Greetings, all! I have not in fact been eaten my sea monsters or abducted by aliens or dropped through a wormhole, and the next chapter is here.
Big, huge, giant, fluffy thank you's to everyone who's sent me feedback on this. If I haven't e-mailed you back to say thank you, know that I'm still working on it. You may or may not have noticed this slight tendency of mine to lag a bit behind on the completion of extracurricular activities. Or, in other words, it's not personal and I'm grateful for each and every piece of feedback that I get, but I am in fact a disorganized dumbass, and if you don't believe me, come look at my desk. I have birthday presents on it for people whose birthdays were in December and March.
So…where are we? Characters are the property of the Holy Rodent Empire, and I make no profit in playing with them. There's still strong language, violence (though it's more referred to than acted out in this chapter), and themes not to be viewed by the immature and impressionable. So all you little dears poking around here in the M-rated reading section…piss off before I call your mothers and tell them what you're doing.
THE WEIGHT OF WATER
Wetherby Swann studied the man chained in place before him as Norrington lit several other lanterns, better illuminating the barren room. He waited for the light to show him undisguised evil, or subdued madness. When it revealed nothing more than a man with bloodstained hands and dark eyes netted in weary lines, Swann wasn't certain if he was relieved or not. Evil or madness would have made at least one part of what was to come easier.
"Mr. William Turner the elder, I'm told?"
Turner's head lifted. "Aye." His eyes, sharp and aware for all their weariness, scrutinized the governor intently. "You say your name is Swann?"
"That's right," he affirmed, uncertain why it mattered.
"You're kin to my William's lady, are you?"
Taken back by Turner's canniness, it took Swann a moment to respond. "Elizabeth is my daughter."
"Your daughter," Turner echoed, and something about it seemed to please him. "And how did a cutthroat's son come to be engaged to a governor's daughter?"
This was not the conversation Swann had expected to have, yet he found himself giving William Turner an answer, instead of demanding his own. "By first being her friend, for many years."
"And you approve of the union?" At Swann's hesitation, Turner smiled, and opened his hands where they lay shackled to the table. "You've nothing to fear in telling the truth, mate, even if I were inclined to take offense."
"He was…not the match I would have chosen for her," Swann confessed, painfully aware of James Norrington's presence behind him. He had no desire to prod at a wound, healed though it may be. "But he is a fine young man, and he makes her happy. They love each other. And they have faced more formidable things in recent months than society's disapproval. I've learned to…redefine what constitutes harm."
"I understand," Turner stated quietly. "You only wanted what was best for your child." He glanced down at his hands, and scraped his left thumb over his right palm, flaking off some of the blood that had dried there. "I expect there are some things you're wantin' to make sense of, Governor."
"Indeed," Swann replied. "Though I scarcely know where to begin, Mr. Turner. This morning I believed my future son-in-law to be an orphan."
"And now you wish he was, I imagine." Bill Turner chuckled slightly at the look that comment earned him. "Don't mince words on my account, mate. I'm the one who's made the mess here. Say what's on your mind."
Somberly, Swann obliged him. "Very well. You assaulted an officer of His Majesty's Navy and committed murder tonight, Mr. Turner. You should already be in a cell with a gallows view."
Turner nodded. "All true. Yet here we sit."
Swann shifted his weight on the hard wooden chair, as if to better bear the burden he found himself saddled with. "I will not see young William robbed of his father a second time without understanding why and how all of this has come to pass. The boy has suffered enough loss in his life. I would very much like a reason to spare him any more. But it would have to be a very good reason, Mr. Turner, and it falls to you now to provide it."
It was the chained man's turn now to be taken back, and he raised his eyebrows. "You're a most unconventional man of the law, Governor Swann. But as much as I appreciate the opportunity to speak for myself, I'm not sure what you expect to hear."
"Neither am I, Mr. Turner."
"If I may be so bold as to put forth a question," the cool voice of James Norrington interjected, "perhaps Mr. Turner could begin by explaining where he's been all these years Will has believed him dead." The commodore stepped closer to the table, eyes leached of all color in the shadows of the room.
Bill Turner's gaze shifted to Norrington. "Do you know what those men you have in your prison used to be, Commodore? The men who crewed the Black Pearl?"
Norrington smiled grimly. "Greater in number," he offered, and Bill Turner let out a bark of knife-edged laughter.
