The King's Man
by
Rhiannon

Chapter Three

Present mirth hath present laughter
What's to come is still unsure...

It was surprisingly easy to explain the workings of the ship to Guido. He had a knack of listening carefully to what was being said without being either too attentive or obviously abstracted, and was perfectly willing to admit ignorance when the occasion arose. His questions were to the point, and he was obviously asking them with the intention of learning, rather than out of politeness.

The rain died off, and the sky became less overcast. Guido stopped, and looked up at the sky.

"Is it true that sailors can sail by the stars?" he asked, looking slightly embarrassed.

Horatio nodded. He was about to explain the system, when he saw the expression on Guido's face. For the first time, the Italian looked sad, staring up at the small patch of clear sky they were sailing under.

"I would like to learn that," he said, so softly that Horatio could hardly hear him. "It must be like knowing you are home wherever you go...but then, I suppose sailors always are home, when they're on their ship."

"Yes."

Guido took a deep breath, seemed to give himself a mental shake, and looked away from the sky.

"Well," he said brusquely, sticking his pipe back in his mouth and puffing out smoke. "What else do I have to know in order to survive around here?"

"I think that's it," said Horatio, swallowing his curiosity as to what could have affected Guido so deeply. Then he affected solemnity, and said as gravely as he could,

"Of course, you should learn how to climb the rigging."

Guido arched the eyebrow on the side of his face that still worked.

"Oh?"

"Absolutely," said Horatio, wearing his poker face. "You can't get along on board a ship if you can't climb the rigging."

Guido looked at the rigging quizzically, then back at Horatio.

"Is this some kind of joke?" he asked sceptically.

"No, I assure you," said Horatio, trying not to smile at his disbelief. Guido sighed.

"Ah well," he said, with an odd smile, "no time like the present, I suppose."

Then he dropped his cloak to the deck, and swung himself into the rigging. Horatio groaned. Guido's body was that of an acrobat, strong and supple. He had no fear at all of what he was doing, and seemed perfectly at home among the ropes. He climbed up, down and sideways with total confidence, hooked his legs over two of the crosswise ropes, and hung upside down like a bat. His eyes closed, he let his arms dangle higher - or from Horatio's perspective, lower - than his head.

"Can I come down now?" he asked sarcastically, folding his arms across his chest and allowing himself to swing slightly from side to side.

"Please do," retorted Horatio. Guido swung himself upright, unhooked his legs, and climbed down with an enviable grace. He landed on the deck looking completely unruffled and not even out of breath.

"Invigorating," he said dryly, and relit his pipe. He leant back against the rail, propping himself on his elbows, and looked up into the rigging.

"It goes up quite a long way, really, doesn't it?" he asked innocently. Horatio glared at him, and forbore to respond as he would have liked. He had the nasty feeling that Guido was quite prepared to take his revenge for the practical joke Horatio had played on him with one of his own. A glance at Guido's expression confirmed his suspicions, and he remained silent.

Guido was smiling quietly to himself as he looked up.

"I should have told you," he said then. "I've done that before. Just because I don't know what
anything's called..."

"Oh," said Horatio, realising his practical joke, rather than being in danger of backfiring on him, had instaed simply misfired completely. Guido's tired, battered face had none of the satisfaction on it that he would have expected, and Horatio realised that he had just been taught a very important lesson about the two spies. Guido, at least, would admit ignorance with complete honesty, and had no false pride about learning. It was not safe, on the other hand, to assume that his ignorance went any further than the admission made - in fact, it was not safe to assume that it was ignorance at all. If Will were the same....

"A formidable pair indeed," said Horatio aloud.

Guido nodded.

"I see you understand us better than you thought possible," he said mildly, puffing at his pipe.

Horatio looked at him, startled.

"I don't understand you at all!" he exclaimed. "What you said in the courtyard -"

Guido sighed.

"I'm sorry about that," he said quietly. "I had no right."

"No, it wasn't that. Of course, I suppose you didn't, but -"

Guido's good eyebrow flickered.

"But?"

"I - how did you know? I didn't realise I was so transparent. How could you possibly know that that's how I feel, as if I'll always be there, as if that one moment will go on for ever?"

He had turned away from Guido as he spoke, not meaning to have given so much of himself away, and did not see the assassin's bruised features twist in sympathy, nor see Guido's gloved hand half reach out, as though to touch his shoulder, and then hurriedly drop back to the rail. When Guido spoke, however, his voice was calm, detached, giving no hint of his feelings.

