Author's note 2, the serious younger sister of the other Author's Note: This is based off the movie. Not the books.
Hollom can hear them talking. Their voices swarm together, buzzing, pressing hard against the thin walls of the ship. Vibrating through the planks until he can feel their words crawling across his skin on invisible feet, can feel them flitting around his head, echoing in his skull.
He shakes. He hasn’t stopped shaking since Cape Horn, even though heat lies heavy in the air here, thick and ugly and humid – like the air around his face when he cried into his cupped palms after…after the storm. After the mast broke. After Warley…
His breath comes short, and sweat beads on his brow, trickles through his hair, down his back. His teeth clack together, and he clenches his eyes closed. In the self-imposed darkness, Hollom sees their eyes as he passes them on the deck, feels the weight of the crew’s regard. It presses on him, makes him hunch his shoulders in. Makes him want to shrink, disappear. Be anyone but a thin-faced, too-old midshipman with long hands. He presses back into his hammock, pulls the edges of it tight.
He can still hear them, though, and the buzzing clears, turns into something he can understand. A single word, softer sounding than it has any right to be, over and over, in waves that pound against Hollom’s ears until his eyes fly open and he realizes he’s the one chanting it, under his breath.
He polishes his boots carefully, until the flat black shine of the toes reflects back the sputtering light of the single lantern that sways above him. The buttons on his jacket are dull, and he buffs them, too, until they glimmer, and Hollom draws a deep breath, and smiles.
They’re only buttons, and a common enough color. The same as the buttons on any other officers’ jacket, but when Hollom turns his jacket *just so*, they become warmer, absorbing the red from the thick, scratchy wool. And it might not be so uncommon a color either, this red-gold that Hollom stares down at for long fluid minutes, but it’s the same color as the handful of hair that waved over Warley’s brow. He turns the buttons with his fingers, and thinks of how Warley laughed, tossing his head back and slapping his leg, smile wide, curved. Hollom thinks of the pink of his cheeks, his lips, and how brown his broad, square hands looked against the gray of the sails.
How small they looked, reaching through the crisp white foam toward the Surprise, and how tender they seemed when they’d cupped Nagle’s face. Warley’s broad shoulders and his big hands and lean hips, all cradling Nagle’s body, pressing him back toward the mast in the stillest part of night as the ship had cut quietly through the waters. Hollom had squeezed the railing, and turned his head back to the sea, blinking the memory of the sight away.
Over the gentle lapping splash of the prow splitting the sea, he’d heard Warley’s voice, roughened and thickened, whisper just once, “Oh, Joe.”
Hollom had cleared his throat loudly, and two pairs of startled footsteps skittered below deck. The wind had picked up, and moaned into the mainsail, and to Hollom’s memory it seems as though even then there had been the whisper of it all, lying in the sound of the waves and the wind and the gentle creaking of the boat itself, all of it quietly calling his secret name.
All of it quietly saying, “Jonah.” He just hadn’t had ears to hear then.
He does now, and in every breath, every simple stir of Boyle and Williamson in their narrow beds, every shiver of noise, he can hear the accusation.
He wonders, as he primes and loads his pistol, making sure the silver is bright and the chamber is oiled, if this is what he’s always been, who he’s always been, or if he changed from his last sea voyage to this one. If he changed the day they set sail from Portsmouth. That first night at sea was the first time he saw Will Warley, after all, and it seems to Hollom that if there was ever a time he’d changed, that may have been it.
Warley’s skin had been pale, smudged with dirt, and maybe he’d been thinner than he was after several weeks on board the Surprise. But his lips had been elegant, and red, and full, and his eyes had snapped green with laughter. He’d been tall, his smile bright, with a voice that was deep and sweet and lilting through the sad notes of a song Hollom had never heard before.
He hadn’t seemed real – a creature lined with gold, topped with gentle, generous curls of hair that Hollom had known would be soft to the touch. It’s a moment burned into Hollom’s memory, one he can call up at will, even now.
The guns are ready, so he slips them into their holsters, fixing his clothes, and closes his jacket. It should be unbearable in this heat, but Hollom pays it no mind, instead lets his eyes linger over the room that he’s slept in for so many months. He squares his shoulders, and leaves. Behind him the door clicks shut, definitively, and before him, in the dark, the crew lies. Some sleep, and others lean against beams, their eyes harsh and flickering in the dim.
He wants to tell them not to worry. He wants to thank them, though he’s not sure for what. It seems the thing to do. He hesitates and he hears the sound of someone spitting, and an old voice, husky from smoke, and bad weather, mutters clearly, “Jonah.”
He says nothing. As he walks through them his feet land heavily, with good, solid noises that echo through the crowded cabin. No one meets his eye, and Hollom smiles slightly, standing straighter as he passes through the tight pressed anger around him. He finds some irony in all the eyes that follow him. He’s not someone that gets noticed; he’s a small man, and easily over looked.
He’s never minded that, much. Hollom has never been ambitious. He’s smart enough to know that would only lead to disappointment.
Hollom could never make captain, or be loved by his men. That didn’t matter terribly either, because he only wanted one of his men to love him. And that would never have happened either, and Hollom may not have much to recommend him, but at least he’s honest, he tells himself, as he steps on deck and inhales the sharp saline tang of the air.
The night lies still, the water spread out flat, like a sheet of glass, and the sails hang limp against the framework of wood and rope that supports them. It’s nothing like Cape Horn, where the wind was harsh enough to split his skin, and push him backward, hard. Where water rode the currents of the air, and choked him, blinded him, snapping at the taut sails and the men who scurried to secure them.
Salt crusted over his skin as he climbed the mast bit by bit, one hand, then the other, cautious and so slow. Too slow, far, far too slow – stopping, and that, he knows, was unforgivable – but he remembers the burn in his lungs, the stutter of his heart, the pain in his chest. He remembers not being able to breathe because of the tight fingers of fear that curled around his ribs, and squeezed him. He remembers Warley’s wide mouth pressed thin, thin like the air he gulped down, and he remembers the thunderous snap of the thick wood as it cracked. Warley reached for him, falling too far away, and Hollom closed his eyes.
The waves were tall, and rising fast and hard. The ship bucked with each swell. He clung to what was left of the mast, and watched as the captain and Nagle cut Warley loose. He watched as Warley disappeared in the water. It was strange how little he looked, for such a tall man – a single dark speck in the angry, churning gray of the storm.
Hollom shakes off the memory, and wipes a steady hand across his brow, and the dark presses in on him again. He rubs his thumb over his buttons, closes his eyes, and his lips form Warley’s name, though he makes no sound. He knows that’s not a name he has a right to.
He whispers his own instead, on a thin breath, as he steps off the side of the ship, into the sea. Water fills his nose, and floods his lungs, and the wind will come off Cape Horn the next morning, carrying with it his voice. It will echo so quietly that one will have to strain to hear it.
“Jonah,” it says, “Jonah.”