They were both holding Ishmael. The thing that Henry kept noticing was that they weren't holding him the correct way.
He was at Ishmael's head, with one hand on his shoulder, trying to support him from behind, and Nemo--quiet, dignified, dark-eyed Nemo--was at his feet, staring at him (and Henry could not tell exactly whether Nemo was horrified, angry, wild, because he had never seen him stare before, so all he knew was that Nemo was staring). Ishmael was speaking, shortly, breathlessly. His voice got quieter all the time, and Henry knew he was staring too, but he was staring at Nemo, and he was staring because he was frightened.
He was frightened because it was obvious, quite obvious, that Ishmael was going to die.
On his first day on the Nautilus, when Edward had first accepted the League's proposition and decided to join them, even when Henry whispered in a clenched, helpless voice in his head, no, no, don't, no...; when he had changed back to himself and was standing there, half-naked and hot and shivering, feeling wretched and disgusting because he was surrounded by so many self-controlled people with self-controlled expressions who merely raised their eyebrows at him--on that day, he had considered the submarine-ship as a kind of prison. A dark kind, with no sunlight. A kind that would make Edward happy. After the other people had left, the dark-skinned, bearded man had come over and said, softly,--
"Come with me. My men have brought some of your clothes and possessions aboard, and you have a cabin of your own. You may dress."
"Oh. Er, thank you," Henry had managed, passing his hands over his eyes. The man had a voice that was firm, but dignified, and peculiarly gentle, and he thought that the idea was that he should know that they were not going to hurt him or despise him, but neither should he think that they were going to allow him to hide in his cabin and feel sorry for himself.
Henry knew he was going to feel sorry for himself anyway.
At last he straightened up a bit, and followed the man down a hall into a small room with a basin and table, a bed, a writing-desk. There was one small portal window, and it occurred to Henry that there might be some sunlight after all, before he remembered that they were under water.
The man observed that there were clothes laid out on the bed for him, and his other things were in the chest of clothes beneath the bed, while his vials of serum were on the writing-desk. Medical supplies would be given him, the man said. The men had not had time to fetch everything necessary from the--the dark man paused, implying that he felt rather sceptically about the next word--apartment where Henry was living.
Henry had thanked him, and looked around anxiously to see if the man was going to leave. He did, adding that as soon as Henry had dressed, he might step outside and one of the men would bring him to salon, as there was some explaining to do. So Henry nodded, swallowed, and dressed as slowly as he could, while Edward smirked at him and with great amusement detailed rather a lot of unpleasant things that could happen now that Henry was a part of this 'League'.
Just think how many little bastards we could kill, he said cheerfully, while Henry tried terribly hard to ignore him. And get pardoned for it. Huh. That's a brilliant offer, wouldn't you say? --Huh. I don't know. It's more fun when you know they'll get angry. Or scared. He sounded like a connoisseur talking cigar shops.
Finally, Henry left the room, and a short fellow with a knit cap and beard led him off to the salon. The short fellow didn't look in the least bit dangerous or even all that disagreeable, but Henry remained frightened of him all the way, sneaking looks sideways at him and sighing unhappily. Just before they went into the salon, the fellow turned to him, and said kindly,--
"No need to be afraid, sir. The Captain's a good sort, you know."
"Thank you," Henry whispered, and the fellow opened the door.
It was even a pleasant room, with an organ in one corner and a table and chairs scattered around in some kind of pattern. The dignified man from earlier was sitting in one of the chairs with his legs crossed, and when Henry came in, he looked up.
"Ah, the Doctor. Please, sit."
"I am Captain Nemo," the man continued, suddenly looking Henry intently, as though there were a proper reaction to his name which he was waiting for. "I expect you've heard of me."
Henry shook his head. "Er, no. Actually. No." Truthfully, he didn't know anyone aboard the ship, although he thought from the way they stood and the way they looked that he ought to have.
"No?" Nemo raised his eyebrows. "Really? Well, that is interesting. Possibly, even, advantageous."
