Scars, a Halloween Fic
by Sarah B.
Horatio could never say he was not prepared for what happened that night.
He knew things were unsettled; he thought about this as he made his way up the companionway stairs and onto the deck of the great ship Indefatigable. The skies were clear and the winds cool, and there was plenty of light from a bright full moon that hung over the rippling seas like a promise, or a portent.
Horatio knew it was a portent. And tried to be prepared.
Unsettled - it was a good word indeed for how Horatio felt, how the whole ship felt in fact. Bad enough it was an unlucky day, Friday the thirteenth, and a full moon to boot. Bad enough that this Friday the thirteenth occurred in October, long a time of death and superstition. Bad enough that they were sailing in enemy waters, with the threat of battle and destruction always at hand, to make your skin prickle and your hair stand on end. Yes, even if this was all that troubled Horatio's mind, it would be bad enough indeed; but of course things always had to be just a little bit worse, and he knew he must be prepared for whatever happened. Whatever...
Horatio turned about on the deck, and let his gaze travel to the fighting top, and felt his heart sink. Archie was sitting there.
He had been up there a lot lately, alone and thinking, not wishing to be disturbed. Horatio knew why; ever since the new ship's surgeon, Dr. Luis Sebastian came on board, Archie had been having talks with him, long talks about things he could discuss with no one else, not even Horatio or their captain, Sir Edward Pellew. It was a good thing, Horatio knew - before they had met, Archie had endured a hellish existence at the hands of a brutal and sadistic midshipman named Jack Simpson aboard the ship-of-the-line Justinian, with a heedless captain and an indifferent and cowering crew. Archie had suffered for years in trapped silence, years that were only now being given voice; Dr. Sebastian had an extraordinarily sympathetic ear, and he was very good at helping Archie deal with a world that had up until recently held little joy for him. So it was good, that Archie had the reassurance of someone he respected, and was slowly gaining back all that had been taken from him.
He was even passing it along to others, like the young cabin boy Thomas. Archie had rescued him from a situation that threatened to be like his own, and was busy setting him on a course that with any luck would result in the lad becoming a midshipman himself one day. Thomas was bright and a good student, and Horatio suspected that Archie could not be prouder of the child's accomplishments if he was his own son. Horatio took solace in that, that if there were days when Archie emerged from a talk with the doctor a little pale and thoughtful, if he would then retire to the fighting top to stare at the clouds and drink in the world again, then later Horatio would see him helping Thomas with his letters and navigation and think, something good is coming of this, it has a practical purpose; the Archie Kennedy of Justinian would not let himself be so open to others.
Yes, that was comforting to Horatio, that he could see the practical purpose in this. Horatio was a practical young man, not much given himself to contemplation and reflection, and always felt uncomfortable around any issue that did not immediately show its sensible and useful side. So it was three weeks ago, when the Indefatigable pulled into port, that Horatio was satisfied that all was working out, that Archie was gaining his confidence again, that Dr. Sebastian was becoming a trusted and respected member of the crew, and that the boy Thomas was well on his way to a long career, with Archie's careful tutelage. Everything was settled; life was going just splendidly.
Then they had set sail again, and everything fell like a house of cards.
Horatio walked to the railing, crossed his arms against it and sighed, remembering the darkness of the previous week. They had picked up a press gang in Plymouth, men who had been abducted in the streets and forced into joining the Navy. Pellew disliked such practices, but it was the way of England; there were not enough men to man the ships. Practical. But not in a good way.
These men had been a typical lot. Surly and angry at first, then easing into it. Many of them were former convicts, and learned quickly enough that life in the Navy beat life in the street - at least here they had three meals a day and a roof over their heads. So they adjusted, and life went on. All except for one...
Horatio cast his eyes down to the deck and set his jaw in frustration; he wished he had been more perceptive, perhaps he would have noticed sooner. Hawkins the man's name was, a big, inarticulate brute of a man who seemed to resent life in general. He fought with the marines, spat on anyone who came close enough, and was so recalcitrant even Matthews couldn't get him to do his work properly. A reluctant flogging by Pellew did no good; then, for no reason it seemed, Hawkins settled down a bit and caused no further trouble. After another week, Horatio let his attention go elsewhere and forgot about him. Everyone forgot about Hawkins so no one knew; no one saw his darker side until it was almost too late...
Horatio shuddered, still remembering the timid scratch at his cabin door in the early hours one morning. Archie heard it first - he had always been a light sleeper - and was calling Thomas' name and crying for Horatio's help before Horatio had even opened his eyes. That was the worst part; Horatio could hear the panic in his friend's voice still...
Thomas was not badly injured; bruises on one shoulder and arm, his shirt torn open, a couple of scratches. Hawkins had cornered him as he returned to his hammock after using the head, but the boy had made enough noise to scare him off. It broke Horatio's heart at how matter-of-factly Thomas accepted his hurts; his biggest fear was that his sore arm would keep him from doing his work the next day, and that Pellew would find out and punish him.
"No, Thomas," Archie had replied as he kneeled to look into the boy's eyes, "We must tell the captain right away."
Thomas didn't understand; that was obvious from his look. "But - he'll - "
"No," Archie insisted, very gently taking Thomas' shoulders, "Pellew isn't like that, he'll see that Hawkins is punished. I promise."
It was incomprehensible to Thomas; he shook his head. "But - captains don't -"
"I promise, Thomas," Archie said, and Horatio could feel the weight of that statement, "He's *not* like that. I would not bring you aboard if he was. Believe me."
Thomas believed him. And Archie was right.
Horatio could not remember when he had seen Pellew so angry. The affair with Bunting was close; but in Bunting's instance there had still been a shred of pity in Pellew's eyes, and there was none now. It didn't matter that it was still very late at night; as soon as he was told Pellew had Hawkins found, bound and brought before him, and in front of Horatio and Archie and Thomas let loose with such a barrage of fury and disgust that at times Horatio was uncomfortable for Thomas' presence.
For his own part, Archie stood mutely by as Pellew tore into the man, but Horatio had never seen his friend look so furious. Certainly there must have been times when he felt anger, but until that moment in the captain's cabin Horatio had never *seen* Archie express it. But it was there now, flashing in his eyes, burning on his cheeks, enveloping every inch of him. Archie radiated rage.
It isn't just Hawkins, Horatio realized as he looked at his friend. He's looking at Simpson too, wanting the revenge that was denied him. He would beat Hawkins into a bloody pulp if he could, and be justified. It is only his own civility and Pellew's presence that prevents it.
Horatio had never seen that side of Archie before; it was somewhat unnerving.
As soon as the verdict was delivered - Pellew ordered the man court-martialed and hopefully hanged at the earliest opportunity - Archie was told to take Thomas to Dr. Sebastian, and as they went together Horatio asked Archie if it had been a good idea to have Thomas present for all of that. He was still a child, after all.
Archie's answer was firm, and pitched low enough so only Horatio could hear. "You saw his eyes, Horatio. Part of him thinks what happened to him was acceptable. I can't let him think that, you see. And he has to see that Pellew will protect him. He has to know that *someone* will. God, that bastard. That *bastard*."
So there it was, all of those roiling, conflicting emotions bound in one sentence, one expression. Archie had never been protected; there had been no one to go to after he had been attacked, no captain to take his side, no one to punish Simpson. And now - what burdens was Archie carrying, what guilt and anger and resentment were fighting behind those blue eyes, to burst forth at any moment and catch them all unawares? "Archie - "
"Hush," Archie replied, and they were at the sick berth door. "We must look after Thomas."
The conversation was over.
That had been four days past, and in that time Horatio had not been able to get Archie alone to talk to him, not once. Hawkins was in the brig, awaiting a court martial as soon as they reached shore, and Thomas recovered and in fact seemed to have a bit of a new spark in him, now that he knew that Captain Pellew was not like his old captain and he had that much less to fear. The world turned on much like it always did, except Horatio knew that his friend and shipmate was carrying a burden on his shoulders that could not be set down, and tonight...
Tonight was unsettled. Horatio could feel it.
Horatio's eyes traveled up to the fighting top, to where he could just see Archie huddled on the metal grating, staring at the full moon and the distant stars. It was a bad night for anyone to be alone - it was odd, but Horatio could almost feel the ghosts in the air, the unnerving feeling that Simpson was back, in the person of Hawkins, that Archie was somehow living his worst years again. And again, he was powerless to stop it, even to satisfy a desire for justice that had long been denied...
But there was no help for that. Archie's fears were moving into the past, his anger would have to pass unsatisfied, and as for the rest...
Horatio shook his head, and wished the unsettled feeling
in his stomach would go away, and made his way to the stairs.
Archie sat on the metal grating of the fighting top, and thought.
It was a good night to do so; the sky was starlit and clear, and the moon was coming up. The topsail was furled, which afforded a good look at the stars, and there was a slight breeze, warm and comforting. And best of all, it was quiet. Yes, a perfect night to be alone under the stars...
Archie wrapped his arms around his knees and looked down at the deck. He knew Horatio had been moping around the deck earlier. And after their talk tonight, Archie knew Dr. Sebastian would come up on deck shortly to see if he was still sitting there, and then go to the taffrail and light one of his cigars, and watch him.
Archie sighed and ran a hand over his face. Maybe these talks weren't doing him much good after all. It felt good to talk - after so many years keeping it in, he felt as if he could breathe again - but at the same time it hurt. Sometimes, it hurt so terribly he was not sure he could stand it. Dr. Sebastian was always there of course, and when it was very bad he could help take a bit of the knife-edge agony away, and he was right that it was better to let the poison out than keep it in, but sometimes - sometimes -
**Archie, why are you so distressed tonight?**
Sometimes he just asked the wrong damn question.
And the worst part was, Archie couldn't answer it. Not and keep himself from sounding like a fiend, or the most horrible, insensitive person on the face of the earth. How could he explain to Dr. Sebastian what he felt? This good, kind, gentle man who had helped him through his hurts, who had not thought him deformed or soiled because of what he'd been through, how could he look that man in the eye and say, well, doctor, I am distressed because I find myself intensely jealous of a ten-year-old child!
Archie shuddered; he could never say it. But it was true.
He shouldn't be jealous, he knew that. Thomas was lucky that he was on Indefatigable, lucky that he would grow up without the scars that lay on Archie's heart, without knowing the simmering anger that must be kept locked within, must never be expressed lest it consume everything it touches. Thomas would become a youth, then a young man, make midshipman if Archie had anything to say about it, and if God was kind rise in rank and live a happy and fulfilling life with none of the nightmares that Archie lived with every day. It was wonderful, miraculous; it was everything Archie could hope for the boy.
And it made him want to scream.
Thomas had escaped; he had been hurt, but had seen his attacker punished, had known irrefutably that if he was ever in need again, that there were strong arms to protect him and a very determined captain to shield his fragile soul. He would grow up to become the man Archie could never be; he had been given the things Archie had always wanted, but never gotten. And Archie knew that beneath the relief, the happiness and the joy he felt, there was an undisputable pool of resentment. It was like a foul layer of bilge in the hold, rank and rotting, and you couldn't ignore it. And the intensity of it shocked Archie to his very soul.
What if that had been me, he thought as he shifted forward on the fighting top, and watched Horatio and Dr. Sebastian walk to the companionway to go belowdecks. What kind of man would I be now, if Captain Keane had been like Pellew, if Simpson had never happened? Or if I had been allowed the justice that Thomas received, the satisfaction of seeing my tormentor die? I wonder...
Then the guilt rose up, choking Archie with its coils. What horrid monster must he be, to resent the fact that Thomas had been spared his fate? Another minute, a darker companionway, a more careful plan, and tonight would be so different! Archie could not stop imagining Thomas in that man's foul grip, feeling what he would have felt, and then at the end, oh God! The dull ache in the soul, the eyes that would become blank and unseeing, like a mannequin's, and he was sleeping. He was sleeping the entire time. He almost let it happen.
And then the anger had taken him. Had Horatio seen it, seen
him shaking in the captain's cabin? Archie had always been afraid
of his own anger; he had learned a long time ago that if you fought
back you were punished, if you resisted it went worse for you,
and so had buried his outrage at what had happened to him, buried
it very deep. But it had not gone away...
Dr. Sebastian had asked about it, just that night. But Archie could not talk about it, even after Sebastian told him that he was right to feel angry, that it was a good and natural feeling, and that he needed to uncover that anger and let it loose. Underneath it was healing.
Oh, but that couldn't be true! Archie had felt that anger in the captain's cabin, felt a red-hot, unthinking fury consume him until he thought he would pass out, and it frightened him because it was primal, screaming, untamable. He could have torn Hawkins apart with his bare hands and been glad of it, found Hawkins' face blending into Simpson's, and for a horrifying moment he was standing in the hold where he was first attacked, with Simpson's blood on his hands and his torn body at his feet, dying, slowly dying, and Archie felt happy, deliriously, viciously *happy* -
That could not be right, not be good, not be healing. But...
Oh, God! It felt so *good*...
Archie leaned forward and put his head into his hands. What could he do? It was as if every horrible memory of Simpson's brutality, every fear and desperate feeling, every shred of anger and fury that he could never express, every ounce of spite he felt at a world that could offer deliverance to a fortunate few but leave the rest to suffer and die, were at war within him. He needed to find Dr. Sebastian - there had to be a way, he needed to tell him - he needed to talk -
Archie stood unsteadily, and reached into his pocket. Inside was a small silver medallion, a gift from Sebastian when they first met - an oval medal of his patron saint, Adelaide. Archie pulled it out and looked at it, clutched it in his hand to give himself strength. He didn't understand why, but when he felt as he did now feeling the little scrap of silver warming in his palm helped. He stood there for a moment with his eyes closed, willing himself to feel calm and feeling the ship move beneath his feet. Steady now, steady... Archie felt the warring factions within himself ease a bit, and moved to climb from the fighting top onto the ropes. He paused as he heard a faint, unfamiliar hissing sound -
- then something hot and searing slammed into his back, and he was thrown into oblivion.
"My God!" Horatio cried as he whirled about in the companionway. The crack of thunder was still booming in his ears, the loudest he'd ever heard. In a moment he was running for the deck thinking; that struck the ship - surely that struck the ship -
Once on deck, Horatio saw that he was not the only one who had heard that massive thunderclap. Several men were milling about, looking around, but miraculously there was no fire or damage to be seen. There was only the faintest hint of sulfur in the air, and the merest vibration, like the aftershock of a cannon blast. Horatio looked up at the masts, and his heart stopped as he remembered Archie -
- Good Lord! "Archie!"
Horatio's heart jumped into his throat as he saw his friend dangling by his hands from the ratlines just under the fighting top. Horatio moved to run for the lines, but before he'd gone two steps Horatio saw Archie swing himself expertly over the webbing, find his footing, and scurry down the knotted ropes to safety.
As soon as Archie's feet hit the decking, Horatio was at his side. "Good Heavens, Archie! Are you all right?"
Archie gave him a confident grin and nodded with a huge breath. "Whew! That was a bit of a starter, wasn't it?"
Horatio quickly looked his friend up and down; there was not so much as a singed hair. "You're - all right?"
Archie laughed and clapped Horatio on the shoulder. "Of course! Just taking a bit of exercise is all. Don't be such a worrier, Horatio."
Horatio breathed a bit, relieved that Archie was uninjured - in fact, he seemed completely unrattled. "What happened?"
Archie cocked his head and looked up at the fighting top. "Well, I imagine in Navy parlance you would call it 'lightning', Mr. Hornblower! Great fat bolt of it too."
Horatio's jaw dropped. "I'm astounded you can hear at all. I felt that bolt in my boots."
Archie made an impatient face and put his hand very firmly on Horatio's shoulder, forcing him to look him in the eyes. "For the last time, I am fine, I assure you! I never felt better, in fact."
Horatio eyed him warily. "You're sure?"
Archie's grin turned cocky, and he mimicked Horatio's stance. "*Very* sure."
Horatio leaned back with a frown.
"Yes, I feel splendid!" Archie said breezily, looking about himself as if he'd never been there before. "A few minutes on the fighting top, and all that anger and fear inside of me just gone like that. My God, I feel like a new man."
"Just the same, perhaps we'd better take you to Dr. Sebastian..."
"Ugh!" Archie exclaimed, and shook his head, "No more of that tonight, I beg you! I have both my limbs, my eyebrows are still intact, and I can promise you that all my internal organs are in working order. But I do need your help in something."
Horatio took a breath; perhaps this was a good thing, that Archie was down from the fighting top and talking to him. In fact, he seemed downright giddy. It must be a good thing. "What's that?"
Archie leaned back and gave Horatio a huge grin. "Mr. Hornblower, I would like to go below and get very, very drunk!"
