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Terror Drabbles

Chapter Text

“Was that stupid dare worth it?” Harry spoke over the seething hisses of his captain, though in private he was allowed to refer to him simply as James. He dabbed a cloth soaked in alcohol against a bleeding cut on the man’s forehead. It was a small enough gash that it would not need stitches, but deep enough to where Harry might need to make a plaster for it. “Well? Was it?”

“In hindsight… perhaps I should have been more cautious of how slippery the rocks by the water would be.” James admitted this with a wincing smile. Always smiling in the face of pain. Broken limbs, musket ball wounds, falling face first onto a jagged rock? All taken in stride by Captain James Fitzjames. “I hope you will be giving Lieutenant Le Vesconte as much of a scolding as you are giving me! Twas his idea, you know.”

“Oh, I know! Believe me, I know. But, if you recall I was saying that I did not think it was a good idea! But did you listen?” Harry pressed the cloth firmly to the cut. He wanted to make sure the wound was clean but he did not mind giving James an extra bit of sting.

“Ooh ouch! Easy with that!”

“You need to be more careful, James.” Harry’s tone was not one of scolding, but of concern, “What if something more serious had happened?” He turned and set the bloodied rag into a metal basin for cleaning later.

“Then I should hope,” James put a hand on Harry’s arm and pulled the man to face him, “that my good doctor will be there to put me back together should I fall apart due to my eccentric recklessness.”

“Hmph. Well if I am not there then you’ll have to have Doctor Stanley help you.”

“You would not be so cruel. You could not, I know it. You have not a mean bone in your body, Harry.” James smirked and stuck out his chin, presenting his head to the doctor. “And since you are not that sort of cruel man, perhaps you could give my injury a kiss to speed the healing?”

“You are absolutely incorrigible.” Harry did not deny him the ‘healing kiss’ and pressed one gently to the side of the wound so as to not irritate it further. “Is that better, Captain Fitzjames?”

“Better than a dosage of laudanum. I’m already starting to feel right again, Doctor Goodsir. Thank you ever so much.”

“Please be more careful from now on. Doctor’s orders.”

“I’ll do my best not to worry you, but I can make no promises.”

Chapter Text

Henry had always been so sure-footed. One needed to be on a ship, where high winds and salt spray and ice could send a man toppling onto their ass, or worse — over the side of a ship into the water below. He always climbed the ropes and the masts quicker than any man in his crew, as if he were a little jungle monkey swinging from vine to vine.

He always felt at home up high, with the wind whistling through his ears and the birds overhead.

Things were different now. He was different now.

When John heard the crash his heart immediately sank into a deep pit of fear. Oh God what has happened? He nearly threw his cleaning aside, willing to risk a mess to tend to later if it meant getting out to the garden faster.

There in a now crushed flower bush sat his husband, sprawled out amongst the leaves and petals. He was more embarrassed than hurt, at least from first glance anyway. Had he not just taken a fall from the roof it would have been quite the comical sight, but John never was able to stomach Henry being up high even if that was his favored altitude.

“Henry are you alright?” John quickly came to the bush, offering his hands to help pull Henry from the foliage, “What in God’s name happened?”

“Lost my footin’ on the roof.” He stood and rubbed his lower back. There were leaves and twigs sticking out from his sweater and hair, which John began to pluck out one by one and cast them aside with the spilled roof shingles from a haphazardly flung basket. “Didn’t realize it hadn’t dried all the way through from the rain yesterday…caught a slippery one and slid down arse first.”

Regardless of whether or not Henry had been hurt in the fall (thankfully he wasn’t), John still felt guilty for it was he who sent him up in the first place. He wanted the roof patched before the next rain as it had been leaking. John slid an arm around his husband to support him as they walked back towards the door that lead inside.

“You don’t have to help me walk. I’m a bit sore, but I’m not hurt.” Henry still held an embarrassed look on his face, “Never fallen before. I’ve always been so good on my feet up high.”

“Your body isn’t what it used to be. We all have our limits. Now sit down. I’ll make some hot cocoa and fix you up.” John sat him in a chair and got to work. “I’m sorry I sent you up there.”

“Needed to be done. I should’ve been more careful.”

“Are you certain you’re not hurt?”

“If I have any bruises I’m sure you can take care of them. Like you’ve always done.”

“How about we stay off the roof for a while? At least until we’re certain it’s dry. I don’t know if my heart can take you falling again right away.” John passed him a mug and pulled up a chair beside him. He seemed to be looking him over intently, scanning for any missed debris or scratches.

Henry took a long sip of his drink before replying, “I like the heights. But I like being with you better. So I’ll stay to the ground for a bit. For you.”

“I greatly appreciate that, Henry. Truly I do.”

Chapter Text

He refused to leave the remnants of Carnivale behind, even though he was exhausted and the smoke from the still burning embers was hurting his lungs. He was looking for someone amongst the charred, trampled corpses. Someone he wanted to personally give final rites to, in a proper Marine fashion.

Tozer watched with bleary, sun-blinded eyes as Erebus’ captain helped line up the corpses. His own hands were blackened with soot, fingers burned from moving burnt wood and rigid corpses. He could do no more for the time being except watch and stare at the bodies in the hopes that he recognized the one he searched for.

“Sergeant.” The voice snapped him out of his stare. “You should get some rest.”

It was the caulker’s mate, Cornelius Hickey. Somehow he had approached silently over the ice, or maybe he went unnoticed from how deep into his thoughts Tozer was. He held something between his fingers, a cigarette — a paltry offering. It was already lit, like it was waiting for him.

“What’s that?”

“For your nerves.” Hickey rested against the same ice formation Tozer found himself against, “Thought you could use it.”

“Think I’ve had enough smoke for a while, Mister Hickey.”

“Fair enough.” The smaller man shrugged and put the cigarette to his lips. He was forced to talk around it as he smoked, “You been out here all night?”

Tozer nodded.

“You should get some rest.”

“I’m fine where I am.”

“Are you?”

Tozer did not reply. He watched with a half turned head as Hickey blew his smoke into the air to mingle what was already polluting the sky.

“Why don’t you lean on me for a bit. Keep you warm.” Hickey smiled that sweet smile he always gave Tozer. An innocent smile on a face that could hide so much deviance. “If you’re gonna stay out here while Captain Fitzjames does his work, it’ll do you some good to warm up, even a little.”

Hickey removed himself from the wall, dusting snow off his jacket before finding a discarded crate to perch himself on. There was plenty of room for company, especially considering that the caulker’s mate did not take up much space with his small size.

After a moment of watching him smoke, Tozer followed. He sat beside Hickey, closer than before with their shoulders now touching. The contact was nice however meager and the sergeant felt himself willingly lean on Hickey as he had been offered.

“Should you doze off,” Hickey spoke quietly, “I’ll wake you if they find him.”

He was surprised Hickey knew who he was looking for, but appreciative nonetheless. Tozer nodded, more tired than he remembered being. “Let me know if I get too heavy for you.” Tozer briefly found himself worrying about being reprimanded for slacking, but doubted either captain having the strength or morals to really scold anyone at the time.

“Right. Will do.”

“Hickey?”

“Hm?”

“Thank you…”

It was Hickey’s turn to fall silent. Tozer had quickly gone quiet as well, either from thought or from rest. At some point Hickey snaked an arm around the marine. He’d say it was to better support him, but really he knew deep down that Tozer would appreciate a bit more comfort during this time. They all would, but he only had so much to give and was willing to give it to very few.

Chapter Text

“It’s just a scratch, John!” Hickey called out from the kitchen. He was sat on a chair holding a rag to the palm of his hand. It was far from a scratch. Blood on the counter, blood in the sink, blood on Hickey’s ratty old t-shirt he tried to use to stop the blood from getting on the kitchen floor that Irving had mopped just yesterday (it didn’t work and there was blood there, too).