"Because it is the same for anyone who has regrets," he said quietly. "I once spoke to a man who had survived an earthquake - an old man, when I met him. He said that for him, part of the world would always be shaking, somewhere in his mind. Perhaps it is the same with regrets - that part of us never leaves that moment, that somewhere in our minds it will go on
forever."

Horatio turned back. Guido's face was calm, as though he had been talking of nothing more important than a minor change in weather, but his stance was wary, braced to move fast and hard at the wrong question. Horatio decided to risk it.

"And you?" he asked. "Do you have regrets?" and knew at once that he had unerringly chosen the wrong thing to ask. The sardonic look came back to Guido's face, and he gave his harsh shout of laughter again.

"Mr. Hornblower," he said wearily, "if I allowed myself to begin having regrets, I suspect I would never stop. Goodnight."

And with that, he stuck his pipe back in his mouth, and stalked off in the direction of his cabin.
Horatio stared after him, at a complete loss for words. Eventually, one sprang to mind.

"Hell!"

*****

Will looked up from a sea of papers as Guido came into the cabin. He winced as he caught sight of his companion's bruised face and the gash that sliced across his cheekbone, but said nothing. They had known each other too long for apologies or explanations, however damning the circumstances might seem, and Will knew better than to bring the subject up. On the other hand, Guido had seemed more shadowy than usual since his interview with Pellew, and it was not like him to disappear so completely on their first evening on board ship. Whatever the assassin had been doing, Will reflected, it seemed to have only compounded his black mood. Guido looked tired beneath the bruises, and his expression was bleaker than usual. Perhaps, for once, an apology was in order.

"Guido," he began hesitantly, as his companion sat down at the table, his gloved hands fiddling restlessly with the papers. "I just want to say -"

"Ah - Deveraux," interrupted Guido warningly, picking up some of the papers and glancing through them. "Whatever you're going to say, don't."

Will sighed with relief. That, at least, was in character. He had never known Guido willingly accept even the beginning of an apology, and had he done so now, Will would have worried. Then he realised he was worried anyway.

Guido seemed to be settling down to reading through Will's work in a perfectly calm way, and yet there was something wrong, something missing. Will realised, after a few moments, what it was. The one thing he had learnt to associate with Guido over the years was his complete stillness and ability to focus all his concentration on whatever he was doing. Guido might have been looking at the papers he was holding, but he certainly wasn't concentrating. He was flicking through them almost absent-mindedly, paying no attention to what he was reading. Then he dropped the papers on the table and picked up another sheaf, flicking through them in the same way. Will looked at him irritably.

"What are you doing, di Cesare?" he asked impatiently. "Either help me or leave."

Guido dropped the papers on the table again, and got to his feet.

"I'll leave," he said abruptly. "I should keep walking anyway."

"You should sleep," retorted Will. "Then you might be of some use."

Guido looked suddenly furious.

"And where, exactly, am I supposed to sleep, Deveraux?" he asked, leaning over the table. "Where will people be safe from me? What if they wake me?"

Will suddenly felt tired, and very guilty. It was the one thing he was expected to arrange for the assassin, to allow him to sleep well away from where he could do any damage if woken, and in all the confusion of the new orders, he had forgotten even to do that.

"Ah, Guido, I'm sorry," he said, rubbing at the scarred side of his face. "I'll sort something out
tomorrow."

"Thank you," said Guido bitterly. "And tonight?"

Will grinned.

"Keep walking?" he suggested.

Guido's battered face did not change expression.

"Wonderful," he said ungratefully. "So we're back to my original plan. The master spy at work. Thank you, Deveraux, for your contribution."

Will's face hardened at that.

"You're out of line, di Cesare," he warned quietly.

Guido shrugged.

"Why would that matter? As long as I do your killing for you, you're perfectly happy."

Will slammed his hands onto the table, making the papers jump.

"And since when have you decided I thought that?" he demanded angrily. "When have I ever said that to you?"

Guido's expression was completely indifferent.

"It's what I do," he said coolly. "How else am I to assume you value me?"

Will threw up his hands in despair.

"I give up," he said wearily. "If you want a fight, we'll have one, but at least tell me what I've done."

Guido sat down again, and propped his chin in his hands, staring at the table.

"You didn't," he admitted gloomily.

