I don't claim any of the characters. Sorry for the imperfect English but it’s not my native tongue.
Captain Jack Aubrey knocked at the door of doctor Stephen Maturin's cabin.
"Stephen? Are you still in? We are a quarter of an hour late."
The answer, annoyed and angry, that came from whitin, startled him. "Yes, Jack, I am still in. And yes, I know we are late.”
Jack opened the door, casually, as was his usual attitude around his friend when not in his authority as a Captain. Anyway, when he did act as a Captain he had not only the right but the obligation to burst in anywhere he choose if he deemed it necessary.
Stephens angry response on his friend taking that particular liberty today felt almost like a cold shower. "For Heavens' sake, Jack! I said I know we are late, I'm coming!" Jack stopped dead in his tracks. Stephen was looking at him. He was still only half dressed, his shirt dangling in one hand.
"Sorry, Stephen, I only thought…"
"Yeah, yeah, alright. Leave me alone now so I can dress up properly. Unless you want me to display myself like this at the whole crew."
Jack felt an immediate disgust at the mentioned thing. He lifted his hands in the air. "All right, buddy. I’ll leave you. I only wanted to make sure you were not fallen asleep again.”
"Yes, you do that. I wont be long." Jack didn't like that answer but decided to let it pass until later. He assumed his friend simply had had a bad night. It would wear off soon enough.
Stephen listened tot he retreating steps of his friend in the corridor and let his breath escape when the noise at least was gone. He regretted the harshness of his words. It had been uncounted for. He knew his friend counted on his presence, not only as a member of the crew but as a friend and as both Stephen had let him down.
Most other men aboard would get punished for a certain attitude towards the Captain, except maybe 1st Lt. Pullings, William Blackeney and Killings. Illness or friendship with the Captain weren't acceptable excuses to forget the Etiquette.
It was a rule which applied to Stephen very much. As a doctor he knew firsthand what a burden the body could lay upon the mind, not minding the rule at all. As a patient, however, he knew it far better. As was truthfully rumored, doctors didn't allow themselves to be ill, let alone to accept for illnesses to stop them in their duty. Stephen wouldn't allow for himself to allow the pain in his abdomen to stop him from attending the meeting with the highest officers of the crew Jack had lured him into.
He pulled his shirt over his head and reached for his jacket on the back of a chair when another pain attack seemed to have decided to alter his planned course of action. The pain was surprisingly more severe then it had been since it had first appeared last night.
The bolt of pain terrified him a moment and he called out for Jack, knowing he needed help and Jack was the last person he remembered being down here near the cabins.
He found he couldn't even hear his own voice and he decided in a sudden peak of pride to simply let it pass. He was the damn doctor! Who else but him could offer the help he needed? A second spike shot through his body and left him in enough agony to whisper the answer. He screamed it on the tops of his lungs however, hoping it would be heard but knowing that was impossible since the meeting had since long started and Jack was there, since he was the one who hosted it and who would do most of the talking.
There was someone else however who was nearby, always looking out for the Captain and doing so also looking out for the Captain's best friend. William Blakeney was waiting at the door until the doctor would come up.
The capable boy wondered what was wrong. The Captain had come out on deck earlier with a frustrated, almost angry expression on his face. He had ordered William to 'stay put' until the doctor came up and to bring him, not to send - he had to actually join he doctor - straight up to the room where the Captain and the other officers would be gathering.
The boy had only just got time to acknowledge the command with a “Aye, Sir!” and a quick salute before the Captain had been out of sight again.
Peter Calamy had passed by and asked William what was wrong for after he had crossed the Captain and the latter had barked more than told him one order or other. William could only lift his shoulders and shook his head. He had shared his suspicion the Captain en the doctor were having one of their fights again. He knew the other boy was wise enough to keep it to himself.
William almost whirled around on his heels when he heard a loud cry of "JACK!" coming up tot the door, muffled by the common rumor on deck.
Nearby one or two men turned their heads in the direction of the door and William but the boy motioned for them to go on with their work en went in himself.
The cry had sounded painful and the voice had clearly been strained. At the current hour there was no one down but doctor Maturin.
But William was not the only one who had heard the scream.
