|Rating: PG-13, slash
Pairings: Norrington/Gillette, Will/Elizabeth
Warnings: Telling would be spoiling.
Summary: One man's good luck is another man's misfortune.
Captain Hardy had a perfect view onto the part of the building where James Norrington's offices were located. Fort Charles, Port Royal - many considered it cruel punishment to be ordered here, but Hardy didn't. He was a man with a healthy self-confidence. Some even accused him of arrogance, but how could it be arrogance to acknowledge one's own strengths? Hardy knew he would be the best commodore the West Indies had ever seen, a scourge of pirates everywhere and in time, news of his genius would reach the Admiralty in London. "Commodore Hardy" had a good ring to it, but being addressed as Admiral Hardy would be even sweeter music to his ears.
There was only one tiny, insignificant problem: James Norrington had been promoted to the rank of commodore, not Jacob Hardy. Commodore Norrington. Commodore. Unbelievable. Just how had Norrington managed to make it that high up the ranks in so short a time? The ability to tell bow from stern and not going overboard in a storm aside, there were four things a young officer needed for a career in the Royal Navy: money, a patron, ambition and longevity. Coming from an old and established family could be very helpful as well.
Looking at those requirements, Norrington's success was even more of a puzzle, for he was the youngest son of a tailor. A tailor! Had anybody ever heard of such a thing? Admiral Harris, a long-time customer of Norrington's father, had suggested a naval career for young James and secured for him a place as a midshipman aboard the Medusa, a sixth rate ordered to the West Indies.
Sending a lad of thirteen years of age to a place plagued by pirates and March fever could not really be counted as patronage, or could it? Hardy had his doubts, but imagining Norrington as a snivelling homesick midshipman was amusing. Empty pockets and the burden of his father's great expectations for a share of prize money - the future must have looked bleak for young Mr. Norrington.
Hardy frowned and began to tap his fingers on the table in front of him. Money and patronage aside, Norrington also lacked ambition. He didn't show much interest in warfare, and if it had been up to him, he would have spent his time cataloguing rocks, for gemmology was his great passion. The excitement his shipmates felt upon seeing a Spanish frigate, heavy with gold, was not shared by Norrington, who only experienced such euphoria when finding a Calcite or Barite. For hours he would draw, weigh, examine and measure rocks. Rocks. Rocks! Bloody rocks! Hardy shook his head. Unless Norrington had been the heir of a great fortune, he would not have made it very far up the ranks of the Royal Navy with such an attitude.
Yet, surprisingly enough, James Norrington was well on his way to admiral. Not for the first time Hardy tried to make sense of that fact, and no matter how often he thought it through, he couldn't understand it. A man of logic and used to methodical work, he had begun to research James Norrington's career meticulously. The large pile of papers in front of him contained the results of his researches, and he came to an astonishing conclusion: James Norrington didn't owe his success to connections, money or patronage but to - good luck. Incredibly good luck. Or rather, the misfortune of others.
After five years of service, Norrington had been promoted during a battle to third lieutenant because Mr. Norville, third lieutenant of the Medusa, had gone overboard. No big loss, from all Hardy could tell. Lieutenant Norville had not been very popular among the crew, and rebellious, unhappy men were not what a ship needed when going to war. From there, Norrington had found himself transferred to HMS Dauntless, the reason being serious illness by both third and fourth lieutenant. They had been eating from a poisonous fish and consequently been forced to stay ashore.
Their misfortune had been Norrington's good luck, and his lucky streak had not ended there. First he had gained Governor Swann's eternal gratitude by saving young Miss Swann from a pack of wild dogs. Then he had been promoted directly to the rank of first lieutenant very soon, thanks to the death of the former first lieutenant, Mr. Stevenson. Stevenson had lost a duel over a lady who had kept him company under circumstances that had not found her husband's approval. How the husband in question had learned of their affair never came to light.
