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A Friend in Need (Master & Commander, Jack Aubrey)


frolicking periwinkle

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Summary: A disagreement turns nasty and then gets blown out of proportion when Jack takes sick.  Stephen/Jack friendship.  Mostly from the movie, but some elements of the book are included. 

Part 1

Pale blue cast to turquoise near the sea line, the air thick with humidity of an impending storm.  The crew was becoming quieter as the barometer dropped.  Uneasy looks were cast between the men as Captain Jack Aubrey stated his peace regarding precautions that would have be taken. 

“Lads,” the Captain directed his attention to the cabin boys.  “It will be your responsibility to secure the lines to the base of the mainmast.  In addition, should you see any man without a rope tied to him, it will be your responsibility to get that squared away.”

His nose twitched as his sniffed gently.  He had woken up with an odd sensation in his nose.  Had he been on land, he would have thought that perhaps a bug had crawled from his mattress and into his nasal passages.  Certainly not unheard of, nor anything a few minutes of bright candlelight wouldn’t fix.   He carefully regulated his breathing, having no interest in swallowing the offending bug.

A nod was given to the boys as they gave a not quite in unison, “Aye, sir.”

Giving a few more orders, he quickly descended the stairs and went below.  Making certain that the ships surgeon was prepared for the coming storm was a necessity that he always gave thought to.  While it was practice to all but ignore the ship’s doctor in routine situations, he and Stephen had eased into a comfortable friendship.  The man was capable and more than a little competent.  In fact the Captain would often say he was the most capable physician, surgeon, and naturalist that the Royal Military ever had in her keep. 

He was certain that Stephen felt the storm coming.  After all of these years together the Captain knew that Stephen was prone to headaches prior to and sometimes post storms.  Never once did he see it interfere with the situation at hand, though.  And, to that, Captain Aubrey was pleased.  The consistency of their medical professional was a singular boon that he felt followed the Surprise, no matter what situation befell them.

When the Captain entered the infirmary, he saw Stephen at his work area.  Eyes cast downward, the man was fervently writing something in his journal.   Although time was pressing on him like the weight of wet canvas, he gave the doctor a bit of time to finish his thought. 

“Ah Jack, getting the deck prepared?” Stephen asked, not looking up.  “I didn’t expect you quite so soon.  No eerie silence to break,” he said looking up.  Repositioning his glasses so that the Captain came into view, he stood slowly.  “Anything I can do for you, sir?”  While in the captains rooms, they were simply Jack and Stephen, there was a decorum that the doctor at least tried to exhibit while they were publically on duty.  Being the captain and the ship’s doctor meant that they were always on duty.  They had bonded over their lack of reprieve, finding solace in the company of each other. 

“Indeed, yes,” the Captain said, clasping his hands behind him and giving a nod so exaggerated that it hunched his shoulders.  

The answer had been rushed, pinched.  And Stephen noticed it.  “What is it that I can do for you then?  I’m afraid I can’t spare any turpentine.  We’ll need to make port before too long, else I’ll have little to lend you for keeping the ship in tip top shape.”   He looked over the captain, his old friend, whom seemed to be distracted suddenly.

Leaving the man to his thoughts at a time like this was highly irregular.  “Captain?  May I help you?” he asked, respectfully. 

To his credit, the Captain desperately wanted to answer him.  But, the slight ticklish feeling in his nose had turned into a buzzing when he went below deck.  The longer that he was down below, they more the buzzing increased until now, when the sensation suddenly overwhelmed him and he was certain that the bug was going to crawl out of his nose at any moment.  “Tch!” he sneezed, bringing his fist up to his nose and mouth just in time.

“Bless you,” Stephen responded respectfully, blonde eyebrows knitting together as he watched his dear friend struggle to regain control.

“Eh… hah… Ettch!” he sneezed again, this time more forcefully. 

“Bless you again.”  Sneezing was nothing to be concerned over, and Stephen had long since stopped being so.  However, there was something not quite right in the distant look in his old friend’s eyes.  He waited respectfully for the Captain’s body to make peace with itself. 

“Ehhh… ETCH!”  Much more forceful, the captain dug into his pocket for a handkerchief and set to relieving his nose.  Unfortunately, while the accursed buzzing seemed to have stopped, the fuzzy tickle was back.  The bug was on the most.

“What seems to be the issue?” Stephen asked, having ignored the final sneeze.  “Certainly you didn’t come to check on my heath, and you know exactly what stores we have and what we are short on.  I’ll be ready for those who come below, I assure you.”