Irving did not listen, of course, as he was too set on finding their first-aid kit somewhere in the bathroom of their flat. He had just reorganized everything, too! He took a moment to calm himself before finally locating it, realizing that his fearful energies were going to keep him from being properly productive in this situation.

“That,” Irving said as he set the first-aid kit down on the kitchen table with a bit more force than necessary, “is not a scratch, Cornelius. That is a gash! A wound! It needs stitches!!” His emphasized words were punctuated with the fear he currently held. “Hold out your hand.”

“I think some gauze wrap will suffice.” Hickey reluctantly held out his bloodied palm. The bleeding had stopped but this allowed a better examination of his injury which was signifcantly worse than Hickey had originally thought it was. Eugh, perhaps John is right... He swayed in his chair a bit, craning his neck so he could look at the ceiling, seemingly the only place in his vicinity that did not have blood on it. “John could you hurry up? Feelin’ a bit woozy here.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised considering how much blood you’ve lost!” Irving did not necessarily want to scold Hickey in this moment, his voice just seemed to take on more of an angry tone when he was panicked. The gauze was wrapped tight, but not too tight, and taped down so hopefully no blood would leak out.

“Get in the car. You’re going to the hospital.” Irving went to grab them a coat each but was stopped by the whines of his partner. “Cornelius?”

“I need some help. The blood. I don’t… you know I don’t like seeing it.” Hickey’s eyes were closed as he motioned slowly around him with his bandaged hand. It hadn’t really hit him until it hit him all at once. Probably the shock of being injured while doing a menial task kept him from really seeing all the nasty red everywhere.

“Oh no! Cornelius I’m so sorry I forgot! Come here I’ve got you.” Irving rushed back to take Hickey’s arm and guide his partner from the sullied kitchen. “Alright we’re by the door. Wait here, I’ll get my keys. Should I get your wallet as well? Probably. And the jackets. And–”

“John.”

“Y-Yes??”

Breathe. ’m not dying. Just a few stitches, yeah? Like you said.” When Hickey’s eyes opened, Irving found himself relaxed by the striking blue color he had come to adore. “Jackets are on the hook, wallets on my side of the bed, keys are in the dish.” Hickey smiled his usual sweet smile despite his queasiness, and held his poor, injured hand close to his front.

“Right. Thank you. We’ll get you fixed up in a jiffy.”

“No doubt about it. But ah, one more thing?”

“Cornelius, I don’t think we have time–”

“Can you handle cleaning the kitchen for me?”

Chapter Text

The flat was warm, as it often was in the morning when breakfast was being made and tea was being brewed. A fire going in the stove always made it harder for Francis to force himself out of bed. Thirty some odd years in the Navy, nearly a lifetime governed by rigorous routine and protocol, and Francis Crozier still could not bring himself to be a morning person.

It felt odd, even in retirement, to swing his legs over the side of the bed and not have his feet plant down on the wooden floor of a ship; to not be woken by the sound of men starting their daily duties, their bumping, shuffling, and hollering mixing with the sounds of the sea outside his cabin. It was a sound he had grown accustomed to, and mornings always felt a bit empty without it.

Though, his mornings had become filled with a different sound. A better sound.

 

He could hear it from the hall as he made his way to their little kitchen. The sound of his husband humming as he prepared them breakfast. To Francis, it was one of the greatest sounds in the world; a sound better than any sea bird in a desolate arctic expanse.

Even though they were getting older, Alexander’s hair was still the same golden, messy blond it always had been. Francis stopped in the doorway, watching as flour coated hands made an effort to push those ever-present and always stubborn strands of hair from his forehead (to no avail). His own had started to go more grey than red but the good doctor assured him at every inkling of self-doubt that Francis stumbled across, that he was still the most handsome man in the world to him.

Alexander seemed to not have noticed that he was being watched, or if he did he certainly did not let onto this fact. He tutted around the kitchen, moving from counter to stove and back. He was a very clean doctor, but a messy cook.

 

A wry smirk spread across Francis’ face as he quietly made his way to Alexander’s side of the kitchen. He placed his sea worn hands on the man’s hip and planted a kiss just behind his ear. “What’s cookin’, good lookin’?” He spoke with a purr that made his husband laugh.

“Pancakes. I even got up early to get some of that jam you like for it.”

“Don’t I feel lucky? And here I was, tempted to sleep the morning away.” Francis nuzzled his unshaven cheek against the smooth cheek of his husband. “Would you have brought me breakfast in bed?”

Alexander playfully shrugged Francis away, mostly so that he could move the batter to the pan. “Hm, that would have been quite the romantic idea.” He turned to wink at his husband before flipping the half cooked pancake with ease, “I might have even fed it to you.”

“Now that would have been romantic. I’m starting to really regret leaving the covers.”

“I said might have, Francis.” The doctor smirked, “And when would you plan on returning the favor to me? I haven’t seen you making any progress with your cooking lessons.”

“I’m working on it. It takes time. Things like charting courses and reading maps are simple compared to cooking.” He reached towards the bowl of batter in an attempt to have a taste of the sweet batter, but was met with a wooden spoon to the knuckles. “Christ!

“No! You will keep your fingers to yourself like a civilized man. No fingers in my batter.”

“Just one wee taste won’t hurt, Alex.” Francis put his wounded knuckles to his mouth in the hopes it would ease the sting just a bit.

“It’ll hurt just as much as that spoon to your hand and then some!”

“You’re crueler than an arctic winter.”

“And yet,” Alexander paused to slide the finished pancake onto a plate that was stacked with a few finished ones, “you gladly married me.”

“You’re damn right I did. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.” Francis wrapped an arm around Alexander’s waist, leaning in for a sweet kiss on the cheek. His free hand slipped out of his husband’s sight, sneaking towards the bowl like a snake to an unguarded clutch of eggs.

 

Unfortunately for Francis, Alexander had better reflexes and quickly yanked the bowl from his grasp. “Out!” He yelled, “Out of my kitchen! You despicable man.”

Francis cackled and ducked to barely avoid being thwacked once again by the doctor’s wooden spoon.

“Try that again and you’ll go the rest of the morning hungry!” Of course his threat was all bark, no bite. Alexander could not keep the grin from spreading across his face, “You want breakfast, you’ll sit at the table and wait like a properly raised man.”

“Fine, I’ll behave. Or at least I’ll try to.”

“Thank the heavens, you’ve come to your senses.”

Chapter Text

For the first time in a long time, Solomon felt relaxed. There were no watches to take part in, no beasts to watch out for, no bitter cold or hunger pangs. He was far away from the place that caused him great pain and misery. He was safe, he was warm, and, most importantly, he was not alone.

His toes dug into sand as he stretched. The sun had moved, and so had his shade, causing him to be directly in the heat. It was time to leave the beach upon which he napped lest he become redder than the crab they caught for part of the night’s supper. But he did not budge, and more than likely would not, at least not without some coaxing.

“Solomon,” the voice cooed from somewhere behind him, “let’s get inside, eh? Don’t wanna get burned again.” Two thin hands placed themselves on the sides of Solomon’s face. The hands belonged to Cornelius- his Cornelius, and they were hands that were soft and intact and without blemish from their shared ordeal. Solomon could not say the same about his own body, but if Cornelius minded he never said. His thumb grazed over a patch of wind burned skin that never healed right on Solomon’s face.

“You hear me?”

“I heard you. It’s just…” Solomon opened his eyes and was met with Cornelius looming over him, the man’s red hair dangling and in the way, “I never want to leave here.” He reached up, his hand covering the hand of his lover’s and smiled, “I love it here. I love it here with you.”

