A Day (or So) in the Life
by Sue N.

**Chapter Eleven: Moments of Truth**

Horatio found Archie seated alone at the table in the
wardroom, his head in his left hand, his fingers
thrust deep into his hair, his shoulders slumped.
Nowhere in evidence were the books that had been his
constant companions over the past weeks. Horatio felt
a sudden and sharp twinge of uneasiness, for his
friend's posture was one of abject despair.

"Archie?" he called gently, going slowly toward him.
"Archie, what is it? What's wrong?" As Kennedy looked
up, Horatio's stomach clenched. His friend's face was
drained of colour, the blue eyes glassy and unfocused.
He had seen that look before, too many times, and did
not like what it portended. "Perhaps we should go into
your cabin," he suggested with a forced calm.

Archie said nothing, and for long, long moments gave
no sign that he knew his closest friend. Gradually,
though, his wide eyes began to focus on the figure
before him, and a gleam of recognition dawned in them.
"Horatio?" he whispered.

Hornblower went slowly forward and sat down across
from him, giving a slight, reassuring smile. "Yes,
Archie, it's me." He glanced about and, though they
were alone at the moment, wanted to take no chances.
"Come on, let's go into your cabin. You can rest
there."

Archie struggled to pull himself together, sitting up
straight and lifting his chin. "I am not-- going to
have a fit," he said hoarsely, "if that is what
worries you."

"I can see that," Horatio lied, not at all convinced.
"But you do look exhausted. I still think--"

"I am not going to have a fit," Kennedy said again in
a soft, strained voice. "The air hasn't changed, and
I've not seen that light. So you don't have to hover
over me."

"I'm not hovering!" Hornblower protested guiltily.

Kennedy stared at him, still pale, still tightly
composed. "Yes, you are," he said softly. "Like
everyone I've ever known all my life who has hung over
me and waited for it to happen. Well, it's not going
to. I may not be quite all right, but I am not going
to have a fit."

Hornblower heard the pain, and the shame, behind the
words, and winced. "I'm sorry," he breathed, dropping
his gaze to the table. "I didn't mean-- I'll stop
hovering."

"Thank you." Kennedy let his gaze drift past his
friend and was silent for long moments. When at last
he spoke again, the words came with an effort. "I
know-- you mean well, Horatio," he murmured. "I know
you're concerned, and I appreciate it. I do. I just--
don't know if there is anything you can do to help."

"I could listen," Hornblower suggested gently. "I have
often found that simply having someone listen is a
great help in itself." When Archie said nothing,
Horatio sighed and, attempting to change the subject,
glanced at the empty tabletop and smiled. "No books?
Or are you one of the mad few who do not believe in
studying the night before an examination?" His attempt
at humour missed the mark badly, for the face before
him twisted into a white mask of anguish. "Archie?"

Kennedy bowed his head and pressed a shaking hand to
his eyes. Despite his earlier words, he was not at all
certain he would not have a fit, was terrified that at
any moment the familiar warning signs would converge
upon him. "Perhaps we should-- go into my cabin," he
whispered tightly.

Horatio swallowed hard against a sudden sick feeling,
but nodded and forced and smile. "Of course. Can you
walk?"

"I-- No. Yes-- Damn it, I don't know!" he murmured
plaintively. "Oh, God, how I hate this! It has been so
long-- I had hoped-- I am not going to have a fit!" he
hissed through clenched teeth. "I will not!"

"Well, whether you are or not, it will do you no harm
to lie down," Horatio said with his characteristic
practicality. "Now, either get up and walk, or tell me
you cannot so I can help you. But I am going into your
cabin."

Archie watched his friend rise purposely to his feet
and smiled weakly. "Well, at least you are not
hovering!" With an effort, he gathered his strength
and rose slowly to his feet, somewhat surprised to
find that he could stand. "So far so good," he
breathed. "Let us see how the rest of it goes."

They made the short walk without incident, and, to
Archie's immense relief, without either the bitter
taste in his mouth or the glaring white light about
him that announced the onset of a fit. Perhaps, this
time, he really would not have one...

Nonetheless, in his cabin, he all but collapsed onto
the cot, and again dropped his head into his left
hand, letting his eyes close. He heard Horatio close
the door and settle himself upon the sea chest, using
it for a seat. Only when the silence had grown
unbearably heavy did he speak.

"Captain Pellew-- has offered me the chance to
withdraw from the examination tomorrow," he said
tiredly, without raising his head.

"My God, why?" Horatio gasped in shock.

At that, Archie let his hand fall and lifted his head
with an effort, opening his eyes and staring
dejectedly at his friend. "Because he has been asked
to fill a seat on the board."

Horatio clamped his mouth shut and closed his eyes
briefly as understanding hit. He could well imagine
how terrifying such a prospect must be to Archie, for
he himself would be knocked flat aback at the
appalling prospect of being tested by their captain.
Not that Pellew would purposely set out to fail or
even antagonize any candidate appearing before him;
such mean behaviour was as far removed from his
character as would be flogging a man for sport.
Nonetheless, a more imposing, more daunting figure had
never walked a quarter-deck, and to be tested by him
was akin to appearing before the tribunal of God
himself and forced to give an accounting of one's
life.

