The King's Man
by
Rhiannon

Chapter Nine

O gentlemen, the time of life is short.
To spend that shortness basely were too long...

 

Guido was desperate. Sanderson wasn't listening to him, he couldn't find any way of getting the boy down by force, and his own strength was leaving him once more, so that he clung to the rope nearest him, the terrible feeling of grey weakness threatening to overrule his willpower and send him plummeting to the deck beneath.

"For the love of God..." he muttered exhaustedly, struggling to rule his body with his mind. Apart from Sanderson below him, there was something else shouting for his attention, somewhere at the back of his thoughts, that odd sensation of something being very wrong...

And the weakness of his body was distracting him. Quite deliberately, Guido took the knife he was holding, and drove it into his leg.

He almost screamed with the pain, the leg giving way briefly beneath him, but his mind had cleared with the shock, and physical pain, at least, was something he had been well trained to overcome. He managed to catch and slow his breathing, his hawk's face becoming intent once more. His heart rate slowed, the weary trembling of his limbs stopped. His thoughts slowed, focused, and then began to race, analysing what he could see, analysing what he could do.

Sanderson was still climbing the ropes. Deveraux was below. Some of the French were on the ship -

"That's wrong, for a start," muttered Guido, blinking. And then the full realisation hit him of what he was looking at.

"God Almighty!" he raved, furious with himself, starting to swing himself down to the deck, Sanderson forgotten. "You stupid, stupid, bloody blind -"

Sanderson gaped as the assassin hurtled past him. He had seen Guido drive the knife into his own leg with a force that should have crippled him, but rather than it being something which had incapacitated him, the spy seemed to have drawn some kind of impossible strength from the self-inflicted wound. He started to say something as Guido passed, but the assassin was completely oblivious, landing on the deck with a jump from several feet up in his impatience, his wounded leg almost buckling beneath him as his feet hit the wood.

The 'Indefatigable' had begun to move away from the corvette, leaving those who had boarded the English ship stranded. Rather than taking a prize, they were now fighting for their lives, and the combat grew more intense, not giving the English officers a chance to reassemble the gun crews, as the corvette was beginning to do.

Horatio tried to get his crew away from the fighting, and back to man the guns, but it was almost impossible. He needed someone to cover him while he tried, knowing that his officer's uniform was an obvious target to the French who had managed to board the 'Indefatigable'.

He saw Guido land on the deck, saw the assassin look around him, and shouted -

"Di Cesare! To me!"

The assassin was moving almost before he had finished shouting.

The two guns were in Guido's hands as he raced across the deck. Two shots, and no powder to reload, and then his remaining knife to throw, and then the sword.

"Damn, damn, damn..." he muttered, wishing to God he had taken the leather-wrapped knives out of his bag before the guns.

He saw one man, still on his own ship, taking aim, and followed the direction of the musket with his quick eyes.

Pellew.

"Not on your life," muttered the assassin, paused in his running, levelled one of his own guns, and fired in one easy movement The Frenchman fell backwards without a sound. Guido held himself still in case he reappeared, his second gun at the ready.

His actions had not gone unnoticed. Pellew had been glued to the assassin's figure since he first launched himself back into the rigging, praying that by some miracle Guido could survive long enough to complete his task. He had noted, with approval, Hornblower directing his efforts towards keeping the assassin alive for long enough to finish cutting the ropes loose, and found himself letting out a gasp of relief when the assassin's shout of joy carried down to him on the wind. He had not seen Guido drive the knife into his leg, nor his stagger as he landed on the deck, but he had seen the tall black figure begin to run across the deck, and its sudden pause. Pellew looked down at the suddenly immobile assassin, saw the direction of his gaze, and realised what had happened. He smiled quietly. Guido's idea of vowing his weapons over to someone else had obviously not been a hard and fast rule...

He leant over slightly, and called down to the still, black figure,

"My thanks, Signor!"

Guido's head turned quickly. His mocking black eyes looked up at Pellew, and he grinned.

"What for?" he called back amusedly. "I'm just practising my aim..."

Pellew's mouth twitched. Against his will, he was beginning to enjoy the assassin's complete irreverence. Compared to the formality with which his officers were limited, Guido's lack of respect was almost refreshing. Looking back at the action around him, he failed to notice the slight stagger with which Guido moved off, giving his mocking salute.

