piece of driftwood, upon which he stood, speaking out over them.  

"and let us not forget that a woman brought sin into this world," Barbossa called out.  "If we should place our trust in one to guide us on such fickle seas, surely, we'll all end up cast into the deep."

"Are you really doing this?"  Elizabeth said.  She looked around at the crew.  "Gibbs, do you actually buy this?"

Gibbs frowned and gave a noncommittal shrug.  "He had some good points on the matter of female influence in French history."

Elizabeth let out an angry yell and turned to Barbossa.  "I've had it with you," she snapped.  "You've treated me like a child this entire time, not trusting me with the simplest tasks.  If you want your precious Pearl back," she drew her sword, "prove to me you're worthy of it." 

A murmur went through the crew, and they drew back to form a circle around the two.  Barbossa climbed down from the driftwood and drew his sword.  His eyes settled on Elizabeth, cold and vengeful.

"Have at it, then."

The two locked swords, steel ringing out.  Elizabeth had the disadvantage of working the forge for half the day and hiking back down to the beach, and Barbossa smirked as she flagged, her breath coming in ragged gasps.  Still, her rage fueled her, and she snarled at him, wild and hungry.  He parried her aggressive strikes and stepped back, holding up a hand.

"To save you the humiliation of a crushing defeat," he began, "I propose we put this to a vote here and now.  Send Gibbs back to canvas the crew on board, so we'll know as soon as we step foot on the Pearl who is meant to lead her."  His eyes flashed.  "Then, if you lose, you can stay behind with your woman."

Elizabeth wiped the stinging sweat from her eyes.  "The depth of your envy is astounding," she replied.  "I expect nothing less from a man who sleeps with a monkey on his lap."

The crew erupted in laughter.  Pintel and Ragetti nudged each other in the ribs, cackling.

Barbossa's eyes lit with a killing rage.  " The monkey goes where he pleases!   Have you ever tried getting one to listen to a singleno, fuck this"

Barbossa lunged and Elizabeth dodged, her face now lit with amusement.  The two danced, Elizabeth playing off the crew's jeers to enrage Barbossa and make him slip, dealing him blows on both fronts.  He fumed, spit flying from his mouth. 

"I've sailed the seas longer than you've been alive!" he cried.  Elizabeth ducked as a fistful of sand went flying past her.  

She shot back with a heaving breath, "You've been alive longer than the seas have been sailed."

The crew whooped and Barbossa flailed his sword again, slicing through empty air.  "I've never been left at the altar!"

Elizabeth struck his sword, sending a shiver down to its hilt.  "Nobody would ask you there in the first place."

Barbossa stepped back, wheezing, and Elizabeth took a moment to catch her breath.  When Barbossa spoke again, his voice was a low hiss.

"I'm not tempting fate by courting a cursed goddess."

The crew fell quiet, followed by confused whispers.  Gibbs looked to Elizabeth, then Barbossa, then back.

"What's he saying?"  Gibbs asked.

Barbossa stood tall, raising a finger in the air.  "I speak the truth!" he called out.  "Your captain invokes the wrath of the gods by consorting with none other than Calypso herself."  He pointed his finger at Elizabeth.  "Will she put your mortal needs first?  Or will she let herself be driven mad by an immortal witch, chasing her own fortune while the rest be damned?" 

Ragetti looked around the group.  "You mean, Miss Dalma?" 

"Aye, the very same!"  Barbossa said.  He blinked and his brows furrowed.  "Wherewhere is she?"

"She is here."

The crew turned to see Tia Dalma standing at the edge of the beach.  Her head was bowed, her hair hanging over her face.  Elizabeth gripped her sword and strode over, placing herself between the crew and the other woman.

"If any one of you so much as touches her," Elizabeth said, "I'll have you gutted."

"See?"  Barbossa said.  "Already we see where her loyalties lie." 

"A wise choice," Tia Dalma spoke slowly.  She raised her head, and Elizabeth saw that she had something clutched between her hands.  She lifted them and opened them out toward the crew.

In her hands was the still beating heart of Davy Jones.  

Tia Dalma's eyes went dark, and she showed her teeth with a wide smile.  "It appears that I control the seas again." 

 

 

The Dutchman wasted no time in finding fresh prey after Tortuga.  They approached from below, decimating their targets with the swiftness of the Kraken itself.  Barely any time passed between breaking the surface and sending the last terrified sailor to his maker.  

Will stayed in Jones' quarters, as the captain no longer called on other crewmates before the fights.  Will was at once enthralled and terrified, wondering if he would have to answer to the crew for Jones' neglectbut such thoughts quickly vanished as soon as he was wrapped in Jones' grasp, his body heaving in ecstasy.

Jones savored him, prolonging every moment of his own pleasure until he collapsed on the bed beside him, where the two lay until their hearts quieted. Will couldn't quite remember if the key had been involved at all.

Days passed, and Will scarcely spent a moment awake that wasn't filled with a burning heat for Jones.  He resumed his work, but his awareness was always on the captain, waiting for a noda gestureand then they would meet back in his cabin.  

Penrod found Will scrubbing the deck one morning, and he let out a long whistle.  "Jesus, Will.  You look like absolute shit."

Will frowned.  "What?  How?" 

"Has he been rawing you to the bone?  Hey, Crash"  Penrod waved a claw at his friend, "what say you of Will's complexion?"

Crash lumbered over and sucked in his teeth.  "Not looking good, I'd say." 

"I'm fine," Will mumbled.  He wiped a line of sweat from his forehead.

"No, no," Crash shook his big head.  "He keeps you in there for hours.   No mortal man can do that."

"Sometimes I fall asleep in his bed," Will said. 

Crash and Penrod exchanged bewildered looks.  Crash squinted, leaning in close to Will's face.

"What in the devil's name does that mean?"  Crash said.  "He just lets youyou justsleepand he's thereand he doesn't send you out?" 

Will gave a tired shrug.  His head was starting to spin.  "It doesn't matter.  Move your foot, I need to swab." 

Crash and Penrod looked at each other again, and the two retreated, speaking in low voices.  

It wasn't long before Jones found Will below deck where he was cleaning out the storeroom.  The captain's eyes fell on him, hungry and needing.  The two departed for Jones' quarters, and as soon as the door shut behind them, Jones was upon him.  

Will felt Jones already hard against his hand, fabric tight and begging to be let free.  Will dropped to his knees and undid the buttons as Jones slid his fingers through Will's hair.  His tentacle forefinger snaked down the back of Will's neck and curled around the edge of his ear as Will took Jones into his mouth.  Jones let out a breathless grunt, his fingers curling in Will's hair.

Suddenly, the door burst open.

" No!"

Jones startled, and Will nearly choked.  Jones turned his head to see Manray, new medical bag (courtesy of the Spanish navy) in tow, stalking toward them across the room.

" No, no, no!"

Jones extricated himself from Will's mouth and turned on Manray, his gaze searing.  Before he could speak, Manray pointed a finger straight at the captain.

"Are you trying to kill him?"

Jones looked down at Will, who was still on his knees, face flushed.  Manray pulled Will to his feet and pressed a hand to his forehead.  

Jones glowered down at Manray.  "What is the meaning of this?" 

"Shh ."  Manray held open Will's left eye with two fingers and peered in, then examined the other.  Jones' beard writhed.

"You will not shh me"

"I'm the ship's doctor, and in all matters medical, my word supercedes yours," Manray said.  Jones raised his eyebrows, but didn't reply.  Manray went on.  "Your man has a fever.  You stupid, horny blokes have been fucking each other like newlyweds while he's still recovering from twono, threeGod knows how many wounds at this point."  

Manray pulled Will's sleeve up to check his stitches and he swore under his breath.  "Strip down and get on the bed."

Will glanced at Jones in shame and obeyed.  Manray knelt beside him and began laying out tools, salves, and bandages from his bag as Jones watched over, his brows knitted in confusion.

The wounds on Will's body had failed to heal.  Manray threw aside the fetid, old bandages with a growl of frustration and snapped his fingers at Jones.

"I need clean water and rags." 

Under any other circumstances, Jones would have thrown Manray clear across the roombut with only a slight bristle, he retreated outside.   

He returned with a bucket and fresh cloth, his prickly mood overtaken with concern.  Manray took the supplies and wrung out a wet cloth, and Jones knelt down beside him.

Manray spoke in a low grumble.  "You forget how frail the unsworn are."

Jones watched in silence as Manray began the excruciating task of cleaning Will's woundsWill hissed in pain, his body writhing as Manray scrubbed off the fouled pus, until his wounds ran clear again.  He stuffed extra cloth beneath Will's limbs to spare the bed, and Will finally settled, his skin pale.

Jones laid a hand on Will's forehead and spoke to him quietly.

"This is my doing.  I" Jones' face contorted in discomfort.  He brushed Will's damp hair away from his face.  "I'm sorry."

Manray looked at Jones out of the corner of his eyethose were two words he never thought he'd hear pass through Davy Jones' lips.  He cleared his throat.  "If you've got clean sheets and blankets for when I get him bandaged up again, it would be a great help."  Manray paused to lean back and wipe the sweat out of his eyes.  "Apologies, captain.  I'll need an assistant for all this and I won't insult you again.  If you want to ask one of the other men to come in"

"I'll do it."

Jones met his gaze, his eyes clear with purpose.

Manray continued to work, with Jones providing the needed supplies and clipping bandages as instructed.  Jones watched Will's eyes grow foggy with pain and fever, and he held Will's face in his hand.  

"He'll come through," Manray said.  "Just let him rest."  

They finished the work in time, and Will was newly bandaged on a cleanly made bed.  Manray clipped his bag shut and gave a long sigh, rotating his head and wrists.  He picked up his things and made for the door, and he turned around to see Jones still kneeling at Will's bedside.

Manray stood awkwardly in the doorway.  He picked a bit of dried blood on his sleeve. "The crew are probably waiting for our next heading."  He paused, and Jones remained still.  "Wouldn't want them to think you've taken ill too."

Jones slowly rose and followed Manray to the door.  The somber doctor led him out to see a quickly-scattering group of crewmates just outsidePenrod and Crash among them.  

Jones grunted.  "As if I could ever take sick." 

He took a step forward, then pitched over onto the deck.

"Captain! "  

Maccus shoved his way past the others as a frantic murmur went through the crew.  Jones' beard was writhing like a nest of snakes, one hand clutched to his left breast.  Maccus and Manray turned him onto his back to see his eyes wide, staring past them through the sky--fixed in an unfathomable horror.

"She has it," he wheezed.

 

 

Will awoke to find his fever calmed and an even stranger sight beside him.  Jones was lying on the bed, his hat and coat removed, eyes closed with his great claw resting on his stomach.  Will saw that Jones was still breathing, albeit shallow, and he squinted over Jones to see Manray and Maccus seated by the bedside speaking in low tones.  

"What's going on?" 

The two looked up and Maccus scowled.  "You weren't the only one after his heart." 

The door opened and Bill entered, carrying a plate of food.  He spotted Will and gave a cheerful smile.  "You're awake!  Good to see you up, my boy."

Maccus and Manray scooted aside to allow him to sit.  Will carefully eased himself upright and looked at his father.

"I need to speak with you about the other night," Will said.  He eyed the other two men, who returned his gaze and didn't budge.  

"Go on, then," Bill said.  Manray idly clicked the latch on his bag as Maccus picked his sharp teeth.  Will was too weak to start with them.

"I heard what you tried to do," Will said, "to get the crew to leave me at Tortuga.  You didn't have to do that."

Bill sighed.  "I want what's best for you, and that's not being stuck here with me."  Will opened his mouth to protest, and Bill shushed him.  "You owe me nothing.  You need to accept that."

Will was silent for a long time.  He watched Jones' quietly breathing form.  "He said that toothat you weren't worth saving."  He paused.  "Said you weren't a good father to begin with."

Bill sat back.  "And?  You agree?"

Will met his gaze.  "You...weren't.  And nothing either of us does now can change that." 

The corner of Bill's lip twitched in bitter validation.  "So then," he leaned forward and passed the plate over Jones' slumbering form.  "Can you remove the burden of my future from your present?"

Will accepted the plate and stared down at the carefully portioned fish and oat lumpsa small sprig of seaweed lay atop the oats.  He looked back up at his father with quivering eyes.  "I can, if you'll call me a friend."

Bill chuckled.  "I'll gladly take your friendship.  A friend you don't owe your whole life and blood to."

Maccus let out a loud yawnManray suddenly stuck his hand under Jones' beard and felt around his neck, eyes narrowed.  There was a faint clinkthe key on its stringbut Manray withdrew with a hopeless shrug.

"Don't know why I bothered," he grumbled.  "I don't think half the crew has a pulse anyway, least of all him."

Maccus blinked.  "He's still got blood though, doesn't he?"

Manray eyed Will.  "Surely he does.  Tell us Will, how's the captain's circulation?  Good?" 

Will ate his food with a grunt.  Bill leaned forward and peered through Jones' beard, his mind working slowly.  "I guess the key's useless now that his heart's been found."  He looked at Will, who continued eating in silence.  

Will finally finished, wiping his hand on the outside of his thigh bandage (Manray swore) and he gave a quiet reply.

"It stopped being about the key a while ago."

Bill folded his arms, a look of sage wisdom upon his face.  Manray and Maccus both leaned back, their interest piqued.

"So it's true, then?"  Maccus said.  "You're smitten ?"

Will looked at the man lying motionless beside him in the bed.  "I feel like there could be a better word for what happened here."

Maccus let out a long hum and stood.  "Right.  Anyway, I've got a crew to run, as long as the captain is indisposed."  He nodded to Manray.  "Send word if anything changes." 

Will lay back down and closed his eyes.  He felt Jones' right hand creep up beside hisan instinct, surely, as the rest of his body remained stilland Will drifted off into sleep with the feel of the captain's skin against his.

Chapter Text

 

Norrington carried a flickering lantern down the steps beneath the governor’s house in Port Royal, and a supernatural cold passed over him.  The wood stairs creaked, and the lantern cast haunting shadows along the damp walls.  From below came the chilling sound of one man chanting into the dark, and Norrington descended, his hands damp with sweat.

The smell of old blood washed over him, and he stopped to cough, bracing himself against the wall.  After a moment’s rest, he continued down and finally arrived outside a heavy door.  

The chanting stopped.  Norrington already knew the door was barred from within, so he waited, his ear pressed to the door.  There was no scream, no struggle, no painjust the muffled sounds of a heart being removed from its body.  

Norrington waited for the process to finish, and he stepped back as he heard footsteps approach the door.  The heavy latch on the other side was undone, and the door opened to reveal Jack’s sullen, blood-flecked face.

Jack drew the back of his hand across his eyes, wiping away the grime and sweat.  “What does he want now?”

Norrington cleared his throat.  “That was the last one for the night.  Others have yet to volunteer.”

Jack snorted.  “We both know they weren’t volunteers, mate.”

There was a shuffling noise from within the room behind Jack, and he craned his neck back.  “Oi, how are we feeling?”  

Jack opened the door fully to reveal a shirtless sailor standing in the center of the dark space.  Norrington raised his lanternthe light fell on the man’s chest, where a large vertical gash had been made.  A cold pit settled in Norrington’s stomach as he saw that the flesh was slowly stitching itself back together, skin weaving across the gap like twine.

Norrington pulled back into the hallway as a feeling of nausea overtook him.  “It’s nearly sunrisewe’d best report back.”

Jack drew a red-stained rag from his waist and wiped his hands.  “Let me clean up.”  He jerked his head at the sailor, who stumbled out the door past Norrington.  Norrington watched the man disappear up the stairs as shakily as a newborn foal, and then joined Jack inside.  Jack wandered around the basement room, kicking aside carefully-placed objects and smearing words drawn in chalk on the stone.

“I see we’re all trying to ensure our usefulness never expires,” Norrington said quietly.  

Jack tapped his own head in acknowledgment.   “They can’t kill you if they never know how it’s done.”  

He arrived at a small wooden box on a table, and Norrington joined him there.  The box’s lid lay beside it, and Norrington held his lantern aloft.  The sailor’s still-beating heart lay within.  Jack placed the lid on top, and turned it to reveal the sailor’s own messy handwriting scrawled upon the side: Porter, and an unreadable last name.  

“Did he deserve this?” Norrington asked quietly.  

Jack shrugged.  “Don’t suppose any of them did.”

He picked up the box and walked to the wall, and Norrington saw that the wine shelves had been emptied.  In nearly every space where a wine bottle had been was a small wooden box, name scribbled across the side.  Jack found an empty slot and slid the box inside.

“Jesus,” Norrington breathed.  Jack walked past him to the door, and Norrington took a moment to collect his wits before following him out.  

Beckett was waiting for them at a small table on the balcony of the governor’s house.  The gray pre-dawn sea churned quietly behind him, his silhouette caught in the rising glow at the horizon.  Jack slumped into a chair and put his boots up on the seat beside him, and Norrington sat on his other side.  Beckett motioned to a servant who poured them each a cup of tea.

“So,” Beckett eyed Jack over his tea, “how did it go?”

“Splendidly,” Jack said, his voice dry.  “As splendidly as it has for the past, oh, eight nights?”

Beckett sipped his tea and set his cup down.  “You understand our need for secrecy,” he said.  “It wouldn’t do well to have men returning to the barracks in broad daylight with wounds on their chests.”  He gestured at the two untouched cups.  “Please.”

Jack and Norrington gave each other a sideways glance before taking their tea.  Beckett went on.  “You may breathe a sigh of relief now, as I only have one more volunteer for you.”

Jack blinked.  “Just one?  Who might that be?”

Norrington narrowed his eyes at Beckett in knowing silence.  Beckett met his gaze and chuckled.  “Oh no, not me,” Beckett said.  He leaned back and eyed the heart-sized sack that still hung on Jack’s shoulder.  “I have no reason to give up the wonderful range of emotions I enjoy in exchange for a crude mockery of immortality.”

“Oh come now, you wouldn’t have to give up any of your brilliant humor,” Jack said, “so long as you keep your heart close.”

Beckett smirked.  “Then why remove your heart at all?”

Jack finished his tea and set his cup down with a satisfied sigh.  “I’ll tell you,” he said, “it’s much better than the last curse I’ve seen.  Poor blokes couldn’t even eat.”

“So who is it?” Norrington cut in.

Beckett turned and motioned towards the shadows.  A figure previously undetected emerged from behind a curtain, eyes glinting in the darkJack nearly jumped out of his chair.

Why does he always do that? ” Jack cried.

“Mr. Mercer will be your final volunteer,” Beckett said.  Mercer stood at Beckett’s shoulder, his cold and calculating gaze upon Jack.  His face was lined with scars, and as the man continued to stare, Norrington felt a growing unease in his chest.  “After that,” Beckett went on, “we will all depart for the Dutchman.”

Norrington startled.  “You know where it is?”

It was Mercer’s turn to speak.  “Our spies on Tortuga said they saw her waiting off-shore for a whole night,” he said.  “Very odd behavior, if you ask me.  In fact,” he licked his lips hungrily, “it was the same night we saw you two with Captain Warren’s murderer.  Now, where did he go?”  He leaned forward, placing his hands on the table.  “Could he have had anything to do with the Dutchman?”  Jack and Norrington remained silent, only the sounds of the cold sea between them.  Mercer chuckled.  “It will all become clear, I’m sure.”

“She’s left a trail of destruction in her wake since then,” Beckett said.  “I have eyes on every island from here to Santo Domingo, so it won’t be difficult.”

“You think you’ll actually be able to get close to her?” Norrington asked in disbelief. 

Beckett rose and motioned for the servant to clear the table.  He gave Norrington a thin smile.  “I think we’ll be able to board her.  And after we board her and press Jones into submission, his key and heart are as good as ours.  Jack, please escort Mr. Mercer to your basement and pack away all your necessities as soon as the ritual is complete.”

Jack rose slowly, his certainty shaken.  Norrington’s eyes never left Mercer as the two departed, and the pit in his stomach grew.  

“Why him?” Norrington asked, suddenly turning on Beckett.  “All the others have been lowest ranked sailors, barely able to read.  Why would you send your best man?”

Beckett smoothed his sleeves, not looking up.  “Why wouldn’t I?”

Down below, Jack and Mercer arrived in the basement, and Jack carefully latched the door behind them.  He walked around the room, slowly moving items back into their place as Mercer’s gaze seared through the back of his neck.  When he finally turned around, Mercer had already removed his shirt: his entire torso was covered in a patchwork of scars.  

Jack clutched the chalk in his hand as Mercer gave him a cruel grin.  “Let’s get started, shall we?”

 

 

Norrington waited aboard the HMS Endeavour, his hands growing cold on the railing.  He watched the path from the governor’s house as sailors loaded supplies below, and Beckett stood on the dock speaking with his captains before departure.  Three ships were to make sail: the three fastest at Beckett’s disposal, and the rest would follow ifor whenthe Dutchman was secured.  

Mercer emerged from the house, fastening the last few buttons of his shirt.  Norrington drew in a sharp breaththe man looked no more or less changed from before, not like the other men who went under Jack’s knife.  It was as if he had just met an acquaintance for lunch and was only slightly displeased by the menu.  The only indication that anything had transpired was the small wooden box in his left hand.

And Jack…?

Norrington sank back in relief as Jack came out of the house, carrying a large bag with him.  He arrived at the docks where he was seen by Beckettsome inaudible words passed between them, and a sailor took Jack’s bag and carried it on ahead for him.  Jack started to protest, but at the sight of Mercer he went quiet and hurried onto the ship.

Norrington intercepted Jack at the aft mast and caught him by the sleeve.  “What happened?” Norrington whispered.  “Did he threaten you?”

Jack shrugged him off.  “Not in the least,” he muttered.  “He was content as could be having his heart cut out.  Too content.  And aware.”  Jack stared off at the sea, his eyes growing hazy.  Norrington snapped his fingers by his face, and he startled.  

“So he went through with it,” Norrington said. “Beckett’s right hand man is immortal, and we’re heading straight toward the most dangerous ship in the sea.  What’s our plan?”

Jack rubbed his eyes.  “You know, I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since we got back.  How about you” he poked a finger into Norrington’s chest, “come up with a plan, I can’t even think two strings together.”

Norrington scoffed.  “Right, I suppose you have nothing to worry about.”  His gaze fell on Jack’s slowly-beating satchel.  Jack squinted at him then at the satchel, and then the light seemed to go on in his head.

“Oh, this,” Jack shook the satchel, and a small drip of red fell off.  “If it comes to it, and we’re surrounded by guns, all I have to do is fwoop!   Chuck him overboard and jump in after.”  Jack grinned.  “Let’s see them try to hit a heart thirty feet that-a-way in open water.”

“That’s less reassuring than the immortality I imagined,” Norrington said.  “In any case, I’ll keep an eye on Mercer, and you get some sleep.”

Jack saluted and the two parted, and the ships readied for the journey ahead.

 

 

Norrington moved about the ship cautiously.  Though no one spoke ill of him or gave him any reason to worry, he couldn't help but feel a growing target upon his back.  The undead sailors crewed the entirety of the first three shipsand as they left Port Royal and their hearts far behind, the men grew more and more stoical.  They smiled little and laughed even less, and they picked at their meals, still capable of taste but finding no joy in it.

With Jack's ritualizing presumably on hold, Norrington knew his own usefulness would soon expire.  He had nothing to offer Beckett besides his ability to weather Jack's personality, and his disgraced career as a commodore.  He kept out of Beckett's sight, hoping his own absence would be his greatest ally. 

Unfortunately, he rounded a corner on the ship one morning and bumped head first into Mercer.

"Excuse me, my apologies," Norrington mumbled, and he made to stride away.

"Whoa, steady there," Mercer said with a grin.  "I haven't seen much of you around.  Where have you been hiding?"

Norrington cleared his throat.  "I've been busy keeping Jack sober, though I can't say I've succeeded.  How are you feeling?" 

Mercer chuckled.  "That does sound like him."  His eyes danced as he met Norrington's gaze.  "Good of you to ask, I feel quite bored, actually.  But I'm always responsible with my boredom.  Sometimes," his hand wandered to the knife at his belt, "I like to clean uptrim the fatscrape off things that are weighing the rest of us down." 

Norrington held up a hand.  "Message received, I'll find something to do."  He turned and walked off, and Mercer called after him.

"Look busy, now!" 

A sailor pushed past Norrington going the other way, clutching a spyglass in hand.  Norrington watched as the sailor spoke in a hushed voice to Mercer, and Mercer in turn sped off to find Beckett.

Norrington grabbed the sailor by the sleeve.  "What news?  Have you seen the Dutchman?" 

The sailor avoided Norrington's prying gaze.  "That's as good as a yes," Norrington said.

He hurried to the bow and squinted out over the sea.  There was a faint sliver of a mast peeking above the horizon.  Jack came up beside him and stood very still, his voice quiet.

"Never thought the tables would turn like this," Jack said.  "Us hunting Jones.  It's almost a perversion against nature.  And this" he swept his arm back to encompass the Endeavour.  "Don't even get me started on the things I've done to avoid this man."

"Your former employer?"  Norrington asked.  Jack's nose wrinkled at the word.

"Both of ours, in the end," Jack said.

Norrington sighed and leaned on the railing.  The distant ship was now fully visible on the horizonthey were outspeeding her.  Jack peered up at the crew who were unfurling every last sail to catch the wind.

"To think, I'd be caught between the man who sunk my ship and the man who raised my ship," he grumbled.  He turned back toward the water.  "I think I'm going to vomit."

"You two," a sailor spoke behind them.  They turned to see the last sailor that Jack had ritualized, a lanky young man no older than 20, carrying a supply of swords.  "Lord Beckett has ordered you to arm yourselves for the fight." 

Norrington scoffed.  "I've been discharged, or did he forget?  And why would I fight when he could have you do it?" 

The sailor dropped the swords at the men's feet.  "On his orders, if we find you below deck and not in the fight, we're to assume treason." 

"Right," Norrington grunted and picked up a sword.  "Any pistols, then?" 

The sailor departed without another word.  Norrington sighed.  "Jesus, not even a pistol."  He looked sidelong at Jack.  "It seems this is how they intend to get rid of me.  I hope you remember me fondly." 

Jack picked up a sword and frowned at its dull edge.  "I'll try." 

The Endeavour was coming up on the Dutchman faster than they anticipated.  It was almost as if the ship was purposely lagging, tempting them to engage.  Beckett strode across the deck and addressed the crew.

"The Dutchman is known to dive underwater to ambush her prey," he said.  "When that happens, we remain on course and prepare all guns to fire immediately upon her surfacing." 

A young sailor spoke up hesitantly from the back.  "A-and the Kraken?"

Beckett's gaze fell upon Jack and Norrington, and he smirked.  "If the Kraken is summoned," he called out, "all sailors remain on deck to fightas do any others aboard our ship."

Norrington's blood ran cold.  He turned and spoke in a frantic whisper to Jack.  "Why in God's name would he risk losing you?  A sword fight is one thing, but you're not coming back from you and your heart being swallowed whole."

Jack was staring off into the middle distance beyond Beckett.  He gave only a grunt of acknowledgment.

The nearer they drew to the Dutchman, the more the crew began to murmur.  The message had been relayed to the two other ships, and all eyes were on her, waiting for her to dive.  But still she remained above waterand she was moving at a fraction of their speed.

Beckett paced along the deck, his expression uncertain.  He spoke to Mercer in a frustrated tone, and Norrington crept up to eavesdrop.  

"Does anyone know what she's doing?" Beckett asked.  "There's no sign of the Krakenthey wouldn't risk being this close." 

Mercer stared off at the distant ship.  "Perhaps they're…distracted." 

Beckett raised an eyebrow.  "You think there's a disturbance aboard the ship?  A mutiny on the dreaded Dutchman?" 

Mercer winced and shook his head.  "Nothing like that, I don't think.  But there's only one way to find out."

Beckett clenched his jaw and turned to the crew.  "Prepare to engage.  Board as soon as she's within distance." 

The guns were unleashed, striking the water around the Dutchman.  The crew braced for retaliation, but none camethe ship bobbed in the water with no sign of movement on it.  The crew's suspicion quickly turned to a hungry curiosity, and two lines of undead sailors assembled along the port side, nets and rope at the ready.  Jack and Norrington stood behind them, their dull swords feeling disconcertingly light in their hands.

They drew up beside the Dutchman, and finally the shots came.  The Dutchman's guns fired into the Endeavour, sending smoke and splinters into the air.  It was a strong response, but still delayed, and it ended as quickly as it began.  None of the shots had damaged anything above deck or even the upper half of the hullall seemed concentrated at water level.  Beckett came up beside Jack and Norrington and squinted at the ship.

"Why is everything covered in seaweed?" he asked.

"Oh, that's normal," Jack said.  

"And where's the crew?" 

The Dutchman's deck was completely empty.  The sailors looked to each other, unsure and unsettled.  Beckett and Mercer pushed to the front and peered across the water.

"Likely a trap," Mercer muttered.  "It would be a death sentence for anyone going over."

Beckett rolled his eyes.  "Then it's a good thing we have a crew that's immune to death," he said.  He turned and called out to the sailors.  "Board, now !" 

The sailors raised their rope and nets to fling across the gapbut then the ship shook beneath them.  Beckett's eyes wandered to the floor.  

"There are still gunners below to patch the hull, correct?" Beckett asked.  The ship quaked again.  Two sailors descended below to appraise the possible flooding situation, and the rest waited in tense silence.

Finally, something emerged from the hatch.  A great, monstrous shark head peeked up into the sunlight, its enormous eyes swiveling around to settle on the crew.  It suddenly smiled, and a smooth gray hand came up to waveas the screams of sailors sounded from below.

The shark man looked down, then up again, and spoke to Beckett's crew.  "They're pretty tough, I'll give you that.  Nothing a good disassembling can't fix, though."  

The screams stopped.

The shark man pointed to the deck.  "You're sinking, by the way." 

He ducked back under and the whole ship heaved.  Beckett caught himself on the railing, and Norrington raced up beside him to look over.  The water was teeming with living thingsfins and feet kicking away from the ship as air gushed out from the lower parts of the Endeavour.  

"Damn it," Beckett hissed.  

"What," Jack said, "they chewed through the hull?  Pesky sea creatures." 

"They only shot us to provide an opening," Norrington said.  The Dutchman's crew was already reassembling on her deck, an array of grotesque, cursed men.  They shook their swords and jeered across the divide.

The Endeavour gave another groan, and the sound of the air being sucked out of the rooms below reached them.  The crew flung their nets and rope across, and finally began boarding the Dutchman.  

"Get across," Beckett spat at Jack and Norrington, "or I'll kill you both where you stand.  Mercer, save my effects." 

Mercer hurried from Beckett's side.  Jack watched him disappear into the captain's quarters, eyes wide in an unknowable question, his mustache twitching.  Norrington grabbed Jack by the collar and heaved him over the edge. 

The two hit the water, the breath knocked out of them.  They scrambled their way up the side of the Dutchman and found themselves in a skirmish of incalculable confusion.

No cut, no matter how deep, killed.  Sailors slashed at the cursed men, and the cursed men responded in kind, failing to make any gain whatsoever.  Jack and Norrington crouched low to the deck, skirting around the edges of the ship to watch the events in horror. 

"So," Jack mused from behind a crate, "who's going to tell them that this is going nowhere?" 

Norrington glanced back at their ship.  "The Dutchman at least has one on us." 

The Endeavour was halfway underwater and completely unsalvageable.  Mercer and Beckett emerged up the side of the Dutchman, and Mercer positioned himself to block any blows to Beckett with his body.  Tucked tightly under one of his arms was the small wooden box.

Jack's mood seemed to improve.  "Now, here's something I can't figure out," he said.  "This is Jones' crew…but where is Jones?" 

Norrington looked around the fight.  "What does he look like?" 

Jack made a disgusted face.  "Imagine talking to a bed of snakesno, wormsall perpetually lubricated and wriggling like many fingers." He paused.  "Reminds me of the garden parties back in England once the sun went downwell, you know how it is." 

"I don't know, and I'm happy not to," Norrington said.  "I don't see anyone who looks like that."

"You couldn't miss him," Jack said.  He pivoted around and spotted the door to the captain's cabin.  "Come come, this way."

The two made their way toward the door.  The big shark-headed man seemed to be guarding the area, but two undead sailors engaged him, drawing him back and allowing Jack and Norrington to sneak by.  Jack pushed the door open with a shoulder, and they quickly slipped inside.

The room was dark, and it took a few moments for their eyes to adjust.  They heard soft footsteps from within, and a familiar figure stood before them, sword raised in a shaky hand.

"William!" Jack whispered.  Will looked slightly less haggard than when they had last seen him.  Jack walked toward Will with arms outstretched, but Will did not lower the sword.

Jack walked into the sword in the darkhe gave a small grunt of surprise. 

"Jack!" Will gasped and dropped the sword with a loud clatter.  Something stirred in the shadows, and Jack waved aside Will's concerns.

"No worries, mate," Jack said with a wince, feeling the wound close upon itself.  "Myself and the crew are no longer capable of death, thanks to your captain's very detailed diary."  Jack shook the satchel on his shoulder.  "I wear my heart on my sleeve now."

Norrington cut in, "I, on the other hand, am still very much mortal, so I'll thank you not to test your sword on me."  

Will looked between the two, his expression bewildered.  "You brought a crew to track me down?  An immortal crew?" 

Jack waved his hands.  "Beckett's crew, not mineritual was mine, under duresswe'd rather not be here, if that's at all comforting to you." 

Something rose from a corner of the room, and Will looked back over his shoulder.  Jack and Norrington both held their breath as the looming figure of Davy Jones appeared behind Will.  He was physically weakened, somehow, his skin pale and pulsing dimly.  But his eyes still burned with a demon's ferocity.

Jack saw, however, that when Jones' gaze passed over Will, it became something beyond his belief.

Jones regarded the two intruders with barely contained spite.  "Tell your captain that he will find nothing of value here," he said.  "My heart has been found, the chest openedno key nor ship will grant him what he needs.  I am at the mercy of a heathen goddess once again." 

"Calypso found your heart?" Jack whistled. "That's poetic justice.  She's controlling you, then?"

Jones scoffed.  "Toying with merendering me unable to move on a whimpracticing dark rituals on my heart with no regard for where it leads."

"Ah," Norrington said, "that's why you were unable to dive."

Jones let out a sound like a pop .  "It would seem that being in perfect health for two hundred years will leave a crew with no knowledge of how to captain themselves." 

Jack drew himself up in a measure of pride.  "Perhaps you and I can share stories," he said.  "Bond over our mutual condition. I know all about dark rituals now, thanks to you." Jack shook his heart satchel.

Jones looked at him with an expression of abject boredom.  "Well done," he said dryly.  "Now ruminate on your existence until the end of time."

The door opened behind them, and Beckett and Mercer stepped in.  Will raised his sword, and Jack and Norrington parted, retreating against opposite walls.  The fighting had quieted outsidea standstill seemed to have been reached, as both sides realized their efforts were meaningless.

Jones hovered behind Will, whose lips were drawn in a snarl.  Beckett's eyebrows shot up at the sight.

"It seems your inkling was correct," he said to Mercer.  "Will Turner is bound to the Dutchman." 

Mercer cricked his neck. "I'm sure we can find a creative way to try him," he said.  "If hanging doesn't work, tie him to a cannon and sink him.  There are enough ways to make even the undying suffer." 

The four others stood in tense silence.  Will and Jack exchanged a sideways glance, and Jones' many-tendriled face twitched.  Beckett looked between them in growing suspicion, and Jones reached beneath his beard and fished out the jingling key string.  He threw it on the ground in front of Beckett.

Beckett blinked.  "The key?" 

"You've come here for naught," Jones said. "The chest has already been opened."

Beckett held the key between two fingers, his nose wrinkling as he turned it over.  "Where has this been ?"  

Will gave a low cough.

Beckett motioned for Mercer who produced a handkerchief which he dropped the key into.  "No matter.  We will reroute our remaining fleet to find the Pearl and the heart."  He looked over at Norrington.  "You said Elizabeth Swan took the chest?"

Jack and Will both shot looks at Norrington as he fumbled, clearing his throat.  "Yes, just before she marooned us."

"Snitch," Jack muttered.  

Beckett waved his hands.  "We'll make ourselves comfortable here, seeing as the Endeavour is" his voice caught in his throat, "gone.  You may stay in your cabin, Jones, for whatever comfort that provides you." 

Beckett and Mercer left.  Jones stepped past Will, placing a hand on his shoulder as he did, and he peered out the open door.  He let out a surprised huff and turned to Norrington.

"It's sunk?" 

Norrington nodded.  "Chewed clean through," he said quietly.  Jones snorted in laughter and returned to his bed.

 

 

The Endeavour's orphaned crew settled onto the Dutchman like barnacles on wood.  The ship had food stores for oneand only one person, Will Turnerand there was no demand on sleeping space either.  As soon as both crews discovered they were in competition for essentially nothing save alcohol, they took to gambling, drinking, and joking as if they had been sailing together their whole lives.  

Norrington watched a group of sailors and sworn playing a game where they took turns throwing knives down between each other's fingers on a table.  Beckett came up beside Norrington, a look of resigned displeasure on his face.  

"Their stupidity knows no end," Beckett muttered.  

Norrington looked between him and the players.  "Oh, were you surprised by this?" he asked, his tone a tick above derisive.  "See, if you'd turned officers, then they'd see themselves above all that.  It appears that bottom of the ladder sailors are who the Dutchman have recruited for centuries." He turned back to the game.  "They have more in common with each other than with you." 

Beckett raised an eyebrow.  "Oh?  Do you imagine yourself no longer my kind, then?" 

Norrington said nothing.  Beckett leaned in and spoke quietly.  "A lifetime of service to the crown is not something you can so easily shake off." 

Beckett walked away as Norrington stewed in silence.

On the other side of the ship, Davy Jones sat out on deck atop an upturned barrel.  He squinted through the bright sun, his expression contemplative as the crew worked around him.  He drew a long puff from his pipe and breathed out, smoke curling up the sides of his face.  Beckett approached, and Jones gave him nothing more than a sideways glance of acknowledgment.

