It was already past sunset when the Flying Dutchman sailed into the harbor. The pale golden light of the setting sun was fading quickly. A cool, damp breeze blowing in from the west ruffled the man's white shirt and what of his unruly curls couldn't or wouldn't be constrained by his faded green bandana. The air felt like rain. It actually looked like it could rain too, with the heavy dark clouds scudding the sky, but Will knew it was just a false promise - it never rained in this place. He hadn't noticed that odd detail during his first few months here, but then he began to miss it. Everywhere that he had ever lived had been the recipient of copious amounts of precipitation. There had been times in his life when he didn't think he could stand yet another rainy day, but now one would be most welcome – if for no other reason than to have a change of pace. Maybe tomorrow, when he returned home, it would rain. In the meantime, he would just have to be patient. As with almost every thing else, it was the only viable choice he had.
This was to be his last full day as captain – a position he eagerly anticipated handing over to someone else at sunrise. Right now, the most likely candidate for "someone else" was his own father -"Bootstrap" Bill Turner. As befitting his final voyage in the land of the dead, it had been one of the busier days they had experienced in quite some time. While there had been no major seafaring disasters that day, there had been several small boating accidents, some accidental drownings, assorted seafarers who had been buried at sea, and the unfortunate requisite deaths resulting from acts of violence. The Caribbean was a dangerous place to live.
As a result the ship had quickly filled to capacity requiring it to make port this evening. Had Will been given a choice he would have just allowed the ship to drift aimlessly while he waited for these last few hours to pass. Unfortunately, there was never any way to tell when there would be more souls to rescue, so Will and his crew had no choice but to deliver their charges as quickly as possible. And although he couldn't be positive, he was reasonably sure that crossing back to the land of the living with a ship full of lost souls wasn't the best of plans. For that matter, it was unlikely even possible.
Captain Will Turner stood alone on the forecastle impassively staring out at the ever darkening sky and water. This is where he always came when he wanted to be left alone. He liked the quiet and the smell of the salt air. It was his place of solitude among the ship's solitude. No one save Bootstrap dared to disturb him there and then only in the case of a matter that could not be resolved without his input. After this many years guiding the ghost ship through the trackless seas, there were few things that couldn't be done without him. As Jack would have said, it made his presence aboard the Dutchman a bit superfluous. The only thing he was really responsible for anymore was telling the crew when they had souls to collect and where they would be.
The strip of beach where they delivered the souls was rapidly approaching on the horizon. Will has always imagined that the land mass was an overly large island, but in truth he did not know. Apparently no one knew. Few things, if any, in the land of the dead, followed convention. Time, distance, location, direction – everything- had their own rules and even then they were subject to change. In his entire ten years ferrying the souls of those lost at sea to this place he had never learned what it was called. He honestly didn't know if it had a name or not. Everyone aboard the Dutchman simply referred to it as "port." He only took it for granted that it was always the same place they had been before. Everything tended to look the same of this side. In actuality, all that really mattered was that this was the place that the souls in his charge disembarked and were sent on – some to their reward, some to purgatory, and some to far worse punishments. None of that was any of Will's concern, even if he had wanted it to be, – although he usually had a sense of what their ultimate destinations were. Mostly he chose not to think about it.
Off in the distance, still too far to see clearly, Will could make out the lights of the pilot boat sent to guide his ship in. Also barely visible was the flickering light cast off by the lanterns hanging from the lamp posts that lined the long pier. It was what was visible at the far end of that pier that always unsettled Will. So much so, that he always preferred delivering his precious cargo in the dark of night. It made it much easier for him to imagine what he saw was ordinary fog or something similar. He sighed with relief that he would be spared the unsettling daytime vista, on this, his last night as captain. He had enough things on his mind without thinking about that too.
For the first two years of his duty he assumed that everyone saw the same thing on shore. It was quite by accident that he learned otherwise -that every soul saw something different. For as long as he could, Will had intentionally kept his distance from those who had been placed in his care, but one small child had broken him from his self imposed isolation – a child of no more than eight who had been taken from his home against his will and later perished during a storm. He had been all alone aboard the massive ship - much as Will had also been once. For that reason and none other, Will had personally taken him in into his care. It was from that boy that Will Turner had learned what was truly at the end of the pier.