"He s-- he said-- if I chose to withdraw, he-- he
would think-- none the less of me for it," Archie said
softly, wincing as his head began to throb in time
with his hand. "But how could he not--"

"If he said he would not, then he will not," Horatio
assured him. "Captain Pellew is a man of his word, you
know that."

"Oh, God, what am I do?" Archie groaned in despair,
his mind and soul rife with torment. "If I fail to
appear, I will look a coward; if I appear, I will
surely fail! Either way--"

"Why do you say that?" Horatio interrupted. "Why must
you assume you will fail?"

Archie stared at him through bleak blue eyes.
"Because," he said bitterly, "it is what I do best."

"No," Horatio said angrily, "doubting yourself is what
you do best!" He sighed sharply and rose abruptly to
his feet, pacing about the small cabin with taut
movements. "Believe it or not, Archie, you are not as
incompetent as you think! In fact, you are actually
quite good at what you do! But you refuse to see it."
He suddenly remembered the French ship. "You are
responsible for getting that frigate to strike. You
laid the shot yourself. How did you know where to
aim?"

Archie sighed. "Horatio--"

"Answer me, damn it!" he snapped. "How did you know?"

Archie winced at that shout and raised a hand to his
aching head, closing his eyes and rubbing his temple.
"I watched her," he murmured absently. "When I saw her
topsail go, I knew her stern would come 'round to us.
All I had to do was to wait."

"Yes, but how did you know?" Horatio persisted
ruthlessly.

"Because it made sense!" Archie shouted. "With the
direction and force of the wind, and the other sails
she had lost-- There was no other way she could go!
And, please, stop shouting! My head hurts so..."

"I am sorry," Horatio said softly, kneeling before his
friend and gazing intently up at him, his brown eyes
almost fierce. "But I had to make you see that you
know this! It has become a part of you! All you have
to do is to think!"

"With you, yes. But before the captain--"

"It makes no difference!" Horatio said urgently. "Or
it will not, if you do not allow it to. Archie," he
said softly, "why is it so difficult for you to
believe in yourself?"

Kennedy sighed and bowed his head, staring down at his
hands, his handsome face twisted into lines of pain.
How could he explain it to Horatio, who immediately
won the admiration of everyone he met, who managed to
distinguish himself at every turn? How could Horatio
-- brilliant, infallible Horatio -- ever understand
what it was to be routinely discounted and dismissed?
Even Simpson, among the other torments the bastard had
heaped upon him, had said time and again, with that
damned leering sneer, "Fortunate for you to have a
lord as your father. Otherwise, you'd have no chance
at all!"

"Archie?" Sharp concern knifed through Horatio as his
friend slumped forward with a tortured groan and
dropped his head into his hands. "Archie, what is it?"
He gripped Kennedy's shoulders and forced him upright,
staring into eyes flooded by unspeakable agony.
"Archie, for the love of God, talk to me!" he cried
harshly.

"You truly do not understand, do you?" Archie
whispered. "But how could you?"

"Well, I certainly cannot if you do not tell me,"
Horatio answered reasonably. He released his friend
and sat back on his heels, smiling crookedly. "You
might as well tell me," he said. "I am not leaving
until you do."

Archie sighed wearily. "Horatio--"

"I mean it. I am not leaving this cabin until you tell
me why you are the one person in this ship who refuses
to believe in Archie Kennedy." He returned to his seat
on the sea chest, still with that half-smile. "And I
warn you, I can be every bit as stubborn as you."

"Damn you!" Archie whispered.

"If you like," Horatio said with a shrug.

Archie silently cursed Horatio's persistence. And, at
the same time, was oddly grateful for it. It suddenly
occurred to him that, with the exception of his mother
and sister, no one had ever worked so hard to keep him
from giving up. Everyone else had simply expected that
the would. And that, he realized, was why he had come
to expect it, also.

At last he looked up, and met his friend's unwavering,
earnest brown gaze. "You are an only child, aren't
you?" he asked softly, though he well knew the answer.
"The only son?"

Horatio nodded, but said nothing, content now to let
Archie speak as he would. The wall, he could see, had
been breached.

"Consequently, everything you said, everything you
did, mattered. And, no matter what you did or how you
did it, you were the best, the brightest, the most
brilliant. If only because there was no one else. Now,
imagine," he said dully, tired to his soul, "what it
is to be the last of four children, and the youngest
son. I am not the heir. I am not even the spare. My
sister Mary, as the only daughter, is more of a
novelty than I. I was merely one more son to be molded
into the image and likeness of a proper Kennedy. And,
believe me, the standards for that particular breed
are impossibly high. At least they were for me."

Horatio winced at the flatly self-deprecating tone of
the words. He had always longed for a sibling; now, he
was almost grateful he did not have one.

