|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".
"Crabs. Not bugs. Crabs. T.G. can't see them, but they are there, thousands and thousands of them. They're everywhere; under the floorboards, in the walls. Even at the fort I can hear the clicking of their claws. It sounds like C.B.'s walking stick dragged across the cobblestone on the place of execution. - J.S.N."
The day began with an extraordinary observation on Captain Benham's part: Lieutenant Gillette had the ability to smile. Mr. Jeremy, a book under one arm, a sextant under the other and various papers stuffed in the pockets of his coat, stood next to Gillette and fired questions at him. The midshipman had included Gillette in the small, exclusive circle of his personal heroes. The other members were Captain Benham, Mr. Wallace and Mr. Dee, so Gillette was in good company, even if he wasn't aware of it.
Benham noticed with great amusement how Jeremy had started to imitate the way Gillette held his head when he listened to Mr. Dee; it was only a matter of time before the midshipman would start to tie his cravat in the same old-fashioned manner as the second lieutenant.
"There will be a storm very soon," Gillette said, and shaded his eyes against the sun.
"There's not a cloud in sight," Jeremy countered. "How can you tell, Sir?"
"I can smell it, Mr. Jeremy."
"I do notice some odd scent just before a storm, but now I can't smell anything."
"You will learn in time to notice such things early on, Mr. Jeremy. Both you and your nose."
The midshipman took a deep breath, so deep his face began to turn red and his eyes became wide as saucers. He looked so eager and determined that Gillette had to laugh.
"Stop it, Mr. Jeremy, or you'll combust! Take your time. You excel in other things; I fear I'll soon have to come to you to learn about astronavigation."
Jeremy's face turned an even deeper shade of red, this time with joy over the unexpected compliment.
"Thank you, Sir! I study very hard; I want to make lieutenant as soon as possible."
"You'll make an excellent lieutenant, Mr. Jeremy. But now you shouldn't let Mr. Dee wait any longer. On your way."
Gillette had laughed. Benham decided to mark that day in his journal, just so he could go back and read about this extraordinary event the next time Gillette would listen to his orders with a stony face and cold eyes. The man was made for smiling. And Benham wished, just for a brief moment, that he were made to make Gillette smile.
* * *
"The Lydia is waiting for us, Sir."
"Let her wait. We will have guests for supper, Mr. Gillette."
"Supper, Sir?" Gillette looked confused, though he had become accustomed to Captain Benham's mental leaps. Following them was as difficult a task as catching a trout with bare hands.
"Yes, Mr. Gillette, supper. That's the meal following lunch. The captain and first lieutenant of the Lydia will attend said meal tonight. Old acquaintances of yours, I heard."
"Captain Greitzer and Lieutenant Groves. I understand you have served with the latter for some years?"
Gillette licked his lips.
"That is true. He has served as second lieutenant under Commodore Norrington on the Dauntless, Sir."
"And Captain Greitzer?"
"Has never served in the Royal Navy, Sir."
Benham watched Gillette carefully for any signs of upset, but the mask was firmly in place. He wished the young man would lose his poise, just once, yell and scream like Dee did from time to time. It would have been more natural, more human. But Gillette always kept his calm, an automaton rather than a human being.
"You and Mr. Dee will attend supper as well; you and Mr. Groves can talk about old times."
For a brief moment, Benham could see an emotion in Gillette's eyes. Anger? It was hard to tell.
"As you wish, Sir."
Benham steepled his fingers.
"Greitzer, Groves and Gillette. Good. Dismissed."
* * *
Benham took an immediate dislike to Greitzer, newly commissioned captain of the Lydia. The sentiment was mutual; Benham had refused to wear his wig and taken to powder his hair, an insult in Greitzer's eyes. On the other hand, Greitzer's arrogant attitude and the ridiculous walking stick he carried did not endear him much to Benham. It was obvious how very much Gillette loathed the representatives of the East India Trading Company. Mr. Dee did his best to keep the conversation going, yet he was fighting a lost battle, and Benham decided to take the bull by the horns.
"An excellent meal. One can hardly notice the maggots. I assume you all have at least a nodding acquaintance with each other?"
Greitzer wrinkled his nose.
"I wouldn't know about that. I admit, Lieutenant Gillette bears a likeness with the footman of the late Admiral Norrington, but certainly, I'm under a misapprehension there."
Gillette bit his tongue so hard he could taste blood, yet he didn't reply.
"Indeed?" Benham said, looking from Gillette to Greitzer. "It is good to know that Commodore Norrington was surrounded by gentlemen - at least at home."
