Storm Warning

By Alekto

Part 2 (of 2)

Then, suddenly, the squall was upon us.

It struck with an almost physical presence, as if in the merest instant the sea itself had come alive and was assailing us. Rain no less dense than a waterfall lashed across the deck, driven horizontal under the force of the wind. Exposed skin stung under its needle sharpness and within seconds I was all but blinded as salt water sluiced across my face and into my eyes. The deck beneath my feet shuddered and even over the screaming gale I could hear the Pearl's stressed timbers groan like the protest of a living thing in pain as the waves struck her.

Scant feet from where I was clinging onto part of the rigging for dear life, Jack and two others were braced at the wheel, wrestling with it in an attempt to keep the ship under even the vaguest semblance of control. It seemed a lost cause. As I watched I could see the deck slowly begin to tilt as that enormous pressure worked to heel her over.

"She's not payin' off, Cap'n! We're around too far!" howled one of the men at the wheel, his panicky voice almost lost as the sound of the wind was joined by the shrill, ever rising, drone of ropes vibrating under too much strain.

"Ease 'er a couple of points!" I heard Jack yell back in scarcely comprehensible reply, and watched through frantically blinking eyes as, spoke by spoke, he and the others allowed the Pearl's wheel to turn. From what I could tell, though, it was having little effect. "Hold 'er there, damn your eyes," he shouted at them, "hold 'er or she'll broach!"

A wave as tall as the rail I had been leaning on so casually no more than an hour before slammed into us, and I could have sworn I felt the massive bulk of the Pearl stagger under the blow like a punch-drunk fighter. The leaden grey water swept across the deck, dragging a couple of the crew from where they had taken refuge in the ship's waist, and washing them like some much detritus in the leeside scuppers.

From high above I heard the alarming creak from the mizzen mast crescendo to a horribly loud crack that sounded almost like cannon fire. I looked up in time to see a tangle of timber, rope and canvas fold down onto the quarterdeck.

"Jack!" I screamed in horror as the debris collapsed over where he and the others had been stood at the wheel. Before I even considered the stupidity of such a move I had released the death grip I had on the rigging to stagger over there. The wash from another wave knocked me off my feet and I frantically scrabbled to grab hold of something, anything, to stop me from going over the side.

More by luck than anything else I had grabbed onto the debris tented around the wheel. To my utter disbelief I saw another part of the same tangled mess being pushed aside from below and Jack's head, sans red bandanna, appeared. For a few moments his eyes were glazed in confusion, then they cleared and I could only watch in amazement as he, heedless of the blood streaming down the side of his face, forced aside what had once been part of the mizzen mast to grab hold of the splintered remnant of the ship's wheel.

Wondering as I did so what had happened to my own sanity, I clambered over the wreckage to his side, absently noting as I did the entirely inappropriate angle the ship's deck was tilted at. Jack accepted my place at the wheel without comment, merely offering me a fey, perhaps not entirely reassuring grin. "Just 'old 'er steady, Will," he shouted out. "She's comin' back to us. You feel it?"

For a moment I wasn't sure what he meant, then I too felt the change in the ship's movement that I knew Jack must have been so much more attuned to than me. The Pearl, which had been like a dead weight pummelled by the wind was slowly coming back to life, finally moving with the sea and the wind as she gathered way.

The drone of the ropes was joined by a noise like distant, rapid pistol shot and through the sheeting rain I could see the main topsail had torn free of the sheets that had been holding it and was flogging itself into shreds. Beyond it, all but hidden in the storm, I could just about make out dull grey shape of the fore topsail, bulging and straining but still intact.

"We'll 'old 'er on this course, Will," Jack shouted to me, as if I could hold a course in this weather. I looked sideways at him. He stood there, both hands braced on what was left of the Pearl's wheel, a glaze of blood washed over the one side of his face from some head wound, I had to guess. But his expression was one of sheer exhilaration as if there were no place else in the world he would rather be.

And not for the first time I wondered for Jack's sanity.

I glanced upward, catching movement through the sheeting rain and was just about able to make out the dull grey silhouettes of some of the crew fighting their way up the ratlines towards the flapping shreds that were all that was left of the main topsail. Their clinging movement reminded me of lizards creeping up the walls of buildings. To go aloft in this. . . I mused, and thought that perhaps Jack's sanity wasn't the only one I ought to have been questioning.

The tilt of the Pearl's deck was slowly returning to normal. The crew began to charily move about as they became accustomed to the now more predictable tossing of the ship. Somehow, despite the wind and rain, not to mention the ceaseless pitching of the ship, the topmen had managed to haul in the frayed remnants of the main topsail. The wreckage of the fallen mizzen topgallant mast was hacked away from around the wheel and shoved overboard, and the two men who had been standing with Jack at the wheel were carried below.

After an eternity of fighting the driving rain and howling gale, I gradually became aware of a lowering in the pitch of the drone from the ropes. Was the wind finally easing? A few minutes later I was sure of it. The bucking of the deck was noticeably less severe, and the once torrential rain was slackening to nothing more than a shower.

Holding the ship on course became less of a wrestling match as the sky cleared and the squall passed almost as quickly as it had blown up. I looked over at Jack and couldn't help the choked off laugh as I took in his appearance. The fearsome Captain Jack Sparrow presently resembled nothing so much as a half-drowned rat. His long black hair was plastered across his face, some of the trademark braids part unravelled. Streaks of kohl marked the creases in his face where he had been squinting against the wind and rain. The faint, white bloom of salt was everywhere.

