A Life of Duty: Archie and Dr. Sebastian
by Sarah B.
Dr. Sebastian finished putting away the last of his belongings, and stood for a moment to survey his tiny cabin.
Despite its heavy heart, the Indefatigable had few real medical emergencies, and the sick berth was nearly empty; so Sebastian had taken the time to see to the men carefully and thoroughly, and talked to them about all that had happened. With each telling, his heart sank a little more.
Pellew had told him the worst. The frantic night of the raid on the signal tower, the descent of darkness when it was learned Hornblower was lost, and the frantic anger he had felt when Kennedy had disobeyed orders and gone back for his friend's body. There was quiet fury in Pellew's words when he told that story, but there was also understanding - both men knew that Kennedy would never sail away and leave Hornblower behind, even if it meant risking his own life to fetch him back; and if he had died in the attempt he would not have regretted it.
Sebastian listened silently as Pellew told about the long voyage home, and the solemn ceremony on deck. Hornblower sent to the sea in a finely made shirt, with all the pomp and dignity that could be afforded; but there was too much shock in the crew to make very much of it, too much numb disbelief that could not react to the reality of Hornblower's death. After that there was nothing but a grim and joyless sail, punctuated by an arrival in Portsmouth that afforded some much needed - but undiscussed - release.
There was no need for discussion, on that score. Sebastian saw the almost embarrassed flush of Pellew's cheeks, the remembering tilt of his eyes as he mentioned going to see his wife Sophie after the Indy had docked. As he talked Sebastian silently prayed that something good would come of that tremendous animal need that grief often spawned, the insane driving desire that pushed men - and women - to their lovers' beds after a tragedy. He had seen it before; in times of great upheaval it was quite common.
So it was with Pellew; and so it would be with Kennedy, as he would be marrying very soon.
Sebastian thought about that as he quietly picked up the votive candles he had bought in Portsmouth and carried them to the small altar to the Virgin which he had installed in the bulkhead, on her special little tray. He slid the candles into their carved holes that ensured that they would not move or cause a fire, and prayed that he would see Kennedy soon. Very soon, for there was surely a storm going on in that young man's heart and unless it was harnessed - unless some release was found for it quickly, Kennedy's soul would be lost, and any happiness that might come from a marriage would be lost with it. Sebastian began to light the candles and felt his heart constrict with worry. What should I pray for first, he wondered. The tiny flames trembled at an unseen movement, and Sebastian turned toward the door.
Kennedy was standing there.
His appearance was so sudden and silent that Sebastian almost gasped. Kennedy was standing very still, his face flushed and his eyes bright, and he looked confused. He opened his mouth, closed it again, and finally said, "You told me to come and see you."
Dr. Sebastian studied his young friend intently. Kennedy would not meet his eyes; he looked hunched, coiled like an over-wound watchspring. They had talked together many times, but whatever torments lay in Kennedy's heart would not be unburdened easily or quickly. With a slow nod Sebastian prayed for patience and replied, "Yes, Mr. Kennedy. Please come in."
Kennedy did come in, hesitantly, with a covert glance at the statue that suggested that he did not want her overhearing a secret. Sebastian caught this and said, "I was told you were injured, and I wish to examine your shoulder. Would you prefer to do it in the sick berth? There is more room there."
"No," Kennedy said very quickly, his eyes flashing up to meet Sebastian's with a look of anguished denial. Just as quickly he looked down. "N-no, this is fine, in fact it's...well, it's what I'm after, actually."
"Very well," Sebastian said, and in one fluid movement moved to close his cabin door. Mr. Kennedy - Archie - was moving in a strange, brittle way, and Sebastian knew he would not talk about Hornblower's death until he was ready - and to bring it up beforehand was to throw up a wall of defence that might never come down. Sebastian closed the door, and turned to face his patient.
Archie was removing his jacket, slowly to favor his injured arm. "How was your leave on your estate? Bad luck to have it cut short."
"I am here to serve my captain," Sebastian answered, noticing the deliberate casualness in Archie's tone, the studied carelessness of his expression. "I was told to return, and here I am. But it was very pleasant, thank you for asking."
"Hm," Archie laid his jacket on the nearby cot, and busied himself with working his left arm out the sleeve of his shirt. His eyebrows were arched in careful indifference. "I - suppose you heard about Horatio."
"Yes, Captain Pellew told me. He also told me how you were wounded."
"Oh! Yes," Kennedy smiled as he pulled his shirt over his arm, exposing the bandaged shoulder, "Quite silly of me I suppose, the captain was like to hang me from the riggings. Shall I sit down or - "
"Whatever pleases you."
Archie nodded in an overly cheerful way and sat on the edge of the cot, looking at the wall intently as Sebastian began working the bandage away. "Has your wound been troubling you?"
"Oh - no, not really. A bit of a twinge every now and then, but that's hardly anything new, is it? Was the weather pleasant at your estate?"
"Very. Just a moment, I'd like to dampen this bandage so as not to cause you pain when I remove it."
