Title The Impact
Word Count 811
Cleveland did not feel the impact.
He had been there, shouting at Kennedy, because no one could hear or breathe through the storm. (And why was Kennedy on deck at all, except that he was usually where Hornblower was, and would share the watch with him, even on the dirtiest night in fifty years.) But Cleveland was not thinking about this particular demonstration of loyal love. This was no time for thought. The wind was a lunatic shriek, and the cross seas were trying pitch-pole the Indy. And Christopher Cleveland was clapped onto a lifeline, and his eyes stung with water, coming in fast as he could blink, and he was tilted at forty degrees. He was trying to get Hornblower's damned attention so he could relieve the damned watch.
When the other sound came, it floated high above the storm, shrill with horror. He looked up, saw nothing, felt nothing, a great and sudden press of nothing like the beat of giant wings. Then there was Someone hurt, far away and small, Someone was crying with hurt. And he thought dimly that the world must have exploded.
Down in the swaying bright they cut his clothes away with scissors; all of his clothes, from his oilskins down to his drawers. And the scissors were big and cold, and it seemed so wrong. He was scalded with helpless shame. He wanted to curl to cover his pitiful skin, but they held him, hands on him-- and his ears were still ringing from the push of that nothing sound. The pain came, all along the side of him, his arm, his arm. And it hurt so much now. Christopher thought they must have cut his arm off with the scissors too, and he wept.
Then the doctor came-- and he made Christopher drink something. It was thin and bitter, and it made his face hot. The word tilted away to the side, and he went along.
He woke in his hammock, tied in, like a drunk man. He did not feel drunk, exactly, this was different and new. His face still felt flushed and hot, and his thoughts came slowly through the ache of his head. His side hurt with every breath. He was naked under his blanket, but he could feel a great bandage holding his arm against his middle. He still had his arm, he wiggled his fingers to be sure.
Sleep came, and he lay for ages, just under the surface. Steps and voices came and went, but he did not have to go. It was a little-boy pleasure. He could rest. When he woke Hornblower was there, sitting on a locker, waiting.
Hornblower's voice was sickroom soft.
Hornblower had the strangest look on his face, a lifted eyebrow, a sort of amused awe. Nobody looked at Christopher that way.
“I have something for you. The doctor says it is safe to give to you now.” He held out the cup.
“Aye. Smithers is in my division, Cleveland. He wanted you to have his. Half the division felt the same.
The doctor had to forbid them-- you would have had quarts.”
Cleveland took the cup in his available hand. It was his stupid hand, his left. It felt odd tilting a cup to his lips from the wrong side, but he managed.
“What are they going to do to me?” (Take his arm after all? Flog him?)
“You tell me what.”
Hornblower looked at him, puzzled. Cleveland sighed.
“Horatio, the last thing I remember I was on deck. Nothing after that makes any sense at all. Please be so good as to tell me what I have missed.”
And so, Horatio did.
“--And he fell right on top of you, struck you to the deck. Damnedest thing. None of the old men had ever seen anything like it. Nobody has. Your arm was out of joint for a while. Took some doing to get it back in....”
Horatio was still talking when Christopher tipped back into sleep.
By morning the pain was less. He was able to go up the ladder, awkward, with his arm in a sling, to a blue sky Sunday, and a battered Indy, rigged for church. He reported his division present and sober. He did not report that they looked at him with kindly eyes and smiles. Nor did he mention that one had actually muttered “It is good to see you well, Sir.” No there was no need at all to say that at all.
The old man was ready to speak. They stood in expectation. But the well worn words did not come.
“Today,” Captain Pellew said, “We have much to be grateful for.”