GOING HOME, Part One
by Tracy J.

Author's Note;

There are elements in this story that might make more sense if you read Life's Lessons first.

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CHAPTER ONE

Indefatigable,
December 6, 1795

Hornblower stood at the rail near the bow. He had watched the sun go down and had not moved since. He had faced the pain of death when he lost his mother, but this pain was worse, because he had caused Mariette's death. If he had not insisted she come with him....

"Horatio?"

Kennedy had barely allowed him any time alone since they left Muzillac, and now it was starting to weigh on Horatio's nerves. It was bad enough to be suffering with the knowledge that he was responsible for Mariette's death, but even more agonizing to have someone, who does not understand, telling him it was not his fault. With a sigh, Horatio gave Archie the answer he always gave, "I'm fine, Archie."

Leaning against the rail, Archie was quiet a few moments. Then, he licked his lips and turned to his friend, "You should try to sleep, Horatio."

"Archie, please!" It came out more harshly then Horatio had intended. "Just leave me be!"

Archie flinched back as if he had been struck and blinked rapidly. He lowered his eyes, looking hurt, and stammered in a trembling voice, "I-I-I'm...sorry, Horatio. I was only trying to help." He handed a cup of warm grog to Horatio, "At least, drink this. It'll keep you warm."

Horatio took the cup and closed his eyes, Archie is trying to comfort me the only way he knows how. "No, wait." Horatio quickly reached out and caught Kennedy's arm as he was walking away.

Archie flinched, taking in a sharp breath, and jerked his arm away.

"Archie, I'm sorry." Horatio said, "You were only trying to help, and I should not have been so rude to you."

"It's all right, Horatio. I can be a bother." Although it was said lightly with a smile, Horatio could see the hurt on Archie's face. But Archie spoke before Horatio could. "I know how painful it is to lose someone you care about, Horatio." Archie looked out over the water, "And I know it hurts even more when you are the one responsible for their death."

Horatio blinked, Archie understands better then I thought he would!

"There are things in your life, Horatio," Archie said softly, "that you cannot change no matter how much you wished to. You just have to accept your mistake and go on." Archie turned back to the water and became quiet.

Horatio drank the warm grog that Archie had given him, and thought about what Kennedy had said. He also wondered how Archie had learned that lesson.

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Finding it hard to sleep, Pellew dressed and went up on deck. The rain had let up and was just a mist now. As he wondered about the deck of his ship, he saw two young offices - who should have been asleep - standing by the rail, and he slowly made his way forward to the pair.

"Gentlemen." His greeting startled the smaller of the two, making him jump. Pellew reached out and put his hand on the lad's arm and felt the boy flinch at his touch as if it burned, "I do apologize, Mr. Kennedy. I did not mean to startle you."

Embarrassed, Kennedy stammered, "I-I'm sorry, sir. I did-I did not hear...."

"There's no need to explain, Mr. Kennedy." The captain said easily, "I did come up on you both rather quietly." Pellew allowed the young officer a few moments to compose himself. Kennedy seemed to be more easily startled since returning to Indefatigable from imprisonment. Edward believed it a miracle that not only had Hornblower been sent to the same prison as Kennedy, but had been put in the same cell as the midshipman!

Unfortunately, after their release from prison, Indefatigable left Spain for England, and then was sent to Quiberon less then a week after arriving in England. That had not been sufficient time to recover from over two years of imprisonment. Pellew clasped his hands behind his back and looked out over the harbor, "It's a very cold night, is it not, gentlemen?"

"Yes, sir." Hornblower answered, echoed by Kennedy's softer agreement. The acting lieutenant gazed out over the harbor.

"Am I to take it, neither of you can sleep?" The captain asked lightly, looking back at the two.

"Just looking forward to going home, sir." Hornblower said politely.

Pellew nodded, then glanced at Kennedy who was adrift in his own thoughts with that odd expression once more on his handsome, young face, "And what about you, Mr. Kennedy? Are you looking forward to going home?"

"Indefatigable is my home, sir." Archie said softly.

The captain eyed the young officer and was concerned by how drained the lad looked - even in the dark! Well, he has been through a hell of a lot in the past few months alone! Edward thought, To say nothing of the past two years! But what is this new expression? Clearing his throat, the captain asked, "Is there something troubling you, Mr. Kennedy?"

Casting his gaze to the deck, Archie bit his lip, trying to think of an answer. Unable to find a response he would feel comfortable giving the captain, Archie whispered, "No, sir." A gentle hand on his shoulder made Kennedy flinch and bring his eyes back to his captain's.

Why does this lad fear me so? Pellew frowned. Kennedy looked even more pale now then he had this afternoon. Pellew raised his chin slightly, "Mr. Kennedy, I told you to rest this afternoon, did you?"

Glancing up, Kennedy blinked and swallowed, "Yes, sir."

"You still look tired." Pellew raised his brow.

Archie sighed and answered honestly, "I am, sir."

Pellew gently squeezed Kennedy's shoulder, "Go below and get some sleep, Mr. Kennedy. I will watch over Mr. Hornblower now."

"Yes, sir." Kennedy straightened and saluted his captain, "Good night, sir."

"Good night, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew returned the salute with a concerned expression, "Rest well."

"Thank you, sir." Kennedy turned to Horatio, "Good night, Mr. Hornblower."

"Good night, Mr. Kennedy." Horatio smiled, "Pleasant dreams." Archie had been plagued with nightmares since Horatio had met him. In prison, when Archie had awoke whimpering Simpson's name, Horatio realized who those nightmares were about. He hoped that wishing Archie pleasant dreams would somehow chase away the nightmares.

"Thank you, sir. You too." Archie said with a slight smile, then turned and started aft.

As Kennedy went below, Pellew turned his attention to his young lieutenant, "How are you, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Better, sir." Horatio admitted.

Pellew took in a deep breath, "Mr. Kennedy has certainly gone out of his way to help you through your grief."

"Yes, sir," Horatio agreed, "he has."

"How is he, Mr. Hornblower?" Pellew asked quietly.

Horatio was caught off guard by that question, "Sir?"

"Mr. Kennedy, sir. I am concerned that he has not quite recovered himself from his stay in prison, and I am asking you - as the one man in this ship who is closest to him - if he is all right?"

Horatio felt a sudden stab of guilt. How could I have been so selfish? Horatio thought, Archie did not have enough time to recover from his ordeal in prison before we went to Muzillac, and I have been relying on him to help me! The captain can see Archie is not well, why had I not seen it? Horatio felt horrible and stammered truthfully, "I..uh....I have not really noticed, sir."

"Yes, well," Pellew cleared his throat, "that is understandable, given that you have been grieving."

At that, Horatio closed his eyes, regret surging through him, Archie has been constantly trying to ease my grief, and I return his kindness by snapping at him. Horatio wished there was a way he could kick his own arse right now.

Looking at the boy, Edward could see that Hornblower was exhausted, and said softly, "Get some sleep, Mr. Hornblower. That is an order."

"Aye aye, sir." Horatio opened his eyes and saluted, "Good night, sir."

"Good night, Mr. Hornblower." Pellew returned the salute, then watched the boy go, feeling concern for him, and Kennedy.

Hornblower went to his cabin, but did not sleep due to his anger over neglecting to notice that his friend was not well. Archie always knows when I am hurting. Why could not I see there is something wrong with him? After Archie's reaction when we were set at liberty and returned to Indefatigable, I should have known it would take time for him to recover, and I should have kept a closer eye on him.

 

Spain,
October 11, 1795

Standing on the shore, Horatio Hornblower looked out to sea. Then he read the letter Don Massaredo had give him, once more.

He and his men had been set at liberty.

They were free.

Free to return to England.

Free to go home.

Kennedy!

He had to tell Archie! He turned and ran all the way back to the prison.

 

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CHAPTER TWO

 

Spain,
October 11, 1795

Archie looked up from his book when the cell door was unlocked, and frowned when the guard pushed the door open all the way and walked off.

Hornblower rushed into the cell and stopped upon seeing Kennedy. He looked so spent! "Archie, we're free!"

Staring blankly at him, Kennedy's tone void of emotion, "That's not funny, Horatio."

"I'm not trying to be funny." Horatio told him.

"That explains why you're not." Archie muttered, and turned his attention back to his book.

Hornblower walked over to the bunk and handed the letter to the midshipman, "Archie, read this."

Sighing, Kennedy took the letter and read it. He blinked rapidly, frowning slightly, and read it again. After a few very long moments of silence and, without looking up, he asked softly, "Is this real?"

"Yes, Archie." Hornblower smiled, "We're free."

Free!

This was what Archie Kennedy had wanted since being captured. He had spent the last two years, one month and fourteen days wanting to be free. To return to his ship. To have people to talk to again. He had tried so desperately to obtain his freedom, and suffered horrible punishments for his attempts. He had spent endless days and nights praying - and crying - for freedom. And he had been so terribly lonely! Swallowing, Kennedy clutched the letter to his chest and lowered his head, unable to stop his tears.

This was not the reaction Horatio had expected. He had expected Kennedy to be happy, or excited. Not crying. He sat down on the edge of the bunk, facing the midshipman and, reaching out, he felt Archie flinch as he gently put his hand on Kennedy's shoulder to comfort him. "It's all right, Archie." He said softly, tenderly stroking the other boy's shoulder.

Archie was embarrassed by his reaction to this news, but he just could not stop crying. It was something he had wanted with all his heart for so long.

After several minutes, Archie finally wiped his face and sniffed. Then he took a deep breath and looked up at Hornblower, "We're really free?"

"Yes, Archie." Horatio answered, "We're going home."

"Home." Kennedy echoed breathlessly, closing his eyes. Opening his eyes, the midshipman's face broke into a smile, even though his lip quivered and tears were in his eyes. "We're going home!" Suddenly, he threw his arms around Hornblwower, weeping once more.

Horatio had always been solitary and was unaccustomed to this kind of display of emotions. But Kennedy had been through so much in the short time they had been imprisoned together, and only God knows what he endured before Horatio was imprisoned that Kennedy never told him about. Tentatively, Horatio put his arms around the sobbing midshipman clinging to him and rubbed his back the way Horatio's father had done when he tried to comfort Horatio after his mother died, "There, there, Archie. It's all right."

Hornblower held Kennedy for about fifteen or twenty minutes. Then finally, he said, "I have to go tell the men."

"When...." Kennedy lost his voice. He released Horatio and wiped his face again. Then cleared his throat and, looking up at the lieutenant, asked softly, "When can we leave?"

"I'm not certain." Hornblower answered, "I shall have to ask Don Massaredo."

Archie nodded and lowered his head.

Horatio put his hand on Kennedy's shoulder. When the midshipman glanced back up at him, the lieutenant smiled, "We'll soon be standing on the deck of the Indy."

"Home." Kennedy whimpered, then closed his eyes and lowered his head again.

Horatio stroked Archie's shoulder, "I'll go tell the men, and then find out when we are to be released." He gave Archie's shoulder a couple of pats before turning to leave.

Stopping in the doorway, Horatio looked back, "You can leave the cell now, Archie. You do not have to sit in here anymore."

"I will, Horatio. As soon as I...." Kennedy sniffed and shrugged, not raising his head, "..you know."

...gain control of his emotions. Hornblower thought, but simply said, "I understand."

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When Hornblower told the men, they all cheered except for Matthews, who stepped away from the other men with his head lowered.

Curious, Hornblower followed him, "What is it, Matthews?"

The older seaman raised his head and quietly asked, "Sir, does Mr. Kennedy know?"

"Yes, Matthews." Horatio told him, "I thought I should tell him first."

"Good, sir." Matthews said softly, " 'e needs this more 'en we do."

"I know." Horatio was surprised by the older seaman's concern for Kennedy. But then remembered that Matthews and Styles had served with Kennedy on Justinian before Horatio had been assigned to her. And how concerned they had been for Kennedy when he had almost starved himself to death.

Styles' grin broadened and he hurried toward the figure that had just emerged from the cells. He grabbed the boy by the shoulders, "We're goin' 'ome, Mr. Kennedy!"

"I know, Styles!" Kennedy's smile matched the seaman's and he gripped the bigger man's arms, "I know!"

Matthews walked over to the two and gently put his hand on the back of Kennedy's head, "T'won't be long now, sir."

Archie smiled at the older man, but could not get anymore words out.

"I will go ask Don Massaredo when we'll be able to go home." Horatio said. As he walked to the gate, the two seamen continued to chatter to Kennedy as if they had not heard Hornblower speaking.

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"I apologize for disturbing you, your excellency." Hornblower bowed his head, "But my men are curious as to when we will be set free, sir?"

