Takes place between the prologue and the main movie.
PG for implied sexual violence.
Chain of Command: Forging the Link
I don't own the original idea, characters, or concepts of POTC. Richarson, however, is all mine. :)
Beta by commodorified
Crossposted to _norrington, pirategasm, and gryphons_lair
James dipped his finger in his cup and leaned forward to draw a line on the broad parapet next to the bell-tower. "This is the coastline," he added a crust from the loaf, "the Asp was here," a sliver of cheese joined the bread, "and the sloop there." He drained his cup, refilling it from the earthenware jug standing at his elbow.
Andrew cut himself a slice of the cheese to tuck between two chunks of bread. "With a strong westerly current along that stretch of coast..." The bread was still warm from the oven, and he had to resist the urge to close his eyes as the flavours melded on his tongue. He'd missed fresh bread, these last two months. He always did, when at sea.
"Well away from shore, though; we were inside it." James plucked an apple from the dish next to the loaf and bit deep as his other hand crumbled a bit of bread, scattering crumbs near the two 'ships'. "We had the weather-gauge, but the shoals off the port bow...."
Behind them, someone cleared his throat. The two officers turned toward the sound.
A blond young man in a midshipman's uniform stood stiffly erect. "Captain Norrington?"
James rose from his seat on the parapet to tower half-a-head above the slim-shouldered youth. "Yes, Mr...?"
"Stevens, Sir. Of the Hermione." He pulled an envelope from the satchel slung over one shoulder. "Captain Harris' compliments, and I'm to wait for an answer."
"Thank you." Norrington took the envelope, added, "Lieutenant Gillette, second of the Dauntless," with a vague wave in Andrew's direction, and broke the seal without further ceremony.
The midshipman-- he must be due to take his exams soon, Gillette thought-- acknowledged the introduction with a diffident nod.
Gillette finished his bread-and-cheese, not at all perturbed at the mid's failure to produce a second envelope. Lowly lieutenants rarely received invitations to dine from Captains of visiting ships. Even for a junior Commander like Norrington-- Captain only by courtesy-- they were relatively rare.
Norrington glanced up from the paper in his hand. "My compliments to your captain, Mr. Stevens, and I shall be honoured to accept his invitation." He tucked the letter into a pocket.
"Sir." The midshipman nodded, but instead of dashing off to his next destination he stood there, shifting from foot to foot.
"Is there something else, Mr. Stevens?" Norrington's tone was entirely polite, but rather cool.
The mid's hand tightened on the satchel-strap. "I'd heard, Captain," he began, "that there's an opening for a midshipman on the Asp."
Norrington's eyebrow rose. "There is."
"I was wondering," Stevens sounded oddly breathless, "if you might... allow me to transfer... from the Hermione. Sir."
Both eyebrows rose this time, and the mid's cheeks flamed as that cool green gaze swept him from head to toe. "I'll consider it, Mr. Stevens."
"Thank you, Sir." Stevens seemed unduly pleased by the cool reply. He hurried off when Norrington waved an unequivocal dismissal.
"Well, that was unexpected," Gillette said when the mid was out of sight.
"Exceedingly." Norrington retrieved his disgarded apple, biting into it as he watched Stevens hurry across the inner courtyard where the gallows stood. "I'm not quite certain I believe it, even now."
Gillette picked up his cup and joined him. "I think it's rather flattering, Sir." He smirked. "Most officers have to go looking for midshipmen. And here you have one seeking you out."
Norrington took a last bite of apple and turned to throw the core over the wall. "Why," he asked, staring out at the anchored Hermione, "would a senior midshipman want to transfer from a 72-gun frigate bound for Portsmouth-- the sort of plum posting most young gentlemen would mortgage their souls for-- to take a place in a 24-gun sloop stationed in one of the least desirable postings in the Service?"
"And with a nearly untried officer in command, too," Gillette couldn't resist adding.
The look Norrington gave him was remarkably similar to the one he'd bestowed on Stevens, except for the twinkle lurking in his eyes. "Indeed."
Gillette cut two slices of cheese, handing one to his friend. "Richardson, the Hermione's first, and I shared a cruise when I was about Stevens' age," he said. "Would you like me to make inquiries, Sir?"
"I would be most grateful if you would, Lieutenant. Now, if you will excuse me, I must return to my lodgings." Norrington's mouth quirked. "I pray Captain Harris keeps a cook who knows his business."
"We must hope for the best, Sir," Gillette said piously as he bundled the remains of their picnic back into the basket.
