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Consolation

by Linaelyn and Estellongshanks

 

Fandom: PoTC    Rating: PG-13    Pairing: Gillette/Groves    Full Header

 


The teacup clinked against the spoon, as he stirred in the sugar. Blast it, still no milk to be had. As the last of the raindrops from the morning's brief rainshower dripped from the eaves of the stone and mortar walls of the fort, the sun came peeking out from between the clouds. The solar heating set the puddles to steam, and filled the air with the scent of overripe fruit and dampened verdure, smothering the brief clear scent of rainwashed air.

James was dreading this moment. Still, it would become no easier if he postponed it. He rose and strode, deliberate, to the white-painted doorway overlooking the practice yard. Below the balcony, he saw his intended targets, engaged in mock battle, a slow-motion dance with sabers in hand. Gillette was training Groves in the finer points of the Sicilian defense.

James watched for a moment. It was a beautiful thing, truly.

Would that the tension between his two finest officers were as contrived as the pas de deux that was this honing of skill with their blades.

"Lt. Groves? Lt. Gillette? Your presence in my office, if you please." Captain Norrington's voice carried that earnest tone which invariably indicated Naval Business was afoot.

Theodore and Harold exchanged a meaningful glance. The silence was broken only by the last of the dripping, and the sound of distant marching feet on the opposite parapet.

The Captain's promotion to Commodore would leave a gap in the ranking structure. Word had come down from the Admiralty.

Someone would be given a captaincy.

Someone would be granted the plum of the Interceptor.

And someone would not.

~~~~~~~

The tavern floor was slippery with spilled ale and tracked-in mud and other, less savory fluids. Best not to think about it too much, Harold mused, as he nursed his tankard in the dark corner.

"Captain H. Gillette" he whispered to himself, testing the sounds of his impending promotion. His gut lurched a bit, though not from overindulgence. Self-doubt, frustration, anger, confusion and, if he was honest with himself, a little bit of fear, all warred within him.

Winning was supposed to feel better than this.

Theo was better qualified for a Captaincy. Theo had the longer experience, and was nearly two years his senior. Theo was a better navigator, had a stronger grasp of command, had the loyalty of the men...

All logic pointed to himself spending two to five more years before rising to this level of responsibility. Perhaps as little as six months, if he distinguished himself in a battle that also happened to kill his superior officers. Not a pleasant thought, to be sure, but the not-unlikely scenario was never far from one's mind, in any career in the military.

However, there was a fly in the ointment. Lieutenant Theodore Groves was Captain James Norrington's best friend and confidante; the two had known each other since childhood. Norrington had even been engaged to be wed to Theo's sister, Mary. Her tragic and untimely death, a swift illness on her passage from England, had rocked both men to their foundations. Their subsequent shared grief had brought them closer than ever, in the past five years.

James Norrington's convoluted and warped disdain for anything that smacked even slightly of nepotism had prevented him from giving Theodore the recommendation necessary for promotion. As well known as their camaraderie was in the Admiralty's offices, Norrington's glaring silence on the subject of Groves' qualifications was the kiss of death to any advancement.

And so, on the strength of a reasonable competence with the rigging and refitting of a ship of His Majesty's fleet, a certain (not insubstantial) skill with a blade, and the apparent lack of anyone else even vaguely suitable for the position without promoting from elsewhere in an already understaffed British Navy...

Harold was to become Captain of the Interceptor.

He smiled, and took another swig of his ale. She really was a lovely ship, even if she did tend to yaw a bit in a following sea. And she needed some repair to her gunnery; that swivel aft had missed a fire twice, in their last engagement, and he suspected they'd been lax with the oil and sponge. A Captaincy. Smile broadened, and he nodded to himself.

The roar of a huddle of ordinary sailors, congratulating one of their mates on some minor triumph with the dice, brought him up short.

He had no one with whom to commemorate his own triumph, given that his closest peers were currently at loggerheads over the very event he wished to celebrate.

He desperately hoped that Theo and James returned to speaking to each other again. Soon.

~~~~~~~

In a decidedly informal state of dress, wearing no more than his nightshirt and some knee breeches, Theodore paced the patio in his rear gardens. A new day had broken, but his rage at his commander and dearest friend had been exacerbated by his dreams overnight, dreams where sumptuous dinner was offered, and placed before himself, and then cleared from the table before he could taste a bite. Dreams of foaming cups of liquor passed to his hand, and then stolen away by burly, laughing men. Dreams of stubbled, moaning lips and muscled, embracing arms and calloused, groping hands, that suddenly vanished in a mist of dawnlight to the song of Harold's and James' distant voices, raised in cheer.

