A/N: I am alive.
-City of Fair Winds-
Jeanine stumbled through the haze. In the wake of the gunfire and its spark, her senses panicked, reduced to mean versions of themselves, primal and impulsive. She screamed.
At last she heard her name shouted back at her, and with it blew the wind, strong enough to clear the fog momentarily, affording her the flash of red hair nearby.
She heard footsteps next as the fog returned, swallowing up her vision. She saw the shadow of an approaching figure, then another.
Her comrades ran to her, and the fog thinned where they gathered, the air lightening with the breaking dawn.
"You're not hurt?" she asked, scanning Charlie wildly up and down.
He shook his head, but his face was grey. He looked ill.
"No, but… I heard…" His forehead creased. "Someone fell, Ellison. I know it."
She blinked up at him blankly, befuddled by the vagueness.
"Jarvis?" she inquired.
Platt looked from her to O'Hannigan, his mouth open to speak, but she didn't wait for the confirmation or the denial. If she could barely see what was going on two feet in front of her, she doubted her friends would, either. What their eyes saw would be of no help.
"If you can hear me, state your presence!" she shouted. She stepped blindly into the mist, thankful for the sunlight that, with each passing second, added definition to an otherwise blurry world. She hoped Jack would respond, tell her, "I'm here!"
She stopped and waited.
"Reporting," came the reply.
Jeanine's heart descended. Her blood iced. It was Jarvis who answered, and his tall form took shape in the fog, lean and menacing.
"No," she whimpered. She shook her head, her feet edging her away, shoving distance between them.
Someone fell, Ellison… Platt had said. Someone fell…
She bolted, keeping in the direction of Jarvis's voice but praying never to run into him.
"Jack!" she wailed. "Jack!"
A gust of wind from behind pushed her forward, lifting the haze, letting the morning light poke through. And in its clear wake, she saw him. He lay on the sand, red on his hands, his face twisted.
Jeanine no longer knew what her body was doing. She succumbed to a strength never felt before, a singularity of mind that made her breath hot, her eyes water. She knelt beside him, cradling his face in her hands.
"Jack, look at me," she said. His breaths shuddered, but his eyes were on hers, blue and bright.
"I'm s-sorry, J—"
"No, no." She cut him off. "I'm going to take care of you. You'll be all right. You're all right. I'm here."
He nodded, blinking tears free, and Jeanine bit her tongue, introducing the pain to keep herself from crying with him.
"Mr. O'Hannigan!" she yelled, unaware her friends were already behind her, standing by, respecting their space. She did not take her eyes off Jack.
"We're here, Ellison," Connor stated, stepping forward. "Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Platt and I. We're all here."
Only then was Jeanine tempted to look over her shoulder, glancing up at her comrades. She swallowed, steadying her nerves.
"Mr. Platt," said she, "I need you to run into town to find a doctor. The closest one you can find. Alert them of our coming."
Charlie nodded and ran off.
Jeanine's eyes cut to Mr. Buchanan, pausing for a moment unblinkingly, wordlessly. She turned to Connor.
"I will need your help carrying him. I need to apply pressure to his wound, but taking him into town, I will need help."
"Of course," Connor answered. He bent to kneel but was interrupted. Someone else approached Jack.
"I would like to help," said Jarvis, reaching a hand. "Jack is my man, after all, and—"
"You will do nothing!" Jeanine sniped. The words left her so fiercely they left a burn in her lungs. "You will not touch him. You will clear away and you will take up the rear."
She did not care for Jarvis's reaction and turned back to Jack, trying to keep him awake.
"That was an order, Mr. Jarvis," said Mr. Buchanan.
It seemed an eternity that passed before Charlie returned. The fog had dissipated by then, replaced with a dusty pink morning, the waters still, the wind lifeless. Jeanine kept her hands over Jack's, pressed to his wound, which lay somewhere beneath his ribcage. She talked to him throughout. Every time he tried to say something, every time he mentioned Sophia, she would shush him.
"You will tell her yourself," she would say.
At Charlie's arrival, Buchanan and O'Hannigan helped Jeanine lift Jack up, and the boy groaned at the movement.
"How far?" Jeanine asked.
"Not far, Ellison," said Platt. "He'll make it. Come on."
They rushed to the doctor's office. Jack, by that point, was pallid and listless, his feet dragging as O'Hannigan and Buchanan carried him to the examination table. The doctor, an older gentleman, observed the entry and Jack with a focused concern. Jeanine heard him mumbling in Spanish.
"He'll need us to clear the room while he examines him."