"It's my home," the boy had said with wonderment in his voice. "We're back in Florida. It's Saint Augustine! Can't you see the Castillo?" The boy had stretched up on his toes to get a better view and then started to cry. "It's my mother! She's waiting for me," his voice breaking with sorrow. "That means she's dead too, doesn't it?"
Will hadn't known how to answer the boy. It still pained him to remember the incident. It also bothered him that he had never asked the child's name. Until that very moment he hadn't know that those who had passed on could see an actual place and were welcomed there by their loved ones who had gone on before. From that point on, Will made a point to try to talk to the ship's passengers. He had not realized there was so much to be learned from them. The children were the hardest to deal with, so many of them had passed on before their parents - leaving no one waiting for them on this side. Will never knew exactly what happened to them once he left, but he had to believe they were well taken care of. Anything otherwise would simply be unthinkable.
Only slightly less difficult to deal with were the ones who didn't understand that they were now dead. Many of them disappeared from the ship before they reached their final destination. It was commonly said among the crew that those souls were the source of the numerous tales of ghouls and ghosts that were told throughout the Caribbean. Will had supposed that explanation was as good as any and considering what he had previously encountered in his life it did make some sort of sense to him. He often wondered what those that survived a shipwreck saw when the Dutchman would cross to their side in search of lost souls. Were they too the subject of ghost stories told around the islands?
Occasionally there were men, but inexplicably no women, who had no one left in the world they had left behind - or anyone who had gone before. It was not uncommon for them to opt to join the crew. Now that there was no longer the requirement that they serve 100 years, there had never been a shortage of willing volunteers to join the crew. As such, there had been a consistent turnover among the ship's personnel. When they were ready to pass on, Will allowed them that option. Other than Bootstrap there were only two or three of his original crew members left on board. Will hoped that would make Bootstrap's promotion from first mate to captain easier. Sailors were a superstitious lot and often didn't take well to change.
Will knew that all of his charges had lost just as much as he had, and in many cases more, but none of them were as fortunate as he was in that he had a chance to go back and start over. His greatest fear for the entire ten years was that he would one day dock the ship and he would find Elizabeth, his wife, waiting for him on this side. He had once had to choose between his wife and his father. He did not ever want to have to choose between her and their son. He knew his worry was totally irrational, but he could never quite escape it - at dawn, that worry would no longer be an issue.
The sound of the Harbor Master yelling directions at the crew pulled Will from his day dream. He picked up his spyglass to see if he could make out any of the people waiting that evening. He could recognize his mother from the dark brown dress that she always wore, but did not yet recognize anyone else. Normally, they could only be seen by the people they were waiting for, but every time they returned Will could see more and more of them. He had mentioned the anomaly a few times, but no one knew what it meant or why it happened to him and him alone. Could it be because I am the only one here trapped between the living and the dead? Will Bootstrap be able to do the same once he takes over?
They were still too far out to make out any details of the land behind the beach. Not that there would have been much for him to see. All Will had ever seen beyond the narrow strip of white sand was sort of a swirling mist. He couldn't even say for sure what color it was. If pushed for an answer he would have said gray, but that wasn't quite right either. It was as if something was about to come into focus for him, but never quite made it. He had noticed that as his charges passed into it, they completely vanished from his view. It might appear translucent to him, but it was, in fact, quite opaque. He could still remember the day, a little more than three years into his commitment, when he has asked his father what he thought was on the other side of the hazy barrier.
Bootstrap's eyes had narrowed with a lack of comprehension. "Glasgow," he said. "But I imagine you see Port Royal. That is where you're to meet Elizabeth, isn't it?"
Will turned from his father to look at the shore. "I don't see anything."
"I suppose that's because you've haven't died quite like the rest of us have. You see where you were happiest during your life. Yours isn't finished yet – yours has hardly begun," Bootstrap explained.
Bootstrap's answer had given Will a much needed boost of hope that day. It had been weeks since he had been able to see Elizabeth for even a moment, months since he had been able to touch her or talk to her. It was easy to convince himself that if he could not see where he had been happiest in life instead of the mysterious fog, that must mean he had not experienced that part yet. Surely that would involve Elizabeth and William.
