Chapter 1: affliction's introduction
The samples of lichen heretofore unknown to English science were taken off the rocks of Prince William Land, prior to Lieutenant Gore's untimely demise. Goodsir hadn't had a chance to do anything other than collect them, scraping the fuzzy black plant from the underside of the shale on which he'd found it into a corked specimen jar, and then he had scrawled a label for it and had packed it away in his medicine chest alongside other such new discoveries, to be studied in depth at a later date.
Then, of course, Lady Silence had joined them, and he had been trying to save her father, and, to his own chagrin at failing to fulfill his profession as a naturalist, he had honestly forgotten about the odd lichen completely. Lady Silence had already been berthed on Erebus after having been brutishly accosted by Hickey by the time that he remembered, and he only remembered because he was learning from her the Inuktitut terms for the flora with which she was familiar.
He did not yet know what this lichen was called in Inuktitut. He was thinking of bringing the specimen jar itself to Lady Silence, rather than sketching its contents onto the pages of his journal for the two of them to communicate over, as they had been doing, but upon retrieving the jar he was dismayed to find that the specimen had apparently broken down completely, having seemingly rotted and dried into a grimy magenta-tinged residue which now coated the inside of the glass despite the cork having maintained a secure seal.
In his haste to closer examine this phenomenon, Goodsir failed to take proper precautions. He merely uncorked the bottle.
The stopper came free with a pop, the sound of which was caught and echoed within the glass jar, and he thought that there was a puff of very dark, exceedingly fine dust, or perhaps gas, which came out with it. But the stain of residue remained where it was, and he did not see any more evidence of the contaminant, and so Goodsir put this down to a flight of fancy.
Perhaps he was merely wanting for rest. Perhaps it was something he'd eaten which was now disagreeing with him, or perhaps he was simply in a dark, strange mood, in some tricky and unreliable state of mind which had come upon him and so many others now that they were all trapped in close quarters within the oppressive, ever-squeezing vice of the groaning ice and the arctic darkness. Perhaps that is it: he is growing doleful and paranoid.
In any case, Goodsir puts his misgivings aside and bends to his task, and he is so enraptured that he does not notice his own peculiar stirrings of arousal until Dr. Stanley unexpectedly arrives and presses his own arousal against him.
He heard Stanley's footsteps entering the sickbay, but he'd kept his head down and had pretended not to notice, knowing from past experience that should he raise his head to greet Stanley, the doctor would probably pause, and his sharp, disparaging eyes would sweep across Goodsir's paraphernalia where it was arrayed on his worktable, and then his thin upper lip would curl into the faintest of sneers as he looked back from the naturalist's things to the naturalist himself, and Goodsir would still be standing there, smiling like a friendly fool, awaiting a crumb of reciprocal affability or kindness or enthusiasm the likes of which Goodsir was now fairly sure that Stanley would never dispense but for which Goodsir would wait regardless, for to do otherwise, to deny Stanley that opportunity to improve himself and to treat others with something other than disdain, would be. Why, that would be impolite, on Goodsir's part. And if Goodsir can change Stanley's behavior for the better then he owes it to all the others who must also endure Stanley as he is now to do so.
But that was exhausting, and the lichen residue, interesting, and so Goodsir decided (very rudely, and probably immorally) to pretend not to notice Stanley's entrance. Even as Stanley's boots met solid and slow against the deck, and even as they meandered their way reluctantly towards Goodsir, haltingly, as if the walker was fighting some sort of compulsion which directed his every single step. The hairs on the back of Goodsir's neck raised themselves to stiff attention, prickles of apprehension running all up his scalp and down his spine, but he told himself that if Stanley had something to say, then he would say it, and in the meantime Goodsir kept himself small and inoffensive and busy and he silently wished with all his heart that Stanley would leave him alone.
And then Stanley is right up behind him. His body is against Goodsir's, pushing in and pushing Goodsir's hipbones against the edge of the table, his clothes rustling against Goodsir's, the shape of him surprisingly solid and implacable as he bears Goodsir down and forwards, and Goodsir abandons all pretense of obliviousness as his every nerve lights up with all the bright, abrupt fury of a rifle battery, aghast and inflamed.
“Doctor!” he exclaims, though it takes him a moment to swallow down his shock and unstick his abruptly fat, unwieldy tongue from the roof of his mouth. He is terribly confused, and ashamed at his own reaction: for Stanley's heat and weight and presence, all towering at his back, has sent a sickly jolt of anticipation through him, and he is pressing his own hips against the table's edge so hard that he expects there will be a line of bruising, and below the table, below his belt, he realizes that he is tumescent almost to the point of pain.
Without his intellectual absorption in his research to divorce himself from the sensations of his body he also realizes that he is in some sort of altered state. Some primal, squirming mania has taken hold of him; like another entity hosted within himself: like a dire worm burrowing into rotten appleflesh; obliterating self-restraint and heightening physiological responses, disabling any manner of concentration outside of hyper-focus, and contorting instincts such as flee and fight into... well.
“Dr. Stanley,” Goodsir says, and Stanley thrusts his own hips forward against Goodsir's arse, the movement quick and stuttering, and then he seems to rein himself in.
“I will not. Force myself on you,” says Stanley, sternly. Somehow, his voice is very level and collected, as if this is the only aspect of his appearance which is within his power to maintain, but even so there is a strain to the tone. An urgency. Stifled fear.
Goodsir's own fear is not at all stifled. He is shaking with it, he's sure.
“I won't force you away,” Goodsir says nonetheless, like a promise, for it is all he can think of to say. Anything else, and perhaps Stanley would actually stop. Anything else, and Goodsir would be begging him not to.
Stanley groans, from his chest, and then his breath hiccups to strictest silence as he begins to thrust again, rubbing himself against Goodsir. Goodsir cries out in feeble rapture, the movement of Stanley clicking into place and fulfilling some base prerequisite to life for which he craves, satiating some gross, bestial drive to heave and rut. He wriggles his arse in blind encouragement, feeling the press of Stanley's clothed cockstand slotting in between his buttocks, and feeling Stanley push against him even harder.
“Just... stay still,” says Stanley, shoving at him as though that blunt friction alone will pummel Goodsir into obedience. He grabs Goodsir's hair near about quick enough to snap Goodsir's neck and bears his head down until he is bent in half over the table, with his temple knocking against the cold, dense wood, his nose mashed ignominiously to the side. “If we are to do this then stay still and shut. Up.”
Goodsir whimpers, mouth slack enough that his lips are parted and drooling onto the table, and Stanley shakes him in punishment, his fist wound painfully tight in Goodsir's hair and Goodsir's head rolling. Stanley maneuvers him just as a cruel rider might yank at his horse's reins until the bit cuts open the corners of the steed's mouth and the frothed saliva which spills forth is dyed to pink. Had he a riding crop, Goodsir has no doubt that Stanley would have laid it into his flanks until they, too, were bloodied.
“Oh, God,” Goodsir blasphemes, mainly at how hard his swollen prick twitches at the images which are immediately brought up by his own horrifically licentious imagination. “Oh, my good Lord.”
Stanley lets go of Goodsir's hair as though burned, and then his hands are fumbling quick and rustling just at Goodsir's rear. “Shut up shut up shut up,” Stanley hisses, and his bare cock is then rubbing against Goodsir's clothed arse, its crude nakedness apparent even through the tautened seats of Goodsir's trousers and pants. The damp, raging heat of it bleeds straight through the coarse confines of the fabric, and Goodsir can so clearly feel its proudly erect shape where Stanley is pressing it hard against Goodsir with one of his hands, with the webbed crook between his thumb and his fingers.
Goodsir can imagine, now, how Stanley's pelvis must be canted and his spine lengthened, how his shoulders are hunched up beneath the rich wool of his immaculate Navy uniform, rumpling all the crisply fitted lines. Stanley's Adam's apple must bump his starched collar as he thickly swallows with a click of his throat. He will have that same specific pinch of impatient, vaguely disgusted concentration between his brows as that which he gains during the performance of surgeries. He may even wince as he thrusts, at the chafe of sensitive skin.
Stanley's hands are not so large as Goodsir's, but they are finer, and, more than that, they are deft and precise and strong. When he closes his other hand around Goodsir's hip to anchor him, Goodsir can feel the pressure of the grip straight through the meat and to the bone. There will perhaps be five finger-points imprinted therein forever.
Stanley lets go of Goodsir's hip when his thrusting throws off their shared balance, making a grab for the table's edge and shoving Goodsir's torso down again against the top. Goodsir slides his feet further apart to brace himself, going pigeon-toed and flattening his chest to the table and even arching his back so as to further present himself; so as to further offer himself to Stanley's service. Stanley's hand finds Goodsir's head once more and this time his fingers rake through Goodsir's curls without gripping. They instead spread wide and settle across the side of Goodsir's skull. He leans up onto his own toes, letting Goodsir and the table on which he is so helplessly laid out to take his weight, and, continuing to pin Goodsir's head, he begins to thrust into his fist. He is wet enough now from his own fluids for Goodsir to hear the silky snap of moisture with every thrust. The delicious slide and catch and slide of it.
Most of what Goodsir now feels, however, is limited to Stanley's knuckles digging in above his tailbone and the haphazard, increasingly sweat-dragged scrape of the frustratingly many layers of cloth between them. Stanley is heavy atop him and his breath is rushing in and out very sharply through his nose, ruthlessly disciplined in contrast to Goodsir's incessant moaning and mewling. Whenever Goodsir tries to make a complaint about their state of dress, or about his own woeful lack of stimulation, or he tries to work himself back against Stanley's groin, Stanley merely jostles and crushes Goodsir back into relative passivity, snarling invective under his breath. He does this every time that Goodsir so much as starts to speak a single word.
Goodsir's neck, craned to the side as it is, is beginning to hurt. So is his cheekbone against the table, and his lower vertebrae might as well be fusing into a swaybacked curve with how carelessly hard Stanley is going at him, shoving at Goodsir like Goodsir's entire body will yield itself in half, like he can break Goodsir into the shape of a more pleasing object to fuck. Like Stanley would quite frankly rather be fucking the actual table beneath Goodsir than Goodsir's body itself.
There are tears running freely from Goodsir's eyes. He does not know when he began crying. He only knows that he has never felt so debased and uncared-for, nor so deliriously thrilled to be so. He is awash in a dizzying tide of lust, and he is drowning in the glorious validation of being useful, of being used, and he cannot move his head at all with how firmly Stanley is holding him, and he cries harder at all of this. Because it brings him an unspeakable amount of joy to have someone taking their pleasure from Goodsir without Goodsir having to worry at all about giving it, nor worry about giving too little.
“All you're good for,” Stanley mutters venomously, and he tenses and curls in until his forehead is resting between Goodsir's shoulders and he comes with an angrily emphatic, full-bodied jerk.
He stills completely as his spend sprays onto Goodsir's back, only tensing his thighs a few rhythmic times towards the last of it. The smell of sex is pungent in the dank air, and Goodsir can see his own visage in the reflection off one of the bottles on the table, right before his nose. He looks warped and wild and wrecked, and he would have seen more, but the shimmer of his tears overcomes his sight and he allows his leaking eyes to lose focus, falling back into himself rather than face the damning nuances of his own expression. He stays there, lax as a doll, crying without so much as a sob and with his own erection untouched yet unflagging, pulsing lonely and wanting in time to his confused and yearning heartbeat, until Stanley scoffs, just very lightly, possibly just in disbelief, and he pulls away.
The doctor meticulously sets himself aright and leaves far before it even occurs to Goodsir to get up, but before Stanley does, Goodsir hears him say, very quietly and with an utter lack of inflection: “What have you done.”
The words linger as stubbornly in Goodsir's consciousness as infection in a wound. But it is not until Goodsir has shakily levered himself up that he truly considers them, and uses them as a framework to consider his circumstances, and what guilt and responsibility he might yet owe for having most probably been the cause.
He is still intensely compromised by whatever pernicious djinn it was which he'd released from that specimen jar. That much, as evidenced by his persistent arousal and bewilderment, is obvious. It is also obvious that Stanley was likewise affected, possibly through mere proximity to the residue's exposure to the air. The entire sickbay may be contaminated. The atmosphere tainted.
Goodsir does not know how far this miasma may be capable of having spread. Or what its effects may drive a man to do to a vulnerable woman.
It takes Goodsir too long to stagger down to Lady Silence's appointed little section of the ship. His heart is still beating nauseatingly high and offbeat in his throat as he rounds the final corner, his speeding, filthy, traitorous mind conjuring up one horrifying possible scenario after another, each one more unbearable than the last.
He will die if they have hurt her. He will kill them and then himself, and he would swear to that, so help him God.
Chapter 2: a doctor makes himself available
Goodsir only realizes he has broken into a run when he finds himself careening into a wall with such force that he bounces off of it and almost trips directly over the mate Des Voeux's outstretched legs. He swerves to the side but snags his ankle on Des Voeux's anyways, and he goes hard to one knee to save himself from the even greater indignity of a full fall. It is a miracle he did not break his neck leaping down the ladder beforehand.
Des Voeux startles up from his slouch, his foot unhooking itself from beneath Goodsir's with how he violently snatches his sprawled legs away from Goodsir's disruptive arrival and in towards himself. “Jesus Christ,” he shouts. His book has tumbled from his lap and the spine has broken against the floor, the cover creased open and the pages rumpled outwards like the wings of a dead dove.
“Only... it's only me,” Goodsir says, gasping breathless as he reassuringly gestures his fingers in fluttery self-appointment before his chest. He glances past Des Voeux's barrel-cum-chair and in further, to where Lady Silence's nook is tucked away behind the sliding door and the rack of shelving, and he meets Lady Silence's eye where it is blinking out from the nook's pocket of gloom, her candles having all been snuffed, her gaze a gleaming, curious point of near-black umber in the perpetual yellow dusk of the closed decks where she sits on the floor with her face half-hidden.
Goodsir feels himself alight. His cheeks are aflame all the way to the tips of his ears, the blood swelling the skin with tingling liquid heat, the flush sweeping all the way down his body. His nipples tighten to small, stiff peaks beneath the untenable rasp of his underclothes, every hair on his body prickling to attention. His... his prick jerks as if with a grotesque life of its own within the light pressure of his smalls, and he feels himself, his... cockhead, squeeze out a large, viscous drop of pre-seminal fluid onto the fabric. It spreads out slimy against him, cooling quick as a chilly perfunctory kiss of goodbye before it is wicked up by the cotton knickers. A shamefully visible shudder travels him from head to toe.
“It's Harry, just Harry Goodsir,” Goodsir croaks out to her, and he cannot hold the Lady's kind, nervous gaze but rather drops his blurring eyes back down to the deck.
“The hell's wrong with you,” Des Voeux asks, gathering himself and going from surprise to displeasure. Had it been anyone besides Goodsir, Des Voeux would likely be on his feet, with the shotgun currently leaning against the bulkhead instead at his shoulder and at the ready, prepared for an oncoming threat. But he trusts Goodsir's panic so little that he is more prepared for the skittering appearance of a particularly large rat than he is for any concrete danger which may arrive with intent to harm Lady Silence. He is not even yet standing.
“We need to keep her safe,” Goodsir says. Des Voeux is startled again, this time by Goodsir's sudden intensity, and his brows are drawn down and the whites of his eyes are all visible as he beholds the unhinged fullness of Goodsir's openly watering stare.
“No,” says Des Voeux. “I said, what the hell is wrong with you.”
Were Goodsir the sort to allow himself anger, he would be enraged at Des Voeux right now for taking him so without seriousness. Instead it is frustration at his own interpersonal impotence which drives more scalding tears from his eyes.
The salt burns his skin, but sweat has already drenched him all over, tingling perspiration caked most thickly along his hairline and itching at his armpits and in the scrubbier thickets of the secret cesspit places sequestered between his legs. He shakes his head and blinks to clear the clear drops of saline from his eyelashes. The prickly tip of a stray curl of his hair, the coiled lock lengthened through dampness, catches in the fleshy crease of his upper eyelid, causing his entire on-edge expression to spasm inwards towards his crinkled nose. He shakes his head wildly, his arms crumpling elbows-in and lifting, as an animal which is without hands might shy and buck. Had he put on his spectacles earlier today they'd have been flung clean off.
“Oi. What's wrong with you,” Des Voeux demands waspishly, and he kicks his nearest foot lightly up against the back of Goodsir's thigh; his hard, booted toe misses Goodsir's leg and nudges insistently up into Goodsir's tensed and tender scrotum. A glancing blow.
Goodsir collapses with a convulsive twist astride Des Voeux's boot and begins to grind as if possessed. His eyes roll back into his head with the first rolling wave of pressure which this applies to his genitals, and he sobs out a sigh, intoxicated with pure, blissful, addictive, momentary relief.
It really is only momentary, for the next instant Des Voeux has sprung to his feet and is kicking Goodsir in the ribs. Goodsir is propelled to the floor, his side seizing in pain, and Des Voeux's boot strikes the back of Goodsir's right hand when Goodsir curls in on himself and puts that hand underneath and around his ribs to shield them.
“What the hell was that,” Des Voeux screams, kicking and kicking. “What the hell is this.”
“I don't know,” Goodsir cries out. He is trying to crawl away, but there is nowhere for him to escape except towards Lady Silence's hallowed space, that space of which he dares not sully with his presence. He shrinks in roughly belly-down against the wall, turning his face into the corner where the wall meets the deck, and he lifts his hands outwards between himself and Des Voeux's menacing boot in desperate, self-protective supplication. “Good God, have mercy, I do not know.”
He supposes he is lying. He is a liar, now, as well as a creature of wanton lust, but his lust is too all-encompassing, his mind slogging too slowly through the seductive density of it, to allow him to put the right arrangement of truthful words together, much less quickly enough for Des Voeux to listen to them.
There is a thumping and then a clatter and crash from behind him, and then Goodsir is not being kicked anymore, and all is dead silent.
Into this silence there is the sound of the shotgun hammer being cocked.
“Drop it,” says Des Voeux.