"I know you will," the Captain responded, his soft baritone confident.  "It's my nose.  I believe I have... a stowaway," he said, trying to make an embarrassing situation a bit more humorous. 

The initial confused look that had crossed Stephen's face was replaced by a look of understanding.  "Well, let's see if we can't do something about that," he said, waving the captain into the infirmary.  He warmed the tips of long nosed tweezers in a candle flame, being careful not to heat it until it was actually hot.  "Were we on land I could do this was a touch of lavender oil or garlic water," he said, making idle conversation.  He knew that medical operations made people uneasy.  He also understood that with the storm approaching, such a situation was ill timed at best.

He looked up at the Captain, who was standing uneasily, his hands clasped behind his back. 

Stephen peered over his glasses at him.  "Well sit down, and tilt your head back."  He knelt down in front of the Captain, who he allowed himself to recall was his old friend.  Long, thin fingers clasped over his old friend's hand gently.  "This won't hurt a bit," he said, tapping the tips along the edges of Jack's nasal cavity.  Were there something in there, it should be moving away from the heat and the compression.  

Nothing. 

Guiding Jack's face forward, he picked up his long nosed tweezers and felt up the nasal cavity.

Nothing.  Nothing came out, and Jack made no mention of it being on the move again.

"Well I'm sorry to tell you this, Jack, but you don't have any bug in there.  It seems that it's just an errant itch."   He regarded the captain seriously.  This was no time for the Captain to be distracted.  

"Well I'm sorry to say that you're a pathetic excuse for a doctor then," he replied, matter of factly.  "I know my body, and you know less about it than I."  He was angry and feeling out of sorts.  He was no fool, and he wouldn't be treated like one.

Stephen's brow furrowed and his jaw dropped slightly, as he pulled off his glasses.  Unable to see detail without them, the action was more a shocked movement than a way of focusing on his friend.  "Well then as soon as the storm is over I'll pen my resignation from your command, and you can be free to get a first rate doctor."  He stood up and turned his back to the Captain, unable to look him in the eye.  The statement against his medical knowledge and intelligence was a blow stronger than what he was able to take at the moment.  He felt his breathing constrict and he couldn't bear a life at sea without his closest companion.  But, if he were such a fool as this...

The doctor's response shocked him.  Surely they had bantered over the years, the two of them having little in common.  Banter seemed to take the sting out of otherwise harmful words.  Angry though he was, he had not thought that his dearest friend would take it as a command to leave his command.  "Stephen, I apologize.  I - "  Bells started clanging from on deck and a call for all hands rang out through the ship.  

"Go, Jack.  You're needed above, and I need to prepare down here.  You'll have my letter on your desk by the time you get back to your cabin."

"Stephen, I can never replace you," the captain tried again.  His heart constricted at the fear of losing the most intelligent man he had ever come to meet.  Stephen was not just his ships physician and surgeon, he was his friend.  He had the trust of the crew - command and common alike.  The man was gentle, but stern.  Knowledgeable, but oddly naïve.   

"I'll attempt not to kill your crew.  Now go save your ship," Stephen responded, deflated and sad.  He didn't have the energy to fight.  His headache had blossomed into a ringing in his ears and he didn't have the strength to have a battle of wits with his intellectual superior.  This morning, he would have called Jack his equal, but now he knew better. 

---

Captain Jack Aubrey yelled into the wind, as he pointed at a rope that had come free and was starting to tangle around a sail.  Coming down onto the deck, he checked the ropes that tethered his men to the ship.  They remained tight, so he had no problem ordering them into the rigging to capture and resecure the rope before it did damage to the canvas.  

His voice felt scratching and he swallowed against the feeling in order to clear his throat and bark orders louder.  Curling over to the side as a wave crashed over the crew, he stumbled with a wet sneeze.  Nostrils twitching, his body aching and wet he closed his eyes and sneezed, "Har-ETCCH!"   Generally a man not without his handkerchief, he could not think on the matter now, especially as one of the midshipmen lost his footing in the sea water that swept across our deck.  Walking with sure footing, even though he didn't feel sure about much of anything except what needed to be done to keep the ship afloat and all hands alive, he pulled the lad up by his jacket and instructed him up to the wheel.

"Hard to port!" he yelled, trying to get in front of the wind so that it would spit them out of the storm rather than tear them apart.  Another wave crashed down on the ship, and he felt himself be swept off his feet.  Feeling his rope pull tight, he pulled himself up, he snorted as breathing became difficult earning him a cough or two.  Turning about the deck, to see the rest of his crew, he counted several missing.  He hoped that they were below, because if they were in the storm he wouldn't be able to find them.