"If we'd met under other circumstances, lad, I could like you. But that's not what I meant, and I think you know it."
"If you're speaking of their…affliction…then yes, we know of it."
"Their affliction. God's teeth, lad, you make it sound like the pox. Can you not bring yourself to call them undead? Can't you say the word 'curse', even after you've seen the proof of it?"
"They were walking nightmares," Wetherby Swann said sharply, drawing the attention of both Turner and Norrington back to him, and his hands were white-knuckled on the edge of the table as he spoke.
Turner nodded. "That they were," he agreed. "And I was one of them."
"They were mutineers," Norrington said, clearly finding this a far more damnable state than being undead. "They betrayed their captain. Were you a part of that as well?"
Bill Turner leveled Norrington with a look that brought the younger man's hand involuntarily to his sword hilt. "I was not. But I didn't act to stop it, either." Turner failed to meet the gaze of either of the other men for the first time. "Jack Sparrow said I owed my wife and my son too much to go into the sea alongside him. So I stood aside during the mutiny." He had to force his hands loose of the fists they wanted to curl into, and a shudder wracked him as he remembered. "They beat him until he couldn't stand. He was spitting blood when Barbossa threw him overboard. I could scarcely believe it when he made it to land. I…I had no hope that he would survive in that place, alone, injured as he was."
"I'm beginning to think Death is avoiding its appointments with Sparrow," Norrington muttered. "Hardly surprising, really."
A small, pensive frown pinched Swann's brows as he regarded Bill Turner. "He was a good friend of yours?"
"As dear to me as my own flesh and blood," Turner replied. "Jack was scarcely more than a child when I met him. After I'd had to leave my own son. My Will. I thought…" his voice failed him briefly, and he closed his eyes until he regained it. "I thought after a time that he was my second chance." He shook his head. "Then came Barbossa. And I did no better by Jack than I did Will. I couldn't stop the mutiny." He lifted his head to look into Swann's eyes once again, and the governor was suddenly very grateful for the fact that Turner was bound. "All I could do was make sure they suffered. I learned the workings of the curse we'd brought down on ourselves before they did. I found out how to lift it. And then I made bloody sure Barbossa would never have what he needed to do so. Their freedom was far out of reach before they even knew what they were looking for." He leaned back in his seat, looking to Swann like a man pushing himself back from a satisfying meal. "I sent the single coin I had taken to Will, in England. To the child none of them even knew I had."
The satisfaction ebbed then, leaving Bill Turner's face still and haunted. "How or where they learned that…I can't say. There were few, beyond Jack, that knew. Fewer still now, given that Barbossa found out. When he perceived a thing had served its purpose, he disposed of it."
"A rash philosophy," Norrington commented.
Dark eyes glittered up at him, and a smile crept onto Turner's face. It wasn't an expression James could remember Will wearing, but the resemblance backhanded him, nonetheless. "You've no idea, Commodore."
"What happened then?" Swann asked. "He must have learned what you'd done."
"Oh, he did indeed. I told him."
Once again, Bill couldn't quite refrain from a chuckle at the expression that seized Swann's face.
"You told him? What in God's name for?"
Turner caught his bottom lip between his teeth contemplatively. His voice was almost serene when he answered. "So I could see the last hope he held on to die in his eyes. So he would know who had condemned him, and why."
As compelled as he was horrified, Swann pressed for more. "What did he do to you?"
"I sent him to his hell," Turner reflected, sounding far away, as if he spoke from whatever place and time his eyes were fixed on, "and he sent me to mine. A hundred fathoms straight down into absolute darkness, strapped to a cannon. No way to judge how fast I was sinking, save for how long it took the light above me to fade. It wasn't a very sunny day, or that might've taken longer." With some effort, he pulled himself away from the past to rejoin his interrogators. "Evil prick couldn't even send me to the bottom of the sea on a sunny day." His shoulders shook once with dry laughter.
Wetherby Swann had gone ashy. "He meant for the depth to kill you?"
"Oh, God only knows what he was thinking, if he was thinking," Bill tossed out scathingly. "The most forethought Barbossa ever gave anything in his life was which way to point himself so he wasn't pissin' into the wind." Turner hesitated, studying the patterns of dried blood in the creases of his palms. "That," he said after a space, "and how to slither into the confidences of a young captain with a swift ship."
