SHELTER IN THE STORM
CHAPTER 3: An Imperfect Past
The shouts of alarm and panic spurred Joshamee Gibbs on faster. Making his way along the deck, he ran to reach the quickly growing cluster of crewman at the rail. Gathered around Anamaria, the men listened and watched as she called down to the churning water below. With a sinking feeling, he knew who she was talking to- Jack. No one else was unaccounted for.
Desperate to glimpse what was happening, he stopped and leaned over the banister. What he saw made his heart jump. Jack, usually a strong swimmer, struggled to make it back to the Pearl. It was painfully obvious that he strained to keep his head above water, which could only mean one thing; he was hurt.
What the blazes had happened now? Swearing vehemently, he continued his hurried trek to reach the group of pirates ahead. He was to far away to hear what was being said, but clear as a bell he heard Anamaria's gasp.
"A what?!" The female pirate retorted loudly. Not a heartbeat later, the female pirate, muttering oaths enough to make even the most seasoned sailor blush, shed her boots.
Just as he reached the congregated crew, he saw the first mate, climb to the top of the rail. Again, he moved to the side and glanced down to the water. Gibbs watched horrified as Jack seemed to lose his battle and his head disappeared beneath the waves.
"No." He whispered in quiet despair. Only seconds later, Ana's dove in after him. Turning to the nearest crewman, he asked, "What happened?"
"Jelly Fish sir. Cap'n's been stung."
"Jesus, Mary an' Joseph," Gibbs said in a sighed.
Now, they all watched and waited. Staring from the deck to the spot where both captain and first mate disappeared. It seemed like an eternity.
Mind whirling, he stared at the water as he thought back briefly to the mornings events. It had all started at breakfast. Most of the crew meandered into the galley for the first meal of the day, minus Jack and Anamaria. Nothing unusual about that. When time permitted, Ana slept in on occasion and Jack often rose early and headed to the helm.
No, the panic didn't start until Anamaria appeared in the galley inquiring as to the captain's whereabouts. Moments later, Ladbroc. fresh off the daybreak watch, entered the galley. Hearing the topic of their conversation he informed them that shortly before sunup, the captain had emerged from his cabin clothed only in breeches. Waving to the watch in the crow's nest he stepped easily to the rail and executed a perfect swan dive off the side of the ship, and swam off to the east for a morning swim.
After that, Anamaria stormed about, gathered the scope and planted herself in the crow's nest. Facing east she worriedly watched and waited for his return. Well, Gibbs, thought as he stared at the churning sea, this would no doubt be the last time Jack ever went off swimming alone. The female pirate would see to that.
A loud splash brought Gibbs out of his musings. Two dark heads broke the water's surface near the ships bow. A collective sigh and shouts of relief went up from the Pearl's crew.
"Rope! Now!" Ana demanded.
In response, two lines slapped the water to her left and right. Without releasing her hold on the limp form in her arms, Ana reached for one of the ropes. Obviously not trusting to his condition, she took the excess and looped it under his arms and tied it in front. She spoke quietly and Jack nodded in response. No one could hear what was said but the pirate's response reassured them all that he was both conscious and alive.
Tilting her head back, she shouted, "Pull 'im up!"
The line was instantly drawn taught and Jack was yanked forcefully from the water. Gibbs, his eyes glued to the body as it arched high overhead, took off at a run. Noting the direction of his flight, he took the steps two at a time and was the first to reach him as he landed ungracefully on the quarterdeck.
Skittering to a halt before the still form of his captain, Gibbs took a moment to think. What on earth did he know about Jelly Fish stings? Nothing. Well, at least nothing positive. All he really knew was what he'd heard over the years. First, once the blighters got hold of you, they were devilishly hard to get free of. Second, the longer they stayed attached the more of their poison they could inflict. Staring at Jack's shirtless form Gibbs' eyes widened in alarm. There was a very large rash, red and blistering taking shape on the pirate captain's left side. That brought to mind one more piece of information; the larger the Jelly Fish, the greater the more dangerous their sting. They could inflict enough perilous toxins to kill a man. And, lastly, those larger varieties of vermin lived in the deeper fathoms of the sea, which was precisely where the Pearl was anchored. Holy Mother of God.
On the positive side, he did know that many a man survived their run-in with the deadly sea creatures. Maybe there was some hope. And, given that Jack was just to bloody stubborn to die, and that Anamaria had reserved the right to kill him for herself for all the bloody stupid things the man did to make her crazy, this one only adding to the list… that too might help.
Clearing his thought, Gibbs set about trying to assess the condition of the man lying motionless before him. Looking at Jack who lay curled into a tight ball protectively clutching his arms over his left side, the older sailor bent forward for a closer look. Kneeling to the deck the quartermaster gently turned the captain over.