"Di Cesare!" Horatio shouted again, and the assassin turned back, glancing around him hurriedly for something.

Guido was playacting now, using the sardonic indifference that was usually genuine as a mask. Behind the cover of his cynical amusement, he tried to hide his true emotions, none of which were familiar or pleasant. He found that he was worrying about Hornblower, and for a man who hadn't cared about anything in a long time, the feeling itelf was less unnerving than the fact that it was there. He was also beginning to worry about his own ability to continue, feeling the blood flow at an alarming rate down his leg. In his anxiety, he must have put the knife in further than he thought. He found himself murmuring the words of Mercutio -

"No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor as wide as a church door, but 'tis enough, it will serve..."

He had not forgotten that his weapons were not his to use, and his sharp eyes searched the deck for Kennedy, realising that he would have to at least shout for permission before going to Hornblower's aid. At first, he could not see him in the tumult, then -

"Damn!" snapped the assassin.

Kennedy was grinning like a schoolboy, locked in hand-to-hand combat with a French officer. He seemed to actually be enjoying himself.

"And I'm supposed to get sense out of him?" groaned Guido, half-laughing. "I really am cursed!"

Shock coursed through him as he realised what he had just said. Cursed - he had left Sanderson on the rigging without a second thought, concerned only with what he had seen below - and he had not warned him!

The assassin whirled in panic, looking up at the rigging. Sanderson was still there, watching the action below excitedly - oblivious to the fact that some of the French had changed their aim, and were now firing at him. Guido shouted in anguish, desperately started to move back towards him, and stopped abruptly, a change in the movement to his left catching his eye.

The smile had gone from Kennedy's face, and the French officer had quite obviously got the upper hand, forcing the Englishman backwards. Guido lifted his pistol, his eyes narrowing, but could not help taking another quick look over to the rigging.

His felt his heart jump and lurch, the beat suddenly loud and irregular and out of his control.

Below the rigging stood a Frenchman, his gun trained on Sanderson, who remained completely unaware.

And Guido, who knew he could not throw his remaining knife that far, had only one shot.

Voices rang in his mind, his own, jesting in the inn -

"My weapons are yours..."

Sanderson, in the depths of the ship -

"So you are my commander, then..."

Kennedy, on the deck -

"So - I'm responsible for you?"

Himself, raging at Hornblower -

"He's a boy!"

Guido's face was drawn with torment, the thoughts spinning through his mind in less than a second, as he realised he had to choose.

Then Kennedy, moving backwards, slipped, and there was no choice any more.

"God forgive me," whispered the assassin, and lifted his hand steadily, the black eyes hardening with intent, the world narrowed down to himself and his target, sound diminished and time impossibly slowed. His face was completely serene as he pulled the trigger.

He fired his only shot at the French officer, knowing that the shot he heard was not his own, but came from the other side of the deck, came from under the rigging. He did not know whether it was in his mind, or whether he had actually heard it, but it seemed to fall into a sudden silence, a cold, clear, final sound.

For a moment, the assassin stood still, watching the French officer crumple slowly to the deck. Then he turned his head with what seemed like leaden slowness.

And was in time to see Sanderson fall from the rigging.

*****

Kennedy, slightly dazed, staggered to his feet, staring at the dead officer beside him, and saw the assassin standing frozen, the gun still in his hand. He was staring across the deck as though he had been chained to where he stood.

"Guido -" he began, and the assassin's eyes blazed with anger at the sound of his name, jolting out of his odd, frozen intensity into movement so swift that Archie could not even follow it.

"NO!" howled Guido, the world turning to fire around him.

"DI CESARE!" shouted Hornblower desperately. "TO ME!"

The assassin did not even hear him. His sword whipped out of its scabbard, and he was running towards the Frenchman beneath the rigging. The man saw Guido coming for him, and desperately tried to reload his pistol. He was too late. Guido, without even slowing in his headlong dash across the deck, simply raised his arm and cut him down, the sword whistling down through the air as though it were cutting silk, and coming back up, waiting to see if the Frenchman would rise. He did not.

Guido lowered his sword to his side slowly, and let it fall to the deck from numb fingers. The fire was going out of the world now, and he was once again aware of the wind and the rain. The sounds of battle around him were growing less, and he could hear Hornblower reassembling his gun crew. Dimly, he remembered that he had been going to help him in some way, but it didn't seem to matter. The only thing that seemed real was the small, crumpled body beneath the rigging.