"I threw an inkwell at you," Will pointed out.

"You threw an inkwell at the door, Deveraux," said Guido, his natural sense of humour beginning to reassert itself. "You've just got a bloody awful aim."

Will's mouth twisted in what, for him, passed as a smile.

"Thanks for that," he said dryly. "Actually, I wanted to use you as a shaving mirror."

"A - what?" Guido looked confused, raising his head out of his hands. Then he realised. His face was incredibly close to being a mirror image of Will's.

"Very funny, Deveraux."

"I thought so," agreed Will. He looked affectionately at the man sitting opposite him, who was fiddling with the papers again, looking blank. For Guido, that was as depressed as he ever got.

"So, why are you angry?" Will asked him.

Guido looked up.

"Hmmm? Oh, I was talking to Hornblower."

"I've missed the connection here, Guido. Help my feeble brain, will you? Why would that make you angry?"

"He asked me if I had any regrets," said Guido, his narrow features unreadable.

Will laughed. It was a sound without humour.

"What did you say?"

"Something to the effect that if I started having regrets I would never stop."

Guido did not sound bitter, but Will guessed at how he felt.

"Very witty," said Will, carefully trying not to sound too sympathetic.

"Best I could do, at the time." Guido's voice was completely even, but his eyes were flickering from side to side, like a caged animal.

"Yes, I suppose so," agreed Will, starting to feel very worried indeed. This was more like Guido's behaviour when he returned to England four years ago, after an inexplicable twelve months disappearance, rather than the sardonically good-humoured companion he had become in the intervening time. Will had no idea what was causing the change, but he would have given anything to stop it. As though Guido could sense his thoughts, he got to his feet.

"I'm taking my legs for a walk," he said dryly. Then he smiled, looking more like his usual self. "Don't work too hard, Deveraux."

Will looked at the papers covering his desk, and grimaced.

"No chance," he said, shuffling through the disorganisation Guido had created to find out where he had got to. "No bloody chance of that at all."

Guido nodded, and left. As soon as the door closed, Will put his head on the table and yawned.

"Five minutes," he said sleepily. "Just a little nap..."

*****

It was coming up to three in the morning. Guido had long since gone back to the cabin, and found Will peacefully asleep among his papers, his scarred face no longer frightening, now that the sharp grey eyes were closed, and the tightly-pulled muscles around the mouth relaxed. His fair hair was disordered with sleep, and the blue shadows of exhaustion under his eyes gave him an air almost of vulnerability that the spy leader never had awake, and would lose as soon as his eyes opened. Guido had looked at him for a long time, his own bruised features sorrowful.

"I do not want to fail you again," he had murmured softly. "I would follow you into hell, if you asked me, Will, but I find it almost impossible to follow you into my own failure..."

He had sighed deeply then, picked up his leather bag, and left the cabin, closing the door quietly behind him. Will had not stirred.

Now Guido was sitting on the deck, leaning against the mast with his long legs stretched comfortably in front of him, and scribbling with an old charcoal pencil in a book of loose papers. He was absorbed in his work, only his subconscious aware of the sound of the footsteps of the officer on watch. When he realised they had stopped in front of him, however, he looked up irritably.

"What?" he enquired with some asperity.

"What the hell happened to your face?" asked Archie Kennedy.

Guido sighed irritably.

"Does anyone around here ask anything that isn't personal?" he enquired. "If you must know, it was an inkwell. Will threw it at the door and missed. And whatever else you were about to ask about the fact that he missed an entire door and hit me instead, don't."

Archie laughed.

"I wouldn't dream of it," he agreed, and sat down beside Guido.

Guido looked at him quizzically.

"Aren't you on watch?" he enquired. Archie shook his head.

"I was. I've come off now. Didn't you hear six bells?"

"No." Guido thought for a moment, then added, "I seem to be getting immune to it."

"Mr Deveraux appears to be able to sleep through it."

Guido smiled. His face had now swollen to the point where one side did not move at all, and the effect was mildly grotesque.

"Deveraux would sleep through the sound of the last trumpet," he pointed out amicably. "What about you? If your watch is over, you should sleep."

"I wanted to talk to you."

"Oh God..." groaned Guido. He suddenly felt very cold, very tired, and very sure that he didn't want to hear whatever was coming next. What came next confirmed that he didn't want to hear anything else at all from anyone for at least a week.

"I wanted to ask you about what you said earlier. About your weapons."

