|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".
Captain Benham wiped the sweat off his forehead, leaving a smudge. Mr. Wallace considered mentioning it, but then decided against it. Benham's clothes showed numerous grass stains, his breeches were dirty from kneeling on the ground. One smudge more or less really didn't make any difference.
"Now look at this, it really worked, Wally! Lieutenant Gillette certainly is a genius, at least as far as gardening is concerned."
Wallace eyed the three slugs and various dead flies, drifting in the beer-filled bowl. Drowned in ale - at least their death had been a happy one.
"Well, he was right about the slugs, Sir," Wallace replied, deciding to keep his opinion about Thomas Gillette's genius or the lack thereof to himself.
Benham, still crouching on the ground, checked the cabbage plant for possible damage, and noticed with great satisfaction that it looked healthier and greener than ever before.
"Slugs are drunkards, Wally. Another interesting thing we've learned during our stay here. Have you any news regarding Mr. Gillette's state of health?"
"Mr. Jeremy hasn't returned from Fort Charles yet, Sir. But last thing I've heard, Mr. Gillette's recovering from the fever, and he seems to have stopped babbling nonsense about ghosts, pardon my French, Sir."
"I don't know your French, so she can do whatever pleases her." Benham found another slug, plucked it from one of his precious cabbages, took his knife and cut the animal in half. "Bloody beasts. They're everywhere. I'm at loss for words, Wally. At least as far as the written variety is concerned, and that's the one the Admiralty is interested in. I might as well send them a paper containing nothing but stick-figures. I think it's safe to say that I will be ordered home very soon, probably spending the rest of my days checking canvas supplies and controlling lists."
Wallace didn't like the way Benham looked at the moment, pale with dark circles under his eyes. Lucas Benham the invincible showed vulnerability. The old tar had no idea how he could help his captain; maybe a bit of rum would be a good start.
"How about - bending the truth, Sir? Not that I'd ever say you should be lying," he hastened to add. "Just - forget a fact here and there."
"Forget a fact? Wonderful idea. Splendid. Which one, Wally? The captain in the barrel we unfortunately lost along the way? The storm only affecting our ship, or Mr. Gillette's and Mr. Jeremy's little argument? I was ordered to come here to sort out the mess Lord Cutler Beckett has left behind and clear James Norrington's name. I think it's safe to say that my mission was a complete failure. Damnation, there's another one. Can't a man at least enjoy his cabbage?"
Wallace fiddled with his neckerchief.
"The less you write the better. It will be just another report, read by people who have a thousand other reports to read. Governor Green won't care, and in the end, the Admiralty won't care, either. There was a storm, we survived, things happened, period."
Benham stood up and winced. His back hurt, and he could feel a pounding headache coming up. He began to pace up and down the row of cabbages, knife still in hand, gesticulating wildly.
"Maybe the Admiralty doesn't care, but I do! I've taken some liberty with the truth before, and I have no regrets. But I want to understand what has happened here!"
Somebody was clearing his throat behind them, and both Wallace and Benham jumped. It was Midshipman Jeremy, hat under his arm.
"My apologies for eavesdropping, but with all due respect, Sir, there are things we will never understand. We just have to accept them. I agree with Mr. Wallace - there was a storm, we survived. Others didn't. Such things happen every day. Forgive me for being so forward, Sir, but nobody has a right to be all-knowing. Or perfect."
Benham gave Jeremy a sidewise glance. Not for the first time he had the humbling feeling of being younger than the midshipman. Calm and rational rather than full of youthful enthusiasm - Mr. Jeremy had grown up.
"As much as I hate to admit it, the midshipman has more common sense than his captain. Wally, please return to the Blackberry and see if Mr. Dee needs any help. We'll put to sea in two days, I don't want any problems."
"Mr. Jeremy, there are some things we need to discuss. Please try and step on as many slugs as possible on your way back."
Jeremy obeyed, wincing every time he treaded down one of the greedy gastropods. He absolutely hated the squishing sound, not to talk of the mental image of the red, slimy mass he'd later have to scrape off his shoes. Alas, fewer slugs meant healthier cabbage, and the greener the cabbage, the easier Captain Benham was to get along with. At the end of the day, it was worth the trouble.
* * *
It was pleasantly cool inside the house. Jeremy, sweating under his many layers of wool, cotton and linen, sighed happily.
