Pairing/Characters: Estrella (Elizabeth’s lady’s maid from potc1)/Groves (“Best pirate I’ve ever seen” guy); Beckett.
Word Count: 3239
Summary: Groves must choose: his lover or his career.
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Spoilers: PotC 1 and 2, but that should be a given.
Warnings: None to speak of.
Notes: Estrella/Groves is a pairing I’ve written a couple of stories about. This one is meant to follow in that general arch, though it can stand alone. All you need to know is that they are engaged at this point. The entire story arch is posted over on my ff.net profile.
Estrella found herself surrounded by a hurricane of destruction. The day that had started with blue skies and not a cloud had ended with a sudden rain and stormy seas. Still, she reminded herself, it had been a sun shower: somewhere there must be a silver lining. Granted, it was hard to find, with wilted flowers everywhere and the remains of the fine wedding feast overrun by vermin. Instead of a honeymoon, Elizabeth and Will found themselves in separate cells, on charges of high treason, and all over that blasted pirate Estrella had never liked anyway.
She swept through the deserted governor’s mansion, marveling at how fast a day could turn. Night was falling fast, and most of the servants had either gone home or where enjoying the last of the large stocks of food and drink intended for the guests. Estrella herself couldn’t handle it. Her mistress had become too dear a friend, her own recent engagement too close to the circumstances for her to enjoy the rich foods.
Sitting herself down in the kitchen with a loaf of brown bread and a mug of small ale, Estrella looked at the single flame that lit the room. She saw it flicker and felt a draft at her back. Turning, she saw a man in uniform, and jumped up. “Theodore?”
Lieutenant Theodore Groves walked over to her slowly. She grabbed him in a tight embrace, though she felt none of his usual warmth, just the mechanical motion of his arm as he held her. “For goodness sake’s, dear, what is the matter?”
“The matter?” His voice was thick with worry and exhaustion. She pulled out a chair for him, and pushed the cup of ale toward him, scurrying around the kitchen to find more food. She returned with a pitcher of ale and some meat and hard cheese. “Everything is the matter. Everything.”
“Well that seems a little bleak don’t you think? Certainly everything isn’t the matter. For heaven’s sake, my mistress is in prison, bound for the hangman’s noose, and I’ve managed to stay calm. Well, reasonably so, at any rate.”
“Es… this Beckett fellow could mean trouble for all of Port Royal, not just the Governor. Though you are a part of the governor’s household, which does not do you favors anymore.”
“What on earth do you mean? He is the royal governor of Jamaica! Named so by the King himself, God save and keep Him. How can some commander from nowhere touch him? I don’t understand.”
“No, that’s just the problem.” Groves’s tone turned harsh, and he slammed the knife he had been using down on the table, dropping his food.
“There’s no need to shout.” Estrella bristled, pushing herself off her stool and walking slightly away. Groves pulled his wig from his head and shrugged off his coat. For a moment, Estrella felt herself weaken. Without the trappings of a naval officer, he was just a man; a wonderful, kind man who she was going to marry. Then she felt herself steel. He had raised his voice at her, and it was he in the first place who taught her that she was a lady, in dignity if nothing else. Her pride wouldn’t stand for it. “Is it my fault that you men keep secrets to yourself?”
“You daft girl. Beckett is from the East India Trading Company. Surely that name rings a bell, or have you lost your talent for gossip as well as your mind?”
Estrella stepped away further, as though he had hit her. “That was unfair and harsh of you, lieutenant.”
The use of his rank snapped Groves out of his reverie to a certain extent. “Es… I didn’t mean it. You know I didn’t. It’s just…”
“What? Or would a daft girl like me not understand?” She crossed her arms, daring him, partially from umbrage at his remarks, but also from a desperate attempt to draw him out.
“They’ll change things, Es. They already are. We’re now in a world where the Governor has no authority, only Beckett. It affects us.”
“You and me, our marriage. Us.”