Groves and Gillette didn't say a word, just sat there, staring down at their plates, while Greitzer and Benham continued to exchange veiled insults. Benham mastered this art far better than Greitzer, so the representative of the EITC became increasingly irritated. Dee, not sure what to make of the situation, kept himself busy with a second helping of roast beef. His captain would let him know if his support was needed.
Once they had finished and the table had been cleared, Benham leaned back in his seat.
"I have not invited you to discuss our mission, Captain Greitzer. There are some questions I wish to have answered."
"Questions? I wouldn't know what questions. It's your duty to make sure we can go about our business without being threatened by pirates," Greitzer grumbled, flipping a crumb of bread across the table. It landed in front of Gillette, who slowly pulverised it under his thumb, glaring daggers at the captain.
"It's not the first time I lead a convoy, Captain Greitzer. I know my business just as well as you know yours. Let me reword my statement: I hope one of you can help me to find the solution for a puzzle."
"A puzzle? Are we children?" Greitzer snapped. Groves and Gillette looked up, their interest caught.
"Aren't we all? The reason why I was sent to Port Royal is not taking care of your ships and securing the transport of old iron, Captain Greitzer. I have been sent there to sort out the mess Lord Cutler Beckett has left behind."
"Lord Cutler Beckett hasn't left any mess behind! The incompetence and treason of your highly praised Admiral Norrington were responsible for our failure!"
Benham's eyes hardened.
"I know from a reliable source that James Norrington wrote letters to friends of his from Tortuga, explaining his situation and asking for help. He handed those letters over to a lieutenant whom he trusted. Yet not one of those letters arrived."
"You can possibly not expect me to care about the mail service in Tortuga!"
"The formidable Mr. Jeremy has compiled a list for me with all lieutenants whose names start with 'G' and who served in Port Royal during that time. Two of them are here tonight - Mr. Groves and Mr. Gillette. I'm curious, gentlemen - who of you went to Tortuga and met Commodore Norrington?"
"T.G. has finally left me. I pray to God that he's on his way to Britain. There's still hope for him; as for me, I have none. - J.S.N."
"Let us begin with you, Mr. Gillette. You have served under Commodore Norrington for many years, and he trusted you. Mr. Jeremy found a note by one Mr. Mercer that you've been seeking a passage to Tortuga."
Gillette's eyes narrowed into tiny slits.
"Had I really been in Tortuga, I wouldn't have returned without Commodore Norrington," he replied. "Unlike others, I didn't show the white feather and jump ship."
"Are you calling me a coward?" Groves snapped.
Gillette arched an eyebrow.
"Funny how, if you throw a stone in a pigsty, it's always the pig that gets hit which is squeaking."
"I've never been to Tortuga!"
"You betrayed your captain. So, indeed, I call you a coward and a traitor."
Groves jumped up. Benham and Dee held the man back; otherwise he would have leaped across the table and been on Gillette's throat. They pressed Groves back down on his seat, and only when they were certain that he would not make any further attempts to stand up they let go of him.
Groves shook his head, looking very tired all of a sudden.
"Will you never get over it, Thomas?"
"You have been an officer of the Royal Navy, and a good one. There was no reason to switch sides."
"I was on half-pay, and I made the decision I thought to be the best. Who are you to judge me?"
Gillette put his hands on the table, leaning forward.
"Have you already forgotten what they did? How many they killed? How they treated him? Don't you get sick seeing that bloody walking stick day after day? Don't you have any honour?"
Benham prevented Groves from answering by cutting his first lieutenant short.
"That's enough, Mr. Gillette."
Greitzer had watched the heated discussion with a disgusted expression on his face.
"Some discipline you have aboard your ship, Captain Benham. I'd have him put in irons and brought before a court martial!"
"Do with your lieutenant as you please. As for mine, you have no say, with all due respect, Captain Greitzer. You have never been to Tortuga, by any chance?"
"This is ridiculous! Do I look like Admiral Norrington's postillion d'amour?"
"You rather look like Lord Cutler Beckett's lapdog," Gillette said icily.
"Enough now or I will have you put in irons and locked in the brig. This is an order, Mr. Gillette. Supper is finished, gentlemen. Mr. Wallace! Mr. Jeremy! Our guests are leaving!"
Wallace and Jeremy, who had both been outside eavesdropping, stumbled into the great cabin. At the sight of the upset lieutenants, they didn't know what to say at first, but Jeremy quickly regained his poise.
"Captain Greitzer, Lieutenant Groves, would you please follow me?"
Greitzer ignored the midshipman.
"There will be serious repercussions for this, Captain Benham," he hissed. "Don't underestimate my power."
"And don't you forget that it's Britannia who rules the waves, not the East India Trading Company, Captain Greitzer. Good night."
