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Acting-Commodore Groves

by The Stowaway


Fandom: PoTC    Rating: PG    Pairing: implied Sparrow/Norrington    Full Header


Acting-Commodore Groves sat behind the large mahogany desk and stared at the neat piles of paperwork in front of him, feeling uncharacteristically out of sorts. Through the windows, opened to catch the early morning breeze, he heard the mewing of the gulls and, faintly, the noises of the port far below. The Marines were drilling in the courtyard of the fort, the stamp and clatter carrying to his ear despite the intervening offices and two closed doors.

What ailed him? He was acting commodore, with a fair hope of being confirmed in the office in due time. It would be at least six months before Admiralty could be expected to reply to the dispatches sent off last week, very likely longer. Meanwhile, he had a chance to prove himself in a post he might never have expected to attain so young, were it not for Norrington's abrupt resignation.

Norrington. At the thought of his former commander the formless discontent that had plagued him for days settled into a pattern and Groves sighed. Norrington would be missed; was missed already. Groves shook his head and smiled. He could almost hear what his friend - and, yes, they had become friends - would say to that; the dry, amused tone of his voice as, with one eyebrow raised, he drawled, "Sentimentality, Captain Groves? In a Naval officer?"

Groves shook his head again. It wasn't sentimentality, not exactly, to miss someone with whom he had served for nearly ten years; a good leader and one from whom he had learnt much. On the other hand, if not for Norrington's departure, he would not have this opportunity to rise. And there had been a something in Norrington's demeanor - an air of anticipation almost - that told Groves he had not been reluctant to go, despite what Groves knew of his superior's difficulties with Admiralty. That last afternoon, as they had worked to transfer command, Norrington had said nothing about his plans for the future, but Groves had sensed an eagerness to be gone that had intrigued him. Norrington had not volunteered any information and Groves had not pried, but he wondered…

He looked again at the piles of reports. How had Norrington done it? How had he stood this for all those years? Then he chuckled, for, clear in his mind, he heard the Commodore again, "It was my duty, Groves, and I did it."

"Oh very well," Groves muttered, half-grumbling, "Duty it is." He pulled the first report toward him and began to read.

Two hours later, he was still reading when Captain Pitt of the Forester was shown in.

"You are returned early from your cruise, Captain Pitt," Groves said, once greetings had been exchanged. "Why is that?"

"Well, sir," Pitt replied, "Two days ago, we came upon something rather disturbing and I thought it best to report it as soon as possible."

"Disturbing?" Groves asked. "How so?"

"We stopped a small sloop. It had tried to flee at the sight of us and this, naturally, had aroused my suspicions. It was sailing very erratically, what's more," Captain Pitt said. "As we overhauled them, I recognized the sloop as Commodore Norrington's Gull."

"What?" Groves exclaimed.

"Just so, sir," Pitt nodded. "There were six ruffians aboard her, with some small quantity of bread and water, and nothing else. No sign of the Commodore, nor any of his belongings. We took them into custody, of course."

Groves regarded him with alarm. "What did they have to say for themselves?"

"Beyond insisting that they had bought the Gull from 'a gentleman' they will say nothing," Pitt answered. "I've kept the crew away from the captives and put my most discreet men to guard them. It was best, I thought, to keep them quiet until they could be questioned here."

"That was well thought of, Captain," Groves replied. "Until we know the truth, there is no need for rumors to run wild. Where are they now?"

"I've had them placed in the old cells, to keep them away from other prisoners," Pitt said. "My marines are on guard."

"Good," Groves said. He stood. "I will see to them myself. What did you do with the Gull?"

"We took her in tow, sir. She's back at her mooring as if nothing were amiss."

"Well done," Groves nodded dismissal. "Thank you, Captain Pitt."

"Thank you, sir." Pitt saluted and took his leave.

As Groves hurried to the cells in the oldest part of the fort, his mind was filled with uneasy speculation. How had these men got hold of the Gull and what had become of Norrington? He was determined to find out the truth.