"Mrs. Morgan! Tea! Food! And make haste, Mr. Jeremy is about to starve! As am I! Now!" Benham yelled. Mrs. Morgan peeked out off the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron.
"Now we can't have that, Sir, can we," she said, "would be a waste, losing such fine gentlemen! Rose will serve tea in the drawing room in no time, Sir."
Benham made a bow.
"You are a jewel among the housekeepers, Mrs. Morgan. One day I shall ask for your hand."
Mrs. Morgan giggled.
"Oh dear Sir, you always say the nicest things! I don't think my James would approve of it, though!"
"Oh yes, I forgot all about James. I'm cursed, Mr. Jeremy, cursed. There's always a James standing between me and my happiness. Well then, what are you waiting for? In the drawing room, we have things to discuss and I have to prepare my little bag of lies."
The two bulldogs were sleeping in front of Benham's favourite seat. They only blinked when they saw Jeremy; no need to growl, the young man was a friend of their master.
"Please, take a seat."
"I'd prefer to stand, Sir."
"Now that's too bad for you. Take a seat," Benham ordered. Jeremy did as he was told, hat still under his arm.
"You could possibly not look any more uncomfortable if you tried, could you? Mr. Jeremy, you spoke to five Spanish landsmen on the Lydia, is that correct?"
"And they couldn't tell you anything about Captain Greitzer and the missing barrel?"
"No, Sir. Not a thing."
Benham clasped his hands behind his back and gave Jeremy a stern look.
"Mr. Jeremy, it might have slipped your attention, but I'm not an idiot. Mr. Dee speaks Spanish fluently. He wouldn't have needed your help to interrogate the men."
Jeremy looked embarrassed and lowered his gaze. Benham waited, but the midshipman stayed mum, so Benham poked him in the chest with his index finger.
"Bad form, Mr. Jeremy. It is one thing to spread the rumour among the crew that your mother was the daughter of a wealthy Spanish merchant, Mr. Jeremy. I've hinted that your father was a Spanish grande, and I have no doubt that somebody will come up with the idea that you're the illegitimate son of the King of Spain. I approve of these lies because they serve your protection. But it's a completely different kettle of fish to lie right to your captain's face! Out with it, who were those men, and what did they say?"
Jeremy shifted uncomfortably on his seat, clutching to his hat for comfort.
"They were men who have sailed under my father's command, Sir."
"Have they been loyal to him or were they among the mutineers?"
"I have not killed any of them, Sir."
"Means: no mutineers. Good. What did they tell you?"
"They were the ones who threw the barrel overboard, Sir. And they did so by order of a lieutenant of the Royal Navy."
For a moment, Benham just stared at Jeremy, then he pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Mr. Dee gave them that order? Why on earth would he do such a thing?"
"No, Sir. The order was given by some Lieutenant Norrington."
Had Jeremy just announced that he had met a speaking goat aboard the Lydia, Benham couldn't have looked more flabbergasted.
"This must be a mistake."
Jeremy shook his head.
"I questioned them thoroughly, and they described the man very well. Tall, dark hair, green eyes. Old-fashioned uniform, they said. I'm not quite certain what they meant with old-fashioned, but they assured me that it wasn't the same uniform Mr. Dee wears."
Benham ran his fingers through his hair.
"We have now officially entered the realm of the absurd, Mr. Jeremy. Am I going insane? Tell me, do you think I'm still fit to command the Blackberry? Should I hand the command over to Mr. Dee?"
"Absolutely not, Sir!" Jeremy protested. "You are as sane as a man can be! As I said before: some things just have to be accepted."
There was a knock on the door, and Rose entered, carrying a large tray. She curtsied, gave Jeremy a quick glance and blushed.
"Your tea, Sir... Sirs..."
"Over here, please."
Rose managed to place plates and cups on the table without dropping or breaking anything. Benham had to hide a grin; a lot of tableware had been broken in the past during Mr. Jeremy's visits.
"Thank you, Rose."
Rose curtsied again, with one last batting of lashes at Jeremy. No more words were exchanged for a while; both Benham and Jeremy were hungry, and the tea was excellent.
Finally, Benham leaned back in his seat, placing saucer and cup on the armrest.