“Well, I’ve got no plans to leave this place anytime soon.” Cornelius let Solomon have his tender moment before standing up straight and turning on his heel in the sand, “But I am going inside. And I hope you’ll come with me.” He started to walk, glancing over his shoulder for only a moment to see what Solomon would do.

The former marine sat up from his place in the sand. He watched the waves and looked up at the sky and let out a sigh. He did not want to be left behind, but he was slow to follow. He knew Cornelius would wait for him. He always had.

Chapter Text

“You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

“John! Don’t tease me like that.”

“I’m not teasing you.”

Women are beautiful. Places are beautiful. I’m not beautiful.”

John shook his head. He took Henry’s work worn hand into both of his and squeezed gently. “Those things are beautiful, but so are you. And I do not mean merely in appearance.” He smiled, warmly and softly. John’s smile always made Henry feel a certain way, gave him a tender feeling. It was such a genuine thing.

“Well then,” Henry tilted his head to the side just a bit, “what do you mean?”

 

“You are like a book, the cover does not always convey the contents.” John brought his lover’s hand to his cheek to nuzzle it as he spoke, his facial hair tickling Henry’s knuckles. “But the inside can hold such untold beauty. You are a man with a heart and soul, these things are beautiful, Henry.” He moved the younger man’s hand to his lips, kissing each knuckle. “The way you view the world, observe its creatures, tackle its challenges; those things are beautiful.”

The steward took a moment to look into Henry’s eyes, lips barely pressed against the flesh of his hand. “The way you climb the masts, your agility and grace. The way birds seem drawn to you, as though you were one with nature.” He watched as Henry’s expression softened and a thoughtfulness filled the parts of his face where confusion was once held, “The way you try so very hard with your lessons. Your messy hand writing, your stuttered words, that look you get when Latin leaves you utterly vexed but Greek comes to you so easily.” John’s eyes seemed to almost sparkle as he spoke, listing off the things that made Henry so wonderful to him. They came with a great ease, the words flowing so freely from his lips.

“The depth of your being, the man that you are. More beautiful than any gold bound tome or flowering field. You are beautiful to me, Henry.”

 

Henry seemed to chew on the inside of his cheek in thought, ruminating on John’s kind words. He wondered if John was even capable of cruelty, though, it seemed utterly impossible. “You always see in me things but in ways I never really thought about…” He put his hand to John’s cheek, “That’s really beautiful, too, John.” He smiled and as he did a soft, pink hue colored his cheeks. He could pride himself on being tough, as a man of his position needed to be, but with John he could put that aside and allow himself a softness and tenderness especially towards the man he loved, “You always see the good in me. In everyone and everything. You’re kind and you’re patient and you’re ever so caring.”

Henry stroked the steward’s cheekbones and let his fingers bury in his sideburns. His face was so warm, he was always so warm whenever Henry touched him, no matter where they were or where his hands were put. “If I’m beautiful, then so are you. With your greying hair and your soft hands and the way you whisper poems to me in the night.” He smiled and used his hand to carefully guide their faces together, their foreheads touching gently.

“We are beautiful in our own ways. Individual books with different covers and beautiful stories waiting to be told.” John continued to hold Henry’s hand, giving it a tender squeeze. “And there is nothing in this world more beautiful to me than you, Henry.”

Henry made the move to press his lips to his lover’s. The warmth he felt elicited a happy hum from him as he shut his eyes. It was always a wonderful thing, every time no matter how short felt as special as the last. It was John that made him feel this way, so loved and special. No other man or woman could ever come close. John reciprocated, moving their bodies more snugly together so that the space between them was barely there at all. His eyes closed so that he may be lost in the moment, to focus on them being together. A much needed touch. A fleeting, but nevertheless beautiful moment between them.

Chapter Text

There was anxiety and excitement within Fitzjames at the thought of what the ice might hold. Crozier had recommended parties be sent out in search of leads, hoping that there would be some direction they could look forward to that would get them back to their journey. It would be days before he saw Goodsir again, days of having no idea what might happen to him out there, what sights he might behold. He had come to care for the doctor more than might have been deemed proper but it is difficult to set aside the feelings of one’s heart, especially when they are so quickly reciprocated.

“You will be careful? And not wander off?”

“You sound very much like a mother right now, James.” Goodsir looked up from his packing. He was to leave the ship with Gore and his overland party in a few hours and as the time for departure drew closer, he could not ignore the nagging feeling that something was not entirely right. Was it James’ worry rubbing off on him? Or something else very genuine?

“I cannot hide that I am finding myself becoming more and more hesitant about allowing you to go.” Fitzjames watched from his place on Goodsir’s bed as the man went through a chest for whatever he had forgotten to pack. “I just want you to understand that I want – no I need you to return safely, in one piece.”

“I feel confident that Lieutenant Gore will return me wholly intact and back into your arms.”

Goodsir could see that his words did not much to ebb the worry lines from Fitzjames’ face. He set his books down and put a hand to the commander’s cheek, “Shall I promise you?”

“If only you are certain you can keep it.” Fitzjames met the naturalist’s eyes and held him in a serious gaze. “I do not enjoy the thought of you breaking a promise.”

“Then I shall not break it.”

With Goodsir’s words, Fitzjames brought him into a tender kiss in place of a handshake. It was slow and gentle, allowing them to linger in the moment as though it would be years and not mere days before they would be reunited again. The commander did not care if this act might have edged on the dramatic, it was important for him to show his love this one last private display of affection before they were separated by miles of ice and snow.

When Fitzjames pulled away, he smiled and pressed his cheek against Goodsir’s muttonchops, “You best keep your promise, doctor.”

“I will.”

Chapter Text

When he looked in the mirror he saw several things and none of them he liked, but truly when had that ever been the case? He saw the visage of a dying man, a man whose whole life was spent running from secrets and flaws, running towards adoration and acceptance. A tired man with knotted hair and a bleeding scalp, a once lively and vivacious man now wan and hollow.

He felt imperfect; a funny thing to feel when one walked the edge of death. The man that looked back at him in the mirror was an utter stranger but also the most he felt human in years.

He sat in one of the breezy tents, topless but without feeling the cold. He felt as though he was more oozing wound than man, but the pain was ignored to a degree. He kept his jaw tight despite the ache it caused his gums and stared ahead at nothing. He had to keep up appearances, even now during an examination. Reflect the outward appearance of a wounded man still standing against all odds.

It coated his focus and allowed him to ignore the stinging pokes and prods of Goodsir’s fingers. He knew the doctor was being careful as he could be. It was reminiscent of the nights Goodsir’s fingers would draw lines up and down his commander’s bare back. And then his mind drifted further: what does he think of me? In this state? He’s watched me fall to pieces and now this. What does he think?

Goodsir was oblivious to Fitzjames’ wandering attention. He spoke softly of laudanum and cotton dressings, caressing the flesh beneath him as tenderly as ever. He did not have the energy to separate doctor and man, and in this private moment he was both or whatever Fitzjames needed him to be.

Handsome…” It was the word that broke through Fitzjames’ thoughts. A compliment of all things. Softly spoken, almost dreamily. “You’re so handsome…”

“Lies.” Fitzjames bit back vitriol for the doctor’s sake, surely Goodsir of all men would not mock him. “You would say that while looking upon me in such a state?”

Their eyes met, both dark but where Fitzjames’ had become dulled from stress and ill health, Goodsir’s managed to retain a sparkle or two. Fitzjames could feel his veneer cracking from the mere act of eye contact.

“I am hardly the man I pride myself to be. You do not have to coddle me, Harry.”

