|BLACKBERRY - 8/15
by Molly Joyful
|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".
"This might be of interest to you, Mr. Dee."
Benham reached the map across the table, the cuff of his coat coming perilously close to the open inkwell. It was a map of the Caribbean Sea, and Dee studied it with great interest.
"Wonderful work, Sir. Shoals and dangerous currents have been charted, half of them I've never heard of. May I ask where you have purchased it?"
"You may ask, Mr. Dee, but I can't answer that question. Not yet. What's your impression of Lieutenant Gillette?"
Dee tried to redirect his thoughts from the map to the second lieutenant, cursing Benham's habit of jumping from one subject to another within moments.
"He's a very capable officer, Sir."
"Would I have insisted that he came to serve aboard the Blackberry if I'd thought him to be an idiot? I want to know what you think of him."
"He's a gentleman. He remains at the helm no matter the circumstances and the men respect him."
"But they don't like him."
"I wouldn't put it like that, Sir. The midshipmen adore him, but the rest of the crew - well, I'd say they neither like nor dislike him. He's an officer. They respect his rank and skills, but they can't see the man for the lieutenant."
Benham leaned back in his seat and gave Dee a sly look.
"But you can? You should. You share a cabin, after all."
Dee looked uncomfortable and shifted from one foot to the other like a little boy.
"One could say that he's pleasant company, Sir."
"Have you found anything of interest in his sea chest?"
"Sir, with all due respect! I would never do such a thing, going through his effects behind his back," Dee protested, rather insulted by Benham's question.
The captain tapped his fingers impatiently on the table.
"Mr. Dee, would you rather that I share the cabin with him so I can do it?"
"If this should be your wish: my berth is all yours, Sir."
"That's very generous of you, Mr. Dee, yet I fear that it might be a bit too small for the two of us. How is your wife, by the way? Please don't forget to send her my warmest regards the next time you write. I have always found her and you to be very pleasant company. Dismissed."
Dee left very quickly, and Benham returned his attention to the map in front of him. It was the work of one of London's best mappers, and the notes regarding shoals and currents, made in James Norrington's neat handwriting, would be very useful. Benham had found the map on the table in the early morning. He hoped that, once they were back in Port Royal, at least James' books on gardening would be returned to the library as well. The cabbage was in a lamentable state.
Benham put the map aside, took James Norrington's journal out of his writing slope and leafed through the small book. He had hoped for some information regarding the Flying Dutchman and Lord Cutler Beckett's plans, but the few entries that James had made aboard the Endeavour consisted of nothing but coordinates and weather conditions. What an extreme change from the intimate, deeply personal previous entries - it almost seemed as if James had left his soul behind the moment he had embarked on his last journey.
In a way, that was probably true.
"How could I have denied myself the only chance of feeling alive, if even for a few moments?"
Was that what Gillette had been to James? A chance of feeling alive? In the beginning, Benham had read the journal without a feeling of guilt; after all he had a mission to fulfil. But with every entry, the feeling of being an intruder had increased. There could be no doubt that Gillette had been deeply in love with James, still was, that he would have died for him without hesitating a second - but what about James? Not once the word "love" had been used, not even "affection"; had Gillette been nothing more to him than the spar a drowning man would cling to?
Benham hated the thought. That would not have been like James at all; his friend would have never used people in such a manner. Benham was angry with himself, for snapping at Dee just because he liked Gillette. Was jealousy the same as envy? If that was the case, so Benham mused, he was guilty of a deadly sin. He envied James for having Gillette's love, even beyond the grave. He envied Dee for sharing his cabin. Would his eyes be sewn shut with wire after his death, as Dante had predicted in his Purgatory?
Benham sighed. If he added lust and wrath to the list, and, if he was completely honest, pride as well, the list of deadly sins he had committed in his life was rather long. A good thing he didn't believe in an afterlife, or he would have spent his days in fear of God's wrath. Then there were the various Articles of War he had broken. Article 1 made him a hypocrite, as he refused to believe in a deity who had taken from him what he had loved most. And then there was Article 29 - yes, Article 29. Broken so many times, without even the smallest feeling of guilt.
