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Smiles In Return

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Doctor Maturin’s smiles were a rare phenomenon; as it would seem, one too precious to be directed at a fellow member of his own species.

He had no trouble with smiling at whatever new creature he had just found and was now cradling as if it didn’t have venomous stings or mucus all over it. It was such a tender, loving expression that made you believe that he could start singing lullabies at it any time soon – which he luckily never did. The fact that any human being was in the nearby to see it and discover that Dr. Maturin did have a soft side after all was merely accidental.

He did smile to those people he loved, with this quiet, almost secretive way of loving he had. In a sincerely affectionate way to greet Sophie, or whenever he obliged to Sarah and Emily’s occasional and ever so innocent whim. With a fairly conspiratorial air with Jack when Killick started nagging around. More politely when a former crewmate happened to recognize him on some distant shore, though it grew more open and sincere if said crewmate was not an officer but one of the lower deck hands, one of those who followed Lucky Jack from ship to ship, with a faith and a loyalty comparable to those that he himself professed for the man.

And to Jack, of course he smiled to Jack. Sometimes more with his voice, his gestures, his music even, rather than with his lips, but those were smiles nonetheless, and Jack could always notice them, and appreciate them as the rare marvel they were.

But as a general rule, when he smiled it was mostly for himself. He had this smug, half secret smirk he made in those few occasions when he debased himself to pulling out some play of words (“because they have been cur-tailed”), or in his far more frequent covert mocking at poor Jack’s proverbs. A variety of this was the overly-proud gesture he’d make whenever he managed to use any term that sounded vaguely nautical. It was hardly a smile, with his lips slightly pursed, his head held high, but nonetheless overspilled with a pride that transpired into his voice; if he ever realised he was showing it, he would probably try to repress it with all his might.

The same happened with that almost-inexistent tugging at the corner of his lips when he spoke, rapidly and with a lot of vehement gesturing, about the wonders and merits of the last species he had lain his interests on. His eyes gleamed and were very open, his breath short, as if he tried to transmit with that what he could not say with words– that is, that it does not matter how many segments an annelid has, the important part, the transcendental, is the beauty in it, the perfection in nature, how you can perceive God’s work even in the simplest of earthworms.

It’s not that he said it explicitly. Probably, he wasn’t even aware of it, not in a conscious way. But there was a spark, a warmth in his speech that made Jack’s heart beam in return, despite the fact that they were talking about, well, worms. And it was watching him in one of those rapts of naturalistic passion that he could picture, for the first time, the child that his dear friend had once been, an unkempt creature that every other Thursday stormed breathless into the kitchen, with some featherless and rather disgustingly looking owl chick curled up in his careful hands, asking earnestly if they could keep him and name him Aristòtil.