He Brings Her Gold
Spoilers for all three movies. Set post-World's End, with a nod to the extra scene post-credits.
He brings her gold. Jewels from the coast of Africa; necklaces from dancers in Singapore. In Tortuga, he finds couriers willing to listen to cold men offering nightly bargains. They carry his missives to her securely, and those who succumb to greed find themselves adrift at sea, on empty ships in empty waters.
Elizabeth has her inheritance in Port Royal to collect, and though there must be a new governor instated, she is not lacking in means to support herself with. Her fortune does much to secure the fledgling loyalties of Singapore. Though she shares little in the way of heritage or language, she is not afraid to use violence to bridge the gap, and that has always been a universal dialect.
The sun rises and sets.
The Nine Pieces of Eight are sworn again - not on coins, for while half the Lords are slightly more profitable than their predecessors, not all are willing to risk their pocket money - but this time for formality, not ritual. Sao Feng's territories pass on to their new Lord, and if any fleets still wish to consult the Pirate King on the subject of war, Will does not hear of it. He watches the passing of the dead, and listens to the whispers of ghosts, but there are no rebellions blooming to flood the sea with bloated flesh.
The smell of Elizabeth on his clothing fades. He locks his headscarf in a wooden box and takes it out only on occasion, pressing it against his nose and mouth as he breathes in the last waning scent of her, ignoring the tang of the sea.
Will is a blacksmith by trade and by nature. This has not changed on his transition to piracy; this has not changed since the loss of his heart. He is a smith, and he takes to his new responsibilities with the same unbreakable patience that once hammered flaws from metal, forging and smelting and reforging again and again until each blade could hold its own weight.
World's End is strange when there is no tragedy involved, no great chase, no purpose for him to be there other than to be. The Dutchman's bulk sits low upon the waves. Will feels its momentum come to a slow crawl, meandering in the water.
Below his perch, the dead are crossing the surface of the sea.
Some of them go singly; others, in pairs, with a lantern in each of their boats to guide their way. Underneath it all floats the pale membrane of lost souls, mouths opened in silent wails, eyes closed as they swim blind for eternity.
Both streams are never-ending. Part of Will hopes that if he watches for long enough, they'll simply stop; then he realizes what that would mean for the world, and sighs.
"What is it I do here now?" he offers hopelessly aloud, looking at the endless stream of dead bodies shimmering underneath the waves. "Go fishing, and hope I catch a good one?"
Hot fingers twine through the ponytail where it rests against his neck. Hot laughter echoes in his ear. He starts to turn, and then his nose catches the smell of her: salt and sand and the thick musk of human skin, remembered from days spent sailing with the clove-reek of her on every inch of the decks.
"Tia Dalma," he breathes, unwittingly, and then, "Calypso."
She flinches away at the second name more than the first, but by the time he glances over, she is already changing skins. Dark skin blurs into pale, into sky, into wind and then back again into the form he last met her. The kohl-dots on her skin have not changed, he notices. He wonders if they will.
Her lips part slowly in a grin before the expression vanishes, tempered back to a practical tilt of her head. "The ship knows." Sweeping away from him, Calypso runs her fingers along the railing. Above them both, the sails ripple once in greeting. "You must pull them from de waters. Bring them to de skies beyond so they can see what lies waiting there."
"And that's it?" The answer appears simple, but Will knows how even small tasks can become complex. Metal must be treated with care, lest it become brittle; piracy is a game played with allies who become enemies at a moment's notice. "All of it? No... resurrecting skeletons with fishbones, or invocations with rum?"
"All." Calypso's eyes grow hooded with amusement. "But try de rum anyway."
He laughs a little, appreciating the humor at the end of the world. The crew is watching them both; he barks out orders, notices how quickly they scurry towards the rowboats. Time enough to start working, he thinks. Davy Jones abandoned years of souls to wander doomed. It will take that long and more to fix what has been left to rot.
As he climbs down to the main deck, tightening the buckles of his clothes and reseating his swordbelt on his hips, Calypso speaks again.