"They are eager to leave, hum?" Don Massaredo seemed amused.

Horatio cleared his throat and stammered hesitantly, "Well, they are understandably curious, sir."

"You need not apologize, Mr. Hornblower," Massaredo smiled, "I understand. Mr. Kennedy was overjoyed at the news, hmm?"

"Yes, sir." Hornblower answered, not wishing to humiliate the midshipman.

"I have no doubt that he is the most eager to leave," The don said, "since he has been here longer then you and your men?"

"He has suffered here for quite some time." The words were out before Hornblower could stop them. He did not want to offend the don. Especially since the man had been so generous by allowing him to continue his walks outside of the prison after the duchess had left. And Horatio had even understood Massaredo's refusal to allow Kennedy such privileges. He feared the midshipman would be tempted to escape. But it had hurt Horatio that his friend had to sit in the prison alone while he went for walks on the beach.

"Yes," Massaredo nodded slowly, "Mr. Kennedy has suffered." Quickly changing the subject, the don said, "Word has been sent to Gibraltar that you and your men have been set at liberty, and that they may send a ship to retrieve you."

"Thank you, sir." Hornblower bowed his head, then turned and left.

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That night Archie Kennedy lay awake on his bunk in the cell he had occupied for over a year. It seemed like he had been here forever. So much of his life has been wasted in sorrow and misery behind prison walls.

But he had been a prisoner aboard Justinian, too. He had only had eight months of true happiness aboard Indefatigable before it was taken away from him. Will I ever be happy? Archie thought, Or is my life supposed to be a life of sadness? Tears slid down his face as he wondered how God chose those who would be given good, worthwhile lives and those who were to have troubled lives, and why had he been chosen to have such a painful one?

Horatio heard the muffled sobs start and was not certain if he should try to comfort Kennedy, or if he should pretend he did not hear the sobs and not embarrass the midshipman. Remembering the embarrassment on the Kennedy's face at his reaction to the letter, Horatio decided not to add to Kennedy's humiliation, and lay, for several long and painful minutes, listening to the soft weeping until Kennedy fell asleep.

 

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CHAPTER THREE

 

Spain,
October 27, 1795

Hornblower's men cheered when they caught sight of the ship that had come to retrieve them; Indefatigable. Horatio glanced at Kennedy and, as he had expected, there were tears in the midshipman's eyes. He decided not to bring attention to Kennedy and turned to the Don, "Thank you, your excellency."

"You are a man of your word, Mr. Hornblower." Massaredo offered the young lieutenant his hand and Hornblower accepted it.

"Thank you, sir." Horatio shook the Don's hand, "You are a man of honor, as well."

Massaredo smiled and released Hornblower's hand. Then walked over to Kennedy and offered the young midshipman his hand, "Good-bye, Mr. Kennedy."

It took a few moments before Archie raised his head, but he refused to take Massaredo's hand. "Good-bye, Don Massaredo." Archie stated firmly, with no hint of emotion on his face or in his voice, "I hope never to see you again." Then he turned and walked away.

The don did not blame the boy. He still felt a tremendous guilt over leaving Kennedy in that hole in the ground for a month, crippling the boy and crushing his spirit. He had intended to break Kennedy of his notion of escape, but ended up completely breaking the boy instead. He wondered if Kennedy would ever truly be whole again. Turning to Horatio, Massaredo said quietly, "Mr. Hornblower, please look after Mr. Kennedy."

Surprised by the Don's request, Horatio blinked and glanced toward Kennedy, who stood with his head lowered, waiting for the boat to take them home, "Yes, sir."

 

After several long, silent minutes, Massaredo said, "Ah! Your boat is here! Good-bye, Mr. Hornblower."

Horatio bowed to the Don, "Good-bye, Don Massaredo." He climbed into the boat and, as he sat down, the men pushed the jollyboat into the water and began to row.

As the boat closed in on Indefatigable, Kennedy's emotions became too overwhelming for him and he lowered his head as far as he could, struggling hard not to cry loud enough for anyone to hear.

Matthews was sitting behind him. Putting both his hands on the boy's shoulders, the seaman leaned forward to whisper softly, "We'll be 'ome soon, sir."

Nodding, Archie folded his arms across his chest and kept his head down.

Matthews gently massaged the boy's shoulders, wishing there was more he could to for him. But the poor lad just did not have the strength. The frogs, dagos, and Jack Simpson had seen to that.

When they reached Indefatigable, Kennedy stayed seated as everyone else hurried to go aboard. Realizing that Archie was not moving, Horatio sat down with him, "Come on, Archie."

Kennedy wiped his face and whispered softly, "I don't think I'm ready for this, Horatio."

"It will be all right." Horatio said gently.

Archie did not raised his head when he whispered, "I can't."

"Are you not coming aboard, gentlemen?" Pellew called down to them and Kennedy shuddered.

"Yes, sir. We're coming." Horatio shouted back, then said, "Come on, Archie. I'll be right beside you."

Archie took a deep breath and stood, allowing Horatio to climb aboard first. The crew gave three cheers as Hornblower and his men came aboard. Horatio was met with a smile and a handshake from the captain, "Welcome back, Mr. Hornblower!"

Kennedy slowly climbed over the rail, resisting a sudden urge to drop to his knees and kiss the deck. He stood as straight as he could and raised his head as the captain's eyes turned to him.

Pellew approached Kennedy, noting the boy's puffy eyes. Smiling warmly, the captain reached out to take Kennedy's hand in both of his, feeling the boy trembling, "Welcome back, Mr. Kennedy!"

To Archie's horror, tears came to his eyes and he quickly squeezed them shut, lowering his head, "Uh..um....thank you, sir."

Understanding Kennedy's emotions, Pellew did not wish to embarrass that lad, so he turned his attention to Hornblower, "I want you and your men to report to the sick berth to be examined."

"Yes, sir." Hornblower gave him a quick nod and the two young officers went below.

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In the sick berth, Hepplewhite examined Hornblower first, then Kennedy. Horatio waited outside the sick berth for Archie and could not help overhearing Hepplewhite, "There's nothing wrong with you, except exhaustion. And the fact that you need to grow up and be a man. Go get some rest!" With that, the doctor went into his cabin, slamming the door behind him.

Kennedy had made no comment, but Hepplewhite's words had left Hornblower angry. After being locked in that hole for only five days, Horatio knew that Archie Kennedy was much stronger then either of them had every realized. He had survived a month in it. Horatio would love to put Hepplewhite in that damned hole for a month and see how much of a man the doctor would be when he was released!

When Kennedy walked out of the sick berth, he was surprised to see Hornblower.

Horatio smiled, "I thought I'd wait for you. You want to go up on deck and enjoy the view?"

Shaking his head slightly, Archie stammered softly, "I-I..uh....I need to go....to the midshipmen's berth, and find a place to sleep."

"All right." Horatio nodded.

"Mr. Kennedy," Bracegirdle approached, "the captain's compliments and he wishes to see you in his cabin at your earliest convenience."

Fear came to Kennedy's face as he glanced briefly at Hornblower, then he turned back to Bracegirdle and saluted, "Aye aye, sir."

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Straightening his uniform as best he could, Archie Kennedy tried to stop his shaking before knocking at the captain's door. He did not want to face Pellew. After allowing his despair to drive him to starve himself, he no longer deserved to be an officer. He was not even a man. Archie squeezed his eyes shut in an attempt to stop the tears. He could not let Captain Sir Edward Pellew see how weak he was. He had already shamed himself and Hornblower enough in prison. Drawing himself up to his full height, Archie took a deep breath and knocked on the captain's door.

"Come." Came Pellew's stern voice.

Oh, Lord, I wish I were back in prison! Kennedy thought desperately before slowly opening the door.

Pellew stood at the stern windows and watched Kennedy's reflection in them. He still looks ill. Edward turned to the young midshipman, And he looks frightened.

Kennedy became more apprehensive as the captain eyed him.

As Pellew walked toward Kennedy, he saw the boy tense as if bracing himself for a physical blow, and the pulse in the lad's throat begin to throb rapidly. Edward decided he would be a bit more gentle then usual and smiled, "I cannot believe you are back, sir!"

"Tha-thank you, sir." Archie's voice was very unsteady, "I c-can't believe I'm...back either, sir."

Pellew smiled warmly and gestured to a chair, "Come sit, Mr. Kennedy."

"Yes, sir." Archie obeyed, feeling very uncomfortable at having the captain's undivided attention.

The captain sat down as well and just studied the boy. Kennedy was still so pale and looked exhausted. He was also frightened and trembling. "You will have the rest of this day to rest before assuming your duties. I wish I could give you longer, but the Lucinda had lost her captain, most of her officers, and half her crew during a battle seven days ago. I sent Mr. Taylor, Mr. Young, Mr. Heather, Mr. Cleveland, and some men over to her to get her back to England. They will be returned to us once we arrive in Portsmouth, of course, but it has left us short of officers. Therefore, I have entered you in the books as acting lieutenant, and with Mr. Hornblower and Lieutenant Bracegirdle that give us three good officers."

Archie opened his mouth, moving it slightly and very slowly, as the captain's words sank in, and Pellew had to fight to keep from smiling at the reaction. It took the boy several minutes to speak, and then all he could get out was, "A..acting lieutenant, sir?"

"Yes, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew could not keep the smile back any longer, "You are now Acting Lieutenant Kennedy."

Archie swallowed and had to force out a very soft, "Thank you, sir."

Still smiling, Pellew gave a nod, "I am pleased to have you back among my officers, Mr. Kennedy. You have been keenly missed."

Archie quickly closed his eyes, trying to choke back the tears that were threatening to came.

Reaching forward, Pellew took Kennedy's hand in his, but was concerned when the boy flinched and started to jerk his hand away the moment the captain's touch it. He was even more concerned by the blue eyes that flashed open, full of fear. What is he so frightened of?

Still holding Kennedy's hand, the captain cleared his throat and said gently, "I know this is not easy for you, Mr. Kennedy. You have longed for freedom for so long, and now it is hard to believe you finally have it."

Archie's eyes widened, How did he know?

Pellew gently squeezed Archie's hand and smiled, concern still on his face, "You should go rest while you have the chance, Mr. Kennedy." The captain released the boy's hand and stood, "Get some sleep."

"Yes, sir." Archie stood, his voice was unsteady, but he managed to say, "Thank you for making me an acting lieutenant, sir. I shall do my best not to disappoint you."

"I know you will, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew walked Kennedy to the door, "Rest well. And welcome back, sir."

Swallowing, Archie snapped to attention and saluted, "Thank you, sir."

Pellew returned the salute and Kennedy walked out. The captain closed the door and walked to his sideboard. Pouring a glass of brandy, he sat down, and found himself worrying over Kennedy.

The lad seemed frightened, even though Pellew had tried to make the boy feel comfortable. And he seemed so fragile. Well, God knows what happened to the boy while he was captive. Pellew thought.

 

One week after returning to England, Indefatigable was sent to Quiberon, and Pellew's attention had been on Hornblower since.

 

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CHAPTER FOUR

 

Indefatigable,
December 7, 1795

Fortunately, they had a clear day for loading the ship. Unfortunately, Second Lieutenant Taylor was injured during the loading, twisted his knee and ankle.

After the loading was done, the officers came back up on the quarter-deck. Pellew eyed Hornblower and Kennedy as they came up the steps. The two had not only supervised the loading, they also helped with the loading. Their informs were filthy and soaked with sweat, as were their faces.

These two are certainly not afraid of hard work! Pellew smiled, then turned to his officers, "Gentlemen, I am pleased at how well everything went today, with exception of Mr. Taylor. But thankfully, he will recover. I would like all officers to join me for dinner this evening."

"Thank you, sir." Bracegirdle answered for all of the officers, "We would be delighted."

"Very good. I shall be in my cabin, Mr. Bracegirdle."

As Pellew left the quarter-deck, Bracegirdle walked over to Kennedy, "It's an invitation to dinner, Mr. Kennedy, not a death sentence." When Kennedy looked up at him, Bracegirdle gave the acting lieutenant a warm smile.

Swallowing, Kennedy gave the first lieutenant a tired smile in return, "Yes, sir."

Because Kennedy seemed so much younger then his eighteen years of age, Bracegirdle had found himself always having to resist the urge to reach out and toss the boy's hair. Glancing at Hornblower, then back at Kennedy again, the first lieutenant raised his brow, "Well gentlemen, do you intend to have dinner with the captain looking - and smelling - like that?"

They both looked down at the uniforms, then back at Bracegirdle.

"Well, go wash and change, lads! Dismissed." Bracegirdle could barely suppress a laugh as the two scrambled down the steps and below deck.

