“I don’t know what’s going on down there,” Gates says, and he’s pissed about that, but what can he do? “But if they keep popping off like this, we’re going to need a bigger fucking hotel.”
Charles Vane just stares at him, then shrugs one shoulder, and turns his gaze back to the ceiling. It’s only sort of a ceiling. It holds every star and constellation Gates has ever seen or heard of, even some he’s only seen in the strange southern Oriental charts taken off a few world travelers, and it’s fascinating, sure, but he could use a little help, here.
“Vane,” he says, and Vane sighs.
“Gates, we’re fucking dead. Would you give it a rest?”
“We’re dead, but we’re still here, walking around! In Port Royal! Port Royal just for dead people, from what I can see, but it’s definitely Port Royal.”
Vane looks completely disinterested, the bastard. “Jack will figure it out when he gets here. Until then, I don’t give a fuck.”
Gates throws up his hands and walks away.
As far as he’s been able to work out, the only people here died fighting one way or another, battling the sea or other men. Little Muldoon is here and living in happy afterlife sin with Beauclerc, which Gates did not see coming, but there’s no sign of his old friend Bastion, who slipped and fell walking home drunk from a tavern in Tortuga and broke his own idiot neck. And that’s a shame, because Bastion still owes him twenty quid.
Honestly, Gates only keeps Vane and Meeks around because it keeps that mad fuck Ned Low on the other side of town to avoid them. Meeks is a good sort, but Gates is understanding more and more why Flint’s first instinct was always to punch Charles Vane right in the goddamn teeth.
The new arrivals are telling some amazingly fucked up stories about Spain and gold, that little thief John Silver, who is apparently now some kind of supernatural monster, and his own Captain Flint. Gates recognizes far too many of them, these new men, and wanders back into the big room of the hotel, puts his feet up, and has a long look at the stars himself.
It’s not that he isn’t still angry about having his neck broken, because he is. But being dead, even in Port Royal, gives a man a bit of a, what would Flint call it? A broader perspective on things. And honestly, considering the shit he’s hearing right now, Flint probably did him a favor.
Time doesn’t really work the normal way here. Food shows up regularly, and rum often, and the nights are filled with feasting and laughter, the lights of the taverns that line the street burning bright. There are ships in the bay, and you can man them and sail them, but there’s nothing out there, and eventually you end up right back here. Gates is standing at the balcony and looking at the sea when Logan strolls in, arm in arm with Charlotte.
“You might want to get out to the street,” he calls to Gates. “Blackbeard just arrived.”
Gates feels his eyebrows go up. “Teach? Here? So soon?”
“Vane just destroyed an entire room at Fat Annie’s, after greeting him. I’ve never seen him so angry.”
Gates really thought the afterlife was going to be more restful than this.
You can’t die again here, which is good, because otherwise there’d be nothing but revenge killings going on every day, and that would get very messy very quickly. You can, however, annoy the living shit out of people, and there are more than a few pirates following their killers around, making their afterlives as miserable as possible. Gates takes notes for whenever Flint finally kicks it. He won’t do it forever, he loves that son of a bitch too much, but for a while? Yeah, he’ll have his pound of flesh. He still looks for Billy all over. He knows men overboard end up here. So where the fuck is Billy?
Then he’s told by a new arrival that Billy’s just fine and raising hell back on Providence Island, and a lot of things change for him.
If you die doing something really heroic, you get your own transport, or at least that’s how he thinks it works. Occasionally they get someone coming into the bay on their own sloop, manned by ghosts and shades, only half-awake until they set foot in the town.
He’d never expected to see fucking Dobbs of all people get the royal treatment.
“Aye, we beat them. Sent them running like the cowardly fucks they are. In my last moments I saw Flint, that magnificent bloody bastard, kill Hornigold myself.” He swallows a huge gulp of rum.
Gates sits back and looks around, wondering when Ben will show up.