“You hold on too tightly to pride. Though I cannot say I blame you; you need something to hold on to.” Goodsir broke the gaze by returning to his duty. He knew it was only a temporary measure that he could employ, but it was better than nothing. “We all do.”

He started the task of gently cleaning Fitzjames’ wounds, allowing the commander to brace himself with hands on the doctor’s shoulders. He could feel every grimace through his layers as the procedure went on, Fitzjames’ weak but deepening digs into the fabric of his jacket.

“You have no idea how much effort I put into appearing a certain way for you. For Crozier. For everyone.”

“I don’t think it matters much now, James.” Goodsir did not look up from his task. “Why expend the energy anymore?”

“Because it matters to me. And how those men see me - they need leadership.”

“And we have it. Crozier. And you.” Goodsir’s voice lowered, “I trust you more than anyone.”

“You put your trust in a dead man. A stupid, weak, sick man who has spent too much time worrying over what other people think.”

“I put my trust in a man I love.”

“Harry, I…” Fitzjames stopped himself. It was almost too much. The idea and the pain of being loved simply for being.

He rested his weight more on Goodsir, feeling as though he might give way. He pressed the side of his face into the doctor’s curls.

“I love you no matter how the outside looks, James. I trust you, I know you’ll get us through this.”

The brave façade that Fitzjames worked so hard to uphold, even at a detriment to himself, crumbled almost instantly when faced with the never ending kindness of the doctor. He clung tighter to Goodsir, casting aside his worry of being perceived as anything but well put together. The energy to cling to it left him in tears.

To spend a whole life wanting to be seen, to finally be seen for something other than a forced reflection of one’s self. If Fitzjames were to die in the barren and frozen wastes, at least he would die loved even for a moment as more than just a tall tale.

Chapter Text

Francis wept, though a year had passed he still wept for what was lost, and when he did the same hands would find purchase on his tired shoulders.

They were both filled with so much guilt, so much pain, so much loss, but refused to let the other wallow. There was no use in it, but it could not be helped: when one suffers so much, it is understandable that they cannot help but think about at times.

“I’ll make us some tea,” Harry spoke softly, “and I’ll fetch your drops.” He pressed a gentle kiss to the crown of Francis’ head. “It’s late, too late for us to be lost in our thoughts, don’t you agree?” He doted on his companion kindly and with no mind, it was in Harry’s nature after all.

Francis nodded and placed a shaky hand onto Harry’s before he could leave. He brought the smaller hand to his mouth, pressing the knuckles to his lips for a moment.

“Aye, I think it’s time we turned in for the night.”

Chapter Text

He stole warmth as he stole most things; his boots and his name were a few ticks on the list. When given things freely, Hickey would take and take. His nature could seem akin to a scavenger or even worse a blood craving parasite.

And take he did from the sergeant. He pressed his lithe frame tightly into the muscle and bruises of his forced protector, his back to Tozer’s chest – a vulnerable position for someone rather disliked to maintain.

He knew in his selfish heart and manic mind that Tozer wouldn’t retaliate against him, so he could rest easily in their sack and in their tent. And most importantly he could be warm in the night.

Chapter Text

The lieutenant was offered power that had no right being given, and given the circumstances he would have been a fool to decline such an offer. But to himself, he was a fool regardless of choice. A fool who wanted to survive.

Captain, an earned title but not by him or his deeds. Hickey had no authority to bestow it upon him, no more than the caulker had the power to make himself lieutenant.

Hodgson held no real power in their little group, of course. That was all Hickey’s to claim. The captain lieutenant held no higher position in the group of mutineers than any one other person, but in his mind’s eye eating the flesh of man off a china plate made things a little more refined, made him feel a little better about his place in such an unforgiving world, made him feel like he had a bit of power over the situation he found himself in.

Chapter Text

He had always done as he was told. If he did, he would never be lost. He would not be steered wrong. He would be rewarded for his bravery.

Tozer sat on the edge of his bunk wondering just what this supposed reward would be, and when or even if it would come to him. Did it even exist? Would it exist for him?

Never before did the sergeant feel more lost than when he looked at his uniform. It no longer made him think of England, of fiery passion, of duty and pride. Its definition had changed to a red representing blood and anger.

The marines continued to be cut down, their numbers dwindling at rates that would have been more appropriate for a wartime scenario rather than being trapped in the desolate arctic. The remainder of Terror’s marines looked to Tozer now with fear for survival, they had no choice but to trust him with their lives since they could not trust their own captain to ensure it.

He no longer owed protection and survival to the men high on the rungs for they would not offer the same to them.

He was going to look out for his own. They were going to get out of this in one piece. One way or another.

Chapter Text

He kept everyone from Hickey. He kept them on their toes. Tozer acted like a wall between him and the other mutineers – like a blue-grey shadow following close on Hickey’s heels.

He wasn’t sure when it started; the feeling of possession that gnawed hungrily within him, at his mind and in his heart. It was not there before, or maybe it was all along and it was pushed down with the rest of the wicked and not Christian-like thoughts that seemed intent on plaguing him since they became frozen in. It was there within him, marinating in his rage and his jealousy like a bloody steak in its juices.

He watched Gibson, pale and sickly and not long for this world, steal Hickey’s attention. Gentle, lingering touches and soft, almost mournful gazes. They seemed to speak without uttering, something he and Hickey had yet to master between one another, and probably would never have the time to.

It would not be long before the steward was gone. The mutineers did not vie for Hickey’s attention, in fact they seemed to despise it almost as much as they feared the sergeant, so they were no competition.

Once Gibson was gone, Hickey would be his and his only.

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When everything was silent and still except for ice and wood, Jopson came to him in the dark.

He cried, still, and though months had passed it was nearly impossible not to. So far from home, completely alone in a ship full of souls Hartnell felt as though he had not one to turn to. Without his brother, what was he to do?

Jopson sat with him as silent as a shadow, offering a hand, a shoulder, an embrace - whatever it was that Hartnell needed in that moment. Whatever he could offer to show that he understood his pain. To show that he cared.

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He had taken the doctor for dead, and though the man sat there before him, Crozier could not help wonder if that would have been the more favorable of outcomes.

There was a distance in Goodsir’s eyes, though desperately he clung to his Captain’s tattered coat sleeves for a way to anchor himself to the present; how much good it did could not be properly gauged. His body was cold, his mind slowing down, but there was still a warmth to Harry Goodsir, and he extended it purely to his Captain, if that title meant anything in the moment.

“I’m sorry.” They were words offered up softly, for he had not much else to give. “I’m so sorry.”

“For what?” Crozier tilted his head, but Goodsir would not look him in the eye. Every part of him ached, his face and his body bloodied and bruised by hands he thought he could trust, but none more so than his heart. “Whatever could you have to apologize for?”

“I-I was not there when you needed me – when Commander- Captain- James needed me.” His voice broke and rattled off the words and titles with difficulty. Goodsir met a soft gaze he felt he did not deserve and could have wept if he had the energy to expend.

“There was nothing you could have done for him.” Crozier gripped Goodsir’s dirty sleeve, his thin arm, trying to bring him away from the thought. “I blame you for nothing. You have done no wrong.”

Goodsir pressed his forehead to Crozier’s, forgetting himself and the man’s wounds. His weight could be felt wholly, but the naturalist did not hold the same weight as before. Blood in the hairline, vacancy in the eyes, there would be an end to them both soon enough.

“You’re a good doctor.”

“I am no doctor, not anymore.”

“Then you are a good man, Harry.”

Crozier carefully took Goodsir’s face in his rough hands. He had so much to say, so much love for one of the few men he could safely say was still on his side and still alive in some sense or another. How far they had come. How little time they had left. How few words he could bring to his lips.

