|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".
Rain was drumming against the windows of Governor Green's drawing room. Captain Benham didn't bother to look outside; he wouldn't have seen much more than a grey, wet curtain. The rain would stop just as quickly as it had started, a normal occurrence at this time of the year.
"For God's sake, Lucas; stop the pacing. You're wearing down my carpet."
"My apologies," Benham murmured, and sat down, hands folded in his lap and staring into space.
Green, sweating under his wig, secretly envied Benham, who only wore his wig when absolutely necessary. Benham was of the opinion that he didn't need powdered horsehair full of lice to get respect. Such arrogance did not endear him to everybody; behind his back, many frowned upon such antics, but Benham didn't care. Lately, Lucas Benham hadn't cared for much, anyway. He seemed to be in a constant state of sorrowfulness, and Green, assuming that he knew the reason, tried to cheer the captain up.
"Don't take it to your heart," Green said in a fatherly tone which grated on Benham's nerves. "Be patient, in a year or two the whole matter will be forgotten, and with a bit of luck, your two greatest opponents won't be around anymore. Admiral Smith is close to seventy and of ill health, if the rumours are to be believed. And Barclay? If he continues to run down his fortune as he did for the last two years, he won't be able to even afford the tailor for his dress coat come next spring. All in all, it could be worse."
Benham looked down at his hands. He suddenly had to think of Teddy's hands, which hadn't looked like those of an artist at all. Hands more suited for a butcher than a painter, but how gentle their touch had been! Benham's thoughts wandered back to the time when he had served as a midshipman, and there was the memory of a long hand, turning the pages of a book, the memory of a heavy golden signet ring. Norrington's hand, of course. The perfect match for Gillette in its elegance, but had that touch been loving?
"Enough!" Benham snapped, and hit his fist on the armrest. Green jumped, and Benham hastened to recover his poise.
"Again I have to apologise. I appreciate your help, Nathan. But I have disappointed my superiors, and as expected, retribution has been swift and humiliating. I've handled many things in ways that were unusual, to put it mildly. My behaviour was tolerable for the Admiralty because those ways had been successful. Now that I have failed, they will criticise everything I do."
Green didn't reply; he knew all too well that Benham was right. He hadn't been called back to Britain; the Admiralty had informed him that he should consider his current command to be a long-term one.
"There could be worse places to serve, Lucas. After all, the late Governor Swann has lived here for many years, and he seemed to have liked it."
"Oh, he certainly has - if we ignore the being murdered part," Benham replied tartly. He raised and resumed his pacing up and down in front of the window.
"The West Indies have become my prison, and back in London, my enemies are laughing up their sleeves. I'm trapped in Port Royal, the "richest and wickedest city in the world". Maybe a hundred years ago! But look outside, Nathan: it's nothing but a mud hole, and I'm stuck in it. You should see my garden, it has turned into a sticky, brown mess, and the first thing I do before dressing in the morning is checking my shirt for spots of mildew."
The second thing he did was yelling for Mr. Jeremy and asking if he had any news. He didn't have to specify what news; the midshipman knew. And every day, Jeremy would shake his head.
"Now stop being so pessimistic, Lucas. After all, you have proven to be a scourge for the local pirates. Certainly that's something the Admiralty will take into account?"
Benham laughed without mirth.
"Chasing pirates is a Sisyphean task. For every ship we sink or capture, two other ships escape and make the life of the East India Trading Company difficult. And the honourable gentlemen of the EITC only notice where we fail, not where we succeed. It was no longer than an hour before a representative of the EITC knocked on my cabin door when we last returned to Port Royal, determined to place a long list of complaints. They know the price pepper would fetch in London, but they have no idea how difficult it is to ensure the pepper will make it to London in the first place. Pea-counting idiots, all of them. And now I've lost Lieutenant Dee as well."
"That's the natural course of things, Lucas. Daughters marry, lieutenants become captains. Be it marriage or a command, we can only hope that we've taught them well enough so it won't end in a debacle."
Benham nodded, then halted in front of the window. Considering the foul weather, Gillette would very likely not have many clients. What did a scribe do when not writing? Reading, probably. One of the many books he had purloined from the library. Norrington's library. Norrington's books. Norrington's lieutenant.
"Damned be daughters and lieutenants, Nathan. They cause nothing but trouble." He turned around and flashed a forced, yet rather convincing smile at Governor Green. "Do you still have a bottle of my favourite wine? I need to wash away the bitter taste of failure."