"Ten years be a long time, William Turner." Her voice ripples with accents. She murmurs with the voices of all the women who have ever stood widowed by the sea, a hundred mourning tongues. "Can ye be faithful for so long?"
"Ten years," he replies steadily, "and ten more, and ten more. Ten more as long as it takes."
In a flash, she is Tia again, and not-Tia. "If ye ever grow bored," she drawls, her hair bleeding into Elizabeth's bright curls for the cruelty of one moment, "ye know where ta find me."
The Flying Dutchman does not like him at first; she leaves splinters waiting dangerously wherever he touches her, jerks her doors and sticks the locks. He remains patient. The mules in the smithy were just as ill-tempered, and he learned the ways that they understood kindness.
Eventually, she tolerates him well enough.
It is hard to think of his father as actually being on the ship. Will has spent so long without him that sometimes it feels as if there are two people there: Bootstrap the pirate, and the father that Will has always wanted to know. Both serve as Mr. Turner on the crew. It takes a while for Will to become used to that too, even as his own name has become Captain Turner, the second Davy Jones.
There are others who remain. Maccus is gone, but Bootstrap takes up the responsibilities of first mate, and the galleon is well-tended. He learns other names, as they some of them stay, and some of them leave, freed from Jones's restraints. The old crew teaches the new how to play Liar's Dice, and for a full afternoon, the cups rattle and wagers dance upon the air.
They veer further into blue waters, ignoring boundaries of country and free. Storms chase the horizon. The Dutchman chases the storm. On the heels of hurricane winds, they find a merchant vessel dashed against the rocks, and to this the Dutchman is drawn.
The crew know their business. They line up the survivors, who are all shivering and twitching with seawater and cold. Only five sailors still cling to life; the souls of the rest are already trickling away, slipping into the ocean like so much salt.
At first Will only blinks at the display, feeling a curious yearning inside him. Inherited instincts - grafted onto him to replace the empty gap where his heart once beat. They swell now, roaring like whirlpools in his chest.
"The question, boy." Bootstrap's gravely voice has a hint of urgency. "Present the question."
Will crouches by the first man. The sailor is trembling, terrified. Blood is running from the man's arm, bones crushed and twisted. He will not last long.
"Do you fear death?" he offers, gently, and sees the man jerk his head forward in a nod.
The words continue to flow out of Will's mouth then, effortless as the tide. It feels good to speak them. It feels right. "Then join my crew, and you may postpone that final judgement for one hundred years. Will you serve?"
Some of the sailors choose death. Others assemble on the deck. Their presence aboard the ship adds weight to the gauziness of Will's thoughts. By watching them, he understands the nature of the devil's bargain gradually, like a pearl washing itself out of sand: fearful deaths lead to violent spirits, and those who are not at peace may be called back once more for ill deeds. That which died in agony must be put to rest.
This is the purpose of the years that his sailors swear to him. One day - one day always will come, whether it takes one year or a hundred - that peace is found, and their ghosts will be finally prepared to move on. His is the ship when they could not find one. He is their ferryman, to lend them his oars when they have none.
Death has made him generous. He lets his sailors go when they are ready.
He learns the shape of the Dutchman as she reveals herself to him, sinking below the waves and riding safely down the falls at World's End; she dives and brings him safely to the surface on either side of the world. She will never appear perfectly new, despite his best efforts to mend the sails. Her purpose is to inspire fear and dread in the living, for death is not a thing they are meant to chase, to fall in love with.
Too, he comes to understand the Locker on the day one of his newer recruits goes wild. The fistfight is broken up quickly, but a week in the brig to curb the man's temper provides fruitless, and they all become sick of hearing him scream.
Bootstrap comes to him, offering rum and a question. "Will you lash him?"
Will hesitates, feeling destiny branch out before him like moonlight over water. Lashing would be an appropriate punishment. Lashing was practiced often on the Dutchman, when Davy Jones had command. Following precedence could hardly be considered hardly a weakness.
The skin on Will's back suddenly aches.
A handful of his sailors drag the man unceremoniously into a boat and haul him out to the beach of the Locker. Hadras's jangled cursing ripples out over the waves as he kicks the doomed man ashore.
Will stays in the rowboat.