Goodsir peeks away from the wall to see Des Voeux pointing his shotgun at the Lady. She is furious, her face as impassively stony and dignified as a wartime statue of Athena, her mouth a flat line, her cheeks reddened with temper, and her silky black hair, in its two braids which are neatly folded and tied with sinew ribbons behind her ears, is mussed into a fine, inky halo. She drops the ulu from her trembling hand, and Goodsir winces at how the edge of the finely-honed flint blade hits the floor first, chipping the flint and nicking the planks.
“And step back,” Des Voeux says. He gestures with the gun, taking an aggressive forward step of his own to try and cow her as he does so. “Back. All the way back.”
Lady Silence hesitates long enough to subtly glance down at Goodsir, fearful apology overflowing for only a fraction of a second from her expressive eyes, before she backs up and returns to her “quarters.” She sinks down to sit, crouching there in the doorway without ever once turning her back nor taking her eyes from Des Voeux, every plane and angle of her body broadcasting wary readiness.
“What is this,” Des Voeux repeats.
It takes Goodsir a moment to understand that Des Voeux is asking him the question, because Des Voeux is glaring at Lady Silence in return, and he does not spare a glance for Goodsir at all.
“It's some kind of. Of natural aphrodisiac,” says Goodsir. His teeth are almost chattering with the admission; he wonders if every plane and angle of his body so naturally broadcasts timidity and submission. “Ah, quick. Quick-working. Potent. You'll be feeling its effects now, I'd imagine.”
“Would you,” says Des Voeux. Ever the witty critic.
“Yes,” says Goodsir, just in case Des Voeux really was asking for Goodsir's medical opinion, however worthless that opinion is considered by some to be.
Des Voeux finally looks to Goodsir, sneering, but the sneer is overtaken by honest revulsion when he looks at Goodsir's back. “Is— what is that streak there? Is that a man's seed?”
Goodsir realizes that Dr. Stanley's semen has dried all up the back of his waistcoat. Plain as day for anyone to see. He has been traipsing about marked as no more than what he is; as no more than a dockside doxie.
“You trollop,” Des Voeux says, not-so-secretly delighted at the excuse to be so disgusted.
Goodsir's entire body cringes with shame. “I'm sorry,” he chokes out, in barely more than a whisper. A fresh spate of tears runs forth from his stinging, puffy eyes. He can feel the minerals accruing down the sides of his nose, crackling in his whiskers. Drying just as all emissions of the body do. As Stanley's have on Goodsir's clothing. He is lightheaded, rendered addled and achy with either a bit of dehydration or with the aphrodisiac or with both and also with horror. “It's all my fault, I'm sorry.”
“Your... your fault? You loosed this thing upon us?” Des Voeux seems taken slightly aback when Goodsir nods so readily and keeps nodding, but there is a gleefulness dawning in him. That jeering deadpan towards which Des Voeux always swings coming to the fore.
Goodsir knows what is coming, knows that his flesh is now seen as an acceptable target on which to take out the aphrodisiac's evils, but he holds out hope that he is merely projecting his own perverted desires onto others. Des Voeux may very well yet be a far kinder man than Goodsir takes him for.
“So you'd help relieve it, lest my aggravation cause my trigger finger to slip, and an... accident, occur,” Des Voeux says, unsurprisingly, the shotgun muzzle making a little circle in the air where it is still aimed at Lady Silence.
She is clenching her jaw so tight that it appears as though painful, her nostrils flaring. She tries to catch Goodsir's frantic, slippery gaze as he attempts to look everywhere and nowhere all at once. He eludes her.
“I'd help relieve whatever ails you in my capacity as assistant surgeon aboard this ship and as the member of the crew who is responsible for the problem at hand,” he says to Des Voeux, stalwart enough for the moment to say the words with unwavering conviction, just as the devout might recite a holy prayer.
He has recited the Hippocratic Oath in this way.
Des Voeux lets out a derisive snort. “You really are something,” he says.
“Something good, I hope,” Goodsir jests, wanly, exhausted in advance.
“Get the fuck over here,” Des Voeux says. Then, when Goodsir makes to get up: “No.” A smile twitches at the corner of his habitually sullen mouth. “Crawl.”
Lady Silence's lips part. If she says the word crawl to herself, trying to memorize it as she has such a vast amount of other English words to which she's been introduced, Goodsir cannot tell, and he can hear barely anything over his own pounding heartbeat and ragged breath.
Slowly, he crawls on his hands and knees to where Des Voeux is standing. The white apron of his assistant surgeon's station is a dragging hindrance beneath his knees.
Were he a higher caliber of man, a man as dashing and brave as, for instance, Captain Fitzjames, Goodsir would take this opportunity to jump heroically to his feet, and he would snatch away the shotgun, and he would ensure that no one was hurt. He would have kept control of himself. He would have noticed from the very start that he was affected and he'd have kept anything at all from happening in the first place.
Des Voeux props the butt of the shotgun securely against his shoulder and spares a hand to fondle himself. His hand is pale over the darker shade of the trousers through which his manhood bulges. His uniform is as fitted and pressed as Stanley's, the coat long and thick, the blue of it deep. The paired rows of brass buttons marching down his front flash out a glowing gold in the dark. So many sphinx eyes.
“You want this,” he says. “You want my prick up your arse, don't you, you filthy sodomite. I always knew this was all you ever wanted. You're practically begging to be put in your place. All you want's a hard cock, isn't it? A hard cock and a good fucking.”
Goodsir flinches when Des Voeux's foot stomps down right beside his injured hand, just missing it. There is a gummy smudge of Stanley's seed stuck to the boot. Transferred there from Goodsir's back when Des Voeux had been kicking him. Des Voeux's boot-sole squeaks against the battered-shiny deck as he presents his foot square to Goodsir's face with a twist of his ankle.
“Clean it off with your tongue.”
The astringent chemical taste of boot polish blocks out all other flavors of the leather and the seed, and it cloys more bitterly even than blood at the back of Goodsir's palate. There is not a place to walk here where one's boots would be overmuch dirtied, nowhere to accidentally step in mud or dung; there is only the pack's ice and snow outside, and the Newfie is on Terror. The boot is likely as clean as it will ever be. Goodsir counts himself thankful for this as he clinically and only a tad clumsily begins to lave his tongue across the toe, controlling his breath through his nose so as to do it in as much silence as possible. The bootblack spreads dry numbness into his mouth and his mouth spreads saliva across the smooth, sturdy leather.
“Make 'em shine.”
Goodsir is spreading cleanliness. That is all this is. He is setting matters aright and he is cleaning up the mess he himself has caused. This is all that he is good for, and this is what Stanley had alluded to when he'd said as much. Goodsir closes his eyes and sinks gratefully into his allotted task.
“Enough,” Des Voeux snarls, instantly, inexplicably angry again. He grabs Goodsir by the hair and drags him into an upright kneel. Goodsir's hands flail and then curl in against his sternum. It is all he can do not to wring his hands together, but his right hand still hurts, the base of the middle and index fingers jarred and swollen at the joints, and beyond that his right elbow is radiating its own additional complaint. He strives to make his posture as pathetic and agreeable as he feels himself to be so that perhaps Des Voeux will not hurt him too much more.
“I'm sorry,” Goodsir says, blubbering within the space of the very same moment. “I want to do well. I swear to you, please, I'm trying, I'm trying, I want to do well for—”
Des Voeux cuts him off by shaking him by the hair. Pain rips across Goodsir's strained scalp as his head is jerked up and down and and to and fro, a puppet cruelly overmastered, and then Des Voeux smashes Goodsir's penitent face full to his groin.
Chapter 3: marionette
Goodsir groans as the earthy, vulgar scent of mesmerizing yet repellent masculine musk floods his nose and Des Voeux's stiff, fat parts are stiflingly rolled and bumped against his face. Des Voeux's hand tightens itself in Goodsir's hair at the back of his skull— to act as an anchor, Goodsir thinks, muzzily— as a counterpoint— and Des Voeux shifts once, searchingly positioning his member pointing upwards between Goodsir's cheek and nose, the tender spot of Goodsir's eyeball barely protected within the shadow of his cheekbone and the high, long ridge of his rather prominent brow.
And then Des Voeux sets about, callously, blatantly, humping Goodsir's head.
It feels as though it goes on for near a minute. More.
Goodsir is abraded to scarlet and struggling within seconds. Yet he is forced to stay there; forced to take this base, mortifying humiliation without escape; forced to allow Des Voeux to hike his leg around Goodsir's shoulder to pull and squeeze him ever closer with the urging judder and tap of Des Voeux's airborne boot-heel into Goodsir's sore ribs; forced to accept as Des Voeux practically mounts Goodsir's head as an inexperienced stud dog might fumble and mount its bitch backwards— that is, Goodsir is mounted as that which is both wholly dominated, and in want of such domination, is mounted: like a bitch.
“Take it,” Des Voeux says, curling his upper body further over Goodsir's, his crotch grinding large and hot and weighty against Goodsir's thoroughly turned-around and well-baked head. Goodsir's ear feels as batted and boxed to puffed-out proportions as are those of a cauliflower. The rasp of Goodsir's own hair rolling over his scalp, every hair rolling roughly against every other hair and against the cloth as well, is a rushing symphony of cricket-ghosts' violin-screams locked away in a dark, unopened cellar.
Harry thinks he might be losing it.
When Des Voeux releases him Goodsir rears away with his lungs gasping for air like a pair of bellows. His first exhalation is so gusty that he lifts the curls from his brow, and he slumps forwards, his chest heaving, strings cut. With his uninjured left hand and an absent desperation he tears his neckerchief from his collar, popping his shirt and waistcoat's topmost buttons and discarding the kerchief to the side to give his inflated throat more room.
As Goodsir is doing this, Des Voeux is also divesting himself of his coat and parting his clothes. He's drawing his engorged member and his saggy, hairy scrotum from his trousers.
The upright cock springs within Des Voeux's hand like a ruddy trout, or like some blind river eel nosing about for the entrance of some safe, deep hole in which to hide. The musky smell is far stronger for the reveal, the foreskin pulled back from the significant spongy mushroom cap of the crown. Des Voeux grips himself near the end of his length and strokes his thumb tightly back and forth across the tip, voluptuously smearing some of the pre-seed from the copiously oozing slit and slicking it in circles around the faintly wrinkled edge of his further retracting foreskin. His testicles practically churn with eagerness, drawing up in their pendulous sac.
Goodsir recalls spider's egg sacs, and the inflatable vocal sacs which male frogs use to sing, and how different those balls of silk and amphibious membranes are from the mammalian sac of a man such as that which is before him.
“Try anything, and I blow your little Esquimeaux to kingdom come,” Des Voeux swears.
“Don't hurt her,” says Goodsir, high and imploring, and he leans forwards and tentatively opens his mouth around the head of Des Voeux's cock.
Des Voeux moves his hand to the back of Goodsir's head to permit him begin.
The flavor, Goodsir decides, is not especially pleasant, rather rancidly reminiscent of off shrimp, but the mere fact of there being another man's excited reproductive organs in his mouth is enough to trick Goodsir into finding it, not only passing pleasant, but fascinatingly so. He pushes his mouth over Des Voeux's prick as far down as he can, too far, colliding the spongy dome of the penile crown against the deep, satin-tissue-cushioned arch of Goodsir's high soft palate, and Goodsir gags right away, jerking back so that he can shut his jaw enough to swallow down his gorge before trying again.
Before Goodsir can collect himself Des Voeux punches the back of Goodsir's head in towards his groin. He impales Goodsir's wet, unwilling mouth deep over the belled tip and down the shaft of his prick. His hand opens and his fingernails scratch hard across the back of Goodsir's scalp as he seizes upon a fistful of Goodsir's thoroughly disarrayed mop of curls. His nails leave hotly stinging streaks of pain and the cooler seepage of beading blood droplets in their wake.
Goodsir's eyes and nose flood before his digestive system does, the both of the aforementioned streaming down his face with only twinges of warning. Thank God he had put nothing in his belly yet today for him to now risk purging, for Goodsir can scarcely ever muster an appetite for breakfast of a morn.
“Look at you. You love being put on your knees, put in your place with a man's rod in your mouth. You love this. Love it so that you're weeping for it, you. Slutty. Little. Harlot,” Des Voeux waxes maliciously, punctuating his sentiments with commanding thrusts. His cockhead punches against the roof of Goodsir's mouth, triggering Goodsir's gag reflex over and again to no avail.
When Des Voeux's shaft skids against Goodsir's rabbity front teeth he grips the nape of Goodsir's neck and hooks his hand around Goodsir's ear, bringing his thumb to bear high on the hinge of Goodsir's jaw, just in above where the large chewing muscles attach to the bone, and he presses in there, presses until Goodsir's jaw creaks open almost to the breaking and his molars have shredded the thick, downy-soft inside of his cheek to bloody ribbons. Goodsir pushes into Des Voeux's grip, leaning into the punishment, so as to keep his head as obligingly stationary as he can.
“You want this. You reek with it. Whore.”
Goodsir makes a terrible strangled sound and closes his eyes.
Des Voeux thrusts for a time, content to batter Goodsir's soft palate until even Goodsir's brains might as well be pulped. And then, with neither notice nor hesitation, Des Voeux plunges his cock all the way deep into Goodsir's throat on the very next downstroke, the head popping through the constricted, embattled ring of Goodsir's pharynx so that the sensitive base of the cap, at the topmost part of the prick's thick stem, is caught and milked by the slick, revolted clench of untrained muscle, so that parts of Goodsir which have probably never even seen broad daylight are conscripted into wringing pleasure from his rapist's penis.
“A born cocksucker, all right,” says Des Voeux, spitting praise which Goodsir barely hears. “Drink it down. Drink down my juicy fucking prick and choke on it.”
Des Voeux's testicles are grinding to either side of the point of Goodsir's chin, and the tusked lowermost portions of Goodsir's muttonchops are scratching and melding into Des Voeux's wire-coarse thatch of pubic hair. With his nose folded painfully to the side against the loosened roll of Des Voeux's straggling shirttail, Goodsir is receiving no air. His eyes snap open and his otherwise motionless chest spasms, his lungs starving, his consciousness fading.
Goodsir's respiratory system is the specimen bottle, now, and Des Voeux's luscious cock is the snugly embedded cork, and whatever manner of soul which may be within Goodsir is either rotting or it has been corrupted since its conception, for he is a cocksucker, and he does love it.
This, Goodsir thinks, must be what the church means when it speaks of original sin. Somehow, out of all those major seven, Harry Goodsir would not have diagnosed himself as a thrall to Lust; he wonders how he could have been so ignorant as to his own quintessential flaws prior to being so harshly confronted by them.
He can feel the veins in his temples, at his jaw, the blood in his own sordid cock— he can feel everywhere where the blood runs thinnest to the surface of the human skin— bulging, and pulsing. Squirming. The pounding of of his heart is rattling his inner ears so that their miniscule drum sensors and the littlest of bone hammers which strike free as they will upon them are worked into a frenzied, never-ending cymbal-ine crash and pop of cacophonous thunder. He feels as though even his eyeballs are attempting to explode outwards from their sockets.
He can smell nothing other than the overpowering musk of male arousal from Des Voeux's rough-furred groin, trapped dry in some unquenchable desert in his lungs, held deep inside him. He is retching, constantly, futilely. His diaphragm is twitching uncontrollably, knotted and tugging at the inner side of his sternum: the fighting butterfly thorax encased between ∞ wings constructed of rib and connective tissue.
He can feel himself coming loose.
And then, flopping and helpless and heaving wet as a squalling newborn, he can breathe. Des Voeux has pulled him up to let him breathe and Goodsir's consciousness is revived as effortlessly as how God might have plucked the clay from the earth to have formed the archetype of the first-ever living human form.
Goodsir's free will, however and of course, still resides somewhere beyond this mortal coil. He is a soggy husk. A receptacle awaiting its reason for being.
How close had he just been to dying?
“How's that, huh,” Des Voeux says lowly, jiggling Goodsir's limp head by the hand which is again wound tight in his hair. Thick ropes of saliva and mucus which still connect the depths of Goodsir's mouth to the tip of Des Voeux's penis jiggle right along with the movement, sagging and snapping beneath their own jelly-wet weight, the thinner strands blown away like broken strings of spiders' silk in the wind when met by by the gasping force of Goodsir's beached-porpoise panting.
He is coughing in the next moment, reflexively doubling in on himself as his body attempts to expel even the faintest spirit of water from its lungs, and therefore he yanks his own hair when Des Voeux does not release his marionettist's hold despite the sudden drop of Goodsir's head. Goodsir is coughing too hard by then to care about the bed-of-ember pain of his abused scalp; to worry about one lesser pain dancing among all the other greater pains. But Des Voeux must be displeased, for he does not wait for Goodsir to stop coughing before he sticks his prick back into Goodsir's mouth and starts sawing it back and forth.
Goodsir straightens up. He remembers to widen his jaw and curl his lips in over the edges of his teeth. He makes of himself a receptively slack, wet, comfortable hole, whose sole purpose is to act as a warm and welcoming sheath for Des Voeux's cock.
Chapter 4: onion soup
When Des Voeux begins to relax, his stance widening and his hips drifting forwards, when he begins to ruck his shirt up as he thrusts in order to ensure it is out of the way, Goodsir tries to put his hands to Des Voeux's body.
They are drawn as if beyond conscious thought to the cut of Des Voeux's hips where a white swath of skin is now visible— Goodsir would postulate that he wants to do so because he wants to feel the feel of another man against and inside himself; to steady himself— and Des Voeux shoves Goodsir all the way to the root of his prick so that he is choking again. With the butt of his gun turned towards himself and with the muzzle pointed lackadaisically upwards Des Voeux simultaneously knocks Goodsir's hand away from his hipbone, as though it were a creeping insect crawling to where it was not wanted. Goodsir's cry of hurt at the heavy rap of the wooden butt upon his injured knuckles is muffled by the peremptory stretch of Des Voeux's manhood where it is lodged rudely far down within his throat.
“Ah ah,” Des Voeux says suddenly, stopping there, his hand keeping Goodsir himself stopped and immobilized balls-deep. Goodsir's nose is pressed into the crinkle of pubic hair over skin, this time, and not to the shirt's hem. He is therefore able to draw air in through a single one of his distorted nostrils. From the corner of his eye, and as he strains to breathe and to see anything at all beyond the expanse of Des Voeux's body which dominates his frenetically confused vision, he can just espy Lady Silence.
