|Overall rating: R
Genre: slash, drama - Pirates of the Caribbean
Pairings: Norrington/Gillette, Gillette/OMC, hint of Elizabeth/Will
Feedback: very welcome. Good or bad.
Summary: Captain Benham has been ordered to Port Royal to sort out the mess Lord Cutler Beckett has left behind. He's confronted with a web of lies, secrets and a lieutenant who refuses to accept that his captain is dead.
Author's note: While this story is a stand-alone, it can be read as a sequel to "UNSOILED".
"T.G. can't accept that the accusations are true. I have allowed J. to escape. S. and I did not interfere. C.B. has been entrusted with this mission by the King. Not complying with his orders would be treason. And then there's E., what if she needs my help? The itching has become unbearable. I've taken to bathing daily, but though I scrub my skin so hard it's bleeding, it doesn't get better. The servants are whispering behind my back. Do they know of my condition? - J.S.N."
Captain Benham asked Gillette to take a seat in the drawing room, ordered Mr. Jeremy to make sure the former lieutenant wouldn't run away, and hurried up the stairs. He cursed the many buttons on his waistcoat and the uncooperativeness of his cravat, but still he managed to wash, dress and look presentable within ten minutes, a new personal record. Returning to his visitor was a more dignified matter. He wore his uniform; sliding down the stair-rail was out of question.
The door to the drawing room was open, and Benham could see Gillette contemplating the painting hanging on the wall behind the clavichord. Benham could imagine that Gillette must have been a very intimidating officer; he exuded authority. It was part of his personality, quite different from many officers who were like trained poodles. Mr. Jeremy seemed to have noticed the same. He stood next to Gillette, bolt upright and obviously feeling rather uncomfortable. If the silence was anything to go by, the midshipman's attempts to keep up a conversation with Gillette had failed. Benham decided to put the poor lad out of his misery.
"I hope I look more trustworthy now, Mr. Gillette. And I'm pleased to see you're interested in art."
Jeremy breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Captain Benham, while Gillette's only reaction was the arching of an eyebrow.
"With all due respect for the Royal Navy, Sir: in general I can't find that a man's clothes have much to do with his trustworthiness. Indeed, the biggest scoundrels I have met were dressed in silk and velvet. It is true that I admired the painting, though."
Benham narrowed his eyes, clasped his hands behind his back and crossed the room. Jeremy took a step back, knowing well that his captain in such a state meant trouble, usually for unsuspecting midshipmen.
"Scoundrels? You are very bold, Mr. Gillette, very bold! Some might even call you brazen-faced!"
Gillette hinted a bow, and reached for his hat.
"My apologies, how terribly rude of me. Absolutely unforgivable. I will leave your house at once, Captain Benham."
"T.G. has turned down C.B.'s offer to serve the EITC, mocking him in front of several officers as the parvenu son of a draper. T.G.'s words cut deeper and hurt more than my sword could. I admit that I felt satisfaction upon seeing C.B. losing his poise. - J.S.N."
Benham shook his head.
"Very cunning, Mr. Gillette, but we will not play this game by your rules. That aside you are right with your assumption regarding the nature of scoundrels, and I'd be a liar if I'd say otherwise. Mr. Jeremy, please go outside and check if the grass is still green."
The midshipman hurried out of the room, and Benham waited for the door to close before he addressed Gillette again.
"So what are your thoughts regarding the painting, Mr. Gillette?"
Gillette looked down at the two bulldogs who sat in front of him, watching him with great interest. He wasn't perturbed by the sudden change of subject.
"It was painted by a gifted, yet very eccentric artist, and, if you will forgive me my brazen comment, it's not really a painting one would expect in the drawing room of a man in your position."
"I know, a life-sized portrait of myself in my dress coat, looking all heroic with the Blackberry in the background would be more suitable. But I'll wait with that portrait until I made admiral, and you must admit that people prefer pies to captains."
Gillette finally allowed himself a small smile. It was surprisingly boyish.
"It all depends on the pie, I'd say."
"Again you are right, Mr. Gillette. It's a blackberry/strawberry pie, and I assure you that it tasted deliciously. I'm rather fond of this still-life; the artist, Edward deVette, was a friend of mine. It reminds me of more carefree and happier times. And now please take a seat, Mr. Gillette, and be at ease. This is not a court martial."
"Of this I'm aware, Sir."
Benham filled two glasses with his best whiskey and offered one to Gillette.
"I hope you will like this one, Mr. Gillette. I'm not trying to poison you; I need a drink, so my generosity is of a rather selfish nature."
Now the smile wasn't boyish, but indulging. Gillette reached for the whiskey, and Benham watched him closely. The young man took a sip and closed his eyes for a moment, enjoying the taste.
"Soft and smooth, malty and sweet. Excellent."
Benham was relieved. Gillette had savoir-vivre. He would eat a strawberry by savouring each bite, allowing the taste to linger on his tongue, not stuff himself like a peasant. Had anybody ever had the pleasure of feeding Gillette strawberries? Benham imagined that it would be rather inspiring to see him licking the red juice off his lips.
"He noticed the blood stains on my shirt and yelled at me to stop it. I told him that my bedroom must be cleaned. I'm certain there are bugs and other vermin in my bed. I can't sleep, the moment I lie down, I can feel them crawling over my skin, eating me alive. I have taken to sleeping on the floor. - J.S.N."