Meanwhile, the short fellow had seated himself in a different chair, and was watching them, not curiously, but with the expression of a man who knows that he's hearing something private, and who also knows quite well that he's allowed to hear it, and is just waiting for his part. Henry continued to glance over at him from time to time, but Nemo ignored him.
"At any rate," he said, "it doesn't matter for the moment. Mr. Quatermain explained something of us to Mr. Hyde, but because I understand you to be two separate persons, I wonder if you heard anything."
"Not really," said Henry. He had been too busy trying to get Edward to say no.
"The purpose of the League--we are called the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen--is to fight a man called The Fantom, Doctor, who is attempting to begin a world war by which he will profit by selling arms to the nations. He has attacked various countries with his advanced weaponry, all under the guise of belonging to another country, so that the two places will declare war on one another. He intends to do this all over the world. If he succeeds, the world will be destroyed." Nemo shrugged. "It will be destroyed with the weaponry that it bought. I, myself, would not care, for I belong to no nation, but I fear the sea will be polluted; and many of my men still consider India home, and--" here he finally glanced over at the fellow who had brought Henry-- "Ishmael has presented me with fair enough arguments as to why I should assist my enemies against my enemies. I haven chosen the lesser of two evils."
"Oh," Henry said weakly. "I see."
"I doubt it." Nemo said this again with gentleness, looking at Henry and shaking his head a little. "But, as you can perhaps see, this story has a very simple plot. The man wishes to destroy Venice and begin his war. Our object is merely to overtake and stop him by deactivating the bomb he has placed beneath the city. In the ocean, in water," he added, "you will understand that I have control. I consider this to be an easy task because I have hardly lived in the sea so long to be helpless in it. I believe that it will not be difficult to protect Venice. My men will simply be sent beneath the city, and they will find the bomb, and they will make it useless, and I feel that will be an end to that particular part of it."
"I imagine that you wonder why I am making this explanation rather personal."
"Well--er. A little."
"I wish to you to understand me a little, Doctor. Ishmael understands me remarkably well, although he does not know me completely; but you are a doctor, and one, I understand, with enough reasons also to become a man with no country, as I am. You have spent a large part of your life, since the creation of Mr. Hyde, running and hiding, have you not?"
"Yes," Henry whispered. That, at least, was quite true. When they had taken him in Paris, he had been hiding. Oh, of course, Edward had made him drink the serum--Edward always could, really, when he wanted it--but until then he had been hiding, in his little apartment, with many, many lights, and yet no windows. Yes, he had certainly been hiding, and he had been running for a while, too, from every place he settled. He would manage for a while, and then Edward would kill someone or rape someone, or do something equally horrible, and Henry would have to run again. So he said yes.
Nemo nodded. "Here, in the Nautilus, we are running and hiding. We claim to have founded our own colony, a group of men who are Nemo's, who are slaves to no one, but really, of course, we are only running from the world and hiding in the sea. That is, however, an acceptable arrangement."
"I am inviting you, now, not to join the League, but to join us. Ishmael has agreed that this is an offer that he does not object to. You will not be forced. It merely means that if you wish to stay with us when the League's purpose is through, you are welcome to."
Henry stared. He had no idea-- "May I have time to decide?" he heard himself saying, a reasonable request made in a pleading voice. How he hated himself!
"Of course." Then Nemo stood, and said, "In the meantime, I recommend eating something, or, at the very least, sleeping. You look tired, Doctor," he said simply.
"I--I am. Thank you. Thank you for the explanation, and the invitation. Er. Yes. I think I'll sleep. Excuse me."
He left the room self-consciously, with Ishmael at his side.
"Just to make sure you don't lose yourself, sir," the man said cheerfully. "God knows I got lost when I first came aboard. It was the devil knowing where I was to go for what."
"Right. You know, it's a good offer the captain made you. He made it to me once, too, back a while, and I took it. Not that I'm telling you you've got to, mind. Just saying that it's not a bad lot here, and I'm glad I'm here."