Tia is bored enough that day to come visiting; she lets one of the island crabs trundle over her fingers as she stands in the surf, half-on, half-off land. He envies her that only briefly. He knows better than to dare even a single step; one attempt was bad enough, and the pain lasted for days.
On occasion, Will has seen the punished walking on the shores of the Locker, calling out mad words with mad tongues - but more often, the souls vanish, as if they are becoming invisible, or a part of the island. The Locker never seems full.
"Do they find peace out here, on their own?" he asks, without turning his head. "Do their boats come for them at last?"
"Maybe," Tia states, drawling the word long enough that it separates out into abandoned syllables. The crab pauses on her fingers and she lets it drop, watches it burrow back across the sand. "May-be."
He does not look for Barbossa among the drowned. He does not look for Jack.
On his first visit, ten years gone, the space between the ship and the shore cannot be closed fast enough. He means to speak first about how Elizabeth is doing, to learn what has transpired in his absence - but when he sees his wife, all he can do is hold her tight in his arms, tight enough that he can feel her against every inch of his body, legs and chest and hips and his nose in her hair.
Her flesh twitches when he slides his hands up her back; her shoulders are bunched. He wonders how much contact she has had with other human beings, and how much she is allowing herself.
Once he thinks he can control his voice again - throat gone tight from all the emotions he has neatly shuffled away while out to sea, or perhaps it's proximity to his heart. To her - his heart. He doesn't know. But once he has control over his voice again and some of the pain has loosened from his chest, and his eyes are no longer stinging half as much, he brushes the hair back from her face. Her bangs are damp and matted. She has been crying too.
"If you desire anyone else on this world, anyone at all, then have them," he tells her. A part of himself breaks a little as he speaks, but as he's standing there, looking at her, all he can think of is the need to soothe every moment of every day of her life. "All I need is to know that your heart still treasures mine. That's more than enough."
She closes her eyes.
"I need no other touch than yours," is her reply. When she laces her fingers with his, he sees that she is wearing the ring he sent on his third shipment: a band of gold and sapphires that he found in matched to a plainer band. Their original owners, he'd never know; the pair had been dredged up with a collection of other treasures from the ocean floor, tarnished and tangled with weeds. It is a poor excuse for a wedding band. He hasn't found one better.
He lets himself lose his thoughts for a while, wandering his fingers across her features as if tracing a map. "You're still young," her mouth says underneath his thumb. She sounds surprised. "You haven't changed a bit."
"Neither have you," is his reply. He touches her cheek with the crook of his fingers, ignoring the small creases in the corners of her eyes, and he smiles. "You are as beautiful as ever."
She graces him with a wicked grin before glancing over her shoulder, beckoning to the child who is huddled behind a rock, eyes wide. "Your son," she says, and the boy slinks forward, torn between fear and awe. His hand clenches itself in the hem of Elizabeth's jacket. Will steps back to look at him better.
They speak for a while, as Elizabeth does her best to familiarize him with this boy - this third William - and Will spends half his time marveling at the expression in his son's eyes. He wonders if he ever looked like that, so lost while still on shore, so hopeful. So willing to hate and love, and undecided on either.
When it is time for them to part, he makes certain to speak with his son directly. "Don't forget that I am here," he promises the boy. All his own childhood, he thought his father gone - he will not allow his own son to feel the same, even if he will not be there in person. "I am always out there, on the sea."
He thinks that is the end of it there, but Elizabeth catches his sleeve as he leans down to heave the rowboat into the water.
"Will," she tells him, urgently enough that he pause and lets the rowboat settle back on the sand, "I have heard that it is possible, after ten years, that the captain of the Dutchman can be freed - "
He swallows hard, and wants.
Then he draws a deep, careful breath, and remembers nights spent out on glassy waters thinking about that same exact possibility.
"The ship must have a captain," he reminds her gently. He cannot meet her gaze. "The dead need someone to take care of them as well, or else they become monsters. Who do you have in mind to sacrifice for the duty?"
Her hand latches on his shirt; she's wrenched him around before he can stop her, brilliant with rage. "The job isn't necessary, Will. People died before Davy Jones made his vow. They will die without you!"