---

Doctor Stephen Mautrin's shoes slipped as the boat rocked precariously.  Water rained on him and his patients from above, and their blood leaked onto the floor.  Higgins set up hammocks in the second room as men came in with broken bones and contusions.  A nervous man unto himself, Stephen set him on the most menial of tasks leaving the bone setting and stitching to himself. 

The boat tilted so that Stephen thought that the HMS Surprise might flip over like a toy.  Unable to stop the effects of gravity, he found himself falling towards the wall, landing upon it with a thud so hard, he would have thought he had fallen on the floor.  Cast to the ground as the ship righted itself, he picked himself up off the floor and went back to his patient.  "You're lucky to be strapped onto the surgical table.  You'll not have that happen to you.  I swear it," he said trying to make light of the situation.  He threaded a needle and started to stitch up a long gash in the man's arm.  "We'll wrap this and you can go back out there.  The captain needs you."

"Aye, sir," he said respectfully.

They heard a man retch and get sick in the other room.  "Higgins, go fetch a mop and bucket and clean that up. Make sure to leave him with a pail."    He moved to get out of Higgins way as the man scurried out of the infirmary.  Stephen hoped that hew would be back soon, since once one person's stomach rebelled the result was often contagious and messy.

---

By the time the storm stopped, Stephen had forgotten about his promise of a resignation.  Exhausted beyond comprehension, he walked through the infirmary.  Very few people would need surgery, and he felt quite proud of that.  He awaited Jack's normal walk through for a report, and ordered Higgins to clean the floors, while he took a well deserved sit at his desk.  His books were strewn all over his office, his papers and writing pencils lost to the corners of the room.  He would find them eventually, but now he wanted to take a moment of peace in order to press his finger tips hard into his brow ridge.  The headache had cost him his strength but was waning as the storm dissipated.

"You've done a fine job keeping my men alive, doctor," the Captain said walking into the infirmary.  Exhaustion leached from his every pore and he felt stiff and slow from the effort of standing. 

Stephen released his head and looked up over his round brass spectacles.  The weight of their fight earlier had rested in his chest when he heard the familiar words.  "It was my honor. They're a hearty crew," he said, rising to his feet slowly.  He lead the Captain in through the infirmary.  "Just a few joints to set.  A concussion here," he said, pointing to Pullings.  "Nothing that should cause much a delay - perhaps some light service for a few weeks while their bodies heal."

"I'll thank you to remember that I know... that I..."  Captain Aubrey's blonde eyelashes fluttered and his nostrils twitched violently.  Withdrawing his sopping wet handkerchief, he looked at it pitifully before clasping it over him nose and mouth.  "Har-ETCHH!! RaassSHOO! Ugh."  The violently wet sneezes sounded as though they came from his head and chest simultaneously and pushed all of his congestion to his sinuses.  Unable to blow his nose into a wet handkerchief, and unwilling to be weak or disorderly in front of his crew, the captain found himself in a bit of a conundrum. 

"Bless you, Jack," the doctor said out of habit.  "Come I have something that I need you to look at in my office."  Putting his hand on the other man's shoulder, he guided him into the small room and closed the door.  "I'm afraid I don't have a dry handkerchief, but none of the crew will look on you from in here."

Jack's face softened as he gave Stephen a small smile of thanks before raising his hands to his face and sneezing violently, "Hah-ah-SCHOO!"  A sigh as his body expelled the offending congestion, making the him feel quite disgusted with himself. 

When Jack didn't lower his hands for several long pauses, Stephen figured out what the problem was.  However, he was still without any speck of dry material.  Pulling out his own handkerchief, he began to hand it over when he noticed Jack's powerful chest start puffing with gasping breaths.  "Hah-heh... eh... ETCCHH!"  A pause and then and exhausted, "Thank you, Stephen," as he gingerly pulled the annoyingly wet fabric from his friends hand and set to cleaning himself up.

"Bless you again, Jack," Stephen said, as he graciously turned his attentions away from the captain, and set to righting his office.  He knew that the men could hear their captain sneezing - they would know he was ill even were he in his great cabin.  But, he understood the need to not appear weak in front of them.  To them, he needed to appear larger than life - better than them.  He needed to have a resemblance of control, even when his mind or body was in anything but that. 

"I need..." he said, quietly his energy leeching out of him with every second that he was on his feet.  "I need to see to the ship." 