Only two years had passed since Teddy's death, and here he was, spending a good part of his days and a not insignificant part of his nights thinking of Gillette. There was no fool like an old fool, it was very unlikely that anybody would ever be able to push Saint James off the pedestal Gillette had put him on.
But there was the map, probably Gillette's way of saying "thank you" for the humiliation of Captain Greitzer. So Gillette at least didn't hate him. It was a start.
"You're a very odd creature, Thomas Gillette," Benham said to himself. "I wonder how many insults I'd have to hurl at Greitzer to get James' chamber pot back."
* * *
The chamber pot remained missing, but the storm Gillette had predicted shook both the Blackberry and the Lydia with considerable force. Gillette proved that he was worth his salt during the storm; every man knew where he had to be and Gillette was working side by side with the seamen. The midshipmen gathered around Gillette in the unquestionable confidence that the lieutenant would tell them what to do without putting their lives at risk unless necessary. The youngest one, Mr. Reynolds, was only twelve years old, and as he happened to be rather small for his age and didn't weigh much more than a small barrel of beer even when dripping wet, Gillette tied him to the main mast without further ado. An unconventional practice, no doubt, but it was preferable to losing the boy.
The next morning Benham found Gillette on the quarterdeck, as usual accompanied by Mr. Jeremy. At the sight of the midshipman, Benham wondered for a minute about the nature of Jeremy's admiration. He followed Gillette around like a chick the mother-hen, and while Benham had no doubt that the lad could learn a lot from Gillette, he hoped Jeremy wouldn't go overboard, and not only in the literal meaning of the word.
For crying out loud, now he was beginning to feel jealousy towards a midshipman! Benham cleared his throat and put on a smile.
"Isn't this a fine morning, gentlemen! Quite a shake we took, didn't we?"
Upon hearing Benham's cheerful greeting, Gillette turned around. He was nervous, probably fearing that the captain would ask him about the map. Once he realised that there was no risk of an interrogation on that matter, Gillette relaxed and seemed to be more at ease.
"Yes, Sir. I'm very satisfied with the crew. No lives have been lost."
"They are very reliable, indeed. Would you believe the crew consists of the biggest scallywags in the Royal Navy? I've been told they'd end on the gallows for mutiny, but look at them now!"
Gillette was confused.
Jeremy looked slightly insulted, and Benham had to hide a grin.
"Our midshipmen, of course, are perfect gentlemen. Mr. Jeremy, Mr. Dee might need your assistance with some paperwork."
Jeremy caught the hint and hurried away, head held high like the captain of a newly launched first-rated frigate.
"Scallywags, Mr. Gillette. It was a bet, you see. Some fine gentlemen at my club insisted that a man couldn't change once he was on his way down, and that any effort on him would be wasted. I disagreed and, needless to say, I won the bet. Why did Commodore Norrington allow Jack Sparrow to escape, Mr. Gillette?"
Gillette frowned, caught off-guard.
"It is not my place to make assumptions regarding the motivation of a superior officer's decision, Sir."
"I wish there was an Article of War regarding the annoyance caused by pretentious lieutenants, Mr. Gillette, but then you'd face a court martial, and we wouldn't want that. I need to understand why a man who lived so strictly by the rules and laws as Commodore James Norrington allowed a pirate to escape. It makes no sense to me, you see?"
There was a battle raging inside Gillette, Benham could tell from the way the man rubbed his fingers. He always did that when he was nervous. Rubbing his fingers or, if he thought no other officers were around, cracking his knuckles.
"Commodore Norrington was probably convinced that it was the right thing to do for a gentleman. A matter of fairness, Sir. He didn't let Jack Sparrow escape as everybody claims - he gave him one day's head start," Gillette finally replied. He spoke slowly, carefully, desperate not to say anything about James that might be constructed as disagreement or criticism.