Beckett waited in slowly brewing frustration to be addressed first.  A seagull passed low over the ship, casting a shadow on Jones' faceMorey raced by like a python, shoving past Beckett.  The two watched as she lunged inhumanly high up, snatching the creature from the air between two hands.  Morey landed and looked around excitedly as scattered cheers went out around the deck.  Jones smirked and tilted his hat at her, and she ran off, giddy.

"Jones," Beckett began.  "We need you to direct the ship to"

"Captain, " Jones cut in.  He drew another breath, the tobacco sizzling. 

Beckett fumed.  "You've done very little in the way of captaining this ship.  Either surrender command fully to me, or take action." 

Jones ashed his pipe and dug around in his coat for another cut of tobacco.  He dropped it into his pipe and looked around.  An elder crewmate was passing byhe snapped his claw at the cursed figure.

"Light?" Jones said.

The crewmate turned, revealing the entire front of his body to be a hollowed out trunk of wood.  In the center of the space where his organs should have been was a wisp-like light dangling in the tree's hollowa wick lit by a perpetual drip of pitch.  

Jones leaned in, the pipe still on his lips, and stuck his face halfway into the man's torso.  Beckett recoiled as Jones sucked in, smoke billowing out of the man's hole.  Jones finally withdrew, his pipe lit.

"No," Jones said.

Beckett glared.  "Then we will chain your men to cannons and drop them one-by-one into the sea." 

Jones looked around at the two crews mingling and throwing knives at each other for sport.  Morey was proudly showing off her captive seagull to the British sailors, the bird wriggling and squawking in protest.  

Beckett followed his gaze and swore under his breath.  "Once we find your heart, you will obey."

Jones grunted.  "Good luck."

Will passed by with a plate of bread and mash in his hand.  He was munching on the crust loudly, but when he saw Beckett he stopped.  He swallowed hard.

"Do you" he coughed, pounding his own chest.  "Do you have any more food on the other ships?" 

Beckett scowled in irritation.  "That food is reserved for the captains and other officers, not for the Dutchman's crew." 

Will looked around, frowning.  "So what am I supposed to do?"

Beckett's eyebrows furrowed.  "You go without food."

Jones suddenly stood upright, his tendrils writhing.  He turned and with a great swing of his claw leg, he kicked a bucket clear across the deck and sent it plummeting over into the water.  " And let him starve?" Jones bellowed.

Beckett stared at Jones.  The captain realized his blunder too lateWill a moment laterand the two looked at each other, paralyzed.  Beckett tilted his head.

"So he's not sworn," he said quietly.  Mercer came up behind and spoke into Beckett's ear.

"Pirate ship spotted due eastlikely the one that raided the coast a few days back.  What are your orders?"

Beckett shot a look at Jones.  He spoke carefully.  "How does a quick prize sound, Captain?  Surely, your men would love a good fight amidst all this monotony."

Jones drew in a long breath, his nostrils flaring with smoke.  His eyes passed from Beckett to Mercer, then out at the sea beyond them.  He suddenly clutched at his chest, giving a groan of distresshis pipe still pressed between his lips.  Jones waved to Will, who hurried forward and helped lower him back down onto the barrel.  Jones took the pipe out and gasped dramatically.

"My heart!"

He took a few moments to collect himself before speaking again.  "I'm afraid I'm in no state for a fight," Jones said.  He handed the pipe off to Will.  "Let me rest for an hour or three."

Mercer scowled.  "Sir, the ship will be long gone by then."

Jones smacked his lips.  "The Dutchman is useless without me, as we are bound as one.  Perhaps another day." 

Beckett and Mercer glared at the two in seething rage.  Will drew a breath from the pipe and blew  a broken smoke ring in their direction.  Mercer took a step forward, but Beckett placed a hand on his chest. 

"Let's reconvene at another time," Beckett whispered, eyeing Will, "once I better understand our circumstances."

 

 

Days passed aboard the Dutchman.  The two escorting ships managed to make a port call to replenish supplies, but the general attitude among the other crews was one of itching boredom.  The other captains continued to press Beckett for orders as pirate crews passed within their grasp, only to be met with frustrated rebukes.  The Dutchman's crew, on the other hand, had long since become immune to the senseless passage of time.

Morey passed by a group of sailors and sworn who were crouched in a huddle on the deck.  She stopped and leaned in to examine their project.  

"What's all this?" 

Koleniko looked up.  Strapped to Morey's chest was a makeshift carrier, inside which a pleasantly plump, live seagull sat.  He nodded to the bird.  

"Afternoon, Birdie," Koleniko said, and he turned back to the pile of wood on the deck.  "These boys here are carpentershaven't had any of those onboard that aren't stuck in the walls.  We're making chairs."

The group passed nails and hammers between them, taking turns to assemble the pieces.  Morey sat and watched in fascination.

Up on the rear deck, Will and Jones sat side by side in two newly-made chairs, facing the sea.  Will had a pint of grog in one hand, and Jones puffed serenely on his pipe.  Mercer and Beckett stood down below, watching them and speaking in hushed tones. 

"Why doesn't he work him like the others?" Beckett asked.  "What purpose does he serve?"

"Likely a necessity if they ever make port," Mercer said.  "It would make sense he's not sworn either, what with the aesthetic changes involved." 

"But he passes hours in the captain's quarters," Beckett said.  "How does a grunt sailor with no allegiance earn the place of a confidant?"

Mercer shook his head.  "Will Turner isn't clever enough for that."

Beckett narrowed his eyes.  Words passed between Will and Jones, and the latter let out a hearty laugh.  Beckett turned to Mercer.

"Where are we on the problem of Sparrow?" he asked.

Mercer clicked his tongue.  "He's a slippery one.  Been hiding below and avoiding me at every turn."

"Does he suspect…?" 

"That I've got a memory sharper than steel?" Mercer's eyes shone bright.

Beckett pursed his lips.  "I'd think it was much less a function of memory and more of withstanding the excruciating distraction of having one's heart cut out."

Mercer's grin vanished.  "That certainly helped too." 

Beckett eyed the many scars littering Mercer's skin with distaste.  "Once we have Jones under control, we can separate Sparrow from his heart he keeps so close."  He turned back to Will and Jones.  "I need you to keep an eye on them and uncover the nature of their arrangement.  An ordinary man capable of bending the will of the Flying Dutchman's captain must have hidden methods on hand." 

Mercer nodded.  Jones passed his pipe to Will and the two smoked in pleasant silence.

 

 

Night fell, and the hybrid crew lounged around on deck.  Some napped, sprawled out in groups while others watched the islands they passed in the dark.  Will crept down from the main mast and made his way to Jones' cabin.  He opened the door and slipped inside, greeted by slow music.  

Jones stopped playing and turned.  His gaze washed over Will, who was flecked with sweat from the humid night.  Will joined him at the organ and swiveled on the bench to face him.

"What's that song you always play?" he asked.  Jones was silent for a moment before reaching across the keys and picking up a small silver locket.  He placed it gently in Will's hand.  

Will turned it over and clicked open the lid.  The soft, plinking notes of Jones' song echoed through the room.  But the tone was far gentlervulnerable, evenunlike his melancholic rendition on the organ.  Will shut the locket and held it out for Jones.

Jones stared at it for a long time, and then he shook his head.  "I don't need it."  

Will spoke quietly.  "Was it from her?" 

Had he been asked the question by anyone else, at any time before he and Will found themselves side-by-side in bed through their mutual recoverieshis response would have been quick and cutting.  Instead, he gave a great sigh, his body settling as if a perpetual tension had been released.

"Yes," Jones said, "and I'd rather not dwell on anyone but you." 

The words took them both by surprise, and Jones looked away.  He spoke in a near whisper.  "I have never been so weakened, so pressed into a corner by forces beyond my reckoning.  I am tiredmy mind and body weighed by centuries of sea and nothingness."  He looked up, and his eyes held a glimmer of light.  "I had not known comfort until you lay beside me.  I did not know I was capable of feeling this again."  His hand crept across the bench, but it stopped short of Will's thigh.  "You are free to leave whenever you wish.  I will not send my crew after you." 

In one swift movement, Will took Jones' hand and leaned through the space to bring their lips together.  They fell into each other, Jones' skin cool to the touch.  Will's hand found the soft back of Jones' head, and he held him there as he tasted the salt upon the captain's lips.  Jones' beard wrapped itself around Will, eager and tender, and Jones suddenly drew back with a grunt of apology.  Will pulled Jones back, his lips brushing the captain's cheek.  

"I like it," he whispered.  Jones lifted Will, their faces still entwined and carried him to the bed.

Jones moved now with a softness and purpose he had not shown before.  He pulled up Will's shirt and drew his hand slowly around his waist, the tentacle sticking to his skin there.  Will unfastened his trousers and Jones removed them the rest of the way, his lips slowly passing over Will's thighs.

The wounds there had closed, and bright scars were forming in their place.  Jones avoided these as he took Will into his mouth, and Will fell back against the bed with a sigh.  Jones felt Will's hips begin to thrust with each dip of his mouth, and Jones pressed him firmly back down against the bed.  Will moaned as Jones continued, taking his time.

Jones finally withdrew, leaving Will on the verge of release, and Will sat up, breathless.  Jones freed himself from his own clothes and held Will's face in his hand.

"You're still healing," Jones said.  He drew Will toward him and sat back, bringing him above his throbbing cock.  Jones passed his hand over it once, leaving a slick sheen on its surface.  Will eased himself down and groaned as he settled.  

They faced each other for the first time.  Jones watched as Will moved slowly at first, allowing him to set the paceWill breathed deeply, his face flushed with pleasure.  Jones felt his arousal growing even quicker as their eyes met, and a toying smirk crossed Will's face.  Will moved faster, and Jones let himself be lost in the movement, his hand gripping Will's waisthe held back from pushing Will down harder.  

There was no more purpose or need to Jones' self-deprivation.  He watched Will groan in ecstasy, and his body grew flushed, feeling Will tight around his cock.  Will held his gaze, and in a moment of lucidity Will licked his lips and whispered.

"I'm not coming first."

Will gave several quick, hard thrusts downward, Jones' head rolled backand he came, gasping, as if his soul was being drawn out of him.  Will continued riding him slowly, pulling every last twitch of pleasure from him until Jones' ceased, his chest heaving.  Will slid off him carefully and lay beside him, and he pressed his still-hard cock against his thigh.

Jones' lips twitched in a smirk.  He reached down and took Will in his hand and stroked him slowly.  Will brought his face beside Jones and traced his lips along the scars on his cheek, and he spoke softly.

"I'm not leaving." 

Jones let out a sigha long, earth-shaking sighand he drew his arm around Will, pulling him against his chest.  

 

 

The following morning, Will awoke in Jones' arms, their bodies nestled together on the cool bed.  He gently removed Jones' arms from around him and rose, stretching his limbs with a yawn.  His clothes had fallen to the floor, and he dressed quietly, careful not to wake Jones.

Will crept to the door and opened it, letting light fall upon his pucker-marked face.  Directly outside the door stood Beckett, flanked by Mercer and a regiment of men.

Will hurried to shut the door, but Mercer flung his leg out, stopping it with his boot.  They struggled, until Mercer finally wedged open the door far enough to grab Will by the collar.  Will yelled out, and he heard Jones rousing in the room behind him.

Mercer dragged Will out into the light where two sailors wrestled him to the ground, clapping him in irons.  Members of the Dutchman's crew drew near in dawning realization of what was transpiring, but the sailors held them back at sword point. Mercer tutted softly as Will struggled, his efforts fruitless.  

"You'd be surprised what one can hear from down in the powder room," Mercer said.  "It didn't take long for us to put the pieces together." 

Maccus stood behind the sailors, his giant brows furrowed.  "Didn't take long?  You mean you saw them sharing drinks and a pipe every night for weeks and thought, 'Oh, what pleasant gents having a wee chat before bed? '"

"Before shared bed," Penrod cut in.  "And you think yourselves astute lawmen."  The Dutchman crew began jeering at the sailors, and the sailors faltered.  Beckett shouted over the noise just as Jones emerged from the cabin.

"This has nothing to do with the legality of their actions," Beckett called out.  The Dutchman crew fell silent at the sight of Jones in the doorway, coat and hat absent, shirt hastily buttoned.  He looked from the manacled Will to Beckett, a fury taking hold.

"What," Jones breathed, with the hatred of a devil, "are you doing with him?" 

He took a step forward, but Mercer produced a knife from his sleeve and held it to Will's throat.  Gasps went up from the Dutchman crew.  Jones choked, his eyes wide and terrified.

Beckett could scarcely hide the sheer satisfaction on his face.  "Gentlemen," he said, "it looks like we've found the heart of Davy Jones." 

He flicked his head, and the sailors dragged Will away toward a waiting longboat.  The Dutchman crew looked to Jones, waiting for the command to strike.  

But Mercer still held the knife to Will's neck, and Jones sank back against the wall.  He watched in tortured silence as Will left on the longboat for another ship, their eyes never leaving one another.

 

Chapter Text

There had never been a more nerve-wracking time aboard the Pearl than the weeks following Tia Dalma's reveal.  Barbossa's bid for captaincy evaporated within moments of the acquisition of Davy Jones' heart.  The crew fell in line, quiet and tense.  They regarded both Tia Dalma and Elizabeth with fearful reverence.

Elizabeth still decided to hold the vote that Barbossa so desired, as a show of goodwill. All parties were unsurprised by the unanimous decision to keep Elizabeth on as captain.  They pursued small prey: reconnaissance ships and Royal Navy messengers, taking intel and supplies as needed.  Elizabeth was determined to be as prepared as possible for their encounter with Davy Jones.

She walked through the dining area, and a hush formed in her wake.  Barbossa sat alone at an empty table—nobody wanted to be caught near him since his fall from grace.  He chewed the end of a chicken bone thoughtfully, and his eyebrows went up as Elizabeth sat across from him.

He set down the bone and smacked his lips.  "Now what could you want with little old me?" 

"I want to promote you to first mate," Elizabeth said.

Barbossa froze, mid-finger-lick.  He narrowed his eyes.  "Never one to waste words, are you?" He wiped his hands on his coat.  "If I might ask, is this charity or strategy?" 

"Neither," Elizabeth said.  "It's practical.  You're the most experienced man on deck, you've captained the Pearl before, and I know I can beat you in a fight." 

Barbossa was silent for a second, and then he let out a cackle.  "Aye, that's fair.  And what does Master Gibbs say to this?" 

Elizabeth rolled her eyes.  "Seeing as he's barely spoken to me and makes the sign of the cross whenever I walk by, I think he'll be fine with the change." 

"Ah," Barbossa said.  He was silent for a long while, then the corner of his lip twitched.  "You're cleverer than many would reckon.  I suppose if anything should happen to you, Calypso need only snap her fingers and send me back to the grave."  His eyes twinkled.  "Is that part of your plan?

Elizabeth returned his gaze with a smirk.  He studied Elizabeth's face, the two locked in a staring contest, before extending a hand across the table.  "I'm happy to accept your promotion." 

Elizabeth shook his hand.  "Good.  I trust you to tell me when I'm wrong and to speak truly, unburdened by fear or propriety." 

A snort sounded from a nearby table.  Pintel spoke through a mouthful of mash.  "That's Barbossa, all right."

Barbossa shot him a glare, then turned back to Elizabeth.  "What's our plan?" 

Elizabet jerked her head.  "Follow me."

They exited the mess and snaked through the cramped areas below deck to arrive at a small storage room.  Tia Dalma had made herself comfortable within—trinkets had been hung from the ceiling and placed strategically throughout, and the air smelled of burning herbs.  Clusters of candles were stuck to every surface.

Barbossa and Elizabeth squeezed into the space, and Tia Dalma looked up.  She was seated on the floor, bent over a white cloth on which lay Jones' heart.  

"Do you think he's gotten the message?" Elizabeth asked.  

Tia Dalma smiled.  "I think he'll be pliable once we see him." She gathered the corners of the cloth and wrapped up the heart, stowing it in her satchel.  

"Pliable to do what?"  Barbossa folded his arms.  "I thought you were set on killing him as vengeance for his and Turner's betrayals."

"A rash decision," Elizabeth said.  "Why eliminate the most valuable piece on the board?"  She locked eyes with Barbossa with fierce conviction.  "Imagine Port Royal free of English rule.  Free men, going where they please—where people can make a life for themselves without every right and profit stripped from them."

"Ahh," Barbossa grinned. "Turn the devil of the sea against the devils themselves."  His eyes wandered to Tia Dalma. "And you would do this?  Give up the seas to the same pirates that bound you in this form?" 

A shiver went through Tia Dalma, and the air in the room went cold.  " This form ," she began.  Her eyes pinned Barbossa where he stood.  "Do you know why I look like this?"  She turned her arms in front of the candlelight.  "This shade, this color.  It is the shade of thousands who threw themselves into the seas, who chose to become one with me.  Who still choose."  Her breath misted in the air as ice.  "There are more than just pirates who strain under the yoke of another's rule." 

Barbossa looked down at his feet.

Elizabeth reached into her pocket and placed Jack's compass on the center of a crate.  She spoke quietly.  "We need to find Jones first, and I—" her voice caught in her throat.  "It's not working for me."

Barbossa looked between the two women and let out a long sigh.  "Of course it's not."  He plucked up the compass and flipped open the lid.  Tia Dalma and Elizabeth crept close, their eyes upon the needle.

It spun, and continued to spin.  After several moments, Elizabeth realized it wasn't the indecisive flicker she'd seen it so often do—it moved in a circle, like clockwork, at exactly the same speed.

Elizabeth frowned.  "What the hell does that mean?" 

Tia Dalma suddenly let out a ringing laugh.  She swept her arms to the space around them.  "My dear," she said, and Elizabeth blushed, "he wants the Pearl."

Elizabeth shot Barbossa a look.  "Well, you can't have her."

"Compromise," Tia Dalma said, placing a hand on Elizabeth's shoulder.  "Will you still need the Pearl after your work is done?"

Elizabeth thought for a moment.  Barbossa gave her a mock-pleading, puppy dog look.  "Fine," she said.  "The Pearl is yours after I take the Dutchman.  So what you want most," she said, jabbing a finger at the compass, "is for us to find Jones."

The needle stopped.  It twitched, like a creature with its own mind, and pointed steadily in a new direction.  Barbossa smirked.

"That's—what, that's due northeast?" Elizabeth said.  "Isn't it all islands that way?  Why would Jones be near land?"

"I can answer that," Barbossa said.  "Before we take the Dutchman, the one thing I want most in the world—” he snapped the compass lid shut, “—is a good meal.  I can’t stomach another day of soggy mash, no offense to the chef."  He put the compass in his pocket, and when Elizabeth opened her mouth to protest, he shot her a warning glance.  "The compass stays with me.  As your new first mate, I recommend we make a stop at the next nearest port, which coincidentally serves the finest pork you’ve ever tasted."  He licked his lips.  "Fall-off-the-bone fresh.  And then you can take your revenge."

Elizabeth sighed.  "We may as well resupply there and see if we can barter for another gun or two.  Jones may be weak, but he'll still put up a fight." 

"I'll inform the crew."  Barbossa stalked out of the room.  Elizabeth hesitated for a moment, lingering beside Tia Dalma before heading out.

 

——

 

They arrived at Hog Cay and Elizabeth led them up the beach.  Tia Dalma and Barbossa flanked her on either side, the latter unable to hide his anticipation of the meal to come.  Other crews lingered along the shore in tents, making repairs and recuperating from their journeys, and Elizabeth pointed Gibbs in their direction.

“See if anyone has cannon shot to spare.  You can use the coin from Jack’s old stash,” she said.  

Gibbs averted his eyes.  “I suppose he won’t be needing it, perhaps ever,” he grumbled.  

“Oh please,” Elizabeth said.  “If there’s one thing we know about Jack, it’s that he’ll outlive us all.”

Gibbs gave a sour look and made his way to the other men on the beach.  The rest of the crew converged on the small tavern nestled in the palm trees, and Barbossa rubbed his palms together eagerly.  

“You won’t regret the delay,” he said with a chuckle. “A feast awaits us.”

The tavern was oddly crowded for a makeshift port on an out-of-the-way cay.  The smell of cooking meat overwhelmed their senses, and Elizabeth began to salivate.  A dark-skinned woman walked by with a heaping platter of pork—Barbossa’s eyes nearly popped out of his skull—and she placed it on a table for several hungry guests.  The woman turned to head back to the kitchen, but she did a double-take and whirled around to face the new arrivals.

Hector? ” she gasped.

Barbossa held his arms wide.  “Eloise!  It’s been far too long.”  The two embraced, and the crew looked amongst themselves with raised eyebrows.

“What—” she held him at arm's length, looking him up and down, “—you feel different.  What happened to you?”

Barbossa waved the question aside.  “Who can say?  A man finds himself in enough battles at sea, he’s bound to come out the other side changed.”

Elizabeth and Tia Dalma exchanged a subtle glance.  Eloise waved them to a table, and they took their seats.  “I suppose you’re still abstaining from all things edible—”

No ,” Barbossa gasped.  The whole crew fixed him with confused stares.  He cleared his throat and folded his hands on the table, and Elizabeth saw they were shaking.  “I would love nothing more than to eat a plate of your finest pork.”

A slow smile spread across Eloise’s face.  “All right, then.  Let me see what we have.”  She winked at Barbossa and left, and Barbossa stared at his hands, his eyes distant.

Pintel was the first to speak.  “Well? ” he said expectantly.  Barbossa looked up to see all eyes on him.  He gave the crew a scowl.

“Can’t a man enjoy a good meal after eight years of nothing to eat?” he said, altogether too loudly.  He dropped his voice to a harsh whisper.  “I had to sit here and stare at mouthwatering food while the curse plagued us, so let me have this one small joy.”

Ragetti scratched his chin.  “I remember us coming here a few times.  But if you couldn’t eat, why did we come here?”

Barbossa looked away, and Pintel leaned over to whisper in Ragetti’s ear.  Ragetti’s eyebrows shot up, then he looked at Barbossa and gave him a not-so-subtle thumbs up.

Eloise reappeared, but her expression was sullen.  She came up behind Barbossa and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, and he startled.  “I’m afraid that was the last of it,” she said, nodding to the other table.  

Barbossa stared down at his hands, a great darkness falling over his face.  Elizabeth had never seen him so depressed in all the time they’d sailed together.  “Well,” Elizabeth began, “do you expect a shipment tomorrow?  We have coin, and the crew would be glad to stay the night.”  

Eloise sighed.  “I really can’t say.  The state of things—” she looked out at the beach, “—the men have been talking.  Some say that whole ships are disappearing, as if sucked into the sea.  People I once relied on for trade, they haven’t been by on their normal schedule.”

Tia Dalma’s hand crept onto Elizabeth’s hand under the table, her palm cold.  “Sucked into the sea?”  Elizabeth asked.  “Were there any survivors?  Witnesses?”

A man from the table with the last helping of pork swiveled around in his chair.  He was grizzled, his face weathered by the sun and sea.  “I’ve seen it,” he said.  The people around him quieted.  “A beast with arms as long as a ship, and a mouth like the gates of Hell.”  He dropped a bone on the floor and kicked it over to a stray dog in the corner.  “It pulled our sister ship underwater, just like that.  We only got away because it took its time, eating every last sailor clinging to life in the wreck.”

The crew was silent.  The man’s hands shook as he picked up the platter, upon which was still a few good slices of meat, and held it out to Barbossa.  “Take some, my friend.”

Barbossa shook his head, his voice quiet.  “That’s all right.  You deserve the rest.”

“Suit yourself,” the man said, returning the plate to his table with a clatter.  “Funny thing—there was an English ship nearby, but the beast had no appetite for it.”  He stared off at the wall.  “Only wanted us.”

Eloise squeezed Barbossa’s shoulder and looked over the crew.  “I’ll bring you some of our other food,” she said softly.  “You won’t go hungry here.”

She and her cooks returned with beef stew, goat, and whole roast hens—warm bread baked with herbs and full-bodied ale.  The crew dug in, the ominous warning forgotten, their senses fully immersed in the feast.  Even Barbossa’s mood improved, though he, Elizabeth, and Tia Dalma remained unsettled for the rest of the meal.  

Once the crew was finished, Elizabeth decided they would anchor by the cay for the night and wait for further news in the morning.  Gibbs had secured two new cannons in exchange for Jack’s coin and the valuables they’d looted from Navy ships, and the transfer would best happen in daylight.  While the men headed back down the beach to sleep for the night, Elizabeth caught Tia Dalma by the sleeve.  Tia Dalma turned, her eyes lingering on Elizabeth’s hand.

“I’ve paid for a room here,” Elizabeth said, “in case—if you wanted something more comfortable than a tent.”

Tia Dalma smiled.  “And where will you sleep?”

Elizabeth’s face flushed red.  

The two returned to the small tavern, passing by Eloise and Barbossa who were engaged in deep conversation at a table in the corner.  Barbossa didn’t even look up—for the first time he seemed both calmed and enchanted, their two faces lit in the soft lamplight.  They heard Eloise’s kind laughter as they made their way to the rooms in the back.  Elizabeth nudged open the door for Tia Dalma and followed her inside.

As soon as the door shut behind them, Elizabeth took Tia Dalma in her arms.  Any hesitation, any question of rightness vanished, as they were finally unobserved—secluded, protected.  Elizabeth kissed Tia Dalma’s neck hungrily, pressing down all other thoughts and worries, her guilt vanishing in the heat of her desire.  Tia Dalma arched into her arms, throwing her head back in a gasp.

Elizabeth took Tia Dalma to the bed, hastily throwing aside her own hat and coat and tearing through the buttons on her blouse.  Tia Dalma shrugged off her own clothing and lay back on the sheets, her lips parted, waiting for Elizabeth to take her.  The room was warm, and Elizabeth already felt sweat dampening her back.  

She leaned over Tia Dalma and traced the curve of her neck downward with her lips, past the silver chain on her chest, until her mouth found a hardened nipple.  Elizabeth gripped the soft outer part of Tia Dalma’s thigh as her tongue played with her there, sucking and nibbling as the other woman’s breasts heaved beneath her, groaning in pleasure.  One hand slid up and gripped the back of Elizabeth’s head, fingers twining into her hair and pulling in a way that made Elizabeth want her harder.

Elizabeth felt along the inside of Tia Dalma’s thighs to a burning heat—she drew her hand across tender skin until her fingers reached the other woman’s clit.  Tia Dalma gasped, her whole body flinching—Elizabeth kissed the sweat on Tia Dalma’s jaw as she began to caress her there.  

Elizabeth’s own arousal was overwhelming, her thighs throbbing, but she continued drawing the pleasure out of Tia Dalma, feeling her grow wet beneath her fingers.  Tia Dalma gripped the back of Elizabeth’s head with both hands now, her eyes glistening like daybreak on the sea, mouth opened in quick, breathless gasps.  Her hands slid down and she tried to pull Elizabeth onto her leg, to let Elizabeth grind against her there, but Elizabeth resisted.  She was a goddess, and Elizabeth would worship her.

Tia Dalma released Elizabeth and her hands fell back to tangle into the sheets, her fists clenched.  She was wet with ecstasy, and as Elizabeth slid two fingers inside her, her thighs closed around Elizabeth’s hand.  Elizabeth gently pushed them back apart, and Tia Dalma shot her a flushed, indignant look. Elizabeth smirked, and she slid down Tia Dalma’s body to take her clit with her tongue.  

She pleasured her to the sounds of the island night, one hand slick and pressing within Tia Dalma’s warmth, stroking the tender spot within—the other holding the woman’s shaking thighs apart—all while she tasted her, worshiped her, filling the room with her moans.  Tia Dalma arched her back, lifting up off the bed, and Elizabeth pressed her back down, burying her own face deeper.  Tia Dalma finally came—her whole body convulsed and her thighs clapped over Elizabeth’s hand.  Elizabeth slid up, pressing hot kisses to Tia Dalma’s breast as she continued to finger her, riding the pleasure.  The moans grew softer and softer, until finally quieting, and Elizabeth removed her hand to join Tia Dalma at her side, letting the other woman curl into her waiting arms.

The two lay there for a long time, taking in the feel of each other’s quiet, warm bodies.  Elizabeth brought her lips to Tia Dalma’s forehead and pressed them there, inhaling deeply.  Tia Dalma finally stretched out her legs, letting out a long sigh.  She spoke in a low, honeyed whisper.

“And where does someone like you learn things like that?”

Elizabeth brought her face down nose-to-nose with Tia Dalma.  “You hear things aboard a ship filled with men.”

Tia Dalma smirked.  “No man does this.”

The two shook with quiet laughter.  The lamp in the corner was growing dim, and they repositioned themselves on the bed for the night, still in each other’s arms.  Elizabeth traced her fingers along Tia Dalma’s collarbone, and they lingered on the chain and locket there.

“It’s beautiful,” Elizabeth said.  She felt the latch in the side of it, but before she could open it, Tia Dalma pressed a gentle hand down on hers.

“Not now,” Tia Dalma said.  She turned on her side to face Elizabeth, her eyes rippling pools.  She ran her fingers tenderly along Elizabeth’s cheek.  “I want to enjoy you.”  

Elizabeth turned to kiss her fingers, and Tia Dalma slid her hand down under the sheets.  But Elizabeth flinched and caught her hand before it reached her thigh—and Tia Dalma carefully withdrew.

“I’m sorry, I—” Elizabeth’s voice cracked.  “I don’t know.  Not yet.”

Tia Dalma gave her a knowing smile and brushed Elizabeth’s hair from her eyes.  “Rest for the journey ahead.”

The two drifted off into peaceful sleep as crickets chirped through the night.

 

——

 

Elizabeth, Tia Dalma, and Barbossa emerged from their respective rooms at the same time the following morning.  They all exchanged professional nods and avoided direct eye contact, and they made their way back to the beach to round up the crew.  

The cannons were already in the process of being loaded onto the ship, and things were proceeding ahead of schedule.  Gibbs was directing the morning’s events, clapping his hands at the busy crew.

“Quick, now!  Hurry!  There’s only one dock and a whole slew of ships waiting, we can’t hold the line up!”

The three took the opportunity to board the ship at the dock, and they converged on the bow away from the crew.  Barbossa eyed the horizon, his expression dour.

“Does Jones have any reason to eliminate the free trade routes in this area?” Elizabeth asked.

Barbossa snorted.  “If there’s anything we know about Jones, it’s that there’s no strategy involved.  His only purpose is to harvest souls, whether they be pirates or dignified men.”

“Barbossa is correct,” Tia Dalma said.  “Davy Jones cares not for the workings of the world at large.  Why he would avoid a navy ship and prey on only pirates—”

But how? ” Elizabeth cut in.  “ We have the heart.  Beckett is the only other person who knows of the heart and wishes to claim it, but without it, he could no more control Jones than he could a feral cat.”  

The three stared out over the sea, each lost in thought.  Suddenly, Tia Dalma clutched a hand to Elizabeth’s coat—or rather, Will’s coat.  She met Elizabeth’s questioning gaze, and she rubbed the leather between her fingers.  Realization dawned, and Elizabeth’s face went pale.

“They have Will,” she whispered.

Barbossa whirled around.  “Come again?”

Elizabeth strode off, and the other two followed.  She began shouting out to the crew, echoing Gibbs.  “Hurry up, then!  We haven’t got all day!  We have a ship to catch!”  Her eyes were wide and fearful, her hands in fists at her sides.

Barbossa stomped around to her front and glared down.  “Tell me what’s going on.  As your first mate, I must know, else I cannot serve you.”

“Beckett has Will,” Elizabeth said.  She looked back over her shoulder at Tia Dalma, her eyes filled with pain.  “No matter his betrayal of me, no one deserves to be prisoner to that man.  Not for—” she stopped.  “Not for loving that which we call monstrous.”

Tia Dalma stepped up beside her.  Her voice was cold and decisive.  “Then we find them both, and free them from tyranny.” 

Elizabeth watched as Tia Dalma’s hand fell to her locket, her fingertips tracing the face on its surface.  She felt a growing pain in her chest, and she turned back to the crew, as the hands of fate rose up from the sea to bear down upon them. 

Chapter Text

 

Elizabeth gave the crew ten days to prepare the Pearl for war.  Whatever pirate crews fell to the Kraken in that time, it was the necessary cost of quelling the beast once and for all.  The crew worked feverishly, only catching brief moments of sleep before being jostled out of bed by the previous dead-eyed shift.

Barbossa’s expertise of the area proved invaluable, and they found a busy port stocked with the necessary supplies for Elizabeth’s plan, and secluded careenage for their application.  The Pearl was beached in a forested bay, and the crew set to work.

“We have five days before spring tide,” Elizabeth said.  She and Barbossa strode alongside the beached Pearl to the endless scraping off of barnacles from the hull.  They stepped through a pile of the shelled creatures, crunching them underfoot.  “That’s only two days for cleaning and treatment of the port side, half a day to get to her starboard, then two days more before we have to shove off.”

Pintel and Ragetti were speaking in low voices in the shade of the hull, Pintel holding a long pole in his hands.  As Elizabeth and Barbossa drew near, they heard Pintel speak.

“This is going to be so fucking efficient.”

Pintel raised the tool and began swiping up the side of the Pearl.  It was a large wooden broom that had been modified, so beside the bristles was an array of sharp, curved knives fastened along its edge.  With each swipe, at least five times the number of barnacles were pried free.  

“What is that?” Elizabeth came up behind him.  Pintel and Ragetti startled, the latter looking away sheepishly.  Pintel held the broom aloft.

“I call it the barnacle buster,” he said proudly.  Elizabeth yelled out for Gibbs and pointed at the implement.

“I want more of these made up right now,” she said.  “Call off any of the men who are lagging and set them to making these.”

Gibbs squinted at the broom, and then nodded and strode off.  Pintel and Ragetti exchanged giddy laughter.

“I’m thinking of selling these at our next port,” Pintel went on, “and then I’ll write a law so anybody who makes one owes me money.”

Barbossa scowled.  “Why would anyone do that?”

“It’s his idea,” Ragetti said.  “He deserves just compensation.”

Barbossa rolled his eyes, and he and Elizabeth walked off.  “Nobody’s going to pay for an idea .” 

Ragetti snapped his fingers in a moment of clarity.  “Call that a patent ,” he said.  Pintel’s mouth formed an O, and they began whispering fervently.

With the help of Pintel’s new invention, the Pearl was cleaned faster than they had anticipated.  Elizabeth ordered for the next stage of preparation to take place: barrels of unknown materials she had bought at the last port were lowered onto the sand.  Gibbs pried the lid off one of them, and the crew peered in.

It was filled to the brim with clear liquid.  Gibbs wrinkled his nose.  “Vinegar?”

Another barrel was popped open, and Barbossa ran his fingers through the fine white grains.  “Alum,” he said.  He eyed Elizabeth with a twinkle in his eye.  “And I suppose that’s why you asked if there was clay on this island?”

Gibbs stared at the two before realization struck.  “ We’re fireproofing her? ”  He blew out a long breath.  “God in heaven, I hope you know what you’re doing.”  He jerked his head at the crew.  “Get up into the trees and start digging.  We’ll need barrels of clay to make this work.”

Between the cleaning, mixing, applying, and drying for both sides, the Pearl barely made it on schedule.  The tide swelled up around her, lifting her off the sand, and the crew clambered back up on deck.  They pulled her back out by her anchor line, and by sunset on the fifth day she was seafaring again.

It was up to Barbossa now.  Elizabeth and Calypso stood beside him as he flipped open the compass.  There was a moment’s hesitation as the needle wandered slowly back toward Hog Cay, but Barbossa shook it aggressively, and it swung toward open water.  Elizabeth gave him a hearty clap on the back and they set off for the Dutchman.

The remnants of other ships littered their path.  It started with a few stray planks of wood, then whole sails, until finally they saw an entire half of a ship on its descent downward.  Elizabeth whispered to Gibbs, and he and a few men set to rolling large filled barrels out toward the railings.

Barbossa peered down at the bodies still floating in the water.  “French merchants,” he muttered.  “The Kraken is sinking any and all who pass through this route.  Beckett must have sent word back to reroute English vessels from the area.”

“Good God…”  Gibbs crossed himself.  “All this bloodshed, and for what, a larger share of the profits?”

Elizabeth knocked on the top of one of the barrels.  “We take out the Kraken and then get close enough to the Dutchman to force a standoff.”  She looked out toward a shipwreck on the horizon.  “Pray we make it that far.”

Barbossa glared at her out of the corner of his eye.  “We’re getting through this alive,” he said. “And I’m taking the Pearl.”

 

 

The sun rose on a clear, cloudless morning.  They had set watches all throughout the night in case the Kraken struck, but they were met only by wind and waves.  Perhaps the beast did sleep—or it was too engorged from its previous meals to move.  

The ship passed a final tangle of sails in the water.  Pintel and Ragetti stood at the bow, brandishing the be-knived brooms in each hand.  Elizabeth stood on the upper deck with her eyes pinned on the water—Barbossa was at the helm, keeping the Pearl on a steady course.  The seconds ticked by, and it was after an interminable, eerie silence, that Gibbs let out a cry.

It’s here!

The crew followed his shaking finger off the starboard side and saw the water there begin to roil.   Everyone gathered in the center of the deck away from the sides, swords and axes facing out in a huddle.  Two men in the center guarded lit candle lanterns in their arms.

“Barrels!”  Elizabeth called out.  Gibbs sprinted to the port side and began rolling the barrels out to the crew, the crew kicking them the remainder of the way, just as the Kraken’s tentacles rose out of the water.

They were enormous, grotesque—unfathomable.  Plying arms reaching out of Hell itself.  They snaked up the side of the ship so gently, as if learning its shape by feel, massive suckers sticking and un-sticking from the wood with loud pops .  

The barrels were all collected on the Kraken’s side, and Elizabeth gave Barbossa the signal.  He heaved and spun the ship’s wheel hard to starboard and hollered at the crew.

