Storm Warning

By Alekto

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Disclaimer: I didn't own 'em last week, I didn't own 'em yesterday, I don't own 'em today. Anyone else noticing a trend?

Summary: Vignette that ended up being slightly longer than originally envisaged. Will's first trip on the Black Pearl post-POTC. Will's POV. (And am I the only one who thinks needs to add PWP to its list of genres.?)

Rating: PG

A/N: This is my first attempt at POTC fic and is un-betaed, so apologies for any mistakes that slip through. Not being an expert on the nautical stuff, I've nicked most of that sort of thing from one of Dudley Pope's novels. For the record, I'm English, and so is the spelling (at least I hope so ).

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Part 1 (of 2)

It was the kind of balmy day that could have made even the most cynical forget that Europeans in the Caribbean were far more likely to die of various tropical fevers than by violence.

High above the Black Pearl's masthead I could see clouds, looking little more than far off wisps of cotton, scudding across an impossibly blue sky reflecting in an impossibly blue sea that was punctuated by light glinting like mirror shards caught in the waves. The late morning heat of the tropical sun that could be so relentless on land in the fields and in the streets of Port Royal was muted and made pleasant by the breezes from the Atlantic. I just wished Elizabeth was there to share it with me.

I had been on sea voyages before, indeed, on several occasions, but this time was blessedly different. Before, there had always been a sense of haste, of urgency, sometimes of danger. The last time I had been a passenger on the Black Pearl, I'd been a prisoner of its Captain, Barbossa, and of his cursed crew. The memory of those few days was one I longed to be rid of. This same ship had carried them then and the foul miasma had hung heavy around it as if it too was as accursed as they. The Pearl was still black painted, but the dark sails billowing high overhead were whole, not torn and shredded as they had once been, and the only smell was that of the sea mingling with acrid tang of freshly tarred rigging. Not for the first time I found myself looking around for any sign of the years of neglect she had suffered under Barbossa's charge, and wondered at the amount of work that Jack and the crew must have put in since our last meeting in bringing her back to life.

From my place on the windward side of the Quarterdeck I glanced over towards where Jack was standing, his hands resting on the wheel. His ever restless gaze flickered around the ship, taking in the set of sails, the detail of rigging I could not even begin to comprehend and the horizon, empty but for the dull purple smudges of mountains off to the South and the barely visible white line of distant surf.

Even to my inexpert eyes, the Pearl was making a good pace. The wind was no more than a few points off the quarter and under full sail the gently rhythmic movement of ship beneath me made scant demand of the sea legs that I was slowly acquiring.

"A soldier's wind it is, lad," sniffed a familiar voice from behind me. Gibbs, Jack's old friend that I had met in Tortuga. I looked askance at his words and he moved to lean on the taffrail next to me. "Old Navy man's term," he went on to explain with a grin. "The kind of wind that gives a ship an easy enough ride that even the most lubberly of soldiers can bear it without illness."

I grimaced as his words brought to mind the unwanted image of dozens of seasick soldiers barracked in the usual cramped conditions below deck of a man o' war. My return from the Isla de Muerta on the HMS Dauntless had given me an idea of the unpleasantness of such accommodations, even though at Norrington's behest I had been billeted in the Midshipmans' berth with the dozen or so others who lived there rather than with the crew. I didn't have the heart to complain, though, not when all the time I knew that for Jack the voyage back to Port Royal had been so much worse, shackled in the dank blackness of the Dauntless' brig.

My gaze returned to studying the man who had the name of being one of the most notorious of the pirates of the Caribbean: *Captain* Jack Sparrow. Watching him there at the helm of his beloved Pearl I could see an unguarded contentment in his expression that was so very far from away from the outlandish airs and obfuscation he presented to the world at large as to make him seem another man altogether. I couldn't help but think that for Jack, happiness was to be at the helm of the ship for which he had spent the past ten years searching for, with the wind at his heels and the sea beneath him. A reluctant smile crossed my face as I felt obliged to add in the occasional encounter with heavily laded merchantmen commanded by masters sanguine about the inevitability of encounters with pirates. Jack was not one for the sedentary life.

A faint smile came to my face as I considered how only a year ago I would have derided or even laughed out loud at the idea of being a willing guest of pirates and passenger on a pirate ship, so long had I hated the breed, but now it felt oddly like a homecoming of sorts. I recalled how I had rubbished Jack's casual assertion back on the Interceptor that piracy was in my blood, a legacy from my father, but I couldn't argue against how right it had felt siding with a pirate facing down Norrington and his men.

And I wondered when exactly I had started to consider Jack Sparrow, the pirate, as one of the best men I'd ever known.

Oh, I knew Jack was no saint. He was gleefully devious, frequently erratic - on occasion worryingly so - and prone to acts of such utter recklessness as to have left me, and most other people, standing there in slack-jawed disbelief. I mean, who else would have had the gall to have even attempted something as outrageous as to steal - that is to say: commandeer - a Royal Navy brig with only two men, one of whom at the time didn't know a sheet from a shroud from a stay? Now I knew Jack, I began to reconsider how many of the outrageous stories told about his exploits might in fact have been true.