Des Voeux has stopped to once more level his shotgun at her, for she has moved to stand, and her jaw is pugnaciously— mutinously— set. Her rather slim brown hand is gripping the doorway to her nook so hard that her fingernails are pressed out to ovals of bloodless white against the painted wood. Her eyes are reddened and glimmering, and she is crouched over a bit with an arm across her middle, as if mortally wounded in the gut.
Goodsir flushes all over, his blood rushing out from his core in a wave of heat as though it cannot abide being within him for an instant longer without revolt; as if even his blood itself wants to flee this accursed body of foibles made flesh.
He'd forgotten that she was there. She's there, watching.
There is the head of a man's prick lodged in Goodsir's throat, and saliva all down his chin and neck, and he can feel his blush tingling in his ears and cheeks and in the back of his neck and spinning in each of his bereft and empty fingertips like ten tiny dissenting magnetic norths, and Lady Silence is watching him.
His stomach heaves and he retches until Des Voeux lets him up. The moment that he's sure he's not dying, and that he can keep the burn of bile trapped within the pit of his throat, he is furious at himself: his first thought upon seeing the Lady in a posture of pain was not to wonder as to her health, but to wish that she could not see him. He wished that she had no idea of his own depravity. He wished it were possible that she may still respect and like him.
“Is she okay?” he starts to say to Des Voeux, swaying and blinking at all the black spots which are zipping like willow-the-wisps across his vision. All frenzied, dazzling arcs, all in blaring negative color.
Des Voeux, from his vantage point, will be able to better assess the presence of any injuries on the Lady's person. And if Des Voeux has actually shot her in the gut, with Goodsir having somehow failed to notice the discharge of the weapon due to his honey-minded incapacitation (and, more tangibly, due to the hard cock lunging down his throat), then Des Voeux will probably tell him presently. Even if only to be cruel about it.
He does not get a chance to dispatch the query before Des Voeux's great meat-gristle prick promptly stuffs his pliant mouth full again.
“Don't speak,” Des Voeux spits out, through a gritted sneer. “Don't speak unless spoken to. You're kneeling before a superior. Officer.” He's pistoning his hips with martial— or, so to say, with very Naval— quickness. Femur and pelvis worked to creaking the way an old bed-frame beneath a pair of fucking lovers creaks in the damp, the Russian-doll layers of dermis to fat to muscle to tendon to bone which make up all of Des Voeux's body cooling off now that he's bared his belly and his upper buttocks to the air.
Goodsir's perpetually welling eyes can see that there's a line of hair connecting his groin to the island of his navel, much more sparse and pale a brown than Goodsir's own dark and wiry head-to-toe wealth, and during an autopsy Goodsir would follow this line with his scalpel much as a tailor might slice open the seam of a very expensive pelt overcoat. The lavender flesh always cleaves surprisingly easily into soft tracks of red. He can practically feel inside the chilled, squishy purse of the corpse's vivisected abdominal cavity. Congealing blood and slippery organs already rotting into a sloshing stew of deterioration within.
Meat turns ever so quickly, quicker in the heat, and many times every summertime practice specimen of Goodsir's same own species which would find its unfortunate way under his knife was already inextricably adorned with the cloying bouquet of death's morbid perfume.
Oh, the cats and dogs and others smelt also of primroses neither, to be sure. But Goodsir found there to always be something inherently more horrifying about opening up another human person's body than there ever was in dissecting, for instance, a poor brute horse which had collapsed in the traces of malnutrition and exhaustion and had never gotten up again. Not even after its foam-drenched flanks were whipped to brutalized, like... why, like those of that wretched sedition-fomenting woman-napping caulker's mate, Mr. Hickey's.
But this was such an arrogant emotion, this horror. It made a miser of empathy. It supposed that humans had a monopoly upon suffering. That only human suffering had any true, moral significance, and that it therefore was unique in having any innate moral obligation for its own alleviation (and even this comes with so many caveats before the offer of common-sense compassion is ever considered for one's slightly-less-familiar fellow humans).
As if it was ever all right to kick a dog. As if God's love would be in such limited supply that some of his creations would receive more of His love than others. As if the existence of pain in the world was ever, in any way, justified, or indeed permissible in the first place. As if humans of differing shades and proclivities are not human, and so they subsequently may be treated just as one shouldn't ever even treat an animal, and others may also allow these people to be abused because it would be gauche to speak of or to in any way dare draw attention to it.
As if, whispers a side of him, the side which would far rather ruminate on philosophical parallels than on his current circumstances: As if it is ever all right to strike a child who is doing their best.
But Harry Goodsir grew up in a rather fair-sized family, with a mother who died while he was still relatively young, and a stern, emotionally distant father who expected each of them to be successful, and with gritty sand between his toes because he'd been wading through the tide pools in bare feet and running around wild through the Scottish countryside with his brothers and sister, and if he was ever caned across the bum once or twice who was to say that the circumstances did not warrant it?
One might need an excuse like that— an excuse of that logic— so as to find it in one's laughably tender heart to keep loving someone, despite still holding pain which was inflicted by that loved one right alongside the gifting of their love. Despite holding the aching sound of the long-ago hurt within oneself like a perfectly preserved voice poured into a jar; like an echo which will never wholly fade and which even now shivers in the hollow recesses of the self, for sometimes love is the only thing one has left of oneself with which to face the world. With which to shield oneself... shield oneself from the worst of the personal impact of the world's atrocities upon the self.
There are a thousand of these echoes within Goodsir. Hundreds of thousands. Thousands upon, even. He gains an echo of hurt from something so little as smiling and nodding in greeting at Stanley every morning only for Stanley's eyes to slip past Goodsir's smile as if unable to so much as see him. Sometimes the echoes of Goodsir's regrets, and, further, the selfishness of his own past motivations, rise up into a cacophonous chorus of sour notes, all ringing in his ears loud as church bells as he is trying to sleep.
He's wept himself unconscious over how evil he was as a child, because as a child he was not good for goodness' sake, but he only acted good, because he wanted to manipulate people into liking him more. And of course it goes without saying that acting good for bad reasons is basically bad, for selfishness is bad. Selfishness is the passive form of inflicting harm for it too often allows harm to happen. It prioritizes one over the many, most often to the many's detriment. It is what does not love one's neighbor. It is what insists that one alone is special beneath God's omniscient regard; one and one alone special out of all His countless earthly offspring.
Even now, surely, to some extent, Goodsir is selfish; he only ever acts kind. He is only ever acting out kindness. And so very often he fails at even this flimsy self-serving pretense.
He was fascinated by death as a child. He'd found a days-old dead bird once, an eyeless magpie with broken feathers, half-hidden in long grass, and Harry had scared Robert when, with a stick and in all scientific innocence, Harry had tried to show him the maggoty entrails without due warning. In his enthusiasm he'd near about flung the mess in Robert's face, really.
Robert would later joke that it was a formative moment of trauma in both their lives. “It made us the men we are today,” he'd say, chortling it.
That evening Harry had been made to wash his hands until they were scoured pink before he was granted permission to sit down to sup with the rest of the family. He'd scrub and scrub and then arrive to hold out his raw, dripping-wet hands for his father's inspection, and then at the grave nod of disapproval he would leave the dining room to scrub his hands some more, the clink of his family's spoons against their decent cream-and-blue ceramic bowls chasing him out the door.
It had been onion soup that night.
Goodsir becomes what he needs to be in order to live with himself around others. In order for him to love others, so that he may then continue to live with himself. He must strive, not only to do good, but to be good, for if not. Well. If he is not wholly good, then he is some fraction of bad, of evil, and he therefore cannot validate his own existence to himself, for by being in the world he would have brought and sustained evil unto it.
He cannot abide the hubris of evil: how proud one must be, how righteous, how vile, to commit an act of selfishness at the expense of others.
And yet he is too proud to trust others to saw open a human body with as much awe and regret as that which Goodsir himself can muster, and so, God help him, he is proud of his profession and takes pride in his grisly work. He is so self-involved that he is more unsettled by dead humans than he is by dead members of any other animal species, and yet humans with their human deaths are those which he seeks out. He is so morbid a man that he finds the process and particulars of death itself fascinating, and he is so broken, so twisted, that he is enjoying the way in which Des Voeux is fornicating with the entrance to Goodsir's own digestive system as Goodsir kneels on the deck, the boards of which are in need of holystoning.
At least he is not totally at fault, for he has next to no agency here and now, in this. His existence is being leveraged for the pleasure of another, and that is all that Goodsir has ever striven for, in the end.
He wants to help.
Chapter 5: kappiasuktuŋa
He gradually begins to bob his head as Des Voeux tires, making up for Des Voeux's slowing thrusts. The skin of Des Voeux's prick is smooth as satin and glides back and forth along with the suction of Goodsir's scrupulously sealed lips. When Des Voeux retreats so that the tip is in Goodsir's mouth, Goodsir curls his tongue around it, pressing the broadened edge of his tongue into the sensitive spot below the bulbous cockhead.
If there is evil in this entire sorry spectacle, surely Goodsir's conscious participation in his own debasement is not it, for whom would his active participation harm?
And whyever would that matter, if he is already so low as to unavoidably enjoy himself in the first place?
“Stop helping, you depraved mary-anne,” Des Voeux says, as though privy to Goodsir's innermost thoughts, and this time when he attempts to knock Goodsir's tentative, worshipful touch from his hips he partially misses and clocks himself on the iliac crest, leaving what will no doubt be a good deep bruise.
Goodsir's own bruises from Stanley having forced his hips against the sick bay's sturdy butcher's block of a table pulse in siren's sympathy; Goodsir longs to know what color they are. They may even go down to the bone. Indelible as spilled ink in one of his journals.
He imagines the shapes: sea sponges, conch shells. Starfish handprints. The blue enormity of the ocean is in his head. Should he be tipped overboard he'll be eaten by every shark and fish and crab before too long, devoured, scoured by the sand and absorbed into nature until there is absolutely nothing left. He wants there to be nothing left.
Des Voeux mashes Goodsir's face against his groin, shoving his jumping prick as deep as possible into Goodsir's throat, and he grinds his orgasm out into the soft tissues of Goodsir's body as one might stub out a cigarillo against the sole of one's boot. It seems to last a very long while.
“Fucking take it,” Des Voeux groans at the peak, far from either poetry or originality and seemingly dazed by the magnitude of his own pleasure. He barely acts cognizant of the fact that Goodsir's body is anything other than an inanimate object as he intermittently bucks his hips. As if Goodsir is merely a toy specifically manufactured for the taking. “Take. It. All, you whore.”
The viscous trickle of Des Voeux's seed tickles the inside of Goodsir's throat. It is hot and revolting, and it feels as though it goes practically straight into his stomach.
The ocean arises in Goodsir's head again while he accepts what is being done to him without struggle. He drifts in the deep, dark peace of it.
As soon as Des Voeux is done he uses his hold on Goodsir's hair to tear Goodsir off his prick again, and he hurls Goodsir down as if too disgusted to maintain direct contact with him for one single second longer.
Goodsir falls backwards without resistance, sprawling out limp and flat as a used rag, and he pants and coughs without moving to cover his mouth. He would have stayed there, staring at the deck which serves as a low ceiling above, if not for the sudden, deafening crack of a gunshot in close quarters.
He scrambles upright in terror to find that Des Voeux has discharged his firearm. For a moment he sees blood, but it is only his unreliable mind, only his morbidity outstripping his sight to stain it prematurely and falsely scarlet, for Lady Silence is standing unharmed but frozen in place, her eyes wide, her feet in their soft-soled boots toeing the block of brighter light which begins a stride's length outside of her nook. Her throat is flashing with the speed of her pulse and her nostrils are flaring with the effort of regulating her breath. Her hands are in fists.
The cartridge of shotgun pellets has exploded against the bulkhead a little to the side and just behind her, and the shot has all lodged there in a circle, embedded shallowly into the wall in a burst of chips and splinters.
A warning shot, but it will have been similar enough to the sound of the musket and ball which heralded her poor father's doom.
There is the distant hubbub of an alarm being raised. The pounding of fast-approaching footsteps. Goodsir wonders if everyone on the ship has heard the gun's firing.
“Stay the fuck over there,” says Des Voeux, backing away until his back hits the wall opposite the Lady, and then he slides down to sit, bending steeply over his own lap to hide his expression, drawing up his knees so as to have something to shelter behind and to obscure the fact that he has not yet fastened his trousers. His shoulders shake. He holds the shotgun close across his chest and cradles it there as if it is a child. As if his weapon is afraid, also, and he is reassuring it.
He is as much a victim of the events kicked off by Goodsir's negligence as Goodsir might selfishly fancy himself to be. Goodsir sees that, now that he is given a moment in which to forget his own lust. He has to remember. He must remember.
His brain in its case and skull feels like a spoiled egg left to spoil further in the brood hen's nest. Overheated, putrid, and possibly as explosive as the shotgun's cartridge of shot. Not a drop left of all the cool clean ocean in Goodsir's head.
“Sir,” Goodsir says, but his voice is a cracked, choked, warbling whisper. He coughs and clears his aching throat. Too loudly. Uncouthly. His chin is still wet so he halfheartedly tries to scrub it dry with his sleeve, his stubble and whiskers scraping against the cloth. His lips are unnaturally tender and irritated and he wipes at his mouth all the harder for it before he forces himself to stop by setting down his arm and then laboriously climbing the rest of the way to his feet; childish shame at having used one's sleeve as a napkin despite past lectures to rheumatic old man all in one excruciating step. “Sir. Are you all right?”
Des Voeux does not answer except to tighten his grip upon his in warning. Goodsir decides to let him be for the moment, but keeps himself in between Des Voeux and Lady Silence nonetheless. He will not risk a second shot finding its mark in her. He won't risk her at all, in fact.
The footsteps are stampeding towards the ladder. The sound of them overhead has the prey animal which lurks in the most primitive and most powerful parts of Goodsir's brain cringing, and, thereby, he cringes too.
“Hide,” Goodsir says to her, in English, but he repeats himself when he recalls what he thinks is the correct Inuktitut word, and gestures quickly out from his chest while looking from the ladder, then to her, and then to the relative safety of the cubbyhole behind her.
She shakes her head in the negative, her chin setting into a stubborn angle, the muscles of her gritted jaw working beneath her cheeks. A fresh tear slips down alongside her nose and she does not acknowledge it. It falls from her face to her caribou-hide blouse where for an instant it shines like a glass bead ornament, tenuously sewn there in place of a brooch and, in Goodsir's estimation, far costlier than any gem.
“Please,” he begs her. He almost takes a step towards her but checks himself and merely sways in place. “Please, please hide, the men are almost here.”
Her mouth works empty of words for a bit before she can find anything to say. He has found, in conversing with her, that she tends to choose what she says with the tenderest of care. As if it always pains her, just slightly, to speak aloud; to break the comfortable blankness of silence. “Kappiasuktuŋa,” is what she says, with her brow furrowed in agony and a glint of her teeth showing: I am afraid.
He'd learned that word along with quviasuktuŋa, the word for I am happy, after they had wandered from words for going to and fro and past a word for having cut oneself. Goodsir still doesn't recall all of the affixes and their rules but he remembers the face she'd made when she was merely playacting the emotion. It had been nothing like the ghastly face which she is making now, just as the written word “FEAR” is unlike the physiological sensation of fear, in that it is merely the idea of fear, only the concept of fear, neatly and crisply denoted by so many strung-together letters recorded on a page.
One can always shut the pages of a book and thereby escape instantly if the words therein are upsetting. But there is nowhere for one to escape from reality. No easy, permanent exit, anyways, besides that of death, which would not help her or anyone else at all, for this entire beastly situation is solely Goodsir's responsibility, and he will not have it harm her.
Goodsir had very much enjoyed all the time they'd spent learning beginner fragments of each others' languages. He'd been so proud when he'd been able to make her feel safe enough to laugh, even if she was still confined to this alien ship full of foreigners whose actions she had no way of predicting. Yet when she had mimed out quviasuktuŋa for him, her smile had seemed, if only for a moment, to be genuine, as her mockery of fear had not been. He'd been entranced. Entranced, and... enchanted.
And now looking at her face hurts, as if her expressions alone are powerful enough to put wounds inside of him. He looks at her fear and he knows she sees the same in him, and he regrets that terribly. He so wishes that he could be brave for her. That he could put on a brave face. That he could be as good and strong a man as was needed; as good and strong a man as he is not.
But, at the very least, he will be her shield. He can do this one thing for her. He can save her from this. This, now, even if nothing else.
“Uvangalu,” says Goodsir, which may or may not be in the right verb tense or even understandable, and he accidentally pronounces it with his own usually well-disguised native brogue and a horrifically convulsive little smile, as if obviously faking something positive will take away the pathetic terror of his own admission: that he's scared, too.
“Now go, hide, please,” he says, speaking fast and hushed and making ushering motions with his hands. He forgets himself, then, and takes a half-step towards her, so desperate is he for her to trust him. “Hide, please, please hide now.”
She does. Goodsir thanks his God, for she does. She visibly swallows down a sob and stumbles back into her makeshift quarters, covering her mouth with one hand to keep herself quiet of all the things she now wants to scream and slamming the sliding partition shut with the other just as the first man is rushing down the ladder, the rungs creaking beneath the weight of heavy English winter boots.
She meets his eyes just before the partition fully closes, furious and compassionate and miserable.
With a pang of bitterest regret, he realizes that he's once again foisted upon her a cause to cry.
Chapter 6: liar's oath
It's too late for Goodsir to tell her he's sorry for by then the men have dismounted the ladder and are spilling into the space around him. It's Lieutenant Le Vesconte, with his fine and gold-limned tailcoats flapping, leading a charge of two red-coated marines. All of them armed.
Goodsir cannot recognize the difference between muskets, shotguns, and rifles at a glance. Not as he can so swiftly discern between avian species while bird-watching. Even his gaze shrinks away from the firearms' very attendance.
Le Vesconte spins on his heel as he surveys the scene, and his posture snaps into one of high alert when he catches sight of Des Voeux curled almost into an upright fetal position against the wall, half-hidden from the ladder by the odd, cramped angles of the ship's-innards' architecture and by the many assorted storage containers which have been packed and lashed so snugly into place therein.