"Have Lieutenant Mowett do so.  You need rest," Stephen said in a tone that broached little room for argument. 

Jack looked ready to fight him, but drew in a deep breath and nodded. 

Opening the door of his study, Stephen said, "Mr. Higgins, you have the infirmary," and walked proudly as he lead the captain out of the room. 

---

Matching each other's stride they confidently walked down the familiar hallways to the great cabin.  The two spent a fair amount of their time there, more than anywhere else on the ship.  It was their custom, for Stephen to be there as Jack dried off - and let his errant feelings and thoughts about whatever traumatic event they had just experienced.  Sometimes a drop of logic was all that was needed to set one's mind straight.  Other times it was the love and companionship of a friend.  Luckily, Stephen was well versed in both. 

"You did well, sailing us out of that storm," Stephen complimented lightly as he closed the door behind them. 

Jack said nothing, merely sank into his chair was with wet squish. 

With a huffed sigh, Stephen muttered, "Oh dear - you haven't even dried.  You'll catch your death, Jack."  It wasn't an admonishment for his words held no bite to them.  It was stated simply as he came to kneel in front of his friend.  Carefully, he tugged one boot off and then the other.  Long and nimble fingers reached up his friend's pant leg and tugged at the edges of his linen sock, thick with moisture. 

"Stephen... you don't have to," Jack weakly protested as the man stood and undid the buttons of his coat and then his shirt.  Cold mottled his skin as it was freed from it's drenched prison which had warmed with his body heat.

Stephen said nothing.  Merely hushed him and pulled out his night dress and hat.  "I'll trust you can dress yourself.  I'll be just a moment." 

He left to find a basin and had one of the men pull up a bucket of water.  Night had fallen and he was surprised.  He didn't know the time of day - or night - anymore, nor what day they were on.  Truly none of it mattered to their little wooden world.  But, he was grateful that the wind had picked up a bit again, and that he did not have to look into the sun.  His headache had blossomed into a migraine, which captured more than a bit of his hearing and was starting to turn his stomach. 

Returning, he found Jack shivering in his bed, and he called to Killick to warm a bedpan for the captain. 

"Just rest yourself Jack.  You'll be well soon.  This is but a small bug... an illness that has hold of you.  The fever will release as your body temperature adjusts."  He reached out to hold his friend's hand, and was grateful that he squeezed back.  "Yes, that's right, joy.  Simply rest yourself and know you are safe and I am here."   When the warming pan arrived, Stephen started to bath Jack's face and chest in the cool salt water, hoping that it would help balance his friend's body temperature from the hot dry warming pan.

--

Waves crashed upon the ship, rocking it precariously.  Yelling into the storm Captain Jack Aubrey demanded that the ropes be retested and that he was going aloft.  Rain blinded him, its hard as nails drops stinging his face and forcing him to close his eyes against it.  He thought he heard the word 'doctor' but knew that it could not be.  Stephen rarely came on deck and certainly not during a storm.  He was needed in the infirmary, and the man did not shirk his duties.  Nay, it must have been that someone needed him or was being sent to him.  That seemed far more likely. 

Finally grabbing hold of the rigging that was tearing free, he dropped backwards, letting his substantial weight work with him to gain control of the line enough to fix it.  As he came down the rigging another wave swept over the deck, and his eyes squinted at the too thin form that was being swept across it.  Stephen.  The doctor had come onto the deck for reasons unknown to him.  But, this storm was brutal and it was going to sweep him away. 

"No!  No!  Grab him!" Jack cried.  The doctor was not expected to be there, and so no rope was tied to him.  They were going to lose him to the wilds of the storm! Unwilling to leave the task to anyone else, he ran at the man with all of his might.  Rain stung him as waves crashed over the side of the ship, rocking it precariously.  Unable to grasp onto anything, Stephen merely looked up at him, with those sad puppy eyes of his. 

No... 

"I've resigned -," Stephen started, but whatever he was going to say was lost to the sea as another wave beat against the side of the ship.  Stephen was gone from view. 

Jack rushed to the railing and looked overboard only to be greeted by the view of the angry inky green sea rushing beneath.

"Stephen!" Jack screamed, sitting up in bed.  The pain of the loss fresh in his chest, he bent his legs and curled over onto his knees.  Closing his eyes hard against the pain, he gasped a breath and sputtered a cough against the congestion he didn't remember having in his chest. 