"My eldest brother Richard, quite aside from being the
heir and thus the favoured son by sheer happenstance
of birth, is unfailingly brilliant at everything he
puts his hand to. He excels without having to try. Put
him in a room with one hundred other men, and he will
best each one at something. He is a natural athlete,
and was a gifted student. He also is tall and
handsome, witty and charming, and wears his regimental
uniform beautifully. He is, in short, the kind of man
the rest of us would hope to see meet an ugly, ignoble
and early death, except that, because he is a
genuinely decent man on top of it all, everyone adores
him. If he were a horse, he would spend the rest of
his life at stud."

"Archie!" Horatio gasped in shock.

Kennedy smiled slightly, sadly. "It's true, Horatio.
He is perfect. And then there is the second son, my
elder brother Charles." He paused, his fair brows and
mouth drawing into a frown. "Charles is-- not like
Richard. He can be an unforgiving bastard, demanding
and inconsiderate and unbearably pompous, and terribly
impatient with those he considers inferior. And,
believe me, there are precious few whom he does not so
consider. But he also is damnably competent, and what
he cannot attain by ability, he will gain by shrewd
wit and ruthless desire. He has made all the right
connections, socially, politically and matrimonially.
God bless him, he is the perfect bureaucrat, and shall
probably end up with some high Government position. I
only pray it has nothing to do with the Navy, or I
shall hang myself."

Horatio listened, stunned. He had never heard such a
cold-blooded description of a family in all his life.
And this from one who, he knew, did actually love his
family!

"Now, imagine trying to follow in the footsteps of
these incredibly brilliant and incredibly ambitious
men. For, make no mistake, my father is superior even
to his two exceptional elder sons. My own
accomplishments could never match theirs, and I knew
it. No matter what I tried, some Kennedy before me had
done it, and done it better. Since the day I was born,
y'see," he said softly, "I have lived in the shadow of
someone else. And it did not help that out of
countless generations of Kennedys, I seem to be the
only one who has ever had fits. In addition to not
being routinely brilliant, I was also impaired. It
was-- quite a blow to the family pride."

"Oh, God," Horatio sighed, hurting for his friend.
"Archie--"

"After a while," Archie went on, staring beyond his
friend and into his past, "I grew to accept that I
would always be something of a disappointment to my
father. Those things that I loved and was actually
good in -- music, literature, languages, art, the
theatre -- he considered mere foolishness. Oh, I was
also good at sport, but not like Richard. And I lacked
Charles' desire to humiliate my opponent. My father is
an intensely political man, and while my two brothers
share that trait, I consider politics as little more
than a game at best, and a necessary nuisance at
worst. Father always said it was because I did not
really understand them, and said it in a tone which
made quite clear his belief that I never would. Yet
another unforgivable impairment..."

He sighed and shifted his gaze back to Horatio. "When
one has been doubted or been a source of
disappointment all one's life, doubting oneself soon
becomes second-nature. One gets into the habit of
lamenting all one cannot do, without ever considering
what one can do. Because the cans never seem quite as
important as the cannots. Why shouldn't I assume I
shall fail, when everyone else has assumed it all my
life?"

"But Captain Pellew is not like that--"

"No, but he is very like my father," Archie sighed,
"and that is what makes facing him so-- so difficult.
When he looks at me, looks through me, it is as if my
father is there, too, frowning and shaking his head,
seeing all the things I shall never do and never be.
And tomorrow the captain shall be sitting on that
damned board, staring at me through my father's eyes
and asking me to prove myself deserving of a
commission. And saying he wants me to succeed is not
quite the same as saying he believes I will succeed.
It just isn't, and you know it as well as I."

Horatio exhaled slowly and sat back, his eyes dark and
deep in his thoughtful face. He was trying to marshall
an argument, but knew it would have to be a damned
convincing one to remove the weight of doubt from his
friend's slumping shoulders.

"Archie, listen to me," he urged with a quiet
intensity. "I want you to listen to every word I say.
Will you do that?"

Kennedy sighed and grimaced, but nodded tiredly. He
should have expected Horatio to take up his cause...

Hornblower rose to his feet and began to pace about
the cramped cabin. "You are an acting-lieutenant
aboard the frigate Indefatigable, appointed to that
position by Captain Sir Edward Pellew himself. Now,
you know as well as I that he does not make such
appointments lightly, nor does he give them to men he
believes do not deserve them. It is clear he sees
something in you -- promise, potential -- that merited
such a gesture of trust. We both know he is not a man
to reward failure, or mediocrity. Indeed, he will not
even tolerate them!"

He turned upon his friend and impaled him with his
burning brown gaze. "And in putting you forward for
the examination, he declared his belief that you can
succeed. Not merely his wish that you might -- no
doubt he wishes such for every midshipman in the Navy!
-- but his belief that you CAN! He is not a man of
rash or ill-considered judgment, we both know that.
And he does not put men into situations for which he
knows they are not prepared. When he made you an
acting-lieutenant, it meant he has every expectation
of seeing you earn your commission."

"But--"

"No, Archie, no 'buts!'" Horatio said sharply. "I know
you, I know that if I let you, you will have yourself
talked out of the examination, off the Indy and out of
the Navy in five minutes. But I will not let you. And
d'you know why? Well, do you?"

Archie swallowed and stared wide-eyed at his friend,
shaking his head slowly. Horatio's shouting was doing
little to ease the incessant throbbing in his head,
but, at this moment, the pain did not matter. Indeed,
it hardly existed.