Jeanine was hesitant but trusted in the art of medicine, and they were ushered out, the wooden door shutting gently behind them. Only then did Jeanine take a look at her surroundings—a spare waiting area in the storefront, a weak fire in the hearth, flimsy chairs positioned over a worn rug. The front windows brought in the pale light of morning, greyed through the filter of lingering mist. No one spoke. Platt sat in one of the chairs by the fire, glaring at the flames. Buchanan kept near the door. O'Hannigan sat opposite Platt. And Jarvis, having followed them, stood by the exit, out of the circle of light of the fire, a shadow among shadows.
After what seemed a million heartbeats, the door opened, and the doctor, easily able to read rank among them, summoned Harvey inside. Jeanine, without invitation, followed them in. She listened as the doctor spoke to Buchanan, picking up an odd word here and there that she recognized, but not enough to draw sense. When Buchanan's gaze turned to her, her shoulders tensed.
"He'll need to operate now for Jack's best chances of survival," Harvey explained. "But he is at a disadvantage since he lost his assistant earlier this month."
"I will attend then," Jeanine answered decisively. "I assisted Dr. Delaney, and while my Spanish is not fluent, you will be able to help me with that, won't you?"
Buchanan looked at her, his mouth parted, a twitch in the corner of his lips. After a pause long enough for Jeanine to wonder when he'd next blink, he smiled.
"I shall certainly do my best, Ellison."
Jeanine let Harvey explain the arrangement to the doctor, and she approached the operating table, where Jack currently lay. He was awake, but his gaze felt distant, his consciousness shrinking like a ship sailing into the horizon. She laid a hand over his, which still covered his wound, warm and slick with blood. The color of it dizzied her, its brilliance as blooming as a rose, vibrant and dripping.
She heard her name called, and the clink and shuffle of surgical instruments brought back her senses. Buchanan stood at her side.
"Como se llama?" asked the doctor, glimpsing at his patient and then turning his eyes to her.
Jeanine swallowed, feeling the ache of his name in her throat, fearing that it would be the last time she'd say it.
She answered: "His name is William Jack Hanley."
O'Hannigan focused on the fire, using the flames as a fixture for his racing thoughts. He barely registered Platt sitting across from him by the hearth, but his comrade's proximity exacerbated his musings. The duel had transpired in such quick succession, done in a series of blinks instead of a smooth sequence. His memory fractured.
"You saw it, didn't you?" Platt whispered. O'Hannigan flicked his green eyes toward Charlie. His friend rested chin on fist, glaring into the firelight. Platt's eyes locked on his. "You saw it, right?" he repeated, harsher.
O'Hannigan inhaled slowly, hoping the breath would summon memory. His brain could not work fast enough.
"Jarvis reneged," Charlie divulged. "You saw it. He bloody fired his shot in the air instead of at me. I saw the spark. It cut through the fog, up into the sky."
"But that would mean—"
"It was my shot that hit Hanley," Charlie finished. He looked away, groaning, rubbing his face. "But it shouldn't have hit him! He should have been out of range. How could he have—"
Connor was hesitant to supply a theory. He had had qualms that morning of going through with the duel given the fog and the impairment to their vision, but he also knew that this was Platt's only opportunity. That Platt insisted on no doctor on site had only added to Connor's worries. But he did not contest—because he understood the desire to destroy Jarvis all too well, all too closely.
"The fog was disorienting for all of us," Connor offered. "We can't know precisely until Hanley provides his side of the story—if he saw anything at all before he was hit."
Charlie shook his head.
"Who's to say that snake wouldn't have coached him on what to say by then?" His eyes darted toward Jarvis, who stood by the door, paying them no mind.
"We are all implicated here," Connor stated.
"Just because we are all involved does not mean we are all equally guilty," Platt shot back. "I wouldn't put it past Jarvis that he placed Jack deliberately in harm's way."
"But how could he have known?"
"I don't bloody know, but you know it wouldn't be beneath him."
Connor meant to speculate further, prepared to lean at a conspiratorial angle in his seat, but the door to the operating room opened. Mr. Buchanan stepped out and Connor and Platt stood on reflex. The door closed too quickly for Connor to get a glimpse of what was occurring inside the room.
"Is he all right?" Platt asked.
Buchanan nodded as he entered their confidence. Briefly, Connor peaked at Jarvis, who did not move or flinch from his dark corner by the exit. But his amber eyes were watching them, ever keen, ever observant—ever predatory.