Tears welled in the doctor’s dark eyes. He was so tired. They were all so very tired.

“You are a good man.”

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The times when Hickey had been most afraid were when there was no plausible way for him to turn the situation towards his favor.

“Aren’t you afraid?” Magnus’ voice was soft, unsure. Despite the warnings of his betters, he still chose to keep company with the ostracized caulker, “There are ghosts on this ship, Cornelius, I know it. Aren’t you afraid of them?”

“You remember what the Lieutenant said, God doesn’t grant us ghosts.” Hickey’s quoting of Irving was a mockery of the superior officer, the words bastardized by a grudge formed months prior.

“But what if he’s wrong?”

“And what if he is? Why are you afraid of them? Wasn’t you who sent’m to the skies.” Hickey saw the fear still in the mate’s eyes and softened his tone, “They’ve no reason to be angry with you, Magnus.”

 

He ruminated with his back to the camp, wind kicking at the tail end of his stolen jacket. It had become a ritual for him; a cleansing of the mind, a gathering of the thoughts, an assessment of their situation.

But Hickey felt no relief. Only a gnawing dread like teeth on gristle and bone. Something ate at him, ate through the back of his mind and it tunneled forward. Goodsir offered no assurance of survival, and Gibson was now dead. There were murmurs amongst his ragtag group of dissenters.

Things were falling out of his favor.

He thought of ghosts. Of England. Of the young man he left in the river. Of MacDonald, Irving, Gibson, even the Inuit he set up to die. The creature hunted them, even now. Would it find them first?

Things were going wrong. Oh so wrong.

Hickey realized what he was feeling was fear. And he did not like it.

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Somewhere between their first unpleasant meeting and now, in the confines of ice and wood, Goodsir had forgotten that his superior knew a very intimate portrait of war.

Stanley would not meet his gaze but emotion was written on his face; grief, sorrow, guilt. With every one registered, Goodsir’s anger was replaced with a feeling of sadness and a modicum of understanding.

“I have blood on my hands.” Stanley’s voice was soft and steady, “I have witnessed things. Commander Fitzjames was one of the lucky ones. There were others, so many more, who were much less fortunate than he…”

The naturalist un-clenched his fists and every bitter word fell away from his tongue.

For a moment, he finally understood.

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He knelt down by his bunk, a short candle illuminating his private space. He sat there, like a child, praying by his beside with eyes squeezed tight and head bowed, hands pressed flatly together as he whispered desperate words to the one being he hoped benevolent enough to hear him.

His faith had kept him company all these years at sea; where friends were not found, he turned to things devotional. The act of piety, it kept him humble. Knowing God’s eye was on him, always on him, ebbed away at the loneliness he felt.

But as omnipresent as God was supposedly, John could not shake the feeling that perhaps the deity had a blind spot. And that he and his fellow Expedition members were directly in the middle of it. Such a feeling was hard to shake, enveloped in icy isolation, so far from civilization.

Perhaps it was the one place God’s eye did not extend its vision to.

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He’d gotten lax in the ways of his old Navy learnings. But there were no bells to wake him early now. No sea salt in the air, no ice squeezing the hulls, no morning light peeking through the frost coated windows of his old great cabin.

Crozier padded quietly through the house in his slippers and his robe. It had been hard at first, the thought of trading in his golden epaulets and navy blues for the comfort of civilian attire had long been seen by him as a death sentence. He realized it had been a long time coming, as reluctant of a thing as it was. He couldn’t keep the paces forever and there were men younger than he, all with bright futures and brighter eyes destined to discover the things that he never could.

He realized it was perhaps for the best he spend his remaining years in one place. Settling down had been easier after that. Less daunting, less life ending.

Having Irving around helped.

He carried a breakfast tray down the hall to his room. The cutlery jingled and the tea cup clinked on its saucer gently with each step. Even in full health and with not a drop of drink in him, Crozier’s hands still held a tremble. He figured if it hadn’t left him yet, it’d be with him always. Though it was not so bad; it gave Irving a reason to take hold of them, to squeeze them and to still them with his own.

The room was just as still as he left it, the sun barely creeping its way across the bed. Irving had not moved, not even a bit. Crozier smiled, almost sorry to wake him.

Irving had not planned on living with his former Captain, not initially though the offer had been presented as soon as Crozier held permanent lodgings. The offer itself had come as a surprise, Crozier had always valued his solitude (though it was due in part to his melancholia), but towards the end of their journey he held his men closer and closer, and Irving had been wholly included in that. He had hoped to be received by his family, but lack of knowledge in the familial trade left him with little to fall back on, and there would be no second attempt at farming for John Irving.

It was laughable to some; a devout Christian living the bachelor’s life with a man who was perceived to go to service only on holy days.

But life in the Navy never suited Irving. He felt homesickness too much in his heart to bear being at sea for so long. He spoke often of this fact to Crozier, who spent his entire life in the Navy but understood the sentiment more than anyone. There is an inherent loneliness on a ship, so far from home, so far gone from the familiarity of home.

That terrible loneliness. Out on the ice it was intensified, reflected back like blinding sunlight. The only good to come of it, if one can say that of such a thing, was that it brought them together in a way they never anticipated.

He pressed a gentle, lingering kiss to the top of Irving’s head. He had done it dozens, hundreds of times. Through the meager good and the mounting bad, on too small cabin beds and in the drafty darkness of a canvas tent. John hummed softly. A smile as sleepy as he crept across his face.

Seeing such a thing, experiencing such a feeling of love, it was better than any discovery one could behold from the cold metal of a spyglass. Crozier would trade it for nothing else.

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It had been so long since they’d been somewhere properly warm; the beating sun didn’t have the same effect in the arctic as it did on a beach. It was brutal to see it and to know what it offered but to not be able to feel it.

It almost felt unreal, too good to be true - surely it must’ve been a dream. He’d wanted and waited so long to feel warm again. Peglar dug his hands into the sand and watched the grains and bits flow freely between his calloused fingers. His arm didn’t ache anymore.

Peglar looked behind him, unable to relax without knowing where Bridgens was. All was well, the man was asleep in the cool shadow of a tree with a book half read and spread on his chest, with his hands resting on either cover. The view was familiar somehow, Peglar couldn’t place it. But it was alright. And they were alright.

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Jopson held out a small bundle, no bigger than his palm and wrapped gently in loose cloth and tied closed with a bit of twine.

“I cannot.”

“I insist.”

Hartnell opened his mouth to decline once more and as politely as possible, but his mind was filled with the voice of his mother reminding him that it was a terrible rudeness to decline someone’s gift and an even worse offense to do so to their face.

So he accepted it and went to pull loose the twine but was stopped by Jopson’s gentle hand quickly placed upon his own.

“Not now.” Jopson’s voice and expression were both ever so soft, and Hartnell could not help the flutter of his chest, “When you need it.”

When you need it.

He opened it finally, days later, exhausted and near frozen from his watch. He had abstained as long as he could from opening it, waiting for whatever moment Jopson had intended, but decided the moment was one that alleviated his suffering.

In the dark, in his hammock, he gently pulled loose the twine holding the makeshift bag shut.

A few hard sweets and chocolates, the gold foil was recognizable even with little light. Hartnell smiled softly to himself, carefully and quietly unwrapping one of the squares to pop it whole into his mouth.

He’d have to thank Jopson in the morning when he saw him next.

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It started with the orlop.

Or really; not knowing where it was located.

Mister Hickey was certainly an odd one, most definitely out of place, and far too green for the arctic. Yet here he was. Never on a ship this big, he had said, but every ship had an orlop – did they not?

Irving looked at him, then away as quickly as he could, fearful of catching the would-be caulker’s eye. Something about Hickey made him feel nervous and curious in the worst of ways.