Horatio started; Archie seldom drank, and almost never to the point of intoxication. The unsettled feeling came back, and a prickly awareness that he could not ignore. But Archie *seemed* all right..."Well, a tankard then. Certainly."
"Excellent!" Archie's grin became even more huge, and he put an arm around Horatio and led him away, idly digging in his pocket for the St. Adelaide medal. As soon as he found it, Archie gave it a final careless look and tossed it away onto the deck. This was done so smoothly that Horatio never noticed it.
After their departure, the rest of the men gathered on deck lost interest in what was apparently a freak mishap, and went their separate ways. The watch changed, and the midshipman who took it stared into the inky blackness, and thought it was going to be a dull night.
Not a minute after he took his post, however, the midshipman heard a splashing noise coming from the starboard side, and hurried over with his pistol drawn, and an eye to the marines standing around the stairs. "Show yourself!" he cried.
The splashing continued, and after a few more moments passed a man heaved himself over the railing, an officer dripping from head to toe and wearing a very irritated expression. The midshipman stared at him.
The officer returned the glare, with hateful blue eyes. "Stop pointing that pistol at me," he growled.
The midshipman lowered the pistol, but did not stop staring. "S-sorry, sir. Name?"
The officer glared at him, as if the question were an insult. "Acting Leftenant Kennedy, damn it."
"Did you fall overboard?"
"Where's the brig?"
Startled, the midshipman pointed.
Kennedy stood there for a moment, following the youth's direction with the fury in his eyes. Then he brushed the boy aside and walked away.
"Sorry, sir," the midshipman said again, although he didn't know what for. Shrugging off the occurrence, he went to record it in his log to be turned in at the end of his watch, and never noticed as he watched Kennedy walk away that he was not entirely alone on the deck of the dark, unsettled ship.
Far above him, on the sulfur-tinged grating of the fighting top, another figure huddled shivering against the slim refuge of the mainmast, and stared out at the blackness with wide and terrified bright blue eyes.
"There, Thomas. How does that feel?"
Dr. Luis Sebastian finished tightening the bandage around the arm of the young boy sitting on his examining table in the Indefatigable's sick berth. It was a quiet night on the ship, and besides themselves the room was empty; as a result, the tall half-Spanish doctor was able to give his entire attention to the injured youth sitting before him, and that to him that was a tremendous relief. Thomas had not had nearly enough attention paid to him in the past.
At the moment, though, being the sole object of Dr. Sebastian's attention did not seem to faze Thomas in the least; he merely moved his arm back and forth, watching the bandage around his forearm as he did so, and shrugged. "It feels fine, sir."
"Excellent," Dr. Sebastian replied, and with his usual gentle smile placed his expert hands on Thomas' shoulders, where there were some bruises and one small cut, and examined them carefully. "Now tell me, have you had any pains anywhere? Anything that has begun since the last time I saw you?"
"No, sir," Thomas replied, his eyes set stoically ahead as Sebastian looked him over.
"Hm. Have you been visited by any nightmares, or sudden frightening thoughts?"
Thomas paused, and after a moment looked at the floor and nodded soberly. "Some."
Sebastian made a sympathetic noise and, leaning back from his examination, handed Thomas his shirt. "Would you like to tell me about them?"
Thomas looked up guiltily, and asked, "You won't think I'm peculiar?"
Sebastian smiled, "I won't, I promise. Many people who are set upon as you were have such frightening dreams, it is very common. I myself was once beaten by bullies, and I had nightmares for a week."
Thomas' eyes widened. "You were?"
Sebastian nodded in response, and turning his head to the side pulled back his long gray hair to reveal a white scar behind his ear. "See, I have the scars to prove the veracity of my tale."
Fascinated, Thomas reached out to touch the ragged line, then stared at Sebastian in awe as the older man let his hair fall back into place. "Does it hurt?"
"Not anymore. I consider it a badge of honor, that I have been tested and survived," Sebastian reached out to trace the faint scarline that ran down the left side of Thomas' face. "As you have."
Thomas looked at the doctor with dark, serious eyes. "Mr. Kennedy has scars too. And nightmares."
Dr. Sebastian paused, and watched as Thomas arranged his shirt over the bandage, and his other wounds. "I know. We talk about them sometimes, when he wishes to."
"He showed the scars to me once, so I wouldn't feel bad about the one on my face." Thomas reached for his worn jacket and asked, "Does he talk to you about the man who tried to hurt me?"
Sebastian stood and helped Thomas on with his jacket. "Why do you ask?"
"Because it bothers him. I can tell it does, but he pretends it doesn't. When I asked him about it, he just said he was happy I was all right."
"And you don't believe him?" Sebastian turned to the table of herbs and medicines behind him.
Thomas shook his head. "Not all of him."
"Not all of him? What do you mean?"
"Well..." Thomas paused thoughtfully to pull the cuffs out of his jacket, "He's hiding some of himself, as if he doesn't want me to see it. I think he's afraid if I do I won't want him to help me anymore."
"What do you think he's hiding?" Sebastian asked casually as he worked at the table.
"How angry he is," Thomas answered immediately, "He thinks it will frighten me, so he hides that. But I saw it anyway, in the captain's cabin."
"And does it frighten you?" Dr. Sebastian turned around again, this time holding a cup of steaming tea.
Thomas regarded it with his usual sober expression and answered, "Only that it will go away. I know he's looking out for me, and I don't want it to stop. Is that for me?"
Dr. Sebastian nodded, and handed the boy the tea. "It will help your arm feel better. Would you like to tell me about your nightmares?"
Thomas took a drink of the tea, and shrugged again. "May I come back later? I told Matthews I would help Jenkins with coiling the cables. He gets them knotted up sometimes."
"If it pleases you," Dr. Sebastian replied, and watched in satisfaction as Thomas drained the teacup. Taking it back from the lad he said, "Now mind that bandage, it is some of my finest work and I have no desire to set it again. And let me know if you are experiencing any pain at all."
"I will." Thomas slid himself from the table and looked up at Dr. Sebastian solemnly. "You won't tell Mr. Kennedy I was talking about him?"
Sebastian's smile was reassuring. "No, Thomas, that will remain between you and me. But thank you for drawing my attention to it; I shall keep my eye to him on your word. He has a good friend indeed."
Thomas did smile then, a little. "I just want all of him to be all right. Thank you, sir, for helping me."
"My pleasure, Thomas. Go to your duties."
Thomas bowed a little and left the sick berth, and Dr. Sebastian watched him go before turning back to put his medicines away. A very serious child, he mused to himself with a shake of his head, but very studious and very devoted to Mr. Kennedy. A welcome combination indeed.
It had not been easy on Archie, this past week, and Sebastian did not have to be told to keep an eye on the young Acting Leftenant; the strains he had been undergoing were evident in his face and manner, even if he was reluctant to admit to them. Perhaps it would be wise to take a turn towards the officer's mess, and see if Kennedy would like to talk...
As soon as his stores were in order, Dr. Sebastian informed his surgeon's mate that he was heading to the mess for a bit, and began to make his way through the narrow passageways that led to the front of the ship. He had not gotten halfway there when he spied Mr. Kennedy.
"Good Lord!" Sebastian exclaimed when he saw the young man coming toward him, his hair and uniform dripping with water and a furious expression on his face. The passage was deserted, and Sebastian was certain Kennedy would stop when he saw him, but instead the young man looked through him, as if he was not even there.
"Mr. Kennedy?" Sebastian inquired with some surprise as Archie drew close.
Without responding, Archie pushed right past him and kept walking.
More alarmed now, Sebastian turned and repeated more loudly, "Mr. *Kennedy*!"
Archie stopped, gave a loud aggravated sigh, and turned around slowly.
Sebastian marked this, swept his eyes up and down Archie's frame to look for injury and asked, "Are you all right?"
"*That's* what you stopped me to ask?" Kennedy replied in a surly tone, "Isn't it obvious I'm all right?" And he turned to go once more.
"Wait!" Dr. Sebastian commanded in a voice that was not to be ignored. As Kennedy paused and turned reluctantly back to him he said, "I ask because you are soaked to the bone, and very clearly upset. Where are you going?"
"To render justice," Kennedy snarled, his eyes snapping blue fire as Sebastian looked into them, "Long overdue, I'd say."
Sebastian's eyes darted down the passageway. "Do you mean you're going to see Hawkins?"
"Very perceptive, doctor," Kennedy replied sarcastically, "The way I see it the man is a waste of air and rations."
"The captain has already decided his punishment," Sebastian said gently, "When we reach port - "
"Oh, God, listen to you!" Kennedy growled, glaring at Sebastian with a face reddening with fury, "You call sitting in a room for tearing out the soul and life of a child punishment? I think not, doctor. I think I have something more fitting!"
He raised his hand, and Dr. Sebastian saw the knife.
Sebastian started a little when he saw that glittering blade. His eyes widened, and he looked at Kennedy warily. "Mr. Kennedy, this is not like you at all. Let us go to the sick berth and - "
"And what? *Talk*?" Kennedy spat the word, "I'm sorry, doctor, but I'm not interested in knowing that the meek will inherit the earth. My meekness is gone, and good riddance to it. Now if you'll excuse me..."
Kennedy turned to go once more, and Dr. Sebastian put a hand on the arm holding the knife to stop him.
Kennedy whirled around and struck him full in the face.
It was a savage blow, strong enough to kill perhaps, but Sebastian was tensed for it and felt only a blaze of pain in his jaw as Kennedy broke free of him and ran down the passageway. Recovering quickly, Sebastian ran after him, threw both hands through Kennedy's arms and locked them behind him, forcing him to drop the knife.
"Let me go, dammit!" Kennedy cried out, struggling with every ounce of his strength.
"Mr. Kennedy, I have many years and more experience in this than you," Sebastian said, as calmly as he could, "Please cooperate, something is very wrong and I intend - "
"No!" Kennedy yelled, but at that moment he lost his footing and both men went crashing to the deck, Kennedy first. As soon as he hit the hard planking Sebastian noticed that Kennedy was not moving, and carefully released him. Then, shock and worry coursing through him, Sebastian knelt to examine him.
There were no obvious injuries, nothing in the wet clothes or damp hair that suggested trauma, and only the beginnings of a bumped head to tell Sebastian why Kennedy was at that moment unconscious. Nothing to explain his sudden, irrationally hostile behavior, and Sebastian knew what signs to look for. A bad head wound could alter one's behavior, and there were diseases that did it as well, but this had no symptoms, no warning, and Kennedy was clearly not unhinged - quite the opposite, he was perfectly rational, just out-of-control with anger. But what happened to trigger this, which had lain dormant for years and did not even manifest itself when Thomas was first attacked? And to see Mr. Kennedy brandishing a knife...
The knife was still close by Kennedy, and Sebastian hastily picked it up, in case he awakened before he could get him to the sick berth. As he picked the knife up, Dr. Sebastian's eye fell on Kennedy's shirt, which had pulled up in the struggle and lay bunched about his chest, leaving his abdomen exposed. Clearly visible was the scar from his stomach abscess, and taking the knife's hilt in his hand Dr. Sebastian glanced at it. Then stared at it.
It was on the left side.
It was on the *wrong* side.
Dr. Sebastian blinked, shook his head, looked again. For a long, disbelieving moment looked. Then, with a tremble and a silent, urgent prayer, he tucked the knife in his jacket, and took Archie to the sick berth to find out what happened to him.
"I tell you, Horatio, it's as if I've been reborn!"
Horatio sat opposite Archie in the officer's mess, smiling at his friend's newfound enthusiasm and marveling at his sudden taste for ale. It was very strange, but Archie seemed happy and did not seem to be causing any harm, so Horatio decided to let it pass.
Although come to think of it, Horatio mused as Archie cast brilliant blue eyes about the crowded room, 'happy' did not seem to cover Archie's mood. Euphoric might be more appropriate; 'hysterical' was only a slight hyperbole. Ever since they arrived at the mess, Archie had been like a small child on holiday, enthusing over the ale, looking around as if he'd never been there before, and commenting every other minute over how wonderful he felt. Horatio was relieved for his friend - he had been so depressed, after all - but was at a loss to explain his sudden and somewhat unnerving zest for life. It was somewhat unsettling.
Archie finished his visual sweep of the wardroom, and brought his dancing eyes to Horatio once more. "Horatio, is something bothering you? You look positively bereft."
Horatio started at Archie's observation, then stammered, "Why, no, it's just...I'm sorry, Archie, I'm afraid your excellent mood has me at somewhat of a loss. I'm happy to see it, though."
"Oh, you've no idea!" Archie enthused, grinning broadly and leaning one elbow on the table, "I mean it, Horatio, I feel like the clouds have lifted and the sun is shining for me at last. I suppose I'm still getting used to it."
Horatio nodded his support, and took another sip of ale. "Dr. Sebastian must be helping you, then. I 'm glad to hear it."
"Dr. Sebastian!" Archie snorted, and made a face. "That gloomy old man! No, he was no help at all. All he wanted to talk about was my pain and my past and other dreadful things. Blech!"
Horatio raised his eyebrows at this. He had never heard Archie speak of Sebastian in uncharitable terms before. "Well...I'm certain he was doing his best. You have to give him that, at any rate."
"I don't *have* to do anything," Archie said buoyantly, "And the day I let some foreigner tell me what my problems are is the day I'm sure my father would have me shot!"
Horatio put his mug down in surprise. "Good heavens, Archie!"
Archie looked bewildered for a moment, then said, "Oh - ah - sorry, old fellow, I suppose you probably have a soft spot for the old man. Or maybe you're just trying to keep Pellew happy by going along. In either case, forget I said anything."
"Thank you, I will." Horatio replied, a little hotly perhaps, but there was something very odd about Archie's happiness that Horatio didn't like.
"Oh, by the way," Archie said lightly, "I don't think...yes, I'm very sure I've never fancied the name 'Archie.' It sounds a bit...hm, common. Don't you think?"
Horatio blinked his surprise. "Common?"
"Yes. Well, I *am* the son of a lord after all, even if I've never really shown it before. Do you think you would have any problems calling me 'Archibald'?"
Horatio looked at his friend in puzzlement. There was no evidence of accident or injury, but Archie's behavior was very puzzling. He decided to play along, and tried changing the subject. "Did you find that book of mathematics helpful?"
Archie - or Archibald - had been taking another drink of ale, and set the mug down with a puzzled expression. "Sorry?"
"The mathematics book, the one I lent you so you could help Thomas with his numbers."
"Oh, that! To tell you the truth, I haven't cracked the cover yet. My God, Horatio, isn't this splendid? I feel as if the weight of the entire world is off my shoulders. Why didn't you tell me life could be like this?"
Horatio began to despair of having a reasonable conversation, and sighed. "Like what?"
"Well, like - like - this!" Archibald's hand swept the room. "So light and free and unburdened by care. I can honestly sit here and say I don't give a rap about anything, and I've never been able to do that before. It's wonderful, Horatio. Wonderful! Is this how you've felt all the time?"
Horatio gave up. "Honestly, I don't know what you're talking about tonight! Are you drunk?"
"I don't know," Archibald answered with a snappy smile, "But if I am, I intend to keep it this way forever. I suppose what I'm asking is...well, up until tonight everything was always thinking of others and weighing feelings and worrying about what was going to happen, and then there was that whole business with Simpson weighing on me, and I was sick of it, totally and absolutely sick! I mean, most men don't have that problem! Why should I be burdened with it? And I'm the son of a lord, that makes it doubly unfair! And now - now those problems are gone, as if they were never there, and it feels so - so - " Archibald took a deep breath, and let it out again in a rush. "I don't have words for it, Horatio. I should have always felt like this."
So that was it. Archie *was* drunk, and in his drinking had somehow left Simpson and that sad legacy behind. Well, at least that made sense. Regarding his friend sympathetically, Horatio replied, "I wish you had, Archie - er - Archibald. But it does my heart good to know that you've found peace at last."
Archibald stared at Horatio a moment, as if deciphering what he said. Then he dropped his head down and gave Horatio a mock scowl. "Confound it, Horatio, you are *so* damn serious."
Horatio blinked. "What?"
"What! You know what I mean. Everything is a dramatic statement with you, every sentiment is buried under twelve feet of pretentious prose. I know what. Next time we're in port, we'll get a couple of doxies and get you properly laid."
Horatio sat up in shock. "WHAT!"
"That's it!" Archibald beamed at his discovery. "I knew there was something that was making you so dour! You need fornication, Horatio, and the sooner the better! We can take turns, I'll go first to teach the girls what I know and they can pass that knowledge on to you. Unless you don't think you're up to my level yet."
Horatio was quite certain his jaw was on the floor. As soon as he realized it wasn't he sputtered, "For God's sake, Archie, hush up! What's gotten into you?"
