The Union Delegate
Josiah was following Pendragon and Vin, he had lost track of Ezra, but the young officer could take care of himself, that was something they had all come to understand. At first he thought Buck mad to take him on, his discipline record was abysmal - but then so was his - and Wilmington had been right about him, so he had decided he had better give his C.O. the benefit of the doubt. And under Buck's unique form of structured but liberal discipline young Standish had flourished.
The tall Englishman disappeared further into the dark ship, and Sanchez followed. Suddenly a man came at Pendragon, and in a split second as the attacker raised his pistol Sanchez had pulled his knife and sent it whistling, end over end past Pendragon's face to embed itself deep in the man's chest. Feebly he tried to pull the blade out before he sank to the floor. Only now did Josiah see why the English spy hadn't reacted to the threat. Two other men were crouched beside a stack of barrels, the fuse was already lit and sparking angrily toward them. Pendragon launched himself at the man with the fuse in his hand, clubbing the man down with his pistol butt then with the barrel pressed to his attacker´s forehead, he fired at point blank range.
Nothing happened except the dull click as the hammer came down on a dud percussion cap. Josiah snapped back into action and swung his huge fists at the second man as he moved toward the fuse. The man who had just escaped a certain death grappled with Pendragon and managed to get him in a bear hug. Suddenly he cried out and went limp as Vin drove his knife deep in to his body. Vin grabbed Pendragon and pulled him to his feet, then both men spotted the twisting fuse, just inches form the hole in the barrel. Without a second thought, Vin launched himself at the barrel, the bloodied knife still in his hand. As he fell he sliced down flush against the side of the barrel, the lit fuse fell away and he smothered it with his hand just to be sure - there had been just few inches left!
+ + + + + + +
On deck the fighting was frantic and dirty. The crew and guard of the Madagascar Queen, weren't trained professionals like the marines, but they were fanatical, had no fear of death and there were more of them. Ezra found himself facing multiple opponents, he would cut one down with his sword and another two appeared, he had already slain a man attempting to skewer Harris from behind when he turned to face a taller man, who from his clothing was some kind of officer. It was a short fight, the enemy managed to run his narrow-bladed sword through Ezra's upper left arm, he stood there, still holding the impaled blade, smiling evilly at Ezra's agony as he twisted his wrist.
"Sir " Ezra gasped out, " someone should have taught you, not to disable your own WEAPON!" Suddenly Ezra came to life, ignoring the pain in his arm he swung the sword in his right hand around in an arch and decapitated the man in one move, his severed head falling with a sickening thud!
Ezra just stood there for a moment, panting and looking at the mutilated corpse at his feet. Then as Pendragon, emerged from the hold and looked on, he coolly and calmly pulled the sword - that still protruded from his arm - out. Only the merest gasp accompanied this agonisingly painful procedure. Jackson and Harris looked on - this was why they liked Mr Standish, no matter how unhappy he was with the privations of military life, he was fearless when his blood was up, and he took care of his men. The deck around him seemed to have been cleared of adversaries, so Ezra just turned and headed to the bow, where shouts and the sound of metal on metal could still be heard.
+ + + + + + +
Chris was fighting like a tiger on the fore deck, he was a superb swordsman and he was cutting a swathe of death through the enemy, hell he was having fun! One miserable bastard after another fell to his sword, he was aware that fight was going their way, and he began to relax. Suddenly a cry that sounded like his name reached his ears; he hesitated, then ran the poor wretch in front of him through before he turned. Behind him stood a truly huge man with bill-hook raised, poised to slice him two, he knew in an instant he couldn't bring his own blade up in time to stop the huge weapon. But as he raised his weapon anyway, nothing happened. The man froze, then his eyes rolled back and he sank to the deck in a boneless heap.
+ + + + + + +
JD just stood there, his mouth open in awe, unsure he had seen what he had just seen. Both he and Nathan had seen the man approaching the Captain, both knew he was unaware of the imminent danger. JD shouted a warning and beside him, in no more than a blink of an eye, Jackson had a knife in his hand; then it was sailing through the air, missing all the rigging in between and buried itself to the hilt between the attacker´s shoulder blades. Chris turned, somewhat stunned, and spotted Jackson. He grinned, saluted the tall black medic and returned to the fray.