Guido walked over slowly, his face still oddly serene. The blood from his leg had soaked even through his boot, and he was leaving a trail of bloody footprints behind him, but he did not notice.

His eyes were completely blank and opaque, the pupils expanded so as to turn them to black. He knelt down by Sanderson, and gently turned him over, seeing the spreading bloodstain on the midshipman's jacket. The freckled face was pale and still, the eyes shut.

Something was struggling to break free in Guido, as if a great rock were moving inside him. He forced himself back into the assassin's trance, his breathing now imperceptible.

He was aware of Kennedy beside him, saying something, but the words made no sense to him, were nothing more than an incomprehensible jumble of sound. The only things that he understood were the rain falling around him, and the sound of the wind in the rigging, hollow and insistent, like a dull moan.

Slowly, he took off his right glove, his hands steady and calm. He felt as though he were watching someone else do all this, felt completely detached and uninvolved with what he was doing. Knowing that there was no point in trying, he held one thin finger close to the boy's nostrils, meaning only to make sure of what he knew.

And felt the faint, faint warmth of breath on his hand.

*****

The men detailed by Dr Morris to help with the wounded had taken Sanderson below. Guido remained kneeling where he was for the moment, then stumbled to his feet, pulling on his glove. The glazed look had gone from his eyes, and he began to pull himself out of his self-inflicted trance. He could have wept with relief.

He remembered, with a sudden shock, that Hornblower had shouted for his assistance, and turned quickly to retrieve his sword.

And Kennedy hit him with enough force to send him staggering backwards, feeling as though the top of his head had just come off.

"I said I didn't want you to kill anyone for me!" Archie shouted furiously. "Don't you listen to anything?"

"You ungrateful bastard!" yelled Guido, rubbing his jaw, where the punch had connected. "Would you rather be dead?"

"I had everything under control!"

"You had -" Guido spluttered wordlessly for a moment, then flung his hands in the air. "If that's your idea of control, Mr Kennedy, then God help your men!"

"If your idea of swearing your weapons over to me means that you risk a boy's life, then God help everyone!" retorted Archie.

"You dare -"

The assassin's eyes flashed with real anger at that, rather than exasperation. He bent swiftly, and snatched up his sword.

"Say that again," he said, his voice ominously quiet.

His arm came up, and he levelled the sword in front of him, the point no more than an inch from Archie's throat.

"Damn you, say that again!"

"You risked his life to save mine," repeated Archie steadily. "And if you honestly think I would ever have wanted that, then you're mad!"

Guido's dark, thin face flushed. He lowered the sword to his side slowly.

"I was thinking of keeping you alive," he said wearily, and his voice suddenly became dryly amused. "How was I supposed to know that wouldn't be what you wanted?"

Then his eyebrows flickered up into the old cynical expression, and he said sardonically,

"Don't worry, Mr Kennedy. I'll be careful not to do it again..."

"Good! Don't!"

They glared at each other with the all the unreasonable anger that comes with a feeling of guilt. Guido slammed the sword back into the empty sheath that hung at his waist with a force that nearly drove the point straight through the end of the scabbard. He rubbed at his jaw again, his expression unreadable. Archie flexed his hand irritably, and broke the silence.

"You've got a jaw like granite," he said ruefully. Guido's mouth twitched up at one corner.

"Good thing, really," he said, rubbing his jaw gently. "Between you and Deveraux, I need it!"

They exchanged shamefaced grins, realising how stupid they must both have sounded.

"Sorry," mumbled Archie. Guido flapped a gloved hand in weary negation.

"You were right," he said tiredly. "I should have thought of Sanderson first."

Archie smiled at that, recognising the lie for what it was - an odd sort of apology.

"You did," he pointed out. "If I hadn't been so clumsy..."

"Ah, the man was just a better swordsman - don't flatter yourself!" Guido's dark eyes were sparkling with bitter humour. Then his mouth flattened out, and the amusement died in his eyes.

"If the boy dies..." he said softly. His eyes were far away, lost in some private hell of his own making. Then the terrible grief that had been building inside him broke free, and he cried out in agony -

"Oh, Christ, Archie, what have I done! If he dies, I've killed him!"

