|Rating: mild R
Genre: slash, romance, humour
Feedback: very welcome. Good or bad.
"I see. If I ordered you to end the flourishing rat-trade, it would mean that you'd consider me a cold-hearted misanthrope."
"No, Sir. It would mean we had more rats."
James Norrington was a good captain, but there were better, and he knew it. Much to the regret of his first lieutenant, Henry Jones, the discipline aboard the Dauntless was lacking. Not that the men would have danced on the quarter deck or that the ship had been in danger, but Norrington's stance on discipline and punishment grated on Jones' nerves. Deliberate and worried that he might have overseen the best option, Norrington's decisions were often made too late, and where he was too lenient with the crew, Jones was too heavy-handed.
For every problem he encountered, James Norrington established the same plan of action:
No. 1 Identification
No. 2 Observation
No. 3 Solution
Admittedly, it often took him a long time to get from no. 1 to no. 3, but most of the time, he succeeded, otherwise he'd probably never made it captain.
Norrington was convinced that he could also rely on his list with the problem he was currently agonising over. His hand holding the quill hovered over the paper, the fingers of his other hand tapped on the writing slope; an odd habit, responsible for his scrawly handwriting and many an ink spot. During the last weeks, he had covered no. 1 and no. 2, but for whatever reasons, he had no idea what to do about no. 3.
* * *
The identification of the problem had been simple, as the problem had conveniently introduced itself.
"Lieutenant Thomas Gillette, Sir, reporting for service."
Norrington had already guessed who the young lieutenant sporting a black eye and a large bruise on his cheek was. Gillette's reputation had preceded him, and Lt. Jones had not been enthusiastic at all when Norrington informed him who the new second lieutenant on the Dauntless would be.
"Sir, maybe we should send a petition to the Admiralty and ask to have that cup passed from us."
Norrington had given his first lieutenant a sidewise glance.
"Don't you think you're too pessimistic, Mr. Jones? The notorious Mr. Gillette is young; he's probably just sowing his wild oats."
"With all due respect, Sir, he can sow whatever and wherever he wants, but not aboard the Dauntless! Brawls, drinking, insolent behaviour, that's not the conduct one would expect of an officer!"
"But he has also shown outstanding bravery, so I've read."
"Well, yes. That's true," Jones admitted grudgingly. "But please consider, Sir, Mr. Gillette has also encouraged bawdiness!"
"Bawdiness? That's a new one. What has he done?"
"He's sold - drawings, Sir. Indecent drawings. Drawings of a very frivolous nature, prints he bought in London, and he sold them to the men on HMS Azure."
Norrington had to hide a grin.
"Outrageous behaviour, indeed. I better won't allow him to go ashore in London then."
Jones knew his Captain well enough to let the matter rest. Gillette had to cause problems first before Norrington would react, but that didn't mean the captain wouldn't keep an eye on his new second lieutenant.
It didn't take Norrington long to understand how Gillette's mind worked. He was one of those men who didn't automatically respect higher ranks; his respect had to be earned. Yes, he followed orders, and most of the time to Norrington's fullest satisfaction, but he radiated indifference for his superiors, and that included the captain. Norrington watched him for a couple of days, and when the black eye and the bruise began to turn purple and yellow, he called Gillette to his cabin.
"Mr. Gillette, may I ask how you acquired those injuries?"
Gillette, who hadn't expected to be called to the captain's cabin because of his black eye, licked his lips. Thanks to careful observation, Norrington had already learned that Gillette always did so when he was nervous. In cases where he had to concentrate, he pressed the tip of his tongue firmly in the right corner of his mouth.
"A brawl, Sir."
"I thought so, Mr. Gillette. But what was the brawl about?"
"It was a disagreement among gentlemen concerning a delicate matter, Sir."
"The colour of my hair, Sir. We couldn't agree whether it was red or auburn. It's auburn, of course."
Norrington thought that it was as red as red could be, but he gave Gillette a stern look.
"No disagreements among gentlemen regarding delicate or other matters will happen aboard the Dauntless, and while I admire your business sense, no pictures, of a decent or indecent kind, will be sold to the men aboard this ship. I will not tolerate any nonsense. Have I made myself clear?"
Gillette's nose twitched, a certain sign of resentment.