Meanwhile, the second lieutenant had deserted under rather dubious circumstances - gambling debts, so it was rumoured - and James Norrington found himself as second in command on the quarterdeck, standing there like one of his beloved rocks and wondering how he had come to be there in the first place.
Hardy sighed and put the papers containing his findings aside. Fortuna made strange choices at times. Not that Norrington had been the only officer in the Royal Navy whose success was a miracle, but the other upstarts had at least capable, loyal officers to rely on, men who did all the work without taking the credit. But who did James Norrington have? Lieutenant Thomas Gillette. An unpleasant, uncouth and grumpy fellow who had served with and later under Norrington since their days as midshipmen aboard the Medusa, and if there was a less ambitious man in the navy than Mr. Norrington, it had to be Mr. Gillette. Blank-faced and button-eyed, without charm or savoir vivre. A lackey, born to receive and execute orders. Unimaginative. A shadow. Plain as water.
And despite all that, Gillette served as first lieutenant on the Dauntless, the best ship in the West Indies! And Norrington was now a commodore, with the blessings of both Admiral Leighton and Governor Swann! That caused Hardy pain on many levels. He would have been far better suited for the position, and his own first lieutenant, Fremantle, was a man of great ambition and zeal. It wasn't right. It wasn't fair. And it was not what Hardy wanted.
He leaned back in his seat and watched Mr. Gillette leaving the building, as usual a stack of papers under his arm, scurrying towards the gate. Hardy decided that it was time for Mr. Norrington's luck to change.
* * *
"Ah, now that's just what I needed!" Will grinned and reached for the jug with fresh, cold water his wife had brought.
"The water or me?" Elizabeth asked. "Think carefully before you reply; I haven't decided yet what we'll have for supper."
Will took a swig from the jug, then poured the rest of the water over his head. At times he thought that hell had to be a pleasantly cool place compared to the smithy.
"Both. And I'm more interested what we'll have for dessert, anyway," he said, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. Elizabeth poked her tongue out at him.
"Behave or I will cook."
This was a serious threat, and Will hurried to return to work. Elizabeth sat on an anvil and watched him sorting the tools. She liked being here, despite the heat and the dirt. She loved the scent of hot iron and the fire in the hearth. And she liked being with Will. Just sitting there, watching him. They could bicker and banter for hours, but had also mastered the art of sharing silence. She had not regretted her decision to marry him for even a second, and while Elizabeth felt a pang of guilt every time she met James Norrington, she knew that her choice had been the right one. And James knew it, too.
"A farthing for your thoughts and a guinea if you can tell me where I've put the hardy."
"Captain Hardy is probably sitting in his office, trying to find more reasons to hate James Norrington. But if you're looking for the tool, it's right behind you. And I've been congratulating myself on my choices. That makes one guinea and one farthing then."
Will reached for the hardy and put it next to the other tools.
"I'm not asking if I can pay in kind now, or you'll throw the jug after me. So what wise choices have you made recently?"
Elizabeth looked down at her shoes. They were covered with coal dust, just like her dress. It made her happy. She pretended not to notice the pitiful glances the apothecary's wife and her friends gave her - "oh dear, poor girl, couldn't find herself anyone better," - but what did they know? As far as she was concerned, the entire world could know that she was the blacksmith's wife, and if those old cats didn't like it, well, then they were free to look the other way.
"I was just thinking how lucky I am. With you, with our house here, with everything. You're my good luck charm, Will. Literally! Just think of all the terrible things that happened to me before we were married!"
"I'm flattered, but I don't think it's me. I guess it’s just that you have used up all your bad luck by now." Will began to fan the flames. "Let me see: you fell off a cliff, were almost struck by a roof tile, and do you remember when you drank that sour wine and were ill for weeks?"
Elizabeth cringed. "How could I ever forget that. And then being abducted by Barbossa! You, on the other hand? A darling of fortune!"