Horatio drew himself up to his full, gangly height and
stared as imposingly as he could at Kennedy. "Because,
Archie," he said slowly, distinctly, "I believe in
you. I believe you can pass, I believe you WILL pass,
and I believe you can be an exceptional officer. You
have proven your worth, your skill and your courage
time and again. In fact, were you half the failure you
seem to think, I would have died on that bridge at
Muzillac. And the French frigate would not have been
taken. And you would never have survived three years
of prison. And you certainly would never have survived
Jack Simpson." He came slowly to his friend and knelt
down before him, gazing earnestly up at him.
"Tomorrow, Archie," he said softly, "you will only
have to answer a few questions. Considering what you
have survived and beaten so far, how difficult can a
few questions be? Even if they are asked by Captain
Pellew?"

Archie stared into those eyes, wanting desperately to
believe. But after a lifetime of doubt, it did not
come easily. And Horatio, he reasoned, might easily be
blinded by friendship...

Hornblower sighed and shook his head slowly, his brown
eyes filled with sorrow as he watched his friend's
struggle with himself. "You have a decision to make,
Archie," he said softly, "and only you can make it. No
one, no matter how well-meaning, can make it for you.
But consider this. You have lived all your life in
someone else's shadow, and, lately, even mine. It can
be difficult to see oneself truly in the shadows. But
tomorrow you have a chance to step out and take your
rightful place in the light with everyone else.
Tomorrow you can prove yourself, and prove that every
doubt spoken about you has been wrong. But only you
can do it. This time, Archie, you will be on your own.
And neither I nor Captain Pellew can do anything to
help you."

"I know," Archie whispered almost inaudibly, his blue
eyes wide and dark. "And that is what terrifies me
so!"
**********

Israel Pellew arched a brow at his brother's thinly
disguised displeasure. "So, they've asked you to sit
on the board, eh? The Almighty sitting in judgment--"

"Stop that!" Edward snapped, his dark eyes flashing.
"I grow weary of hearing that I am God! I am not,
thank you, and I would not have the position if it
were open!"

"Oh, but you are, dear brother," Israel contradicted
wryly. "All captains are. Surely, Edward, you knew
that! We have the power of life and death literally in
our hands. Our word is law, and our quarter-decks,
holy ground. To raise a voice against us is blasphemy;
to raise a hand against us, sacrilege. And tomorrow,
every single one of those young men will approach you
feeling like Moses approaching the burning bush.
Except they do not have to remove their shoes."

"You are no help," Edward grumbled dourly. Israel sat
back in his chair and stared at his brother.

"What would you have me say? That we are no better and
no different than any other of our men? Good God,
Edward, we both know that is a lie! If we are no
better than these men, then what gives us the right,
the power, to send them to their deaths?"

"I am not sending men to their deaths, I hope," Edward
said peevishly. "I am merely sitting upon the
examination board. Surely, no midshipman ever died
from a question?"

"No, but many a sailor has died because a midshipman
did not know the answer," Israel said softly. When his
brother said nothing, merely scowled and stared down
at his barely-touched plate, Israel frowned in
puzzlement. "Come, Edward, this is not like you! You
have sat on the board before, and thought nothing of
it. Since when has it become such odious duty?"

"Since I realized I would be sitting in judgment upon
one of my own men," Edward sighed. "And since I
learned how-- how imposing he finds me."

Israel laughed quietly. "Imposing, eh? And this is a
new discovery to you? Jervis has declared you a
greater threat to the French singly than two entire
fleets combined, admirals pale and pray at the mere
thought of displeasing you, Nelson commandeered a
ferryboat to meet you, and it comes as a surprise to
you that one of your midshipmen should find you
imposing? Oh, Edward, please! That surpasses modesty
and comes damned near stupidity!"

"Israel!" Edward slammed a hand onto the table,
startling several nearby patrons yet winning only a
shake of the head from his brother. "I am in no mood
for your teasing!"

"Yes, I can see that," the younger Pellew said dryly.
"Oh, look, Edward, if it bothers you so, then
withdraw! There is bound to be another captain--"

"As it happens, there is not. While the rest of you
are weighing anchor on the morrow, I am one of the few
stuck in harbour."

Again, the brow shot up. "Yes, well, that's what you
get for making such a shambles of your ship."

"Damn it, Israel--"

"Oh, all right," he sighed sharply, leaning forward.
"Even I know when to stop baiting the bear. So, this
young midshipman -- you have doubts about his
abilities, then?"

"No," Edward said softly, again dropping his gaze to
his plate. "And that is the problem. He shows great
promise. Oh, he is by no means brilliant, but how many
are? And is -- or can be -- better than most. No, I do
not doubt him at all. But he doubts himself."

"Ah!" Israel breathed as comprehension dawned. "And
you fear that having to prove himself before you will
only reinforce those doubts?"

"Exactly. I feel for the lad, I truly do. I know how I
would feel if I my captain were sitting on the
board--" He glanced sharply at his brother. "How would
you feel, if you had to come before me?"

Israel smiled easily. "Why, Edward, I would slit my
throat!"