"Yet you're already considering the best way to circumnavigate my orders. Mr. Gillette, it's very simple: don't behave like an idiot, and I won't treat you like one."
The tip of Gillette's tongue wandered across his lips to the right corner of his mouth. Good, the man had been paying attention.
"Dismiss," Norrington said, and returned his attention to his papers. He was confident that Gillette had understood his warning, and to a certain extent, that was true. Gillette stopped selling indecent pictures immediately, but started a brisk trade with rats. He had paid the carpenter for making some rat traps, had set them up all over the ship and sold the rodents to the men at a cheap price. The cook allowed them to grill the rats in the oven at the galley, the men were glad to have some variety in their diet, and everybody was happy.
With exception of the rats and Mr. Jones, of course, who reported Gillette's activities and demanded disciplinary action. So it happened that, once again, Thomas Gillette found himself in James Norrington's cabin.
"I understand you have branched out your business endeavours, Mr. Gillette?"
"Indeed, Sir. I'm very glad to report that the rat population has been significantly decimated. Actually, we managed to lower the damage on the provisions by over sixty percent."
"All in all, we've saved a lot of money and trouble, Sir."
Well, that was certainly also a way to look at the matter, Norrington thought. The rats were a huge problem, and so was the men's dissatisfaction with their food. Gillette's approach was out of the ordinary but effective, and he had solved both problems in one fell swoop. Also, he had a very winning smile.
Norrington shook his head.
"Mr. Gillette, if I forbade you to catch and sell rats, what would your next field of activity be? Covering cockroaches in sugar and selling them as candy? You are an officer of the Royal Navy, serving aboard this ship, and as such, I should think there would be enough duties to keep you busy."
"Oh, absolutely, Sir! But may I be frank with you?"
Gillette licked his lips again. Why did he have to do this all the time? It was very disconcerting, and Norrington found it difficult to concentrate while following the pink tip of Gillette's tongue with his eyes.
"Of course," he said. "Go ahead."
"Well, Sir, as things are, I haven't been paid for more than a year. Mind you, I know I'm not the only one; I think with exception of Captain Morris nobody aboard the Azure has ever seen any money. As the Crown isn't willing to pay me for my services, I have to find other means to support my family."
Norrington suddenly had a vision of a paternal Gillette, surrounded by his wife and three or four red-haired children. He didn't like the idea at all.
"My mother and my younger siblings, Sir."
The vision of wife and children disappeared, and Norrington felt relieved.
"I see. If I ordered you to end the flourishing rat-trade, it would mean that you'd consider me a cold-hearted misanthrope."
"No, Sir. It would mean we had more rats, less provisions and dissatisfied men. Dissatisfied men are more difficult to handle than those who have full bellies. Discipline is very often a matter of the stomach, Sir."
That was true, but Norrington was in a fix. If he sided with Gillette - and he was inclined to do that - he would undermine the authority of his first lieutenant. If he sided with Jones, Gillette would find something else to sell, and Norrington hated rats.
"I can assure you that payment for those serving aboard the Dauntless will be on time, and that the purser does not get to keep anything for himself. However, I agree with you that we do have a problem with rats aboard this ship. Take care of this, Mr. Gillette. How you dispose of the vermin, I neither care nor do I want to know."
"Thank you, Sir. I will take care of the matter," Gillette replied cheerfully, and gave Norrington a grateful smile. The captain found that it made him ridiculously happy to be on the receiving of said smile, which was the latest in a row of rather confusing observations.
* * *
Over the next few weeks, Norrington began to feel like one of the rats in Gillette's traps. There was no place to go, he could only sit and wait for unpleasant things to come, and usually, they came in form of Lt. Jones. Hardly a day went by without some complaint about Gillette, and Norrington found it difficult to side with any of the two men. They were both right, and they were both wrong.
The two lieutenants had a completely different approach to life, morals, the Royal Navy and the men serving aboard the Dauntless. Jones' way was probably the more appropriate and official one, but Gillette's worked better. Norrington tried to balance the two extremes, but no matter how he decided, one party was always unhappy with him, and Jones as well as Gillette were the Lord's own sulkers.
However, those disagreements were mostly concerning harmless, even petty things. That changed on the day when Jones and Gillette caught two of the midshipmen in the act; meaning Mr. Fernwood with his breeches unbuttoned and Mr. Knight with his hand in a place where it shouldn't have been.