Pitt's marines came to attention as he clattered down the stairs to the guard room from which a thick door led to the dungeon-like cells.

"Bring the prisoners to me here," he ordered, indicating a small interrogation chamber off the main room. "One at a time."

Groves seated himself behind the splintery table that, along with the single chair, comprised the scant furnishings of this apartment. He had not long to wait before the guard thrust a shackled captive through the door.

"Wait outside," Groves instructed the marine. Once the door had closed, he folded his hands on the table, studying the man - who stood hangdog and glum before him - for some little while. "Look at me," he said at last.

Raising his eyes to the level of Groves's chin, the lout shifted nervously, his fetters clanking.

"Well, what have you to say for yourself?" Groves asked.

"'T'weren't me," came the reply. "I done nothin'. I'm an honest man, I am. Weren't my idea, see?"

"What wasn’t your idea?" Groves barked, "Speak up, man."

"I… uh… nothin'," the prisoner replied, cringing. "Nothin', y'hear? I done nothin' and I ain't talkin'."

"We will see about that," Groves replied. "How did you come by that sloop?"

"We… um… bought it."

"Where? And when?" Groves snapped.

"It was in… Nassau, it were, nigh on two months ago. Gentleman was wishful to sell and me and my mates, we bought it."

"I see," Groves nodded. Norrington had been gone less than ten days, so the fellow was surely lying. "And where," he asked, "were you going - with no cargo and little food - when you tried to flee from our patrol?"

A sullen glare and muttered curses were the only answers forthcoming until Groves threatened to have him flogged to loosen his tongue.

"I tell ye, I'm innocent," the rogue repeated, over and over, clinging with stubborn stupidity to this claim even as Groves's questioning surprised bits and pieces of information out of him.

It was a long hour later when Groves called the guard. "Put him in a cell far from the others and bring me the next one," he said.

While he waited, he tried to make sense of what he had gleaned. A mutiny aboard the Black Pearl and Norrington somehow involved - what could it mean? And where was Norrington now?

The next prisoner came in with a swagger, looking him defiantly in the eye.

"Well, fellow," Groves said. "Tell me about this mutiny."

"I don't know nothin' 'bout no mutiny," the pirate growled. "I ain't done nothin'."

Groves just stopped himself from sighing. This was going to be a tedious morning.

Some hours later, Groves was back in his office, turning over in his mind the extraordinary story he had pieced together from the interrogations just completed. It was almost too fantastical to believe and yet he did believe it. The captive pirates were too stupid to have concocted such a tale and their stories - when stripped of the obvious lies - all pointed in the same direction.

James Norrington had joined the crew of the Black Pearl as purser - had become a pirate, in fact. And he was, apparently, the lover of Jack Sparrow.

Norrington and Sparrow… This, as outrageous as it might appear, made sense, after a fashion. It would explain Norrington's eagerness to be gone, certainly. Groves pictured Sparrow - the mocking dark eyes and the lithe body, swaying and staggering as if too drunk to stand - and smiled. The man was infuriatingly attractive, although he was sure that Norrington, at least, had not always thought so. He wondered how they had first come together, and when; they had been extraordinarily discreet, in any case.

There was a knock and his clerk came in to say that Mister Turner was here and desired a word with him.

"Show him in."

Groves stood to welcome his guest.

"Mister Turner, this is an unexpected pleasure," he said, as they shook hands.

"Commodore," Will replied.

"Captain, please," Groves laughed a little, "I am merely acting-Commodore until and unless I am confirmed in the post."

"Captain, then," Will smiled as he sat.

"Now," Groves said, resuming his place behind the desk, "How may I help you?"

"While down at the harbour today," Will said, "I was… surprised to see Commodore Norrington's sloop moored there. Tell me, has he returned to Port Royal?"

Groves was thinking fast. In light of certain assertions made by one of the prisoners, it was interesting that Turner should show up just at this moment.