Archie shrugged, still studying the bulkhead as if it was the most fascinating thing in the world. Sebastian poured some water from his scupper into a small dish and began wetting the bandage where a bit of red showed through the cloth. "I see no signs of infection."
"Hm. No, the man you left is quite capable, well, of course he would be. You know what you're doing, not like old Hepplewhite. I imagine he would have just taken my arm off."
"Here we go. Let me know if this pains you."
A nod, and Sebastian gently began to work the bandage away from the bullet wound. As he did so he noticed that Archie was holding something in his right hand, something he was toying with thoughtfully as he sat and stared at the wall. A small piece of paper with elegant writing on it, a woman's hand.
After a minute's work Sebastian had removed the bandage. "Done. How are you faring?"
"Capital. How does it look?"
Dr. Sebastian studied the injury carefully. "Very clean; there is hardly any redness left around the scab. We must thank God that your assailant was not a better shot."
"Hm! Bloody frog butcher if you ask me. Shot me from behind, I almost - I nearly dropped..." Archie stuttered to a halt before saying quietly, "Yes, you're right. Of course."
Sebastian stepped back to his small table of remedies. "I can make a poultice for your wound, that should numb any pain until it heals. A few minutes' work, and then you will be back to your duties."
Archie cleared his throat, and as Sebastian worked he glanced over to see the young man still studying the paper in his hand. His face was flushed, his expression one of gathering courage. He was nearly trembling. Sebastian finished his work and prayed to the Lady for revelation.
His answer was not long in coming. As he moved toward the cot with the poultice, Archie lifted his head and, still staring at the bulkhead, cleared his throat nervously. "Um...doctor?"
"Yes, Archie," Sebastian said calmly, winding a fresh bandage around Archie's chest.
"You, um - I'm certain Captain Pellew told you I'm going to be married."
"Yes, he did. Congratulations."
Archie shrugged. "Well, we've known each other forever - "
"Do not move your shoulder, please."
"Oh. Sorry. Anyway, I was - um - well, they needed to get Horatio's sea chest to his father, and while I was about I decided to call upon her and - and well, war being what it is, there is no time like the present. Wouldn't you agree?"
"I take it you love this young lady?"
"Oh - " the word was like a sob, and it made Dr. Sebastian stop what he was doing. Archie was clutching the letter now, and his shoulders were shaking. After a moment, however, he regained control and cleared his throat again. "Ahem! Sorry. Yes, I love her very much. Josephine's her name. Josephine Silverthorne."
"Soon to be Josephine Kennedy. If you love one another then surely it is God's will."
"Of course," Archie replied in a preoccupied way, "Only - well, you are a physician after all..."
Sebastian carefully laid some of the poultice on the wound and put the bandage over it, "Thanks to the Surgeon's Hall, yes."
"Yes...yes, well, I was wondering...I'm, um...well, I'm fair exhausted with all this running about and - and all, and I do want to ...make certain...that everything goes right."
He stopped. Sebastian finished securing the end of the bandage.
Archie took a deep breath. "With the um...with the wedding night."
His shoulders were shaking again. Pretending not to notice, Sebastian helped Archie pull his arm back through the sleeve of his shirt. "The wedding night."
Archie began to speak very quickly. "Yes, you know, the mechanics of the whole thing and how they can be thrown off, I just - I just want to ensure that things go well and was wondering if there was something - if you could give me something that would make certain of it. Do you know what I mean?"
Dr. Sebastian finished pulling Archie's arm through the shirtsleeve and sat down on the buck opposite him. Archie would not meet his eyes, but instead studied the crumpled paper in his hand, his cheeks ablaze with emotion.
Dr. Sebastian spoke quietly. "Archie, I believe you are asking for what in my profession is called an aphrodisiac."
Archie's eyes came up swiftly then, too hopeful to be afraid. "It exists then? Do you have some?"
Sebastian pursed his lips for a moment before continuing. "Whether they exist depends on who you talk to, and even then I know of no medical evidence that any such enhancement truly exists. You have youth and vigor and most importantly, you love this woman. That is the most potent drug there is."
"I do love her," Archie said, gazing forlornly at the letter in his palm, "But if I can't..." Archie swallowed nervously and looked down with a blush.
Sebastian leaned back a little and crossed his arms. "Archie, can you talk plainly with me? I want to help you, but you must tell me what is bothering you."
"You know what it is," Archie replied, almost accusingly, "We've talked of it often enough."
Sebastian nodded soberly, remembering with a shiver the many halted, whispered conversations they had shared, where Archie had told him of the nightmare years of Justinian, and the terrible abuse he had endured at the hands of Jack Simpson. He had only just begun coaxing Archie from beneath the blanket of fear and despair that Simpson had thrown over him, and it was Hornblower's friendship that had bolstered Archie's resolve whenever it faltered. And now...
Sebastian leaned forward. "Josephine loves you, Archie. Her touch will not be like Simpson's, I promise you."