"Oh yes, I was such a lucky fellow, being on a ship that has been blown up by pirates!" He thought about a moment, then he shrugged. "I guess you're right, though. Who knows what would have become of me if I hadn't come to Port Royal? I would have never met you, and despite your occasional moodiness I can honestly say that I'd have regretted that."
"If you had never met me, you couldn't have regretted not meeting me, because you wouldn't have known that I existed in the first place."
It was one of those typical Elizabeth-thoughts, and unlike her father, Will tried to understand what she was saying. Once she had asked him if he thought the egg had been there first rather than the chicken, and on a lovely night, during a walk, she had looked up at the moon and asked him if he had ever tried to imagine eternity. Who else but her would come up with such things? She made him think. She had faith in his ability to understand. She would never think him to be a simpleton.
"But I might have regretted one day that something - someone was missing in my life? Who knows. However, I've been treated very kindly and generously. Your father paid for my education, James Norrington arranged for me to be an apprentice at Mr. Brown's shop, and last but not least there's your special friend Mr. Gillette."
Elizabeth wrinkled her nose.
"I don't like him. He's boring. One simply can't hold a conversation with him, unless it's about ships or the navy. Also, he's very rude."
"You're only sulking because he never fell for your charms," Will joked. "Don't deny it, I've seen you pouting and batting your lashes at him and he didn't even notice!"
"Now that's it," Elizabeth snapped. "I'll tell Mrs. Hammond that I will cook today, and make no mistake: you will have to eat it!"
"So much for being a darling of fortune," Will muttered.
* * *
"And that's all you found? It's nothing! That's impossible, there's no man without a skeleton in his closet!"
Lieutenant Fremantle shook his head.
"Unfortunately, Commodore Norrington's closet is the most skeleton-free in the world, Sir. No gambling, no women. He has never been seen drunk. His bills are paid, he goes to church every Sunday and is not interested in politics. There is nothing. Nothing."
Hardy hit his fist on the table, making the boy who had just brought tea jump.
"Take your tea and go to hell!"
"Yes, Sir, pardon me, Sir," Michael stammered, and hurried to get out of the room and the reach of the furious captain. Once the door had closed behind him, Hardy stood up and began to pace up and down in front of the windows.
"Everybody makes mistakes. Norrington is no exception, I'm absolutely certain of that." He halted for a moment and saw Elizabeth Turner and her maid crossing the place. Hardy watched the two women.
"Now look at this. Beautiful Beth is on her way to visit dear Commodore Norrington. I wonder what she'll bring him this time. Charcoaled bread? Burnt gingerbread cookies? She should give them to Gillette."
Norrington. Elizabeth. Will Turner. A rather unpleasant smile spread over Hardy's face.
"We're fools, Mr. Fremantle."
"Fools. We've had the skeleton in front of our noses all the time, but we did not see the wood for the trees!"
"I'm afraid I don't understand, Sir..."
"Commodore Norrington is a man of honour. And a gentleman as well - why, people still talk with great respect how he gave Captain Jack Sparrow one day's head start! Unfortunately, Captain Jack Sparrow was a convicted criminal. Now what would the Admiralty make of a commodore who allowed a pirate who was supposed to hang from the gallows to escape? I don't think they'd like that, don't you agree?"
"No, Sir. I don't think they'd like that one bit. Though there might be a better person to address your concerns about the loyalties of Mr. Norrington to, Sir." The lieutenant passed a letter to his captain. "It arrived this morning on the Daisy, Sir. Lord Cutler Beckett of the East India Trading Company has made some very interesting business suggestions."
* * *
It was canvas of best quality. Wet canvas, agreed, but that wasn't a problem. In fact it was a very lucky coincidence that the Estelle had sprung a leak while making port. How that had happened, nobody knew. Norrington blamed it on sloppy craftsmanship or copper nails of poor quality, but no matter the reasons, they had all the canvas they needed, for a really good price, and the captain of the Estelle couldn't sell the cargo to the French behind Norrington's back.
"That happened just in time," Gillette stated. "We can always count on your good luck, Sir."