"Would you have allowed him to escape?"
"Yes, or do you see any other lieutenant around here?"
"I have never thought about that, Sir," Gillette said stiffly.
"Mr. Gillette, the only one aboard the Blackberry who's entitled to the occasional bit of lying is me."
"I can't answer that question, Sir. I was not in the position to make such a decision."
Benham stood very close to Gillette now. Damn the man for being tall, it would have been far easier if he had been eye to eye with the lieutenant. Still, he had managed to unsettle Gillette.
"No. I wouldn't have let him go. And I would have never believed her when-"
Benham never learned what Gillette wouldn't have believed, because Dee came running, Jeremy close behind him, both officers being very upset.
"Captain Benham! Sir!"
"Is anything amiss, Mr. Dee?"
"There have been signals from the Lydia, Sir - we have to launch a boat immediately, something terrible has happened!"
* * *
Aboard the Lydia, Benham, Dee and Gillette were greeted by a very pale-looking young man who introduced himself as Lieutenant Henry Tigg. He was surrounded by seamen, most of them armed, which was an unusual sight. Tigg's hands were shaking, and Benham wished somebody had had the wisdom to give the lad a stiff drink, because that seemed to be exactly what the poor devil needed.
"Thanks God you are here, Captain Benham! It's terrible; I have never seen such a thing! At first we thought it was a mutiny, but then it became clear that-"
"Where is Lieutenant Groves?" Benham asked, cutting Tigg off.
"In the brig, Sir. The men wanted to hang him from the yardarm. I gave orders to shoot anybody who'd try to interfere with the normal course of justice. I hope that was right, Sir? I promised them that he would be brought in front of a court martial, but the men are still very much upset, Sir."
Benham looked around. The faces of the men serving on the Lydia expressed shock, fear and anger - a dangerous mixture. The last thing he needed was more upset or even a riot; under no circumstances would he tolerate any further violence, no matter how justified the anger of the men might be.
"Their anger is understandable, yet this matter is now in my hands. I will send some of our marines and Mr. Dee here will stay with you for the next few days, Mr. Tigg. A few extra muskets will make it easier to keep the men at bay. Are there any witnesses of the crime?"
Tigg shook his head.
"No, Sir. But he doesn't deny his deed at all. He actually seems to be - pleased."
"I see. Mr. Gillette, I suggest that you will try to talk to Mr. Groves. If there is anybody here who might be able to shed some light on this matter, it would be you."
Benham clasped his hands behind his back.
"Lieutenant Gillette will interrogate the prisoner, Lieutenant Tigg. In the meantime, I wish to see the body."
* * *
Gillette looked over his shoulder, and when he was certain that he was alone with Groves, he crouched down next to the corner of the brig his former friend had curled up in.
"Daniel, can you hear me? Daniel, it's me, Thomas."
Groves lifted his head. Gillette could see that he had been beaten up badly. It had to be expected, it was a miracle the men had not hanged him right on the spot. The yellow and blue uniform of the East India Trading Company, representing everything Thomas hated, was torn and heavily bloodstained. It couldn't be Groves' blood alone; he would have already been dead otherwise.
"Thomas, old friend. If I'd known you'd be coming for a visit I'd polished my irons."
Gillette sat down and leaned against the grid. Groves did the same; their heads would have touched if the bars hadn't separated them.
"Why did you do it, Daniel? Why? You must have known that there was no chance for you to escape!"
"Somebody had to do it. I've often thought about it, you know. Sometimes I stood behind Cutler Beckett and imagined that I'd strangulate the bastard with his own cravat. I've been daydreaming of cutting Mercer's throat with his dagger. Sending Greitzer to kingdom come? A personal pleasure. I have no regrets."
"How did you do it?"
A laugh - not the laughter of a madman, but simply an expression of amusement. Gillette shivered upon hearing it.