Archibald laughed and replied, "What's the matter, is my enjoyment of life bothering you? Would you like to go to Dr. Sebastian and talk about it?"
The arch, sarcastic tone in his friend's voice infuriated Horatio, and impulsively he grabbed Archie's arm and hissed, "For God's sake, stop it!"
Archibald's eyes widened and he looked at Horatio in momentary surprise. Then he looked at Horatio's hand on his arm and nodded sagely. "Oh, *that's* it! Well, I never would have guessed but you might as well have said something."
Horatio relaxed his grip and asked, "About what?"
Archibald gave him a sly smile and leaned across the table, "I'm flattered, Mr. Hornblower, and very sorry to disappoint you but contrary to popular and previous belief I *don't* like boys."
Horatio jerked his arm back and stared in disbelief.
Unruffled, Archibald looked around the wardroom with a satisfied air and said, "Yes, now that I've gotten over all of that - messy horrible business I think it's going to go very well for me. Perhaps I can talk to Captain Pellew about taking the lieutenant's exam, although to tell you the truth I've never fancied the navy; I can't even properly swim. Still, if it means something to the old man. What do you think?"
Horatio could not believe his friend's callousness. What the devil had happened to him up on the fighting top? "Archie - "
His friend grimaced and said, "Horatio, I told you, it's *Archibald*. Is that such a difficult thing to remember?"
"Uh - " Horatio tried to look at Archie closely; no, there was no hint of sudden dementia or an impending fit, yet this was so unlike him that he seemed like another person entirely. What was -
"Well, come on, Horatio!" Archibald snapped good-naturedly, "It's not a terribly difficult question. Would you like your mathematics book back so you can figure it out?"
Horatio felt a headache starting in the middle of his forehead, and glared at Archie in frustration. "No, *Mr. Kennedy*. Considering your behavior tonight, I would not have any difficulty calling you Archibald. None in the least. For you are certainly not the Archie I know."
"Good!" Archibald replied energetically, and raised his mug in salute. "The Archie you know is dead, and the one who remains is happy and healthy and whole. Long live Archibald Kennedy!"
Horatio lifted his tankard, and joined in the toast. But he was not happy about it. Not at all.
A short time later, seaman Styles came out on deck with a heavy sigh and prepared to do his work.
It was a windy night, lousy weather to go up into the ratlines, but Mr. Bowles wanted the ropes checked for fraying and it was Styles' turn to do it. With a weary grunt the muscular sailor looked around to see if there was anything interesting going on. A few officers lagging about, the watch staring out to see, the wind flapping and groaning in the riggings. Nothing special.
Oh well. Making certain he had his knife and a coil of rope to mend the ratlines with, Styles began to hoist himself up the long lines to his first stop, the main topmast. It was a long climb, and Styles amused himself by thinking of all the times he'd done this, gone up and down these bloody ropes. If I had a shilling for every rung I've put my shoe on, he thought, I'd be the bleedin' king. That thought made him smile, even though running a country was not high on Styles' list of ambitions.
Getting near the fighting top now, and Styles relaxed a little; he could stop there, check the lines and not have to hang on the ropes like a damn monkey doing it. That would do just fine, he could use some nice soft work...
Only a couple of feet from the fighting top now, and Styles frowned to himself. Bloody hell, someone was up there. He could make out their shadow through the grating. Well, he'd just have to kick 'em off is all. That's all...
Styles pulled himself even with the fighting top and opened his mouth to scare off whoever was ballsy enough to interrupt his working - then stopped when he saw who it was, and stared in blank surprise.
At first he thought he was mistaken, but the moon was out and there was enough light to see that it was Mr. Kennedy, curled up sound asleep against the mast, his arms wrapped tightly around himself to protect from the chilling wind. Even with that precaution, Styles could hear his breath stuttering with the cold.
Styles stood on the lines for a moment, trying to make sense of what he was seeing. What the hell was an officer doing sleeping on the fighting top? Sure, Mr. Kennedy came up there sometimes, he'd always fancied the quiet up there; even on Justinian he'd hide up there sometimes, Styles thought because it was easy to see someone coming up the ropes from that perch; he had plenty of time to see if Simpson was coming...
But why was he here now? Styles took another step up the ratline, looked at Kennedy more closely. He didn't smell drunk, didn't look like he hit his head or had a fit. But still he was here. Styles scratched his head; why?
Oh, well. Not his job to understand the officers, anyway. Clearing his throat a little, Styles leaned closer and whispered, "Oy! Hey, Mr. Kennedy, sir."
Kennedy shot up into a half-sitting position, clearly startled, and stared at Styles with bleary blue eyes. "Huh!"
"Oh!" Styles put up his hand, "Beggin' yer pardon, sir, didn't mean to startle yeh, but - you'll catch yer death of cold up 'ere, best go down below now."
To Styles' confusion, Kennedy didn't seem to be absorbing what he was saying. Instead, he pushed himself back a little on the grating, away from Styles, not taking his eyes from him. Styles could hear his breath chattering in the wind.
Cor, I really did startle him, Styles thought. He looks like he don't know where he is. "Mr. Kennedy, sir?"
Kennedy blinked, looked around himself, and put both hands on his jacket to pull it tighter around himself. "I - I remember you."
"Hm! Much obliged, sir," Styles replied, thinking perhaps Kennedy was drunk after all, "You'd best go down below now, get yourself warmed up."
Kennedy cast anxious eyes to the deck, then quickly shut them and bent over himself. "Can't. Hurts."
"What's that, sir? You hurt yourself?" Styles' curiosity was quickly replaced with a practical concern.
"No," Kennedy whispered, shutting his eyes and shivering, "*He* hurt me. I know you won't tell, but I can't - hide the blood anymore. You remember."
Styles felt an old, dull stab in his gut. He *did* remember, but thought he'd long forgotten those ugly nights on Justinian, and one night - it hadn't been up here, but down in the carpenter's walk, he'd found Mr. Kennedy, just a boy then, curled up just as he was now and talking - just as he was now - the same words -
Styles quickly clambered up onto the fighting top and knelt next to Kennedy, who cringed away from him a little. "Mr. Kennedy sir, you all right? You want me to get the doctor?"
Kennedy shook his head violently. "He hates me. Calls me - a coward - " he wrapped his arms around himself tighter.
"No he don't - " The same words, but Kennedy meant Hepplewhite, not the doctor they had now - what the hell was this? Better to play along, until he could get somebody to help, "And anyways, yeh can't stay up 'ere. I'll help yeh down if yeh like."
Kennedy lifted his head and stared with wide, tear-filled eyes at the long distance down. "I can't. It hurts to stand up."
Styles shuddered at those words, at the memories they evoked and stared at Kennedy's face - it was like looking at a ghost: the agony in his eyes, the tight helpless way he hugged himself - aye, the ghost of a twelve-year-old boy who had died a long time ago on another ship, and had come back to haunt Mr. Kennedy and relive those horrors in his body.
Well, no he bloody wouldn't. Not if Styles had anything to say about it. He waited until Kennedy's tortured eyes met his again and said, "You wait here, sir. I'll get somebody to help us."
Kennedy drew in a shaking breath and looked away. "No, you won't. Nobody ever comes."
"Oh, yes they do," Styles replied, smiling at the memory of Simpson's ignominious defeat, "You remember Mr. 'Ornblower, 'e came and took care of all our problems right away. Din' 'e?"
Kennedy's expression changed a little, and he whispered, "Yes, he - he did, but he doesn't understand...no one understands..."
"I understand," Styles stood up, and backed himself onto the ratlines with a sober look on his weathered face, "Enough to know neither of us is goin' through this again. You stay right where you are, sir. I'm goin' to find Mr. 'Ornblower. He'll know what's to be done."
Horatio did not know what on earth to do.
He wandered up the passageway towards the stairs, hopelessly confused. He had just helped Archie - pardon me, he thought sarcastically to himself *Archibald* - to bed, after his friend had drunk himself so senseless that he fell down more than once, and split his lip open trying to get into his bunk. It would have been funny, if Archie's behavior had not been so damnably strange.
Horatio scratched his chin and tried to reason it out. Archie had been upset all week, over what had happened to Thomas and the painful memories that event had dredged up. Was he simply shedding his anxieties for one night? Was he being theatrical, pretending he was someone else? Horatio thought of men his father had treated, seemingly normal people whose personalities suddenly changed, causing them to go from gentleness to rage, from rational thinking to lunacy, all in a heartbeat. Was that happening to Archie? Was he going mad?
Horatio paused in the hallway, and glanced back down the passage. Perhaps he should bring this to Dr. Sebastian's attention...but what could he do? Archie was passed out on his bunk when Horatio left, and was now quietly bleeding all over the sheets; he would not be worth conversation until daybreak, and by then it was just Horatio's luck that he would be perfectly normal, and everyone would be looking at Horatio as if HE was unhinged...
No, Horatio thought with a sigh, best to just leave it alone for the moment. Perhaps that crack of lightning just upset some balance in Archie's brain, and rendered him momentarily...dazed. Tomorrow morning he would be back to himself, and angry at Horatio for letting him go to bed with a bleeding lip and thus ruining his sheets. Oh, well, Horatio shrugged to himself; it's not like I didn't warn him -
Horatio looked up to see Styles coming toward him in the passageway. Straightening up and adopting his most officer-like demeanor, Horatio waited until the seaman was close enough and said, "What is it, Styles?"
"Beggin' yer pardon, sir," Styles said as he knuckled his forehead hastily, "But I got somethin' needin' yer attention. Right away, on deck."
"Oh?" Horatio hastened that way, thinking of sails and enemy ships. "Have you alerted the watch?"
"The watch? No, sir, I wanted to keep it private. It's Mr. Kennedy."
Horatio stopped, and turned around. "What about Mr. Kennedy?"
"He's up in the fighting top, and somethin's scared him awful bad."
"What - " Horatio blinked in frustration. Oh, damn, now what! Archie had not been out of his sight ten minutes and already he was behaving irrationally again. With an exasperated sigh Horatio asked, "Is he still up there?"
"Yes, sir. I don't think he can make it down."
"I've no doubt!" Horatio said testily, becoming very annoyed at his friend whose actions were growing more bizarre by the second. With squared shoulders and a rapidly building headache, Horatio stalked off toward the maindeck, with Styles in hot pursuit.
He's drunk, Horatio reminded himself as he climbed the long ratlines up to the fighting top. He doesn't really know what he's doing, he's drunk, so don't get too angry at him even if he is making you climb halfway up the bloody ship to drag him back down again. Even if he did just spend the evening blurting out half-insults and haughtiness, you're his superior officer, so don't go hard on him yet, dammit. Wait until he's sober; he'll appreciate it then.
Halfway up the mainmast, Horatio paused and turned to Styles, who was climbing behind him. "Does anyone else know of this?"
Styles shook his head. "No, sir. Like I said, I kept it quiet. I don't think 'e's quite 'imself, sir."
"You're telling me," Horatio muttered to himself, and kept climbing.
Here at last was the fighting top, and with an aggravated grunt Horatio grabbed onto the side, his words preceding him. "Confound it, Archie, if I have to drag you back to your bunk one more time - "
Then he looked at Archie, and the words froze on his lips.
Archie was not sleeping, and he did not look drunk. His eyes were wide open and staring at Horatio in what could only be described as blank terror. He was shivering, not with cold but with something else; and why was he holding himself like that, huddled and bent over? Sensing another presence beside himself, Horatio looked over to see Styles had climbed up the ropes beside him. He gave the sailor a questioning look.
"Aye, sir, that's how I found 'im," Styles replied quietly, "'e knows me, but - I think 'e thinks 'e's on Justinian again. At least that's how 'e's actin'."
Horatio could not stop staring. Archie looked smaller somehow, not at all the cocky, swaggering messmate he'd left half an hour ago. Could madness strike that quickly? Horatio hastened onto the fighting top.
At the sound of his boots hitting the metal, Archie flinched and moved away. Startled by this action, Horatio put both hands in front of himself, "Archie, it's me, it's Horatio. Are you all right?"
It was a stupid question - very obviously Archie was not all right - but Horatio was rapidly becoming completely unnerved by this whole experience and was grasping at anything that might help explain it to him. Not half an hour ago Archie was happy, confident and falling-down intoxicated. Now he was huddled on the fighting top of all places, beside himself with some nameless terror. And there was something else -
Archie squinted at Horatio and stammered, "I didn't think you'd come."
"Of course I came," Horatio replied, wondering at the light, almost childlike tone in Archie's voice, "Archie, come on, this is no place for an officer to sleep. Let's get you back to your bed - "
"No!" Archie pulled himself from Horatio's grasp weakly, and moved to the far edge of the metal grate. "Not there. There's shadows there."
Horatio felt a numbing shiver to the soles of his boots. Archie had gone mad, and he was witnessing it. He was -
With a start, Horatio said, "His lip."
"Sir?" Styles said behind him.
"His lip, Styles. He split it open while trying to get in his bunk half an hour ago, I saw him do it."
A pause. "His lip ain't split now, sir."
"I know." Horatio felt the numbness spread, the lightheaded feeling that came with being faced with something you knew nothing about, could not prepare for. Personalities could apparently change in an instant, but torn skin did not mend in minutes, and bruised flesh did not heal instantaneously.
The stricken youth cowering before him was not the same young man he had just left in his cabin.
"Sir?" Styles said again, a little plaintively.
"One moment, Styles," Horatio replied quietly, and licked his lips in thought. Archie had gone back to hugging himself, and was shaking violently, his face streaked with tears and his eyes squeezed tightly shut. Very slowly, Horatio walked forward and put his hand on Archie's arm.
"I'm not going to hurt you," Horatio said softly, thinking very quickly. If he accepted that this was not the Archie Kennedy who had scurried down the ratlines without a care in the world, than he was no longer sure just who this was; but whoever it was, he needed help. "Please tell me who you are."
Archie brought his head up a little and sniffed, shuddering so violently Horatio could feel it beneath his hand. "M-midshipman. Kennedy, Archie."
Midshipman? "Mr. Kennedy, are you hurt?"
Archie shrank away a little, but after a moment nodded and whispered, "It always hurts. It never gets better."
"All right," Horatio replied, his mouth going dry with sudden fright, "I can help you, but I need you to - be strong for me. Just for a little while, all right? I know you can do it."
Archie lifted his head, his blond hair tangling in his face. "What do you want me to do?"
"We need to get off this fighting top. Once we're down I'll take you to Dr. Sebastian. Come on."
Archie uncurled himself, a little. But he didn't stand up.
Horatio smiled a little encouragement. "Come now, Mr. Kennedy. Show me the lion I know is within you."
Archie looked at him for a long, bewildered moment. Then, slowly, he stood, a little at a time.
Horatio watched him carefully, supporting him as he stood. Archie was obviously struggling against some huge pain, but if he was physically hurt Horatio didn't see it; there was no blood anywhere. But the questions that surrounded that small one were so vast Horatio almost couldn't see past them. Who was this, who wore Archie's face and held his sufferings? Who was now sleeping in Archie's bunk? And what the hell was he going to do about it?
"Easy there, sir," Styles said as Archie climbed onto the ratlines.
As Horatio steadied him from the other side, Archie met his eyes and asked, "Who is Dr. Sebastian?"
"Someone who can help you," Horatio answered, and did not say the rest of what he was thinking:
* I hope.*
"Very well, Mr. Kennedy. Let us try this again."
Dr. Sebastian was sitting in his cabin, gazing evenly at Kennedy and waiting patiently for the young man to calm himself long enough to answer his questions. Kennedy was not calming down, however, and Dr. Sebastian knew why: his wrists were lashed together and very firmly tied behind him. He was sitting on the doctor's cot, which was comfortable enough, but had not yet ceased to struggle against his bonds, or give Dr. Sebastian any help.
"God damn it!" Kennedy railed once again. "I'm not telling you anything! Untie me at once!"
"Gladly," Dr. Sebastian replied, "When I know what is ailing you, and when I am reasonably certain that you will not harm yourself or others. Like myself, for example."
Kennedy's fury eased a bit, and he looked at the floor. "It's not you. I don't want you. I want *him.*"
"Do you mean Hawkins?"
Kennedy's eyes snapped up furiously, but he looked back down without saying anything.
Dr. Sebastian crossed his arms and peered at Kennedy intently. "Let us start at the beginning. The last time I saw you, we had just finished discussing Thomas, and you went to your duties."
"Discussion!" Kennedy spat, and writhed against his bonds once more. "Useless talk."
Sebastian ignored this. "Then where did you go? Do you remember?"
Kennedy gave a huge sigh, and muttered, "You know where I went. Where I always go."