"Rest... rest, my friend.  I am here," Stephen said coming over to his friend's bedside.  His fever had started to rise and with it came the fever dreams.  There was no surprise when Jack started murmuring orders as thought they were still in the midst of a storm. 

Putting a hand on Jack's back, he realized that despite his ministrations of trying to lower the fever, it had not broken. 

Jack looked at Stephen as though he were looking at a ghost. Rolling up on one arm, he regarded the doctor skeptically.

"I saw you fall... in the storm.  I saw you fall..." Jack whispered, his voice hushed and trembling.

"I assure you, you did not."  The only time he had fallen was when the ship had nearly flipped, and he knew for a fact that the captain was not in the infirmary when it happened. 

"You came above... I saw you get swept overboard."  His heart had started to slow as he realized it was a dream - just a terrible fever dream.  He lay back onto his back when his arm felt as though it would give out. 

"I assure you, I am here Jack." Stephen held his hand out.  "Here.. feel my hand.  Do I feel like an apparition?" 

Jack reached out, his hand trembling with cold and fever.  "You are real," he said, relieved.  "Don't ever come above in a storm," he stated as though he were giving sound advice.

"I shall endeavor to keep that in mind," Stephen replied as though the advice was necessary.  "Now rest yourself Jack.  Morning is many hours away and I know you will want to do your shift - at least in the morning.  The more rest you get, the more likely that you will not be uncomfortably miserable when you are in front of the men.

With a nod, Jack closed his eyes again.  Moving back towards the basin, Stephen found that something held fast to his weskit.  Looking down he saw Jack holding it firm.  "Don't leave me Stephen," he implored, his fever bright eyes betraying how vulnerable he was at this very moment.  "I'll be right here.  I'll never leave the cabin.  Just rest your soul." 

With a nod, Jack's eyes fluttered closed again.

---

Jack opened his eyes to the sun shining in them.  He felt far too refreshed for the amount of sleep that he should have gotten.  Taking a deep breath of the thick sea air, he smiled as he dressed.  He looked forward to seeing Stephen, the man had been far too stressed as of late.  They needed to talk, to banter, and to make merriment.  It was important, and it had been pushed aside far too long.

His eye was drawn to the corner where Stephen's cello sat.  But, it wasn't there.  Furrowing his brow he looked around, but the cello was nowhere to be seen.  'Odd,' he thought buttoning his collar and cuffs.  He would have to see if Stephen snuck it out for some extra practicing.  It was his cello after all and he was allowed. But, it was such a fine instrument that the thought of it being anywhere but in the great cabin made little sense to Jack. 

"Stephen, old boy," he said, walking into the infirmary, but stopped short in his tracks when he saw another man in surgeon dress standing there.  Higgins was nowhere to be seen, and he looked a little surprised to see the captain. 

"We pulled from port two days ago, Captain," the surgeon said, his voice a deep unfamiliar rumble.  "Dr. Stephen Mautrin is no longer under your command.  As I understand he resigned at your request.  Is that not the case?" 

Jack was taken aback.  He had insulted Stephen, and yes they had spoken of resigning of his place onboard the HMS Surprise.  But, they had always quarreled.  Certainly the man hadn't taken him at his word.  And worse, had he let him?  Judging by the unfamiliar doctor in front of him, he would say so.  "My apologies.  Old habits.  What have the crew said to you?"

"The crew?" the doctor asked, his voice just a shade under a sneer.  "They do not speak to me, and I do likewise.  I'll tend to them of course, but if they cannot afford even a hat or a proper uniform, then there is little I have in common with them, or to say to them."

"Uh huh," Jack said, trying to find a tactful way of explaining the extra duties he expected of the role of surgeon.  "You see, sir, the crew will come to trust you, and they may find it of use to speak with you about their lives and feelings on certain matters.  I need you to keep your fingers on the pulse of this ship, as it were, and act as my eyes and ears when necessary."

The surgeon's nose twitched a bit and he looked quite put out by the request.  "I shall en-devour to do as you wish," he replied.  "But, I make no promises.  The crew won't trust me for some yet.  Until then, maybe your Killick will be of greater assistance than I." 

"Yes, perhaps," Jack responded just a bit too quickly.  Taking his leave he went back to he great cabin, where he searched for the letter of resignation.  There it was, crinkled at the bottom where it had been held and read so many times.  An apology.  A self-depreciating comment.  Many in fact.  And then the words, "I humbly request resignation from your command so that you may find a doctor and surgeon who is more savvy in the way of seamanship and whom fills your needs and the needs of the HMS Surprise better than I can." 

