Doyle's heart sank as set the lamp down on the table. "Stuart," he sighed. "He talked."
"Mr Stuart has been talking ever since he arrived on this ship."
"So he was the one who told you about the mutiny."
"Yes, but you provided a far more convenient scapegoat. Because the crew believed you were responsible for the failed mutiny, Stuart could remain among them and continue to pass me useful information about the crew's activities. Such as the fact that your dear Mr Bodie was still alive."
"No thanks to you."
"No, indeed. Had I but known the trouble he would cause, I would have sought him out and finished him while he lay weak from the lashing."
"Coward," Doyle growled. What was the use in reining in his temper now? If only he had the dirk, he felt he might be able to make use of it.
"Coward, you call me?" Keller asked. "When you came sneaking into my cabin, no better than a common thief? Worse, even, for surely you know that the crew meant to murder me, and that my blood would be upon your hands."
"And what of the blood of the stowaway, and of Mr Anson?" Doyle snapped.
Keller only smiled. "Ah, so you have discovered me. I must thank you, Mr Doyle, for your kindness in informing me of what you planned to do with that dirk. Did I not tell you that such a blade could be...useful?"
"Aye, and had I known what you meant to do with it, I would have cast it out to sea in an instant."
"But you did not, of course. And here we stand."
"What do you plan to do, then?"
Keller settled himself more comfortably in his chair and folded his hands on the table-top. "I am not wholly unprepared to grant you clemency, Mr Doyle. I once told you that I would tolerate no disorder on my ship, did I not? One can be a sailor, a captain, or a passenger--to flit between such positions is, as I have said before, unnatural. But I will give you a choice. You can return to the brig and be hanged at the next bell. Or you can don the clothing appropriate to your station, publicly renounce your...activities with the crew, and beg for mercy. I promise, if you should do this, I shall grant you the mercy you seek, and you will live to see land again."
"No? Then you choose to be hanged."
"No," he said again, smiling faintly. "I don't choose at all." He turned and darted out of the cabin into a dim grey dawn.
On deck, the crew were carrying on with their work, climbing the rigging or scouring the deck, as though anxious to avoid any notice. They did not look like a crew prepared for mutiny. But of course they would not--for Stuart had never intended to pass on Bodie's plan.
Bodie himself was leaning heavily against the stump of the fore-mast, his hands bound in front of him. Stuart stood guard over him, a makeshift bandage wrapped around his knee. At least Bodie had got in a lick of his own.
As Doyle crossed the deck, all eyes turned in his direction. He glanced behind and saw that Keller had followed him out of the cabin. And now he, like Stuart, was carrying a pistol.
"You see for yourselves!" Keller shouted. "Mr Doyle sneaked into my cabin in the dead of night--he murdered Mr Anson, and he meant to murder me!"
"Yet you are the one who stands before us with the pistol," Doyle said, turning to face him.
Keller made no reply, only advanced slowly. Doyle stepped back, keeping distance between Keller and himself. He passed Stuart, who made no move to take him; it was clear to all on deck that this conflict was between Keller and Doyle alone.
For one damning instant, Doyle glanced down at Bodie. Blood was trickling from a cut on his forehead, and he looked dazed and pale.
All of this Doyle noticed in a heartbeat, but Keller had seen the slip. The pistol's aim tilted, coming to rest on Bodie.
As his hand tightened on the trigger, Doyle leapt forward, shoving Bodie down to the deck. They tumbled together onto the salt-worn boards as a shower of splinters from the mast rained down on them. Doyle's ears rang with the sound, and the air was sharp with the smell of powder, but Bodie was unhurt.
No one else had moved. As Doyle rose to his feet, the motion drew a line of fire across his right arm. He stumbled before steadying on his feet--there would be time enough for bandages later.
Or perhaps not. Though the pistol was now useless, Keller had drawn a knife from his pocket. The white bone handle was easy enough to recognise. It had once lain under the mattress in his cabin, and had more recently been found buried in Anson's back.
Keller did have a keen sense of the poetic.
Once more Keller stepped forward, and Doyle paced back before him, up the steps to the fore-deck, past capstan and cathead until the back of his legs collided with the rail at the ship's bow. Still Keller approached, and Doyle stepped up onto the bowsprit itself, balancing precariously as the ship dipped and rose. It seemed they had found a wind at last.
Keller's teeth bared themselves in a mad grin, and Doyle saw that Keller meant to follow him and throw him overboard by sheer force of strength.
Doyle took hold of the rope that anchored the flying jib, ignoring the blood that trickled down his arm. He used the line to steady himself he retreated along the narrowing bowsprit, remaining always just out of Keller's reach. Keller followed him, his footing precarious on the slick surface, but still he smiled, for Doyle had nowhere to go.
If it came to a struggle, they might be better matched than Keller supposed; but then, they might just as easily both tumble from the bowsprit and into the rolling sea below.
As if conjured by his thoughts, a wave slapped the side of the ship. The Seahawk pitched, and Keller's glossy boots slipped. Keller fell forward, sending the dirk spinning out to sea as he clutched at the bowsprit. He caught it with one hand, struggling to hold on as the bow rose again on the crest of a wave.
Suddenly Doyle was no longer the one in danger. He clambered back along the bowsprit, still clinging to the line for balance, and reached out to Keller. "I'll pull you up!" he shouted over the creak and snap of the sails, but Keller ignored his hand, scrabbling at the slick bowsprit while the ship bucked as though to throw him off.
It happened in the trough between two swells. When the bow dipped low, Keller's hand slipped from the bowsprit, and he saved himself by catching hold of the open beak of the shrieking figurehead.
The gull sank into the foam. When she rose again, Keller was gone.
Doyle gripped the line tightly and scanned the sea around them, knowing already that Keller was lost. Then, abruptly exhausted, he scrambled back along the bowsprit.
