“Fuck!” Hal had given up on anything but Southwark language some time before, his head ringing with the after-effects of the explosion. “God fuck it all and bugger it to the depths of Satan’s -”“Is this helping you?” A filthy Kate glared at him. “Because other than /not/ expanding my vocabulary, I don’t see how it’s useful.”Hal thrust the bucket of water at her, and glowered. “Shut up and pour.”“God, you’re so charming when someone blows you up…”“I’ll blow /you/ up in a minute!” Hal yelled, and yanked the next bucket of water out of Carr’s hands, slopping it everywhere. Kate raised one grimy eyebrow at him, and smiled.“You can /try…/” she purred, and Hal dropped the bucket on his foot.Carr looked at Flanagan. “So they’re really…”Flanagan cupped his hand around his ear. “What?”Carr gestured to Hal and Kate. The pantomime which followed was explicit, comprehensive, and was abruptly ended by Kate using her throwing knife, which stuck in the winch for the well just behind Carr’s ear.“Yes!” Flanagan shouted, finally understanding, and Carr rolled his eyes.“Thanks,” he mumbled. “Cos, you know. I was wondering…”Flanagan squinted. “What did you say?”Carr gave up, and started pulling up the water again. The Rupert Street house was beginning to look like a lost cause, but at least everyone was out of it safely. Hal could, when pushed, be astoundingly efficient, and most people had been grabbed and thrust out of the nearest available exit before they even realised there was a problem, which meant that aside from not having, as a practically-spitting Hal had pointed out ‘Death paperwork, not that you don’t all deserve it, you buggers’, they had a remarkably efficient water-chain going. Even if approximately a tenth of it was currently stone deaf.*Hislop’s legs gave out on him halfway down the stairs, and Bush found that he was actually carrying the smaller man, rather than supporting him. Grimacing at the slick feel of blood under his hands, he managed to get his shoulder under the man, despite all heavily-accented protestations and attempts to swipe at his head, and carried him the rest of the way to the carriage, dumping him on the seat with more force than was probably necessary.“You’re bleeding,” he said, obviously, after a short silence filled with heavy breathing. Hislop cracked open an eye, and stared at him.“Aye,” he said dryly. “That’d be the knives.”“The -”“Monseigneur Boulestin,” said Hislop, leaning his head back against the padded headrest, and closing his eyes again, “enjoys the torturing. Now let me be, please.”“But the child -”“You’ll have to be askin’ the Conte about that,” Hislop said flatly. “An’ I’m doubtin’ he’ll be too keen on givin’ ye an answer. Now either find me something to wrap up me ribs, or hush yer babble, would ye?”*Guido moved as quietly as possible across the room, and crouched down in front of the small huddled figure.“Siete tutto il di destra?” he asked softly.There was a small nod. Guido breathed out, and sat down, cross-legged, on the dusty floor. “Li ha danneggiati?” he asked cautiously. An equally small shake of the head greeted that query, and Guido felt as though his heart had started again. Not that he truly thought even Boulestin would dare harm this particular child, but…he took another deep breath. “Vittorio…conoscete chi sono?”“Si.” It was a whisper, and a small, dirty, tearstained face finally looked up at him. “I knew…” the English was heavily accented, and halting, but Guido felt something twist inside him that was a mixture of aching delight and an unexpected, blazing pride. “I knew you…would come. Signore Hislop…he said. And Mamma…always. If you - knew. You come.”Guido nodded, biting his lip. “I did not know,” he said. “Or I would have come for you long since. Do you believe that?”Again, the small nod, and then the boy’s face crumpled, and he flung himself at Guido, who caught him with a faint noise of surprise. “Vittorio, che cosa!”“Spaventato!” the little boy managed, and Guido felt him shake with sobs. “Papa, sono stato spaventato…”//I will die,// Guido thought grimly, holding on to his son as tightly as he was being held to, //before I ever allow anything to frighten you again.//“Ti amo,” he said. “Ti amo, e nessuno mai li renderà impauriti ancora. Prometto. Prometto, Vittorio, capite? Lo juro.”“Ti credo…” Vittorio was back to whispering, his hot, damp face pressed into Guido’s neck, and Guido rose to his feet, letting him cling like a limpet, all thin arms and legs.“Thank you, God,” he whispered to the empty warehouse.