Le Vesconte's eyes go from Des Voeux back to Goodsir, and Goodsir can pinpoint the instant in which he comprehends Goodsir's... state. Goodsir's sweaty red-cheeked dishevelment. His wrecked hair and his glazed eyes and his guilty scarlet mouth.
Le Vesconte's shocked eyes rake across Goodsir from head to toe in increasing revulsion; his upper lip lifts from his teeth. He does not even try to hide how little he thinks of the squalid thing before him.
“Sir,” Goodsir entreats. His eyes and his throat burn with shame. His lips remain hot and swollen and tingling, and he cannot stop from licking them. “Sir, please. We must prevent this from spreading. We must— this mustn't... this is a curse, sir, a fever, a disease, this is happening to us and neither you nor I can stop it.”
“Charles,” Le Vesconte barks after a moment of skepticism, apparently deciding to dismiss Goodsir as unreliable. “Explain this. What's he raving about? What precisely is it that's going on here?”
Des Voeux shakes his head and does not look up.
“It's not his fault,” says Goodsir. “It's not at all his fault. It's not anyone's fault but mine, sir.”
“Sir. The Articles, sir,” one of the marines pipes up. It's Private Pilkington. Goodsir regrets that he can't remember the other marine's name. “Shouldn't we be arresting them?”
“For their unnatural act of perversion, yes,” Le Vesconte says, and it would have been as if he were musing to himself were he not pitching his words at Goodsir and Des Voeux as one might pelt another with stones.
Le Vesconte cuts a stern figure when he wants to, his lean athletic frame drawn tall, his gray hair gleaming as silver as the embroidery on his coat is gold. He has the bearing of a quietly ambitious and eminently civilized man, a man who has modeled himself after all of the correct English heroes more or less to success, and who is comfortable in the private certainty that he is better than most others. Usually he is discreet in his confidence but now he is displaying the full measure of the righteousness and the wrath which is granted to him by his station. His blood is up, his gauntly handsome visage flushing with it.
He's flushing with the beginning symptoms of the affliction.
“Please, sir, there's no time,” says Goodsir.
They are all startled into jumping when Des Voeux abruptly throws his shotgun away from himself so that it very sharply clatters and skids across the floor and knocks the previously dropped book against the wall; it is the crack of wood on wood, and metal on wood, and the fluttering of paper pages.
Des Voeux's face is lifted, now, and it is tear-streaked and twisted. He looks as if he will say something, and then he clenches his jaw, drops his head again, and roughly puts himself away then furiously does up his trousers, staying where he is.
The marines lower their guns.
Pilkington is breathing heavily through his nose. His fair youthful face is beginning to shine with perspiration, the moisture sparkling at his hairline and along the rough, wispy sideburns which frame his smooth and likewise reddening cheeks.
There's another set of footsteps still approaching above.
“Sir, please, please order them out before they get here. Don't let them into this,” Goodsir babbles. He has to resist the urge to stand in between Des Voeux and the marines, but he does so easily, for he is overwhelmingly anchored to his post in between all comers and the barely-concealed Lady Silence. Something in him is deathly sure that if he moves to leave her unguarded, she will be accosted in the very same second. His every muscle and tendon is tensed to vibrating with the stress of it.
“Are you trying for a charge of insubordination, as well?” Le Vesconte says.
Another pair of boots has appeared on the ladder, hurrying down at an awkward and underwhelming pace. Someone with a limp.
“You're not listening,” Goodsir says.
Pilkington drops his gun to mop at his brow with the back of his wrist, blinking in disorientation, his gaze turned inwards. The other marine glances at him askance, but he, too, is coloring, his pupils dilating.
“How dare you,” exclaims Le Vesconte, and he grabs Goodsir by the shirtfront. One of Goodsir's buttons breaks and is lost to the shadowed incline of the deck as Le Vesconte shakes him, yanking him in closer. Several more of Goodsir's buttons pop open until his shirt is gaping past his wool-fuzzed chest and to the smattering of likewise coarse black hair scattered across and centralized over his umbilicus.
“Sir!” says Goodsir, half-about ready to pull his shirt closed for his own modesty's sake, but then someone is grabbing his arm as well, as if the newcomer is about to start a game of tug-o'-war with Le Vesconte, with Goodsir as the knotted rope.
The someone is Morfin. He's just careened off the last rung of the ladder and straight over to Goodsir as if attracted by some inescapable magnetic force. His expression is one of concern and confusion. His mouth, as it not infrequently does, hangs open slack and scared, the palpable pain of a chronic migraine carved deeply between his eyebrows. “Sir, what's happening here, sirs?” he asks, looking ultimately to Le Vesconte, without letting go of Goodsir.
Goodsir leans into Morfin's grip. It is not as strong as Le Vesconte's, what with Morfin's aging joints, his stiff knuckles. But it is around his arm, whereas Le Vesconte holds only Goodsir's clothing. He can feel Morfin's fingers squeezing his bicep. Through the meat of the muscle and to the humerus below.
The touch is grounding. It makes Goodsir feel as though he is a corporeal thing, still. A soul which is attached to this flesh-and-blood plane. Alive. He is alive right now; alive to his very marrow.
It is a shock to realize this. Were it not for Morfin helping to prop him up he'd wish that he hadn't.
“You—” Le Vesconte says. He cuts himself off to gulp audibly, and then to cough.
Pilkington's fingertips ticklishly graze Goodsir's back. He makes a shushing sound when Goodsir flinches. Clucks his tongue as he traces Goodsir's spine, and then the edge of Goodsir's scapula.
He has gotten around Goodsir's side, almost around him and to Lady Silence, but Pilkington is firmly within Goodsir's orbit and is making no move at all towards where the Lady is.
This is good, as Goodsir is altogether averse to being further beaten with the butt of a firearm. Being touched like this is not so bad. Not nearly so bad as attempting to fight, and so long as it keeps them all away from her, it does not matter what is done to him.
“Dr. Goodsir,” says Morfin pleadingly. His mustache straggles like a sandy curtain over his sad mouth and his thin beard blurs his humble chin. The inside of his mouth is very dark; yellow teeth browning at the cores and the shy contortions of a shining tongue lurk within the dark wet pocket as a hurt and hungry animal might hide in a cave.
“I'm not,” Goodsir apologizes. “I'm not a doctor.”
“I don't— I don't understand,” Le Vesconte says, not to Goodsir but to no one.
The other redcoat drifts to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Pilkington, who is himself swaying closer to Goodsir's back.
A terrible fear strikes Goodsir: they may see whatever remains of the crackling stain of semen on Goodsir's waistcoat. Goodsir must smell of it. Reek with it, as Des Voeux said.
He flinches again when the point of Pilkington's nose presses into the nape of his neck, burying itself inside his collar and burrowing into Goodsir's damp hair. Pilkington's warm, soft lips press dryly against Goodsir's skin.
One of the men's firearms bumps Goodsir's shin as he shifts and shivers in unease. Another one's stock is at the outside of his thigh. Morfin and Le Vesconte both tighten their respective hands a little more, first Morfin purposely and then Le Vesconte in response, and Goodsir's jarred elbow flares in agony. He makes an inadvertent whimper of pain and Morfin's grip instantly lightens.
“Doc— Mr. Goodsir,” Morfin says. The breathless urgency has infected him. And he says it loudly, as well, and louder yet for he is also leaning practically right up into Goodsir's ear, leaning into Goodsir as Goodsir is leaning into him. “I don't want to hurt you, sir. Please don't let me hurt you.”
“Call me Harry?” says Goodsir.
“Harry,” says Morfin. The name is issued as a dolorous lover's lament from his mouth. “Harry, Harry, please don't let me hurt you.”
“I swear that you won't,” Goodsir lies.
Chapter 7: the foremost hierarchy
“Would you—” begins Le Vesconte, and he stops for a moment as if gathering his courage, horrified attraction dawning as hot as the sun in him. “What wouldn't you let us do to you?”
Goodsir nudges against the solidity of Le Vesconte's fist where it is clenched before Goodsir's chest, thankful that it keeps him at enough of a distance that he cannot give in to the compass-needle tug of his prick where it stands outward and almost apart from himself, reaching for the heat of another.
It does not occur to Goodsir to use his arms, or even to raise them from his sides. He's dumb with some deep-rooted submissive tendency which has bloomed into a vast quietude behind his sternum. Docile as a lamb jostled by a pack of wolves, baring his throat for the slaughter.
He's never seen a wolf in person. Outside of academic illustrations he only knows them as the Royal Navy-issued wolfskin blankets which kept his sleeping bag off the ice and as vilified caricatures from artist's renditions and bedtime stories. He was hoping to see an actual wolf here in the Arctic. One of those pure white animals which roam across the tundra, as all animals across the tundra must by necessity roam; the wolves and the caribou and the bears and the owls and the indomitable people whose home this is.
There is so much distance here. There is so much here, an endlessness of land and sky and ice, but it is all so very spread out. So far away. And right now it is all so very dark.
There had been no wolves to be spotted through a spyglass at Beechey. No matter how often he'd checked, or how much he'd hoped. It usually doesn't matter what one hopes when it comes to what comes to pass.
“Wouldn't you?” Le Vesconte shouts into Goodsir's face. His commanding baritone cracks upon the query as a wave crashes into foam against a promontory of rock.
When Goodsir turns his head to his right, shrinking away from Le Vesconte's entirely out-of-character anger, Morfin puts his mouth over Goodsir's. He captures the sob which Goodsir makes with a fumbling kiss.
It's at first a glancing swipe of a thing, and then a surer one, a wet, intimate connection of lips and tongue. Morfin's blunt-edged teeth click against Goodsir's and then close around Goodsir's lower lip, sucking and gently gnawing, before they both slip apart for breath. When Goodsir opens his eyes he sees that Morfin is gazing at him in avaricious wonder.
“No, wait,” says Le Vesconte, his fury again outstripped by his revulsion. “No, this isn't right. This...”
“Sir,” says Pilkington to Le Vesconte, whining as a dog would for table scraps. His breath puffs inside Goodsir's collar. His arms are embracing Goodsir from behind, his hands working blindly to undo Goodsir's waistcoat, and when one of his hands touches Le Vesconte's, Le Vesconte lets go of Goodsir's shirt.
Goodsir makes another little sob at the absence, bereft, and Le Vesconte reacts automatically by putting his hand flat to the bared triangle of Goodsir's chest as if unable to physically part from Goodsir after all, his fingertips hooking in the notch between Goodsir's clavicles. Goodsir near hiccups at the lightly concentrated pressure, and at the searing revelation which is another person's skin lying with no painful harm against his own.
“Mr. Des Voeux, report,” Le Vesconte says. He's also gazing at Goodsir, at Goodsir's mouth, but with something far more like panic. The steely wave of his side-parted hair has drooped over his forehead. With his free hand he is tugging fitfully at his own collar, kerchief, and buttons.
“Lettit happen, sir,” says Des Voeux from his spot over by the wall. He's uncurled himself but is slurring as if half-asleep. “The... the need of it goes away, then. 'M just muzzy now, sir. Just tired.” There is a further, different exhaustion hiding beneath his slurring; a deadness. A similar quietude of defeat.
Goodsir wonders at which point it was that Des Voeux's more distraught initial emotions burnt themselves out. And when it was that he'd raised his head from his knees to instead tilt it back against the wall.
At what point had Des Voeux given up on not watching? At not looking at what was being done to Goodsir? Looking at Goodsir with his eyes like dull sparks sheltered beneath the smug overhangs of his lowered upper lids. His square chin made squarer with the angle, and with the tension in his jaw.
Is he watching because he wants to witness Goodsir receiving his just desserts?
“We won't succumb to barbarism,” says Le Vesconte. Goodsir does not have to ask what he means by that, for Le Vesconte immediately goes on to quash the fantastical yet niggling possibility of them all foregoing the inevitable fuck in favor sitting down for a nice civilized cup of tea. “We're forming a line. Adhere to the hierarchy, men. We're going to... we shall get through this.”
“That ain't... ain't right,” Morfin mumbles, chewing his lip pensively, and continuing to study Goodsir's mouth with rapt grief. “Why him? Why's it him?”
“It's all right, I'm...” Goodsir's words fail him in the middle of his reassurance. He finds himself capable of further crumbling within, and of even further crying, and he finds that his tears are soaking into the plush woolen lapel of Le Vesconte's coat. Le Vesconte pushes Goodsir away from himself, his hand sweating hot as a brand against Goodsir's equally sweaty chest.
Pilkington has undone all of Goodsir's waistcoat buttons along with having unbuttoned the triangle-peaked fold which secured Goodsir's apron around the middle of his waistcoat, and with Le Vesconte having ripped Goodsir's shirt half-open, Pilkington is able to insinuate his hand within Goodsir's clothing. He gropes Goodsir's bosom as though he can knead woman's breasts into existence there, and he tugs the waistcoat off of Goodsir's shoulders and down to Goodsir's elbows, tangling Goodsir's arms a bit behind him, the drapery of Goodsir's waistcoat and apron and his untidily untucked shirt forming a cheap parody of feminine attire.
Le Vesconte's hand again recoils from Pilkington's, moving up to settle around the base of Goodsir's throat. From the fringes of the claustrophobic huddle, the other redcoat reaches in to slip his hand around Goodsir's left wrist, the ring of his fingers and thumb pushing up the cuff of Goodsir's shirt as well as the surgical over-sleeve which protects it and tethering them together. The heat of it sinks into his wrist as easy and wet as drops of perspiration melding with water, and a queer tug of arousal smoothly makes itself known in response.
Le Vesconte seems to blink some sense into himself. “Why is it you,” he doesn't-ask. “It's you... you, specifically.”
It is Goodsir's turn to attempt ignition of logical thought. The world is shimmering with saltwater, the air bending too thin into his lungs, his throat still hurting, too many hands on him. He concentrates, trying to push his mind back into rationality, and it is as Sisyphus straining with his hill and his great round stone.
“I was exposed to it... in its natural habitat, and later... I was around it first, before anyone else, before this.”
“It's took root into you,” says Morfin.
“I'm its... I'm its host,” Goodsir theorizes aloud, and, lacking any other more fitting reaction, he laughs; a light, airy bleat of a laugh, which is to Goodsir's own ears despicable.
If this hypothesis is true, it is such a relief. For this means that the lichen's madness will not then ensnare any innocent person into its center; only Goodsir is the focal point. Only Goodsir is the object to be acted upon.
Des Voeux is all right, now. No one is bothering him, or trying to accost him, and he's vouched that he's more sleepy than anything. Perhaps all the others will be all right, too. Perhaps they are only affected in a certain way, or are only affected so much. Only to a certain degree.
Perhaps once it is over Goodsir will find some rest as well.
“It's all right, then,” says Goodsir. “It's all right. Do whatever you will to me, so long as you all are all right.”
“Mr. Goodsir,” says Le Vesconte, looking down at him, plainly at a loss. Possibly, he felt guilty for earlier saying “form a line” to the others. Or, to rephrase it, Le Vesconte possibly felt guilty for having earlier addressed the men rather than Goodsir, “the men” being a category from which Le Vesconte had instinctively excluded Goodsir; he had been speaking to the Men of Goodsir's body, as if Goodsir were some irresistible supper; as something which was to be portioned out amongst the rest.
Le Vesconte is currently the ranking officer in the room. He is the man holding the knife and the ladle.
“You weren't asking this of me,” says Goodsir. “You aren't. You're just going to do it, Lieutenant, and I'm going to forgive you.”
Le Vesconte shudders and looks aside. He has a handsome profile, strong and aquiline, and since Goodsir is far past all decency he allows himself to openly admire it, just as he can feel Morfin's own rapturous admiration boring into the side of his own face.
“Seaman,” Le Vesconte says to Morfin, his tone hard as iron once more. “Step back. You'll be going last.”
Chapter 8: an orderly line
Moisture springs into Morfin's bleary eyes. He appears ready to argue for a moment before, blinking and self-conscious, he closes his mouth, and, with great reluctance, he lets go of Goodsir's arm. “Aye, sir,” says Morfin hoarsely. Goodsir notes how Morfin visibly swallows down his unease and turns his attention to Le Vesconte for reassurance. “And... and we won't. Won't. Hurt him, will we? Sir?”
“We'll minimize all possible damage,” says Le Vesconte, with an assurance he obviously does not feel. “We're... we're making a line. We'll make an orderly line.”
Morfin nods, also without conviction, and drifts another hesitant step away. Roundabout to where he must predict the soon-to-be line shall end.
“Seaman Morfin, come back here and collect our arms first.”
“Aye sir.” Morfin trips over his own feet as he obeys, accepting the three assorted firearms with haste, and as roughly as though he were collecting three logs of firewood instead. He takes care to not even glance Goodsir's way. He keeps his head ducked, and tries to hide his eyes behind the strands of his long lank hair.
The hot shape of Pilkington's stand pushes up against Goodsir's arse, and Pilkington's fingers are scratching through Goodsir's chest hair and drawing circles around Goodsir's aroused areolae. Pilkington snuffles his face into Goodsir's hair and inhales loudly. Goodsir chokes back a groan when his left nipple is pinched.
“Good,” Le Vesconte says, causing Goodsir to startle into disappointment because he'd thought that Le Vesconte was about to say his name; he pants as Pilkington pinches harder, twisting and crushing the tip of Goodsir's nipple between his fingers until it pulses with a sweet taffy-stretch pain. “I'll... relieve, myself. First. Then Pilkington, then Reed.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” says the other marine: Private Reed.
Goodsir lets his head drop backwards to Pilkington's shoulder, Le Vesconte's hand following and curling higher around the arch of his throat, and he looks into Reed's face for the first time.
Reed looks back impassively, his eyes flicking down to where Pilkington's tormenting hand is moving beneath Goodsir's shirt. Reed's hand squeezes around Goodsir's wrist until there is a grating sensation and then Reed lets him drop. Goodsir's arm falls with comical limpness to his side. The air is very cold against the freshly revealed band of thick perspiration which had built up between them, much as Le Vesconte's hand around his neck is so wet that it's slipping.