* * *
Gillette had closed his shop for the day. Nobody would come to have a letter written or read in such weather, and he was suffering from a pounding headache. He was kneeling on the floor, trying to seal off the gap under the front door, trying to keep out the disgusting mixture of mud, offal and excrements the rain had turned the small side street into. Once his work was done, he went to his bedchamber, washed hands and face, took off his shoes and stretched out on the bed, hands folded behind his head.
It had all appeared to be so real, so vivid. The Flying Dutchman, Teddy, the ship's boys - and James Norrington, of course. But it hadn't been real, and for this illusion he had deserted ship and captain, in the middle of a storm! Norrington would not have let him off the hook as easily as Captain Benham had, of this he was sure.
Gillette felt guilty remembering the dreams he'd had while writhing with fever. Good grief, he would never tell anybody about them, not even write a note in his private journal! He could justify dreaming of James Norrington; after all, he loved him, and he had longed so much for having his feelings returned, even if only in a dream. But Captain Benham? It was inexcusable. Lucas Benham and Edward deVette - ridiculous!
He closed his eyes and imagined the quarterdeck of the Dauntless. Norrington would be standing there, solid as a rock, observing the goings-on aboard. It was a comforting image, and Gillette remembered the wind, the scent of sea and tar, and within a few minutes, he had fallen asleep and began to dream. The quarterdeck disappeared, as did the sea, and Gillette found himself standing next to a bed. He saw Norrington, fast asleep. He looked peaceful, a hint of a smile on his face, and Gillette was happy to be there, just looking at him.
In his dream, Gillette closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them again, Norrington was gone. In his place he found Captain Lucas Benham, laying on the bed, fully clothed, leaning against the headboard. He was reading a book on gardening and didn't seem to realise that he had a visitor. Gillette made two steps forward, feeling like an intruder. He admired the black hair, held back tightly in a tarred pigtail; the alert, bird-like dark eyes and the freckles. Benham looked up, closed the book and ran his hand lovingly along Gillette's arm.
"Twenty-one, Thomas. Twenty-one freckles, just like Teddy told you. Why, don't you want to stay and count them?"
Gillette awoke with a start. It was still raining.
* * *
Bright sunshine and a fair breeze - a perfect day for setting sails. James Dee, now captain, had mentioned that fact at least twenty times within the last hour.
"A fine ship," Benham said. "A very fine ship indeed; not even her name can derogate from her glory."
Mr. Jeremy chuckled, but immediately stopped doing so and cleared his throat when he caught Dee's glare.
"She has forty guns, Captain Benham," Dee countered stiffly. "And I can assure you that I don't have the intention of using them for firing berries."
Benham had to smile.
"My apologies. It was not my intention to insult your ship. I'm very happy to see you as the captain of HMS Redcurrant. Your promotion was overdue, I'm very relieved that my recommendation didn't harm your career."
Dee caught the bitter undertone, and he had a hard time not to show his anger with the Admiralty. Of course he was happy about his promotion, and the prospect of returning home and being closer to his family was a joyous one as well. But seeing a man like Captain Benham stuck here in Port Royal angered him.
"I hope we will meet soon again, and under happier circumstances. Just imagine - the Blackberry and the Redcurrant, fighting side by side!"
"Don't decry it, Captain Dee. We'd possibly find ourselves in a jam rather quickly. I'm delighted to see a brother officer succeed, but it goes without saying that I'm significantly less enthusiastic about the loss of my capable first lieutenant."
Dee bowed his head politely, secretly proud of the compliment.
"How is Mr. Humphrey doing, if I may be so bold to ask?"
"Lieutenant Humphrey can tell bow from stern, so I shall not complain. By now he has given into the terrible fate of serving aboard a ship where the cat stays in the bag, and if he could stop sulking about that fact within then next two or three months, I'd be satisfied."
Jeremy pulled a face behind Benham's back, and Dee frowned.
"With all due respect, that doesn't sound very encouraging."
"As the second lieutenant prefers writing love letters and petitions to naval life, I should count myself lucky to have a first lieutenant at all," Benham replied tartly. "Lieutenant Reynolds and Lieutenant Peterson have been transferred to other ships; I had a hard time keeping Mr. Jeremy aboard the Blackberry. Beggars can't be choosers. Enough now, put to sea. I'm a busy man and can't stand here twaddling all day."
