A/N: Well, isn't this a surprise! I'm updating sooner than I normally do! How exciting!
In addition, I would like to dedicate this chapter to every one of my reviewers who has followed this story since its birth, oh… six years ago? (Has it really been that long?) Your comments on the development of Jeanine and her friends, family and foes truly touch my aspiring authoress's heart. I never would have imagined my little story to be so influential to my some of my readers, and I suppose I forget that fact sometimes because I know what I have planned for Jeanine, but you, my readers, do not.
And, it is just your luck! A key event occurs in this chapter, which will eventually spark chaos in later chapters. (I really am evil.)
Also, don't think that I've forgotten anyone. I still have plans for Allan, Hammond and Jack. Oh, and Colin Jarvis. Oh, boy, do I have some great stuff for that one.
Also-also, I've written a spoof of a scenario involving Jeanine and pretty much every important character you've met thus far—and a beaver. I'd post it somewhere, but it kind of gives away who Jeanine will end up with, and that's too great a spoiler to spoil at this time. So… you'll just have to keep guessing! Though, to make things more interesting, I will send such scenario to any reviewer who guesses correctly. I hope I've made it a little difficult to determine. If not, shame on me!
Now, on to the chapter!
Weeks passed. Each day Jeanine found herself searching for any opportunity to end the hate between Platt and O'Hannigan, and each day the desire to establish peace grew. To admit that her mind was fixated on resolving the dispute between the two midshipmen was not something she had had the humility (or enlightenment) to do; and regardless of Mr. Buchanan's warnings not to interfere, she persisted. Whether or not Jeanine realized that she was, in essence, defying her superior's orders was not a factor of importance. The girl was convinced that the Beaumaris herself would benefit from a permanent peace, and since no one else took it upon themselves to right the wrongs of Colin Jarvis, she declared herself the ship's only avatar of justice.
Gone were the days when she went to bed worrying about Jack Hanley and dreaming about finding him and bringing him home. Her thoughts were consumed by a plight more proximal and immediate. Jack would never be found if she died on the Beaumaris, and she naively believed that the efficiency of the ship relied on the functionality of the crew. The day would come when Connor and Charlie would no longer tolerate each other's company, and Jeanine sought to prevent that day from ever happening.
A good portion of her hours during those months after Kingston was spent planning ways to get her friends to civilly end their infectious feud. Her hand ached as she scribbled away possible situations at Dr. Delaney's desk, even though most of her designs were crumpled up and thrown away. Connor grew concerned over her new manic desperation to find a cure for dissent, and he tried to redirect her attentions as often as he could. He mentioned none of it in his letters to Elizabeth.
During the Christmas season, he had nothing to give her as a gift, and so he thought they might exchange conversation instead, about how their respective families celebrated the holidays in particular. Jeanine was happily diverted during that time, when the holidays and the turn of the New Year brought cheer and brotherhood to the decks of the Beaumaris.
On Christmas Eve, she shared a few steaming mugs of crudely made wassail in the hold with Connor. Christmas Day she dined with the other midshipmen in their mess, though she left them early to pay a visit to her gun crew and her beloved powder monkey Denny. She saved him a part of her dinner, and he received such a gift with so great a shine in his eyes that Jeanine was very tempted to return the embrace the boy had given her. Instead, she only stood stiffly, allowing but a few pats on the boy's head to convey her affection.
Platt had merited the most coveted spot at the dinner table of Captain Stafford on Christmas Day, but afterwards came by the midshipmen's berth to excite his comrades to play several games of cards, offering up a bottle of prohibited whiskey to go around the table as the holiday cheer continued deep into the night.
The New Year was celebrated in much a similar manner, though it was Jeanine who was flattered to have a seat at the table of her captain. That particular evening ended on an anecdote about her own Grandfather Travers, artfully told by Lieutenant Buchanan. She went to bed stuffed with plum pudding and sweet wine, but her dreams were not pleasant, and upon waking, she was only reminded of everything she had yet to do and everything that was not in her capacity to change.