“Change of pace, then?”

Hickey looked back at his new superior. The smile he held took up his entire face as it grew, a face which was made of straight lines and pointed angles like he had been meticulously carved following the edge of a ruler. His smile was so wide it made his eyes squint and crease and it truly lit him up in a way that the lieutenant had previously thought was merely a poetic exaggeration, and Irving was left feeling like he had taken a too-long glimpse at the sun; dazed and blinded.

“Change of everything, sir.”

Chapter Text

Though Crozier was not at all unfamiliar with the variety of creatures that lurked beneath the depths of the waves, they did not hold his passion nor attention nearly as much as they did of Erebus’ naturalist. Sir John had been keen to bring him along, toting on about the young man’s boundless enthusiasm and zeal for life, and now forced the two to interact with a bit more familiarity than Crozier felt comfortable with.

Goodsir engaged with Crozier with more posturing than he seemed to hold with his own superiors, which Crozier appreciated to an extent. He felt respected, but seeing his chumminess with Fitzjames had him tinged with a small but surprising amount of jealousy.

He, like Goodsir, was a man of science and though they came from differing fields they still held an appreciation for the natural world. Terror had her own naturalist that Crozier was far more comfortable with. MacDonald did not flit about the deck in such an excitable way, and certainly did not chatter as much as the young Scottish doctor did. It was… interesting, to say the least. Endearing? That was a better word.

The naturalist was knelt at the edge of a fishing net. The men were careful of him, stepping over and around him while simultaneously trying to avoid bumping into each other as they watched him. He had stripped unceremoniously of his hat and coat, hiked up his shirt sleeves and quickly began the process of depositing creatures that were not fish, yet still had the misfortune of being caught up in Terror’s nets, into a bucket provided to him by one of the crew.

His thoughts were interrupted by a loud gasp and short laugh, and Crozier’s eyes were once again on the naturalist, who now held… something very happily.

Crozier reluctantly crossed the threshold of the deck, appearing at Goodsir’s side and making the men even more wary of where they stood and walked.

“What is it, Mister Goodsir?”

Instead of replying, Goodsir – with all the grinning cheek of an excited child, held up a large, wet mass that rested limply in the palms of his hands. It reminded Crozier of an uncooked sausage; freshly stuffed with innards and meat, though significantly less appetizing.

“Isn’t it lovely? And such an impressive size!”

“It… I’m not sure lovely is the word I would use, Mister Goodsir.”

Almost as if he expected such a response, the glee on Goodsir’s face did not dwindle in the slightest.

“It’s a sea slug! I’m not sure what variety, but I can safely say what sort of animal it is,” Goodsir held the creature up to get a better look at it in the light of the high sun, “Just beautiful. We’re lucky with this one.”

“Are we?” Crozier was beginning to feel the spark of curiosity within him, as though Goodsir’s enthusiasm was contagious. He leaned in to peer directly at the creature, knowing not which part was the face or if it even had one, as if looking into the creature’s eyes would grant a better understanding of its existence.

Goodsir laughed. He was such a joyous man for someone covered in sea water and fish scales.

“Yes, sir. Usually they slip right through the holes of the net. They aren’t like fish, they can squish and squeeze themselves through all sorts of spaces; the benefit of being a boneless, gelatinous mass!”

He saw Crozier quirk his brow and pushed the slug more towards the captain’s face. Crozier did not back away in the slightest. He wasn’t worried about being harmed, for if Goodsir could so easily and gladly take hold of it, then he was certain it was not of the vicious variety – if there was one, at any rate.

“Would you like to hold it?” The posturing Goodsir started the visit with had all but left, replaced with the sort of candor that probably drew Commander Fitzjames to him in the first place.

Hold it? I’m not sure if I should.”

“Nonsense! Hold your hands flatly, it shan’t bite.”

The naturalist gave his superior all but a moment to prepare before carefully sliding the slug into Crozier’s open hands. With less grace, he sprung up from his place on the floor of the deck to stand by Terror’s captain as he handled the slug.

Goodsir wasted no time gleefully sharing every bit of information he knew about sea slugs, from their found regions to their reproduction habits, to whether or not it would be a good idea to enjoy it with a glass of wine or not. He was incredibly animated, more so than Crozier had ever seen him.

Being the sort of person that succumbed to the desires of misanthropic isolation from time to time, Crozier thought the rampant babbling of Fitzjames was a nightmare from which he could not wake, but with Goodsir’s cheerful rambling he felt no desire to flee at all. In fact, he found himself… enjoying the conversation, as one sided as it was.

“I should get it back into water, I would hate for it to dry out before I have time to properly document it.”

Gladly Crozier allowed Goodsir to take the invertebrate from his hands, which had become pruned and cold. Briefly their fingers touched, and while the captain thought too long of it, the naturalist thought nothing of it at all. The slug was deposited into the bucket with a splash, and Crozier could see it settle as best it could amidst its unfortunate bucket-mates.

“You will have to enlighten me with your findings, should you have anything worth sharing.” It was a gentle and open-ended invitation, but Goodsir lit up like a sun dog at the prospect of returning to talk about ocean based invertebrates at even greater lengths.

“I will! Upon my next visit to your ship, I’ll tell you everything I’ve learned from today’s haul!”

“I think I shall appreciate that, Mister Goodsir.”

Chapter Text

Fitzjames was there on the edge of his peripheral, and Goodsir chose not to acknowledge him. He knew it was not Fitzjames, not as the man was before he died or as he ever was when he was alive. A manifestation of guilt or the long residing effects of lead poisoning, possibly, but it was no man that trailed him just out of his vision’s range.

When it is too dark to see, the mind will create shadows of what it perceives to be there. Goodsir would see shadows on the blackened landscape and they would remind him of a man. One he knew was not there, one he knew was dead and gone.

He felt haunted, the same thickness and fuzziness that clouded his brain with poison felt alive again. But this time was different. Perhaps he was truly haunted, perhaps what followed him now was no man, no spirit. It was a ghoul; a body without a soul.

A much better man died while he lived, and Goodsir resigned to the fact that he would have to live with that fact until the end of his own days, and accepted whatever may come of it.

Chapter Text

He climbed carefully, with his men behind him, and the naturalist hesitating at the base of the ridge. Gore reached down and took Goodsir’s hand in his, pulling him up the ridge of ice and salt, so that the naturalist could partake in the vast and whitened horizon with him. Gore looked beyond, then beside, to see the sparkling light of bewilderment and hope in Goodsir’s eyes, and knew he would never see the arctic in the same way again.

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In the dead of night Hickey slipped into Tozer’s tent, inviting himself wordlessly into his sack and pressing himself firmly into the sergeants back. His breathing heavy, shaky, muffled against Tozer’s layers, and Tozer knew what this was - mourning.

“I need you,” Hickey pawed at him and clutched at whatever parts of the sergeant he could get his hands on; for Tozer was his second in all this, and seconds were supposed to support their firsts, at least that’s how it was said to go, and so Tozer relinquished, wordlessly in the dark.

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It was there in Hickey’s mind for years, simmering hotly and festering sickly, the grudge he built up against the well-meaning lieutenant, against the unknowing John Irving.

He hovered over Irving’s body, skin white and blending into the sky as the light of Irving’s eyes darkened and death blurred his vision; Hickey and the arctic became one – stark and sharp, cruel and unjust.

Irving did not know why Hickey hated him so.

Chapter Text

Goodsir spoke with Gore’s words on his tongue, wanted as they were but not from him.

“You’re now an expert on the ice too, Mister Goodsir?” Fitzjames met him with a quiet vitriol, controlled and concise for as angry as he was, as greatly as the hurt weighed down his heart, he was still a commander, still in front of his captains.