There was no way that he didn't talk to Stephen about this.  But, clips of memories assaulted him.  "Damn fool."  "Unintelligent."  "Unworthy."  The words spiraled around his head.  Were those his words?  Could he ever have been so cruel. 

Opening his eyes, he gasped at the familiar hand pressed against his forehead.  "Stephen?" he asked, hopeful that the new doctor wouldn't see him in such disarray.  

"It is early yet, Jack.  Go to sleep before your body realizes that you're awake.  Don't worry - I will wake you when it is time to do so."  He didn't try to smile.  Jack had been uttering things in his sleep his eyes moving back and forth behind his eyelids.  Words like 'resign', 'unworthy', and when necessary' had been uttered, and Stephen's heart plummeted to his stomach as he wondered if he was going to be expected to uphold what was said during their little spat. 

In all of their years together, they had their share of differences of opinion.  Many, in fact. They had never come to actual personal insults before - nothing beyond teasing and play.  Stephen wondered if he should go write the resignation letter.  He wondered if Diana would accept him at home, or if he would be assigned to a different ship.  He wondered what the captain would be like, and if he would be a respected member of the officers.  Maybe he would be put back in the field as an intelligence agent.  Some things were too good to last.  He knew that.  He had to come to terms with the fact that he may have out lasted this friendship, this time together.  

Jack took a deep breath, resulting in heavy chesty coughs.  He swallowed thickly  and reached a clumsy hand out towards his friend.  "I had a dream that we had gotten a new surgeon," he barked out between coughs.  

Stephen brought him a cup of water, and supported Jack's shoulders as he sipped it slowly.  "Hush now," he whispered.  "Slow sips."  When Jack stopped drinking, he laid him back down on his pillow.  He tried to block out the idea of a new surgeon, but he supposed that it was what the captain wanted.  "Were you to get a new surgeon, do you think you would still have a place for a naturalist on board?" 

A husky laugh was pulled out of Jack.  "You always knew how to keep my spirits up.  A jovial sense of humor when you choose to use it, yes."  Turning away from Stephen, he shielded the other man from the spray, "Ehhh-Kessshhhaaa!"  Another round of husky coughs assaulted him and he clasped both hands over his mouth.  

Stephen pat the man on the back, concerned about the amount of heat he felt radiating off of him. 

Jack sighed, rolling onto his back.  Sheepish brown eyes gazed at his friend.  "I suppose you were right... about the bug," he acquiesed.

Stephen shook his head.  "No, old friend.  I just didn't see the right bug.  I couldn't have stopped you though - you were going to command the ship just as you did.  And, we'd be right back here.  So, no concerns of who was right - you were, as always Lucky Jack."

A husky laugh emanated from the captain as he closed his eyes again.  While his current predicament felt inherently unlucky, he was lucky to have Stephen at his side.  It had been an odd mixture of luck and ill fortune that brought them together.  But, the two of them were constant companions since, and he couldn't have been luckier to have such a friend at his side. 

---

Bells were clanking as Jack opened his eyes to a bright sunny room.  He groaned, feeling parched as though he had not drank anything in days.  "Stephen?" he grunted, coughing a bit and wincing at the headache that blossomed on the side of his head. Pressing his palm against his head, he called louder, "Stephen?!"

"Ah you're awake, sir," Killick said, bustling in.  He carried a tray that had been piled with a bit of what looked like breakfast, and Jack would recognize the smell of coffee anywhere.  

Pushing himself up in bed, he gave a few throaty coughs and rubbed the grit from his eyes.  "Where is the doctor?" he asked, as Killick set his food out on the table.  Breathing was difficult, but not nearly as bad as it had been the last time he woke up.   

"Higgins?" the man asked, a little too innocently.  He busied himself at not looking at the captain.  

Higgins? the captain thought.  Why would Killick ever think that Higgins would be the doctor that Jack was talking about.  That simpleton was barely qualified to be an assistant.  In fact, were it not for Stephens gracious personality, he would be certain that Higgins would not even be that.  "No," he said, pushing himself up.  "I mean Doctor Stephen Mautrin, our ship's surgeon."  His heart fell.  Was there something true about the dreams he had been having?  Had Stephen resigned?  When? How?  Where would he go?  The first dream... it had been something else.  Something about Stephen dying.  But, the dream had happened so long ago it felt like.  

Killick looked at him with a sad sigh.  "The doctor has been quite ill these last two days, sir."

"Ill?" the captain asked, beginning to dress as though Killick were not in the room.  "With what I-?"