Norrington strode briskly off. Gillette made a more leisurely exit, munching an apple and smugly contemplating his own plans for the evening.
When at sea, he shared the Dauntless's cramped wardroom with her other officers. They worked well together, maintaining a friendly but purely professional relationship.
But tonight-- the first night both of them would be ashore-- he would dine with the Dauntless's First, Theo Groves. And afterwards... Andrew smiled and licked the apple's juice from his lip with a slow sweep of his tongue. Afterwards he intended to make it very clear to Theo just how frustrating those two months of enforced abstinence had been.
He left the fort's shadowed interior and stepped to one side a moment to let his eyes adjust to the bright afternoon light.
"Lt. Gillette!" Crawford, one of the Dauntless's midshipman, hurried up the street. "Captain Franklin's compliments, Sir," he said, saluting, "and the Hermione's captain has invited all the ship's officers to dine today. The captain's barge will be waiting at the dock at four bells."
Merde! "Thank you, Mr. Crawford." Gillette forced a polite smile. "Please assure the captain that I will be delighted to accept Captain Harris's kind invitation."
When the King's health had been proposed, Captain Harris suggested they take their after-dinner coffee on deck, where they could enjoy the evening breeze. His guests agreed, as naval custom required, and it took only a little manoeuvring on Gillette's part to place himself at Lt. Richardson's elbow when the coffee cups came 'round.
As they traded reminiscences Gillette drifted casually forward, until they were standing in relative isolation near the bow.
Richardson sipped his coffee and turned the lopsided smile Gillette remembered so well on him. "So, Lieutenant," he said quietly, "what do you want to know?"
Gillette grimaced slightly, acknowledging himself caught out. Richardson always could read him like a book. "You've a senior midshipman aboard, Stevens by name," he began.
Richardson's expression chilled. "What about him?"
"He asked for a transfer to the Asp this afternoon."
Some of the tension drained from Richardson's shoulders. "That's-- good to hear." At Gillette's puzzled expression, he dropped his voice to a confidential murmur. "I've been expecting him to jump ship for months."
"Jump ship?" Gillette blinked.
Richardson looked away. "Captain Harris has... ridden Stevens hard since that boarding action off Macao."
"Shy, was he?"
"No, Stevens was below deck, with his gun crew. He did well-- took no part in the boarding at all, though." Richardson sipped his coffee. "We took the ship-- a French 64, she was-- we lost sixteen men, and four of the wounded within the week. One of the mids-- a-- particular friend of Stevens'."
"To lose a friend suddenly...." Gillette's gaze swept the gathered officers until he found Lt. Groves near the larboard rail, talking with the Hermione's Marine officer. "But one must... was it that his duties suffered?"
"He seemed to bear up well enough, at first." Richardson seemed suddenly fascinated by his coffee cup. "Our fourth lieutenant was wounded as well. He was Captain Harris's-- protégé." He picked up his spoon, stirred the cooling coffee, set it down. "When the ship's surgeon let him know Cashman could not live, Captain Harris naturally began considering the need for a... suitable replacement."
Gillette tried to ignore the growing knot in his gut. "A suitable-- acting fourth lieutenant."
"Just-- so." Richardson didn't look up. "At first the captain seemed to be considering Stevens." He lifted the cup, gulped the dregs. "Two days after Cashman died, he called Stevens into his cabin for a private interview." The cup rattled slightly in its saucer as he replaced it. "The interview-- did not go well, and the Captain chose another mid."
Gillette exhaled sharply. "So the captain has a new protégé."
"Only a new Fourth. Beyond the promotion, the captain has shown no particular interest in him." Richardson looked up at Gillette, eyes bleak. "But he's missed no opportunity since to put Stevens over a gun."
Oh. "Riding him hard." Gillette's voice was the merest whisper. Christ.
Richardson's mouth twisted. "Since Macao."
Gillette turned to the rail, staring out over the darkening sea, swallowing bile and rage. Let it go. You can do nothing, except.... He would speak to Norrington; Stevens must be extracted from his current hell as quickly and cleanly as possible, but Harris... the time-honoured customs of the Service. Damn them to Hell.
"It would weigh in Stevens' favor," Gillette kept his voice level, "if I could tell Captain Norrington you thought him a competent officer."
To his surprise, Richardson hesitated. "I'd not met Captain Norrington before tonight. He's young for the rank."
