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A Season in Purgatory

by Melusina

 

Fandom: PoTC    Rating: PG-13    Pairing: none    Full Header

 


At the bottom of the ocean, there is no day or night, only crushing pressure and darkness. With no way to calculate the passage of time, it seemed as if Bill had spent an eternity there with only harrowing fears and phantasms to keep him company. In truth, it could only have been a few years before the leather straps rotted enough that he could rub them against a sharp rock and free himself from the cannon. Then he floated upward and tumbled in the waves for many a day, until he landed on a moonlit shore.

Yellowed bones clattered against rock as he struggled to regain his footing after so long afloat. He stumbled up the beach with some vague notion of finding a place to hide until daylight, but he halted when he came to a scene from his worst underwater imaginings: a small village, devastated in a nightmarish fashion. Broken bodies of women and children lay in the street beside men who'd died with swords and pistols in their hands, fighting -- Bill knew this with sick certainty -- an invincible foe. There was no sound but the crackling of the burning buildings. Thick black smoke obscured the moon, allowing Bill's flesh to knit itself back together.

Everywhere he looked there was waste and ruin. There a ripe young woman, her head nearly severed from her body, as if to punish her for the beauty the cursed pirates couldn't enjoy. Here a trail of gold coins carelessly littered the street. And on the hill above the town, the spire of the church blazed towards an indifferent heaven.

Bill fell to his knees in horror, wishing he had something on his stomach to retch up. He wondered if he was still at the bottom of the ocean and this naught but a dreadful dream -- for the sake of these poor souls, he wished it so.

From one of the smoldering cottages, Bill heard a muffled cry. He listened intently and heard it again, softer than before. Without a thought, he ran to the little house and threw the door open. Straining his eyes against the dim light, he spied a shape huddled in the corner and draped with a blanket.

"You've nothin' to fear from me. Come out quickly, before the house collapses."

"Who's there?" called a quavering voice.

There was a loud crash behind Bill and a shower of sparks. "None of the lot that did this. Hurry!"

The old man stood stiffly and the blanket fell away, revealing the infant he held in his arms. Bill took the child and together they made their way back into the street. With uncanny timing, a shaft of moonlight slipped through the smoke, turning Bill's side to bone. The child howled and Bill jerked away from the light.

Bizarrely, the man showed no reaction at all. In a wavering voice, he asked "Are there any others left?"

Bill shook his head.

"Well, speak up!" The man was staring off to Bill's right. Staring blindly.

Bill cleared his throat. "I think not."

*

It took Bill a week to put the villagers in the churchyard. There were no coffins to be had, but he marked each grave with a small cross. After that, he had no desire to leave. Surely Barbossa would never look for him in a town the pirates had already destroyed, and after lonely years at the bottom of the sea, even a doddering old man and a babe seemed fine company. Besides, the pirates had burned the fishing fleet and there was no way for Isaac and little Robin to escape the island. Bill could swim to the mainland, but they'd never survive long enough for him to bring help.

Bill fished and planted and rebuilt. He restored the furnishings of Isaac's house as best he could, with judicious looting from the other cottages -- some might say that it was bad luck to steal from the dead, but Bill didn't think they'd begrudge Isaac and Robin the use of their things, however they might've felt about him had they seen him in the moonlight.

Even that seemed less unnatural over time. Isaac had no idea of the curse (Bill took care to avoid Isaac's touch when he was in his skeletal form), and Robin was too little to question it. The boy soon grew used to the change and stopped paying it any mind.

Not a day went by that Bill didn't think of those he'd failed and betrayed. Perhaps, Bill thought, this is my penance. Everyday he prayed, "Please keep Sarah and Will safe. Let Jack rest in peace. Send Barbossa and the rest of 'em to the lowest pits of hell."

When Bill had been on the island for nearly five years, Isaac died in his sleep. Bill buried him in the churchyard with the others.

That night, Robin said, "I know what you are, Bill! You're an angel sent to look after me 'n Gran."

Bill laughed bitterly. "I'm no angel, son. More like a demon from hell."

*

One day Bill was peeling a mango for Robin and the knife slipped from his hand. The blade slashed across his thigh, and there was a spurt of bright red blood and real honest-to-God pain like Bill hadn't felt in ten years.

He crammed the mango down his gullet, then sucked the juice from his fingers greedily. Now that he knew what had happened, he perceived his dulled senses sharpening, as if he'd been underwater and was finally coming up into the air. He could smell the metallic scent of blood and the stench of the fish bones he'd left on the table the previous night. He could feel the too-small breeches he'd inherited from Isaac cutting into his waist and the warmth of the sun on his face. Hunger, thirst, aches and twinges in his spine -- it was nothing short of miraculous.

The first wave of thoughtless joy was replaced by panic. If the curse was broken, it could only mean one thing: Barbossa had found Will. Was Will dead? Or, worse, was he even now Barbossa's prisoner, subject to the unsated appetites of ten years? Bile rose in Bill's throat as he recalled the horrors Barbossa and his men were capable of.

Bill had brought these demons down upon his son, by sending Will the coin. "What have I done?" he whispered. "What have I done?"

For a fleeting moment, Bill had thought himself free, that he'd paid for his sins, but there was more to be done. He leapt to his feet, already planning the simple raft that would carry him and Robin to the mainland. Bill had to find Barbossa -- to save Will or avenge him. Surely his labors had earned him that much.
 

 

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