It seemed the battle was over, it had been short and bloody, certainly no foes remained on deck. The wounded, mostly enemy, moaned and called for help, the few wounded marines made their way back to the ship and to Nathan Jackson, whom they trusted more than most doctors.
JD could stand it no longer, he just had to find out what was going on aboard the conquered ship. He made sure Mr Jackson wasn't looking and slipped over the side to the other ship. He had seen which way Major Wilmington had gone and he set off to find him.
Deep in the bowels of the ship, Buck heard the sounds of battle die down, and smiled grimly - he had no doubt who had won the action - indeed it never occurred to him that his men could lose. A movement caught his eye, a furtive scurrying that was no rat! He moved forward cautiously, pistol at the ready in his left hand, sword in the right. In a small store close to the cable hold he found two men crouched over three barrels - a fuse ran from one barrel. The furthest man had a lighted taper in his hand. As he looked around and locked eyes with the tall American officer - lighting the short fuse was a death sentence for all of them - the second man crouching to his left seemed to freeze as two men stared at each other. Then before Buck could even say anything, the fanatic lit the fuse. Buck sprang forward, he didn´t dare fire his pistol this close to gunpowder, so dropping it he charged toward the barrels, sword at the ready to cut the fuse free. So intent on stopping the explosion was he, that he paid no heed to the blows the two men were now raining down on him as they tried to stop him, he just drove on, using all his height and strength to reach the evil, snaking line of fire. Eventually the tip of his razor sharp sword found its target and cut the fuse free from the barrel. It lay on the deck and spluttered, fizzed, and finally died.
With the ship safe Buck turned on his attackers. He swung the hilt of his sword back at the face of the closest man. It impacted with the man's cheek, spilling him back clutching his face. Struggling to his feet he spun on his heels to face the second man. Swinging his long blade he sliced into the man´s thigh; Buck´s opponent yelped and stepped back then seemed to be galvanized and with a hideous yell charged. Heedless of the danger he just ran on, and as Buck pulled his sword around the man impaled himself on the blade almost to the hilt. With a sickening gurgling sound he came to a sudden stop, sinking to his knees before he keeled over. Buck gave the blade a twist to free it from the body before him. The room was dark and his fight had set the small lantern overhead swinging, as he stood, still trembling with the adrenalin rush he thought he saw two faces - the angry, bloodied face of the last fanatic and the young, pale, terrified face of JD Dunne. The villain saw his eyes dart worriedly to the door and he looked around, seeing JD and a way to escape. Before Buck could move, the man had grabbed the boy around the neck.
He pulled JD to him and held an evil looking stiletto blade at his vulnerable neck. The man pointed to Buck's own sword and obediently Buck dropped it. Then with his head he gestured to the door.
"Buck?" JD whispered, seeking reassurance. He only called the tall officer 'Buck' when he was very upset or scared.
"Just stay calm JD, don't make any sudden moves," Buck warned in a soft calm voice that belied his rising panic. This man was desperate and he had nothing to lose and was dangerous.
Buck backed out of the door into the dark corridor, and was moving backwards slowly as the villain advanced with JD in his grasp. As they walked, JD fumbled under his cloak for his own pistol. They were nearly at the companionway, there was no way the man could get up the steep stairs with JD and Buck knew it. He would wound the boy, knowing Buck wouldn't abandon him, and thus he would make good his escape. Trembling with fear but resolved to get himself out of the mess he had got himself into by disobeying orders, JD pulled the pistol far enough out so that Buck could see it. Wilmington didn't want JD to do this, but he really didn't see any way around it. He gave the smallest of nods and JD turned the pistol to point backward. The wicked blade was still pressed up against JD's neck.
"Just take it easy JD," Buck said calmly, "don't do anything foolish, while things are so close, alright?" He hoped JD understood and was relieved when JD closed his eyes briefly.
"Look, I don't know if you understand me, you animal! Just let the boy go, you have a knife I have nothing!" Buck was trying to goad the man into moving the blade from JD's throat, just for a second. "What kind of man are you that you hide behind children?" Buck continued. It was a risk but Wilmington took a step forward. That did it!