"I know," Archie said, his voice low and trembling now, his eyes riveted to one closed fist, "I know, it is as gentle as a morning dew, and when she holds me there is only warmth and security but that is not what I fear. It's what happens - what must happen - "
Sebastian leaned closer. "Archie - "
Archie suddenly looked up, his blue eyes bright with dread. "Does it hurt? Her, I mean, will she hurt as I did? The first time -"
Sebastian started back a little, so intense was the pain in Archie's eyes and in his voice. He shook his head, "No. Archie - "
"When I am near her," Archie continued, speaking very fast and with breaths that came in small, hitching sobs, "I want her, every fiber of me longs to feel her over me, and it - I almost can't control it, it's so strong, but if I hurt her - I know what it is to be crushed, to be - to feel that...*weight*..." words failed him then, and Archie leaned forward and raked one hand through his hair, closing his eyes tightly and heaving a tremendous sigh. "I cannot do that to her. I *can't.*"
"Archie, listen to me," Sebastian said quietly, putting one consoling hand on Archie's arm. "Josephine knows you would never hurt her, and nothing that comes out of your love for each other will cause her pain she is unwilling to bear. It is true when a woman loses her maidenhead there is some pain, but you will give her pleasure also, and receive it in return."
Archie looked up, unsure. "But I will hurt her?"
Sebastian shook his head. "It will not be the pain you have experienced, Archie, please trust me on this. Your bodies were meant to join this way, and whatever pain she experiences will pass unfelt by her bliss, and diminish as you grow accustomed to one another. You must never fear the love you feel for her; it is God's way of ensuring that you continue, through the children that your lovemaking brings forth."
Archie blushed again, and looked at the floor. After a very long pause he said, "If the marriage is unconsummated, it is English law that it can be annulled."
Sebastian nodded, waiting.
"I'm afraid..." Archie winced and looked up at Sebastian, "Will she know what's...what's happened to me?"
Sebastian knew what he was asking, and frowned. "There are scars on your body, Archie, but when you are wrapped in each other's arms I doubt she'll notice."
Archie went back to staring at the letter in his hand, and for the first time Sebastian saw tears come to his eyes. "I wanted to wait. Before..before, I thought that once I had made lieutenant I would leave the navy and go to her, and she would be proud of me. We'd be married, and H-horatio would stand up with me. I never thought - I feel as if I'm tumbling over a great precipice and cannot see to the bottom, whether there is soft and yeilding sand or rocks that will tear me in two. My life is rushing headlong over me and I don't know - I'm not certain that..." he trailed off, closed his fist over the letter and pressed it to his forehead. "Oh, God. I want this all to be some horrid dream."
Sebastian laid the comforting hand on Archie's arm once again. "I know it hurts, Archie."
Archie squeezed his eyes shut, and a tear ran down his cheek. "I cannot do this alone. I was not ready, and now Horatio is gone and I will shame his friendship by failing at everything. I cannot even perform the basest animal act without trembling in fear." The fist slid down until it covered his face, and he was openly weeping.
After a moment's thought, Sebastian reached for Archie's jacket and gently draped it over his shoulders, pulling it as snug as he could. "You are not alone, Archie," he said soothingly as he did so, "And your fears are founded purely on love, the most noble of God's gifts. He is proud to call you His child, just as Horatio is proud to call you his dearest friend."
Archie looked at Sebastian then, his eyes searching. "What did you say?"
Sebastian noticed the startled look in the young man's eyes, and cocked his head.
"You said Horatio called me his dearest friend. He did, once, and his - worthiest successor. He - " Archie sniffed, and wiped his eyes with an abashed smile, "Now you will think me mad, but after he was...after he was lost I thought I saw him in our cabin."
Sebastian felt a shiver go down his spine, and thought of the chapel at his estate and his vision. "He spoke to you?"
"I...well, I thought so, but...he wanted me to make lieutenant. To help the captain. He said no one else could do it. And he called me his dearest friend." He wiped his eyes again and looked down at his hands. "Fancy if he saw me now, what he'd think."
"He would think you were exhausted," Sebastian said kindly, patting Archie's uninjured shoulder, "And overburdened with care and sorrow. You are worn to the quick, Archie, but I think with a proper night's rest your heart can be eased, and tomorrow will see you one step closer to healing, and honoring the requests Horatio made of you. What do you think?"
Archie was staring at the candlelit statue of the Virgin, and his eyes were far away. Sebastian wondered if he was hearing the same beloved, missed voice that still echoed in Sebastian's own heart; the same charge...
***You must hurry. I can trust this to no one else.***
What forces are you setting in motion? Sebastian wondered with a small smile as he studied Archie's face in the candlelight, the bright traces of tears mingling with the ruddy glow of struggling courage. Sebastian did not know if he was addressing the Virgin, God, or perhaps even Horatio with that question, but it was clear none of them was telling. Yet. For now there was only to wait, to watch, and to tend. Too soon dawn would come, and they would all be tried.
Finally, Archie's trance seemed to break, and he looked down with a cough. "I think - I think I should like some of that tea you make, for pain."
"Certainly," Sebastian arose.
"And then we can - make the plans," Archie stammered, but his voice held as he studied the crumpled piece of paper in his hand. His voice had just the slightest hint of fear to it as he added, "Plans for the wedding."