It was only a few days after the start of the New Year did Jeanine get a taste of just how powerless she was on a ship that sailed in an element as tempestuous as the sea. While they had easily taken the ship and cargo of their Spanish target months ago when they still sailed in the warm Caribbean waters, they had less luck in their engagement with a pair of Spanish warships that sought to reclaim the great deal of prize money taken from Spain's military payroll. One of the ships was a bulky, well-armed giant, whose companion was a small frigate that maneuvered as nimbly as a bird.
Logistically, the Beaumaris should have had the upper hand. It was, after all, not slow and lubberly like the warship, nor too feebly armed like the frigate. She was the median between the two, fast and powerful. Only, with two of the extremes as her opponents, she was ill equipped to successfully fend off both. Either she took one and not the other, or she attempted to take both and fought to her last man. Stafford was not of the mind to sacrifice himself or the entirety of his crew for a mere pair of Spanish prizes. He would choose one to take, and the other would have free leave to go—for a time. The frigate was, of course, his most reasonable target, and he would chase after her while keeping an eye on the guns of her large protector.
Stafford's plan was met with disagreement when, after the second day of being followed and a confrontation was inevitable, the winds changed to put the Beaumaris against its current, leaving her opponents with the weather gauge and a clear advance on their sitting bark. Lieutenants Oakley and Stapleton urged their captain to flee, to set fly every sail and pray that Providence would carry them safely to some distant haven, but Stafford would accept none of it.
"Flee?" He spat at the possibility. "Gentlemen, are we not at war? Are we not able men of Britannia? England expects every man to do his duty, and our duty does not entail cowardice!" He paced the quarterdeck, visibly fuming. "Now, turn this ship around!" he roared. "We've taken two of them before and we can do it again. Beat to Quarters!"
Jeanine had been warming her fingers by the cooking fire in the galley when the order had been given. The sea was not pleasant during its winter season, with grey and frigid waters, and salty, bitter gusts that blew flecks of snow that stuck to eyelashes and fingertips. The fire had warmed her enough, but her face only paled when the drill of the drum reached her ears, augmented by the continuous thumping of feet as men sprinted to action.
"Details?" she asked when she had reached her gun station. Her eyes glanced at Lieutenant Buchanan who commanded the first gun deck.
"Two Spanish vessels. One a monster of a warship and the other one a beautiful frigate that has caught the eye of our captain. We are to focus our offensive attentions on the frigate. The warship, we hope to outrun."
"Hope, sir?" Jeanine echoed, concerned already for the fate of her ship and friends.
Harvey smiled in the face of her consternation.
"Would you prefer I use more definitive terms, Mr. Ellison? Very well. We will outrun the warship."
His candidness prior to an engagement that could leave any and all of them mortally wounded did little to comfort Jeanine.
"With all respect, sir," she began, attempting to bring Harvey back to reality, "our situation is far too severe to be treated with such frivolity. You could die today. I…" She hesitated. "… could die today."
"And would you be happy with that, Mr. Ellison?" he inquired.
"Not at all, sir."
'Neither would I. So, it seems, we have far too much to live for to die today. I do not see why you should worry."
"Death sometimes ignores the intent of an individual's passion to live. It doesn't matter how much you want to. In the end, you may still be denied continuity."
Harvey chuckled lightly.
"You shame me with your expertise on the nature of death, Mr. Ellison. I am afraid I cannot parry. You are entirely right. We may still be denied continuity, but I believe we only fear—at its purest—premature termination when we realize how deeply and intricately we are invested in the lives of others and in the world in general. Are you afraid of losing something or someone, Mr. Ellison?"
"I am," she said, the profundity of his words sinking into her brain like stones floating down to the bottom of a lake. She did not elaborate. She could not. All she had to do was take a glimpse of her gun crew, of Connor and his men over to her left, of Lieutenant Buchanan standing to her right, of Platt and Varley some rows down from her station, to understand what it was that he meant.
"Then fight as you have never fought before. And should you fall, you have friends who will continue where you left off."