The man shouted something in a language Buck didn't understand and the blade moved forward just a fraction, instantly JD fired his pistol.
The explosion under the cloak was somewhat muffled, both shooter and victim cried out. The man fell back clutching at his side, blood blooming over his clothing, already pooling on the deck, Buck had seen men bleed like that before, they always died - quickly. Suddenly Buck realised JD was franticly pulling at his clothing, the spark from the gun had set fire to his cloak. Buck grabbed the smouldering fabric and pulled it off the slight young man.
"JD?" he asked. There was no response. "JD come on look at me." JD was staring at the man he had just shot, watching him bleed.
"Should shouldn't we do something for him I mean a doctor or Nathan?"
"He's dying JD, nothing will stop that, and even if it could, we would be saving him while Nathan should be looking after better men just for the hangman." The man gasped, his eyes fluttered and closed.
"Oh God! Is he? I mean, is he already dead?" JD asked, sounding panicked.
"No, not yet, but he isn't in pain anymore either, come on let´s get up on deck, see if we can help those poor wretches we came here to save not this scum." Buck put his arm on Dunne's shoulder and turned him away.
JD hissed in pain and Buck stopped. "What?" he asked.
"Nothing, I'm alright, please I want to get out of this place."
"Alright, come on, we could both use some fresh air."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra Standish had grown up in the south, he had seen slaves on plantations, had lived with them, been cared for by them. Often, in what had in all honesty been a mostly unhappy, lonely childhood, it was the cooks, house boys, mammies´ and stable hands who had been his only friends when his mother foisted him on distant relatives and acquaintances for days, weeks or months at a time. He had even seen the basic huts and cabins the field hands lived in, but he had never seen anything like the sight illuminated by Pendragon's lantern. Three tiers of bunks, in a hold no more than six feet high, no more than a foot apart. The men, who were all naked, were chained together to their bunks, they could only move if their neighbour gave some of his slack. There was no water and nowhere for the waste other than a communal drain between the bunks. The stench was almost overpowering. When they realised what was happening the stronger ones cried out for water.
"Oh dear God!" Ezra breathed in abject horror.
Vin, his eyes burning with an intensity that was truly frightening pushed past them both, he convinced the Englishman to go, he still had to defeat the ring leader, the madman responsible for the human misery before them, and rescue the men's officers. Vin promised they would take care of the men, calling for water and a smith to cut the chains, and for Nathan.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan Jackson was born into slavery - though his had been easier to bear than most - and he was just an ordinary sailor, but when faced with the sea of misery in the hold, he took command, he took no notice of rank as he barked out orders. The upper deck, where formerly the crew had lived was turned over to the poor wretches as they were helped out of their own hell. Blankets appeared and were wrapped around the men, some were so weak they had to be carried. Josiah put his prodigious strength to good use as he made repeated trips into the stinking hold and returned with weak and often semiconscious men. Fresh drinking water was sent across form the Union Delegate, the ship's crew swarmed aboard to care for their comrades in arms. As the marines concentrated on the prisoners, making the ship safe and secure, Larabee stood on deck, directing operations. He spotted Buck and JD walking toward him, JD looked deathly pale, leaning on Wilmington as he walked.
"Chris, where's Nathan?" his old friend asked.
"Caring for those poor men we found. Hell and Damnation! Buck you should have seen them, it was God! I've always hated slavery, now I know why."
Buck felt the same way, but JD needed to be checked, at the very least he needed to lie down, since he was clearly in shock.
"My men?" he asked.
"Far as I know, no one is seriously hurt, no one dead, I know that."
"Thank God - your crew?"
"The same. What's wrong with JD?"
Dunne looked up for the first time, he looked into the intense green eyes of his Captain, his hero. "Um Sir, I am sorry, I disobeyed you, I left the ship."
"So I see."
"I thought it was all over, sir - sorry." He looked down again, still leaning on Buck.
"Killed his first man," Buck explained, "up close, very close."
"Ah," Chris understood, "take him to Nathan as soon as he's free."
