Ship of the Damned, part twenty-seven
by Sue N.

Styles scowled blackly and spat. "I'll not let ye do it, ye bastard!"
he growled, limping around and grimly inserting himself between
Thorne and his intended victim. "I'll see you in 'ell first!"

Thorne laughed. "How? To strike an officer is certain death--"

"Not if I'm protectin' my leftenant!" Styles hissed. "An' even if I
did 'ang, savin' 'im from you would be worth it!"

"The nobility of the belowdeck rabble!" Thorne jeered. "What
contemptible vermin you are! Kennedy was a fool to think any of you
worth fighting for, let alone worth dying for. You are not worth
spitting on!"

"By the likes o' you?" Styles snarled, his dark eyes burning like
coals. "Cor, I'd take more offense from a whore spittin' on me than
you!" His gaze raked scathingly over Thorne's immaculate figure.
"Look at ye, in yer silk an' lace, a jumped-up prick who ain't got
the faintest notion of what it means t' be an officer." He spat
again, his soul roiling with hatred for the man. "Ye didn't 'ave the
courage t' fight for yer own ship, which ye never would've lost if
ye'd been 'alf the officer Mr. Kennedy is, an' now that ye're
disgraced, ye're wantin' t' kill the only man who tried to save ye
from yer own damned ignorance! It's a bloody shame the buggers didn't
kill ye. God knows, no one deserved killin' more!"

"How dare you!" Thorne hissed furiously. "How dare you speak to me in
that fashion! By God, I warn you--"

"What? You'll 'ave me flogged? Not bloody likely. This ain't yer
ship, an' I ain't one o' yer men. And I'll be damned before I let ye
harm a hair on Mr. Kennedy's 'ead!"

"Then be damned to you!" Thorne spat, lunging forward and driving a
hard fist brutally into Styles' wounded arm. As the big man gave a
howl of pain and turned instinctively away, clutching at his arm,
Thorne reached into his waistband and drew the pistol he had taken
from the dead Marine, then slammed the butt viciously against the
back of Styles' head, dropping him to the deck.

Stepping over the unconscious sailor to Kennedy's side, Thorne stared
down at him for long moments, savouring his hatred, and the prize it
had brought him. He only regretted that Kennedy was not awake, would
not know what was being done to him, or by whose hand. But few things
in life were perfect.

He raised his pistol and pointed it downward, then thought better of
it. A shot would rouse the whole ship. Replacing the pistol in his
waistband, he glanced at the pillow beneath Kennedy's head and
smiled. Now, that WAS perfect. Grasping the pillow and carefully
pulling it free, he allowed himself a chuckle. It would leave no
marks, and, in his present state, everyone would simply assume
Kennedy had died of his wounds. And as for his so-called "protector,"
another knock on the head, a quick heave over the side...

...and another name marked "run" in the muster books!

Thorne smiled coldly and grasped the pillow almost lovingly, then
pressed it tightly to Kennedy's face. He stirred weakly as it cut off
his air, but simply hadn't the strength to fight. Thorne laughed
aloud as the young man's struggles ceased.

"No!" cried Horatio harshly as he and the Marines raced into the
surgery. "God damn you, STOP! You'll kill him!"

"God, you Indy lads are a bright lot!" Thorne snarled. At the
unexpected shout, he had let up briefly on the pillow, allowing
Kennedy another chance to breathe, but now bore down upon it once
more.

"STAND AWAY!" thundered another voice, this with the force and power
of the raging sea behind it.

"Now comes the wolf to protect its cub!" jeered Thorne, bearing down
harder still.

Pellew, gripped by fear and fury, spat out a curse and raised a
pistol, cocking it and taking aim with a decidedly steady hand at
Thorne's back. "Stand away from him, or, by God, sir, they will be
swabbing you off the deck!"

"No, God damn you!" Thorne cried wildly. "I will have revenge!"