"What did you do before?" Henry asked, curiously.
"Not much of anything. I'm a sailor, always been a sailor, on whaling ships. The Captain just found me. Not important, really."
"Oh. Are you... happy?" He felt so shy about saying the word. It wasn't as though he'd said it in a long time. It wasn't as though he'd spoken to anyone in a long time, either, but-- "I mean--"
"I know what you mean, sir," said Ishmael, smiling. "The thing is, you find out, you don't need to be happy, if you follow me. It's enough to be content. Really, it's enough to fit in with the rest of the lot, even when you don't look a thing like them and won't do the same religious doodads with them and all that. You're still one of them. My closest mate was a cannibal, and it didn't make much difference; it's the same here. I wouldn't say I'm always happy, you know, but it works out. I'm never unhappy."
"Well, that sounds..." That sounds nice, Henry thought, sadly. That sounds wonderful. "Well, at any rate, I'll certainly think about it. Thank you," he added, as they arrived at his room and he turned the doorknob. "Good night."
"'Night, sir," said Ishmael, knuckling his forehead and grinning pleasantly. "All better on the morrow, you know."
"Yes," said Henry softly, shutting the door. He could hear Ishmael whistling all the way down the hall.
The next day was soothingly uneventful. Henry wandered around the submarine-ship trying to learn his way through its halls until someone told him he could go up in the sun on deck; he stayed up there, gladly warm, until afternoon, when they planned to go under. As he came along the deck towards the stairwell, however, Nemo stopped him with a hand placed gently on his shoulder. He started greatly at being drawn up short, turned to Nemo shaking, and for a moment saw Nemo's eyes, looking over his face thoughtfully.
"I shall wish to speak with you to-night, in the salon, Doctor."
"W-when, Captain?" Henry said nervously.
"Twenty-one hundred. Please, come." For a moment, Henry thought of thinking that it wasn't a request, and then he realised that it certainly was. Nemo was giving him a choice. So he nodded and hurried off, and Nemo didn't try to stop him again.
That was when he realised that the Nautilus wasn't meant to be a prison. It was meant to be a place to live.
For a long while after that he sat in his room, listening to Edward laugh in his head and consider all the different ways he could rip apart the members of the League and try to make him drink the serum. Henry always lost those arguments, but he tried hard to argue, because he kept thinking of what would happen to Ishmael's whistling and Nemo's offer if Edward got out and started killing the submarine-ship's crew. He continued to whisper no, no, no silently in his head long past the time when Edward said, Oh, bugger this, and went to sleep.
Somewhere in that time, he fell asleep, too, and then later woke again in a panic, pulled his jacket back on because he'd somewhere taken it off--he couldn't remember doing that; when? he wondered--and hurried towards the salon, hoping it was the right direction. Along the way, he kept looking about himself, and thought everyone was staring at him, and he once had to duck into a doorway to avoid Agent Sawyer, who was coming along humming good-naturedly. When he finally got to the salon, after a couple of wrong turns, he was fifteen minutes late by his pocket-watch; but neither Nemo nor Ishmael acknowledged it.
Nemo invited him to sit down, and Ishmael was already sitting, of course. This time, however, Ishmael was sitting rather closer to them, in a single chair placed apart from the others. Henry eyed him curiously, and sat nervously.
"Good evening, Doctor," said Nemo calmly.
"Er," said Henry. "Good evening. Er."
"I have explained myself somewhat to you, Doctor, but Ishmael has not as yet been given the opportunity. He wished that he might have that chance."
Ishmael smiled at Henry, and nodded. "Yes, that's right, sir. Just wanted to tell you, since you asked yesterday, and I didn't really rightly explain anything to you. Well, let me see--where am I to begin, Captain?" he asked, looking at Nemo with an expression that suggested /he/ didn't really need to know where to begin, but he was making sure that Nemo didn't object to his starting-place.