It takes a fight before he can best her, and even then it is an unsteady thing, her wrists in his hands and his knees straddling her hips. Her body is hard with muscle. Piracy has done well by her.
"They will die," he acknowledges, panting his breath back into his lungs. "And who knows what manner of captain might come next?"
His son is not there the next time he visits. Elizabeth, dressed in dark silk leggings and a vestcoat, looks like she's come directly from the planks of a ship. The braid is gold; Singapore loves its Pirate Lord. From her sash dangles a collection of silver trinkets, detailed to resemble creatures of the sea.
The metal catches his attention in ways he cannot define. When Elizabeth swats his hand, he realizes that he was reaching out to touch them.
"William is angry with you," she ventures, striding out of reach. Her eyes brim; she looks away. He can only guess what has transpired. "He is angry with me, for not moving on."
Futility is a weight that drags on both the living and the dead. Will sighs. "I lived without a father for a time," he whispers, and his gaze breaks free of the trinkets to look back towards the sea, towards the dark blot of the Dutchman as she flirts with the sullen noontime waves. His chest tightens, and then loosens again under forgiveness. "I remember what it was like, believing him to be a good man, but always absent."
Elizabeth catches the turn of his mood without needing explanation, gathering the sash and burying it beneath a fold of her jacket. "It is better to think of a man alive and out of reach," she replies acerbically, "rather than them dead."
"I thought so, once." Will's laugh is unexpectedly bitter, all the more so because he knows how convoluted the truth can become, looping around itself until it's impossible to determine what to hate most. "I believed my father was a merchant as well. Instead, he was a pirate. And now our son is given a similar lie - told that I'm off sailing the world and sending back treasure, a pirate bravely charting unknown waters."
"At least piracy is better than running a merchanteer." Elizabeth has come closer; she has shed her jacket, and the sash with it. Her hair is even longer than he remembers. It is beautiful in his hands. "Mr. Gibbs advises me on some of his education, when he is near port. Our son doesn't hate you, Will. He only misses you. He wants to know you. That's all."
Will discovers that he's smiling despite the gravity of the situation; after ten years and more, it becomes so easy to drink in the sound of Elizabeth's voice, to worry about the world later and spend his attention on her now. Part of him knows he is not thinking properly, using the correct perspective and judgement; the rest of him doesn't care. Elizabeth is here. "If our son were a sailor," he acknowledges, "he would meet with me more often, it is true. But I do not want to drag his body from the waves after a storm, Elizabeth. Do you?"
Of all the answers she has to offer, she wraps her arms around him tight. At first he relaxes into her grasp; then, when he glances down, he catches a glimpse of the expression she is trying to hide against his chest. There is something ugly glimmering in her eye, something ugly and determined and deeply private.
"Tell me at least that you do not play that horrible organ music," she whispers eventually, when the silence is too uncomfortable to be anything other than pretense.
"I've thought about replacing it with a harpsichord," he admits, and she laughs and pushes him down on the sands, and he forgets for a little while about Elizabeth's ability to make her own ruthless plans.
He does not know if Elizabeth ever takes him up on his offer of freedom. He does not care. Calypso sits on the prow of his ship at times and sings full the sails, and Will closes his eyes each night in his empty bed and thinks about the generosities of love.
He learns a little during each visit, each ten-year-cycle that feels more and more like a long week spent at the smithy with a day permitted to rest. The labor is not onerous. He learns that their son has attended higher education. Their son is a fine man with a head for figures, working in Singapore to help stabilize the black market accounts there - and though their son knows all the pirate calls, all the songs, Elizabeth says he does not sail the waters.
Will is grateful upon hearing this.
"He still mails back for news of you, Will," she tells him, tracing her fingers along his arm. Her laugh is still sweet, though a little breathless if she has been walking for too long, or too far. "My crews tell me he has become quite studious."
He asks about her crews next, anxious to check on those who guard her, as he cannot.
Her men are loyal enough to her these days, though she sails less and less. She has picked up a new first mate - a man who styles himself as Li Bai - and Gibbs still visits, when he can, along with others from the older crews. She is not alone.