Jack, as I had discovered early on in our acquaintance, was a man who would do whatever necessary if he believed it to be the right thing to do. Unfortunately, what Jack considered to be the right thing to do was frequently at odds with what the authorities considered to be the right thing to do. At least in the life he had chosen as a pirate Jack was free to pursue his own, perhaps slightly skewed, sense of right and wrong.

Next to me Gibbs squinted as he pointed out features of the distant coast. "If I remember a'right, I reckon that big headland over there's goin' ta be Punta Caraballeda 'n' beyond that there's Cojo. . . 'r is it Mulatos. . ?" His words trailed off as he frowned, lost in thought.

"It's Cojo, then Mulatos, Mr. Gibbs," came Jack's voice with only a hint of its usual faint, cockney slur. "And our anchorage is a bay the other side of Mulatos, between there and La Guaira. If this wind holds we should be there by nightfall."

There was hint of something uncertain in Jack's tone that made both Gibbs and I look at him. His gaze was returning again and again to the land to the South, and I could see the ghost of a frown on his forehead. Wary of Jack's idiosyncrasies, both of us nonetheless scanned the horizon for any hint of what had given Jack pause. All I could make out was a peculiar clarity of light over the mountains that made up the headland, like sunlight burning through sea mist.

"What is it, Cap'n?" Gibbs asked in confusion, evidently having seen as little as I.

Jack didn't answer, but just looked at the dog vanes tied near the wheel. Each was made of cork and feathers tied onto a length of string that had all morning been streaming in the constant breeze. Now they were bobbing fitfully, and now I was thinking about it I could notice the change in movement of the ship as the way came off her and the wind dropped away. Jack's frown remained as he looked once more at the far off land.

"Mr. Gibbs," he began, the uncertainty gone as if it had never been. "I'll trouble you to reduce sail."

"Cap'n?" came the startled reply, and I couldn't help but agree with Gibbs' surprise. To take in sail when the wind was dropping? It seemed like foolishness.

"Jack?" I murmured, wanting a reason for so inexplicable an order as much as Gibbs.

He ignored both of us, looked aloft at the sails that were now alternately bellying and falling slack in the uneven wind, then back to whatever trouble it seemed that he alone had managed to see on the coast. "Now, if you please, Mr. Gibbs," he said mildly. "I want the t'gallants and courses taken in, and get a double reef on the tops'ls. . . if we have the time."

If we have the time. . ? Gibbs looked at me in confusion for a moment before the habit of obedience took over and he started bellowing out the necessary commands to fulfil his captain's admittedly bizarre orders. Orders that would have the Pearl jogging along at little better than walking pace in so fitful a wind. "Aye, Cap'n. Hands aloft to take in sail. Man the t'gallant clewlines. . . Stand by t'gallant sheets and halyards. . . Haul taut. . ."

I watched as sailors raced up the ratlines and the highest of the Pearl's sails were taken in. "Will," Jack interrupted, "I need you to get below and check the guns are secured in their tackles."

"Right! Uh. . . aye, Cap'n!" I amended, much, it seemed, to Jack's amusement.

Below decks I moved from gun to gun, checking the heavy rope blocks and tackles that secured each to the massive timbers of the ship's hull. The Pearl might have been a pirate ship, but to my admittedly uneducated eyes, there was nothing slovenly or haphazard about the way she was run. As far as I could tell, everything was as it should be. From above I could still hear Gibbs' stentorian bellows. "Let go the t'gallant bowlines. . . In t'gallants. . . Lower yard men furl the courses. . . Trice up. . . lay out. . ."

I returned on deck in time to see the Pearl's topmen at work putting the required double reef in the remaining sails she was carrying: the fore and main topsails. "Haul taut. . . Tend the braces. . . Trim the yards. . . Haul the bowlines. . ."

"Guns are all secure," I reported briskly, receiving a nod in reply. I was about to ask again the reason for his orders when I looked in the direction of a shore I could no longer see, a shore that was now hidden behind a roiling wall of dark cloud and tumbling spray that seemed to be racing across the sea towards us. "My God," I breathed, equally awed and dismayed at the sight. Where had *that* come from. . ?

My reaction seemed to be shared by most of the crew. All of us looked at Jack, instinctively seeking reassurance from the ship's captain in the face of the impending danger. On Jack's face was a taut, almost eager little smile as he turned the ship so the squall, when it hit, would catch the ship on the stern quarter rather than side on.

"Lord save us," I heard from Gibbs. "Looks like we're in fer an 'ell of a blow. I just 'ope the riggin' can take it," he added sourly.

"Nice range for a broadside, eh, Mr Gibbs?" Jack drawled sardonically as the spray line neared.

"Reckon you could reach it with a musket, Cap'n," one of the crew called out dryly, drawing strength from his Captain's calm.

"Or a pistol," I muttered a few seconds later.

Jack turned to me and grinned, gold teeth glinting in the fading light. "Everyone find somethin' t' 'old on to!" he yelled. The crew that were on deck locked their arms around rigging or looped whatever rope was convenient about themselves. I watched as Cotton grabbed his ever present parrot and tucked it inside his vest, the bird's squawk of protest all but muffled by the howl of the approaching wind.

Then, suddenly, the squall was upon us.

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