"What about the people waiting on shore and on the dock?" Will had then asked.
"They're the ones you loved and loved you during your lifetime. They can sense when you've passed on and come to escort you on the remainder of your journey. I would have expected since you don't see a place that you wouldn't see the people either."
But Will did see the people and that did not make sense to him either. He had noticed both that Bootstrap hadn't looked him in the face when he answered and that he sounded guilty. Now that he thought about it, he supposed he should have noticed and long ago asked why some of the crew members, even his father, would frequently leave the ship and go ashore for as long as they could before it was time to head out to sea once more. It wasn't until Will mentioned the seemingly odd custom to one of the crew that he learned his own mother would often be there waiting for Bootstrap. At first, he was hurt by the idea that she had not wanted to see him too. She had raised him virtually alone. He was her only child. How could she wait so patiently for the man who had abandoned her and her son to go pirating, but not for that child too? Had he been more burden than beloved child to her?
And then one day, more than a year later, that had changed. Will had again been waiting on deck, gazing off at the nothingness at the end of the dock, trying to imagine what Elizabeth and William might be doing at that moment, when his father asked him to accompany him ashore. He had learned early on that as long as he stayed on the dock he wouldn't be violating any of the restrictions of his duty. Stepping onto the beach, however, would result in his being bound to stay in the land of the dead forever. And so he had silently followed his father down the gangplank and towards the shore. He hadn't gone more than twenty yards before she came into view. He remembered thinking how odd it was that he hadn't noticed her standing there before that, as he had been looking in that direction. But perhaps that was just another of the unusual way things worked here.
Margaret "Meg" Turner clapped both of her hands over her mouth and began to cry as soon as she saw her son. The last time she had seen him he had been a shy, albeit resourceful, somewhat gangly, eleven-year-old boy who idolized his absent father. It was hard for her to still see that boy in the tall, handsome, self-assured man standing before her. And yet there was no doubt they were one and the same person.
"Will?" she breathed, her voice barely audible – her dark eyes glistening with tears and the reflection of her disbelief at seeing him standing before her.
Will simply nodded as he stepped forward and wrapped his arms around his mother. She was much shorter than he remembered, but then again he was also much taller. He had never much paid attention before to her chocolate brown eyes and curly brown hair that so matched his own. Most notable to him was the fact that she was no longer deathly pale and rail thin from her long illness. He had taken care of her as best he could during her illness, but she still had died far too young. That tragedy had started Will on his path to where he was today and hopefully, where he would end up at dawn tomorrow.
As the two of them stood there, hugging each other tightly, Will rocking his mother back and forth, Meg crying softly, he noticed Bootstrap standing slightly behind Meg, staring at the wooden planks beneath his feet, hands clasped behind his back, shuffling nervously. He recognized the body language that spoke volumes about how much guilt Bootstrap was feeling at any given moment. Meg sensed something bothering Will – proof that a mother's instincts never faded and released her grip on him. She put one hand on each of his cheeks and tilted his face towards her. Her eyes were still leaking tears and now Will's threatened the same. He had always been close to his mother and still grieved her passing. It had never occurred to him that he would ever see her again.
Meg closed her eyes for a moment and softly sighed before reopening them to examine her son's face closely. Her eyes were sad, but she had a faint, consoling smile on her face. "It hasn't been more than a few hours, has it? I wouldn't have known yet if your father hadn't told me. I always hoped you wouldn't turn pirate too"
Will realized he had forgotten how much he loved listening to his mother's voice - the musical lilt of it making him think of her native Scotland. He remembered too, how, as a child, he had wanted to know why he didn't sound like her. Had not he been born in her home town of Glasgow? To his little boy way of thinking, the fact that the family had moved to London just a few weeks after his birth played no part in how his accent developed. He had always wanted to sound like his mother. Whether that was a result of how much he adored her or the consequences of a mostly absent father Will did not know. It certainly didn't matter now.
The words his mother had spoken slowly sank into Will's brain. His brow knitted in confusion. What she had said did not make sense to him. He cast his eyes over at Bootstrap, who was still studiously ignoring them, before looking back to his mother.