"No, sir.  A migraine he called it.  His head and stomach have been in awful pain.  Couldn't even stay in his hammock without his stomach rebelling," Killick explained, turning to allow the captain some privacy.

As soon as he was respectable, the captain took the coffee swallowing it down quickly.  He was vaguely aware that the detail of two days had been given.  But, the only thing that he was concerned about was his friend.  He was aware that Stephen had headaches - migraines even.  However, he had not seen Stephen become ill from one in a very long time.  

"Sir, your food," Killick admonished. 

"Bring it to the infirmary," the captain said, putting his hat on and leaving his rooms.  

"'tis a bad idea, sir.  The man cannot stomach the smell of food."  He knew it was a useless statement.  The captain and the doctor had been the closest of friends for years. If one was unwell the other was not far.  He had actually been concerned that the doctor was going to take ill with what the captain had.  Moreso he was concerned about an influenza outbreak through the crew.  The ship still needed to sail.  They needed a well crew.  

He picked up the tray and followed the captain to the infirmary.  

The doctor was laying on the floor, eyes closed, looking gray and sallow with a green tinge around his lips.  The captain was sitting on the workbench, next to a fidgeting Midshipman Blackeney, who was catching the captain up on why the doctor was on the floor and the goings on of the ship the past two days.

"Put it on the table," the captain said quietly.  

Killick did so with a nod and left the trio in peace. 

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Part 2

Captain Jack Aubrey tended not to be a man of few words.  Certainly he would only state what he was thinking when the wind had properly adjusted his sails.  But, he always had something to say, and he looked forward to stating it - even if he had to wait his turn to do so. 

However, Jack was at a loss for words as he listened to one of his younger midshipmen describe what the doctor had been through in the last couple of days.  He listened as quietly as he could as the young man explained that the doctor had been feeling unwell going into the storm - not that he said so, but that young Mr. Blackeney could tell by the volume at which the doctor spoke.  Volume? Jack thought.  He had known the doctor for many years, and he always thought that the doctor was more quiet when he was pondering something.  This something didn't necessarily have to do with the captain, the crew, or even life onboard the ship, Jack had long since realized.  But, he never thought for a moment that it could be an outward symptom of a deeper issue. 

He pushed his guilt to the side as the young man explained the fall that the doctor had taken during the storm.  Not that he'd seen it himself, of course, but that he heard about it later, and was concerned that the man may have broken ribs or been otherwise concussed.

"We heard a thump, ye see," he stated, explaining what had happened when they found the doctor.  "He had left your quarters for his own, likely to get something to read or such.  I don't know though.  And then there was a thump.  Mr. Killick said it didn't sound right - that it was the sound of a body coming off a hangman's noose.  Well you can imagine, sir, I came right in, and saw him lying on the floor.  Not kneeling or sitting, but lying there, on his stomach.  His eyes were squeezed shut and it was apparent he was in a lot of pain, sir.  So, we had him hoisted into his hammock, sir, but he wasn't comfortable there.  He said it strained his back, sir, and that it hurt his eyes."  He shrugged, wide brown eyes betraying the confusion that he had felt when his friend and mentor stated such a thing.  "So I had Mr. Higgins lay him down here, and I rolled a blanket to be behind his neck."  He sighed a bit.  "It was the best I could do, sir."

The sneezy feeling had returned, and the captain tried hard to keep the sensation at bay.  "You did well," he rushed out, pulling the handkerchief out and covering his lower countenance. Two quick sneezes rushed out, "Har-Schoo!  HAR-SHOO!" Giving his nose a stuffy blow he turned his attention to the young lad beside him.

"Bless you, sir," the young man said, but nothing else.

"Have you been with him the whole time?" Jack asked. The young man was very well informed, but he wondered if that was because he had a particular way about him that made people trust him, or if it was because he had been shirking his duties. 

"No sir.  Just when I can - when I'm not on duty, and when I don't have other things to do.  I like to sit with him, sir.  I don't like him to be alone."

"Very good, Mr. Blackeney," Jack complimented.  "I'm sure the doctor would be quite touched to know that he has such a friend in you."

The boy smiled a bit, and gave the captain a curt, respectful nod.  "If you'll excuse me, sir," he said, getting up.  "I have something to check on, and I'd like to do so while I'm thinking about it.  Can I get you anything, sir?"

"No, Mr. Blackeney.  You are dismissed," Jack said, even though he knew he didn't have to.  The boy was practically ready for his Lieutenant's test, and the fact was that he was mature beyond his years.  He waited until the lad was gone before blowing out a deep breath and getting up to get some of the breakfast that Killick had made. 