Pellew scowled. "You are a bastard."

"Yes, I believe you've said that once or twice. But
you know I never listen to you."

"Israel--"

"Believe it or not, brother dear, I am trying to help
you!" Israel insisted. "Here, have another glass of
wine and relax. I am certain God himself did not scowl
so blackly before destroying Sodom and Gomorrah!"

"I am not scowling," Edward protested, raising the
glass to his lips.

"Of course not. Drink your wine. Why not let the other
captains examine the boy for you?"

Edward swallowed wrong, and choked. "Impossible!" he
croaked. "There must be five--"

"Seated on the board, yes," Israel interrupted, "but
you don't all five have to ask a question, do you? Or
do you intend shouting at the young men from every
quarter?"

"Yes, well, it may all be moot in the event," Edward
said, sipping again and getting it right. "I offered
the young man a chance to withdraw, and it is very
likely he shall take it. He all but panicked when I
told him I was to sit on the board."

"Withdraw? And remain indefinitely in the midshipmen's
berth? Surely, he--"

"He is not in the midshipmen's berth," Edward pointed
out, "and I would not send him back on this account.
He is an acting-lieutenant, and that would not
change."

Israel's eyes widened and he sat back abruptly. "Mr.
Kennedy!" he breathed in sudden realization. "One of
Nelson's young heroes!" He laughed quietly and shook
his head. "Oh, Edward, this is rich! The young man
will rush headlong into a gang of toughs and sustain
all manner of injuries without a second thought, and
yet he quails at the mere thought of having to win his
commission from you!" He laughed again in wicked
delight. "And you say you are not God!"
**********

Long after Horatio had left him, Archie remained in
his small cabin, sitting on his cot, thinking. Horatio
had absolute faith in him; he simply was not
accustomed to that. The captain, too, had faith in
him, had shown that a number of times. More
importantly, though, the captain also had shown him
respect, by offering him the chance to withdraw from
an examination they both knew would be made doubly
difficult by his presence on the board. The captain
had shown him the courtesy of allowing him to make his
own decision...

But what would he decide?

He sighed and shook his head tiredly, feeling as if he
carried a hundred-ton weight upon his shoulders. He
knew what he wanted to do, what his nature dictated he
should do. Why subject himself to one more failure?
Why put himself -- and his captain -- through such
humiliation? The captain had said he would
understand...

But would he? Could such a man truly understand the
doubts and fears that plagued another when he himself
seemed impervious to such? Would he not see the
refusal to risk failure as just another form of
weakness? After all, a man who risked nothing, gained
nothing, either...

And what of Horatio? What would Horatio think of him?
Horatio, who had refused to let him die in that
prison, who had refused to attempt escape until he was
able, who had helped him find his courage on that
damned bridge at Muzillac, who had taken such pains
with him in his studies, who had never shown anything
but unswerving belief in him-- How could he now betray
that belief? How would he bear the inevitable sorrow,
the disappointment, that would show in his eyes? How
could he say to his friend, "All you have ever done
for me has been for naught"?

And what of himself? He sighed again and rose to his
feet, pacing slowly about the small, cramped space. He
was no longer the boy who had looked enviously upon
his older brothers' astonishing string of
accomplishments, he knew that. He was not even the
same boy who had cringed in terror and self-loathing
before Jack Simpson. And he was not the same person
who, tired of life and all its struggles, had tried to
starve himself to death in prison.

Who, then, was he? More to the point, whom did he wish
to be? And could he be that person if he failed to
take this particular risk?

He groaned softly and bowed his head, and his gaze
fell upon the letters stacked upon the small table
where also sat the books he had almost memorized. His
father's letter was on top, the formal script
unmistakable, and, for no reason he could discern, he
reached out and picked it up, opening it and reading
the words once more.

"If ever I have given you cause by word or deed to
feel yourself a disappointment to me, or to think
that, for the reason we both can name, you hold a
lesser place in my affection or esteem, I now beg
forgiveness and tell you it is not so. For what you do
now, and for the man I see by your letters you are
becoming, I assure you, Archie, you have my fullest
respect, and all the love a father can give. I am
proud of you."

"For the reason we both can name..." Which reason? The
fits? Or the failures? "...you have my fullest
respect--" God, had he ever wanted anything more?
Well, one thing perhaps-- "and all the love a father
can give." Yes, that was it. More even than his
mother's doting, his sister's affection, his brothers'
acceptance, what he had truly craved, and had never
been certain he had, was there in that one line. "All
the love a father can give. I am proud of you."

He closed his eyes against the sudden sting of tears
and held the paper tightly to him. He knew what his
father would do, what his father would have him do.
"There are things we do because they are easy," he had
heard through all the years of his growing up, "and
things we do because they are right. And seldom is
what is easy, right, or what is right, easy. Yet no
man may escape choosing between them and still call
himself a man."

What was the worse sin? To try and fail, or never to
try at all? And which would most surely destroy the
respect and pride he had struggled all his life to win
and now, finally, had?

True, if he withdrew from the examination, his father
would never know. Except that, somehow, he would.
Because the captain would know. And the captain...

