Convalescence
by Cmarcelo

Hello! I'm new to this mailing list and thought I'd try my hand at writing a
fic. It takes place during Flying Colours, so there are SPOILERS. BIG
SPOILERS. So if you haven't read the books, DO NOT READ THIS UNLESS YOU
WANT TO BE SPOILED. Anyway, it's in Bush's point of view, and it's a result
of having just finished reading Slaughterhouse-Five. Yeah, I know. It
doesn't make sense. But when you read it, it will That is, if you've ever
read Slaughterhouse-Five.

Bush was only aware of two things: the excruicating pain of his stump, where
his foot once was, and the fever that accompanied it. He did not know where
he was, or where Hornblower was for that matter. His mind was submerged into
the throes of pain and fever, and could think of nothing else.

Suddenly, he felt a long-fingered hand slip into his own, squeeze it
reassuringly. The familiar touch brought Bush back to reality from his
vertigo, and he became aware of the fact that the ground beneath him was
moving. Sense slowly returned to him. He, Hornblower, and Brown were in a
coach. They were headed to Paris. Of that much Bush was certain. His eyes
struggled open and saw the face of his captain, his furrowed brow betraying
his anxiety. Bush managed the tiniest of smiles, stroking Hornblower's hand
affectionately. The pain in his stump receded the slightest bit, the fever
lessened a trifle. Bush found it interesting that a mere touch from this man
could miraculously relieve him of his suffering. A feeling of security, as
if his mother's arms were wrapped around him protectively, surrounded him,
and he closed his eyes to sleep.

That was when Bush swore he traveled in time.

True, he was delirious with fever, and most likely these supposed trips to
the past and to the future might have been mere dreams. But Bush would
reflect later and realize that he had indeed traveled through time, though
only gone from where he truly was, in that coach bound for Paris, for mere
fractions of nanoseconds.

Bush had closed his eyes in that coach, somewhere in the middle of Spain.
When he opened his eyes, he found himself lying in a cot in a naval
hospital. As his eyes readjusted to the dimness of the room, Bush recognized
his surroundings. He was in the hospital at Kingston, Jamaica, where, some
ten or so years ago, he had been recovering from wounds. Wounds he had
received during a prisoner rebellion on the old Renown. The room was empty
save for himself. A slight alteration in his position confirmed the fact
that he had traveled in time; Bush winced as he felt the pains of his new
wounds, which, in real time, were mere scars.

The remains of his dinner sat on the table next to his cot. Bush struggled
to sit up, wondering when he would travel back to the present. He wiggled
his feet with some satisfaction and grinned wryly. He still had both feet.
God, to have both of his feet again! Bush wondered if he could just remain
here in the past, but then realized that would be quite impossible. The
present would come inevitably, and his foot would be blown off. It was fate.
And yet, since he traveled in time, could he simply avoid having his foot
blown off, since he knew that it would happen? Bush frowned in frustration.

A lob-lolly boy interrupted his confusing thoughts. Presumably he was coming
to take away Bush's dinner, but behind him came a visitor. Bush suddenly
remembered; it was Hornblower, bearing a basket of fruit. He smiled at this
visitor, opening his mouth to say something respectful to his captain, but
he closed it immediately. Hornblower was not his captain yet. And
Hornblower's greeting reminded him of his superiority.

"How are you, sir?" said Hornblower with respect for his superior. It was
quite a new feeling for Bush, hearing Hornblower refer to him as "sir",
since he had not heard it all these years. Bush glanced up at his soon-to-be
captain and was astounded at how young he was. Of course. Hornblower was a
full ten or more years younger than he was at present. God, how young he
was! Bush shook his hand eagerly, pleased to note that Hornblower's hands
had not changed all these years.

"All the better for seeing you," said Bush, biting back the "sir" that
almost came to his lips automatically.

Amazingly, the pains in his wounds ceased once Hornblower touched him;
perhaps Bush fancied that they had ceased. It was an odd pleasure, sitting
here speaking with Hornblower from the past. He was an awkward young man,
and Bush suddenly remembered how awkward as he conversed with him. To him,
Hornblower always seemed so formidable, so immovable, so godlike, and here
he was, a stuttering junior officer. Bush smiled, relishing in this memory.

Once the technical discussions had stopped, Hornblower indicated the basket
of fruit he had brought. Bush thanked him, for the first time astounded at
this strange gesture of friendship. How could he have not noticed the
significance before? Hornblower had come out of his way to visit Bush while
he was recovering, though he had his duties on the Renown, being the only
lieutenant besides the useless Buckland capable of any work. And now he had
been so generous as to bring him a gift.

Hornblower seemed a bit embarrassed by Bush's gratitude, and launched into a
discussion about the Gaditana, which Bush faintly remembered was renamed
Retribution. Hornblower of course unnecessarily told him; Bush smiled,
noting how ironic it was that he knew that Hornblower would become commander
of the Retribution, but how Hornblower himself, of course, did not.

Silence followed; Bush noted wryly that having a friend was quite a novel
idea to this young Hornblower. In retrospect, Bush thought that he did not
ever thank Hornblower for being his friend during a time of need. He decided
to break the silence.

"Mr. Hornblower," he began gently, thinking how strange it was to not
address his captain properly, "I don't believe I've thanked you enough for
your kindness."

"It was nothing, sir..." Hornblower said, embarrassed once more.

"I just realized how good of a friend you are. I hope you'll think of me as
a friend, Mr. Hornblower."

Hornblower looked quite startled. Bush suddenly felt a stab of pity; the boy
probably never had a true friend in his life. "I'd be...be honored to be
considered as one of your friends, Mr. Bush."