"Cap'n?" He asked. Getting no response, he leaned in, "Jack?"
Suddenly, Jack's eyes sprung open. Surprised, Gibbs stumbled back and landed on his backside.
"Ge' this… bloody rope off…" The pirate captain slurred. With one arm, Jack fumbled and pulled frantically at the rope still secured around his chest.
Gibbs stared in confusion. The sheer look of panic in his captain's eyes left the older man stunned.
The knot didn't budge. Jack struggled to sit up. This got Gibbs attention. Scrambling over to the captain, he placed hands to his shoulders and easily pressed him back. "Easy, lad. A Jelly Fish sting's not somethin' t' be taken lightly. Perhaps ye shouldn't move."
Before Jack could argue, approaching footsteps and a blur of movement caught Gibb's eye.
Anamaria, barefoot and soaked to the bone, moved around and knelt next to the two men. "What's going on? Jack, lay still."
"Can't…" his hands stilled. Looking at her, his eyes pleaded for understanding. "I… I'm… gonna be…"
Ana's eyes widened. Without further comment, she quickly released the knot.
Even before the rope dropped away, Jack unexpectedly lurched to his feet. Now vertical, he staggered and stumbled away. After casting a questioning glance at Gibbs, Anamaria ran to follow.
Faster than Gibbs expected, the injured pirate practically ran the last few feet to the larboard rail. Once he reached his destination, he bent over and expelled the contents of his stomach.
Blanching at the sound, the quartermaster turned away.
Focus now altered, Gibbs noticed for the first time that nearly the entire crew had gathered on the upper deck. The looks on their faces mirrored his own internal feelings; worry, concern and uncertainty. He also noticed that the more their captain wretched into the sea, the more they averted their eyes. Whether out of respect, or just trying to keep their own breakfast down, he didn't know. It didn't really matter either. All that mattered was that they all seemed tp share the same measure of fear for their captain.
This was uncharted territory, Gibbs was certain. The older man was quite certain that not a single man, or woman, among the crew knew the first thing about treating this type of injury…
Well… except for one. Realizing this, he quickly scanned the faces on the deck. It didn't surprise him not to find him among the men.
"Marty," Gibbs called to the shorter crewman, "go fetch the cook."
"The cook?" the small sailor questioned.
"Aye. Go fetch Epperley."
With a shrug and a quick nod, he turned and left.
"Confounded, Jack Sparrow!" Hearing Anamaria's exasperated voice, Gibbs turned his attention back to the two pirates. "Let me have a look!"
"No. Don'… don' touch it…" Jack pulled away. "If'n ya do… ye'd get some… of the poison…on yer self… Seen men stung b'fore… I know… wha'… wh-..." Before he could finish, Jack's eyes widened. Twisting away suddenly, he thrust his head between the rungs and heaved again into the water below.
After several minutes, the convulsions ceased. Ana then helped an exhausted captain turn around and leaned him back against the rail. With his eyes closed and panting heavily, his face took on a sickly pallor that made Gibbs worry double. The pirate captain's normally tan face looked flush in the bright sunlight. The onset of fever was evident in the fine sheen of perspiration that formed on his face.
The situation was serious enough to possibly break a deal he'd made with the Pearl's newest crewman. But first, he needed to ascertain if that was really necessary, to see if the deal he'd made with the cook needed breaking. Far be it from him to expose any mans past if he truly wanted it hidden.
Gesturing to Ana, he caught her eye and motioned to her to come over. Reluctantly, she stood and did as he requested.
"What is it?" she asked. The irritation in her voice made it obvious to Gibbs that she did not like being pulled away from Jack's side. Her gaze constantly traveled back to where he now sat alone.
"Ana, have ye ever dealt with this kinda injury b' fore? One from a Jelly Fish I mean?"
"What?" She said, her eyes snapping at the quartermaster in frustration. "No, but if he won't let me look at his side, how can I even begin to try?" Flapping her arms in exasperation.
Gibbs nodded and the flustered female pirate turned and stomped back to where the captain rested. Clearly, she was prepared for battle. However, when it came to stubborn, Jack and Ana were a perfect and even match.
That answered that. Time to call a halt to an agreement made after to many tankards of rum. Gibbs hadn't meant for the young man to talk so freely, but after the storm and seeing the green, newly acquired cook a bundle of nerves, he'd sat Epperley down and there the two had talked at length. A past was brought to light and filed away for future need, and that future was now upon them.