“He’s not a pirate anymore,” Vane rasps from the other side of the table. The smoke from his cigar makes him look downright demonic, or maybe it’s the slow, satisfied smile that’s working its way across his face. “If there’s a place like this for the redcoats, for British soldiers who fight for the crown? Benjamin Hornigold is stuck there.”
They all stare at him, in varying shock, horror, and in Dobbs’ case, vicious satisfaction. Vane takes another drag of his cigar, then holds it and contemplates the lit end.
“It’s like, being dead, I can understand a lot more, what made things happen like they did,” Muldoon tells him, as they’re walking the street and seeing more and more familiar faces, greeting them, clasping hands and making plans to meet up that night for a reunion. “I ain’t so angry anymore. Most people here ain’t, as far as I can see. Even the real nasty ones let it go after a while, did you notice?”
“I did,” Gates confirms, and confirms himself that he’s not nearly as enraged at the goings-on back in life as he’d expected to find himself.
“It’s kind of nice, really,” Muldoon muses. “I was an angry little shit when I was alive, mostly. It would have been an awful chore to keep that up forever.” He wanders off to welcome an old friend, leaving Gates to stare after him.
“Oh, fuck,” Gates breathes, as his eyes catch the shine of sunlight on a proud golden head, then take in the face, tipped up and looking around in wonder at the buildings surrounding the square. “Oh, fuck me, oh shit, oh sweet Jesus above.” He bolts for the door.
Vane beats him there, because Vane is an asshole who makes his afterlife difficult.
Even here, in this place, everyone has stepped back to watch this particular reunion. It’s oddly silent, too, like the whole town is holding its breath.
Gates has maybe never seen pain like this on Charles Vane’s face, and it’s mirrored in Eleanor Guthrie’s. They stare at each other across perhaps five feet of space, these two young idiots, and when Vane finally steps forward, Gates braces himself for anything, for a punch, for screaming.
Instead, Charles reaches out and pulls her into his arms. She collapses into him and her face breaks, shatters, and Gates turns away, because it’s not proper to watch a queen cry.
Gates tracks down Singleton once, because that one does weigh on him a bit. When he finds him, clear on the other side of town, the man’s half-in-half-out of a brawl, and Gates has to wait for it to wind down. He waves him over and gets him a drink, but Singleton shakes him off when he tries to apologize.
“I nearly beat Captain Flint in single combat,” he says, and his grin is still that same stupid bloody-minded thing that Gates had hated in life. “I’ll never buy a drink again!”
Gates does not point out that all the booze here is free, slaps him on the shoulder, and goes on his way with a clear conscience.
There’s a sort of unofficial party at the beach every afternoon, which is when the sloops generally get in from the land of the living. Given the life they’d led it’s rare indeed that at least one pirate doesn’t arrive every day. However, four ships is the most they’ve ever seen at once, and Gates watches the parade of half-asleep men stagger down the gangplanks with his jaw dropped and his heart in his boots.
There’s DeGroot. There’s Payne. There’s Francis and young Samuel the sailmaker’s boy. Jesus fucking Christ, what has happened to his Walrus?
A huge sigh goes up on the beach, and he looks back to the ship to see what's caused the stir. Joji looks quite fully awake and swaggers down onto the beach with hands on his swords and a pissed-off look on his face.
“Joji!” Gates shouts, and shoves through the crowd, though he knows the man can’t tell him shit. Still, he’s got to get there. “Joji. Fucking hell.” He grabs those broad shoulders and pulls him close, and is astonished when his embrace is returned, and with interest.
“Gates,” says a clear, if accented, voice in his ear, and he almost faints. “What a clusterfuck.”
“What the fuck?” He stares at Joji. Half the newly arrived Walrus crew, those in earshot, stop and stare at Joji. “I thought you were mute!”
“I’m not mute, you stupid fuck. I just didn’t want to talk to any of you.”
“Jesus Christ,” Gates breathes, and then he’s laughing, and Joji is beaming, clearly pleased with himself, and Gates gets an arm around his waist and starts dragging him back to the hotel they’ve claimed. He needs to hear everything.