Dee knew Benham well enough to read between the lines. His former captain would miss him, and while proud of his achievements and looking forward to his new duties, Dee was genuinely sad to leave Benham behind.
"Well then," he said, trying to look unperturbed, "let's tickle the tiger, as they say."
"I have no idea in what part of the world tickling a tiger would be considered to be a wise thing, Captain Dee, but by all means, go and do it, if it makes you happy."
A short nod, then Dee crossed the gangway to HMS Redcurrant, his first command as a captain. Benham and Jeremy stayed on the jetty and waited until the Redcurrant had left the port. None of them said a word, but when they saw Dee looking over his shoulder to check if they were still there, both men took off their hats and bowed their heads.
* * *
Captain Lucas Benham wasn't happy, and the reasons were not solely career-related. He had learned that Elizabeth Turner had left her house, carrying her young son. Two large bundles with her worldly possessions, so the neighbours said, had been carried by William Turner, the former apprentice of Mr. Brown, the blacksmith. The fact that Mr. Turner was supposed to be dead for well over two years caused a lot of tongue-wagging, but Benham ignored the gossip. Elizabeth Turner had very likely found a new lover. Who could blame her for choosing a man who looked like her late husband? Weirder things had happened. For example dead James Norrington appearing aboard a vessel of the East India Trading Company, or Thomas Gillette returning from the dead in a dory of the Flying Dutchman.
Benham was not prone to superstition. Facts were facts. Not all of those facts were suitable for the Admiralty back home to know. Going through James Norrington's journals - not his private one, he would never touch it again - he learned that his predecessor had created a fictional world. James had realised that things happened in this part of the British Empire that people at home wouldn't understand, and that reporting truthfully would have been dangerous to him.
James had been between a rock and a hard place. The illusion he had created for his own protection - and, knowing his old friend, for the protection of his loved ones in the first place - made him look incompetent in the eyes of his superiors back home in Britain. His chivalry had contributed to his downfall. No doubt it had been very honourable to give Captain Jack Sparrow a day's head start, but honour didn't count for much in a world where a man's word had lost its worth.
And Thomas Gillette was the same type of man, honourable to the point of stupidity. And stubborn as a mule. Maybe he should-
"Captain Benham? Sir?"
Benham blinked. From the impatient tone he could tell that Lieutenant Humphrey had very likely asked him something quite a while ago. He had no idea what the question had been.
"My apologies, Mr. Humphrey. I've thought about the letter regarding the canvas supplies in Montego Bay. Would you be so kind and repeat your question?"
"I inquired about the powder monkey, Sir."
"Powder monkey? We have more than one."
"I don't know his name;" Humphrey replied, sounding insulted. Knowing the powder monkeys by name certainly couldn't be of any importance to a first lieutenant! "He's small and red-haired."
"Young Jacob Fields that would be then. What about him?"
"He's in dire need for a good hiding, Sir."
Benham clasped his hands behind his back.
"There is no such thing as a 'good hiding' aboard my ship, Mr. Humphrey."
"Yes, Sir, but still, that lad needs to be disciplined. He's impertinent and ignores my orders."
"He is? He does? What terrible crime has he committed?"
"I turned down an unreasonable request of his, but he refuses to accept my decision."
Humphrey's anger was obvious; wasting so much of his precious time talking about a powder monkey! Benham, who knew each man aboard his ship by name, didn't like this attitude.
"What did he ask for, Mr. Humphrey? A cabin of his own? Command of the Blackberry?"
"No, Sir, he wanted to talk to you."
"He did? And what was the unreasonable request?"
"But Sir, I-"
Benham's eyes narrowed.
"Mr. Humphrey, I know how the chain of command works nowadays. It doesn't work for me, though. Please forgive me, I'm very old-fashioned, and every man aboard this ship, be it lieutenant or ship's boy, has the right to talk to me. I wouldn't want seven powder monkeys to approach me at the same time asking for an extra ration of rum, but if Jacob Fields or anybody else petitions to talk to me, I expect you to inform me. This has been a rule aboard this ship since I've taken command, and I don't have the intention to change it. Have I made myself clear, Mr. Humphrey?"
Humphrey gnashed his teeth, but he nodded.
"Yes, Sir. Of course, Sir."
"Good. Then go and tell Mr. Fields that I wish to see him in the great cabin. Now."
Humphrey rushed off, face red like a cooked lobster, and that wasn't due to the hot weather.