"At the beginning," Nemo said, raising his eyebrows, and Ishmael nodded again.
"All right, then."
And then, he began to tell the most fantastic story Henry had ever heard in his life. He mentioned a man who sold heads, told of a man with one leg who was fanatically obsessed with a white whale, spoke of Quakers and ships and madmen and harpoons, the sea, the sea, love, and strange kinds of respect, and death. He had a tendency to stray from his object at times, but Nemo never stopped him; he only smiled, a dark, bearded smile, and waited for Ishmael to get back to the point. Finally, Ishmael finished, and Henry, who had been sitting in rapt attention the entire time, fell back in his chair a little.
"Good... good heavens."
Ishmael burst out laughing. It was not unkind laughter, but he was clearly quite amused. He reached out and pressed Henry's hand, which Henry had not expected at all, and said, "Well, sir, I fear I do agree with you there. In the end, 'course, Queequeg died, and I was back to wandering, and that's when the Captain here picked me up. Now you know all about me, and I don't mind if you stare a bit."
"Thank you..." Henry shook himself. "Thank you for telling me. It's--amazing. Astounding. Good Lord."
Nemo sat back comfortably, and turned his dark eyes to Henry. "Now, Doctor, you know of Ishmael. We know a little of you; of your work and your potion and Mr. Hyde. But what is it you think we ought to know of you? Ishmael has told you the story that most men know, but he has also told you things that only I knew before. He is the more trusting of us two and does not require bargains, but I say I will tell you something more of myself only if you believe there is something more of you to know."
"Er," said Henry softly. "Er, well." He paused for a moment, and thought of all the things Ishmael had told, quite freely, without seeming to mind; even things that Henry thought he could tell were secrets; and he finally said, "Well. I, er, I started out with my work because I wanted to impress the scientific world. Because, you know, people kept telling me it was wrong to do what I was doing. It's the same when one tells a child not to touch. God, I wish I never had," he said, looking at his knees miserably and fixedly. "Edward--er, that's something secret, I suppose. I don't let people know that I call him Edward, but he's not really--he always had a proper name, that's all--anyway, Edward does such horrible things, and he thinks it's funny." Henry realised he'd clenched his hands. "He... he laughs. For months now, I've been hiding places because if I go out, he'll kill someone, and I hate waking up with blood in my mouth. God. Doesn't that sound stupid. But I do hate it. We've been living in a house with no windows because he sees the outside and wants to be there; but we've had light, lots and lots of light, because without it, he'll start to wake up. He's like a cat. He's more alive in the darkness."
Without a word, Nemo stood and turned the lamp up, while Ishmael listened attentively.
Henry went on. "It's--it's hard for me to do anything because he can hurt me if he thinks I'm doing something I shouldn't. Inside my head--he makes it difficult to breathe, or to see. I have very little control. The only advantage I have is that he can't come out physically unless I've drunk the serum, but it's not a real advantage, because he hurts me when I won't, and I... I give in. Because it hurts. I never knew before what it was like to be hurt. I spend most of the time just being frightened." He raised his head, and saw that Nemo's dark eyes were fixed on him, and met Ishmael's blue ones apologetically. "Well. I'm sorry. That's all, really, if you knew everything but what I think."
"Yes. Thank you," said Nemo, "for taking us into your confidence."
"Right," said Henry. "Of course."
Nemo smiled at him, somewhere behind the dark beard, a smile which reached his dark eyes. Henry almost shivered, even though he thought it was meant to be a sort of friendly smile. "As for myself, I will tell you why the British are my enemies. It is because they enslaved my people, and killed my children and my wife. Because of them I went into the sea, and there fought against them, and have been fighting them for many years. I sank their ships and killed their men." Nemo said all this very matter-of-factly, and although Henry had realised that Nemo said almost everything matter-of-factly--it went with the dignity--it still made him feel rather as though he were in the presence of a man who was not quite human, or at least didn't follow the regular rules. "But then a Frenchman and his manservant and a harpooner, like Ishmael's good friend Queequeg, came onto my Nautilus and I showed them courtesy. I provided for them and cared for them for some time before they left me as singularly as they came aboard. It seemed very simple, but I found that it was not. The Frenchman had made me think of things that I didn't want to think of, and when I found Ishmael, he, too, made me think."