"The extraction of the bullet went without issue," explained Buchanan. "Mr. Ellison is dressing his wound now. He lost consciousness on the table, but the doctor believes he will be fine to sail should there be no complications for the next twenty-four hours."
"And Ellison?" Connor asked. "How is he handling it?"
The look returned to Connor from his commander was unexpectedly gelid, as if he had posed an inquiry of unquestionable rudeness.
"Mr. Ellison handled it all as one would expect him to, with the utmost professionalism and precision." Buchanan averted his gaze for a moment, glimpsing the door. "He's fine."
Connor nodded, lamely. Too late he had realized his concern was being monitored, and he dared not look over at Jarvis lest he catch his foe grinning.
Buchanan cleared his throat, paused, and in the invited silence, the air gathered weight and tenseness.
"Mr. Platt and Mr. Jarvis," Buchanan announced. His tone alone was reprimand, and he had only said their names. Platt stood his ground, fists clenched by his sides. Jarvis, at last, showed movement by his corner, and he uncrossed his arms, sauntered over to them.
"You will accompany me back to the ship, after which you will each tell me exactly what the hell happened to put us in this damned position. Is that clear?"
Charlie tapped a knuckle to his brow and grumbled an "Aye, sir." Jarvis saluted and offered a pleasant, "Of course, sir."
Connor's name drew him from his observations of his peers. His eyes met Buchanan's.
"You will remain here with Mr. Ellison, and if there is any news to report on Mr. Hanley's condition, you will report it to me at once."
They left without further ceremony or order, and Connor sank back in his seat by the hearth, green gaze wandering toward the closed door of the operating room every few minutes. The doctor had stepped out at one point and had greeted him before going about his own business. Connor waited for Ellison to come out, for the moment she would sit in the chair opposite him to discuss what had happened. But she did not. Dawn turned to day, and day to noon, and the door remained closed, the space silent. And while he knew he could have opened the door, invited himself in, he could not summon the courage to do it. It seemed intrusive, forceful, disrespectful.
And so he waited, until, by late afternoon, there was a knock on the entrance. Mr. Buchanan walked in, and Connor stood to greet him.
"No news?" asked his commander.
"No news, sir. Not a word."
Buchanan's eyes narrowed and he did what Connor could not. Without hesitation, the young commander went to the door to the operating room and opened it.
Jeanine turned swiftly when she heard the door to the room open—without warning, without knock. When her miscolored eyes beheld her invader, she did not stand, though she was poised to. She affirmed her position in her seat by the cot Jack rested upon.
"Mr. Buchanan," she greeted.
Harvey gently shut the door behind him, removing his bicorne hat in the process.
"How is he?" he asked.
Jeanine studied him, long enough to sense the question was of genuine concern.
"So far, no issues. His breathing is regular, and I have made sure to dress his wound when appropriate. Much of the bleeding has subsided."
Buchanan offered a slight smile.
"I am glad to hear that. We should be able to keep to our schedule and sail by tomorrow morning, then."
She didn't say anything. To hear his voice in that moment, steeped in relief and hope, was a hateful sound. The hand she had kept over Jack's twitched. His operation had passed like so many others, it should have felt routine. But the memory of his blood on her hands was still bright. The fear in his eyes when he pled with her to tell Sophia he was sorry still haunted her. Had she not known, had she not gotten there in time, had she not been trained in the basics of medicine, she would be sitting beside a corpse.
The thought summoned bile up her throat. Her eyes stung. She coughed and wiped a dirty sleeve over her eyes, under her nose.
She turned abruptly at her name, sniffling as she met Buchanan's stare. His forehead wrinkled, a question on his brow, his position nearer than before.
"What?" she said. In her grief, she forgot where she was, to whom she was speaking. The self that appeared seemed unconcerned with propriety. The tumult of her feelings could not match her mastery of decorum.
Buchanan's frown deepened.
"I've called your name some three times now, and you ignored all summons but the last. Have I done something to offend you?"
The penultimate word echoed in her skull, clanging like the ship's bells—but not in the leisurely, metered way it was rung for the changes in watch. It took on the cadence and frequency of the call to beat to quarters—an alarm.
Jeanine looked at him, her jaw stiff.
"I don't know why you'd think that," she said. Her words were earnest, however flippantly they were spoken. His selfishness and vanity, expressed when her dearest friend lay by her having nearly died, were misplaced, if not outright disgraceful.
The instant Buchanan's eyes narrowed, Jeanine turned away, focusing her attentions back on her patient, who was the only person in the room deserving of her care. Her commander would be an afterthought. She was determined to make that so.