How could James be so bloody thick-headed? Groves thought to himself. How could he fail to see that there are sins of omission that are every bit as dire as the committed sort?

He could resign his commission. Leave the Navy. Return to England... and do what? Sail a merchantman, with a rag-tag crew of those refused by the press-gangs as unsuitable? Bugger that.

He could ask to be posted elsewhere. Some location that would allow for his advancement without prejudice. Some other... colder... lonelier clime.

As if directed by some divine hand, the clouds parted, and the sun blazed across the warm flagstones where Groves paced. A small flock of bright little birds buzzed and peeped in the flower-bedecked tree over his head, a reminder of all he loved about his home here.

James had protected him and fostered his career for years. He would be throwing all of that back in his friend's face, if he asked to be transferred now. And elsewhere... where else might he find a commander so willing to turn a blind eye to which taverns his Lieutenant chose to frequent? Which sections of the red-light district, remarkably absent those termed the "fairer sex," were the haunt of a certain officer?

No, he could not leave.

But the Interceptor should have been his command. Theodore was going to need some time before he could hold his temper on the subject, in James' presence. Or in Harold's, for that matter, although he knew that was hardly fair to the man.

Would that the time would pass more swiftly, and heal the wounds he suffered, inadvertent, at their hands.

Would that today were anything but James' promotion ceremony.

~~~~~~~

"ELIZABETH!" James' anguished cry rent the air. He struggled free of his heavily brocaded regalia, while trying simultaneously to unbuckle one shoe with the other's toe.

Harold leaped to his commander's side. "Sir! The rocks! It's a miracle she missed them!" Dragging James back from the precipice, he noted the clammy palms, the sweat-stained underarms of a man whom all suspected of strong attraction to the Governor's daughter.

No wonder James had been about to dare suicidal rescue. The poor fellow was besotted.

"We'll do her more good by racing to the docks, sir. We can be there in three minutes. Come!" It was the first time Gillette had ever found a commander, this one or any other, in need of his guidance.

Nearly always before, Norrington had held every situation well in hand. Always before, in the few instances where Norrington had needed a word in his ear, Groves had been there first. Always before, Theo by James' side, in a crisis, perhaps with the little nudge that his commander needed to make the most of his command.

Harold noticed. James noticed.

From a distant shadowed corner where he sullenly watched the proceedings, Theodore noticed.

When it came time to call for the manacles, to apprehend the pirate Sparrow, it was Gillette who was there at his Commodore's side. Soon-to-be-Captain Gillette.

~~~~~~~

Commodore Norrington paced the walls of the fort, Governor Swann at his side. Yet another hanging on the morrow, and though he was pleased, very pleased, to have nabbed the notorious Jack Sparrow, he never rested well on the night before an execution.

If only the governor were a bit less garrulous.

Egad, he was tired.

"Has my daughter given you an answer yet?"

"No... she... hasn't." Norrington struggled to find the words to say so, graciously; to hide the worry in his voice from his intended father-in-law.

"Well, she has had a very trying day," Weatherby did his best to cover his daughter's error with reasonable excuse, and changed the subject rapidly, while James smiled in pain. "Ghastly weather, don't you think?"

Dogs barked in the distance, and the unseasonable fog rolled over the parapets, giving the newly-christened Commodore a bit of a tingle up his spine. Not that he believed in such things, but this was a night for fey deeds and otherworldly creatures, if ever there was one. "Bleak." he replied. "Very bleak." The dogs continued their barking.

Even insensitive Swann seemed to pick up on a bit of something. "What's that?"

James turned his head just in time to see the flash, out in the mists of the harbor.

"CANNONFIRE!" he bellowed. "RETURN FIRE! MEN! TO ARMS!"

Where was Groves? Where was Gillette? Norrington's mind raced, as he flung orders at the marines and sailors roused from their beds by the explosions.

His men responded with discipline and alacrity, and the battle commenced with less chaos than might be expected, in a surprise assault. Good Lord. Was Swann still just standing there?

Norrington barked, "Governor. Barricade yourself in my office." Swann hesitated. "That's an order."