"Yes, but my good luck always seems to be somebody's misfortune. I shouldn't be as happy about it as I am. But at least we can put to sea next week, as originally planned."
“Yes, Sir. You shouldn't think too much about it, if I may say so, Sir. If we'd count up all the times good canvas we've paid for has been swapped with canvas of poor quality, just to be resold to the French for great profit, I'd say our supplier can't complain."
"I know, I know. I should have put my foot down long ago, but I am - well. We have the canvas."
Gillette knew what Norrington wanted to say. No, he really wasn't good at putting his foot down. He didn't like confrontations. He knew his ropes, no doubt, but James Norrington was a friendly, gentle man who would have enjoyed sitting in a library or collecting rocks and cataloguing them far more than commanding a ship. It was one of those truths they both knew without ever mentioning it. Norrington didn't have the option of leaving. He had to stay where he was, and where he was, Gillette would stay as well.
All things considered, being a commodore wasn't too bad. Nobody could make fun of Norrington anymore without dire consequences. It hadn't been like that during his time as a midshipman, and who would have known better than Gillette? Cruel jokes had been played on Norrington, and he had always carried his cross without whining. He had also not abused his new-gained power as a lieutenant for retributions. It was a thought that had never even crossed his mind, a fact Gillette had found rather disappointing. Had it been up to him - oh, he could have thought of many ways to make the life of the midshipmen never ending misery!
The best about the rank of commodore was privacy, though. The great cabin of the Dauntless was indeed large, with a separate night cabin. Privacy. One day, that would be the most precious good for two lovers. Gillette certainly wouldn't complain if Norrington should be promoted to the rank of admiral one day. Admiral Norrington - that had a good ring to it. Retired Admiral Norrington, who'd live on his own estate, happy with his library and his loyal retired first lieutenant as a personal secretary. Gillette considered it his personal duty - and pleasure - to take care of James Norrington, come what may. And he was a man who took his duties very serious.
"You are daydreaming again, Mr. Gillette," Norrington chastised him mildly.
"Sir? My apologies, Sir."
Norrington gave his lieutenant a rare smile, but as usual misinterpreted the doting, dreamy expression on Gillette's face.
"I'm as happy about the canvas as you are, Mr. Gillette. So please, feel free to smile."
"What? Who? Oh, yes, thank you, Sir," Gillette stammered. "I certainly will. Do you wish me to call your footman?"
Norrington rubbed his chin. Stubbles, how annoying.
"Yes, please. I need a shave before I meet Governor Swann."
* * *
It was stew, and it tasted terribly. Will wolfed it down as if it was ambrosia, though, simply because Elizabeth had made it. He'd eaten the sole of a shoe if Elizabeth had served it for meat, and considering that the bits of meat in the stew were as tough as leather, he wouldn't have been surprised in the least if shoe soles had been the main ingredient of his supper.
"It's very odd," Elizabeth remarked between two bites, "when Elsie and I left Fort Charles, I ran into Michael. You know, one of Captain Hardy's boys."
"I don't like Hardy," Will grumbled."He can't be trusted."
"I'm not too fond of him, either. But the lad looked as if he was chased by all furies of hell, and I heard that he asked to see James."
"Wouldn't be surprised if Hardy was ill-treating the lad. Maybe that's why he wanted to talk to James?"
"Probably. It's a bit - tough. The meat, I mean. Maybe four hours were too long for it to cook?"
"Maybe," Will murmured, and tackled another spoonful.
* * *
Norrington listened to Michael's report with unmoved face, not because he wasn't concerned by the lad's words, but his footman was still busy shaving him, and it was not advisable to jump with a razorblade so close to one's throat. Gillette shared that opinion and interrogated the lad in Norrington's place.
"And you're very certain you didn't misunderstand anything?"
"No, Sir," Michael replied firmly, turning his cap in his hands to keep them busy. "That's what he said. Every word of it."