As soon as his feet touched the deck, he found himself the object of a chorus of raucous huzzahs. He shook his head, fatigue threatening to overwhelm him. He turned to Murphy. "Give me your knife."
"I don't know, Doyle, are you going to stick it in my back?" he teased, but he held out a blade. Doyle turned and cut the rope binding Bodie's wrists, only to find himself immediately wrapped up in Bodie's arms.
"Not out here, you damned fool," Doyle said, his voice muffled against Bodie's shoulder, but Bodie could hardly let go when Doyle was clinging to him just as tightly.
They parted after a far shorter time than they might have done, had they been alone, and Doyle looked round the deck. "What happened to Stuart?"
"Nothing much," Jax said dryly. "He got distracted by the pantomime you and Keller were putting on, so McKay knocked the gun out of his hands and we tied him up." He nodded towards the mast, where Stuart stood with his wrists lashed to a spar, his head drooping.
"If you put him in the brig, mind you fix those two loose bars," Doyle said. "A man could cause all sorts of trouble, you know."
"So it seems," Jax said with a grin.
"It also seems," Bodie added, "that we are in need of a captain."
"Doyle's the one who rid us of Keller," Murphy said. "Maybe he should be captain."
Doyle laughed. "I'd run us all aground, you know that. Why not Bodie? He might manage to keep us afloat for a while."
Murphy turned towards the rest of the crew. "Is there anyone here who will sail under Captain Bodie with me?" he called out.
"Aye!" came the shouted reply.
The crew fell silent, but Stuart's glare seemed to speak volumes.
Bodie shook his head. "All right, then. We've plenty of things that need to be set to rights. Back to work, you lazy bastards. Take your usual watches, and I'll work mine the same as always. And as a gesture of goodwill, an extra tot of rum for us all, eh?"
A cheer greeted this last statement. Doyle set his hand to the rigging, meaning to tighten a loose rope on the lower-main topsail, but Bodie stopped him. "You're still bleeding," he said.
Doyle looked down at the torn sleeve of his shirt. "Hardly a scratch," he countered, ignoring the sharp sting of the wound. "Not worth a fuss."
"I've seen men take a fever and die over less."
"And what about you?" Doyle countered, touching the cut on Bodie's forehead.
He sighed. "Stuart got the drop on me, clubbed me over the head with that pistol of his. I'll be all right."
"Oh, but my scratch needs looking after?"
Bodie grinned. "Captain's orders," he said cheerfully. "You will let Jax patch you up, and then to bed with you. Jax?"
He dropped down from the rigging. "Aye, sir?"
"Bugger your sir. Take Doyle down below and patch him up. And I swear, if you say 'aye-aye, captain,' I will bloody well keelhaul you."
Jax grinned brightly, but he led Doyle down to the galley without another word.
In the dim quiet, Doyle's weariness began to catch up to him, and he slumped down into a chair without a word, barely acknowledging Jax. He was brought back sharply to attention when Jax doused the cut in brandy to clean it.
"I told you it would sting. Hardly my fault you weren't listening."
Doyle glared and snatched the bottle from him to take a long swallow. He endured while Jax stitched the wound closed and wrapped his arm in a length of clean linen. "You'll do, I suppose," Jax said. "Though I would advise a day of off watches, just in case. I'll send word to the captain that you're not to be doing anything too...strenuous."
Doyle groaned. "Does everyone know?"
"Might be they do. None of them has ever spoken out against Murphy and me, though, so I don't expect you'll have to face anything worse than a round of teasing from the lads."
That was assuming, of course, that Bodie would have him. Things would be different now that he was captain. Doyle would have to follow his orders, for one...
The thought of being commanded by Bodie threatened to turn into a daydream, so he took his leave. He made his way back to the forecastle and sank into sleep as soon as he settled into the hammock.
He rose at the next watch feeling somewhat refreshed, and certainly not so much of an invalid that he could shirk his watch. He went out and set to scouring the deck, and if he favoured one arm, then no one commented.
It was nearly halfway through the watch when a pair of scuffed black boots appeared in Doyle's vision.
"I thought Jax advised a day of rest for you."
Doyle looked up guiltily from the half-scrubbed deck. "It doesn't feel right, when I'm capable of the work."
Bodie nudged the scouring stone away from him with the toe of his boot. "Back to bed," he said.
"Is that an order?" Doyle asked, a smile stealing across his face.
Bodie crouched down beside him. "Only a suggestion, as I don't plan to let you do much sleeping tonight."
Doyle felt a flush rise in his face. "Oh. In that case, perhaps a bit of a rest..."
"And you'll take tea with me this evening?" Bodie asked, his eyes dark.
Tea, indeed. "Of course. In your cabin?"
"First bell of the second dog watch. For now, just sleep."
Doyle returned to the forecastle with exaggerated reluctance, fearing that the rest of the crew would think him weak, or at least coddled by the new captain. But no one made any comment or snubbed him, and he had to admit that the rest felt good.
He rose when the second dog watch began and spent the time between bells washing up with a cake of hard soap and the contents of a rain barrel that the hurricane had filled.
As he crossed the deck to Bodie's new quarters, a few of the men on watch offered sly winks or catcalls. Doyle flushed, but he had the presence of mind to send them a rude gesture in response. How strange it was, to go to another man and not fear discovery.
He knocked on the cabin door. "Come in," Bodie called.
Doyle turned the doorknob and stepped inside for the first time since he had confronted the captain.
In the daylight he could see that the cabin had fared poorly in the hurricane, and many of the furniture legs were splinted, if not broken outright. The silver tea service was dented as well, but the teapot was steaming cheerfully despite its misshapen spout.