A clear case, one should think, and the punishment harsh, as it was stated in the Articles Of War. But nothing was ever simple and clear when Thomas Gillette was involved, so Norrington found himself trapped in his cabin with two very angry lieutenants.
"This is outrageous!" Jones protested, his face red with anger. "I have seen with my own eyes what the two lads were doing! Buggery, Sir, buggery it was!"
"Rubbish!" Gillette snapped, giving Jones a contemptuous glare. "Mr. Knight dropped a mouse in Mr. Fernwood's shirt, the mouse made its way down to his breeches and so Mr. Knight helped him to remove the rodent. A silly thing to do, and certainly unworthy of a midshipman, but for God's sake, not a crime that asked for a court martial!"
"Mouse? Mouse? Do you think me to be a fool, Mr. Gillette?" Jones cried.
"With all due respect, Sir, I'd rather not answer this question."
"Sir, I have no idea why Mr. Gillette here tries to cover up for those two criminals, but such behaviour can't be tolerated aboard the Dauntless! The Admiralty would think we couldn't uphold discipline!"
"Oh yes, it would be so much better for our reputation if the Dauntless became known as HMS Buggery, Mr. Jones!"
"Gentlemen, gentlemen, please calm down!" Norrington rubbed his temples in a vain attempt at fighting back an upcoming headache. "What are your suggestions?"
"Following the law, putting Mr. Fernwood and Mr. Knight in irons and have them brought in front of a court martial," Jones said firmly.
"Set up some mousetraps and give the two lads a good caning."
"Mr. Gillette, you know my stance on corporal punishments, I don't have the habit of caning midshipmen."
"Of course not, Sir. Just tell me where you have the cane and I'll do it for you."
"My apologies, Sir. I only tried to be helpful."
"Mr. Jones, what did Mr. Knight and Mr. Fernwood say in their defence when you confronted them?"
Jones scowled at Gillette.
"Unfortunately, I didn't have the chance of confronting them, Sir. Before I could say a word, Mr. Gillette here cried 'Good grief, Mr. Knight, you didn't put a mouse in Mr. Fernwood's shirt again, did you?', upon which any further investigations were pointless."
"So if I had those two put in front of a court martial, they would say that it was a mouse?"
"Yes," Jones grumbled.
"And Mr. Gillette, the only witness beside you, would insist it was a mouse as well?"
"I'm afraid we don't have much of a case then, Mr. Jones," Norrington said, and leaned back in his chair. "As much as I would like to comply with your request - for such sinful, despicable actions can't be tolerated aboard a ship - I can't have two of my officers make completely disagreeing statements in front of a court martial. Mr. Knight and Mr. Fernwood would go unpunished, and all of us, especially me, would look like complete idiots. The reputation of the Dauntless would be damaged, and I can't allow that. I will, however, think of a suitable punishment for the childish behaviour of the two young gentlemen."
It was clear to see that Jones didn't agree with this decision at all, and Gillette's smug grin didn't do much to mollify him.
"Mr. Jones, would you please tell Mr. Fernwood and Mr. Knight to come here? Mr. Gillette, our discussion hasn't been finished yet."
Jones bowed and left, still steaming. Once the door had closed behind him, Norrington stood up from his seat and came to stand in front of Gillette, hands clasped behind his back.
"Mice, Mr. Gillette?"
"Indeed, Sir. They are everywhere."
"Mr. Gillette, do you think I'm an idiot?"
"No, Sir! Not at all!"
"Good. We both know that there were no mice involved, and I hope you are aware that my decision does not mean in any way that I condone your actions."
"Sir, should I ever find a midshipman asleep on his watch or stealing money, writing letters to the French Admiralty or clubbing an officer over the head with an iron, I'd be the first to drag his sorry self in front of a court martial. But this? Nothing but foolery, certainly deserving punishment, but not a court martial. I'm aware you are disappointed by my actions, but at times, I feel more obliged to common sense and my conscience than to the Articles Of War."
"The Articles Of War should be your conscience, Mr. Gillette," Norrington said sternly. "You can't pick and choose which ones you like and which ones you'd rather ignore! Good grief, man, think what you're saying! With that attitude, you'll find yourself in front of a court martial quicker than you think, and I'd regret that, for despite all your failures and weaknesses, you're an excellent officer."
