Okay. Good morning, and welcome to Overactive Imagination Theatre. Anyone and anything you recognize from PotC does not belong to me, is borrowed (borrowed without permission), and is used and abused here purely for twisted recreational purposes. Please don't curse me.

Tiny acknowledgements – I had to run with the lovely and talented Mr. Depp's idea on Barbossa's first name, because it's a funny idea, and it rolls nicely off the tongue. (Especially if you say "Ek-torr", and kinda trill it evilly...anyway, getting off topic.)

Thanks to Abbie, Rick, and Burt for being my guinea pigs on this one.

Rated R for naughty language and violence. Don't come back later whining that I didn't warn you.

Any and all feedback is appreciated.

THE WEIGHT OF WATER

PROLOGUE

It's said the deepest circle of hell is reserved for betrayers and mutineers.

They had the deep part right. But despite what the preachers might say about it, it was not full of fire and brimstone and screaming demons.

Hell was water, heavy and unending and black. And while screaming might have been a welcome break from the crushing silence, the only demons Bill Turner had encountered were the ones that whispered and laughed inside his own head.

They were enough.

He'd wished them gone for a time, but then came to realize those voices were the only company he had. So he abided them. Encouraged them. Gave them their own bloody stage to dance and sing on in his mind.

There didn't tend to be much variety to the play they put on. More often than not, it was the night of the mutiny on the Pearl. Bill worried at that particular wound eagerly, savagely. When the demons conjured up Jack's face, pained more by betrayal than by the bruises that covered it, Bill embraced the memories almost wantonly. When Hector Barbossa sneered at him from across time and recollection, escorting their stumbling, snarling, swearing young captain to the plank by his hair, Bill gave the scene the most reverent, rapt attention he could.

Entombed in water, memory was the only lash available for him to scourge himself with. And like a true penitent, he welcomed every blow.

Like the backhanded one that had sent Jack over the rails after he'd spit a mouthful of blood right into Barbossa's smug face. At the time, watching it, Bill had cried out, the sound lost in the cruel laughter of the rest of the crew. Now, Bill hoarded the memory of the slight body tumbling backwards over the side of the ship like any pirate hoarded something of value.

It had been his defining moment, after all. It was only right he preserve the memory and carry it forever. Bill Turner had stood at the crossroads, doing nothing but trembling with impotent rage as his dearest friend was betrayed and left to die.

"Please, Bill. Don't do anything stupid."

He did, of course. Or at least Jack would have called it stupid, sending that gold far beyond Barbossa's reach, then proclaiming it. But Bill had gotten what he wanted out of it. He'd seen the realization chill Barbossa like hoarfrost when he grasped his fate, had the satisfaction of looking into the bastard's eyes and seeing the same anguish he'd seen in Jack's when the Pearl was taken from him.

"You don't get it yet, do you? We're not just cursed, Hector," he'd said, almost purring, as Bo'sun bound his hands, "we're damned."

Even now, Bill wondered, if the mutiny hadn't happened, if they hadn't betrayed Jack, would they still have been stripped of flesh and feeling? Exactly which god's wrath were they suffering, and for which sin?

Insignificant distinctions, now. The punishment had been handed down, and Bill had seen to it there would be no pardon for any of them. It was the only kind of justice he could offer Jack, and he hoped the lad rested peacefully for it.

So he nurtured the horrible memories of the crime that had landed him here, in this wet, blind, deaf hell. He was paying out a debt, and those echoes were part of it.

There were other memories, though, that he refused to indulge. That he tried to shove down and hold beneath the surface until they just stopped kicking. Inevitably, though, they also made their way to the front of his mind.

Lying beside Cathleen when she'd been heavy with child. She'd had her arms tucked beneath her dark head, chewing on a bit of straw, gazing up at the stars. She'd turned to look at him, and winked.

"S'gonna be a son, y'know, Billy," "Is that so, Catie-girl?"

"Aye."

Tossing Will into the air on his second birthday, making the child shriek with laughter. Teaching his son to swim when he was three. To sit astride a horse when he was three and a half.

"Watch me, Papa!"

Kissing Will's skinned knee, tying a handkerchief around it and making it better by tickling the boy's ribs 'til tears turned to giggles.

Sitting at an eighteen-year-old Jack's bedside, braiding the first beads into Jack's long hair as he lied half-conscious, seal-dark eyes glazed with exhaustion and pain after Bill had dug a musket ball out of his chest.

"See?" he'd said when he was done, taking his small shaving mirror from the bedside table and holding it so Jack could look at himself without lifting his head from the pillow. "Just like the warriors up on the North continent do, to make themselves look wild and fierce."

Jack had lifted one hand to grasp the braid, turning it so the beads caught the light, and he'd grinned wanly. "I like it."