"To the fighting top."
"And then what happened?"
Kennedy pursed his lips for a moment, then replied, "I was thinking. Thinking how much I hate it that innocence is preyed upon, that thieves prowl in the dark, that there are places in this world where evil thrives and is never punished..." he paused to take a panting breath.
"And you were thinking of how much you would like to punish." Sebastian said quietly.
Kennedy looked up, a bright light gleaming in his eyes. "Yes."
Sebastian leaned forward in the chair, to draw himself closer. "To punish Hawkins, for what he did to Thomas?"
"Exactly," Kennedy answered hotly, "He shouldn't live, doctor. He should die, horribly."
"Are you punishing someone else, Archie?" Sebastian asked softly, his eyes searching for the other's soul in those glass-hard eyes, "What else is there? More, certainly."
Kennedy glared at him. "I never got to see him die. Just once I want to see that bastard die."
Sebastian tilted his head, and waited.
"Feel his blood on my hands, see the pain in his face and know he'll never hurt me again," Kennedy snarled, his face hardening into ancient lines of fury and unfettered rage, "To take his heart like he took mine. I want to watch him die, doctor. You can't deny me that, he took everything I had and left me to bleed to death at twelve years old. Part of me is still bleeding. I want it to stop."
Dr. Sebastian's eyes never left Archie's face, never wavered from that litany of pain that was so plainly etched there. When Archie was silent he said quietly, "I want that for you too."
"Then let - me - GO."
Dr. Sebastian looked at his young friend sympathetically, and shook his head. "Not until I can determine why there is nothing in you but anger. Can you tell me?"
Kennedy grunted his disgust, and turned his face away.
"Archie," Dr. Sebastian asked gently, "What happened on the fighting top?"
Kennedy defiantly shook his head, and at the same moment Dr. Sebastian heard the door to the sick berth being opened, then shut again. Standing up he said, "I will not be long. Kindly do not knock any of my possessions over, and bear in mind there is only one door in this cabin, and you are not a mouse."
Kennedy openly glared at him, and was still glaring when Dr. Sebastian shut and locked the door.
Horatio was nearly frantic by the time he and Styles managed to get Archie to the sick berth door. Getting Archie down the ratlines was difficult enough - with all his trembling and anxiety, Archie nearly lost his footing half a dozen times. But his state became progressively worse as they neared the sick berth, until he was nearly doubled over in pain and almost incoherent.
Just before they reached Dr. Sebastian's door Horatio glanced over to see Archie walking just beside Styles, his long blond hair in his face and tears in his eyes. Concerned, Horatio asked, "Archie, what is it?"
"It's all my fault," Archie moaned, wiping at his face in distraction. "I never should have left Thomas alone, I should have known - "
And then he said nothing else.
Horatio shook his head; none of this was making sense. But they had one hope, if there was anyone on the ship who could clear up this mystery, the mystery of a shipmate who goes from euphoria to despair and heals his own split lip all at once, it was Dr. Sebastian. There had to be a reasonable explanation for all of this.
Thank God for Styles - the burly seaman had kept his arm around Archie's shoulder the entire time to keep him from falling, and kept up a stream of reassuring banter that Horatio's brain was spinning too fiercely to provide. And now -
- now they were in the sick berth, and Dr. Sebastian was there at his cabin door.
"Good evening, doctor," Horatio said, hoping he didn't sound too insane, "We have an urgent problem, Mr. Kennedy is very sick."
Horatio thought that Sebastian would be surprised at Archie's sudden illness, but he was in no way prepared for the look of total shock that crossed the half-Spaniard's face when he laid eyes on Archie, who was leaning heavily on Styles with his eyes half-closed. Dr. Sebastian just stared for a few moments, then for some reason turned back to his cabin door. Then he turned around again, and Horatio saw that he had composed himself.
"Styles, please put Mr. Kennedy in one of my spare hammocks," the doctor said in a voice that to Horatio seemed overly calm and too much controlled. "Mr. Hornblower, a word if you please."
Frowning, Horatio came close to Sebastian, who as soon as he was near whispered, "Where did you find him?"
"On the fighting top, about fifteen minutes ago. He's terrified, almost out of his mind."
"I see," Dr. Sebastian looked back toward his cabin door and said, "I think it would be a very good idea if you sent Mr. Styles on his way. Something unearthly has happened here."
Horatio jumped at the voicing of his own jumbled thoughts, "Yes! Yes, it's very strange, he was perfectly happy and had a split lip when I left him in his cabin and now - "
Dr. Sebastian's eyes went to him sharply. "What did you say?"
"He's in, sir," came Styles' voice from the other end of the sick berth. Horatio looked up to see Archie huddled in one of the sick berth's hammock, and Styles standing uncertainly alongside it.
"Um - very good, thank you Styles," Horatio said with a smile and a wave of his hand, "You're dismissed, and I thank you for your efforts."
"Very good, sir," Styles said as he moved past Horatio on his way to the door, "An' don't worry, I won't breathe a word. 'ad a hard life, Mr. Kennedy 'as, and if anyone 'ad cause to go a bit mad - "
"Yes, thank you, Styles!" Horatio said, a bit more forcefully.
Styles took the hint, and knuckled his forehead. "Aye, sir." and he left the sick berth.
As soon as he was gone Horatio joined Dr. Sebastian, who was already at Archie's side, putting a cautionary hand to his brow. Archie was shivering even though the sick berth was quite warm, and looked up at Sebastian with eyes that were nearly white with fear.
"I tried to protect him," Archie whispered to the doctor, shaking his head feebly, "I'm so sorry."
"I know, Archie," Sebastian replied, and Horatio saw the anxiousness in the doctor's eyes as he removed his hand. "Thomas knows too, is that who you are talking about?"
Archie closed his eyes and swallowed. "Yes. Oh, God, he almost became like me. It hurts."
Dr. Sebastian looked Archie over carefully. "When did the pain start? When you were up on the fighting top?"
Archie opened his eyes again and looked at Sebastian with some surprise. "Yes."
"What happened? Do you remember?"
"I was..." Archie's eyes wandered to the timbers, and he paused to think for a moment. "We were - together, and then there was light, great hot light. Pain. And - I was alone."
Horatio frowned and took Dr. Sebastian's arm. "The lightning."
"Sh," Sebastian cautioned over his shoulder, then turning back asked quietly, "Mr. Kennedy, who was with you on the fighting top?"
"Well...all of us." The youth cast about as if trying to find a better way to explain it, then simply gave up and shrugged. "Archie."
Horatio looked at his friend in total despair. Archie really had gone mad.
Dr. Sebastian, however, did not seem to be giving up all hope. He replaced his hand onto Archie's forehead, and looked at him with all sympathy. "And you were together."
Archie nodded, his fear seeming to abate somewhat. "We look out...for each other. I don't know what I'm going to do now." Pain seemed to ripple through him, and he clutched his stomach. "Oh, God! I'm so sorry, I tried but I failed. Am I being punished? It hurts - "
Dr. Sebastian straightened a little, and placed one hand lightly on Archie's abdomen. "Here?"
Archie nodded frantically. "He kicked me there once, and it never goes away."
Horatio shook his head, and looked at Dr. Sebastian in frustration. "You see, he thinks - " he pitched his voice lower, "He thinks he's back on Justinian, that Simpson is - it's like his past is consuming him."
Dr. Sebastian's face betrayed a rapidly thinking mind. Leaning close to Archie he said, "Mr. Kennedy, please try to relax, in a moment I will give you something for the pain. And I promise you will not be hurt again."
Archie's eyes came open, and he searched the doctor's imploringly.
"But for the medicine to have its effect I need you calm and quiet. Do you understand me?"
Archie nodded. "I'll try. But - "
Sebastian leaned in a little closer. "Yes, Archie?"
Archie's face twisted up in pain and fear. "Is Dr. Hepplewhite coming back?"
Dr. Sebastian couldn't hide a smile at that, and he patted Archie's hand. "No, Mr. Kennedy, I can promise you that with my whole heart!"
Archie accepted this with a grateful nod, and closed his eyes.
As soon as he had done so, Dr. Sebastian turned to his table and began working with his medicines with a dark, thoughtful look on his face. Horatio caught that look and said, "Do you know what's wrong with him?"
Sebastian motioned for silence, and as soon as he was finished preparing the medicine turned back to Archie with a cup in his hand; Horatio saw Archie open his eyes and regard the cup suspiciously.
"This is going to be very bitter," Dr. Sebastian warned as he lifted Archie's head to drink, "But it will take away some of your pain."
Archie took the cup warily but drank every drop eagerly, as if he was willing to grasp at anything that would cure his affliction. Then he laid back in the hammock and closed his eyes.
"Very good, Mr. Kennedy," Dr. Sebastian soothed as he patted Archie's shoulder, "Sleep now, and let me know if you experience any further discomfort."
Archie nodded vaguely and Sebastian waited by the hammock for a minute; Horatio saw the look of intense concentration on his face. Then, as if satisfied that Archie was asleep, Dr. Sebastian took Horatio's arm and led him a little ways from the hammock, out of Archie's earshot. Gazing at Horatio he asked quietly,"Mr. Hornblower, did you say that Mr. Kennedy was not like this when you left him a short time ago?"
"Yes," Horatio replied quickly, "I mean no, no he wasn't, not at all! He was - happy, almost obnoxiously so. I thought he was just giddy after almost being struck by that lightning bolt."
Sebastian's eyes lit up. "Tell me about it, quickly."
"Well - when I left the deck, Archie was sitting on the fighting top, then I heard this great crack of thunder and returned to find him hanging from the ratlines. When he came down, he seemed almost - overjoyed at something. He wanted to get drunk as soon as possible."
Sebastian nodded, as if this made perfect sense to him! "Go on."
Horatio paused a moment to collect his thoughts. "We went below, and Archie proceeded to get very intoxicated."
"But you say he was not himself?"
"No! He was acting foolish, saying things that...well, that shocked me. He kept mentioning that he was free, that he felt unburdened and that he was finally able to enjoy life. And he insisted that I call him Archibald."
Dr. Sebastian's eyes narrowed, and he peered at Archie's dozing form.
Horatio felt his heart tighten. "Doctor, is Archie mad?"
It took so long for Sebastian to answer that Horatio had time to steel himself against the worst. He was surprised, therefore, when the doctor did not nod his head but merely turned to look at Horatio evenly. "Lieutenant, what is your capacity to believe the impossible?"
Horatio blinked his confusion. "If it - if it will help Mr. Kennedy, sir, I assure you it is boundless."
"I hope it is," Dr. Sebastian replied, very gravely, and began to walk to his cabin. "Follow me, Mr. Hornblower."
Curious, Horatio cast one more look at his sleeping friend and followed the doctor to his cabin door. Sebastian rested one hand on the handle, and turned once again to Horatio, his expression more serious than Horatio had ever seen it.
"Mr. Hornblower, God gives us many questions for which there are no answers. But I am very earnestly praying for an answer to this one, but I am certain I will need your help. Can I trust that you are prepared to believe anything?"
Horatio's mind whirled at what Sebastian might be hinting at - the direst disease, the most harrowing debilitation. He nodded.
Dr. Sebastian opened the door.
And Horatio found himself staring into the same blue eyes he had just seen close in sleep twenty paces behind him. Eyes that roiled with anger, and a blond young man who radiated fury as he struggled against whatever had his hands bound behind his back. He looked at Horatio and growled.
"Oh my God," Horatio whispered, then said even more softly, "Oh my *God.*"
And beside him, Dr. Sebastian's voice was calm despite the obvious uncertainty behind it. "Let us hope God is listening, lieutenant. And that a boundless capacity is capacity enough."
Horatio barely heard him; he suddenly felt as if he was in a dream. "That's - no, oh no, doctor, this is impossible!"
"And yet here we are," Dr. Sebastian replied as he took up a chair and sat beside the cot.
Horatio looked at this young man, who was Archie's twin in every respect but for his expression and his manner, and took a tentative stop forward. "Archie?"
"Don't call me that name!" Archie snarled at him, "I'm Acting Leftenant Kennedy. Cut me loose."
Horatio felt a horrified numbness begin in his boots and snake its way up his back Archie's twin.... "I - I can't. Who are you?"
Archie - or Kennedy - glared at Horatio, then Sebastian, then looked at the floor. "You know who I am. Stop pretending you don't." He winced, and shut his eyes.
"I'm sorry. I've - I've never seen you before."
"Of course you haven't," Kennedy grunted with a scowl, "He keeps me hidden, he's afraid to let me out. Half the time he acts as if I don't even exist, but I do. And he can't deny me forever."
Horatio's mind flew back to that night in Pellew's cabin, the barely-contained and unfamiliar rage he had seen in Archie's eyes. "What do you want?"
"Revenge," Kennedy replied with cold delight, "To take back what that bastard stole from me. He shouldn't win, Horatio. Cut me loose."
Horatio glanced at Dr. Sebastian, who was watching Kennedy keenly. Then he looked back into those glass-hard eyes and said, "I'm sorry. I can't."
"Cut me loose!" Kennedy screamed, and half-rose from the cot before Sebastian forced him back down again. "God damn it, you cheated me once before! Stole that misbegotten whoreson's life when it should have been mine to take! You can't deny me now, you can't!"
Horatio took a startled half-step backward, stunned by the raw fury in his friend's face. "Archie - "
Kennedy lunged at him again, and but for Dr. Sebastian's tight hold on him Horatio doubted his own safety, bindings or no. Finally Archie slumped back on the bed, but his eyes were accusing as they burned into Horatio. Even wrapped in the doctor's arms, Horatio could see how violently Kennedy was trembling."No, curse you, I'll not take your feeble apologies and your empty words. I have been born of endless nights and wracking tortures that you cannot possibly imagine, and given form I will NOT leave this earth until I have settled my accounts. I am owed that from the same God who watched me suffer. Watched us all suffer."
Horatio saw Dr. Sebastian cock his head. "Do you know the youth in the sick berth hammock?"
Kennedy winced again and cast resentful eyes to the half-closed door. "Yes. He was born when I was."
Dr. Sebastian's eyes narrowed. "And grew as you did."
Kennedy's eyes shot to him, then he slowly nodded. "Yes, through the same darkness and pain. He suffers now but once I've avenged what was done to him it will be less." He leaned toward Sebastian and said, "All I want is Hawkins. You know what I've been through, dammit, you know I need this. Let me GO."
Horatio took another step backward, unbalanced by what he was seeing. Dr. Sebastian, however, looked at Kennedy evenly and replied, "Mr. Kennedy, what you need is to be whole again. I can help you, but I need to know how you became separated from yourself."
"No!" Kennedy jerked away from the doctor, "No, I won't hide again. I've hidden long enough."
"I know how you've suffered," Dr. Sebastian replied, "But the revenge you seek would only result in your death. In the death of all of you, and I cannot permit it. But if you do not help me, I cannot prevent it even if you never leave this room."
"You're lying," Kennedy hissed, but Horatio noticed how pale his friend was starting to look. A fine sweat was covering his face as well; it was as if he had fallen ill right before Horatio's eyes.
"I wish I were," Dr. Sebastian replied as he stood, "Are you in any pain, Mr. Kennedy?"
Kennedy rapidly shook his head. "Leave me alone."
"That is how you got into this state," Dr. Sebastian put a hand on Kennedy's shoulder. "I will return in a moment, and then I will help you."
Kennedy shrugged him off, but Sebastian did not seem to have a reaction to that; instead, he turned and herded Horatio out of the room, and half-closed the door.
Horatio waited until they were out of earshot, then blurted, "I just don't understand!"
Dr. Sebastian gave him an even, calming look and replied, "Neither do I, lieutenant, at least not completely. It makes no sense as we know the word, yet here it is, irrefutable. A man torn into three parts."
"That's impossible!" Horatio hissed, even though he knew he could not deny it. "He would die."
"Softly, Mr. Hornblower," Sebastian cautioned, turning his gaze first to the door, then to Archie lying some distance away in the hammock. "First of all, we should be thankful that Mr. Kennedy did *not* die when he was struck by the lightning; to die that way is certainly common enough."
Horatio sighed and nodded reluctantly.
"But what has happened instead..." Dr. Sebastian shook his head slowly. "I can only guess at. Each of these young men recall being struck by the lightning, and before that being together in some way. And now..." Dr. Sebastian's eyes narrowed, and he put his cigar back and drew on it.
Horatio couldn't stand not knowing; his head was spinning from more than the pungent smoke. "And now *what*? Are we all mad? Which of these is Archie?"