Guido immediately stopped being friendly, and became businesslike. He had expected this, though not quite so soon, and retreated slightly into the shadows to regain his composure, pulling his legs up.

"I see," he said quietly, "Well?"

"Um...what am I supposed to ask you to do with them?"

Guido felt his mouth drop open slightly.

"What?" he asked blankly.

"Well, I don't need you to kill anyone. So what am I supposed to ask you to do?"

Guido's gloved hand came up, and he rubbed at his head in confusion, as he had in Pellew's cabin.

"I don't know," he confessed after a bit. "No-one ever asks me to do anything else."

They looked at each other in bewilderment. Guido chewed at the good side of his mouth, trying to think. If he withdrew his offer, admitted that it had been in jest, then there was no official excuse for him to be on the ship, and that was a problem he had no intention of facing.

"I know," he said eventually. "Why don't I leave my weapons at your service, and then you can tell me if you ever need me."

"Can you do that?"

Guido shrugged.

"They're my weapons," he said simply. "If I want them to be at your service, then - they are. And so am I," he added, with a returning trace of mockery in his voice.

"Aren't you sworn to Will, though?"

Guido sighed at that. He had lied without even blinking about the carte blanche to Will, allowing him to think that he was under orders, but he had a nasty feeling that after what had just been said, he owed Kennedy the truth.

"Well - not at the moment," he said evasively.

"Why?"

"Because no-one seems to care what I do at the moment," said Guido, feeling more irritated by the minute.

He was getting very tired of having conversations about what he was thinking, feeling, and doing, and no-one seemed to be interested at the moment in talking about anything else. Guido was not comfortable in conversations with anyone but Will, and even then he relied on the fact that neither of them were ever serious.

His expression became even more sardonic than ever, as he drew his knees up to his chin and stared gloomily into space, wondering what else to say. Eventually, he decided on the truth. Very quietly, he added,

"I have carte blanche."

"Which means?"

"Apparently," said Guido very dryly, "it means whatever I want it to. I could have left. And I tried to think of a reason to stay. Then I remembered I'd offered you my weapons. As a joke." He hunched his shoulders up, brooding. "It seemed as good a reason as any to stay."

"So - I'm responsible for you?"

Guido unhunched himself, looking surprised. He would never have seen it like that.

"No," he said, taken aback. "No, you're not. No-one is, except me. You can ask me to kill someone, but the responsibility is mine."

"That doesn't seem quite - fair."

Guido quirked an eyebrow at him.

"I'm an assassin, Mr. Kennedy," he said simply. "I've never known anyone question the fairness of that before. At least," he added with a sudden glint of amusement, "not on my behalf. Sometimes, of course, on their own."

"And if I asked you to kill someone for me, one day?"

Guido stretched himself out again, and fished for his pipe.

"If you ever have to ask me," he said calmly, "you will have to accept that the blame, if any, is mine, and the responsibility, which there inevitably is, is also mine."

"Then I won't ask you," said Archie quietly, and saw Guido's eyes flicker. Then the assassin laughed, not very happily.

"Everyone asks me, eventually," he pointed out. "Everyone."

Silence fell once more.

"Does everyone call you di Cesare?" asked Archie suddenly. Guido looked surprised, and took his pipe out of his mouth.

"Never thought about it," he said after a while. "Deveraux usually does, I suppose."

"Well, what does everyone else call you?"

Guido looked at him for a long time, trying to work out whether he was being made fun of. He had managed to get the better of one practical joke that night, but he somehow doubted he would have the same good luck with this man's sense of humour as he had with Hornblower's.

"Well," he said cautiously after a while, "your captain calls me Signor. That's very polite of him. And - the Minister I deal with calls me Mr. di Cesare, which is...inaccurate. Will calls me Guido sometimes, I suppose, but I never really take much notice, and his spy network calls me - well, never mind about that, it's not important - and I think that's it."

He smiled, looking a little uncertain, and wondering what the joke was. Archie looked at him in complete incomprehension.

"Well, what about the other people you know?" he said impatiently. "Your friends?"

Guido choked on the smoke he was inhaling.

"My what?"

"People you know who aren't..." Archie's voice trailed off into silence. "Oh," he said then, embarrassed.