He left her with a handshake and a "Good luck, Mr. Ellison," before resuming his position in the middle of the gun deck, but Jeanine could hardly register the imprint of heat left on her fingers. Her mind was still racing to find what it was she was fighting for, what it was she was so invested in that she could not bear the thought of dying.
There was her home, her family, her father, her mother, Sophia, Jorie, Allan...
But last, though most certainly not least, was Jack Hanley, who sailed on similar waters and faced similar hardships, and the most dreadful thought then crossed her mind as she placed Jack somewhere on the map of the world as she knew it.
What if he was already dead? What if the man that had brought her out to sea was no more, and she was searching—in vain—for nothing?
She swallowed hard, her head bent and her legs trembling, completely unaware that the first shots had been fired and that the world was calling her—waiting for her—to wake up and retaliate.
The Beaumaris managed to outrun the warship and fired a challenging broadside to the frigate, whose design was no doubt to lure them into a vulnerable position where they would be at the mercy of both Spanish vessels. But the Beaumaris was more powerful than that and managed to slow down their speedy foe. Stafford knew that to continuously pummel the frigate with broadside after broadside would only sink it, and he wanted to claim it as a prize.
And so he opted for boarding it and taking control of it the old fashioned way—with swords and pistols. Gun stations were abandoned to form boarding parties. Pistols and swords were doled out. Words were shouted to make blood race and boil with feverish, murderous desire. Jeanine did not know what to do. She had killed men, surely, with the cannonballs she fired, but that was at a distance. She never saw men die at her hands. Yet, at that moment, murder became her vocation, and her hands felt wrong—like foreign appendages on her body—as she held the weapons in her shaking fingers.
But the mad crowd—her brothers on board—pushed her forward, caught her in its current of uproarious violence, and she found herself on the deck of a smaller ship, surrounded by the clang of blade against blade, the crack of firing pistols, the screams of the fallen.
"Stay with me, Jeanine," Connor had said to her, catching sight of her cowering near the railing and lifting her up to her feet. He gripped the limp hand that held onto her sword and lent strength to her trembling fingers. "Now fight. Fight!"
"I can't!" she cried. "I can't do it!"
"You'll be punished for your cowardice, Ellison! Just pick up the sword!"
"Pick it up! Now!"
She did, eventually, and only because her indecision made her a prime target for anyone who wanted to make an easy kill. Connor had protected her that one instance, when a Spaniard thought the coward of an English boy would satisfy his war-born bloodlust. His blood spurted onto Jeanine's face as Connor fired a shot straight at the man's head. She could taste the saltiness in her mouth, and she retched.
When she blinked the water out of her eyes, she saw that Connor was no longer by her side. He had gone off to continue fighting, the moving flash of red she caught every now and then in the throng reminding her that he was still, indeed, alive.
She remained idle for only so long. An unarmed Spaniard eyeing her blade and pistol gladly threw a punch at her and knocked her down. His bloodied fingers greedily tried to pry her fingers free of the sword hilt while he kept a knee pressed on her stomach to keep her from rising. Her hold on the sword surprised not only the Spaniard but herself. She could scarcely breathe with the weight of his knee on her, yet she would not relent. In his frustration, her foe abandoned the sword and seized her throat with both hands, hoping to choke her into relaxing her grip. Her throat tightened, and once, twice, three times she felt her skull hit the hard deck beneath her before someone had yanked the hair of her opponent back, pulling him away from her, and giving her a well needed breath.
Gasping and so hungry for air that she choked on it, Jeanine looked up to see Harvey gazing down at her. Before she could even utter a thank you, he hauled her up onto her feet and gave her a nudge forward.
He turned to find a new challenger, and she did not know what it was, but Buchanan looked back at her as he left, his blue stare almost uncertain for the briefest second before Jeanine spotted, behind him, a Spanish marine with his rifle aimed directly at them.
She lunged forward and tackled Harvey to the ground as the shot zoomed overhead. And when it was clear, she got up, Mr. Buchanan following suit and abandoning her to return the marine's assault. She made to go after him but was smacked in the back with the butt of a rifle. Stumbling, she fell to her knees and turned around quickly, her eyes widening when she realized that out of all Spaniards to have chosen her as an enemy, she received their captain of the marines.