Goodsir faltered, thought of Gore’s patience, the way he smiled at the naturalists eagerness to learn, for he did not know how to read the ice as the lieutenant or the masters did – Gore’s hypothesis of the coming cold and the lack of a thaw, was to be Goodsir’s hypothesis now that the man was no longer around to repeat it.

No, sir. He wanted to say, but could not bring himself to do it, thought of the nights he spent looking at the delight in Fitzjames’ eyes, delight reflected for him and realizing how long ago it felt. For in that moment amidst his racing heart and terrible fears and utter exhaustion, he was nothing.

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No man is alone on a ship.

Goodsir felt it; that supposed nonexistent loneliness, every waking and slowly ticking moment.

He felt his heart be empty for the first time since his mother died, standing in the doorway to Gore’s room; his presence there distant and ghostly, his things remained untouched for days for no one wished to disturb them and ruin the mournful peace of it – ruin the illusion that perhaps he would, could, come back to them.

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His cheeks reddened beneath James’ fingers, the blush travelling slowly over his nose and heating his chilly ears. His pale and freckled skin took the color so wholly. James wondered, if he were to remove Francis’ clothes layer by heavy layer, would he see that the blush colored him elsewhere, perhaps everywhere?

It was different than the heat and flush brought by a bottle of whiskey; Francis had not touched a drop in weeks, he was sober, his eyes blue and clear – he looked so confident finally, as Fitzjames had longed to see him.

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Graham’s body was firm, made of lean muscle dusted with fine, sandy colored hair; the product of a life at sea. Harry could not help the way he stared because of it; enamored as a lover, intrigued as an anatomist. The human body was amazing – what it could go through, what forms it could take.

Harry,” he could feel the lieutenant’s heartbeat increase under his palm, Graham’s eyes wide and light. With the anatomist perched in his lap, there was no hiding his want, but he allowed himself to be touched in such an exploratory fashion for in the end it would be in his benefit.

Harry wanted commit him to memory, all of him. Every nick, freckle, and line. He leaned in and pressed a kiss to Graham’s lips, smiles blossoming between the two of them, their soft, intermingled laughter lifting the heavy air. Graham carded his hand through the naturalist’s barely contained curls, choosing to rest his palm finally on Harry’s pink cheek.

“Would you take care of me, Harry?”

“Always.”

Chapter Text

Harry loved the sea, and maybe that was why he loved Graham so much – the man with eyes made of the same hue of the waters on which they sailed. A man with a voice as soothing as the wind that bolstered their sails. Though the sea was fickle and temperamental, he could be assured that Graham would never turn harsh.

“When we return to port,” Harry watched as Graham sketched ice bergs and sea birds and the bow of Terror that followed them diligently, “after we find the Passage, that is,” Harry’s voice was tentative – a question that he wished to set upon Graham but kept to himself, “what will you do?”

“Go to sea again,” Graham did not look up from his sketch, the gentle scratching of pencil on paper filling the gaps between wood creaks and men existing, “Unless something should convince me to stay ashore.”

“Something?”

“Or someone.”

Chapter Text

Thomas looked to John, saw him spread across the table like his own brother, another John before him. He had been covered, thankfully, with white cloth to the chest and across his forehead, only his eerie, empty, green eyes open and dull, his face blank and devoid of expected expression; no pain, no fear.

He was then in John’s room, on his bunk, knees touching innocently enough. He watched John’s lips move to the words of Keats and felt relaxed –

My spirit is too weak – mortality
Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,
And each imagined pinnacle and steep
Of godlike hardship tells me I must die
Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.

He felt John’s weight on him, as if it was all too much to bear. And he wondered, alone and accompanied in the tent, if John had tried to warn him of hardships to come.

Chapter Text

“Tell me,” Gore started then stopped, unsure if he wanted what he was asking, but knew it better to continue than to leave an unfinished end hanging in the air, “what will happen to us as we go on?”

Gore’s body and mind had begun to betray him, old pale wounds had become fresh and raw and renewed. His battle with the white beast left him scarred, and now those scars showed themselves as blooming red lines that served only to stain his shirts and stick painfully to his back.

“What shall I tell you?” Goodsir helped ease the lieutenant’s shirt from his body, exposing lean muscle and ribs to the cold. “What you want to hear? Or what will hurt to know?”

“Tell me the truth.”

Goodsir hesitated, fixating on the bloody shirt in his hands. How many times had he seen Gore’s blood? How much more of it would he see? On his clothes, in his teeth, on his scalp?

“I don’t know if I can.”

Chapter Text

“What do you need?”

What did he need? Nothing that could be provided by anyone on board.

Endymionis somnum dormire.

He envied him, Endymion. Stanley with his back against the wall of his bunk thought of a man so loved by the moon he was blessed with sleep forever. Unchanged by time, untouched by age. Illness would not take him, not like it would take the rest of them. They on Erebus would not be so lucky, for when they finally slept it would be not fitful.

MacDonald came to him in the night like Selene to her shepherd, his hands gently pressing against Stanley’s nightshirt and cheek. He was soft, everywhere and always, soft expression and hands and hair, softly gazing and softly speaking, like the moons light upon the ice.

“What do you need?” He asked, a whisper.

Sleep.

Chapter Text

Francis moved forward and James stopped him, flat palm to broad chest. It stopped the trembling in James to feel how firm, how real Francis was, how close they were to something they could never come back from. Alive, it made him feel alive.

“Move away if you do not want this,” James’ voice soft in the night, not from the fear of being overheard, but from the fear of saying it out loud, of ending a start.

And Francis proceeded, gentle lips on James’, tasting copper, stubble scratching stubble.

Chapter Text

Harry saw the world as one should see it – bright and shining, for he was driven by an endless, boundless fascination, a love for all that exists. John wished to be that way, to see that way.

Wildflower stems snapped neatly between Harry’s forefinger and thumb. He stood in the grass, amongst the red clover and meadowsweet and spearwart. John watched and wished and wondered.

John sketched more, with Harry’s encouragement. He stopped after they were rescued; his hands hurt, the joints did not work right, but Harry encouraged him. Nature; foliage, fauna, rocks, rivers – whatever caught his eye in the countryside.

He sketched Harry. Pages of the naturalist and all his features.

“There is so much beauty in this world, John.”

John was inclined to believe him.

Chapter Text

On Enterprise they’d given Gore one of the lieutenants rooms despite his weak-voiced protests; his feeling selfish over displacing one of his rescuers was ignored in favor of giving him a quiet place to convalesce. With the extent of his injuries, the ships surgeon felt it was better to keep him from the rest of the ailing sailors that were confined to the sickbay, and Goodsir, still holding some sort of rank as the un-official head surgeon of the expedition, agreed with the decision wholeheartedly.

“I fear I will have forgotten what the sky looks like by the time we dock next.” Gore whined from his place in his bunk, back resting against a few pillows to keep his still healing wounds up off the wood. “Are you sure a walk is not in order, doctor?” He offered up the sweetest look he could, eyes full of woeful pleading.

“You are not strong enough, and the clime on deck still too cold.” Goodsir was more or less immune to the tactic, or so he liked to think, but that did not mean he did not feel for Gore’s plight.

The lieutenant huffed, “How about a walk up the hall and back?”

Graham.”

Harry.”

“What you need is rest. It has been hard enough keeping Commander Fitzjames confined to his bed, I do not need difficulties from you as well.”

Gore had ended up in a sick sledge with the Commander, something the two found to be quite funny despite looming death and desolate circumstance. Even then, Gore had not been free of Fitzjames’ teasing, and neither of them escaped Crozier’s chiding to keep their strength and not waste it on banter. Of course that did not stop Fitzjames.