He realised suddenly why Guido had sounded so suspicious. He didn't know anyone who wasn't involved with what he did, and he was not, really, the kind of person who had ordinary conversations. No matter how pleasant he was currently trying to be about it, the fact that he had no idea of how to be genuinely friendly was starting to show, a crack in the veneer of cynical amusement with which he treated everyone.

Guido was still coughing, his eyes streaming.

"Mr. Kennedy," he gasped, between bouts of choking, "the nature of my profession does not exactly lend itself to friendship. Brief, unpleasant encounters, yes. Friendships, no."

Despite the coughing, he did not seem angry, merely startled and mildly amused. He swallowed several times, getting himself under control, and blinking hard to clear his eyesight.

"Well, what about your family, then?"

Guido's expression changed completely. He looked suddenly forbidding, his dark eyes hooded, like a wary hawk.

"What of them?" he asked. He could not believe, this time, that the question was innocent. Surely Pellew would have said...so this man despised him, after all! He braced himself, ready to attack, cursing himself for having even come close to trusting someone simply because they had not immediately demanded a death.

"Well, you can't all go around calling each other the same thing. You must have given names. Do they call you Guido, or..."

For the second time that evening, seeing the look in Guido's eyes, Archie left a sentence unfinished. Guido's amusement had all vanished, as if it had never been. The man who sat by the mast was nothing like the one who had stretched out his legs and laughed. Nothing sat there now but the killer, quiet, intent, and waiting to strike.

Guido's breathing was shallow, inaudible. Like a cat, he flexed hidden muscles, preparing to spring. Then he registered what had been said, and breathed out slowly, forcing himself to relax. It was like watching a spring uncoil.

"My God," he said softly, disbelievingly. "You didn't know...he didn't tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

Guido had the same strange look of sadness on his face as earlier, when he had looked up at the stars.

"Five years ago," he said very quietly, "I was a spy, working for Will. Nothing more. A spy - and the marksman of the group. My job was to protect Will and the others on a mission in Spain. I was to meet them there, and then I would receive my orders."

He paused, and put his pipe to his lips, his hand completely steady. He took a deep breath, surrounding himself with smoke, and continued through the haze,

"I got to the meeting-place too late. My brother, on the other hand, was waiting there for them."

"But - wasn't that good?"

Guido shook his head.

"Not especially," he said bleakly, and then, apparently irrelevantly, "My brother taught me everything I know. He is the best spy and the greatest assassin in Europe."

"Well? What of it?"

Guido put down his pipe and looked straight at Archie. His dark eyes were opaque, devoid of all emotion.

"He also works for the French."

*****

Guido closed his eyes, and leant back against the mast, waiting for Kennedy to leave. He knew that in any Englishman's eyes, his brother's allegiance made him untrustworthy, knew that everyone expected his family ties to bind him more strongly than anything else. More than that, he knew from bitter experience that he was always going to be condemned for the simple fact that he was the brother of Lorenzo di Cesare. He only hoped that Kennedy would have the sense not to say anything to him, however disgusted he might feel at having accepted the service of a possible traitor.

"Bad luck," said Kennedy's voice cheerfully from somewhere beside him. Guido's eyes snapped open, and he sat up.

"What?" he demanded in amazement.

"Having your brother work for the French," said Archie calmly.

"Having my -" Guido cut himself off. "Bad luck?" he repeated in disbelief, and found that for the second time, he had been startled into genuine laughter by this man. "Bad luck?"

Having started laughing, he found he couldn't stop. He lay back against the mast, his face aching.

"That," he gasped, "is an extremely novel way of looking at it!" He groaned, still laughing. "Oh, God, my face!"

"I thought you needed a new perspective on it," said Archie, trying to keep a straight face, and then he, too, was laughing uncontrollably, as it struck him how ridiculous he must have sounded.

"I'm sorry," he said eventually, trying to sober up. Guido was lying flat on the deck, his ribs heaving as he gasped for breath. At that, he started howling with laughter again.

"For the love of God," he groaned, "will you shut up!"

"Well," said Archie, trying to make things better, and stop them both laughing, "it is bad luck."

His attempt at seriousness only made things worse. Guido was almost crying with mirth, trying to stop himself by concentrating on the pain of his face between bursts of laughter. Trying to breathe normally, he staggered to his feet.

"My God, I'm going to die," he moaned, leaning against the mast. "I am actually going to die from laughing. I can see the piece in the 'Gazette' now. 'Death of King's Agent aboard 'Indefatigable': Cause unknown..."

