Captain John "Jack" Aubrey of HMS Royal Navy stared emptily at the passing nebula, seemingly un-noticing of its striking red and gold swirled beauty, the weathered railing creaking under his white-knuckled grip.
"Trouble again, Jack?"
Relaxing his grip on the railing he drew his hand across its abused surface as if in silent apology to his lady before closing his eyes with a defeated drop of his head, the rebellious yellow lock of hair that would never stay in his queue ticking his nose.
"Jack?" The well-loved voice closer now until, finally, a small hand alighted on his broad shoulder, slender but strong fingers digging gently into his arm.
"This nebula, all those years ago…." he finally answered, eyes still shut.
His friend did not interject, and Jack silently blessed him for his unusual patience, and allowed him to continue uninterrupted.
Dr. Stephen Maturin, ship's surgeon and his particular friend, was never one to respect proprieties or rules but usually found an ounce of restraint where his friend was concerned.
"I detest failure and every time we must cruise past this place I remember…."
"It is past, my dear," his friend interjected suddenly, "there is nothing to be done about it now." His friend may have had an extra measure of patience for him but it was little more then a thimble. Jack felt a small smile tug at his mouth at the predictable consistencies in his inconsistent friend.
Heaving another sigh he finally turned to meet the other man's eyes, Stephen's hand slipping gently from his shoulder as he faced his oldest friend. Not for the first time he was caught and held by those odd reptilian eyes, cold and calculating, but with unimaginable depths of caring and feeling that Stephen kept hidden away and buried from most of the world.
"Of course, you are right, my dear," he conceded with a sigh, breaking their locked gazes with a blink.
"Dear Sophie has asked for you."
"How is she? How is the baby?" he asked, feeling worry crinkle his weathered brow.
"All is well, my dear. She is resting but I think it will not be long before you are a father. We shall be at Mauritius Space Port in a few days if I am not mistaken….and I pray she will have the baby there."
"And there is no way to tell….." Jack began, feeling his face alight with hope.
"Oh, Jack," his friend chided, "Sophie will not take it kindly if you are to disparage the arrival of a girl."
"Of course, of course," he conceded not wishing to provoke his volatile friend further.
"She is resting in your cabin. I gave her a dose of laudanum, so you may find her already asleep…."
"I will look in on her…I know she is anxious to set foot on land once again." He had never understood his wife's dislike of the open sea of Space for Jack loved the open empty spaces, the billowing of his ship's sails as they caught the solar winds, the bright twinkling of distant stars, and magnificent splashes of supernovas and nebulas. And his dear old Surprise, his beautiful ship, the second most important lady in his life.
"Jack…" his friend's voice broke into his thoughts once more and he stared down into those eyes again, full of understanding, and Jack resisted the urge to hug his dear friend, knowing how Stephen detested open displays of affection. He settled for a clap on a boney shoulder instead.
Over the years had had learned to stop questioning the reasons and nature of their friendship. At first he had been taken aback by Stephen's volatile and often scathing nature, so like the snakes and venomous creatures he loved so dearly to study. A nature that was completely at odds with Jack's own boisterous and affectionate nature. As different as Jack, tall, blond and blue-eyed with an already growing punch and Stephen, short, thin-haried and painful slender with a mind as sharp as a sword. But, there was something within both of them that connected and bonded, a connection that began as wariness but grew from curiosity and intrigue to respect and admiration until finally it blossomed into affection and, ultimately, love.
For two men, so different
"Thank you, Soul," he whispered before heading down to check on his long-suffering wife.
Sophie was as Stephen said she would be, asleep in a makeshift bed in his cabin, her beautiful face relaxed in sleep, long blond hair undone and framing her fine features. Like a siren from the sea that lured sailors to their doom…..
His eyes traveled down her slender form until it rested on the conspicuous swell of her normally flat stomach. He smiled to himself. His son…soon to be born. A boy to teach the art of sailing, riding, hunting…….
Stepping closer to the bed he allowed his large calloused hand to rest gently upon her brow before smoothing carefully over the flowing yellow hair…so like is own. Leaning down he brushed a kiss across his wife's flushed cheek, pausing when she murmured in her sleep, only pulling back carefully as she settled once again.
It still amazed him that she had agreed to his proposal of marriage so many years ago as he had had few prospects and had just begun to rise in the ranks of the royal navy…only a Post Captain. He remembered with a wince his boyish obsession with Diana Villiars, and the blows that he and Stephan had almost come to over her, only to be overtaken with a rush of thankfulness that he had met this beautiful woman before him. She had saved him from both a terrible and unhappy marriage and preserved the treasured friendship he still shared with his mercurial friend.
And now, he hoped, he would have a son.
"I love you, my dear," he whispered tenderly before pulling the blanket more firmly about her slender shoulders. Turning he left the cabin as quietly as he had come, closing the door softly behind him, and headed topside of his beloved Surprise.