The surgery seemed to explode as thunder, lightning and the sharp
acrid smell of powder erupted from Pellew's hand. Thorne cried out
harshly, his body jerking violently upright and hanging motionless a
moment in the air, then dropped to the deck.

"And I," Pellew said coldly in the deafening silence that followed,
"will have justice!"

Horatio stared wide-eyed and stunned at Thorne's motionless body,
then at the smoking pistol in Pellew's hand, his brain refusing to
function. About them, the Marines were equally shocked.

Then, on the floor near Thorne, Styles groaned softly, and that
slight sound broke the spell. Rousing himself from immobility,
Horatio shook his head to clear it and rushed forward to where Archie
lay, uttering a small, wordless cry of wrenching relief when he found
him still breathing.

"He is alive, sir," he whispered hoarsely, all but sinking to his
knees.

Pellew closed his eyes and bowed his head, and uttered a silent but
fervent prayer of thanks, his heart resuming its normal beating.
Then, lifting his head, he turned and found his sentry with his gaze.
"Take these back to my cabin," he ordered. "I doubt I shall have need
of them again tonight."

The young Marine swallowed visibly and accepted the pistols with
reverent care, staring at the captain in wide-eyed awe. "Aye-- aye
aye, sir," he gulped. Cor, the man hadn't even blinked!

Pellew crossed the surgery, Marines trailing still stunned and silent
behind, and permitted himself only a tight expression of grim
displeasure as Hepplewhite emerged from his cabin, somewhat unsteady
on his feet. Seeing that Hornblower was tending Kennedy, he stopped
and knelt beside Styles, who had raised himself to his hands and
knees, then carefully helped the man to his feet.

"Are you all right?" he asked quietly, seeing the fresh blood
staining his bandaged arm.

"Bastard 'it me," Styles slurred, reeling dizzily upon his feet. "I
tried-- t' stop 'im--" He stiffened violently and sucked in a hard
gasp as sense returned. "Mr. Kennedy--"

"He is alive," Pellew assured him firmly. "And Mr. Thorne is dead.
Now," he turned slightly and motioned forward two Marines, "take you
back to your hammock, and lie down. You can tell me about it come the
morning."

"You're sure 'e's alive?" Styles insisted, searching the captain's
face for any sign he might have misheard. "Mr. Kennedy, I mean?
You--"

"Let us make certain," Pellew said patiently. "Mr. Hornblower, how is
Mr. Kennedy?"

"Breathing, sir," Horatio reported, watching the rise and fall of
Kennedy's chest with fierce concentration. "He is still unconscious,
but he is alive."

"Thank the Lord!" Styles whispered. As relief hit him, he would have
fallen, but for the two Marines holding firmly to him.

"Take him to his hammock, and help him into it," Pellew instructed.
"Gently! HEPPLEWHITE!" he bellowed. When the doctor materialized,
untidy, bleary-eyed and smelling of alcohol, Pellew eyed him with
disgust. "And are you sober enough to work?" he demanded harshly.

"I c'n work, sir," Hepplewhite answered thickly.

"See to Styles' arm and head. And try not to inflict any further
damage upon him than he has already suffered! And when you have done
with him, see to Mr. Kennedy; make certain he has come to no harm, as
well."

Hepplewhite blinked, then frowned in brandy-induced confusion. "But
he has come to harm, sir," he pointed out. "That is why he is here."

Pellew clenched his teeth and scowled. "Someday, sir," he growled, "I
shall hang you for your drunkenness! Thorne tried to murder Kennedy
while you slept off God knows how many bottles! So if you can focus
those eyes of yours, look at him to make certain he suffered no fresh
hurts in the attempt! Do you understand me?"

Hepplewhite swallowed hard and nodded. "Yessir," he breathed.