Thus was Weatherby reminded of why this man was a commodore at merely the age of 30.

~~~~~~~

There would be no execution at dawn this day, to be sure. Gillette had slept not at all between the battle and the ensuing patch-up job on the town's defenses. From the looks of his commander, Norrington had likely not slept in the previous two nights.

And then that callow boy...Turner? Was that his name?...had the gall to ruin one of the commodore's best maps with that little hatchet of his. Idiot.

Harold thought James had shown incredible restraint, there. Perhaps he'd dissipated all of his ire on the verbal drubbing he had given Theodore, just before dawn, when it was discovered that he'd been so engaged in the prostitute's quarter as to have entirely missed the first call to arms. It wasn't until the pirates had actually landed and invaded the back rooms of the Charging Steed, that Groves had even realized that Port Royal was under attack.

James had been livid.

Harold was merely sympathetic. There but for the grace of God, go I... though his tastes generally ran to different establishments in that section of town. It was difficult for a young officer, and liaisons always had political ramifications. Unless you were paying for it. Then, it was understood; that was just a means of scratching an itch.

His mind had wandered, and the commodore was addressing him. "You'll ready the Dauntless for our pursuit of the Black Pearl in the most likely direction, and I'll remain here to instruct Groves on the defense of the capitol. After the Dauntless is made ready, I'll take command and sail her out; you'll transfer over to the Interceptor, circle Jamaica in the opposite direction, and rendezvous with the Dauntless at this headland, taking advantage of her greater speed and the prevailing winds here. Your position here, and also here," Norrington pointed out locations on the damaged map, "will afford the greatest view of the horizon, and if we are fortunate, we'll be able to catch sight of the Pearl's sails. Be sure to assign a goodly complement of long-eyed topmen."

"Aye-aye, sir." Gillette hid his slight chagrin. He would have no opportunity to speak to Theo, before he sailed. No opportunity to tell him that he thought James had been overly harsh in his criticism. And for a naval lieutenant to be left landbound, in such a crisis?

This was only going to worsen the rift between them all.

~~~~~~~

Turning from one set of paperwork to another, as they readied the supplies and reports for the shuffle of command structure, Groves caught a glimpse of unusual motion on the bay. "Commodore!"

Then, Norrington heard Gillette's cries.

"SIR! THEY'VE TAKEN THE DAUNTLESS!"

Long practice as team made the motion of passing the book from James' hands to Theodore's a seamless transfer, as his other hand reached instantly for the glass at his hip.

"COMMODORE! THEY'VE TAKEN THE SHIP!"

"Rash, Turner; too rash." Scorn dripped from Norrington's voice. "That is without doubt the worst pirate I have ever seen." It was the first time that James had spoken conversationally in Theodore's presence since the announcement of Harold's promotion, two days earlier. Theo threw a surprised glance in his direction.

Then, duty required swift action. It seemed as if no time passed before the grappling hooks were thrown and the boarding gangways set in place.

"Search every cabin, every hold, down to the bilges!" James' rage was barely contained. Turner's behavior went beyond immature imbecility, at this point. This was piracy, and even if the boy might be granted clemency due to his youth and Sparrow's notoriety as one able to convince anyone of anything...

James had expected better of the lad, foundling or no.

Theodore, following at James' heels, saw that this might be the chance to redeem himself in his commander's eyes. Perform well under pressure here, and perhaps the previous night's errors would be forgotten.

If that was what he wanted.

Then, in defiance of all logic, the Interceptor began to move away from the Dauntless. The world shifted on its axis. Normal laws no longer applied.

The Mighty Commodore James Norrington had been outwitted.

"Set tops'ls and clear up this mess."

Groves stepped back into his accustomed position as his friend's Devil's Advocate, and freely spoke his mind. "With the wind a quarter astern, we won't be able to catch them."

"I don't need to catch them. Just get them in range of the long nines."

Ever loyal in his questioning, Groves barked the orders to make it so. "Helm! Come about! Run out the guns!" Then, in more hushed tones, he continued to question his commander's judgment, below the range of the crew's hearing. "We're to fire on our own ship, sir?"

"I'd rather see her at the bottom of the ocean, than in the hands of a pirate."

Norrington's ferocity stunned his lieutenant. James was about to destroy Harold's ship, his chance at his first command. Send it to the bottom of the ocean quickly, rather than risk even a single act of piracy committed with this tool-of-the-trade, before they managed to regain its custody.

James was simply too damnably over-principled for the real world.

Something shifted inside Theodore. Something that tasted vaguely like forgiveness.

He supposed that he could probably manage to keep a friend whose greatest flaw was a surfeit of moral integrity.