Bowles quietly snickered. When Bracegirdle turned to him, Bowles said, "I am so glad to have Mr. Kennedy back with us."

Bracegirdle folded his arms across his chest, "Yes. He is a very remarkable lad. And you were right, Mr. Bowles, I am fond of him already."

"I told you!" Bowles said with a broad smile, "It is very hard not to like Mr. Kennedy."

"I think he is the most lively and entertaining member of this crew!" Bracegirdle's smile faded, "Specially when you consider what he has been through."

Bowles nodded sadly, losing his smile. Poor Kennedy had been just a boy when he was cast adrift.

Was?

He still is a boy! Bowles thought, And thank God we have him back again! He had always liked Kennedy and deeply regretted losing the lad on that mission. The boy could make you smile and laugh with such ease. He was a very remarkable lad, indeed!

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The dinner was meant to relax his officers after the hard day they had put in, but Pellew could not help noticing that two of his young officers never relaxed once during that meal or after it, when the captain had offered all of his officers a glass of brandy. Hornblower, he knew was not a drinking man, so it was no surprise that he did not finish his drink. But Kennedy....

Pellew cocked his head as he realized that he had no idea weather the boy liked to drink or not.

After the brandy, the officers thanked the captain and said good night. Pellew watched Kennedy, who all but ran from the cabin, and Hornblower hurrying to catch up with him. He knew when they first came aboard Indefatigable that these two were developing a friendship, but their imprisonment had brought them closer.

Settling back in his chair, Pellew smiled, remembering a friend he had at their age. He and Durham had started out as midshipmen and rose though the ranks, serving together for sixteen years. The last ship they served on together, Durham was second lieutenant and Pellew was third.

But sadly, Durham was run through when they boarded a French ship. Pellew would never forget holding Alan's hand as he slipped from this world at the young age of twenty-eight. Edward closed his eyes at the memory and silently prayed that neither of these boys would ever have to suffer that fate; to die young. Or to have to watch their friend die young.

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Horatio hurried down the corridor to catch up with Kennedy, "Archie!"

Kennedy stopped and turned around with a look of concern on his face, "Is something wrong, Horatio? Do you want to talk?"

Horatio felt a sudden pain in his chest at Archie's concern for him and briefly closed his eyes, then said, "Yes. Come with me." He led Archie to his cabin, and Kennedy followed him inside. The lieutenant closed the door behind them and gestured to his bunk, "Sit down, Archie."

Archie obeyed, and Horatio looked down at him, then cleared his throat, "Archie, are you...." He took a deep breath, "are you all right?"

Archie frowned up at him, puzzled, "Yes, Horatio. I'm fine."

"You did not seem fine yesterday," Horatio stated carefully, "or tonight at dinner."

"I jus...." Archie sighed, lowering his head, and shrugged, "It....it's nothing, Horatio. Really."

"Archie, talk to me." Horatio sat down next to him, "After all we've been through together - you can tell me anything." When he received no answer, Horatio put a hand on Archie's shoulder, "Please?"

"Horatio, I...." Archie stopped and swallowed. He shook his head and shrugged, his voice a whisper, "It's childish!"

"It might not be as childish as you think it is." Horatio said gently, "Perhaps, if you tell me what it is, it will stop bothering you."

Archie sat quietly with his head down for several minutes, then whispered, "I....I'm frightened."

Suddenly more concerned, Horatio asked softly, "Why?"

"Because...." Archie hesitated, still not raising his head. He knew this was going to sound childish, so he said it quickly, "Because, I'm afraid of dying. I never realized until Muzillac that I could be killed in battle."

Understanding hit Horatio and slipped his arm over his friend's shoulders, "Everyone is afraid of that, Archie. Even though we know we will all die someday, and in the service it is more likely to happen a lot sooner, no one truly wants to die." Horatio thought it strange to be having this conversation with Archie only months after he had tried to starve himself to death in prison. And he was also relieved; Archie did not really want to die.

"To be afraid that you might die is nothing to be ashamed of, Archie. And it's not childish, either. But you should not dwell on it, because it will take your mind away from where it should be, and possibly get you killed because you were not paying attention." He paused, waiting for a response from his friend. When no response came, Horatio asked, "Do you understand, Archie?"

Archie nodded and whispered, "Yes."

As Horatio gave his friend's shoulders a gentle squeeze a knock came to the door. Horatio rose to answer it and found Bracegirdle standing in the doorway, "Mr. Hornblower, the captain wishes to have Mr. Kennedy moved into this cabin with you tomorrow."

Horatio blinked in surprise, but gave a nod, "Yes, sir."

"We have to make room for the families coming aboard." Bracegirdle said in explanation, then looked at Kennedy, who had stood when he saw the lieutenant at the door, "Mr. Kennedy, move your belongings in here tomorrow morning before you start you duties.

"Yes, sir." Archie answered.

"Also," Bracegirdle smiled at Kennedy, "due to Mr. Taylor's injuries this afternoon, the captain has given orders that you are to fill in for him at gunnery practice until he's fit to return to duty. The captain wants some of the new men trained for gunnery crews and wants them trained before we arrive in England, so you will have gunnery practice everyday until they're trained. And," The lieutenant looked at both boys, "the two of you are to go to sleep right now. Captain's orders."

"Yes, sir." They both answered, and Archie walked to the door. Bracegirdle stepped back to let the boy out, and Archie stopped, looking up at Horatio, "Good night, Mr. Hornblower. And thank you for what you said."

Horatio could see in the blue eyes, not just gratitude for his words of encouragement, but gratitude for telling him his fear was not childish. Horatio gave his friend a reassuring smile, "That's what I'm here for, Mr. Kennedy. Good night. Pleasant dreams."

"You too, sir." Archie smiled at his friend.

Bracegirdle smiled fondly at the boy, "Good night, Mr. Kennedy."

"Good night, sir." Still smiling, Kennedy saluted and started down the corridor. Bracegirdle watched him go, "Is he all right, Mr. Hornblower? He did have much of a chance to recover from his stay in prison."

Damn! Has everyone seen it but me? Horatio silently chastised himself for not noticing and gave the first lieutenant the only answered he could give, "I don't know, sir."

"Hopefully this voyage will give him that chance." Bracegirdle had not noticed Hornblower's reaction.

"I sincerely hope so, sir." Horatio said.

 

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CHAPTER FIVE

 

December 8, 1795

The crew stood at attention while Pellew welcomed the passengers as they boarded. After they had introduced themselves, the captain turned to a young midshipman, "This is Mr. Jones. He will show you all to your quarters, show you around the ship, and tend to your needs."

As the passengers thanked the captain, Pellew and his officers watched one of the passengers, John Campbell, stop in front of Kennedy. Campbell was taller then Kennedy, and glared down at the acting lieutenant until the boy lowered his gaze, then Campbell walked away.

As Jones took the passengers below, Pellew had the crew dismissed. Horatio turned to ask Archie about Campbell, but found Kennedy had been quicker then he was. To avoid the inquiry he knew would follow Campbell's glare, Kennedy swiftly slipped away as the crew was being dismissed.

"Mr. Hornblower." Pellew called him over to the rail as the other officers went to their stations, "Do you have any idea what is between Mr. Campbell and Mr. Kennedy?"

"No, sir." Horatio answered sincerely, "I wish I did." They both looked over to were Kennedy was instructing the new men, pointing toward the cannon at the bow.

Pellew watched Kennedy for a moment, then ordered, "Mr. Hornblower, signal Cassandra to make sail."

"Aye aye, sir." Horatio hurried to obey.

"Mr. Bowles." Pellew told his sailing master, "Let's go home."

"Aye aye, sir."

Within the hour Indefatigable and Cassandra were at full sail and heading for England.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Two hours after setting sail, Midshipman Jones came up on deck with the passengers and was explaining the working of the ship to them. Pellew was annoyed to see Campbell still glaring at Kennedy, even though the acting lieutenant was unaware of it, as he was busy with gunnery practice at the bow cannon.

As the children ran up to the cannon, the acting lieutenant halted the practice. The children started asking questions about the cannon, and Pellew watched as Kennedy crouched down to their level to hear their questions, then began to answer them. The captain was surprised that Kennedy would give explanations to children. Most men would expect the children to know their place and run along. But Kennedy did not.

Horatio too, was watching Archie, as was everyone on deck, especially the men who had served on Justinian with Kennedy. They were seeing a side to him they had never seen before. No one on this ship had seen Kennedy with children as young as these children were.

The passengers started toward the bow cannon, and Pellew and his officers joined them. They arrived at the cannon as Kennedy was finishing his answer to one of the children's questions, "..claim it. Then it's called a prize of war."

"And you get to fire at them?" Seven year old Robin asked.

Kennedy nodded, "Yes sir, I do."

"And you've never sank a ship!" Nine year old Sarah declared, "You must be the best gunner in the Navy!"

Embarrassed, Archie laughed, "I just follow my captain's orders."

"Yes, Mr. Kennedy does." Archie had not noticed the captain's approach and jumped at the sudden sound of his voice. He could feel himself starting to blush.

"Your name is Mr. Kennedy?" Ten year old Anna asked.

"Yes, ma'am." Archie smiled at her.

"I want to be a gunner like Mr. Kennedy!" Eleven year old Alec announced.

"As do I!" Eight year old Mark said.

"Me, too!" Robin joined in.

Little four year old Harvey tugged on the leg of Kennedy's trousers. Archie glanced down, then crouched down to hear the child, "I wanna be you, Mr. Kendy!" The boy said, then suddenly threw his arm around Kennedy's neck and hugged him, "I like you, Mr. Kendy!"

Startled by the child's sudden embrace, and affection, Archie became even more embarrassed and uncomfortable. He lightly embraced the child in return, "Thank you."

The child's mother stepped over to them, looking as surprised as Kennedy, "You must be a very special boy for Harvey to act this way. He doesn't even hug my sister." She reached down to take the child's hand, "Come now, my dear, we must get ready for dinner."

The child gave Kennedy a tight squeeze before releasing him to go with his mother, "Bye bye, Mr. Kendy."

As Archie stood, he realized that everyone was watching him and knew his face had to be red, so he kept his dead down, hoping no one would see.

Henry Winston approached Kennedy, "Young sir, I would like to thank you for being kind enough to tolerate the silly questions of children."

Archie's head came up at that, a serious look on his face, and he shook his head slightly, "Uh....sir, they were not silly questions at all. They were very intelligent questions and I answered them as best I could."

"Well, thank you. And good day to you, young sir." Winston gave him a nod, then shooed the children away from the cannon to go below.

"Thank you, Mr. Kennedy" Another man offered Kennedy his hand.

Archie shook the man's hand, "You are welcome, sir."

"I'm Malcolm Hamilton." The man said, then smiled, "You've made quite an impression on my son, Harvey. Martha is right; he will not hug her sister. You must have a very good heart."

Archie blushed again and Hamilton turned serious, "But that goes without saying. It would take someone with patience and a good, loving heart to treat children's questions, and indeed, treat children with the respect one would give to adults." Hamilton turned to Pellew, "Take good care of this one, captain. He is very special." He turned back to the blushing Kennedy and smiled, "Good day, Mr. Kennedy. And thank you." Archie gave a quick nod, then Hamilton turned and went below.

Kennedy glanced up and saw Pellew and the officers watching him.

Are they proud of me? Blinking, Archie looked at Horatio and could tell that his friend was. He glanced back at the captain and officers, and Bowles winked at him. They were proud of him. Their pride made Archie feel proud of himself, and he straightened to his full height, smiling. A smile that matched the brilliance of the sun and warmed Horatio's heart more then the summer heat could have. He had not seen Archie smile like that in ages. And a glance at Pellew, Bracegirdle, and Bowles told Horatio that Archie's smile had affected them as well.

Archie kept his smile until his eyes caught Campbell glaring at him, then the smile vanished quickly, and Archie turned his attention back to the men at the cannon.

The captain and officers had seen the smile suddenly leave Kennedy's face, and Horatio had not missed the expression that replaced it before Archie turned away. It was the same expression Archie had on his face when Simpson climbed over the Indy's rail after Justinian had sank.

The officers followed the captain to the quarter-deck, and continued to watch Kennedy and the men at the cannon. When they finished gunnery practice, Kennedy dismissed the man and left the deck.

 

Kennedy made his way below deck toward the cabin he was now sharing with Hornblower, but just before he reached the door, John Campbell stepped in his way and said coldly, "My what a little hero you have become, Archibald! What are you, officer of the children? You must be proud."

Remembering the expressions on the captain's and the officers' faces, Archie smiled, "Actually John, I am. And my name is not Archibald. And you know it."

