Family
by Simon

The OC's in this story were borrowed from Allison James wonderful
story "Landfall", with her kind permission. She is in no way to blame
for what I've made them do here!


Chapter Four

 

Mavis was alone when she woke. The light coming in the windows told
her it was early morning, but the household was still quiet. Being
alone didn't surprise her all that much. Horatio was too tactful to
embarrass her by chancing their being found together in her bed with
her parents just down the hallway.

But last night! She smiled to herself, blushing. She had thought that
he was bringing her upstairs so that he could be sure she'd be safely
abed. He had handed her into the room, kissing her cheek, but then
instead of backing away had stepped in with her.

At first she hadn't understood, he had said repeatedly that they must
wait until they were married, but then he had pulled the door shut
and turned the latch.

Putting his hand on her cheek, he had softly asked, "Are you sure
that you want this?"

Nodding, she had turned her face, kissing his hand and using her own
to unbutton his shirt, then pulling it over his head. Leaning in she
had kissed his chest, feeling his heart pounding beneath her touch.
He had then moved to the sash of her wrap, opening the front and
sliding his hands inside while he kissed her.

He had acted exactly as she had thought that he would"gentle and
careful and concerned that she not be either frightened or in any way
hurt. The initial pain hadn't lasted and he had held her for so long
afterwards. They had lain there for hours, close together, quietly
talking about themselves and what they hoped for. He had told her
about his family, or lack of it, letting her finally understand why
he had become so close to her own and how grateful he was to them for
allowing it.

They had fallen asleep in each other's arms, or at least she had,
feeling safe and warm and precisely where she wanted to be.

Turning her head to look out the window she saw the note on the next
pillow. "Good morning. I love you. H"

Smiling, she stood up, wrapping her robe about her and walked across
the hall to the guestroom. Quietly letting herself in, she watched
Horatio peacefully sleep, his long hair unbound and tousled, needing
a shave. His bare shoulders made it obvious that he hadn't bothered
with a nightshirt and she saw the old scar where the bullet had
penetrated during the duel years before. It was odd to see him like
this. He was always so reserved, so in control of himself. It was
strange to see him so"vulnerable.

He shifted slightly in his sleep, a small smile briefly playing at
his mouth.

As she looked at him she noticed again how shadowed his eyes still
were. That was the result of much more than missing one night's
sleep, and he was so thin. The bones at his shoulders and hips, his
ribs were obvious. Those were the scars he carried from Renown. He
denied it, but she knew that they were. Last night she had asked him
about the ship, after they hadwell, after they were finished. He
wouldn't give her any straight answers. He soothed her and made
excuses that were close to lies. She didn't believe any of them. The
ship was bad. It had gone rotten. They did that sometimes. She had
heard Papa speak of other ships he had known it to happen to. If the
men aboard were lucky they were found out. The crew and officers
would be split up, reassigned and the ship might even be rechristened
with a new name to cleanse it.

If this weren't done, usually the ship, and the men on her would come
to disaster.

Oh, God.

Horatio.

Her eyes filled. She couldn't bear losing him. No now, not after last
night. No.

A quiet voice, "Mavis? Are you alright?"

Forcing a small smile, she nodded. "I'm happy, that's all." She went
to the bed, half sitting and half lying against him.

"You're"alright, though? I was so afraid that I'd hurt you." His arms
were around her.

She shook her head against his chest. "No, I'm fine. I'm---happy." He
kissed her forehead.

"I was worried that you'd have second thoughts with daylight. Have
you?"

"No, I haven't. Last night was right for us both. And tonight will
be, too."

He was chuckling quietly. "Mavis! My God, I'd no idea that I was
betrothed to such a wanton."

She laughed out loud. "You didn't complain last night after you
finally decided to do your duty."

Laughing with her, he rolled her on her back, tangling both of them
in the bedding.
"Sshhhh. Quiet. Your parents will hear. Stop that. I mean it, stop
that this instant."

He stilled her by capturing her hands in his own and then leaning
down to kiss her. Then drawing back, he pulled away.

"Enough. The household is waking. You must be off to your own room. I
mean it now. No more of this. Be gone. I'll see you at breakfast."

She left his room, pausing at the door just long enough to catch a
glimpse of him, naked, disentangling himself from the sheets. Smiling
broadly, she closed his door.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Good morning, Horatio, I trust you slept well?"

"Yes, thank you, Lady Sophie, very well. And yourself?"

"Quite well, thank you."

Sir Edward looked up from his morning paper. "I thought that I heard
talking late last night. Were you two playing chess again?" His
expression was one of complete innocence.

Lady Sophie fixed him with a look to freeze water.

"What have you on for today, Edward?"

Horatio gratefully turned his attention to his coffee.

"Just some more business with the Port Admiral. I should be home in
time for tea. And what are your plans, my dear?"