"No," he replied after a short pause, "He has not returned. The Gull was picked up by one of our patrols."

"You mean they found it abandoned?" Will asked. The thought did not seem to alarm him, Groves noted.

"Not exactly," he shook his head. "But those aboard aroused suspicion by attempting to flee when ordered to stop."

Will frowned. "Who are they?" he asked.

"That is what I have spent the morning trying to determine," Groves said. "They admitted, after considerable persuasion, that they were from the Black Pearl."

"The Black Pearl?" Will exclaimed. "But why would they be with the Gull when the Pearl is…" He stopped abruptly.

Groves hid a smile. "Just so," he replied. He folded his hands and looked at Will. "'When the Pearl is…' what, Mister Turner?"

Will shrugged. "I have heard," he said carefully, "That the Black Pearl is to leave the Caribbean, bound for the Orient. It seems odd that members of her crew are away from her at such a time."

"You have heard," Grove repeated, eyebrows raised.

Will stared him in the eye. "Yes."

Groves's lips quirked. "A little bird told you, I suppose?"

"You might say so," Will replied, his face expressionless. They stared without speaking for some moments.

"Come, come," Grove said at last, chuckling, "Let us lay our cards upon the table, Mister Turner. You can hardly suppose the Navy ignorant of the fact that Sparrow has visited Port Royal to see you."

Will grinned a little reluctantly. "I am not quite as simple as that, for all that Jack - er, Captain Sparrow - was of the opinion that he'd thrown dust in your eyes." He paused and then squared his shoulders. "Since we are being frank, Captain, I shall come to the point."

Groves nodded. "Please do."

"Have you word of Commodore Norrington?"

"In a manner of speaking," Groves replied. "Although the prisoners were not very forthcoming, I got the impression that the Commodore is safe - and aboard the Black Pearl. You do not seem surprised."

Will hesitated and then shook his head. "No, I am not surprised," he said.

Groves took this as confirmation that his guess concerning Sparrow and Norrington was correct.

Will went on, "I am, however, puzzled as to what those men were doing with his sloop."

"As near as I can tell," Groves said, "They mutinied - and failed."

"What?" Will exclaimed. "A mutiny! And they were not hanged?"

"Apparently they were spared hanging. Sparrow - and Norrington - sent them off instead with 2 days' bread and water and nowhere to go save downwind to the Main," Groves replied. "Harsh mercy, if that's what it was."

"Indeed," Will said. "But surely they did not tell you all this willingly."

"By no means," Groves laughed mirthlessly. "I have pieced the story together from their several accounts. Most of what they said - under the threat of the lash - was a farrago of blatant lies and protestations of innocence."

Groves paused a moment and then added, "One of them, however, claims acquaintance with you, Mister Turner."

"Does he?" Will's tone was wary.

"He does," Groves nodded. "He was most eager to tell me all about certain raids against the Spanish that took place last year."

"Ah," Will said. "And you…?"

"Paid him scant attention," Groves replied. "Privateering - for so I presume it to have been, of course - is hardly a crime, after all." He grinned and Will smiled back.

"Thank you," Will said.

"Not at all," Groves answered. "If it is as you say, and a certain… bad influence… is leaving the West Indies, then such 'adventures' are unlikely to recur." He cocked a questioning eye at Will, who nodded.

"It is well, then," Groves went on, rising. Will stood with him and took the hand that Groves held out. "And I must thank you, Mister Turner," Groves added, "For corroborating my information regarding the Commodore."

"You do not condemn him, then?" Will asked.

Groves smiled. "I think all his friends must wish him well," he replied. "Good day, Mister Turner."

"Good day, Captain Groves."

Alone once more, Groves sat for some time deep in thought. What to do with the pirates, he wondered. By rights, they should be hanged, and they had certainly committed crimes enough to merit such punishment. But in order to hang them, he must first put them on trial and therein lay the rub.