“What I need is company. Human interaction, Harry. I am wasting away in here, forgotten.”

“Were you not the one who told the crew that you would not entertain their requests for stories of your injuries?” Goodsir crossed what little space separated them in favor of being closer to the lieutenant, “I recall you saying something about needing your rest then.”

“Perhaps.” Gore huffed again with an indignant fold of the arms that caused a twinge in his sore back.

 

Goodsir shook his head then gently nudged Gore with his hands, ushering him to (carefully) make room to the side.

“What are you doing?” Gore looked up, meeting Goodsir’s eyes. They always seemed so tired now.

“I will give you the company you so desire,” the naturalist slotted himself into what space Gore could muster without injury, which left more of him hanging off and pressed into the wood than he personally would have liked, but if there was one thing Harry Goodsir never did – it was complain.

He pressed himself to the side of Gore, looking at him with a mirthful reverence. He’d always respected Gore the most, for Gore did not think him odd in the worst of ways. It was Gore who always reached for him, to help him up and hold him steady. And when the time came he offered the same support to Gore as he recovered.

The bunk was clearly and expectedly not made with two people in mind, and Gore took this into consideration before graciously putting an arm around the naturalist, to support but more so to draw him closer. He realized how long it had been since they properly embraced, there had been no privacy on the ships, no time on the shale.

“This makes me think of the first time you got away with sleeping with me.” Gore’s face held a smirk but they both knew there was very little pleasant association with it, “After the attack. I refused to let you leave my side when I finally came to.”

“Well, I was rather adamant about being with you, as well.”

“Will you stay now? I do not think I could bear you leaving so soon.”

“I have no plans to leave you now.”

“Good. Because I had no plans to let you leave.”

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When Edward retired, George had waited years for him. Edward had not been deterred from command after facing such hardships, he wanted what was owed him, but George could not take another handful of years at sea.

Edward with his tired eyes and salt-and-pepper hair, crow’s feet and laugh lines, he always looked a bit older than he was, but now his appearance matched his age. Ultimately, he was alive and fulfilled.

And even so, he still woke up in the night. Sweat laced terrors plagued him. George would stir, drawing closer to him, an arm around the chest pressing Edward back into the bed and the mound of pillows George required to sleep.

Alone, he could not manage it. George would pull him from the garden when the snow fell heavy in winter, tutting over Edward’s lack of a coat to avoid talking about what the weather did to him. George would tease him, kiss him, love him endlessly to bait a smile out of him and ebb at the melancholy.

Edward settled into bed once again, pressing his face to the crook of George’s wiry neck. Instinctively George slid an arm around Edward, settling him further. Tonight he would sleep fitfully.

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Little held out the paper, his face said it all; another request from Crozier to pilfer Erebus’ spirits stores. Nothing of grand importance, least not to the men, it would come off more as an insult to Fitzjames who was doing his best with double the load and only one official Lieutenant to speak of.

“You know I’ll have to tell him.”

“I know.”

Collins did not chastise him, knew Little wanted nothing more in the world than to be there for a reason other than this. So long as Crozier was in charge, Little had to obey, though sending a man out into the bitter cold to take from his sister ship’s stores hardly seemed an order from quality leadership. Collins, of course, would never say that, not out loud. But it was a murmured sentiment from those piling in from Terror.

The second master put a hand on Little’s cheek, barely warmed up from his trek outside, though he was terribly damp all over from the ice finally melting from his muttonchops and hair. It would be a miserable walk back, and Collins did not wish it on anyone. Little reciprocated by pressing his forehead down against Collins’. His body felt heavy, Collins understood it.

“I can give you a head start.” Collins ran his thumb up and down the length of Little’s cheek, “Use all the fuss n’ confusion to get off the ship without Fitzjames talking to you.”

Little put his hand over Collins’, “I’d appreciate that. I don’t think I can take another man being angry at me tonight.”

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“Can you peel this for me, papa?”

Stanley placed his pen down and let his daughter set a round orange into his palm. She was old enough to peel it herself, but he knew without her saying that she liked it better when he did it for her.

“Of course.”

He carefully peeled the orange, starting with a thumbnail under the skin – careful not to pierce the flesh beneath. The air around him became quickly scented with citrus as the skin came off in jagged spirals, it would be good enough for zest and compost.

He was watched by bright blue eyes as he nagged at the layer of pith; normally he would not bother with it, but she did not like it and so he sat there picking strands of it off the outside.

When it came time to take sections from the whole, they were put into neat little piles: one for him, one for her, over and over, and sometimes the odd piece remained. It would go to her, always and without hesitation. He never before realized how much love could go into peeling an orange.

When the war ended, he came home and everything about him felt changed even though he looked the same to everyone else. He was always distant, always quiet, always grim, but then he became more so.

His daughter saw he had changed, knew something in him was different but she was just a child and did not know how to fix it, fix him, so she did what they always did.

She had come into his room one day after her mother came from the market, and he only looked over when the bed creaked and moved with her weight sitting beside him. In her hand was an orange and she gave him a simple request, “Can you peel this for me, papa?”

Whatever fog had overtaken him lifted. He blinked, then took the fruit, silently nodding.

“Of course.”

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Prometheus so loved man, the beings he created with his own hands from clay, that he brought them fire – life and intelligence, so that they may walk tall like the Gods they worshiped.

Stephen was tasked with tending to these lives, brought forth from the flames of Prometheus.

These were men in his care; sons, fathers, brothers, and they were dying. All of them dying. He knew what laid before them.

Stephen looked at his torch, at the liquid paths and streams he had cut in the ice. He would bring fire to the crews of Erebus and Terror, while they were indulgent with their revelry, while they lived joyously as men for once and for a time – a worthwhile distraction from the misery of their past year.

They would die as men, not as beasts filled with sickness and suffering, that was the surgeon’s gift to them.

Prometheus brought fire to man to give them life; Stephen would bring fire to the men to give them peace.

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Hickey leaned forward, breathing in the scent of whiskey that hung heavily from both their mouths.

And Crozier let him, let him put a hand on his chest and his shoulder for bracing, let him get so close he could feel the phantom tickle of Hickey’s mustache not yet touching his lip.

Hickey pulled back and smiled at Crozier and his reflex to follow a would-be kiss.

“Don’t play games with me,” he snarled and Hickey laughed.

“Been playing one the whole time, captain.”

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He minded the hospital bed less after being laid up in it for a week – at least for the week he had been conscious. Before then he didn’t mind it because he couldn’t complain, barely felt it. Now it felt too small for him. Heather was a big man, brawny arms and barrel chested. Doctor’s offices and hospitals always made him feel small and weak, he hated being sick.

Tozer looked tired, he always looked a bit droopy in the eyes but now it held real weight to it. He opted to sit in the little chair they give guests in the rooms, easier to pull up to the side of Heather’s too-small bed. He still had stitches in his cheek, and bruises everywhere else. He complained now and then about the bandages itching, then he’d look at Heather’s head wrapped in gauze with a plate to keep his brains in place and the complaining would drift off into silence.

“When we get home…” Tozer would start then stop, it was similar every time. He could go home at any time, he’d leave before it got dark if Heather could nag him into it. He didn’t like Tozer spending all his time at the hospital just because he had to. But they didn’t know when Heather could go. For that reason it felt wrong to make plans. “Sorry…”

“Don’t worry about it.” Heather smiled. He was doing so much better than before, when the doctors didn’t think he’d even live through the night. Live through the surgery. Live through the recovery. But of course he did, William Heather was a fighter.

He raised his arm and Tozer leaned forward, resting his head on Heather’s chest. It was all they could do. It would be fine for now.