“How… I… you can marry me, you said you could, you said it didn’t matter, that you were just a sailor… you…” Estrella felt tears pricking at her eyes, heard herself babbling almost incoherently. She tried to stop herself, but knew she couldn’t.
“I know, I know.” Groves stood up, crossed to her quickly and hugged her tight to him, his hand over her head as though protecting her from the reality he had always feared would intrude on their little world. “I am just a sailor, but with the commodore gone I’m one of the officers with the most experience in Port Royal. And I don’t know that…”
“That what?” Estrella sniffled.
“I don’t know that we’ll be allowed to marry. I would have to leave the Navy.”
“Do you honestly think that? Or are you trying to get out of this engagement?”
“What?” It was Groves’s turn for shock.
“I’ve always thought you were far too good for me.” Estrella had pulled away, rubbing tears from her eyes. “You’re a lieutenant in the King’s Navy, a good experienced sailor. You could be promoted at any time, and now it looks like you will be. If it had happened later… but it didn’t. And now you’ll leave me behind. What a fool I’ve been!” Estrella scratched at her arms, pulled at her sleeves, the tears pouring down her cheeks. She couldn’t look at him.
“Es…” Groves stopped. She looked up at him, swallowing hard. He was white as a sheet, his eyes big and his lips tight in pain. Then, a single tear dropped from the corner of his eye.
“You have to leave. You have to. Please…for me.”
“I…” He paused. He didn’t know which would pain him worse: to lose his career and start from scratch, unable to provide for his hard earned bride, or to lose her.
“You have to decide, Theodore. You have to.” Estrella hugged herself. “I… I have to get back to work.” She sniffled, dropping into a shallow curtsey. “Good bye.”
He stood there, watching as the kitchen door swung shut behind her. He heard an anguished shriek that made him shut his eyes, forehead furrowed in pain to have caused his love to cry out so. He picked up his coat and wig, and marched out of the kitchen, up the long winding road to the fort.
He barged into the officer’s wing, barreling over several junior officers in his wake. They threw themselves up against the wall to avoid him. It seemed the fort was in as much confusion as anywhere else. No one was quite sure who was in charge, with the result that nothing was getting done. A new office for Beckett was being set up down in Port Royal proper, but the fort was crawling with men in civilian clothes, the rough band that had accompanied Beckett. Groves pushed open the door to his bunk to find Andrew Gillette sitting there, along with his sea chest and an extra bunk.
“Well you’re in a fine mood tonight, old boy.” The aroma of rum wafted toward Groves, and he suspected Gillette had had more rum then he could handle. This would be more fun then Groves could handle. “What’s the matter, did your little whore the maid not uncross her legs for you tonight?”
Groves stopped, stock still, and turned on Gillette. “Watch your language, lieutenant. As you so astutely pointed out, I am not in a good mood, and thus will have no problem killing you if you say such a thing about Miss Lawrence again.”
“Oh we are in a high and mighty mood tonight. You know everyone admires you for the way you have of getting that girl to… well…” Gillette grinned the grin of a man with too much time and rum on his hands.
“Unlike some men, lieutenant, I can treat a woman as a lady. And not find it necessary to pay for her company.”
“So you admit to deflowering Miss Swann’s lovely young maid?”
“No, only to not having found the need for a whore. Some men can keep it in their trousers.”
“Prick.” Gillette spit into the container in the corner that he had brought with him, a brass spittoon of questionable origin. “Oh, his Looooordship wants to see you in the morning.”
“Oh God.” Groves sunk onto his bunk.
“Not the person you want to see first thing in the morning? Me neither, but it’s the way life goes.”
“Andrew, what the hell are you doing in my room?”
“Had to make room for the new lads. You’d rather have me then four midshipmen.”