"You see? I wasn't lying about the tea," Bodie said, pouring two cups. His hair was still damp from washing, and it had grown long enough that Doyle could see the wave in it.
"I never thought you were."
Bodie took a scalding sip. "And it makes an excellent pretext for all sorts of--"
There was a knock on the door.
"Oh, what is it?" Bodie said.
McKay opened the door and poked his head inside. "Begging your pardon, Captain, but there's a new course needs setting, and the matter is yours to decide...provided you're not otherwise occupied?" he added, with a wicked grin in Doyle's direction.
"Oh, for God's sake," Bodie sighed. He turned to Doyle. "Don't go anywhere?"
"Where would I go?" he asked wryly. Bodie stormed out of the cabin to set their course.
Doyle was reaching for the teapot to pour another cup when the sun flashed on a bit of glass on the cabin wall. He set the teapot down and rose, knowing already what had caused the flash.
The captain's cabin, he vaguely recalled, held the only good glass mirror on board--the mirror the crew had used for shaving was wavy and jagged, and it returned only a distorted reflection. A crack now ran through the centre of the captain's mirror, but the image it showed was clear enough. Doyle stood before it for a moment, relearning the contours of his battered cheekbone.
The door opened and closed with a soft creak, and Bodie stepped up behind him, his arms sliding around Doyle's waist. "I told you it wasn't so bad," he said. His hands slipped beneath the hem of Doyle's shirt, rough fingertips tracing gently over his skin.
Doyle shivered and twisted round to kiss him, tasting the sweetness of well-sugared tea on Bodie's tongue.
They stumbled towards the high bed built along the port side and fell onto it together, their hands mapping new territories. Doyle reached out to remove Bodie's shirt, but Bodie pressed him gently back onto the bed. "You're not to strain yourself--doctor's orders."
"Jax is no doctor."
Bodie shrugged. "He's the ship's surgeon and he's as close as we've got. Now be a good lad and lie still, would you?"
Doyle made a face and did as he was told. As he lay back he grasped a handful of Bodie's shirt and pulled him down atop him.
Bodie tried to glare at him, but Doyle moved his hips a fraction and the words on Bodie's lips faded into a sigh. "You are a menace," he said, making no move to rise from his new position. Doyle kissed him thoroughly, taking his time as he had not been able to do before.
Doyle let his hands fall to Bodie's hips, tracing the line of Bodie's cock through his trousers. "Mm. Your ship has a fine bowsprit," he said.
"And yours a handsome mast," Bodie replied, laughter shaking his voice.
Doyle smiled, and Bodie leaned down to kiss him again.
Eventually Bodie raised his head and rolled off to the side. He carefully helped Doyle out of his shirt, and Doyle hid a wince as the movement pulled at the neat row of stitches below his shoulder. Bodie tossed the shirt aside and looked down at him with undisguised appreciation. "I couldn't see you properly down below," he said, tracing his hands over Doyle's chest. "Sailing's done you good."
Doyle felt his face warm at the heat of Bodie's gaze. He reached out to pull Bodie's shirt over his head, tangling him in the rough material. When he emerged, his hair was endearingly mussed, and Doyle had no choice but to kiss him. Bodie bent down to him, and Doyle slid his hands through Bodie's hair, holding him close.
Then Bodie's mouth left his to press a line of lingering kisses over Doyle's throat, his collarbone, his chest.
He reached the waist of Doyle's trousers and tugged. Doyle lifted his hips to let Bodie strip the last of his clothing from him, baring him to the cool air of the cabin.
Then Bodie gently took the head of Doyle's cock into his mouth.
Doyle's breath caught, and he tightened his hands in the sheet, fighting the urge to thrust up into Bodie's mouth. Bodie had told him to lie still, hadn't he? So he closed his eyes and let Bodie have his way.
He made long work of it, teasing him, sometimes drawing away entirely to press his mouth to Doyle's hipbones or the crease of his thigh. He was trembling, barely able to contain himself by the time Bodie wetted his lips and took Doyle deep in his mouth.
Doyle groaned so loudly that he was sure the whole bloody ship heard. He moved one hand to Bodie's shoulder to steady himself, clinging to the last shreds of control until Bodie's tongue pressed against the underside of his cock, just there, and Doyle came with a choked cry.
Bodie drew off after a moment, and Doyle opened his eyes to find Bodie watching him hungrily. He reached out to pull Bodie down beside him, meaning to repay the favour in the same way it had been given.
But Bodie shook his head. "I--I won't last. Just touch me, Ray, please."
Doyle nodded and pushed Bodie's trousers out of the way, then curled his hand around Bodie's cock. Bodie's head rocked back, his breath coming in sharp pants as Doyle stroked fast and hard. Bodie was beyond teasing, beyond anything but sensation now.
His cock jerked in Doyle's hold, and Bodie gasped as warm drops spattered Doyle's hand.
After a moment, Bodie opened his eyes, looking faintly embarrassed that it had taken so little to bring him off. Doyle kissed the flush from his cheeks before pulling him down into a languid kiss. He could taste the bitter salt of himself on Bodie's tongue.
He would have been happy to lie awake all night with Bodie, but sleep crept up on him unaware.
From out of a hazy dream, the ship's bell rang, and Doyle counted the notes with trepidation--seven. Nearly time for the watch to change, and he would be expected. He shifted reluctantly and climbed out of the bed, careful not to jostle Bodie awake.
He unshuttered the lantern just enough to find his clothing and dress again. When he looked up, he was caught out by the sight of Bodie, half-draped in the sheets.
The scars that crossed his back were still pink, and perhaps always would be, but the guilt that had once sat heavily on Doyle's shoulders had lightened. Bodie did not blame him, and soon enough he would learn not to blame himself. Better by far to focus on the other things, the way Bodie's hair curled just behind his ear, the strong muscles of his arms, the sleepy curve of his lips.