Anne and Jack arrive arm in arm. They’d been hanged together, according to a fellow who’d come in the day before, spitting curses at the British, and the crowd on the beach parts for them like they’re royalty. Jack is gorgeous in calico, and Anne is bristling with knives and her hat is pulled low, which doesn’t hide a bit of her glare. Gates actually applauds them, because he’s a soft old man, and wipes a tear from his eye when they see Charles and Charles sees them, and Anne actually laughs with joy and runs to him.
Time doesn’t really work the normal way here. From the stories of newcomers, he knows long months and years pass in the blink of an eye, and sometimes, the other way around. It’s still a very, very long time, even for here, before he sees Captain Flint again.
He doesn’t come in on some special sloop. Doesn’t just appear in the middle of town like some avenging angel of death. No, he staggers down the gangplank like any other pirate, one of the slowing trickle that have been arriving here in latter days.
The funny thing is, he looks more or less like Gates remembers him. A few more lines around the eyes, his hair a little longer. But he’s not gray, or gone to fat, or bald, and for a moment Gates wonders if the rest of them have all just died young enough that he hasn’t noticed them going back to some sort of good health. He himself doesn’t have a bad knee anymore, after all. Though he didn’t grow back his hair, more’s the pity. But all these thoughts are just distractions, putting off the inevitable, because Flint is looking around, bewildered, and Gates has never been able to leave his captain looking like that.
“Flint,” he says, stepping up, and Flint looks at him, really looks, eyes wide, and then those eyes are filling with actual tears, what the fuck, and then he’s being lifted up off the ground in a fierce embrace.
“Gates! Oh my god. What is this place. You’re here? Oh my god.” Relief and...joy? Flint is cradling his head against his shoulder, and goddammit, he never could resist this ass. He hugs him back. He can take his pound of flesh later.
Flint pulls back just enough, and actually kisses his forehead, and then looks surprised when Joji, standing behind Gates, growls at him. All right, so.
“What is this place?” Flint repeats, stepping back and looking around. At the beach, the docks, the ships. Port Royal sprawling out infinitely, as far as Gates has been able to tell, inland from the sea.
“It’s Port Royal,” Gates shrugs. “I don’t know why, but we’ve all ended up here, more or less. As long as we went down fighting, and as long as we died pirates.”
That actually puts a frown on Flint’s face, and something like fear. “Only pirates. No exceptions?”
“None that I’ve seen. Eleanor’s here,” and Flint’s face lights at that, “and after about ten years of working things out, she and Vane are nicely settled now and running the whole East Side. But I’ve not seen anyone here yet who wasn’t at least associated with the account in the Caribbean.”
Death, or time, seems to have loosened Flint up a bit, because Gates can clearly see the emotions chasing across his face. Anger, fear, then resolve. Oh, fuck.
“Did Silver make it through that brawl? Is he here?” He looks around again, as if John Silver might be hiding somewhere in the crowd.
“No he’s not, so he’s likely fine. Listen, come and see everyone. I think you’ll be surprised at how nice the afterlife can be.”
“All right, but I’m coming back here, after. I’ve got things to do.”
“Of course you do,” Gates mutters, and leads him off to the hotel.
Flint gets into seven fistfights and two pitched sword battles his first day in Port Royal. So everything’s back to normal, really.
Anne and Jack are waiting for Max, everyone knows that. Gates is still, despite himself, hoping to see Billy again, even after hearing the whole terrible story. The beach is filled with pirates every day, waiting for shipmates and brothers, lovers and enemies, searching each face as it emerges from the sloops.
There’s none more dedicated than Flint. He’s at the docks every single afternoon, standing at attention with his hands clasped behind his back, still as a statue. When every day he’s disappointed, he just turns away. Gates usually waits with him, more because he’s curious than anything else.
