Category: slash, drama
Other characters appearing: Groves
Feedback: very welcome. Good or bad.
Summary: not every stain can be washed away with water and soap.
The hurricane had brought death to the men of the Dauntless, but saved the neck of her first lieutenant. Gillette contemplated this ironic yet not amusing fact while he and Groves, followed by six of Cutler Beckett's EITC soldiers, entered the house that had been James Norrington's home for so many years.
Paintings and furniture in the entrance hall had been removed by order of Lord Cutler Beckett immediately after the news of Norrington's death had reached Port Royal. Officially, this had happened as precaution of plundering, but Gillette was quite sure that the items had found their way into the lord's apartments.
"Upstairs?" Groves asked, and Gillette nodded. They carried a sea chest between them; it was Gillette's. The one of James Norrington - heavy oak with his initials and a painting of the Dauntless on the lid - had gone down with ship and commodore. So Gillette had brought his own to pack up Norrington's effects.
The soldiers attempted to follow them. Gillette halted and looked over his shoulder.
"You stay here."
"Pardon me, Sir, but Lord Cutler Beckett has ordered that..."
"I don't care what he has ordered. None of you will set a foot in Commodore Norrington's private rooms."
"Thomas, please..." Groves tried to placate his friend, but Gillette only glared angrily at him.
"Please what? Oh - my apologies, I forgot. Those are your men."
Groves looked hurt, but didn't reply. He turned to the guards, his face now stern.
"Dismiss. I will return later."
"What? What? Are you refusing to follow my orders?" Groves barked. Gillette wasn't used to that tone; while they had served on the Dauntless, Groves had always been soft-spoken, even when giving orders. Now that he served the East India Trading Company, that had changed. Many things had changed.
The men hurried to leave the house. Navy or EITC - gainsaying an officer was never a good idea.
"Thank you, Daniel. And - I'm sorry."
"I wouldn't want them to traipse through the commodore's rooms, either. Did you know that the demi-lune Norrington has brought over from Southampton is now standing in Cutler Beckett's salon?"
"I can't say I'm surprised."
The two men carried Gillette's sea chest up the stairs and then into Norrington's study, where they placed it next to the heavy oak desk. Groves looked around and frowned.
"Bloody hell, we've waited too long, Thomas. Looks like the place has already been pillaged by Cutler Beckett's men."
Groves was still his friend, so Gillette refrained from pointing out that he, too, was one of Cutler Beckett's men now.
"It's always been like that."
"You must be joking! It looks as if that bloody hurricane had ravaged in here!"
When Gillette had first set foot in Norrington's private study, he, too, had been flabbergasted by the chaos. One of Norrington's most outstanding characteristics had been his orderliness. In some aspects, he had been terribly pedantic; demanding that Gillette rewrote reports five or six times because there had been an ink blotch or a crossed-out word. Seeing books stacked on chairs, papers crammed into half-closed drawers and maps scattered all over the floor had shocked him.
Now everything was covered with a thick layer of dust, as if nature had tried to pull a blanked over James Norrington's small legacy.
"He liked it that way," Gillette simply said, and for Groves, that was explanation enough. He put a hand on Gillette's shoulder.
"Are you sure you want to do this alone? I could help you, I would..."
"Thank you, but that won't be necessary," Gillette cut him off. "I'll put aside what's of value or could have some meaning to his family. It won't take long."
"I'll make sure they'll leave you alone."
Gillette gave him a forced smile to express his gratitude, but he waited until he could hear the front door close behind Groves before he began his work. He was his best friend, but he was now also one of them. Gillette didn't like those thoughts, but he couldn't help it. Seeing Groves wearing the uniform of the EITC militia had been like returning home to find that the apple tree he had been sitting under as a kid had been cut down. Groves was still his friend, his father's house was still his home, but it wasn't the same anymore.
Gillette took off hat, coat and waistcoat, then he rolled up his sleeves, heading straight for a stack of books next to the desk. He made quick work; there were only about ten books he considered worthy to be sent back home, mainly because they contained personal notes by Norrington. Gillette had known it wouldn't be easy, but upon seeing the commodore's hand, he could feel a lump forming in his throat. He swallowed hard and began to stack the maps on the floor. They'd come in handy for navigation. But on whose ship?
Next came the desk, and Gillette searched through the papers carefully. Anything he found of no interest to Norrington's family but none of Cutler Beckett's business either was put aside to be destroyed. He'd burn everything personally, maybe including the maps. He couldn't bear the thought of Cutler Beckett using anything that had belonged to Norrington.
After two hours, he had finished and the sea chest was closed. It was now time for the hardest task: he had to go 'in there' - Norrington's bedroom. The door was ajar, and Gillette took a deep breath before he entered. He knew that Norrington wouldn't have wanted him 'in there', just like he hadn't wanted him on his ship in the end. Norrington had wanted him hanging from the yardarm.
* * *
Gillette held his breath for a moment. Compared to the study it was cool in here, and it smelled of mould and dust. Of course, nobody had been here these last months to air the bed or clean the room. Thick layers of dust covered everything; if he'd wanted, Gillette could have written his name on the chest of drawers. He spotted an old sea chest in the corner. It was smaller and plainer than the one Norrington had used on the Dauntless; Gillette assumed that it was the one he had used as a midshipman and later as a lieutenant.
He wiped the dust off the chest and dragged it to the foot end of the bed. As expected the chest was empty; it would serve well to pack Norrington's personal belongings.