Jack had postponed the meeting another 15 minutes to give the doctor time to arrive. That time has passed and since there was still no sign of Stephen he had decided to go and look for him himself again. He was almost at the door where he had posted the Blackeney-boy when he heard his name being yelled. He ran up tot the door where he found nobody waiting.
The boy must have gone down himself, Jack thought, appreciating.
Jack did the same. Reaching the door of the doctor’s cabin he had to push down the ridiculous impulse to knock before entering, thinking about his encounter with Stephen such a short time ago. As dear a friend as Stephen had become, incidents such as they had had earlier fuelend Jack’s opinion there might be sides of his friend he wasn't allowed to know. Or didn't want to know, for that matter.
Jack pulled himself together. He’d call upon his authority as Captain. His friend had been calling for him - the boy may be his witness – and that on its own was enough to warrant suspicions which make it ‘necessary’ for him to step in.
With his mind put at rest as such, he entered.
Stephen was standing in the middle of the cabin, his arm held tightly around his abdomen. He was completely dressed up now but definitely looking unwell. He was in pain.
“Hey, buddy, what’s up?” asked Jack gently, gesturing for William he could go. The boy glanced at the doctor for a moment with unconcealed worry. Then he turned and left. Stephen watched the faithful boy go with some regret. He was such a loyal crew member to Jack. A crew member, and someone the man could really trust and rely on, of that Stephen had no doubt.
Jack noticed Stephen hadn’t heard him and repeated his question patiently, adding: I asked William to wait for you. He heard you call my name.” Stephen teared he eyes from the door, blushing furiously. Up til now he hadn’t taken into account how it might look, his screaming for Jack as a little child for his mother. The damage he might have done to his reputation on the ship…
Jack was watching him, he noticed. His eyes were lingering at his arm he held around his body as if he were pregnant. The thought made Stephen smile.
“What so funny?”
Stephen blushed again. “Nothing. To answer your question, I’m not feeling so well.”
Jack had guessed as much. But to get more than just that, he would have to push things a bit. He decided to give it a try with the thought that had come to him just a moment ago. “It isn’t your appendix, is it?” Stephen’s head came up and a glance of surprise came in his eyes.
Jack smiled. “People learn things now and again.” He pointed at Stephen. “People normally hold with their hand the exact place where they feel pain. Since your hand is on the right side, rather than the left, it is not your stomach which is bothering you, so it is safe to conclude your are not suffering the annoying consequences from bad food or seasickness.”
The doctor made an ugly face. “I’ll rather be keelhauled than suffering that shit again.”
Jack laughed. Stephen sighed. “Well, since I seem to have my own private doctor now, I can give you that much. You’re probably right. Apparently, my appendix is killing me.”
“I’d believe that immediately. Screaming like that, next time I might believe some murderer from your time with the United Irish Men came in to kill you to settle some forgotten grudge.”
Jack had grown serious. The expression on his face, showing he was absolutely not joking or being sarcastic, stopped Stephen from just that. In stead of a witty remark he whispered: “Sorry, Jack.”
“For what?” Jack didn’t give Stephen time to answer that by adding: “What can I do to help?”
Stephen looked at him and blinked, confusing Jack. “You called for me. I take it that means you want help”, he offered. To his relief Stephen nodded. At least he wasn’t completely mistaken by coming in, using his authority.
“Yeah, I did. At least… Yeah, I did, but now…” Jack was confused even more by his friend’s apparent indecision in the matter.
“What is it?” he asked, hoping his friend would open up without to much pushing on his part.
Stephen shook his head as if he had already taken some unpleasant decision. “The wretched thing might to have to be removed.”
Jack took a step back. By some inexplicable feeling he already feared what Stephen might say next.
Stephen sighed and went to sit on the only chair in the room, his hand still holding on to the guilty appendix. Jack didn’t know how to break the silence which fell without facing the upcoming question whether he would remain to help if Stephen decided to operate himself again.
Apparently Stephen had apparently at last been talking to Jack, but he had missed it completely.
“Sorry? Excuse me, My thoughts were wandering a moment, I’m afraid.”
“Are you alright?”
“Sure.” Jack squared his shoulders as if to prove his worth as a little bosun towards the great Captain of a big ship.
It seemed to convince Stephen. He went on: “I cannot force you to stay and so I won’t.” There it was. Jack felt great relief but also a bit disappointment he had missed the question he had so feared.