Doyle shuttered the lamp again, but Bodie was already waking. He yawned and sat up, letting the blanket fall to a wonderfully indecent point around his hips. "Don't go yet."
"They'll not make a fuss if you're a few moments late."
Doyle shook his head. "I won't abuse my privileges as the captain's lover."
Bodie sighed. "If you must, then."
Doyle turned back and kissed him one more time, long and lingering, before going out to watch.
The winds were fresh and steady, coming out of the northeast. Jax jumped down from the rigging with a grin. "We'll make port in a week, maybe, if the weather holds," he said. He looked perfectly happy about the idea--and it would only be sensible to be happy about the end of such a terrible voyage.
Doyle knew that he ought to be glad, as well--Ann would be waiting, after all, and she was the reason he had begun this journey.
So why did his spirits sink with the thought of land?
He took supper with Bodie in his cabin, but he found himself curiously without appetite. Bodie frowned at him, and Doyle felt he owed him some small explanation for his silence.
"Jax says we might make port in a week."
Bodie nodded. "We lost time to the storm, but we've done well besides that."
"It doesn't seem very long."
"No," Bodie said quietly. "It doesn't."
They sat in melancholy silence for a moment, until Bodie looked up, a wicked glint in his eye. "Best make what we can of the time, then," he said, drawing Doyle to his feet.
Doyle laughed and followed him across the cabin to the high, soft bed.
In the last week of the voyage, they settled into a routine. They spent each off-watch together, and sometimes they even slept.
It was on one of these occasions that Doyle, crossing to light a lamp, saw the captain's logbook lying open on the cabin's battered desk. The pages were brittle and curled by the saltwater, but Keller's meticulous script was visible on the page.
Bodie caught him looking. "A duty I've not had the will to take up," he said. "I'll have to put something down about Keller, I suppose, but I'm damned if I know what to say."
"The storm," Doyle said.
"You told me once that Keller had lost half a dozen men in storms. No one ever questioned him, did they? And with a broken mast, no one could disbelieve you if you said he had fallen overboard."
Bodie nodded. "Aye, it might work. I suppose I'll have to make it heroic, too."
"Much as it pains me, a heroic death will satisfy everyone--even the newspapers, if they take note of it. The dashing captain giving his life to save the ship... No one could call it slander."
"True," Doyle said, "though I hate to see a hero made of him."
"Ay, but we will know the truth, and that is enough."
Doyle nodded, but he could not avoid the thought that soon they would reach land--and there would no longer be a we of which to speak.
He sat curled beside Bodie as he composed a few lines for the log, heedless of the occasional droplets that escaped the inkwell. One of these drops landed on Bodie's bare thigh, and Doyle absently traced the drop into abstract, curling shapes.
Bodie shivered and set the pen aside. He cupped Doyle's face in his hands and kissed him. Doyle shifted, easing down until he was lying on his back, with Bodie settled on top of him. Doyle parted his lips, sweeping his tongue lightly against Bodie's own.
Bodie sighed, shifting his hips so that Doyle could not help but notice the effect of their kiss. When Doyle reached down to trace the line of Bodie's cock, Bodie smiled and pulled away. He crossed the cabin to the small table and returned with a small silver bottle in his hand. "Olive oil."
"And what do you plan to do with that?" Doyle asked, arching an eyebrow.
"What would you like me to do?" Bodie asked, his voice low.
"Anything," he said, almost desperately.
"I mean, do you wish to be...on top, or..."
Doyle blinked, surprised that Bodie would even consider the idea of being buggered. After all, he was the captain now, and to submit in such a way to a mere sailor...but Doyle could not deny what he truly wanted, and after a moment he found his voice. "I want you to do it. Please."
Bodie's eyes lit with desire, and Doyle kissed him before rising to his knees.
Bodie took his time, trailing his fingers along Doyle's shoulders, tracing the ridges of his spine. At long last Doyle heard the bottle being opened, and the clean scent of olive oil wafted through the cabin.
The touch of Bodie's hand was cool, his fingers generously coated with oil. Doyle let himself relax as Bodie pressed inside, first with one finger and then a second. He drew back, and Doyle glanced over his shoulder to see Bodie reaching for the bottle of oil again. Doyle sighed. "It's enough, Bodie. Go on--please"
He hesitated. "If I hurt you--"
"You won't hurt me."
"But if I do."
"Then I will tell you, I swear."
Clearly reassured, Bodie reached for the bottle of olive oil again. He knelt close behind Doyle and slowly, carefully began to push inside.
Doyle shifted his weight, pressing back carefully until Bodie was halfway inside. Doyle felt Bodie's cock slide perfectly against him, sending a chill through his body.
Then the ship tilted on a sudden swell, knocking Bodie sidelong into the cabin wall. Thrown off-balance, he slipped out of Doyle entirely and fell backwards onto the bed, swearing viciously.
Doyle sat up, and as soon as he saw that Bodie was not hurt, immediately began to fight a hopeless battle against laughter, which only caused Bodie to swear with greater fervour. When the laughter finally faded, Bodie gave him a dark look. "Perhaps, to save my skull and your breath, we should defer our entertainments until we reach a calmer sea."
Doyle's amusement vanished, and he shook his head. "No, we needn't. Come here, and lie behind me." He turned onto his side away from Bodie, one knee bent, and Bodie lay behind him. The weight of Bodie's hand on his hip was enough to let him know that Bodie understood their new course of action. He pressed into Doyle again, just as carefully as before, until with a sigh of frustration Doyle pushed back, sheathing Bodie entirely.