"A nice cup of tea with six lumps of sugar. That's all I need to make me feel like a human being again. How is he doing?"
Jeremy tried to switch his thoughts from 'being disgusted by six lumps of sugar' to 'Gillette' and managed to do so in under five seconds.
"Mr. Gillette is feeling much better, I'm happy to report."
"Has he seen sense?"
Jeremy licked his lips.
"He absolutely refuses to sail again, Sir, and has informed me that he will return to earn his living as a scribe as soon as he can hold a quill."
Benham patted Richard III.'s head. The dog yawned, then licked his master's hand.
"It's not like this was his decision to make, he should be aware of that fact. He could be considered a deserter. Is he refusing to sail again in general or did he refer specifically to sailing under my command, Mr. Jeremy?"
From the way Jeremy shifted uncomfortably on his seat and hesitated to reply, Benham could tell that the young man tried to find a polite way to give an unpleasant answer. When Jeremy opened his mouth, Benham cut him off.
"Forget my question, Mr. Jeremy." He reached for the spoon and began to drum on the saucer, making the tableware clinking. "The matter will not be mentioned again."
"Will you press him into service, Sir?"
Benham looked up, saw the worry in Jeremy's eyes and shook his head.
"An officer serving under duress wouldn't be of any use to the navy. And you know my stance on pressing men into service, Mr. Jeremy. It's just another form of slavery."
* * *
Gillette ignored all protests of Fort Charles' surgeon and awaited Mr. Jeremy fully dressed, sitting as upright as he could manage. He had lost weight during his illness, so his clothes were too large for him, and in his black coat he looked sickly pale. Not a pleasant sight, he could tell as much from the shocked expression on Jeremy's face upon entering the room.
"Sir? Thank you for allowing me to see you."
"If you have come to apologise, Mr. Jeremy, I can tell you that there is no need for it. It is only a through and through bullet wound."
"Sir, I don't want - what I try to say is that I did not have the intention to apologise, Sir. Of course I am very glad to see you alive," Jeremy hastened to add, "but considering the circumstances I'd act the same way under similar circumstances."
"As it would be your duty, Mr. Jeremy. I certainly hold no grudge. And I have to congratulate you on your marksmanship. You should be proud."
Jeremy shook his head.
"There is nothing to be proud of, and I don't deserve any compliments. May I speak freely?"
"Of course," Gillette said, and gestured at the other chair. "Please, take a seat."
"Thank you, Sir."
Jeremy sat down and put his hat on the table.
"You must understand, I didn't shoot you for attacking the captain; I shot you for attacking Captain Benham."
Gillette arched an eyebrow.
"I don't think I understand."
Jeremy looked out of the window. He could see the marines on guard, the gallows, the entrance to the office of Captain Benham. This was real, this was his world and his life now, and it wasn't easy to remember a different time, a different place, but he had to.
"My name is not Jeremy. It was my mother's name, Sir, who was as a lady from Surrey, and Captain Benham suggested I should use it for my own safety. That aside, I could have never joined the Royal Navy under my real name."
"Don't tell me you're the son of the King of Spain..." Gillette said.
"So that rumour already exists? No, I'm not the son of a king. But the son of a man of great power, nevertheless. The year I was born, he captured no less than seventeen British and French merchants to celebrate my birth. No man enslaved more men than him, and no matter how many expeditions Britain sent out to catch him, he always beat them in battle and escaped."
Gillette stared at the midshipman sitting opposite him, the respectable young man who was so proud of his King and Country and who had, without a doubt, a brilliant career ahead of him. An exemplary officer.
"Mr. Jeremy, are you trying to tell me that your father was - a pirate?"
Jeremy wrinkled his nose.
"If my father was a pirate for capturing French merchants and making slaves, then Britain must be home to many pirates, Sir. But yes, by your definition, he is - was - a pirate. Captain Benham was on yet another mission to put an end to my father's activities, and close to the Barbary Coast, his ship became involved in a battle between my father and one of his rivals. Many men died or were injured. That miserable coward was afraid - and rightly so! - that he had no chance, so he decided to capture Captain Benham's ship rather than seeking further confrontation with my father."
Gillette's head was spinning, but Jeremy continued his story.
"During the battle I went overboard, and Mr. Wallace rescued me. Out of the frying pan into the fire - I was captured along with the crew of Captain Benham's ship and sold with them into slavery."