Nathan was pleased to find none of the British soldiers were in need of anything more than water, food, warmth and a chance to rest and get clean. He was still checking but it looked good so far. He had already tended the handful of wounded marines, and given some cursory and basic care to the wounded enemy, now under guard on deck. He was surprised to see the fastidious and whiny marine lieutenant tending the men, he seemed oblivious to the filth and the smell, but as he watched he realised the young man was only using his right arm. In the poor light he couldn't be sure but the sleeve of the man's mans plum jacket looked wet.
"Lieutenant Standish sir?" he asked.
"Yes Mr Jackson, what more can I do to help?"
"No sir, you been doin' enough helping. Sir can I take a look at your arm please sir?"
Ezra frowned. "I'm fine, please direct you attentions to these poor wretches."
Nathan took a risk and laid his hand on the Lieutenant´s left arm. Ezra didn't react, but Nathan's hand came away bloody. "Sir, I need to check your arm, these men are well cared for, please sir."
Ezra pulled away, and turned back to help the rescued men. Nathan was going to have to come up with a different strategy; scanning his eyes over the room he noticed Vin also favouring one hand - he had wrapped a rag around his left hand, and Nathan could see he was holding the bucket of water he was carrying on his finger tips. Well there was one sure fire way to make both men report to him in the sick bay aboard the Union Delegate; he went looking for his Captain - who was only to happy to order the two junior officers to report back to the ship and see the surgeon´s mate.
"By the way Nathan," Chris added before he set off to give Vin and Ezra the good news. "Thank you for saving my life back there, that was some throw."
Nathan smiled at his Captain. "Weren't nothin' sir, you'd a done the same for me."
"I would have tried, whether I would had succeeded is another matter. Thank you."
+ + + + + + +
JD tried to lie down but he was too sore, he couldn't suppress a hiss of pain as he moved. So he just sat on the edge of one of the two beds in the sickbay. Technically it was the doctor's cabin, but since they had no doctor Chris had ordered a second bunk put in. That way his day cabin wouldn't have to be used as an isolation room again - he hoped.
"Just stay still lad, I'll find Nate for you," Buck ordered.
"I'm here," Jackson announced.
"Great, JD needs checking out, I gotter check my men. JD?"
"You do what Nathan tells you. You hear me, son?"
Buck had just left the small cabin when he saw Vin coming toward him with a limp and a very pale Ezra half draped over his shoulder.
"What the ?" Buck exclaimed.
"He just sorta sank on me, all of a sudden," Vin explained as he struggled to support Ezra's not inconsiderable weight.
Buck leapt forward. "I got him," he announced as he took over Vin's burden. "Nathan!" he shouted.
Nathan had a busy time in the next three quarters of an hour with the ship´s three youngest officers. Ezra had a huge and truly ugly wound right through his left upper arm, mercifully it had missed both bone and apparently any major blood vessels. Still he had lost a lot of blood and was weak and barely conscious. It needed to be cleaned with alcohol - which made him almost come off the bed as it burned its way into the raw flesh, though he never cried out. And then stitching, which he also endured silently, drifting off into unconsciousness before Nathan was finished dressing the wound. All the time he worked Nathan could almost feel Vin - sitting on the bed behind him - itching to leave.
Finally he turned to the buckskin-clad officer, young JD had finally found a comfortable position and was lying on his side on the bed behind Vin.
"Show me your hand Mr Tanner sir," Nathan instructed firmly.
"Aw hell Nathan, it's jist us here, drop the 'sir' bit - please," Vin pleaded, "an' m' hand's fine."
"Show me now Vin, or I go get the Captain, you know I'll do it," he warned.
Vin gave a sigh of resignation and thrust the crudely wrapped appendage under Nathan's nose. The big ex-slave unwrapped it very gently. Under the rough bandage were not one but two ugly injuries to Vin's palm. A deep cut, deep to the bone in places, ran from between the thumb and index finger right across the hand, and a burn ran across the hand from between the index finger and forefinger to the heel of the hand. He also noted blisters from more minor burns on some of Vin's fingers.
"Fine? You call that fine?" Nathan spluttered, Jesu, man what did you do to it?"
Vin shrugged. It took a long time to clean, stitch and bandage the hand, when he was done Vin's hand was so mummified in bandages it was totally useless - which was the idea.
"What am I supposed to do with that?" Vin asked looking at it in horror.