A trial was dangerous; there was far too great a chance that Norrington's name, or even Will Turner's, might be raised by the accused. Impossible to avoid a scandal, if that were to happen. And yet, he could not simply hold them forever.

His thoughts returned to Jack Sparrow and James Norrington, bound, if Turner was correct, for the Far East. Norrington, whose entire career had been dedicated to upholding the law, had chucked it all to sail the world with a reprobate buccaneer. Groves laughed to himself. Jack Sparrow was beyond all doubt a very bad influence indeed, corrupting both Turner and Norrington, and - here Groves's laughter became rueful - him as well, for he knew now what he would do with the prisoners.

Still chuckling, he left his office and made his way to the guard room.

"Bring all the prisoners to the interrogation room," he ordered the marines on guard.

The pirates shuffled in to stand before him, each of them apprehensive or defiant as their nature dictated. Groves shut the door and addressed them.

"Gentlemen, you are condemned men; doubly so, for you are both pirates and mutineers. The law is clear - you must hang."

One of the men moaned and they all shifted nervously.

Groves smiled without humor and continued. "I have decided, however, for reasons of my own, to give you a chance to escape the gallows. I will make you the same offer your Captain made you - two days' provisions and a boat, to go where you will. Do you accept?"

The prisoners stared at him, blinking, for a moment and looked at each other as if they could not believe what they had heard.

"Wot's the catch?" one asked at last.

"You must each accept the offer; all of you go, or none," Grove replied.

The mutineers huddled, muttering and gesticulating. It appeared that two of them wished to stay "and be hanged like Christians" and the others were in favour of going. The argument became heated.

Groves watched for a few minutes and then took out his watch.

"I will give you a quarter of an hour to make your decision, gentlemen," he said. "If you have not all agreed to take my offer by the time I return, then I shall revoke it and you will hang." He nodded pleasantly and let himself out of the room.

Several days later, Acting-Commodore Groves sailed the sloop Gull down the bay on a sparkling afternoon. The gulls swooped and cried, the canvas glowed in the sun and the sun danced upon the water. As they flew along, heeled over before the fresh breeze, he realized he was grinning like an idiot. She was a beautiful craft - a graceful and elegant lady - and she was his.

The mutineers had, of course, accepted his offer. They'd been spirited out of the Fort late that night, put aboard a small boat, towed out to sea and released. If their boat leaked a little - well, they'd been given buckets for bailing. They'd be kept busy, to be sure, but they'd not sink before they made land on the Main.

The official version of events he'd had put about was plausible enough that no one had questioned it, to his great relief. According to this story, the men had indeed, as they claimed, bought the Gull from Norrington before he'd taken ship for England and that Groves had bought it from them.

The Gull, as if to recall his straying attention, tossed a cupful of spray up from her bows, striking him in the face. Groves laughed and gave his mind to sailing. Today was the first chance he'd had to try her paces and already he was in love with her. No wonder Norrington had snatched every opportunity to take her out.

He glanced up at the westering sun. It was getting late; he ought to put about, but he wasn't ready to turn back. He found himself wondering what it would feel like to just keep going - to cast off and chase the horizon, as Norrington had done.

For a few moments temptation tugged at him the way the sea pulled at the tiller, testing his strength. And then, once more he heard Norrington's voice in his ear, "Perhaps one day, Groves. But for now, you have your duty. See that you do it."

"Bugger duty," Groves muttered, rebelliously. Scowling, he held his course for another minute, before his sense of humour reasserted itself and he burst out laughing.

He put about and brought the Gull's head up, sailing as close to the wind as she would go. He watched Port Royal growing larger as he made his way back up the bay and into the harbour. The evening gun boomed as he tied up at the dock

Groves walked slowly up the hill, stopping once to gaze out over the harbour full of Navy craft and then at the stone ramparts above him. They were his responsibility, his duty. But one day….

He sighed and stepped through the gates.


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