“Drop anchor!”

They released the anchoring line, and the anchor plummeted into the water, the rope spinning out behind them as Barbossa continued to turn.  Everyone grabbed hold of something solid on the ship, awaiting the inevitable.  

The anchor snagged, the rope went taut, and the entire ship dipped hard to starboard.  The Kraken’s arms came slithering up onto deck just as the Pearl went nearly horizontal in a death-defying turn.  

Elizabeth screamed out over the sound of snapping timber.  “ Now!”

The men with axes let go and slid down to the railing toward the barrels, ducking as the Kraken’s arms whipped overheard.  The crew at the center lashed out with swords and knives, keeping in a tight ball, all sharp edges.  A great long tentacle thrashed up, snapping off half of the foremast like a twig, and the whole thing swung down to crash onto the deck.  As the arm recoiled, Pintel and Ragetti set upon it like rabid dogs, stabbing it with their brooms.

The Pearl continued to turn, cutting around the Kraken in a tight circle, and the men at the railing hacked open the barrels.  As soon as one was opened with a gash, they kicked it over into the water and set upon the next one.  The water around the Kraken was a mess of froth and foam, tentacles diving in and out, and as the last barrel was flung in, a glimmering, luminescent sheen took hold.  The water bubbling above the Kraken’s mouth was slick with oil.

The ship was reaching the end of its momentum, and Elizabeth ran down to the helm.  She ducked as a tentacle lashed up, striking the very spot she had just been standing—and it sent splinters flying.  Something lodged itself in the back of her thigh, and she let out a cry.  She felt the area begin to dampen with blood, but she pressed on, limping down the steps.  Barbossa stood at the helm, unmoving, his eyes wide with purpose.

“It’s done,” she gasped, “cut the anchor line.”

Without hesitation, Barbossa threw open his coat to reveal a thin saw and raced back to the anchor.  Elizabeth gripped the wheel and yelled out to the crew.

“Light it now!”

It was at that moment that a tentacle found its mark, and it bashed into the cluster of crewmembers at the center of the deck.  The men went flying as the floor beneath them splintered, and the two who had been holding lanterns were thrown in opposite directions across the ship.  The lanterns lay shattered, though one still flickered in the chaos.

Elizabeth limped across the ship, keeping her body low until a flick of a tentacle overheard sent her flat on her stomach, knocking the wind out of her.  She brought herself up on her wrists, shakily, and she continued to crawl amid the spray and dust.  The dim lantern lay flickering before her, and when she reached it, she threw her body over it, sheltering it from a sudden rain of water from the Kraken.  When she sat back, she saw the wax had melded to the deck, and barely any wick was left.

Two pairs of familiar boots hurried to stand before her, and she looked up with a flash of inspiration.

“Give me that broom,” she said.  Pintel tossed his broom down to her, and she held it, bristles to the flame.  The thing soon ignited, sharp blades glinting in the fire.  Pintel took her by her elbow as she rose to her feet as Ragetti followed suit and dunked his own broom in the fire.  The three hurried to the railing and looked out over the edge.

The water bubbled beneath the tentacles, and out of the water rose a horrifying, thousand-teethed maw.  It gaped upward, hungering for them—to swallow them all, as it had the countless sailors before them.  But Elizabeth saw that its flesh was slick with oil, and as it rose, the oil lapped between its teeth and into its throat. 

She hefted the flaming spear up, and with a bloodthirsty yell, she hurled it into the sea.

The water ignited around the Kraken with the wrath of an inferno.  The beast let out a sickening roar, flailing its tentacles as the fire crept up its skin.  It lifted its arms off the ship, caught between the rising flames and its apparent instinct to draw them back underwater, and it let out a strangled bellow.  Elizabeth heard a whoop behind her and Ragetti’s spear arced through the air, striking dead center in the creature’s mouth.  

The sight of the creature burning from within was utterly without parallel.  It convulsed, frothing, blood boiling, as heaps of half-digested matter came up from its gut to only catch fire on the surface and add to the fetid flames.  There was a loud snap from behind them as the anchor line was cut, and the Pearl pitched forward, the wind driving it forward on its two remaining sails. 

The whole Pearl was caught in a cloud of vile smoke, and the crew fell to the deck, coughing and retching.  They were slowly gaining speed, and Barbossa returned to the helm, a cloth over his mouth, as he turned the Pearl back on a straight course.  The rest of the crew lay with their arms crooked over their mouths, eyes pinned shut and dripping with tears.  Elizabeth felt the back of her thigh with a hand, and it came away completely red.

The ship gradually cleared of smoke, and the crew crawled to the railings to look back at the fate they had escaped.  The Kraken’s tentacles curled weakly above the water, blackened and smoking, until they finally fell like trees into the still-burning sea.

The crew let out raspy cheers of joy.  Gibbs wasted no time in ordering the crew to clear away the wrecked timber, and Elizabeth limped back to the helm with Pintel and Ragetti close behind.  Barbossa had one hand on the wheel, and he was eyeing the broken mast with a faint scowl.

“I suppose I can accept the Pearl in her current state,” he said dryly.  “Though I expect reimbursement for a new anchor.”

Elizabeth smirked.  “We spent every last coin on whale oil, so I’m afraid you’ll have to wait on that.”

“So we did.”  Barbossa let out a long sigh.  “We’ll need to improvise in the coming fight.”

The wound in her leg shot a stab of pain through her body, now that the excitement of the fight had settled.  Elizabeth groaned and her legs buckled, and Ragetti came forward to catch her.

“Steady now, Captain,” he said.  “Let’s get you down to Miss Dalma.”

Ragetti escorted her below deck to where Tia Dalma had been safely secluded.  He helped her lay face-down on a mess of blankets on the floor, and Tia Dalma knelt beside her with a sigh of relief.

“This is nothing compared to what could have come,” Tia Dalma said.  She rested a hand on Ragetti’s arm as he rose to leave.  “Thank you.  You will be blessed by the sea for your deeds today.”

Ragetti blushed and ducked his head in thanks, then hurried out.  Tia Dalma leaned forward to give Elizabeth a soft kiss on her head before setting to work on healing her.

 

 

Jack woke with a jolt in the pitch black of the Dutchman’s hold.  The ship creaked around him, and he squinted at the moving creatures along the walls.  He had heard something.  Or someone.

It had been a restless—how many days?since he determined that Mercer was out to kill him.  He slept fitfully, wedged in dark corners of the ship, moving every few hours to shake the hitman off his tail.  The lack of sleep only fueled his paranoia, but he was certain that the scarred masochist had memorized how to conduct the ritual.  Jack stood, feeling his bones ache at the unnatural sleeping position he’d forced himself to take.  He felt around his side for a moment before breathing a sigh of reliefthe satchel was still there.

He heard the noise again.  It came from all around him, like slurping—no, of air being sucked out of a space.  Seconds passed and he stood frozen, until he felt his ankles dampen.  

Jack screamed and raced through the ship.  Water splashed in from every corner, as the ship prepared itself to descend beneath the waves.  He saw light glinting down from the hatch ahead and scrambled up just as a surge of water crashed below.  He didn’t even have time to process the Dutchman crew fixing him with baffled stares on deck as he made for the only door—and only airtight room—in sight.  He slammed the door to Jones’ quarters behind him and latched it moments below water slammed into the other side.  

Jack slumped to the floor.  He knew that if he still had his heart, it would be beating out of his chest.  

The sad, slow music of Jones’ organ continued to play, unbroken by Jack’s intrusion.  Jack stumbled to his feet and crept toward the hunched figure of Jones.

“Excuse me—” Jack cleared his throat.  The music stopped.  “May I ask, why are we diving?  Are there not still English sailors aboard—along with the slimy bastard Mercer?”

Jones turned his head, eyeing Jack with muted irritation.  “They left.”  He pressed a single key on the organ, holding it down in a long, drawn-out echo.  “We dive and strike on their orders now.”

“Hold on a minute,” Jack raised his palms.  “You’re telling me I’ve been sleeping wedged next to a man in the wall who won’t shut up about the 1500s—and Mercer’s gone ?”

Jones released the key.  “And taken Will with him.”

Jack let out a soft, “Oh. ”  He twiddled his thumbs, the two sharing an uncomfortable silence.  Suddenly, Jack snapped his fingers.  “I know,” he said with a smile.  Jones did not share his amusement.  “What say you to a bargain?”

The back of Jones’ head twitched.  He swiveled around in his seat, his face writhing in growing fury.  “I am not in the mood for one of your useless, deceptive—”

“I’ll get Will back for you.”

Jones stopped.  He eyed Jack carefully, then flicked his long finger.  “Go on.”

“Right,” Jack began pacing the floor in front of Jones, stroking his beard.  “We’re chaperoned by two heavily armed vessels, and I’d wager that you don’t know which one Will’s on.  They’d have switched him or led you to believe they’ve done so, and that’s all by design.”

Jones raised an eyebrow.  Jack went on.  “The only way to know for sure is if someone were to end up in the brig on either ship and send a message back.  Luckily for you, I’m still here.”

Jones leaned back, his mind working slowly through its melancholy haze.  “How do you intend to do this?”

“You’ll have to call Beckett’s men over and hand me off.  Make a scene of it.  Say I insulted your dear mother’s haggis recipe and you wish to see me in chains—it doesn’t matter, just as long as they take me to the brig, and Mercer doesn’t get his slippery hands on me.”  

Jones let out a long sigh.  “I have little sway with them as far as things lay, but they will board the Dutchman after our next prize.”  He let out a growl of indignation.  “They wish to ensure we are not taking anything out from under them after our raids—as if we have any need for coin or mortal goods.”

Jack clapped his hands together.  “Excellent.  Greedy men are so very easy to mislead.”  He paused.  “Once I’m on the ship, I’ll raise either a black or white flag.  White means I’ve found Will, and you start firing on the other ship.  Black means I haven’t, and you fire on that ship.”

Jones smirked.  “With you still aboard?”

Jack shook the satchel on his shoulder, though his complexion was decidedly pale.  “I’ll be fine,” he said weakly.

Something stirred in the corner of the room, and Jack let out a yelp.  The eel-toothed woman who had stolen away Will at Tortuga peeked out of the shadows, and Jack pointed at her with a shaking finger.  “ You again.  Why are you in here?”

She stepped out into the light, revealing a fat seagull wrapped up in a comfortable cloth carrier on her chest.  

“Coxswain Bird can’t breathe water,” Morey said, and she stroked the bird’s feathery head.

Jack choked.  “ Coxswain ?”  He gaped at Jones.  “You’ve given charge to a bird?”

Jones ignored Jack’s question and snapped his fingers at Morey.  “You’ll be going along with Jack.  I will not leave a matter of this great importance to a cheat and a liar.”  He eyed Jack with a glare.  “And what, may I ask, do you ask in return for Will?”

Jack held up his hands in submission.  “Consider it an act of goodwill,” he cleared his throat, then spoke in a rapid mumble, “though I would greatly appreciate if you’d square away all my debts.”

Jones rolled his eyes.  “As I expected.”  He extended his hand, and Jack examined it with a wince before shaking.  It left a slick film across Jack’s hand, and Jack withdrew slowly, fingers splayed, his eyes screaming in discomfort.  Jones didn’t notice and turned back to his music. 

“Be prepared to earn your place in the brig,” he warned.

 

 

After the Dutchman’s conquest of another pirate ship, during which Jack and Morey stayed hidden away in Jones’ cabin, Jones peered in the cabin door and spoke in a low grunt.

“They’re here.”

Morey unraveled the seagull from her chest and kissed it tenderly on the forehead before placing it on the pipe organ.  “Be good,” she whispered.  The bird waddled across the keys, producing an off-putting minor chord.

Before Jack could gather his wits, Jones reached into the room and took Morey and Jack by the scruffs of their necks and dragged them out into the daylight.  Caught by surprise, the two yelled out and struggled instinctively, writhing under Jones’ iron grip.  The captain marched out onto the deck before the confused Dutchman crew—among whom were Mercer and Beckett themselves—and he flung the two down with barely dampened force.

You ,” Jones snarled, fixing Jack with a look of unmitigated violence, “have the audacity to sow mutiny among my crew?”  He stomped his crab leg down inches from Jack’s crotch.  Jack screamed.  “You think you can run my ship better than me?”

The Dutchman crew were whispering among themselves furiously, and Beckett and Mercer’s interest suddenly piqued.  Morey made to scramble away, but Jones caught her with his claw, lifting her and shaking her like a leaf.  “and you dare to aid this lying wretch!”

Jones drew his pistol with his other hand and pointed it down at the satchel upon Jack’s chest.  Jack shook in genuine terror, the ruse itself taking nothing away from the absolute conviction in Jones’ performance.  It was at that point that Beckett stepped forward, a hand raised.

“There will be no senseless executions upon this ship,” Beckett said.  He nodded to two sailors at his side, and they hurried forward, bayonets raised.  Jones dropped Morey with a scowl and holstered his pistol, and the sailors hoisted Morey and Jack upright.

“We will take these mutineers off your hands,” Beckett suggested.  Jones snarled and stepped forward, his anger rising.

“I am more than capable of enacting discipline among my own crew,” he spat.

“Apparently not,” Beckett said.  He waved to the sailors.  “Put them in the longboat and have them locked up.  I’ll deal with them in time.”

Mercer cut in, “Sir, perhaps we should just kill Sparrow here.  He’s too dangerous to—”

Beckett shot Mercer a disappointed glance.  “Your lust for bloodshed makes you unable to see the grand scheme of things.  Sparrow may still be useful to us in other unforeseen ways.”  Beckett toyed with something between his fingers, his eyes piercing beyond the horizon.  Jack squinted to see a single piece of eight pinched between Beckett’s thumb and forefinger, from which came an almost imperceptible hum.

As Jack was escorted past Mercer, the two exchanged an unbearably long glare.  Jack leaned over and whispered, “Keep your heart close, mate.”

The sailor pushed him back in line, and he and Morey were escorted into the longboat.  Jones gave them a last huff of indignation before they left for the other ships.

 

 

Jack and Morey were taken aboard the HMS Atropos in chains and led down into the brig.  There had been no thought to separate them, and when they arrived below they discovered why: Will was not there.  The crew had seemingly accounted for the possibility that Jack and Morey might try to free Will, and so they were both placed on the other ship. 

As soon as the guards locked the cell and left, Jack slumped against the wall with a sigh.  “I suppose this was to be expected,” he grumbled.  He looked sidelong at Morey.  “Tell me, what happens to your kind if you get your head blown off?”

Morey frowned.  “It happens to Hadras quite a lot.  Your body finds its way back to its head—or if its beyond repair, you regrow one.”

Jack shivered.  “Let’s find our black flag, then.”  

Sending Morey along had been a stroke of unintended genius on Jones’ part: Morey quickly settled down in the corner and, to Jack’s horror, unhinged her jaw and began gnawing her way through the wooden bars.  Jack sat back, watching in grotesque fascination.

The bars finally collapsed in a heap, leaving behind a person-sized hole.  Morey clicked her jaw back into place, and Jack cleared his throat.

“Any man, woman, or deep sea beast would be lucky to call you their own,” he said.  Morey slipped out of the cell, fox-like, and Jack followed on his hands and knees.  The two crept across the floor, hearing the dull creak of footsteps from above.  They inched along in near silence until they reached the steps leading up, but they drew themselves back against the wall as a series of shadows passed by.  

Morey spoke to Jack in a hiss.  “Why don’t we just sink the ship from here?  I can make a hole in the wall and we swim out.  Save us all the trouble.”

Jack eyed the stairway, his lips dry.  “Not yet.”

They snuck up to the next floor, ducking into a pile of sheets and blankets as two sailors strode by, muttering amongst themselves.

“Things have gotten worse ever since we took that man from Jones,” one said sourly.  “No joy, no food—captain won’t even let us play knife games.”  The sailors disappeared around a corner.

Jack nudged Morey and pointed down the hall toward another two doors.  “Mercer will be keeping a small wooden box in the wardroom, if this ship is where he sleeps.”  Jack licked his parched lips.  “I cannot be assured of my own salvation without it.”

Before Jack could take a single step toward his prize, they heard a click behind them.  Mercer stepped out from the shadows, pistol cocked in his hand.

“I was just about to pay you two a visit,” Mercer said, his eyes dancing.  “Glad I decided to come down so early.  That has to be the fastest escape I’ve ever seen.”

Morey bared her teeth in an animal hiss.  Jack felt his blood still in his body, and he raised his hands slowly in submission.  The pistol had been aimed squarely at the center of Jack’s forehead, and now Mercer moved it down to point directly at the satchel.  

“Awfully careless of you to carry it around like that,” Mercer said.  “I expected a bit more cleverness from you.”

Mercer’s finger twitched back.  In a flash, before the gun could fire, Jack took his dagger from his belt and nicked the side of the satchel.

The pistol fell from Mercer’s hand.  His eyes went wide in disbelieving agony as he let out a gasp, hunching over.  The satchel moistened with a few drops of blood, and Mercer screamed through clenched teeth.

You fucking thief!

In one swift movement Jack wrestled Mercer’s black coat free of his shaking form, and Morey took off like a barracuda down the hall.  Mercer lunged out at Jack’s legs, but Jack dodged back with the coat bundled in his arms.

“Since the very beginning, mate,” Jack said.  "The moment you turned your back to button your shirt."  He sprinted past Mercer up the steps above deck, and Mercer clambered after him, froth and spit flying from his mouth.  Jack’s foot caught on a rope and he tripped, falling forward flat onto Mercer’s heart.  Mercer let out another scream behind him, and Jack took the opening to throw himself on the main mast and begin climbing up.  

He climbed as he had never done before, skin scraping against the coarse ropes, feet slipping and dangling out over empty space only for him to swing himself still higher.  He was halfway up the mast when he shook the black coat out.  He waved it in a frenzy, hoping against hope that he would be seen where he was—a small black speck against the white sails.  He continued to drag himself up one-handed, sweat and blood dampening his arms.

Jack thought perhaps that all had been lost, until the first cannonball struck.  It hit square on the main mast, shattering the wood beneath him—and Jack went flying into the sea.

 

 

Hours prior, the Pearl arrived within sight of the Dutchman and its two accompanying ships.  Elizabeth and the rest of the crew crowded at the bow, squinting off into the distance.

“Clever,” Elizabeth muttered.  “Beckett is keeping Will on one of the two—and we aren’t meant to know which.”

“Excuse me—” Ragetti raised a shaking hand.  Everyone turned to stare at him.  “S-sorry,” he cleared his throat.  “Why aren’t we at our stations now?”

“Because they know we have Jones’ heart,” Elizabeth said.  “If they fire on us, they risk killing him, or provoking us to kill him outright.”

“Ah,” Ragetti scratched his chin.  “So we have the heart, and they know that we have the heart, and we know that they know that we have the heart—”

Barbossa sighed.  “Shall we douse the sails and let ourselves drift?”

Elizabeth continued eyeing the ships in the distance.  “No, I want us to be ready.  Stay outside their firing range and cut back and forth if you have to."

Barbossa nodded and returned to the helm.

Time ticked by.  Across the stretch of sea, on HMS Providence, Norrington and Beckett eyed the distant Pearl.  The wreck of the just-massacred pirate ship bobbed against their hull.

“Is this really necessary?” Norrington asked, his voice low.  “As an agent of so-called civilization, you exercise hypocrisy with such extreme measures.  Better men would have granted them a fair trial.  With pardons you might have even earned yourself seasoned traders.”

Beckett tutted quietly.  “Our purpose here is not to rehabilitate.”

“Then leave some men behind,” Norrington argued.  “Let your message spread on fearful voices, persuade the rest into submission, and save us all the bloodshed.”

I said , we are not here to corral England’s prodigal sons into a father’s welcoming embrace,”  Beckett flicked a splinter from the railing.  “We are here to wash the roads clean to make way for a brighter future.”

Norrington stared down at the body of a sailor passing by on the current.  The body turned slowly to face upward, revealing a young, sunburnt boy, no older than twelve, his eyes closed in eternal sleep.  

Norrington cleared his throat.  “Excuse me.”

He left Beckett and descended below deck, his jaw clenched tight.  His fingers toyed with the plain black buttons of his salvaged coat.

Will was sitting upright in his cell with one knee pulled up to his chest.  His other hand absently traced the wood grain on the floor, his eyes empty.  He suddenly flinched and drew his hand up, revealing a splinter stuck in his finger—and he saw Norrington waiting beyond the bars.  He scowled and looked back at the floor.

“What do you want?” Will muttered.

Norrington was critically aware of the guard stationed just outside in the hall.  He spoke quietly, his tone placating.  “Whatever ill feelings we’ve harbored toward one another, I hope we can set them aside.”

Will snorted and leaned his head back, closing his eyes.  Norrington swore and knelt by the cell.

“Look—” Norrington took a deep breath.  “I apologize specifically for the part I’ve played in this.  For letting rank and the promise of forgiveness—pardon and reinstatement—detract from the very real cruelties now unfolding before us.”  He paused.  “This is not the England I know.”

Will opened his eyes and peered at Norrington.  “She was always cruel,” he said.  “You were just in a position not to notice.”

Norrington looked down at his hands and the grime that had worked its way into every crevice of his skin.  “Perhaps you’re right,” he said.

The guard from outside stepped in, casting a suspicious glance between the two.  He did a double take at Norrington.  “Hold on, aren’t you the disgraced captain we’re meant to keep watch on?”  He waved his gun.  “Get out, and stay where I can see you.”

Norrington stepped past the guard, his head bowed in resignation.  As the guard’s gaze lingered on Will, checking the cell for any indication of tampering, Norrington spun around and elbowed the guard sharply in the back of his neck.  

The guard’s breath was knocked out of him, and he stumbled.  As he fell, Norrington wrenched the manacles from his coat free and clapped one cuff around the guard’s left wrist.  The guard swung with his other arm, and Norrington ducked, kneeing him in the stomach.  He secured the other cuff on the bars of an empty cell and kicked the man’s gun and sword away.

Will gripped the door of the cell, his eyes wide.  Norrington removed the guard’s keys and with shaking hands, he set Will free.

“If we make it to the gunroom, you can crawl out the side and swim back to the Dutchman,” Norrington said.  “Though it’ll be difficult with a proper distraction.”

The two heard a boom in the distance.  They froze, eyeing the ceiling as boots pounded overhead.  They slipped back into the shadows and pressed their ears to the walls.

The Dutchman is firing on Atropos!

Make ready the guns!”

Norrington and Will exchanged a shocked look.  “Why the hell would they do that?” Will asked.  

“Jones must know you’re not here,” Norrington said, peeking out into the hall.  “However he found out or whatever hunch he had, let’s be grateful he was right.”

They hurried out and up, blending in with the ensuing chaos.

On the Pearl, Elizabeth gave the call to engage.

“Ready our guns to aid the Dutchman’s fire!” she called out.  “Bring us in!”

The Pearl turned about, heading in a direct line for the Atropos.  Elizabeth strode back to the helm and stood at Barbossa’s side.  “Either Will made it back or he’s part way there,” she said.  

She snapped at Pintel and Ragetti who stood quivering in excitement.  “You two, keep an eye on the waters for any sign of life as we come near.”  

The two saluted and separated to opposite sides of the ship.  

Barbossa let out a long hum.  “The Pearl can’t take much more of a fight today,” he said.  

“Then let’s hope the Dutchman does most of the work for us,” Elizabeth replied.

They neared the fight and set off their first round of fire.  The Atropos was pinned between them at a right angle, the Providence just behind it and blocked from a clear line of sight, unable to intervene.  The port to the three-gun gatling cannon on the Dutchman slid open and unleashed a rain of hellfire.  

Two of the three masts had been blown clean apart on the Atropos, and she was struggling to hit any mark.  Suddenly, a voice came calling down from the crow’s nest.  

“The Providence is turning to flee!”

Elizabeth swore and ran to the bow.  True enough, the other ship was using the Atropos’ death to secure time for an escape.  

“Do not fire on her until the Dutchman does!” Elizabeth commanded.  Sailors were flinging themselves from the Atropos, and the ship gave a mighty creak as it filled with water.  The Dutchman had ceased firing on her, but neither did it pursue the Providence.  They were all waiting for Will.

“Should we follow?” Gibbs asked.  

Elizabeth shouted back to the crew.  “Any sign of him?”

Pintel and Ragetti both called out in the negative.  Elizabeth clenched her jaw.  “He could be anywhere.”

Ragetti suddenly let out a whoop of surprise and flung a line of rope over the side.  The crew rushed over and helped him drag up a sopping figure, coughing up water and clinging to the rope like a wet rat.  But it was not Will.  

Norrington fell onto the deck, spluttering and wheezing.  Gibbs helped him upright, but as soon as he recognized him, he recoiled with a gasp.  

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph— ” Gibbs made the sign of the cross.  “How did you—?”

Norrington spoke in a faint rasp.  “Sea turtles.”  He waved at Ragetti, who handed him a flask of liquor.  Norrington downed the whole thing then coughed again, spitting on the deck.  “Will was right behind me,” he wheezed.  “We jumped from the Providence as soon as the fighting started.”

“So he’s free then,” Elizabeth said.  She looked back up to see the Providence quickly receding toward the horizon.  The Dutchman had not moved from its position.  

“It’s not worth it,” Norrington said, following her gaze.  “Beckett saved the greater share of guns for his ship.  Rest assured, he’ll be back.”

Another live one! ” Pintel cried out.  He fumbled with the rope before dragging up another wet figure—but this one no one recognized.  

The British sailor stood before them, seemingly nonplussed by his flight from a heavily-battered ship, nor the water that filled his lungs.  He opened his mouth and bent forward, letting it gush out as if he were a spigot.  He righted himself and wiped a sleeve across his face.  

Holy Hell —” Pintel breathed.  He wrenched the man’s coat open, revealing an enormous splinter of wood, the length of his forearm, stuck in the sailor’s chest.  The sailor looked down in barely passing surprise.  The sailor gripped the splinter in both hands and yanked it out with only a small grunt.

The whole crew stared in horrified disbelief.  Within seconds of removal, the wound in the sailor’s chest began to heal over.  Vessels and tendons re-stitched themselves, the flesh reattaching across the gap and finally sealing the wound shut.  Gibbs clapped a hand over his heart, his face pale.

“Ah,” Norrington said.  “Yes, that would be surprising.  We have so much to catch up on.”

Pintel lifted his leg and gave the British sailor a mighty kick.  His heel connected square with the man’s chest, and the sailor went flying back off the ship.  They heard a splash below.

“That was a very high kick,” Ragetti remarked in wonder.  “You do stretches?”

Pintel blushed in embarrassment.  “A little bit every day.”

Something heaved itself over the side of the ship, and Pintel whirled back around, his hands ready to strike.  But he and the crew let out cries of joy as Will stumbled onto the deck.

“Did you throw a body down at me?” Will asked.  

Gibbs clapped Will on the back, and Pintel and Ragetti both threw themselves on him in a hug.  Pintel rubbed his knuckle onto Will’s head in a gesture of endearment, which Will only barely tolerated.  

Elizabeth stood back, and Tia Dalma waited beside her, eyeing the new arrival.  Both of them saw at the same time the glint of a silver chain around Will’s neck.  Will shook out his arms and squeezed the water free from his shirt, and it was then that the locket slipped out from between his buttons.

Tia Dalma seemed to shiver, and without a word she gripped Elizabeth’s hand in hers.  Will finally met Elizabeth’s gaze, and he turned away at first, his eyes clouded with shame.  

“Let’s get you back to the Dutchman,” Elizabeth said.  Will looked up, his mouth open.  “It’s time we formally greet our new allies.”

The Pearl signaled the Dutchman and furled its sails, drifting slowly along the currents as the Dutchman came up beside her.  A rope and planks were thrown down between them, and Will waited in visible excitement.  Across the gap appeared Davy Jones, and Will leapt onto the plank.  He raced across, nearly slipping into the water twice, and he threw himself at the other man waiting there for him.

Whatever qualms Jones may have had in showing his heart to the other crew—for all the evasion and secrecy with which he guarded his most vulnerable moments—all was forgotten as he threw his arms around Will.  

The Dutchman’s crew let out a long awww .  Any other time, Jones would have snapped at them for silence, but he was lost, his eyes shut tight as Will buried his face in his chest.

Tia Dalma turned her back to the events and whispered in Elizabeth’s ear.  “I need to rest,” she said quietly.  Elizabeth watched her retreat below, and she made to follow her but felt a hand on her shoulder.  

Barbossa was there, and he spoke in a low tone.  “Let her go,” he said.  “We could all do with some time to reckon with the new world that lay before us.”

 

 

The Providence’s crew shouted out as a body was dragged from the water.  The wreck of the Atropos lay far behind them, with the Dutchman and Pearl fading into the horizon.  Beckett strode over to the men as the dripping figure was dropped onto the deck, and he raised an eyebrow in surprise.

“Ah,” he said. “You’ve made it.”  

Mercer gave a small groan and pushed himself upright.  He shook his head like a dog, dislodging water from his ear.  “Took you long enough to find me clinging to the hull,” he muttered.  He stood and swayed, catching himself on the railing.  “I could use a quick drink.”

Beckett swept one hand out in a gesture of welcome.  “Please, indulge yourself in whatever manner you still can.”

Mercer grunted and passed by.  He removed his slick gloves with disdain and made it to the door of the captain’s cabin—but behind him another sailor called out.

Found another one!

Jack was dropped onto the deck, groaning in pain as his knee hit the wood hard.  He rolled over onto his back and gazed up, a look of sour resignation on his face.  

“He was trying to sneak in through one of the gun ports,” the sailor said.  

Beckett drew near to stand over him, looking down with a righteous glare.  “Sparrow, again.”  He sighed.  “Like a flea to a dog, you never give up clinging to the backs of beasts much greater than you.”

Jack spit out a string of seaweed.  “You just admitted you’re a dog.”  The satchel lay at his side, damp and red.

Beckett’s nose twitched.  “You know,” he said.  “I’m starting to grow tired of Sparrow as well.  Mr. Mercer, perhaps you were right.”

Mercer’s eyes grew wide.  “Sir—wait—”

I will not give and rescind mercy at your beckoning , Mercer,” Beckett spat.  “You cannot begin to fathom the choices I must make.  There will be other sources for the information I seek.”

Beckett drew his pistol, cocked it, and fired on the heart.  

Jack flinched.  Beckett stared down at Jack, who blinked back up at him, and Beckett’s brows furrowed in confusion.  It was then that he heard the strangled gasp behind him, and he turned.

Mercer’s hand was clasped over his bare chest.  He had ripped his shirt open to reveal black blood pooling beneath his skin, spreading like tendrils over the place where his heart should have been.  

Beckett’s eyes went wide in dawning horror.  He whipped back toward Jack, the heart, then back to Mercer.  Mercer sank to his knees, his eyes clouding with white.  Beckett stood frozen, his hand quivering at his side, as Mercer slumped to the deck and gave one last rattling breath.

Beckett slowly turned back to Jack—and was greeted by the sight of the empty satchel, heart rolling across the deck, and the sound of a splash in the water below.  The heart finally settled, with the bullet hole facing him. 

Chapter Text

Davy Jones stalked across the plank to the Pearl, the rest of his crew waiting behind.  Will was already at the door of the Pearl’s main cabin, tapping his toes anxiously, peering into where the captain and her favored goddess waited.  The two ships had been secured together, the Dutchman anchoring the both of them, the Pearl clinging to her like a ragged orphan child.

Jones took his time, the steady thump of his leg sounding against the wood.  He did not want this.

He finally reached the door, and Will held it open for him, and the two entered.  The cabin was quiet and cold.  It had been spared any direct gunfire, but one side of the room was piled high with goods from below that had been damaged by water.  In the center was a table, on one side of which sat Elizabeth and Calypso.

Will took his seat across from them, and the three watched Jones.  He stood rigidly by the door, his claw clenched, beard twisting upon itself in discomfort.  Calypso held his gaze, a quiet fury, beneath which the ferocity of the sea roiled.  Jones looked from her to Will, and a reassuring smile passed over Will’s lips.  His body stilled.  There was a calming encouragement, a warmth he had never quite known before.

Jones settled down beside Will and stared fixedly at his own hand on the table.  Elizabeth at last cleared her throat to speak.

“I appreciate your willingness to meet with us regarding the threat we now all face,” she began.  “We have not seen the last of Beckett—I fear he will return with even greater numbers.”

“The fate of pirates does not concern me,” Jones said quietly.  “Beckett is no threat to me.”

Elizabeth folded her hands on the table.  “With all due respect, Captain Jones,” she said, “he overpowered you with a mere three ships.”

Jones’ hand balled into a fist, and he slammed it on the table.  “Which would not have happened, had she not meddled with my heart.”  Elizabeth flinched, and Calypso reached instinctively for her satchel.  

Jones felt something touch his knee under the table.  Will's hand was there.  He grumbled and settled back.

"We apologize for the hardship that was caused," Elizabeth said.  "Had we known our enemy was the same, we would have acted with greater caution."

Jones scoffed.  "Where is it?"

The table went quiet.  Calypso slowly reached into her satchel, her eyes not leaving his, and produced Jones' beating heart.

Jones thrashed his hand, and his tentacle finger unfurled faster than cannon fire.  It whipped across the gap toward his heart, to ensnare itbut Calypso hadn't blinked.  She whirled away, and Jones' finger coiled around her elbow, catching her there.  Everyone leapt to their feet, knocking back their chairs as Calypso and Jones locked themselves together in writhing hatred.

Their companions finally intervened.  Will hooked an arm around Jones' waist, wrestling him like a bull, while Elizabeth took Tia Dalma's face in her hands.

"Give it to him.  Please," Elizabeth urged.  "Just give it back."  

Calypso’s face softened under Elizabeth’s touch, and she looked away for a moment, her eyes dark.  Finally, she nodded.  Elizabeth shot a glance at Jones.

“Captain, please.”

Will rested a hand on Jones’ wrist.   Jones uncoiled from Calypso, drawing back and letting out a low growl.  Will had his other arm around Jones’ back, holding him, willing him to calm.  Jones watched intently as Calypso placed the heart down in the center of the table.  

“Take it,” Calypso whispered.  Her voice was shaking. “It’s yours.”

Jones took the heart without pause and stuffed it into his left breast pocket.  Suddenly, a thought occurred to him, and he removed the heart to place it in a pocket much lower on the other side.  Will nodded approvingly.

“Right, let’s get back to it,” Elizabeth said, stifling a snort.  They returned to their seats and examined each other again across the table, the mood shifted.  Jones regarded Elizabeth and Calypso with visible curiosity, and Calypso eyed Will with frank disbelief.

Outside on the deck, the Pearl’s crew stood around in uncomfortable silence.  The ship bobbed in the gentle current, and seagulls reeled overhead.  Gibbs seemed particularly agitated, and he looked around, chewing his lip.  Ragetti and Pintel were admiring a small wooden duck Ragetti had whittled from a piece of the Pearl that came loose in the fight.  Barbossa was staring off at the Dutchman, his nose wrinkled, and the Dutchman’s crew stared back.  Maccus made a dismissive gesture across the railing, and Barbossa scoffed, shrugging and turning away.  Norrington was leaning back, eyes pleasantly closed in the sun.

Finally, Gibbs could take it no more.

All right, is anyone going to ask the obvious question here? ” 

His tone was harsher than anticipated.  The whole crew turned, and Gibbs fumbled, lowering his voice.  “What I mean to say is,” he coughed.  “What is it that the captain of the Flying Dutchman sees in Will Turner?”

The crew was silent, all at a loss.  Barbossa opened his mouth for a second, before shaking his head and tutting quietly.  “I’ve got nothing,” he said.  

“He’s got a very pretty face,” Pintel offered.  Ragetti nodded vigorously.  “Nice jawline.”

“One of the best blacksmiths I know,” Norrington added.  He sighed and looked off at the sea.  “If there’s anything I know about Will Turner, it’s that he never gives up a fight.  He would sooner die than let the one he loves live a life anything less than what he dreams of.”

“That’s all well and good,” Gibbs said.  “But is it right? ” He gestured at the cabin door.  “I mean…the two of them, together?”

The whole crew suddenly let out calls of disapproval, turning on him in an instant.

“Look at Mister Morality over here,” Pike said.  “Fucking Catholic.”

“Go suck the King’s tits if you’re so desperate for his approval,” Marty spat.

Gibbs threw up his hands.  “ I’m not Catholic, and that’s not what I meant! ” he cried.  “I’m just saying, that’s the literal devil of the sea, and he’s—” Gibbs’ voice cracked.  “He’s our boy.  The one we fished from a wreck, you and I.”  He spoke to Norrington, who returned his gaze with a conflicted look.  “Is he safe with a monster?”

“I bet it looks like a tentacle,” Pintel suddenly said.  Gibbs whirled on him, nostrils flaring.  Pintel blinked.  “What?  He’s covered in tentacles, makes sense he’s got another one down below.”

“I second that,” Ragetti said, picking at his nails.  “It’s morphological consistency.”

Marty and Pike cut in, speaking over one another, and the rest of the crew chimed in.  Even Cotton’s parrot had something to say.  

Raawk!  Jellies and fish!  Jellies and fish!”

“Enough!”  Barbossa stomped his boot down, and the crew fell silent.  He looked around, his eyes wild and red.  He stalked into the middle of the deck and fixed the sky with a prying gaze.  He held up one finger and spoke.

“Anemone,” he said.  “ One anemone.  This wide.  That’s my bet.”

The crew erupted in chaos.

Back in the captain’s quarters, Jones swiveled in his chair to glare at the door.  “Your crew makes an unseemly amount of noise.  You should consider commanding them with more discipline, Captain Swann.”

“Apologies,” Elizabeth said.  She laid her hands flat on the table.  “Perhaps we can discuss your crew and where you’d like them to be.  I know you have little to gain from the politics of mortal men, but you stand to benefit from Beckett’s defeat and continued piracy as much as we.”

Jones raised an eyebrow.  “How is that?”