"I still have to make another decision about those blasted drapes.
Really, Edward, if you two would simply go out and win the war I'd be
able to get the fabric from France that I like." She almost"had
managed to keep a straight face. "Perhaps you could arrange one of
those, what do you call them? A cutting out? Liberate two or three
bolts of silk, if you would, please."

"I'll suggest it to the Admiral first thing."

"Thank you, my dear. Ah, Mavis. Good morning Sweeting, how are you
this morning?" Sophie was looking at her carefully, despite the
casual words.

Horatio had looked up the instant he had heard the name, the two
young people exchanging a warm look which completely excluded the
other couple in the room.

She moved around the table to her usual seat. "I'm fine, Mama. Thank
you."

Sophie saw the look between the two; their eyes were glued
together. "What are you two planning for the day?" Mavis actually
blushed as she turned to her mother.

"Oh, nothing special. We were up so late from the party and with the
sky so threatening, perhaps we will just stay around here, if that's
alright with you, Horatio?"

Sir Edward looked up from his paper. "Ummmm. Perhaps you might enjoy
a few more games of chess."

Sophie's ice look returned. "Perhaps later you could teach me how to
play, dearest."

Edward calmly replied, "I believe that you already know how, my love."

"One can always improve, dearest." He smiled at her.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Commodore Pellew walked into the Port Admiral's outer office at
precisely ten o'clock, as requested. The young aide apologized as he
explained that the Admiral's early meeting seemed to be running over
somewhat, might he get Sir Edward some refreshments while he waited?
It shouldn't be long. Thanking the young man as he declined the
offer, Pellew started to stroll the hallway outside the office door.
As he rounded the corner he heard the greeting.

"Sir Edward! What a pleasure to see you again so soon."

He looked in the direction of the voice and at the Captain
approaching him. "Captain Sawyer. You're looking well this morning.
Getting ready to up anchor, are you?"

"Yes, we'll be off next week, you know. I meant to offer you my
congratulations on the betrothal of you lovely daughter, Sir Edward."

"Yes, well, thank you, but you already did so at the Admiral's party
last evening."

Sawyer looked momentarily confused. "Did I? Forgive me, then. There
were so many people there."

Edward looked closely at the man. He did seem somewhat vague today.
Pellew decided to see what he could discern about the man. He steered
them over to the window alcove where they might have a bit more
privacy.

"So Lieutenant Hornblower has been with you on Renown for two years
now, James. Happy with his performance, are you?"

"He seems to be competent. Ambitious, of course. Why do you ask?"

"The lad is marrying my daughter, man! One wants to be sure that she
end up in good hands, you know. Have any problems with him, have you?
Just between us, of course."

"I'd forgotten that he was one of your young pups from the
Indefatigable. You should know him as well as I do, sir."

"Any junior officer will put on a good face in front of his captain
or a commodoreor before a prospective father in law. What do you
know of him personally? Is he trustworthy? Honest? Would you turn
your back on him? How do his men feel about him?"

"Wellin truth?"

"Of course. I would know your opinion, James. I know you to be a keen
judge of men."

"I find him to be"sly. Keeps his own counsel. Except when he and that
friend of his, Kennedy, get together. Thick as thieves, the pair of
them. Always have their heads together, addressing each other by
first names right on the quarterdeck. I've had to discipline the both
of them for that. Always talking about their betters up there.
Thinking that they could run the ship better than I."

"James! You can't mean that they've actually said that?"

"No, no. They're too clever for that. They stop talking as soon as I
appear, but I know what they're up to. And the way they mollycoddle
the men in their divisions! I doubt if either of them has ordered a
flogging in a year, if not longer."

"Their men are undisciplined, then?"

"They're a bunch of soft nannies, all of them. Following Hornblower
about like he was their father offering treats."

Pellew shook his head in sympathy. "They sound like weak officers,
both of them. Have you considered transferring them off Renown?"

"Of course I have, but if I do that the cancer will spread throughout
the fleet. I'd rather keep them where I can have my eye on them. They
bear watching, both of them. Mark my words on that, Commodore."

"Ummmmmmm. Quite.

The Admiral's aide approached them. "Forgive me, Sir Edward, Captain,
but the Admiral is free now."

Pellew nodded in acknowledgement. "James, I'm glad that we had this
little talk. I wish you luck on you're next voyage."

"Thank you, Commodore. If I may be so bold, you may wish to speak
with your lovely daughter."

"Indeed, I shall."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Admiral, I fear for the men of the Renown. We've all heard the
rumors about that ship. It is my belief that they are true. To send
her off under these circumstances would be tantamount to murder."