"Slavery? You? Captain Benham?" Gillette asked, all appalled.
"Indeed. Captain Benham soon learned who I was, and I was scared that he would tell our captors. Please don't think bad of me for being such a coward; I was still young."
"Only fools are not afraid in the presence of danger," Gillette countered. "Please, go ahead."
Jeremy folded his hands in his lap.
"Captain Benham told his men that they should say I was one of the ship's boys. I was with them for many months. We had to work hard and were treated very badly, especially the officers. But Captain Benham, Mr. Dee and Mr. Wallace always watched over me. Once I stole bread because I was so hungry. I was caught, and they'd certainly have killed me, but Captain Benham and Mr. Dee offered to take my punishment. That's how - how Mr. Dee lost his ear, Sir. It was cut off."
"Good God..." Gillette wondered what Captain Benham's share of the punishment had been, but didn't dare to ask.
"One day the guards were arguing and didn't pay any attention to what we were doing. Captain Benham said this was my chance to escape, he'd make sure nobody would follow me. He only asked that I'd inform the Admiralty of his crew's fate. I promised to do so, and really, I managed to escape. Two weeks later, I was reunited with my parents, who were overwhelmed with joy. They had thought me to be dead."
Just like Teddy, Gillette thought. Teddy, who had been waiting, day after day - could there be a more terrible fate? Gillette's shoulder hurt, and he could feel cold sweat on his forehead, but he had to hear Jeremy out.
"And did you inform the Admiralty?"
Jeremy shook his head.
"No, it would have been pointless. Sometimes owners release enslaved seamen when their government pays a ransom. But the crew had been sold to a man who would have rather killed every man than set them free. No, the Admiralty couldn't have done anything to help Captain Benham and his men, but my father could."
Jeremy stood up and began to pace up and down.
"It was a debt of honour, you see? They had saved my life, so my father saved theirs. We attacked in the middle of the night, and it was a terrible fight. Many of our men died, and many of Captain Benham's men as well, but still, some made it back to my father's ship, and he told them that he'd allow them to go aboard the first British merchant that crossed our path."
For a moment, there was silence. Gillette could tell that it was hard for the young man to finish his story; he touched his wounds to see if they had healed or if they still hurt.
"Many men didn't agree with my father's decision. They said it had been foolish to attack our own people, that it was wrong to let Captain Benham's crew go. They accused my father of weakness, and he was warned that there would be a mutiny. You see," Jeremy continued, giving Gillette a helpless smile, "I was still a boy, and I admired Captain Benham greatly, for all he had done for me and the bravery he had shown. Now that I'm older, I know that my father must have had a premonition of his own death; that's why he encouraged me when I made the childish request of becoming a midshipman. Good grief, I've been such a silly child."
"Wait, please. One moment. Your father was a pirate? And he suggested you become a midshipman in the Royal Navy?"
"He must have thought that this was the only way to save me, Sir. He knew there would be a mutiny; I, as his son, would certainly have been among the first to die. He must have discussed it with Captain Benham, promised me that I would be away for only a few months. He promised that I could return home, to him and my mother, and that has been four years ago and I'm still here, Mr. Gillette! I've never seen him again."
"I'm very sorry," Gillette said, and put his hand on Jeremy's arm. "I wasn't aware of your losses."
Jeremy touched Gillette's hand with his own, just for a very brief moment, then he sat down again.
"We found a British merchant, and Captain Benham and his crew left my father's ship, taking me with them. From that day on, I was Mr. Jeremy, midshipman. News of my father's death reached me weeks later, and I was devastated. My mother had tried to return to Britain with the help of friends, but she never arrived. To this day I don't know what happened to her. I didn't know what to do, or where to go, but Captain Benham promised me that he'd look after me, and he has kept his promise. So, Mr. Gillette, I can't tell if I had shot an officer for attacking a captain, but I would kill anybody who'd attack Captain Benham, and that I'd act exactly the same way again if I had to."
For a long time, the two men sat in silence, each of them lost in thoughts. Finally, Gillette stood up, leaning heavy on the table so not to fall down.