“Well,” Elizabeth grunted, “you recruit from the multitude of sailors at sea—surely, you appreciate the variety that exists among them.  If one nation or only the few seafaring governments of Europe created a monopoly on trade, you’d have a frighteningly diminished quality of men—and souls.”  

Jones narrowed his eyes.  “Try again.”

“All I’m asking is,” Elizabeth’s voice wavered, “how much more work is it to persuade loyal Englishmen to give up their souls to man your ship, as opposed to a pirate?” She gestured vaguely at Will.  “Pirate loyalties are much easier to sway, aren’t they?”

Jones’ lip twitched.  “I can be quite convincing.”  He slid his chair back and stood.  “You present me with nearly the full burden of risk and no reward, so I’m afraid I must decline.  We can give you our anchor for the part you played in Will’s release—I expect the ship will grow a new one within the week.”  He nodded Will toward the door, and the two turned to leave.

Calypso finally spoke.  Her voice was low, gravelly, and she took great care with her words.  She did not meet Jone’s gaze.

“I will free you of your form and grant the soul-ferrying to another.”

Will and Jones froze.  Elizabeth fixed Calypso with wide eyes, and Jones saw this offer was never originally in the cards.  He leaned back over the table and glared down upon Calypso.

“And what,” he whispered, “would compel you to such an act of kindness?”

Calypso now turned to Elizabeth.  When she spoke, Elizabeth felt ripples of the power that lay caged within.  “Coins ring, calling the pirate lords to the Brethren Court,” she said.  “The lords will decide whether to aid in Beckett’s destruction or to protect their own.  Whatever they choose, they are the ones who bound me, and so they must release me.  Compel them to do this, and I will grant Davy Jones his reward.”

Jones stood utterly still.  Elizabeth and Calypso sat in fragile silence, each gauging the other’s reaction.

Will crept up next to Jones and coughed quietly.  “So,” he said, breaking the palpable tension, “this would, ah—” he gestured at Jones’ be-tentacled body, “this would all…go?”

The other three stared at him. “Yes,” Jones said slowly, “I would appear as I did before I was turned.  A full man.”

Will bit his lip.  “Oh.”

Elizabeth blinked hard, turning back to Calypso. “What happens to you when you’re released?  What does that entail?”  She swallowed and shook her head.  “Are you intangible?  Do you cease to be in any visible sense?  Do—”

Calypso reached up and took the side of Elizabeth’s face in a hand, silencing her gently with a thumb pressed to her lips.  Will’s jaw opened in obvious shock, and he looked at Jones.  Jones returned his gaze with a look of validation, and his claw clacked twice.  They continued to glance between the other couple and each other, claw-clacking communication and questions building in the air, until finally Jones spoke.  

“I will lend you the Dutchman’s power,” he said to Elizabeth.  “Though the Kraken may never recover from the fire you unleashed upon her.”

Elizabeth startled and looked up.  “Again, I—”

“Enough apologies,” Jones warned, raising his giant claw.  “I require an unwavering ally who will not quiver over misdeeds of the past.”  He motioned Will to the door.  “Let’s move the anchor.”

Will and Jones stepped out onto the deck to an utterly chaotic sight.  Someone had hauled a chalkboard out of the hold and set it up against the main mast, and on this Ragetti scrawled furiously as Pintel barked out beside him.  

“Alright, who’s in on Lots of Coral?   Who said that first?  You?  I already have you in for Two to Four Barnacles, Circle Arrangement— what?  Oh that’s right, you were on Five to Ten… got it, write that down—so who did—”

Pintel froze, and Ragetti dropped the chalk with a clatter.  Jones and Will stood in the middle of the crew, Jones’ head whipping wildly back and forth at the cowering men.  Will squinted at the chalkboard.

Stacked Starfish? ” He read out loud.  “What is this?”

Barbossa pushed his way to the front and sniffed loudly.  “We were simply voting on the crew’s preferred seafood for tonight, and we thought, what with your kinship to the sea,” he gestured at Jones, “you might take offense to such a meal.”

“Then why does it say Normal Penis on the board?” Will asked.  “With one tick mark next to it?”

The crew looked around in deep discomfort.  Realization suddenly struck Jones, and he choked, bending over in a hacking cough.  Sea water bubbled in his nostrils, and without looking up, he strode off back to the Dutchman.  Will took longer to make the connection, and his mouth formed a large O.

“Who’s the one tick mark, then?” Will asked quietly, pointing.  Norrington slowly raised his hand.  Will let out a long breath and nodded.  

Norrington clenched his fist silently in a restrained celebration.  The crew devolved into livid shouts of protest, and Will hurried back to the Dutchman, his head bowed low.  Barbossa merely clucked his tongue in disappointment.

 

 

The Pearl was outfitted with not just the Dutchman’s anchor, but replacement pieces for what had been blown off in the fight.  The crew set to work nailing portions of the Dutchman onto the Pearl, and the wood settled onto its new home like moss taking to fresh soil.  For the missing upper half of the mast, they detached the part of the matching mast on the Dutchman, piece by piece, grafting it like branches to a new trunk.  Will watched the two crews working side by side, and Elizabeth came up beside him.

“At what point do you think the Pearl will stop being the Pearl?” Elizabeth asked.  

Will tilted his head.  “I suppose when you make the decision to call her something else.”

Elizabeth chuckled.  “I think I’ve missed your straightforward way of seeing the world.”  Her eyes wandered across the planks to Jones directing his crew.  “An uncomplicated man must be refreshing for one so plagued by complications.”

Will squinted over at Jones with her.  “He’s not like that,” he said.  “He guards himself where needed, and he loves simply once you find him beneath it.”

“So it’s love?” Elizabeth asked.  Will met her eyes, and the two gazed gently at each other there, a lifetime of knowing and longing connecting them like so many threads.  Will’s lips drew up in a smile.  

“And you?” he asked.

Elizabeth looked away.  “I don’t know,” she muttered.  “Especially once she’s freed, I—” Her eyes wandered again to Jones.  “How does one love the sea?”

Will took Elizabeth’s hands in his, and the two felt a glow of warmth from each other’s touch.  Will smiled kindly.  “If there’s anything I know about us,” he said, “it’s that we never let the world come in the way of love.  You’re Elizabeth Swann, the most stubborn person I’ve ever met.  You’ll find a way.”  Elizabeth chuckled quietly, blinking back a tear.  Will paused, and then he went on quietly.  “I love you, and I imagine I always will.  And that means I am invested in your happiness.”  He squeezed her hands.  “I am here for whatever journey you may take.”

Elizabeth embraced Will, and the two fell into each other’s arms, like a ship finding steady winds after days of drifting at sea.  Will kissed the top of Elizabeth’s head, rocking her gently.  He felt his shirt growing damp with her tears, and he swallowed hard, willing himself to hold back, but soon his own face was drenched.  They pulled apart, wiping their eyes on their sleeves and sharing a moment of laughter.

“I’m so sorry,” Elizabeth said, nodding to his shirt.  Will waved it aside and blew loudly into a handkerchief.  She looked back across the planks.  “You should get back to the Dutchman, I think they need you.”

Will peered across and saw Maccus waving urgently at him.  The man had something strapped to his chest.  “Right, join us for dinner?” Will asked.  Without waiting for a reply, he hurried back to the other ship.  

Maccus was stewing with anger, and Will immediately saw why.  Morey’s bird was sitting happy as a clam in its little carrier on Maccus’ broad chest, though the carrier clearly did not fit the man.  “This fucking thing—” Maccus wrestled with the straps, “is not made for a big bloke.  There.”  He undid the knots and held the whole thing out to Will.  “You’re on bird duty.  Don’t let him out of your sight.”

Will sighed and tied the carrier to his front, the bird cawing cheerily.  “Why don’t you just let it free and then find another one when she gets back?”

Maccus recoiled in disgust.  “And fucking do what?   What’s wrong with you?  That bird’s an ensign, Captain promoted him for his valor in the fight.”

Will blinked, and Maccus walked away, muttering to himself.  Will paced slowly along the deck, relishing the sun and wind.  His legs were still sore from disuse, after all his time in the brig, but it was laughable compared to the pain and sickness he endured prior.  He encountered a large shadow and looked up to see Jones standing there.

“Ah,” Jones said.  “You have the bird.”

Will bounced the bird like a small baby.  “The bird you apparently promoted.”

Jones waved his hand.  “A small act to ensure high spirits and civility among the crew.”

Something had changed in Jones since the encounter with Beckett and Will’s capture, for he would have never entertained the idea before.  Neither would he have cared for maintaining the crew’s high spirits—or have even let the bird stay aboard.  Perhaps he realized his own vulnerability in the grand machinations of the sea.  

The bird, on the other hand, was utterly fixated on Jones’ beard.  Its eyes were bulbous and unblinking, head following the tendrils as they waved back and forth.  It opened its beak in a hungry gape.  Jones eyed the bird with distaste.

“Do we know where Morey is?” Will asked.  

Jones shook his head.  “We have never lost a crewmember under these circumstances before.  Maccus is taking it rather hard upon himself.”

The two turned to see Maccus busying himself with the repairs, his lips curled back in a snarl of agitation.  Jones cricked his neck.  “I suspect he feels for her in a way he cannot name yet.”  He looked now at Will, his gaze lingering in a question.  “Have you any word from Captain Swann?”

Will cradled the bird thoughtfully.  It broke its gaze from Jones’ hypnotic beard and looked curiously up at Will.  “I think she struggles with the thought of loving that which is impossible to understand.”

Jones’ lips let out a pop .  “A fair assessment of Calypso.”

“I wouldn’t wish any harm on Elizabeth—Calypso wouldn’t hurt her, would she?”  Will’s brows knitted in worry.  

Jones snorted.  “She will either betray Captain Swann outright, or else coax her along corrupted paths, bidding her to do her work for her.”  Jones paused.  “Perhaps she intends to make Elizabeth her ferryman.”

“You mean replace you?  And she’d be stuck at sea for years at a time, unable to go ashore?”  Will’s voice hardened.  “I won’t let that happen.”

“You are not in any place to ensure that,” Jones warned.  “This is the price one pays for meddling with the gods.”  He watched the two converse on the other side of the planks, and Calypso placed a hand on Elizabeth’s arm, caressing her there.  He narrowed his eyes.  “You cannot be her anchor any more than you can be mine.”

He turned back to see Will frowning at him.  The bird was also staring.  “What am I to you, then?” Will asked.

Jones took Will by the shoulder and drew him into a corner of the ship, out of sight.  He leaned over and spoke in a murmur.  “You are the land I seek after wandering cold seas.” 

He took Will’s face in his hand and kissed him gently on the lips.  The act took Will by surprise—and he leaned into it, savoring the softness and the feel of having him there, out where the wind touched his skin.  The two lingered with their foreheads touched together, taking in each other’s breath.  

Having his heart close had softened Jones in ways Will could not have imagined.

Suddenly, Jones recoiled and gave a sharp gasp.  The bird had taken the opportunity to latch onto a tendril as soon as its prey was near.  Will wrestled it from the bird’s mouth, rapping the bird lightly on the beak until it let go.  It gave a sad squawk and settled back into its carrier.  

Jones growled.  “We should resume preparations,” he muttered with a glare at the offending ensign, “for who knows what devilry our enemy will attempt next.”

The two parted, and Will gazed longingly at Jones as the captain strutted huffily around the ship.

 

 

The governor’s office was impossibly clean, mahogany, refined.  White curtains framed an open window behind an imposing desk, beyond which palms waved on a spectacular view of the bay.  Upon the wall were stately paintings of government houses, a Man of War, and what could only be the Royal Palace of Madrid.  

It had been no small feat to secure a meeting with the Spanish governor in Cuba, but Beckett had influence—capital, above all.  Beckett was seated in a low chair, tracing the intricate woodwork along the armrests when the door opened behind him.  He stood, hesitantly at first, hand upon his chest as the governor entered the room.

“My apologies, Governor Vega,” Beckett began, though his tone was ambivalent on sincerity, “I’m afraid I have yet to regain my composure on land.”

The governor stepped past him, barely acknowledging his presence and took his seat at the desk.  The light was blindingly bright behind him, forcing Beckett to squint through the halo that formed around Vega.  Two guards had stepped into the room after him, and he took a moment to push some papers idly around on the desk before giving them a subtle nod.  The guards departed from the room, closing the door behind them.

“Lord Cutler Beckett,” Vega finally said, folding his hands on the desk.  “To what do I owe this unprecedented visit?”

Beckett was acutely aware of the choice to empty the room.  His eyes passed over the grandfather clock against the wall, ticks echoing dimly, as he toyed with a piece of eight between two fingers.  He slowly brought his hand up, Vega’s eyes pinned on his every move, and he placed the coin on the edge of the desk.

“Let me make this utterly brief,” Beckett began.  “The threat of piracy has never been greater than it currently is.  England and Spain stand to lose untold wealth and property should this continue unabated, unless we meet the rising tide with an overwhelming, coordinated force.”

Vega leaned back in his chair, a smirk upon his lips.  His eyes passed over the coin, lingering a fraction of a second too long.   “Piracy is no threat to the Spanish empire.  Perhaps England should find herself better admirals to protect her trade.”  He turned to gaze out the window, the light glowing upon his skin and breeze fluttering his hair.  

The two sat in silence, the sounds of seabirds drifting in from outside.  Beckett leaned forward, his eyes dark.

“And yet,” Beckett finally said, “you continue to entertain my presence.”

Vega turned back slowly, his face entering shadow.  “What do you know?” he asked.  

Beckett placed a single finger on the coin and slid it across the desk toward Vega.  “What do you ?”

Haltingly, Vega reached out and picked up the coin.  Beckett watched, a smile forming on his lips, as Vega raised the coin to his ear to listen.  He closed his eyes, and a low hum began to fill the space between him and Beckett.

“Ahh,” Beckett leaned back, the air in the room shifting.  Vega dropped the coin back on the desk with a plink, a scowl on his lips.  “I see my sources were correct,” Beckett said.  “Once a sailor, always a sailor.  One never loses his inclination for the myths and superstitions of the sea.”

Vega sniffed.  “I have heard things.  There is word of the pirates of every sea uniting at court for a common cause.  That alone can be verified by ears and eyes in the right places.”

“And did your men tell you that it is the same court that once bound the goddess Calypso in human form?  That Davy Jones sails with the pirates, lending them the supernatural aid of his immortal crew?”

Vega shot a look past Beckett at the door, beyond which the guards waited.  “Such a thing is an affront to God and all that is holy,” he hissed.  “I will not entertain speculation on this nor on rumors of the bewitched crew you yourself lead.”

Beckett raised an eyebrow.  Vega’s composure had begin to shatter, and he regarded Beckett as if the latter might speak evil upon him.  Vega spoke again, his voice a whisper.  “If you invite the devil into your home, he will not return to Hell without you.”

Beckett pursed his lips in mild amusement.  Vega straightened himself, clearing his throat and sliding a paper between them.  

“Spain’s fleets in the colonies have reason to aid your cause,” he said, plucking up a quill and dipping it into an inkwell.  “I will send word to redirect our resources toward identifying and quelling this growing pirate threat.  You will hear from me soon.”  He motioned for Beckett to leave, and Beckett stood, buttoning his coat.

“May God and country prevail,” Beckett said pointedly.  Vega flinched, but he continued to write and didn’t raise his eyes.  Beckett turned to leave the room, and as his hand touched the door he heard Vega speak again.

“I’m very sorry to hear about your man,” Vega said.  “Ian Mercer, correct?  I’m told he was a most valuable source of information.”  The quill scratched busily.  “I hope he did not pass with anything of great value still guarded in his head.”

Beckett tensed, his jaw tight.  “You cannot even begin to fathom it,” he said, and he strode from the room.

 

 

Jack drifted on sea currents, day after unbearable day.  He lay like a starfish upon the water, bobbing on his back in the great, empty blue.  

His face burned and flaked beneath the sun’s glare, but it always grew back, pristinely healed.  He pinned his eyes on the sun then, willing himself to go blind—but the comforting dark never came.  His skin shriveled from salt and dehydration, pain searing through the back of his skull, but there was no end in sight.

And she was with him.

“Jack, was it?” Morey asked, bobbing beside him.  She was on her back like a sea otter, the small wooden box clutched between her hands like an especially appetizing clam.  “I ask because we were never formally introduced,” she said, “though Captain did mention you quite a lot.  When will Jack Sparrow repay his debt? he’d ask.  Perhaps Jack Sparrow is intimidated by my raw sexuality, he’d say.”

“He did not say that,” Jack wheezed tiredly.  Morey rolled over onto her stomach, her eyes suddenly filled with violence.

“You weren’t there,” Morey hissed.  “You don’t know.”

Jack coughed, but no spittle came out.  “Can you please,” he gasped, “ shut up .  “I’m experiencing indescribable pain, and I would very much like for it to end.”

Morey produced the wooden box and clutched it between the sharp daggers of her claws.  On the side was scrawled Ian Mercer in the dead man’s hurried handwriting.  Her claws flexed around the box, straining the wood. 

Jack yelped out.  “Stop!  No.  A few days more,” he said, “and it may come to that.”

Morey squinted at the horizon.  “It’s only been three hours since you jumped from the Providence and I found you floating away.”

“With you here, it feels like a lifetime,” Jack muttered. 

“On this current,” Morey continued, “we’ll reach land by tomorrow.”

Jack floundered, turning himself upright in the water to face her.  “How do you know that?”  

Morey blinked at him, her bright yellow eyes shifting to green.  Slowly, she dipped her face down and lapped up a small mouthful of seawater.  She swallowed, smacking her lips.

“I can identify currents by taste,” she said.

“Wonderful,” Jack said, his face wrinkled in disgust.  “Should have guessed your lot has all manner of revolting sea-related capabilities.”

Morey’s skin pulsed.  “I will eat your eyes if I feel like it.”

Jack fell silent.  The two drifted in the water as the sun dropped below the horizon.  Slowly, off in the distance, lights appeared in the darkness.  Jack shouted and roused Morey with a shake.  

“Look, lights!” he said.  “Is that land?  Or a ship?”

Morey peered through the still sea air.  She handed the box to Jack and turned with her back toward him.  

“Get on,” she commanded.  

Jack squinted.  “Beg pardon?”

Get ,” she hissed, teeth bared, “ on—

“Right, right, don’t have to ask me again,” Jack looped his free arm over her shoulder and hooked his legs around her waist.  “You know, you’re surprisingly tall for a woman—fuck!

Jack’s head whipped back as Morey surged underwater with the force of a diving whale.  She writhed like a serpent, propelling them like a knife through the water as Jack gulped in mouthfuls of sea, box clutched tightly to his chest.  His throat burned, but he would not drown, as Morey sped on.  If he had wanted to die before, it was nothing compared to this—but almost as quickly as it had begun, Morey shot up and broke the surface, sending them flying upward through the air.  

They arced like a dolphin, heading directly for the deck of the mystery ship.  

The two landed in a spluttering, messy heap.  Jack quickly recovered the box, stuffing it into the front of his trousers as Morey slithered upright, hands raised against the surprised and frightened crew.  Jack swayed to his feet, palms up in submission.

Through the dim light Jack recognized the men as Chinese, the vessel of eastern make, and the men shouted out for their captain as more crew assembled to surround them.  A commanding voice called out from above, and the captain came swaggering down onto the main deck.  The imposing man stood before them, eyes sharp and calculating.

Jack peered at him for a moment before recognition struck him.  “Captain Sao Feng?”

Sao Feng arched his brows in thought.  “I know this drunk man,” he said to his first mate.  “A failed pirate.  Mister Jack…Finch, I think.”

Jack wrinkled his nose.  “Never mind my name, what are you doing all the way out here?”

Sao Feng turned away and waved his hand.  “Lock them up.”

The crew converged on the two interlopers, and Morey let out an ear-splitting screech.  She raked the air with her claws, clacking her teeth, and the crew fell back in horror.

It’s—it’s not human! ” one man cried in Mandarin.  “ He brought a demon!”

Sao Feng whirled back around, his eyes wide.  He pushed his way through the men to stand just out of the two’s reach.  He studied Morey, a hand upon his sword. 

How dare you, ” Jack retorted.  He stepped between the captain and Morey, wagging a finger in the crew’s direction.  “Have you any decency?  You’ve never seen a woman before?”

“That’s not a woman,” Sao Feng warned.  He drew his sword.  Jack held up both hands in a plea for civility. 

“Correct, sir, she’s an English woman.  How many of you have seen one?”

The crew paused and turned to each other to murmur.  They exchanged uncertain glances as Morey leaned in to whisper to Jack.

“I’m actually not full English, my mother is Telugu—”

Even worse, ” Jack called out, pointing to the men accusingly, “you rescind her humanity on the basis of parentage and skin color.  A frightening display of bigotry, and you call yourself free and enterprising men of the seas.”

“Enough,” Sao Feng commanded.  He sheathed his sword, and the men followed suit.  “I have seen enough of the world to know when one has been plagued by a curse, not of their own doing.”  He stepped forward and offered a hand to Morey, his head bowed.  “Apologies, miss.  Please accept my sincerest welcome.”

Morey took Sao Feng’s hand, and he bent to kiss the rough eel-skin of her knuckles without pause.  Morey flinched, unaccustomed to man or woman showing her the courtesy of a kiss under any circumstances.  Her eyes darted away, the color of her neck changing from greenish-yellow to speckled black.  Sao Feng raised his gaze to meet hers, giving her a polite smile.  The crew settled back, and Jack stifled a sigh of relief.  

“Great,” Jack clapped his hands together, “now, perhaps we can all sit down and have a nice chat—”

“Oh no,” Sao Feng snapped in his direction, “I know you well enough to take precautions.  Lock him up below.  I will not have him interfering with our voyage to the Brethren Court.”

Two men grabbed Jack on either side, lifting him by the arms and carrying him across the deck.  He let himself fall limp, imprisoned for the umpteenth time, and as he passed Morey he mouthed incomprehensibly at her.  She crooked a hand around one ear.

I said, ” Jack whispered, “Don’t let him know what I am.

Sao Feng placed Morey’s hand on the crook of his arm and escorted her away.  She grumbled and followed, shooting Jack an angry look back.

Chapter Text

The Dutchman and the Black Pearl sailed on to the Brethren Court under their unshakeable captains.  Two cursed ships, carving through the water: the Pearl took the lead, as the sight of the Dutchman alone, sailing into Shipwreck Cove, could start a war of its own.

It was some time into their journey when Jones visited the Pearl.  Elizabeth was at the helm beside Barbossa, the two discussing the fraught political landscape that lay ahead.

So you and Jack are both pirate lords?” Elizabeth asked.  “How did you manage that?”

“Jack inherited the role from his father,” Barbossa began, “who inherited it from his mother, and the rest is history.  The man’s still alive, but I suppose he grew tired of the responsibilities and passed it on to Jack.”  Barbossa picked a tiny stray feather from his sleeve and flicked it into the air.  “I won mine in a duel.  Killed a man by the name of Palachnik, who happened to be a pirate lord.  I didn’t know it at the time—I’d heard the legends but had no notion that the powers that held the sea at bay were within a man’s grasp.  He passed on his trinket to me, and I’ve kept it safe ever since.”

“You’ve had one of the nine objects that holds Calypso in human form?” Elizabeth asked.  She looked him up and down, searching for some obvious item on his person.  

Barbossa chuckled.  “You won’t find it.  Even if you were to lift it from me, the transfer of power wouldn’t be legitimate.  It must be inherited or won in a fair fight.”  His eyes flashed dark.  "And I'm not keen on crossing swords with you again."

“I wasn’t going to steal it,” Elizabeth shot back, offended.  “I respect your position as a great and noble pirate lord .”  She smirked, and Barbossa let out a huff of amusement.  

The wood at the base of the mizzenmast shifted, rippling like water.  Jones pulled himself through, to the collective surprise of everyone on deck.  He straightened himself up and eyed Elizabeth, who returned his gaze with tired skepticism.

“I have a question,” she began. Jones raised an eyebrow.  “Why can you do that with our ship and not Beckett’s?”

“The Pearl technically belongs to me,” Jones replied.  “Any ship that is wrecked or sunk belongs under my command.  I am merely lending it to Sparrow, and by consequence you, as a matter of gentlemanly courtesy.”

“Right.  Thank you,” Elizabeth muttered.  “What did you need?”

Jones’ eyes passed over the watching crewmembers.  “I wish to speak with you, privately.”

Elizabeth glanced at Barbossa and passed control of the wheel to him.  She walked with Jones in silence to the far end of the ship by the bow, where they were far from any prying ears.  

Neither spoke for a time, both acutely aware of the circumstances that had brought about their unlikely alliance.  Jones cast a long shadow over her: if his current stature was any indication, he must have been an imposing force even before he was turned.  

“How’s Will?” Elizabeth finally asked.  

Jones let out a low grumble.  “He is doing well.  He has been making attempts at music, much to the agony of all on board.”

Elizabeth choked.  “He’s singing?”

“The pipe organ in my cabin,” Jones replied.  “Apparently, my music is too melancholic for his tastes.  Still, he subjects us to his practice, insisting that one day he will be good enough to perform for high society.”

Elizabeth’s face broke into a smile, and she snorted back laughter.  “Of course he would say that.  Relentlessly optimistic, to the point of—”

“Foolishness,” they both said.  They both looked away, caught in their own reveries.  Jones sighed and squinted over the water back at the Dutchman.

“Well, he’s your fool now,” Elizabeth said quietly.

Jones seemed to wish to say something in reply, but he caught himself, tendrils twisting uncomfortably.  There was a long moment’s pause before he finally spoke in a low voice.  “I came in regard to Calypso’s fate.”

The ship groaned beneath them as they suddenly made a sharp turn.  Jones remained straight upright, like another mast stuck to the ship, but Elizabeth pitched to the side.  Jones caught her by the arm with his good hand, and Elizabeth choked in surprise.  She had not expected his skin to be so cold.  She glared back at the helm to see Barbossa and Gibbs arguing, likely about the direction the ship needed to be sailing, and she turned back to Jones.

“Thank you,” she said.  “I understand how difficult this all must be for you.”  

She studied Jones’ face, trying to see beneath the cursed mask that so obscured his original form.  He was wildly expressive—perhaps even more so than he had once been—his every emotion betrayed by the unconscious writhing of his tendrils.

“Whatever has grown between you and her,” Jones said, “I know that I can no more dissuade you than anyone could have with me, two hundred years ago.  I only wish that my appearance now serves as a warning.  She is not to be trusted.”

“I thought you accepted Calypso’s deal,” Elizabeth said.  “Are we not to free her?”  Her eyes suddenly narrowed.  “Do you intend to double cross her?”

Jones huffed.  “Nothing of the sort.  That would invite certain death upon all of us.”  He looked about the ship, and then stepped close to Elizabeth.  His presence struck her like Calypso’s: tempestuous, raw, and otherworldly—but the air around him chilled, like something drawn up from the cold depths of the sea.  He leaned in toward her ear.

“If she intends to free me from the burden of ferrying souls,” he said slowly, “whom will she choose next?”

Elizabeth balked.  Jones leaned back and fixed her with his glinting eyes.  

“I—” she began.  “You think she’ll make me do it?  Bind me to a ship?  Allow me only a day every ten years to set foot on land?”

“Who else?” he said.  “Does she have any other devotees?”

The two were silent.  Elizabeth stepped out of Jones’ shadow and rubbed her arms slowly, willing them to warm again.  She leaned against the railing on the other side of him with her arms drawn around her, and they stared out at the seascape drifting by.  Jones finally spoke.

“It’s a terrible life,” he said quietly.

“But it’s what you wanted at the time, wasn’t it?” Elizabeth ventured.

Jones scoffed.  “Who can say?  My memories of the time before bleed together like so many festering wounds.  Although,” he shifted, clearing his throat, “had it not occurred, I would never have known…him.”

Elizabeth peered at Jones out of the corner of her eye.  He suddenly stood, sniffing loudly and stepped off toward the nearest mast.  

“Signal the Dutchman if you have need of anything,” he said.  With a sound like crunching lettuce, he vanished into the wood.

Barbossa and Gibbs had sorted out their disagreement by the time Elizabeth returned.  They watched her with bated breath, hoping for her to divulge anything regarding the nature of her conversation with Jones.

She squinted out at the sea, ignoring their glances.  “How much farther?” she asked.

The two men grumbled.  Gibbs gestured vaguely out ahead.  “Six hours if the wind keeps at our back.  We’d be outpacing the Dutchman under these conditions, but…” 

They all looked up at the strange new foremast: the grafted wood had grown over the broken pieces like moss, holding up a hybrid, cloth-seaweed set of sails.  

“She about matches us now,” Gibbs said with a long sigh.  “The Pearl used to be the fastest ship on the sea.”

“And she will be again,” Barbossa snapped.  “Once this war is over, and I can get her proper repairs.”  He looked at Elizabeth.  “I hope you have a new ship in mind for once she’s mine, Captain .”

Elizabeth said nothing: her eyes were on the Dutchman following steadily behind.

Back in Jones’ cabin, Will was pressing the organ’s keys haphazardly, trying to produce a tune.  The pipes quaked, bellowing with unearthly noise, and finally Jones materialized through the wall. 

Enough ,” Jones warned.  He brought his claw down in front of Will, blocking him from the keys.  Will slung his arms over, his fingertips barely reaching the ivory to force out another series of discordant booms.  In one swift movement, Jones swept his arm around Will, lifting him from the bench.  

Will ducked out of his grasp and made for the keys again—Jones stepped in, blocking Will with his body, and he used his claw as a wedge to drive Will back.  Will slid back, glaring.  

The two looked each other up and down, measuring their strengths and weaknesses like duelists before a fight.  Their hands twitched by their sides.  A palpable tension grew between them.  A small clump of seaweed rolled across the floor, accenting the moment.

The second Jones lowered his claw, Will sprung upon him—throwing his arms around his neck and wrapping his legs around his waist to bring him down.  The force sent Jones sitting back onto the bench, and Will slowly slid down onto his lap.  The two stared at each other, nose to nose.  

“You’re vexing me,” Jones growled.

Will shifted on his lap, and he looked at Jones with barely disguised satisfaction.  “Then why are you hard?”

Jones said nothing, and he began unbuttoning Will’s shirt in reply.

 

 

Elizabeth found Calypso back in the captain’s cabin, deep in meditation in the center of the floor.  She approached slowly, hoping not to disturb her, but her foot landed on a creaky board.  Calypso’s eyes snapped open.

“You spoke with Davy Jones,” Calypso said quietly.

There was nothing Elizabeth would be able to hide from her.  She sat on the floor across from the goddess and drew in a deep breath.  “Who will ferry souls after you free him?

The directness of the question caught Calypso by surprise.  A slow grin spread across her face.

“Never one to waste words,” she said.  “What concern is this of yours?”

“I need to know if you’re going to make me the ferryman,” Elizabeth said.  “I want to—no, I deserve to have at least some measure of time before being bound to the sea for eternity.”

Calypso suddenly laughed.  

“It is an agreement ,” Calypso said.  “I cannot make you the ferryman against your will.  And it is not for an eternity—you will still be mortal.”

Elizabeth frowned.  “Then, what, Jones was supposed to die, but he cut out his heart?  So you cursed him to look like that until he goes back to work?  How many ferrymen have you gone through?”

Calypso waved her hand, as if sifting through to the heart of the questions.  “Davy Jones doomed himself to his current fate when he cut out his heart,” she snapped.  “You cannot pass into the land of the dead if you are not capable of death—that is why I may never ferry souls, and a mortal man must do it.”  There were bones scattered on the floor before her, and she picked up one, turning it over gently.  

“There have always been ferrymen—across time, from the ancient days to this new world,” she said quietly.  “I choose them, and they receive my blessing.  They will never fall to another’s blade, and sickness will not touch them.” She placed the bone back down.  “He will be as the forgotten creatures living in darkness beneath the sea, for whom time turns slowly, weathering centuries in the cold deep.  And if he does not do the work,” her eyes flickered, “he and his crew will become those creatures."

Elizabeth stared at the bones in silence.  The ship creaked around them, and the lantern light danced on the walls.  Calypso went on.

“The world is left with a ferryman who cannot ferry souls, and a goddess who cannot bless a new one.”  She looked at Elizabeth now, an unfathomable grief in her eyes.  “The souls of the dead have been left in darkness for two hundred years.  Will you, a woman capable of greatness, condemn them for longer?”

The bones scattered before her as Elizabeth crossed the gap, grabbing Calypso’s wrist in her hand.  Her voice shook as she spoke.

“I know what you’re doing.  Don’t ask me to do this for you,” Elizabeth breathed.  “Don’t drown me in the guilt of another man’s deeds.”

Calypso carefully removed herself from Elizabeth’s grasp, her eyes glinting dark.  Elizabeth went on.

“We’ll petition the Brethren Court to free you, after which you must hold to your agreement with Jones.  There will be plenty of pirates there, and I’m sure at least one of them is willing to serve you.”

Calypso turned away from Elizabeth, muttering.  “Any old pirate will not do.”

Elizabeth glared.  “Any old pirate will have to do.”  

Calypso huffed in amusement.  “They will go ashore the moment they smell a woman and die on the sand.  The blessing comes from the sea, and so they must remain on it to be given life.  I grant them one day on land every ten years not as a cruelty, but as the utmost limit of my power to keep them from crumbling to dust.”

Elizabeth rubbed her temples in frustration. This was all becoming too complicated.   “We’ll find someone,” she said.  “Someone who wants nothing more but to sail the seas.  There has to be at least one person—”  Her face suddenly lit up with realization.  “What about Barbossa?”

“He’s already dead,” Calypso snapped.

“Fuck.  Right,” Elizabeth sighed.  She lowered her head into her hands, staring down at the floor.  The ship turned gently, and one of the bones rolled over to rest against Elizabeth’s boot.  “Once again, the world is far more complicated than it was this morning.”

Calypso reached out to hold Elizabeth’s hand in hers.  After a moment of reluctance, Elizabeth pivoted toward her and brought her forehead to rest against Calypso’s shoulder.  

“I wish I had the strength to do this for you,” Elizabeth whispered.

Calypso ran her fingers through Elizabeth’s hair, turning her head to let her lips rest against Elizabeth’s head.  She breathed in deeply, taking in the captain’s weathered, sea-air scent.  

“You are doing what you can,” Calypso said.  “And that is enough.”

Elizabeth slumped into Calypso’s arms, resting in the other woman’s lap.  The two held each other, savoring a moment’s peace.

 

 

The Pearl sailed into Shipwreck Cove with the Dutchman in her wake.  On the advice of Gibbs, the Dutchman hung up a large off-white bedsheet on its bowsprit as a sign of good intent.  Neither ship had a white flag between them, a fact that Jones and Elizabeth shared proud, mutually approving looks over.

The reaction from the pirate crews in the cove was chaotic, in mild terms.  Once the Pearl was able to dock and send her crew ashore, they managed to shout away the men who had their guns and swords readied.  The cannons on the other ships—both on the water and perched on the wrecks themselves—finally turned away from Jones' ship.

The two crews convened on the Pearl, tensions high.

"Since we can't bring an entire regiment in," Elizabeth said, "I'm deciding who comes with us.  Captains, first mates, and Calypso only.  The rest stay with the ships."

The crews let out a chorus of disapproval.  The Pearl's men eyed the lantern-lined taverns and wilted under the sounds of merriment—and women—coming from inside.  

"I object."

The crews pivoted to see Norrington, slightly cleaned up from his last appearance, standing at the back of the crowd.  

"If the seas are to turn markedly more inhospitable after this, I would like to have a moment's reprieve." 

The crews murmured in agreement.  Jones smacked his lips.  "It would be an indescribable cruelty to lock my men aboard while a wretched musician haunts my ship."  He waved his hand.  "Let them go."

The Dutchman's crew, sparing absolutely no time, threw themselves over the railing and scrambled to shore.  Norrington followed, slow and dignified, tipping his hat to Jones along the way.  Will wrinkled his nose and stalked back to the Dutchman.  The corner of Jones' lips twitched.

"Off we go, then," Elizabeth said.  Maccus, Barbossa, and Calypso stepped forward, but Barbossa suddenly snapped his fingers.

"I'll be needing Mr. Ragetti as a personal assistant," he said.  Ragetti hurried forward, his eyes darting around the rest of the crew in apprehension. 

"Fine, come on,"  Elizabeth muttered.  She looked to Jones, whose gaze was pinned on the highest shipwreck on the rocks.  

"I'll meet you there," Jones grunted.  

The five climbed the many improvised stairways that snaked along the sides of the piled, wrecked ships.  Ragetti nearly slipped out on a loose piece of wood before Barbossa caught him by the scruff of his neck, giving him a rabid, frightful glare.  Calypso held her arm out, and she and Ragetti walked carefully arm-in-arm, escorting one another.  

“Pirates always find a way to make abysmal architecture,” Elizabeth mumbled.

There were already groups of men and women from every corner of the world, milling about the ship to the Brethren Court.  Elizabeth felt a poke on her shoulder and turned around to see Maccus glancing uncertainly ahead.

“Should I—uh,” he gestured vaguely at his whole body, “wear a…scarf, or something?”

“They’ll have to get used to you before Jones arrives,” Elizabeth said.  “Let’s just walk in—get it over and done with.”

The group nudged their way through the crowd and stepped into the pirate courtroom.  A long table spanned the entire length of what had once been the ship’s galley, and standing around it were the pirate lords from the nine seas of the world, accompanied by their entourages.  Ragetti kept close to Calypso, overwhelmed and bug-eyed like a small dog.  Calypso’s expression was a smoldering fire: she seemed at once burning with hatred, but she restrained herself, focusing intently on her own hands.

“Hey,” Elizabeth spoke quietly to her.  “Are you all right?”

Calypso took a deep breath.  “I will have to be.  This is the only path to freedom.”

Maccus ducked into the room behind them, braced for a terrified response.  However, those gathered merely regarded him in mild surprise.

“Oh, look,” a French pirate said.  “Another one.”