Gillette inclined his head.
"Have you never longed for something you weren't supposed to have, Sir?"
"I fail to see how that question has anything to do with the matter at hand!"
Gillette lowered his eyes and chewed his lip. That was a behaviour Norrington hadn't observed in his second lieutenant yet, and he wondered what it meant.
* * *
Norrington looked down at the list in front of him, but despite recalling the events of the past weeks, he didn't know how to find a solution for his problem. Had he ever longed for something he wasn't supposed to have? Yes, he had, he still longed for it, and he felt terrible about it.
Mr. Knight and Mr. Fernwood counted their blessings, despite receiving a caning from the hand of Mr. Gillette that they wouldn't forget for quite a while. Gillette let them know how the land lied, and that the captain wouldn't tolerate any nonsense. The news of James Norrington's newly discovered rigour spread among the men like a fire in the haystack, and both Norrington and Jones found it surprisingly easier to upkeep discipline aboard the Dauntless.
To his great delight, Norrington noticed that Gillette wasn't indifferent towards him anymore, so he began to seek out the company of his second lieutenant when he was on watch, looking forward to a conversation with him. By now Norrington knew all about the extended Gillette-family, his time aboard the Azure and his thoughts on the current government. It was not a surprise to learn that Gillette's stance was completely different from Norrington's, but that made for interesting discussions. Norrington became accustomed to Gillette's company, he felt that something was missing when the troublemaker wasn't around, and at night, alone in his cabin, his thoughts would often be occupied by the things Gillette had said and done during the day.
Norrington's observations became more focussed. He noticed the freckles on Gillette's hands, and that he chewed fingernails. The colour of his hair resembled the ones of the early chestnuts that Norrington had collected as a boy, he registered that Gillette's eyes stood too close together, that his legs were too skinny compared to the rest of his body and that he would very likely have a double-chin once he got older.
How could that be of any interest? How could that be appealing? Maybe Gillette wasn't the problem, but he was? It couldn't be normal for a captain to dream about seeing his second lieutenant without his cravat. What was so interesting about a man's exposed throat? What, so Norrington wondered, was so interesting and fascinating about Thomas Gillette?
Norrington pushed those thoughts aside and covered the list in front of him with a letter from his sister, then he returned his attention to Lt. Jones. Despite the arguments between him and Gillette, he was a good man, and under normal circumstances, Norrington didn't mind putting up with his first lieutenant's inability to come to the point. However, after three days of choppy sea and losing two men who had gone overboard, he wasn't in the mood for guesswork. It was obvious that something unpleasant was on Jones's mind, and it couldn't be mouldy canvas, for he had just held a lengthy monologue on the state of their supplies.
"Is there anything else I should know, Mr. Jones?"
The lieutenant looked uncomfortable, his eyes wandering from Norrington's face to the papers in front of him.
"Well, Sir, there is a problem with Lt. Gillette."
"It's about the deadlights, Sir."
"Yes. Lt. Gillette gave order to the carpenter to have them fitted."
Norrington was slightly confused.
"And a good thing that was, otherwise I'd sit here in a damp cabin, with all my papers ruined."
"I know, Sir, and it was my fault that they weren't fitted in the first place, for which I apologise. When he came to me to point out that it should be done, I ordered him not to, in false estimation of the weather conditions."
"But he did it, anyway?"
"Yes, Sir. Please understand, this is not about the deadlights, it's about ignoring my orders."
"This can't be tolerated, though I'm rather grateful my cabin was spared."
"Captain Norrington, Sir - I'd like to inform you that I'll ask to be transferred to another ship, so I can be closer to home."
Norrington's eyes widened.
"A transfer? But why? I'm aware there are some difficulties, but certainly none that couldn't be worked out?"
Jones shuffled his feet.
"If I may be frank, Sir: I'd like to see more of my wife and my children and less of Lt. Gillette. It has never been my intention to become a great naval hero, so it wouldn't be a hardship for me to serve on a smaller vessel. And Sir, I know I had my shortcomings, but I always tried to fulfil my duties to the best of my knowledge."
Norrington stood up and offered Jones his hand.
"You have been an excellent first lieutenant, Mr. Jones."
"Thank you, Sir."
"I'll give you every recommendation you need."