"They all are, lieutenant," Dr. Sebastian replied quickly, "I have reason to believe they are all the young man I have seen, and you have seen, torn in his mind over what happened to Thomas, and now torn in his body, his warring selves made manifest. The first," he waved his cigar at Kennedy, who was only half-visible through the cracked-open cabin door, "All of Mr. Kennedy's anger, his rage at Hawkins, his resentment over past events he could not control or seek refuge from, every base guttural feeling he hides and will not let out, is released at last to seek the vengeance he cannot. The second," Sebastian indicated the sleeping youth in the cot, "Mr. Kennedy's fears and despair, the guilt he feels over not being able to protect Thomas, and the small wounded child within him that still cries out to be saved from a world that has never heard him."
"And the third?"
"The third," Dr. Sebastian leaned back against the bulkhead and crossed his arms, "Who wishes to be called Archibald and seems to have no cares - he is Mr. Kennedy with his anger and his fears removed. To him Simpson never happened, and the Justinian is a mere unpleasant circumstance whose memory has no weight or meaning. He calls himself unburdened, but his burdens are not gone; they are here. And they are made flesh."
Horatio felt a sudden rush of queasiness; what the doctor said made horrible, inconceivable sense. He glanced at the half-closed cabin door, then at the hammock and whispered, "What can we do?"
"That I do not know," Sebastian admitted begrudgingly, "But I am praying on it constantly, for one thing is certain: we do not have much time."
Horatio frowned through his confusion. "Time for what?"
Sebastian shook his head regretfully. "Archie is already very sick, and Kennedy has deteriorated before our eyes. Just as a healthy tree cannot live if it is split, so it is with our souls. Mr. Kennedy must be made whole again, or the three parts of himself will each die in turn."
"Oh, my God." Horatio muttered in shock.
"I will remain here with Kennedy and Archie," Sebastian looked at Horatio with serious urgency, "Go and awaken Archibald and bring him here. It may be by the time you return, I will have been shown the way to bring them together again."
Horatio paused for a moment, numb with the unthinkable implications of what he was experiencing. Then he pushed it aside, knowing that whatever his own confusion, his duty was clear, and he would do it or... well, there was no 'or'. He nodded gravely and said, "Yes, sir," and turning on his heel left the sick berth, hoping as he did so that Archibald would be asleep, and thus easy to confine and bring back to the selves who were dying without him.
Thomas knew the stars would be out when he made it back abovedecks, but still had to look to make sure they were there. He smiled when he saw they were.
It had been a long night; it seemed to take forever to get those cables coiled properly, even with Mr. Matthews' help. Jenkins was really trying very hard, but he was still having problems, and Thomas tried to help him without Matthews seeing it, because he was afraid if anyone thought Jenkins couldn't do the work, he'd be beaten. His arm began to hurt terribly after a while, and finally Matthews caught him coiling down the ropes as Jenkins watched. Thomas felt terrible; if Jenkins was punished, it would be all his fault.
But Matthews didn't punish Jenkins. It was strange, and still made Thomas wonder even after all the time he'd been on Indefatigable. Matthews didn't yell, or hit, or even act like he was going to; instead, he merely knelt down next to Jenkins and showed him, very patiently and slowly so the boy would understand, how to coil the ropes down so they would stay where they were supposed to. And everything was all right.
The stars really were out, shimmering and silver, and Thomas gazed up at them as he thought. Things really were all right; it was very hard to get used to. He should be used to it by now; he'd been on this ship for a long time, longer than he'd been on his first ship, the Courageous. Well - maybe he had. It was hard to remember how long he'd been on Courageous, hard to think that far back. Always, maybe. It felt like that, maybe that was why it was so hard to get used to the way things were here. When you always had officers and a captain who beat you, when you always had superiors you were afraid of, when you couldn't remember a time when you didn't close your eyes without listening for footsteps on the deck and hearing your own heart beat quicker with fright...well, then, maybe it was forever. And it was hard to forget that.
But Thomas knew he'd do it. There were people on this ship who looked out for him and Jenkins, and Thomas tried very hard to remind himself of that, because there were times when he threatened to forget. Like when Hawkins came after him...Thomas shivered, remembering that, it felt like he was back on the Courageous again, but it didn't turn out the way he expected. He only bothered Mr. Kennedy when he was afraid he'd faint in the passage and be thrown overboard for uselessness; then when Mr. Kennedy said they should go to the captain, he was really surprised. Pellew was not mean to him like the Courageous' captain was, but why would he care what happened to a cabin boy? Thomas was certain he'd only get into trouble.
He didn't. Instead, Thomas found something he'd never had, didn't even know he wanted: he found someone to help him. He wanted to hide; he wanted to pretend it hadn't happened and that his arm didn't hurt, but the captain wouldn't let him, Mr. Kennedy wouldn't let him, and that made Thomas feel special, something he'd never felt before. The captain got angry - not at him but FOR him, and even in his young way Thomas knew what that meant. This captain yelled at the man who had attacked him, had said things Thomas wanted to say but didn't know how, and said the man would be punished, and Thomas saw all of this. Saw it, and knew that he was safe, really safe, for the first time in his life.
And it was all because of Mr. Kennedy. Thomas glanced up to the fighting top, and then back to the stars again. He wished Mr. Kennedy were there, he felt like talking. Everyone on the Indefatigable was kind, but ever since they met Thomas felt like Mr. Kennedy saw him like nobody else did; like they had the same soul, or ones that knew each other somehow. Thomas didn't know what it was exactly, but he liked having Mr. Kennedy to talk to. At least it felt better knowing there was someone else on the ship who was scared of being grabbed in the dark...
But Mr. Kennedy had been a little hard to talk to, since the attack. I hope he doesn't think I blame him, Thomas thought as he stuck out his tongue and looked down at the deck. I'd never do that, I know he would have helped me if he could. And I should tell him I don't mind if he's angry about what happened. It feels good, to have someone to get mad over you like that. Maybe he just doesn't remember someone getting angry for him...
The night wind was blowing gently, and Thomas shivered a bit against its October chill. He put his hands in his pockets and walked the long deck, savoring one last chance to stretch his legs before bedtime. Then, when he reached the end of the quarterdeck, Thomas glanced up at the stars once last time and decided it was time to go to bed.
Just as he turned to go, however, Thomas was startled by something clattering on the deck beneath his feet. Looking down, he saw that he had just kicked something into the caulking, something round and shiny. Thomas knelt down, thinking perhaps it was a shilling.
It wasn't. It was a little oval medallion, one that Thomas recognized. It was Mr. Kennedy's St. Adelaide medal.
Thomas picked the tiny medal up and gazed at it in surprise. Mr. Kennedy had told him all about that medal, how Dr. Sebastian had given it to him, how special it was. There couldn't be two of them on the ship; Dr. Sebastian was the only follower of the Roman faith that Thomas knew. So this had to either his or Mr. Kennedy's.
Impulsively, Thomas dug into his own pocket and brought out the medal that Dr. Sebastian had given him, not long after they met. Thomas didn't know much about God and such things, but the doctor had told him to think of it as a reminder that help was always near, and that if there was no one else to listen to his problems, that God was always ready to listen and willing to help.
"Like Mr. Kennedy?" Thomas remembered asking.
That made the doctor smile, and he said, "Even better; sometimes Mr. Kennedy is busy, or sleeping, or far away. But God is always awake."
The image on the medal wasn't God; it wasn't even a saint. It was an angel, Raphael. Dr. Sebastian had said that God thought children were so special that he asked the angels to protect them, and that Raphael not only protected children, but travelers as well, and since Thomas was both he could be certain that he was being looked after by the highest powers imaginable. Higher even then the captain.
Thomas looked at his medal closely before putting it back in his pocket, along with the other one. He thought that maybe he should go to Mr. Kennedy's cabin and give it to him; he would be very upset when he saw it was missing. Then Thomas ran a hand over his brow and realized he was very tired; it was late, and his arm hurt. Perhaps tomorrow. Yes, Thomas thought with a yawn, as soon as he awoke tomorrow he would take the medal back to Mr. Kennedy. Surely he would want to be reminded that he was being protected...Thomas knew how much it helped him...
Without warning someone grabbed him from behind and swung him into the air. "Hello Thomas!"
Thomas' heart froze in terror and his mind went blank. "NO!"he cried, and struggled in panic.
"Oh, God!" A familiar voice said, and at once Thomas was back on the deck and looking at Mr. Kennedy, who was kneeling in front of him and looked astounded. "Oh, Thomas, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to scare you."
Thomas tried to catch his breath, and thought, why didn't you think that would scare me? Then he looked at Mr. Kennedy, really looked at him, and saw that he was really very surprised and very sorry. And - what else -
Mr. Kennedy was looking back at him very closely, as if to reassure himself, and Thomas nodded his head and said, "I'm - I'm all right. You startled me."
"I suppose I did, I'm sorry, how foolish of me to go sneaking up on you," Mr. Kennedy said as he put a hand on Thomas' head, "But I saw you up here and I thought I'd come over and say hello. How's your arm?"
"Better," Thomas' eyes grew wide as he looked at Mr. Kennedy's lip, which was swollen and had a cut in the middle of it. "Were you in a fight?"
"Heh - yes, a losing one with the edge of my bunk, I'm afraid," Mr. Kennedy answered with a slight smile as he reached up to touch his lip gingerly. "Nothing to worry about, though, nothing at all."
Something wasn't right; Thomas looked at his friend again and felt a wall between them, a call that his soul was sending that was not getting an answer, and always had before. "Mr. Kennedy, did something happen to you?"
"Yes," Mr. Kennedy replied, putting his hand on Thomas' shoulder, "You're very smart to notice it, Thomas. Can you guess what it is?"
Thomas looked closer at Mr. Kennedy's eyes, really close, and knew right away. "Your scars are gone."
Mr. Kennedy's grin became wider, and his eyes sparkled. "Very good, Thomas! Yes, I've shed them at last. Look," he lifted up his shirt, and where there should have been a scar from when the doctor healed him once, there was nothing. "It feels wonderful, Thomas, it really does."
Thomas tried to be happy, but it wasn't working. "Are they gone from your back too?"
Mr. Kennedy nodded happily, "I looked for myself, in the cabin mirror. They're all gone, Thomas, forever and ever."
"Oh," Thomas said, feeling hurt for some reason he couldn't think of. He put his hand to his face, suddenly very aware of himself. He felt tears start in his eyes.
Mr. Kennedy noticed this, and immediately put his hands gently on Thomas' shoulders. "Don't do that,Thomas, it doesn't change anything except for the better! I can help you, really help you, where before it was a struggle just to draw breath. Wouldn't you like that? Wouldn't you rather have a champion who wasn't afraid of his own shadow?"
Thomas didn't quite understand. "How did they go away?"
"I don't know," Mr. Kennedy replied with a shrug as he stood up, "I was sitting on the fighting top, there was this great burst of light and then - and then there I was, hanging from the ratlines like a blasted monkey. I managed to make it down in one piece; I haven't the faintest idea what happened to the others."
Thomas tilted his head. "The others?"
"Oh - um - never mind, it's not important. The important thing is, I've never felt better. And every fear I've ever had is completely gone."
Not knowing quite what to say, Thomas held up the St. Adelaide medal and said, "You dropped this."
"Oh," Mr. Kennedy looked at it uncertainly, then shrugged, "I - I don't need it anymore, Thomas, I can rely on myself now. You can keep it if you like."
Thomas was becoming very confused. "Dr. Sebastian says everybody needs God."
"Dr. Sebastian is a very good man," Mr. Kennedy admitted, "And he's probably right about most people, but not me. Not anymore." His voice became softer, and Thomas felt his hand stroking his hair. "Thomas, be happy for me, please. I've wanted this all my life."
"But what about me?" Thomas tried not cry, but it was not easy. "You'll leave me behind."
"No I won't." Mr. Kennedy said firmly. "Now that I will *not* do. You're going to make midshipman if you want, Thomas, and I'll help you every step of the way, but there's so much else that can be done with life. Did you know I have an aristocratic title? My father's a lord, and now that I'm better I know he'll be proud of me, and I can get you into a fine private school and teach you riding and fencing - "
Thomas felt something flinch within him, and instinctively he drew back. "I don't want to know those things."
Mr. Kennedy looked surprised. "Oh, but Thomas, that's how you become a gentleman. You can be respected and admired, and you meet all the best people."
"I respect Mr. Hornblower, and the doctor," Thomas replied, "And they aren't lords."
"Well - " Mr. Kennedy looked like he was thinking, then said, "Well, maybe when I've got you settled I'll work on them too. What do you think?"
Thomas didn't hesitate. "I want all of you back."
Mr. Kennedy stood and smiled in a puzzled way. "What do you mean, Thomas? I'm all here."
"No you're not," Thomas shook his head in absolute certainty, "What I need isn't there anymore. And what's left doesn't know who I am."
Mr. Kennedy seemed stricken by this; he looked at Thomas in a way that made him feel bad about what he had said, for a few moments. Then he knelt down and put his hand, very gently, on Thomas' right cheek.
"I do know you, Thomas," Mr. Kennedy said, looking right into the boy's eyes as he spoke, "And I'll help you, I promise. My father knows surgeons, fine ones who only people like him can afford. When I've made you a gentleman, we'll go to him, and take care of your scars too."
It was meant in a nice way, Thomas knew, but it made him shiver all the same. He looked into Mr. Kennedy's eyes that were kind but empty, that were only looking at him from the outside; and suddenly Thomas was very frightened. He thought of what he could do, what could make things right, and couldn't come up with anything. He stared at Mr. Kennedy, and trembled.
Mr. Kennedy saw this, or Thomas thought he did; he smoothed his hand along Thomas' hair, then stood with a lopsided grin. "Well, it's getting very late for you, I know. I'm off to the officer's mess - hm!" Mr. Kennedy winced suddenly and put his hand to his middle.
Thomas noticed this and asked, "What is it?"
"Hm!" Mr. Kennedy said again, and shook his head. "I don't know - a stitch or something. Anyway, good night. Come see me tomorrow and we'll have more to talk about, eh?"
Mr. Kennedy gave him a final smile and walked away.
Thomas stood there for a long time after Mr. Kennedy left, trembling and trying to think of what he should do. His friend was gone, and the Mr. Kennedy who remained was not his friend, not really; he was perhaps sick too, and whatever was wrong needed to be fixed right away, but Thomas did not know how. Deciding he could never sleep now, Thomas sat down in the shadow of one the massive cannons, where no one could see him, and brought his Angel Raphael medal out of his pocket. He held it and the St. Adelaide medal very tightly together, and raising his eyes to the night sky tried to control his fear long enough to talk to God, and help his friend become whole.
Dr. Sebastian could feel Kennedy's hot gaze on him even before he reentered his cabin and half-closed the door; the youth was not moving, was sitting hunched against the bulkhead on Sebastian's cot, his manner still surly and uncommunicative, but his face was pale and glistening with perspiration. When Dr. Sebastian sat down in the chair by the cot, he turned his face into the shadows.
"Now then, Mr. Kennedy," Dr. Sebastian said, as if the lad had welcomed him warmly, "Tell me where you are hurting, and I will try to help you."
"I am *not* hurting," Kennedy hissed through clenched teeth.
Sebastian sighed and leaned forward. "It is a very cruel joke on me indeed that your stubbornness did not lodge with one of your brothers. Is it your stomach?"
"Leave me alone."
"Or your heart? That has been hurt too."
Kennedy paused at this, and for a few moments Sebastian heard only his rasping breath in the cabin, but still could not see his face. Then Kennedy said, "He's jealous, you know."
Sebastian brought himself back a bit. "Who is?"
"Your Archie Kennedy. The one you know, who is all of us. He won't tell you about it, because he's afraid you'll think less of him, but he is."
Dr. Sebastian crossed his arms. "Who is he jealous of?"
"Of the boy. Of Hornblower. He tries to cover it with platitudes and hopes, clings to them in the belief that they will quench his anger, but it isn't working; I still burn with his unanswered questions."
Dr. Sebastian leaned back in the chair. "So ask them now. You have always had that right."
Kennedy's head came down, and his fevered face grew flushed. "Why wasn't I spared? Why did no one come to help? Why was I cursed with affliction and left to rot in prison with no one - no one - " Kennedy paused for a moment, and drew a large breath, "When Horatio came I hated him - beyond reason I hated him because he had lived and grown straight and tall and what was Archie Kennedy? A forsaken wreck, abandoned cold and alone for three hellish years while he went on from triumph to triumph. Why? What sin did I commit, what villainy have I not repented of that God would punish me that way? Thomas has for a father every man on this ship; my father will not even acknowledge me and when I cried - when your Archie screamed, oh God, doctor, such screams as left us all voiceless for days afterward..."
Dr. Sebastian closed his eyes.