Le Vesconte's fingertips and his thumb are digging in over Goodsir's carotid arteries to keep themselves situated, making him lightheaded. His Adam's apple bumps against Le Vesconte's palm as he swallows, and his breath clicks in the backs of his sinuses as his throat is further constricted. He feels in imminent danger of swooning.
Pilkington is pulling Goodsir's breast out by his bruising grip around the areola. The more elastic skin and fat is, thereby, drawn outward from Goodsir's modest pectoral muscle and the heaving frame of his ribs, and drawn incrementally but intolerably tighter whenever his chest shrinks with an exhalation, until his flat masculine breast must have been reshaped into the form of some squat, lopsided cone.
He curves his spine in a bid to keep his chest inflated, and he tries and fails to stay still, his breath and his body quivering.
The pain of the pinch is white-hot around an incongruous center of numbness. It hurts as Goodsir imagines a frostbitten extremity dunked into boiling water might hurt, or at least close to. But the more that Pilkington abuses the tiny unassuming part of Goodsir which is one of his two defunct male mammary glands, then the more Goodsir's prick twitches and leaks; the more that Goodsir cringes away from Pilkington's hand, the more it hurts, and the more Goodsir wants it to hurt.
Pilkington releases Goodsir's areola and Goodsir gasps, for the tingling rush of blood returning to his tissues is almost as painful as when it was crushed out. Pilkington pinches Goodsir's other nipple and he bucks. Pilkington narrowly avoids having the back of Goodsir's head knock his teeth in.
Or would Pilkington's upper jaw act as a particularly curious enameled spade and lay Goodsir's cranium open? Crack apart the eggshell bone and spill his septic gray matter everywhere? His scalp ripped apart. Hair straggling sticky-wet with cherry-bright blood. Wouldn't that be a sight.
“Private Pilkington,” Le Vesconte barks.
“Aye, sir,” says Pilkington, belatedly, and he lets Goodsir's areola slip loose from the farthest point of one final, torturous tug.
Goodsir's flesh practically snaps as it comes free. Goodsir tries to double over, leaning his neck into Le Vesconte's hand, but he is impaired by Le Vesconte using his other hand to catch Goodsir's shoulder and by Pilkington grabbing Goodsir under the armpit with one of his own while yanking at Goodsir's waistcoat to momentarily bind up Goodsir's arms with the other, winding the loose cloth of the waistcoat around Goodsir's lower arms and gripping the resulting bundle together at the small of Goodsir's back. This forces Goodsir's arms into a mildly uncomfortable angle.
He has a vision of himself with his pectorals amputated postmortem, removed not in an autopsy but in butchery, in the manner in which one would prepare choice cuts of meat for the market. He tries to redirect his thoughts but only manages to invite an image of the lactation of pus; Goodsir's unavoidable little flights of fancy have taken quite a turn for the absurd. He tries to return to the former image, and he does so by correcting that one's inaccuracy, for the first place that anyone would cut up a human body so as to eat it would surely be the buttocks and thighs. Perhaps the upper arms. Not the bosom.
“There will be no sodomy,” says Le Vesconte to Pilkington, Reed, and Morfin, intoning it firmly. As an official order, and as a warning.
Des Voeux scoffs. His eyes are closed, but he's still listening enough to know when to interject his scorn at the obscene absurdity of it all.
The lieutenant's expression at Des Voeux's insolence is for an instant one of incandescent fury before he wrestles it back into authoritative composure. “There will be no fighting, and no aspersions cast on anyone's character for what is to be done here. I will explain it all to command myself. I'll ensure that none of you are hanged for this.”
“Thank you, sir,” Morfin says meekly, without lifting his downcast face.
“Look at me when you speak, seaman,” Le Vesconte says.
Pilkington takes Le Vesconte's moment of distraction to push Goodsir's waistcoat from his arms and into a heap on the floor and to grab both of Goodsir's wrists in his hand instead. He has large hands, but so does Goodsir himself, and Pilkington's are not so large that the one fully encircles Goodsir's wrists; with Goodsir as cooperatively malleable as he is they need only wrap halfway around anyways, Pilkington's thumb and forefinger around one wrist and the rest of his fingers cinching into the blue-veined softness inside of the other. Goodsir's wrists are turned outwards, his hands lax. He carries the tension in his shoulders, straining them backwards to push out his chest and to ensure that his arms are secured without struggle or slippage. He wants to make himself convenient.
Morfin raises his face. “Aye, yes sir,” he says, just loudly enough to not be additionally chastised for mumbling. “Thank you, sir.”
Pilkington's other hand disappears from beneath Goodsir's armpit.
“It's my blame you'd then take, sir,” Goodsir croaks to Le Vesconte. Accusing Le Vesconte of taking on responsibility which is not his.
He tilts his head at Goodsir, distaste now flashing across his features. His fingers squeeze around Goodsir's throat and Goodsir's Adam's apple bobs beneath the weight of Le Vesconte's palm, the cartilage borne imposingly tight against his trachea. “No. No, I wouldn't presume to absolve you,” says Le Vesconte. “You'll be answering for your part in this with your own self. Same as me.”
Goodsir cannot actually nod, what with Le Vesconte near strangling him, but Le Vesconte must feel Goodsir's attempt at agreement nonetheless.
Pilkington returns with an unexpected knife; Le Vesconte helps immobilize him when Goodsir shies. The slim blade flashes silver as Pilkington slides it between Goodsir's shirt and Goodsir's suspenders. He severs the suspenders at each of Goodsir's shoulders, snapping the knife's edge upwards, the blade sawing clean through. The suspenders droop and Goodsir's trousers droop right with them. Goodsir gasps as his trousers' waistband and the apron at his hips is dragged down over the horridly sensitive protrusion of his prick.
“This has to be done,” Le Vesconte says, seemingly as an oath of resolution, and apparently primarily to himself.
Pilkington pushes Goodsir's apron and trousers past his hips until they crumple below Goodsir's knees and his long shirttails are left hanging free. The air floods with perversely reinvigorating chilliness against him.
He jumps when Pilkington grabs his arse through his underthings with all the refined manners and forewarning of a starving man grabbing a cream-stuffed pastry, Pilkington's coarse hand cupping and then gathering up the flesh of Goodsir's right buttock and digging in so that the natural deposit of fat bulges unnaturally from between his fingers.
He releases Goodsir when Le Vesconte pushes Goodsir down to indicate that he should kneel. The draft of Pilkington's subsequent departure hits Goodsir through with the awful gravity of a death knell, and when Le Vesconte removes his hand from Goodsir's neck Goodsir falls the rest of the way down, his legs buckling, his knees slamming hard against the deck. His trousers and apron are around the tops of his boots. The rumpled fabric is rucked uncomfortably beneath the perpendicular bars of his shins; he is, for all intents and purposes, hobbled, should he want to try and run.
Goodsir gasps in pain at the jarring of his kneecaps, and then gasps for air when his lungs register that their access to such is now unimpeded. Only his flowing shirttails conceal the large wet patch where the dribbling of his prick has soaked through the front of his drawers.
The most minor of shuffling sounds emanates from Lady Silence's nook at Goodsir's gasp. Goodsir restrains himself from looking in her direction lest he bring attention to and therefore imperil her. It seems not to matter, for Morfin makes his own, louder noises upon the sight of Goodsir. Of Goodsir on his knees for a second man, of Goodsir with his wild hair and his loose shirt billowing out around himself like a swan-white shift.
When his shirt settles to his front, the wetness bleeding through the fabric of his drawers catches and wells out through the shirt's fabric as well, sealing a patch of cloth to the tip of the jutting outline of Goodsir's erect member, and turning that patch of the clean white clothing into the palest diaphanous gray.
It is a remarkably short wait before Le Vesconte's own excited cock is presented before Goodsir's chin. Its appearance nevertheless somehow manages to take Goodsir by surprise.
“If you'd be so kind as to expedite the proceedings, Mr. Goodsir,” says Le Vesconte through gritted teeth.
Goodsir ducks his chin, and, leaning forwards, he opens his mouth for that prick.
“Dear Christ,” Morfin rasps out. It's truly said, Goodsir does believe, as a genuine entreaty to a higher power.
Papists, he thinks, giddily, accept communion while kneeling, and that too is flesh, albeit of the holy. Perhaps there is some trick to transubstantiation. A way to reverse engineer it. Perhaps even this base act of consumption may be transmuted into holiness, somehow, even if only through the scraping together of sexual pleasure.
Of course there is then the unavoidable image conjured: Goodsir, closing his teeth around Le Vesconte's prick. Goodsir biting down until it is bitten off.
He has cut apart a corpse's penis. He has produced his fair share of more-than-passable documentary watercolors and he has an overactive imagination besides. Goodsir knows precisely what it would look like to do this atrocious thing which has occurred to him; his jaw aches and aches for it and the pulp in each of his molars whispers encouragement.
It would not come off easily. Not with only his teeth to work with.
Le Vesconte grunts and grabs Goodsir's damp, tangled hair when the rounded head of his cock meets the pillow of Goodsir's tongue, and Goodsir widens his tired jaw to provide Le Vesconte only with what is soft and wet. He tastes the bitterness seeping from Le Vesconte's urethra; a fountain of musk contaminating the microscopic forest-carpet of his tongue's lingual papillae and running down the groove of the median sulcus.
There are forests on Earth around the edges of the Arctic Circle which are called taiga, where the most towering of evergreens may not be microscopic but only reach to heights of three feet or so. North of that latitude there are no trees. Even farther north, where Her Majesty's Ships are frozen, there are only rocks and ice and what turf can survive the relentless buffeting of the elements. It has been too cold of late to support any great lushness of flora. Unusually cold even for the Arctic. This is true in accounts such as those of McDonald's which have been collected from the Native peoples here, who, with the aid of their oral traditions, remember the fluctuations of the seasons through each subsequent generation, and this truth is also mirrored in the harshness of the winters which have been visited upon England herself. A harshness which has been increasing even prior to the reign of Queen Victoria, God save her.
He remembers the round circle of Beechey as it was visible through the ever-so-faintly grime-tinged roving lens of Fitzjames' borrowed telescope. The sky of magnificent howling white, and the jagged hills of shale, and the monolithic sweep of that enormous cliff. They'd almost been within the cliff's shadow as they'd buried those poor men. Tom Hartnell's brother, John, whose body had been cut open as David Young's had been, and as David Young had initially begged not to be, had been one of the men there and then interred.
Most of Sir John's eulogy to John Hartnell, John Torrington, and William Braine had been drowned by the wind before it ever reached any of his surviving crew's ears.
They'd left the bodies on an island of shale, tucked stiff and snug into blue-felted mahogany coffins, dressed in their finest clothes. Each with a bed of wood shavings to rest on, and with strips of linen tied at intervals around them, to keep their arms at their sides and their knees and ankles in together.
And they had left no note to say where they were going, and now Goodsir's body is here, buried below the iceline off King William Land, on this groaning ship's deck, on its groaning knees, struck dumb even of groans, fighting with all his might against the dual impulses driving him to inflict hurt and towards being hurt, for the second time today. And... with several more times very soon to come.
Chapter 9: gunshot climax
Le Vesconte holds Goodsir's head still with his hands and starts to twitch his hips forwards. His large, blunt cockhead skids across the back of Goodsir's tongue and squishes past the frantically dancing uvula. He works himself down Goodsir's throat more slowly than Des Voeux had done, going forth with more caution, and without the retaliatory violence. But he goes just as deep as Des Voeux. Then deeper, for his member is longer.
With the slowness of Le Vesconte's entry Goodsir drools more. The unyielding cock besieging his gag reflex begins, at its own implacable leisure, to pummel his internal anatomy, forcing room to be made for itself, and waves of spit are summoned from Goodsir's aggravated salivary glands as a result. He can feel the overflow flattening his whiskers and crusting across the rough burr of his stubbled chin. Rivulets of it drip all down his neck.
His next spasmodic swallow catches around Le Vesconte's shaft. Hair tickles the insides of his nostrils as he struggles for every meager sip of breath which he can maneuver past the obstruction.
For just one moment, as Le Vesconte begins to withdraw, Goodsir feels as though his pharynx is being suctioned out with him, plunger-type butter churn-like. But Le Vesconte pops out and Goodsir's throat does not go with, because of course it wouldn't: Goodsir would sustain a puncture wound from this activity.
This may all turn out fine. There will possibly be a perfectly considerate and healthy resolution to cap this all off. Providing that Goodsir lives, he will then ensue to survive.
Though, what with the sensitivity of his own nervous constitution, he'd consider himself guaranteed of sustaining injuries of the psyche. Injuries of the sort whose validity Stanley scoffs over, due to them being literally located within a patient's head; within the brain, within the mind. Within the newly and earth-shatteringly unreliable self.
Perhaps, in some future summer era, they will all create entirely different problems with which to destroy themselves, before the winters will ever have the chance to do so. That is, when they of the modern Empire have grown tired of destroying others, they'll move to destroy their own children's futures as well. Collapse inevitably follows expansion.
Around the corner, the stove is bubbling merrily away, keeping everything hellishly cozy. Goodsir thinks of all the great scientific and technological innovations like that blazing stove which he is so lucky to have seen developed and implemented during his lifetime. Innovations which permit humankind to dramatically alter how they interact with and travel through the natural world. This ship, with its central water heating system, and its coal-powered engine, and its thrice-reinforced steel-plated hull and the Preston Patent Illuminators which were installed to introduce nonexistent sunlight below the currently tarpaulin-protected decks, is itself a triumph of modern English engineering. Refitted bomb vessel that it is.
What other thing besides a tall ship is capable of carrying so very many souls all to their doom all at once? All together? All of them and the rats besides confined within the cramped limits of this floating marvel of architecture which is also unique among buildings; Buckingham Palace, or any other building, i.e. any structure meant to house a group of people, is not caught isolated and adrift in an ice pack beyond the edges of the map. Goodsir's childhood home is likewise still dry and safe on its foundations. One day Goodsir's home will fall to shambles, unimportant and forgotten, and Buckingham will stand for some significant time longer, her pillars repaired, her roof set with new shingles, the latest of technology installed into her maturing skeleton every now and again.
HMS Erebus may be crushed by the ice tomorrow, for all Goodsir knows.
Perhaps the whole world is no more than a proverbial ship upon which they are all trapped. A great ark, and humanity with all its fast-evolving great modern innovations are the coal-flames in the wooden cockles of its heart. Perhaps they will bake the world right out of this terrible cold someday, with all their greed and aspirations, and with an increasingly prodigious quantity of that wonderful coal of theirs putting soot into lungs, and with pandemics running rampant through the neglected populations of the poor. With American whaling companies once more ascendant and scores more horses worked to death in the streets.
Goodsir hasn't asked Lady Silence about whales yet. Nor tried to describe a horse to her. He'd been so very looking forward to it.
Le Vesconte's gentleness dissipates as his hips pick up speed. As if the affliction's singular, overpowering present compulsion, upon him, is that of burying himself as deeply as he is able. The common penetrative libido decreeing that the semen be planted as far as is possible into the warm body before it. Attraction does not discriminate between what is fertile and infertile; all bodies are of meat alike.
Goodsir gives up on blinking his stinging eyes and screws them shut against the trickling liquid barrage of salt. He can't tell what is pooling in the hollow of his throat. His skin can't discern between what is sweat and what is spit and what is seminal fluid anymore. He's gone runny as melted candle wax. Furthermore, and hilariously: he's a thing for wicks to be dipped into.
The tip of said wick lingers to press down on the dorsal surface of Goodsir's tongue like an elementally inverted, perverted papist's wafer before the great, hot mass of it is again driven inexorably into Goodsir's throat. Then out, and then in again, etc.
Sometimes there is a sudden great swell of saliva accompanied by that specific off-sweetish taste which heralds the purging of the stomach. Goodsir does his best to swallow it before the pumping of Le Vesconte's prick simply fucks the burning tide of bile right back down into the esophagus from whence it came.
He seems to enjoy Goodsir's choking. His member jerks and his pelvis grinds forwards with more insistence whenever he provokes Goodsir's throat into clenching around him.
Le Vesconte's testicles have bulged enough from the slit of his unbuttoned fly to swing against Goodsir's chin with his cock's every plunge, steady as a clock keeping time, and Goodsir spares a faint worry that his own irrepressibly prickly stubble will irritate the fine skin of Le Vesconte's fleshy bollocks. The heels of Le Vesconte's hands, in the meantime, are clasped over Goodsir's inflamed ears, squeezing as if he means to collapse Goodsir's skull temple-to-temple. As if striving to break him as a carnival strongman breaks a melon.
Most sounds besides those of the bass groans and rumbles of the ship's timbers under stress are muffled by the deafening cups of Le Vesconte's palms, and the uneven juddering of Goodsir's heartbeat fails to match the unpredictable patterns of the noises made by the flexing of the ice no matter how hard it tries, anyways. The central muscle of the organ in question might as well be its own little ship being squeezed to littler brittle splinters in the vice-like confines of his chest. His ribs have frozen into spars of ice. And yet Goodsir's skin melts on and on and all the rest of him is still burning.
His head feels so tightly held in place that it seems suspended separately from the rest of himself. The carriage of his skull is captured and supported in an equilibrium which exists entirely apart from the rickety weight of his dangling spine, much as a bird's head stays still atop its neck when it is looking at something, and stays steady no matter how much the branch on which it perches may sway. As that of a songbird's on an undulating stalk of grass. Or as of a fat, flightless, stupid chicken, when the domesticated bulk of its ribbed, warm, downy-depthed body shudders in unsteady hands.
Goodsir finds this immobilization comforting. There are not so very many ways to make some horrendous mistake when one's job is, essentially and solely, that of a seed receptacle's. Everything is in another man's hands and he needs not concern himself anymore with any decisions. Those will now be made for him, and, in this way, all the others will be well, as well.
This is what Goodsir feels to be true until another commotion erupts.