*Hal was losing the fight against the fire, and he knew it. “Damn,” he said hopelessly, and turned to Kate. “It’s no good, sweetheart,” he said to her. “We have to pull back.”She nodded, gasping for air, and put down the latest empty bucket. “Hal, I’m so sorry…”He shrugged. “Ta beij,” he said wearily. “It’s not that bad…we didn’t lose anyone. All right, gentlemen!” He raised his voice above the crackle of the flames, and the ringing in his ears. “Let it go. Back to the main street, all of you!”Once there, he looked at the ragged, soot-covered group of spies, and strove to gather his somewhat scattered thoughts. “All right, all of you, listen carefully. This was a focused attack. We need to separate - all of us. No-one is to try and contact myself or Guido for the next forty-eight hours. Keep away from the safe houses and from Flynn. Go to the boltholes Guido set up for each of you - /no/ contact with each other, either, is that clear? Mr Carr? Mr Flanagan?”They all nodded. “Good.” Hal waved his hand irritably. “Go on, then.” When they all continued to look at him, staring beyond him at the house, he snapped, “Christ, are you all deaf as well as Flanagan? Go! Bugger off! /Leave/!” Oddly enough, his irritation seemed to reassure them, and within a few minutes, he and Kate were left alone.“Fuck,” said Kate wearily, and leant against him. Hal put an arm around her.“Thought you didn’t approve of that sort of language?”“I said I already knew it,” Kate pointed out, but a bit of life came back to her voice. “Are they after all of us, Hal?”Hal looked back at the house, hearing the cries that meant the rest of the street had finally become alerted to the problem.“Yes,” he said softly. “I’m very much afraid they are…”“Do I need to vanish, too?”Hal shook his head. “No. If Guido can take on a delinquent Earl and a mad lieutenant, he can bloody well cope with my - with you.”Kate’s mouth twitched. “Lucky Guido,” she murmured, and Hal laughed.*In the end, it proved to be an exceptionally good thing that Kate came back to the house. Elizabeth took one look at her, and hustled her off to the Roman bathhouse at the edge of the grounds for copious amounts of hot water and clean clothes, banning Hal and a speculative-looking Edrington from coming within a hundred yards of them, and refusing to let Hal take his turn until she was bathed and dressed. This meant that by the time Bush arrived with a semi-comatose Hislop, the two refugees from the safe house were looking less like a freakshow deigned by one of the less reputable circuses, and were capable of lending assistance - or Kate, rather, found herself applying one of Guido’s salves to Hislop’s torn-up back, while Elizabeth stitched up the worst bits.Hal disappeared with Edrington and Bush, and the sound of far-too-many people explaining things at once drifted up the stairs.“He wouldn’t /tell/ me!” Bush yelled at one point, and there was a very audible snarl from Hal as he slammed out into the corridor. “Trevelyan…”“Oh Lord, don’t follow him,” groaned Kate, tying off another bandage. “Sorry, Hislop. Nearly done.”“I’m never getting a tattoo,” Hislop mumbled groggily, and Elizabeth patted his shoulder, putting down her needle.“Probably for the best,” she agreed. “What’s wrong with Hal?”Kate stared at her. “Other than being blown up?” she enquired. “Heavens, I can’t think…”“For God’s sake!” Guido’s irritable hiss was somehow more penetrating than the raised voices of earlier had been. “Keep your bloody voices down before you wake him up!”“Wake -” Kate looked into Elizabeth’s wide blue eyes, and frowned. “What -”Elizabeth gestured to the door. “Go,” she said simply, and Kate hurried.Hislop turned his head and blinked at Elizabeth. “He brought the bairn with him, then,” he said, and yawned. “That’s nice…”*Hal and Guido stared down at the sleeping Vittorio, who was ensconced in the middle of Guido’s bed like a small and dirty cocoon, since no-one had had the heart to wake him to try and clean him up.“You didn’t know?” Hal asked.“No idea.” Guido sighed, and tugged at his friend’s arm. “We should not discuss this here. Come.”They went through into the study, and Guido collapsed into his chair with a groan. “Christ. What a night.”“And then some,” said Hal wryly. “So…the boy?”“Mine. I think. And he’s been told.” Guido rubbed his hands over his face. “I didn’t even know he existed…”“Jesus.” Hal sat on the arm of Guido’s chair, and rubbed the younger man’s shoulders. “Are you all right?”