Bodie's forehead came to rest on the back of Doyle's neck, his breath warm against Doyle's spine. There was a long moment of stillness before he began to move. Lying together in such a way made the act slower and gentler, neither of them able to find the leverage for a more powerful thrust. It imbued everything with a tenderness that neither of them had foreseen. Bodie's hand trailed across Doyle's body, teasing, as he thrust against him.
Doyle shifted position slightly, and suddenly Bodie's thrusts sent pleasure sparking up and down his spine. He tipped his head back, his spine arching. "Bodie, please--"
Understanding, Bodie lifted his hand from Doyle's hip and curled it around his cock. Doyle let out a sharp breath and rocked forward into Bodie's grip, then back against the heat of Bodie's cock.
"Go on, Ray," he said softly. "Don't hold back."
Overwhelmed with sensation, Doyle tumbled over the edge, everything blurring in a white-hot rush of pleasure. Bodie's hand tightened, and then Doyle felt him go still, his ragged breathing the only sound.
Doyle let himself drift, half asleep and still tangled up with Bodie. He felt Bodie's lips brush the back of his neck, the sunburned curve of his shoulder, and at last he slept.
He woke gradually. There was a faint light in the cabin, though he hadn't heard the bells ring for the morning watch. He stirred. "Did I miss the watch changing?" he asked.
The light vanished. "No," Bodie said. "Go back to sleep."
Doyle twisted round to peer at Bodie in the darkness. "What were you doing?"
Bodie trailed a fingertip over the line of Doyle's nose. "Watching you," he whispered, sounding embarrassed.
Doyle raised his head to nip at Bodie's fingertip. "Go on, then, if you like," he said. "I'm going back to sleep."
As he drifted off, he caught the faint light once more, and he smiled.
It had been eight days since Keller's demise when Bodie called to Doyle during the first dog watch.
"Ray--come and see."
Along the horizon was a dim, dark haze, and Doyle's heart sank unaccountably. "Land."
"Nearly home," he said.
Not home. "Yes." But Doyle took the first opportunity of tempting Bodie back to his cabin, away from the reminder of how soon their companionship would be put to an end.
Knowing that in little more than a day they would reach shore, the crew might not have minded if Doyle spent the remaining hours in Bodie's company. But when the eighth bell rang, he disentangled himself from his sleeping captain and went out to serve his watch, using the work to keep his mind away from thoughts of the future.
At moonrise, Bodie found him, and they stood the last midwatch together, side by side. They spoke but little, for there was little to be said.
Doyle thought that if Bodie had uttered so much as the words Please stay, he would have taken to a life at sea in a heartbeat. But either his will was too strong to permit such a speech or he did not wish for Doyle to stay; whatever the reason, he remained silent. When the watch ended they parted with a kiss, knowing it was to be the last time they would see each other alone.
Bodie vanished into his cabin, his hand shaking slightly as he gripped the doorknob. Doyle turned away with great effort, and not long after dawn he set to aiding the other sailors in bringing the ship to port.
When the ship was secure, Doyle retrieved his trunk from top cargo, where it had lain all but forgotten. The sailor's clothes and the unsent, unneeded letter to Ann were laid in the trunk. Doyle dressed once again in the fine clothes he had formerly worn. Now, the clothing seemed at once confining and fragile, too delicate for the work to which he'd become so accustomed. The cravat at his throat put him in mind of the noose to which he'd been sentenced, and he loosened it absently. A man could never reef a sail in such frippery; but then, he would never be expected to reef a sail again. He shaved more carefully than he had during the voyage--it wouldn't do for a gentleman to look slovenly, after all. He emerged from belowdecks for the last time as the gangplank was being settled into place. He nodded farewell to the few men on deck, and received friendly waves in reply.
Then Bodie emerged from his cabin, and Doyle stopped in his tracks. This was the meeting he had hoped to avoid, the farewell where nothing could truly be said. It would not do to embrace him, not where the curious eyes of the dock workers could see. Yet for a moment Doyle stood, rooted to the spot, with his trunk lying forgotten at his feet.
"Go on, sunshine," Bodie said gently. "Your girl will be waiting."
He gave Doyle a forced smile. "Don't make me give you an order," he said.
Doyle nodded, his throat too tight for speech. He hefted his trunk onto his shoulder and descended the gangway to the dock.
He did not look back.
As soon as he reached the dock, a porter took the trunk immediately from his shoulder, babbling apologies. His trunk was loaded onto a carriage, and in a moment Doyle was riding off to his new home.
He did not notice until he stepped out of the carriage how strange the ground felt beneath his feet. He had grown so accustomed to the rolling of the ship that he expected he now looked faintly drunk as he made his way up the garden path to the house he had taken on the outskirts of town. He pulled the bell and waited to be admitted.
His manservant, who had been sent ahead to ready the house, nearly refused him entry, and only then did Doyle begin to suspect how much he was changed. A rueful inspection in the bedroom's mirror explained Marsdon's reluctance. Doyle's hair had grown longer, his skin darker, and the kink in the line of his cheekbone conspired with these other changes to render him nearly unrecognizable, even to a man who had been in his service for years.
He began to dread what Ann would think of him when he saw her. Nevertheless, he composed a brief note assuring her of his safe arrival and begging leave to call on her the next day. He sent Marsdon out with it, and wondered what he would do now. He seemed to have forgotten how to be idle.
That night, he lay awake, feeling the motion of the waves as though he were still at sea, still on the Seahawk...with Bodie. The room was warm and too still, lacking even the smallest breeze. Doyle rose and opened the window, letting in the misty night air, cool with approaching autumn.
He leaned on the sill, fancying that he could almost smell the salt air again. He watched the stars turn slowly above him, and after a while he closed his eyes, imagining that he leaned not on a windowsill, but on the Seahawk's railing, racing ahead of the wind with Bodie beside him.