Besides. Who else was going to remind James how to have fun?

The helmsman called, "Commodore! He's disabled the rudder chain, sir!"

Somewhere below, the crunching sounds of Gillette's jollyboat, being shattered against the Dauntless's drifting hull, made Groves stifle a smirk at the sheer unlikelihood of it all.

The lack of sleep was not helping him keep an even countenance. "That's got to be the best pirate I've ever seen." Theo couldn't help needling James.

"So it would seem."

Was that the tiniest bit of a smirk on James' face, he saw just then? Clearly, he was still enraged at the loss of the ship, but could a bit of the sheer hilarity of the unlikely string of events have touched that vein of humor within him?

Or was the James he knew so long ago in England, truly gone, vanished beneath the weight of responsibility?

Oh, God. And poor Harold.

~~~~~~~

"EVERYONE STAY CALM. We're taking over the ship."

Sparrow's voice would be ringing in his ears forever. The first of the events that led to the loss of his ship. The piratical commandeering of his first Captaincy, before he could even be installed as captain.

It was that ludicrous Turner boy that had been his undoing, truly. That "Aye, AVAST!" of his, making everyone laugh; made it impossible to take the two of them as any sort of credible threat. Neither of them seemed the sort who could manage to sail even a little fishing vessel, let alone a 78-gun ship of the line.

He hadn't feared the pistol placed on his brow, as much as he had feared the loss of one of his best men in a violent fracas to subdue these (unfortunately well-armed) fools. The previous night had seen the loss of too many men. Today, in the aftermath of the attack, he'd seen too many bodies that would never rise again.

But in hindsight...

A rap at his door interrupted his morose musings. The room seemed overdark; when had the sun set? "Harold?" Theodore's head poked in the shadowy room, wig slightly askew, and sweaty-browed from all the hard work of repairing the Dauntless as speedily as possible, in the heat of the day. He wore a wider smile than Harold had expected to see on him for many weeks ahead, given the events of recent days.

"I'd heard you were injured when the Dauntless struck your boat," Groves' voice marked his concern. "I came to see how you fare."

"It's nothing, just a bad sprain. I hit the water at an odd angle and wrenched the muscle, nothing worse. It made swimming to shore a challenge, but I managed that easier than climbing the side of the ship." The word ship, bringing forth painful images of his own ship, his Interceptor, sailing away under the command of a pirate.

Groves noticed the change in Gillette's expression, the far-away look of regret. "Let me take a look. More light. I need another, here." Theodore lit a second candle from the first which burned low on the night table, then turned and threw the shutters wider, allowing the golden glow of the just-risen moon to enter. Groves pulled a stool up to the bedstead, seated himself, and pulled back the coverlet to reveal Harold's bandaged arm. "May I?" but without waiting for an answer, he began to poke and prod around the shoulder and upper arm of his patient, carefully unwrapping the white cloths from the elbow upwards. His finger calluses held Harold's arm firmly yet gently, striking an occasional twinge, but discovering, as the man had said, nothing serious.

"I hardly expect you've the qualifications to be a surgeon, Theodore," and yet this phrase, too, suddenly seeming painfully crass, bringing thoughts of the two of them remaining lieutenants forever, of seeing a captaincy snatched from everyone's grasp. "I mean... I..." Gillette stammered uncharacteristically.

"Harold," Theodore's hands stroked his injured arm gently, massaging the tensions from the over-stretched muscles, "if anyone understands, it's me. To be on the verge of being given your own command... and then... not."

Theo's hands felt very nice. And he did understand.

"Still mates, then?" Harold extended a hand (the wrong one for handshakes) in friendship.

"Aye, certainly that." Groves beamed and clasped Gillette's hand. Regaining two friends in a single day, friends he had feared lost forever. Days didn't come much more satisfying than that.

Harold, looking up at Theo's pleasant smile, then did something he hadn't planned. He was never sure afterwards what had prompted him to do so. Perhaps the candlelight, or even the moonlight, had dazed him.

He pulled Theo down by his arm and kissed him, square on the lips. A little chapped, as with anyone who lived on a ship, but softer than he had expected. The catch of a little bit of jagged skin, one lip upon another, threatened to make the affection a brotherly one.

But there is a Magic in the Caribbean, and the Magic will prevail, if the spark is already alight.

The song of the little frogs outside the window grew louder in his ears, and the room seemed to fill with a miasma of pollen and humidity, the lush Caribbean scent of a warm night before the rains. The bedstead creaked a little, but the rasp of a slightly stubbled chin against his own shadowed one took Harold's mind away from any other sound.

Unsure what to make of this strange change in the state of affairs, Theo's response was reluctant at first. Gradually, as Harold continued to gently glide their lips together, his response increased in intensity; soon Theo was leaning in and holding Harold against himself at the shoulders, pressing into Harold's bare skin with his own linen shirt, stroking him down the shoulders, lashing with his tongue, nibbling with sharp teeth.

Oh.

My, this put a different spin on the world, didn't it?

Although Gillette had been the first to seek an erotic touch in that kiss, it was Groves who took the initiative and pushed onwards towards deepening the kisses, roving with his hands, intensifying the sensations. In Theo's insistent mouth, Harold could feel that quality, the quality of Command that Theo possessed and he himself did not.

Or not to the same degree. The Interceptor should rightfully have gone to Captain Theodore Groves, that was true. But now the Interceptor was gone, and that somehow put them on a more even tack to the wind.

The Magic is there in the Caribbean; the Magic remains, whether one chooses to give it belief or not. Clouds shifted, obscuring the moon's face. The room dimmed and the candles guttered, then burned brighter, in a gust from the open windowframe. Distant thunder gave voice to the change in the winds, as Harold pulled from within himself some of that quality of Command, took the lead and drew Theo down onto the bed, down into the curl of his good arm.

Two bodies, side by side: more than great Captain or mere Lieutenant, more equals than rivals, more able to each see the other man in a new light. Passions rose and lightning flashed, glaring the small square window to a blaze of brightness. The little frogs crescendoed as the first droplets began to splatter the sill.

The Magic held them in the moment, seeking, stroking, soothing. The staccato of pounding rain and rustle of breeze-battered palms outside stretched their senses towards satiation...

...but the raindrops were dampening the foot of the bed.

"The shutters..." Harold sat up to rescue the bedclothes from further moisture.

"I should go." Theo disentangled their arms, began to pull away.

"No!" Harold held him fast with his good arm. "I mean... well..."

"Yes?"

"I'd rather you didn't leave just yet." Gillette's voice lowered a note or two. "Actually, I'd very much rather you stayed."

"Stayed, and...?" They were both adult men. But did Gillette truly know what he was about? Theodore wondered how much, or how little, Harold understood.

Gillette continued lamely, "...And... well you see, my right arm is rather out of commission for the moment..."

"So. Just until your arm is better..."

"No, I... well... " Harold searched for the right way to put things. "What would you say to staying," Gillette drew the word out, "for as long as we both remain lieutenants, Theo?"

"I don't know, Harold," said Theo, a tentative joy in his voice that he carefully controlled from spreading to his lips. "I suspect that will be the case for a very long time to come."

"That's precisely why I put it that way." Gillette's smile lit his blue eyes.

Theo paused, mercifully briefly, before the glitter of his own smile reflected the candle's glow. "Sounds about right to me."

Yes, days didn't come much better than this.