"Sir Edward, really. I appreciate your concern, but come sir! Your
fears are over exaggerated. They'll be fine. The Admiralty has made
their decision, and that's all there is to it."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lady Sophie found Mavis in her room reading. Horatio had decided to
stretch his legs on a short walk that Mavis had declined to join him
on. It had begun sleeting.

"Sweeting, is everything all right?"

"Yes, of course, Mama. Why do you ask?"

"Did everything go well after the party last night? You and Horatio
were up rather late"talking."

Mavis knew exactly what her mother meant. "It was fine, Mama. Better
than fine. It was wonderful." She smiled in pure joy. "He's so kind,
Mama. He's gentle and he's tender"he's so good to me."

Sophie seemed wistful. Putting her hand to her daughter's cheek in a
caress she quietly said, "I'm so very glad for you both, dearest, and
so is you father."

"Are you, truly? Are you sure that Papa isn't upset by all of this?
But he makes me so happy, so very, very happy."

"Your father thinks the world of Horatio, you know that. We always
thought that you two might end up together."

"What is it that is bothering you, Mama? Are you upset that we spent
the night together? Is Papa?"

Lady Sophie took a moment before answering. "No, your father isn't
all that upset. He's a practical man and he understands how things
are between you two. You'll make your own decisions in any event, so
there's no point in borrowing trouble."

"But you're concerned, aren't you? Do you think that I'm too young?"

Sophie took her hand. "No, I know that you're old enough to know your
own mind. I'm more concerned that you don't fully understand what it
means to be married to a military officer during wartime."

"Because he might be killed?"

"Or away for months or even years at a time. It can be so terribly
lonely, sweet, and frightening. You will have no way of knowing where
he is or when he'll be back, what he's doing. It's a"difficult way to
live."

"I know that, Mama. Horatio was saying the same thing. I see you
waiting for Papa when he's at sea. I know what you go through." She
brightened. "But then you get a letter or he walks in the door---
that's the best part of it. I love the look on your faces when you
spot each other."

"Mavis"

"Mama, I know what you're saying, and I understand, but this is what
I want. Truly it is."

Sophie gave her a small smile. "All I want is your happiness. I know
every parent says that, but it's true, dearest."

"This is what will make me happy. This is what I want. He is what I
want and he wants me."

She stood to leave, kissing Mavis' forehead. "Mama, while he's gone,
perhaps we can plan the wedding?"

Smiling she answered, "Of course."

Sophie left the room, gently closing the door behind her. Her
expression as she walked down the hallway was tragically sad.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Sophie heard voices coming from the conservatory as she approached
the kitchen to check on tea. She entered the room, but stopped as she
heard what they were saying. They were over in the corner chairs
where she couldn't be seen.

"You're not to know this and it will be my hide if it comes out, but
I'll be sailing into the same waters as Renown will be, so I'll be
able to keep at least some sort of eye on the situation."

"We'll be fine. I'm sure of it. We'll just do whatever the Admiralty
has in mind for us and then come home as soon as we're done."

She heard Edward speaking in a low voice, obviously not wanting to be
overheard.

"Stay out of his way, for the love of God. Just give him a wide
berth."

"Sir, you know that's not possible. I'm the ship's third. I have to
work directly with him on a daily basis."

"He'll do you harm if he can. You and Kennedy, both."

She heard Horatio answer something unintelligible. Then Edward's
voice again. "And if you're killed, Mavis will be. " He trailed off,
then continued. "What if she's pregnant when you leave?"

"Jesus, I've been able to think of nothing else."

"You've been doing a Hell of a lot more than just thinking about it.
You and her both."

Again, his answer was mumbled.

Edward's wasn't. "Well, as I recall, once is all it takes."

There was silence for several moments as Sophie walked to where they
were talking. They both rose as she approached. She had never seen
Edward look so concerned about anything and Horatio appeared almost
at the point of despair.

She spoke first. "The situation on Renown is that dire?" Neither man
said anything. "One of you answer me. How bad is it on that ship?"

Horatio remained silent, looking out the windows toward the harbor
where Renown lay at anchor.

"Don't think that by not answering you're protecting me. I've been
listening to you talking. Tell me the truth. Is there a chance that
Horatio will be killed?"

"Sophie, he's an officer on a ship of war"

"Don't hand me that Edward. You know exactly what I mean. Will that
maniac try anything?"

"It's unlikely that he'll attempt something. Horatio will take every
precaution and the other officers will be there as witnesses as to
whatever transpires on board. The Admiralty is aware that there's a
situation which bears watching."

"But they won't do anything to stop it. God, what a mess. Mavis is
upstairs planning the wedding, are you two aware of that?"

Horatio finally looked at Sophie. "I can't do this to her. I can't.
I'll break off the betrothal and let her think of me what she will.
It will be better than putting her through his."

"Horatio, no." She put her hand on his arm, but he shook his head and
brushed past her to go upstairs.