"No one came." Kennedy's voice was soft, sorrowful. "No one came. Eight hundred men, and no one came. Why?"
Dr. Sebastian opened his eyes again, and in meeting those brilliant, betrayed eyes felt his own heart close to breaking.
"Archie stopped screaming, after a while," Kennedy said quietly, "There was no point, and he learned - Simpson rather fancied the screaming. So he stopped. That was when I was born."
Dr. Sebastian's compassionate gaze never wavered. "But you were screaming for him."
"At every insult, every violation," Kennedy's voice rose again, "Every small death Archie suffered I bore like a scar upon myself, waiting for the day when justice would be done and I would watch Simpson bleed and hear his screams. Even when the darkness grew, when Archie's soul was so battered that it was all we could do to keep him anchored to this earth, I held fast. I wanted Simpson's blood."
"And yet you were denied even that."
"Exactly," Kennedy's gaze grew deadly, "Your Archie fears me, he sees me as the animal Simpson was, and Hawkins is, but he doesn't understand I can right his wrongs and cry out for him that he was worthy of the protection he needed so desperately and never received. He needs me, doctor. The youth lying in your sick berth hammock needs me as well. Now, let me loose and allow me my just revenge."
Dr. Sebastian contemplated his hands, did not take his eyes off them as he said, "Mr. Kennedy, you know that if I let you go I consign you to death. You also know that I would be betraying my oath as a physician if I did so."
"Your oath be damned!" Kennedy spat, "Do you want your Archie's soul scarred forever? Do you want him to hide behind rules and regulations while his heart breaks with frustration?"
"I want him to live," Sebastian replied as he looked into Kennedy's eyes, "And if I allow you to take Hawkins' life, Archie will be tried and hanged as a murderer, no matter what his justification."
"No one will convict me," Kennedy shook his head, "Not after what that bastard almost did to Thomas - "
Dr. Sebastian shook his head and leaning closer spoke very softly. "Mr. Kennedy, you know how much I wish to remove the pain you have felt, and the scars you must bear. But killing Hawkins will not do it; his blood is not clean, and it has no power to restore you. Your scars will still remain."
"How do you know?" Kennedy growled, struggling with his bonds once again.
Dr. Sebastian paused before answering, "I know because when I was a boy and was chased down the streets of London and beaten with rocks and sticks, I had an anger grow inside of me too. And when I was older, and treated with suspicion and distrust, that anger flourished. And when my wife and son died and I was powerless to prevent it, that anger came bursting free."
Kennedy stopped struggling, and looked puzzled. "I've never heard you speak of that before."
"It has never mattered before," Sebastian answered, leaning back in the chair and drawing one hand over his hair, "But it matters now. When you are one again, Archie, you must never hide this side of yourself again. But you cannot give it free rein, either, or it will destroy you. It very nearly destroyed me."
Kennedy looked at the floor silently.
"Do you believe me when I say that all the anger I unleashed, all the venom that sprang forth from me, did nothing to remove my scars or heal my heart? My wife was still dead, my son taken from me, and this - " He pulled his hair back to reveal the small streak of white behind his right ear, "The souvenir of a beating I had received at the hands of bullies twice my size - that was still there, only now it flushed red with shame. Your anger is more than justified, Archie, but killing Hawkins will not save you, even if you are not convicted. And if you are it will lay all three of you in the grave."
Kennedy didn't move, except to wince a little. He seemed to be thinking this over.
Dr. Sebastian took this as a sign and leaned forward again, putting his hand on Kennedy's shoulder. "Now, Mr. Kennedy, you may deny it but I can see you are in great pain. I believe that pain is the result of your separation, and if I do not help you it will get worse, until it destroys you. I want to prevent that. Please help me."
"I can't die," Kennedy gasped, "Not yet."
"My sentiments exactly. Now please tell me what happened on the fighting top."
Kennedy licked his lips and stared straight ahead, as if struggling to focus. "We were together, thinking, I remember - I was very awake, very strong and - he had the medal."
"The St. Adelaide medal?"
Kennedy nodded. "He had it out, was looking at it. He stood up and then - there was a flash of light and I was thrown free, and fell into the water." Kennedy squeezed his eyes shut and grunted against sudden pain.
Dr. Sebastian put a comforting hand on Kennedy's shoulder. "What are you feeling now?"
"I don't know - " Kennedy hunched over himself, "A...hollowness, but it hurts. Damn it, I can't die now - not when I'm so close - " He opened his eyes and looked at Sebastian with concern. "Are we all feeling like this?"
Sebastian rose, "I don't know, but I believe so. I will go check on your brother, and return shortly. I can only hope that Mr. Hornblower has reached his party in time to save all of you."
Kennedy nodded in appreciation, then turned his face back into the shadows and closed his eyes once more. "Not yet - not yet - "
He was still muttering to himself when Dr. Sebastian left the room.
Horatio walked quickly down the companionway, trying not to attract attention to himself and fighting the urge to break into a full run. As he walked he ran his hands through his hair, and asked the same question he had been asking since he first stepped into Dr. Sebastian's cabin and looked into those eyes.
Those eyes. Those eyes that were Archie's, had the same shape and tilt to them, the same sky-blue color - but full of such rage and hatred that Horatio had recoiled at the sight of his friend. Archie's entire being was marred with fury, radiating the kind of animal hostility Horatio had only seen one other time in his life, from one other man. And that man he dared not name.
But if that was Archie, who the hell did he pass the evening with in the officer's mess? Horatio shivered; that did not seem to be Archie either, at least not the Archie he knew. Oh, there was the Kennedy sense of humor, and the lightheartedness that had once welcomed Horatio so blithely to shipboard life. But something was lacking, some - groundedness, perhaps. That Archie was superficial and smug, almost like the aristocratic fops who used to tease Horatio when he was a youth. Archie - the Archie Horatio knew - cared nothing for class or societal trappings; they had used him ill enough. But this Archie - Archibald - cared everything for it. And little else.
But then - but then -Horatio thought of the stricken youth shivering in the sick berth hammock, who was so distraught that he could hardly speak. That was Archie as well? No, impossible; this young man was no more Archie than the first one was. Those fears had long been put to rest, the hesitation and panic that frustrated Archie's growth were long buried and forgotten; he did not cower, he did not cry out at loud noises and unexpected shadows. But this youth who wore Archie's face did, and dammit - dammit -
They were all Archie. Dr. Sebastian had said so, and Horatio knew it was true, even if his senses and everything he had ever learned about what was possible told him it was a lie.
But it was true, it had to be; Horatio knew it because he had looked inside himself, and seen what was there; the sides of himself that could never be made manifest, that he dared never show or else all would be lost. Archie had his fear and anger; Horatio had his too, but they were different, born of different circumstances. His fear was not a cowering child but a stiff-necked child in grown-up clothes, terrified to show his emotions lest they brand him weak, anxious to be thought a strong and capable figure at all times, even when he wanted nothing more than to crawl somewhere and wail out his hurts. Horatio's fearful child still cried, but not from abandonment or tortuous pain; he cried from the terrible agony of inhuman restraint.
And his anger - Horatio had tasted his own anger, had felt it consume him as he stared down the barrel of a pistol at Simpson's cringing, pale face. God, how he wanted to put a bullet into that loathsome brain! It had almost overwhelmed him, and Horatio wondered as he strode toward Archie's cabin if he would have let it, had all of Simpson's sins been known to him then. He knew Simpson was a bully, and possibly a murderer - but he did not know the depths of that creature's depravity, the souls he had eaten, the lives he had ended through the sheer misery he inflicted.
Could I have stopped myself then? Horatio wondered, and felt his gut roil at the answer. He forced himself to stop thinking about it.
Here was the cabin door, and Horatio took a moment to compose himself, wondering what he would say to convince Archibald to come with him to the sick berth. If there was a scene, the marines would be summoned, and how could it be explained? Pellew could not know of this - no one could know, this was a reality that defied imagining. Only Styles had seen Archie, and no one had seen any of them together, so Horatio was confident that if he could only get Archibald to the sick berth, somehow - somehow - this would all come out all right. And he had to do it quickly - if what the doctor said was true, all three Archies could be lost unless a way was found to reunite them. But in Horatio's mind, his task was already accomplished; he only had to stay calm, and not draw any attention to what was going on. He could then get Archibald to the sick berth in secrecy, and then - hopefully - he would get his friend back, and everything would be put right. It had to happen that way; Horatio did not want to deal with the alternative. And he certainly did not want to have to think about it anymore.
Only one thing was missing. And Horatio was here to fetch it.
He opened the cabin door, looked within.
Thomas huddled against the cannon and clutched the Raphael and St. Adelaide medals tightly. It was getting cold, and he knew he should be in his hammock on the orlop deck, but he was frightened for Mr. Kennedy and knew he couldn't sleep; he had to pray.
Pray - that's what Dr. Sebastian said you should do anytime you or someone you cared about was in trouble, so that's what Thomas did, but he wasn't sure it was helping. It made him feel a little better; he could picture Raphael standing right at his shoulder, writing every word he prayed down on a big piece of parchment, and flying it straight up to God. The thought that anyone as important as God would care about his problems still bothered Thomas a little - he hoped he was worth the effort - but why hadn't Raphael come back with the answer yet? And how would he know what the answer was? Maybe there wasn't one -
The watch had been by a few times, but if he had seen Thomas sitting in the shadows he had given no notice, and walked on; Thomas could see him standing by the stairs on the poop deck, staring out at the sea, and knew he would not be noticed for at least a little while longer. So he shut his eyes, held the medallions tighter, and began to pray again.
Not two minutes later, Thomas heard footsteps coming and opened his eyes to see Mr. Kennedy coming onto the quarter-deck. He stopped at the railing opposite where Thomas was sitting and opened his arms wide, as if stretching them, and took a very deep breath. Then he put his hands on his hips, in a satisfied way as if everything was just as he wanted it to be, and gazed out at the dark and silent sea.
Thomas bit his lip as he watched, and felt tears come again. They weren't alike now; who was he going to have as a friend, someone to watch out for him? Jenkins was his age and really couldn't look out for him, and no one on Indefatigable had known him as well as Mr. Kennedy did, and right away too, as if they'd known each other for ages. Thomas had only just realized how good it felt to be loved and protected - it hurt to have it go away again. It hurt like the devil.
But he looks so happy, Thomas argued with himself as he blinked away the tears. It's a sin to wish someone was unhappy, wasn't it? Wasn't it bad of him to want Mr. Kennedy to have his scars back, just because it made *him* feel better? Of course it was. That was why Raphael wasn't giving him an an answer...
But something else troubled Thomas. He had listened while Mr. Kennedy talked about being an aristocrat, about going hunting and riding and being a gentleman, and he did sound very happy about it. But Thomas did know some officers who were aristocrats, and people on land too, and some of them weren't very nice; he tried to picture Mr. Kennedy being friends with them, talking to them the way he talked to Mr. Hornblower and the doctor, and couldn't do it. Perhaps they weren't aristocrats, but being with them made Mr. Kennedy happy because they cared about him and wanted to make him better, like they were making Thomas better; he didn't know of course, but he wasn't sure the lace-throated and stuffy aristocrats he knew would really be interested in doing that...
Thomas shook his head and looked down at the medals still clasped in his tiny hand; it was so confusing, he didn't understand it. Didn't -
"Mr. Kennedy? Are you all right?"
The voice of the watch made Thomas look up, and he saw that Mr. Kennedy was still by the railing, but he was holding it with one hand and had the other on his chest; he was leaning against the railing as if he'd suddenly gone faint, and looked very puzzled. The watch had just reached him, and was putting a hand on his shoulder.
"Heavens! Yes, I'm fine," Mr. Kennedy smiled at the young man, and nodded quickly, as if he wanted him to go away, "Just a - bit of ill digestion, I suppose."
"Are you sure? I could summon the doctor if you like - "
"Oh, no! No, no need to do that, I just - " He took a deep breath, let it out again, "There! Better already. Thank you."
The watch nodded and walked away, and Thomas watched Mr. Kennedy after he was gone. Mr. Kennedy took another breath, hand still to his chest, then winced and looked puzzled. He wiped his face and shook his head, as if trying to clear it. Then he took another breath, much more slowly, and nodded to himself. Whatever was bothering him was past.
Thomas watched all this with great concern; he remembered when Mr. Kennedy had gotten that 'stitch' earlier, and he didn't want him getting sick. He thought about going to get the doctor anyway, and began to stand up.
**No. Stay here.**
Thomas paused; what was that? It wasn't a voice, and there wasn't anyone around. It was more like a feeling, but stronger than that. He looked at the medallions, and felt an involuntary shiver go through him; then he sat back down and looked at Mr. Kennedy again.
He looked better; he was walking around the quarterdeck, taking deep breaths and swinging his arms. Thomas decided it was the moonlight that was making him look so pale, and the brightness of the lanterns that made his face glisten as if he had been working very hard. He couldn't be sick; but there must have been a reason why Thomas was to stay there by the cannon...
Mr. Kennedy walked back to the railing, and gazed out at the sea; then, as Thomas watched, he grasped the nearest ratline and swung himself onto it, climbing a short way up until he was about eight feet off the deck. He took another deep breath and smiled to himself, the brilliant happy smile of someone who was having the time of his life and wanted more of it. Then he began to climb the riggings again, faster and faster, until Thomas had to look way up to see him. He reached the fighting top, and climbed onto it, stretching his arms way over his head and smiling like he'd just conquered the world. Then he put his hand to his chest again, and frowned as he put his other hand on the ratline ropes.
That was when Thomas knew that Mr. Kennedy hadn't conquered the world; that he was still very sick; and that he had to stay there and help him, whatever happened.
Thomas stared at his friend in horrified vigilance, and clutched the medallions even tighter in his hand. And prayed.
Dr. Sebastian walked slowly through the sick berth, praying as he did so. Already he could hear the soft gasps of pain that came from the youth lying in the hammock beyond, and he did not know how to help him. Or any of them. Lord, show me the way, he thought as he neared that tiny pool of light where Archie lay sick and confused and torn from himself in a way that Sebastian had no earthly knowledge to heal. It was not so different from burning bushes and angels ascending staircases, but Sebastian knew the consequence of this vision if he failed to understand it. Lord, help me.
The gasping stopped. "Is someone there?"
Sebastian sighed and went to Archie's side; as he feared, the youth looked pale and disoriented, the lanternlight gleaming dully off his fevered brow. Sebastian put his hand in Archie's so he would not be afraid. "Yes, Archie, I'm here. Why did you not let me know you were in pain?"
Archie looked at him blearily. "It's all right - I'm used to it."
"Well, you needn't be," Sebastian responded, to conceal the sudden disgust he felt at Archie's matter-of-fact acceptance of intolerable agony. "Did the mixture I gave you before help?"
"A little," Archie admitted as Sebastian felt his forehead, "But now there's something else - as if I'm fading away, but a bit at a time. I feel dizzy."
Dr. Sebastian felt a surge of fear inside himself. It was starting. "I'll do everything I can for you, Archie, I promise. Do you remember the prayers I taught you?"
"Yes - am I dying?"
Sebastian paused before laying one hand on Archie's abdomen. "Not if there is power to prevent it."
Archie swallowed hard and closed his eyes as Sebastian felt for any clue, any hint as to what was causing the trouble and how to solve it. Of course, he knew he would find nothing. Nothing -
"Doctor," Archie whispered, "Will you do something for me?"
Nothing. "Of course, Archie. What do you need?"
"Thomas - if this results in my death - look after him. Please."
Dr. Sebastian nodded. "Yes, Archie, but it will not come to that if I can help it. Please try to relax."
But Archie wasn't listening; he was shaking his head in despair. "It happens so quickly, you might not even see it. No one saw when it happened to me, not even the ones who were looking. It could happen to Thomas too, and I can't let it. I can't."
Dr. Sebastian stopped his examination and moved closer to the top of the bunk, hoping to ease Archie's distress, "Mr. Kennedy, what are you afraid is going to happen to Thomas?"
Archie gazed at him, lost for a moment, then he whispered, "It's like death. You're awake, but you don't feel anything; days, weeks, months - I don't remember what happened, one to the next. It's always terrified me, that I don't remember."
Dr. Sebastian could see that fear, blazing and brilliant in eyes laid bare to the soul. He gripped Archie's hand tighter.
"If something happens - " Archie gasped, "If he isn't - careful - I can be lost, but not Thomas. Not him too, doctor, promise me. *Promise* me."
Dr. Sebastian nodded slowly, feeling a dreadful certainty battling with a forlorn hope within his own soul. "You have my word, Mr. Kennedy. I swear by Almighty God."