"What happened to you then?" Swann pressed, almost in a whisper.
"Very little," Turner replied shortly. "As it turns out, there isn't a fat lot to do at the bottom of the sea besides drown or cave in on your own organs, and when immortality has eliminated those options…" Turner shook his head, and warred with a shiver that bested him. "I endured, Governor. I drifted on my tether in night that never lifted, in silence so thick I couldn't even hear myself screaming through it, and I went on. And when I'd gone so long without sound or sight or sensation you couldn't even have proved to me I still had form anymore, I knew I was still me by the hate twistin' through me for Hector Barbossa. I would've suffered a thousand years gladly at the bottom of the sea, knowing he was suffering just the same atop of it. Though truth be told," and here something seemed to amuse him, "I was down there long enough I stopped minding. I don't know if that's what you'd call adaptation," Turner mused, "or if I just finally lost my soddin' mind. Either way…even hell loses its horror, after a while. And in the dark, at least, I never found myself looking through my own bones. I'd rather have nightmares than be one any day of the week."
Norrington had gravitated closer during the telling of the tale, his detachment waning slightly, captivated and appalled in spite of himself. "But you did escape eventually."
"Not as such," Turner countered. "Escape implies an effort being put forth; I was just there when the bindings rotted away. I wasn't really paying attention at that point, mind you. I didn't realize it had happened until I found myself washed up on a beach, daylight pouring down just as bright as you please."
"What a world of relief that must have been," Swann breathed.
Turner ducked his head enough to scratch his chin. "It was drier," he ceded. At the governor's obvious bafflement, he elaborated. "One day I was a monster underwater, and the next I was a monster on land. I had nowhere to go, Governor. Nowhere that mattered. And Will and Cathleen…" he trailed off, wrestling with the words. "I would have walked straight back into the sea before I'd have let them see me as that…thing." He stared into the glow of the nearest lantern, a glaze to his eyes that was more than fatigue. "That was the only grace left to me. Knowing that my son was on the other side of the world, safe. Growing up. Remembering me the way I'd been before. I could even bear the sight of myself in the moonlight when I stopped to think that the worst memory Will would have of me was…gettin' a swat across his rear end for lightin' candles without his mother or me in the room or gettin' sent to bed when he didn't want to go--"
Bill's voice cracked then, and he stifled a sob against his knuckles, breathing roughly as he composed himself. Swann found himself staring down at his own hands in his lap, looking anywhere but at Bill Turner until he heard the man start speaking again.
"I was content with that. I could have let the years go on, knowing my son was all right. Knowing Jack's betrayers were being punished. It wasn't a life…but whatever it was, I could have lived with it."
This time, it seemed, Turner wasn't going to be able to overcome the silence that had seized him without some prompting. Swann moved his chair nearer to the table, bringing himself face-to-face with the other man. "What changed, Mr. Turner? What brought you here?"
Bill pressed all ten fingertips to the table, watching the way the blood flow changed beneath his nails. "I was standing in a doorway, on some island I barely spoke the language of, watching the moonlight move towards me, wondering if I'd bother to step aside or if I'd just stay put and let the locals scream." He turned his arms over in their chains, studying the blue trails of veins in his wrists. "And my heart started to beat. I began breathing again. I walked out into that moonlight…and I was human." He bent his hands back at the wrists, stretching the skin and bringing the blood vessels into sharper definition. "I've never felt anything like what I felt the moment I realized the curse was lifted. It was worse than when I sailed away from my wife and child, or realized I was in the middle of a mutiny, or felt the pull of that cannon when it went over the side of the Pearl. Because even when I was missing my family so much I thought it would tear me down the middle… even when I was mourning Jack…even when I was sitting swallowed and alone at the bottom of the sea…I had hope."
Turner curled his bloody hands into fists and lifted to Wetherby Swann , at last, a killer's face.
"I lost my hope that night, in that doorway. All of my hope. Because I knew Hector Barbossa had found my son."
Swann sagged in his chair, his heart turning over in his chest. "Of course. Of course you would think William was dead."
Bill moistened his lips, the lines of his body rigid with the pain of memory. "Your question, Governor Swann, was what brought me here. To this place. To this state."
"You wanted revenge," Norrington supplied, quietly. "Against men already slated to die." No sooner was it out of his mouth then Bill turned on him.