"Not use it, not get it wet, and come to me every day until I say you can stop."
"Damn it Nate, it weren't that bad!"
"No it weren't - but it will be if'n you don't look after it. Stay here till I'm done with JD, you can take him back to your cabin."
Vin stood in the doorway as Nathan turned to the sixteen year old. "Mr Dunne sir, I need to see where you're hurting."
"Mr Jackson, could you call me JD when no one else is around?" JD asked, he really didn't want to be an officer when he was sick and hurting.
"Well alright, but you have to call me Nathan - deal?"
"So where does it hurt?"
"My side," JD admitted.
Nathan peeled back scorched clothing to reveal a nasty powder and flash burn on JD's flank and hip, where the pistol had discharged next to his flesh.
"Yup, that is gonna be sore for a while sir JD. I got some salve that is gonna ease it some, and like Vin, you're gonna have t' keep it dry for a while."
Nathan gently rubbed the salve into the burnt and scorched flesh and helped JD to sit up and push his britches down on his hip some so the waistband didn't rub on it. As he helped him to stand Nathan found his hands covered in blood.
"JD you´re bleeding!" he exclaimed.
"No I ain't," JD stated firmly.
"Le' me see your other side," Nathan demanded. Indeed JD's other side was - as he stated - uninjured. "So where did all the blood come from?"
"The guy you killed?" Vin asked.
"No, wrong side," JD explained. "Oh God!" he suddenly exclaimed.
"Buck I mean Major Wilmington, I was leaning on him. I, er, I was feeling a bit sorta faint, after I you know? After I shot that man."
"I understand JD, so this could all be the Major's blood?" Nathan asked.
"Vin find him, get him here! I don't want to leave the lieutenant just yet." He gestured to Ezra.
+ + + + + + +
Buck was making rounds. He personally checked that all the gunpowder was made safe and no more was sitting primed and ready, waiting for a stray spark. He sent men to search the ship from prow to stern for anyone who might be hiding or locked away somewhere. He had the uninjured and walking wounded prisoners transferred to the brig of the Union Delegate - in truth most of the enemy were dead or dying. He posted guards on both ships and made sure they were alert to any possible threat. In truth he was feeling a bit light headed and his knees felt shaky, but he put that down to shock, seeing the boy like that, that man's knife on his throat. No wonder he was a bit shaky. Not that anyone would know to look at him. He turned when he heard Chris call his name and winced. Those bastards had sure left him with some bruises, he realised, he would be sore in the morning, which, as he looked down the river, was very close, the sky was already paling.
"Yeah?" he responded to his oldest friend´s call.
"Vin needs to see you."
Vin had explained what was going on. Chris knew that Buck would be no more willing to go to Jackson than the others, he too would have to be ordered.
"What?" It was hard to tell in the poor light, but Wilmington did appear to be very pale.
"Nate says can you come see JD, he needs you," Vin lied smoothly.
Buck didn't respond, in fact he didn't move at all, he just stood there blinking and staring glassily at Chris.
" Buck? Pal?" Chris turned to him. Then without warning Buck sank to the deck, Chris and Vin - as much as his hand would allow - eased him down.
"Guess that proves it is his blood," Vin commented, as half a dozen marines instantly zeroed in on their stricken commander.
"I'll take him." Chris looked up from where he was kneeling on the deck, beside his old friend, and into the cool but caring eyes of Sergeant Sanchez.
Nathan had been expecting the big marine major but not quite like this. JD, looking distinctly panicked, scooted out of the way as Sanchez and Larabee laid the unconscious man out on the bed.
"What's wrong with him?" the teen asked.
"I don't know. All of you out, this cabin ain't big enough for the three of us, let alone you lot."
Chris, JD and Josiah backed out, Vin had tagged along and moved back to give them room, as Josiah then sent the cluster of worried marines who had followed him away, promising to keep then informed of their, C.O.'s progress. The four of them stood outside in worried silence for some time, since the doctor's cabin connected directly to the sick bay Nathan didn't need to come out to fetch equipment and supplies.
"Dunne, just how did you come to shoot a man?" Larabee asked.
JD explained about the second explosive charge, realising none of the others knew what he and Wilmington had found out.
