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by Nereus

Alternate Universe (but not LKU)

"A Mr. Hornblower to see you, sir"

Commodore Pellew frowned a little at the overlooking of Hornblower's
new rank, but he forgot the point as Hornblower came into the room
in his surprise at seeing the young man out of uniform for the first
time in their acquaintance. It was not all that unusual for a naval
commander to wear civilian dress ashore, but Pellew was mildly
surprised that Hornblower actually had any civilian clothes. On
closer inspection they did look rather ill-fitting, as though he had
bought them second hand. Perhaps he had not had any opportunity to
get his uniforms altered and did not wish to appear as a mere
lieutenant. He decided it would be tactful not to ask.

"Good morning, Commander," Pellew said briskly.

"Not commander," Hornblower answered quietly. "I've come to tell you
that, on further thought, I really cannot accept the appointment."

Not that again. "*Commander* Hornblower, now is not an occasion for
false modesty. The appointment was earned, it has been offered. By
refusing you offer an insult to the service to which we both belong."

"I mean to quit the service."


"I'm leaving, sir. I came to tell you."

It was not often that Pellew found himself at a loss for an
articulate response, but the idea of Hornblower leaving the navy
made about as much sense as the idea of a fish trying to walk. He
tried to disbelieve his ears, but the words had been repeated, so he
had to accept he had heard them right. However when he tried to
frame an answer the only words which formed were, "You can't do it!"

"I can," was all Hornblower said in reply. Pellew noticed that his
jaw was fixed and there were deep, dark shadows under his eyes. He
took a deep breath and collected his thoughts. Obviously this was
some temporary insanity the younger man needed to be talked out of
for his own good.

"I do not know what you are thinking of, Mr Hornblower, but I cannot
approve of your resignation. The service has need of men of your

Hornblower said in a voice that was absolutely level, "And what of
men like Lt Kennedy?"

So that was it. Not entirely surprising, now that Pellew thought
about it, but not acceptable either. "I am aware that Mr Kennedy
was a friend," he said gently. Indeed that friendship seemed to
have gone deeper than he had realised, or would have approved of if
he had. Pellew had always considered close friendships to be unwise
for serving officers. "And the death of a friend is always hard.
But deaths cannot be avoided in war. It is a risk we must all
accept. I am sure that he was well aware of that."

"In *war*, yes," Hornblower said bleakly. "If he had simply died of
battle wounds that would have been ... bearable. But this...."

"He *did* die of battle wounds," Pellew said sharply. "Dr Clive
will tell you-"

"Dr Clive is a drunken fool!" Hornblower himself looked slightly
taken aback by the uncharacteristic exclamation. After a moment he
went on more quietly, "I know the wound was... most severe. But if
he had stayed in his bed, if he had set his mind to life instead of
death, then perhaps.... I don't know. *I'll never know*." He
checked for a moment, took a long breath "At the least he need not
have died disgraced, dishonoured. Perhaps the reputation of a mere
lieutenant is not thought to count for much compared to that of a
man like Captain Sawyer. But you don't know what it meant to him,
his lieutenant's commission, his honourable service record. You
don't know how hard he had to fight to get those things, how hard it
must have been for him to give them up even if he was dying,
*especially* if he was dying. What else did he have to set against
a life cut short, just when he had everything to live for? You don't
*know*... how could you know? You never really knew him."

In truth Pellew had never thought there was much about Archie
Kennedy to know. A perfectly competent junior officer, to be sure,
but nothing out of the ordinary about him except his loyalty to
Hornblower - which Pellew had considered to say more about
Hornblower's capacity for inspiring devotion than about Kennedy. He
had always believed their relationship to be essentially one of
leader and follower, with any personal attachment largely on
Kennedy's side. Hornblower might enjoy company of his own age, but
Pellew had thought it unlikely he would form a close friendship with
a rather commonplace young man.

It was dawning on him now that he had been very, very wrong.

"He knew what he was doing," Pellew said, because he had to say
something. "He made his choice."

"He should not have had to make it!" The words spilled out, almost
too fast to be heard clearly. "No man should have had to make that
choice and Archie least of all. He had suffered too much in the
service because of superiors who- who cared nothing for the welfare
of their men. He survived that, overcame it, only to be destroyed
because he was yet again held worthless, because the Admiralty
allowed an unfit captain to command and were determined to demand a
life for their mistake."

"Be careful of what you say, sir!" Pellew rasped.

"Why? Will you put me on a charge?" Hornblower had grown flushed
with anger, but suddenly he was pale and quiet again. "Did you
believe what he said, sir? Do you think that anyone cared whether
it was really true?"

The answer was 'no' to both questions. No-one, except perhaps a few
of Sawyer's own men, had been interested in what really happened in
that hold and Pellew knew it. But, for what it was worth, he had
not believed Kennedy had pushed the man. He had not believed
Kennedy had that kind of initiative or resolution in him. But he
could not say that.

"The law of the Navy must be upheld," he said instead, and wondered
at the hoarseness of his own voice. "There must be discipline,
orders must be obeyed."

"I know it. But I cannot believe that *this* was necessary. None
of us had any pride in what happened, none of us wanted to see it
happen again. If a punishment was necessary then a black mark on
all our records, dismissal from the service even.... Not this. Do
you remember Muzillac, sir? You disobeyed orders there to save all
our lives.... We only wanted to preserve our men." The last words
were almost a cry of pain.