It is, insofar as he can hear, the unanticipated arrival of at least one more man which sets the disastrous chain of events into motion, but Goodsir also cannot pull away from Le Vesconte in order to properly see. Le Vesconte laces his fingers around the back of Goodsir's skull to keep Goodsir down with his nose pressed into the thatch of his pubic hair when Goodsir startles and attempts to pull off of his prick, and all the men besides Lieutenant Le Vesconte begin to raise such a ruckus that Goodsir cannot even tell what is being said. Let alone tell who is saying what or how many there are who are saying it.
The newcomer, outraged as a bull dying by the flashing sword and scarlet flag of a Spanish matador, is bellowing something. Something about stooping to abuse and dishonoring one's fellow. Some more things which are more unspeakably impolite curse words and gravelly screams of rage than they are articulation.
Footsteps are pounding on the deck, the ringing thuds of them intertwined into the dragged flurry of a vicious scuffle. There is cloth rustling, and grunts and gasps for breath in between the cascade of shouts, and the underwhelmingly quiet noises of fisticuffs as bare flesh smacks indiscriminately against opposition's flesh which is both clothed and bare.
Goodsir makes an equally inarticulate cry of his own, wordlessly pleading through panicked intonation for Le Vesconte to allow him up so as to see, the cry of his voice almost instantly warped into a fit of gagging around Le Vesconte's cock. He puts his large, timid, clunky hands to Le Vesconte's thighs, nearer to Le Vesconte's knees than his hips, and, diffident and desperate, he taps Le Vesconte with his fingertips, trying to gain the lieutenant's attention. His injured right knuckles throb even with that light flutter of movement, as much in anticipation of further punishment as anything, and Le Vesconte's erection throbs as well when it is shoved even farther into him.
It hurts, and Goodsir cannot breathe. The aroused member filling his throat feels practically titanic. A vast vacuum of dewy flesh and wiry curls has eclipsed the middle of his face. He really might be smothered to death on Le Vesconte's prick, the same as someone would smother were a pillow pressed over their face in their sleep. There might as well be knees bearing down upon Goodsir's imploding chest. Feathers in his ears and the eldritch light of angels branded upon these sorry retinas of his.
He remembers his hollow words of comfort to David Young about how the angels would sing for him. They had to have done so, even after those dying screams of his. Especially after. No one is ever more deserving of a lullaby than an orphan six feet under who died afraid.
Goodsir so had wanted to give the boy a peaceful passing.
He'd failed in that. Spectacularly so. He's failed. He's a failure.
The door to Lady Silence's quarters is flung open, the whitewashed wood sliding fast and then slamming into its width of finality with a resounding clap.
Goodsir chokes on a sob of renewed horror and on Le Vesconte's cock. He tries to rear back, to push himself free from Le Vesconte, Goodsir pushing with his hands first from Le Vesconte's thighs and then from Le Vesconte's hips after all, but Le Vesconte's hands tighten around the back of Goodsir's skull and he broadens and deepens his stance, almost doubling over above the top of Goodsir's head as he ruts into Goodsir's gaping mouth with single-minded intent, his buttocks rippling with vigor beneath the futile clawing of Goodsir's raking fingers as he indelicately indulges himself to the hilt.
Morfin, still to the side and therefore closer than the rest are to the Lady, yells. Her footsteps, with her smaller feet clad in those supple hide soles, are much quicker and lighter, harder for Goodsir to audibly keep track of, but very shortly there is the sound of more wood clacking some distance above the ground. Like a jostled stack of cordwood. Like the arms which Morfin had retrieved.
Le Vesconte's prick twitches at the back of Goodsir's throat as he chases his climax.
There's the sound of a gunshot, and the metallic ping of a ricochet, and as this occurs Le Vesconte ejaculates, his body shuddering into deathly stillness as the slick, heated jet of his sperm spurts down Goodsir's convulsing gullet.
Chapter 10: nth degree
His grip on the back of Goodsir's head falls away, his fingers shedding from Goodsir's hair like deciduous trees' leaves falling in the autumn. Goodsir hears Le Vesconte's breath and voice escape him in a last groaning exhale. This time, when Goodsir shoves at Le Vesconte's hips, he slips from Goodsir's mouth and falls backwards without the slightest hint of resistance, his feet rolling out from under him as he topples all the way to the deck. He lands hard and lifeless, his body stretched out long and slack, his spent prick lolling wet and red and still seeming to faintly twitch against the dark cloth of his thigh.
There is a round, neatly shattered, oozing crater where Le Vesconte's right paranasal sinus cavities have been opened at the side of the bridge, past the red and to the pink and the opalescence and to the bright blank white of him. The ricochet has blasted out the center of Lieutenant Le Vesconte's dourly handsome face.
Goodsir experiences a frozen moment of pure, transcendent serenity. He lets himself stay there, hovering outside of himself, and he imagines that this must have been what Young felt like, when it had ended for him. When he had flown so far beyond mortal fear that its feathery planes could no longer reach him.
There had just been a dead man's penis in Goodsir's mouth.
The visceral shame of that plain fact proceeds to slug Goodsir in the gut. The mortification alone feels enough to kill him. That he feels so shallow as to experience something so selfish as shame when a man has just died mortifies him past the lethal and to the almost physically unsustainable nth degree. Had it been possible to cease existence through the means of a heartfelt wish alone, then Goodsir would have blinked out into nothingness, right then and there, without an instant to spare.
“Dr. Goodsir,” comes a harsh, horrified croak. It is so hoarse it might as well be the croak of an elderly rook. Goodsir only retroactively recognizes it as belonging to the second master Mr. Collins when he sees, as if looking up from the bottom of a deep, dark, scummy pond in the wee hours, that it is Mr. Collins and the carpenter's mate Mr. Weekes who had earlier charged in down the ladder.
Both of Mr. Collins' arms are pinioned by Pilkington and Reed. He'd been intercepted before he'd gotten more than two steps away from the ladder. His uniform jacket is spread open over the thick ivory knit of his high-collared woolen sweater, and he has a good few inches on both of the marines. With his broad shoulders and deep, heaving chest, and with the Byronic leonine corona of his dark, shaggy hair and untrimmed chops, he seems to tower over the privates Reed and Pilkington, a hale and husky and helplessly dumbfounded hero arrested mid-rescue.
Des Voeux had apparently tripped Mr. Weekes, perhaps by tackling him about the legs, and they are both sprawled half-up on the floor, having been startled apart from the rough gravity-bound grapple into which they had entered. Mr. Des Voeux's eyes are bloodshot and half-lidded and every few seconds his chin sags and he must jerk himself back into full wakefulness. Weekes' jaw is dropped and wagging and he is scooting himself backwards with the aid of his kicking heels, all while wordlessly pointing in Goodsir and Le Vesconte's general abominable direction.
On the other side of the room are Morfin and Lady Silence. The Lady had made a grab for one of the firearms which Morfin had been tasked with minding. Morfin seems to have been trying to defend himself against this bid of hers, wrestling against her with the whole stack of guns between them. Somehow one of the muskets had discharged. The ball had deflected off the lantern suspended from the low ceiling, indenting a silver-hearted streak of black shaped like a tailed comet into the metal base, and through a freak fluke the resultant ricochet had fatally struck Le Vesconte in the frontal lobe.
There is a spreading, syrupy bloodstain soaking into the deck beneath Le Vesconte's silver head, and a jam-like mixture of rather more savory the dish of brain matter, the gore and bone shrapnel and sterling strands of hair splattered into a speckled line beyond that, flung out across the opposite floor and wall of the room like a peacock-feather rescue-line, so it is probable that the ball has gone all the way through and has blown a larger chunk out the back of his skull as well. It seems as though Le Vesconte's head had been tilted upwards just so, at an angle which facilitated the accident. One of those spots of gore is obscuring where the ball must be embedded into the timber.
McDonald had called the brain a cathedral, and Stanley: a pudding. How curious it is that Goodsir thinks of a shattered pot of his mother's homemade jam, the tart-sweet taste of which he now only remembers from foggiest childhood. Shards of fine china rocking and spinning in the square of sunlight on the kitchen floor. White chips and ceramic dust, sparkling as it all settled.
Le Vesconte's eyes are half-open and shining and they are as still as a taxidermist's glass replacements. The hole in his face has rapidly overflowed into a vibrant stream of red. It's leaking into the lieutenant's closest eye, the flood of blood storming and overtaking the battlements of his eyelashes in a gruesome miniature tide. One branch of the sinuous leakage has already split to retrace the track which a human tear or the waxy excretions of a sick cat's eye would take; down along the curve nestled at the meeting place of the lower lid and the cheek, and swerving away from the inside corner, away from the nose.
He'd died very quickly. It may even have been instantaneous.
May even have been peaceful. Or as near to peaceful as anything.
Isn't that the most ludicrously and banally offensive thought.
“Dr. Goodsir,” Collins repeats, more fearfully, and Goodsir is snapped out of his reverie.
He leans to the side and vomits. Watery fluid spatters against the deck. Clear but for a few strings of yellowish bile hacked up at the end.
It burns so that Goodsir thinks of Russian vodka. Clear, and made from potatoes.
Goodsir remembers how much he'd wanted to help make the onion soup the night he'd thrown the magpie's entrails. But chopping vegetables in the kitchen had not been his place. He'd never cared that his eyes would water when the knife sliced through the onions, whereas Jane despised crying and cooking alike, but she, the sole daughter, was permitted and at times pressured to assist, and Harry was not. If he had any spare time to be spent indoors it was to be spent on his studies. Or with his father. Or in chores or prayer.
He remembers pleasant hours of Jane confiding in him as she sketched the plants in the garden while he was sat behind his easel. She liked to talk to him because he never let slip that she used such coarse and casual language when in private conversation. She liked to curse like a sailor to him, when they were alone, because it made him smile even if his ears burned to hear such rude language. He never really could keep himself from smiling when she defied the rules of propriety. He couldn't gather the courage to do so himself, let alone is his own manner, but to see her be herself... it gladdened his heart.
Goodsir spits and sobs and looks up when the Lady and Morfin drop the firearms with a staccato of wooden clunks and metallic clangs. Lady Silence drops them first, as Morfin's finger catches inside the trigger guard before he can rid himself of his share of the burden, and this means that he juggles the arms for a split second longer even as he reflexively struggles with all haste to discard them. If this wrenches the rheumatic joint, Morfin does not seem to even notice. He is deathly pasty, and appears ready to faint, his eyelids drooping towards the unconscious under the weight of his own sense of self-preservation in the face of almost incomprehensible guilt.
The Lady's eyes flash away from Le Vesconte and lock unerringly onto that of Goodsir's person, restlessly scanning him up and down. Her wide mouth is tensed into a dreadfully fixed and far wider slash and Goodsir turns towards Collins so that he once more cannot see her expression.
“Harry,” says Collins from the other side, very, very gently in that roughened sailor's voice of his. “It's Harry, isn't it, Doctor? That's your name?”
Goodsir wipes his chin and nose with his cuff, nodding and sniveling.
His shirtsleeve's cuff is still freshly damp from when he'd just last utilized it as a napkin. That was... he thinks that was after Des Voeux had... finished in him. So much has happened in so very short a time that it is difficult to keep track of events.
He briefly believes that the entire ship is shaking in the shifting vice of its foundations, and that the ice is perhaps about to crush them all in one, last, exceedingly merciful, truly final catastrophe. That they would all be obliterated with a totality which would leave no ignominiously arrayed bodies to be discovered. But it is only Goodsir's own entire living, suffering body which is currently quivering with such violence, and this is itself a shocking revelation to him. Every additional conscious thought and every registered sensation which he proceeds to experience is a revelation to him.
“Harry.” Collins says this, and offers Goodsir the wannest of smiles. He is still apple-cheeked, though his lips stretch bloodlessly pale, and his smile trembles much as Goodsir is trembling. Goodsir can see his posture relaxing itself, his shoulders and arms lowering as he consciously corrects the carriage of his body to project friendliness and calm. This serves to relax the marines, as well, who let slip their grips around his upper arms. Collins takes the opportunity to shrug them off and moves a step forwards, towards Goodsir. He holds up his hands to show that they are empty.
They are larger even than Goodsir's, and heavily calloused, with some grime sharpening the creases across his palms. They sway as if they are themselves ship's sails moved by stiff wind.
“That's my name, too,” says Collins, husky and halting, and he indicates himself by tapping the fingers of one of his safely empty hands against the middle of his chest. Speaking, Goodsir thinks, as one kindly might to anyone who is frightened almost unto death; in, as it were, the face of the groin of death. “Henry. Harry to my mates. Harry Collins, that's me, Doctor, at your service. You with me?”
“I'm not a doctor,” Harry Goodsir says, through numb lips and chattering teeth. His head jerks on its neck over and again and continues to do so nonstop. His soiled cuff is still hovering someplace in front of him. His own hand is palm-up with the fingers curled in over it, as if protecting something very small and fragile from being blown away in a breeze. Like the husk of a butterfly's chrysalis. Crushed dry there into moistened puzzle-piece flakes within his summer's sweat-swamped hand.
He'd hold them much more carefully and nevertheless more often disastrously in the chubbier, smaller palm of his chubbier and smaller child's hand. There is the vision of a memory before him: his sweaty hand when he was a child, accidentally smashing one of those papery insect shells in its clumsy grip while climbing too fast down a rocky hill, when losing his balance and almost falling on a downward hop. His heels skidding out in front of himself; the soles of cheerful Sunday shoes which he couldn't afford to damage rattling across the stones as his elbows were flinging back.
Despite his modest height he'd always somehow seemed to knock over the candlestick with those awkward elbows of his.
He'd been so... so very short, back then. Short and awkward, and he was unable to contain his energy within himself to any degree.
Not unless he was stalking crustaceans across the sand with his reinforced butterfly net. His mother used to call him Little Cat, and the like, for how he'd patiently find and sneak up on them within their alien blind-spots. It was far more difficult to do so with crustaceans than it was with butterflies or even with amphibians, and so it had been the art of stalking of crustaceans across beaches which he had most striven to master.
He'd felt himself a mighty hunter, stalking about the shore at low tide with his net and bucket and constantly-replenished bottle of fresh seawater at the ready. He'd freeze balanced on one foot and stand still as a statue at the slightest hint of his prey's awareness of him.
Crustaceans also came with their own exoskeleton; their own armor. They were less likely to accidentally be killed during capture, as had once happened to Goodsir with a dragonfly, when he'd misjudged the distance in the twilight hours and had cleanly bisected it with a single downwards stroke of his net. He'd cried for so long over that.
Later he'd felt guilty for crying more over the fact that he had ruined a specimen than over killing something.
“Harry, are you with me?” Collins demands.
Goodsir absently quails and nods his assent.
“Good, Harry, that's good,” says Harry Collins. He, Harry Goodsir realizes, as he gazes blankly from the corner of his eye upon Collins' earnest, rugged face; at Mr. Collins with his red-blotched cheeks and endearing snub nose; Harry Collins— with his his stature and courage both greater, his wavy hair roughly similar yet longer and darker, with his deep-set eyes shining, and his bright mouth expressively ajar with desperation and entreaty; every burly line of him taut with actionable compassion, rather than with mere Goodsir's own crippling empathy— he is everything Goodsir wished he could have been, and presently they two are nothing alike.
Collins is walking forwards, towards Goodsir. He makes no effort to conceal the fact that he is drawing directly nearer to Goodsir. He does not stalk, but merely continues his ginger yet inexorable approach, his feet moving comparably to the rate of an icebreaker performing at its peak, plowing an arduous pathway forth at the height of a challenging journey. His arms are as open as his hands are, and they are outstretched, held up towards Goodsir in supportive expectancy.
He seems to be urging Goodsir into standing and into coming into Collins' own arms. Or, rather: Collins is gesturing so foolishly because he wants to put his arms around Goodsir.
This is so kind and unanticipated a gesture that Goodsir shambles to his feet to fulfill just that expectation, the sound of his own thin, keening voice in his body its own wind in a sail; inflated sunlit clouds of sailcloth almost bursting from within him. He's wailing, and the banshee sound of it arises before he does, rising with the hope in him.
It is the hope of succor on Goodsir's part. It is trust, and he is terrified to trust, but he must by very virtue of his innermost nature trust someone, anyone, Collins, in this moment, or Goodsir shall surely expire.
He has forgotten the hobbling effect of the trousers which are slung about his lower legs. With one overeager step in Collins' direction his right shin reaches the elastic limits of the swaddling constraints of tautened cloth with almost a twang and he abruptly trips and finds himself pitching face-first towards the deck precisely as a particularly graceful bag of rocks would.
Collins' arms swoop around and scoop Goodsir up from beneath his shoulders, his reflexes quick as a mother cat's as he crushes Goodsir's chest to his chest to save Goodsir from falling. There must be mangy newborn kittens, not rocks, in the bag, and suspended over a river, so easily does Collins support Goodsir.
Goodsir wonders if he's been thinking only in grim metaphor of late.
But hasn't he always? Is that not what is wrong with him?
Collins is holding Goodsir's torso around the outsides of Goodsir's upper arms, supporting Goodsir's entire weight and pressing Goodsir's arms in against Goodsir's creaking ribs; Goodsir's booted toes loosely anchor the heavy lengths of his slackened legs to the floor, though with some scrabbling and rolling, especially as his upper body tilts forth along the longitudinal axis while his head and feet are both craned back at his neck and ankles respectively, making of his body's caudal line a bow. His head hangs back like that of a broken doll's, his thick, filthy mop of hair hanging back from his forehead and flopping with every motion.
He can feel his swollen veins beating in his temples and in his infernal, irreverent, irrepressibly aroused prick. His right elbow pulses in regular background agony below Collins' double-armed grasp, his hand impolitely braced against the outer side of Collins' thigh to keep from jarring it. His heels attempt to tip awkwardly outwards but are restrained within the trousers gathered above his feet.
Frantic to regain his bearings, and without much reflection, Goodsir steps out of his boots and trousers, wriggling his feet about the ankles until he can tug and slide his heels past the crooked angles of the stiff, sturdy boots, and he kicks the boots and the trousers which are with them away from himself, until only his socks separate his feet from the cold harsh deck, and he is dressed only in his underthings and his shirt. He has to go to the tips of his toes to keep himself tall enough not to be suspended from the relentless band of pressure which is Collins' drowning-man's hug.