*****

In Toulouse, another, very different fight was going on. Hal Trevelyan's lazy good-humour had vanished, and his sleepy blue eyes were blazing with anger.

"I am not bringing Francesca here!" he yelled. "Do what you want with your wife, Enzo, but leave me out of it!"

"If Guido knows she's here," said Lorenzo patiently, "if he thinks she's in danger, he'll come for her. I doubt he's stopped loving her."

"I doubt he can remember her!" snapped Hal. "You made damn sure he couldn't before you dared marry her, after all!"

"Well, you'll have to remind him, then, won't you?" suggested Lorenzo. "Hal, I have a choice here, and so do you. Loyalty to a man who to all intents and purposes died in my dungeons four years ago, or loyalty to Bonaparte."

Hal's temper, already strained, snapped completely at this.

"Bonaparte or Guido?" he repeated, enraged. "And you can even ask me?"

"Hal, I need your loyalty!" snapped Lorenzo. "I know you're not helping me for the sake of France -"

"Thank you for noticing!"

"But if Guido isn't disposed of, then you'll be watching me head for the guillotine!"

"At this precise moment," said Hal through gritted teeth, "I think I would find it very difficult to care!"

"Hal, if you just do as I ask -"

"Then you'll have finally killed Hotspur. The family ghost laid to rest...how very convenient for you, Enzo. NO!"

Lorenzo was white with anger, staring at his friend.

"Hotspur..." he said slowly. "So, you still think of him like that, do you?"

"And that's disloyalty to you now as well, is it?" demanded Hal. "I never forgot who he was! Someone had to remember for him after what you did, and yes! I made damn sure it was me!"

"You chose to stay with me..." Lorenzo's voice was a hiss of rage.

"Oh, God!" shouted Hal in exasperation. "I chose to stay with you because I thought I could make you see sense!"

"Oh...?"

"Enzo, think about what you've done, for the love of God!" Hal's rage had gone, and he was pleading, the hopes of four years turning to ashes as he looked at the implacable face of the assassin.

"You chained your own brother to a wall for six months with a metal collar around his neck! You took away his mind, his memories, his laughter, all the things that I thought you loved in him, and you gave him back a litany of death and thought that would replace it! For God's sake, Enzo, think! Is Napoleon truly worth what you did to Guido?"

"No." Lorenzo's voice was hard. "But it was that or his life."

"Rubbish!" exploded Hal. "It was you having your own way or Will Deveraux's life. Then it was you winning or Guido's life. Then it was your brother's sanity or his life, and by God, you were determined to have one of them, weren't you! Well, you got his sanity, but you won't have his life if I can stop you!"

Hal was trembling with the pent-up rage of four years worth of what was now completely irrelevant loyalty.

Lorenzo smiled coolly.

"You will do as I say, Hal," he said, his voice calm.

"Like hell I will!" retorted the Englishman. "What will you do? Chain me up? I'd be dead long before I gave in, and we both know it. The only reason Guido survived is because he's one of the strongest men either of us know!"

Lorenzo shook his head, still smiling.

"You will do as I say," he repeated, and the look on his face terrified Hal. "You will do as I say, because you still care for my fool of a brother."

Hal flinched. He had just given Lorenzo a weapon against both him and Francesca. And if Lorenzo ever learnt the truth of Francesca's continued feelings for Guido...

"And if I do care?" enquired Hal, smoothing his face, his heavy eyelids lowering sleepily, striving to match the assassin's calmness. "Why should that make me do as you say?"

"Because if you don't," said Lorenzo, sounding oddly detached, "I'll simply kill Francesca, and leave Guido to find her body in the church. And if you don't know what that would do to what remains of my little brother's mind, I assure you, I do. Now go and bring her to Toulouse!"

Hal was staring at him in horror.

"You're mad," he said finally. "You're truly mad, aren't you? Enzo, listen to yourself, man!"

Lorenzo's face was set and hard.

"I am going to get those documents for Napoleon," he said. "And no-one is going to stop me. Not Guido, not Francesca, and, most certainly, my dear, deluded Hal, not you. I am going to defeat my brother and his idiot commander once and for all..."

*****

Will was, if possible, in a state of deeper self-recrimination even than Guido.

"Look after the boy," the assassin had said, from out of the frightening trance he had placed himself into. And then, cold and hard, "Oblige me."