"So he saved us?" Larabee clarified.
"We all played a part in that sir," Josiah commented. "The Major just played his part, he did his duty - it's what he does."
"I know." Chris looked away from Sanchez as Nathan came out. He was frowning.
+ + + + + + +
"Don't." Ezra's voice was slurred and muffled, his head tossed on the pillow. Nathan crossed from Buck to check on the young officer. He was happy that his wound, while deep, wasn't infected, only mildly inflamed. He didn't have a fever, and he hoped the young man would recover quickly once he regained consciousness and Nathan had got some water and broth into him.
"Please don't," Ezra muttered again.
"It's alright now sir, you're safe now," Nathan soothed.
In Ezra's confused, dreams-come-hallucinations he was back in his childhood, the soft deep voice that comforted him was Sam, the coachman at his uncle's plantation.
"Sam?" he asked.
"No Sir, it's me Nathan Jackson."
"Don't tell her I'm sick, I'll be alright, please don't tell her or she won't come back, please." Nathan couldn't help but hear the pleading in the voice, a voice that somehow sounded younger. Nathan realised that Ezra, confused and disoriented, was trapped in his childhood and like any child needed reassurance.
"No young sir, I won't tell, you just rest you'll be better in no time."
"Don't get in trouble over me Sam, I don't wish that, I'll be alright."
Nathan surmised that as a boy Ezra has asked a servant, or more likely, given Ezra's accent, a slave, to help him, but was selfless enough to not want 'Sam' to endanger himself helping young Ezra. Nathan wondered who 'she' was, whoever she was, she had made him afraid to be ill.
"Hush Ezra, just sleep, you will be alright, sleep is all you need, she will never know."
"Thank you Sam." With that Ezra stilled and became quiet again.
Jackson hadn't liked Ezra, he was a southerner, he appeared to be rich, he complained bitterly, about almost everything. Not that the young officer was ever less than polite or correct to him. But Nathan had just taken him to be a typical, arrogant, slave-using rich white boy. He now knew he was wrong, and he gained some understanding of the affection in which the Marines held this young man. One of the men had told them about Ezra fighting numerous opponents and decapitating one of them. No, Nathan had to admit, Ezra Standish was not what he seemed. He patted Ezra gently on the shoulder, sometimes it was easy to forget that even freeborn men had demons and that even rich, free, white children suffered. Just because you were a slave didn't mean there weren't others worse off than you, at least until they were old enough to escape.
"Sleep well, Sir. You'll be fine in no time."
Confident that one of his patients was well on the mend he turned back to Wilmington, whose fate was not yet clear. He was a fighter - that was for sure - and he was strong, Nathan just hoped that would be enough.
+ + + + + + +
Buck woke up and thinking he was in his own cabin, he rolled over - as he always did - to get up, Buck wasn't someone who lounged in bed of a morning, well not if he was alone in bed. Two things greeted this action, blinding pain in his side and a wall. Where he should have found open space he found a solid bulkhead. He was still barely awake, so he ignored the pain and the rising nausea and tried again. Same result.
"Hey! No you don't, big fella."
The voice was familiar and yet he couldn't place it. A strong hand on his shoulder held him back as he tried to roll again. Buck didn't take kindly to strange men putting hands on him, especially when he was vulnerable - like now.
He jerked away. "G't o v," he slurred.
"Buck it's me, Vin, it's alright, come on calm down, relax."
Vin? The name and voice were familiar, but he couldn't place them. His confusion must have shown, because Tanner sought to clarify. "Vin Tanner, form the Union Delegate - Chris' friend."
"Chris? Chris Larabee - friend?"
"Yeah, that's right, open your eyes an' you'll see me too."
Deep blue eyes finally gazed blearily up at Tanner. "Where? I don't "
Vin could tell the big major was disorientated, so he explained some more. "You're in the doctor´s cabin - the sick room, on Chris' ship, remember? You got hurt fighting them bastards who locked up the British soldiers."
Finally Buck relaxed back onto the pile of pillows and blankets that kept him from lying flat, he frowned at the young man looking down at him. "Hurt?"
"Yup," Vin moved back and sat cross-legged on the other bunk. "Someone stuck you with a knife, special kind, Chris called it a 'still' .something."