He slid down the mast, his long legs folding up to his chin.

"Oh, Lord," he said exhaustedly. "Please, I beg of you, Mr. Kennedy, don't say anything else. Please."

Archie shook his head vehemently, having as much difficulty as Guido in regaining his composure.

After a while, there was silence. Guido relit his pipe, and took a deep breath.

"Sorry," said Archie after a bit. Guido simply flapped a hand at him, still unable to speak.

"Fine," he said eventually, still breathing deeply. "You're forgiven."

He touched his face gingerly, and tipped his head back. Then he chuckled quietly.

"Bad luck," he murmured to himself. "I suppose it is."

He touched his face again, and winced.

"I wish I'd learn to duck when I give Deveraux bad news," he said ruefully.

"What did he say? When you told him the orders had changed?"

"You mean not every word came loud and clear through two closed doors?" asked Guido in mock surprise. "Amazing."

"No - when he'd calmed down, what did he say?"

Guido gave his odd half-smile.

"I believe he gave Mr. Hornblower a two hour lecture on Toulouse and the importance of cipher maps," he said.

Archie made a face. Guido grinned.

"So I left," he said, laughter bubbling up in his voice again.

"Wise decision. He tried to tell me about cipher maps too. I was interested at first, but..."

"It's deliberate," Guido explained. "If you show interest, he doesn't want to encourage it. So he overwhelms you with information and hopes you'll get bored."

"It works!"

"Yes," agreed Guido wryly. "Like any carefully constructed plan, it's supposed to."

He got to his feet slowly, his legs obviously stiff.

"Speaking of cipher maps..." he added, "...I have work to do. Good night, Mr. Kennedy."

Archie got up from the deck.

"I should go and sleep," he said.

Guido nodded absently, his mind already somewhere else. He seemed about to say something else, but instead merely raised one hand in farewell, swung his bag onto his shoulder and walked off in the direction of the cabin without another word.

*****

Will awoke when Guido came in, opening unfocused grey eyes. He looked completely disorientated.

"Where are we?" he asked sleepily.

"On a ship, Deveraux," replied Guido, sitting on the table. "And at the risk of stating the obvious, it's currently at sea."

Will ran his hands through his hair, trying to straighten himself up.

"Ship," he agreed, blinking hard. "Pellew."

"Well done," said Guido absently, leaning over his commander to see what the papers in front of him said. "Will, this is gibberish."

Will yawned hugely.

"I know," he said through the yawn. "I'm trying to work out a new code."

"Why?" enquired Guido jokingly. "Haven't you got enough squiggles?"

Will frowned.

"What's put you in such a good mood?"

Guido started laughing quietly, stopped, and brought his hand up to his face, flinching.

"God, that hurts," he said, not answering the question.

"Guido...you left in a revolting mood. You've come back in a good one. I know I've been asleep, but -"

Guido shook his head, his gloved hand still pressed to his face.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," he said, smiling to himself. "Trust me, Deveraux. You really and truly would not believe me."

Will started to feel irritated.

"Try me," he invited rather crossly. Guido sighed.

"I told Kennedy about my brother," he said.

"Guido, the last time you spoke about Lorenzo, you disappeared on a three-day drunk and came back homicidally hungover and impossible to talk to at all. Why the hell is it so funny this time?"

Guido started laughing again.

"Because," he said, holding his face, "do you know what Kennedy said when I told him?"

"Evidently something incredibly witty," said Will, staring at his companion. He had never seen Guido laugh like this, sober, in his life. "Enlighten me, di Cesare, I was asleep at the time."

"Bad luck!" Guido's dark eyes were alight with amusement.

Will gaped at him.

"That's what he said? And you think that's funny?"

Guido nodded, the smile disappearing from his face as he registered Will's disbelief.

"Ah - why?" asked his commander blankly.

Guido's good mood evaporated.

"I don't know," he snapped. "Because it was inappropriate. Because it was honest. I don't know, Deveraux. It was just - amusing."

"Guido..."

"Do you know something?" snarled Guido. "I talk to Hornblower and he asks me a question as if I matter, as if I were someone who could have regrets, not just a bloody machine. I put my weapons in Kennedy's service and he doesn't want me to kill anyone. I told him my brother worked for the French and he didn't judge me. I have not been treated like a human being for five years, Deveraux, not by you and certainly not by anyone else, and in the space of twenty-four hours I've gone from being an assassin that they don't trust, to being a specimen of ordinary humanity that someone sits beside on a deck and has a conversation with. Forgive me, will you, if I happen to enjoy the experience!"