...looked at him with his father's eyes.
**********

Horatio, Bracegirdle and Bowles were seated at the
table, eating supper, when Kennedy emerged from his
cabin. All three looked up, and all three noted his
pallor, and his tight composure.

"Come join us, Archie," Horatio invited. "We've left a
place for you."

Kennedy blinked, as if startled to see them, and
swallowed hard. "In-- in a few moments," he said
softly. "First, I-- I must do something." He looked at
the first lieutenant. "Mr. Bracegirdle, has-- has the
captain-- returned yet?"

"Not yet, Mr. Kennedy. He is with his brother, so I
expect he will be ashore a while."

"Oh." He felt strangely relieved. "Then-- may I leave
something for him? In his cabin?"

"Of course. Tell the sentry you have my leave to
enter."

"Aye aye, sir," he answered absently, turning to leave
even as he said the words.

The three watched him go, each wondering what
thoughts, what feelings, lay behind that white mask of
forced calm. Bowles finally broke the silence. "He
looks tired. Been studying hard, I take it."

"Yes," Bracegirdle said quietly, knowingly, "and over
one problem in particular. I wonder if he found the
solution."

"I hope so," Horatio breathed worriedly. "He has
worked too hard, and come too far, to be undone now."

"Well, let's hope for the best, then," Bowles urged,
knowing of the young man's dilemma. "I'd hate to see
him miss that examination. I truly believe he can
pass. And I'll wager the captain believes it, as
well."
**********

With the Marine sentry watching, Archie laid the
folded note on the captain's writing desk and stared
down at it. So, it was done. He exhaled slowly,
tiredly. He could always take it back, write another.
The captain would never know--

No, it was done. For good or ill, the decision was
made, and he would not change it. Then why didn't he
feel better? He had expected the weight to fall from
him, the knot to leave his stomach...

He stood there for long moments, staring, his fair
head bowed, his expression one of deep distress. The
sentry watched him with some concern.

"Sir?" he called quietly. "You all right, sir?" He
looked as if he'd just signed his own death warrant...

"Hm?" Archie raised his head and turned to the man,
blinking as if rousing from a trance. "Oh, yes, I-- I
am fine. Thank you. Will he see that, do you think?"

"I don't rightly know, sir. I could tell 'im it's
there."

"Would you? Thank you, I-- I would appreciate that."
He forced a smile. "Well, I should be going now.
Goodnight."

"Good night, sir," the Marine answered quietly as he
followed the young man out and resumed his post at the
captain's door.

These Navy officers were a damned strange lot...
**********

**********

Pellew tried to relax, tried to give his quite
exceptional dinner and his brother the attention both
deserved, but could not keep his mind from turning
time and again to the vexing problem of Mr. Kennedy.
How to convince a young man he had all the attributes
the Navy required of its officers, and perhaps a few
more, when all that young man saw were his own flaws?
Self-doubt had ruined more than one promising career,
and he had no wish to see it happen again.

"...and then my ship took wing and flew into the
night, while my sailing master made love to a
mermaid," Israel concluded.

Hearing only the silence that followed, and nothing of
the ridiculous words before, Pellew looked up and
blinked. "Hm? Oh, yes, yes, quite. Well, I am certain
you handled it nicely."

"No," Israel said, sitting back and crossing his arms,
staring at his brother, "because I fell overboard and
drowned. Oh, Edward, you've not heard a word I've
said!" he accused crossly. "Good Lord, you are not
still fretting over that young officer of yours? If he
fails, he will certainly not be the first, nor the
last! Why agonize over him in this manner?"

Pellew returned his brother's stare evenly, his own
gaze hardening slightly. "Perhaps because I consider
him worth agonizing over," he answered in a cool,
clipped tone. "Do you not take such pains over your
officers?"

"Some, yes. But if I agonized over every midshipman
who had ever disappointed me, I should be a lunatic by
now. Face it, Edward -- some men are meant to be
officers, and some are not. And simply because you
happen to like this young man--"

"It is not simply that I like him!" Pellew snapped. "I
see promise, Israel, and I am determined not to see it
wasted! And I should like to think that, even if I did
not like a man, I should still try to foster whatever
promise I sense in him! Is that not why we are given
these midshipmen? To turn them into officers? Or are
they merely convenient sources of manpower, bodies to
fill gaps in the line, as it were?"

"You know I did not mean that," Israel said quietly,
stung by the words. "Yes, these boys are given us to
train. But not to raise. We are not their fathers,
Edward, merely their captains--"

"And, at times, are not the two very much alike?"
Pellew asked softly, his gaze boring into his
brother's. "What does a father do but guide his son
into manhood, Israel? Teach him, test him and see that
he embarks upon the right road? Well, is that not very
like what we try to do with our young men? And could a
father teach any greater lesson than the ones we do,
lessons of life and death, of duty and honour? The
Navy has sufficient men who can sail a ship and fire a
gun. What it needs are men of courage and conviction.
Character, if you will. Men who can think and reason,
men who know when a risk is worth taking and when it
is not, when the price to be paid outweighs the glory
to be won. And if we do not see fit to agonize over
such men, then tell me, Israel, what in God's name are
we doing here?"

