Izzy here, with my fanfic, “The Chief’s Concern,” an extra piece for my oakum series, from The Thirteen Gun Salute, just before the Diane sails off, featuring Sir Joseph Blaine(I wanted to write something featuring him) and the usual slash pairing. Usual disclaimer too.

The Chief’s Concern

By Izzy

“And so, is that all?”

“Well, there is something else I believe we need to discuss.” Sir Joseph Blaine did not often feel this level of discomfort. In his long career, he supposed this particular situation could have come up before, but it had not, and it was a very delicate one. He cleared his throat; he was aware Stephen was looking at his oddly, sensing something out of the ordinary. “You will notice we are in what I have called my private refuge.”

Stephen nodded impatiently. Joseph supposed he had not given this much thought, now that they were on such close terms as friends. “There is a particular reason why we are meeting here tonight. Of course it is never a good thing to be overheard, but I was especially concerned that we not be on this subject. It also happens to be a private concern of mine, though one with consequences that might prove not so private.”

He had lowered his eyes slightly, now he forced them up and saw only confusion on Stephen’s face. He continued. “While we were traveling through Spain and Portugal with Captain Aubrey,” Joseph thought he saw a slight smile nearly break onto Stephen’s face on hearing the man in question called a captain again, and he felt his heart sink slightly, “his two men, and Mr. Standish, I began to notice certain oddities. Nothing that a common observer might notice, I think. But as I said, there seemed to be certain points, where your and Captain Aubrey’s behavior seemed...not entirely to make sense if one thought about it a very great deal, and finally, the night before we left Mr. Standish with Colonel Lumley, I decided that if there was even the slightest chance my suspicions were correct, I had best have confirmation of the situation. I managed to find my way to the door of the room which you and Aubrey were sharing unobserved, and...forgive me, my dear Stephen, but I looked through the keyhole.”

The confusion had long left Stephen’s face; now it was replaced by anger, which Joseph could not say surprised him. “And so you watched us? I imagine we were quite a spectacle, were we not?”

“I did not watch you.” Joseph replied. “I looked only for a second; that was enough time to tell me all I wished to know. You are fortunate no one else besides I had looked. Had the wrong person peered through that keyhole, I need not tell you what the consequences would have been.”

His voice was sharp, chiding, and Stephen was silent. “If I may be frank, the risks the two of you take seem very foolish.”

“They must seem so.” Stephen’s tone was very low, and it reminded Joseph of when, years ago now, he had asked him what could be supposed about the actions of the then Mrs. Villiers, now Mrs. Maturin. “But I am afraid there is no helping the situation. Captain Aubrey cannot suppress such desires very long when he has them, and under his influence I find my own will does not hold out so well. We must settle for discretion.”

“I feared as much. A pity.”

He could tell Stephen was not pleased. “The risks be as they may,” he said, “I would not call it a pity.”

“I would not ask you to.” Joseph said coolly. “But you must realise how this appears to me. And it is all the more a pity because you have been such a good agent otherwise. Such a weakness as this...”

“I am not someone to be blackmailed very easily.” Stephen reminded him, equally coolly. “Do you doubt my reliability, sir?”

“No.” Joseph said immediately, but then he shook his head and said, “No, yes, in a situation as grave as this one, I would have to. Not even because I think you would act for your own life,” he added, putting his hand up as Stephen opened his mouth, “but because your life would not be the only one in question.”

“Captain Aubrey,” Stephen replied, only the slightest of shaking in his voice, “is well used to risking his life against His Majesty’s enemies.”

“Lord, Stephen,” sighed Joseph, “I saw your behavior during the business with the Stock Exchange. I have listened to you express your concerns about Jack Aubrey time and time again, sometimes dismissing concerns about yourself before talking about his. I know you well enough that if you attempted to tell me that there was any length you would not go to for Aubrey, any concession you would not make were his life at risk, why, I would outright call you a liar. A liar, sir.”

