|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".
Three days sailing from Port Royal in a fair breeze, and Captain Benham's mood was on level with the bottom of the sea or, as Teddy would have called it, "byngish". It was a word that didn't exist. Teddy had often used made-up words; he liked the idea of a language only the two of them would understand. The unfortunate Admiral John Byng had been executed on the quarterdeck of HMS Monarch for cowardice after the French siege of Minorca, and Teddy had called him an unfortunate man suffering from a bad case of common sense. It was probably a good thing that Teddy had left the navy.
Benham began to feel lonely aboard the Blackberry. Lieutenant Dee was doing his best to upkeep discipline on the Lydia. Dealing with the murder of Captain Greitzer had been difficult enough, but the suicide of Lieutenant Groves added the element of superstition. Already first reports of "eerie noises" and "shadowy figures" were circulating among the men. The East India Trading Company would find it very difficult to man the ship in future; her reputation was ruined.
Groves had been sewn in sailcloth; the last stitch went through his nose as a concession to the superstitious sailors. Not only did it serve as a last proof that the man was really dead, it was also popular belief that the dead wouldn't return to haunt the living if their souls were stitched to their bodies. Then Groves had been thrown overboard along with two cannonballs, courtesy of the Blackberry. Benham and Dee had discussed the possibility of giving Greitzer a burial at sea instead of transporting him back to Port Royal, but Dee had advised against it. As long as the captain's body was aboard, the men wouldn't riot, out of respect for the deceased.
So Greitzer was in his brandy barrel, Groves in Davy Jones' locker, Dee sailing on the Lydia and Gillette sitting in the brig. In irons. It goes without saying that neither Greitzer, Groves nor Dee were responsible for Benham's constant frown. He found it very difficult to enjoy supper - and the salt pork with juniper berries was excellent! - knowing Gillette's night meal consisted of hard tack and water. It was even more difficult to enjoy the comfort of his cot as Gillette had to sleep on the floor. Of course Benham had made sure there were plenty of blankets, he wasn't a brute, but still, his mattress felt as if it had been filled with stones rather than straw.
The crew of the Blackberry had been surprised by Benham's decision, but not questioned it. If the captain said that the second lieutenant had to be locked up, then it was certainly justified. They were more worried about the bad omen of Groves' suicide than a possible court martial for their first lieutenant.
But the midshipmen - good grief. They were inconsolable, with exception of Mr. Jeremy, who was furious. He radiated disapproval and outrage; the usually so loquacious young man had reduced his conversations with Benham to "yes, Sir," and "no, Sir" and was as sociable as a hungry snapping-turtle. He didn't ask questions anymore and avoided the captain whenever possible. When Mr. Wallace reported sightings of young master Jeremy near the brig, a tankard with beer and a cushion half hidden under his coat, Benham decided that it was time to have a word with the oldest of his midshipmen.
Jeremy usually looked eager, excited or a bit nervous when called to Benham's cabin, but now he was stony-faced and serious. Benham busied himself with the papers in front of him, not offering Jeremy a seat as he usually did.
"This is all very annoying. Once we're back in Port Royal, I will have to explain the murder of Captain Greitzer without even knowing the reasons for the crime. Then there's the suicide of Lieutenant Groves and the fact that our Mr. Gillette has been aiding and abetting the escape of a prisoner - of sorts. For some reasons, Mr. Gillette is very eager to be executed, a first among the officers I've served with and a fact beyond my understanding. Then there's my cabbage, which Mr. Muir has very likely ruined by now. As you can see, I have many unpleasant things to deal with, so the last thing I need at the moment is a sulking midshipman. If you disagree with any of my actions, this would be the moment to tell me, Mr. Jeremy."
Jeremy's frown deepened.
"I'm only a midshipman, Sir. What weight could my words have?"
Benham tapped his fingers on the table.
"My patience is wearing thin, Mr. Jeremy. So thin that I'm finding myself reconsidering my stance on corporal punishment."
Though Jeremy knew that Benham only used canes to stake tomatoes, it was difficult to tell whether he serious or not, so Jeremy decided not to take any chances.
"Sir, you have locked Lieutenant Gillette up. In the brig. In irons. In irons, Sir! Lieutenant Gillette!"
Jeremy could have possibly not been more outraged if the captain had locked King George up in the brig of the Blackberry, and Benham hastily cleared his throat to hide a smile.
"Mr. Jeremy, I have no obligations whatever to explain my actions to you. I will do it, anyway. I had to give that order because Mr. Gillette committed a crime. He's an officer, he knew the consequences; it was his decision. So why don't you direct your outrage at him? Maybe it would be more helpful if you'd smuggle a copy of the Articles of War in the brig rather than beer?"
That didn't do much to calm the midshipman down; Jeremy was in full flow. "But that's my point, it wasn't a crime at all, Sir!" he continued his protest. "Mr. Groves would have died, anyway, so why does it matter?"