"Idiot," Benham muttered on his way back to his cabin, and for the umpteenth time he lamented the loss of James Dee. To Humphrey, the men serving aboard the Blackberry were little more than possibly dangerous animals, and the fellow officers, including the captain, obstacles on his way up. Humphrey didn't belong aboard the Blackberry. He wasn't the kind of man the navy needed. But despite this, Humphrey would very likely be an Admiral years before Benham.
* * *
"Mr. Fields, this is not a court martial, you are talking to your captain, and at your own request. I might hang you from the yardarm, though, if you shouldn't stop fidgeting immediately."
"Yes, Sir," the boy stammered, stepping from one foot to the other. He stood in front of Benham's table, a bundle of rags tucked under his left arm. "I'm very sorry, Captain Benham, Sir. Lieutenant Humphrey was very upset wi' me, Sir. He said no I can't see you but I thought 't was important, so I ask'd again an' now I'm here an' I'm very sorry, Sir."
Benham folded his hands on the table.
"Breathe, lad. If it's as important as you think, you should take the time to tell me. Have you been ill-treated? Is anything amiss? Anybody you want me to get hanged?"
"Oh no, Sir! No, not at all! Ev'rythin's fine, Sir, well, most of it, anyway. It's about this, Sir. Found it an' thought it's important."
He hesitated a moment, then held out the small bundle of rags. Benham arched his eyebrows, took the offered tatters from the boy's dirty hands and placed them on the table.
"I'm not quite sure I understand, Mr. Fields. Are you of the opinion that I need a new cravat?"
The boy chewed his lip and wiped his hands on his loose trousers.
"Found it with the cleanin' rags, Sir, an' thought it shouldn't be there. It's from the frock Lieutenant Gillette wore when we found him, an' there's somethin' which might be important, you know? Sir, I mean."
Benham looked at the bundle. He took the rags apart and now he could see that Fields was right; those were remains of a uniform coat. A piece of a sleeve, a dirty white cuff and a piece of blue wool, plus two buttons.
"In the cuff, Sir," Fields added helpfully. Benham looked up, nodded, then reached between the two layers of wool. Something was there, something - paper? Benham opened the buttons and pulled out a bundle of letters. He stared down at his find, recognising the neat penmanship immediately.
"Thank you, Mr. Fields. You have done well to inform me."
"Good to know it was somethin', Sir. Thought letters, well, they might be important, what with the uniform an' all."
"Did you read them?" Benham asked.
"Oh no, wouldn't dream of doin' such a thing!" Field protested. "Can't read, anyway," he added, looking a bit embarrassed.
"You can't? Well, then you'll learn it. Mr. Jeremy is a good teacher. Dismiss, Mr. Fields."
Jacob Fields was too flabbergasted by the prospect of learning to read and write like a gentleman to say another word, and left with many bows. Benham stared at the letters and began to examine them. The addresses on most of them had been written by Gillette, there couldn't be a doubt. Others looked very old, with addresses in a spidery hand, as if a child had written them. But there was one thing all letters had in common: notes that they had been written by men serving "in Flying Dutchman".
Benham picked out one random letter and leaned back in his seat. He had to concentrate, focus, gather himself. This was an enormous thing, maybe the proof he had been looking for. He took a deep breath then he broke the seal and unfolded the letter.
"My dearest beloved Elizabeth
The last of many letters, and I'd never dared to hope you'd ever receive even one of them. May they make it easier for you to await my return, I count every day until I'll see your lovely face again. Give my love to our son, if you should need help please don't be too proud to ask Captain Benham. James told me he's a trustable and honourable man. Just like Thomas Gillette, to whom I'll be eternally indebted for passing this letter on to you. I wish we could-"
Benham stopped reading. He carefully folded the letter and returned it to the stack. Jacob Fields' find had turned Lucas Benham's world upside down; made him question his beliefs, his decisions, his actions. The Flying Dutchman did exist. Will Turner was aboard the ship, along with - so Benham concluded - James Norrington.
Who was dead.
Richard III. gave a short bark. It was his "everything alright with you?" bark.
"No worries, old boy. You know, I've never shared your master's love for Shakespeare," Benham said, and petted the dog, "but for once, I have to agree: there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. This is asking for drastic measures. Come, I need to upset Mr. Humphrey."
He put rags and letters in his ditty box, then stood up and returned on deck, Richard III. close behind him.