One day, a slim, ragged man, pretty enough but daft-looking, blinks in the Port Royal sun, and Flint leaps at him and collars him before anyone else can so much as move.
“Ben!” The man just blinks dazedly at him. The captain does tend to have that effect. “Have you seen Silver? Is Madi with him? Are they all right?”
“I…” The man’s eyes dart around wildly, and Gates pries him loose from the captain, feeling merciful today. “I don’t know?” He seems completely confused. “The last thing I remember was being marooned on that hell island for years. Years, it’s been. I was...I was going mad? I think so, yes. I don’t know what happened then.”
“Goddammit,” Flint curses, and stomps away.
“There, lad,” Gates says kindly. “Come have a drink, that’ll settle you. Welcome to Port Royal.”
They all have routines. Every morning, Flint sails out in one of the small skiffs that bobs alongside the docks. He doesn’t tell Gates where he’s going, but when he comes back, he always has more lines drawn on a little chart he keeps in his coat.
Charles spars each afternoon with Teach, eats with Jack and Anne, and then goes up to one of the rooftops and yells at God.
Flint goes with him sometimes. Gates hears him ask if God ever answers, one day.
“Sometimes,” Charles shrugs. “But I have a lot to say.”
“Hmm,” Flint says.
Joji wants Gates to start eating fish with every meal, saying it will make him healthier. Gates, who does not care for fish, points out that he is already dead. Joji points out that that is entirely irrelevant. Gates eats fish with every meal.
Flint laughs at him for days.
After all the waiting, Silver’s arrival is almost an anticlimax, at least to start out. He strolls off the boat with his hands in his pockets as casual as you please, walking on two legs, his long hair and short beard and moustache far different from how Gates’s foggy memories picture him. His face is more weathered and his eyes harder, but the smile that brightens him up when he sees Flint is familiar.
“Silver.” Flint is goddamn beaming at him. They don’t hurry, but the way they come together feels as inevitable as the tide. They clasp hands, familiar and affectionate, smiling into each other’s eyes. “I was scared to death you’d die in your sleep and never walk off one of those damn ships.”
“You and I both know me better than that,” Silver says, and kisses him, right there on the beach, in view of God and everyone, hands up in his hair and all, like something in a book, and Gates
right down to the ground
Vane is looking skeptical, but interested, and Eleanor’s eyes are bright. Joji is leaning against the wall, bored, but that’s normal, and Anne might be asleep. Jack is bent over Flint’s chart, humming to himself with his brow furrowed as Flint points out markers in a low voice, and Silver has his chin propped on his hand, watching them all.
“You can’t really think this will work,” Gates says to him doubtfully. Silver slants those devil-eyes at him, never changing position, and Gates is just a little glad he never had to resist this man in life.
“I think that when James Flint puts his mind to something, the powers of Heaven themselves would do well to take notice,” he finally answers.
“Valhalla,” Flint puts in absently, and Silver rolls his eyes, looking fond.
“Yes, you’ve said.”
“Well, it matters,” Flint counters, cranky. “If we’re in some Valhalla--and we are--it only follows that Thomas, and Miranda, and others,” he tips his head to Gates, who had taken the news of Billy’s heart failure very hard, “are elsewhere. And there’s no reason we can’t find them.”
“There might be a few,” Silver murmurs, but he doesn’t make any real objection, and when Flint calls for him to come and help with the plan, he goes willingly enough. Whatever he says in Flint’s ear makes the man laugh and actually blush, before he looks up and sees Gates watching, and glances away with a little grin that might almost be shy.
“If we find them before Madi dies, you might actually save my afterlife,” Silver says thoughtfully. “Let’s go tomorrow.”
Gates sighs, and looks up at the stars. It’s been peaceful here, mostly, besides all the battles and brawls, and Vane being Vane, and Ned Low, and the rest of them. But it’s Port fucking Royal. What a shithole.
“Right,” he says, and slaps his hands on the table, squaring his shoulders. “Tell me what you need me to do.”