A/N: Hello Long time no see!

Sorry about my long absence (especially regarding the LOTR story I left you hanging with), and I do intend to return properly. I haven't given up writing, despite my lack of posting: I've discovered a wonderful place called (also Real Person Slash, but the less said about that the better! LOL), and my fandoms have sort of changes, which is why I haven't been updating here so much. So I apologise for that, and hope you'll take this little fic as compensation!

That is, if anyone still reads me:P

Comments are very much appreciated. Cheers all!

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Stephen is a funny little man.

Now, do not mistake me: I say such a thing not to denigrate his character, far from it. I daresay I speak only with the intent to compliment, as is usually the case with my own meagre evaluations of the doctor's complexion. Yet there is no escaping it. My dear Stephen is most profoundly odd.

It's the small things. Well, I say such a thing for ease and speed. I do not have enough energy, nor is there time and space enough in all of eternity, to broach the wider subjects as to precisely why he strikes me, and almost everyone he comes into contact with, as strange. I shall discreetly steer around his aversion to naval heirarchy and tradition. Draw a line, shall I, under his frankly flabberghasting obsession with flora and fauna. And I shall ne'er even say a word about his perculiar attraction to sloths.

For all these discrepancies come under the flag of naming Stephen as a particular friend, if you understand me. It comes with the territory, so to speak. He shall never change, and it is not appropriate that we ask him to in order to fit more commonly with society and ship-life. I keep pointing this out to himself when he berates me for my supposed girth - lecturing me on the dangers of a ruddy constitution - or when he scolds me regarding my financial dealings. But he tends to merely roll his eyes or wave those hands of his in a most flippant manner. He never much cares for tradition or officialdom... he has not yet realised, I think, that waving your hands at the captain is a greivously punishable offence. That is, if ever Jack Aubrey would allow his surgeon flogged.

But all that is by the wayside, and I forget myself. As I was saying, despite there being vast differences in the way Stephen goes about his business to almost every one else in the known world, one tends not to notice. There is just something intrinsically abnormal about the man and, once you get used to it, it all becomes part of the surf and roll.

Yet for some unknown reason, recently I have been noting his eccentricities more and more. Why I should choose to do this now, when the beginning of our friendship is years since spent, I shall most likely never guess. Stephen is better at assessing thoughts than myself, though it wouldn't do to tell him such a thing. Perhaps it is due to an uncommon quietness aboard? These waters have been calm, yet not still, the wind steady, but not strong. And there has not been a sail to set sight on the horizon for many days. Perhaps that is why my thoughts turn idle and bending? Or perhaps it is the lesson my doctor gave me the other day in being objective and observational: though quite apart from practicing my new-found skills on gulls and newts, I turn my attention to the master of them all. Perhaps that is it... but perhaps not.

As I say, in this rather excessive preamble of mine, I have been recognising the unmistakable signs of oddness these past few days. They have been there within Stephen all along, I realise, but I have never taken the time to delight in them to such an extent. I fail to grasp why this should strike me as such a shame, but the sink of my stomach is clear whenever I think about such a thing.

How could I not have noticed the way Stephen drinks his coffee before? My meaning is, I have noticed it, but it has never been a thing of importance to me. Now it is, I think. I actually looked forward to attending table this morn, because I knew Mr Killick would bring forth the steaming pot and anticipated the reaction from Stephen's quarters. I was not to be disappointed. The smell of the bean wafted deliciously through the air and, within a matter of moments, Stephen had stumbled in and fell upon the jug, like a parched man falls onto a river. I have observed the same sequence of events occurs every morning we share together excepting, of course, when the variable of company is present... even Stephen isn't so oblivious as to flout such codes of decency. But I digress.

Firstly, Stephen thuds down into his chair. A man as light as he can sure make a clamour when he slams wood against wood. He will diligently avoid my gaze - this is not especially difficult as his eyes are usually still shut, puffy and blackened as if he has been punched. It's quite a sight, I assure you. Then, he will proceed to wrap himself around his cup, those long, expert fingers of his curling around the delicate china with such force, drawing it up to his chin. I have never seen another man cradle crockery so tenderly, it's quite extraordinary. Stephen will then pause, letting the hot steam wander up and across his face, thin nostrils widening as he breathes deep. It's possible at this point to see a small flush entering those sallow cheeks, a bit of life returning to the corpse. He will crack his squinting eyes open - first one, and then the other - blink a few times, then scowl darkly at me. It is then that I know all is well, and we can carry out our day as normal.

It's quite remarkable, but as regular as clockwork. That is why I focus upon it so.