Archie smiled at that, as if that oath alone was reassurance enough. He closed his eyes and winced again. "Oh God - it hurts - "
Dr. Sebastian winced in sympathy, and moved to rise from his seat by the hammock. "Let me see if I can find something to help you."
At least, that was what Dr. Sebastian wanted to say; before
he was halfway out of his seat, however, something crashed across
the back of his head, and he was swiftly thrown into unconsciousness.
At the sound of something heavy hitting the floor, Archie jerked his eyes open to see Kennedy standing over the doctor's unconscious form, two torn ropes dangling from his wrists and a heavy bottle in one hand. Without blinking, Kennedy stepped around Sebastian's form and looked at Archie earnestly. "Don't be afraid of me."
Archie blinked at him. "No, of course not. How did you get free?"
Kennedy smiled sardonically. "There's a ragged splinter on the bulkhead in the doctor's cabin that I think he is going to be sorry he didn't notice before."
"Oh," Archie replied, and glanced at the doctor crumpled on the floor. "You're not going to kill him, are you?"
Kennedy looked at Sebastian mildly and shook his head. "He's always tried to help us. It's not his fault he doesn't really understand." He brought his gaze back up to Archie. "Come on."
Archie sat up a little in the hammock, and grimaced. "I'm not sure I can."
"I'll help," Kennedy walked around the hammock and helped Archie out, putting an arm around him to steady his movements. "You'll feel better if you move around."
"It hurts," Archie put his free arm around his middle, "Don't you feel it too?"
Kennedy nodded, "But I can't let it stop me. If we've got to die, I'm going to die fighting. And I'm *not* going to die until I've taken back what was stolen from me, from all of us. But especially from you. Let's go, before the doctor wakes up."
"I - I can walk," Archie said, and tentatively released himself from Kennedy's grip. "But where are we going?"
Kennedy's eyes were bitter but determined as he leaned through the shadows to Sebastian's table; when he returned to Archie's side, a knife gleamed in one hand.
"We're going to do what will heal me, and you, and set our courses right at last," he replied, and his voice was like January ice. "We're going to kill Hawkins."
Horatio had seldom been so frustrated - or frightened - in his entire life.
He couldn't find Archibald anywhere. His first thought had been that he had gone to the sick berth for his lip, or because he had begun suffering the pangs of separation that the others were afflicted with; then he considered that Archibald hadn't seemed at all concerned about his lip, and decided that he must have gone to the officer's mess for more drink; he certainly had a taste for it...
But blast it, Archibald had gone by the time Horatio got there. Cleveland was still there, however, and rather crossly observed that "Mr. Kennedy's humor was certainly on a sharp edge tonight." Horatio groaned inward, wondering how many people Archie was going to have to apologize to once this night was over - provided he lived through it.
No, that was wrong, Horatio thought to himself as he made his way up the companionway stairs; Archie *would* live through this, and become whole again, if he had anything to do with it. And once whole, Horatio vowed to himself that he would never again assume that his friend had no anger in him, or was divorced from the fears that plagued him. No, Horatio knew better than that now...
There was once place Horatio had not looked yet, one place Archibald might go, and Horatio dreaded looking there because of what it would mean if he was right. But still - Horatio climbed the stairs into the cooling night air, and once he reached the mainmast looked skyward.
Oh damn. He was right.
Archibald was standing on the fighting top - no, he was standing on the mainsail yard just below the fighting top, one hand grasping the rigging for balance and the other waving to Horatio jauntily.
"Archie, come down here!" Horatio called through cupped hands. "I need to speak with you!"
"I told you, it's Archibald, Horatio!" Archibald responded with a grin, "And why don't you come up here? It's a spectacular view!"
Horatio looked around; there was essentially only the watch on deck, and he merely glanced at the two officers, then looked away, apparently seeing nothing amiss in their transaction. He grunted to himself in frustration; climbing the riggings was the last thing he wanted to do.
"Come on, Horatio!" Archibald urged, kneeling down and putting his free arm across his knee, "It feels wonderful, try it!"
There was no help for it; Horatio could not very well shout his misgivings to all the world, and it would take far longer to talk Archibald down than it would for him to climb - oh say - halfway up the rigging. He grabbed the ropes.
"There's a fellow," Archibald encouraged with a smile as Horatio gamely climbed upward, "Get rid of your fears, Horatio, it's the best course. I did and look what's become of me!"
"Yes - that's it - Archibald," Horatio panted as soon as he got close enough to speak in a normal tone, "You're not - whole anymore, Dr. Sebastian needs to see you at once."
"Not whole anymore?" Archibald stood, laughing, "What are you talking about? I'm more whole now than I've ever been."
"No, you're not," Horatio insisted, a little more than halfway up now, "Think, Archibald, your scars are gone, your bad memories and your fears - they've been split from you, when you were hit with the lightning."
Archibald's smile faded, and he looked puzzled. "Well - well, what of it? Certainly that can't be a bad thing!"
"It is," Horatio put one hand on the cold metal of the fighting top, struggling to catch his breath, "Archibald, it's making you sick. It will kill you if you don't - "
"Don't say it," Archibald said quickly, and his face became very serious for the first time, "Horatio, don't."
"I'm sorry," Horatio shook his head as he came to stand on the grating, "Dr. Sebastian insists that you come with me back to the sick berth."
Archibald stood motionless and looked at him for a moment, fear and shock in his bright blue eyes. He didn't even seem to breathe; his blond hair blowing in the light breeze was the only movement.
Then he laughed.
Horatio started at the sound, loud and high and overflowing with joy. Archibald looked at him as if he'd gone mad. "Oh, Horatio, you've acquired a sense of humor at last! To think I would leave this - " He swept his hand out at the vastness of the sea and the wonder of it, "To have those doubts and problems heaped back on me again. Really, I wonder that you don't go on the stage."
It took Horatio a moment to collect himself. "Archibald, I'm not joking. I'm being very serious. Dr. Sebastian - "
"Oh, bother Dr. Sebastian!" Archibald snorted, "He's only jealous of my good fortune, and I'm sure he hasn't a notion as to what he's doing anyway. If you're not going to be happy for me, Horatio, then - then for mercy's sake just leave me alone."
"No!" Horatio argued, becoming very angry at Archibald's dismissal of him, "No, I won't. Archie, I'm sorry but I can't be happy at what you've become because the logic of it escapes me. The sympathetic friend, the caring officer, the man who triumphed over his challenges and grew stronger from them - that man's company made me happy, but you no longer understand those things and it's weakened you," Horatio took a step towards his friend, "For God's sake, you *need* those scars, just like I need mine and the doctor needs his. Archie, please - "
"Get away from me!" Archibald moved a little on the yardarm, stretching himself as far away as he could get and still maintain a grip on the rigging, "Dammit, Horatio, you don't know what you're talking about. I *need* to feel the pain of horrible memories and have nightmares that wake me up screaming? I *need* to have ten years of abuse mapped on my body like a carnival freak? No. NO!"
At that moment Horatio saw Archibald wince and put his free hand to his chest, gasping as he dropped to one knee on the yardarm. He tottered, and almost fell.
"Archie!" Horatio called out, and stepped to the edge of the fighting top.
With a great effort, Archibald steadied himself and looked up at Horatio, his face flushed and angry beneath his wind-blown hair that almost covered it. He shook his head vehemently.
"I won't go back," He whispered, and Horatio saw tears in his eyes, "I won't. Horatio, you don't know what it's like. I'll die first."
Horatio froze in place, and tried desperately to think of what to do.
Far down below, still tucked in between the two cannons, Thomas watched the scene above him unfurl, a growing sense of fear building within him.
He was happy when Mr. Hornblower came; he thought he could get Mr. Kennedy down before he hurt himself, and everything would be all right. He had begun to wonder if he was mistaken when he heard someone telling him to stay where he was - it didn't seem necessary.
But then something happened. Mr. Kennedy didn't seem very happy to see Mr. Hornblower, and now they were arguing. Thomas could just barely make out what they were saying - he couldn't catch every word - but the words he caught almost caused his young heart to stop with fright.
" - Dr. Sebastian needs to see you - "
" - it's making you sick, and will kill you - "
" - I'm being very serious - "
"I won't go - I'd rather die - "
Thomas held his breath as he stared up at the two officers. Mr. Kennedy looked sick indeed, but he wasn't taking Mr. Hornblower's hand; he seemed to be afraid of it, or angry about it, or something. But he might have another attack if he didn't get off the yard arm in time - he might fall into the water and drown - he needed help -
The medals. Thomas opened his hand and looked down at them, and somehow knew that Mr. Kennedy would be all right, if he would just take his back. He was wrong when he said he didn't need the medal anymore, as Thomas suspected he was; he never should have thrown it away. But he was so far from Thomas, the boy knew he would never hear him; there was only one thing to do.
Resolutely, Thomas put both medals in his pocket and unseen by anyone put his small hands on the ratlines. Ignoring the stabbing pain that shot through his bandaged arm, he set his face into determined lines and began to slowly climb upward.
The carpenter's walk was dark, but Kennedy walked it with confidence, guiding Archie along behind him with a hand on his sleeve.
"We're getting close," he said in a quiet voice that seemed to soak into the timbers, "Don't worry."
It had not been an easy journey; knowing they would be taken if anyone saw them together, Kennedy had Archie put a cloth over his mouth, as if he was a sick shipmate Kennedy was helping to the sick berth. It was a desperate ruse, but so far it worked; and once they made it to the carpenter's walk, the narrow corridor that ran the length of the ship just inside the hull, Kennedy knew they would not be spotted. Especially in the dark.
Archie made a small sound and stopped, gasping.
"What is it?" Kennedy asked.
"The doctor's right," Archie replied in hitching breaths, "We can't survive apart. We've got to get back to the sick berth."
Kennedy felt for Archie's shoulder and gripped it. "I know, and we will, but we must do this first. We might not get another chance. It won't feel so bad once the revenge has been taken, I swear it. You'll feel better about everything."
Archie's voice was puzzled. "I will?"
"Yes," Kennedy promised, and paused before saying softly, "Don't you remember when you were born? *How* you were born?"
"Of course - I do - "
"Then you know how wrong it was. How painful, most people's fears don't get wrenched into existence like that. And you've lived in that pain since. It's not fair, and you know it."
"But - this is murder - "
"No it isn't. Think, Archie, think what Hawkins wanted to do to Thomas. Think of Thomas' fears - you've seen the ones he has, you know them as you know yourself. But they're not as big as yours; he doesn't have your pain."
"No, thank goodness."
"But imagine if he did. Imagine if you looked at him one day and saw that his fear suddenly knew you, that it had come screaming into the world and was huge, like yours was before you met Horatio and the doctor. What would you do to prevent that? Archie?"
The answer was soft and terrified: "Oh, God - anything."
"Well then," Kennedy said matter-of-factly, "This isn't just revenge, and it isn't just for us. It's to keep Thomas safe as well. Nothing else matters if either of us lets him get hurt. Come on."
Horatio stood on the fighting top, breathless and overwhelmed. He was afraid to move, to blink, to breathe; Archie was teetering on the narrow yard arm, and another attack or a thoughtless motion could send him crashing to the deck. And then -
- Horatio refused to think about it.
As if he heard his thoughts, Archibald straightened up, very slowly, and took several deep breaths with his eyes closed. "That was - a close thing." he muttered.
"Yes, it was," Horatio said quietly, as if the very words he spoke might bump into Archibald and knock him over. "Archibald, I think it would be a good idea if you came off that yard arm."
"Oh," Archibald opened his eyes and gazed straight ahead at the distant and beautiful stars. His voice was calm and forlorn. "In a minute, Horatio. In a minute. You know, I...I was very young when the world stopped feeling this way to me. I'd forgotten how grand it all is. The other Archie, the one you know, he - he touches it every so often, but it doesn't...suffuse him, doesn't course through his being the way it courses through mine, right now. You'll forgive me if I don't want to leave this feeling. It's miraculous."
"Yes. I remember it too," Horatio admitted, edging closer so he could grab Archibald if he fell, "Before my mother died. The days were full of sunlight, and the nights - "
"The nights held only stars and the moon. Never shadows." Archibald tilted his head up at the twinkling lights far above him, and smiled as the gentle breeze fluttered through his hair. "What can I do? I don't want to leave this, Horatio. Even if it means my death, you must know the cost of what you're asking me to do. Think of your past, and then imagine every tear erased, every hurt smoothed away. Would you want that pain back? Would you willingly put that horrible, heavy mantle on again?"
"If it made me a better man," Horatio replied carefully, edging a little closer, "If I knew that I could do more with my hurts than without them, it would be difficult but - but I think it would be my duty to take them on again. I'm not certain I would have undertaken our friendship if I had not already been keen to suffering."
"Oh!" Archibald smiled at that. "Touché, Mr. Hornblower. No, perhaps not; certainly there were many others who were just as happy to see me writhing on the floor in a fit and never thought to try and bring me out of it."
"Yes. And - and think of those you can help, once you're Archie Kennedy again. Few men have your courage; many could benefit from seeing it."
Archibald looked down and frowned. "Yes, but..." Suddenly his eyes got wide, and he froze. "Thomas!"
Horatio nodded. "Precisely. He's benefiting wondrously from your - "
"No, no! Look!"
Horatio followed Archie's panicked eyes downward, and gasped. Thomas was climbing toward them, very slowly, along the ratlines; he was panting as he did so, and both men could see that he was heavily favoring his injured arm.
"My God!" Horatio gasped, then he called out, "Thomas!"
Thomas looked up, and Horatio's heart stopped at the amount of pain on that youthful face. His eyes met Archibald's urgently.
"Thomas, what are you doing?" Archibald cried as he knelt onto the fighting top.
"I - " Thomas blinked for a moment, then said, "You have to go to the doctor. He wants to make you whole again."
Archibald shot a look at Horatio, then replied, "Thomas, please get down, it's dangerous. I'm fine, Mr. Hornblower's just confused."
"No, you're not," Thomas was almost crying now, "You're sick, I saw it. And you'll get sicker if you don't let the doctor help you."
Horatio's heart was in his throat, and he moved towards the ratlines to help Thomas. One wrong step - one spasm in his arm - and the boy could be pitched into the water.
Archibald's hand was on his arm in an instant. Horatio looked up into determined blue eyes.
"I'm faster than you, and I'm not afraid," Archibald said in a low voice.
Horatio shook his head. "You're also very ill. What if you - "
"I won't," Archibald swore solemnly. He turned to Thomas and said, "Thomas, does your arm hurt?"
It was clear the boy was trying to decide whether to lie about it or not; finally he said, "Yes, a little."
"All right," Archibald said, and stepped out onto the ratlines, "Stay there, I'm coming down to get you."
Horatio saw Thomas nod, and hug the wavering lines with both weary, shaking hands. He noticed his own hands were shaking too, and fearfully held his breath.
"We're almost there."
Kennedy and Archie were standing at the back of the ship, on the gun deck. The brig was straight ahead, an old unused storage room whose entrance was murkily lit by a single lantern, and the open gun portals that let in the cool night air. Kennedy smiled at the sight, and turned back to see Archie right behind him, kerchief still covering his face. With a nod, Kennedy advanced, and raised the knife that was in his hand.
A figure stepped out of the shadows; the marine guard. Kennedy growled a little, and his muscles tensed for a fight.
Then a flash of lightning beamed through the open port, and Kennedy saw that it wasn't a marine.
It was Dr. Sebastian.
"Good evening, gentlemen," he said, his voice low and very stern, "You have misplaced yourselves, I think."
Kennedy brandished his knife and glowered at the surgeon. "Stay out of this, doctor. I told you, if we have to die I won't let this sin go unpunished."
Sebastian walked out of the shadows, slowly, as the lightning flashed again. "I know. You are determined to do this, but I cannot allow it. I care too much for the young man you are putting in danger."
"I am *saving* that young man," Kennedy snarled, "No more cringing in the shadows, no more fearing every little noise in the dark. We'll see an end to it, doctor. An end to it at last."
"And an end to *him*," Sebastian countered, coming closer, "Did you hear nothing I said before?"
Kennedy lowered the knife a little. "Yes. And I know you're trying to help, doctor, but you don't understand. Your scars are different than mine, your suffering - you don't know what I've endured. It's my right, dammit. And I will *not* allow it to happen to anyone else. It is too much to ask."
"And what of that?" Dr. Sebastian asked, raising his eyebrows and looking at both Kennedy and Archie equally. "When you have murdered Hawkins and are hanged for it, or sent from the service in disgrace, then who will look after Thomas? Your souls know each other, he trusts you as he does no one else, for you have saved his life. What will it do to him, when you are shamed and gone? You are being very selfish, Mr. Kennedy, when you only consider that it is your life you will lose. You will also lose the soul of that young child."
