Sharpe had an uncanny ability for finding officers who did not much care for the rules of warfare or the like. Granted, in his patched and faded uniform that was more a muddy brown than the original green of the rifles he hardly looked an officer. More like one of the partisans from the surrounding hills. An informant or a spy. One who could share the fruits of his labour with the French if pressed hard enough.
Even without a spyglass, Harper could make out the dark bruises on Sharpe's face. Bloody hell, what was it about Sharpe that made every bloody bastard want to smack him around? Not that it hadn't been Harper's first instinct, but that was another thing entirely. They had come a long way since then, and Harper wasn't about to let anyone else get their hands on the captain without paying dearly for it, no sir. Not even if the said captain was dumber than an old pair of boots.
The French officer hit Sharpe again, knocking his head to the side. Sharpe spat a glob of blood and spit. Even pushed down on his knees, he turned back to scowl at the enemy. Harper shifted his four-barrel gun on his shoulder. Where in the blazes were the rest of the rifles? He had a mind to take care of this business himself. But then he heard a shot from the woods, and then another. And he knew the enemy would perish. Didn't hurt to help them on the way, though. Not a bloody goddamned bit.
"Pat," Sharpe wheezed out after he had elbowed a French sentry in the belly and performed a wicked back-alley elbow-lock on another. His hair and face were grimy from the wreckage wrought by Harper's volley gun.
"Come on, sir." Sharpe let himself be dragged along, but not without one vicious, ungentlemanly kick to the French officer's face.
Harper didn't know why the higher-ups had been so keen to agree on the rescue mission, nor was he privy to what passed between General Wellesley and the officers. Yet he knew they saw something in Sharpe, too. They didn't have to like him, but there was potential for a great many things in the scowling, scarred officer from the ranks, and the army couldn't afford to waste men like that.
"That was a bloody stupid thing to do, sir," Harper told Sharpe when they were safely back with the regiment. He was poking and prodding at the bruises and little cuts on Sharpe's face. Left to his own devices, Sharpe would have just have dunked his head into a barrel of water and bribed and threatened his way to a bottle of brandy and called it a day. The man could never be trusted to look after himself, which was why he needed Harper.
"All in the service of king and country, Pat," Sharpe said and scowled as one of the cuts reopened.
"I believe you, sir, I do, but somehow I doubt it was the king you were servicing last night. Spain, maybe. She was Spanish, wasn't she?"
Sharpe sighed but didn't try to deny it.
"Never mind that you were supposed to get the damned letters and get out of there before morning, quiet and secret-like."
"We weren't exactly quiet," Sharpe agreed.
"Now, which of these were left by the French and which by her old man?" Harper asked as Sharpe removed his shirt stiffly to reveal more bruising and some impressive welts on his shoulders. "You look like you've been whacked about good and proper."
"How was I supposed to know the old man was her husband and in league with the French?"
"Respectfully, sir, may I suggest using that brain of yours? Sir."
"Don't bloody do that, Pat."
"What, sir?" Harper looked at him innocently, handing him back his shirt after he was convinced Sharpe was suffering more from embarrassment than injury.
"Use my own officer-talk on me."
"I'm hurt, sir, so I am. Here you haven't been acting very officer-like at all, and I haven't even told the lads why you got delayed."
Sharpe looked up at him, surprised. "Thanks, Pat."
Harper sat down next to him. "You'll tell me, though, won't you?"
"She were beautiful, Pat," Sharpe said wistfully. The bastard didn't sound like he was sorry at all. Sharpe could be honest like that, sometimes.
"So I gathered." The twinge of something in Harper's gut was most certainly not jealousy. Who was he supposed to be jealous of anyway, Sharpe or the girl? A man could feel left-out sometimes, was all.
"Something wrong?" Sharpe asked with a frown. He was always too damned clever for his own good, except when there were women involved.
"Oh no, only wondering if you've got anything left for me, it being a long night and all, after that racket you kept up with her."
"I've always got something left for you," Sharpe said like he was surprised by the question. And Harper knew that, he did, but it never hurt to make certain.
"Well then, why don't you tell me something about her?"
Sharpe had the decency to look thankful. Then he grinned and moved to straddle Harper with surprising nimbleness for a man in such a battered state. They weren't big on kissing, between the two of them, but Sharpe's fingers twisted knowingly in his hair. The warmth of his lips was very good indeed.
"This is how we started," he told Harper.
"And did it work?" Harper asked. He was pretty sure it was working on him. For a dumb English bastard, Sharpe was a genius.
"Get that bottle of brandy you're not hiding, Sergeant, and I’ll tell you all about it."