Another commonplace irregularity: the way Stephen reacts to things. I don't just mean verbally as you can near well bet on every horse riding that his answer will be dour, or ill-humoured, or unclear... sometimes all three at once. Initially, he appears as thick-skinned as they come and, while it would be impossible to call him slow-witted, there is a decidedly Irish way to his air when under attack. Words appear to bounce off him, they slide away and leave no impression. He falls down those deck steps more times than a Frenchman eats garlic, crashing to the ground with all the grace of an elephant, yet he has never broken a rib because of it, and always just stands and dusts himself off before continuing, unconcerned, on his way. I have seen my fine sailor Tom Pullings fall down those steps, granted as a midshipman, and been winded enough to sit out of drill. It is bizarre. Not only that, but dear Stephen will deliberately lie, cheat and steal in order to conceal illness or injury, much to my bewilderment. Not until he is shivering so much his teeth chatter, or has a fever so high he cannot talk will he admit that there might be something amiss. Hence the predicament we currently find ourselves in.

Stephen tends to laugh loudly at things that are incredibly serious, such as being summoned to sup by the Admiral, and yet fails to see the wit behind the most straightforward of jokes. He can give every single impression of not listening to a damn word your saying, then become defensive when you get short with him... Yet he can give you the most attentive and intelligent looks you ever did see, murky blue eyes gleaming and ears pricked, and you will reach the end of your tale only to discover he has spent the past hour thinking about disecting livers of small crawling things. Sometimes you can shout at him until you're red in the face, frustrated and almost ready to tear your hair out, and he'll be standing there with a quirk of a smile playing about his lips, dark head cocked to one side, staring at you as if you were a damned rare parrot.

That is just not the way most people do things. This oddness works both ways too, though. While never one to show it, the man is easily wounded in my experience. By fire and brimstone and bullet, of course, but with contempt and disgust also. There are times when his face is suddenly so open and clearly hurt that it pains me whenever I catch sight of it, though when I look again it is invariably schooled back to his perfect stoicism. Yet I know he hurts beneath his show of strength and steel. My heart still clenches when I think of the times I have called his honour into question, or disrespected those things that he holds most dear to him. Whenever I have seen that strange gleam in his eye dim dark, or have been the cause of the particular way his lips tighten when he's acutely upset. Obviously, the times have been few and far between, but remain far too many for my liking. He deserves better than what I can give him, I think. Though I doubt if he would ever leave me.

Good grief, such a tiresome and low track my thoughts tread tonight. I care not for lugubriousness or maudlin conversation, not even when grog has a hold on mind and body. But perhaps I could be forgiven, considering...

He's just such an odd creature! The men think so, too, though none of them have dared confront me with such opinions, and I shouldn't think they will do. Can you imagine? Telling old Goldilocks that Mr Maturin is a right queer bird? It makes me laugh just to imagine it! But you can see it in their faces. Or, at least, you could at first, when they were first confronted with this dark and bony, quiet little man. Their eyes narrowed whenever he whistled in my presence, and they found his open reading of books regarding issues from amputation to venereal diseases of the South Pacific highly troublesome. Whispers would follow wherever my dear doctor chose to wander, and they would tut whenever he got under their feet.

They could not understand how he worked. I say that as if we now know, but that is simply not the case. We have all merely come to accept the complete contradictions in his unmarkable character, all the things that define him, yet elude definition. The conundrums of his existence. No doubt the crew were baffled by his harsh nature but kind and generous spirit, his scowl versus his smile. The bitterness that shrouds him and the light that shines from him, his rough tongue and his soft hands. His awkward, stooping stance in direct contrast to the beauty that flows from his talent fingers as he plays the cello. How is it that someone can feel so much sadness and anger and bile, yet bring peace and happiness to those around him?

Now, they love him as much as I: they smile and shake their heads at his giddy delight when he spies dolphins; they help him into the rigging when he spies a rare gull; they do not pause to jump into the sea to fetch him when he has overbalanced and I am below deck and carefully carry him - coughin, spluttering, and exceedingly put out - back onto the deck. They do love him, and admire him greatly, and it warms my heart and soul to see it. Now instead of whispers, it is grins and tipped hats my doctor recieves, greetings and respect instead of dark whispers, claps on the back and cheers if he has returned from one of his watery encounter. They are proud of their doctor, as I am of my friend. And we can forgive all the bizarre quirks and bad habits, along with everything that lies in between, for just one more day in his presence.

But forgive me. My thoughts run away with me and take us down paths that are dull for you and perplexing for myself. It's just that I know him so well, more intimately than most, yet sometimes don't understand him at all. He succeeds in surprising me every day when I thought there was little else new in the world. As I say, please excuse this ramble - it is bourne of situation, sleeplessness, sadness and little else, I wager.

My mind does just wander terribly as I sit here by his bedside, watching him sleep, quietly waiting for him to wake up again.

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