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
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
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
He desperately hoped that Theo and James returned to speaking to each other
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
"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,
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
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
James turned his head just in time to see the flash, out in the mists of the
"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
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
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
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
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,
"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
"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)
"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.
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
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
"I should go." Theo disentangled their arms, began to pull away.
"No!" Harold held him fast with his good arm. "I mean... well..."
"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
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
Two wigs on the nighttable. Two sleeping heads on the pillow.
My, this put a different spin on the world, didn't it?
Norrington paused, taken aback. Gillette and Groves?
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.