Ishmael smiled a touch proudly, which Henry found endearing.
"At first, I wouldn't hear of the idea of serving the League in anything for any reason, not to protect Britain, not to protect the world; but Ishmael persuaded me." Here Nemo looked over at him, and smiled again, and Henry could not help notice Ishmael looking back. It seemed to him that there was a very deep kind of unspoken respect between them; even, he thought, a kind of affection. But that was nonsense. "That is why I am here. That is why, Doctor, you are here, upon my Nautilus. Now the three of us know about one another. Have you considered my offer?"
"Yes. Yes, certainly."
"Well," said Henry carefully, "I might have another day, mightn't I? It's rather an important thing."
"Of course. Very well."
It appeared very much as though there was going to be a long, awkward pause, so Henry added quickly, "I think, in the meantime, I'd best get back to my room. We're arriving in Venice to-morrow, aren't we?"
"The day after," Nemo told him.
"Oh. Er. Well. I'm still feeling rather tired, so I think it's a good idea--"
"Certainly. Good evening, Doctor."
Ishmael followed him out, just as he had the night before, but Henry didn't think that he really minded. It was pleasant to have someone walking down the halls with him, considering that it had been several years since anyone had done anything with him at all. He missed the feeling of having a companion, and he wasn't about to dissuade Ishmael, not if it was all right and Ishmael didn't mind.
Halfway back, Ishmael glanced sideways at him suddenly and said, "Captain's still a bit awkward, you know. He's not used to being friendly. He's been hating every Englishman in the world for so many years. As bad as Ahab, in his own way; but he's trying."
"Oh," said Henry. "Really? I'm afraid I'm rather frightened of him."
Ishmael laughed. "Well, there's no need for that, sir! He likes you very much. It's as I said, though, and he doesn't know quite how to behave since matter of course he should be cursing at you and trying to kill you. Very different for him--for all of us--this not minding the English. He doesn't mean any harm, though."
Henry thought this was an opinion that only Ishmael would ever have, but he smiled a bit. "I see. He likes me?"
"He thinks that you'd understand him. He says he trusts a doctor more than other men, on account of your helping folks and being, so to speak, 'the good doctor'."
"He does realise I'm more of a scientist than a physician, doesn't he?"
"Don't think he much minds which, to tell you the truth. Anyway, I expect he'll be more natural around you in a few days. It's just this beginning part that's getting him. It feels like negotiations."
"Oh. Then what is it?"
"Just getting to know you, really. Just getting comfortable around you. You make him a bit nervous, that's all."
For a moment, Henry considered stopping short and saying indignantly, I make him nervous?, but he realised that he didn't really want to do it apart from in his head, and, at any rate, he had thought about it too long and it was too late to say anything without sounding unnatural and very delayed. He contented himself with shrugging his shoulders and murmuring,--
"Well. Here we are."
"Yes, indeed." Ishmael looked at him frankly, and then patted his hand and kissed his cheek. "I wouldn't worry if I were you, sir."
Henry blinked. "S-sorry?"
"Nothing to worry about."
"No-- not that. You--"
"Oh," said Ishmael, laughing. "That's nothing to worry about, neither. Just saying. It'll all be all right."
Henry nodded dumbly and slipped into his room. Once again, he listened to the whistling until Ishmael had gone too far for him to hear any longer.
On the second day, he sought Ishmael out while the others were doing their bit of being scattered around the ship and talking. Mr. Quatermain, he understood, was up on deck shooting targets with Sawyer, and Ms. Harker, Mr. Gray, and Skinner were elsewhere, and he couldn't find Nemo--but he was afraid to look for him even if he'd known where to start. Ishmael told him it was a religious thing, and he wouldn't find any of the other crew, either, for a couple of hours. Henry nodded and sat down on a chair while Ishmael polished the instruments in the control room.