Stephen did not look angry this time. He smiled sadly and said, “Then I suppose I had best not try to claim that.”

There was a pause. Then Joseph asked, “Who else knows?”

“Only his steward and my wife, as far as I am aware. Others may know, and I am certain his coxswain suspects.”

All three were people who would, if nothing else, certainly hold their tongues. “Mrs. Maturin does not mind?”

“She encourages it. She is aware that normally no man is married south of Gibralter, and she wishes for me to remain married to Captain Aubrey, so to speak, so as to keep me out of the beds of other women.”

“And Mrs. Aubrey does not know?”

“I assume not. She has, I’m afraid, somewhat of a jealous nature, and the same argument could not even truthfully be presented to her, since while I pride myself on keeping her husband out of many a whore’s bed, no person alive could keep him out of all of them.”

Joseph had only met Mrs. Aubrey once, many years ago when she had still been Miss Williams, and would not have thought her jealous. Perhaps she had changed with age. “If she found out, what would she do?”

“In truth, I do not know. But I am certain she would not see us hanged.”

“Are you really certain of that?” Stephen looked angry again, but Joseph continued. “If she were in an agitated emotional state, I am not saying she would outright tell the wrong person, but she might take other actions, let some sort of hint slip without meaning to.”

“Rumours are merely rumours,” was Stephen’s response. “There were rumours about me, if you remember, before my marriage. And in any case, I am indeed very certain that Mrs. Aubrey would never be a source, intentionally or otherwise, of anyone’s suspicions.”

“I am aware,” he added after a second’s pause, “of the danger of scandal, of course, of the consequences to Jack Aubrey’s career and the danger of his being thrown on the beach if there was no evidence to do anything worse to him, which I think for him would be a worse fate then hanging.”

“And yet,” Joseph mused, “if certain people did believe you to be engaging in such activities, they would be less likely to think you a spy. Perhaps I should discretely-”

“You should do nothing,” Stephen cut him off sharply. “I will not risk that harm coming to Jack.”

“Of course you will not,” Joseph muttered, more to himself then to Stephen, then, louder, “You know well I must act as I see fit.”

“And you,” and here Stephen stepped forward, his eyes close to blazing, “know well, that, as you said yourself, I will do whatever I must to protect Captain Aubrey.”

The interview had contained more then one dangerous moment, but this one was the worst. Had either of them been men more given to temper, it might have been a fatal one. However, it passed, and Stephen lowered his head. “You understand me, I hope.”

“Perfectly, my dear Stephen. I believe there is no more to be said.”

After Stephen left, Joseph sat for a long while and allowed himself to feel a small measure of relief, and also interest. He had known that Stephen could have very strong feelings underneath his seemingly emotionless exterior. He had known of his passionate hatred for Bonaparte from the start, and remembering again how he had asked about the then-Mrs. Villiers, Joseph could only conclude he likewise had a deep attachment to his wife. And he had known the strength of Stephen’s friendship for Aubrey, and after learning the true nature of that friendship, he had guessed it was spurred by something other then the simple lust that could spring up between men at sea for too long; between those two men it had to be. Yet Stephen’s behavior in their most recent interview had done a credit to his heart that was still surprising.

But then there was another worry, one which Sir Joseph Blaine wished he had had in his mind before. He and Stephen had always agreed on what should be accomplished, and if Stephen was a very dangerous man, at least he had only ever been dangerous to the enemy, and if he worked on a voluntary basis, at least he had never seemed unwilling. He had forgotten before this that while Stephen had a genuine feeling of friendship and possibly even a certain loyalty to Joseph himself, he would always have his own separate priorities, and Intelligence was damn lucky of how convenient those priorities had been.

There had been no true battle between the two men. Joseph shuddered to think of the consequences had there been. He had the feeling disaster would only been averted by his own backing down, and he did not like this at all. It was a hard thought to admit into his mind, that if he and Stephen Maturin ever came to battle, whatever their choice of weapons, the latter was unlikely to lose.