Kennedy glared at Sebastian, and behind him Archie looked shocked. Sebastian returned those looks with the even stare of absolute conviction.
Kennedy's jaw clenched as he looked into those black, diamond-hard eyes; then he said, in a low voice, "Then you tell me what to do, doctor. With all the hate. All the anger. All the wishing there was someone's door to lay this upon and be done with it. If we..." he winced, took a deep breath, went on, "If we live, it will destroy me, even if I save Thomas. I am very afraid it will eat me alive."
Dr. Sebastian put a hand on Kennedy's shoulder and kept his eyes on him. "You have a door to lay it upon, Mr. Kennedy. There is nothing in you that is so terrible it cannot be brought into the daylight. Only trust in me, and we can set about healing your scars together." He looked over Kennedy's shoulder, at Archie, "All of them."
The wind was beginning to pick up, and Horatio could see lightning arc across the sky as he watched Archibald work his way towards Thomas.
Archibald saw the lightning too, and looked up at Horatio, "God, Horatio, get off that metal thing before you're struck! I'll be fine."
Horatio nodded, and put his hands on the starboard riggings. He was still close enough to hear Archibald's words, however.
"Thomas," Archibald called out, "Are you all right?"
Thomas nodded, but Horatio could see that he was just barely holding on. Hurry, Archie, he thought. *Hurry*.
"For heaven's sake," Archibald said as he made his way down the lines, "What made you come up here anyway?"
Thomas looked at Archibald earnestly, "Your medal. I have to give it back to you."
Archibald stopped, and Horatio held his breath as he saw him convulse a little. "My medal?"
Thomas nodded again, "You need it to make you strong. I know what's wrong with you, that the scars have to come back to make you whole again. I'm bringing your medal back so you'll have something to hold onto when it hurts. Like I do. I hold onto you."
Horatio could no longer see Archie's face, but his posture and his voice conveyed his surprise and absolute chagrin. "Thomas - "
Suddenly there was another flash of lightning, followed by a gust of wind that rattled the ratlines. Horatio heard Archibald cry out, "Hang on, Thomas!"
But whether Thomas heard, Horatio did not know; he hunched himself around his wounded arm with a startled cry, and as Horatio watched in horror slid off the ratlines into the cold water below.
"Thomas!" Horatio and Archie cried together, and before Horatio had time to blink he saw Archibald fling himself from the ratlines into the water. *Hurry Archie!* Horatio screamed to himself as he made his remarkably careless way down the riggings, and only when his feet hit the deck did Archibald's voice course through his mind -
**I've never fancied the navy; I can't even properly swim!**
Then Horatio raced for the railing, and called for the watch
at the top of his voice.
Far below, in the murkiness of the gun deck punctuated with great bursts of lightning, Dr. Sebastian looked on in concern as Kennedy, who still stood before him, groaned in pain and put his hand to his middle. "It's getting worse."
"Yes," Sebastian said, "We must get you back to the sick berth as soon as possible."
Kennedy's eyes were knowing and bitter as he raised them to Sebastian. "But you don't know what to do, do you? We'll die anyway, all of us."
Sebastian sighed. "The way has not been shown to me yet, but I cannot believe God wants your life to end this way. There must be a way for you to come together as one soul again."
Kennedy shook his head in resignation, and behind him Archie put a steadying hand on his shoulder and looked at Sebastian with anguished eyes.
"We must hurry," Dr. Sebastian said quietly, and took a step forward.
Suddenly the silence was shattered by a splashing sound and a loud cry from far above them: "Thomas!"
All three men turned toward the open port. They could see a small form flailing a short distance away, being swallowed by the chilling water.
"His arm's hurt," Archie exclaimed, "Can he swim with it?"
Suddenly there was another splash, a larger one, and without hesitation Kennedy began working himself through the small port as all of them heard the sound of Horatio calling for the watch.
Sebastian knew what they were doing, and put a hand on Archie's arm as he moved to follow his brother through the port. "You could all die doing this."
To his surprise, Archie who had before this been all fear and trepidation, looked at the doctor in a state of absolute eternal calm. "I know. We all know."
Then he was gone, and Dr. Sebastian was standing alone.
The pain shocked Thomas back from darkness and he struggled against the heaviness that weighed him down. He couldn't remember for a moment how he was in the water or what had happened to him; then he tried to swim and felt a terrible pain in his arm, and remembered.
*Help!* The water was cold and numbing, wrapping around his arms and legs like freezing-cold molasses, until it was almost too much of an effort to move. He could see lightning flashes above the water through his closed eyelids, but he was too frightened to open them. His lungs hurt but he couldn't scream, and the pain in his arm was wrenching him down, away from the ship, away from his friends -
The medals, he thought in panic, pray, pray, Raphael are you there? He dug in his pocket with the last strength he had and found both medals, and pressed them in his hand tightly. Help me, help me, I don't want to die yet, I'm sorry about everything I did wrong, help me I can't breathe help me -
Then suddenly someone's hands were on him, holding him tight, and Thomas opened his eyes but couldn't see anything in the murky water. But he knew whose hands they were, the same strong arms that lifted him once before back to the daylight; he felt with his own small hands until he found arms, shoulders, and wrapped his arms around them to go home.
But something was wrong, because they were not moving; for a very brief moment Thomas thought he heard a cry of frustration, right in his ear, but before he could even think about that there were more hands on him, arms around him and Mr. Kennedy both, swimming, lifting, helping. And they were moving upward now with lightning swiftness, toward the freedom of the surface and the night full of the brightest stars -
Then all at once there was a great white light, brighter than any Thomas had ever seen, and something shot through him like a hundred cannons going off at once.
Then he blacked out.
Horatio decided not to wait until the watch had come over before throwing himself over the railing and looking quickly at the churning water below; he had a better chance of rescuing Thomas and Archibald if he could see them -
- but blast! There was nothing. Then, just as the watch reached the rail, Horatio looked far below him and saw two blond-headed figures shoot from one of the lower ports into the sea and thought my God - if that was who I think it was -
The watch was at the rail. "What happened?"
"Man overboard," Horatio quickly explained around the flashes of lightning that made him flinch, "I'm going in - "
Even as he said it Horatio felt something around him, like a sudden backcurrent of air coursing through his veins, and all the hair on his neck stood on end. He looked in surprise at the watch, and saw an expression of amazed horror on his face.
"Cor!" The watch exclaimed.
Then the lightning bolt hit.
The force of it threw Horatio into the water, and it took him a moment to realize that he was not, in fact, dead. Then he realized that someone was in the water with him, and looked over to see Archie swimming frantically towards him with Thomas clutched against his neck.
"Help me!" Archie sputtered, "He's not breathing!"
In a second, Horatio helped Archie onto the ladder, and climbed behind him onto the main deck. At the railing a dozen hands helped Archie and Thomas over, and as Horatio followed him he saw Archie place Thomas' too-still form on the deck and bend over it, agony plainly written on his flushed and dripping face.
"Thomas!" Archie cried, putting the boy on his side and thumping his back desperately, "Thomas, please, oh God - God - " Then Archie's lips moved soundlessly, as he continued to pound Thomas' back, and Horatio saw then the cut on his lip, the terror in his eyes and the raised outlines of scars against the sea-soaked shirt that was plastered to his back. He stared at them, speechless.
Suddenly Thomas seemed to shudder all over and with a great heave spat sea-water all over the deck. He took a huge, gasping breath and began to cough, deep painful-sounding coughs that made Horatio cringe at their intensity. As the men around them visibly relaxed, Archie brought Thomas upright and into his arms whispering, "Oh, thank God! Thomas, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry - "
Archie's relief was obvious, but Thomas had a reaction to it that Horatio didn't expect. He struggled out of Archie's embrace, pulled himself back to arm's length and looked at him, very closely. Most of the men had wandered away, so only Horatio saw this; after a moment he heard footsteps and looked up to see that Dr. Sebastian had joined him.
"He's all right?" the doctor asked quietly.
Horatio nodded. "I think - look."
Thomas was standing absolutely still, breathing deep and ragged breaths but staring into Archie's eyes with determined concentration. Archie looked back, himself apparently on the verge of exhaustion, but he did not move or say a word. He only watched as Thomas reached out one trembling hand and opened it.
Two silver religious medals lay within it.
Without a word, Thomas held his hand out; Archie took his medal solemnly, and Horatio saw him swallow hard as he did so. Then he looked back up at Thomas, and the boy put his other hand against Archie's brow, pushing his hair back a little from his forehead as if looking for something. Then he brought his hand down and touched Archie's swollen lip, and looked once more into his eyes. Then, as if finally believing that everything he was looking for was really there, Thomas smiled in childish happiness and in one swift motion threw his arms around Archie's neck, clinging to him in voiceless, overwhelming joy.
Archie did not hesitate to return the happy embrace.
Horatio heard Dr. Sebastian clear his throat beside him,and looked to see a mixture of wonder and immense relief in those great dark eyes. Feeling compelled to say something, Horatio ventured, "Well doctor, it seems...it seems that all is well, after all."
"So it seems," Sebastian replied, "I do think, to reassure myself, I should take them to the sick berth and make certain there are no broken bones or other trials to contend with. And then..."
Horatio was basking in the happy reunion before him, and only incidentally said, "And then?"
Sebastian sighed again. "And then, Mr. Hornblower, I would very much like to have a smoke."
It was very early the next morning when Archie and Thomas took their seats at the taffrail to study numbers. The sun was just coming up, and the day promised to be warm and comfortable; a light breeze was ruffling the pages of Thomas' borrowed mathematics book, and he had to hold the page down with one hand to read it.
"Now there, you see, Thomas," Mr. Kennedy was saying, pointing at the baffling text with his finger, "There's where you went wrong. You're supposed to divide those figures, not subtract them."
"Oh." Thomas frowned at his slate, and erased his mistake. He really felt all right, except that his throat hurt, but mostly he was glad that Mr. Kennedy was all right. He looked up quickly, to make certain that what he needed behind those eyes was still there, and hadn't gone away again.
Mr. Kennedy caught this. "Thomas, are you all right?"
Thomas nodded. "Yes. Sorry."
Mr. Kennedy patted his shoulder and smiled at him - not one of those fake smiles that Thomas sometimes got, but a real smile that said that he knew what Thomas was afraid of, and not to be afraid of it anymore.
But Thomas wasn't quite satisfied. "Mr. Kennedy?"
"What was it like?"
Mr. Kennedy paused; his face became very serious. "Do you mean last night?"
Thomas nodded. "When you didn't have your scars anymore and you weren't afraid. I want to know."
Mr. Kennedy looked out onto the water and took a deep breath. "Well...it's kind of hard to explain, but here goes. It was like being hollow, like - well, do you remember when you would lose one of your teeth? When new ones came in?"
Thomas frowned., and nodded.
"Well, it was like that. Something was missing, something that had been a part of me. I know I acted happy but I wasn't really. I...I don't think I ever would have been, if I'd stayed that way."
"Because it made me foolish," Mr. Kennedy said, and Thomas saw sadness in his eyes, "It made me stop caring about things that were important. I was very silly with you, wasn't I?"
Thomas looked down at the deck; he didn't want to admit it.
"I'm very sorry I acted that way with you," Mr. Kennedy said sincerely, "And - you saved my life, Thomas. You reminded me of why I couldn't stay giddy and foolish like I was. When I saw you fall into the water, I knew that I needed more than I had to rescue you. And what I needed came."
Thomas brought his head back up with a frown. "When you were with me in the water, there was someone else."
Thomas thought harder. "There were *two* other people. Then - there was just you. Who was it?"
Mr. Kennedy looked very uncertain for a moment. Then he said, very quietly, "Well, Thomas, think of it this way. Last night I was very concerned for you. I was angry at the man who hurt you, and at the same time very upset that you had come to harm. For a while, it was as if those feelings caused me to come apart. Like I was three people, not just one."
To Thomas, this made perfect sense. "That's why your scars were gone. They were on the other people."
"Exactly. But when you were in danger - when I thought I might lose you - we came back together again. We had to, and I don't regret it for a second."
Thomas thought some more. "What was that light?"
"Now that I know for sure," Mr. Kennedy said more strongly, "It was lightning."
Thomas' eyebrows went up in surprise. "We were hit by lightning? Why aren't we dead?"
"I believe I know why," Mr. Kennedy replied softly, and putting his hand in his pocket produced his St. Adelaide medal. "I was struck twice, Thomas. The first time I was holding this, and desperate with worry. The second time you had it, and were trying to save me."
"I had mine too," Thomas said, looking at Mr. Kennedy's medal in wonder. "So the doctor was right about them."
"He's right about a lot of things," Mr. Kennedy admitted, and put the medal away. "I hope what happened last night didn't give you any nightmares, Thomas. If it did, I want you to tell Dr. Sebastian right away."
Thomas nodded solemnly. "If you'll tell him yours."
Mr. Kennedy paused, and Thomas saw him smile slowly. "It's a bargain."
Thomas returned the smile, feeling the familiar warmth of the kindred soul he saw once again in Mr. Kennedy's eyes; it was all he ever wanted, now that he knew it was possible to not fear the dark.
Mr. Kennedy took a deep breath and said more loudly, "Yes, Thomas - I owe you everything, and now I am determined to make you a midshipman as repayment! What do you think of that?"
Thomas looked up again, a momentary joy filling him at those words and the promise that stood behind him. Then he grimaced back down at the book. "I think my mathematics skills are still pathetic."
"Oh - yes - well then," Archie cleared his throat melodramatically and leaned over the book, "We must amend that now, mustn't we? You know whose book this is; perhaps it rubs off. Before long you will be a scholar just like Mr. Hornblower himself."
I'd rather be like you, Thomas thought, but he didn't say
it. Their souls were talking, just like they used to; he knew
he didn't have to say a word.
Later that morning Horatio took a turn about the deck, immensely relieved to note that there was not a trace of the previous evening's horrors in the blue sky and brilliant sunshine that surrounded him. It could almost be that the incident had never happened; almost, except there was dried blood on the edge of Archie's cot, and when Horatio glanced over to the taffrail where Archie was helping Thomas with his number - well, even from that distance Horatio could see that Archie's lip was still very swollen.
He walked slowly around the deck, savoring the daylight, and as he did so caught sight of Dr. Sebastian standing with Captain Pellew near the wheel, discussing some matter of importance and enjoying the fine weather. The doctor caught his eye and after a few more moments' conversation bowed briefly to Pellew, and made his way to where Horatio was standing.
"Good morning, lieutenant," he said with his usual calm smile, "A lovely day."
"Yes," Horatio agreed hastily, his mind suddenly bursting with a thousand questions, "Quite - but - "
Dr. Sebastian held up his hand. "Allow me, please. Mr. Kennedy and Thomas are both fine. Thomas stayed awake just long enough to make it to his hammock, but I am afraid he went to sleep without removing his clothing or his shoes."
Horatio nodded as he absorbed this. "What about Archie? Does he remember - "
"That he did not want to talk about, at least not last night. Mostly he was exhausted, and very apologetic over striking me. We agreed we would discuss it when he is ready. Perhaps tonight."
"I hope so," Horatio remarked, remembering with a shudder the heartless anger in Archie's eyes, the caged beast that must be released somehow or devour itself from within. "Last night was most - enlightening. I've never - I never thought - "
"No, lieutenant. Nor I believe did Mr. Kennedy, but I think...I like to hope that this unearthly experience has done him at least some good. If nothing else, he now knows that he may show himself, his truest self, and not be afraid of the consequences. And also - I believe young Thomas has never been more certain that he has a friend who would die for him."
"I suppose," Horatio acquiesced, "But I still don't understand. It doesn't make *sense* - men struck by lightning die, they don't - don't...well, what happened to Archie, I've never seen it before. What happened?"
Dr. Sebastian shook his head and gazed out across the sparkling sea. "That I do not know, Mr. Hornblower. I am not prepared to say it was an act of God, although good did come of it. But what else it could have been...I am afraid we will probably never know. So let us settle on the good, and see what tomorrow brings."
Horatio glanced over at Archie and Thomas, bent over their work and laughing over some joke that only the two of them shared. Settle on the good...that Thomas was all right, that Archie was himself again, that the entire baffling adventure was behind them. That the unsettled feeling he had been experiencing was gone, replaced by a sort of satisfaction that had not been there before.
Archie had needed to vent his rage at the world, and did. And Thomas needed assurance that the Archie he knew - the anger that protected him, the humor that lifted him up, and the kindred spirit that knew his fears and doubts - would not go away while he was needed. And the assurance was given. Thomas had been saved by it, and through Archie's scars both would be healed.
Settle on the good. Horatio spared one more look toward the taffrail, and decided that this sounded like a very good idea indeed.