Dreams of Day
by Lady Atropos

A gray head hung low. It drooped not in grief, or loneliness; a pervading
sense of comfort was all that laid a gentle hand on this head, pushing it
down upon the owner's softly breathing chest. The smoky hair was curly, and
long, pulled back in a sailor's queue. As the head lifted, the aged,
weathered features glowed in the inn's firelight. Two slate-blue eyes
glittered serenely, a touch of youth and wisdom rolled gently together. The
hearth flame flickered in those eyes, a faithful reflection. The eyes turned
at the soft padding of military boots on the inn parlor's thick carpet.

"Captain Bush, sir, will you be needing anything before you retire?"

"No, thank you, Crowley. You may go to bed; I will take care of myself."

"Aye, aye, sir. Goodnight, sir."

This inn, where they had stopped for the night after changing horses, was to
be the site of the last bed Bush would sleep in on land for an undetermined
length of time. As soon as he and his newly-appointed steward reached
Portsmouth, Bush would be sleeping on the 'Nonsuch,' in the second-best
cabin. Not as a lieutenant, however, but as a captain.

He still had to forfeit the usual captain's cabin to his new commodore,
Hornblower, but that mattered little to him. Horatio Hornblower had led him
to many adventures, and could be counted on for good, or at least exciting
times to come. He was not only a superior officer, he was a dear friend and
comrade, though Hornblower's reserve never left much space for companionable
conversation. Bush smiled, and thought of the days when he didn't know
Horatio, then thought of the days before the fresh commodore had wives, or
lovers, or these great walls. The walls had been there, but at the time the
two had first met, they were mere parodies of the barriers yet to come. At
that time, Hornblower could still slip far enough to express his wonder at
his first glimpse of flying fish (though Bush had seen in his face, in his
eyes that Hornblower had regretted it!) or smile wryly at his own game of
playing the cold, immovable disciplinarian. He had only fools and lunatics to
practice on; though, how grim the situation had been to them then, without
any outside guidance or protection. In fact, Bush realized that only years
made the situation seem less tense; if he could go back to that atmosphere
now, it would be no less volatile.

Bush lay back in his chair and tried to recall the painful events of so many
years, and so many lives, in the past. A rebellion; the Spanish prisoners,
for sure, had been guilty of the crime, but the officers were, too-guilty of
a rebellion against poor leadership. That had been Hornblower's crime. And
Buckland's. Bush had never dared to analyze a superior officer, though
Hornblower did it with ease, and therefore Bush couldn't remember impression
of the first lieutenant with the intricacy that he usually recalled
impressions of Hornblower, a man he seemed to constantly be with, experience
making analysis unnecessary.

In a pang, Bush felt again his ironic complacency when he had realized that
Buckland wasn't on the deck during the prisoner's revolt. He didn't know if
the acting captain was dead already, or simply hadn't heard the hubbub. A
smile wrinkled the corners of his mouth and eyes as his present mind reasoned
that it was rather difficult to not notice a highly violent attack, even
though at the time it seemed a valid possibility. Perhaps Buckland *was*
capable of such an oversight - it'd been such a long time. All Bush could think
of the man was his indecision, and his copious ability to not notice the
finest points of a situation, in the way that Hornblower could.

Bush remembered the chaos and suddenness of the attack, the daze of mist that
he saw everything through, as if it were a dream; a nightmare that didn't
frighten him, simply startling him into wakefulness. He remembered, even now,
the relief, strange relief, of seeing Hornblower swing over the rail with his
men; he remembered how, even through his injuries, he knew that Hornblower
would always make everything right. It was a silly detail to remember, but he
did nonetheless.

Buckland, though - there was never that feeling of security with him. Bush's
craggy brow crinkled as he journeyed back. There were no incidents that he
could recall in which he felt well-guided in any respect while under
Buckland's order. The man was a good seaman, but he had no sense. There was
the time - it was so long ago - Bush tumbled the memories around in his head.
Suddenly, the moment came back to him vividly.

Standing in the great cabin. Sawyer raving alone from his sleeping cabin. The
sentry nervously retreating to the outer door. Buckland facing him over a
table crowded with papers, reports, lists, interminable sheets of documents,
sliding and shuffling and occasionally floating like lazy feathers softly to
the carpeted deck.

"What the hell am I supposed to do, then, Mr. Bush?"

"Respectfully, sir, Mr. Hornblower had had an idea that you may - "

"Mister Hornblower? Of course, of course - it couldn't be other than the
gallant Mister Hornblower - "

"Sir, I apologize, but the plan was to - "'

"Mr. Bush, would you kindly refrain from presenting to me nothing but Mister
Hornblower's plans! I can assure you that I hear enough of them from himself
often enough to keep me well informed of his genius!"

Ah, there were rings on some of the papers. Red rings - no, but not blood red.
He had seen enough of blood to know it wasn't blood red. They were a bruised
color, the red rings on the papers. There were red rings around Buckland's
eyes, too.

"Sir, I mean no disrespect! Surely you can see that, in our precarious
situation, there is a need to remain unified. The exclusion of Mr. Hornblower
from our decisions would undoubtedly weaken further the unity of the men on
ship."

"Mister Hornblower! Must you always compare me to Mister Hornblower?"

Silence.

Something tasted awful on his breath. Bush's breath. Stale liquor. The
aftertaste flamed in his mouth. He had got it in the wardroom - Buckland had
got his wine from the captain's personal stores. What did it really matter?

"Sir - I believe you misinterpret my approach - "

"Bloody Hornblower!"

Something else in Buckland's eyes now. Not blood. Running down his face. Into
his mouth. He could see the stream of it. He couldn't stand to see a grown
man cry. That was enough. Turning, passing the sentry at the door, going back
to the wardroom. Sleeping off the drunkenness.

*** *** *** ***

Captain Bush tore his eyes away from the fire. They were watering.

The time was quarter past two. Morning. Where was Crowley? Oh, yes, he had
sent him to bed. Rising stiffly, Captain Bush followed suit, leaving his
groggy memories in the wing chair behind him.

THE END