Pellew winced at the smell of stale liquor, but said nothing more,
too disgusted even to speak. God, why couldn't he have a real doctor
to tend his men rather than this inebriated wretch? Telling himself
firmly that killing one officer tonight was enough, he brushed past
Hepplewhite and stepped over Thorne's body to get to where Hornblower
was spreading clean blankets over Kennedy.

"How is he?" he asked softly, anxiously, his former anger melting
away as he stared down into Kennedy's ashen face.

Hornblower exhaled slowly and straightened. "Breathing evenly, sir.
But still unconscious."

"Perhaps it is a mercy, Mr. Hornblower," Pellew said. "With any luck,
he will have no notion of what transpired. God knows," he breathed
sadly, "he has enough to remember, as it is."

Horatio fixed deep, dark eyes on his captain, studying the man
intently. "You saved his life, sir," he said softly. "As his friend,
I-- I am grateful--"

Pellew returned that stare evenly. "You did not think I would stand
idly by and allow one of my officers to be murdered?"

"No, sir. But-- but to kill another officer-- You did not even
hesitate!"

Pellew lifted a dark brow. "Had I hesitated," he pointed out, "Mr.
Kennedy would have died. It was his life, or Thorne's. And I consider
his life, by far, the better bargain."

"Yes, sir," Horatio murmured, smiling slightly. "Thank you, sir. I
owe you my friend's life."

Pellew's dark eyes took on a familiar gleam. "Then you can repay me,
sir, by returning to the quarter-deck." Again, that brow lifted. "I
believe you still have the watch?"

Horatio gasped sharply and stiffened, his cheeks colouring. "Yes,
sir. For two hours yet, sir."

"Then let us hope," Pellew sighed tiredly, "they are an uneventful
two hours." He turned, and stepped on Thorne's hand. Glancing down,
he moved his foot and grimaced, then raised his head and glared at
the Marines. "Does everything require a direct order?" he snapped.
"For God's sake, get someone down here to clean up this mess!"

As he stalked past, the Marines stiffened to sharp attention, their
eyes wide in their faces. When he had gone, they relaxed and
exchanged gazes of pure amazement.

Mother of God, he could shoot!
**********

Bracegirdle uttered the last words of the Office for the Dead and
snapped shut the Book of Common Prayer. At his nod, Thorne's weighted
body, encased in sailcloth, slid into the sea. Immediately, the crew
dispersed, talking in low voices among themselves of what had
happened, and casting occasional admiring glances at the imposing
figure on the quarter-deck.

It was like the captain, they decided, to give that bastard Thorne
his Christian due...

Bracegirdle went up to the quarter-deck, and to Pellew's side,
saluting. "It's done, sir," he reported.

"So," Pellew said in a hard, cold voice, "we have returned the Devil
to Hell."

Bracegirdle nodded slightly, thoughtfully. "I must admit, sir," he
said quietly, "I found it rather... strange to be reading the Rite
over Thorne. Particularly after last night."

"Yes, it is strange," Pellew agreed. "And not a little ironic, hm?"
At the lieutenant's confused frown, Pellew added, "Had Mr. Thorne
given that man Dudley a proper burial, he would not have needed one
this morning."

"No, I suppose not."

Pellew straightened and clasped his hands behind his back, inclining
his head slightly. "Still, it is our custom that even a despicable
bastard like Thorne merits some dignity in death. God knows, he never
earned it in life!"

Bracegirdle turned thoughtful eyes upon his captain. "Will there be
any... difficulty with the Admiralty over this, sir?" he asked
softly. "Over what happened last night?"

The dark eyes hardened. "The man was trying to kill one of my
officers, a young man near death already, and unable to defend
himself. If the Admiralty cannot understand that, then, sir, the
difficulty is theirs, not mine."

Bracegirdle chuckled appreciatively. "Aye, sir. Let us pray, for
their sake, they are gifted with keen insight!"

Pellew's lips twitched in wry amusement as he glanced at his first.
"Why, Mr. Bracegirdle," he quipped dryly, "I had no idea you believed
in miracles!"
**********