"Now listen to me, Stephen," he said, uncertain if the man could hear him or not.  "I don't take kindly to you shirking your responsibilities to me.  You are the ships surgeon, doctor, and my personal friend.  I find this ailment quite alarming as it has incapacitated you quite fully, and I don't care for it one bit."  He dropped the command from his tone.  The man had never really appreciated command tone, and if he could hear the captain, it was likely that he was taking offense to the monologue.  "What I mean to say Stephen, is that I thank you for caring for me while I recovered from the storm.  I apologize for not seeing that you were crashing upon your own waves.  I do wish you had told me that you were ill or injured.  Mr. Killick says that it's a migraine.  You haven't complained about one in many years.  Ah, but you didn't complain about this one either did you?"  He felt nauseous with the idea that he had missed physical cues to his friend's well being.  "I come to you with everything Stephen.  Why did you feel that you could not come to me with this?"

"Because I didn't want to worry you before we went into the storm," the man on the floor whispered.  He had woken when Jack was using command voice, but had stayed awake to listen when the tone softened and no longer caused him to feel as though a sting-ray was shooting its tail through his temples.  "You had more important things than a... " He coughed lightly, and didn't finish the sentence.

But, Jack was not about to let him off so easy.  "Than a what?"

"Than another distraction.  I could do my job, and did my job well."  He was sort of aware that he wanted to say something else.  He knew that he was lucky that the resignation letter was safely locked in his writing box, along with several other letters that he had written but had neither the heart to send nor to destroy.  

Jack nodded.  "You did do it well, Stephen.  My joy, you are a wonder, you know that?  I heard you took a topple.  Are you ... damaged?"

Stephen huffed a no, and winced against the pain as his brain throbbed in his head.  "Bruised.  But, I'd appreciate it if during the next squall you don't try to flip the ship.  Science hasn't found a way to defy gravity." 

Jack sniffled, dabbing his nose lightly as it starting to run a bit.  "I'll see what I ca... can..."  He pressed the handkerchief tightly to his nose and mouth. "Hur-SHOO!" A sigh.  "Can do."  He cleared his throat.  "How were you the only one injured?"  While known as a fair captain, it was little secret that he placed a higher value on Stephen and his young officers than most anyone else on the ship.  He wanted to prevent the circumstance from happening again, if at all possible. 

"I was the only one not strapped down on the surgical bed, or in a hammock."

A single nod.  It was a simple yet logical answer.  "I have to go above.  Would you like to use my bed to rest?  The floor is still damp, and it can't be doing you much good."

Stephen licked his lips, as was barely able to stay the affirmative answer that glowed in his eyes.  

Their friendship was one that had lost the need for words many years before.  Jack could tell just by the look in Stephen's eyes what his friend needed.  "Can you stand?" he asked quietly. 

Stephen blinked hard and sat up, leaning on his arm and gathering his breath.  He accepted Jack's arm to help him up, and was grateful that he did as his feet didn't feel steady and he fell into the larger man.  

"Hush now.  I've got you," Jack whispered, wrapping his arms around the smaller man, and writing him gently as though he was a child.  The one thing that he didn't want to hear was an apology.  He knew that the doctor was good at giving them for instances when he wasn't his normally strong and resilient self.  But, the fact that the doctor had been caring for him, had given him a safe place to decompress, when he had been in a bad way himself... Jack knew that he was not owed an apology, but he needed to give one.  Later.  When the doctor's pain was lessened, and he would remember it. 

He walked the doctor into the great cabin and helped him down to the bed slowly.  

Stephen pressed two fingers to his temple.  "My brain feels swollen, Jack.  I feel like... " he groaned as his brain stopped giving him words and throbbed for the effort.

"Rest yourself, Stephen," Jack said quietly.  He knelt down and pulled off the other man's shoes.  "Rest.  It's all right.  I'll have Killick be sure that no one bothers you for at least a few hours."  He couldn't do without his doctor for long.  But, short of an emergency, no one should bother the man who literally made himself sick taking care of the crew.   It would be all right - they all would.  With rest and time. 

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Oh wow, I was not expecting to see this! I love these two - the Aubreyad has so many wonderful moments of friendship, and you've captured theirs perfectly. Also, I can't resist some Stephen whump. :D Thank you for posting!

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I hope to post more soon - I'm writing this in conjunction with it's sequel so I need the later story to progress before I can add more to this one. <3

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