"Yeah that was it. Five times Nathan says, says you was lucky - luck of the devil, Chris says."
"Lucky?" Buck sure didn't feel lucky, his side felt like it was on fire.
"Yup, four times that man stuck you and four times he hit rib, damn lucky I call it!"
"And the other time?"
"Nate reckons he hit something inside, you bled like a stuck pig - but mostly on the inside - collapsed right in front of Larabee."
Buck groaned, he had no recollection of the event, but he hated to think of himself passing out in front of the Captain.
"We was worried about you fer a bit too, yer got so weak and took a fever, thought you was bound fer Davy Jones for sure." Vin shook his head in wonder at the Major's seemingly miraculous powers of recovery.
"You're all heart Tanner, really, sorry to disappoint you."
Vin laughed. "Nah, I don't want you gone, yer good fer Larabee, and kinda fun to have around, besides, without you, who's JD gonna moan to - me! That´s who."
"The kid, how is he?" Buck looked over at Tanner.
"He's fine, got some powder burns is all, Ezra's doing good too, kinda "
"Ezra? What's wrong with him?"
"Oh you don't know, he got a cutlass right through the arm, he'll be alright if he does what Nate tells him - which he ain't. Keeps saying, with you here, he's gotta do your job. Chris told him Josiah can manage, since we're at sea and all."
Vin was about to explain that Nathan was at this very moment replacing some of Ezra's stitches that he has pulled out, trying to do too much too soon, when he realised Buck had drifted back to sleep. He was waiting to have his hand redressed, Nathan had asked him to watch over Wilmington, who was making progress since his fever had finally broken, while he tended to Ezra. Buck had come round a few times but had never really been aware of his surroundings until now, so taking this to be good sign Vin smiled as he sat back to watch and wait.
+ + + + + + +
"Sir!" Nathan said for the umpteenth time. "You have to rest, and wear the sling, or it won't heal."
"I told you, I am fine now," Ezra countered yet again. The fact that blood was seeping through not only the bandage on his arm but also his shirt, belied that statement, but he was ignoring that -just as he was ignoring the pain in his arm. "I have duties to attend to, so if you don't mind, Mr Jackson."
"I do mind, all my hard work gettin' messed up by your bull- headedness, now sit down and let me do my job!"
"You are speaking to an officer sir, now I am ordering you out of my cabin."
"No, sit down and take your shirt off" Ezra was about to protest, but Nathan continued. " Don't go thinkin' you can report me t' the Captain, when it comes to the men's health, he gave me authority over everyone - just like the doctor if we had one, which we don't so you're stuck with me."
Ezra knew Larabee would indeed back Jackson over him in this matter, if he dragged the Captain in to it, he would achieve nothing except annoying Larabee, not something it was wise to do. He sat down on the bunk with an expression of resignation and annoyance.
"Good, take your shirt off." Jackson instructed again, more softly.
As he gently and carefully removed the bandage and as gently as possible the broken stitches. Standish made no sound, he barely flinched. Nathan always spoke to patients as he worked, telling them what he was doing, or just general talk, he found they relaxed more that way.
"You know Sir? It ain't no crime to be hurt, ain't no crime to take time to heal. No one will replace you while you're gone hell, them marines of yours would lynch anyone who tried. The Major is doing better, but it'll take time, best if you build yourself up while we're at sea. Let Sergeant Sanchez do the day to day things, he can manage. We are gonna need you when we get home, to protect all that gold, the Major will still be recuperating, so he's gonna be relying on you then. What good will you be if you're weaker than him?" He finished the first stitch and tied it off. "Ain't no crime to admit somethin' hurts neither," he commented as he started removing the second ruined stitch.
"A gentleman does not elicit sympathy," Ezra explained, his voice thin with the effort of not eliciting sympathy.
"Mr Standish sir, I am not talking about sympathy, just giving yourself time to heal and not pretending you're 'fine' when anyone can see you're not. No one is going to leave you behind just because you're hurt."
Ezra looked around at the tall man at his side, and frowned, was Jackson just talking, making guesses or did he know Ezra's greatest fear - but how could he?
"Thank you for your advice Mr Jackson, I will consider it."