"Why are you so proud?" Campbell asked, "What do you think those children would have done had you had a fit in front of them?"

Archie lowered his eyes to the deck and made no comment.

"Acting lieutenant." Campbell mused, "Even the Navy knows you're only acting as if you're an officer."

Archie decided he did not want to have this conversation, "If you will excuse me, I have duties to tend to."

"Duties?!" Campbell laughed, "I can't believe they keep you in the Navy with your fits! Tell me, Archibald, what happens when you have a fit while on duty, or during a battle? Hum?"

That hurt! Archie had almost ruined the Papillion mission because of a fit. A fit that had caused him to be left behind, set adrift and captured. Archie quickly shook his head, not wanting to remember that, and tired to go around the other man. When Campbell blocked his way, Archie sighed heavily, "Move, John."

"I'm impressed!" Campbell cocked his head slightly, "You certainly act as if you have courage!" He narrowed his eyes, "But I know what you really are."

"Get out of my way, John." Archie was finding it hard to breath, "I'm not playing."

"Neither am I." Campbell stepped closer and Archie instinctively back away, shaking his head slowly, his heart pounding in his chest.

Archie inhaled sharply as Campbell reached out and grabbed him by the collar of his jacket, pulling him closer to growl, "Do you really believe you can stand up to me?"

Shaking, Archie clamped his hands on Campbell's wrists, trying to pull away from him, "Let me go!"

"You little worm!" Campbell slammed Archie into the bulkhead as hard as he could, forcing a cry out of the boy.

Archie closed his eyes and braced himself for what he knew was about to come.

 

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

 

CHAPTER SIX

 

"Release him!"

Archie opened his eyes and glance at his friend.

Horatio remembered seeing that same frightened look on Archie's face when he had walked into the midshipman's mess to find Archie leaning as far away from Simpson as he could.

Campbell glared at the lieutenant, "This does not concern you."

"You could be charged with assault, sir." Horatio tired to keep his tone civil.

Campbell let out a heavy sigh and released Kennedy.

Archie had lowered his eyes from Campbell's in the same way he always diverted his gaze from Simpson's.

"What is this about?" Horatio asked, stepping closer to the two.

"This is none of your business." Campbell pushed past Hornblower to walk away without another word.

Archie was still against the bulkhead with his eyes closed, trembling, but trying to compose himself.

Horatio moved closer to him, "Archie, are you all right?"

Breathing heavily, Archie blinked slowly, like he had done just before the Papillon mission. Then pushed away from the bulkhead and hurried to Horatio's cabin.

"Archie?" Horatio followed him, closing the door behind him.

Archie untied his neckerchief, not meeting his friend's concerned gaze.

"Archie, what was that about?" Horatio asked.

Still shaking, Archie pulled his neckerchief off and dropped it on the new bunk that had been built for him. He shook his head slowly and said in a soft, trembling voice, "It....it's nothing, Horatio. Do-don't worry about it."

"He slammed you into the bulkhead, Archie!" Horatio could not keep his anger out of his voice, "I would not call that nothing!"

Archie remained quiet as he unbuttoned his jacket.

Horatio did not understand this at all. He talked to me last night. Why won't he talk to me now? "Archie?"

"Horatio, please...." Refusing to look up at him, Archie took off his jacket and dropped it on the bunk, "..just forget about it." He turned and started for the door.

Horatio stepped in front of the door to keep him from leaving, "Talk to me."

Archie would not make eye contact. He quietly stood with his head lowered.

After several moments of silence, Archie said softly, "I need to eat, Horatio. May I go, please?"

Horatio was surprised by how small and childlike Archie's voice had sounded. He also knew if he pushed, Archie would only withdraw inside himself and he would not be able to help. He decided to give his friend some time. As he stepped aside to let Archie go past, Horatio said gently, "I care about you, Archie."

Archie hesitated in the doorway for a moment, keeping his head down, and whispered. "I....I know you care, Horatio. Thank you." Then quietly walked away.

Horatio watched him go, hoping that Archie would talk to him after he recovered from this incident.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

That night Horatio was awaken by a sound he had not heard since prison; Archie was having a fit! Jumping up, he hurried to Archie's bunk. Dropping to his knees, Horatio put his arm over Archie's chest and gently stroked his forehead, softly soothing him, "Shhh, Archie. It's all right. Shhh."

 

Justinian
January 8, 1793

Horatio had been disturbed by the fit Kennedy had gone into during the night. He had been tending to his duties, hoping for a chance to speak to Archie. And he could not understand why when he asked what ailed Archie, Clayton jerked his head toward Simpson and said, *What ails us all?*

Suddenly, he slipped on the wet deck. Horatio caught himself before he fell and gave the seamen who were moping it a glare.

"Sir." When that did not get the boy's attention, Styles called, "Mr. 'ornblower."

Horatio turned to the seaman.

"Lieutenant Eccleston asks if you can attend him in the fighting top." Styles said.

"The fighting top?"

"Aye, sir." Styles called, "At once, he said."

Horatio began to climb the rigging. Half way up, the hope broke and he almost fell. He clinged to the rigging, terrified he would fall.

Then Simpson leaned off the metal grating, laughing. "Little feared of heights, are you, snotty?" Simpson swung himself over the side, "Mind you, it's a mighty long drop."

"Help me." Horatio begged, "Please." He was panting, "Please."

Simpson climbed down the rigging, laughing as he neared Horatio.

"Help me." Horatio pleaded again, "Please."

Simpson climbed down and left him clinging to the ropes.

Horatio hung there with his eyes closed for the longest time. Then he felt someone climbing up the rigging and gasped, afraid that Simpson was going to do something to make him fall.

"Don't move, Mr. Hornblower." Archie called, "I'll help you." Coming up next to him, Kennedy took his arm, "Shift your weight toward me. I'll not let you fall, I assure you."

Horatio did as he was told and soon he had both feet on the ropes.

"Good." Archie said, "Now climb down slowly. I will be right beside you."

Within minutes, they were on the deck. "You really need to learn how to climb in the rigging, Mr. Hornblower." Archie smiled warmly, "I can help you, if you wish?"

"I would like that, Mr. Kennedy." Horatio said. Then cleared his throat, and asked, "Could we speak alone?"

Archie frowned, but nodded, and led Horatio below to the gun deck.

Swallowing, Archie licked his lips and turned to Horatio, dreading what he knew the other boy was going to ask, "What do you wish to speak about, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Last night," Horatio started carefully, "you had some sort of fit. What caused it?"

Archie closed eyes with a heavy sigh and lowered his head.

"When I asked Clayton what ailed you," Horatio eyed the other midshipman, "he gestured toward Simpson and asked what ails us all. Why?"

Why did this have to happen? Archie thought. Then sighed, Well, he knows you have fits now. You can't hide it any more. Opening his eyes, Archie raised, but kept his eyes on the gun in front of him, and said slowly, "I am not certain what causes them. I know they seemed to happen when I am exhausted or anxious. But I cannot tell you exactly why I have them, Mr. Hornblower."

As Horatio nodded in understanding, Archie lowered his head again and waited for Hornblower to leave. He knew it was going to happen. Every friend he had started to make, quickly ended the friendship when they found out about the fits. He had spent his entire childhood without friends because of them. Archie had hoped that he and Hornblower could be friends. He was the only midshipman who was close to Archie's age. But now it was over.

Feeling a pain in his chest, Archie squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the final blow - for Horatio Hornblower to walk away and never speak to him again.

 

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

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

"Mr. Kennedy?" Horatio said softly, frowning in concern, "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, Mr. Hornblower." Archie's voice was just above a whisper, "I'm not going to have a fit."

"I'm sorry if I've embarrassed you by speaking of your affliction." Horatio told him gently, "But I just....I wanted to know what caused them, so I would know when you may be susceptible to them, and be ready."

Blinking, Archie looked up at him, "What?"

"I want to be ready to help you when you have them." Horatio said.

"Why?"

"Why?" Horatio frowned, not understanding that question, "Because you could be hurt during one of those fits."

Archie frowned at him, blinking. Then licked his lips and asked cautously, "Are you saying that you........that you care about me?"

"Of course, I do." Horatio's frown deepened, "Why would you think I would not?"

Archie lowered his head, his voice soft, "Most people avoid me after they find out about the fits."

"Did you believe I would not care about you because of them?" Horatio shook his head, "It's just an affliction. It does not change how I feel about you."

Archie bit his lip and blinked slowly, still not making eye contact with Horatio, "How do you feel about me, Mr. Hornblower?"

"You have been very kind to me since I came about." Horatio told him, "Very friendly."

"Do you think we could be friends?" Archie asked, not daring to hope.

"I think we already are, Mr. Kennedy." Horatio smiled and offered his hand.

Archie raised his head, looking into the sincere brown eyes, "I....I would very much like to be your friend, Mr. Hornblower."

"You are my friend, Archie." Horatio said, "As I hope to be yours."

"Thank you, Horatio." Archie smiled as used Hornblower given name for the first time.

 

Indefatigable,
December 8, 1795

Horatio kept soothing him, waiting for the fit to end. He remained kneeling next to the bunk, holding his friend and stroking his forehead as Archie slipped into the unconsciousness that usually followed most of his fits.

After a few more minutes, Horatio got up, pulled the blanket over Archie's shoulders and tucked it in about him. Then returned to his own bunk. Why? He thought sadly, Why did this have to happen?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

December 9, 1795

Horatio dressed for his watch quietly so as not to wake Archie, who seemed to be sleeping comfortably. Then he quietly slipped out the door.

The morning fog was lifting as he came up on deck, and he could not help thinking of Archie's fit. Why did Campbell have the same effect on Archie that Simpson did? Did he hurt Archie too? Horatio climbed the steps to the quarter-deck and snapped to attention, "Reporting for duty, sir."

"Very good, Mr. Hornblower." Bracegirdle said, "Assume your duties."

"Aye aye, sir."

As passengers came up on deck, the children wondered all over the deck, looking around until one of the children - seventeen year Ilya Padorin - asked Midshipman Jones something. The answer Jones gave, made the children's' faces fall, and they sadly returned to their parents.

Horatio saw John Campbell and frowned, his thoughts returning to his friend, Archie, why won't you talk to me?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

All morning long, the children wondered about the deck like lost sheep. Then, Christoff Padorin pointed toward the companionway and the children joyfully dashed across the deck.

Frowning, Pellew and his officers walked to the rail to see what caused this sensation and found the object of the children's joy; Acting Lieutenant Archie Kennedy.

The children surrounded him, talking to him and asking questions and, once again, Kennedy crouched down to speak with them.

"Poor Mr. Kennedy!" Bracegirdle said in a sympathetic tone with a smile, "He seems to be under attack."

Bowles chuckled, while Hornblower did his best to stifle his snicker. The captain however, made no such attempt. Quietly laughing, Pellew made his way around his first lieutenant and down the steps.

Kennedy snapped to attention when he saw the captain descending from the quarter-deck.

"Mr. Kennedy," Pellew smiled as he cleared the last steps, "you appear to be a man in need of rescuing."

Archie smiled, not certain what to say.

Harvey tugged on Kennedy's breeches, and Pellew said quietly, "Mr. Kennedy, I think it would be best not to insult our guests." He gestured down to the small child.

"Aye, sir." Archie gave the captain a nod and crouched down again, giving the child his full attention, "Yes, sir?"

Harvey wrapped his arms as around Archie's neck, "Pick me up!"

Kennedy glanced up at the captain, who gave him a slight nod. Lifting Harvey in his arms, Archie stood and the child lovingly embraced him. Archie gently returned the embrace, and Martha Hamilton smiled as she approached.

Horatio was smiling too. Surely, Archie must know that children do not give their affection to just anyone. These children love him, almost instantly they loved him, and that speaks volumes about his character.

Pellew also watched the affection the little boy had for Kennedy, and the look on Kennedy's face at that affection moved him. No matter how much he had seen the boy laugh and joke, Pellew had still seen a sadness in Kennedy's eyes, even before the lad was imprisoned, that he never understood.

As the adults joined with the children in showering Kennedy with attention, Pellew realized that this young officer was a complete mystery to him. He had never taken Kennedy aside and talked with him the way he had Hornblower. He had never really taken the time to get to know the boy. And while he knew Hornblower and what was in his heart, Pellew had never even caught a glimpse of Kennedy's heart.

Until now.

Watching him with these children, the captain could see that Kennedy was patient, kind, and sensitive. And watching him with little Harvey Hamilton, it seems that Archie Kennedy is also affectionate. Sad that I had never noticed these things about him before. Pellew felt a deep remorse for never taking the time to get to know this boy.