Her hands fumbled for her pistol but never had the chance to pull it out of its holster. She received another whack in the face with the end of the rifle, followed by a kick in the stomach. She pitched forward but never hit the floor. A rough, foreign hand seized her by the collar of her jacket, the sharp tip of a bayonet pressing against the tender flesh of her neck. Jeanine grabbed hold of her pistol and while the captain of the marines savored the blood that began to trickle down the bayonet spike, she cocked her gun and pressed the nozzle into his side, pulling the trigger and releasing such a profound bang! that her ears popped.
The shot didn't kill him. He fell back, amazed at the blood pouring out of his fresh wound, his rifle still in hand. He rose, his vitals gushing, and Jeanine, in terror, tossed her pistol aside and backed away, turning around to flee for her life.
He kicked her from behind, driving the heel of his boot into her calf and causing her to double over in pain. With one swift movement of his rifle, the bayonet spike sliced through her torso, avoiding making a deeper gash only because she had rolled over. Hugging her side, she blindly dodged the bayonet tip as it rammed into the deck, being lifted immediately when it did not make contact with her flesh. Again it came down, with greater force, and got stuck between two planks of wood, affording Jeanie enough time to kick the man in the shin and trip him.
The Spaniard fell, muttering foreign oaths under his dying breaths, before he retrieved from his boot a small knife. Even incapacitated, he would kill her. He would take her down with him.
She kicked him in the face, missing his nose and instead planting her foot somewhere beneath his chin. The knife in his hands was raised to be chucked at her, and she turned, covering her head with her arms, waiting for the pain of a blade into her back when it did not come.
"Damn," she heard. Her mismatched eyes peeked warily out from her hands. "This is a pretty nice shiv. Pity he had to lose it, the Dago bastard."
Charlie Platt kicked the now dead captain of the marines aside, the knife in his bloodied hands and a vibrant, crimson gash sliced across the Spaniard's pallid neck.
"What are you sitting around for, Ellison? We've taken the ship." He pointed abaft as Jeanine shakily got onto her feet. A white flag was raised where the Spanish red and gold once proudly blew.
Platt sighed, running a grimy hand across his forehead.
"Now let's round up the stragglers and get back to the Beaumaris. I'm bloody tired."
Her return to the comfort of her unblemished British bark was met with an immediate demand for her to get down to the surgeon's cockpit. The wounded were pouring steadily like water from a pump.
"Where do you need me?" she asked the busy Dr. Delaney.
He did not look at her once as he tried to put a screaming man at ease.
"Everywhere," he said breathlessly. His small spectacles were misted with moisture, the deep wrinkles on his forehead oozing perspiration.
She worked tirelessly. Her thin, blood-splattered hands adhered to an agenda entirely of its own making. Her mind was nowhere to be found. There was no time to reflect, to wonder, to question. A man's life was not saved by pondering over the complexities of why war even existed. It was saved by doing one's duty, and so that was what she did.
Amidst the turmoil, however, she did receive one glimmer of hope. Her powder monkey, who had stayed on the Beaumaris, surprised her by coming down into the surgeon's cockpit, carrying a pail of fresh water and clean bandages. He hugged her, too, his arms wrapping around her waist like a child being reunited with its mother. She didn't know what she had done to merit such a blessing, but she accepted it with gratitude. She ruffled the boy's hair and whispered a "Thank you" to him, and for the next few hours, he was her constant messenger, going and getting fresh water, spirits, sand and cloth for herself and Dr. Delaney.
When the last man had been treated, and all seriously injured were transferred to Sick Bay, Jeanine washed her hands repeatedly in the filthy water available to her, rubbing at the pale skin of her fingers until she was convinced that she would not be able to get rid of all of the blood stained into her palms. Unhappy with her present state of cleanliness, Jeanine lingered in the surgeon's cockpit, her wet shoes stepping into the drying remnants of blood and sand, her clean hands getting dirtied again as she picked up used instruments to wash.