The group exchanged confused glances.  Jones was nowhere in sight, but at the far end of the room, they saw a crowd huddled around the pirate contingency from the South China Sea.  Maccus pushed through, careful not to break anything (or anyone) and the crowd parted before him.  He arrived before Captain Sao Feng, and on the captain’s arm was none other than Morey.

“Maccus!” Morey cried.  Maccus blinked.  His former crewmate was dressed in an extravagant yellow silk robe, adorned with pearls and jewels, her skin and scales gleaming to match the colors of her ensemble.  Sao Feng bowed politely to Maccus, Morey’s hand still resting on the crook of his arm.

“Uh,” Maccus stuttered, “what is all this?”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Maccus,” Sao Feng said.  “Morey has told me much about you.”

“Has she?” Maccus cleared his throat and looked away.  “How did you all meet, then?”

“After the battle, we were taken up by Sao Feng’s ship,” Morey said.  She and Sao Feng exchanged a soft glance.  “I’ve never seen such… hospitality before.”

“Wait, we? ” Maccus frowned.  “Who else—”

Something pounded on the table of the Brethren Court.  The crowd turned to see Jack Sparrow, standing atop the table, his heel striking the wood.  He had a glint of mischief in his smile, and he gave a dramatic bow to the pirates gathered.  

Barbossa rolled his eyes.  “Fucking hell…”

“Good evening, my comrades,” Jack began.  “And a not-so-good evening to this terrible pirate wench who left me for dead on an island.”  He waved his hand dramatically in Elizabeth’s direction.  “Whatever she has to say, don’t listen to a word of it.”

“Get off the table!” an Indian pirate shouted at Jack.  Jack returned his sour look and crawled down from the table.  Elizabeth was at once upon him.

“If you weren’t incapable of dying,” she hissed in his ear, “I’d kill you right now.”

“Oh, good.” Jack smiled. “Norrington told you everything.”

He ducked out of Elizabeth’s and Barbossa’s reach and circled around to the opposite side of the table.  Jack took his seat, his eyes upon the Pearl’s new captain.  The rest of the pirate lords sat down and the chatter quieted, and Barbossa addressed the room.

“As lord of the Caspian Sea,” he began, “I welcome you all to the fourth meeting of the Brethren Court.”

The pirates let out a chorus of respectful stomps.  Maccus glanced at Morey across the table, who was sitting beside Sao Feng—closer to him than the captain’s own first mate.  Barbossa went on.

“You all know why we are here today.  The fate of all pirates across the nine seas hangs in the balance.  The powers that be seek our complete annihilation, and we must stand together.”

Capitaine Chevalle, the French pirate lord, called out across the table.  “They’ve had plenty of help from Davy Jones, who your people sailed into port with!”  The room filled with shocked murmurs, and Elizabeth let out a long sigh.

“Not even a minute in,” she muttered to Maccus.

“And you have the gall—” Chevalle went on, “to bring not just one,” pointing a shaking finger at Maccus, “but two agents of his, to the table here!”  He glared at Morey, and with his nose wrinkled, he spat in her direction.  “I lost three ships because of you, démone .”

Sao Feng leapt to his feet and jammed the blade of his knife down into the table.  His eyes filled with violence as the French and Chinese pirates began hurling insults at one another—Morey raked her claws across the wood, leaving deep gashes there as she bared her teeth in a hiss.  Maccus bowed his face and sank lower into his chair, trying to disappear.

Silence! ” Barbossa cried.  “ You want to do England’s job for them and kill each other here?

The room quieted.  Sao Feng glared at Chevalle with seething fury, but he finally sat back, reaching over to link his fingers through Morey’s claws.  Maccus looked about ready to throw himself from the cliff outside, and Elizabeth rolled her head back, staring up at the ceiling.

“It’s not just England,” Villanueva, the Spanish lord said.  He leaned on the table, his voice stern.  “My sources tell me that Spain now lends her armada to the cause.”

Elizabeth flinched, and she and Barbossa looked at each other, jaws open.  The pirates whispered to one another, a tremor going through them, eyes fearful.  

“How are we meant to fight them?” Gentleman Jocard, the African lord, spoke out.  “With our crews scattered and poorly armed, and many of them already fallen to the Dutchman, what hope do we have against the power of two nations?”

“We have the Dutchman now,” Barbossa said.  “Davy Jones is allied to our cause.”

Chevalle scoffed.  “So you have made a deal with the devil, who has left thousands dead across centuries at sea.  And we are all supposed to trust that he is—what—reformed?”

“He’s changed,” Maccus snapped.  The whole room turned to stare at him, the strange shark-faced beast.  Maccus shifted uncomfortably under their gaze.  “I’ve known him since the beginning,” he said.  “He’s a different man.”

“Well,” Chevalle held up his hands, “where is he, then?  Are we not worthy of his presence?”

Elizabeth and Barbossa exchanged a look.  Barbossa managed a sour smile for Chevalle.  “He’s on his way,” he said.

“More to the point, Jones was yesterday’s catch,” Jack cut in.  He was leaning back with his hands steepled.  “Forget the squid, and tell us what you’ve brought in today.”

The pirates followed Jack’s gaze to Calypso, who had been watching unnoticed in the shadows.   Ragetti stood beside her, and at the group’s attention he held out an arm protectively in front of her.

“I’ve got you, Miss Dalma,” he said.  

“It’s all right,” Calypso gently pushed his arm away.  She stepped into the light to hover at Elizabeth’s shoulder, looking out over the pirate lords.  “None of you know me now,” she said slowly, her eyes cold as sea ice, “but I remember the first Brethren Court.  And you will undo what was done to me.”

The reaction was staggered.  Several pirates understood immediately, and they fell to the floor, kneeling, hands clasped above their heads.  The others looked at their companions in confusion, until a slow, horrified comprehension crept across their faces.  Chevalle removed his hat and held it over his heart, his whole body quivering, his face grown whiter underneath the thick makeup.  Jocard laid his hands flat on the table and bowed his head in reverence, and Sao Feng and his men followed suit.  The room was utterly quiet—Elizabeth felt a trickle of sweat down her back. 

Jack had not moved, and he still sat grinning.  “Wonderful to see you, love,” he said, finally breaking the silence.  He winked at Calypso.  “Now,” he rubbed his hands together, “arguments for and against releasing the goddess of the sea?”

There was a moment’s pause, then chaos yet again.  Captain Ammand of the Black Sea was heard shouting through the noise.  

She will destroy us the moment she is freed as vengeance!

Mistress Ching, who had remained silent up until that point, slapped her hand on the table and stood.  The pirates quieted, and she glared around the room.

“Captain Sao Feng and I have need of the goddess’ aid,” she began.  “Our fleets reside the farthest from the Caribbean Sea.  If we are to join the war, we require fair winds and favorable currents to gather our ships for the cause.”

Sri Sumbhajee of the Indian Ocean pounded his fist on the table in agreement.  His advisor spoke out.  “Sri Sumbhajee is in accord.”

“If she can bring hurricanes down upon our enemy,” Sao Feng added, “it will save us ammunition and lives.”

The lords on the other side of the table rose up.  Chevalle, Villanueva, and Ammand stood, tense and unabating.

“What do the legends say?” Villanueva snapped.  “Shall we recall why she was captured in the first place?  The first pirate lords bound her to allow man to sail the seas, free of her tempestuous violence.  They bound her to save us all.”

“They bound her because I asked it .”

The wall behind Elizabeth made a sound like so many twigs snapping, and Jones pulled the rest of his body through.  The other pirates yelled out, reaching for their pistols and swords, calling for their contingents to assemble around them.  But Elizabeth, Jack, and Barbossa remained seated, not even glancing up behind them.

“Took you fucking long enough,” Elizabeth hissed out of the corner of her mouth.  Jones huffed in her direction, and then he addressed the room.

“I used the first Brethren Court on a matter of petty vengeance,” Jones said.  “It was no concern of mine how the seas changed.  As of now, none of you are protected by her continued confinement.”

The pirates slowly settled back into their seats, and a low murmur filled the room.  Jones looked to the lords one by one, his gaze lingering, knowing the eyes of the devil alone could shake men from their strongest convictions.  When he passed over Sao Feng, he suddenly startled.  Morey looked back at him, wrapped in her silken robe, and she raised two fingers in greeting.  Jones’ brows knitted in utter bewilderment, and he blinked hard twice, as if trying to clear his vision.

“It’s me,” Morey said quietly.

Jones drew a deep breath, his tendrils quivering.  “Your bird shit all over my cabin.”

“Let’s put it to a vote, then,” Jack cut in, sitting upright.  “All in favor of keeping the very powerful goddess locked safely in human form, please raise thy hands.”

Three lords’ hands shot into the air.  Ammand, Chevalle, and Villanueva glared around the table.  Slowly, Jocard raised his hand as well.  

“It is too great a risk,” Jocard said, averting his eyes from Calypso.

“Very well,” Jack said.  “Four against.  How many wish to free her?"

Barbossa, Ching, Sao Feng, and Sumbhajee raised their hands.  Jack grinned and lifted his hand in agreement.

“Wonderful.  Five to four.  See?  That was easy—”

A shot rang out across the table.  Jack looked down to see a bullethole in the center of his chest.  The room followed the trail of smoke to the end of Villanueva’s pistol.  

Everyone was utterly silent.  They looked from Jack, to Villanueva, then back to Jack.  Jack had not fallen, and he still sat, his lips pursed, a look of bitter annoyance on his face.  

“I suppose it’s too late for me to keel over, then,” he muttered.

Villanueva withdrew his pistol, his eyes never leaving Jack.  “So it’s true,” he said.  “You are undead, just as the English crews are.”

Jack spoke in a conspiratorial tone.  “Whoever your sources are, they deserve a nice raise.”

Jack Sparrow is dead? ” Chevalle cried.  “Then he cannot be a pirate lord!”

The other lords who were against Calypso’s freedom called out in agreement.  

No dead pirate lords! ” Ammand yelled.

Barbossa sank low in his chair, pulling his hat down over his eyes.  

“Fine, fine, fine, fine,” Jack spat.  He plucked a coin from his hair—one that had always been there, hanging from a string over his messy bandana—and he tossed it across the room to Elizabeth.  She caught it one-handed in the air, perplexed.  

“If I am no longer a pirate lord, then I get to appoint my successor,” he said.  “Surely, it’s fitting to name the one who stole my ship and left me to rot on a terrible, jelly-plagued beach.  To the victor go the spoils.”

“It was for your own good,” Elizabeth snapped.  The pirate lords fixed her with suspicious glares.  “The Kraken was following him—” she stuttered, “we had to find the key—the key to the chest with Jones’ heart—never mind, you had to have been there.  I cast my vote for Calypso’s freedom.” 

Half of the room let out a collective sigh of relief.  The air shifted—perhaps it was Calypso’s doing—and she eased back into the shadows, letting out a long, deep gasp of satisfaction.  Jones slipped away quietly: only Elizabeth noticed the faint crunching noise from the wall behind her as he departed without a word.  

Jack fingered the hole in his shirt and shot a glare at Villanueva.  “You owe me a new shirt,” he said.  The four dissenting pirate lords stewed in silence.  There would be no further argument—they respected, above all, the provisions of democracy.

Barbossa removed his hat and placed it in the center of the table.  “Pieces of eight, if you please.”

The pirate lords dug into their pockets, their necklines, and their bandanas to produce an assortment of strange trinkets.  Most were cheap accessories of some kind, and Elizabeth deposited her piece of eight in the hat, then looked to Barbossa for his.  He snapped for Ragetti to come forward.

Ragetti hurried up and without warning popped out his wooden eye.  He dropped it into the hat with the same casual disregard with which one might drop a coin into a fountain.  The rest of the pirate lords wrinkled their noses in disgust.

“Very well,” Barbossa said.  He picked up his filled hat and motioned for Calypso to step forward.

“We’re doing this, in here?” Chevalle asked.  

“The sooner it’s done,” Barbossa said, “the sooner every pirate ship on the nine seas can assemble.”

“Shouldn’t we at least…” Ammand cleared his throat.  “Go outside?”

The pirates murmured in agreement.  With a great roll of his eyes, Barbossa ushered everyone outside onto the main deck.

They stood in a great circle around Calypso and Barbossa under the dark sky.  Ragetti came forward with a lantern in his hands, and Barbossa lit a small wooden splint, holding it aloft for all to see.  The smoke trailed up into the night, curling around the stars.

“The pieces of eight must be lit,” Barbossa began, “and the words spoken as if to a lover .”  He turned slowly now to face Elizabeth, who stood in the circle of pirates.  He held out the smoking splint.

Elizabeth instinctively tried to sink back into the crowd, but Calypso’s gaze caught her.  There was at once a great hope and a deep sorrow brewing within the goddess’ eyes.  Elizabeth slowly pushed forward into the center of the circle and approached Calypso to a surprised murmur.  

She accepted the splint from Barbossa and carefully dipped it into the hat.  The items pulsed briefly with darkness, and she looked up at Calypso, their eyes locked in a trance.  Barbossa leaned over to whisper in Elizabeth’s ear, and Elizabeth’s voice cut through the air—tender, breaking, and final.

“Calypso,” she breathed.  A tear trailed down Calypso’s face.  “I release you from your bonds.”

The air around them surged.  Calypso’s head dropped forward, her whole body shaking, as the hat lifted from Barbossa’s hand to remain suspended in the air.  The items within burned, disintegrating into smoke, which flew like a spirit into Calypso’s open mouth.  The ship beneath them began to quake, and the pirates steadied themselves.

Calypso slowly raised her head to meet Elizabeth’s gaze.  The goddess’ eyes glowed like fire, and a prickling heat flowed out from her skin.

When Calypso spoke, her voice echoed like whales in the deep.  “To have one’s freedom in the hands of others,” she said, and the wood trembled beneath their feet.  “To be locked in a cage for generations.  To be used as a tool for war with a price on my existence.” 

Barbossa staggered back.  Elizabeth remained rooted to the spot, while the other pirates began to look around the shaking ship.  Ragetti held up his hands in a plea.

“Miss Dalma,” he stuttered, “are you in there?”

But whatever part of her they had known as Tia Dalma was gone.  In her place was the suffocated vessel from which all the bottled power of the sea surged forth.

 

 

Following his words at the Brethren Court, Jones vanished through the wall to the lower ships.  He moved from one wrecked galley to the next like a ghost, drifting quietly by the many lives that converged there.  Here was a brothel on one floor, below it an inn, and there another brothel—an awful number of brothels for one cove.  

Jones finally arrived at the lowermost ship, an ancient Greek vessel that had been repurposed and rebuilt time and time again into a tavern for the just-docked crews.  It was filled with Pearl and Dutchman crew members, and Jones settled silently into a table by the wall.  His men nodded to him respectfully as they passed, while the Pearl’s crew was less cozy with him, throwing only fleeting glances his way.  Jones leaned back and his eyes unfocused, swimming in thought.

“Greetings, Captain.”

Jones snapped back to the present to see Norrington sliding into the chair across from him.  He had two pints of ale in his hands, and he set one down within Jones’ reach.  “My thanks for permitting this shore leave,” Norrington said.

With a skeptical glance, Jones accepted the ale and sipped silently.  Norrington followed suit, the two eyeing each other over the rims of their mugs.  Jones finally set his mug down, and a tendril came up to wipe a bit of froth from his lip.  Norrington smirked at him, fascinated.

“Forgive me for staring,” Norrington suddenly said.  “Truth be told, the notion of immortality has been on my mind for quite some time.”

“Ah,” Jones said.  “You were there with Sparrow when he unearthed the ritual.”

I translated your writings,” Norrington corrected. “But yes, Jack was the one who saw the secrets within and reconstructed the whole thing.”

Jones said nothing and sipped again from his ale.  Norrington looked about the room and then back at Jones.

“You’re not very talkative,” Norrington remarked.  

Jones spoke into his mug, his voice a muffled echo.  “Consider it a difference of culture.”

Norrington leaned forward, his voice suddenly quiet.  “I apologize for the part I played in bolstering Beckett’s forces.  I would have hoped—” he cleared his throat.  “I hope my assistance in Will Turner’s safe return mends some small part of the injury I’ve caused you.”

Jones let out a tired sigh and slid his empty mug to one side of the table.  He leaned back and fixed Norrington with a curious, squinting glare.

“Why are you still mortal?” Jones asked.  “Do you not fear death?”

Norrington let out a strained laugh.  “Oh, of course I fear death,” he said, picking at his nails with intense focus.  “I was almost hanged twice for my part in aiding the pirate cause.  Not to mention the maroonings, the sword fights, and battles at sea.  It’s terrifying.”

Jones waited, his brows arched.  Norrington rubbed the scruff of his beard with a distant look.  The other crew members chattered around them, the sounds of clinking glasses and laughter drifting through the ship.

“But there’s nothing in the world I would care to live forever for,” Norrington finally said.  “No great love waits for me on any shore.”

A barmaid came by and refilled Jones’ empty mug, as she was by now immune to the cursed crew—but still, she flinched at the sight of Jones.  He looked away, drumming his fingers idly on the table.  Norrington eyed her briefly up and down, but his gaze did not linger long.  He withdrew upon some sudden remembrance, scratching the table’s surface with a finger.  The barmaid finished and left, and Jones retrieved his mug and swirled it with his eyes still on Norrington.

“Love need not be a person,” Jones said.

Norrington scoffed.  “What, shall I be spurred on by love of my country?  I have none of that left.”

Jones suddenly let out a mocking laugh.  “Love and loyalty are not the same.  Your actions do not ring of loyalty, but they are the clawing, needy defiance of a son who still wishes for his father’s love.”

Norrington’s mouth opened—but no words came out.  His jaw opened and closed, his face twisting in indignation.  Jones looked on in uninhibited amusement.

“I do not desire England’s love,” Norrington finally said.  “I am not some prodigal son who yearns for forgiveness.  I would be content never to set foot on her soil again.”

Jones let out a low hum.  Perhaps it was the speed at which he drank, having consumed nothing in near months, and his tense facade began to slip.  “Familiar words,” he muttered.

Norrington blinked.  “From whom?  Will?  Or—?”

Jones stared off past Norrington, a haze settling over his features.  Norrington leaned forward, his voice low.  When he spoke, Jones’ face began to writhe.

“Who were you before you accepted Calypso’s blessing?”

Jones’ eyes flickered back and forth, as if a battle were unfolding before him.  His tentacle finger suddenly thrashed upon the surface of the table, sending his mug splattering onto the floor.  His whole body pulsed with an unknown fury, and Norrington reached across the table, gripping Jones’ wrist.

“Captain,” Norrington urged.  “Jones, where are you?”

Jones suddenly snapped back to the present, his eyes pinned on Norrington’s face.  With a bored sniff, he shook the man’s hand from his arm.

“I cannot blame you for the sins of your country’s past,” he said.  

“Past?  What past?”  Norrington’s eyes went wide.  “You mean the Scottish border wars?  You were there?  Before the unification?”

Jones flinched.  “Unification?”

The two men stared at each other across the table.  Norrington’s mouth hung open again, and he struggled to find words.

“I’m sorry—forgive me if this assumption is an insult to your—your awareness of the current circumstances,” Norrington cleared his throat and folded his hands on the table.  “But—are you aware that Scotland has been—how do I say this politely—has been part of the British empire for the past one hundred and fifty years?”

Jones stood bolt upright, knocking the table back.  Norrington caught his mug before it spilled, swearing quietly.  Gibbs had been seated at the adjacent table, and he swiveled around in his chair.

“I’m sorry,” Gibbs slurred, squinting through drink, “but how were you not informed of this, at any point in time, by anyone you drug up from the seas?”  He placed a hand on Jones’ giant claw and stared in disbelief.  “Did you not think to ask it?”

“I would never pose a question regarding  the unthinkable,” Jones snapped.  “And I never came across a dead or dying sailor who cared to inform me of the politics of my forgotten motherland.”

Gibbs gasped and shook Jones’ claw insistently, utterly drunk.  “ You should visit her ,” Gibbs cooed.  “Take a trip to the countryside, frolic through green pastures and smell a cow.”

“I will not smell cows.”

The room suddenly shook.  Bottles jittered off the shelves behind the bar, shattering and spilling dark stains of wine and grog across the floor.  The two crews looked about in confusion, some gripping the edges of their tables.  Others saved what they could of their drinks.

“An earthquake this far north?” Norrington asked.  But Jones was on his feet, shouting out to the two crews.

“Get back to the ships!”

His men sank into the floors, walls, and tables—all clicking and crunching, pushing their bodies through the wood.  The Pearl’s crew ran for the door as the shaking intensified, threatening the integrity of the whole ship.  Jones remained, bellowing at the stragglers to move.  They pushed and jostled through the narrow doorway as the ceiling above them buckled.

“You need to go,” Norrington said to Jones.  “If this floor breaks, you’re standing on solid rock.”

The ship gave a sudden crack.  The ceiling split, and down through the middle came a torrent of beams, platforms, and pieces of the upper decks, cascading down from the ships above.  Jones and Norrington threw up their hands as splinters battered their faces and a sea of dust clouded the air.  The ship continued to shake, and as they peered through the haze, they saw that they were cut off from the door entirely.  

The two backed against the wall as beams continued to tumble down, filling their small corner of the room.  Jones looked down to see the floor cracking beneath his feet.

“I’m not dying in a tavern,” Norrington wheezed.  “Not after all this.”  He threw himself toward the rubble, in some wild attempt to climb it to an escape—but Jones grabbed his shoulder and yanked him back just as an entire anchor crashed through the very spot he had been standing.  

Norrington pushed Jones away, forcing him into the wall.  “Go!” he coughed.  “You don’t need to die on my account.”

Jones held out his hand.  Norrington looked at it, then at Jones’ somber expression.  “What?  I can’t go with you.”

“You can,” Jones said slowly, “if you shake my hand.”

Time seemed to slow.  Norrington went utterly still, as the space behind him continued to crumble.  Jones held his gaze, unblinking, his body halfway into the wall.

Norrington's face had turned utterly white by the time he finally moved.  He took Jones’ hand in his.

The effect was instant.  A chill crawled up from Norrington’s hand, percolating through every pore and vein in his body.  It creeped deep beneath his skin, down into the center of his core, wrapping its icy tendrils around his beating heart.  His heart began to slow—to quiet—gentler and fainter—and as he let out a frightened gasp, his breath misted before him.  

He didn’t have time to speak before Jones pulled him back into the wall.  It was all too much, too fast: Norrington’s flesh resisted, and his skin began wriggling like an eel at the points where it was pressed up against the wood.  The two struggled, the ship ready to collapse upon them.  Jones let out a grunt and readjusted, yanking Norrington again with the full strength of his claw arm.  

Finally, Norrington came through.  His body sifted into the wood, with a sound like thousands of tiny, scrabbling crabs burrowing into his ears.  He shut his eyes tight, flinching as his face passed into the wall.  An incomprehensible second later, he was dragged onto the Dutchman’s deck, hanging limply from Jones’ arm.  

Jones dropped him where he stood, letting Norrington come to his senses on his own time.  Jones gazed up at the crumbling tower of Shipwreck Cove and the enraged deity that had awakened atop it.

Chapter Text

Elizabeth felt a hand grip her shoulder, and Barbossa was there beside her.  “We need to leave,” he said.  “She is no longer the woman you know.”

Calypso hovered above the deck, wind and water swirling at her feet like a growing hurricane.   The ship gave a giant groan, and the deck splintered down its center.  The pirates of the Brethren Court screamed, shoving and fighting one another to flee down the single narrow staircase off the ship.

“Of course there’s only one fucking exit,” Barbossa hissed.  

Maccus had vanished, retreated back to the Dutchman through the walls, and now Barbossa, Elizabeth, and Ragetti fled to the sides of the ship, searching for another way down the colossal tower of stacked ships.  Behind them, a pirate from the French contingent was sent tumbling off the staircase, vanishing with a scream into the darkness below. 

“There!” Elizabeth cried out.  “The anchor line!”

As part of the incomprehensible balancing act that went into the creation of the Shipwreck Cove, the entire length of the ancient anchor line was dangling over the side of the topmost ship.  It was impossible to see all the way down, between the moonless night and the wind and water whipped up by the sea goddess’ fury—but the rope was taut, meaning the anchor was still somewhere below.

Elizabeth chanced a look back—but Barbossa was there, shielding her from the shards of ice now ricocheting across the ship.  

Go!

Elizabeth threw herself over, followed closely by Ragetti, both scrambling down the line.  At several points she slid too fast, and the rope left hot, red burns on her palms—but she could barely feel the pain through the cold and chaos.  Barbossa hung back, weathering the brunt of the whirlwind with his undead form, until finally swinging over to join them.  

They clambered down, hands stinging, and Elizabeth at last reached the heavy anchor hanging in empty space.  She looked down to see the deck of another ship waiting just two meters below.

“There’s another ship here!” she called out to the others.  She heard nothing but the wind in her ears.

She dropped down and felt the deck give slightly beneath her—this was not one of the load-bearing ships of the tower.  It was an unused offshoot, unmaintained and left to the will of the elements.  She quickly and carefully circled about, looking for another way off, and found a long line of rope in questionable condition coiled in a corner.  It would have to do.  

There were two loud thumps behind her as the men landed from the anchor, followed by an unexpected third.

“Come, come, children,” Jack’s voice cut through the gale.  “You’re not dying on my account.”  

Elizabeth wasn’t quite sure whether she felt relieved, but there was no time to dwell on it.  She worked to secure the rope around the main mast, and Jack joined her, helping tie the thing down.

“You could have just jumped from the top back there,” Elizabeth said.

Jack fixed her with a grin.  “And let my successor perish?  It would be a bad look for me, Captain Swann.”

With the rope fastened to the ship, they threw the rest over the edge.  The three others followed Elizabeth’s lead, sliding down the coarse, fraying line until they heard waves crashing close below.  Elizabeth hung on to the last few feet of rope, preparing herself for the plunge.

Hurry up! ” Barbossa’s hoarse voice shouted down from above.  She looked up to see Ragetti clinging above her, his whole body shaking.  His one good eye was fixed on the water below, a mortal fear taken hold of him.  Elizabeth opened her mouth to call out to him, to rally him for what was to come—but the rope snapped, sending them into the deep.

The air was wrenched from her lungs by the cold sea.  She opened her eyes and saw nothing—felt only the crushing force of the sea’s power upon her—and she wondered, when her time had come, if death would feel the same.  

But the moment vanished, and she suddenly flailed out, her body fighting for the surface until she finally broke through to gasp the bitter air.   There was only a disorienting darkness, the sounds of many ships creaking and breaking in the distance, and three other bodies entered the water beside her.  

The nearest came up next to her, a spluttering frantic mess.

“Water in my eye hole!” Ragetti cried out.  “So fucking cold!”  His arms thrashed in the water, and Elizabeth reached out to hold him by the wrist. 

“You’re alive,” she said.  “Breathe.”

Jack and Barbossa joined them, the latter struggling to keep his head above water beneath the weight of his clothes.  His arms vanished beneath the waves and he wrestled for a moment, then with a final, resigned shrug, he shed his long coat, letting it drift down into the deep.  

The four watched the tower come crumbling down, with pirates fleeing beneath it.  A darkness fell across Jack’s face.

“The world is going to be so very different now,” he whispered.

Ragetti pointed a finger toward the sky. “There!” he called out.  The three others followed his gaze to see a twisting mass of clouds leave the tower to fly upon the wind, arcing away and drowning out the stars as it moved.  It was impossible to see at that distance, but Elizabeth knew that Calypso was there—anguishing within.

“The sea is freed at last,” Barbossa said quietly.  “Let’s hope this sated her bitterness.”

 

——

 

Gentleman Jocard’s crew found the four stranded in the water as the pirates swept the cove for survivors.  Jocard himself had escaped in time, but an entire half of his men were still unaccounted for.  The other crews they passed in the water and signaled to did not appear so lucky.

They were transferred to the Pearl around midnight, and the Dutchman was anchored beside her with a plank laid across.  Nearly Jones’ entire crew was absent: he had sent them out to swim through the cove, putting to use their sharpened senses to find stragglers in the dark sea.  Only Will and Jones himself remained, along with a strangely distracted Norrington.

“Good to see you made it back alive,” Elizabeth said to Norrington.  He didn’t reply for a time, and she stopped right in front of him, perplexed.  

It was unusual for him to be so distant, even in the face of tragedy.  At an earlier time, pre-marooning, he would have quipped back at any remark or moment of attention from her.  Now, he merely looked up at her with a faraway gaze.  Jones and Will were oddly silent behind him.

“James?” she asked.

Got one!” a voice called out from the water.  Jones and Will hurried over to the side, and Elizabeth followed to see Bootstrap Bill dragging an overwhelmed Spaniard up the ropes.  The man appeared impossibly light in Bill’s inhuman grasp.  Bill hoisted the man over and crawled on deck after him, then shook his body of water like a wet dog.

The Spaniard rose to his feet, and Will passed him a ragged, slightly moist blanket from the decades of loot they had stashed down in the galley.  The man took the blanket and wandered off to a corner in shock, his eyes wide and staring.

Jack patted Jones on the back—Jones flinched, but did not retaliate.  “You’re a man of charity,” Jack said with a grin.  “I always knew you were.”

“So what now?” Will asked.  “After we round up the surviving crews, where does that leave us?”

“We find Calypso,” Elizabeth said.  The air prickled, and all eyes turned on her.  Jones’ face began to writhe, his voice low.

“And do what?”

Elizabeth drew in a deep breath.  “Apologize.”

The reaction was instant and expected.  Jones, Barbossa, and Jack, let out a mix of sighs, groans, and growls—Jones looked ready to strike his claw down into the railing, if he were not trying to be on his best behavior.  Bill let out a huh of interest and leaned back, arms folded, studying Elizabeth, while his son eyed her in worry.  Ragetti was the only one who nodded vigorously along to her suggestion.

“Do you think she would be amenable to forgiveness?” Will asked.  

Jones let out a grumble.  “I will not apologize to her.”

“She’s not asking you,” Will said, placing a hand on his arm.  Jones blinked, looking from Will to Elizabeth.  She nodded in agreement.

“It’s not about any one of us in particular,” she said.  “It’s all of us.  We’re all to blame.”

“I’m afraid I wasn’t alive two hundred years ago,” Barbossa said as he studied his fingernails.  

“She’s talking about the hubris of mankind, you nit,” Ragetti snapped.  Barbossa shot him a baffled look, and Ragetti seemed taken aback by his own boldness.  “I mean,” he fumbled, “it’s all pirates, everywhere.  We’ve enabled the collective shackling of nature and our fellow man for the sake of profit.  The sea isn’t ours.  She belongs to herself.”

The group exchanged surprised glances.  Jack furrowed his brows.  “Where did you hear such things?”

Ragetti’s face twitched—his empty socket glared back in the dark.  “I’m not stupid,” he said, his voice breaking.  “ I can know things without being told .”

Jack stepped back, holding up a hand.  “Apologies, mate.”

“Whose ship do you intend to chase Calypso on?” Jones asked Elizabeth, his beard curling.  From the look in his eyes, he already knew the answer.

“The Dutchman is better equipped than the Pearl for this,” Elizabeth said.  “I don’t want to risk any more mortal lives on this venture.”  She turned to Barbossa, who regarded her with a glint in his eye.  She paused, contemplating the moment, until finally breaking the silence.

“I’m transferring captaincy of the Pearl to Barbossa,” she said.  “The decision is final.  I will not ask for, and do not grant me her ownership again.”

Barbossa nearly collapsed, a hand clutched to his heart.  His mouth hung open and eyes closed in an uncomfortable, almost sexual ecstasy.  The rest looked on, exchanging disquieted glances as he let out a weak, drawn-out moan.

“The Pearl,” he gasped.  He steadied himself on the railing, his legs slipping out from beneath him.  Bill stepped forward and hoisted him up under his shoulder.

“All right,” Bill cleared his throat.  “Let’s get you to your ship.”

Barbossa almost crumbled to the deck again.  “My ship,” he wheezed.  Bill had to drag him to the plank where he finally managed to right himself.  Jack looked on with mild distaste, and Elizabeth studied him out of the corner of her eye.

“Does this displease you?” she asked.

Jack waved a hand dismissively.  “Once death has no hold on you, the wants of man fail to stir one’s heart.  Ships.  Relevance.  Love.”

“But Barbossa’s undead too,” Ragetti said.  “And they’re in love.”  He pointed to Will and Jones.

Jones and Will exchanged a surprised, sideways glance at the word “love.”  

Jack shot back at Ragetti.  “None of them count, they’re exceptions to the rule.  An undead man has no need for love.”

Norrington’s face had gone pale.  Elizabeth peered at him, and he noticed her gaze and quickly turned away.  “I’ll keep an eye out for survivors,” he muttered and walked away.

“Well, I don’t see how you can exclude—” Ragetti began counting on his fingers, but gave up, “—thirty-some members of the Dutchman, including Morey, who have found love and wants in a vast and endless existence.”

“Fine,” Jack snapped.  “All I’m saying is, it makes more sense to not bother with anything or anyone at all.  Perhaps all of you should think on that.”

“I’m going to sleep,” Jones grunted.  He turned and stalked off, his heavy footsteps punctuating a growing silence.  Elizabeth looked at Will with an eyebrow raised.

He sleeps? ” she mouthed.  

Will shrugged and whispered, “Not if I’m around."

Elizabeth let out a low huh .

 

——

 

It was sunrise by the time the Dutchman’s crew and the pirates in the cove had managed to recover all they believed had survived.  The Pearl and the Dutchman were joined by the lead vessels of the Brethren Court’s pirate lords, and the plan for Calypso’s recovery was relayed to all.  The ones who had dissented to her release were unexpectedly light on the “we told you so” reprimands: all were focused on the substantial loss of their crew members and the ever-more daunting fight ahead.  

Jack and Ragetti were to sail with the Pearl—Norrington would stay aboard the Dutchman, for whatever reason, Elizabeth couldn’t tell.  He, Jones, and Will were tight-lipped, and they moved about each other with a strained, unusual awkwardness.  Norrington and Jones avoided eye contact.  Will regarded Norrington with mild curiosity. 

Perhaps Will and Jones’ relationship is more…open than I imagined, she thought.  With a sudden realization that made her stop in her tracks, she wondered what she and Jones shared that could have possibly drawn in the two same men.

She shook the thought from her head and settled onto a chair in the middle of the Dutchman’s deck.  There were an awful lot of chairs around.  The crew was preparing to set sail, following the heading on the compass Barbossa had returned to her.  Bill sat nearby, staring off into the sky.

“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth leaned forward, her voice kind, “I don’t think we’ve ever had a proper conversation.”

Bill startled and looked over.  His face lit up in a smile.  “People tend not to notice me much anymore.  I think I blend in too well by now.”  He shrugged, shaking the mess of seaweed that had attached to his shoulders.  “I’m here if you need anything, as a...former-future-father-in-law.”

“Right,” Elizabeth bit her lip.  “I suppose this has all ended up very differently than anyone imagined.”

Bill let out a guffaw of laughter.  “If you had told me that my son would show up on the Dutchman to woo the captain I’ve been sailing under for twelve years…” He shook his head with a chuckle.  “Stranger stories have never been told.  I’m happy for him.”

Elizabeth smiled.  “I am too.”  

There was a moment’s silence, as the two watched the men begin cranking up the rear anchor.  Bill peered at her curiously.  “You’ve fallen for a difficult personality as well.”

Elizabeth felt her chest grow tight.  She squinted back at him.  “ Difficult would be an incredibly mild way to put it.  I am not certain if she is even capable of reciprocation.”

“All of us said the same about Jones,” Bill replied.  “People change.”

“But Jones is a person.  Calypso is a god.”

Bill tilted his head in acknowledgement, but his lips were drawn tight in thought.  He finally let out a tut of disagreement.  “There’s no difference between men and gods.”

Elizabeth blinked.  “She controls the sea.  Our lives are in her hands.”

“And aren’t there mortal men who hold the lives of many more in their hands?” Bill asked, suddenly prickling.  “There are millions on land who will never set foot on a ship, who will never know what we know.  They pray to men in high towers who decide who eats and who doesn’t, who lives and who dies.  I left those gods for this one.”  He stared out over the sea.  “She is more kind than them.”

Elizabeth fell silent, her heart beating heavily in her chest.

With a final shout from Ogilvey, the sails unfurled, and the crewmen clinging to the masts came scrambling down.  The translucent-green seaweed billowed out, and the Dutchman began creaking forward.  

“Oh,” Elizabeth cleared her throat.  “By the way, do you have any idea why Norrington is staying with us?”

Bill shut his lips tight.  He looked at her, then out at the water before speaking.  “I can’t say.  Not my secret to share.”

Suddenly, Maccus came sprinting past the chairs, bringing himself to the starboard side.

Wait! ” His eyes rolled, wide and frantic.  “What about Morey?  We’re leaving without her?”

Jones stepped up beside him.  “Morey has chosen to stay with Captain Sao Feng.  She will be joining the Pearl in the fight.”  As they passed the other Brethren Court ships moored in the cove, he nodded to the Chinese vessel.  “She is there.”

Maccus leaned over the railing, his hands gripping hard enough into the wood to leave small, splintering cracks.  The rest of the crew slowly gathered, peering out over the water at the other ship.  With a gasp, Maccus spotted her there—it was difficult not too, as she was all silks and sparkling jewels—and he gave a thunderous shout.

Morey! ” he cried.  “ Wait right there!”

Maccus raced back across the ship—for a moment Elizabeth thought he was winding up for a running jump to throw himself across the gap.  But he kicked open the door to Jones’ cabin, to which Jones only gave a sour grunt of disapproval, and came racing back out, Birdie in hand.

He ran back to the railing, and by now Morey was alerted to the commotion on the Dutchman.  She stood across the water, staring back with her mouth agape.  Maccus held Birdie up between his two giant hands, the light glinting off the little creature’s black eyes—like a babe ready for its christening.  

Take him with you!