He does not step any closer to Collins, preferring to keep his protuberant groin at as much a distance from Collins as he can manage. Collins seems not to notice, and only tightens his hold at Goodsir's adjustments, as if afraid that Goodsir will otherwise vanish.
Goodsir very deliberately does not permit himself to think about the minor hollow thud one of his boots made when it hit against some part of Lieutenant Le Vesconte's lifeless cadaver, when he had flung the tangled heap of his trousers and boots away from himself with that careless bout of kicking.
The ceiling is very low and flat before Goodsir's eyes. He can feel that Collins has ducked his head to shelter his face below Goodsir's jaw. His whiskers scrape and tickle against Goodsir's slippery skin. His breath catches hot in Goodsir's own damp and itchy mess of facial hair.
An undignified wheeze which was more expelled air than voice had escaped Goodsir at the violence with which Collins had first constricted him and had put an end to his wails.
Goodsir still cannot easily breathe, but he doesn't care. He's too giddy with it to care. He's drunk on it. He's a glutted wine-skin. He's an unraveling bundle of leaden bones sheathed with sodden flesh, of indiscriminately profuse and coarse single-follicle hairs and an excess of gross excretions and the electrified crackle of chronically overactive nerves. But so long as Goodsir is held by Collins, so long as he is held this securely, then he is being held together.
He cannot hold himself together any longer. He needs another to do it. Or, should they so wish, they may even take him apart instead; they may butcher him. It is not as if he is suitable for any other role than that of the consumed. Let them do so, then, and let them see how little he even deigns to mind. He will take this fall somehow as well, and he can trust that more than he can trust the tainted miasma of his own marrow.
Cross-sectioned, the honeycomb marrow would in all probability deteriorate to dust upon exposure to air. Like the lichen had.
What if he is some abomination of a thing? What if Goodsir, despite all evidence to the contrary, is not, in fact, of meat?
“Sir?” comes Morfin's tremulous query. “Lieutenant?”
“Lieutenant Le Vesconte,” Pilkington says. He's still farther away from the body than either Goodsir or Morfin, but he speaks more loudly and firmly. After a few seconds, Pilkington says, to the rest of them, and with shock undermining the foundations of his firm tone: “The Lieutenant's dead.”
“Oh Mary, Mother of God,” Morfin says. Goodsir figures that there's not much else which he could have said.
“Shut up,” Des Voeux spits, venomously, and it is muffled as though he has his face in his hands. As he would were he stifling himself from screaming.
The conversation drifts to Goodsir without any immediacy; it is as if Goodsir is listening to a play, or to some manner of audio record. It does not touch him. It might have happened centuries ago, with the events having been played by different people, for all that Goodsir can connect to it.
“Shut up, all of you. Of course he's fucking dead. Look at him. Fucking look. Do you fucking see him?”
“Aye sir,” says Morfin in answer to Des Voeux, choked with tears. “Aye, I see him, sir. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, sir. But it weren't my fault, I swear. Please, no, sir. Please. Please no.” He dissolves into sobs and forlorn, increasingly incoherent repetitions of the words please and sir and no.
“Shut up,” Des Voeux says, and this time he once more says it flatly, at a restrained, drawling volume. He's too tired at this point even to waste his time with a scoff. “Marines. Blockade the entrance, keep any other morons from finding egress. Mr. Weekes, you direct them, help haul, whatever.”
Reed, Pilkington, and Weekes, as Goodsir hears them where they are in front of and to either side of himself, where he is himself clasped within the confines of Collins' dense bulk, hurry to do so. The trapdoor above the stairs slams shut with a clatter, and there is the sound of them dismantling the ladder and binding makeshift weights to the door's rope handle by way of the extra rope of netting and nearby laden crates.
The thick woolen sweater which Collins is wearing smells faintly and comfortingly of lanolin, when Goodsir slips down enough in Collins' arms enough so as to set aright his neck, and he in turn bows his own head as closely forwards towards Collins as he is able, and his downcast face brushes the space where Collins' coat has rucked away from his shoulder. There is a little shadow there. Another little nook, this one for Goodsir to hide within.
Collins is still breathing in the scent of Goodsir's throat, his nose nudging into the thickest thatch of hair over the shelf of Goodsir's jaw, poking chilly over Goodsir's carotid artery. He seems unaware of what he is doing, outside of the fact that he is finally, incrementally, relaxing his grip, so that Goodsir can more easily breathe, his hands beginning to shift and rove across Goodsir, kneading into the planes of Goodsir's shoulder-blades, his upper back. One of Collins' hands disappears, and when it returns it is to plaster the back of Goodsir's billowing shirt to the small of Goodsir's back, the perspiration from which has crept straight through Goodsir's long-sleeved undershirt; the moisture soaks through the outermost layer most thoroughly where Collins' hand-print meets it.
One of the marines swears as he drops a crate or perhaps some barrel and must stop to bite out a splinter from his own more arms-capable and less carpentry-roughened hands. There is a lot of wooden clattering and smashing, then, in addition the the marines' urgent speech, the one's still thick with recriminatory spite and invective, and this coincides further with a sudden grating of the ice against the hull and a great groaning which arises from the ship's increasingly strained structural integrity.
Goodsir can just see the movement of the Royal Marines' red coats through Collins' thick hair. The colors seem brightest to him, and the movements themselves, the actual shapes of the other men, seem to fade away in contrast, until everything is purified into vivid distillations of color which flicker and smear here and there in the roiling gloom until Goodsir shuts his eyes and breathes in the scent of Collins' sweater to ground himself as a surge of exhaustion and dizziness washes over him.
It is at this point, as Goodsir shortly comes to understand it, that Lady Silence again takes action.
This time, when the Lady snatches up one of the remaining loaded and primed guns from the pile of arms on the floor, Morfin is incapable of stopping her, and also is unable to stop her from retreating to a corner of the room where she need not protect her back.
Apparently, she brings the gun suitably upwards to sit at a comfortable enough position against her shoulder that everyone must be instantly aware of the fact that she could kill any one of them, at any moment, and that it would therefore be in the best interests of every single one of those present to therefore freeze immediately.
And so everyone below the ice freezes in place, right there where they are, and they do not move.
None of them moves, that is, save Collins, overcome as he is by the shuddering of a powerful but what was as-yet to Goodsir a nameless emotion. This emotion shakes his entire frame and gradually draws his face from its hiding-spot against Goodsir's sweltering neck.
As he shakes, he straightens, funnily enough, correcting his posture once more with a primness it would be unfair not to expect from a man capable of purposely cutting such an imposing figure in contrast, and he lets Goodsir down to his feet. He is shaking too much not to be clumsy despite his care, and Goodsir begins feeling, to be honest, quite jostled by it, especially as the quaking of Collins' body continues to worsen, but he does not shift his weight back and away from Goodsir until he can feel that Goodsir has found his own unassisted balance.
Goodsir braces his right elbow by holding onto it with his left hand as soon as he is standing alone. It hurts even more now. Always more. Aching as Goodsir suspects Morfin's joints may ache ahead of a storm.
Morfin was always visiting the sickbay ahead of an eventual arctic tempest, for the pain which would flare up in his hands and knees and feet.
They must be aching now, Goodsir thinks, as he takes in the fragile scene which is arrayed before him and commits its lurid colors to his memory, and sees that the bullet has put out the room's middle lantern, but that Weekes had grabbed up a flaming torch, perhaps from where he had dropped it, and had stamped out the fire; Goodsir is distracted by the red coats and the odd splashes of violet and cyan, the origins of which he cannot place. He can smell the softness of the storm in the air. The raising of the temperature before snowfall, combined with a strengthening northern wind, whining as it sniffs and claws at every crack and entry-point of Erebus which it can find. It's the deathly-soothing damp of oncoming snow, to bury everything, followed by a creeping cold snap which will last fortnights and kill off anyone who happens to be suffering of mild pulmonary infection as of the present moment.
It takes so very little to hurt so much. Always. Always and always, if suffering is given a chance to multiply, it will do so. Or... so— to Goodsir, at the least— it seems.
He must not allow it to do so.
She must not come to harm, and he, somehow, must not permit any of those here to suffer a single iota of further suffering.
“Drop it,” Des Voeux repeats to her, as if he has ever given her reason to trust or heed him, as he might speak to a misbehaving dog who won't let go of a stick, and Lady Silence takes a deep, calm breath, and she curls her index finger around the trigger, and she stares him down.
Chapter 11: protectors
Be advised that I'm trying my best but I nevertheless very much Do Not Speak Any Dialect of Inuktitut with Any Fluency (let alone Nattiliŋmiutut haha), so if YOU do, and you see any mistakes, please point them out to me so that I can fix them! Thnx!
The Lady's hand is so tense that the tendons stand out from the back of it. Her knuckles are not yet pale, but it would not perhaps take all that much for them to become so. But for now... for now, her hand does not so much as quaver, and her index finger does not so much as twitch a millimeter tighter around the trigger of the musket, which has now settled with ease against her shoulder for all the closed-in forest's-flesh world as though she is a practiced marksman.
She moves the way a person who is practiced in the art of masking weakness and imperfection moves. Confident, and graceful, because anything less will earn her only failure; failure equivalent, or even in actuality literally equal to, death.
Goodsir is utterly incapable of pretending normalcy, but he has always been remarkably adept at telling when others are good at pretending, so that he may then study and emulate their more successfully cultured mannerisms. Or he'd study them in admiration, if in nothing else.
He cannot help but feel a surge of admiration for her now even if he is also terrified almost out of his wits for her.
Des Voeux's throat ripples and contorts with a labored swallow which audibly clicks with how dry it is. “You wouldn't,” he croaks, to Lady Silence, presumably regarding her ability to pull the trigger.
She looks him up and down, and then, with the faintest of regal sneers upon her lips, she scoffs, plainly doing so as much in deliberate, sarcastic imitation of Des Voeux himself as she does out of actual contempt.
Her front teeth flash strong and white when her upper lip curls. The skin below her eyes and alongside her nose is still irritated and shiny with tears not yet evaporated, the color beneath shadowed, but her reddened eyes themselves are too sharp to shed any more; sharp as the ulu which Des Voeux had earlier made her discard.
Goodsir has a vision of what she'd look like if her eyes shattered, as the edge of that elegant flint ulu had done, when it had chipped upon reaching the ship's floorboards. Glass spheres banded in planetary demarcations of scopic color, vitreous marbles. Smote asunder into spinning, glittering chunks upon the floor, like the teacup; the jam; the teeth and the warped-bouquet spray of gore. The floor is the one on which Goodsir has cried and bled and drooled and leaked.
It's kappia-, the fear, a fear, come back to him in defiance of her bright dark eyes gleaming organically whole and unbroken before him.
She is not easily broken, and apparently does not stay so besides. She must have put the chip of her broken gaze back into her eyes, and thus have miraculously un-broken them, sometime while she had been stopping up her tears as she'd hid herself. Specifically, some time at some point directly after Goodsir had begged her to let him martyr himself for her; after he had begged to be sacrificed to consequences' slavering maws like the shambling, selfish lamb-monster which he is.
Collins steps in between Goodsir and the musket while Goodsir wastes an entire instant with those unhelpful self-recriminations as his mind collapses into a rotted churning of the same self-flagellating anxieties as ever.
With how cramped the space, Collins is in between not only Goodsir and the musket's possible aim, but he is almost close enough to guard both Des Voeux and one of the marines from the musket's firing range, as well. He seems practically to block nigh up to half the room from the Lady with how stolidly large he looms.
They are actually not so very different after all, Goodsir realizes, and the protective broad-backed figure of Collins before him flips in Goodsir's increasingly subjective perception from one as great as a bull's to something alarmingly similar to what Goodsir might see of himself, were he to stand naked in front of a full-length mirror and imagine himself on his own autopsy table. With the nipples separated from the ribs by the lick of the scalpel through the subcutaneous fat and muscle and silky-gluey connective tissue, and with the blueing white skin of the torso pulled apart from the vivid split and opened all the way down the median cranio-caudal line from the top of the rib cage to just above the pubis, so as to expose the viscera to his inspection, and the ribs: to his saw.
Collins and Goodsir are almost of a height, with far under half a foot's difference between them, and Goodsir is not so very much smaller than Collins. Not so very much weaker at all.
“A'niqpiit?” the Lady says, and Goodsir somehow knows that she is speaking to him. Asking him if he's hurt?
“Yes... no,” he says, pitching his thinned voice stridently above that of the shredded whisper to which it wants to default. His voice hurts quite a lot. A gravelly pain spiking in his larynx with the disturbance of the vocal chords. Goodsir would naturally have expected nothing less, and he forces his voice box to grind onwards. “No, ah, that is to say: iiqi. Quvia-. I'm quvia-. You? Ivilli?”
Goodsir gestures as he speaks, and walks forwards as he gestures, almost causing him to wobble on his course, but in the end and for a brief moment Goodsir is able to interpose himself between Collins and the musket in only a few, cleverly calculated strides.
Or he would have, had Collins not scruffed him by the collar of his shirt as he is passing.
Grabbing the collar of Goodsir's shirt yanks the shirt so askew on Goodsir's wavering, traveling frame that it almost slips entirely off one of his shoulders as Goodsir continues to move forwards.
The stark white sight of his own naked skin stabs Goodsir in the corner of his eye and he blinks.
Collins' hand hooks around Goodsir's bared shoulder, almost as if shielding it, in addition to grabbing Goodsir alongside his neck in an attempt to pull Goodsir away and back from the gun. He's pulling so that Goodsir will be standing behind Collins himself once more. Goodsir leans away and attempts to hold his ground, because he does not want to startle the Lady into shooting Collins on his behalf out of the easily formed yet mistaken belief that Collins poses a threat to Goodsir.
Over the course of this restrained struggle Collins is successful in pivoting Goodsir to the side so that Goodsir presents a marginally narrower silhouette to the business end of the firearm, and this pivot is in turn so extremely disorienting to Goodsir for the muddled whirl of a passing instant that all he can see is a hectic mosaic of smeared light and unnatural colors, and all he can hear is a whooshing roar so loud that it sits on his eardrums like a physical pressure.
As the world catches up and assembles itself into coherency around him Goodsir hears that Lady Silence is, and perhaps has been for awhile, shouting at them.
She is not screaming because she is afraid. Any fear of hers is still hidden from everyone besides herself. No, it is rage which is in her voice, and alighting her countenance, and animating the restrained precision and fluidity with which she is aiming the musket even as she shouts out piercing word-sentences too fast for Goodsir's unpracticed ear to even make out.
She is aiming the musket at Collins.
There is not untrammeled, indiscriminate, nor even an impulsive rage in any aspect of her demeanor, but a rage which is focused. She is screaming in her own language, and screaming something very specific, both at Collins and at Goodsir. She's telling them something. She is shouting final warnings which may seem to go deliberately unheeded, and under stressful circumstances which may appear very threatening to Goodsir indeed, given that Goodsir can feel the hand Collins has on him as it simply pours the lust-fever's telltale sweat.
Collins is baking into a blotchy candy-apple red, his lips gleaming even brighter with how often he's licking and biting at them, his pupils large as harvest moons, so large that they eclipse the iris and Goodsir can't make out what color his eyes are. The bushy facial hair piled deep on his ruddy cheeks fades into coarse charcoal crosshatching in the tender shadow of his neck, in that soft spot on the underside of his jaw.
He smells alluring, and would smell even better were Goodsir closer, and Collins' dazed eyes do not once move off from where his hands hold onto Goodsir's body. He seems unable to hear the Lady much at all with the distraction of Goodsir before him.
It had somehow not even occurred to Goodsir as a possible turn of events that Lady Silence might shoot Collins, and that Collins may then die because Lady Silence shoots him.
Another man on this ship would have perished, and this time it would be an undoubtedly decent and compassionate man, who would not only have died, but would have been killed, all so as to ostensibly protect Goodsir.
Goodsir, out of all people.
The ice is screaming with the wind outside in musical, inhuman shrillness. There are thumping sounds from above, from behind the door, as other members of the crew and perhaps even command itself attempt to break it open, the weights which Weekes had directed be put in place successfully holding it shut for now.
With the creaking noises let out by the boards with every blow, however, they may not last for very much longer.
Another phrase brimming with blistering vitriol is expelled from Lady Silence's mouth, the angular Inuktitut syllables taking flight like burning stars and the embers of the language's spirit itself glinting in her mouth and off her lively tongue.
The construction of Inuktitut puts the action at the end of the word-sentence, Goodsir's fairly sure.
“Let go or she'll kill you,” Goodsir thinks he shrieks into Collins' ear. He does not believe that he shrieks that in Latin, but he is instantly paranoid in retrospect that he has.
“She's already killed the lieutenant,” Des Voeux screeches in uninvited and untrue response, and that answers Goodsir's main concerns by supplementing them with yet another dire speculation: that the Lady will be held accountable for a murder which was not a murder, which she therefore did not commit, as well as unacceptably blamed for a shooting committed in defense of another, should she in fact shoot Collins or anyone else in the present.
Her hands are trembling, now. Just a bit. Trembling more the longer that Goodsir is held by Collins.
Collins seems to become conscious of his surroundings, blinking his way into slow-dawning horror, and when Goodsir next tries to tug his shoulder from Collins' hand, Collins lets Goodsir go.
The Lady's posture does not relax, but her voice does, dying into a gasp and then into harshly disciplined and gradually calming breath. Her hands tremble even more, in relief, before she steadies them as well.
Goodsir faces the Lady with his shoulders squared, moving so that he blocks as much of Collins from her musket as possible, and moving slow, so that he will not startle her. He tries to marshal his own body to his will as she so thoroughly does hers but his own breathing will not be quietened.
There is a patch of frost on the deck, a leftover doily of ice probably deposited there by someone's snowy bootprint. It melts into the rough wood grain beneath the sole of Goodsir's foot and he curls his toes against the cold.
The long musket barrel drops to point the round black eye of its muzzle down; down at the deck between the two of them, rather than at Goodsir in front of Collins.
Lady Silence is speaking.
“I'm sorry,” Goodsir says to her, because he hadn't noticed when she began to do so and he's missed everything she's said.