But the spy had forgotten, had gone below and assuaged his own guilt by helping in the sick berth. Now he and Dr Morris were fighting for Sanderson's life, and Will was fighting the despairing knowledge that if the boy died, Guido would never forgive him.

It was not the bullet wound that was the problem. The Frenchman had obviously been a terrible shot, firing straight through Sanderson's shoulder and leaving a clean exit wound. Dr Morris had cleaned and bandaged the shoulder, and, given time, it would heal. The fall from the rigging, on the other hand -

"How bad is it?" asked Will for the fourth time. The dapper little man looked at him in some irritation.

"When I know, Mr Deveraux," he said, sounding truly fed up, "I shall tell you. If you ask me again, I shall have you gagged."

Will's scarred face flushed. Having seen the doctor in action, he was in no doubt that he meant exactly what he said. And the spy swallowed his questions, hovering by the side of the table, able to do nothing but worry and berate himself.

I am dishonoured, he thought, depression overwhelming him. I vowed my sword to the service of this ship, and I have failed in every way...

And he looked on silently, listening to the roar of the ship's cannons, his face betraying nothing beneath its devil's mask as the doctor worked.

*****

"Would it be too much," asked Horatio angrily, "to ask you what the hell you thought you were doing?"

Guido di Cesare did not respond. After his despairing outburst, he had turned on his heel and walked off, not wishing to see the disgust on Kennedy's face when he realised that he had believed in the word of such a weak man. Now he was standing with Horatio and the gun crew, trying to ignore the pain in his leg, and the fact that he could feel blood still pouring down into his boot.

"I said -" began Horatio again, and was interrupted.

"I heard." Guido's voice was curt. "I told you. I don't like orders."

"Damn it, I needed you!"

Guido shrugged. "So?" He rubbed absently at his jaw, which was beginning to develop a spectacular bruise. He rather hoped Hornblower would start a fight with him, feeling that rage would help him get over his feeling of shame. Deveraux, at least, would have had the sense to start shouting by now...

"Well, do as I tell you now, at least!" snapped the lieutenant.

Guido slanted a look over at him beneath hooded lids. Horatio's attention was not really on him, despite his obvious anger. He was completely focused on the corvette.

"All right," said the assassin amiably. "Um - out of curiosity?"

"Yes, what?" snapped Horatio, never taking his eyes off the French ship.

Guido grinned.

"What would you like me to do?"

"Just - help the men. Ask Matthews."

"I'm usually considered to be a better tool for hindering people," murmured the assassin dryly, "but if you insist..."

Horatio looked over at him in surprise. Considering that, less than an hour ago, Guido had been suspending himself in space in order to save a crew he didn't even know, that seemed to be an unusually self-deprecating remark to make, even for the cynical assassin. Guido caught his enquiring look, and sighed.

"Never mind," he said wearily.

*****

Guido proved to be an asset. What most people took for cynicism could in fact be a remarkable level-headedness under pressure. He seemed to know what people needed without even having to ask, and Matthews found himself coming to expect the assassin to simply be there, silently doing what was required. The elegance had completely disappeared, the black clothes torn and filthy, a great streak of powder across the narrow hawk's face. He looked like the dirtiest powder boy in the Navy - and the gleam in his dark eyes showed that he was enjoying every second of it. He had long since ceased to notice the pain in his leg, and was oblivious to the fact that his impulsive gesture in the rigging, his desperate attempt to hold on to reality, had severed one of the veins in his thigh.

No-one looked down to see that the assassin was standing in a slowly growing pool of his own blood.

"Into the hull, damn it!" shouted Horatio.

"What the devil's that?" muttered Guido.

Styles pointed.

"That bit," he said with a grin. Guido grinned back, his dirty features genuinely amused.

"Right," he agreed. "That bit."

They looked at each other with an odd kind of understanding.

"Saw what yeh did," muttered Styles.

Guido laughed.

"Which particular piece of lunacy was that, Mister Styles?" he enquired dryly. "Hanging by a spider's thread over the deck, or getting myself hit by Lieutenant Kennedy?"

Styles looked at him for a long moment, trying to decide whether he was serious or not. Then he reached out and clapped Guido on the shoulder, not seeing the assassin's sudden pallor at the touch.

"Nah," he said cheerfully. "Savin' 'im."

