Dismasted
by Victoria

It wasn't that bad, not really. He remembered when he was ten years old,
he'd fallen from his pony and seen the bone of his arm come through the
flesh. That had been a far worse pain, a shocking, shattering pain. This,
at least, he could deal with. He could still stand, still walk - only the
ship seemed to be pitching inordinately considering the calm seas, and he
hadn't entirely wanted to stand in the first place. Better to sit. Still,
he had felt worse pain.

A sudden fiery flare shoved Archie's stomach into his throat, and he
swallowed hard, ducking his head as he concentrated on keeping his guts
where they belonged. All right, so perhaps he had felt worse pain, but this
was still quite noticeable, and seemed to be growing more so by the moment.

It was odd. It hadn't hurt at all when it happened. There was only an
incredible pressure, a dull impact that staggered him back and pummeled the
breath from his lungs, leaving him gasping and muddy-minded for a few
moments. But he'd been back on his feet soon, dispatched another Dago and
helped Halloway fend off a vicious Seniorita who's appropriated cutlass
indicated anything but amorous intent. It had only been something of an
ache then, like the throbbing aftermath of a solid punch. It didn't begin
to burn until later, but now the fire seemed to be growing, blooming within
him like a poisoned flower. Still, it wasn't that bad. Not even now.

He hadn't looked at it yet. Didn't need to, when he considered the matter.
What was there that he could do? There was only the barest smudge of blood
on the outside of his dark jacket, and though Archie was no surgeon, he
reckoned his shirt, waistcoat, and coat were doing a fine job of bandaging
the wound. It would be ridiculous to bother Clive with something that
barely glossed his palm crimson when poor Bush was cleaved nearly in two and
dozens of other men were moaning and crying in great lakes of blood all
around the battle-slick deck. Nay, he'd wait his turn, and then, when Clive
had dealt with those, he would see about getting it sewn up proper.

Maybe some laudanum too. Christ, but it was beginning to bloody burn.

"Everything all right, Sir?" Archie forced his eyes open, hardly realizing
he had closed them. There was a vague smudge swimming in a sea of blue, and
he blinked twice, clearing his head until the image resolved itself.

"Matthews." The boatswain's weathered face was a picture of concern, and
Archie saw that he was a moment short of sending word for Clive. The Doctor
would be honour bound to come to him then - he was an officer, and of the
wounded, only Bush held precedence. His conscience wouldn't allow it. His
own wound wasn't serious. "I'm fine, Matthews - just - thinking."

"I reckon we all are, sir. Do you suppose they'll let him keep his
command?"

Archie frowned. He'd thought for certain he'd heard the men say - but then,
battle rumours were always uncertain, and if he still lived, perhaps there
was also hope for young Wellard. "Then Sawyer is alive?"

Matthew's head bowed slightly, and the sorrow in his eyes told Archie
everything. "Nay. Dagos shot him - Mr. Wellard too." Damn. He hardly heard
as Matthews continued. "I'd meant Mr. Buckland, sir. Mr. Hornblower found
him all trussed up in his bed like a Christmas goose. He'd been sleeping
when the prisoners got out. Do you suppose they'll let him keep her?"

That poisoned flower was larger now, slipping red-hot petals up around his
throat. He barely managed some noise of falsely amused indifference, and
mercifully, Matthews seemed to understand. Knuckling his brow, he nodded a
"sir" and disappeared to the ugly duties that waited for him now in the wake
of battle.

It hurt, it hurt horribly, but it wasn't that bad. It couldn't be that bad.
They'd lost Sawyer, probably Bush, and now Buckland was in question for
real incompetence, not merely muddled deviousness or indecision. Bloody
hell, but the whole chain of command was coming down around his ears. Pure
process of elimination seemed to have suddenly rendered him the Second
Lieutenant, and he had to be all right. Wounded, yes, but not seriously.
Couldn't be serious. Horatio would need him now, more than ever.