"Captain's very religious, you know," said Ishmael, going around some expensive, complicated-looking thing that Henry would never dare touch and felt a little guilty of watching. "On them holidays that're something important, he shuts himself up in his room with his statues and all that lot, and spends the whole day in there. He's as bad as Queequeg and his religious things, except that Queequeg did trances, too. Something mad, it always seems to me, but I'm not one to judge another man by his feelings towards supreme beings and suchlike. You know what I'm meaning."
"Yes," said Henry. "I know."
"I s'pose you're a Christian. Catholic?"
"Well, no, not really," said Henry. "I haven't been in a church in years. I don't really think I'm anything, not really, because I don't have anything to believe in. I could hardly believe in God after all this. When I lived in my apartment, I used to think, a lot, that if there was a God, he'd kill Edward. Me, too, and put me out of my hell; but then I'd always realise that I was going to hell anyway, and just pray that Edward would be killed, because that was the important thing. I'm sorry. I've not thought about it for a long time."
"'Course not," said Ishmael, moving on to polish something else. "Not as though you'd want to. Not as though you'd have time, if you'll follow me. I expect there were a lot of other things occupying you."
"Er, yes. That's one way of putting it."
"I know," Ishmael told him, almost smiling.
"You mustn't be very religious," said Henry suddenly. He had just thought of something. "That is to say, last night, when you--"
"Kissed you, sir? I don't know that that has a lot to do with religion, begging your pardon. It's a funny thing, the Bible, but it says a lot of things that don't mean anything here. Besides, the Captain doesn't really go by the rules, you know. He made me a whole speech, and I gather he made it to that French fellow, too."
"Oh," said Henry. It surprised him that Ishmael had noticed that Nemo didn't use the rules, too, but he supposed that living on the ship with him as long as he seemed to have, he probably would. Well, it made sense. It wasn't as though Ishmael were less observant that Henry was. Probably, in fact, Ishmael got to understand things better. He'd been there longer. "But if it doesn't have anything to do with religion, then what does it go with?"
"Us all fitting, if you'll understand. That's because the Captain, he's not going about it right, meaning no disrespect to him. He's a good man, and a clever one. But he's frightening you, isn't he? And that's the wrong way to go about it, because he wants you to trust him."
"Right. So I'm trying to mend things a bit. Besides, you're a good man, just like the Captain." Ishmael nodded firmly as he ran the polishing cloth around the wheel. "I'm thinking myself a fair judge of character, sir, and I know you're a good man. I'm trying to help things get sorted out the way they should be."
Henry noticed that this talk didn't bother him particularly, and was a little surprised with himself. Of course, by all rights, the idea of Ishmael's trying to 'help things get sorted out' ought to annoy him, horrify him, raise objections in him; but he found that the truth was that he wasn't much more than curious. The truth was that he trusted Ishmael.
He spent all day in Ishmael's company, talking to him and trying to understand things better and smiling a lot. Like walking with someone, smiling was something that he'd not done in a long time, and it was just as peculiar to have done it so frequently in the last two days as it was to have gone so many places with Ishmael. Still, it was a peculiar thing that he liked, and he got enough reassurance from to it to be tempted to venture out for supper with the other League members, since he'd heard that they did eat supper together, until Ishmael told him that they had the choice but really all ate in their rooms.
"Waste of presentation," said Ishmael, saying the word oddly because he'd never used it before. "Bothers the Captain."
"It is unfortunate," Henry murmured. He was helping to organise the index of charts in the control room, because Ishmael had told him that a lot of them had actually fallen apart last year and didn't exist any longer. The project pleased him, because his hands were busy and he could still talk.