“That I highly doubt.” Groves muttered as he pulled his boots off, and rolled over. So it would be tomorrow morning. As he closed his eyes, he thought of Estrella, curled up in her small bunk, sobbing to herself, as her sister looked on. More then Estrella, Groves feared that sister. The girl he had saved from a madman, the girl with deep heather gray eyes that were more perceptive than anyone had a right to be. He feared those with the gift to see into men’s souls, because he knew that she would care for her sister and stab him through the heart for hurting her.
As it turned out, it was two mornings before Groves saw Beckett, and by then the jail was empty. Will Turner had been sent out after Beckett’s prize, and Miss Swann had taken a decidedly less diplomatic approach. Groves had to steel himself before following his escort into the room, expecting to see the man red with anger. He was quite surprised to see that Beckett was hardly troubled by the disappearance of one of his most important prisoners.
“Ah, Lieutenant, do come in.” Beckett barely looked up from his maps.
“You sent for me, sir?” Groves sounded slightly reticent.
“Yes. You were quite familiar with Commodore Norrington, were you not?”
“You wouldn’t know where I can find him, would you? I do so wish to talk to him.”
“I’m afraid not, sir. His ship was lost at sea and he never returned to port.”
“How tragic.” Beckett’s voice was dry as kindling. Groves shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. “No matter. I suppose you will do just as well.”
“I need someone who I can trust, but who the men of the fort can trust.”
“For what, sir?”
“I have plans, Groves. The world is changing, though I hardly need tell you that. You must be looking to make something of yourself, more then you have. Men from your sort of background always do. I suppose it’s why you’re so dependable.” Beckett put down his compass, staring at the path through the sea that he had drawn, then turning to face the harbor. “I could help you, if you would help me.”
Groves’s mind was racing. He owed no loyalty to Beckett, and owed a great deal to James, even to the usually unbearable Gillette. But more then that he owed Estrella. She thought he would have to leave either her or the service in this changing world. Perhaps…
“What would you need me to do?”
“You would be placed on a ship, one of the East India Trading Company vessels of course. You would be my eyes and ears, listening for whatever I told you to. In return, you would receive a promotion, higher pay, everything you would need to settle down.”
Beckett turned suddenly, cutting him off. “There is a catch.” He held up a warning hand, smirking as he did. “You would have to leave everything here behind, including your little maid. If you are going to travel in the circles I need you to, then you cannot be weighed down by her.” Groves paled, his lips pressed tight together until the only color left on his face were the dark circles under his eyes. “You seem surprised at this. You should have seen it coming. You couldn’t have thought for a moment that just because you found a benevolent fool of a benefactor you could help her escape her poverty. I will have you know, however, that if you decide to pick her over your future, you will have none. You will never be allowed to continue in the service. Think it over.” Beckett turned back to surveying the harbor.
“Sir, I cannot simply leave her. I am pledged to her. I… I love her.”
“Why are all of the inhabitants of Jamaica fools?” Beckett turned back around, shaking his head. “It seems only Miss Swann understood. The currency of the realm, my dear lieutenant, is currency. It is not Mr. Turner’s precious honor, nor the former governor’s precious loyalty, nor your naïve notion of love. Power, lieutenant. Power and money are your ticket now, not marriage to a woman.” He chuckled harshly to himself. “You have two days to decide. Dismissed.”
Groves left the office, walking slowly through the streets of Port Royal. He could not forget Beckett’s harsh reality, nor Estrella’s pleas from the night before. It should work, he thought fiercely, it should work that a man can marry the woman he chooses. But the tides were shifting too quickly; it was a matter of sink or swim. He could feel the tide pulling him both ways, out to the unknown that was a life outside the service, back into harbor with the familiar parts of life—all except Es. And caught between the two he was drowning, swamped in fear and dread and love and a painful aching that wasn’t being filled. He could sell his soul to the East India Company and forgo the life he wanted or he could marry his love and in that act doom her to the life he wished to rescue her from. Deep in thought, he didn’t realize until that moment that his feet had marched him the kitchen door of the governor’s mansion. The entire, sprawling house was empty, raided by villagers and devoid of inhabitants. The governor had been arrested, the place ransacked. Rather then go in, he wandered through the as yet untouched gardens.