"He was brevetted six months ago. The warrant arrived last week." Gillette meet Richardson's gaze squarely. "I wish him every joy of it. I've served with him since the Dauntless was commissioned."
Richardson nodded. "Stevens works hard; he's fair with the men; his division respects him." His lips quirked. "He understands navigation better than you and I did, at that age."
Gillette grinned suddenly. "That wouldn't be difficult,"
Richardson chuckled, but sobered almost at once. "Stevens deserves a fresh start. Help him find his feet, will you? It's always hard, in a new ship."
Gillette looked around quickly; no one was nearby. "Je ferai ce que je peux, mon ami."
They rejoined the others as their cups were collected by the captain's steward. The quick Caribbean dusk was already falling, and Stevens appeared from below, directing a half-dozen sailors who began to hang lanterns about the ship's waist.
Harris, Norrington, Franklin and Commodore Darcy formed a group to themselves on the quarterdeck. As the sailors fanned across the deck, Harris turned from his guests to glare at the midshipman. "Mr. Stevens!"
Richardson's hand clenched on the rail.
Stevens turned, his back ramrod-straight. "Sir!"
"I told you to have the lanterns lit at dusk, Mr. Stevens. It's all but full dark!" Harris said. "Is this how you obey your superiors, sir?"
Conversations faded away. Richardson's lips thinned; he turned to face the harbour, gripping the rail so hard his knuckles turned white. Gillette kept his own hands behind his back and studied the scene obliquely.
Officers did not take notice of a midshipman's public chastisement; that, too, was custom. But this-- all Harris's own officers had literally turned their backs. By contrast Lt. Groves, just opposite, was apparently studying the capstan-head to the left of the midshipman with inordinate interest and Norrington, who had been facing Stevens, now seemed to have his eyes fixed on his coffee.
"My apologies, Captain." Stevens was pale, but he met Harris's eyes squarely. "I-- misjudged the time, Sir. It won't happen again."
"We will discuss your carelessness after our guests have departed, Mr. Stevens."
The midshipman bowed his head. "Yes, Sir."
"That will be all."
The space between the young man and the companionway was suddenly empty. Stevens glanced neither right nor left as he made his way below, head held high.
The interrupted conversations gradually resumed. Richardson turned back to his guest and made a comment about one of the vessels in the harbour. Gillette answered meaninglessly, at random, and after a few stilted exchanges both men lapsed into silence.
Captain Norrington excused himself from the gathering on the quarterdeck and descended to the waist. To the casual observer seemed completely at ease, but the tilt to his chin and the set of his shoulders told Gillette otherwise.
Norrington joined them at the rail. "Lt. Gillette," he said, "my boat should be arriving shortly." His eyes flickered from Gillette to Richardson, and one eyebrow lifted ever so slightly. "Do you wish to go ashore?"
"Thank you, Sir." Gillette nodding minutely. "Most kind of you."
"Not at all." Norrington turned to Richardson with a blandly polite smile. "A taut ship, Lieutenant."
"As well disciplined as any in the Fleet, I am quite sure." Richardson's tone was equally bland. "Lt. Gillette tells me your promotion has just been confirmed, Sir. And rumour has it that gaff-rigged sloop anchored just off the point is your prize? My congratulations, Sir, on both counts."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Yes, we took her a fortnight ago." Richardson's gave followed Norrington's to the prize. "Promotion has given me a new appreciation for other commanders' skill in managing their men." He turned his head slightly. "I was especially struck by Captain Harris's standards for the young gentlemen under his command."
Richardson kept his eyes on the sloop. "Captain Harris believes it does his young gentleman a great disservice if he does not demand the utmost of which they are capable, Sir."
"Indeed?" Norrington raised an eyebrow.
"He is also of the opinion that a young gentleman with potential should be held to a higher standard than a merely competent one," Richardson added.
"A commendable principle," Gillette said, "if not carried too far."
"Quite," Norrington said, noncommitally. "Might one infer then, Lt. Richardson, that not all the Hermione's young gentlemen are held to as exacting a standard as Mr. Stevens?"
"Indeed, Sir." Richardson lowered his voice. "In my more fanciful moments, I almost wonder if the captain thinks the young gentleman capable of perfection."
Norrington's eyebrows rose sharply. "What an extraordinary idea, lieutenant." His eyes narrowed. "Surely Captain Harris knows that no mere mortal is capable of perfection."
Richardson turned, meeting that cool gaze levelly. "I am certain he does, Sir."
Just then the coxswain of the Asp hailed the ship, and he and Gillette made hasty farewells.