It was that evening, however, when he walked in on Mr. Gray and Ms. Harker, and Edward thought it was the funniest thing he'd ever seen. He laughed and roared and worked himself into a frenzy of making fun of Henry and shouting at him and trying to make him drink the serum again. Henry argued, just as he had the last time, because Edward was wrong and Edward was evil and it was horrible--
Then Nemo found him and chastised him, firmly-but-with-dignity, the way Henry knew his voice must always sound, for being about to let Edward win, and Edward laughed harder and hurt his head and goaded him into shouting. He turned away down the hallway and fled, walking quickly. He had meant to find Ishmael, but instead, disoriented, only ended up going back to his room.
That was when he found out that some of the serum was gone, and that was when he truly became angry. He had not been angry since Edward came out for the first time, and he was almost frightened of himself when he told Mr. Quatermain of the missing vial, blamed the loss meaninglessly on Skinner because he couldn't think of anyone else. Oh, God, he thought, and went to the salon so that he could sit on the floor with his head in his hands and say miserably, no, no, no to Edward as Edward went on laughing.
An hour later, Ishmael came in, and Edward groaned boredly and just--gave up, saying something about how they were far too tedious even to interfere with. Ishmael helped him into a chair, and made him talk about different things, like religion, and Nemo, and the absurd number of maps there could be of one small waterway in the Atlantic ocean, between some underwater mountains that no one should rightly know about anyway because they were so deep down, until Henry was calm again. Sooner or later, though Henry somehow didn't notice when, Nemo joined them, drawing over a chair and sitting and listening, finally speaking, interjecting his opinion calmly into the discussion every now and then; but mainly listening. Henry looked over at him often, and realised that Nemo had a wonderful voice, if one tried very hard not to be frightened, if one took deep breaths every now and then and assured oneself that it was all right, if one remembered to smile. If one could pretend that he was just another man and that oneself was just another man, it was a voice that was pleasant to listen to. Ishmael seemed to be able to tell that Henry thought that, although Henry didn't know how, because he glanced between the two of them and his face got an expression of glad-of-it satisfaction. Henry almost wanted to laugh at him for looking so pleased.
In a moment, he was sure, Edward was going to come back and he was going to laugh and laugh and laugh, and start shouting obscene things, and Henry was going to lose the little self-possession he'd gathered up for this, and become a panicky, wretched, stuttering fool again, and need to apologise and go off to his room, just like the other two nights.
But for a while, this did not happen. Nemo led the conversation, because Ishmael had fallen out respectfully, and Henry followed along well enough. Nemo made Henry think of a prince, or at least a prince from a play, the way he sat in his chair and obviously belonged there, belonged among everything, fit in perfectly. In truth, Henry was a little amazed that Ishmael could have ever described him as 'nervous'. Nemo, behind his beard and watching with his dark eyes, was not nervous. He was in control. Henry sighed.
"Are you all right, Doctor?" Nemo asked suddenly. A moment ago, they had been speaking of star-shaped fish.
"Yes, yes, of course. I'm fine."
"No!" said Henry quickly. "Not at all."
Ishmael coughed, and they both turned towards him, Henry quickly and Nemo thoughtfully. "I'm begging your pardon, Captain, but it is late. Nearly twenty-three hundred thirty, by the clock."
"I see." Nemo stood, with the careful dignity that he had, with a kind of careful elegance, as well. Henry jumped up, standing a little awkwardly behind him, and said,--
"All right," softly.
Nemo turned to him. "Good evening, then, Doctor?"
"Er, yes. Good evening." Henry realised that he sounded rather wistful, and realised that he felt rather wistful, too. It had been a good talk, even if he was frightened at first.