"Mr. Humphrey! Set course for Port Royal!" he ordered. Humphrey, who had just been in the process of giving one of the man a dressing down, halted mid-sentence, hand still in the air and stared at his captain in bewilderment.
"Port Royal, Mr. Humphreys. Certainly you have heard of it?"
"But Sir, we were supposed to-"
"-return to Port Royal, exactly. Now there's a man of keen perception!"
Humphrey opened his mouth to protest, but upon seeing the expression on Captain Benham's face, he went to carry out the captain's orders. The man was mad, it was probably better not to flurry him.
* * *
The heavy downpour started the very moment Benham alighted from Governor Green's coach. By the time he had made his way to Gillette's house through the labyrinth of Port Royal's many small side streets, wading ankle-deep in mud, Benham was like a drowned rat, despite his cloak. His clothes clung to his skin, and when Gillette didn't open upon Benham's repeated rapping and finally banging on the door, he began to wonder if it hadn't been a very bad idea to come here in the first place.
"What's the noise?" he heard an angry voice. When he looked up, he saw a woman, sticking her head out of the window of the next door's house. She held a jerry, and had obviously planned to pour its content on the street. "Are you looking for Mr. Wilkinson?"
Benham blinked, then he remembered that Gillette was a rose by another name or, if one had asked him right now, a cactus.
"Yes, I'm looking for Mr. Wilkinson, the scribe. Would you happen to know where I can find him?"
She gave him a suspicious glare.
"Wouldn't be your business if I knew. What do you want from him? Money? Go away, he has to pay me first for the laundry!"
An angry woman holding a full jerry was too dangerous an enemy for Benham, so he decided to win her over, and he knew just the right way.
"Far be it from me! Would you be willing to share your knowledge regarding the whereabouts of Mr. Wilkinson if I'd paid what he owes you? If your answer should be to my satisfaction and if you put that jerry away, I might even add a coin or two."
Another glare, then a smile.
"You are too friendly, Sir. Now that you mention it, I think I remember now where to find Mr. Wilkinson."
"How much does he owe you?" Benham asked, and she named a ridiculously low sum. Things were obviously not going well for Gillette if he couldn't even pay for his laundry! Benham reached in his pocket and found a coin, worth far more than Gillette's debts. The woman caught the money just as deftly as Benham had thrown it and gestured with her head in the direction of Gillette's house.
"He's probably asleep. Doing that all day, sleeping. No wonder he can't pay his bills, head always in the clouds. The door's not locked, just enter and yell for him. It's what his customers and creditors do."
"Thank you for your help."
She looked down at the coin in her hand, nodded and closed the window, thankfully taking the jerry with her. Benham reached for the door handle, and really, the door wasn't locked. How careless. And how convenient. Benham entered and closed the door behind him, stepping over several rags on the ground. Quite obviously, Gillette had tried to keep the dirt of the street out. It was very likely that he wouldn't appreciate the mud puddle that began to form on the floor, originating from Benham's dripping wet cloak and dirty shoes.
Benham looked around, but there wasn't much to see. A standing desk, two chairs, a small table, a bookcase. The latter probably containing some of the books Gillette had taken with him from James' library. Where did Gillette eat, in the kitchen? And who was cooking? The same woman doing the laundry? Benham thought of the jerry and shuddered.
"Captain Benham? What are you doing here?"
Benham looked up, and saw Gillette standing on the narrow stairs. He looked bleary-eyed and dishevelled, probably just awoken from deep sleep, but still, Benham's heart skipped a beat or two. Realisation how much he had missed Gillette hit him with full force, and he tried to hide it behind a fašade of grumpiness.
"Why, seeking shelter from the foul weather, what did you think?" he grumbled, and threw his hat on the table, followed by his cloak. "If I have to drown then during battle, not outside your front door, which, I have to point out, wasn't locked."
Gillette ran his hand up and down the banister, but otherwise he didn't move. Benham shook his head, sending drops of water flying. He could feel his pigtail clinging to his neck and shoulders, the soaked bow adding to its weight.
"Good grief, now do me the favour and come down here, Mr. Gillette. I didn't go out in this beastly weather to admire your bookcase. Are those my books? I guess so. If you don't mind, I'll have Mr. Wallace come and fetch the ones about gardening tomorrow. My garden is in a lamentable state. The trick with the beer worked, by the way. Very cunning. Now will you come here, for crying out loud?"