"Yeah, well you're gonna consider it while your off duty and resting," Nathan stated firmly.
"I am not in need of " Ezra stopped as Nathan held up his hand.
"Me or the Captain - your choice Sir."
"Oh good Lord! It's a conspiracy!"
+ + + + + + +
Nathan had still not returned, when Vin noticed the Major stirring again. This time he didn't wait he was there to help him get his bearings instantly.
"Want a drink?" he finally asked, once he was sure Buck knew him.
Vin poured out a mug of water and moved to hold it to his lips, but the older man put his hand up.
"I can do it," he claimed.
Vin just smiled and let him try, keeping his good hand under the mug just in case. Wilmington managed just two swallows before his hand began to tremble and Vin had to grab the cup before it fell.
"Want some help?" he asked, with no amusement only concern.
"I guess." Once Buck had had a drink, he felt marginally better. "How long have I been here?" he asked.
"Six days, like I said we were beginning to worry, JD is gonna be so glad to see you awake."
"JD? The kid?"
"Sure, he's been here everyday - near enough - someone had to watch over your sorry hide you know? Poor old Nate had his hands full with Ezra."
Buck couldn't help it - he laughed, which was a bad move because it hurt like hell.
"Oh God!" he gasped, clutching his side.
"You alright?" Vin asked, genuinely concerned.
"Just just give me a second here, oh hell that hurts!" he gasped out. "Don't make me laugh, please."
"Didn't mean to, sorry. You better rest, till Nate gets back."
Buck lay his head back on the pillow, and closed his eyes, waiting for the pain to subside again. When he opened them Vin was sitting cross-legged on the other bunk examining his own dressing.
"Nathan's gonna kill you if you pull that off yourself," Buck warned.
"Yeah I know, Chris tanned my hide good after I pissed him off the first time, reckon he's gonna do Standish too, if he don't stop pissing Nate off as well." He could see Buck beginning to smile. "Don't laugh," he warned.
Wilmington didn't, in fact his face changed completely, it became harder. "What happened to those men we found?" he asked quietly.
"Oh, sorry you don't know - they were alright, British picked them up in wagons later that morning, and that Pendragon fella, he got the officers out and killed the ringleader."
"There was something I was gonna say to you, I just never got the chance."
"This mission was sensitive, I had to know who I was working with, just as Chris had to know about who he was working with. I told him about my men, he told me about his - including you "
"Me? What did he say about me?" there was a cautious edge to Vin's voice.
"He said you were wanted for murder, said it was self defence, but you could never prove it - so you ran. Chris believes you, and that was good enough for me - now I know you a little, reckon I believe you too."
Vin ducked his head. "Thanks."
"Then Chris told the men, about what might happen to them Britishers, you were ready to bust lose right then and there "
"What decent man wouldn't wanna stop that happenin' to anyone?" Vin countered angrily.
"No one, but I had to know why you were reacting like that, I don't risk my men's lives without knowing all of the facts - or as many as possible - so I asked Chris what was going on."
"And he told me, told me it wasn't just your life you were defending, when you killed that man." Vin just glared balefully at him. "I just wanted to tell you I understand how you feel."
"No you don't you don't have the first idea," Vin ground out, beginning to unwind his legs and get down.
"Yes I do." Buck stated simply. His voice no more than a whisper.
Vin turned his head back, sky blue eyes met midnight blue. Buck nodded very gently once. Vin sat back on the bunk.
"It was a long time ago, but you don't forget something like that. I just wanted to say, if you need to talk, come see me - anytime." Buck lay his head back on the pillow, barely able to keep his eyes open. "We did a good thing freeing those men, even if some of us had died, it still would have been a good thing."
"You were the one who nearly died," Vin pointed out.
"I know that, but it would have been worth it. Vin?"
"Promise me, when I can keep my eyes open, that you'll come and talk, maybe we can do each other some good?" Buck's eyes were closed and his speech softened by impending sleep.
"You know what?"
"I never did get to see you shoot."
"I'll give you a lesson sometime, old man." A semblance of a smile was back on Vin's young face. "And I will come and see you." This last statement was delivered only after Tanner was sure the older man was again asleep. Than he sat down again to watch over his friend and wait for Nathan.
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