The quartermaster's thoughts were interrupted. Enroute back to Jack Anamaria had halted, for some reason. Gibbs brow furrowed in confusion. As she turned around slowly, Gibbs noticed the dagger filled gaze and was somewhat relieved that it wasn't' him she was now looking at. What the…? he thought following her dark stare. It seemed to halt at a point just behind him…
"What 'er ye lookin' at?" she shouted suddenly. Eyes narrowed, fists curled at her side, she advance on the crew. "Quit standin' 'round gawkin'! Loafers the lot a ye. Ye seen a injured man b'fore. Haul in canvas! Secure the lines! Back to work, ye ninnies! NOW!"
During her tirade, she ran about the deck shouting like a banshee. Gibbs, glad he wasn't on the receiving end of her wrath, grinned as the men jumped and scurried to retreat from her rage. Shooting a glance at the captain, sure to see a shared smile, Gibbs' grin slowly faded.
Jack's eye's remained closed and his arms tightly clutched to his side. No reaction whatsoever, he only sat there. Not good. Leaving the melee of retreating men, Ana rushed quickly back to his side.
Looking again at the backs of the withdrawing crew and back to Jack, Gibbs slapped a hand to his head. Of course, he realized. It hadn't occurred to him that maybe the captain might not like the crew standing around watching as he wretched and puked his guts out. Why hadn't he thought of that?
Again he watched the crew continue to scramble two and three at a time to descend the stairs. It was still quite the sight and he couldn't help but chuckle at the scene. Given the bottleneck at the stairs, he noticed that some of the men opted to vault the side rail to escape. Still others looked as if they might alter their course and jump overboard, should the female pirate drew any nearer. Well, hell hath no fury like Anamaria on a rampage.
Doing a double take, he caught sight of the cook, Epperly. The slim young man barely managed to make it up the steps and out of the way before the surge of exited crewman could push him back. Now, the young doctor stood off to the side, pressed against the rail, with a hand pressed over his heart. As the furor ebbed, the cook breathed a sigh of relief and cautiously approached the quartermaster.
"Well," he said breathlessly, "that was… terrifying. You know, Mr. Gibbs, I rather imagined that if I died at the hands of a pirate, it would indeed be his hands or something in his hands that did the deed. Somehow, being trampled by them just doesn't merit the same glorious end to ones rather dull life. Don't you agree?"
Gibbs chuckled. "Better that than havin' Anamaria after yer hide."
"Ah, I suppose."
In unison, the two men turned and looked to the place near the rail where Jack and Ana argued quietly.
The doctor sighed and asked, "What's happened?"
"Jelly Fish stung the cap'n whil'st he was out swimmin'."
"Good Lord. Did he get the creature off?" Eyes squinted; he attempted to get a better look, yet remained rooted to one spot.
"From what I could see, 'ppears so." Gibbs looked at the younger man. "Tom, I'm thinkin' this breaks our accord."
"I know." Epperley replied quietly. A weak smile played at his lips. "I owe Captain Sparrow for dragging my sorry carcass out of that tavern and giving me a place on board his ship. But I wonder, given my past, do you think Captain Sparrow will accept my assistance?"
Tilting his head in thought for a moment, Gibbs answered. "Yer past is the last thing Jack's going to be concerned about, I guarantee. But, I told ye b'fore, my thoughts on that, yer wife was sufferin' and ye did what was necessary to ease her pain. Easin' pain is what a doc's supposed t' do."
"But a doctor is not supposed to kill. That choice I made."
"I'm thinkin' what ye did took more nerve that if ye hadn't. Tom, we all make choices we regret. And Jack, he's no different, pirate or not"
"No disrespect intended, but," dropping his voice, Tom continued. "when referring to Captain Sparrow as 'different', that is an enormous understatement."
"Aye, Tom, tha's our Jack." The older man laughed. "But, I can honestly say that if ye decide to stay on with us after we reach St. Martin, I wager you'll come to know and appreciate that difference. The man's daft, no doubt, but he's both smart and very loyal to his crew. And, believe me, Anamaria's not one to suffer fools without damn good reason."
"Love is reason enough, I'm sure." Tom grinned. "Even with all the bickering the two of them do, I can see what's really at heart." The young man's face took on a distant look as he continued. "I'm reminded of my older brother Steven and his wife Margaret. Before they married, oh how the two of them fought. My nanny used to call it love, and I called her crazy. She'd say, 'love is blind, but the neighbor's ain't'. Sure enough, she was right. Still married today, in fact."
"Well, pirates ain't likely t' marry. But between the two of them, sparks aplenty do fly around here."
"Ah, but sometimes the sparks are what make life interesting." The cook added.