"What are you doing here?" Gillette repeated his question, slowly walking down the stairs. "Is anything amiss?"
Benham was tempted to yell "everything is amiss since you've left, you idiot!". Of course he didn't do it, but he enjoyed the thought for a moment.
"I should think so!" Benham snapped. "Come here and sit down. I'm Mercury, bringing you letters from Jupiter, and you better be prepared to explain them."
It was obvious to see that Gillette, still dizzy, didn't have the slightest idea what Benham was talking about. Good, he was confused. A confused and dizzy Gillette would be easier to handle. Benham took three steps towards the stairs and leaned on the banister.
Gillette sat down on the stairs, and to Benham it looked as if he was talking to the man through the bars of a prison cell.
"Yes, letters. Here." Benham reached into his waistcoat and took out a bundle of letters. Luckily, they hadn't been damaged, protected by three layers of wool and linen. "You have written most of them, and I want to know where. When. And most of all, why."
Gillette hesitated a moment, then he took the stack of letters. He paled, then turned red, paled again and gasped for breath.
"Oh God," he said. "Oh good God. So it is true then!"
The hand holding the letters trembled. Benham waited; either he'd hear the story now or never, there was no point in hurrying Gillette.
There was silence for a long while. Benham watched Gillette going through the letters, reading each envelope. The last one was open, the seal broken. Will Turner's letter to his wife.
Gillette looked up. "You have read that letter?"
Again silence, then Gillette put the letters aside and folded his hands over his knees. He seemed to be far away with his thoughts.
"So I've really been aboard the Flying Dutchman. It wasn't a dream and I'm not insane."
"The latter is debatable. Please tell me what happened, Thomas," Benham begged, tired of being formal. "I need to know. There is so much I don't understand. What am I talking, I don't understand anything anymore."
Gillette gave Benham a sidewise glance, then he shook his head.
"I can't tell you. It is something that I will never share, no matter who might ask. But there is one thing you need to know. I have met Edward deVette."
If the situation hadn't been so serious, Benham might have laughed. Alas, he didn't.
"Edward deVette? On the Flying Dutchman? What was he doing there, playing Nine Men Morris with Little Red Riding Hood? I do not find your joke amusing in the least, Thomas!"
"I would never joke about such a thing. Teddy is very sorry that he didn't wait for you. But he will be there when - when you will be there. I only mention this because I feel you should know that I'm aware of the nature of your friendship."
"The nature of our friendship?" Benham croaked, uncertain whether to feel relief that Gillette knew or being afraid of his reaction.
A small smile showed on Gillette's lips.
"Teddy told me that the only time he really enjoyed himself as a midshipman was the day when he finally worked up the courage to kiss you, behind a barrel in the hold. Do you remember that day?"
"Do I remember? How could I ever forget that day!" The kindness showing in Gillette's eyes encouraged Benham to ask the most important questions. "So he's still somewhere? Is that what your words mean, that I haven't lost him forever?"
"He's still there, waiting for you. Just like Commodore Norrington - just like James will be waiting for me."
Quid pro quo, Benham thought. My fate is in his hands now, and his lies in mine.
"Well, that is good to know, I guess," Benham said, then cleared his throat. "And what are we doing while they are waiting? It could be a long time, after all."
Gillette considered the question for a moment, then he put his hand on Benham's.
"My bedchamber is upstairs. Will you join me in a minute?"
Benham managed a nod. When Gillette had reached the top of the stairs, he finally could speak again.
"But Thomas, what are we going to do once we meet them again and they learn about this?"
Gillette looked over his shoulder, smiling.
"They already know, and as you said, it could be a long time, Lucas."
Benham counted to thirty - who would not have cheated in a situation like that! - then he hastened up the stairs.
* * *
Gillette had stretched out on his narrow bed, stripped down to his shirt, hands folded on his chest. From the corner of his eyes, he watched Benham, who took his time unbuttoning his coat and waistcoat, taking off his shoes. He hesitated a moment, then sat down on the bed and fiddled with the buttons closing the breeches over his stockings. The mud-stained stockings ended on the floor, along with the garters, and Benham looked at Gillette.
"If your eyes were closed and if you held some lilies, this might as well be a wake," he said, untied his cravat and threw it over the foot end of the bed. "If you should have changed your mind, tell me now."
He had been soft-spoken, but determined, so Benham pulled his shirt out of his breeches and took it off. This was a difficult moment; there was no way to predict how Gillette would react upon this less than enjoyable sight. It was still raining dogs and cats outside, the light was dim, maybe it wouldn't look as bad as it was.