The journey to shore was made in silence, and the walk to Norrington's lodging-house enlivened only by a few unflattering comments on the quality of Captain Harris's wine and the toughness of his fowl.
Norrington let them in, and they climbed the stairs to his rooms. While he lit a branch of candles from the remains of the parlour fire, Gillette extracted the brandy-bottle from its corner cupboard and poured two generous measures.
Norrington settled into a well-padded armchair near the fire, accepted a glass, and stretched out his long legs with a sigh. "Did Richardson tell you why the good Captain Harris thinks Mr. Stevens capable of perfection?"
Gillette took his brandy to one of the long windows that overlooked the street. "Apparently it's a relatively new development." He rolled a mouthful of brandy on his tongue. "The transformation occurred after a lieutenant-- one of the captain's protégés-- was killed in action." He drank again, watching his friend's reflection in the darkened window and choosing his words with care. "Not a matter of Mr. Stevens being in any way at fault in the lieutenant's death, Richardson says, but Harris...."
Norrington's mouth tightened. "I see." He drank, then cradled his glass in both hands, staring into the dying fire.
"It would be a great shame for a promising young officer's career to be stalled because of one unfortunate incident," Gillette said quietly.
Norrington frowned faintly, but said nothing.
Gillette's eye was caught by movement below-- a sailor carrying a smoky torch, with Theo close on his heels. As they reached Theo's lodging-house just opposite, the lieutenant pulled a coin out of his pocket and tossed it to the sailor with a smile. The man snatched it from midair, tugged his forelock, and started back toward the harbour. Gillette watched the play of muscle across Theo's shoulders as he bent to the lock, and licked his lips.
"Is Stevens competent?"
The door closed behind Theo. Gillette turned away from the window and pulled his thoughts back to the subject at hand. "Richardson says he has the respect of his men and," he smiled wryly, "a better grasp of navigation than I did, at that age."
That earned him a raised eyebrow and an amused snort, as he'd intended it to.
"And after all," Gillette met his friend's eyes with am attempt at his usual insouciance, "it's not as though senior midshipmen are thick on the ground hereabouts. Snatch him while you have the chance, I say."
Norrington's lips quirked upward. "There is that." He tossed back the rest of his brandy and rose to his feet. "Very well, I'll send a note to Stevens tomorrow. If his journal and papers are in good order, the place is his."
The knot Gillette had refused to acknowledge unwound in his chest. "You won't regret it."
"If I do," his friend replied, "you may be quite certain you will be the first to know."
"Fair enough." Gillette drained his glass and set it on the mantle. "And now, if you will excuse me, I think it time I took my leave."
"Of course. Good evening."
They parted at the door, and Andrew hurried down the steps to the street.
There was a light in Theo's parlour. When a quick search of the street turned up no convenient pebbles, Andrew delved into his pockets. A moment later a trio of farthings clattered against the lighted window.
They'd scarcely dropped to the street when the window swung open. Theo stood in the casement, peering into the darkened street with a faint scowl.
Andrew stepped forward, pulling off his hat to let the light that fell from the window illuminate his face.
Theog grinned suddenly. He mouthed the words, "Wait there!" and disappeared.
Andrew hurried to the house's steps. He heard the night-bolt slide back a moment before the door swung open.
Theo was still smiling. "You're late." His eyes traced the line of buttons on Andrew's waistcoat.
"Unavoidable." Andrew followed Theo up the stairs, his mood lightening with every step. "I came away as soon as I could."
"What on earth at this hour?" Theo opened the door to his chambers and gestured for his guest to precede him.
"Unofficial." Andrew stepped into the snug parlour.
Theo locked the door. "That sounds intriguing." He moved close enough to catch Andrew around the waist. "You'll have to tell me all about it."
"Of course." Andrew right hand closed on Theo's queue, "In the morning," and pulled him in for a long, slow kiss.
Translations and author's notes:
Je ferai ce que je peux, mon ami. = I will do what I can, my friend.
Mr. Stevens is a canon character-- barely. In the scene where the shore battery is firing on the Black Pearl, Norrington shouts, "Mr. Stevens, more cartridges!" I needed a name for the Lieutenant in "Dreams and Desire", since he actually gets a speaking part in the sequel, so I went looking... and Stevens insisted on a little backstory of his own. Here's the first bit of it.
The part of Mr. Stevens is played by River Phoenix.
The part of Mr. Richardson is played by Paul Gross