Benham shook his head; just where had that thought come from?
"Mr. Gillette, do you know why I'm here?"
"To save the face of the EITC and the British Empire."
"Yes. The noise produced by Lord Cutler Beckett in this part of the world has been loud enough to be heard in London. Uncomfortable questions have been asked. I'm here to find out what has happened, then fabricate a believable story in which everybody looks good."
"And swipe the truth under the rug in the process?"
"You admit it?"
"Don't be surprised. There are always two stories in such cases, Mr. Gillette: the official one and the truth. I will share the first variant with you: the incompetence of Commodore Norrington of the Royal Navy in dealing with piracy made it necessary for the EITC to take care of the business themselves. Lord Cutler Beckett was a bit overzealous, people died, there was a battle in which the flagship of the EITC was destroyed by the Black Pearl, commanded by pirate Captain Jack Sparrow. Admiral Norrington, now of the EITC, and Lord Cutler Beckett unfortunately died during said battle. I'm here to ensure that the ships of the EITC can sail these waters without fear of looting. As long as I'm successful, I can do whatever I want. End of story."
Gillette clenched his jaw.
"Commodore Norrington has been the scourge of the pirates in the Caribbean, while Lord Cutler Beckett was nothing but a power-hungry lunatic! And what about the Flying Dutchman?"
"Learned today I will not command the E., but sail on the F.D. - I understand this is my death sentence. T.G. wants me to flee, but I can't. S. is an old man and relies on me. And then there's E. I pray to God she's still alive. - J.S.N."
"Officially, there is no Flying Dutchman, Mr. Gillette. The Flying Dutchman is a legend. A cock-and-bull story. She will never appear in any report. But there are two things I want to do: clear James Norrington's name and ruin the reputation of Lord Cutler Beckett. I refuse to spend the rest of my life challenging random gentlemen to duels because they called James Norrington a lame duck. And I'm certain that you feel the same way."
Benham could see how Gillette's hand began to tremble.
"Of course I do. But you need to know that Commodore Norrington was - he was not the man you once knew, Sir."
"But he was still a gentleman, and that's how I want the world to remember him. For this I need your help, Mr. Gillette. You were with him at all times. I want you to tell me what really happened, starting from the day he decided to give Captain Jack Sparrow a head start to the moment he left aboard the Flying Dutchman."
"C.B. gave orders today that all men on half-pay either have to join the EITC or leave Port Royal with the Royal Navy. Could there be harsher punishment for T.G.'s words? He will never serve the EITC. I will lose my only friend. - J.S.N."
Gillette put the glass back on the table and shook his head, the way one might do after waking up from a bad dream.
"What do you want me to do, Captain Benham?"
"I expect you to do your duty, Mr. Gillette. In two days the Blackberry will put to sea. We'll accompany two convoy vessels which have been fitted to protect the EITC ships. Call it personal curiosity on my part; I want to know if any pirate would have the nerve to attack. I want you to serve under my command as Second Lieutenant. When you're not busy terrifying midshipmen, I wish to hear all you know about James Norrington and the events of the last two years."
"E. is dead. I wish I could mourn her, but I only feel numb. Her father is devastated. Shouldn't I be as well? The woman I once loved is dead. I told T.G. that the bugs are still there, and that E. has been murdered. He said I should move to one of the guestrooms, that there would come a time for mourning E., and that he hoped I'd understand that he could never sail under the flag of the EITC. - J.S.N."
Gillette stood up, his face drained of all colour.
"Sir, you don't know who I am. What I have done. Believe me, you would not want me aboard your ship if you knew. Please let me go, do not ask this of me. I have a new life, and while it might not offer me any prospect of glory and fame, it is a decent life. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavours, Sir, and God knows nobody would want to see James Norrington's name cleared more than I, but-"
Benham cut Gillette off with an impatient gesture.
"I'm not amenable to whining, Lieutenant. I expect you to report for duty on Friday, and if you shouldn't be there, Mr. Wallace will have you bound, gagged and carried aboard the Blackberry. Consider me your own personal press-gang, Mr. Gillette. More whiskey?"
* * *
"T.G. has left the RN. I'm ashamed of the joy I feel, and humbled by the sacrifice he made. He brought me bottles of Tamanu, said the natives would use the oil to treat scabies and other conditions of the skin. I took off my cravat as the pain and itching is worst on my neck, and applied the oil. It was cool and soothing, what a bliss. T.G. stared at the scabs, open wounds and scaly patches. "They go all the way down, Mr. G." I said. "Certainly this knowledge will cure you of your infatuation?" He didn't answer, but took the bottle from my hand and began to apply the oil for me, his gentle touch almost as soothing as the remedy. God forgive me, but I crave his touch. - J.S.N."
Benham closed the journal. Henry VIII. sat up and begged, and the captain gave him one of the treats he always carried with him to bribe the dogs into good behaviour.
"Time to go to bed, old boy," Benham said, and the dog trotted off in direction of the kitchen. Benham stared at the journal, then at the painting of the pie, surrounded by black- and strawberries.
"Oh Teddy, what am I going to do with this lad?" he asked, but of course, there came no answer.
* * *
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|BLACKBERRY - 5/15
by Molly Joyful