"Wouldn't have known what if he hadn't told you? Only a few hours since what? I don't understand," he said, fearing all along that he did. Almost as an after thought he added sharply, "I'm not a pirate."
Now Meg glanced over at Bootstrap and frowned - an uneasy thought beginning to form in her head. She turned back to Will and looked at him with her sad eyes. "Don't you remember? You must have drowned or at least died at sea. That's why you're here. That's why you were brought aboard the Dutchman. It shelters the souls of those lost at sea until they can be brought here." The longer she spoke the more apparent it became to her that what was bothering Will had to do with his father's behavior - and little, if anything, to do with having died. The thought made her feel very unsettled.
Will brought his own hands up and covered his mother's. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "I know," he said calmly. "I'm its captain." As the last word left his lips, Will suddenly understood the origin of Bootstrap's nervousness. All this time it hadn't been that his mother did not want to see him -she simply hadn't known he was on board the ship. Bootstrap obviously hadn't told her and since Will was technically immortal instead of dead, his mother had not been able to sense his presence.
"Bill," she said, her voice totally devoid of emotion. "Leave us. I want to talk to my son." Her dismissal of her husband was distinctly absolute and left no room for him to balk at her request. She hadn't even bothered to glance in his direction.
Will raised his head from his mother's hold and watched as Bootstrap wordlessly headed back towards the ship. He wondered why for all this time, nearly four years, his own father had never bothered to tell his mother that their only surviving child was aboard the ship. Was he afraid to admit to her the role he had played in Will's transition from deliriously happy groom to cursed, immortal sea captain? Did he not want to share what little time he had to spend with his wife - one that he had so sorely neglected while she was alive? Or was it his time with Will that he hadn't wanted to share? Either way, Meg's tone and demeanor made it clear that she did not want Bootstrap around at that moment. Bootstrap wisely chose not to argue.
Meg turned and walked over to a small bench built along the edge of the dock. Will was positive it hadn't been there before. Things appearing and disappearing like that was one of the many things that he found disquieting about this place. Meg sat down and motioned Will over. "Come, sit," she told him as she patted the seat, much as she had done when he was a small child. "Now tell me how you came to be here."
And so he had told her. He explained how he had left England to go to the Caribbean in search of Bootstrap. He told of the shipwreck and being rescued by Elizabeth. He confided in her how he had fallen in love with Elizabeth and she with him. They had been so very young then - and yet neither had realized how the other felt - nor had they ever believed they could be together. He related the story of how he had asked her to marry him – the first time - but entirely skipped the part of their story involving cursed pirates, another fiancé, and her father's disappointment that his only daughter had chosen to marry considerably beneath her station. He did not mention his fear that he had killed his own father by breaking the curse that had saved both himself and the woman he loved more than life itself. From that point the story grew harder for him to tell. He didn't relish the idea of reliving the memory of Lord Cutler Beckett arresting him and Elizabeth and sentencing them both to death during what should have been their wedding, but he did manage to reluctantly relate the tale - or at least most of it. He glossed over their trials and tribulations over the course of the next year, but happily told her of their impromptu shipboard wedding. He has stopped there, hoping that was enough, but afraid that it was not. .
Meg listened patiently and happily to the story of her son's life from the time she died until now, but the thing she wanted answered the most he had tried to avoid. She had to know and know she would - how had he died and how had he ended up as captain of that ship. Bootstrap had told her of the oath he himself had sworn to Davy Jones. He had also told her he had been freed from servitude by the new captain. He had even confessed that he was still aboard because he still felt he owed a debt to the man that had freed him. What he hadn't mentioned was that the new captain – the man quite possibly bound to sail the seas forever – was his own son.
"Will, you still haven't answered my question."
"Which question was that?"
"How you died?"
"I don't think you asked me that," Will said in attempt to again evade the topic.
He remembered that tone of voice too. It was how she sounded just before he was about to be scolded for something. It occurred to him that, to her, he still was a child and not a grown man with a child of his own. He had yet to tell her of his son and wondered what her reaction would be.
"I don't think I'm actually dead. It's more like immortal - or at least for the time being it is."