Well, I will not waste anymore time! Pellew decided, then became aware that he was not listening to the conversation going on around him, and brought his attention back to Kennedy and the passengers as Martha Hamilton was speaking, "...just a babe yourself."

Blushing, Archie smiled and lowered his eyes.

Martha reached up and put her hand on Archie's cheek, "And you are so very sweet, Mr. Kennedy."

Archie bashfully ducked his head and Martha gave his cheek a gentle rub before withdrawing her hand.

"And you, my love." She reached for the child, "are going to have to let Mr. Kennedy do his work, or you will get him in trouble with his captain."

"You will get in trouble with the captain?" Harvey asked.

Archie smiled at the boy, "If I do not do my duties - yes, sir."

"And he'll spank you?" The little boy's dark brown eyes widened.

Archie blushed even more, "Sort of."

Standing at the rail above the captain, Hornblower, Bowles, and Bracegirdle were snickering as were the adults standing near Kennedy and the children.

"I do not want that!" Harvey shook his head, "Will you play with me later, Mr. Kendy?"

The captain could barely keep from laughing, and glanced at Kennedy, "After he's finished with his duties, lad."

"All right." The boy sighed and reached out to Kennedy once more. Martha moved a bit closer and Harvey wrapped his arms around Archie's neck, making himself nose to nose with the young officer and looked directly into Archie's eyes, "You play with me later, Mr. Kendy." Harvey kissed Archie's cheek before releasing him.

"Come now, Harvey. Let's leave these gentlemen," Martha winked at Kennedy as she added, "and young gentlemen, to their work."

Pellew would not have thought it possible, but Kennedy's blush deepened.

"Bye bye, Mr. Kendy." Harvey waved as Martha carried him away.

"Harvey." Archie smiled at him.

"Mr. Kennedy," Pellew said pleasantly, "I believe you have duties to tend to."

"Aye aye, sir." Snapping to attention, Kennedy saluted, then hurried to obey.

"Mr. Bracegirdle," Pellew called, "a word with you in my cabin, please."

"Yes, sir." Bracegirdle made his way down the steps to follow his captain.

 

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CHAPTER EIGHT

 

Once in his cabin, the captain stared out the large stern window, watching the waves on the water, and remembering the day he met Kennedy.

 

Indefatigable
February 27, 1793

 

Sir Edward Pellew was reading the notes on the next midshipman he was to interview. Archie Kennedy. The third son of a lord. He had joined the Navy April 18, 1789 and had been aboard Justinian since. He seemed to have some kind of affliction. Nothing specific was written about it, though. His attention was drawn away from the notes by the knock on the door. "Come." Pellew called sternly.

The young midshipman walked in with his hat under his arm and pale. He actually looked as if he were facing a fire squad. His voice trembled as he stammered, "M-Midshipman A-Archie Kennedy, sir. You-you sent for me, sir?"

Pellew eyed Kennedy at moment. The boy had a small stature, fair hair and fair complexion with a boyish - almost lovely - face. His eyes were like the deep blue of the summer sky.

This boy reminded Pellew of a painting that his grandmother had. It was a painting of Mary with the infant Jesus on her lap, and three angels playing musical instruments and singing. Two of the angels were female, one was male. And this boy looked exactly like that male angel, only younger.

As Pellew stood and approached him, Kennedy locked himself rigidly at attention, despite the fact that he seemed to be shaking. Raising his chin, the captain frowned, "Are you all right, sir?"

The question seem to take the boy by surprise and blinked nervuosly, his voice was soft and very unsteady, "Y-yes, sir."

"Really?" Pellew's brows went up at that. "You do not appear to be fine. You appear to be frightened. Why?"

Young Kennedy swallowed and cleared his throat, but it still trembled, "I-I..." Archie took a deep breath and licked his lips, "I do not want to....disappoint you, sir."

Pellew looked down at the papers in his hand, "I have your record right here, Mr. Kennedy. I see nothing in them to indicate that you may be a disappointment. Why would you fear it?"

Archie swallowed again and took another deep breath, "Y-you are an excellent captain, sir, and a...a great man. I'm honored to be serving...with you. I-I-I would....never want to fail in my duty to you, sir."

"Do you fear failing?" Pellew raised his brow.

Kennedy closed his eyes, then seem to catch himself and opened them again. He straighted to his full height, holding his head up, "I want to be an officer y-you will be proud of, sir."

Pellew studied the blue eyes a few moments, seeing the fear in them. But he could also see shame in them, and such a deep, painful sadness that it startled the captain. What happened to caused all this? Pellew wondered, but he did not have time to find out. He had already met with three midshipmen before Kennedy, and still had more after him. Taking a deep breath, Pellew said, "Do your best, Mr. Kennedy, and I will be proud. You are dismissed."

"Aye aye, sir." Kennedy saluted, then waited until Pellew turned away from him to turn and leave the cabin.

The captain noted this, along with the fact that the boy doubts himself. Pellew sat down, leaned forward and rubbed his face. How meny men has he had to train? And most of them like the three midshipmen had already seen; self-assured, proud, all wanting the chance to prove himself a hero, and needing to be taken down a few notches. Kennedy was the first boy he had seen who did not need to be taken down. If anything, the lad seemed to need a boost!

And that was the part the captain did not understand. The young men who joined the Navy are looking for adventure, to have their share of the rewards of serving aboard a frigate, and all of them assured they would become great captains one day. Pellew had seen that in Heather, Cleveland, and young Hornblower. But somehow, Kennedy seemed to lack the ambition that was so obvious in the others.

Oh, Pellew had seen the boy's excitement on the deck during the captain's speech. In fact, the boy on deck seemed to be a completely different person from the boy that had just left the captain's cabin. This midshipman seemed more like a lamb then a lion. How the hell did this boy get in the Navy? Pellew shook his head, His family probably believed it would make a man out of him.

Still, Pellew thought, after four years, the boy should be used to life in the navy. He should be able to face his captain without trembling. It was plain that Kennedy does not belong in the Navy.

And yet, the boy had such a good record! He has the ability to be a good officer, he just needs to get past his fear.

 

Indefatigable
December 9, 1795

Still looking out the stern windows, Pellew asked, "Mr. Bracegirdle, what do you make of Mr. Kennedy?"

"I think he is a fine lad, sir." Bracegirdle answered, "He is very intelligent, eager to please, and seems determined to adjust to shipboard life again. He does seem a bit put off, though I believe it is not so much by his duties, as by the crew. I'm certain after two years of imprisonment, a crowded ship would seem a bit overwhelming. I think if given time, he will settle back into his station very well."

Pellew turned to stare at Bracegirdle. That is something I did not think of! Kennedy had been alone for so long that Indefatigable would seem overcrowded to him. Is that the reason for the boy's odd expression? The captain sighed heavily and commented, "Mr. Kennedy seems to have captivated our passengers." Pellew raised his brow, "Were you aware that he possessed that kind of charm?"

"Well, Mr. Kennedy has certainly charmed me, sir." Bracegirdle smiled. Kennedy's joyful smile and quick wit had won Bracegirdle's heart instantly.

"Indeed." Pellew shook his head slowly, sadly, "I do not even know Mr. Kennedy. He came aboard Indefatigable nearly three years ago, and I still have no idea who he really is."

"Mr. Kennedy did come aboard Indefatigable almost three years ago, sir." Bracegirdle agreed, then carefully pointed out, "But he has also been imprisoned for most of that time."

Pellew turned sullen, "It was my duty to get to know these young officers, to train them. To guide them and encourage in their ambitions. I took the time with Hornblower. I was so impressed by Hornblower's brilliance and abilities that I completely ignored Kennedy. He seemed withdrawn and fearful when I first met him." Bracegirdle could hear the shame in the captain's voice, "I thought him weak. He was not as brilliant as Hornblower, so I had no interest in him. That was so unfair to Kennedy. I should have taken the time to really look at him, to see his talents and abilities as I did Hornblower's."

Pellew clenched his fists, suddenly angry with himself, "No wonder the boy lacks confidence in himself! Why should he see himself as worthwhile, when I did not even see him as worthy of my attention!"

Wishing to ease the captain's suffering, Bracegirdle said quietly, "You did not have enough time to get to know Mr. Kennedy before he was captured, sir."

"I had eight months. I could have taken what time I did have." Pellew retorted, solemnly, "I should have taken the time I had. I need to get to know Mr. Kennedy, to train him the way I should have from the start." Pellew sighed heavily, "He will never pass the lieutenant's examination because of his lack of confidence. I have seen it in his eyes." The captain looked Bracegirdle in the eye, "And you have seen it too, I know." Edward shook his head, "Everyone sees it. He could be a successful officer if he would just believe in himself. But after being in prison...." Pellew turned away and became quiet for several moments.

When he turned back to Bracegirdle, his eyes were tragic, "Hornblower told me that when he found Kennedy, he was almost insane." Edward closed his eyes against the anguish he felt for young Kennedy, "He was barely seventeen and almost insane. His imprisonment has left him broken. Utterly and completely broken, with no confidence and no ambition."

"And yet," Bracegirdle mused aloud, "he has been a pillar for Mr. Hornblower since Muzillac."

"Yes." Pellew agreed softly, thoughtfully, "Yes, he certainly has been." Then he shook his head once more and sighed, "But he was not given adequate time to recover from that ordeal before being sent on that disastrous mission to France, and although he did save Hornblower's life at the risk of his own, he still has not gained his confidence back yet." Edward locked eyes with Bracegirdle, "He needs help in regaining it. We need to help him."

"And so we shall, sir."

"Indeed we shall, Mr. Bracegirdle." Pellew said softly, "I have neglected Mr. Kennedy for far too long." His gaze fell upon his desk and he smiled slightly, "I have also neglected my work."

Bracegirdle smiled at that, "Shall I leave you then, sir?"

"Yes, thank you, Mr. Bracegirdle." Pellew turned to his desk, "Dismissed."

"Aye aye, sir." Bracegirdle saluted, turned, and left the captain to his work.

 

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

 

CHAPTER NINE

 

As Pellew tended to his work, he heard the men singing - Christmas carols? Yes, Christmas was only days away now. He smiled and listened to their singing while he worked. Finally finished, he stood and stretched, then made his way to the deck.

As he climbed the steps to the quarter-deck, the officers snapped to attention and saluted. Pellew returned the salute, "Anything to report?"

"No, sir." Bracegirdle said with a smile.

Pellew looked at the deck and saw something he never would have believed he'd see on his deck; Kennedy was sitting on a barrel with the children sitting on the deck surrounding him, and little Harvey sitting on his lap. Turning to Bracegirdle, Pellew raised his brow.

"He's telling them a story, sir." Bracegirdle explained, "They were singing before he started it."

"The children?" The captain appeared confused, "I heard the men singing."

"Yes, sir." Bracegirdle smiled, "Mr. Kennedy started and the passengers joined in, sir."

"Mr. Kennedy sang?" Pellew glanced back at the young officer with the brilliant smile, surrounded by children.

"Yes, sir." Bracegirdle said.

"That I would have liked to have heard!" Pellew commented.

"Everyone enjoyed it, sir." Bracegirdle told him, "Even the men joined in on the songs as they worked."

"I heard that." Pellew looked around the deck at the men who, like the passengers, were watching Kennedy with the children.

"I did not even know Mr. Kennedy could sing!" Bracegirdle smiled.

Neither did I. Horatio suddenly felt guilty for not knowing that, Why did he never tell me?

Pellew clasped his hands behind his back and watched Kennedy with the children. I would never have imagined Kennedy could sing!

Then the captain noticed seventeen year old, Tatiana Padorin standing next to the rail on the starboard side of the deck watching Kennedy and he recognized that look. She fancies Mr. Kennedy. Pellew found himself wondering if the acting lieutenant had even noticed her watching him. Looking at the boy, he thought, Probably not.

"Mr. Kennedy has an admirer." Bracegirdle commented.

"Indeed." Pellew turned to Bracegirdle, who was looking to the larboard side of the ship. The captain followed the first lieutenant's gaze to a dark haired woman, who was also watching Kennedy, and had to suppress a sudden urge to laugh. But he could not stop the smile that came to his face at the idea that Kennedy had to admirers and was completely oblivious to it.

"Sir?" Hornblower frowned, confused by the look on the captain's face.

"It would appear, gentlemen," Pellew gestured toward Tatiana at the starboard side, "that Mr. Kennedy has two admirers."

Bracegirdle and Hornblower looked at the girl with her long, amber hair blowing in the wind. Horatio shook his head, "Sir, she is just a child."