Benham gave him a stern look.
"There is a difference between a murderer being brought to justice and hanged and a murderer committing suicide. The fact aside that it's a terrible sin to take one's own life, it's important that people see that justice will be done, that there are no exceptions just because a crime was committed by an officer. The law is no respecter of persons. At least it shouldn't be."
Jeremy wrinkled his nose.
"So the punishment is not death itself, but the public humiliation? Indeed, Sir, I have to support Mr. Gillette all the more then, for he acted like a true friend and gentleman and spared Mr. Groves such a shameful end. It's - it's a question of honour, Sir."
Benham didn't like seeing Jeremy in such distress.
"I don't even know why Mr. Groves murdered his captain. I was not given the chance to understand and maybe find - extenuating circumstances. Do not think me to be cold-hearted, and I assure you that I'll do everything in my might to spare Mr. Gillette's life, but there are rules and laws, and we all have to abide by them. You knew that when you decided to join the Royal Navy, and I remember well how your father warned you that the life we live would be very harsh."
Jeremy straightened up and narrowed his eyes.
"My father also taught me that in the first place it's God's law that I should follow. Then I should listen to what my heart tells me, and only then consider the law of men. Had he followed the law of men, we wouldn't be here today, Sir."
"That is very true, but the Articles of War weren't written so that we may have more paper to fold paper ships, Mr. Jeremy."
Jeremy laughed bitterly.
"The Articles of War - of course! May I quote Article 1, Sir? All commanders, captains, and officers, in or belonging to any of His Majesty's ships or vessels of war, shall cause the public worship of Almighty God, according to the liturgy of the Church of England established by law, to be solemnly, orderly and reverently performed in their respective ships; and shall take care that prayers and preaching, by the chaplains in holy orders of the respective ships, be performed diligently; and that the Lord's day be observed according to law. Shouldn't you lock me up as well then? And, with all due respect, Sir, yourself along with me and Mr. Gillette?"
Benham jumped up and hit his fist on the table.
"That's enough! You're forgetting your place, lad! You're holding something against me that-"
The Blackberry was hit by a heavy wave, and Jeremy stumbled. Benham turned his head towards the porthole behind the midshipman, quite alarmed.
"What was that?"
Jeremy tried to pick up his hat and not to fall over.
"I'd say there's bad weather coming up, Sir. That's very odd; there has been fair weather for the last days, and not a single sign of a change."
Another wave shook the Blackberry, making the hull creak. Benham could feel it, the midshipman was right. The atmosphere had changed; they were in for rough seas.
"The weather in this part of the world is unpredictable. I fear you will have to challenge me to a duel some other time, Mr. Jeremy - we have to prepare for a storm."
* * *
In all his years at sea, Benham had never experienced a storm of such terrible force. It had come out of nowhere, without warning, and unlike other storms, which Benham considered to be an unavoidable confrontation between man and nature, this one had a malicious energy. It was almost as if the elements attacked the Blackberry following an intelligent plan. The waves hit the Blackberry fore and aft, shook her violently and broke the bow sprit, along with the figure head. The masts were stripped of the sails so quickly that Benham thought of the storm as a giant child, ripping the petals off a flower with glee.
Men were washed overboard with such force that they had not even the chance to cry for help, and when Midshipman Reynolds was hit by a jack block and had to be carried to the sick bay, Benham decided to release Gillette, Admiralty and Articles of War be damned. He gave Jeremy the keys and the lad almost fell down the stairs in his attempt to get to the brig as fast as possible.
Very soon after, Gillette appeared on deck. He was immediately drenched with rain and seawater, nodded briefly at Benham then made his way to a group of seamen who seemed to be paralysed with fright by the unleashed forces of nature. Even through the roaring of the storm Benham could hear Gillette yelling orders.
"What are you, able seamen or headless chicken? Move! Move!"
Benham yelled orders as well, and with Gillette on deck, the storm seemed to have lost part of its frightfulness. Jeremy came stumbling towards Benham, clinging to his arm so not to fall and stay close enough to be heard.
"Sir! Sir! Some of the men say this was the doing of Groves' ghost! They say that we are cursed and have no chance against the forces of hell and that the ship was lost, that we should abandon the Blackberry! They say-"
Benham steadied Jeremy, but interrupted his shouted report.
"Mr. Jeremy, fetch pistols for the lieutenants, and their swords as well. Also take a pistol for yourself. I hope that it won't come to the point that we will have to use force against parts of the crew, but it's better to be prepared!"
Jeremy stared at Benham in utter horror, wet hair clinging to his face, water dripping from his chin.
"Sir, I don't think I could-"
"If you have to, you can. On your way, Mr. Jeremy."