"Don't say that like you understand what it means, boy," Turner growled at the uniformed man. "You hung those bastards. You didn't know them. That man whose blood is being drunk down by the mortar in your jail even as we speak? That was Leland Twigg. That creature had himself a taste for children." He watched Norrington swallow the information dryly. "On the odd occasion he'd take a liking to something older than fourteen." Turner spit the words out like they burned his mouth, quivering in his seat with the turbulence of something rising up inside him.
"You know the last thing Barbossa said to me, Governor, before he had me dropped into the drink? He leans over and says right in my ear, 'Bootstrap. I wish I had known what good mates you were, you and Jack. I would have given him to Twigg. I would have given him to Twigg,' he says, 'and I would have made you watch.'"
Swann caught his own horrified exhalation of breath in the palm of the hand that covered his mouth. Minutely, Bill Turner nodded.
"These were the people who'd found my William," he said. "Can you imagine the kind of death I pictured for my son, Governor? Do you have any idea what I envisioned him going through, before they took what they needed from him? Can you imagine it," Bill choked out, a tear tracing down his rage-ravaged face, "or do you need me to describe it to you?"
The hand at his mouth dropped to his heart, and Swann shook his head. "No," he said softly, remembering the scent of gunpowder hanging thickly in his home, and the way his relief that Elizabeth's was not one of the bodies had given way to the nauseating realization she wasn't there at all. "No."
"I came here for Barbossa," Turner went on, fingering a chain link. "From that first damned breath, the only thing that made me put one foot in front of the other was the thought of what I'd do to him, when I found him. This place was a stepping stone. Or so I intended." He gestured towards the door with his head. "The only thing I needed from the rest of them was a direction. Instead they had the… misfortune of delivering news of his death to me."
A gust of wind, leftover from the evening's storm, ghosted chill and swift in through the window just then, quenching several of the lantern-flames and scenting the room with rain and smoke.
"Blast," Norrington muttered, moving to re-light the smothered lamps.
In the renewed illumination, Wetherby Swann looked again on the pirate sitting before him, wearing blood and chains, and found something odd had happened. The lamps didn't reveal the same room, or the same man, that they had only moments before. The walls were not quite as close as they had been, and the table not quite so wide. The distance from one side of it to the other had diminished in the dark.
And the man who sat across it, Swann discovered with a pang, was frighteningly familiar.
"You aren't sorry, are you, Mr. Turner?" Swann asked, and it wasn't really any more of a condemnation than it was a question.
The bound man smiled, tiredly. "Of course I am, mate. I'm sorry for more things than I could make a list of in seven years at the bottom of the sea."
"But not for the death you were responsible for tonight."
Bill's thumb buffed at a tarnished spot on one of the chains. "No. I'm not sorry for that."
Long fingers laced themselves together pensively on the tabletop. They were cleaner than Bill Turner's, and less calloused. But Swann thought they had probably fit much the same around littler hands, once. "You would have killed them all if Will and Jack Sparrow hadn't stopped you, wouldn't you?"
The tired smile found a little more strength, though it lost none of its sorrow. "Every last one."
Swann nodded. "All right then," he said, softly. "All right then." He rose from his chair, feeling heavier than he had when he'd sat down. "I thank you for your candor, Mr. Turner. I…can't say it makes any of this easier…but it's what I needed to know."
Turner's head dipped just once, in acknowledgement. "Whatever you choose to do with it, Governor Swann, it was good of you to hear me out."
Bill moistened lips gone suddenly dry then, and he voiced his first and only plea of the night. "Might I…might I speak with my son now?"
"Of course," Swann said, immediately. "I'll send him."
"Only--" Bill broke off, the thought stinging. "Only if he wants to."
Wetherby Swann felt his own throat tighten. He and Elizabeth had locked horns in their time, but never, never had he had cause to fear she'd despised him for anything he'd done. She had stomped, slammed, cried, and swore –actually she'd sworn a few times more often than she'd cried, despite the mouthfuls of imported, perfumed soap – but she'd never despised him.
"I'll let him know he can come," he amended, "if he wishes. And I'll have some water brought in, so you can…tidy up."
Bill might, under other circumstances, have gotten a laugh out of someone referring to scrubbing off the splashings of a murder as "tidying up", but today, he was too grateful to be amused. "Thank you."
Just before Swann stepped through the door, Turner's voice halted him, one last time.