Will was staring at him, completely horrified.

"I disappeared for a year, Deveraux," Guido continued furiously, and jumped off the desk, pacing the room. It was as though, having started to speak, he could not stop. "A year! And you've never once asked me where I was, never even bothered about it!"

"Guido, listen..."

"I walked back in as an assassin, sworn to the King, and you and your spies made jokes, and you never, never even once asked why!"

"Because I knew!" Will shouted suddenly, his scarred face demonic with rage, and the room went very still. Guido stopped in his tracks.

"What?"

"I knew," repeated Will angrily. "I've always known! I knew within the first month of your disappearance, and I tried - God, how I tried! - to get you out of that bloody devil's bargain you made for me! And there was nothing I could do..."

Guido sat down inelegantly in one of the hammocks.

"Oh, Christ," he said wearily. His anger had vanished as quickly as it had taken him over. "God in heaven, Will, why didn't you tell me?"

Will rubbed his hands over his face, pulling the scarred side into a freakish-looking mask.

"I didn't know how," he said simply. "You - had changed, and I thought you blamed me."

"No!" Guido looked distraught. "No, I never blamed you, Deveraux, not once. I chose to leave with my brother, that day, and I knew what he planned...God, how could I not know? I grew up with the man!" His mouth twisted with self-loathing. "I knew what he was capable of, and still - still! - I let him do this to me, to make me into a killer..."

"You did not allow it!" snapped Will. "He made you into what you are, yes, but we all connived at it. It was so damned convenient, di Cesare, you came back just at the right time...I could have saved you from this, when you first came back to England, I had the power - and I did not. Instead of helping you, I gave you a name on a piece of paper and sent you away to kill a man you had never even met! Your brother may have made that bargain with you, but by God, I sealed it!"

"Yes," said Guido bleakly. "You did."

"You must have hated me."

Guido gave a strange breath that was almost a laugh.

"I didn't feel anything," he said simply. "Not for months, and then - no, I never hated you, Will. I was just angry..."

Will gave him the ghost of a smile.

"I suppose you were," he agreed.

Guido's face twisted.

"When Hornblower asked me if I had any regrets," he said softly, "I could only think of one thing I wanted to say, and even that was partly a quote."

"And that was?"

"Nothing. That I regret nothing."

Guido's mouth pulled sideways, half in mockery, half in sorrow. He continued, almost under his breath,

"Except my life. Except my life. Except my life."

Will sat stunned for a moment, trying to think of something to say that could retrieve the situation. Then he had it.

"Well, you'd have said it to the wrong man," he pointed out lightly.

Guido blinked, jolted out of his introspection.

"Hmmm?"

"I think Hamlet says that to Polonius."

"Yes," Guido agreed blankly, not following Will's train of thought. "So?"

"Not to Horatio," explained Will, deadpan.

Guido groaned, and dropped his head into his hands.

"Oh God," he said. "Deveraux, you are utterly impossible. Your sense of humour is atrocious, your timing is worse, and you have absolutely no sense of when to just shut up!"

He looked up, and Will, with relief, saw the humour gleaming in his hooded eyes.

"Probably all true," agreed Will. "But then I am your commander..."

"Oh, so I just have to tolerate it?" Guido was latching on gratefully to the opportunity offered him to slip back into their usual relationship.

"Afraid so," said Will cheerfully.

"Ah well." Guido swung his long legs into the hammock, and folded his arms behind his head. "The price I pay, eh?"

"Too high?" Will was still trying to keep the tone of the conversation light.

Guido's bruised face lifted out of the hammock.

"No," he said soberly. "No, not too high." Then he grinned, painfully and sincerely. "Just - keep the jokes to a minimum, eh, Deveraux? You never know. I may even forgive you!"

And he leant back again, whistling tunelessly. Will looked over at the long body, stretched at its ease in the slightly swinging hammock, and shook his head. In all the years he had known Guido, he had known him be ridiculously happy, usually if they had been drinking, occasionally morose, and generally sarcastic and cynical. He had never, even five years ago, before all the shutters went up on Guido's personality, seen the assassin that bitterly angry.

Will sighed, shuffling the papers around the desk irritably, and wished to God they had never come aboard the 'Indefatigable'.

 

End of Chapter Three