The thought of Bodie roused him out of half-sleep. He left the window thrown wide and returned to bed, but he could only toss restlessly. The last thing he ought to do, of course, was to think on Bodie now. After all, the voyage was over, and they would likely never see each other again. They had neither asked nor offered promises of any kind. Doyle had not even ventured to tell Bodie where he was meant to live, and now he bitterly rued that oversight. To be with Bodie here, where there were no bells to call them away, no rough seas to stagger them, would be wonderful indeed.
But perhaps Bodie would not have come even had he known; that would have been a blow more crushing than his present solitude.
Doyle sighed. He had thought too much on Bodie, and now could not ignore the parts of him that clamoured for release.
His own hand was rough from weeks of sailor's work. The calluses were all the same, but his hand was too narrow to be Bodie's. He thought of Bodie's weight on top of him, the feel of Bodie inside him, Bodie's mouth on him. So vivid were the memories that it was not long before he gasped and spilled over his hand, feeling not shame but only regret that he should never share such things with Bodie again.
After a time, he slept.
He woke just after dawn to the quiet creak of the window closing. He sat up and saw Marsdon drawing the curtains over a grey sunrise.
"What are you doing?"
"You'll catch your death leaving the window open like that, Mr Doyle," Marsdon chided gently.
"I like the breeze," Doyle countered.
Marsdon considered him for a moment, clearly not knowing what to make of this changed Doyle. "Very well, sir," he said, and he lifted the casement once more.
Doyle lay back down, but he found he could not sleep any longer. He had grown accustomed to sleeping only four hours at a stretch over the last several weeks, and it would take time to adjust to life on land again.
He rose and dressed, ignoring Marsdon's faint surprise at seeing him awake "so early in the day."
Doyle seemed to recall a time, before the journey, when he had enjoyed late, languorous mornings. But it might have happened to someone else, for all that had changed since then.
A note from Ann arrived after breakfast, saying that she would be pleased to see him this afternoon. He smiled as he set the page aside, but there was an uneasiness in the pit of his stomach that he dared not consider too closely.
He alighted from the carriage after a journey both interminable and too short, and walked up the path to knock at her door.
It was opened almost immediately; Ann must have been waiting for him, for she had outstripped even the servant.
"Raymond," she said warmly, her face lit with a smile. "Do come in." She seemed smaller than he remembered, with her red hair and china-pale skin, and he was suddenly struck by how fragile she looked, after weeks in the company of sailors. She called for tea and led him into the sitting room, all without comment.
But in the bright sunlight of the sitting room's picture windows, his changed appearance could no longer be hidden. She stopped short at the sight of him, startled and almost afraid, and Doyle hastened to explain all that had happened. His broken cheekbone, he claimed, was the result of an accident on board--which was true enough, in its way. He simply neglected to mention that he'd been climbing the rigging in a hurricane at the time. Ann wrung her hands and called him poor thing, and the sympathy itself was curiously irritating. Bodie had suffered far worse, and he had not accepted a moment's pity. Why should Doyle?
But Ann of course knew nothing of what had happened on the voyage, and her sympathy was offered from kindness and affection.
Doyle smiled. "Can you still fancy me," he teased, "even without my good looks?"
"Oh, Ray, how can you even ask such a thing?" she chided, tracing gloved fingertips over the broken place. "The sun must have been terrible--your skin is grown awfully brown."
"I liked being out on deck."
"Without your hat?" she asked with a small smile.
Doyle smiled back, knowing that Ann could not understand. A bonnet could be tied down, but a top-hat would have lasted scarcely ten minutes on deck--the first fresh breeze would have swept it over the railing and out to sea.
"Is your father well?" he asked, hoping to turn the conversation away from his changed looks.
"Oh, yes. He's in New York on business, and he will return tomorrow. Why? Did you have...something you wished to discuss with him?" Her voice was light and teasing, but Doyle found that he could not share in the jest quite yet.
"I wanted to offer my sympathies. The captain and first mate were both lost in the voyage."
"There was a terrible storm," he explained. "I wanted him to know that the man who acted as captain afterwards--William Bodie--served us well, and to recommend that your father keep him on."
"I am sure he will," she said. "I am sorry that your voyage was so hard."
"It was not all bad--at times it was quite an adventure."
She shivered. "An adventure I would sooner do without."
They sat down to tea, talking over light subjects like the weather in the States and the gossip of local society. Doyle knew none of the people whom Ann mentioned, but he made an attempt to follow along nonetheless.
She paused in her talk to pour them each another glass of tea. "Oh, the sugar-bowl is empty," she said.
"I'll take care of it." Doyle scooped up the empty china bowl and rose from the table.
"Ray!" she said, startled.
He stopped. "What?"
"Let the servant fill it. Mary? Sugar, please."
A young woman stepped forward to pluck the sugar-bowl from Doyle's hands, and she scuttled off to the kitchen. Feeling foolish, Doyle sat back down again.
"What has got into you?" Ann asked, concern evident on her face.
"There was no one to wait on us at sea," Doyle said, faintly defensive. "I became accustomed to fetching what I needed for myself."
She looked distressed at the thought, but she smiled. "Not to worry. We'll soon have you civilised again."
Doyle forced himself to return the smile. "I'm sure you will."
Soon afterward, he took his leave, claiming exhaustion after the long crossing. Ann had sent him on his way with smiling orders to rest and recover himself, but once home Doyle found that rest was far from his mind.
In his bedroom, he found his water-stained trunk set neatly at the foot of the bed. He opened it to find that the clothes it had contained had been removed--even the rough sailor's shirt and trousers--and put away carefully in a chest of drawers.
He did not, however, find his letter to Ann anywhere. Filled with a sudden unease, he called his servant.
"Marsdon, did you find a letter in my trunk?"