Then I caught the dazed, terribly weary look in his eyes as he met my gaze, and remembered that he had not escaped unscathed from the collapsing rigging. "Jack, you're hurt," I pointed out. "Go below. You need to rest."

From his response it was as if I hadn't spoken. "Mr. Gibbs!" he called out as the man appeared on the quarterdeck. "Get someone to sound the well. See if we sprung any planks in that lot."

"Aye, Cap'n," Gibbs nodded and left to his task.

In the waist I saw AnaMaria supervising the replacement of the ruined topsail with a spare from the sail locker. I managed to catch her gaze and divert her attention to the noticeably unsteady man stood next to me who was leaning heavily on the wheel for support. She pursed her lips in mute, if annoyed, understanding of Jack's stubbornness, gave a few orders to the men around her then came to join us on the quarterdeck.

Jack looked up at her approach and steadily returned the measured look she gave him. I had the sense of an entire argument being waged in that mutual silent regard.

~You're not going to be fooling anyone, Jack, so don't even try. We all know you're hurt.~

~*Captain*, luv, remember?~

~And don't try and change the subject, either, *Captain*. Look at you: you can't even stand on your own!~

~I'm fine!~

~Jack, I've seen three day corpses that look better than you do right now!~

~Is there perhaps something I ought to know about this, AnaMaria, luv?~

~Shut up, Jack! Look, just go below, get some rest and leave the handling of the ship to us. For a few hours, anyway.~

~I'm not moving; not until I know she's alright.~

Their face-off was only interrupted by Gibbs' return. "There's a couple o' feet o' water in the well, Cap'n, but I reckon it'd be from water comin' in from the hatches so given time we can get 'er dry again with the pumps. The hull's solid."

"Thank you, Mr Gibbs," Jack murmured, the relief in his tone only too apparent. The topsail and even the mizzen topgallant mast could be replaced, but all of us knew that any hull damage beyond the most superficial would have been a much worse problem: after all, it wasn't as if we could sail the Pearl into port for repairs.

AnaMaria had evidently shared in our relief at the thankfully limited scale of the damage the storm had caused, but her attention had swiftly returned to the more immediate and pressing problem of dealing with a mule-headed Captain. She crossed her arms and glowered at him unflinchingly.

~*Now* that you know she's going to be alright, you can go below and rest, or so help me I'll knock you out and haul you there myself! Clear?~

I'd half expected another debate, but the comparative ease with which Jack acquiesced told both of us more than we wanted to know about how bad he had to have been feeling. As it was we were both ready when no more than a couple of steps from the wheel his legs folded under him and he pitched to the deck. AnaMaria took the wheel while I all but carried the Pearl's semi- conscious Captain to his cabin.

* * * * *

Over the next day Jack slipped in and out of consciousness, which given the size of the goose egg on his head ought not to have been too surprising. I was just amazed that he had managed to stay conscious throughout the storm! With Jack off his feet, AnaMaria and Gibbs ably took over the running and repair of the ship. The anchorage we had been heading for when the storm had hit was a more than adequate place for the task of getting the spare timbers carried in the hold cut and fitted to replace the mizzen topgallant mast and spar. It was secluded enough to offer some shelter from any roving opportunists wanting to take advantage of the ship's temporary vulnerability.

With AnaMaria taking a turn standing watch over her sleeping Captain, I headed up on deck to watch as the last of the rigging was fitted about the new mast, and the replacement mizzen topgallant hauled into place. Gibbs was standing on the quarterdeck, keeping a firm eye on the work as it progressed. I headed over to him, finally able to put to him the questions that had been gnawing at my mind since the storm.

"How do you think he knew?" I asked.

"Wha' d'ye mean, lad?" he replied phlegmatically.

"Jack," I started to clarify. "The storm. How do you think he knew it was out there? What was he able to see that we couldn't? I mean, I was looking where he was and I couldn't see anything amiss."

"Nor I. Nor, I reckon, thinkin' about it could most men, even countin' those who've spent a lifetime at sea. A man c'n learn to sail a ship, 'n' given time c'n learn t'sail it well, but to my way of figurin' there's a few men I've come across in all my time at sea who were born to it, 'n' Jack Sparrow's one o' them."

I shrugged, figuring it was as good an answer as I was going to get. Perhaps I'd ask Jack when he was up and about again.

"So what would have happened to us if we hadn't taken in sail?" I asked, wanting confirmation of an answer I had already arrived at myself.

"Speed that squall came down on us, we wouldn't've 'ad time to do much. . . p'rhaps we might've managed t'get in the t'gallants. . . p'rhaps not. If we'd've been lucky, it would've just torn the sticks out of 'er. Dismasted us," he explained at my blank look.

"And if not. . ?" I pushed.

"Well, your good friend Commodore Norrington would likely've been rid a few more pirates."

I nodded slowly. It was pretty near what I had worked out for myself, and I wondered how many times in the past other ships, not so fortunate as we, had encountered such a storm and ended up on the bottom with no one back in port the wiser as to how or why. "It's strange," I finally admitted, "but right in the worst of it, when I was convinced we'd all had it for sure, Jack looked like he was almost enjoying himself. The smile on his face was. . . You know, sometimes I think I just don't understand him at all."

I was heading back to the cabin and almost missed his quietly amused reply. "D'ye not, lad, b'cause I rec'llect that same smile bein' on your face too. . ."

~ fin ~

A/N: My first POTC fic, so tell me what you think! Ought I to have a go at writing another? (And if so does anyone have the time to help me with beta reading it?)