As she bent to retrieve a tourniquet that had fallen to the floor, she felt a sharp stab in her side. Her fingers investigated the area blindly, shocked to find that she felt not the rough fabric of her blue jacket, but the smooth, warm exterior of her skin. She felt the blood ooze out of the gash slashed into her side, her mind in a daze trying to figure out how such an injury could escape her attention.
With a gasp, Jeanie spun around, fingers still prodding her wound, to see Connor standing but two feet from her, his green eyes not looking at her, but at her injury. There was a cut right above his left eye, leaving a dark, thick mark bisecting his red eyebrow.
Her mismatched eyes caught the twitch of his lips, and she prevented him from speaking. Quickly, she grabbed a cloth from Dr. Delaney's supply and a bottle of rum before going up to Connor and putting the doused linen to his brow.
"You saw nothing," she said strictly. "I am fine. If anyone asks… If Dr. Delaney inquires, you will tell him I am well."
He made means to speak, but she forbade him a second time.
"You made a promise to a mutual friend of ours, did you not, Mr. O'Hannigan?" she said. "Were not his terms to stay silent?"
"Everything is moot when the object of my discretion is in danger of dying," he said lowly. "Circumstance may place you on the pedestal you have been avoiding for some time."
"Circumstance?" she repeated, almost bitterly. "It is circumstance that placed me here in the first place, Mr. O'Hannigan. I will not let it remove me. I will decide when I want to leave. Not a moment earlier." She tossed the bloodied cloth away before digging around Dr. Delaney's things for a needle and thread. He was surprised at her decisiveness, but in a negative way, as if, somehow in her declaration, she had insulted him unnecessarily.
The tip of the needle in her hands abruptly invaded his vision, and he lowered his head as he waited for the point to pierce his skin and mend what had been broken by war.
For the longest time Jeanine had been the one with the healing hands, and so it pained Connor to see her as she presently was: feverish, pale, with an aversion to standing or moving. She had concealed her wound well from others, sewing up the tear in her jacket and dressing the cut herself, but in her heart she knew that it would not be enough. She required stitches. A few times she had thought about stitching it herself, going so far as to have the needle and thread out, but she had not the stomach for it. She had to content herself with as best a bandaging as she could manage.
No rest could be afforded her for the next several hours after the battle. The Spanish prize had to be manned and taken to port to be repaired and refitted with British colors. Captain Stafford left Lieutenant Buchanan in charge of the prize and the crew that would sail her. "Pick your men and set a course for Buenos Aires in Argentina. According to our informants, there are some British sailors grounded there after a bad encounter with the Spanish. Get the prize into port to be refitted, and then sail her back with a full crew to England. We'll rendezvous in Portsmouth."
The transfer was made as soon as the carpenter of the Beaumaris assured both Stafford and Buchanan that the Spanish prize was capable of making it to Buenos Aires without trouble.
"You know how to handle a ship, Mr. Buchanan. If any problems do arise, you'll know what to do."
It would be Harvey's first solo command, and while he was ecstatic about getting a taste of captainship, he was not immune to doubt or worry. With the short amount of time allotted to him, he tried to pick a crew that would not only serve his needs, but also the needs of Captain Stafford.
"Did you have any plans for Mr. Platt or Mr. O'Hannigan, sir?" he asked Stafford.
The captain cast a severe look on the lieutenant, a look which Harvey recognized but was not given often enough to meet with bravery.
"Mr. Buchanan, do not make the mistake of thinking that I am ill-informed about the history between those two midshipmen—or yours, for that matter. If you prefer to take them, be my guest, for you well know that if they did anything under my watch, they would be expelled from the Service—permanently."
"I… understand, sir," replied Harvey. He took the answer for a yes. "Allow me to take them off your hands."
"By all means."
Harvey hesitated to make his next proposal, one which he feared would not be met with the captain's agreement.
"I will have to take Mr. Ellison as well."