Gillette sighed. No, Norrington wouldn't have wanted him to be in his bedroom. All it had taken for Gillette to fall from grace had been words, spoken under the impression that they'd all die soon. The hurricane had ravaged around them, the Dauntless was about to sink. Gillette couldn't swim. Norrington couldn't swim. Maybe it had been wrong to think of nothing but himself at that moment, but Gillette hadn't wanted to die without telling Norrington that he cared for him.
That confession under mortal fear had nullified all of Gillette's merits in Norrington's eyes. It had made the esteemed lieutenant, as Norrington had bellowed, a 'disgrace to the Royal Navy'. Indeed, the last words Gillette had heard from the one person he loved and admired above all had been the accusation that he was a man without honour.
He opened the top drawer. Two shirts, neatly folded and pressed. Norrington used to wear them with his uniform on very hot days. The commodore had always been tidy and perfect, just like those shirts, and with little patience for those who were not fitting into his concept of perfection.
Gillette took the shirts out of the drawer and put them in the sea chest, then he opened the second drawer. Shirts again – not tidy, not ironed, but rumpled, carelessly stuffed in the drawer without regard. How odd. It was as if two James Norrington's had lived here - one pedantic, the paradigm of an officer, the other a rather sloppy and unorganised man. Was it possible that all those years Gillette had admired a façade? Looking down at the heap of rumpled linen, he wondered if he was looking behind the curtain now.
Stockings. An extra pair of breeches. Five buttons, an empty tobacco-pouch. Gillette couldn't remember ever having seen Norrington smoking. Some documents, none of them of any importance. He tried hard to concentrate on his task rather than on the fact that the owner of tobacco-pouch, breeches and buttons was dead.
Indeed, James Norrington was dead. The hurricane had saved Gillette's neck, otherwise there had been a court martial and a - hanging? No, Norrington would probably not have gone that far. But it would have been the end of Gillette's career, and compared to that fate, he would have preferred drowning.
Gillette was leafing through some documents when he heard footsteps. He looked up - had Daniel decided to come and check on him? The footsteps came to a halt in front of the study, then Gillette could hear the creaking of the door. He stood up and automatically reached for his sword, alas, it wasn't there. Of course not, why should he have taken his sword along to sort through the effects of his deceased commanding officer?
"Daniel?" he asked, but there came no reply. He could hear the footsteps coming closer, and Gillette made a step towards the door to see what was going on. The door was pushed open, and he was standing in front of James Norrington.
Or rather, in front of the man who had once been James Norrington. Rationally, Gillette should have been shocked by the fact that Norrington was alive. But it was the sight of the tattered, dirty clothes, the tanned face with the deep lines, the dried blood on Norrington's hands that dumbfounded Gillette. Those hands - how often had he admired them. Now they were stained with grime, the knuckles grazed, the fingernails bitten to the quick.
Had Norrington been strung up in a gibbet for three months, he couldn't have looked worse. His hair hung in greasy, dirty strands wild in his face, seemingly merging with the scruffy beard.
The worst, however, was the smell.
Gillette had spent more than half his life aboard ships; you couldn't be squeamish when sharing room with hundreds of men, and he wasn't. But the stench that hit him now almost made him gag. It wasn't so much the fact that Norrington's skin had very likely last been in contact with water when the Dauntless had sunk - it was fear. Gillette could smell it, he knew it, every man knew who had ever feared for his life.
"You here?" Norrington asked.
That was worse than anything else, hearing this distortion of Norrington speak with the commodore's calm voice. Gillette retreated, and found himself trapped between bed and window. Norrington carried a sword, Gillette was unarmed; so the hurricane hadn't saved him in the end.
Norrington looked around and shook his head.
"You're packing my things, I see."
Gillette swallowed hard.
"Yes. Yes, Sir."
A bitter laugh.
"Sir? Those days are over. The Commodore is dead, long live the Admiral. It sure looks like you're the only steadfast officer in Port Royal left, Mr. Gillette."
"I don't understand..." Gillette began, but Norrington cut him off.
"Of course you don't. I don't, after all, so why should you?"
He walked past Gillette and sat down on the bed. A heavy cloud of dust emerged, but the man didn't seem to notice. He raked his greasy hair with his dirty fingers, and now Gillette could see the typical marks left by tar and holystone.
Norrington looked up at Gillette, giving him a humourless smile. Two of his teeth were missing.
"I've often thought of our last conversation, Mr. Gillette. Now that you see who I am, I wonder if you still have those feelings. Before you reply, though: I might look terrible, but what I've done in these last months has been worse. It would very likely be easier to find an Article Of War that I haven't broken than one that I've adhered to."
The two men stared at each other for a long while, then Gillette licked his lips.
"I think you need a bath, Sir."
"To think that I called you a man without honour," he murmured. "Until this morning, I've only been dirty, Gillette; but I've sold my soul to Cutler Beckett, and now I'm soiled. Leave now. Don't waste your affections on me."
"I don't consider them wasted."
Gillette didn't move. Norrington neither repeated his order nor did he look up, but after a long while, he reached out, put his arms around Gillette's waist and buried his head in the soft linen shirt. Gillette could feel the heat of Norrington's skin; he wasn't moving, wasn't crying, he just held onto his former lieutenant with the desperation of a castaway who clung to a spar.
Gillette returned the embrace, not worrying about grime and stains or even lice. Water and soap would take care of the dirt. As for the rest - a man of honour could always redeem himself.
* * *
THE SEQUEL: "BLACKBERRY"
by Molly Joyful