“I take it Higgins and Padeen will also attend?” he asked, if only to show he was listening. He knew Higgins and Padeen would bet here, like they did last time.
“I take it you will not let me do it otherwise.” Stephen countered. Jack meant he heard anger rise in his friend’s voice. The professional pride of the doctor he knew so well.
He couldn’t lie about it. “To be honest, I would be more at ease if there was someone else with us, apart from Padeen and Higgins.”
Stephen nodded. “I cannot blame you on both accounts”, he muttered.
Jack ignored that. Stephen seemed to feel like his position was threatened by the dentist even if it was clear to everyone Higgins could never match him in his own field of expertise. He changed the subject back to his own presence at the operation.
“I’d also feel much better if there was someone with me.” Jack was careful to place some emphasize to the last word. “Only imagine I would black out or look away in an impulse on the wrong moment… One wrong movement would turn things into disaster.”
Stephen thought about 1st Lt Pullings and the Blakeney-boy or. He could stand one of those two being around if it would put Jack at ease. He couldn’t imagine one moment the fierce Captain to simply black out and drop tot he floor but if his friend agreed to stay with him - if his duty and circumstances allow him to - the least Stephen could do was allowing him to do the whole thing as comfortable as possible, even if the Captain claimed he wanted it for Stephen’s sake.
Of course Blackeney had his arm amputated and couldn’t be of much help. That left Pullings, then.
As long as Jack doesn’t bring Killick, Stephen thought imagining the grumpy man muttering all the time, with an figurative groan which he hoped wasn’t visible on his face.
“Well, rests only to find someone, isn’t it?” he said at the same moment Jack spoke up: “I just don’t know if I can do it…”
They stopped and chuckled.
“Go on, my friend.” Stephen was the first to offer. Jack nodded and continued: “I am not sure whether I can do it, Stephen. I mean, I know if somone on my ship can do it, it is you. You have done it before, but I may drop dead if that put my nerves at rest on the subject.”
Stephen smiled but Jack wasn’t done yet. “Before you say it, Stephen, I know I witnessed it before. I have seen many wounds and dead. I have seen injuries and illnesses, on you as often as others by now, but to see someone operating himself… I suppose you look upon it as you would as a doctor on any patient, but for us, mere patients, it is not so easy to watch someone being cut open, even if the cut man is handling the knife. Last time it was only a bullet, most of your inner parts remained invisible - thank God! – but this time you have to make a much bigger cut and even have to get one of those inner parts out…”
Stephen nodded and when Jack stopped a moment to breath he gently broke in. “I know, Jack. That’s the reason I won’t force you. I won’t lie, I’d like very much for you to stay. I think I might need more than only your solid hand this time. But if you don’t want to, please don’t.”
“If you want for me to stay, I will.” Jack said without thinking. When the doctor wanted to interrupt, he added: “Well, now all that’s settled, I’d better go and find myself an assistant. Not an easy task. How long could you give me?”
Stephen had opened his mouth to say something and was a bit taken aback by being addressed himself by the direct question. “I, uhm …I’d like to start as soon as possible, of course. But Jack, what about the meeting? Your promise to stay with me is already more than I deserve…”
“Stephen.” Jack said, missing the rest his friend was saying, appalled by the other’s claim he didn’t deserve Jacks presence by his side or his help at the operation.
“I’ll always be here for you, Stephen. Whether you want it or not. You have saved so many lives and made those whose lives you couldn’t save as comfortable as could be. Nobody deserves my help more than you. Mine, or anyone else’s on this ship.”
Jack told himself the tears he saw on Stephen’s cheek were caused by the pain in his lower body.
Stephen said with a voice that stubbornly denied the presence of the tears: “Just promise me one thing.”
“Another one?” Jack asked, carefully clothing his sarcasm with a smile so Stephen didn’t interpret his remark as a sign of disgust.
“Don’t pass out before I can get up and help you.”
Jack let out a barking laugh. “I cannot promise that.”
“Pity.” It took Jack a moment and a look at Stephens face and the smile that lingered there to understand his friend was being ironic. He stood up. “I wont be long.” Stephen lowered his head shortly. When he looked up and looked at Jack, he smiled warmly. “Thank you, Jack. Again.”
“Any time, my dear friend. Anything.”