Archie shifted position, trying to find some way of making it hurt less
without attracting attention. Couldn't have anyone sending for Clive, and
he'd already barely gotten by with Matthews. A thin prickle of fear teased
up the base of his fine, a shrill, traitorous voice, but he quickly forced
it down. All he needed was some laudanum and a few stitches. He'd be well
soon enough.

Out of the corner of his uncertain vision, he caught a figure moving towards
him. Horatio. Archie felt suddenly weak. He couldn't let his friend see
him like this, not now, not before he had a chance to get himself together.
Horatio had more than enough to worry about without adding Fourth/Second
Lieutenant Archibald Kennedy to that list. He forced his spine straight,
ignoring the sudden black border that began to mist the edges of his vision.

Take the initiative. Get him into a quick, light conversation. Let him see
everything is all right, and maybe he won't pay too much attention. Maybe
he'd just go away. "I heard about Buckland." He tried to summon a carefree
chuckle, find the mildly biting sense of humour that had once been so easy,
but the sound seemed a grating strangulation of false pleasure to his ear,
and the price it demanded brought flashes of white agony behind his eyes.
He heard himself continue as if in a dream. "Silly old fool."

It hurt. It hurt worse than anything he had ever felt, ever imagined, but
it wasn't that bad. It couldn't be that bad. There was only the smallest
smear of blood. It couldn't be that bad. But this was bad - Horatio was
looking at him with suspicion in those large, damnably intelligent eyes. "Is
that your blood?"

*Of course it isn't my blood, silly. I was killing Spaniards, you see, and
it's rather a messy business.* But he couldn't say that. Horatio knew
something was wrong, but maybe all was not lost. He just needed to tell the
truth, because no matter how bad the pain was, the wound itself couldn't be
that serious. His face twisted into a rictus shadowing a smile. "It's just
a scratch."

Horatio didn't believe him. That much was clear. He was leaning in closer
now, looking far too closely. Had to say something. This was supposed to
be light conversation, not an interrogation of the blood on his coat. His
blurred eye caught the red-soaked form of a Spaniard sprawled near the rail.
There. That was a serious wound. This was just pain. He took a deep
breath, shivering at the white-hot quality of the oxygen as it blasted into
him. "Prisoners under lock and key?"

He was going to vomit. That black frame at the edges of his vision was
thicker now, and he could hardly think. Horatio said something, he didn't
know what, but the words sounded like they came from underwater. Archie's
balance was deserting him, he began to reel back, but then fingers were at
his coat, and Horatio was ripping it open.

Oh dear. There was quite a lot more blood than he'd thought.

Blood seemed to be everywhere, in fact. Not only was there far too much of
it reddening his vest, his shirt, the top of his trousers, but there were
blood red fireworks sparking over the image of Horatio's stricken face, and
as his stomach heaved and clenched, he knew that copper sweet saltiness had
nothing to do with his morning meal. Blood, blood and pain seemed to have
taken over everything.

Horatio was frightened. He had to do something, say something. He was so
brave, yes, but Horatio was also so young, and more or less Captain now - he
couldn't be worrying about Archie at a time like this. "It's nothing to fret
about, Horatio, you know how much things can bleed even when they aren't at
all serious."

It's what he wanted to say, what he tried to say, what he almost thought he
said. But all that came was a bit of a gurgle, a wash of salt sweet in his
mouth, a wet warmth on his chin, and a sudden flush of pain that robbed him
of his balance and hurt too much to even cry out. He was falling now, going
to strike the hard, unforgiving, blood-slick planks and maybe knock himself
out of this misery.

He didn't strike.

At least, not the wood. There was warm wool beneath his cheek, warm wool
over living flesh, the tickle of wild curls that were not his own against
his forehead, and he was being held almost too tightly in Horatio's arms.
Archie could feel the other man's heart beating far too fast, feel him
shaking, and he pressed his eyes tight, fighting the tears that had not even
threatened when the pain was all his own. Horatio was shaking, but it
couldn't mean that he was himself in pain, no, not even with brave, stupid,
stoic Horatio always asking about others before himself. It couldn't be
true.

*You can't be wounded too, Horatio. Not you, because someone has to remain.
Someone has to remain strong, and I'm dying.*

THE END