The words sounded very stilted, but there was no mistaking the earnest look
in Hornblower's eyes. Bush smiled, and he said rather softly, "I think I'll
be the one honored, Mr. Hornblower. And I know you'll always be there in my
time of need." God, will he ever be, thought Bush.

Hornblower furrowed his brow, confused by Bush's cryptic reply. "Sir?"

"Never mind, Mr. Hornblower," said Bush amiably. "I expect you'll be needed
aboard the Renown soon."

"Yes, sir," said Hornblower, still frowning, but he checked his watch.
"Well...take care, sir. I'll be back to visit you later."

"I know," said Bush. "Thank you, Horatio."

It was the first time he had ever used Hornblower's Christian name. It
rolled off his tongue rather easily. Hornblower started at the manner of
address, but he smiled, his eyes twinkling.

"You're welcome, William." He patted Bush on the shoulder before leaving the
hospital.

Bush smiled as he reclined in his cot. The smile widened when he noticed
that he felt no discomfort in changing his position. The pain had all but
ebbed away. His eyes, suddenly feeling rather heavy, closed, and he had a
strange premonition that perhaps he was about to travel in time again. Maybe
he would return to the present. Or perhaps even see his future, if there was
one. He slipped into a dreamless sleep.

A hand on his shoulder jerked him awake abruptly. Bush opened his eyes and
glanced at the owner of the hand. It was the familiar face of his captain.
Bush breathed a sigh of relief. He had traveled back to the present.

Then he vaguely realized that he was standing. Bush frowned. He was
standing! But he was now crippled, unable to stand for the rest of his life.
Yet here he was, standing proudly next to Hornblower, as if nothing had
changed. He looked up at Hornblower's perplexed face.

"Are you all right, Bush? You look like your mind was elsewhere," said
Hornblower.

"My mind was elsewhere, sir. I apologize," said Bush, embarrassed. Yes, his
mind had been elsewhere, along with his body.

Hornblower sighed, and Bush noticed a note of mingled relief and anxiety.
Bush noted his surroundings. They were in Portsmouth, standing on the dock.
Several ships were docked there; among them Bush noticed the Victory and
another close by. It was a cutter, and he noticed that it was called Witch
of Endor.

"Ha-h'm," said Hornblower, awkwardly, and Bush's mouth quirked up at this.
He realized that his captain had not changed much from his younger self.

"The Witch of Endor is a fine cutter, and I know you'll handle her well. I
suppose I ought to wish you good luck, Mr. Bush," he said at last.

Bush glanced up at Hornblower, perplexed. His captain smiled, a rare,
genuine smile, and his eyes twinkled, much like they did back in that
hospital at Kingston. "Forgive me. Of course, I meant Captain Bush," he said
in mock solemnity.

Bush started at this pronouncement. He, a captain? Well, a commander, not a
post-captain, surely. But he was promoted? Even as a cripple? And yet here
he stood, proudly, gazing on his ship with Hornblower. Good God, could this
ever come true?

"Thank you, sir," said Bush when he finally found his voice.

"Well, I did say I'd make you a captain if it was the last thing I do," said
Hornblower. "But then again, I didn't really keep my promise. All the same,
though. You deserve it, Captain Bush."

Bush could not reply; a lump had formed in his throat, and he was literally
choked with emotion. A commander! That was indeed something to look forward
to! Was he truly seeing the future, or some dream of his caused by a fitful
fever? God, he never wanted to leave the future, or this dream. He dreaded
returning to the present, in that stuffy coach with nothing but the pain in
his stump to contemplate.

He stole a glance at Hornblower. His face was the usual mask of
indifference, stony and formidable. But his eyes betrayed his real emotions:
pride, yet mingled with some regret. Bush realized that now, as a commander,
he would no longer serve Hornblower aboard his ship as a first lieutenant.
They inevitably would be apart for years at a time. Bush didn't need any
words from Hornblower to know that his captain would not only regret the
loss of one of his senior officers, but also the loss of a friend. A
steadfast friend. And Bush regretted it too. Hornblower had been with him
through his most dire times of need: when he was on the brink of death. What
now? He would be faced with death alone, without the comfort that
Hornblower's mere nearness brought.

And yet, elation soon chased away all of those apprehensions. He was a
captain now, by God! He had never dreamt of being promoted. In fact, he was
happy enough to remain a first lieutenant forever, as long as he served
under Hornblower. These thoughts of his promotion surrounded him like a warm
blanket, safe and comfortable. Bush closed his eyes, reveling in the feeling
of standing, knowing that he could now stand as a captain.

He was awakened by a sudden jolt of the earth around him. Pain shot up his
leg. Bush wearily opened his eyes and found himself in the stuffy coach once
again, his stump throbbing horribly.

"Bush," said Hornblower beside him, startling him. "Bush, are you well?
You...look troubled."

"I'm fine, sir," said Bush, feeling the pain slowly ebbing away. He thought
of being a commander, of being Hornblower's friend, and the thoughts brought
a smile to his face. "I'm fine. Sir?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you, sir."

"For what?" said Hornblower, quite bewildered.

"For being my friend, sir."

For a moment, Hornblower didn't reply. He reached for Bush's hand and
gripped it tightly. A small smile crept into his tense features.

"You need not thank me. It is I who should thank you for being my friend."

Bush smiled wryly; Hornblower would never understand the gift he gave.

"Try to rest, William," he added anxiously, inexplicably lapsing into
addressing Bush by his Christian name. Bush smiled, and closed his eyes. He
felt no more pain; his fever seemed a mere memory, for he knew the future.
That brought him some comfort.

And Hornblower kept his hand clasped in Bush's.