Greitzer cursed, pushed Jeremy aside and limped out of the cabin. Groves followed him without looking at Gillette, Jeremy and Wallace in tow. Dee scratched his head, giving Benham a confused sidewise glance.
"My apologies, but I have no idea what's been going on here, Sir. Not that this was unusual, but - still."
"You will learn in time, Mr. Dee. I learned what I wanted to know. Good night."
Once they were alone, Gillette raised and leaned on the table.
"You're bleeding on my mother's dinnerware, Mr. Gillette."
Gillette touched his nose and looked at the blood with a confused expression on his face.
"Now you're bleeding on the table. Here, take this."
Gillette reached for the offered napkin.
"Sir, I-" he began, but Benham cut him off.
"Yes, yes, I know, you're terribly sorry that you ruined the evening and behaved in such an outrageous manner, and you don't mind a court martial. I have some news for you, Mr. Gillette: I will not give you any opportunity for martyrdom. If you wish to sacrifice anything on the altar of St. James, I suggest you slaughter a chicken."
Gillette muttered something into the napkin, and Benham lost his patience.
"Good grief, what are you doing there! Sit down, lean your head back. Yes, that's good. Now give me that bloody napkin! Don't you have any common sense at all?"
Benham pressed his index-finger to Gillette's upper lip.
"That should stop it. Learned this trick from my grandmother. Now imagine if there had been a brawl in my cabin! And you would have lost, judging by the looks of Mr. Groves. To think that James described you as reasonable and restrained... will you stop fidgeting already? But still, the evening was a success. You did exactly what I hoped you'd do - men who lose control are not lying, so I think we can assume that the lieutenant who failed to deliver James Norrington's letters was not Mr. Groves. Still, I'd prefer if there were no further incidents of this kind, Mr. Gillette."
The bleeding had stopped, and Benham wiped his finger off on the napkin. Gillette tried to sit up straight, feeling a bit giddy.
"You - wanted me to do this?" he stammered.
"I hoped for an argument, yes. I didn't expect you to give Mr. Groves a verbal flogging around the fleet." He pulled a chair close and sat down next to Gillette.
"There were four of us - midshipmen, all serving on the same ship. Me, my brother John, James Norrington and Edward deVette. John died in the first battle we were involved in, and after a year, it became clear that Edward was neither suited nor destined to serve in the Royal Navy. He left and attended the Royal Academy of Arts, spending his days painting dogs, overweight admirals and ships. I dare say he was a better painter than midshipman, an opinion our captain certainly shared. Here, have some wine to wash down the anger and the blood."
Gillette accepted the glass and emptied it in one go. Benham waited a moment, then he continued his story.
"I admired James very much, you must know. Not for his knowledge in naval matters, his interest in history or his skilled swordsmanship. I envied him for the unique talent of balancing a hard tack on his nose."
"I beg your pardon?"
Benham had to smile.
"Childish, isn't it? But then I still was a child back then - thirteen, if I remember correctly. At that age, you admire people for the oddest things. At least our Mr. Jeremy has more common sense; he admires you for your extraordinary skills on the field of tying cravats."
Gillette smiled. Twice in one day, it was incredible, and what an adorable lopsided smile it was! Benham wondered if James had been graced with such smiles as well. Had his heart also skipped a beat, had he also longed to see that smile again, directed at him, only at him?
"You don't know what I'm talking about, do you?"
Gillette considered a polite lie, but then he shook his head.
"Good answer. What I'm trying to tell you is that the man you knew was very different from the man who was my friend. Your James Norrington is a stranger to me. And there's no better way to learn about a man and his mindset than by looking at his enemies. I think I've met one of them tonight. Your observation was rude, but correct. The lapdog is still carrying his master's stick."
Gillette looked down at his blood-stained waistcoat.
"I should have stayed with him."
"'Let us also go, that we might die with him.' You are not Thomas the Apostle, Mr. Gillette."
Benham rested his hand on the young man's shoulder.
"I know loss and grief as well. They will eat your heart and soul if you're not very careful, Thomas."
Gillette shrugged Benham's hand off and looked up, his mouth a thin, bloodless line. Lips like razor blades, incapable of smiling.
"You don't understand, Sir. I am one of those who were responsible for his death."
"He is back. I'm ashamed that I feel such joy at the sight of him. He made me an offer, and I accepted. A terrible sin, I have damned both our souls, yet I can't feel guilty. How selfish of me. But how could I have turned him down? How could I have denied myself the only chance of feeling alive, if even for a few moments? And what if we'd stayed like that, my arms around him, for all eternity? Dust would have settled, day after day, and finally, years from now, we'd been covered by this soft, thick layer, becoming one with it, invisible and safe and finally at peace. - J.S.N."
* * *
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|BLACKBERRY - 7/15
by Molly Joyful