“Not even remotely…” Guido looked up at him with haunted eyes. “Hal…it was Boulestin.”Hal blanched. “It can’t -”“He must have taken Vittorio a few weeks ago. Hislop…got some kind of idea, that was why he went off like he did. And that /bastard/, that unmitigated, evil bastard…” Guido stopped, and choked.“Is he - hurt?”“He says not,” Guido said, but the expression on his face showed that he feared otherwise, and Hal shuddered.“This time, Guid’, you get to kill him,” he said quietly, and held Guido to him tightly, feeling the uncontrollable shaking that was tearing the other man apart, not knowing how to stop it except with this one promise. “Damn the lot of them. You get to kill him.”“Should have done it years ago,” Guido whispered in a cracked voice, and Hal could do nothing but hold on, hold on, hold on, and try not to cry the tears that he knew Guido would never have again, try, futilely, not to mourn for all the things that had been killed in Guido.It was a long time before Guido spoke again, pulling away, but his voice was calm and even when he did, and his face back to its usual unreadable self.“Be careful, Hal,” he said softly. “He might hate me…but you - he loathes. Be very, very careful…please?”“I’ll spit in the bugger’s face, Guid’,” Hal said calmly, “but I’m not going to hide from him. Now or ever. Don’t ask me to start.”A hesitant Kate put her head around the door. “Hal? Guido? Sorry, but…the Academics are here. I think this needs dealing with…”*Guido stared into the back of the cart, and for the first time in his life, doubted his sanity. "Not possible," he whispered. "/I don't believe in ghosts/."He closed his eyes, feeling the cobbles dip and sway beneath his suddenly uncertain feet, forcing himself to breathe slowly and evenly until the ground had steadied. The Academics were babbling at him, clearly worried, and he wondered what he must look like, to evoke such concern in the two young men who had, after all, seen him at his very worst."Are you –""—all right?""Is he –""You know him?""Did we do the right thing?""Conte, please –""Say something!"Urgent whispering, and then –"He's got hit on the head –""We think he's drugged –""But we can't work out what's wrong –""He won't wake up –""Even with feathers."Guido opened his eyes, and, carefully not looking back at the cart, enquired rather faintly –"Feathers?""We burned lots.""To wake him up.""But they didn't.""I'm surprised they didn't finish him off." Sarcasm and amusement leant Guido the strength to look back at the body in the cart again. "Holy God," he whispered, and then, finding from somewhere the courage of acceptance, "Deo gratias.""Guido?""Conte?""Who is he?" They spoke together that time, a rare event that meant the two were thoroughly shaken – although that could have had as much to do with the day they had experienced as with Guido's decidedly odd reaction to their latest acquisition."Kennedy," said Guido briefly, scrambling up into the cart, and looking more closely at the battered figure that lay within it. "You found –" he broke off, swallowed, and forced levity into his voice to hide the feelings of shock and relief that were threatening to overwhelm him. "My dear little academics, you seem to have added to your talents an ability to raise the dead. What /have/ you been reading?"*"I don't believe it." Hal was beginning to get on everyone's nerves. He had veered from screaming disbelief, to outright joy, through curiosity and into stunned amazement, and he had used the same phrase to convey each successive emotion. Kate was upstairs, for some reason the only one that Guido would allow into the room with Vittorio, and Bush was just sitting in the corner of the room, staring into some private hell of shock."Why couldn't /he/ be the one we can't wake up?" muttered Elizabeth to the Academics, who shrugged."Because we wouldn't be trying -""-if he were asleep?" they ventured."I mean - he - I don't /believe/ this!"Elizabeth gritted her teeth. "Yes," she said with false politeness and a horribly bright smile. "I came to that conclusion some time ago."Hal looked at her as though she had just deliberately stepped on a kitten. "Don't you see?" he asked, and Elizabeth realised that even if yes, of course she could damn well see, Hal was hitting whatever phase of his mental processes came under the heading of 'complete shock', and was getting to the point of needing reassurance that he was not lost somewhere in his imagination, or a particularly hallucinogenic combination of dreams and wine. "Don't you see? It's - after everything, it's -"Hal, despite his vow to fight for Lieutenant Kennedy's honour, and mourn for Archie later, had done no such thing. He had wept until his eyes were red-rimmed and salt-raw for a man that he had begun to consider a friend, grieved all the more at the knowledge of what that man's friend was suffering. Now he was struggling not to give in to those feelings once again, overwhelmed by the sudden reversal of their fortunes and the removal of a pain he had scarcely been aware he still felt."'M going out," he blurted suddenly, and fled the room, footsteps quick along the wooden corridor until the door slammed.Guido's head poked out of his study. "That was Hal?" he asked. "He just left?"Three heads nodded wordlessly."Blast. Lisbet, send for Pitt, and get him to find his damn doctor. Now.""And the way of asking me to do that is...?" Elizabeth was trying to joke, but saw the look in Guido's dark eyes, and took an involuntary step backwards, her throat closing up."/Now/," whispered Guido, and the tone of his voice made Elizabeth step back, her hand flying to her throat involuntarily, because what she had heard there was something she had not thought the irascible Conte capable of.She had expected a threat. She had heard raw terror.“I’ll go,” said Bush, and ran. He wondered, briefly, if the carriage was still available, and a voice that sounded rather like Hal muttered at the back of his mind that he damned well hoped so, because otherwise he was going to be running all the way to the Heath.*Guido, if anyone had asked him, would have answered quite seriously that he had gone beyond raw terror some time ago, and was heading at a rate of knots for some as-yet undefined area of fear that would almost certainly follow the adjective 'screaming.' Except, of course, he wasn't, because while he most certainly /did/ want Kennedy to wake up, he didn't think it would do either of them any good if it was achieved by someone he could probably hardly remember screaming an unfamiliar house down.What he /was/ doing was probably just as useless, and was certainly not helping the incipient panic that seemed to be lurking somewhere behind his breastbone. He had lit a fire, heated water, cleaned the ugly-looking head wound of river mud, and promptly run out of ideas. So he was sitting by the bed which had been his for the longest three months of his life, monitoring what symptoms were visible, and fretting.All in all, he felt singularly unhappy with the situation."Not giving up," he muttered. "I am just unhappy with this."Which was wrong, and ridiculous. Kennedy was alive, he was without doubt /there/, he had got away from whatever had hit him over the head and left him on the banks of the Thames, and Guido should, by rights, have been ransacking the cellar for champagne. Instead, he felt like joining Hal in the garden, where he could see a dim figure pacing through the dusk and gesticulating to itself in an unmistakable way."Please wake up," he whispered. "/Please/. You got this far, whatever you did, you got this far, so please keep trying. Keep trying, because you've got to believe me this time, you've got to give me a chance and trust me, you have to. Archie, /please/. Wake up. Twitch a finger. /Something/, per l'amore del Dio, /something/."But there was no response, not even the asked-for twitch, and Guido felt hopelessness begin to overwhelm him."I can't –" his voice cracked, either from all the talking he'd been doing in this far-too-hot room, or from something else that he wasn't even going to consider, and he licked his lips before starting again. "I cannot swallow my grief a second time, Kennedy. So if you die in my house, then your name dies with you, for this time I will mourn, and I will have revenge, and your reputation can go to hell, for if I must lose this last chance, I care nothing for what I have to do, and why should I? Why should I be forced to bear injustice to defeat the law if you cannot even move one finger to help me? So if you can hear me, I suggest that you open your damn eyes!"*
Actually, having thought it over, I think maybe I'm wrong there. If I recall correctly, he lost his memory about the same time he decided to freak out big time if he was touched, so that would preclude any activities that might lead to Vittorio.... I must dig up my copy of The King's Man and the first portion of ABR and read for clues now....*wanders off to hunt through bookshelf*BTW, You can smile as serenely as you like as long as you are also typing!