Without waiting for a reply, Maccus lowered his arms and lifted the bird once more, letting it take flight.  The seagull’s wings opened and it rose into the air, letting out a dramatic squawk .  It sailed across the gap between the two ships, drifting from side to side as its white wings beat against the wind.  Morey held out her arms on the other side, and Birdie descended with a final eek into his mother’s embrace.

She held the bird close to her chest and watched Maccus across the water.  He sniffed and turned away, and Jones studied him curiously out of the corner of his eye.  The other vessel was beginning to creep out of range, and with an impatient huff Jones leaned in toward Maccus.

“Do you have anything else to say?” he asked.

Something lit up in Maccus’ face, and he turned back to Morey.

The bird’s been promoted! ” Maccus called out.  Jones brought his hand to his face and massaged his temple.

They could hear Morey’s gasp across the water.  “ What rank?

Ensign! ” Maccus shouted back.

Morey turned to Sao Feng and they could see her eagerly discussing something with the captain—likely Birdie’s position on the new crew—and the Dutchman finally pulled away to carve through the open sea.  Maccus left the railing, still saddened, but looking much more at peace with it all.

Jones spotted Will by the foremast and strode over.  Will had something clutched in his hand, of which he was being strangely protective, and in his other hand was his knife.

“What is that?” Jones leaned in, turning Will with one arm.  In Will’s hand was a small wooden figurine.  He held it up to the light.

“It’s a duck,” Will said.  He spotted a stray splinter and scraped it off with a flick of the knife.

Jones sighed.  “Why are all my crew fixated on birds?”

“Something about freedom.”  Will held out the little wooden duck to Jones.  “Here, I made it for you.”

Jones looked down at the duck, a sudden softness coming over his features.  He took the thing gingerly in his hand, turning it over as Will looked on with a smile.  Jones weighed it carefully, his lips parted.

“The poetic man,” Jones began, his voice low, “the one who arrived with Captain Swann.”

“Ragetti,” Will supplied.

“He spoke of our—'' Jones stopped.  The word caught in his throat, and with a great effort he spoke it at last.  “Love.”

Will froze.  He stared at Jones, a slow flush coming over his features.  Jones examined the color on Will’s neck, and a smirk crossed his lips.

“It’s been weeks since you last blushed,” Jones said.

Will’s face turned even an even deeper color.  “You keep a note of how often I blush?”

Jones gently brought his hand up to Will’s face—he lingered in the air for a moment, then brought his cool fingers to Will’s skin.  His fingers traced down the side of Will’s cheek, and Will turned toward his hand, kissing him in his palm.  He held Will’s face, and the two gazed at each other, both holding their breath, waiting for the other to speak.

Will’s lips opened—but they were swiftly interrupted.

“May I have a word?”

Norrington had come up to Jones, his eyes flitting out distractedly over the rest of the crew.  Jones let out a long sigh and turned to Norrington, who suddenly seemed to realize the closeness of the two men before him.

“Oh, I—” Norrington cleared his throat.  “Apologies, it can wait until another time.”

“What is it?” Jones asked tiredly.  Will remained where he was and folded his arms.  Norrington shot him a glance before continuing.

“I wanted to thank you for saving my life,” he said.  “I would have been crushed within the rubble if it weren’t for your swift actions.”

Jones said nothing and waited for him to go on.  Norrington took a deep breath.

“On the manner of my—my commitment to the crew.” He licked his lips.  “What is the nature of the contract?  We had barely a moment to speak before it happened.”

Jones held out his hand.  Norrington looked down at it, perplexed.

“I can release you from your service immediately,” Jones said.  “I am not interested in keeping your soul.”

To the other two’s surprise, Norrington was taken aback.  He frowned, recoiling from Jones’ hand.  When he spoke, his voice prickled with offense.

“Am I not of value to your crew?” he asked.

Jones withdrew his hand.  “You wish to serve?”

“I have no aspirations for the future of my own soul,” Norrington replied, “but I cannot sit by as every other soul steeps in a vast stew of nothingness.  If we are to find Calypso, and bring an end to the purgatory of thousands waiting to find peace, I wish to serve.”

Will was the first to respond.  He reached out and patted Norrington on the back, saying nothing as he gave the other man a nod of approval.  Jones’ lips curled up and he snorted.

“Very well,” he said.  He turned to leave, but before he did, a thought struck him.  “I recommend divulging your circumstances to Captain Swann.  She is utterly baffled and continues to hound my crew for explanation.”

Norrington looked out over the deck to see Elizabeth staring back at him.  They were too far apart for words to have been overheard, but the expression on her face conveyed that she had seen enough to be all the more confused.  Norrington grumbled.

“Perhaps you’re right.  I’ll see to it…in time.”  He sighed.  “She’s not a captain anymore, by the way.”

Jones scoffed.  “She is the only one deserving of the title of those who have captained the Pearl.  The other two squabbled over that wretched dinghy for near a decade, yet within a month of her leadership, she felled the Kraken.”  Jones raised his eyebrow at Norrington.  “I’ve yet to meet another as deserving as her.”

The three men looked on in silent admiration as Elizabeth chatted with Bill, and her face broke into mirth at something the old man said.  

 

——

 

The Pearl—at long last under the command of Captain Barbossa once again—sailed with the remaining fleets of the pirate lords to gather on Tortuga’s shoals.  Word spread quickly on land of the tragedy that had befallen Shipwreck Cove, and the taverns offered all meals and rooms at half price for the pirates who came ashore.  A temporary medical area was set up on the beach in lean-tos and tents, with more severely injured victims moved farther inland.

Barbossa’s crew wandered about the beach as he and Gibbs met with Sao Feng and a few other pirate lords.  All were alive, though in varying states of survival.  Pintel and Ragetti sat down and watched in grim fascination as the pirate lord Chevalle had a broken arm set.

“Please, mon Dieu, this is too much—” Chevalle flapped a handkerchief over his own face and reclined against a pile of satin pillows in his tent.  Pintel dug into his coat pocket and brought out a small flask of liquor, handing it over to the captain.  Chevalle opened one eye, plucked the flask out of Pintel’s hand, and downed the entire thing.  He smacked his lips with a sour expression.

“Unappetizing swill,” he muttered.  “Nothing like the wines of Bordeaux, sweet ambrosia squeezed from our finest grapes— haaaagghh!

Pintel and Ragetti winced as the medic twisted Chevalle’s arm into place with a crack .  Chevalle fell back again, sweating beneath his makeup.  

Farther down along the shore, Jack strutted nonchalantly past the injured, giving them encouraging nods as his eyes flicked over the supplies.  The monkey, Jack, was perched on his shoulder, chattering nonsensically.  Clutched in its tiny hands was the small wooden box.  

“Oh, I’m just as irked as you are about all this,” Jack muttered.  “ Let’s make the two undead Jacks bunk together, won’t that be a laugh .  Fucking ingrates.”  He did a double-take at a temporarily vacated tent, looked around for signs of its owner, and quickly ducked inside.  

There were bandages, discarded clothing, and rags lying around the floor.  Jack dug around, moving things about, eyes scouring the floor.  With a frustrated sigh, he sat back—and heard a jingle of coins beneath his rear.  He reached under to pull out a small coin purse, but he eyed it wearily.  Without even a glimmer of consideration, he tossed it to the side.  Monkey Jack let out a chitter.

“I know,” Jack sighed, “terribly unheard of for me.  But we both know how it is, what with the great stretch of eternity lying before us.”

His hand fell on something hard and cold in a tangle of blankets.  With a glint in his eyes, he drew up a small, sharpened scalpel.  “Hopefully,” he said, licking his lips, “not for much longer.”

Jack tore open his shirt, and with a dramatic cry he thrust the blade into the center of his own chest.  It sunk in, hilt-deep, like cutting into butter.  Jack withdrew his hand and eyed his chest in surprise, turning this way and that to see at a better angle.

At that same moment, a man ducked his head into the tent and froze.  Jack and the other man locked eyes—the hilt quivering in Jack’s chest.  The man’s eyes wandered from Jack’s, to the blade, to the inexplicable monkey beside him.  He slowly withdrew his head and closed the tent flap.

Jack leaned back on one arm and resumed his self-surgery.  He brought the knife down in a slow, deliberate stroke, whispering to himself all the while.

Give your heart twice…give your heart…back…”  he repeated, his lips parched dry.  But as soon as he reached the end of the long cut, the incision began stitching itself back together from the top.

No, no, no, ” Jack pulled out the knife and stabbed it in again.  This time, he cut fast—three long lines in T-shape, and hurriedly threw aside the knife to tear open his own chest.  “ Box! ” he shouted at Monkey Jack. 

The monkey hurriedly retrieved the box, and Jack shook the lid off with one hand, his other buried deep into his own ribs, holding the snake-like bits of flesh back from sealing shut.  He grabbed his heart and with great effort, tried to shove it into his open chest.

It would not take.  His hand and his heart were forced out by the winding ligaments and vessels that grew over the empty space where his heart should be, like serpents protecting their pit. 

He let out a hiss of frustration and looked around the tent.  There was a large set of metal tongs—repurposed from a smithy for picking up boiled rags—and Jack once again made his cuts.  This time, he shoved the opened tongs into his chest to keep the space pried open.  With a chuckle of satisfaction, he maneuvered his heart in past the tongs.

The repairing flesh simply grew through the tongs.  With a disgusted cry, Jack threw aside his heart and began trying to wrench the tongs free.  The skin was healing too fast—closing around the handles still sticking from his chest.  He wrestled, wailing and kicking out against the walls of the tent—but it would not come free.  With a final exhausted cry, he gave up as the last bit of the incision sealed over. He was left with two metal rods, in a V-shape, protruding between his nipples.

The two Jacks stared at the tong handles.  Monkey Jack carefully reached a tiny hand out to touch the nearest one.  Jack fell back onto the blankets with a long, chest-emptying groan.

The tent flap opened again, but this time Morey peeked her head in.  Jack sat up with a perplexed frown as she studied him in return.

“How did you find me?” Jack asked.

“A fresh heart has a very particular smell,” Morey replied simply, her eyes flicking to the beating organ on the blankets.  Jack swiftly replaced the heart in the box and shot her a wide-eyed look.  

“What do you want?”

Morey jerked her head toward the beach.  “The pirate lords want to speak with you.”

“Oh, now they demand my presence, right after stripping me of my title,” Jack muttered.

He clicked his tongue at Monkey Jack, who picked up the wooden box and scurried onto his shoulder.  Morey opened the tent flap the full way—she had dressed down from her silks and jewels and was in her usual working attire, likely out of respect given the somber circumstances.  On the front of her chest was Birdie, comfortably resting in his little baby wrap.  Jack startled at the sight of the bird there.  Birdie and Monkey Jack exchanged beady-eyed stares.  

Birdie’s beak slowly opened in a faint raawk, as Monkey Jack crouched down.  Jack let out a hiss and jostled the monkey on his shoulder.  “Play nice,” he warned.

The two turned and walked off in stony silence toward the gathered pirate lords.  Sao Feng stood among his men, his eyes softening upon seeing Morey again.  Mistress Ching was beside him, accompanied by Ammand, Villanueva, and Jocard.  They all fixed Jack with looks of expectation, but Barbossa seemed much less hopeful.  He strode over to meet Jack halfway, his eyes pinned on Jack’s chest.  “What the fuck happened to you?” 

Jack buttoned up his coat with a tight-lipped huff.  Monkey Jack, on the other hand, chittered eagerly, shaking the wooden box.  Barbossa squinted at the monkey and looked back at Jack.

“That eager to return to mortal life?” he asked.

You speak monkey? ” 

“Perhaps I do,” Barbossa said, a glint in his eye.  “The pirate lords have need of your unique services.  Though I suddenly doubt you’re keen on providing them.”

Jack drew a deep breath and approached the other pirates.  Villanueva was the first to speak.

“Sixty immortal men are said to crew Lord Beckett’s ships,” he began, “in addition to the hundreds that sail under the Spanish king.  The mortal numbers alone are a daunting fight, but we cannot fight those who will not die.”

“Unless,” Sao Feng said, “you are willing to share your knowledge.”

Jack gave a polite smile and cleared his throat.  “Well, first things first, you’ll have to destroy their hearts.  Luckily for you, I know the exact location of where they’re kept—”

“He meant sharing the boon of immortality,” Mistress Ching said.

Jack’s expression soured. “I was hoping you wouldn’t say that.”

“Did you really think you could hoard the secret all to yourself?” Sao Feng asked.  “You bear the gift of eternal life and didn’t think to share it?”

It’s not— ” Jack’s voice cracked.  “It’s not a gift.  Do you realize how inconvenient it is to carry the damn thing around?” Jack jerked his head toward the monkey holding the box.  “When your heart’s in your chest you can never lose it.  I’ve had innumerable brushes with death throughout my life, but my greatest relief prior to this was knowing I’d have two hands free whenever I needed to run from said death .”

“A small price to pay,” Mistress Ching replied. 

“And you can simply lock it away in a safe place, as was done to Beckett’s men,” Ammand added.

Jack bared his teeth in frustration and began to pace in the sand.  “None of you have any notion of the thing—the farther you are from your heart, the less there is to enjoy—and just having your heart outside of your chest and in a box makes it—makes everything—” Jack stopped and clenched his fists, staring up at the sky, “—so fucking dull.”

“Oh, poor enfant .”  Chevalle pushed his way through the crowd to stand before Jack.  He had just arrived from his medical tent, his arm in a makeshift sling.  “You cannot enjoy life, so now we all must die at the hands of a powerful enemy.”

Jack’s nose twitched violently.  “I cannot believe I’m saying this,” he growled, “but Davy Jones would be on my side.  You’ve seen the man—the miserable, wet, filthy man—all heartbreak and sadness stretching for eternity .”  He let the word hang in the air.  “ Eternity .  Are you ready to do that?  To bury your heart beneath far away sands and feel nothing?  To not enjoy food, drink, warmth, sex—well, apparently he got on fine with that, but his appetite’s another thing entirely—”

“Enough.”  Sao Feng held up his hand for silence.  His brows were stitched in thought.  After a long pause, he spoke quietly.  “Is there no reversal for the ritual?”

Jack pulled open his coat to reveal the tongs buried there.  “Believe me, I’ve tried.”

There were whispers in the crowd.  Barbossa watched as the sentiment began to turn, fingers stroking his beard in thought.  Mistress Ching spoke up.  

“Do we wish to make this permanent change,” she said slowly, “and then be rendered incapable of enjoying our hard-won freedom?”

Jocard shook his head.  “Such a life is not worth living.”

“Live free or die trying!” Pintel chimed in.

Jack let out a visible sigh of relief as the other pirates spoke up in agreement.  Even Chevalle had gone quiet, a look of resignation settling upon his face.  

“Then we fight as free men,” Ammand said, “with all our humanity retained.”

The pirate lords exchanged a few words, then separated and walked off to attend to their men.  The hopeful idea had been replaced with the reality of preparing for a grueling fight.  Barbossa leaned in toward Jack in a whisper.

“Are you really that miserable?”

Jack’s eyes darted around them.  “Truth be told,” he cleared his throat, “I haven’t been able to get it up since.  Though I know you more than relate.”  

Barbossa spat on the ground beside Jack’s feet.  He turned away and stalked off across the sand with a grumble.  “One fucking time...”

 

——

 

Norrington threw himself into the work aboard the Dutchman, hoping to earn his place.  The ship followed the path set by Jack's compass, once again in Elizabeth's hands, pointing toward that which she most loved.  They had no notion of how far Calypso had fled—all of the seas were her domain, so Jones prepared them for a lengthy voyage.

On his second day, Norrington found himself hauling a stash of tobacco below deck.  Jones had ordered that all necessary dry goods be moved to airtight rooms, in case the ship needed to dive at a moment's notice.  Norrington hefted the box up and nudged open the door to the powder room.

His jaw dropped, and the box fell with a thud onto the floor.

Penrod and Crash were in the midst of breathless, frantic fucking.  The lobster man was bent over a barrel with the mountainous man pounding him from behind.  Penrod’s claws let out a rhythmic clack clack upon receipt of every thrust.

They continued for several seconds before Crash noticed Norrington frozen in the doorway.  He stopped, pulled out slowly, and turned to face the new arrival.  It took every ounce of Norrington’s willpower to keep his eyes glued to the man’s face.

“You can leave that there,” Crash said with a nod to the tobacco box.  “We’ll sort that out.”

“Right,” Norrington wheezed.  His legs would not move.

Penrod crooked his arm and rested his chin upon a claw.  “See something you like?”

Norrington choked.  “No—I—good day.”

He backed out of the room, shutting the door behind him.  His whole body felt clammy.  With his head ducked and mind reeling, he hurried away—only to bump directly into Elizabeth.

“I’m so sorry,” Norrington stuttered.  Elizabeth raised an eyebrow.

“Caught someone in the powder room again?” she asked.  “Which two was it this time?  Or three?”

Three?”  Norrington balked.  “This happens regularly?”

“God, your face is redder than a monkey’s arse,” she said with a laugh.  “Things must have been so different in your command.”

Norrington looked away, and an uncomfortable cough rose in his throat.  “On the contrary…”

Elizabeth’s eyes went wide.  “No!  Really?”

“Not personally,” Norrington said quickly.  “But some of the men, yes.  It was forbidden to speak of—more than anything, it was a waste of time, money, and scarce resources to attempt to prosecute anyone at sea.  Not to mention, a risk in itself.  You had to bear witness to the act, which begged the question why you were present at all.  We were there in service to our country, not to investigate our fellow crew members.  Speaking out did no good for morale.”

Elizabeth smirked.  “I suppose in this case,” she nodded toward the powder room, “if you’re resigned to centuries of service, all you can do is keep up morale.”

Norrington went very still.  “I suppose so.”

Elizabeth stepped close to him, her gaze searing.  “James,” she warned.  “Tell me what’s going on.  Why are you here?”

He closed his eyes.  When his voice finally came, it was a whisper.  “I’ve sworn myself to the Dutchman.”

The two went utterly silent.  Up above, the sounds of seabirds filtered through, accompanied by the crew’s steady footsteps as they worked on the cursed ship.  There were also loud thudding noises coming from the powder room.  Norrington opened one eye to see Elizabeth deep in thought. 

“Elizabeth?”

“It’s certainly unexpected,” she said slowly, “given your history.”

“It was a spur of the moment contract,” he said.  “I wasn’t really planning on—”

“I’m proud of you.”  She placed a hand on his shoulder, giving a gentle squeeze.  Norrington fell quiet.  “You’re becoming a new man.”

“I’ll make you a new man,” Crash’s voice sounded out from the closed door behind them.  Penrod’s growing moans followed.

Elizabeth pursed her lips.  “Lunch?”

“Wonderful, let’s go.”

Chapter Text

As a new crew member still weaning off his hunger, Norrington dined with Elizabeth and Will for regular meals.  The conversation was, understandably, strained.  But Will seemed to have forgiven him for his part in Beckett's plot, and Elizabeth, if anyone, could understand the difficulty of finding one’s path in a precarious world.  

Their meals together eventually lightened up with talk of their journeys since leaving Port Royale.  Will and Elizabeth were keenly interested in Jack and Norrington’s discovery of the ritual.

“I translated everything,” Norrington reiterated, for the tenth time, “but Jack saw the significance of the Celtic names and spirits.”

“And those were taken from Jones’ homeland?” Elizabeth asked.  “But why was he on Isla Cruces in the first place?  Why were the chest and journal hidden there?”

The two looked at Will, and he simply shrugged.  “I’ve never discussed it with him.”

“Well,” Norrington gestured up above deck.  “You could…ask.”

Will stood and strode off toward the stairs while Norrington stammered.  “No—I didn’t mean right now—”

Davy Jones! ” Will bellowed up through the hatch.  “ Your presence is requested!”

Norrington buried his face in his hands as the steady thump of Jones’ claw leg approached from above.  The room filled with shadow as the captain’s silhouette appeared in the hatch, and he descended the stairs, stopping halfway.  He looked from Will to his two sheepish companions seated at the dining table.

“You summoned me for breakfast?” 

“They have questions about your history,” Will said.

Jones scowled, turning back toward the stairs.  “It’s a story better left untold.”

Will caught him by the sleeve and fixed him with sad, pleading eyes.  It was like watching a tiny sheepdog paw at the herd’s largest, angriest ram.  Jones’ face writhed until his resolve finally crumbled, and he stalked over to the table and sat with a force that nearly knocked Norrington off the bench.  

“What do you wish to know?” he asked, his gaze searing.

Elizabeth placed her hands flat on the table, her body vibrating with energy.  “Where did the ritual come from?  And why were you on Isla Cruces?”

Will sat down beside Jones and watched him with a soft, vacant look, his chin resting in his hands.  Jones let out a weary sigh.

“Removing one’s heart to free one of sorrow—that was my own making.  The effect of perpetual life was an inescapable consequence.”

“Good lord,” Norrington said.  “It’s not often that one just happens to stumble upon the key to immortality.”

Jones shot him a condescending look.  “Too often, if you have lived as long as I.  Fruits, nectars, artifacts, bargains—pieces of old gods or wandering spirits that confer endless life.  The question is whether you are willing to pay the cost.”  

“My question is why anyone would wish to live that long,” Elizabeth said.  Will and Norrington looked at her in surprise.  “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said in a dry tone, “would either of you like to explain why a woman should want to bear children into eternity?”

Jones let out a snort and went on.  “I had learned much of the nature of gods through my unfortunate time under Calypso’s thrall.  I knew the names of beings from my homeland, and I invoked them through the same means I called upon Calypso and drew her through to the mortal realm.  From there,” he paused.  His eyes flicked down to the table.  “It was a matter of practice.”

“There were stories of men who died in your journal,” Norrington said.  “Those were at your hands?”

“The incantations had yet to be perfected,” he replied.  “I went to Isla Cruces and found countless souls in the throes of mortal anguish.  A priest—worn down by the endless cycle of death—agreed to my bargain.  I would let him join my crew, if he supplied bodies.”

Will’s face went pale.  “You experimented on dying men?” 

Jones averted his gaze, his beard twisting in on itself in shame.  “Men and women.  Spanish and otherwise.  The Spaniards brought sickness from the old world, and here they met diseases of the tropics.”

“And you were untouched by it,” Elizabeth whispered.

“They were on death’s doorstep,” Jones went on.  “I believed I was offering them a great mercy.  If the ritual succeeded, they would be saved from their fate.  If it didn’t, they were granted a quicker death.”

“But you tortured them,” Will said.  “You cut into them and pulled out their hearts.  That’s not a mercy.”

The other two were quiet.  Will’s expression was pained, and he shifted away from Jones, staring at the far wall.  Jones continued quietly.

“The ritual finally worked on a woman who fled the Dutchman as soon as it was done.  I have no knowledge of her fate.  I waited aboard my ship for the priest to return, and I gave him my heart in a chest to bury.  I told him he would be sworn to the crew when the deed was done.”

Norrington looked around the galley in confusion.  “I’ve met no priests among the crew.”

“He never came back,” Jones said.  “My men found him hanging from a tree.”

He stood, the floor creaking beneath him and left the table in grim silence.  Will’s eyes were cloudy, and a darkness leeched up behind them.  He did not follow Jones, but Norrington stood and called out after the captain.

“Wait—” he said, “—there was a passage near the end, a hint of a way to reverse it.  Was it ever completed?”

Jones stopped and turned his head to glare at Norrington out of one eye.  “A spirit told me that I must ‘give my heart twice’ to regain mortal life.  I gave it once to the priest, where it was dug up and abused by the very same god who made me part with it.  Now we sail toward certain peril, and I will not make the same mistake again.”

He left the galley, stomping up the staircase.  Elizabeth pushed her half-filled bowl of mush away from herself and leaned back heavily.

“Well, that was an enlightening conversation,” she muttered.  “Can’t say it did much for my appetite.”

She glanced at Will and saw him still far away, his jaw tight.  With an abrupt shove, he sent his bench sliding back and picked up his food.  Norrington and Elizabeth watched in growing concern as he stalked off farther below deck, disappearing into the dark.

 

——

 

Will slept the following two nights in a hammock strung up in a corner of the galley.  He found plenty of old blankets to pile onto it, creating a giant, misshapen nest with himself buried inside like a fragile egg.  Old paintings of forgotten lords and ladies that had been looted over time were propped up around the area, creating a barrier of dour-faced monarchs.  Their eyes pinned upon anyone who passed by, following them in silent judgment.  

During the day he did what little work was available and then returned to his nest to ruminate.  His legs hung over the side, swinging with the rocking of the hammock as the ship carried on, his eyes lost in a far, unseeable future.  

A couple of the crew came down and offered to play dice with him, but he refused with wordless grunts.  Elizabeth stopped by, though their conversation was strained and punctuated by silence.  She was abruptly called up to correct their heading, leaving Will with a frustrated scowl.

Finally, Maccus came by to check on him, making a clear effort to mediate.  Jones’ mood on such a crucial voyage was a great concern of his—but more than that, Will was no longer just another hapless sailor.  He was Jones’ heart, and so he was part of them all.  He deserved kindness.

When Maccus saw Will bundled in his blankets and heard the retelling of the captain’s long-past actions on Isla Cruces, he gave a great sigh.  “I was there when it happened,” Maccus murmured.  “Not a tidal wave nor hurricane could have shaken Jones from what he felt he needed to do.”

Will rolled over in his hammock to stare at the other man.  “What was he like, before it all?”

Maccus scratched the back of his head.  “If you’re hoping it was all sunshine and roses, it wasn’t.  He was never some moon-eyed sailor with a healthy love of the sea.  There was always something…intense about him.  Ever since the war, really.”

Will sat upright, his brows furrowed.  “You were there with him?  What happened?”

Maccus sighed.  He waved a hand to encompass all the world around them.  “What ever happens in war?  We were on opposite sides, him fighting for Scotland, and me with the English.  I killed some, he killed some—it was brutal, bloody, and terrible.”

He plopped onto a barrel beside Will and rubbed under his gills.  “One night I was sent to burn the fallen in a ditch, and I found him in there, still clinging to life.  A man—no, just a boy then—weighed down by the dead, clawing his way out.  And I was standing there, watching him scrape through blood, holding the torch to burn them all.  When he looked in my eyes, I knew.  I just fucking knew.  It was fate.  Nothing else made sense but that.”

Maccus leaned back and closed his eyes.  “I pulled him out, and we became brothers.  We deserted, made for the sea, and took up pirating.  Never looked back.  I suppose since the sea was his savior, that’s why he got so obsessive with her…didn’t think he’d ever move on until he found you.”

He opened one eye to see Will staring back at him, mouth agape.  He scoffed.  “Anyway, if you’d been through what we have, you’d know the lengths one will go to, to put the demons of your past to rest.  You can’t judge a man on that.”  When Will didn’t reply, he turned and jabbed a finger at Will’s chest.  “This had better not be what ends you two.  If you break his heart, I’m going to knife you in your fucking sleep.”  

Will swatted Maccus’ finger and rolled away.  “You can’t intimidate me.  Get out of my room, and close the door on your way out.”

With an irritated grunt, Maccus stood and strode out between the paintings and then swiveled one back to close the gap.  Will heard his footsteps recede as crunching sounded from the wall beside his hammock.  

“Woe upon you, foul hypocrite.”  The ancient voice of Wyvern, one of the men who had long since grown into the ship, floated down to Will.  The crusty skeleton of a man had managed to pry his face free from the wall, but the back half of his head—and his brain—remained stuck behind, throbbing ominously.  He leaned down over Will, dripping seawater onto the hammock.  “You who smote our enemy in cold blood now casts judgment upon the man who saved you thrice.”

“It’s different ,” Will aggressively flicked water from his hand.  “Warren was enlisted, but people living on an island, out of harm’s way don’t deserve—forget it, why am I trying to explain this to a talking wall—”

Will rolled out of his hammock and left his little nest behind.  

Above deck, Norrington had roped off a small corner of the ship and hung up old sheets to block the view in.  A few crewmembers came by to watch in amusement as the fussy Englishman lugged buckets of freshwater up from the hold, pouring them into a large wood basin.

“You planning on making a big stew?” Ogilvey asked with snort.  

Norrington let out a forced, mocking laugh.  “Believe it or not, you can wash yourself in water to take the stink off.  Have you ever tried it?”

The crew let out cackles of mirth, and Ratlin nudged Ogilvey in the ribs with a hollow thunk .  Ogilvey shot a look at the other man and mumbled something to himself before walking away.  

With the basin filled, Norrington finally sat on an upturned bucket and began undoing the buttons of his shirt.  The present crewmembers let out whistles and hoots, and he looked up with violence in his eyes.

Do you mind? ” Norrington hissed.  They fell quiet and slid the sheets shut, giving the man his privacy.  He swiftly shed the rest of his clothes, and with a satisfied sigh, he eased into the basin.  The warm sun felt wonderful on his bare skin, and he dipped his hand and ran cool water along his shoulders and arms.  It had been months since he’d been able to relax—even longer since he’d had a proper soak.  

Suddenly, the sheets slid open again, and Norrington flinched at the sight of Will there.

“Excuse me—” Norrington managed, but Will closed the sheets behind him and let out a relieved sigh.  

“Thank God,” Will muttered, stripping off his shirt.  Norrington raised his hands in a What-the-fuck? gesture as Will dropped his clothes in a pile, picked up a bucket, and scooped out water from directly between Norrington’s legs.  Will dumped the water over his head, letting out a long blubbering gasp and began scratching his fingers through his damp scalp.  

“All right,” Norrington said in defeat, slapping his hands into the basin.  “Please, do help yourself.  It’s not like I’ve been saving up an entire week’s water rations for this.”  With a grumble, he looked out over the sea and took a deep breath.  He would enjoy his bath, no matter the circumstances.

“Am I wrong for holding it against him?”

Norrington’s eyes snapped over to Will, who was kneeling on the deck and staring at him with a tortured, wet expression.  His mop of hair dripped miserably over his dirt-streaked face.

Norrington let out a sudden guffaw of laughter.  “You look like a cat that’s been caught in the rain,” he said, and there was almost a hint of sympathy in his voice.  He turned back to the sea.  “Ask someone else.”

Will reached over again to refill his bucket, and Norrington let out a shout of protest.  “ Not my—!   Fine, one more, but you share your water for next week with me.”

“You don’t even need water anymore,” Will said, bringing his full bucket to the floor beside him.  He dipped a hand in and splashed water over his neck, rubbing harshly.

Norrington looked away, his jaw tight.  “It’s not about need, it’s about comfort.”

“Is that why you did all this?” Will waved at the sheets.  “The men aren’t going to do anything to you unless you ask it.”

“I know that, I—” Norrington’s breath caught in his throat.  He bit his lip and looked down at the water.  “I wanted to examine myself for changes.”

Will leaned back on one arm and frowned at Norrington.  “If you’re worried about that, just have Jones rescind your contract.”

“No,” Norrington shook his head.  “I’ve made a commitment, and I’m not leaving his service until I see this through.”  His voice fell to a low murmur.  “In the face of everything that lays before us, I feel…selfish being this preoccupied.”

Will neared the basin without a word and circled behind Norrington’s back.  Norrington recoiled self-consciously, but Will placed a hand on his shoulder and gently pressed him forward.  “Here, I’ll look.”

Norrington held his breath as Will examined his back.  A cool breeze rustled the sheets beside them, sending shadows dancing across the deck.  He felt Will’s fingers touch down on a few spots, and on one he felt nails pick at his skin.

“What?  A barnacle?” He asked urgently.

“A mole.”  

Will moved on, and Norrington complied with his nudging to stand and lift his arms to allow examination of the backs of his limbs.  Will passed over the rest of his body, only pausing to flick a bit of unrelated seaweed off Norrington’s calf, and then gave him a pat on his back.

“You’re fine.  No signs of sea life.”

Norrington relaxed and sank back down into the basin, sloshing a bit of water out onto the deck as he did.  After a moment’s pause, he reached over to take Will’s empty bucket and refilled it.  “Thank you,” he said quietly.  

Will took the bucket with a grateful nod and set to work scrubbing out the dirt between his toes.  Norrington watched him for a moment before remarking in a low tone.  “You’re covered in scars, did that all happen here?”

Will lifted his arm and twisted to show off the knife wound on his thigh.  “This was from a raid on an English ship, the one we took before meeting in Tortuga.”  He eyed Norrington for a reaction, but none came.  The other man merely squinted at the wound, frowning in sympathy.  “And this was from a piece of wood that lodged in my arm during an accidental blast.  Jones saved me from the bulk of it…I’d be dead if it weren’t for him.”

He stared at the scar on his arm and heard Norrington shift in the water.

“You love him, don’t you?”

Will’s breath caught in his throat.  There was a long pause before he finally spoke.  “Should loving him make it easier to accept his past?  Or is it so difficult reconciling everything because I love him?”

Norrington sighed and splashed water on his own face.  “Hell if I know.”  He ran a hand through his hair and looked over at Will.  “Would I be correct in assuming that both Elizabeth and Maccus have urged you to forgive him?”  Will didn’t even need to reply—he merely gave a look of knowing exasperation. 

“Right,” Norrington cleared his throat.  “Maccus is merely concerned with the well-being of the crew and the heart of his long-time friend.  As is plainly evident, Jones functions best with you at his side.  That’s no surprise at all.  As for Elizabeth, she would tell you that, seeing as the subject of her own affections just massacred half of Shipwreck Cove.  If you refuse to forgive Jones, she has very little precedent for doing the same for Calypso.”

Will was silent for a time.  “And what do you recommend?” he finally asked.

Norrington laughed.  “I don’t recommend.  Though I have no experience in love, I’m familiar with torn loyalties and the crushing weight of one’s morals against the duties you’re asked to perform.  It’s a decision you must make free of influence, otherwise you’ll be forever resentful of never having made the choice yourself.”

Will lay back on the deck, letting out a low groan.  “You’re absolutely no help.”

“Unfortunate, I know,” Norrington replied with a smirk.  “One other thing—your decision need not be immediate, but you shouldn’t make him wait in silence either.”

As if summoned by Norrington’s words, a looming shadow appeared behind one of the sheets.  They had not heard the steady approach of his claw leg, but his silhouette was enough by which to identify the singular captain.  Will and Norrington both straightened up where they sat, expecting him to enter—but Jones did not push aside the sheet.  Instead, he bent and placed something on the deck, and then turned and walked away.

Will and Norrington exchanged a confused look.  Will shuffled forward on his knees and reached under the sheet, and drew back with a small, wooden carving in his palm.  He turned it over, and with a pang in his heart he realized what it was.

“Is that a bird?” Norrington asked, leaning forward in his tub.  

It was crudely hewn—an imitation of the one Will had made.  But from the number of cuts and nicks in it, the apparent corrections and overcorrections that had whittled down its form so small, it was clear that Jones had spent hours agonizing over its creation.  Will could see Jones in his mind’s eye, the wood piece clutched ever-so-delicately in his claw while he grappled with a knife in his good hand.  The result was a tiny wooden duckling that fit in the cup of Will’s palm.

Will dressed in silence as Norrington stared out at the sea in thought.  When he was finished, he placed the bird into the front pocket of his shirt.  

“Thanks again for the bath,” Will murmured.  He ducked out of the makeshift bathroom and went back to work, feeling the weight of the little bird against his heart.

 

——

 

Morey and Sao Feng lay in a tangle of sheets, exhausted and slick with sweat.  Sao Feng’s reddened face lay against Morey’s chest, and her claws scratched pleasantly against his scalp, eliciting soft moans.  It was an hour after sunset, but the air was still heavy and humid.  Her eyes wandered around the captain’s cabin, and she shifted slightly, extricating her leg from a knot of bedding.

“No, wait,” Sao Feng mumbled, his face still pressed against her.  “Your skin feels so cool.  A moment longer.”

Morey hissed in amusement.  “Cold skin is not something I ever thought one would find appealing.”

Sao Feng pushed himself up onto his elbows, staring at her intently.  His eyes passed over the yellow-brown eel patterns on her body, over patches of scales and scars, up to her sharpened teeth and green eyes.  He spoke in a whisper.  “Do you know how beautiful you are?”

Her face had retained more human qualities than any of the other crewmen, without question, but she still smirked at the assertion.  Sao Feng brought his face closed to hers, and she felt his warm breath against her lips.  

“Do you believe me?” he insisted.  “Have you seen yourself?”

Morey nudged him back with a single claw.  “I have seen enough of myself to know that I am much better looking than I was before.”  

Sao Feng raised an eyebrow.  “Surely, that can’t be true—” he stuttered as she shot him a glare.  “—I meant, I find you captivating now, and can only imagine you were equally so, prior to your service to the Dutchman.”

“You would have been the only one to say so,” Morey grunted.  She flexed her hands, turning them over.  “You can’t see it now…I’m the result of yet another careless man forging through continents without a look back.  Not quite Indian, not quite English.  Failing at being both and either.”

Sao Feng leaned back with a tired sigh.  “The same has been true in Singapore.  You can’t walk through the ports without spotting a half-Dutch child unsure of what he is or where he is meant to be.”  Sao Feng ran his fingers along the smooth skin of her arms.  “But your origin is of no consequence to me.  You have a new life now.”

“Jones said the same thing,” she replied, her eyes dark.  

There was the sound of cannonfire in the distance.  Both sat bolt upright and exchanged looks of growing dread.

“The armada’s already found us?” Sao Feng whispered.  The two hurriedly re-dressed and exited the cabin to find the deck buzzing with activity.  The Singaporean pirates had sprung out of their hammocks and were gathered at the port side, peering out into the sea.  The other ships moored in the cove were dancing with lantern light as their crew tried to make sense of the blast.

“Who fired the shot?” Sao Feng asked.  The nearest man turned around—Sao Feng’s first mate, to whom Morey had given charge of Birdie.  The seagull bounced as the man gestured out toward a singular familiar ship that was peeling out from the cove.

“The Pearl gave warning to a British vessel,” he said, pointing to the distant white-sailed adversary. “She came out of nowhere.”

Sao Feng pushed toward the front of the crowd and snatched a spyglass from someone’s hands.  He squinted out through the glass, his lips twitching.