"Yes, sir, I did. You had already written the direction on it, so I had it delivered." He hesitated. "Did I do wrong?"
Doyle closed his eyes briefly. If it had been any other letter, to anyone else--! But Marsdon could not have known that the letter was not meant to be read. "No, it is quite all right," he said.
But it was with no little bit of trepidation that Doyle received the next morning's invitation to take tea with Mr Holly. It was clear that Ann would not be joining them.
A servant led Doyle to the sitting room, which was uncomfortably warm in the late-summer weather. He could not fathom why a fire would be laid on such a day, but Mr Holly would certainly consider such a question an impertinence, and that was hardly the manner in which Doyle wished to commence the afternoon.
Mr Holly made him wait just long enough to be irritating and not quite long enough to be called impolite. He greeted Doyle with cool civility, and a quarter of an hour's stultifying conversation ensued, wherein Doyle did little more than make polite sounds of attention when it seemed most appropriate. The conversation drew his full attention when Mr Holly abruptly changed the subject.
"I have received a most interesting letter this week," he said. "Can you guess what its contents might have been?"
"You have received it?" Doyle countered. "I do not recall that it was your name on the direction."
Mr Holly carried on without comment. "It concerned the events of the Seahawk's voyage--but rendered in such a fashion that I hardly recognised the characters involved. An attempted mutiny, innocent accidents sensationalised as murder, respectable young men turned no better than pirates. And the libellous account of the captain's behaviour--! It is scarcely to be credited." He paused quite calmly to take a sip of tea. "You see now that I am placed in a most difficult position, Mr Doyle. Two accounts of the voyage I have, which conflict in every particular. One, then, must be false, but which?"
"Which, indeed? Pray tell me, Mr Holly, did you have any idea what sort of man Keller was, when you named him captain of the Seahawk?"
"Why, a man of discipline, as all captains must be. And speaking of captains, I find that a decision must be made regarding this acting captain. If this fantastic account of the voyage were true, it could only mean that the account given to me by Mr Bodie was a falsehood, and I would have no choice but to dismiss him immediately without reference."
Forced to choose between the truth and Bodie's well-being, Doyle found the lie falling easily from his lips. "The letter was a fiction, sir. I had thought to try my hand at a novel, in the epistolary style, and my manservant mistook it for a letter intended for Miss Holly. If you would return it to me, I shall take care that it is not seen again."
Mr Holly removed the letter from his breast pocket and made as if to hand it to Doyle. At the moment before the letter came within Doyle's reach, he tipped his hand to one side and allowed the letter to drop into the roaring fire. "Oh, how careless of me," he said, without the slightest hint of chagrin.
Doyle forced a faint smile. "It is no matter," he said. "The letter was unimportant."
And yet, for all that it was unnecessary, it had been important to him. The pages themselves had been torn from Bodie's book, and they contained the only account of the voyage outside of Doyle's own mind.
"Perhaps it is better thus," Mr Holly suggested. "Without such contradiction, life is far more pleasant and orderly, don't you think?"
Doyle thought of his last acquaintance with a man who had so revered the concept of order, and he smiled thinly. "Oh yes, sir. Certainly."
"You will of course have no reason ever to speak of this matter to my daughter. I cannot prevent your union, if that is indeed your goal, but know that if I suspect you have allowed such rampant falsehoods to reach Ann's ears, you will not see one penny of her fortune."
Doyle rose to his feet. "And if you think me the sort of man who might be swayed by such a threat, we have nothing more to say to each other. Good afternoon, sir."
Mr Holly inclined his head. "Good afternoon, Mr Doyle."
Doyle walked out of the room without a backward glance.
Instead of taking the carriage that awaited him, Doyle dismissed it and walked along the street, welcoming the chance to clear his head. He wandered through unfamiliar streets, knowing only vaguely the turns he would have to make to get home.
Home. The idea was laughable--this was not home to him. Yet he no longer had a home in England, either.
He looked around himself and found that he had reached the top of a steep hill, lost in his thoughts. From here he could see the docks away in the distance, the tall masts and furled sails bobbing gently in the harbour. He wondered which mast belonged to the Seahawk, and if a new fore-mast had been stepped already.
He wondered where Bodie might be.
Oh, he knew it was a foolish notion to think that Bodie might seek him out while the ship was repaired. He could have found out where Doyle was living easily enough, but perhaps it was better to make a clean break of it. It might have been worse to draw out their dalliance, only to have it ended when Mr Holly's business called Bodie to depart again.
Doyle took a deep breath, but there was no salt in the air. A peculiar sort of homesickness overcame him suddenly, and he realised that his longing was not for Bodie alone. He missed the surge of waves and the coarse ropes under his hands, the feeling of purpose that went along with sailing work.
Bodie needed only his Endymion to remind him of life on land. Could Doyle carry on living a landlocked life, with only a bit of Coleridge or Homer to sustain him?
He feared that he knew the answer already.
The sun was already sinking behind him when he started down the hill towards home.
As the days wore on, he began to grow accustomed to land-locked life once more. The rolling sailor's gait left him slowly, and after a week he no longer expected to be roused at midnight by a ship's bell. He spent much of the days walking about the town, often venturing into places that a gentleman ought not to be found. Perhaps it was the broken cheekbone, but no one ever troubled him.
He kept well away from the docks. He did not trust himself to avoid the Seahawk if he were to find her, and he feared to discover that she had already sailed.
At times, he cursed himself for his sentimentality. There was no call to mope about as though his time with Bodie had been a great love affair. And yet how many other love affairs had begun with mutiny, suffered the apparent murder of one party and the death sentence of the other, and still turned out all right in the end?
He found himself torn between a past that was lost to him, and a future to which he could not quite resign himself. How could he marry and confine himself to the stuffy society of Boston, when he felt more at home on the sea?
