He went back to his post.

Styles met him on the half-deck, looking suspiciously uneasy.

"The wind's droppin', sir, and turnin'. And one of the prisoners, sir. The captain. Says he needs to speak with you."

In the flickering light of the cockpit, amid the overpowering stink of the latrine bucket, the captain of the brigantine stood. He was dressed in civilian clothes but Archie knew that the gold-braided uniform he had stowed in his cabin was his. He just didn't know yet which one was the Captain's primary garb. Officer or pirate, spy or soldier, or all of them.

"I am so sorry about the young captain," he said smoothly, his English entirely too good. He was tall, his face clean-shaven and dark.

Who's been talking, Archie thought furiously.

"You know nothing of our circumstances."

"I beg your pardon. The decks are thin. And a doctor recognizes the sound of a man in delirium."

Archie rocked back on his heels a little. The captain pressed forward. " Perhaps this may be a fortunate meeting for both of us."

"You are lying."

"Am I? I am a surgeon, Dr. Marquand; this is my ship,as I have told you numerous times. Not all sailors are ignorant mercenaries, Captain. I was returning homeward when I was attacked by you English brigands. A clear act of piracy but even so, as a surgeon, I am willing to help."

"I don't think so. You are exploiting the situation."

"Your man here -" Archie withered Styles with a searing glance. "tells me your officer was shot accidentally five days ago. He told me no more - but I will tell you. The wound was badly dressed. It has not healed. It is probably draining foul-smelling pus. The fever is high, there is delirium - obviously violent - and the periods of lucidity are decreasing. There is constant vomiting and dehydration of the body. The dehydration will kill him possibly before the infection. There is probably some material remaining in the wound. If it is removed and the wound cauterized, he may live. If not, well, there is one less English pirate on the sea."

He's right, Archie thought, that's been exactly it. "Styles, what have you told him?"

"Nothing but that bit, sir, he said he could help, and I thought...Only that, I swear. I didn't want Lt Hornblower to... "

"Be quiet," Archie said.

If he's not a surgeon, at least he's been a surgeon's mate and he knows more than any of us. Archie took a deep breath. He knew what he was about to do was insanity - and he was going to do it anyway.

He had Styles release the irons. Marquand rubbed his wrists. Archie drew his pistol. "Surely," Marquand said, "between gentlemen -"

"Not even between gentlemen," Archie said.

Horatio was deeply asleep or unconscious; either way, Archie was grateful he wouldn't have to fight him over this. Marquand examined Horatio briefly. He pressed two fingers into the angry swelling just below Horatio's yellowish liquid oozed out. "There is something in there, deep; there may be something against the bone, a fragment of lead or even bone itself. " He pulled Horatio's head up with such indifference that Archie had to catch himself to keep from striking him. Marquand pulled Horatio's eyelid back. "The eyes are cloudy, the skin - see. He does not have much longer unless this fever is abated."

"Help him, " Archie said. He tried to make it sound more an order than a plea.

Marquand let Horatio's head fall back to the pillow. Horatio yelped faintly. Archie bit down hard.

"There will be a price, you know."

You French bastard. You pirate.

"You are my prisoner, sir. I believe I have the advantage."

'Certainly. Lock me up - or shoot me. You cannot force me to operate."

Archie was shaking now with fury. "And your price?"

"My ship, of course. My men to be released - now. In three hours they will return to get me. We will be on our way - as you will."

"You would bargain with a man's life?'

"I will do whatever I have to do, monsieur. As you will."

"Mr. Villard, return the prisoner to the cockpit, please. I need a moment."

Archie looked at Horatio. He would do it for me, but he would find a way to win. Well, I can't; I can't pull triumph out of impossible situations. The bloody hell with it all, then...

He felt a tug at his breeches-leg. Horatio's eyes were flickering open. "No," he said through cracked and bloody lips. "No, Archie."

Archie said, "It's already decided."

"No... We must make sail for the Indy now."

"You won't make it to the Indy, Horatio. And I will do anything for you - except watch you die."

"No, Archie! You will not give up that ship!"

"God damn the ship, "Archie said.

Marquand's instrument case was brought to him. It looked real; maybe he was telling the truth after all. He's also a spy, I think, Archie thought bleakly; and I am going to turn him loose - if Horatio lives.

"Do you trust him, sir?" Matthews asked.

"No," Archie said shortly.

The tired young face, eyes dark-circled, scruffed with two days of red-blond bristles, was hard. "I don't have a better choice, Matthews."

Matthews said quietly, "He'd do no different, sir, for you."

"But he would make it work out - and - As I said, I have no better choice."

"We'll see it through, Captain, all of us," Matthews said. "All of us."

They went down to the bay with Styles and Villard. They eased a half-conscious Horatio gently over onto his belly. Marquand lifted something wicked bright and Archie's balls climbed up into his gut.

Matthews looked at Styles; Mr. Kennedy was gray under his tan.

"I think we can handle it sir, me and Styles and Mr. Villard."

His sun-faded eyes were compassionate.

"No, Matthews. I need to be here."

"Likely he won't know anything about it, sir," Styles said, comfortingly.

Marquand looked up. "He'll know," he said.

It was hard to believe there was that much fight left in Horatio.

The moment they all took hold of him, he started to struggle, bucking wildly. Marquand said coldly, "I cannot work like this. Do something with him."

"Shall I get more men, sir?" Matthews said.

Archie narrowly missed having his jaw broken as Horatio slammed his head upward. He got a better grip and forced the heaving shoulders down. He looked at Marquand. "Have you nothing to give him?"

"No. And if I did, his heart would fail."

His heart will fail if he keeps fighting us, no matter if we can hold him down. And if I hit him again I'll kill him, Archie thought despairingly.


Horatio turned his ragged head. His eyes were the eyes of a pain-crazed animal.

"Archie?" he whispered.

"Yes, Horatio. Be easy now, it's all right." Archie tried to keep his voice level.

"Archie -I thought we were on the Justinian - " he said, panic in his voice.

Archie shuddered. The memory of those days tore through him like a thrown handspike, and he had far more to remember than his friend. Not now, not now oh please not now, I cannot think of that now. He struggled to reach through the fever-darkness to find the flicker of light in Horatio; that bit of lucidity to which he was somehow clinging.

"No, no, we're on the Falcon. We're going to put you right. Do you understand? I know we're hurting you but you must not fight us. Horatio, look at me. You cannot fight; it will kill you. Do you hear me? Horatio?"

A nod. Horatio closed his eyes.

"Give me something to hold on to," he whispered.

It was not courage that kept Horatio from screaming. He couldn't scream. He did not have the air to do it. The agony sucked all the breathe out of him. He had the blanket between his jaws because he had to be still or the pain would find him and hurt him more. Archie had told him not to fight but Archie didn't understand - he had to be very still because if he moved it would leap on him and kill him. At the edge of his consciousness he could hear Archie frantically praying under his breath. He tried to remember not to fight, that the hideous thing being done to him was not an enemy's doing. He had wrapped his hands around the bar at the end of the cot to keep from being sucked into the maw of agony that was battening on his body. When the knife scraped ribs - he heard it in his head before he felt it - he wrenched the bar loose. For a moment he was in a panic - Falling oh God please I'm falling! but Archie was there, he understood, he let go of Horatio's shoulders and said hoarsely "Grab my arms. Hold on to me. And Horatio - for God's sake yell if you want to......I'm going to."

The last thing he saw was Archie's face gone sick and white. What? he thought and then hot iron touched the wound with a wet sizzle...

The pain was beyond all thought and he lost his hold and slid down into it.


From the Horatio: Unbound Series

By Swamper3@mpinet.net

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