“Should we ready the guns?” The first mate asked.  “There must be more on the way.”

“She’s raising a white flag,” Sao Feng said, his eyes growing wide.  He turned to see men already hauling shot into the cannons.  “ Do not act until I say so! ” he cried.  The men fell back.

“What, the British are already surrendering?” Morey asked.  “It has to be a trap.”

“Or a deserter.”  Sao Feng handed the spyglass back and motioned to his men.  “Bring us up beside the Pearl but do not show any signs of readying for fire until I give the word.  If fighting breaks out, we assist.  There’s something different about that ship.”

The crew hauled up the anchor and brought the Empress out of the cove just as a longboat was launched from the British ship.  It was too distant to see what kind of men were inside, but they had affixed a second white flag to a long banner pole, flapping weakly in the wind.  Both ships had stopped a good distance apart, and the little boat rowed on to conquer the sea between them.  

The Empress finally came up beside the Pearl and threw down her anchor for boarding.  Sao Feng and Morey strode across the plank as the passengers from the longboat climbed up the other side onto the Pearl’s crowded deck.  

Three men clambered over the railing, arms raised in surrender.  Two wore the uniform of low-ranking British sailors, but the third was dressed as a landed gentry of title.  He quivered under his long white wig, the curls bobbing against his cheeks.

Barbossa swaggered up to the wealthy man and looked him up and down.  “Who are you?” he growled.  

“My name is Governor Weatherby Swann—” he said, then immediately flinched.  “ Former governor.  I’ve come on behalf of no one but my own conscience.”

The crew descended into whispers.  Barbossa took a step back and blinked hard.  “You’re Elizabeth’s father?”

At the mention of his daughter, the governor’s face lit up.  “Have you seen her?  Where is she?”

“On the Flying Dutchman chasing a goddess,” Barbossa mumbled with a dismissive wave.  “But you’re her father?

“What’s that about a god—?  No, has she really never mentioned me?” Governor Swann frowned.

“Not a peep,” Jack said, leaning against the mast.  Swann squinted over at him, and Jack waved back.

“Oh.  Apologies for attempting to hang you,” Swann said uncomfortably.

Jack smirked.  “Can’t be hanged if you’re already hun—”

“Why are you here?” Barbossa reeled back toward Swann.  “And how did you get here?”

The governor looked down at the floor and took a deep breath, raising his hands in a hopeless gesture.  “I suppose I felt it necessary to intervene in what I thought was an act of senseless barbarism.  The annihilation of piracy through death alone was never a position I supported.  Pardons, reintegration into society—there are far better methods of coping with minor threats to the economy.”

Barbossa bristled at the word “minor,” but he shook the objection from his head.  “And you wish to save your daughter,” he said.

Swann looked up, his eyes already filling with tears.  “I wish to save my daughter.  Though Lord Beckett stripped me of all but symbolic authority, I still had funds and political sway among the other nobility to secure a ship and a means of escape.  When the Providence returned to Port Royal to resupply, I managed to persuade a number of its men to set sail under the cover of nightfall at my command.”

The two young sailors at his side nodded along with the governor’s words.  Barbossa eyed them then the commandeered vessel in the distance.  “And how many men is that?”

“A skeleton crew: only ten.”

The crew let out huffs of disappointment—some turned and wandered back to their posts in uninterested defeat.  Barbossa seemed to restrain himself from rolling his eyes, and he spoke with strained politeness.  “I thank you, former Governor Swann, for your attempt at aiding our cause.  But ten men will not turn the tide against the enemy we face, no matter how capable you believe them to be.”

At this, Governor Swann’s eyes twinkled with unforeseen mischief.  “Is that so?”  He turned to the sailor on his right and snapped his fingers.  The sailor loosed his pistol, held it to the opposite sailor’s head, and let out a shot.

The governor flinched at the sound and waved the smoke aside with a displeased grunt.  The shot sailor merely blinked, then shook his head as if ridding his ear of water.  The small ball of shot hit the deck with a faint plink.

Jack jumped upright as Barbossa’s eyes grew wide with shock, then the captain let out a long, victorious laugh.  He turned to Jack.

“It seems the fruits of your labor were not only to the benefit of our enemy,” he said with a grin.

“I was aware of what cursed incantations had taken place in my former residence,” Swann went on.  “Lord Beckett neglected to change the staff, and—well, he was not as kind to them as I had been.  We made sure to switch the contents between all of the boxes we found, ensuring the safety of the men who chose to leave.”

With another approving laugh, Barbossa pounded Swann on the back with a force that almost sent the man stumbling to the ground.  The elder governor let out a cough, and Barbossa withdrew in an apology.  

“Prepare the war room for guests,” Barbossa said to his crew.  “We have need of a better plan than simply sailing in and praying for Calypso’s aid.  This war will be won with strategy, not might.”

 

——

 

Jack sat cross-legged on the floor like a child at a dinner party as the conversation flowed around him.  The deposed Governor Swann, Barbossa, and a smattering of the pirate lords and their confidants were fervently discussing the direction their attack on the Spanish and British should take.  Jack heard nothing—only a faint ringing filled his ears, and his eyes were unfocused, cloudy, seeing backwards into possibilities that could have been, but did not unfold.  Fate had brought him here: to the floor, estranged from his own body.  Tired.  Vacant.

A set of long-nailed fingers snapped in front of his nose, and he flinched back to reality.  Barbossa glared down at him.  “What say you?”

Jack looked around the room to find all eyes upon him.  He nodded vigorously, waving a hand in agreement.  “Couldn’t have said it better myself.”  The rest turned away, satisfied by his assent, but he continued with a small cough.  “Although—for the sake of those who may be slow at comprehending, we should repeat whatever we have just said so as not to exclude them.”

Barbossa rolled his eyes.  Governor Swann spoke for the group.  “The ten sailors I secured from the Providence along with Mister Sparrow and Miss Morey will travel under the cover of darkness to the armada awaiting us.”  

Sao Feng rested a hand on Morey’s arm, and a ripple of color traveled over her scales from his touch.

“It will be a tight crew,” Swann went on, “but I believe twelve is an adequate number to manage the Chinese vessel that Mistress Ching has so graciously lent us.  The ship will grant us an element of confusion and a welcome delay, as Lord Beckett would be cautious to engage a valued trading partner so far outside of its usual route.”  He glanced between the French and Spanish lords.  “That unfortunately cannot be said of others present.”

Barbossa wheeled on Jack again, eyes glinting down at him.  “Is this agreeable to you?”

“It is acceptable,” Jack said, and then he fluttered his eyes up at Barbossa.  The captain cast a shadow over him, feet planted in a wide and domineering stance.  Jack cleared his throat.  “What a familiar position we find ourselves in.”

The captain reeled away, color rising up his neck.  He addressed Mistress Ching.  “You have the formula?”

“I will disseminate it among all the crews,” she replied calmly.  “From there, we will stock the ship with enough of the tincture to incapacitate the entire navy.”

“Tinctures?” Jack blinked.

“Mixed from common goods found on every ship,” Ching said.  “When added to any water supply, it is a bowel-emptying scourge that will bring our adversaries to their knees.”

“Ah,” Jack pursed his lips.  “So we’ve come to the shitting-your-brains-out part of warfare already.”

“If you have a more honorable suggestion,” Barbossa snapped, “please, share it.”

Jack shrugged and rose to his feet.  “Nope.  Shit it is.”  He nodded to Morey across the room.  “I’d like to have a word with Morey, if you can spare her.”  

Sao Feng tenderly brushed Morey’s cheek with a hand, and the pirate lords turned to other matters as she joined Jack in the corner of the room.  Jack was chewing a fingernail, and Morey took his wrist and pulled his hand out of mouth’s reach.  He grumbled but did not resume chewing.

“I don’t want to come back after this fight,” Jack said quietly.  

Morey’s brows shot up in surprise.  She glanced around them, ensuring that none could overhear.  “So you want me to…for you…” She made a stabbing gesture toward her own heart.

No, not like that, ” Jack hissed.  “I meant with Barbossa taking control of the Pearl, there’s nothing left for me here, locationally here.” His empty eyes wandered around the room.   “Just an endless tide of self-important men, and the last mysteries of the sea already laid bare.  She has nothing left for me.”

Morey stroked her chin in thought.  “You’re packing up the pirate life and settling down, then?”

“Settling down?” Jack let out a high-pitched chuckle.  “Banish the thought.  Once I’ve found my land legs, I’ll explore the inner reaches of new climes—never before seen—mountains and jungles and…” He waved his hand.  “Whatever else land has.”

Morey shrugged.  “All right, then.  What do you need me to do?” 

He rested a hand on her shoulder and directed her gaze to Barbossa.  “Console him when I’m gone.  He’ll pretend he couldn’t care less, but then, ” he poked a finger into her arm, “you’ll have the weeping, the lamentations, the Oh woe is me, lonely Hector, where hath gone my poor little meow-meow Jack? and you must tell him that this was all for the best.”

Morey wrinkled her nose and glanced uncertainly at the captain.  “I really don’t think he would care.”

“He will,” Jack urged.  “You’ll see.”

She let out a sigh and returned to Sao Feng, who fixed her with a questioning frown.  “Private matter,” she grunted, “between the apparently jilted captains.”

Sao Feng’s eyes flitted from Jack to Barbossa, then back to Morey.  “ Them? ”  He sucked in through his teeth.  “I had heard matters of the Pearl’s captaincy were tumultuous, but I never—well, it certainly clarifies the resentment.”

The two continued to watch the Pearl’s captains, the gears turning in their heads.  They both opened their mouths at the same time, stopped, and looked sidelong at each other.  

“Barbossa gives.”

“Oh, certainly.”

Chapter Text

The Chinese vessel, whose name—as Mistress Ching described—translated loosely to Fuck You Sideways , was loaded with barrels of the gut-destroying tincture and readied for its voyage.  A few of the undead sailors recognized Jack from their brief time together under Beckett’s command, and Jack saw that the sailors were far more chipper than they had ever been before, even under their unique circumstances.  

“Governor Swann let us do whatever we want on our time off,” a skinny, barely-out-of-his-teens sailor said.  He, Jack, and Morey were chatting beneath the billowing sails as Shipwreck Cove receded behind them into the distance.  “He even brought provisions for us, too.  Not that it’s necessary, but sojmetimes it’s nice to have that little taste of home.”

“He seems like a good man,” Morey agreed.  Jack was staring off at the cove, presumably ruminating on the Pearl and its prickly captain, when Morey nudged him in the arm.  

Jack wrinkled his nose.  “I can’t see the resemblance between Swann and his progeny,” he said.  “How could he have spawned such an uncompromising woman?”

“He may dress his words up and take ages to reach his point,” the sailor went on, “but he wouldn’t have done this if his morals had been anything but solid.  He knew what we were doing was wrong, and he had us see the truth.  That’s the opposite of compromise.”

One of the other men called out for assistance, and the sailor nodded to them.  “Excuse me,” he said and left.

Jack and Morey were left once again to ponder the ocean breeze.  Morey scratched her claws against a shedding patch of scales and flicked the refuse into the air.  Jack finally spoke with a hint of discomfort in his voice.

“How was your parting with Sao Feng?”

Morey shot him a glance.  “Fine.  He’s a practical man and understands the risks of war.  How was yours with…?”

Jack bristled.  “We barely spoke.  No need to.  Everything that should be said has already been said.  We exchanged our simple goodbyes, and that's that.”

“Oh?” Morey’s lips curled up in a smirk.  “And who got to keep the monkey?”

“He did.  It—” Jack’s voice caught in his throat.  “I have no use for the wretched beast.  Merely a reminder of bygone times whose memory serves for naught.”

At this, Morey let out a hissing laugh.  “You’re funny.  In denial, and funny.  I’m going to take a nap.”  She slipped off below deck, and Jack chewed his fingernails with a bitter glare.

The Fuck You sailed on in a straight path from the cove to Port Royal, the crew knowing that if the British and Spanish were coming, they would surely be upon that route.  And they were: on the morning of the fourth day, a sailor up in the crow’s nest shouted out for the ship to stop.  There were white sails on the horizon.

The plan was thus: douse the sails, leave the ship adrift, and give every impression that the vessel had been abandoned.  A Chinese ship would do more than catch the fleet’s attention, it would demand a thorough going-over of the area for any allies—or an ambush—that might be waiting for them.  And then, they would strike.

The crew filled a hundred-some bottles and flasks with the tincture and fastened them to their nude bodies on interlocking cords, like madmen bedecked in bombs.  The empty barrels were thrown overboard, and one-by-one they slipped into the Caribbean sea to cling to the underside of the ship.  And so, they waited.

The sailors had by that point been accustomed to holding their breath for however long it took—it had been part of Beckett’s training to repeatedly drown them, cruelly, eliminating their instinct to gulp air.  Jack had not been subject to said tactics, and so he pressed his forehead to the ship’s hull, limbs shaking.  

He felt a tap on his shoulder and looked up to see Morey beside him, a line of gills on her neck fluttering open with the currents.  She returned his gaze with a finger pressed to her lips and pointed up.  Dark shadows gathered around them at the surface.  She motioned to the other sailors and waved out for them to move.

Jack, Morey, and the undead sailors spread out like sharks on the hunt.  Between the twelve of them, with twenty minutes generously estimated for each vessel, they were to climb in through a gun port, make their way down to the hold, spoil the water and grog, find a way out, and move on to the next, for each ship in the combined fleet.  It was a coin toss whether the entire fleet would congregate at that point or if the majority would be signaled to stay back, and unfortunately the latter was beginning to unfold.

The first ships that each of them hit were easy enough.  The confusion brought most men above deck and left the path to the holds deserted—Jack scurried his way to the stores and pried the lids loose before carefully doling out two bottles of the tincture between the barrels.  He made sure to re-tie the bottles to himself, leaving no evidence of tampering, secured the lids, and rejoined the others in the sea.  

The twelve hovered below the water level, their eyes wary.  The sailors communicated in a mishmash of hand signals: the rest of the fleet was an impossible distance away.  Exaggerated gestures to the distance and tapping their non-existent pockets for time pieces.  No time.  We fail.  

The sailors continued to debate until Morey cut through with a shockingly clear (though slightly bubbly) voice. 

“I’ll take you over one-by-one,” she said.  “We’ll have to work faster than we thought, and they may torch the ship before we’re done.  Don’t count on getting your clothes back.”

She flicked her head toward Jack.  With a miserable look, he clung to her shoulders like a little monkey preparing for its mother’s perilous swing through the trees.  She kicked her legs, and the two surged through the water, the current rushing past them.  Jack let out a tiny bubble of a yelp and closed his eyes tight.  When he finally opened them again, he saw the big empty face of a tuna keeping pace beside them.

Morey deposited him below a Spanish ship, and without a word, she sped back to fetch the other men.  Jack clambered up the side, careful to keep out of view of any neighboring ships.  

It was far more difficult navigating a ship on high alert.  Jack waited almost an interminable time in the shadows as men passed through the gun deck before finding an opening to make it below.  He nearly ran straight into the cook on the way—knocking anyone unconscious was out of the question—and he ducked behind a crate, silently cursing, as still more precious time passed.

With the deed finally done, far longer than expected, he dipped back into the water outside the ship.  Before he swam away, he loosened the dagger he kept on his belt and carved a small X into the wood beneath the waterline.  

He looked around and saw that Morey had managed to bring four more sailors his way.  Too little, too late.

Jack peeled off from the group and eyed the hulls before him.  Economy and efficiency , he mouthed to himself.  There was one vessel he needed to hit above all.

By virtue of having previously jumped from it, Jack easily recognized the Providence’s gilded hull from beneath the surface.  Beckett would be aboard.  With all the grace of a wet pigeon, Jack pulled himself up the side and flopped into the gunroom.  

The place was deserted.  Unusual.  Uncanny.  With a growing knot in his stomach, Jack descended to the storeroom.  The water barrels were up against the wall, and Jack crept over and laid his hands on the nearest one.

A faint sob rose from the corner of the room.  Jack spun on his heels, eliciting a loud creak from the floorboards.

In the same moment that he saw the man in the corner, the man looked up.  It was none other than Beckett himself—seated on a crate and hunched over a tattered black coat—the very same coat Jack had hoisted up to signal the Dutchman’s fire.  Mercer’s coat.  He was weeping over Mercer .  

Beckett registered Jack’s nakedness before anything else.  He abruptly stood and shoved the coat back in the corner.  “Good God, sailor, why are you—”

His eyes settled on Jack’s face and widened in recognition the very same moment Jack bolted.  

The two scrambled back up into the deserted gunroom, Beckett grabbing at his heels.  Jack raced for a porthole and was halfway through before Beckett was on him, holding him by the waist.  

“You—fucking snake!” Beckett hissed.

Jack rolled face-up and wrapped his legs around Beckett’s neck in a headlock.  He clenched—hard—bringing Beckett’s face down into his bush.  The other man writhed violently, letting out a disgusted cry, his mouth twisting away from Jack’s balls.

“First time?  Really?”  Jack snorted and squeezed harder.  Beckett had both hands on Jack’s thighs, wrestling to free himself, spitting and frothing mere inches from Jack’s flapping penis.  

The two suddenly froze as footsteps sounded from upstairs.  Beckett’s cries had drawn the attention of the crew, and he shot Jack a righteous look.  

“We’re ending you this time,” Beckett said through gritted teeth.  “Limb by limb.  Piece by piece.  You’ll be in so many boxes we’ll need another storeroom just for you.”

Jack tried to twist out of Beckett’s grasp again, but the man would not let go.  Beckett’s attention was now on the little bottles clinking against each other on Jack’s chest, his brows knitted in growing comprehension.  

If Beckett put two and two together—and he would—their entire plan would be over.

That is, if Beckett was still there.

Jack suddenly slid down through Beckett’s arms—the man had been so concerned with holding him back, he hadn’t prepared to be drawn closer to—and for a breathless moment they stood, nose to nose, Jack’s naked form wrapped in Beckett’s grasp.  A horrified flush went up Beckett’s cheeks before Jack picked the smaller man up by the waist and threw him out the gunport.  

The sailors marching down the stairs caught only a glimpse of bright bare cheeks as Jack dove into the water after him.

Beckett floundered at the surface before two sets of hands pulled him under.  Jack and Morey held him down, each wrapped around a leg, facing each other in the deep blue.  Jack’s voice was the forced, muffled sound of someone trying very hard to shout through water.

ARE WE KILLING HIM?

“Aren’t we?” Morey frowned.  “He’s the cause of all this.”

I KNOW.  BUT IT’S A TERRIBLE THING TO DROWN A MAN. ”  

“Really?  I’ve drowned at least thirty.”

OH, YOU WOULD HAVE. ”  

“You want me to put him back?”

NO.  HE KNOWS TOO MUCH.”

Morey’s skin shone with pinpricks of irritation.  “What, then?”

Jack paused.  Beckett’s thrashing was beginning to grow weaker.  “ CAN YOU TAKE HIM?  ELSEWHERE?

Morey looked around them at the dark, open sea.  Slowly, her eyes traveled downward.

“I suppose I could ask… them .”

"THEM?"

A low hum sounded through the water.  Jack thought some great, ancient whale might be lingering in the distance, before he noticed Morey’s gills vibrating.  The area around her face was a blur, and from her came the sound.  She was calling—but to what?  

Beckett stopped kicking, not for lack of air but in a mystified stupor.  He looked down and caught Jack’s equally perplexed gaze.  

Below them, strange shapes glinted in the darkness.

Jack tugged Morey’s arm.   “ WHO?  WHO IS COMING? ”  

There was a flash of scales—and Jack saw what looked like long, giant fish swirling beneath them, like eels roiling in a pot.  They were all colors, as radiant as the setting sun, mingled with flashes of green and silver.  From them came a sweet, cloying melody.  He squinted and leaned down, letting his grip loosen on Beckett’s leg.  

Beckett kicked out, striking Jack on the face and wriggled from Morey’s gasp.  He broke the surface, spluttering and wheezing to call out for rescue.  Jack looked to Morey, but she made no attempt to bring him under again.  She drifted back and gave Jack a warning with her eyes.

Two of the creatures broke from the group and shot straight up toward Beckett like diving birds.  Jack floundered out of their path as they took hold of Beckett’s legs—and with a breathless gasp he saw that they were half-human.

Mermaids .

Their clawed hands dug into the fabric of Beckett’s trousers, eliciting a pained cry.  Like crocodiles pulling their prey under, they began to drag him down with powerful beats of their tails.

Jack stuttered before he found his words.  “WHERE ARE YOU TAKING HIM?”

The mermaids shot twin looks of violence at Jack.  They turned from him to Morey, who spoke in a low murmur.

“He’s theirs now,” she said.  “I can’t go back on my word.”

Jack stared for a moment before slowly nodding in assent.  The mermaids turned back to their task with nothing more than displeased hisses.

A weakening trail of bubbles followed Beckett down.  His mouth was open in a silent scream, his eyes wide and uncomprehending.  Jack stared into the deep as the man who once branded him, ruined him, nearly killed him, vanished.  He felt something stir in his chest—not his heart, but a feeling that this was far from the triumphant satisfaction he had always hoped for at Beckett’s end.  

Morey seemed shaken, much more so by the appearance of her finned acquaintances than the drowning of yet another man.  Jack looked at her with a question in his eyes.

“I’ve never been down there,” Morey said.  “Not even Jones has.  It’s their domain.  Whatever happens to him, he’s not coming back.”

With a groan, the ships above them began to move.  The rest of the sailors gradually returned to congregate by Jack and Morey, and they gave counts on their fingers of the ships they’d manage to reach.  Morey counted in silence until letting out a frustrated growl.

“That’s barely over half the fleet,” Morey said.  She eyed the prows cutting through the water above.  “But it’ll have to do.”

 

——

 

The Dutchman sailed on toward a growing storm on the horizon.  Elizabeth held the compass in one hand, the needle fixed firmly on the dark clouds and maelstrom brewing before them.  She looked back at the rest of the crew, her jaw tight.

“She’s in there.”

“Of course she is,” Jones grunted.  “Never doubt her penchant for the dramatic.”

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows and she seemed to want to give a sharp retort, but she decided against it.  Perhaps mere moments before encountering a goddess was not the best time to anger the captain—or remind him of his own dramatic gestures of the past.

“Shall we dive?” Norrington asked.  “It would save us a good deal of trouble, and we can surface once we’re in the eye of the storm.”

Jones considered this, his beard curling in thought.  Norrington went on.

“There can hardly be worse things below the surface than the wind and ice whipping up, ready to cut us through.”

Jones sniffed.  “Nothing worse that answers Calypso’s call.”  Before either Norrington or Elizabeth could inquire further, Jones turned to Maccus.  “Prepare the ship to dive.  I want the guns ready, should our negotiations fail.”  He shot a look at Elizabeth before addressing Norrington.  “Your instincts serve you well.”

The captain stalked off to his cabin, brushing by Will who was walking the other direction.  Neither made eye contact, and both grew tense as the other passed.  The door to the cabin creaked shut as Will joined the other two.

“Still not speaking, I see.” Norrington remarked.

Will ignored him entirely.  “Elizabeth—” his voice cracked, and he cleared his throat.  “Elizabeth.  There’s ample room for you in the old sick bay on the lower deck.  I cleared out the table and made sure the door seals airtight, and there are some blankets if we’re under longer than anticipated.”

“I don’t think I’ll be taking a nap, but thank you,” she said.  Her face was still stitched with worry.  “And you’ll be…?”

“I’ll be in the powder room,” he replied.  “There’s only room enough for one person, and I’m—I’m used to it.”

Norrington and Elizabeth exchanged tired glances.  Norrington turned and wandered off to Maccus to help secure the main deck.  Elizabeth drew close to Will.

“If I were in your position,” she began slowly.  Her eyes flitted around the deck.  “Meaning, if I had someone whom I cherished, I wouldn’t leave it like this.”  She met Will’s hardened gaze with sympathy.  “If all goes to ruin, and Calypso does decide to send us into oblivion, I would tell the one I love that—well, that I love him.”

Will chewed his lip and stared off past Elizabeth’s face.  “Norrington said you would push forgiveness as a means of justifying your own choices.”

At this, Elizabeth’s eyes flashed.  “And what does James know?” she snapped.  “Am I not allowed to wish the best for a friend I love?  Must everything I do be an act of manipulation?”

Will wilted beneath her words.  She held his gaze, her eyes softening.  “You know me better than that.  Please tell me you do.”

With a long sigh, Will brought his hands to his face and pressed over his eyes.  “I do.  I apologize.”

Elizabeth squeezed his shoulder and looked back toward the captain’s cabin.  “Stay with him.  I’m heading below.”

The Dutchman creaked with a warning, and Norrington and the rest of the sworn crew positioned themselves on deck.  Norrington had allowed himself to be loosely roped to the mast at the waist, and his hands remained free, shielding his eyes from the whirling storm spray.  Penrod scuttled by and hooted at the sight. 

"Ready to get your gills?" he said, and he clapped Norrington on the back with a claw.  

Norrington grunted.  "No time like the present." 

Will slowly approached the door to Jones' cabin, his heart pounding in his ears.  Elizabeth gave him a final smile of confidence as she hurried below, and he was left there before the door, his hand shaking.

It felt like all those months ago when he had first kicked the door in.

He almost smirked at the memory of it—how different both of them had been then.  That was before they had undergone multiple brushes with death, before either had found this profound and unlikely comfort in one another.  Back when Jones was ready to strike him down at the drop of a hat.  His smirk faded—that memory was not a welcome one.  He drew in a deep breath and opened the door, stepping into the dark room.

Jones immediately rose from his seat by the organ.  They crossed the space between them and met in the center of the room, both carefully holding back.  Will realized that the air in the cabin—cool, with a scent like tide pools—along with the quiet darkness, had come to instill a sense of calm in him.  Of not being seen by anyone, of answering to no one…save the man he wished to see.  

A long silence passed between them, until Jones spoke in a low murmur.

"I cannot feign goodness, not for your sake or mine," he began.  "Bitterness has led me through untold darkness, and I do not wish to invite you there.  You mean more to me than that."  His eyes held Will's, a quiet desperation there.  "But I would cross every sea to have you with me again." 

Will's eyes grew distant.  "Would you spill the blood of innocents—if it meant having me back?  How far would your desolation take you?" 

Jones flinched.  He looked down and replied in a whisper.  "Even if it were to spare you from death's grasp, I would not shed innocent blood again.  A life in which you despise me is worse than one without you altogether." 

Will furrowed his brows.  “So you would let me die if you can’t be with me?”

“Do not twist my words.”

The Dutchman plunged beneath the waves, and Jones caught Will by his elbow to steady him.  His tentacle wound its way around Will’s arm up to his bicep, and Will regarded it with a sour look.  “I can stand on my own.”

With a grunt, Jones tried to pull his hand off, but the tentacle would not give.  He looked away with a twinge of embarrassment.  “It’s...not entirely under my control.”

“Liar.”

Jones shot Will a withering look.  “You believe I command every wretched appendage on me?  That I wouldn’t be glad to be rid of these uncooperative things that latch on to every surface in proximity?” 

Will didn’t reply, and Jones finally wrestled his hand from Will’s arm. It left rows of pockmarks behind.  “If I could go back to a life where I never had to taste every railing on this ship,” Jones muttered, “I would be glad.”

At this, Will’s eyes narrowed.  “I’m sorry, taste?

Jones sniffed.  “Startling news for men of science, I’m sure.  I can taste through them, and I suspect all creatures of the same ilk can.  The curse is not merely aesthetic.”

Suddenly, Will’s face broke into a giddy smile and he let out a laugh.  Jones had murder in his eyes.

“Is my suffering all so amusing for you?”

“You never told me.  Why didn’t you tell me?” Will wiped a tear from the corner of his eye.  “I would have—I don’t know, bathed more often.”

Jones’ expression softened.  “Your taste is not objectionable.”

Will looked down at the spots along his arm.  He slowly reached out again and brushed his fingers along the back of Jones’ hand.  Reflexively, Jones’ long finger unfurled to wrap itself back around his arm again.  The two drew closer.

Not objectionable ,” Will pursed his lips.  “High praise.”

Jones rolled his eyes.  Will slid his other hand up to Jones’ face and caressed him there.  Jones brought his other arm around Will, and they shared in a moment of relieved silence.  Will finally spoke again quietly.

“I am lucky to have never made the choices you had to make.”  His eyes were unfocused and weary.  “And I don’t think I am entitled to withholding or granting forgiveness given my own actions.  But if my word still has meaning to you, I will not hold the sins of your past against you.”

Jones leaned forward and kissed Will, achingly.  The two became entwined, and Jones navigated him toward the bed, leaning him back onto the sheets.  Will suddenly held him back at arm’s length, and Jones froze.  The sounds of the deep sea reverberated around the ship.

“Wait,” Will said.  “Before we face this—before Calypso brings the wrath of the oceans upon us—”  He took Jones’ face in his hand.  Jones grew very still, and all the warmth in the room seemed to be there, at Will’s soft fingertips.  “I need to tell you.  I love you.”  

Jones seemed to unravel.  He brought his forehead against Will’s and lingered there, and Will saw a final break—the last tether snapping free within the other man’s soul.  Will held Jones’ face in both hands and gently wiped away the budding tears from his eyes with his thumbs.  Jones could barely speak the words.

“And I, you.”

They merged together, loosening each other from their clothes with long, earth-shaking sighs.  They traced their hands across familiar territory, but now with a feeling of a great and tender change—uncertain at first, but quickly melting once more into the feel of one another.  Will kissed Jones down his chest, dragging his lips across cool skin and toward his erect member, but Jones held him back.

“I would like to taste you one last time,” Jones said.

Jones slid Will back on the bed and brought his own face down to Will’s cock.  Will sat up on his elbows, evidently surprised by Jones giving rather than receiving at this time.  Jones raised his claw and nudged Will back down to a lying position.  

He took Will’s hardened cock in his mouth, and Will let out a strained groan.  Jones withdrew to speak in a tone of evident derision.

“I haven’t even begun.”

He resumed, and Will unsuccessfully stifled another moan as Jones rolled his eyes.  The tentacles of his face crept across Will’s inner thighs, winding like snakes across his tender skin, curling through his hair and squeezing into his soft flesh.  Two curled around underneath and caressed the sensitive opening on the other side.  Will brought a fist to his mouth and bit into his own knuckle.

Jones continued to draw his mouth up and down Will’s shaft, cloyingly, slowly, as his tendrils worked Will from every other angle.  Will writhed beneath him, and Jones brought his heavy claw down onto his chest, pinning him there.  Will withdrew his sore finger from his mouth and gripped Jones’ claw with both hands, his knuckles turning white.  

“What—” Will swallowed hard, “—what do I taste like?”

Jones freed his mouth, though his tentacles continued to squeeze and pry.  He considered his many appendages thoughtfully, as if summing the total of their combined judgment.

“Like a man desperately in love,” Jones said.  Before Will could respond, Jones descended on him again.  His mouth moved faster now, sucking harder, as if to draw Will’s soul out through his cock, which drove Will through spasms of ear-splitting ecstasy.  They were lucky the walls were muffled with fathoms of ocean.

Will’s face twisted and his mouth hung open in a cry as he came, thrusting into Jones’ face.  Jones slowed, taking him all in, and removed his claw from atop Will’s chest.  Will found Jones’ hand at his side and held him there as Jones caressed his fingers.  Jones’ tendrils gradually receded to curl into the space between Will’s legs, and he withdrew to meet Will’s overwhelmed gaze.  Will beckoned him onto the bed beside him with a weak wave, and Jones lay down.

Will spoke between heavy breaths.  “Is it selfish of me to want you to keep your beard?”

A second later, Will realized the insensitivity of his question, and he hurriedly rolled over to face Jones.  But Jones merely snorted in amusement.

“I might miss it,” Jones said.

 

——

 

The Dutchman began to tip upward, and Elizabeth hurried to the door, listening to the water pound against the ship on the other side.  Her hand rested against the wood, feeling the sea surge around them.  She wondered for a moment if—since Calypso was goddess of it all—her awareness extended to every drop of it, across the world, in every wave and current.

Could she feel me now?  Elizabeth thought.  Does she know I’ve come for her?

She felt the Dutchman breach the surface, and the sea rushed out away from them.  With an ear pressed to the wood, she waited until the hollow sounds of air-filled hallways reached her, and then she threw the door open and raced above.  

The rest of the crew was still on the main deck where she had left them.  With the exception of Norrington, they all seemed unbothered by the plunge, save looks of apprehension at the wall of clouds blanketing the edges of the storm’s eye.  Norrington was loosening himself from his rope, his face markedly pale and—was it greener now?  Elizabeth’s eyes fell to the rows of slits along his neck, and she approached him with caution.

“So it’s done, then,” Elizabeth said quietly.  “How are you feeling?”

Norrington looped the rope around one arm and sighed.  “Fine.  It wasn’t quite as bad as the hazing I endured after enlisting.”

Maccus approached with a glint in his eye and placed a hand on his shoulder.  “Well done, James,” he said.  “Wish we had the time to give you a proper initiation, but with things as they are…”

All eyes wandered out to the center of the storm.  The sun shone directly above, and caught in rays of blinding light dappling the ocean’s surface was a tiny spit of land.  The rest of the crew had gathered to try and make out the figure standing upon it, shielding their eyes against the harsh glare.

Jones and Will emerged from their cabin, a quiet peace between them that brought relief to Elizabeth’s heart.  The three joined Norrington and Maccus at the railing, and an absolute quiet fell over their patch of the sea.  They looked for a long time at the small island, knowing who waited upon it.

“I’ll take a longboat out,” Elizabeth finally said.  

Will stepped forward.  “I’m going with you.”

Before she could protest, Jones spoke up.  “I’m afraid this is a negotiation that only Captain Swann can partake in.”  He met Elizabeth’s gaze and gave her an almost imperceptible nod.  “Maccus, prepare a longboat.”

 

——

 

She arrived on the island with her palms already aching from the row over.  The boat slid cleanly into the sand, and she stepped over the side to drag it up the rest of the way.  Her skin felt hot to the touch, and she knelt in the water to splash herself, flicking water over her face and drawing in a deep breath.  There was a presence behind her, waiting on the island, and only she could quell it.

Elizabeth turned and faced seemingly empty space.  They had seen someone from the ship—flashes of a silhouette that vanished and reappeared as one turned their head or glanced quickly out of the corner of their eye.  Calypso was there, intangible, and godly.

With the grace of a nobleman, Elizabeth bowed toward the center of the island.  She brought a hand over her heart and spoke in a clear voice.

“I humbly beseech you, goddess, to make yourself seen.”

A faint ringing sounded in her ears.  She did not move her head and kept her eyes pinned firmly on the sand.  A drop of sweat trickled down between her brows and lingered on the tip of her nose before falling.  She willed her body to calm.

A shadow darkened the sand before her.  Without raising her eyes, she spoke to the shadow, struggling to keep her voice level.

“It appears that the conditions of our agreement were not met,” she began.  The shadow shifted, and she felt a tingle of electricity in the air.  The hairs on her arms stood on end, and she quickly continued.  “However,” she licked her dry lips, “I can understand the motivations one might have for abandoning such an unreasonable request.”  She paused.  The shadow did not move.  

Elizabeth was aware of the eyes of the crew upon her.  They were waiting for some great maneuvering, a plea, a renegotiation for the promise of godly aid in their war against the powers that be.  

But that was not why she had come.

Elizabeth brought herself to one knee and spoke in a breaking voice.  “You were wronged.  I’m sorry.”

The air was still for a time.  A drop of sweat caught in Elizabeth’s eye, and she hurriedly dabbed it away with a hand, sniffing.  The sand within the shadow coalesced into a singular standing form, and she felt two cool hands touch her on either side of her face.  She realized that the island had never been there, it was made of her, wrought from the sea.  Slowly, she brought her gaze up to meet Calypso’s.

The goddess was in the form of Tia Dalma, cloaked in a glittering, beaded robe, with a gentle smile upon her face.  The force of Calypso’s otherworldly power—previously muffled beneath the restraints of the curse—flowed out from every pore of her corporeal form, shimmering in the space around her, stealing Elizabeth’s breath from her in a moment of wonder.  Elizabeth fell to both knees, her face still in Calypso’s hands.

“I missed you,” Elizabeth whispered, tears filling her eyes.

Calypso knelt in the sand before her and brushed the hair out of Elizabeth’s face.  “I knew you would find me.”

Elizabeth brought her forehead to Calypso’s and swallowed hard.  “They want me to ask you for help, but I don’t care.  There’s no place for me among the pirates.  They’re selfish and obstinate and—” she stopped, her voice catching in her throat.  “I want to stay here with you.  I don’t belong with them.”

To her surprise, Calypso let out a ringing laugh.  It was the sound of rain pattering against stone.  For a moment, Elizabeth thought she had misjudged, had overstepped—she had assumed Calypso felt more for her than she did.  But it was not the case.

“I know your heart,” Calypso said slowly, wiping a tear from her cheek.  “And I know you do not believe that.”

Elizabeth choked back a sob.  Calypso went on.  “You are the most skilled pirate any of them have seen.  They fear you.  They worry how you might change them.  And that is why you will stay to lead them.”

With a breathless laugh, Elizabeth took Calypso’s hands in her own and squeezed them tight.  “You have much more confidence in my abilities than I do.”

“You have seen me and loved me in a way Davy Jones could not,” Calypso said.  “Blind worship.  Obsession.  I have had it from every sea-faring man who wishes to save himself from a watery grave.”  Her eyes beheld Elizabeth’s, radiating a deep, unknowable gratitude.  “You saw me as a woman, without pretense or fear.  There is none other who can be you.”

“Well,” Elizabeth sniffed.  “I’ve been a bit scared coming here, to tell the truth.”

Calypso laughed again.  “You’re afraid of failing to protect your brethren.  There is only kindness in that.”

Elizabeth looked back over her shoulder to the Dutchman, a green omen against the backdrop of swirling storm clouds.  Her jaw tightened, and she turned back to Calypso.