And yet did he not owe some loyalty to Ann? He was being grievously unfair to her, though she had no idea of it. He still cared for her, certainly; she would always be dear to him. Yet each time he thought to apply to Mr Holly for her hand, he found himself setting the matter aside again. How could he marry Ann, when so much of him belonged with another? It would be unforgivably cruel of him.
It was Ann herself who spared him the decision. She had accepted his invitation to tea, and they lingered together over the cooling teapot. Each of them sat with a book in hand, as they were wont to do, in a perfectly companionable silence. Doyle could remember a time when he had wished for nothing more than this idle pleasure.
He soon found that he was reading no more than one word in three, and after a time he gave in and allowed his gaze to wander to the wide eastern window. Somewhere far beyond the garden wall lay the docks, the vast open sea, and somewhere...
"Ray," Ann said, drawing his attention away.
He turned to look at her, hoping that his feelings did not show on his face.
"You are not happy here."
Her words so perfectly paralleled his thoughts that Doyle nearly dropped his book entirely. His instinctive protest died on his lips; he owed Ann the truth, or as much of it as could be safely shared. "No--not yet. It is different here, but I will become accustomed to it."
She smiled. "Perhaps. And perhaps one day my father will warm to you."
"I would say it is a bit more likely than that," Doyle protested weakly.
"I suppose it is. I only want you to know that you are not...beholden to anyone. If you are unhappy here, then go back to where you were happy."
"And what would you do, then?" He would not allow himself to contemplate leaving, not if it would hurt Ann.
"This is my home," she said simply. "But it is not yours, I can see that now."
Doyle glanced out the window and tried to gather his thoughts. They had planned to be married one day. Of course they had never really spoken of such things--the sentences once begun had always trailed off. When we are settled...
Ann was settled and happy now. Doyle feared that his own restlessness would never fade while he remained here. Yet Ann was the reason he had come here, and if she had given him her blessing, then there was nothing to keep him in America.
The sudden fierce joy of the thought shamed him, and he turned back to Ann.
"Can you forgive me?"
She touched his hand. "There is nothing to forgive."
She rose to leave a few moments later. Doyle walked her to the door, where she turned to him and smiled. "We will always be friends, will we not?"
"Of course," Doyle said.
Ann stood on her toes and pressed a chaste kiss to his cheek. "Then farewell."
She stepped out into the sunlight to meet the carriage that stood waiting for her. As it disappeared around the bend, Doyle found himself wondering when next they might meet. Her father would certainly be happy with this turn of events--he only hoped that Ann had not been hurt so very much.
She would do well here, he knew. Boston society agreed with her, and he did not doubt she would make a match far more suitable--and more suited to her--than he.
Doyle let the door fall closed and returned to the sitting room, lost in thought. Go back to where you were happy, Ann had said. Yet he had been happiest in a place to which he could never return--could he?
He sat deliberately askew in one of the rigid, high-backed armchairs, one leg slung over the padded arm. He picked up the newspaper lying on a side table, more as a screen from Marsdon's curiosity than for any real care about the paper's contents.
He did not even notice the dock-register until a name caught his eye. The brig Seahawk, under Captain William Bodie, to sail for Liverpool on the 9th of September.
Doyle had done his best not to wonder about the Seahawk, even if he could not stop himself thinking about her captain. If pressed, he would have presumed that the ship was already at sea again, on a course for Liverpool or Lisbon or Tripoli. It must have taken some time for the new mast to be stepped and the storm's damage to be repaired. To stumble upon the notice now seemed almost like Providence.
Doyle set the newspaper aside and fetched a pen and ink from his study. It was the afternoon of the seventh; if the Seahawk were to sail with the morning tide on the ninth, then he would have two days in which to settle things. It should be long enough.
The instructions he wrote were simple. Marsdon was to retain the house, for Doyle would want a place where he--he dared not think they--could stay when not at sea. He left a note that authorised the banker to disburse funds to Marsdon as needed to manage his affairs. Doyle had known the man for a long time, and he did not think that he would be robbed blind, but as he signed his name to the paper he realised that he no longer cared.
He did not send word of his decision to the Seahawk or her captain. If Bodie turned him away, then Doyle would hire on with another ship--for though it was Bodie that he truly cared for, he had become curiously fond of sailor's work, and the life would suit him far better than the one he had begun in America.
The next evening, he dressed in his sailor's clothes and left the house in the faint glow of sunset. Night fell as he made his way towards the docks, but any pick-pocket who thought him an easy target would have to contend with Murphy's knife in the pocket of Doyle's trousers. Indeed, Doyle was in truth a convict, though a wrongfully accused one. The thought made him smile.
His pace began to slow as he neared the docks, even as the sight of the ships' masts against the rising moon set his heart racing. Perhaps Bodie would not wish him to return; perhaps he was content to let their affair end as it had. Perhaps it had meant less to Bodie than it had to Doyle, and he was already sharing his quarters with another.
Then he caught sight of the shrieking seabird figurehead, and he knew that, for good or ill, he could not turn back now. He set his shoulders and strolled up the gangplank without a backward glance.
A shadow stirred beside the rail. "Who's there?" Bodie called sharply, lifting a lamp from its hook.
He froze at the top of the ramp, suddenly unsure. "It's Doyle," he said cautiously. "May I come aboard?"
Bodie set the lantern down and pulled Doyle forward into his arms. Doyle's pack dropped forgotten to the deck as he embraced Bodie.
It was a long time before they cared to move. At last Bodie took a half-step backwards, keeping his fingers twined with Doyle's as though loath to release him for even a moment. "What are you doing here?" he asked, when they had breath enough for speech.
Doyle grinned. "I decided to come home."
Master Post | Part One | Part Two | Part Three