Silence trickled in, in the manner of a leak in the ship's hold—benign and undetectable at first, but, if left unaddressed, would sink them.
Jeanine inhaled deeply, the quiet rising to an overwhelming depth, her breath the only thing keeping her afloat. As she exhaled, slowly, focusing on the egress of air on her lips, Buchanan spoke, as if he were waiting for her release to continue.
"Considering you have expressed an alarming amount of rudeness—and, dare I say, insubordination—the instant I walked into this room, I am inclined to think otherwise. I have angered you, Ellison. I should like to know how."
Her teeth clenched, the lessons of her girlhood straining against her rage. Heat pulsed in her neck, behind her eyes, on her brow. Her hairline dampened with sweat.
She pivoted in her seat, eyes cutting to him.
"Is it not plain enough? Must you demand the obvious from me?"
Harvey scoffed. His blue eyes flickered, stunned, no doubt, by her nerve.
"If it were, I would not be asking. Or do you think I can read minds?"
Jeanine stood, the chair screeching as she nudged it back in the movement.
"But you can certainly read behavior, can you not?" she countered. "You can read the look on my face? The pain in my eyes knowing my dearest friend has nearly died because of this meaningless charade? Could you not read in my expression when I pled with you hours ago that I suspected Mr. Platt and Mr. O'Hannigan were planning something and yet you chose to disbelieve me? Did you not sense my desperation and my fear? You, who could tell I had more questions than I would dare ask? You could not see it? You had every opportunity to stop this before it had even begun! Every opportunity, and yet you chose not to do anything. You, our commander, our leader. I came to you with concerns, and you did nothing. You did nothing."
"And you would have had me do what, Ellison?" Buchanan retaliated, his voice booming. "Throw O'Hannigan and Platt in the brig? Punish them in their quest for justice?"
Her throat swelled, and the words that tore out of her mouth sounded shrill and strangled.
"Murder is not justice!"
"And what would you know of justice? You did not see what that man did to my cousin! You weren't there. Platt might have told you the truth, but you were never a witness to it."
"So even had you known what they were doing you would have done nothing all the same?"
Buchanan studied her, his clear eyes jubilantly defiant.
"Aye, I would have." His voice lowered but lost none of its intensity. "Deny my cousin and Mr. O'Hannigan their chance—perhaps their only chance—to seek satisfaction, to rid the world of that pestilent existence and excuse for a man? I wouldn't. I couldn't."
Jeanine struggled against her frustration. Her body tensing to contain it, helpless against motive she could not understand. Every assertion of hers was met with parry, equally as vehement, equally convinced.
"And the conspiracy to murder, to take matters into their own hands instead of subjecting Mr. Jarvis to the full extent of the law—"
"And when, exactly, do you think that would ever happen, if ever?" Harvey interrupted. "How many more lives do you think he'll ruin before he's finally caught?"
"So the rules of this world, civilization, count for nothing? This was a murder masquerading as some honorable feat, but it is not!" Jeanie's voice rang in her ears, filling every void of her being, allowing her to stand just an inch taller. "There is no honor in this, there is—"
"Honor? You want to speak of honor, Ellison?" Buchanan almost laughed, but his eyes were spiteful, his smile a sneer. "You dare lecture me on the virtue?"
As rapidly as Jeanine's courage strengthened, it dwindled. She shrank, as if her body were being whittled to shreds, and she realized in the pause he granted her to answer how he loomed over her, his presence no longer a companion to hers but a weight, a menace.
She didn't reply.
Harvey continued, his intentions fixed.
"You have no honor to your name to lend you any credibility. Why? Because you forsook every ounce of the little you already had the instant you abandoned home and stole someone else's identity. So do not dare seek to educate me about honor. You have none."
A familiar heat pooled in her eyes, her vision blurring. Her head ached, her neck strained, trying to keep itself held high. She blinked, and no tear burst from her eyes.
She looked at Mr. Buchanan squarely, her breathing heightened but tempered. Control of herself was all she had left, and she held onto it as if it were salvation itself. But something burned in her chest the longer she faced him, and she, weak, defeated, turned away. At last she lowered her head, sat herself back in her chair.
"Now I know what you truly think of me, Mr. Buchanan," she whispered, and at that point, she was convinced she was talking to herself. For what could Buchanan ever find worthy of listening from her mouth?
She sought Jack's hand, her fingers gently taking his.
Harvey's voice touched her ear.
"I must tend to my patient." She sniffed. "Good day, sir."
"Ellison, I didn't—"
She turned her head but once. Her eyes found him.