"I usually don't approve of eavesdropping, but in this case... thank you. Please return to your master, and don't let on anything."
"Yes, Sir!" Michael made his bow and hurried out of the room, leaving three very upset men behind.
"That bugger," Norrington's footman grumbled. "Nothing but trouble, I tell you. Just like him, to get you into a fix, that is, Sir." He treated some minor cuts in Norrington's face with a piece of alum, then cleaned the blade and put it aside.
Gillette didn't show any signs of outrage or worry. "Thank you, that's all, Mr. Folks."
It was obvious that Mr. Folks would have had a lot to say about Captain Hardy if one had allowed him to speak, but he recognised an invitation to leave when he got one, and so he left, with a good number of muttered curses in direction of the ambitious Captain Hardy and his first lieutenant.
Norrington stood there, hands clasped behind his back. That was the way he looked like when standing on the quarterdeck. Appropriate, in a way, for his ship was sinking.
"So it has finally come to that - well, we both knew it would happen one day. Time to face the music. There were hundreds of people present when I allowed Jack Sparrow to escape. Hardy will have no problems finding someone to tell the tale in front of a court martial. I'm actually surprised it's only happening now, after such a long time. I'm fully responsible for this, and I wish you to know that I will say so in front of the court martial. Your reputation will not be tarnished."
Gillette stepped closer to Norrington and lowered his voice.
"You are not hanging yet, Sir. There are also people who will speak in your favour, and after all, your actions were honourable."
"Very honourable - but also very stupid. No, my dear friend, I fear that this is the end of my story. To think that it will be about Jack Sparrow! I always thought that-" He broke off and lowered his gaze.
"Nothing. This was just not what I imagined to be the reason for my court martial."
Gillette shook his head. "My apologies for being so forward, but I find it odd that you have even considered being court martial'd, Sir."
Norrington turned his head and arched an eyebrow at Gillette. "Do you really?" He smiled, close-lipped, coy. "Now all that's left for me to do is regretting the sins I never committed."
He turned his back to Gillette. The lieutenant hesitated a moment, then put one arm around Norrington's waist and pulled him close, kissing the small strip of skin between cravat and ear. Norrington leaned against him and turned his head, so Gillette kissed him. Maybe this quick brushing of lips didn't even qualify as a kiss, but to Gillette, it was his dreams coming true.
"Would that be one of those sins?"
Again that smile. "One of them. Not the gravest one, but certainly the one I've been thinking of committing the most."
Gillette took Norrington's arm and pulled him away from the window by his sleeve. Once they could be sure that nobody would see them from the street - hopefully nobody had seen them before! - they kissed again. Norrington briefly considered to go all the way, right now, right here, and how that would make a nice surprise for Captain Hardy if he happened to come for a visit.
That thought made Norrington break off the kiss. Gillette had a pretty good idea what this was all about, and he cupped Norrington's face in his hands, caressing the cheekbones with his thumbs.
"Don't give up hope yet. Have you already forgotten that you are Fortuna's favourite child?"
Norrington sighed. "I will go for a walk; who knows how long I'll be able to move freely anymore, and I need to think some things through." He took Gillette's hand, then pressed a kiss on the pulse point.
"No matter what comes, I'll make sure that I'm the one to take all the blame. After all, you warned me not to let Sparrow go."
"And as usual, you didn't listen."
Norrington put on coat, sword and hat, then left the room. Gillette waited for another moment, then reached for Norrington's ivory-handled razor. A beautiful, heavy piece; Norrington had bought it the last time he'd been to London, together with a vast supply of Italian shaving soap. Gillette opened the razor and ran his thumb along the blade.
A thin line of blood formed, and Gillette smiled approvingly. He put the razor in the pocket of his coat and opened the door - time for Captain Hardy and Lieutenant Fremantle to learn the secret of James Norrington's success.
* * *
READ THE SEQUEL: "SILENT COMPANION"
|THE SECRET OF HIS SUCCESS
by Molly Joyful