The thick, grey eyebrow arched. Buchanan prepared to defend his claim.
"The boy is the closest thing we have to a surgeon's assistant. If my men need medical attention, he would be the only one to administer it aside from Dr. Delaney."
"Lewis and Bamber did fine without having one."
"They happened to pick all healthy, unwounded men. I do not have that privilege. I am already picking a crew just large enough to man the ship, sir. With all due respect, I cannot afford to lose one to disease or injury. I need a loblolly boy."
Stafford's reply was issued reluctantly, and with a growl.
"Very well, Mr. Buchanan," he assented. "Try to keep those young men in check. I know you are not much older than them, and I know that you like to pride yourself as a sort of role model, but I give you this ship not as a play thing. It is your command."
"I will not fail you, sir. I hope my previous record has exemplified that."
"So it has, but here is the first rule of command: everything is your fault. You are responsible for the ship, your crew, everything, Mr. Buchanan. That is your burden and motivation. Most young commanders do not think with that in mind. They believe their youth shields them from error. I pray that you do well, for am I not your captain?"
"Aye, sir, you are."
"And how should I react were you to fail indubitably?"
"Take responsibility for my failure."
"Indeed. Let us hope that does not happen. I am too old to bear the ruin of a promising young hero of England."
It was strange to be on a smaller ship. Space seemed tighter, quarters more confined, decks darker, and he swore that he could still smell the Spanish in the air. Charlie Platt did not know what to think when his cousin initially recruited him to join the crew of the Spanish prize. First, he felt honored and eager to board, until he discovered that O'Hannigan was coming, too. The mere fact was enough to sap him of his delight, resentful again that the mention of a name had robbed him of deserved happiness.
At least he had Varley and Ellison aboard. Harvey was at least smart in picking his midshipmen, but Platt was not enthused to have to see O'Hannigan so often during the day. On the Beaumaris he could avoid him among the ten or so other midshipmen, but here, he was inescapable, and so, consequently, were the memories attached to him—memories which Platt was unwilling to remember.
Dinner was an immensely awkward affair. Harvey typically invited one or two of them to dine with him, leaving Platt with the high probability of sharing his dinner alone with Connor. On the occasion that it did happen, he lost his appetite and wouldn't touch his food. O'Hannigan was a tad more gracious and said his prayer before eating, though he eluded looking at his dining companion by remaining engrossed in the pages of a book.
Increasingly, however, Platt noticed that Ellison would deny invitations to dine with Buchanan. In fact, he noticed that his friend would barely eat at all, and he would but sit at the mess table with them, hunched slightly, an arm hugging his side. Ellison was also strangely more irritable, with devastatingly curt answers in response to innocent inquiries or harmless jabs, only to be followed by some murmured apology for his poor manners.
"Is everything all right with you, Ellison?" he asked him one evening. "You've been acting queer since we left the Beaumaris."
"I'm fine," was his decisive answer.
"What are you getting grumpy with me for? Something's off with you."
"Just leave me be, Mr. Platt. I can't…" Jeanine bit her lip, the pain had worsened since they set sail for Buenos Aires, and she feared that her wound was getting infected. She wanted to scream, "I can't take it anymore!" but never spoke the truth of her feelings. "I cannot continue this conversation," was her reply, and she left to go down to the hold to examine her wound in privacy.
During one such self-examination, Connor spotted her, unable to evade the increasing concern he had for his only friend on the ship. She was startled and embarrassed by his presence, for he had seen the skin of her torso, and as he neared she quickly dropped the hem of her shirt to cover up what had previously been exposed.
"You need help, Ellison," he said, looking at her with knitted brows. "You're beginning to be unable to function on this ship. If Mr. Buchanan notices—"
"I suspect he's noticed it already. I cannot hide very well on this smaller vessel, Mr. O'Hannigan. The people here are very familiar, and there are so few around that I cannot get lost among them."
She rubbed her face with a hand.
"You are right, however. I require medical attention. This gash needs to be stitched up properly."
"Can I help in any way?"