Gillette sat up. He had seen countless scars on the backs of men who had made the acquaintance of the cat - far too many - but never had he seen anything as terrible as the back and the arms of Lucas Benham. There were the familiar scars of a severe whipping, yes, but also many burn marks. They were large, the skin looked as if it was stretched too tight over muscles and bones. Whatever had caused those injuries, it must have been torture. Very likely, it had been torture - the price to be paid for Midshipman Jeremy's life.
"How?" he asked, though he'd rather not wanted to know.
"Ah, you know what it's like," Benham said with a fake flippancy that cut deep into Gillette's heart. "Some catch the pox while on shore leave, I got this. I'm better off than Dee, who actually lost something." He looked down at his hands. "Unpleasant thing, I know. It will soon be dark, maybe we should wait and-"
Gillette's arms wrapped around Benham's middle, and feeling nimble fingers unbuttoning his breeches cut any further discussions off.
"It's getting dark?" Gillette asked, kissing Benham's shoulder and slipping his hand inside the breeches. "Then we better hurry, or I can't see you."
* * *
It was pitch dark when Benham woke up. He didn't mind, he knew what the hand currently caressing his chest looked like.
"It's very early," he murmured sleepily, "or rather, very late."
"Morning watch. I always wake up at this time."
Fingers running up and down his side, making him squirm. Benham was ticklish; a fact Gillette had found out quickly. Like a cartographer would draw a map of a continent, Gillette had mapped every inch on Benham's body, and they both had certainly had more fun with that than any cartographer or surveyor.
"We definitely have more fun here than James Cook had in Newfoundland."
Benham could feel Gillette's smile against his skin. A truly magnificent thing, wasn't it?
"I don't think I'll ever manage to follow your mental leaps, Lucas."
"I fear I'm thinking too fast. You know, it will be wonderful to have somebody to come home to."
"Of course not," Benham grumbled, tugging playfully on Gillette's pigtail. "You."
The caresses ended abruptly, and Benham gasped when Gillette rolled on top of him. Benham took advantage of the proximity and kissed neck and collarbone, sucking and then worrying the thin flesh between his teeth. This would leave a mark, good. Gillette would complain in the morning, but wasn't such a mark preferable to have Benham's initials tattooed on his backside? Benham had to grin, feeling very territorial all of a sudden.
"So the heroic captain will put to sea while the scribe sits at home and waits for his return, wringing hands and weeping?"
The icy tone in Gillette's voice made it clear that the answer to this question could only be "no", but Benham was feeling his oats and couldn't resist teasing his lover.
"Not only that, I also expect you to write long, sad poems full of longing and descriptions of your broken heart, and-"
Gillette cut him off with a kiss; far from gentle, rather demanding and leaving no doubt who was in charge at the moment. He had thought Gillette to be shy, without much experience. How wrong he had been! Demanding and teasing, keeping him on the edge and not satisfied before he had him begging for his release. Benham loved it. And he loved Gillettte.
"If you think I'll leave your side, you are wrong," Gillette hissed between two kisses. "I couldn't stay behind. I want to be by your side. Sail together, sink together."
Benham cupped Gillette's face between his hands, very serious all of a sudden.
"This is not possible. If you want to return to the service, that's fine. Whatever you do is fine, you are your own master. But it can't be that we are on the same ship. Maybe you have the self-restraint needed, but I certainly haven't!"
This was nothing but the truth. Hook, line and sinker. Seeing him every day without being allowed to touch? "It would be torture, Thomas. Sweet torture, admittedly, but torture nevertheless. I know myself, I couln't resist temptation. A fine example that would be for the men, finding the captain's hand in the breeches of the first lieutenant!"
"I'll better watch the front flap then," Gillette countered, and reached for Benham's hands, pinning them to the mattress, above his head. Again those teasing kisses, not quite touching the lips, only to surprise Benham with a kiss so hard that he could only gasp; he had feared that Gillette would put him dry and high.
"You'll enjoy shore leaves all the more then. Take me with you as a lieutenant, Lucas. I know I have disappointed you, but I promise that you can rely on me. I'd never abandon the ship again, or you. Should I ever put the ship at risk, you can put me in front of a court martial."
"And don't you doubt for a second that I'd do that!"