Starting Will on the sword when he was four. "Fine form, lad, fine form! I shouldn't want to tangle with you in a few years' time!" He'd beamed down proudly at the boy, and laid a hand on his shoulder...

...as he'd laid a hand on Jack's when he was almost twenty, braced against a wall in a Tortuga alleyway, puking his throat raw after the first time a man had died on his cutlass.

"It was a clean kill, Jack. If it's to be done, that's the way. Remember that."

"Right. Thanks. Piss off." He'd spit twice on the cobblestones, straightened, and given himself a little shake, like a cat that had gotten wet. "I need me a drink, mate."

"You're far too fond of dipping in the drink, Jack!"

Floating lazily on his back in the blue-green water, his never-still arms skimming serpentine out at his sides, Jack had cracked open one eye and grinned at Bill. "Which drink are we talkin' about, mate?"

"The one you're soaking in. I've never seen a sailor who spent so much willing time in the water. It isn't natural."

"No, nothing natural about a seaman who can swim," Jack had returned in that dead-serious tone that let Bill know he was being laughed at.

But then Jack had laughed at a great deal of what Bill had to say. He wondered if Jack had laughed when Barbossa lashed Bill to a cannon and sent him to this deep, black, wet hell.

Or if he'd laughed when Bill's bonds were finally eaten away by time and the sea, unbeknownst to Bill, who'd been blind and floating for so long he never noticed the lack of resistance on his legs, never noticed the currents were pushing him away from his gravesite, never knew the difference until he blinked for what might have been the first time in years and found himself washed up like flotsam on a stretch of sand.

Bill could not say how long he'd been seeing the sun for, and thought it a dream. He could have been lying on that beach for an hour or a month before he blinked, heard the sound of waves, raised sand-coated hands in front of his face, and understood he wasn't at the bottom of the sea anymore.

He supposed he should have felt a bit more strongly about regaining his freedom than he did, but beyond the initial disconcerted surprise – a bit like waking up badly hung over, really – Bill found it meant very little to him one way or the other. His best friend was still dead. His son and wife still lost to him. He was a walking corpse.

Bill Turner was still in hell. Hell had just shifted latitude.

But, he decided, standing up and brushing off some of the sand, more for the novelty of being able to do so than out of any interest in his own comfort or appearance, he could endure it. Not that he had much choice, either way, of course, but there was one thing that eased his torment, if only a little.

Somewhere out there, Barbossa and his crew were suffering the same fate. A pinch of sugar to a mountain of lemons, but there it was.

Bill had failed Jack Sparrow, but he'd fucked Hector Barbossa a good one.

That knowledge sustained him throughout the months to come, when he learned he'd lost seven years under the water. When he began to move among people again, watching them live and eat and change and care, unable to do any of those things himself. It was his only comfort when he saw small, smiling, bright-eyed boys that put him in mind of Will, the son he'd left back in England and could never return to. Not now. Not when he was this.

He would rather his wife and son believe him dead than to ever know what he'd become.

So for three years, the ghost that had once been a man called Bootstrap Bill Turner existed, cursed or damned or whatever God and the world chose to call him, and found his sole comfort in the knowledge that as long as his flesh turned to bone in the moonlight, justice was being served.

And then came the night when Bill, leaning against the doorframe of a tavern filled with laughing voices, took a swig of rum and nearly choked when he tasted it. Sputtering, Bill stared in mute shock at the bottle in his hands. He drank again. Again, the biting sweetness filled his mouth and throat.

He could taste.

"No," he whispered.

He sucked in a breath, and smelled salt air. Sweat. Smoke. His hand clenched convulsively around the bottle he held.

"No!" he growled.

Shaking, Bill stepped out of the tavern. Walked into the dirt road. Into the moonlight.

His flesh gleamed in the blue-white light, whole and human and unbroken. He was alive.

And if he was alive, it meant the gold had been found. It meant Will had been found. Barbossa had found the quarry he'd been hunting for ten years. He had Will's blood. Will was dead.

His son was dead.

His boys were both dead. Murdered. Taken.

Feeling flooded back into Bill Turner for the first time in years, and it was a white wave of rage, boiling his blood in his veins.

He screamed, and hurled the bottle down to shatter into a thousand fragments, sending the passers by nearest him running to escape. A water barrel and then a window fell victim to his wrath. No one moved to intercede. They gave the howling madman a wide berth.

His legs were moving, pumping, carrying him away from the frightened, gaping onlookers, away from the light and noise and civilization of the village, towards the darkness. Without conscious thought, he ran to the tiny, pathetic dock the island claimed. He ran to the end of the longest pier and fell to his knees, screaming so hard it seemed something in his throat would break.

The tears came when he had no voice left. He wrapped his arms around himself and doubled over, forehead pressed to the rough wood planks beneath him.

Bill Turner wept, adding his own salt to the dark waters of the Caribbean.

TBC