Pellew eyed Hornblower a moment, If he thinks a seventeen year old is just a child, what does he consider an eighteen year old? Clearing his throat, Pellew commented, "I believe she is old enough to have those kind of feelings, is she not, Mr. Bracegirdle?"

Observing the look on the girl's face, Bracegirdle nodded, "It would appear so, sir."

Hornblower, Pellew, and Bracegirdle turned their attention back to Kennedy and the children. Harvey suddenly shook his head and threw his arms around Kennedy's neck. Archie embraced the child, then gently broke off the embrace and spoke very seriously to him. Harvey reached up again and this time, gave Kennedy a kiss on the cheek. Kennedy smiled at him, and the other children converged on the young officer.

Tatiana Padorin made her way over to where the children were all taking turns embracing Kennedy. When they were finished, Tatiana leaned down, put her hands on Kennedy's shoulders and kissed his cheek. Kennedy reacted to her kiss the same as he had to the ones he had received from the other children.

As the parents started collecting their children, Martha Hamilton leaned down and also gave Kennedy a kiss on the cheek. Archie blushed, smiling with embarrassment, and ducked his head. When she walked away, he stood and hurried below.

Bracegirdle chuckled, "I do not believe Mr. Kennedy understood Miss Padorin's kiss."

"I do not believe he did either, Mr. Bracegirdle." Pellew smiled, "He reacted more to Mrs. Hamilton's kiss." Pellew turned to Horatio, "Well, Mr. Hornblower, do you plan to stay on watch all day?"

"Oh, no, sir!" Horatio said, "I was merely...."

"Watching the entertainment on deck," Pellew raised his brow, "hmm?"

"Yes, sir."

The captain watched his young lieutenant as he said, "Mr. Kennedy does seem to be a man of hidden talents and charms, does he not, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Yes, he does, sir." Hornblower appeared to be as surprised by Kennedy as Pellew was.

The captain eyed the young lieutenant a moment more, then clasped his hands behind his back, "You may go, Mr. Hornblower."

"Yes, sir." Horatio saluted the officers and left the quarter-deck.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Horatio stopped in front of their cabin and looked through the partially closed curtain. Archie had removed his shirt and was washing off. Since Archie's illness in prison, he had started bathing and washing his clothes as often as he could. Horatio assumed it was because of his stay in that hole, and not being able to bathe after being released. He looked at the scars on Archie's back, then closed his eyes.

 

Spain,
May 20, 1795

After Archie had tried to starve himself to death in prison, Hornblower carried him to the gate in the rain, and was taken to a warm room in the prison infirmary. He asked the guards if he could have a clean nightshirt and some towels so he could get Archie out of his wet clothes and dried off.

Out of guilt, Don Massaredo had ordered that Kennedy's clothes be collected, washed, and mended so the young midshipman would have them when he was well again. Sadly, young Kennedy had not been well since he arrived in Spain. When Kennedy was brought to the prison, he was suffering from a savage flogging, and his eyes seemed unable to tolerate the light. Before he was completely recovered, he tried to escape and was flogged. But the boy refused to give up. Once he was almost well again, he made another attempt. After two more attempts, Massaredo decided to put an end to it and had the young midshipman put into that hole for a month.

And Kennedy had never recovered.

When the nightshirt was brought in after the duchess had left, Horatio pulled Archie into a sitting position and managed to get his wet shirt off, then stared in shock at the scars on Archie's back.

No doubt some were from floggings he had received for trying to escape. But there were scars that were older - years older - and had to have been made before he was taken prisoner. Some of the older scars were curvy and some were straight, and some had been very deep. There were so meny of those old scars that Horatio could not count them all. It was as if Archie had been punished every week for years.

But that could not be. Archie Kennedy was not a troublemaker, and if he had made a mistake, he would have learned his lesson the first time he was punished. There would be no reason for countless punishments.

Horatio wondered how this had happened as he gently dried Archie's back and hair. He eased Archie back on the bed to finish drying the rest of him and stopped, horrified.

Archie's abdomen and sides had scars as old as the scars on his back, but there was not as meny.

Horatio stood in silent shock. The Navy did not administer floggings or beatings on the abdomen. No one did. Beatings like that would be torture! Archie would have had to face the beast that was cruelly beating him. He would have had to have been held down....

Horatio shuddered, suddenly feeling nauseous as he realized....

Simpson!

Jack Simpson must have done this to Archie! There was no other explanation. No wonder Archie was so terrified of Simpson!

Horatio knew Archie had been beaten by Simpson. But he had believed that they were beatings like he had been subjected to. These were different. These were more of a punishment then a fight. These were....

 

Indefatigable,
December 9, 1795

The door suddenly opened, startling Horatio out of his thoughts and he saw Archie frowning at him. "Are you all right, Horatio?"

Horatio smiled, "Yes, I'm fine."

Archie frowned suspiciously.

"I'm all right, Archie." Horatio assured him.

Archie eyed him a moment longer, then glanced down and asked hesitantly, "Horatio, did...." He paused, "Last night...." Taking a deep breath, Archie swallowed, then asked in a quivering voice, "Did I....did I have a fit last night?"

Damn! Horatio thought, He remembers.

 

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

 

CHAPTER TEN

 

"I'm sorry, Archie." Horatio said gently, "You did have a fit."

Nodding his lowered head, Archie whispered, "Thank you....for....um...." He shrugged, "..for being....helping me through it."

Why? Horatio thought sadly, angrily, Why?!

Taking another deep breath, Archie raised his head and, smiling playfully, stepped aside and gestured to the inside of the cabin, "I have to go wash my uniform out. I do not want to offend the passengers by looking filthy or smelling bad. If you are certain that you're fine, I will go."

Horatio was relieved to see that Archie was smiling, and could not help being infected by that contagious smile of his. Horatio smiled at Archie, making his friend's smile broadened. "Yes, Archie, I am fine. You may go."

As Archie grabbed his clothes, Horatio asked, "Why did not you tell me you could sing so well?"

Losing his smile, Archie swallowed, then shrugged, "I've not sung in years."

"Why not?" Horatio frowned.

Archie hesitated, "It....it's a long story, Horatio. I need to go." Archie forced a smile and quickly left the cabin.

Horatio was concerned by Archie's swift mood change and wondered what the long story was. With a sigh, Horatio followed Archie's example, and bathed, then went to wash his clothes out, as well.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Horatio came back to his cabin, he saw John Campbell preventing Archie from entering it. Campbell had Kennedy by the shoulders, speaking very low, and Archie's head was lowered. When Campbell caught sight of Hornblower, he leaned down and said something in Archie's ear. Then he walked into Archie's shoulder as he walked away. Archie hurried into the cabin the moment Campbell was behind him.

When Horatio came into the cabin, Archie had picked up a book and was sitting on his bunk. Horatio stood quietly a few moments, and could see that Archie was shaking. Campbell must have hurt Archie. That is the only explanation for Archie fearing that man like this. Horatio thought, but decided not to mention what he'd seen at the doorway. Only he was still disturbed by Campbell's treatment of Archie and just had to know, "Archie, who was the man who slammed you into the bulkhead last evening?"

Archie do not look up from the book, "John Campbell."

"I know his name." Horatio tried to keep the irritation out of his voice, but was not sure if he succeeded, "What I'd like to know is how do you know each other?"

Keeping his eyes on the book, Archie said, "He was my brother's best friend."

"You knew each other as children?" Horatio asked.

"He and my brother were much older then I was." Archie supplied, still not raising his head.

Horatio watched Archie a few moments, then commented, "He does not like you."

Archie let out a small laugh, "He never did." Putting the book down on the floor, Archie let out a heavy sigh, then looked up at his friend, "John was like Si...." Archie stopped and lowered his head, "John was cruel to me. He liked to make me have fits, and would....do whatever he could to make me have them. John...." Archie spoke slowly, "He locked me in the ice house when I was eight. He just left."

Horatio sank down on his own bunk, knowing how frightened Archie must have been at that tender age.

"I thought I would freeze to death." Archie became quiet a moment, rubbing his arms as if he were cold. His voice became softer and cracked as he said slowly, "I had I fit. I do not even know when my sister found me. I had struck my head when I fell. When I awoke, I had a terrible headache and was very ill. The doctor said I would have died if Maria had not found me when she did. She saved my life." Archie finished in a whisper.

Horatio felt his stomach heave and closed his eyes.

Seeing the look on Horatio's face, Archie closed his eyes and lay down on his bunk, pulling his blanket over him with his face to the wall.

Hearing the movement, Horatio opened his eyes and his heart sank when he saw his friend. "Archie," Horatio said softly, not wanting Archie to shut him out again, "we should eat."

"You go ahead, Horatio." Archie tried to keep his voice firm as he lied, "I've already eaten."

Horatio walked over to Archie's bunk and put his hand on his shoulder. When Archie flinched, he quickly withdrew his hand. "I'm sorry, Archie." He said very softly, wishing there was something more he could say.

Horatio stood for several minutes, watching his friend. I did not push about the incident yesterday and Archie told me about Campbell. Horatio thought, Maybe if I give him time, he will get past this too.

Horatio put out all of the lamps but one, lowering that one to leave just a dim light in the cabin. "Good night, Archie. Pleasant dreams." He said softly before leaving the cabin.

 

Horatio was looking back at their cabin as he walked toward the mess and right into someone.

The girl let out a startled cry as she fell to the deck, landing in a sitting position.

Horatio was mortified and offered her his hand, "I am so sorry, Mum! Are you all right?"

She took his hand with a slight smile and let him help her to her feet. "Do you always walk over people in the hallways, sir?" She asked with an accent Horatio had never heard before, brushing her long, blond curls away from her face, "Or am I just the privileged one?"

"Oh, no, Mum." The stunned Horatio shook his head, "You're not the privileged one."

When she started laughing, Horatio frowned at her puzzled, which only made her laugh even more.

If there was a joke here, Horatio was missing it.

Finally gaining control over her laughter, the girl made a face and asked, "May I, at least, have the name of the man who tried to walk over me, sir?"

Horatio shook his head, "I am so very sorry, Mum. I do not mean to...."

She rolled her eyes, "It was just a joke, sir! Do you take everything seriously?"

Just as he started to answer, she clamped her hand over his mouth. "No, sir. Do not answer that. You probably do." Then she removed her hand and asked, "What is your name, sir?"

"Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower, Mum."

"Please to make your acquaintance, Mr. Hornblower." She extended a very graceful hand, "I am Valentina Padorin."

"Mum." He took her hand, leaned down, and kissed it.

The kiss sent a thrill of excitement rushing through her, but she regained her composure before he straightened himself. "Now, what is so important back there," She gestured behind him, "that you cannot take your eyes from?"

Horatio cleared his throat, "I was concerned for a friend and did not have my mind on where I was going, Mum. I am sorry."

"So there was a good reason for my being knocked down. I am glad to hear of that." She cocked her head as she asked, "What is wrong with your friend?"

Not wishing to talk to others about Archie, Horatio just shrugged and shook his head slightly, "Uh....it's nothing, Mum."

"Nothing?" She raised her brow, "I was knocked on my posterior for nothing?"

"Oh, no, Mum!" Horatio said quickly, not wishing to offend her and blushing even more, "I merely meant that....it's...." He shrugged again, "..well, he's just very tired."

"And you are concerned for him?" She eyed him and cocked her head again, "He must be a dear friend for you to be concerned because he is *just tired*? Hmmm?"

Horatio thought about everything Archie had done for him since Muzillac, "He has been a very good friend to me, Mum."

"You must have a good heart." She smiled.

Horatio gave her a slight smile, "I just have a good friend, Mum."

"So does he, I would say." She cocked her head, once more.

I do not feel like a good friend! Horatio thought.

"Perhaps you could help me, sir?" She said, "I slept through dinner, and now I cannot seem to find my way to the dining room."

"I am on my way there, Mum," Horatio gave her a slight bow, "and would be honored to escort you." He offered his arm in a gentlemanly manner, "It is not called a dining room, on a ship it is called the mess."

"Well, that is not a very appetizing name!" She said as she took his arm, smiling up at him.

Valentina was slim, average height, with green eyes and long, blond hair. And she had a lovely face!

 

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

CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

Horatio put a plate down in front of Miss Padorin and took a seat across from her, "May I ask you a question, Miss?"

"Only if you call me Valentina." She smiled at him.

"Your accent, Miss - where are you from?"

"Russia." She took a sip of tea.

"Russia?"

"Da." Valentina rolled her eyes, "Da is Russian for yes."

Horatio took a sip of water, "Where in Russian are you from? Moscow?"

She shook her head, "I was born in Kiev, but we moved to St. Petersburg so my father could find work. Then we moved to Budapest, and eventually, to Gibraltar. And now we go to England to find work."