"I beat him to death, Thomas. With Cutler Beckett's walking stick! You must admit, the irony is striking. Striking, indeed! See, it was Greitzer who kept Norrington's letters. I had no idea, but my, how smug he was about it the night after supper aboard the Blackberry! He just had to tell me, you see? Had to brag with this wonderful, clever plan of Beckett and Mercer and him, isolating Norrington from his friends and forcing him to join party with the Most Honourable East India Trading Company. It was a trap, Thomas. Your captain, he's a great man. He humiliated Greitzer more than I could have ever done, but I did the next best thing. I took my time, so you can be assured he suffered for a while. It was the least I could do. As I said, I have no regrets."
Gillette pressed his forehead against the cold bars.
"I wish I had your courage, Daniel. I've been weak. I've let him down."
Groves shook his head.
"You've been James Norrington's best friend, and he knew that. No, it's fine the way it is now."
"Daniel, there's something I must know. Did he - is it really true that he died aboard the Flying Dutchman?"
"Did you see the body?"
"The body?" Groves frowned. "No, Thomas. I've never been aboard the Flying Dutchman."
Gillette licked his lips. There was a thin film of sweat on his forehead and upper lip.
"That's what Elizabeth Turner said as well. I asked her over and over if she could swear on her son's life that Commodore Norrington was dead, but she refused. Nobody could tell me for sure, so he might still be alive!"
"Thomas, no!" Groves cried out, highly alarmed. "He is dead, dead, dead! Our captain is dead, accept it!"
Long, freckled fingers held tight to the bars, knuckles standing out white.
"Barbossa lives. Jack Sparrow lives. Both have been dead. Why can't my captain be alive as well? Maybe he was only injured? I have to find out, don't you understand? It's not fair! All those pirates live, and my captain shall be dead?"
Groves hit his fist against the bars.
"Thomas, you have to be dead to get aboard the Flying Dutchman! I'll probably go straight to hell, but you are the only one of our gallant little troop who's left; for God's mercy, live your life and let the dead rest! Remember him as the man he used to be, and try to think of me at times as well, a lieutenant you used to have a drink with at the tavern and who always lost his bets."
Gillette didn't reply, just clenched his jaw stubbornly, and Groves sighed.
"Will you come to my hanging, Thomas? I'd feel better if I knew you were there. At least one friendly face in the crowd."
"Your hanging?" Gillette repeated, as if he had only just now realised what punishment expected one who had murdered his captain.
"Your hanging - no, Daniel, I don't think I will be there."
* * *
Nobody spoke while the longboat made its way back to the Blackberry. Groves was in the brig and in irons, Greitzer had found a temporary resting place in a large brandy barrel, and Benham gave Gillette concerned sidewise glances. He didn't believe his report that Groves had refused to talk to him. He was worried because Gillette hadn't tried to speak in his friend's favour. He'd expected his second lieutenant to protest, maybe even ask for mercy, yet all Gillette had done was staring into space.
They had almost reached the Blackberry when a single shot from a pistol could be heard, ending the eerie silence. The sound came from the Lydia. All men startled and turned to see what had happened aboard the merchant.
All but Gillette.
"Mr. Gillette, where is your pistol?" Benham asked calmly.
Gillette slowly turned his head and looked straight into Benham's eyes.
"I don't have it anymore, Sir."
Benham felt as if somebody had stabbed him right through the heart, and for a brief moment, Gillette could see in his eyes regret, pain, genuine sympathy and affection. But those were the feelings of Lucas Benham, not the ones of Captain Benham, Royal Navy.
"Put Lieutenant Gillette in irons and lock him up in the brig as soon as we're back aboard the Blackberry, Mr. Wallace," he said. Then he addressed Gillette.
"You are aware that it is very likely that you will be executed, Mr. Gillette?"
"I'm fully aware of the consequences, Sir. I don't fear death. I only ask to be executed at sea. Please send me to Davy Jones' locker, Captain Benham."
* * *
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