“If I could only ask one favor of you,” she began, “I would ask for Jones’ freedom.”

Calypso let out a deep sigh and lowered her gaze to the sand.  Elizabeth went on.  “I know you feel he would need lifetimes more to suffer for what he’s done, but isn’t it—” she paused.  “Isn’t it tiring?  Will you bind yourself to his misery forever?”  She lifted Calypso’s chin with her hand, tracing her thumb along her lips.  “Can we find a future together without ghosts lingering in our wake?”

The goddess considered this for a long time.  Finally, she gently took Elizabeth’s hand and turned it over, kissing her fingers.  “Very well,” she whispered.  

The sea surged behind them.  Elizabeth turned to see the Dutchman caught in a vortex of water, and for a brief, terrified moment, she thought Calypso had simply decided to purge them from the earth.  But the water cleared, and the ship’s sails flashed white against the dark sky, and Elizabeth let out a gasp of wonder.  The seaweed was gone, the sleek wood of the vessel restored, and upon it, the crew—and Jones—would be facing very stark changes for themselves.

Elizabeth threw herself into Calypso’s arms and kissed her passionately, all reverence gone, and she could feel a great weight lifted from the goddess’ being as she responded in kind.  They fell back onto the sand and Elizabeth laughed, her own joy surprising her.

“Did you really care for them that much?” Calypso asked, amused.

Elizabeth kissed Calypso upon the forehead.  “I just wanted you to let go.”

If they weren’t on an exposed islet in the middle of the open sea with the Dutchman in sight, Elizabeth would have taken things further.  She sat up, a question upon her lips, as Calypso righted herself.

“Who will be the ferryman?”

Calypso let out a long hum and peered at the ship in the distance.  “Perhaps there is someone who may take the task willingly.”  She looked at Elizabeth with a twinkle in her eye.  “Take me there.”

What?

Elizabeth watched with her jaw agape as Calypso walked to the longboat and sat on the bench.  

“Row me,” the goddess commanded with a smirk.  “You know I love to see you sweat.”

 

——

 

The pirate lord and the goddess arrived at the Dutchman amidst a flurry of excitement.  Their presence went unnoticed as crew members embraced one another, weeping, dancing, and singing—delighting in their human bodies and human voices, returned to them once again.  In the middle of it all stood Will and Jones.

He had lost none of his presence through the transformation.  Before them stood a towering man, strong enough to split stone with a fist, salt and pepper beard twining down from his face in long, thick braids.  Will was mystified, running his hands along Jones’ new face, as Jones responded with slow chuckles of amusement.  He leaned over to kiss Will’s head, and Will sank into his arms, his face wet with tears.

It was Maccus who noticed Calypso first.  He was an older English gentleman, clean shaven, sharp eyes and nose, a man who might have once found himself among the likes of Elizabeth’s father.  He careened to a halt before her, cleared his throat, and gave a sweeping bow.

“M’lady,” he said.

The rest of the crew took notice, and they quickly gathered to bow to the goddess.  Calypso seemed neither flattered nor displeased by the gestures—they were as unremarkable to her as birds passing by.  Jones and Will slowly approached, and Will nodded in respect.

Calypso and Jones made eye contact, and the air went still.  For a moment Elizabeth feared they would both spiral into an agonizing history, unfolding across memory and time.  But as suddenly as it had begun, the tension broke.  In an act that brought gasps from the crew, Jones removed his hat and held it over his heart.

“Thank you,” he said quietly.

Calypso inclined her head and said nothing, leaving their great tale and its final words to as simple an ending as that.  She turned and addressed the rest of the crew.

“I am in need of a ferryman,” she said plainly.  “You are all aware of the conditions required.  Who wishes to serve?”

The Dutchman’s crew went silent.  They exchanged hollow-eyed glances and shook their heads firmly.  They had lived several lifetimes too long on the sea to wish to stay anymore.  Penrod flexed his new hands, a hundred different possibilities flitting through his mind, and for the first time a true joy crept upon his features.

“No one?” Calypso frowned.  

Norrington stepped forward.  His face had regained its normal tint, and he stood before them, his back straight and tall.  “I will take the role.”

The crew gasped.  “ A guppy? ” someone cried out.

Norrington turned on his heels.  “I resent being called that,” he snapped.  He turned back to the goddess.  “I would gladly serve and bring the souls of the dead to peace.  I have only been a part of this crew for but a short time, but I understand the duties and the risks involved.”

Calypso grinned, eyeing the man up.  “And who will join his crew?”

The Dutchman’s men were again, silent.  Jones scowled at them, clear disapproval in his eyes.  Ogilvey coughed uncomfortably and spoke up.

“I mean—look, we’ve all done it for decades, maybe centuries, and we’re just—I’m itching to get my feet onto land.”

“I’d like to take up farming.”

“Truth be told, I never liked sailing in the first place.”

The crew began chatting amongst themselves, sharing plans and stories, and Jones rolled his eyes.  “Did none of you actually want to be here?”

“Don’t blame them,” Will said, nudging him in the stomach.  “It was here or death, they didn’t have much of a choice.”

Jones grumbled in resignation.

Calypso beckoned Norrington forward, and he stepped up and bowed his head.  Calypso placed a hand upon him.

“You have the sea’s blessing,” she said, and her voice flowed with a richness and power that brought a hush over the crew.  Jones watched with a distant familiarity in his eyes.  “You will sail into the land of the dead to bring peace to the fallen, and not age, sickness, or man will strike you down.”  She removed her hand, and Norrington looked up.  He still had the same pallid face as always, but he looked a great deal more confident than before.  He returned to the crew and they patted him on the back in proud admiration.

“So what now?” Maccus said.  “Are we still headed for the fight?”

The crew murmured among themselves, and Ratlin spoke up.  “Is the English bloke in charge now?”

Jones cut in, his tone acidic.  “He is not some bloke , he is your new captain, and you will afford him the same respect you gave me.”  He looked around at the silenced crew, his eyes hard.  “We are staying on for this fight.  As soon as you leave this crew, you will become mortal again, and if you wish to enjoy your long-sought freedom, you will have to fell the men who wish you dead.”  He turned to Norrington.  “Captain Norrington, may I suggest we make for the fleet with not a moment’s delay?”

Norrington was staring at Jones with his mouth agape, but he quickly regained his composure.  “Set a course for Shipwreck Cove,” he called out.  “We’ll dive when we get close, make sure the guns are loaded and dry, and be ready to engage with the first enemy ship we see.”

The crew scattered, human footsteps and sounds filling the air for the first time in centuries.  Norrington turned to Calypso and nodded politely.  “Will you be staying on, ma’am?”

“I will stay,” she replied.  “You would certainly fail without me.”

With a wave of her hand, the storm dissipated around them.  Dark clouds evaporated into mist, and the swirling sea began to calm with scarcely any sign there had been a disturbance prior.  The crew paused, staring dumbstruck at the clear sky, before Norrington shouted out to send them back to their tasks.

The men left Elizabeth and Calypso alone, and the goddess turned to Elizabeth, placing a hand upon her cheek.

“I would like to rest,” she said.  “Will you take me below?”

Elizabeth scoffed.  “You’re a goddess, you don’t need to— oh .”  With an embarrassed grunt, she took Calypso by the hand and led her below deck.

Will was right, the old sick bay had ample room.  The two lay on the blankets, kissing one another hungrily as each layer of clothing came loose.  Elizabeth tried to maneuver her way down between the goddess’ legs, but Calypso caught her by the arm and drew her back up to her face.  

“What?” Elizabeth asked.

Calypso smiled.  “I’d like to enjoy you this time.”

Slowly, Elizabeth nodded and settled back.  Calypso straddled her, curves catching the light in a way that made Elizabeth’s whole body beg to be taken.  The goddess looked down, a smile playing on her lips, contemplating how to bring her to the brink of ecstasy.

“Do not be alarmed,” Calypso began.  “This may be surprising.”

She leaned down and kissed Elizabeth, and as she did, her form seemed to lose all solidity.  Their bodies felt as though they were melding together, and Calypso’s hand traced down to the heat between her legs.  Elizabeth wrapped her arms around the goddess, her eyes closed in bliss as Calypso fingered her, drawing out her pleasure.  She moaned against Calypso’s lips and tried to press in closer, but suddenly her lips passed into a strange, formless space.  Her eyes fluttered open and she withdrew, staring at the figure that lay on top of her.  

The edges of Calypso’s body ebbed and pulsed like the boundaries of the sea.  Where her body met Elizabeth’s, their skin mingled, sending echoes of the goddess’ power coursing through her veins.   It was surprising, different, and altogether…intoxicating.  She lifted a hand and gently brought it to Calypso’s thigh: there, it blurred with the other’s form, like a hand dangled lazily over the side of a boat, dipping into the waves.  

“You’re beautiful,” Elizabeth breathed.  Calypso leaned over and took Elizabeth’s nipple in her mouth, playing with it on her tongue, and Elizabeth groaned as the pleasure tingled throughout her body.  Calypso’s hand crept back down, but what entered Elizabeth then was not her fingers, but a smooth, slick rod.

Elizabeth arched her back in a gasp of pleasure and tried to see over the mound of her own breasts.  The goddess’ arm had changed, and from the elbow down it was clear as ice, but warm to the touch.  With another gasp following another thrust, Elizabeth realized she had altered the form of sand to fill her with a perfectly shaped rod of glass.

The rod was already wet, and Calypso continued to thrust it into her, all while her other hand played with her swelling desire.  Elizabeth was overcome, gripping into the blankets and letting out loud moans that surely traveled beyond the walls.  But The Dutchman was used to it.  Her thighs tensed, and she curled forward, mouth open in a breathless cry.  She came, body spasming against Calypso, as the goddess continued to play with her, drawing out her orgasm as long as she could.  When it seemed that Elizabeth could give no more, Calypso removed her changed hand and eased onto her, kissing her face tenderly.

Elizabeth looked down at Calypso’s body to see it settling back into its corporeal form.  She drew her close, grateful for the familiar feeling, but not at all turned off by the changing shape either.  Calypso spoke in an amused murmur.

“If I had told you I could do that to you,” she said, “would you have tried to release me sooner?”

Elizabeth choked back a laugh.  She rolled over onto her side and peered into the goddess’ eyes.  “I might have cracked a few skulls to speed things up.  Lord knows many of them were deserving of it.”

The two shared a quiet moment until Elizabeth's breathing calmed.  With a sudden sigh, she looked off at the opposite wall.  “Cooperation between the pirate lords in the future will be hard won, but I do think it’s possible.”  She brought a finger up to chew her nail idly.  “They all need something, if we could just—” She stopped and caught Calypso’s bemused stare.  “Sorry.  Not the best at this kind of talk.”

Something stirred behind Calypso’s eyes, and she regarded Elizabeth with a pointed look.  “The seas need someone like you,” she said quietly.  “Someone to outlast the petty politics and vagaries of other men.” 

“I’m afraid I’ve chosen a short-lived profession,” Elizabeth said, settling onto her stomach.  “Norrington would have a better shot at instilling consistency and reason into pirate politics.”

Calypso rounded to Elizabeth’s face and looked deep into her eyes.  “You will not be my ferryman,” she said.  “But I can still grant you the blessing.”

Elizabeth’s breath stopped.  She stared at Calypso, a thousand questions forming on her lips.  

“Same restrictions,” Calypso continued, “one day every ten years on land, but your work will be in altering the destiny of pirate fleets across the seas.  An end to their participation in trading human cargo.  You can live across time, at my side.”

Elizabeth sat upright, her heart pounding in her ears.  “I—” she stopped.  “Can it be done?”

Calypso rested her hand on her face.  Elizabeth drew in a sharp breath.  

“You need only agree,” Calypso said.

 

——

 

Jack, Morey, and the ten sailors huddled around a floating door in the water, their feet lazily kicking below.  Jack had his elbows up on the wood, and the others were in various positions of resting their heads or leaning on one arm, staring into the distance.  From the burnt wreck of the Fuck You , the door to the captain’s cabin was the only intact, solid piece that remained.  At Morey’s suggestion, they used it as a raft to kick their way within sight of the pirate war.

They had been lucky that the pirate lords had come to meet the enemy fleets more than halfway.  It had been a scarce half day for the enemy ships to travel, but three solid days of paddling for the twelve miserable, naked crew to reach them from behind.  

With no clothes, ammunition, or reasonable way to join the fight, they gazed on at the plumes of smoke and sails passing the horizon.

“We did our part,” one of the sailors said.  The rest nodded in agreement.  

Jack wormed his way forward and let out a grunt.  “I’m lying on the door.”

The others let out shouts of protest.  As Jack crawled up, the men on the other side tipped the door upward, sending him sliding back down into the water.  Jack surfaced, spitting water and shooting daggers at his adversaries.

“You can’t lie on the fucking door,” Morey grumbled.

Jack opened his mouth to retort, but he suddenly let out a yelp.  “ Morey! ” he squeaked.  “ Your face!

Morey looked down at the water, but it was too disturbed to make out anything—but she didn’t need to see her face.  With a scream, she brought her arms up and saw the scales peeling from them, like skin from a potato, and she flapped her hands against the water in abject horror.  The other men began screaming, and Morey brought up a leg to see the same unfolding there.  She scratched at her flesh, and with a terrified gasp she saw that the color underneath— her color—was coming through.  She lowered her leg and examined her arms again.  The scales had fallen to give way to a uniform color: not spotted or striped or splotched, but a full and natural shade of brown.  

She looked around at the rest of the crew who had fallen utterly silent.  Jack slowly pointed a shaking finger at Morey’s mouth.

Open ,” he said.  

Morey’s lip curled up to reveal two rows of normal, un-pointed teeth.  

“Demon teeth gone!” Jack cried.  He clapped his hands together and did his best treading-water-jig before spinning toward Morey again.  “Do you know what this means?  Calypso let Jones free.  And she’s on our side!

The crew let out whoops of joy.  Jack made another attempt to climb onto the door, which the group obliged given the circumstances.  He steadied himself for a moment before speaking to the group.  

“Remember this,” he began.  “Today we quell the tyranny of England and Spain once and for all.  No longer will we toil under the yoke of respectability and taxes and—”

The sea surged beneath them, and the Dutchman broke the water.  The door flipped over, and Jack was sent spluttering off it again as the rest of the crew was picked up directly onto the main deck.  Morey managed to grab onto a line of rope beneath the main mast, while the others sea-starred themselves onto the railing or various Dutchman crew members who happened to be standing by.  The ship righted itself with a giant groan, and the water sloshed off the deck.

Norrington did a double-take at the eleven naked people who had suddenly boarded the ship.

“Who the fuck—” 

Morey! ” Jones stalked past Norrington and shed his coat, handing it off to the very bewildered crew member.  Morey wrapped it around herself and took a moment to take in the Dutchman’s revived appearance.  

“She’s gorgeous,” Morey said, her lips parted in awe.  “Never thought I’d see her like this.”  She looked at Jones, giving him a once-over of admiration.  “You too, captain,” she said with a wink.

Jones cleared his throat.  “The Dutchman has a new captain now.”  He nodded toward Norrington, who gave a polite wave.  Morey squinted, muttered something, and walked off.

Will emerged from the cabin, followed by Elizabeth and Calypso from below deck.  The Dutchman’s crew were handing out blankets and trousers to the new men, and the three newcomers blinked in surprise.

“Did we miss something?” Elizabeth said.  

A wet body hit the deck, spluttering and coughing.  Jack shook himself off and stood, wiping his nose with distaste.  Elizabeth recoiled, stepping back beside Calypso. 

“Horrid timing,” he said.  “Someday I may forgive you.”

“How do you keep turning up in the most bewildering places?”  Norrington spat.  Jack rounded on him with a look of deep offense.

“You and I were partners in crime, once,” he replied.  “Don’t forget that.”

Jones and Will neared, and Jack nearly leapt out of his skin at the sight.  He examined Jones up and down—lingering on the down—and a smirk crossed his face.  “Well, hello , beastie.”

“Don’t answer him,” Will whispered.  He cleared his throat.  “Good to have you back, Jack.”

Maccus came by and shoved a set of clothes into Jack’s chest.  Jack rolled his eyes and took it begrudgingly to dress in front of the group.  “So—” he hopped into one trouser leg, “—are all our grievances laid to rest, or will we have to separate you two?”  He pointed between Jones and Calypso.  The two exchanged a sideways glance.

“They’re fine,” Elizabeth said.  “Why are you all here?”

“Long story, we’ll fill you in, but—oh!” Jack’s face lit up.  “You just reminded me.  Your dear old papa has joined the fight.”

Elizabeth’s jaw dropped.  “My father— ?”

“They’re turning to engage!” Norrington shouted.  The crew followed his gaze out toward the warring ships, and true enough, several of the vessels were turning around to sail their way.  The Dutchman’s crew separated to handle the guns, and the sails billowed out to meet the enemy.  Jones and Will worked side by side, a wordless love passing between them.  

Norrington directed the new sailors below, and he approached Calypso, a hand over his heart.  “Though you are not obligated to assist us,” he began, “we would be grateful for any divine intervention.  Elizabeth—” he stopped, his eyes meeting hers.  “I won’t insult you by asking whether or not you intend to fight.  I know you well enough.”  A smile crossed his lips.  “There are pistols and sharpened swords under Crash’s care, you need only ask.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth replied.  She looked around at the changed crew.  “I…may need some help identifying who’s who again, but I’ll leave you to the important task of captaining the sea’s most notorious ship.”

Norrington gave a quick nod and departed.  Elizabeth kissed Calypso on the cheek before setting off to weave throughout the crew, trying to recognize them in their new forms.  She quickly discovered that it was easier to tell than she previously thought: stature and size, along with small quirks and manners of speaking had remained throughout their time under the curse.  She found Crash and fitted herself with two pistols and a good sword, after which she looked around to see Calypso standing on the prow.

Two enemy ships had peeled off from the skirmish to take the Dutchman.  Others had started to turn but backed off—no reinforcements were coming over the horizon behind the newly un-cursed ship.  The Dutchman looked like any other pirate vessel, giving them the upper hand.

Norrington and Elizabeth joined Calypso, and she gave a dissatisfied grunt.  “We’re too late.  The fleets are entangled, and I cannot wrap any of them in a storm without hitting our own.  We may not find an opportunity.”

“Let’s deal with these two first,” Norrington said.

The Dutchman cut through the water like a shark’s fin headed for prey.  Elizabeth wondered at what point the enemy fleet would realize they were moving far faster than any mortal ship on the sea.  She surveyed the crew to see every man on a gun, waiting in quivering apprehension.

“On my command,” Norrington said.  The ships had split from one another to catch the Dutchman between them, hoping to shred her through with cannon fire.  Jones eyed Norrington in tense silence, judging whether the new captain’s timing would fall within his own best judgment.

The ships came up beside them, and the gunports opened.

Fire!

Deafening blasts boomed through the air, and the three ships were consumed in smoke.  The Dutchman’s crew hit the deck, gunmen squatting to continue loading and firing off at the enemy through the growing haze.  Elizabeth crouched beside Calypso, whose eyes suddenly flickered with purpose.

She brought her hands together and breathed deeply.  Elizabeth watched as the goddess drew her fingertips apart, as if smoothing out the surface of a silk sheet.  The smoke was drawn away from the Dutchman’s deck, clearing their vision, and the crew re-calibrated their aim with renewed vigor.  The smoke continued to be pulled out from the Dutchman, and finally, with a mischievous glint in her eye, Calypso brought it to settle over the two enemy ships in a thick, impenetrable fog.

The bewildered shouts from the enemy were punctuated by a gap in their fire.  Norrington looked to the men waiting on the rails and brought his arm down in a quick strike.  They threw their hooks and nets across and leapt onto the foggy ships, like birds disappearing into a cloud.  

For a moment, there was quiet.  Then, gargling screams, thuds, and the ring of steel followed.  The Dutchman’s crew had been attuned through decades of missing limbs, eyes, and ears to perceive the world in a different manner, and they moved like specters of death through the fog, slitting throats as they passed.

The two vessels were left like ghost ships, bereft of life in an evaporating mist.  

Norrington stood at the helm, grinning in mild satisfaction as they joined the rest of the fight.  

Spanish and English ships fell before them, shredded through like kindling.  It was some time before pairs of vessels stopped peeling off to engage them, and the enemy fleet presumably got the idea that this was no ordinary pirate ship.  The ships circled back to reform their ranks, and the crew spotted a familiar sight in the distance.

The Pearl! ” Jack cried.  Sure enough, she was several miles off, embroiled with a Spanish man of war that could easily send her to the depths.  It was clear even at that distance that she was trying—and failing—to disengage.

“She’s not our priority,” Norrington said.  “The rest of the fleet is in position for a singular act of God, if one should come to pass.”  He looked to Calypso, who responded with a smirk of hungry anticipation.

Jack wheeled around and was ready to grab Norrington by the lapels, but he remembered the man’s new position on a warning glance from Maccus.  Still, he spoke in a harsh growl.

“I’m saving her, even if I have to row myself out there.”

He looked around the deck for any inkling of support.  Nobody responded—the crew resumed cleaning the guns in preparation for the next attack.  Jones and Will didn’t look entirely unsympathetic, but the correct course of action was clear. 

Anyone? ”  Jack cried.  “I’m not letting him—fuck, her go under, after all we’ve been through.”

Morey looked up from the steps behind the helm.  She rose and nudged past Norrington with a quiet ‘Scuse me and stepped up to Jack, winding a length of cloth around her palm.  Jones’ coat had been returned, and she was in a fresh new shirt and trousers.  

“All right then,” she said.  “Lead the way.”

Norrington sighed.  “I can’t stop the two of you from making the worst decision of your lives.”  He waved to the men.  “Get a longboat ready for them.”

“I’ll make sure you arrive in time,” Calypso said.

Jack and Morey were lowered down in the boat, and once they settled onto the water, Morey nudged Jack in the arm.

“Couldn’t say goodbye, huh?”

Jack flushed bright red.  “Shut up.”

“You miss him.”

“Enough.  I care only for the Pearl, who as you know, is the jewel of the— shitfuck!

The boat surged forward on a supernatural current.  They gripped the sides as the oars clattered to the floor, and they looked up to see Calypso blowing a kiss.  The boat skidded along the surface like a skimmer bird scooping up fish.

They made it to the Pearl just as a great storm was brewing over the stronghold of the combined Spanish and English fleet.  The Pearl was listing hard to one side—part of her hold had likely taken on water.  Jack and Morey scrambled up the side mere seconds before a cannonball shredded through the longboat.

The situation on deck was dire.  The Spanish had cornered the crew against the prow, and they were caught between death by steel or death by being shot in the water.  Barbossa stood at the front of them, slashing and snarling, his crew gathered behind him.  Governor Swann was a shaking, ragged mess.  Ragetti was the first to see them.

“It’s Jack!”

The Spanish men turned as Jack and Morey came down upon them like twin banshees, cutting and stabbing any unprotected bit of flesh as they let out howls of fury.  There was a moment’s confusion and reshuffling of their position, during which Jack and Morey made good headway, before the Spanish formed a split front against the newcomers and the existing crew.

“You came back,” Barbossa murmured, his eyes wide.

A dagger flew toward Jack’s chest, and with a loud ping, it deflected off the still-jutting tongs that had been embedded between his nipples for quite some time.  Jack shot a look at the man who had thrown it, drew his own dagger, and hurled it with surprising precision to sink directly between the man’s eyes.  

“Of course I did,” Jack muttered.

The two undead pirates flew into the enemy, taking cuts and wounds without flinching, suffering mortal blows to pause for brief, calculating moments, before throwing themselves again at the bewildered men.  The Pearl’s crew sliced into the men from the other side, and soon the Spanish abandoned the ship, flinging themselves into the water.  

The crew let out whoops of victory as the Spanish ship peeled away, leaving the Pearl listing at a hard angle, the deck in disrepair.  

Jack and Barbossa faced each other, both drenched in blood.

Barbossa was the first to speak.  “I suppose I should—” he began, but Jack suddenly let out a yelp and raced below deck.  The rest of the crew exchanged bemused looks.  Barbossa simply rolled his eyes and took a moment to take in Jack’s companion.  After a moment of careful consideration, he snapped his fingers.

“Morey,” he said with a grin.  “Out of the silks and scales, it was a bit hard to tell.  It’s done, then?  The greatest betrayal of the nine seas, forgiven?”

Morey nodded.  “But not forgotten.  Any sign of the South China fleet?”

“Sao Feng?” Barbossa frowned.  “Surely in the thick of it.  We’ll have time yet to find them.”

A cry of delight sounded from the hatch, and they saw Jack emerge with Monkey Jack on one arm and his wooden box in the other.  He shook a bit of water off the box and strode back over to the crew with a smile.

“All is well,” he said.  “No need to worry.”

“You left it here?” Barbossa asked with wide eyes.  “Where?”

“Down in the hold.  Good thing the place is only half underwater.”

Barbossa let out a frustrated growl.  “ You should have told me ,” he snapped. “Then I could have moved it elsewhere.  If their cannons happened to strike that particular spot, who knows what could have—”

Jack brought a hand to his chest.  The whole crew had fallen silent, looking on in knowing amusement, and Barbossa suddenly realized the intensity of his words.  He looked down, coughing loudly.

“It doesn’t matter.  You’re alive, and I thank you on behalf of the crew.”

Jack eyed the other man thoughtfully.  “You’re right,” he said.  “It was a fool’s decision to leave it in so precarious a place.  Which is why…”  

He stepped forward and took Barbossa’s hand.  The captain looked up, bewildered, as Jack placed his hand on the box.  “I entrust it to your protection.  Ah ah ah —” Jack held up a finger against the retort already on Barbossa’s tongue.  “You have guarded my most precious Pearl for all these years, and I can think of none more responsible to have this.”

“She’s not yours anymore,” Barbossa replied.  

Jack eyed him with a warning.  “Careful now, sweetheart.”

He stepped back, leaving the box in Barbossa’s hand.  The captain weighed it, and as he did, his expression softened.  With a great and careful reverence, he removed the lid and picked up the beating heart inside.  His gaze passed over it to the very eager Jack.

“It’s a nice one, isn’t it?” Jack said.  “It’s got a good heft to it, I think.”

Barbossa swallowed hard, and spoke in a low whisper.  “I’ll accept your heart.”

Jack let out a cry and bent double.  For a moment it seemed to be more of the same dramatics, but a sudden clang sounded from the deck, and the crew saw that the tongs embedded in his chest had fallen free.  Barbossa’s face paled, and he took a step back, the heart clutched in his fingers.  

Morey ran to Jack’s side—Jack’s arms were crossed over his front in invisible agony, and when she righted him and wrenched them away, the crew let out a chorus of gasps.  His chest was opening, the flesh peeling back, to reveal a path to where his heart once lay.

It’s open! ” he cried, feeling into the space.  “ Give your heart twice— I gave it!”  He hurried to Barbossa and, without a moment’s warning, grabbed the other man’s face and planted a kiss on his open lips.

Barbossa was too flustered to respond, and Jack pulled back to shout again.  “You give your metaphorical heart, and then you give your actual heart—oh I’ve been so very very stupid—” he kissed Barbossa again.  This time the captain closed his eyes and let out a soft grunt.  They pulled apart again, and Jack hurriedly gestured to his chest.

“Put it back!”

Barbossa hurriedly rolled up his sleeve and slowly, trying his best not to bump anything too hard, he navigated the beating organ back into Jack’s chest.  He withdrew quickly, and the space sealed back over, ribs reforming like thin stalactites between the stitching cloth-work of so many veins.

As soon as the skin pinched shut, Jack drew in a quaking breath.  It sounded as if he was a newborn calf, drawing air for the first time.  The color returned to his face, and a light danced across his eyes that hadn’t been there in far too long.

“I’m back,” Jack said, a grin spreading across his face.  “Oh, it’s so good to be back.”

 

——

 

The Dutchman and Calypso cleaned up, sending the bulk of the enemy fleet to the depths in a maelstrom of wind and water.  The rest of the ships, having been caught in the desperate, suicidal throes of pirate lords who refused to die—and finding most of their men incapable of standing up from over their buckets—cut their losses and fled, and the triumphant pirates sent cannonfire blasting out after them in a final goodbye.  

Having proven his new leadership, Norrington signaled to the pirate fleets, introducing himself and the new look of the sea’s most feared ship.  He finally arrived at the Pearl, which was once again a tired mess in need of repair.

Jones stalked over the plank behind Norrington and eyed the damage once again.  “I will never step foot on this dinghy in better circumstances,” he muttered.

“Captain Norrington,” Barbossa called out, a smirk on his lips.  “Congratulations on the promotion.  I hope the workload isn’t too much for you to manage.”

“I’ll make do,” Norrington replied with a tired sigh.  He waved to his crew.  “Let’s get her fixed.”

The crew fanned out across the ship, and Elizabeth surveyed the damage with a frown.  Her eyes wandered down to the doorway to the captain’s cabin, in which hovered a familiar, unmistakable face.

Father!

She sprinted across the deck and threw herself into Governor Swann’s arms.  He let out a cry of joy and wept into his daughter’s hair as he rocked her back and forth.

“Oh, my dear child,” he sobbed.  “If you decide to run off again, do at least send a letter.”

Elizabeth let out a choking laugh, and the two held each other in weeping joy.

Jack suddenly emerged from below deck like a gopher peeking up out of its hole.  He ran through the crowd of visiting crew, bumping into several men along the way.

“Sorry, pardon me.”  He nudged by an irritated Maccus to arrive in front of Jones and Will.  He leaned over, breathless, and placed a hand on Jones’ arm.  “Hell’s balls, I’m still not used to having to breathe again,” he gasped.  Jones furrowed his brows.

Jack stood up straight and opened his shirt before the other two men.  He bared his chest to them, a grin on his face.  Jones and Will exchanged a discomforting glance.

“Thank you, Jack,” Will said slowly.  “We really appreciate your…nipples.”

Jack grabbed Will’s hand and thrust it against his left breast.  Will struggled for a moment, before he suddenly froze.  His eyes went wide.

I’m living, mate, ”  Jack said.

Jones drew Will away and towered down over Jack, his gaze searing.  “Tell me, now.”

The gloating pirate tapped Jones on the nose.  “ You need to give him your heart.  Your actual heart.”

Jones blinked.  His hand descended into an inner pocket of his coat, and he drew out the beating thing.  He stared at it for a long time, turning it over in his hand.

"Giving it twice," he mumbled.

He turned to Will with reluctance etched on his face.

“You have to give it freely,” Jack said.  “No regrets.”

Jones drew in a deep breath and calmed himself.  He took Will’s hand in his own, holding his gaze with a tenderness that sent Will’s own heart pounding into his ears.  There was nothing more he could give him.  He had given it all—his life, his affection, his sins—to the man standing before him.  He placed the heart into Will’s open hand.

“It's yours,” Jones whispered.  

He flinched as the flesh opened beneath his shirt, and he reached up to feel the empty space—curiously, cautiously.  With his free hand, Will unbuttoned the shirt and traced his fingers down Jones’ collarbone, and he gave a hardened look up, his eyes steady.

“Are you ready?”

Jones’ looked away.  “It will be—” he paused.  “Difficult.  I have not known the feel of my own heart for centuries now.”

Will caressed Jones’ face.  “You’ll be fine.  And I’ll be with you.”

He carefully replaced the heart in Jones’ chest.  Jones buckled to his knees, and Will let out a gasp and caught him, brushing back the man’s hair to see his face.  Jones was breathing heavily, his face streaked with tears.  His eyes fluttered up to behold Will’s loving gaze, and his composure shattered even further.

“I didn’t—” Jones choked.  “It was—”

Shhh, ” Will whispered, kissing him gently and stroking his face.  “Breathe.  I’m here.”  Jones leaned his face against Will’s chest, and Will held him tight.  “I’m not going anywhere.”

For the first time in his long life, Jones knew those words to be true.  He relaxed against this strange, quiet man he had grown to love, feeling the centuries of uncertainty, pain, and regret leave his body with every shaking breath.  Will had seen him, followed him, and healed him in a way no one, across seas and civilizations, had ever dared to try.  

He drew another sharp breath, feeling a warmth spread through his lungs—warmth he had not known even under Will’s touch.  His eyelids fluttered shut as his body lingered on pleasant feelings, and Will continued to whisper into his ear.  He felt so very, very tired—of being the devil to other’s dreams, of living, perpetually, for the sake of so many empty things.  

He wrapped his arm around Will and pressed his lips to his neck.  He spoke in a quiet murmur.  “You are my heart.”

 

——

 

The pirate crews returned to Tortuga, bruised and bloodied, but reveling in a newfound freedom.  Morey spotted Sao Feng’s ship from a mile off and the rest of the crew had to keep her from jumping into the water to swim out.  The two met on Tortuga’s sand, and Sao Feng fell to his knees, his eyes quivering in wonder.

“You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” he whispered.  Morey tried to pull him upright, but he resisted.

“Come on,” she laughed.  “You can’t stay kneeling like that.”

“Oh, I can,” he said, a twinkle in his eye.  “As long as I ask the right question.”

Morey’s delighted scream could be heard all across the beach.  

Farther down, Will pulled his and Jones’ longboat onto the sand.  Jones still sat upon the bench, oars tight in his palms, rigid and uncertain.  Will smoothed his hair back and held out a hand.

“I’ve got you,” he said.   “No harm will come to you.”

Jones slowly stood and took Will’s hand.  With an effort that seemed to cross centuries of dissonance and fear, he brought one foot down onto the beach.

And he lived.

He stepped out, fully, feeling the sand beneath his boots.  With a smile, Will pulled him gently up the beach, and he took one, then two, then a great many more steps to follow in the path of his love.  

“Let’s get a drink,” Will said.  

They entered the tavern to find the crews celebrating more than one occasion.

“It’s an engagement party!” Ragetti cried out.  He and Pintel shoved two full pints of ale into Jones’ and Will’s hands and pointed toward the new couple.  Morey and Sao Feng were surrounded by pirates from all nations toasting to the match with whistles and cheers.  Birdie was upon the table, his little feet slapping the wood and cawing along with the ruckus. Mistress Ching had settled beside Morey with the look of a watchful, protective mother, and with a discerning hum she loosened the vibrant jade bracelet from her own wrist.

“A gift,” she said as she handed it to Morey, “and a wish for good luck.”

Will and Jones exchanged a glance and approached the celebratory group.  “Congratulations,” Will said with a smile.  “All the best to you.”

Jones lifted his mug in support.  “You’ve come a long way since you first washed up on my ship,” he said to Morey.  “May this life prove much better than the one I gave you.”

Morey shook her head.  “You taught me a lot.  Where else could I have learned so many ways to kill a man?”

Jones opened his mouth, but found that he had nothing to correct her on.  Sao Feng pulled her close and kissed her ravenously on the neck.

“I love you so very much,” he breathed.  He lifted his bottle to the crowd.  “To murder!”

To murder!

Glasses clinked, and Sao Feng took a long swig of his drink then gestured at the two men.  “When will your announcement be?  Will you sail with us, or…?” He paused, raising an eyebrow.

Will and Jones exchanged a fraught glance.  “I think—” Will began.

“I’m leaving the sea behind,” Jones said.  Half the table looked up in shock, but Sao Feng showed no sign of surprise.  He leaned back, nodding sagely.

“May we all find such rest,” he said.  He lifted his bottle again.  “To your retirement.  To green pastures.”

Jones and Will lifted their drinks and sipped quietly, and then they excused themselves.  There was a quiet table in the corner, and the two sat across from each other in contemplative silence before Jones opened his mouth to speak.  Will, however, cut in before him.

“I’ll go wherever you go.”

A smile crossed Jones’ face.  He held Will’s hand and brought it to his lips.  “I know you will.”

 

——

 

Norrington looked back at Elizabeth and Calypso who had decided to remain for the night on the Dutchman.  He paused, waiting beside his readied longboat.

"Are you sure you’d rather not spend the evening celebrating on the beach?” he asked.  He looked out at the campfires and tents around which pirates danced.  “It seems to be a lively group.”

“It would seem awfully unfair to you,” Elizabeth said.  

Norrington frowned.  “I know it’s not the best seating, really,” he admitted.  “I’ll be in the boat on the sand, but at least the men can bring me drinks, and I can share a few words with anyone who passes by.”

“I’m not really the drinking type.” Elizabeth waved him on  “Go on without us.  Drink double for me.”

Calypso peered at Elizabeth, and something stirred behind her eyes—a question, or perhaps a plea.  Either way, she did not speak.  Norrington looked between the two women then cleared his throat.

“Very well.  Take care.”

He left with Maccus and Crash, the three of them discussing the day’s events as they rowed out toward the shore.  Elizabeth turned away from the railing, and Calypso caught her by her arm.

“Will you tell them?” Calypso asked.  Elizabeth chewed her lip.

“In time,” she replied.  She looked back at the flickering lights of the tavern and the merriment unfolding outside.  “I don’t want to spoil their fun tonight.  You know how miserable it would make James to know I, too, can’t step foot on land for another ten years.”  She crooked her arm into Calypso’s and began a slow walk to the prow.  “And I don’t even want to imagine how Will and Jones might react.”

Calypso brought their faces together and spoke in a low voice.  “You won’t resent it?”

Elizabeth’s eyes flickered for a moment before she gave a shrug.  “No.  At least, I think not.  There’s no place for unruly women like me in any society on land.”

She leaned in to kiss Calypso, savoring the taste of her lips.  They drew apart and gazed steadily into each other’s eyes.  

“There are so many places I want to sail to,” Elizabeth whispered.  “Corners of the map no one has seen.  Otherworldly realms and lost civilizations, waiting to be found.”

Her heart was beating fast, and Calypso placed a hand over Elizabeth’s chest.  “Tonight, you rest.  It will all be there tomorrow—” she kissed Elizabeth gently, “—and the day after—” she kissed her again, “—and to the end of time.”

Elizabeth drew her close, breathing in the shimmering air around her.  Calypso sighed against her, and their skin mingled as one.  “For all of time, then.”

 

***