"Yes, Sir," Jeremy nodded, his face all serious again, and he went to fulfil Captain Benham's orders with the dignity of an officer, despite looking like a drowned rat.
* * *
It wasn't easy making his way to Gillette, but Benham was determined not to allow torn canvas, broken wood or any other side-effect of a bloody storm to keep him from his second lieutenant's side and inform him about a different kind of storm they'd might have to face. Gillette and Wallace clung to the wheel, trying to navigate the Blackberry through the storm without breaking the ship in two pieces.
"Where are the steersman and his mate?" Benham yelled.
"Gone overboard, Sir!" Gillette yelled back. A wave washing over the helm doused them even more; Gillette spit out and coughed. Benham had finally made it to the wheel and stood behind Wallace.
"There might be trouble with some of the men. I've sent Mr. Jeremy to fetch pistols and swords."
Wallace looked shocked.
"Good God! They wouldn't mutiny in the middle of a storm, would they?"
"No, Wally, but they think this is the doing of Mr. Groves' restless ghost. They want to abandon the ship."
"Do they think they can swim back to Port Royal?"
"I hope that we will never find out. What would you suggest, Mr. Gillette? Mr. Gillette? Lieutenant?"
Gillette stared out on the stormy sea. His eyes became wide and he said something to Wallace, yet it was impossible for Benham to understand the words in the roaring storm. Gillette must have spotted something of great importance, that was obvious, but before Benham could inquire what it was, Gillette let go of the wheel and pushed Benham aside, making his way past the box binnacle and across the deck at a fast pace. The wheel spun around and knocked Wallace over, and if Benham hadn't been so quick-witted, it would have been out of control. Luckily for the Blackberry and her crew, Wallace was not injured. He jumped up and helped Benham to keep the ship on course.
Benham swore a blue streak. Gillette looked neither left nor right, didn't seem to be bothered or even noticing the chaos around him. Benham had no idea what he was up to, but cold fear grasped him, and he knew, he just knew that he had to stop the lieutenant, no matter how.
"Mr. Morgan!" he yelled, and a burly seaman came running.
"Help Mr. Wallace with the wheel!"
Morgan took over, and Benham followed Gillette. It wasn't easy, the storm was still strong and rain poured down. Benham felt as if he was looking through opal glass, and he was grateful when a torn piece of canvas, once part of the main sail, hit Gillette hard and made him fall. The sail was wet and heavy, trapping Gillette underneath. It was the minute Benham needed to catch up with him.
He grasped Gillette by the arms and pulled him up to stand on his feet.
"Have you gone mad?" he screamed. "How dare you leave your position?"
Gillette tried to struggle free.
"Let go of me! Can't you see her? I have to leave! I'm not under your command anymore!"
Benham took an even firmer hold of Gillette.
"Who? What? The hell you are not under my command! I'm your captain!"
"You're not!" Gillette screamed, and punched Benham in the side. "There she is, can't you see her? She's waiting for me! The Flying Dutchman!"
The punch hurt, and Benham let go of Gillette for a moment, who immediately ran towards the railing. It was obvious that Gillette had lost his mind, for no matter how much Benham strained his eyes, he couldn't see anything but water and dark clouds out there, along with those pieces of the Blackberry the storm had stripped off her.
"Gillette! There is no ship! Stop! Gillette! Thomas!"
Benham jumped and managed to get a hold of Gillette's leg, dragging him away from the railing. Gillette kicked and struggled; Benham wouldn't have any of that, and the two men began to fight - Gillette for his death, Benham for Gillette's life. None of them held back. They rolled on the deck, were hit by sails and ropes, stood up and fell again, and the crewmen, too busy fighting for the ship and their own lives, didn't seem to notice. Gillette was taller, stronger and younger than Benham, and finally, he had the captain in a headlock.
"I'm sorry, I'm so very sorry, Sir," he said. "Thank you for all your kindness, but James is waiting. I have to go."
Gillette buried his face in Benham's neck for a moment, a gesture of such unexpected gentleness that Benham ceased his struggle.
"You'll understand it, don't you? I know you will, Lucas. I have to go if my captain calls me."
Benham opened his mouth to scream that he was the captain, that Gillette was his lieutenant, and that he would find love among the living rather than among the dead, but that very moment, Gillette was jerked violently forwards and let go of the captain. Benham fell over and landed on his back. Gillette stared down at him, surprised, shocked, not understanding what had happened to him. He staggered and stumbled, then a wave crashed on the deck and washed him overboard. The last thing Benham saw of him was a white, long-fingered hand - it was almost like Gillette waved him good-bye.
Benham scrambled up and looked over the railing, but Gillette was gone, swallowed by the sea. He turned his head, and there stood Mr. Jeremy, eyes closed, one hand clasped over his mouth, the other still holding the pistol.
* * *
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|BLACKBERRY - 9/15
by Molly Joyful