"I see." Horatio and Valentina sat for almost two hours talking after they had finished their dinner before Horatio realized the time, "I am sorry, Miss, but I have to get some sleep. I have an early watch tomorrow."

"Oh." With a sly smile, she teased, "Well, I would not want the captain to spank you."

Horatio blushed at that, "Thank you, Miss."

"Valentina." She insisted, then asked, "May I call you Horatio?"

"Yes you may, Miss Valentina." He bowed his head, then asked, "May I walk you to your quarters, Miss?"

"Yes you may, Mr. Horatio." Valentina said playfully, smiling at him.

"Then I am honored, Miss Valentina." Horatio stood and, with a slight bow, offered her his arm. Valentina rose and took it. They talked as they made their way to the midshipmen's' berth, which the families had been given as quarters. Stopping at the steps, Horatio took a deep breath, "I enjoyed your company this evening. Good night, Miss Valentina."

"Good night, Mr. Horatio." She beamed at him.

He smiled back, took her hand and, raising it, watched her face as he kissed it. She shivered inside but kept her composure and smiled. He bowed slightly, turned and left.

She watched him and took a deep breath, feeling a blush come to her cheeks. Then turned and went into the berth.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Horatio quietly opened the cabin door, trying not to disturb Archie. He turned the lantern up a bit to change into his nightshirt. When he finished, he glanced at Archie, who was now lying on his back and in the dim light, it looked as if there was sweat glistening on his face.

A fever? Horatio walked over to Archie's bunk and, as slowly and gently as he could, put the back of his hand against Archie's cheek. His cheek was not warm, but it was wet. Frowning, Horatio leaned closer and realized that Archie had been crying. Oh, Archie, Horatio closed his eyes briefly, Why have you had to suffer so much?

Horatio walked over to his seachest, got a handkerchief, and came back to Archie's bunk. He carefully wiped Archie's wet face, hoping not to wake him. Archie moaned softly and rolled over onto his side with his back to the wall, but did not wake. Horatio tucked the blanket in around his friend and went to his own bunk, angry, It's not fair! Why does Archie always have to suffer?!

Horatio lay awake, thinking of Archie's pain and suffering, and remembering how he found Archie in prison, laying just as he was before Horatio went to dinner, with his back to Horatio and crying. He had kept Archie from dying, but he was not healed. Not really. He just hadn't had enough time to heal before Muzillac. And then Horatio had abandoned him at the bridge and poor Archie had panicked. That had been Horatio's fault. He should have known Archie was not ready.

And now this business with Campbell and God only knows what childhood horrors that man has brought back for Archie. Archie had stopped short of saying Campbell was like Simpson, but Horatio knew that was what Archie had started to say.

Horatio fell finally fell asleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

December 10, 1795

"Horatio?" He heard Archie's soft voice and felt a hand gently shaking him awake, "Do you plan to sleep through your watch, Horatio?"

Horatio's eyes fluttered open, then he remembered, "Oh, my watch!" He jumped out of his bunk and started gathering his clothes, "Damn, damn, damn!"

"I'm sorry, Horatio." Archie looked at him apologetically, "I thought you would be awake by the time I finished eating. I should have woken you before I left."

"What time is it?" Horatio asked as a knock came to the door preventing Archie from answering. Horatio frowned, "Who is it?"

"It's Heather, sir. The captain's compliments and he wishes to see you at your earliest convenience."

Archie's eyes grew wide and his mouth opened in apprehension.

"Tell the captain I'll be there presently." Horatio called to the man.

"Horatio," Archie said sincerely, "I am truly sorry I didn't wake you earlier!"

"Never mind that, Archie." Horatio desperately started undoing his nightshirt, "Just help me, please." Horatio dressed as fast as he could with Archie handing him everything as needed. Opening the door, Horatio smiled at his friend, "Thank you, Archie."

Smiling, Archie gave a nod and Horatio ran out of the cabin.
Archie sighed heavily and turned to his attention to own jacket, which was in need of repairs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Horatio hurried up the steps to the quarter-deck and, coming to attention in front of the captain, spoke breathlessly, "You wished to see me, sir?"

Surprised by the boy's hasty approach, Pellew raised his brow, "We have not inconvenienced you, have we?"

Horatio could feel himself starting to blush, "No, sir."

Suppressing the smile that was threatening to come, Pellew turned toward the stern and motioned for Hornblower to follow. Once he reached the rail, away from the other officers, the captain turned his full attention on the young lieutenant, "How are you, Mr. Hornblower?"

"I'm fine, sir." Horatio answered, uncertain why the captain was asking.

"Good." Pellew seemed to accept his answer, "I have a commission for you, sir."

Horatio came to attention again, "Yes, sir."

Pellew tried not to smile, "At your ease, Mr. Hornblower. This is not king's business. Well, not entirely." The boy frowned at that, but the captain went on, "I know you and Mr. Kennedy are friends."

Horatio suddenly became uneasy about where this conversation might be heading. He never liked discussing Archie with anyone for fear of betraying his friend.

"Do you think he would object to you helping him study for his lieutenant's examination?" Pellew asked.

Horatio blinked and relaxed at the same time, "I....uh....I don't think so, sir. But I would have to ask him."

"Of course, Mr. Hornblower. Of course." Pellew nodded, "I know you care for Mr. Kennedy, as do I, and you know as well as I, that he lost his confidence during his imprisonment. He has such promise - if only he would believe in himself." After a few moments of silence, Pellew locked eyes with Horatio, "Let us do our best to help Mr. Kennedy see what a good officer he already is, and what an excellent officer he can be."

"Yes, sir." Horatio straightened himself.

Suddenly, the children on the deck cheered. Hornblower and Pellew turned around to see what they already knew was coming; Kennedy stepped onto the quarter-deck and saluted Bracegirdle with a smile.

"He is very special." Pellew repeated Hamilton's words while observing Hornblower watching his friend. The expression on boy's face was clear; affection, pain, concern, and........guilt?

The pain, no doubt, was for all the suffering Kennedy has been through.

Concern for a friend needs little explaining.

And affection needs no explanation.

But guilt?

Pellew frowned, What could Hornblower possibly feel guilty about? For giving the Don his word that he and his men would return to prison, thus making him responsible for Kennedy having to return to imprisonment? Or was it because Hornblower had always felt it was his fault Kennedy had been set adrift?

At the sound of the officers' laughter the captain looked back at Kennedy, who was amusing the officers with a jest. Pellew cocked his head, "It is amazing how someone who has suffered so much, can still be so cheerful."

"Yes, sir." Hornblower agreed, thinking of Justinian as well as Kennedy's imprisonment.

 

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

 

CHAPTER TWELVE

 

Pellew walked toward the other officers and Hornblower followed. Seeing the captain's approached, Kennedy locked himself at attention.

"Good morning, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew smiled, "A lovely day, it is not?"

"It is indeed, sir." Archie answered and glanced at Horatio, puzzled. But he quickly brought his eyes back to his captain when Pellew said, "You have gunnery practice this morning."

"Yes, sir."

Pellew gestured to the men gathered around the bow cannon, "Your men await you, Mr. Kennedy."

"Aye aye, sir."

As Kennedy descended the steps and started for the cannon, the children ran up to him. Pellew watched as Kennedy knelt down on one knee to speak to them. He pointed at the deck in front of them and shook his head. Some of the children nodded and Kennedy turned his attention to one of the children. He smiled at Mark Hamilton, put his hand on the boy's head, and tossed the his hair. Then Kennedy rose and went to the cannon.

Pellew watched Kennedy with the men. He gave instructions, smiling as usual, and even laughing, with the men joining him in the laughs. As they began to work, Pellew watched how well the men worked with Kennedy. After the practice, Kennedy dismissed the men, most of whom knuckled a saluted to him as they left.

Throughout the practice, the children had stayed rooted to the spot where Kennedy had left them. As he walked across the deck, the children hurried to him. The young officer crouched down, speaking to them, while he pointed to the cannon. He looked at one of the children, then shook his head and gestured to his clothes, while speaking. Smiling, he stood, gave them a nod, and stepped around them to go below.

"Mr. Kennedy is going to make a good father someday." Bowles observed.

"Indeed, Mr. Bowles." Pellew agreed, "He certainly seems to be good with children."

"And they absolutely love him!" Bracegirdle added.

"Yes, they do." Pellew mused.

"Mr. Kennedy has always had tender heart, sir." Cleveland offered.

Horatio glanced at the man, remembering Cleveland's part in his inquisition, and wondered if he had held Archie down for Simpson to beat him like that.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Archie went to their cabin to wash and change, then went to find something to eat. As he left the mess, he saw a voluptuous, dark haired woman standing against the bulkhead, "Are you lost, ma'am?"

"I am looking for someone, young sir." She said with an Italian accent. She stepped closer to him and, inhaling very deeply, said in a seductive voice, "Actually, I am looking for you."

"Me?" Archie blinked nervously and frowned, "Why?"

She took another deep breath, moving closer to him, "You are so very handsome, sir."

Archie swallowed, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable, and his heart began to beat faster.

She reached out and brushed his cheek with the backs of her fingers. When he flinched away from her touch, she frowned, concerned, "Are you hurt?"

"Uh..um...." Archie shook his head, backing away from her, and stammered, "N-no, ma'am."

Still frowning, she cocked her head, moving with him. Then a smile spread across her face, "You're bashful! That is so sweet!"

Blushing, Archie bit his lip and lowered his head.

She stepped even closer, and kept breathing deeply. She was wearing a dress with a low neckline and had thrust her chest in front of him. Archie felt even more uncomfortable and turned his eyes to the ceiling.

"You need someone like me." She said.

Puzzled, Archie brought his eyes from the ceiling to frown at her and, in one swift move, she put her hands on his chest, pushed him against the bulkhead and passionately kissed his lips, muffling his startled yelp.

Stunned and trembling, Archie pressed his hands flat against the wall as she took the kiss deeper, eliciting a small moan from him.

After what seemed like an eternity, her lips finally left his and he stood as if he were frozen to the wall, completely bewildered.

Looking into the wide, frightened blue eyes, she tenderly caressed his cheek and said seductively, "You have such sweet lips, handsome. You should use them for kissing more often." She slowly ran her fingers down his cheek until they left his face. Then smiling, she turned around and walked away.

Archie stood against the wall in a daze. He closed his eyes and tried to calm his rapid heart beat. He had never been kissed like that before. In truth, he had never been kissed at all. He had been at sea since he was twelve, and had not been around women much. He had no idea one kiss could make one feel this way.

After several minutes, someone said, "Sir?" The unexpected voice startled a small cry from Archie and he jumped, quickly opening his eyes to see Styles, frowning in concern. "Mr. Kennedy, sir, are ye all right?" Styles asked.

Closing his eyes, Archie leaned back against the wall with his hand on his chest, trying to slow his heart again, "Oh....Styles." He licked his lips and swallowed, still panting, "I....I'm fine. Thank you."

"Beggin' ye're pardon, sir, but...." Styles started hesitantly, still frowning, "..ye don't look fine, sir."

Archie didn't look at him. He drew a deep breath and, blinking nervously, said, "I'm...I am fine, Styles. Thank you for your concern." With an effort, Archie moved from the wall, straightened himself, and started off to his cabin.

Styles watched him go, then turned and went on to the deck.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Horatio came into the cabin, he found Archie sitting on his bunk, leaning back against the wall with his eyes closed, "Archie?"

Archie opened his eyes and blinked quickly, trying to focus them, "Yes, Horatio?"

"Could we have dinner together?" Horatio asked, "I need to talk with you."

"Oh!" Archie abruptly jumped to his feet, suddenly feeling guilty, and looking very remorseful, "I'm sorry, Horatio! I've not being paying attention to you. I knew you needed me. I should have been there for you. Can you forgive me?"

Horatio felt a pain in his chest, "Archie, there's nothing to forgive."

"I was not there for you." Archie insisted, "I should have been."

"No." Horatio shook his head and caught his friend by the upper arms, "Archie," He paused moment with a sigh, "I really needed some time alone."

"You're not cross because neglected you?" Archie asked concerned.

Horatio closed his eyes, feeling worse. I neglect him, and he apologizes for neglecting me? Horatio forced a smile, "No, Archie, I'm....I'm fine. Can we have dinner together?"

"Of course, we can have din...." Archie stopped suddenly, a look of regret on his face, and whispered, "I promised the children that I would tell them a story." Then he added quickly, hopefully, "I could make it a short one, Horatio?"

Horatio shrugged and smiled, "I don't mind waiting while you tell the children a story, Archie."