High up on the hill, he could see to the horizon, the small sleepy town racing down to meet the sea, which shone like diamonds in the late afternoon sun. It was the time of year when plants began to bloom, and the sweet English plants that the homesick settlers had brought with them were coaxed into flower. Herbs and spices and flowers mixed in a heady aroma that reminded him of everything he had accomplished, everything lived through.
He thought of the months at sea, and the close friendship he had struck up with James, and the amicable companionship that he was able to achieve most of the time with the prickly Gillette. He thought of the spontaneous hornpipes on a calm evening, and the sad slow sonatas that James would coax out of his violin when he thought no one could hear. He thought of the smooth, rhythmic life of the sailors, and the rippling waves of the sea. But over all this arched the past year. It was only in the past year that he had grown to know a woman, and one who wasn’t a relative. He knew her as a woman, as the servant she was in the governor’s house, the sister she was at home, the girl she could be when he brought her a simple present and she flushed deep pink with pleasure. He found himself telling her things he hadn’t told anyone, confiding in her because she was so easy to like and to love.
The two choices hung before him on a scale, slowly moving up and down as he turned this way and that. Every man has his price, they say, and Groves was beginning to believe it. It wasn’t the money he would miss—it was the sea. It was—
“Theodore?” a shy, quiet voice broke into his thoughts, carried on the breeze. He turned quickly to see Estrella. She wore a soft, loose fitting dress, without the apron and cap that usually proclaimed her job. Her hair was braided and hung down her back, the curls threatening to break out of their binds. He felt himself struggling to breathe as he gazed at her illuminated in the softening light.
“You look beautiful.” He breathed.
Estrella blushed slightly. “Theodore, I have to talk to you.”
“We have to talk. Let’s… let’s sit, um, over here.” He moved toward a bench overlooking the bluffs and hills below. She followed slowly, sitting next to him.
“Theodore, I got offered another job.” She burst out, quickly. “Well, two, actually.” He turned to face her, nodding that she should continue. “The first is at the tavern Mary works at, though I don’t know that I want her there anymore. It’s starting to become… questionable. I’ve been thinking of it since that man followed her home.”
“Has it happened again?”
“No, no. Apparently word got out that we have connections to the fort and no one will physically bother her. It’s just… it’s not good for her. She’s still young.”
“And the second job?”
“As a washer woman, and potentially the new school mistress. The old one wants to leave now. I could teach during the day and mend and wash at night. Mary could help—she’s finished all that she can or will need too. For all that people brag about our forward looking colony we still are just a small village, and they need someone, and--”
“Is there any reason you wouldn’t take it?”
“If… if you were to leave… I… I couldn’t stay here, in Jamaica. I would go back to England, work there, try and find Mary a suitable husband.”
Groves bent over, unable to look at her. “Es… Lord Beckett asked me to join his company today.”
“Well, that would pay well.” She seemed hesitant.
“I would have to leave you. It was his only condition.” He looked back up at her, sure that her face matched his in pale grief.
“It’s a good opportunity for you. I’m glad for you.” She reached down to her left hand, tugging on the ring that had sat there for only four days. She finally pulled it off, grabbed his hand and placed it in the palm. “I love you, Theodore, but I knew you couldn’t love me. I… I need to go pack.” She was fighting back tears, and she knew it, turning her head so he wouldn’t see her, but he wouldn’t let go of her hand.
“No.” he said firmly, surprised at his own resolve. “I can join a merchant ship, learn a trade. But please…” his voice broke, and he whispered “Don’t leave me.”
Beckett waited patiently in his office, only to have the officer return and report that Lieutenant Groves had resigned his commission to pursue a career outside the Navy. Beckett stopped for a second, looking up. “So, he decided to keep his precious love after all. So be it.” He mused in a low voice. He looked at the officer and said “Fetch me Lieutenant Gillette, if you’d be so kind.”