"I'm afraid you cannot. Though I do not doubt your ability to follow directions, you are no physician, Mr. O'Hannigan. I took a risk already in letting my cut go unattended. I need the assistance of a professional."
"But you're the professional on this ship. We're still days away from Buenos Aires, Jeanine. You can't think—"
He was interrupted by the glower she directed at him, her mismatched eyes sparking with concealed outrage.
"What choice do I have, Connor?" she argued. "I cannot continue like this. I don't want to die!" The fear that had been kept long inside her was at last brought out into the open. It wasn't a unique fear, she knew, but it was one she thought she would never have.
"Then let me help you," implored O'Hannigan. "Even if you were to tell Mr. Buchanan who you really are, would that change the fact that we are still days away from Buenos Aires? Telling him your secret will not guarantee that you will receive his sympathy—or at least enough of it to get him to have this ship run faster than it already is. Let me help you, Jeanine."
It frustrated her to admit that he was right. Leave it to Connor to always think things through logically. She sighed, her entire body resigned to the inevitably. To O'Hannigan, she looked as if she were going to collapse, but she stayed on her feet. The first drops fell from her eyes, the water splashing atop her dirty shoes.
He didn't know what compelled him to do it, but Connor came forward and held her, allowing her to cry into his chest. It pained him himself to see her so vulnerable. She, who had braved everything he had on their journey, could not withstand the mere thought of perishing; and he felt helpless with her. He despised the feeling of helplessness.
"Please, let me help you," he told her softly. "Please do not make this a burden that you alone have to bear."
Her reply went unsaid, though she was not surprised to find Connor down in the hold again later that evening. Everything that would be required for her trivial surgery was laid out. Spirits, thread, a needle, some bandages, water, and a rolled up piece of linen for her to bite through the pain. She showed only enough skin to get the job done, but regardless felt embarrassed, more so when Connor began the slow, methodical process of stitching her wound. He was careful, and precise, but agonized over the perfection of his work. What would have been at Jeanine's own hands a task of fifteen minutes was prolonged to near an hour, and she did not complain. It would have been ungracious of her. When he finished, she applied the bandages and liniment herself, and the thanks and the acknowledgment of the fact that he might have just saved her life were delivered wordlessly. They had already broken many rules, and Jeanine did not want to break any more.
Morning brought with it no changes in the state of her health. Her wound still oozed, still throbbed pain, and the endless peal of the watch bells forced her to rise from her hammock despite them. She was still wincing when she made it up to the quarterdeck, her mind occupied on her injury to a dangerous degree. She did not even salute Lieutenant Buchanan when she appeared, and he called her out on the slight.
"Are you well, Mr. Ellison?" he inquired, not out of concern, but out of irritation. Just because it was he in charge of the ship and not Captain Stafford was no excuse for laziness—or rudeness.
Jeanine's jaw tightened. Her throat constricted as the word she wanted to weep, a measly, "Aye," was kept at bay.
The lie would not be uttered. Her tongue was getting heavy with her falsehoods.
"N-No," she allowed. "I…" She looked up at him, warily. His blue eyes watched her intently, though the frown on his lips made her feel ashamed in front of him. "If… If it is not inappropriate or a tax on your time, I… I would like to speak with you… in private."
"Is this a pressing matter, Mr. Ellison?" replied Harvey slowly.
"Perhaps not for you, but to me, it is. If you'd rather not waste your time on me, I understand, sir."
Buchanan's glare relented.
"Mr. Ellison," he began, sighing shortly afterwards. "Your behavior as of late has been wanting, and it not only disgraces me, but yourself. I know you are capable of better, and if you believe you can justify it, I am at your disposal. If not, however, you will become very familiar with the fore-masthead, do I make myself clear?"
"We will discuss this further in my cabin. Six bells, Mr. Ellison, and pray that you do not waste my time."
A/N: Sorry that the chapter jumps around so much. I just needed to speed things up a bit, especially because things are going to get quite critical from this point onward. Thank you again for reading. I'll try my best to update in a timely manner, but please don't be upset if the continuation is slow in coming.