He chuckled to himself, adjusting the sights of the cannon.

"Gettin' yehself hit," he repeated. "Bloody fool...yeh're a good man, Guido, sir. Made the right decision, y'did. Don't let 'im tell yeh different."

"Let who tell me different?" asked Guido absently, blowing on the spark, and handing it over.

Styles glanced at him in surprise, taking the spark.

"Mr Kennedy, 'course," he said.

Guido opened his mouth to ask what he was talking about, and then Styles touched the spark to the cannon, and whatever he was about to say was lost in the resulting roar.

"A hit!" shouted Hornblower ecstatically. And the whole of the hull blew outwards in a roar of flames, even as the corvette rolled upwards.

"Really?" asked Guido sardonically, as the ship erupted into cheering around him, and the corvette began the slow and painful business of sinking. "I assumed we'd missed..."

Horatio looked over at him, about to shout at him furiously for his inappropriate levity, and then saw the grin on the assassin's powder-smeared face.

"Di Cesare..." he began, trying to sound serious, and then the two of them burst out laughing, as Styles and the others cheered.

"You did it!" shouted Guido. "You bloody did it!"

Filthy, torn, his jaw swelling, he looked nothing like the elegant, lethal figure who had stood in the doorway at the inn. There was something joyous and uninhibitedly alive about him, something Will Deveraux had never seen, and Hal Trevelyan would have rejoiced at, perhaps believing that the man he called 'Hotspur' had survived, after all.

Then Guido's eyes grew distant, and his face drained of all colour, beneath the powder.

"How odd..." he said vaguely, reaching for the rail with one groping hand.

And crumpled quietly to the deck, into a pool of his own blood.

*****

Will could keep quiet no longer.

"Look!" he snapped. "Either tell me how bad it is, or don't. Just stop telling me to wait!"

Dr Morris sighed.

"It's bad," he said curtly. "If he survives the night, then - I'll start treating him. As it is...I'm afraid to do anything."

Will dropped his head into his hands.

"My God," he whispered. "I am truly dishonoured..."

And looked up in time to see Guido, dirtier than he had ever seen him, come into the sick berth, leaning heavily on Hornblower. His dark head was hanging down limply, his leg dragging loosely behind him, leaving a thick trail of blood as he went.

"Oh, God..." groaned Will, and ran to help, leaving Dr Morris standing by the table where Sanderson lay.

"What the hell have you been doing?" demanded the English spy furiously, helping the assassin onto a table.

Guido's eyes were closed, his face grey beneath the streaks of dirt. He made no reply.

Will rounded on Horatio.

"What happened up there?" he raged.

Horatio looked completely bewildered.

"I don't know," he said helplessly. "He - he seemed - he was with the gun crew..."

His voice trailed off.

"I didn't see him hit..."

"Di Cesare!" snapped Will. "Guido!"

The hooded eyes half-opened, and Guido smiled crookedly.

"'Lo, Will," he slurred. "I cut the ropes..."

And his eyes flickered closed again.

"Guido!" shouted Will furiously.

"Wha'?" The assassin sounded drained, completely devoid of interest. Willl and Horatio exchanged worried looks. Then Guido's eyes flickered wide open, and he sat bolt upright on the table with a jerk.

"The boy," he said urgently. "Deveraux, the boy!"

"He's - he's well, Guido," lied Will. "He'll be fine."

Guido collapsed onto his back with a gasp of relief. One tear ran down the side of his face, cutting a streak through the powder.

"Thought - another - death...on my soul..." he whispered.

"Guido." Will knew that he could not touch the assassin, and leant as close as he dared. "Guido, what happened to your leg?"

The assassin's brown contracted in a frown.

"Don' know...couldn't see..." he muttered disjointedly. "Had to. Couldn't think. Put the knife in..."

He smiled, looking suddenly ecstatic, and the focus came back into his pale features.

"We sank the ship..." he said, and his eyes opened again, wide with a blazing happiness. "You should have seen it, Will!"

"Guido, are you telling me you stabbed yourself in the leg?" demanded the spy commander.

Guido nodded.

"It worked," he said, and his smile was brilliant. "I woke up, and God, Will, you should have seen us!"

"Oh, damn..." said Will Deveraux helplessly. "Guido, you idiot..."

The assassin was fully conscious now, and looking annoyed.