That was the real problem, after all. Not the proximity, not the forced distance, but the fear that each of them would put the other's well-being over the safety of the ship, if things came push to shove. Right now it was push, though, and Benham lost all ability for rational thinking. He just gave in, allowed his lover to take the lead, and beside love and passion he could feel gratitude. No more storms to be weathered alone, and finally somebody to care for again, to look after and, though Gillette had no idea about that yet, somebody to spoil.
Of course none of the two lovers noticed when the key in the lock of the front door was slowly turned, effectively locking the door and keeping out customers, creditors and nosy neighbours. Benham might have been puzzled had he known about this, but not Gillette - he knew that James Norrington was a man who protected his loved ones.
* * *
Sally knocked on the door, but there was no reply. Mr. Wilkinson had to be there, though; she heard him shifting furniture around. How unfortunate, hopefully he wasn't busy, for she had received a letter by her father only yesterday.
When she heard a muffled curse, she opened the door and peeked into the room. Mr. Wilkinson was hidden by a bookcase, she could only see a black shoe and a white-stockinged ankle.
"Mr. Wilkinson, are you here?"
Books were dropped, Sally heard a thud and then another curse.
"What the..." Mr. Jeremy began, rubbing his head which he had just bumped on that bloody bookcase, but he didn't finish the sentence. One could possibly not yell at a young lady. A very pretty young lady, as he couldn't help but notice.
"I'm so sorry! I didn't want to disturb you," Sally said, taking two steps back. "I've been looking for Mr. Wilkinson."
"Mr. Wilkinson? There's no - oh, Mr. Wilkinson! But of course," Jeremy said quickly, just in time remembering Lieutenant Gillette's nom de plume. "I'm afraid Mr. Wilkinson is not here, Miss...?"
"Cotton. Sally Cotton - Sir. When will he be back?"
Jeremy tried to brush the dust off his sleeves as discreetly as possible. Why did pretty girls always have to notice him when he had a smudge on his face or a ripped shirt?
"I'm afraid he won't be back for a while, Miss Cotton. We are here to fetch his effects, actually."
Jeremy gestured behind him, and now Sally saw two seamen, hauling chests through the backdoor and loading them on a cart.
"Oh," she said, looking crestfallen. "That's very sad. He was always so kind. Who will write and read my letters now?"
"Well, there will certainly be another scribe," Jeremy tried to comfort her.
"There is one, but he charges thrice the money Mr. Wilkinson did, and now I have a letter here from my father, and Mr. Gales also charges for reading letters." She blushed. "We don't have that much money, you know."
Jeremy didn't like to see a young lady in distress, not at all. He pushed a strand of hair out of his face and gave Sally a sheepish smile.
"Maybe - if you don't mind - I could read it to you?"
"You would do that?" Sally was all excited. "You really would? But I don't have much money with me, and..."
"...and what gentleman would take money for making a young lady smile?" Jeremy said gallantly. It was a good thing he had his back turned to the two seamen who rolled their eyes and mockingly pursed their lips. Sally glared at them, and if Jeremy had looked away for even a second, she'd poked her tongue out at the two tars.
"Why, that would be just wonderful!" Sally took the letter out of her basket and gave it to Jeremy.
The young man made a big procedure of opening the letter and then reading it aloud. It was a short letter, a typical letter of a sailor sending his love to his family and writing about everyday life aboard a ship.
Sally didn't really listen, she just sat there, gazing at the elegant young gentleman with the lovely voice. Not that Mr. Wilkinson's voice hadn't been lovely as well, but it didn't compare to the one of-
"Please forgive my curiosity, but may I know your name?" she interrupted him.
"Oh, I forgot to introduce myself! How thoughtless. Jeremy. I mean - my name," Jeremy stuttered.
"And your surname?"
"Jeremy would be my surname. I'm midshipman in HMS Blackberry. The - ship."
"You are very kind, Mr. Jeremy, and such a gentleman."
"Not at all, Miss Cotton. Indeed, should you ever need my services again, please don't hesitate to seek me out in Fort Charles." Jeremy considered his words for a moment, then he added: "Of course in company of your mother."
Sally gave him her sweetest smile and batted her lashes. She would definitely seek him out, and of course in company of her mother. Well, the first two times. A good thing her new dress would be finished next week, and if he was as kind as she thought him to be, she would write him a letter when he was at sea.
* * *
|BLACKBERRY - 15/15 and Epilogue
by Molly Joyful