He knows that there are things that Elizabeth does not share with him. He has learned that lesson already, and has used it himself, finding that dark foothold inside of himself that kept him alive so well when he crafted ploys to turn pirate upon pirate and back again. He does not tell Elizabeth about what he finds floating in the ocean: about bodies wrapped in the flag of the East India Trading Company, about ghosts who whisper her name.
It comes on a day when he is not on the World's Edge: Elizabeth finds her own boat into the afterlife, and does not pass him along the way.
When he goes to the meeting spot, she is not waiting on the beach.
There is a man lurking there instead, dressed in dark silks and cords. His hair is long, tied back in a single plait: black frosted with lines of grey, age creeping in already on the downbeat of mortality. A pair of round spectacles adorns the bridge of his nose. Elizabeth's sash is wrapped around his waist, glittering with silver and heavy with jade. His demeanor is polished smooth and dangerous, like Cutler Beckett - like a man who is accustomed to having something to hide.
And there is more. In the man's eyes, Will can see resentment - see it and recognize it, his own tortured willingness for knowledge.
It's his son.
There's a wildness in the boy's face, a harshness that was not there before; when Will realizes that, he also realizes that he cannot judge what might have occurred to put it there, because the last time he saw William was when the boy was only a child.
But in the way that his son moves, all fierceness inside the neat vest and folded silks, like an anger finally bleeding into ruthlessness - that, Will understands, because he knew what it was to move like that, before the end. When the world consisted of Jack's betrayals and Elizabeth's betrayals and his own, all gambled against each other, just as inclined to stab the man beside him as to help.
The word is enough. Will gives his acknowledgment by lowering his head.
"My mother is gone." A half-step forward, and Will's son lifts his foot, dragging a fold of cloth away from a mass lying in wait on the ground. A chest is underneath, familiar enough that its presence is damning. "This was among her possessions."
A slow, solemn thump, and the heart finishes its contraction.
Will holds himself very carefully.
"I've been sailing for these last twenty years without telling her." The man pushes up his spectacles with a finger, a trifle defensively. The nails of the littlest fingers have grown long, and Will wonders what else his son has learned from pirates in Singapore. "I am the Lord of the South China Sea, the true Li Bai. Ownership of the Empress transferred to me secretly, in accordance to my plans with the crew. My mother's captains have reported to me all this while."
Somehow, Will finds himself more amused by surprise, or perhaps thankful; it would have been a shame if any child of Elizabeth grew up tame. "You take after your mother."
His son flushes at the implicit accusation. "I never held treason against her." Passion in the claim, but Will can believe it. "When I was fifteen, after I learned of what my mother was investing her life in studying, I dreamed that the sea came to me in the form of a beautiful lady -"
"Did she," Will remarks, lifting a brow.
"- who said that you had been trapped by the devil's bargain, bound by trickery to the ruined ship known as the Flying Dutchman. She said that there was a way to free you. I watched what my mother tried to keep hidden from me," he continues, "and I learned."
With that, the man strikes his hand down Elizabeth's sash, arching his fingers to touch each of the dangling trinkets so that the silver jingles. The noise rises; Will feels it ringing in his ears even though he can see the trinkets go still, ringing and beating like a thousand hammers on a thousand black anvils.
Elizabeth, he thinks, and knows she never would have accepted fate as easily as she had pretended to, and wonders what else he might have missed noticing.
He draws breath, shakily, feeling the unnatural sound still continue to weaken his bones. His son is continuing to speak; Will tries to focus on the words through the pain.
"She could have trapped you." Another jangle. "But she chose to let you sail. Why?"
"Because," Will gasps, feeling his guts twist and heave, "the seas must remain free."
The sounds loosen their grasp on him all at once; he comes back to himself on his knees in the sand, shuddering with each nerve plucked tight. His son is walking forward. Will can hear his bootsteps draw close, and then stop.
"She searched for years for a way to open the chest and retrieve the heart safely." Each word lands heavily on Will's ears, as if he were in a fever. "I did the same, without her knowledge. We both found many answers. But never, never," his son states, and the words are more like a growl, "could either of us find the key."