"This is very kind of you, Sir."
"And I will talk about this incident with Mr. Gillette. Please tell the carpenter to have the deadlights removed now. The storm is over, after all."
Jones nodded and left, leaving a thoughtful Norrington behind. He'd talk to Gillette tomorrow. After these last days, he was not in a state to chide Gillette for something he should have been recommended for. Norrington was tired, so he left the Dauntless in the capable hands of Mr. Jones and decided to call it an early night. Should the ship be attacked by an army of mermaids or the French fleet, somebody would tell him.
Norrington yawned and opened the door to his night cabin. He was annoyed when he found that the deadlights were still fitted, despite his orders. For a brief moment he was tempted to call for Jones and give him a dressing-down, but then he decided that this could wait for the next day as well and undressed down to his shirt.
He lay down in his cot, tired and exhausted, yet sleep wouldn't come. Norrington was used to see the sky from his cot, but with the deadlights fitted, it was pitch black in his cabin. He tossed and turned, finding no comfort in the sound of the waves, the gentle rocking by the sea or the muffled voices of the men on watch.
When the door to his cabin slowly opened, he froze. He hadn't heard anybody knocking, and he didn't appreciate it at all to welcome visitors while he was in bed and wearing only his shirt.
"What the hell-" he began, but then he recognised the shadow in the doorframe, and he didn't finish the sentence. Gillette closed the door behind him, and they were alone in the dark.
"Please tell me if I'm not welcome. I'd rather not have to stand in front of a court martial for this."
It was Gillette's usual voice, but there was none of the cockiness.
"You are welcome," Norrington replied, and he was surprised that he could say it, just like that, without caring about the consequences.
He could hear how Gillette undressed, and he cursed the deadlights. He would have loved to see this, the lieutenant being stripped off, revealing the man. But without the deadlights, Gillette wouldn't be here, and he began to understand why they hadn't been removed. They didn't need an audience.
Gillette stumbled against the chair and Norrington had to smile upon hearing the muffled curses. To be prepared, Norrington took off his shirt and threw it towards the foot end of his cot. He wondered what his part in this would be. It would be awkward, of course. He had never done this before, well, not with a man, and the cot was so narrow and they could be caught, and it would very likely be a terrible mess. Shouldn't he at least know the mechanics of the crime he was about to commit that could get him on the gallows?
His musings were interrupted by Gillette, who bumped against the cot. Norrington moved aside to make space for him, and for a moment, he felt panic when Gillette's warm body slipped next to his under the sheet. It was almost impossible not to touch each other, considering the size of the cot, but yet they managed, laying there in silence, frozen. Norrington could hear Jones' muffled voice on the deck. To think that they were here, and Jones was there, and the man had no idea!
Norrington startled when he heard his name.
"Nothing. I just wanted to say your name."
"Could you say it again?"
Silence again, and Norrington began to feel stupid. They couldn't stay here like this until Gillette's watch started! He was the captain, wasn't he? Then he should be the one to take the lead, before the situation became too ridiculous.
Alas, he didn't move, for he had no idea what to do. Gillette next to him sighed, then he rolled on top of him. Norrington gasped; Gillette was quite heavy. And hairy. And good. Yes, good, it felt good, and it was so easy now to touch him. A good thing he had watched him so carefully all these weeks; he couldn't see his face, but he still knew what it looked like. He touched his hair, his ears, the eyebrows, ran hid finger down the long nose and rested it on Gillette's lips, who kissed its pad.
Once they had worked out where noses and lips were, kissing came naturally. Norrington closed his eyes, which was a bit ridiculous considering it was pitch dark, but it was easier that way to remember what Gillette looked like. He thought of the way Gillette used to lick his lips; now his tongue explored Norrington's mouth, which was a little odd, for he had never associated kissing with stubbles, but it was pleasant. Very pleasant. Even the stubbles.
Again and again he had to touch Gillette's face, had to see him with his fingers.
"I like it when you do that," Gillette said. He held Norrington's hand, pressing a kiss on the pad of each finger. "You're very loving when you're doing that. I didn't know if you were. I hoped you would be. I'm very happy you are."
"How could I not be loving with you?" Norrington asked, surprised that Gillette could ever have considered otherwise. Gillette nibbled on the pulse point, then gently sucked on every single finger of Norrington's hand. This was an odd sensation, the wet, soft heat around the digit, the tongue swirling around it, and Norrington felt as if somebody had turned off all rational thoughts in his head.