And then he says “Mamianaq,” because “sorry” was one of the very first Inuktitut words which he made sure to learn, and it had been for the express purpose of apologizing to her. He'd wanted to be able to tell her that he was sorry for all past and future slights committed against her. He'd wanted to take his share of the blame, for being a part of the people who brought such immediate and irreparable strife into her life upon first contact. He wants her to know that he sees the injustices committed against her. Enacted against her.
He sees her.
She stops talking, closes her mouth, and seems to reassess his state and, Goodsir also supposes, the choice of her own words. There is a mirrored opacity to her gaze whenever she reflects upon herself, but also a cautious gentleness in her affect whenever she turns her focus outwards again in sympathy, as she tends to towards Goodsir. “Qanuriŋŋittuŋaiřvilli?” is what she says to him, enunciating it very slowly and clearly.
-iřvit is the singular you. “-iřvilli” must be the same as “-ivilli,” which is a question because of the -li at the end, indicating something like a change of topic. Qanu- is something like “well” or “fine.” She is asking Goodsir about Goodsir, and possibly misheard, didn't hear, or is repeating the same thing which Goodsir asked her earlier: she wants to know if he's... all right, perhaps.
He points to himself and says “Quvia-,” because he doesn't know how to say that he's uninjured, and while he thinks quvia- means “happy,” it's still positive enough that it will possibly get his meaning across to her, especially as he smiles and nods and points at himself again to emphasize how very swimmingly he's really getting along.
Her expression smooths into impassivity as she listens to him and looks at him and finds something in his performance wanting, and his smile suffers a self-conscious spasm of regret.
He clears his throat and ruthlessly reestablishes the smile. Anchors it there in aching cheeks as his bruised throat pulses with pain.
“-li,” he says absently, incorrectly, but he needs a change of topic. A change of tone. And he needs to memorize when to use the affix -li versus -lu.
Uvaŋalu means me too. “Uvanga,” says Goodsir, better copying but ultimately still mangling the odd tongue-humming guttural sound in the middle. According to his recollection of their stumbling lessons, uvaŋa means: who, me?
Because maybe if he sort of makes light of it, she will in turn be less scared for him.
Her face hardens even further instead.
He notices that, as flushed in the cheeks as she is, she is not perspiring as much as he'd expect given the stress of the situation, and she is perspiring far less than are any of the affliction-affected men.
Besides the intermittent trickles of saline from her eyes, and discounting the other glints of light which are sparked off the reflectively wet tissues of her mouth and from the pale enamel of her teeth, the Lady's face is practically dry.
Goodsir is blinking the sweat out of his own eyes even as he notices this, the fine hair-trigger muscles around his eyes and of his eyelids bending in constant flux, plagued by spasms of their own. Regrets of his own.
Every time he blinks he is plunged into dizzying Stygian darkness where there is no up nor down and he can feel himself teetering precariously on his feet.
“Get her distracted,” Des Voeux whispers to Goodsir, and when Goodsir is not in the darkness he sees by glancing back over his shoulder that Des Voeux says this from behind a hand raised to rub at his nose and thereby hide his mouth. He is as blunt with his scheming as he is with anything, as though the Lady will somehow be suddenly unable to hear his sharp, carrying whisper merely due to her studying Goodsir so intently.
But, quite unlike the rest of them, she seems, by some miracle, not to carry the fever. She is absolutely, perfectly cognizant.
Lady Silence's opaque gaze shatters back into cold fury as she turns both her attention and the barrel of the musket towards Des Voeux immediately upon hearing him speak. “Iŋittit,” she says.
Des Voeux takes a step backwards and lifts up his hands in appeasement, grimacing.
“Iŋittit.”She points the musket at him and continues to jab the muzzle at Des Voeux in tiny but emphatic motions, also gesturing him downwards with glances and by the jerk of her lowered chin, and she does so with increasing emphasis and impatience until Des Voeux complies with her command by backing up all the way to an old little overturned crate which had been thrown aside by Weekes as too light and useless on the other side of the room, onto which, slowly and begrudgingly, he sits himself.
“Good Sir,” says Lady Silence, and Goodsir whips his head back around to look at her so fast that he scatters droplets of sweat out from himself in an arc, the moisture flung from his hair and his eyelashes as his eyes snap to meet hers.
“Good Sir,” she says to him, meeting his eyes meaningfully so that there is no mistake to be drawn as to whom she is addressing.
“Yes, Harry Goodsir,” he agrees, too hoarsely and also too exuberantly by far, his arms flinging up in a gesture he aborts in favor of crossing his arms over his chest and patting himself on the clavicle. Bare fingers and bare skin and the wetness soaking through his clothing. He uncrosses his arms and plucks at his shirtfront and slouches to hide his indecency; his heart pounds on within him without mercy.
When he meets her eyes again he sees that she has seen, but there is no revulsion from her when her eyes dart back up to his with discreet speed. Only a deepening of the roses in her smooth brown complexion and a deep, shaky sigh of worry, expelled almost silently, but her chest discernibly broadens and then shrinks beneath the thick, supple hide of her finely tailored shirt as she breathes.
This is her inner set of clothing, the atigi, as he's gathered, the general word for “clothing” being “a'nuraat.” Unlike the outer shell or kaliku, the pelt of the innerwear's hide is turned inwards to put the fur against the skin. It just barely peeks out at the sleeves and from the inside of the hood and along the swooping hem which curves past her hips, the soft ticked gray of the fur ringing her wrists and neck. The skin of the atigi is, in contrast to the cool colors of the fur, a warm, honeyed tan, worn to shining with long use.
It is almost as golden in the low light as a mythical suit of armor. That same low light makes Lady Silence's sable hair appear black, and her eyes, mirrored.
It is much darker with the ceiling's central lantern shot out. The lit torch in Weekes' hand is guttering with how unsteady the carpenter's mate has become, having presumably been hit by the fever's symptoms along with Collins. The shadows bulge and flutter in time with his harsh hyperventilation. The swell and rhythm of seven people all breathing melds into the pulse of the darkness and the reverberations of the ice singing throughout Erebus' frame.
The Lady is the beacon at the center of it all, incomparably lovely and immovable; she shines with the dangerous light of her own frightful bravery.
“Safe-iřvit?” the Lady asks. Safe you. Probably: Are you safe? Or, given the context, and also given the previous answer which he'd offered her in response to what was most likely the same inquiry: Are you all right?
Goodsir chokes on his gratitude at her asking him that question and he has not quite scraped together an answer for her when there is a clattering and a flurry of movement in his peripheral vision.
Morfin is making a grab for another of the guns from the floor.
He's not a quick or a dexterous man. He will not succeed in time, and if he does succeed...
And even if the Lady, in the other case, in fact, succeeds...
Success will be death.
“No,” Goodsir says, in a detached but otherwise normal speaking tone.
He does not know why he is not panicking this time.
When he blinks there is darkness and when he opens his eyes there is light and shadow arranged into an amber and orange and velvety-black Chiaroscuro image of imminent bloodshed and then Goodsir is running to put himself in front of Morfin; to put himself between Morfin and the Lady, with Goodsir with his back to her and his hands on Morfin's musket.
He hasn't really any plan, but if he had it would have been foiled anyways by how Collins lunges after him and bodily catches him mid-stride around the middle. Collins' arms wrap like iron bars about Goodsir's abdomen and bring him up short.
Collins's erect prick is very large. It's hard where it unavoidably brushes against the back of Goodsir's thigh.
Something, some thing which is too honest and observant in Goodsir for his own good, wishes very much that it was blind.
The Lady had been swiveling to point her musket at Morfin, hunching forwards to press her cheek to the gleaming stock so that she may sight down the black iron of the barrel. Collins' intervention has her smoothly diverting her aim towards him, her concern for Goodsir taking precedence over self-preservation, though of course Goodsir's proximity to Collins thankfully means that she is unable to get a clear target for a clean shot at Collins, and she does not dare risk Goodsir by firing.
This means, however, that Morfin has time to fire at her.
It's another musket. The sound of the hammer, of metal meeting metal, clicks light as a little silver bell. There is the crack of it going off and the shocking pink-orange gout of sparks which flashes from the muzzle and which slices livid phantom luminescence into Goodsir's eyes.
Morfin misses. He must have missed her.
Goodsir doesn't track the ball or wherever it might have gone; he only thinks he hears it make some impact elsewhere, and notes the absence of violence's garish marks on the Lady, the absence of blood from her or any reaction of hurt, and he sobs in relief when he finds none of those things he was looking for and sags in Collins' arms.
Des Voeux underhandedly throws the crate he had been sat on across the room and ahead of himself as he starts forwards.
The Lady ducks to avoid the incoming crate and the rickety cube of it shatters corner-first against the wall where her head had been. A couple of the spinning, broken boards rain down to strike upon her upturned back and she supports the musket with only one arm, the butt of the musket braced against the front of her shoulder as her trigger hand still supports it at the lock and at the ready, her other arm bending up overhead to protect herself from the tumbling planks and to then bat the splinters from her hair.
Morfin throws his own musket at her and the heavy gun hits her hard at the ankle as she is still rising back upwards from her crouch and dropping her raised arm, turning a little towards the oncoming Des Voeux. Her foot rolls with the impact and that leg buckles beneath her as Morfin turns to run in the opposite direction, his face a mask of terror made of melting tallow as he goes by.
Where could Morfin be running to? Goodsir wants to know. He wants to run as well. His legs flail as though he's caught and dying in the crushing grip of a steel-toothed snare, his heels thumping and scraping against the freezing deck as he kicks at Collins with his feet, goose-flesh rising all across him like the scream which is rising in his throat, like the shining Lady as she falls and as Reed and Des Voeux charge towards her, Goodsir with his shirtfront dripping and sticking to him all the while and with that which lies beneath straining at the seams of his smalls like a putrid abscess.
His good elbow hits Collins somewhere in the face. Collins grunts in pain and drops him. Goodsir, to his immense discredit, does not even look to see if Collins is okay before he tries to sprint to Lady Silence's aid.
Pilkington tackles Goodsir from the side before he gets there.
Chapter 12: at last
Goodsir is slammed against the floor with Pilkington's weight driving him down from above. Numerous bones and body parts make their agony known, both of Goodsir's elbows taking the shocking brunt of it. Both injured now, to some extent. The lines of pain stretch all along the radius and ulna and even partway up the humerus, and the joints of the elbows themselves might as well have been replaced with the crudest and cruelest of hinges fashioned from railroad spikes.
Pilkington avoids all of Goodsir's attempts to hurt him in return mostly by sheer virtue of his greater mass and advantageous position. He's scrambled to sit upright atop Goodsir's back, legs astride Goodsir's waist to pin him, and Goodsir cannot reach behind himself that far with either hand or foot, nor reach with elbow nor knee; or, rather, Goodsir cannot effectively reach Pilkington with any observably hurtful force. Especially not with as hurt as he now is.
What meaning has the Hippocratic Oath now? What power does it hold sway here, when Goodsir feels he'd gladly gouge Pilkington's eyes from their sockets with his own bare fingers and nails, for that is how desperate he is. How powerless and eager to regain power. How frightened.
Goodsir is scared. He's scared, and scared, and scared, and he has no control and can't tell what is happening.
What is happening to him.
What is happening to the Lady.
His fingernails catch on red cloth and one tears away to the quick as he scratches ineffectually behind himself for purchase. Pilkington grabs his wrist, and then the other, and yanks Goodsir's arms back by the wrists until his shoulders are lifted from the ground. Goodsir's chin is deliberately dropped to be scraped against the floor when Pilkington's hands relocate themselves to clamp around Goodsir's upper arms, his thumbs digging in. He does not stay still and Goodsir has difficulty even telling where he is.
It's all stifling violence and confusion and noise and it is not until Goodsir's bruised chest has been lifted from the cold deck that he realizes Pilkington is thrusting against Goodsir's arse, his knees planted wide to either side of Goodsir as he drives himself down and furiously rubs himself to completion against Goodsir's body, one of his arms wrapping around Goodsir's throat as he hunches over him, bending Goodsir's body up to his body.
This should not feel like the massive violation which Goodsir experiences it as, given all that has already transpired, but it is. For some reason this matters. Pilkington is fully clothed and this is frankly as much a fight as it is copulation, and it is as callous a manner of treatment as anything which Goodsir has undergone. As... pleasurable as anything else which he has taken pleasure from.
And yet for some indefinable reason Goodsir wants to shriek.
He wants to flay himself, to flagellate himself until every inch of his tainted skin is stripped away so that he is some raw pink fetal thing, so that he is some wet leftover lump of formlessness which is so numbed by pain that it registers no more suffering. Nothing but pure, untouched tissue, clean as only blood is clean, and dirty as only blood is dirty.
If only Goodsir were pathetic in the way of dead things, rather than in the ignoble ways of the living. If only it were possible that he could be beautiful with a sea slug's beauty. He'd climb into a specimen jar himself if he could be.
He writhes under Pilkington's crushing weight and is moved by Pilkington's movements and his nipples scrape against the deck through his shirt and so does his groin and Goodsir yowls high and long like a cat in heat and he hates himself. He loathes himself. All he wants is none of this. All he wants is to be nothing and he cannot have even that.
The undulations of Pilkington's hips snap forth to a stuttering crescendo of tension and then cease heavily into laxness astride him. His arm loosens around Goodsir's throat enough that Goodsir's chest and head lie flat to the floor as they did at the beginning.
Goodsir turns his head to switch which of his cheeks rests against the floor and there is the sting of air meeting some fresh abrasion or other on his cheekbone. He can distinctly feel the pulse of his brain case where his brain seems to press the membrane of it against the confines of his skull. Lines of pain tracing the seams where the plates of bone have grown knitted together.
He's swelling too much even for what is within him, let alone his vile skin without.
His right arm is free. Pilkington has let that wrist go so that he could choke Goodsir with the crook of his right elbow. So that he could pull Goodsir's body upwards and against himself as he used him. Upwards as Pilkington had been pushing down.
Goodsir does not do anything. That arm of his refuses to move according to his will. It drags itself and flops like a landed fish when he tries. His elbow almost bends the wrong way. A streak of blood is left on the floor by his bleeding fingernail.
It hurts. It all hurts. And he can't do anything about it.
Pilkington's weight disappears with a scuffling rush. Lifts from him. Gone.
Goodsir's ribs unbend. Lungs expand. He coughs and coughs and then he does scream, only barely managing to muffle himself by biting into the back of his wrist through his shirt's cuff. Then he gets onto his knees and with that arm he cradles the injured one to his chest, unable to achieve anything for a few long seconds other than to face the bulkhead and sob.
He knows how to make his sobbing silent, the way that one can make laughter silent, and he does so now. He sobs and sobs with his back to the others, and even with his crying silenced, he cannot hear for the noise of his own...
Or nothing at all?
He swallows it all down and turns and looks, as he is not actually what matters here, and as nothing that happens to him should ever matter.
Collins is atop Pilkington and is whaling on the marine with his fists, every hit landing with vindictively vicious rage, though Pilkington is still putting up a bruising amount of resistance on his own, one of his arms blocking and catching Collins' and his leg kicking out as he attempts to gain the leverage to roll them.
Beyond those two, Reed, Des Voeux, and the Lady are all on the floor, also tussling with just as much all-out vicious fervor; as he watches she lays Reed out cold with a blow to the face before Des Voeux grabs the hood of her blouse and drags her down. Morfin is nowhere to be seen and Weekes is using his jacket to beat at the fire which has sprung from his twice-dropped torch and which is spreading through the crates and ropes piled beneath the exit. The light dances off the walls, the sound of the flames joining those of the ice, and the room is chaotically bright and hot.
The scene honestly reminds Goodsir of some woodblock depiction of the Inferno.
He takes two tentative steps forwards, crying silently, intending to intervene somehow, somewhere. Anywhere where he can.
The trapdoor gives way and Captain Fitzjames and several armed men and officers rush inside, shouting as the heat of the fire buffets them. There are calls for water and some of the men drop their arms in favor of helping Weekes. A seaman screams as his trouser leg catches aflame.
The captain clears the fire and comes to a sharp stop. His face goes ghostly-pale and he reels in place: he is staring at the body of Les Vesconte, where the dead lieutenant lies in repose at the center of the floor at Fitzjames' feet, at the center of all this chaos, just as the hub of a wheel sits at the center of the spokes even as every one of them breaks on the rocks.
Goodsir can't see the Lady anymore. He's lost track of her and Des Voeux and smoke is filling the air.
Collins appears from the smoke in front of him, speaking quick and soft and urgent, but Goodsir can't hear what he says.
“Where is she?” he asks Collins, and because Collins is so close Goodsir left-handedly grabs his shoulder and tugs him down so that Collins will be sure to hear him. “Where is she?”
“Come on,” says Collins, trying to shepherd Goodsir away while touching him as little as possible, his hands hovering in turn over Goodsir's shoulders, but then the Lady is beside them.
“Here, here she is, Doctor, go with her,” Collins says, and when he pushes Goodsir into Lady Silence's arms, Goodsir goes. “The both of you,” comes Collins' voice.
She grabs Goodsir into a protective, supportive half-embrace, without pause. Her temple knocks against Goodsir's, her breath rasping into his breath for a moment, and he notices that she has her ulu in hand again, the semi-lunar blade poised low, and that her eyes glance up at Collins as if she is preparing herself to cut him. Deciding whether or not to cut him.
Collins is craning his neck and walking sideways so as to watch behind them, still ushering them both on with fleeting nudges and oblivious to the flash of the Lady's knife near his femoral artery, but she seems to deem Collins just trustworthy enough to allow him to assist in their escape even before Goodsir reaches across himself with his good left arm to clutch at Lady Silence's wrist and shake his head and try to tell her through expression alone that Collins means them no harm.
“Friend,” Goodsir whispers to her, as they stumble over the threshold of her quarters, and he is barely aware even of himself at this point. “He's a friend.”
Collins slides the door shut behind them. The severed drift of smoke which had followed the two of them into the nook disperses across the ceiling.
Goodsir faints the moment they are inside, the last of his strength departing and his sight shutting down like a moonset, and the Lady with her injured ankle is unable to hold Goodsir up when both of his legs buckle.
He tips from her, pushing himself away from her so that he will not hurt her, falling, and there is a pain in his head, and then blackness.
Blindness at last. At long, long last.