Title: To freeze in a Hidden Sea
Word Count: 679
Disclaimer: Not mine
To Freeze in a Hidden Sea
His heart pounded now, when he heard that step on the floor. He could feel himself clench, at the rattle of the door. His body knew, even if he was sleeping, or reading, or staring heavily out the window. He heaved up in the bed, then, and prepared himself. He had to be ready for pain. Debridement the Spanish doctor called it. Some days Hunter thought he would rather have lost his leg.
(His mother's voice, in his head then: “Don't be ungrateful Rob Hunter.”) He did try.
Still if his chin dripped with tears, and if Hunter sobbed into his clutched pillow, the doctor put it down to pain in the leg. The probes and scrapes went no further than the hole in his thigh. They went no deeper than that particular lake of agony.
The other pain predated the leg. It had always been.
Hunter's other pain was an ocean, vast and mostly hidden. It was gray and lacked mercy. It was cold, and full of monsters. There were shoals there, fog-banks, and false shore lights, to fool the gullible sailor. He fought most days, to stay above it, somehow, to stay warm and keep moving. It made him tired. But the blame, for the pain of it, was his. The cold sea inside him there was all his. A man is responsible for his own soul.
The doctor came every day, after lunch. He fussed with wet dressings, he sniffed and poked, and muttered. He was a sallow bird thin man, his hair was lank and black. He had a soft voice, and strong hands that hurt. Hunter tried not to look.
Today the doctor was brief. The dressings came off easily. He didn't have to pull and pry.
“Hmm, you heal well.” the doctor said. He did not reach for his knife, or rattling probes. Peeking over the pillow, Hunter could see a pink-red trench, longer than his hand. An ugly thing. Still, there were women in port towns who would not mind. He had never had trouble with women.
There were women he paid of course, for certain acts that one could not expect a decent woman to do. But there were girls too, who looked into his eyes, and saw – something. They went with him willing, hanging on his arm. They seemed to know about the cold sea inside him. He could feel them, feeling it. They wanted to warm him, improve him, change him somehow. But it never worked. Given time, he always hurt them. He never meant to do so, but they hurt so easy. He'd say the wrong thing, or not say the right thing. And in any case, he always had to leave. Better to stick with whores. They were cheerful beings, mostly. Sometimes that warmed him, and they didn't ask questions.
Not that there were liable to be women available any time soon, Hunter reflected. His own right hand, that was what he was reduced to here. Christ, he hated Spain.
The doctor was talking. Hunter sat up, to pay attention.
“You may return to your cell.” The doctor was smiling. This was good news, apparently. “I want you up and walking on the leg, for as long as you are able, every day. Your friends, no doubt can help you.”
Hunter nodded. Hornblower and Kennedy were not his friends. He had made no friends on the Indefatigable. But, there was no point in trying to explain. Besides, even had they been his friends, they had taken up residence in the attic infirmary. He saw them little.
The doctor was watching at hunter now, awaiting his reply. The simple delight of giving good news, had faded into a look which was quizzical and a little too aware.
“That is good news.” Rob Hunter offered. “Thank you.”
The doctor nodded. Hunter's words had satisfied him.
He packed his rattling tools and left. Hunter was alone with his cold sea.