"You strike me as a good sort, Governor Swann," the pirate said, eyes twinkling faintly as the stars through the clouds, outside the cell window. "I approve entirely of the family Will's marrying into."
Caught off guard, it took Swann a moment, but he thought he recovered quite swiftly. "What a relief," he replied, wryly.
A guard locked the door after Swann and James Norrington had emerged.
"I wouldn't have thought it possible to get so clean a confession to something so bloody." James marveled. He shook his head, still reeling. "Will's father. Good God."
He got no response, and glanced over to see Swann, powder-pale and leaning against the corridor wall, lips agape as if he'd frozen in the act of speaking. "Sir?" James queried, concerned.
Swann seemed to drag his focus up to Norrington. "What a terrible thing it must be," he uttered finally, "mourning your child."
Norrington approached him, green eyes troubled. "Unquestionably, sir," he agreed. "But there are things even grief that terrible cannot excuse."
"How could you bear it?" Swann went on as if James hadn't spoken, one hand tossed absently, imploringly, into the air. "How could you not go mad?"
"Sir, with all respect," Norrington ventured, "I think you need to take a step back from this. I can certainly sympathize with what the man's gone through--"
"Can you, James?" Swann broke in. "Can you really? You'll have to forgive me if I doubt that." He pinned the startled officer with a look that burned. "Even I can't fathom what that man went through. When Elizabeth was taken, I could hardly breathe for fear of what might be happening to her. It was agony, James, wondering if I'd ever see her again, but as horrible as it was, it wasn't the same as what that man in there went through." He stabbed a rigid finger towards the door. "There, but for the grace of God, James. Elizabeth was returned to me, and I never had to find out what I would have done in that man's place. If I'd ever believed she was gone…truly gone…" He shook his head, rubbing at one temple. "I just don't know. I don't know what I might have done, and if I don't know that…" He leaned back against the wall, hands laid together and pressed against his mouth. "How can I put to death someone that I could have been, James?" Swann demanded, torment straining his voice. "How can I do that, when I still sometimes dream that she didn't come home?"
He looked away then, and James found he didn't want to know what it was the other man was seeing that stole the blood from his face. He had no answer for his old friend, so he made no attempt at one.
His voice wasn't the one that would carry this time, anyway. Even without any discussion of it, James knew that much. For better or for worse, the burden of choice had been taken from him, silently, when they had taken their places to hear a murderer's story. Wetherby Swann would be the one to decide Bill Turner's fate.
"Shall I go and get Will?" James offered gently. The older man shook his head in refusal.
"No. I'll do it." He straightened, wearily. "If you would, however, please see about getting Mr. Turner some wash water." He moved past Norrington slowly, as if he ached. "This won't be a conversation he'll want to have covered in that dog's blood."
Bill scrubbed his nails vigorously against the palms of his hands, and soaped his arms to the elbows before rinsing the rusty red lather off in the large basin one of the marines had brought to him. Commodore Norrington had accompanied the guard, and as soap, water, and linens were laid out on the table, the commodore had produced a key and unlocked Bill's shackles.
"I'm not going to put you back in these before your son comes in, Mr. Turner, and I'm going to allow the two of you your privacy," Norrington had informed him, briskly. "But the corridor beyond this room will be filled with armed men. Do not make me regret the allowance."
Bill rubbed wet hands over his face and neck, and briefly through his hair, before drying off. He watched the blood-tinged soap bubbles burst and dissipate in the basin, and felt something deep inside him unclench a little more.
Fare thee well, Mr. Twigg. I'm sure Old Nick has a real special place in his pits for your sort. If you bump into Hector down there, tell him Bootstrap says hello.
He was folding the rag when he heard the door open. Laying it to drape neatly on the rim of the washbasin, he waited until he heard it close again.
Then he found himself waiting longer still, and he smiled.
"You used to do that when you'd come into our room in the middle of the night, you know," he said fondly. "You'd just stand beside the bed, quiet as goose down, and wait for one of us to wake up. I never could figure out why you wouldn't just reach over and give one of us a shake."
Bill turned, his smile growing, and found Will hovering just inside the door, tight as salt-soaked rigging, eyes enormous.
"Aye, that's the face I'd see above me when I'd finally open my eyes." Bill leaned back, half sitting on the table, and gestured to the chair. "Come sit with me, Will. Please."