Ship of the Damned, part one
by Sue N.

RATING: PG-13, violence

**********

Horatio exhaled heavily and bowed his head, running
his hands tiredly over his face. Nearby, the lantern
swung slowly on its hook with the gentle rocking
motion of the ship, its feeble light doing precious
little to hold back the darkness crowding the surgery.
With another sigh, Horatio raised his head and dropped
his hands into his lap, then leaned forward on his
stool to fix his dark, exhausted gaze upon the still
and silent figure in the hammock.

Archie was sleeping now, if sleep it could be called.
But at least, thanks to Dr. Hepplewhite's laudanum,
the lines of pain -- and something more than pain --
once etched so deeply into his ashen face had eased
considerably. And though crimson blood yet stained the
bandages swathing his shoulder and chest, it was
nothing like the dark and heavy flow torn from him
earlier by the fit.

A fit unlike any suffered by him since those dark days
in Justinian, the violence of which had seemed certain
to cause him to bleed to death...

"My God, Archie, what happened over there?" Horatio
whispered hoarsely in fear and confusion. He searched
his friend's face intently, but saw nothing there save
suffering. "I do not understand- " He broke off
abruptly and looked up when a slight sound, a small
shifting in the shadows, warned him he was not alone.
"Yes?"

A moment passed, then Styles stepped slowly into the
light, his left arm in a sling, his head bandaged. As
he moved forward, his dark gaze fell to Kennedy's
still figure. "'Ow is 'e, sir?" he asked softly, never
looking at Hornblower.

Horatio shook his head and grimaced. "No change. I
don't know whether it is the laudanum or the f-- " He
stopped, unable to mention his friend's affliction
even to one who knew of it. "And how are you?"

Styles forced a smile, but it was weak, nothing like
his usual cheeky grin; and the attempt never reached
his eyes. "Oh, I'll mend, sir," he said. "Takes more
than this to stop me. A few more days, and I'll be
good as new." His gaze again sought Kennedy's ashen
face. "Reckon I was lucky," he said softly.

"He will be all right," Horatio said stubbornly,
refusing to believe anything else.

"Aye, sir," Styles murmured, wanting to believe it, as
well. Silence fell between them, and Styles lifted his
gaze from Kennedy to Hornblower. Studying the younger
man, he noticed the red-rimmed dark eyes and the
circles beneath them, and the stubble of beard
covering normally clean-shaven cheeks. "'Ave you not
slept at all, sir?" he asked quietly.

Horatio clasped his hands together in his lap and
stared down at his long fingers. "I-- didn't think-- I
should leave him," he answered reluctantly. "I
thought-- someone should be with him-- The fit very
nearly killed him," he rasped, his throat so tight it
hurt. "What-- what if-- "

"It won't do 'im no good if you make yourself sick,
sir," Styles pointed out. "And you won't be much good
on watch if you don't rest, either."

"I can't leave him-- "

"'E won't be alone, sir, I promise." When Hornblower
looked up in surprise, Styles managed something nearer
his usual grin. "I been taken off watch until I get
'ealed up a bit more," he explained. "I could stay
'ere, with 'im, while you get some sleep. And I'll
send for you if-- well, if anything should-- change."

Horatio blinked and stared up at Styles, surprised by
his offer. "You-- would stay here-- with him?" he
asked somewhat stupidly. "But-- "

Styles drew himself up to his full height, his dark
eyes shadowed. "Aye, sir, I would," he said softly.
"You asked me to look after 'im, remember? Just before
we went over? Well," he glanced down at Kennedy, and
an expression of pain flickered over his scarred
features, "I don't know that I done too good a job of
it. But Lord knows 'e still needs lookin' after now,
and I got nothin' else t' do. And you do need your
sleep. Sir."

Horatio continued to stare up at the man, desperate to
know more about, to understand, what had transpired on
that damned ship, but realizing the answers would have
to wait. Nodding slightly, he rose slowly to his feet.
"Watch over him, then. And send for me-- "

"I will, sir. I promise."

Horatio raised a hand to the back of his neck and
absently rubbed the stiff muscles there. "And Captain
Pellew has asked to be notified if-- when Archie
awakens. He has questions... " Good God, didn't they
all?

"Aye, sir, I know," Styles breathed, having already
faced those questions. "I'll send for 'im, as well."

Horatio sighed and dropped his hand to his side, tired
to the center of his bones. "If he has a fit, you will
need to hold him, but without hurting him-- "

"I'll send for you, sir," Styles said quietly, gently.
"I promise. Now, please, sir, go! You're dead on your
feet." Again, he managed that smile. "'E'll be all
right, sir. You'll see. 'E's been through too much
already to let go now." Unconsciously, a note of
admiration crept into his voice. "'E's stubborn, sir.
Mebbe more so than any of us really knew."

Again, surprise rippled through Horatio, though he was
too tired to give it voice. Soon, though, very soon,
he would demand an answer to the question that had
gnawed relentlessly at him since yesterday.

Good God in highest heaven, just what the bloody hell
had happened on that damned ship?
**********

Kennedy's fair head moved weakly back and forth, and a
faint, breathless moan escaped him. Styles leaned
forward and laid his good hand against the younger
man's uninjured shoulder.

"It's all right, sir," he soothed softly and with
surprising gentleness. "It's all right. You just rest,
now."

His head moved more urgently, and an expression of --
what? pain? fear? -- contorted his ashen face. He
arched his back slightly and groaned again, growing
increasingly restless.

"Lie still, sir, please!" Styles urged worriedly.
"It's all right, Mr. Kennedy, it's all right! We're
'ome, sir. We're back on the Indy, where we belong."

The words seemed to reach him, seemed to soothe him.
His movements ceased, and he relaxed, his expression
easing. Before he slipped away again, however, his
lips moved, and a single, near-soundless word breathed
from him.

And despite its softness, that word sent a black chill
through Styles and caused his every muscle to clench
tightly.

Resolute...
**********