carmilla: Aubrey and Maturin playing their instruments (Aubrey/Maturin)
[personal profile] carmilla
SUMMARY: Bonden takes care of what he can.


It has often been said that doctors make the worst patients, and Bonden had more cause to know it than most. Stephen Maturin, indeed, was a worse patient than any of the common run of physicians, even when the fever that still lingered from his time at Port Mahon rendered him incoherent and half unconscious. The sea voyage back home was not improving his condition, and though all the crew were anxious to see him safe back in England, there were few who liked to approach him in the meantime. But Bonden was Jack Aubrey's hands - he'd worked hard to make himself so - so when the captain could not be spared, it was natural to Bonden that he should be the one at the doctor's side. When the fever broke out in hot, sour sweat, he was there to sponge it away, and when the doctor's thrashings bade fair to throw him from his bunk, it was Bonden's hands that, with infinite care for his still-twisted limbs, pinned him to his bed.

When the hands joked amongst themselves (in the kindest possible spirit, for they loved him dearly) about what the doctor shouted during those fits, Bonden didn't join in. Keeping him still, pressed close against the his body in that little cabin, he heard things that could have put the rest of their gossip to shame. But Bonden had known from a lad what was worth hearing from an officer, what was worth not hearing, and what should be paid close attention to while politely forgetting that the words themselves were ever uttered.

~

It was Bonden who carried Stephen into his rooms at the Crown, and he was determined that he should be the first to see him walk out of them. He took a billet for himself on the ground floor, within range of the doctor's voice if not, yet, his powers of motion. That was only right; Mrs Moss was a fine woman in her way (Bonden had become a devotee of her cooking in a very short space of time), but she could not be expected to keep up with the doctor's capricious moods, nor yet his very original attempts at nautical speech. She couldn't be expected to stoke the fire until it flamed like a pale Mediterranean sun, or to see that `the poor invalid' was shivering and crack the window for him anyway, or to show Captain Aubrey where the doctor's more valued books were secreted, when he came by to read. If she could have, she would have arranged the bedside table so that each item would be where he instinctively reached for it; she would have organised the furniture in the bedroom so that, when he finally made his shambling, unaided way across the room, the crossing would be as easy as possible. But she didn't know how, and Bonden did. Bonden knew the doctor pretty well, he reckoned. The man required a great many things, and he didn't know that he needed all of them.

There was one desire of his, though, that Bonden grew convinced he was aware of. It was obvious in his restless twisting in his sheets, the way he gnawed his lower lip ragged, the way his hands half-clenched, winced, unclenched again. Bonden had never troubled with the intricacies of such things; he was at heart a simple man, but the doctor was not, he knew. He could not casually ask for a mate's assistance - it could not be casual assistance, to him. But the need was obvious, nonetheless.

It took a week for Bonden to realise the simple solution. He need only offer the path of least resistance. Crossing to the bed, he met the doctor's eyes, letting his hand rest on the sheet above his slightly labouring chest.

"Would you like me to help?"

He deliberately left off the `sir'.

Stephen only nodded, that time at least; then let his head fall back and his eyes closed. And Bonden held him carefully, carefully, as though he suffered a second fever.

~

As he frowned over the phrase he was copying out, Bonden glanced in Stephen's direction and was satisfied with what he saw. He had grown distracted by one of the books he had open, and was making little annotations in the margin with the stub end of a pencil. The doctor was not the doctor when he was not about his books; he had been exceedingly troubled when his own hands had not been up to the task of writing, though he had let that unhappiness show only in a decided irritability with whomever he was forced to dictate to. And he had been more distressed than he should have been at Bonden's inability to write; had positively insisted on giving him lessons once they were back aboard.

Bonden didn't care about writing, in the lump; but Stephen needed something to occupy himself, and it was the nearest thing to hand. It had been entertaining to squire him up into the tops, provided he didn't think about what the captain would do to him should he let the doctor fall, but it was hardly an exercise for every day. No, the writing answered well enough. And if Stephen could be distracted from their lessons then his anxieties, whoever they had been for, were beginning to fade. Besides, it was pleasant to spend time with him, the two of them in his little cabin, even if the walls were too thin for any sort of privacy.

That thought had perhaps come at a bad time, for just at that moment Stephen glanced up at him and colour darted across his sallow face. Then, to Bonden's delight, he did not look away but held his eyes, and gave him a smile of shy, honest pleasure.

~

Many months later, as the Boadicea lay at anchor in False Bay, Stephen was to discover that Bonden was nearly as bad a patient as himself - his equal, at least, in putting off any treatment he possibly could. His salve was refused, and his laudanum; Bonden would not even let him look at the marks left by his wholly unjust flogging. Stephen's physician's hands ached to tend him. Ached for other reasons too, perhaps.

It was only when he had been back aboard some days, and the captain was away, and the hands mostly drunk and idle, that Bonden came to his cabin and made it clear exactly why he had not wanted to be half-naked under Stephen's hands in other circumstances. A foolish gesture, and not to be repeated, but it had a cheering effect; once more, for a little while, Bonden could take care of the practicalities, and the rest could take care of itself.
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