Israel sighed and sat back, lowering his gaze. His
mind rarely travelled such paths. He had long ago
realized that such reflection was a part of his
brother's nature which he did not share. And he was
not always comfortable when confronted by it.

"I am sorry," Pellew sighed, eyeing his brother with
regret. "I have spoiled supper, when it may well be
the last we enjoy together for some time to come. Can
you forgive me?"

Israel looked up with a thoughtful frown. "They mean
so much to you, these young men of yours?" he asked
softly.

"They do," Pellew replied without hesitation. "Oh, do
not mistake me, I've had my share of idiots and fools,
and there was one--" He briefly recalled a beach, a
duel, and a shot he himself had fired, ending years of
torment for God knew how many others. "But, at the
moment, I seem strangely blessed with talent. My
first, Mr. Bracegirdle, is a man whose judgment I
could not do without. He is as steady and as reliable
as any man I have ever known, and I would trust him
with my ship, my life and my honour. Young Lieutenant
Hornblower -- God, now there is a bright light in the
Navy's firmament! You mark me, Israel, that young man
will end up an admiral, and a great man. You don't see
his like every day."

"And this young Kennedy?"

Pellew smiled slightly. "Oh, he lacks Hornblower's
brilliance, to be sure. But, then, who doesn't? But he
is talented nonetheless. It would be a tragic waste to
stand by and let him founder."

"Another prize to be taken by the indomitable Captain
Sir Edward Pellew," Israel joked. "Yes, I can see it
plainly. Young Kennedy shall have a bright career in
the Navy whether he wants it or not. Poor lad, once
you got hold of him, he never stood a chance!"

"You are a bastard, Israel."

"You keep saying that!" he sighed. "Some day, Edward,
you shall truly hurt my feelings!"

"Hm," Pellew grunted. "You would have to acquire them
first!"
**********

Archie did not return to sup with Horatio and the
others, but made his way above, much in need of fresh
air. He was grateful for the cool night, and for the
brisk, sharp wind that stirred the cobwebs and shadows
from his mind. He let go all thought of what had
passed between him and the captain, between him and
Horatio, and merely enjoyed the quiet, starlit night.

There were, he supposed, few things more soothing
thana ship riding placidly at anchor. It was rather
like being rocked in a cradle -- comforting, familiar,
safe. All the sounds about him were those he knew,
that had become a part of him, that gave his life
meaning and purpose. Taken distinctly, each was
definable, explainable. Taken together, they were
simply the sweet, quiet music of home.

He smiled slightly at that. Home. God, when had he
begun thinking of the Indy, of any ship, as home? When
had this ceased being a foreign world, dark and
threatening and filled with nameless terrors, and
become a place he knew and loved? When had this
collection of oak and canvas and hemp and iron become
something he cherished?

And when -- God, when? -- had these men become family?

He lifted his head and closed his eyes, breathing
deeply of the night air. The wind had changed
quarters, and had freshened. That, too, had become
instinctive, this constant, though often unconscious,
regard for such things as wind and weather and sky,
for the phase of the moon and the state of the tides,
and the condition of sails that would or would not
meet any unexpected challenge. He tried to remember
when it had happened, when he had ceased merely
breathing and begun gauging. But, as with everything
else, he could not say.

But it had, there was no denying it...

In his mind, he put the Indy out to sea, and tried to
imagine what sail he would have upon her. Would he
want merely to ride comfortably on such a wind, or run
before it, as he knew she could? And what if another
ship appeared, hull down in the moonlight, barely
distinguishable? What would he do then? Turn and give
chase? With what spread of canvas? And if the ship
were identified as an enemy, when to beat to quarters?

"Takin' in the night air, eh, sir?" came a quiet voice
at his side.

Startled out of his reverie, he jumped and jerked
about with a sharp gasp to see Matthews, like a ghost,
at his side.

"I'm sorry, sir, I didn't mean to startle ye!" the
grizzled seaman apologized. "I thought ye'd 'eard me
come up."

"No, I-- I didn't," he breathed, placing a hand to his
chest where his heart still raced and exhaling
unsteadily. "I-- I was thinking--"

"Oh, about the big day, no doubt."

Archie blinked and frowned in confusion. "Big day?"

"Aye, sir." Matthews grinned broadly, his teeth
flashing in the moonlight. "Your examination for
leftenant an' all. The lads've been talkin' about it
all day."

"They-- I mean, you have? Why?"

Matthews frowned and scratched his whiskered chin.
"Oy, sir, it's a big deal, 'avin one of your mids --
or, in your case, sir, actin'-leftenants -- goin' up
for 'is examination! It means a lot to the lads to see
their officers promoted. Well, it does if 'e's a lad
we take stock in. And there's damned few of those!" he
added with a laugh.

Archie stared intently at him, studying the man who
seemed to know ships and the sea better than any other
alive. "And-- and do they-- take stock in me?" he
asked softly, hesitantly. "Perhaps even a little?"

