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Medicinæ Baccalaureus

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For those of y'all who've read the book, this takes place between Chapter IX: The
Rebels-Convict and Chapter X: Don Diego.

Chapter IXa: Medicin Baccalaureus

Peter Blood should, by all rights, have been a happy man. He had awoken the
previous morning a slave, unjustly and maddeningly imprisoned at the mercy of a brute
of a man he wouldn't have deemed worth spitting on at home in England, with nothing
but the Governor's appreciation of his medical skills to keep himself from abject
degradation. Now, he was his own man again, and master of a ship besides, thanks to the
Spanish raiders' carelessness, and he had just had the highly satisfying experience of
watching the brutish and bullying Colonel Bishop, his master no longer, walk the plank.
The resultant giant splash had been most heartening. Sadly, the fat beast had turned out
to be a fairly good swimmer, but the sight of him hitting the water, bobbing like a very
large and ugly cork, and thrashing inelegantly toward shore was going to remain smugly
enshrined in Blood's memory for a very long time. Possibly forever.

In light of all this, Blood _should_ have been a happy man, but as he ducked
through the doorway into the _Cinco Llagas's_ roundhouse to change Jeremy Pitt's
hastily applied bandages, happiness was very difficult to summon up. All of the day's
good fortune paled beside the grim fact that the stripes on Jeremy's ravaged back were
fast becoming putrid, and there was nothing Blood could do to halt the process. What
good were freedom and a ship without a navigator to sail it? What good were decent
clothes, self-respect, vengeance, an end to the humiliations of slavery, if Jeremy suffered
so for it?

But then, had he not been dying piecemeal under the lash of Colonel Bishop's
overseer, a death of the soul that was perhaps worse than physical death?

Blood tried to tell himself that, but when he knelt down next to Jeremy's bunk and
began to ease the stiff, blood encrusted bandages away from his skin, the sight of the
ragged wounds beneath them rendered such platitudes remarkably ineffective.

"I should have been after killing Bishop when I had the chance," Blood mused,
wrath rising in him once again as he contemplated the damage Bishop's splintered
bamboo cane had inflicted. Blood had seen men flogged before, when he had served
under de Rutyer, had seen atrocities he still preferred not to think on during his time in
the Spanish prison hulk at Seville, but somehow the mere fact that this was _Jeremy's_
back that had been reduced to so much raw, oozing flesh made it worse. There was
something almost sacrilegious about inflicting such damage on something so beautiful,
and Jeremy's smooth, fair English skin had been beautiful.

Jeremy stirred when the bandages came off, but did not wake. Even in sleep, his
face was drawn tight with pain, with little lines of tension between his brows. His
shoulder, when Blood rested a hand on it, was heated with a slowly growing fever. It was
also one of the only places between Jeremy's neck and waist that hadn't been sliced near
to ribbons.

Blood leaned closer to peer at the lacerations, careful not to let his hair brush
against them--it would hurt Jeremy, beside coating the ends of his newly clean hair with
blood--and inhaled deeply. People looked at a man funny when he did that, but inflamed
wounds smelled different from clean ones. He would stake his reputation on it, had he
still possessed a reputation to stake. Blood, obviously, and sweat, and, mixed in with it, a
hint of that sickly scent that heralded infection. No gangrene, though. That was
something at least, and there were no maggots growing in the wounds, which happened
all to often in this climate.

Jeremy shivered, almost as if he could feel Blood's eyes on him, and stirred again.
Blood pulled away, and found himself looking into a pair of heavy-lidded grey eyes.

"Peter?"

"Shh," Blood said. "Be quiet for me now, Jeremy darling, while I have a look at
your back." He turned away, carefully not looking at those watching eyes, which felt
accusing even though he knew they weren't, and lifted a scrap of linen out of the bowl of
water he'd had one of the escaped convicts bring in. Fresh water, from the ship's stores.
He wasn't going to wash Jeremy's back with seawater as long as there was fresh water to
be had. "I'm going to clean these cuts out for you," he warned.

Jeremy hissed through his teeth when the cloth made contact with his flesh, and
flinched visibly, but said nothing. Blood worked with painstaking slowness, despite the
fact that he normally took pride in how quickly he could clean and dress a wound.
"We're well away now," he said as he sponged the half-dried blood off a long slash just
to the left of Jeremy's spine. As the wound came clean, he could see the tiny splinters of
bamboo lodged in it. "Barbados is three hours sailing behind us, and thanks to His Most
Catholic Majesty's navy, Bridgetown is in such a state of confusion that they shan't be
able to chase after us."