"Glad ye feel that way, Tom, because it's time to waded in for a fight. Got to b'fore Ana comes undone and fairly throttles Jack. Word o' warnin' son, Jack, he ain't known t' be the best patient on this ship. Fact is he's the worst."
"I take it you've been in similar predicaments before?"
"Aye. Pirates tend to get in scrapes every now and again."
"Pirates in general, or do you refer strictly to Captain Sparrow?"
"Pirate ships ain't safe, mate. Pirate captain's, just like any ship's captain, are protective of their ships and crew. Responsibility is a thing Jack feels deeper than most, I'd say. Fact is, he tends to feel everything a mite deeper. No matter that he tries to hide it, we know it." Gibbs looked at Epperley for a moment. "Makes me wonder, then. Why'd ya agree to work aboard a pirate ship bound for more trouble than not? Might be a merchant ship woulda been safer."
Epperley looked away guiltily. "Ah, I won't lie to you. I guess I never expected pirates to become the sort of people I could come to like or be concerned about." Again he looked at Jack and Ana. A smile lighted his face. "I was wrong."
"Good enough." Gibbs smiled. "Well, do ye think yer ready then?"
"Waitin' won't make it any easier, lad. Might as well get it over with."
"Well," the younger man swallowed audibly, "think there's a chance that he might just… pass out?"
"Who, Jack?" Casting a doubtful glance at the captain and first mate, Gibbs listened to their tense but quiet conversation. Ana now pressed a damp cloth to the back of Jack's neck. "I s'pose if'n we wait long enough, an' he keeps refusin' to let her help… Knowin' Anamaria, she just might oblige us in that. But, then he'd likely be in a worse mood when he woke." Clapping a reassuring hand to the young man's back, he finished. "Come on, lad. Between the three of us, we'll manage."
As the two men advanced, Anamaria looked up at them, perplexed.
"What's this?" She eyed the cook, "I thought I gave orders to get back to work. Gibbs, help me get Jack to his cabin."
"Hold on, lass. First," Gibbs quickly cut in. "I think we might just want to let Mr. Epperley here get a look at Jack's side. Ya see, Tom's got some doctorin' experience." The old sailor nodded for Tom to take over.
After casting a nervous look at Gibbs, Tom took a reluctant step forward…
"'S nothin'…" Jack interrupted. "I can't … handle."
The injured pirate slowly lifted his head and looked at the two men. His eyes went from the cook then to Gibbs, before settling on the latter. While the young man flinched under the scrutiny, to his credit, he stood fast. In fact, he straightened a bit and squared his shoulders before speaking.
"Um…" The cook began. "Yes, Captain Sparrow…while I'm sure might be right, well, you see…I was a doctor in Port au Prince, where you first found me. I've some experience with Jelly Fish stings."
"Doctor?" Anamaria said. She looked accusingly at Gibbs. "How long have ye known?"
Gibbs opened and closed his mouth, searching for the right words.
"It was at my request." Epperley added quickly. "Don't blame him."
Ignoring the cook, Anamaria continued to stare at the quartermaster. Gibbs swallowed heavily and said, "Since just after the storm, two weeks ago."
"When Jack was sick?" Her eyes went from incredulous to dark with rage. She turned her dark eyes on the doctor. "And you did nothing?"
"I assure you," Epperley defended, "if Captain Sparrow's condition had not improved, I'd have come forward then, as I am doing now. His illness after the storm proved little more than a severe flu. But this, this is something entirely different and more serious. Please, I can help, if you will allow me."
"No!" Jack said, stronger this time. The three quieted as Jack lifted his head again. Fever bright eyes bore a hole into the men standing before him. "Don' need… help. Jus' get me… to me cabin. I know wha' t' do."
"If you don't mind my asking, Captain," Tom continued, "would you mind telling me what treatment you've planned on administering?"
A slow grin slid across the pirates' ashen face. "Suffice it t' say, doc, or cook, or whatever you are, it's nothin'… ya'd do on the deck of a ship. Requires a bit o' privacy. Savvy?"
"Ah." Tom nodded slowly. "Then, you… do know."
"Know what?" Anamaria asked impatiently.
"Doc?" Gibbs inquired next.
"Well," the doctor began somewhat reluctantly, "it requires… a… a human… fluid." He finished with a grimace.
Thinking this over a moment, Gibbs shrugged, "We got plenty o' fluids on board, Tom. Lemme see, there's rum, grog, even some fancy French wine and ale…"
The doctor reddened. He leaned toward the older man and muttered, "Not alcohol, Mr. Gibbs. A human generated fluid… Urine, to be exact. Preferably, male… urine.