"Thank you for telling me, Mr. Jeremy. Be assured that your secret is safe with me. I will return your trust and tell you that I more than deserved that bullet. I have been selfish, neglected my duties and put the ship in danger. I should face a court martial for my deeds. Quite frankly, I do not deserve such soft-gloved treatment. I have disappointed Captain Benham, and Commodore Norrington - he would have disapproved greatly of my actions."
Gillette put his hand on Jeremy's shoulder.
"Men like Captain Benham are rare these days, Mr. Jeremy. It's been an honour to serve under his command; an honour I don't deserve. As soon as I'm back on my feet, I will continue to make a living as a scribe. Look after yourself, look after your captain, and Godspeed, Mr. Jeremy."
Jeremy swallowed hard, then he straightened up.
"Godspeed to you as well, Mr. Gillette. Is there any message you'd want me to pass on to Captain Benham?"
Gillette thought of the Flying Dutchman, of Teddy and James Norrington. He thought of the book Norrington had mentioned, of the letters he had received. But there were no letters, no proof, maybe all those events that had seemed to be so real to him had been nothing but illusions caused by the fever. Maybe the truth was that he had drifted in a dory for days, exposed to the elements, and that Norrington had been nothing but a merciful chimera.
"No," Gillette finally said, "there is nothing left to say."
* * *
"Almost there," Teddy said. "I've never seen a man rowing as fast as Captain Turner - my apologies, the former Captain Turner."
"He has a beautiful wife and a lovely son waiting for him. Certainly nobody could blame him for being in a tearing hurry."
Teddy leaned on the railing. He watched Will Turner climbing up the rope ladder descending from the Black Pearl. Bootstrap Bill followed closely behind, looking from time to time over his shoulder to see if the Flying Dutchman was still there.
"Any regrets, James? I mean, about Thomas."
Norrington drummed his fingers on the railing.
"Regrets? No. Not as far as my recent actions are concerned. Before that - yes, many regrets. Too many to count, Teddy, but I can't turn back time. I think I have done the right thing, and I hope he will be happy. I will miss him very much, and there won't be a happier man than me come the day he'll return aboard this ship, but still I hope it will be a long, long time before it happens." He gave Teddy a sidewise glance. "Do I make any sense?"
"Oh, absolutely. Not a moment passes for me without missing Lucas, but still, I really don't want to see him here for another two decades or three. Time doesn't have any meaning for us here anyway, does it?"
Norrington and Teddy could see the men gathering on the deck of the Black Pearl. The one flailing was Jack Sparrow, of course. Norrington would have paid a lot to be a fly on the wall, or rather, a weevil in the flour aboard the Black Pearl now; the conversation between Jack Sparrow and Will Turner would be a thing of true beauty.
Suddenly, he had an idea. He turned to his first mate and shouted a command.
"Aye, Captain!!" the man replied, and hurried to do as he was told.
"You're an evil, evil man, James Norrington," he said. "As we have settled this now and our loved ones are hopefully on their good ways, may I finally draw you, James?"
"Draw me?" Norrington thought about it, then he nodded. "Yes, I guess that's fine. Now it is." He smiled, and it was a decidedly mischievous smile. "Is that all you want, Teddy?"
Teddy pulled his sketchbook out of his pocket and grinned.
"Well, we have to start somewhere, James."
* * *
"Give me the spy glass, quick," Jack snapped at Mr. Gibbs. Something was going on aboard the Flying Dutchman, and considering the fact that Will was here aboard the Black Pearl and not over there on the Flying Dutchman where he should be didn't do much for Jack's peace of mind.
"What's goin' on, Captain?" Gibbs asked, shading his eyes against the sun and trying to see what happened aboard the Flying Dutchman.
"They strike their colours. Sort of. In a way," Jack replied. "Will my lad, I hope you don't mind me askin', and forgive me for bein' so curious, you know it's against my nature to stick my nose in other people's affairs, but if you're not the captain of the Flying Dutchman anymore, who is?"
A new flag was hoisted.
"I was just about to tell you, Jack," Will began, "it was actually-"
"No, no, no. Don't say anythin', not a single word or by God, I'll make you walk the plank," Jack cut him off, staring at the White Ensign the Flying Dutchman was flying. He handed the spy glass back to Gibbs.
"Set course to Tortuga, Mr. Gibbs. And say a special prayer that we'll all live to the age of eighty and die ashore."
* * *
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|BLACKBERRY - 14/15
by Molly Joyful