"We really did it, then?" Jeremy asked. Little beads of sweat were forming along
his hairline. He closed his eyes again and curled the fingers of one hand into a fist.
"How the devil did we manage that, with Nuttall's boat out of reach and our plans known
to Bishop?"

"Sure, now, didn't I tell ye we were going, and that you were going with us?"
Blood said. "You should pay more heed to what I say. Ye'll find I'm nearly always
right."

Jeremy almost smiled for a moment, but then Blood picked up the pincers he had
appropriated from the ship's poorly equipped surgery and tugged the first of the splinters
free, and the almost smile dissolved into another half-stifled gasp of pain. "Christ's
blood, if this is how you treated Governor Steed's gout, it's a wonder he didn't have
_you_ flogged." He pushed himself up on one elbow, gritting his teeth as he did so, and
twisted his head around to try and peer at his back.

"Easy now." Blood seized him by the shoulder again and gently pushed him back
down. "If ye'll hold still, I'll be done with it that much faster. The Spanish, barbarous
butchers that they are, haven't got any laudanum in their stores. At least, these Spanish
haven't, or I'd be giving it to you." He blinked suddenly damp eyes hard and actually
had to force himself to pull the next splinter out. It was ridiculous. He hadn't been so
squeamish about hurting a patient since his first year at Trinity. But this was Jeremy, and
it was Blood's fault that Jeremy had been beaten, or at least, enough his fault that he felt
guilt over it; were it not for Blood recruiting him, Jeremy would never have been part of
the escape plans, would never have been caught and interrogated.

Jeremy stayed still and silent for the rest of the long, painful process. It wasn't
until Blood had pulled the last splinter loose and laid it down atop the little pile of
bloodstained bamboo fragments that he spoke again. "It wasn't your fault, you know."

"No," Blood agreed wryly. "That fool Nuttall lost his nerve and got you caught.
Ye'll have to see that it doesn't happen again."

"I most certainly will." Jeremy's eyes were drifting shut now that the painful part
was over, and he seemed almost to lean into Blood's touch as he drew clean bandages
across his shoulders.

"Sit up, now, so I can wrap these around you," Blood ordered. He shifted closer
to the bunk so that Jeremy could rest against him while he ran the bandages around the
other man's chest and back. The unmarred skin of Jeremy's chest was smooth under his
hands, and his blond head was a hot heavy weight on Blood's shoulder. "Good, like that.
I'll be done directly."

He concentrated on tying the bandages, trying to ignore the feel of Jeremy's skin
and the tickle of that blond hair against his neck. If he only thought hard enough about
bandages and inflammations and logistics and where they ought to sail for, and what they
were going to do with those eleven Spanish prisoners currently locked up and waiting to
be seen to, then surely the thoughts of how soft Jeremy's hair would be between his
fingers and how solid that muscular body would be against his would go away. It hadn't
worked yet, but perhaps this time...

Two years in a Spanish prison can teach a man a great deal about himself,
including things he might very well wish he'd never learned. Things that came all too
easily to the surface of his memory at the feel of Jeremy's body in his arms.

Blood finished tying the last bandage and eased Jeremy back down onto the bunk
with a mixture of relief and regret. "Ye'll be sleeping now, if ye know what's good for
you," he said.

Jeremy, who seemed already to be half asleep, smiled again--a real smile this
time, not the pained expression of earlier. "We're free now," he said, half to himself.

"To be sure we are." Blood, feeling greatly daring for doing so, reached out a
hand to brush Jeremy's hair back from his face. "And England and King James will
never get their filthy hands on us again."

"Good." Jeremy closed his eyes and shifted slightly, trying to find a position that
didn't hurt his back. "Peter? Thank you. I never did ask," he added, "where did you get
the coat?"

Slightly taken aback, Blood touched a hand to the lace at the front of his newly
acquired black and sliver coat. He hadn't though that Jeremy had even noticed it. "The
former captain has quite generously donated it to me. He doesn't know that he has yet,
but I'm sure he'll be quite glad to have been of service once he finds out."

"We're indebted to him," Jeremy mumbled. "You cut a fine figure in black.
Which-," he yawned "is p'robly why you chose it, but still..." his voice trailed off into
another yawn, and moments later he was asleep.

Blood blinked, firmly reminded himself that the comment had meant nothing, and
went to thank Don Diego for the coat.

^_~