Muzillac. Pellew did remember, for the first time in years, and the
memory twisted in his gut because it felt so distant, and the
actions of that fighting captain seemed to be those of a man he had
known long ago. Had that in truth been him? How much time since
that day had he spent mired in Admiralty politicking, plotting and
jostling for position, instead of facing a clean enemy?

There had had to be punishment for... what had happened on Renown.
He had known, as Hammond and Collins had known, what the Admiralty
would want, and how they would treat a man who objected to providing
it.... Pellew's thoughts shuddered to a halt. No. He would not
accept he had sacrificed truth and justice to further his own
career. No. There had to be discipline. For the good of the
service. There had to be discipline.

Muzillac.... He remembered Hornblower's grief after the disaster all
too well. Yet that had been a boy's pain, heartfelt but callow,
easily contained by an appeal to duty - a word that had sounded
somewhat sour in Pellew's own mouth that day, knowing far better
than Hornblower the extent to which the Admiralty had put expediency
before lives. This was a man's agony, quieter, steadier, but bitten
deep into the soul. This grief would not be so easily channelled.

Which did not mean he would not try.

"You should consider the good of the men now, Mr Hornblower," he
said firmly. "The past cannot be altered but the future has need of
good commanders. Accept the posting and you ensure that the men on
one ship at least will have a captain who cares for their lives and
their welfare. That is a thing worth doing."

"I had considered that," Hornblower replied. "But I cannot do it.
There's only so much wrong a man can be a party to without being...
stained." Pellew had to check a shudder, even though Hornblower had
not uttered a word of direct accusation, had not suggested by as
much as a look that he held Pellew in any way personally responsible
for the outcome of the court martial. "Besides," the young man went
on, "I do not think I would be in a position to improve the lives of
the men for very long. What I mean to do would most certainly finish
my career in any event."

"What do you mean to do?" Pellew was suddenly afraid.

"Tell the truth. As publicly as possible. Proclaim to the world
that Captain Sawyer was unfit for command long before he fell into
the hold, and that the Admiralty were interested only in finding a
scapegoat, not in getting to the truth of the matter. If the
Jamacian papers won't publish the story there'll be ones in England
that will. I know the story will be denied, probably very
convincingly. I know most likely few will believe me. But I must
do it."

"No!" Pellew burst out. "Do you have any idea what they'll do to
you? The methods they'll adopt to discredit any word you say?"

"That is not important." Hornblower did look pale at the thought,
even paler than he'd been looking since this conversation began.
However his voice was still steady. "I was not trained to let
cowardice affect my actions."

Pellew groped for another argument. "This country is at war. Do
you truly believe yourself justified in attempting to undermine the
smooth running of the Royal Navy at such a time?"

"I hardly think my words are likely to cause serious damage to our
country's fighting ability. And is it disloyal to want a country I
can serve with pride? If the service demands loyalty should it not
be worthy of it? If the Admiralty pays just a little more attention
to the fitness of its captains, if, on just one occasion, its
representatives think twice before punishing others for their own
failures - then I believe the Navy can only benefit."

He was too good at finding answers. This was no sudden impulse, but
a decision that must have been weighed through long hours. There
was only one tactic Pellew could try now, and, although he knew he
had no right, he attempted it without hesitation.

"Lt Kennedy did - what he did - to preserve your career. Is
throwing it away the method you chose of honouring him?"

"He died to protect my *life*. Just that. I do not believe he
would have laid it on me how I should live it. He - he wanted me to
live and so I must but -" Hornblower had to break off, struggling
for self control. Against his will Pellew remembered that courtroom
and Hornblower's face as he took in what was happening. He had
thought he knew everything that mattered about the young man, why
had he never seen the depth of his friendship with Kennedy? Perhaps
he had never looked.

Another memory forced its way through. Another young face, drawn
with pain and set with resolution. The low, steady voice speaking
words that could never be withdrawn, "I alone pushed him....".
Somehow, isolated, racked with fever and weakness, Kennedy had found
the insight to perceive how the trial was going, the will and
courage to walk to that courtroom with a hole in his gut. This from
a man Pellew, who prided himself on his judgement, had dismissed as

"He would not have asked this of you," he said desperately.

"I know he would not. But that does not matter. What matters,"
Hornblower said, "is that I need to be able to sleep at night, and
face myself in the mirror in the morning. I could not do that if I
were to work for his destroyers, or fail to do what little I can to
clear his name."

Pellew was silenced, and in that silence he faced for the first time
the thing he had been blocking from his mind ever since the trial's
conclusion. If Kennedy had not intervened, not committed that
amazing act of stark self-sacrifice, then Hornblower would be dead,
and Pellew would have helped put the rope around the neck of a man
he had called as dear to him as one of his very own. A man he had
never doubted deserved reward, not punishment, for his actions on
that cursed ship.

He could have said, right at the beginning, he would not preside
over a scapegoat hunt. He could have stripped bare Clive's
evasions, exposed the truth about Sawyer's fitness. Or he could
have simply made it clear he would do that, and so have forced the
whole case to a harmless conclusion. He had done none of those

"What will you do?" he said at last, and was shocked by how naked
his own voice sounded. "How will you live?"

"I don't know yet. But I'll survive. That's ... what he wanted."
Hornblower's mouth twisted briefly. "Goodbye, Sir Edward."

The finality in the young man's voice told Pellew that if Horatio
Hornblower had his way they would not meet again. He could find
nothing to say, and after a moment's pause Hornblower left the room
without looking back. Moving like an old man Commodore Pellew
crossed to the window and watched the most promising young officer
he had ever commanded walk away.