Then, Nemo, smiling at him as though he were a child who had just wished it could stay up later, placed a hand on the sleeve of his jacket and kissed him. Just as Henry had not walked with someone in a long time, and not smiled in a long time, he had not been kissed in a long time, either. He remembered a girl he had once walked out with when he was sixteen, but at sixteen, he had hardly appreciated it. For God's sake, he thought, he had been a boy then. That kiss was the last one he could remember, though, and as this kiss was not even the same as Ishmael's, it felt like the first time anyone had ever kissed him. His first feeling, for some reason, was not any sort of rush of passion, or love, or surprise, or horror, or--he felt grateful. He stood there, let Nemo kiss him, and was so grateful that he felt close to tears.
Of course, this woke Edward up. Edward made a shocked noise, and then, as Henry had thought, began to laugh and, at the same time, rage. He was angry, but at the same time, he pointed out that Henry could hardly deny the stupidity and the wrongness of what he was doing, and that it was so hilarious watching Henry bring about his own destruction when he did it so well; and Edward laughed.
Henry began to shake at the laughter, and he clutched first his head, then his arms, then Nemo, because Nemo was there--and Edward laughed because he was just like a woman, a snivelling, crying woman, pathetic--and he continued to shake, pressing his hands against his head, while Nemo steadied him and Ishmael stood and came over, touching his shoulder comfortingly. The two of them kept their hands on him, holding him upright, as he could hardly stand any longer and Edward was pressing on his head and roaring and laughing and it was insane--and finally he thought he couldn't bear it any longer, the noise, the shaking, and he stopped trying to stand and stopped trying to do anything about it and just listened with his eyes closed, miserably, to the laughter.
When he opened his eyes again, he was lying in a bed, and Ishmael lay on one side, watching him with kind eyes, and Nemo on the other, watching them both with a small, soft air of protectiveness, as though he knew what was his and he was guarding it. Henry didn't mind. He looked at Ishmael, and Ishmael smiled.
"You all right now, sir?"
"Yes... thank you," said Henry tiredly. He was still grateful.
"Good," said Nemo. "Please, continue resting."
"Yes, I shall. I'm sorry," he added, meaning it.
He didn't know which of them had said it, but he whispered, "All right," and fell asleep.
When he woke again, early in the morning, when everything was so quiet that he thought that no one else could be awake, he got up and walked around the room, feeling a bit cold. It was early, he whispered to himself. Nemo and Ishmael were sleeping, which seemed odd. Neither of them seemed like men who would ever sleep, and in spite of himself, he was surprised. They both looked--quiet. Nemo still looked dignified, though, even in his sleep.
Henry came back to the bed and curled up between them. His feet were cold, but together the other two made the bed warmer, and he wasn't sure, if he had to make a choice, which of them he would have moved closer to; but the whole bed was warm, and he lay in the middle, and wondered what he ought to do.
He thought that if Nemo asked him again, he was going to stay on the Nautilus.
That was all in three days. Three days, Henry thought frantically, still at Ishmael's head, with a hand on his wrist for his pulse. It seemed like such a short time when one just said it, 'three days', and it wasn't. It was a thousand years. It was-- Oh, God--
Ishmael had no pulse, and there was a clanging from inside the Nautilus, a huge, ugly smashing of metal that went on; and Nemo started up, and Henry knew now that he was angry. His dark eyes were angry, and Henry whispered,--
"What's that?" afraid of the answer.
Nemo was on his feet. "The sound of treachery!"
As Nemo ran up the side of the gangplank, back to the submarine-ship, and the others followed, Henry found for a moment that he couldn't move. He lay Ishmael down carefully, hands shaking, thinking of mad captains chasing white whales, and cannibals who could be a man's closest friend, and how for a few days he had had someone who didn't mind being followed around, and who talked with him about religion and maps, and who wanted nothing more than to sort things out and convince Henry that Nemo was a good man--a man who was loyal, and kind to him, and, it had seemed, unconditionally there--and he stumbled across the gangplank after the others, and he realised that now he had to stay. In any event, he had to stay. If he wasn't killed. If Nemo wasn't killed. If--
Not because he wanted to or didn't want to. Because Ishmael was dead. Ishmael was dead. And the last three days had made it plain enough.
Nemo needed an Ishmael.