"Urine?" Gibbs asked, loudly. Shaking his head, he still didn't understand…
"Piss!" Jack shouted. A deep chuckle erupted from the pirate. "Bloody hell, Mr. Gibbs, he means piss!"
Shocked silence answered.
"Oh." Gibbs finally managed. After glancing shyly at Anamaria he noticed how she bit down hard on her lower lip, apparently trying to stifle a laugh. Eyes downcast, she now seemed to find the tops of her feet very interesting.
"Epperley, is it?" Jack inquired. At Tom's nod, he continued. "Well, if yer goin' t' stay on this ship, those gentle bred, high society, British ways will have to be put on hold. No since dancin' 'round the baser parts o' life here, mate."
Seeing the doctor's puzzled look, Jack grinned and continued. "Piece o' advice, mate; subtlety's lost on pirates. You're better off using the more direct approach amongst buccaneers. Savvy?"
"I'm beginning to… savvy. Yes."
The pirate captain chuckled then stopped. A grimace of pain flashed across his face. With his jaw tightly clenched, he continued. "Well,… if ye'd be so kind, I'd like t' go t' me cabin. Puking in front of me crew once… 's bad enough. Twice… 's unthinkable. 'N… thrice?"
They all watched as the captain's face paled and his breathing quickened.
The doctor stepped quickly forward and hooked an arm under one of the pirate's shoulders, Anamaria the other and together they lifted Jack to his feet. Gibbs turned to lead they way. His mind still attempted to erase the images of just how the 'medicine' would be… applied. As they moved along, Gibbs listened to the conversation continue behind him.
"I tol' ye doc," Jack spoke in low tones. "I know wha' t' do."
"Yes." Tom answered. "But I seriously doubt that you will be able to… administer your own… medicine to that particular location… without some…assistance."
"God teeth, Jack." The female pirate cut in. "Ye never shoulda' gone swimmin' alone. I swear, that's the last time ye'll put me through somethin' like this."
As the four moved toward the steps, Gibbs chuckled quietly to himself as the three continued to argue.
Suddenly Gibbs stopped. Before him the faces of the crew peered through the railing, many wearing knowing grins.
"Back t' work, ye mangy gobs," he yelled, "or it'll be you I'll be feedin' to the Jelly Fishes. Now, move!"
All smiles faded and the Pearl once again, came to life with bustling activity.
Author's Notes: Ugh.. I had this ready to post last week, but there was some kind of weird formatting problem. Every time I viewed the document in ff.net, it was all messed up! I'd never seen it look THAT bad. So I removed the chapter. Tried to fix it, then reposted. Yet again, it was all… weird! So, reluctantly, I ended up retyping the thing, and that only leads to trouble for me, as I tend to change things… ALL THE TIME! Sorry for the false alarms with regard to posting and thank you for your patience.
The idea for this little story came from our family camping trip down to Corpus Christie, and the Gulf of Mexico. We camped on the beach, built sand castles, swam in the ocean and then, on our last night there, watched our tent blow away during a hellacious storm. Nice. Oh well, on the positive side, we were not in the tent when it got carried away.
So, every morning, um.. before the storm, we would wake and the kids would rush back to the shore to swim. Along the beach there were always dozens of Jelly Fish, partially buried in the sand. They were small, but no less a concern as the park patrol came along daily and scooped them up.
Once we got home, I began researching their lethal sting. It's true. Male urine is the best thing to remove their painful poison or venom. My husband, after reading this story, said he was reminded of an episode of Friends. Well, I guarantee, I don't watch much TV- there just isn't time. Besides, sitcom's bore me to tears, and the last good TV show, Angel, is nearly at an end.
AAAanywho… I owe this chapter to three very good friends and shipmates;
Rat: thank you for your continued caring and patience as beta, but mostly, for your enduring friendship. You inspire and encourage me to write, and for that, I thank you.
Barb/Wolfgazer: Thank you for sharing with me the incident of when you were stung by a Jelly Fish. There is a very VERY good reason for my doctor's last name… he is dedicated to the strength and level headedness your mother showed in the face of your experience. An amazing Mom indeed. Give her a copy of this for Mother's Day, and a rose.
Amber/AhiFlame: LOL.. On IM I told you the premise for this little chapter and your encouragement and laughter really leant me the perseverance to get it done. Thank you for your steady stream of positive affirmation and incredibly wonderful support.
Each of these authors's is brilliant! Each has a story in progress on FF.NET and I trust you will seek them out, if you've not done so already. I'll have a 4th, and possibly a 5th chapter of Shelter soon. The doctor will remain on board the Pearl as I've grown very fond of the man. I imagine he looks a bit like Wesley from Angel. Well, he's losing his job soon, so I figured he needed this gig.