"Thomas," he murmured, "don't do that, it's too much."
Gillette let go of his hand.
"Sit up, James," he ordered gently. Norrington thought at first that he had misheard, but when Gillette playfully patted his thigh, he obeyed. It was difficult to move in this narrow space, but he managed. Gillette's hand in his hair, wrapping a strand around his finger, kissing along the hairline, nipping on the lobe of his ear. There seemed to be a thousand tiny kisses, placed along his jaw, his throat, down his chest. Each of those kisses, each touch, every contact of Gillette's skin with his own cost Norrington more of his self-restraint. He leaned back on his arms, and when he finally realised what Gillette's intention was, he tried to protest, but the words that left his mouth made no sense, were meaningless babble, interrupted by begging to end this, or never end it at all.
Heat had now spread all through his body, and when Gillette's cheek touched Norrington's inner thigh, he could feel that the other's skin was glowing as well. It was hot and sticky, and they were both sweating as if they'd stood in the merciless Caribbean sun in their dress coats for hours, but for nothing in the world he'd wanted to feel different. The strands of Gillette's hair were exquisite torture on Norrington's skin, and then the moment he'd feared and longed for, being touched, being caressed, in such an intimate way, by the one he loved, how could he bear this? He forgot all about self-restraint and dignity, bit his lip so not to groan, because despite everything, he did not forget where they were and who might listen.
He remembered the feeling of Gillette nibbling and sucking on his fingers, and it made him almost lose his mind how he repeated those caresses now, in a far intimate manner. Norrington loved the deadlights, blessed in fact both Gillette and the carpenter, for his somewhat prudish nature would have never allowed him to look at Gillette in bright daylight again without blushing had he seen him at this moment.
Tiny kissed on his inner thighs, on his hipbone, along his side, and Norrington shifted, laying down. There it was again, Gillette's body covering his, this wonderful, comforting weight pressing him down. He needed more of him, so much more, ran his hands over the surprisingly broad back, down the spine and, after a moment of hesitation, rested them on Gillette's backside. He risked a small squeeze, which made Gillette chuckle.
"Like the feel of it?" he asked, and Norrington could tell he was grinning without seeing him. There was a smile in his voice, and it made Norrington happy that he could recognise it.
Norrington kissed him, which was an answer in its own way, and they both were more confident, more eager, shifted and moved until their bodies were perfectly aligned, with no hipbones colliding painfully. They were both strong, and Norrington worried that he might hold too tight, too hard, that he caused pain when he wanted to give nothing but pleasure, but Gillette would have probably told him if he'd been to rough.
Norrington liked how he could direct Gillette by pulling him closer or moving his leg, shifting, grinding, creating the perfect friction. It was a good thing they kissed when he came, otherwise Jones would probably have thought his captain was in danger and come to his rescue. Norrington almost bit Gillette's tongue off, and he was ashamed when he noticed the coppery taste of blood. Gillette continued his movements, finishing on his own, and Norrington regretted that he couldn't see Gillette's face when he came. He knew he would, eventually, some other day. That thought, too, made him very happy.
Later Gillette's head rested on Norrington's chest, their legs entangled, and Norrington's hand played with Gillette's hair. Now that was another thing he would have loved to see. Auburn? Nonsense. It was red, and therefore perfect.
On deck, Jones was yelling at some unfortunate seaman.
"I'm sorry, Thomas," Norrington said softly.
Gillette froze, and his fingers dug painfully into Norrington's chest, tearing out a good number of hairs and making Norrington yelp.
"Don't say that, James. Even if you mean it, don't say it. Not now."
"No! Good God, how could I be sorry for this - this wonderful thing that happened?" Norrington hastened to assure, and pressed a kiss on Gillette's head. "I'm sorry because I thought you were a problem."
He could feel Gillette's relief, delighted in the way his body relaxed.
"And I'm not?" Gillette asked, rubbing his cheek on Norrington's chest.
"No. You're the solution."
Gillette had no idea what Norrington was talking about, but as there was still an hour before his watch started, he just closed his eyes and decided to ask about it some other day.
* * *
|THE RAT TRAP
by Molly Joyful