"Why am I an idiot?" he demanded crossly. "It worked, didn't it?"

Will breathed a sigh of relief at this new alertness.

"You don't think your behaviour counts as a little excessive?" he enquired mildly.

Guido grinned at him wearily.

"Probably," he admitted. "Who cares?"

Will Deveraux sighed impatiently.

"Di Cesare," he said through gritted teeth, "I did not make you into a walking cipher so that you could incapacitate yourself!"

"Your concern is touching..." murmured the assassin wryly. "Bring on the local butcher, then, Deveraux. Let's get me back into working order, shall we?"

Horatio, amazed at their coolness, was about to say something to Will, when he saw Guido fumble one gloved hand up, not looking at the English spy, and Will grasp it.

"Get me through this in one piece, eh Deveraux?" he asked quietly, staring up at the beams.

Will grinned, his face slashing upwards demonically.

"Have I ever let you down?" he replied. Then he looked at Horatio.

"Leave," he said quietly. "He won't want you to have seen this, when it's over."

Horatio nodded, containing his curiosity, and left the room without a word.

*****

Dr Morris looked at the spies in perplexity. Guido's face was pale and set, obviously preparing for some impossible ordeal. Will was gripping the assassin's wrists behind his head, careful to keep his hands on the gloves.

"Whatever you have to do," grated the Italian, "do it quickly."

He closed his eyes, and his shoulders tensed, the tendons standing out in his neck as he prepared for the doctor's touch.

"What's going on?" enquired Dr Morris in bewilderment.

Will Deveraux had done this before. He smiled calmly, his scarred face hideous in the bad light.

"You will work as quickly as is humanly possible," he said simply. "And I'll try and stop him from killing you."

"What?" asked Dr Morris, reasonably enough.

Guido opened eyes as black and fathomless as the night, and stared at him.

"Do as he says," he rasped. "I can't promise anything, but I'll try my best."

The sleek little man shrugged.

"I'm too tired to argue with you," he said. "If the urge to dispose of me gets too strong, do try and give me fair warning, would you?"

And he bent to his work.

At the first touch of the doctor's hands on his leg, Guido's whole body arched backwards, his head straining away from his body.

"Deveraux..." he gasped. "Get me out..."

Will's hands tightened on the assassin's wrists, his face as agonised as Guido's own

"Hold on, di Cesare," he said, his voice soothing, completely at odds with his anguished expression. "Not long, I promise, not long..."

The doctor was probing the wound, his face intent. Guido struggled against Will's hands, his strong arms corded with his efforts to break free.

"No!" he shouted, his dark face contorted. "No-one again! I swore!"

Dr Morris looked up, distracted.

"It can't possibly be that painful..." he murmured.

"It isn't!" snapped Will, struggling with the assassin. "Hurry up, will you?"

Some part of Guido's mind was still conscious, still aware of what was going on, and he forced it to take control, biting down on his lip to control the panic. He saw Lorenzo standing over him, knew the first of the knives was going to enter him, heard his brother
say -

"There is only pain, Guido. Learn to use it..."

Guido was silent now, no longer struggling against Will's hands. Sweat streamed down his face, and he bit harder into his lip, drawing blood. He felt the manacles on his wrists, the sharp edges of the collar cutting into the back of his neck as he moved, and forced himself to remain perfectly still. Too much movement, and the collar's edge would slice deep...

Dr Morris tied the bandage with an air of satisfaction, looking down at his handiwork with pride.

"Very neat," he said cheerfully.

Will released the assassin's wrists. Guido lay still, his face grey and drawn, his hair soaked with perspiration. Then the hooded eyes opened, and he tried to smile.

"Well," he croaked, and blood from his bitten lip spilled down his chin. "You can't have been that bad, doctor."

He struggled into a sitting position, glaring at Will's proffered hand.

"After all," he said sardonically, "you would appear to be still breathing."

He lifted his arm, and wiped at the blood on his chin with his sleeve.

"God," he said exhaustedly. "I need a wash!"

Then his eye fell on Sanderson, lying on the other table, and he turned furiously to Will.

"You said he was well!" he cried. "Deveraux...!"

Will swallowed hard.

"Um..." he began, and then gave up, looking at the assassin's furious expression.

"Oh, hell," he said tiredly. "I lied."

 

End of Chapter Nine