Before Will can fully recover, his son scoops up the chest, dangling it from one hand. Scorn twists his lips. "I could never open it, not when I was a child, and not even now. But I could hear what was inside. You're a monster," he states flatly, an accusation set in stone that has already weathered doubt and come away strong. "And you're my father. You destroyed her."
Will's hands are numb. "I loved her."
Emotion contorts the man's face. He hurls the chest at Will's feet; inside, the heart thuds against the corner, and Will feels something lurch painfully inside his bones in translated pain. It hurts so badly to be this close to his heart. It hurts, and he thinks of Elizabeth, and about what he might have missed over the years, caught between two worlds and trying to hold a grip on both.
"If your mother is gone," he states slowly, "then there is no more reason for me to remain. It is proper for the Flying Dutchman to take another captain. It is time for me to join her."
His son watches as Will reaches out with shaking fingers to gather the chest into his arms. "Is that why you have come this last time? To say goodbye, before you even stayed?" In the silence, the man's voice rises. "When I was young, my life was nothing but the sea. My mother told me about fantastical things - of the Curse of the Aztec Gold, of Calypso's Wrath and more. But no one spoke of you. I knew your name, and everyone said you were a good man, but that was all. If you loved her so much," and now he is shouting, vowels sliding over each other like fish in a net, rich with all the inflections of pirates from England to Singapore, "why didn't you take her with you? Why didn't you take us both?"
In those questions, Will hears his own voice echoing again, young and old conflicting, a twelve-year-old boy adrift in search of a man who had vanished without ever being known. Of a parent locked on a ship of death, rattling a cup of dice in his hands, unwilling to force his child to pay the same price.
It is a yearning that Will recognizes: hating the truth but wanting so badly for it to have a place for you, to be welcomed, to be given knowledge, to belong.
He wonders if Calypso would prefer a new Davy Jones, one who loved her above all, rather than holding another in their hearts. He wonders how often, in their meetings, Elizabeth ran her fingers over him in what he thought was affection, and was instead a calculated search.
There is a band on his son's finger; there are two. For all he knows, his son may have children of his own. His son has a living life, entrusted to him by Elizabeth and Will both.
And this matter, above all others - in the same way that Will has felt the decks of the Dutchman heave beneath him and adopt white sails instead of black, has found the Dutchman's crew human again instead of monster - in this matter, Will thinks he understands the final balance that must be struck as captain between the living and the dead. All this time, he thought he could save both. All this time, in all the twisting loyalties of pirates, he thought there was never a final decision that had to be made that could never be undone.
"Is it so easy to choose between all that you love?" he asks his son, and sees the mark hit when his son flinches.
He gets to his feet without further challenge. The chest is wedged securely underneath one arm. He has one hand on the rowboat and half the boat in the water when the reply finally comes, so quietly that he wonders if he imagines it: "Will you take me away, father? Or will you leave forever?"
Despite himself, Will looks back at his son. Underneath the anger and suspicion and need, he sees a person whom Elizabeth has also loved, a part of both himself and his wife. More his wife than himself; Will only set foot on land every ten years, but Elizabeth has been there for them all.
"A touch of destiny," he whispers back, remembering words spoken on a simpler day that defined them all. "Perhaps."
That evening, Will watches the sun go down over the waves. The Dutchman will follow it eventually, turning sky to sea and back again, but for now there is light everywhere.
Will sits on the railing, and he sits alone. His son is not with him; his son is still on the beach: confused, upset, but alive. Will does not know yet if he plans to visit the beach in ten years time - or if there will be anyone waiting, should he take that chance - but at least his own son will not follow in the cycle of the Turners. The gods may be bound and freed. Souls may gamble the hours of their own existence.
Elizabeth's child will walk free.
The presence of the chest on the Dutchman is painful. With it near, he feels every passing minute like an eternity again, like something mortal, impatient and struggling for each brief moment of experience before its inevitable death. It will be buried eventually on an island safe, or perhaps some sunken cove, but for now it must journey with him for a while.
He thinks of gold, and all the gold he ever had to give.