"You're avoiding my question. Every one here knows of the mission that Davy Jones was charged with. We also know what happened to him when he stopped doing the job and cut out his own heart." The color drained from Meg's face as the final few words came from her mouth. Her eyes grew wide with fear as she put one hand over her mouth and the other on her son's chest where his heart should be – but wasn't.
Will pressed his lips together and stared over his mother's head into the distance. Normally it did not bother him any more to remember that his heart was elsewhere. He knew it was safe in Elizabeth's care – and always would be. He couldn't think of anything to say to his mother. It had never occurred to him that he would see her in the land of the dead and it most certainly hadn't crossed his mind that he would one day have to explain why his heart was somewhere other than where it should be.
"It's in the Dead Man's chest, isn't it?"
Will nodded, but still didn't look at her.
"Where's the chest now?"
Will looked his mother in the eyes and noticed she was, once again, starting to tear up. He swallowed hard and hesitated for a moment. "Elizabeth has it," he said softly.
"And the key?" she asked, as she removed her hand from his chest.
He nodded. "She has that too."
"And you trust her with them," she said matter of factly, as if it was something she had always known.
"Yes," he said confidently, but quietly, as was his habit.
"And you're sure she will be there waiting to break the curse?"
"They both will. I have no doubts about that whatsoever."
"Both?" she asked, obviously confused.
"We have a son. His name is William," he answered, the pride evident in his voice.
"I'm a grandmother?" Her confusion quickly replaced by unbridled joy.
Will's face split into a huge grin. He had never thought of his mother in terms of being William's grandmother before. "I suppose you are. I wish you could meet him." The grin suddenly vanished from his face and his eyes grew sad, as reality set back in. "I wish I could see him," he said sadly. "I've done the same thing to him that Bootstrap did to me. I never wanted that." He sighed and looked out at the water. He didn't want his mother to see how much that thought bothered him, but knew that no matter what he did, she would see it anyway.
"He had a choice. You didn't." Her voice sounded cold and emotionless when she spoke.
"He's trying to make up for it now," Will offered as he turned back to face Meg.
"Only you can decide if it's too late for that or not." The sadness in her eyes had been replaced with barely controlled anger and hurt.
"I know." Will stared into his mother's face for a moment. He had been too young to fully understand how much Bootstrap had hurt her and yet how much she still loved him – or at least he thought she loved him. Now he wasn't quite so sure. He couldn't ever imagine doing to Elizabeth and William anything remotely like what Bootstrap had done to him and his mother. Meg was right. Bootstrap had freely chosen to leave his family behind. Will had been forced to leave his wife and a child he hadn't know about. For the first time, he finally understood how different he and his father actually were. He had so many other things he wanted to ask her, but he was starting to feel the now familiar pull that let him know there were souls to be rescued.
"Mother? I have to go now, we have to go now. I have a duty to fulfill." He winced as he felt the tug pull harder. It wasn't painful, but it could be uncomfortable. Some days he thought he would never get used to the sensation.
Meg beamed proudly at her son. "I understand. We can talk more next time. I'll always be here waiting for you. Don't ever forget that."
Will felt like a small child again, basking in his mother's approval as he hugged her goodbye. He then leaned down to kiss her on the forehead. Had she really always been this short? He turned to head back to the ship and noticed Bootstrap standing at the top of the gangplank watching them. He turned back around to his mother to ask her if she had any messages for him, but she was already gone – vanished into nothingness just as he had done the day he left Elizabeth.
The distinctive sound of wood scraping against wood as the gangplank slid into place on the dock snapped his attention back to the here and now. He heard footsteps coming up the steps behind him. He turned knowing that it would be Bootstrap.
"This is it. You can say your goodbyes. She'll be waiting for you."
"I know she will," he said with a smile as he headed towards his father and the steps down to the main deck.
"I imagine she won't want to see me today. Give her my best. I'm going to stay on board."
Will cocked his head to one side as he tried to make sense of what his father had said. Then it dawned on him. The "she" that would be waiting here was his mother. He had assumed his father's statement as referred to Elizabeth. As always, he had thought of her first – just as he should, just as he always would.