Matthews laughed again. "Oy, sir, it's more than a
little! You've an easy way wi' the lads, and they like
that. Oh, not that they think they can get over on ye,
but you're not a growler nor a shouter like some
others we've known." He glanced down at Kennedy's
bandaged hand and nodded. "And ye pitched in wi' that
gun, even wi' that hand. Don't think the lads didn't
notice that."

Archie blushed in the moonlight. "It had to be done--"

"So you say, sir," Matthews said quietly. "But,
believe me, I've known my fair share of officers who
wouldn't have done it even wi' two good hands. I
reckon I've been at sea almost as long as you've been
alive, and there are some on board who've been at sea
longer. Believe me, sir, it don't take us old hands
long to sort between the good'uns and the bad'uns.
It's how we survive."

"Instinct," Archie breathed. "Like gauging the wind."

"Aye, sir, sommat like that." He cocked his head to
one side and frowned slightly at the young man,
suddenly seeing him shiver. "You worried about
tomorrow, sir?" he asked softly.

"Why would you ask that?" Archie rasped, startled
again.

Matthews smiled. "Because you come up wi'out your
proper jacket, and now you're chilled. So I reckoned
ye might 'ave things on yer mind other than the
weather."

"It is chilly, isn't it?" Archie noted evasively,
turning to stare out over the black water. "And so
quiet--"

"I suppose it must be a daunting thing, to be tested,"
Matthews said quietly, refusing to take the hint.
"Still, I don't suppose being tested by captains could
be any harder than being tested by Dagoes. After all,
the captains aren't likely to throw ye in a hole if ye
fail."

Archie stiffened at that, at the memory it invoked. An
awful memory, of darkness and crushing isolation, and
near-madness--

"No, sir," Matthews went on quietly, reflectively,
"there are tests out there, even aboard ship, that
could break a man body and soul, tests that would send
some men to their graves, others into madness. But if
a man survives them, well," he scratched his chin
again, "I don't reckon facing a lot of captains all
shiny wi' braid and buckles would seem half a
challenge. I 'ear it's just questions they ask.
Nothin' like facin' cannon or a damned, stinkin'
'ole." He glanced up at the sky and sniffed. "Aye,
it's cold now, but it'll be a lovely day tomorrow, or
I miss my guess."

Archie smiled slightly. "You never miss your guess,
Matthews. Not about anything."

"Well, we shall see tomorrow, won't we, sir?" He
sniffed again. "I think I'll go below now, sir.
Anything ye need before I do?"

Archie turned to face him, his smile growing. "No,
nothing, Matthews."

"Then good night, sir." He turned to go. "Good night,
Matthews," Archie called. "And-- thank you."

Matthews paused, then turned, an expression of
surprise on his face. "What, sir? For a bit o'
conversation? Oy, there's nothin' an old sailor likes
more than to talk."

"Yes, well, all the same, thank you," Archie said
quietly, feeling more at ease than he had in sometime.
"Sometimes even a bit of conversation helps. More than
you know."
**********

Pellew, back aboard Indefatigable, retired to his
cabin after getting a last report from the
quartermaster. He and Israel had managed to have an
enjoyable evening after all, with his brother calling
upon the full force of his considerable wit and charm
to bedevil him out of his dark mood. He had stayed
ashore far longer than he had intended, and should,
perhaps, have done without that final glass of port,
but it had simply been too fine to refuse.

And on the morrow he would watch his brother sail
forth into God knew what fate...

As he approached his cabin door, the sentry, as
expected, stiffened to a rigid brace, which Pellew
acknowledged with a nod. As he laid his hand on the
latch to open it, however, the Marine addressed him,
an unusual occurrence.

"Beggin' yer pardon, sir," the man said with
noticeable hesitation.

"Yes? What is it?"

"Well, sir, one o' yer young officers was 'ere, Mr.
Kennedy. 'E left a note for you, inside. 'E seemed
worried ye wouldn't see it, so I told 'im I'd tell ye.
Sir."

Pellew tensed instantly, his former contentment
vanishing into a cloud of worry. "A note? Where?"

"On yer desk, sir."

He opened the door reluctantly, afraid he knew what
was in that note. Not that it should come as any
surprise...

"Thank you, Corporal. Good night."

"Good night, sir."

Pellew went inside and moved slowly across to his
desk. He saw the folded note at once, and winced to
see that Kennedy's customarily careless script had
been rendered even worse by the injury to his hand.
Idly, he wondered how many pain-staking hours of
labour had been wasted by some frustrated tutor in
trying to train that hand into something more elegant.
With a sigh, he reached for the note and held it up,
staring at it for long moments before opening it.

But even unpleasant duties must be performed...

Prepared for the worst, he unfolded the paper, and was
startled to see only four lines. Yet, when he read
them, he thought them the most brilliant, the most
welcome four lines that had ever been penned.

"Captain Pellew," Kennedy had written, though God
alone knew with what effort, "It is my dearest hope
that I shall not disappoint you too badly at the
examination tomorrow. I thank you deeply for your
concern in this matter. Archie Kennedy."

Pellew crushed the note and clutched it in his fist,
clenching his jaws against a shout of jubilation that
threatened to break from him.

He would be there. God bless and help him, Kennedy
would stand for his examination, after all!
**********