~~~~~~~

The rain had been thundering down for quite some time. There would be flooding on the morrow, mused Norrington, if it didn't let up soon; nothing dire, just a few low-lying parts of the roadways, hock-deep in muck, and the harbor a murky brown for a day or two after.

Still, after the mess of today's events, he needed to be sure all would be in order for a speedy departure in pursuit of those damnable pirates. The rudder repair had gone well enough, and the Dauntless was ready to sail with the dawn's tide. Time to check on the personnel aspects.

James was just going to poke his head in for a moment, to see how his erstwhile captain-to-be was bearing up under the strain of having had his hopes of advancement snatched away.

But if Harold was asleep, there was no sense in waking him. He'd just peek in...

Two wigs on the nighttable. Two sleeping heads on the pillow.

Oh.

My, this put a different spin on the world, didn't it?

Norrington paused, taken aback. Gillette and Groves?

Well...

Possibilities. Could it be the solution to the awkwardness, the animosity created by the recent changes to the command structure? Discretion would be of the utmost importance, but a word in Theo's ear would suffice. Harold was the sort to be naturally covert, at any rate. Indeed, it would go a long way towards smoothing relations between his two most valuable lieutenants.

Possibilities, and solutions.

A smile curled the corner of James' mouth. Theo and Harold. If such things could be said to be a "smart match?" He quietly snorted, shook his head, and carefully snicked the doorlatch shut on the scene.

Yes, even a truly abominable day such as this might have a few bright spots.
 

 

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