"I'll make it a short one." Archie stood and grabbed his jacket and hat, "I promise."

As Archie hurried out the door, his apology made Horatio feel even more guilty. If he had not struck Archie to quiet him, Archie would not have been set adrift to be taken prisoner, and beaten for his escape attempts, or put in that damn hole!

How did Archie survive a month in that hole? Horatio shuddered remembering his experience in that damn thing. He was only in it for five days and was starting to feel as if he would go insane. And he hurt. Oh, how he hurt! Poor Archie was in it for a month, his pain must have been excruciating! But he never said a word about the pain, How did I not see the pain he was in?

Everything that had happened to Archie after Horatio struck him that night was Horatio's fault. And had he been half the friend to Archie that Archie has been to him since Muzillac, when Horatio asked Archie if he was nervous and Archie did not respond, he should have told Lieutenant Eccleston that Archie was becoming ill. How can Archie ever forgive me for that? Horatio thought, How can I ever forgive myself?

And now Archie apologizes for not being here for me?

A knock on the door pulled Horatio from his thoughts and he jerked. He took a deep breath to compose himself, then opened the door, "Miss Valentina!"

"Hello, Mr. Horatio!" Valentina smiled at him and, cocking her head, she batting her eye lashes and asked, "I came to ask if you would walk with me on deck, sir?"

Horatio felt his heart beginning to beat faster. He swallowed and smiled at her, "I would be honored, Miss Valentina." Stepping out of the cabin, he offered her his arm.

Valentina's smile grew as she took his arm, and they started toward the deck.

 

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


CHAPTER THIRTEEN

 

As Horatio and Valentina came up on deck, they saw Archie sitting on the barrel again, Harvey on one knee, Betsy on the other, and the other children sitting on the deck surrounding him. When Archie saw Horatio coming up on deck with a lovely girl, his smile broadened.

Valentina cocked her head as she took in Archie, "He seems like a nice boy. What do you know of him?"

"Mr. Kennedy is a good officer." Horatio supplied.

"Oh, you!" She swatted his arm in exasperation, "I'm not asking what kind of officer he is, I'm asking what kind of man he is!" Then she sighed and explained, "I have a reason for asking, sir. My sister is quite taken with him, but my brother does not want her to even talk to him. I want to know if my sister would be safe with him? Is he trustworthy?"

Trustworthy? Archie? Horatio could think of no one more safe to be with then Archie, "Mr. Kennedy is as good a man as he is an officer."

She searched his eyes as she asked very slowly, "So....he would not disgrace my sister?"

"Never!" Horatio frowned, angry at her even suggesting that Archie might.

She led him over to were the children were and, stopping behind her sister, they listened to Archie's story with the children. Horatio found himself becoming caught up in the story almost as much as the children were. When Archie ended the story, the children applauded and Archie's smile grew. Once again, the children took turns embracing and kissing him before returning to their parents.

Harvey sat on Kennedy's lap refusing to leave, and Horatio caught the captain's approach out of the corner of his eye. Martha Hamilton had also approached to get Harvey, "Harvey, it's time to get ready for dinner."

The small boy shook his head and told his mother, "I eat with Mr. Kendy."

Archie leaned down to look at the boy's face, "Harvey, I would love to have dinner with you. But I promised a friend I would have dinner with him and I do not want to hurt my friend's feelings."

"You do not want him to cry?" Harvey asked.

Archie glanced up at Horatio, thinking of that horrible moment by the bridge at Muzillac, "No, I do not. My friend needs me, Harvey."

Horatio was moved by Archie's words and the look in those blue eyes.

"All right." Harvey sighed and, taking Archie's face in his little hands, Harvey moved only inches away from it and looked into Archie's eyes, "I see you tomorrow, Mr. Kendy?"

Smiling again, Archie said, "Yes, Harvey. We will see each other tomorrow."

Not letting go, Harvey gazed intently into Archie's eyes, "And you tell me another story, and sing?"

Archie just could not say no to this little boy and smiled affectionately, "Yes, I will." Then turning serious, Archie said, "But only if you are good for your mother."

"I be good!" Harvey assured Archie.

As Martha Hamilton tried to take Harvey, the little boy tightened his hold on the young officer's neck and kissed Archie's cheek, "I love you, Mr. Kendy." As Martha took Harvey, Archie's throat tightened and he felt tears threatening to come, so he closed his eyes, lowered his head.

"Thank you for being so kind to the children, Mr. Kennedy." Martha leaned down and kissed Archie's cheek, and Archie flinched, quickly opening his eyes in alarm. Seeing his face, Martha gently brushed his hair back from the side of his face and quietly asked, "Are you all right, dear?"

Archie cleared his throat and said softly, "Ye-yes, ma'am. Thank you."

Being a mother, she put the back of her hand on his cheek and Archie squeezed his eyes shut, remembering his mother.

"Is Mr. Kendy sick?" Harvey asked.

The concern in the child's voice made Archie's chest tighten and he opened his eyes to look at the boy, "No, Harvey. I'm not sick." He smiled and shrugged, "I....I'm just tired." He stood and, putting his hand on Harvey's head, he tossed the small boy's dark hair, "I will see you tomorrow, Harvey."

As he walked across the deck to go below, Martha turned to Pellew, "I do not think he feels well, captain."

Pellew glanced at Hornblower and raised his brow.

Horatio wished even more that he could kick himself for not noticing it sooner.

"Mrs. Hamilton," Pellew turned to Martha, "I thank you for your concern for Mr. Kennedy."

"Oh, captain," She sighed, "you need not thank me. Mr. Kennedy is such an angel! And my children love him so."

"I love Mr. Kendy." Harvey told the captain.

Pellew smile at the boy, "I know you do, lad."

Martha laughed quietly, "It would be heard not to love Mr. Kennedy! He is such a joy to be with! You must love having him aboard your ship, captain!"

Pellew gave her a smile, but felt the guilt burning in him for neglecting to get to know this young officer of whom the passengers thought so highly.

"I have to get these children dinner." Martha said, "Good evening, captain."

"Good evening, Mrs. Hamilton." Pellew gave her a nod.

Horatio watched the captain return to the quarter-deck, while wondering about Archie's reaction to Harvey saying he loved him. Archie had appeared bothered by those words.

Horatio was pulled from his thoughts when Valentina tugged on his arm. He looked down at her and she smiled, "This is my sister, Tatiana. Tatiana, this is Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower."

With a smile, Tatiana curtsied to him and, in an accent even more think then her sister's, said, "I am please to make your acqvuaintance, Lieutenant Hornblover."

Valentina flashed his sister an odd, almost giddy smile, "He knows Mr. Kennedy."

Tatiana's eyes widened and her face broke into a radiant smile, "You do?!"

"Yes, miss." Horatio gave her a slight smile, seeing that the captain and Valentina were right; this girl was indeed very taken with Kennedy.

"Tell me about him!" She took Horatio's other arm.

"Well," Horatio did not want encourage this young girl in her obvious infatuation, so he just shrugged, "There's not a lot to tell."

"Oh please, sir?!" She begged, her light green eyes pleading with him, "Please, tell me!"

"Tatiana!" A male voice shouted from behind making the three jump. Horatio and the girls turned around to see Yuri Padorin coming toward them. Still holding Horatio's arm, Tatiana moved slightly behind him, as if attempting to be protected. Horatio could feel her trembling.

Valentina snapped at Yuri in Russian and the two started into an argument. As the exchange in words increased in volume, Horatio tried to quiet them, but both ignored his efforts.

The captain came back down from the quarter-deck, flanked by Bracegirdle, Bowles, and marine Captain Pendleton.

Valentina said something and Yuri raise his hand as if he were going to strike her. Horatio quickly pulled his arm out of Tatiana's grip to step in front of Valentina, "Stop!"

Yuri struck Horatio in the mouth, knocking him back into the girls and busting his lip.

The captain and officers hurried to Hornblower and the Padorins, as did the Russian's parents. Horatio regained his stance, putting the back of his hand against his bleeding lip, and staring at Yuri.

Ivan Padorin grabbed Yuri by the arm and pulled him away from the crowd. Horatio did not need to understand Russian to know Mr. Padorin was demanding an explanation. Mrs. Padorin gently led the girls aside, putting her arm around Tatiana, and speaking softly to them.

"Mr. Hornblower," In the confusion, Horatio had not realized the captain had come to stand beside him and flinched when he spoke, "what is this all about?"

"They have been speaking in Russian, sir." Horatio looked at him, "But if I were to hazard a guess, I would say that he was not pleased that the girls were talking to me."

"Their brother." Pellew pulled out his handkerchief and handed it to Hornblower, "You're bleeding." Horatio took it and held it on his lip to stop the bleeding. The officers watched the Padorin family. Even though they all were speaking in Russian, it was very plain that Ivan was giving Yuri hell. While Annika held the sobbing Tatiana in her arms, listening as Valentina tried to explain to her mother what had happened.

After several minutes, Ivan Padorin walked back to the captain and briefly glanced at Horatio, "Captain, please accept my sincerest apologies for the disruption my children have caused."

"Thank you, sir." Pellew bowed his head to the men.

"And to you, young sir," Ivan turned his attention to Horatio, "for my son's disgraceful actions, please accept my deepest apology."

Horatio gave him a quick nod.

"I must ask, young sir," Ivan eyed Horatio, "if you are aware that my Valen is only nineteen years old?"

"Mr. Hornblower is barely twenty, sir." Bracegirdle offered.

Ivan raised his brows, "Really?"

Horatio pulled the handkerchief away, "Yes, sir."

"Oh." Ivan looked at the girls, then back at Horatio, "My daughter enjoys talking with you, young sir. So as long as you do not attempt to take liberties, you may continue to talk with her."

"Sir," Horatio straightened to his full height, "I would never take liberties with any lady."

"Good." Ivan seemed satisfied with that.

 

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN

 

Ivan glanced back at his daughters again, then turned to Pellew, "Now, captain, if you would please tell me about this Mr. Kennedy who has my little Tatiana so smitten?"

Bowles laughed, "Mr. Kennedy is harmless, sir!"

Pellew frowned slightly, but knew he could not have answered Ivan's question as well as Bowles had, and was again assailed with guilt for not being able to. "Mr. Hornblower is his friend, Mr. Padorin." The captain told the Russian, "He knows Mr. Kennedy better then anyone on this ship."

"Is that so?" Ivan turned to Horatio, "My Tatiana is only seventeen."

"Mr. Kennedy is just eighteen, sir." Bowles pointed out.

"Indeed?" Ivan said, "And would he be trustworthy around a young girl?"

Why does everyone keep asking that question? Horatio cleared his throat, "Mr. Padorin, Acting Lieutenant Archie Kennedy is one of the finest officers aboard Indefatigable. And the most honorable. Anyone's daughter would be safe with him."

"Then I am to believe that he would not try to steal her virtue?" Ivan asked.

Pellew could not keep the annoyance out of his voice at this man's insinuations, "Mr. Padorin, my officers are gentlemen, and I can assure you; no man among my crew would attempt to steal the virtue of any woman on board."

"My apologies once again, captain." Ivan said, "But if you had two daughters, you would also do anything to protect them."

"I do have children, Mr. Padorin." Pellew told him, "But I would not assume anything about a man until I was given a reason to."

"Forgive me, captain." Ivan bowed his head, "I know a ship's captain is like a father and the crew his family. Please accept my apologies, sir."

"Of course, sir." Pellew bowed his head slightly and Ivan turned and walked away. *A ship's captain is like a father.... I've not been like a father to Kennedy* the captain thought, then turned and slowly returned to the quarter-deck. Bowles and Bracegirdle exchanged puzzled frowns, then followed Pendleton, who was already following the captain to the quarter-deck.

As Horatio started to leave, Valentina wrapped her arm around his, "Let me see your lip. Does it hurt?"

"No." He told her, "It's all right. I have to go. I have something I have to tend to."

"Duty?" She looked up at him with her brown eyes dancing and her light brown curls being ruffled by the wind.

Horatio did not want to tell her he was going to have dinner with Archie for fear she might want to join them with her sister, and Horatio wanted to talk to Archie alone, "Yes, Miss Valentina, I do have a duty I need to tend and I must tend to it today."

"Will I see you tomorrow?" She asked.

"Yes, Miss." He smiled at her, "Good evening, Miss Valentina."

"Good evening, Mr. Horatio." She smiled playfully and let go of his arm. Then went back to her mother and, stroking Tatiana's hair, she whispered something to her.

Horatio turned and headed below.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As they sat in the wardroom eating, Horatio watched Archie a few moments. Kennedy seemed to be somewhat uneasy, even though he had no reason to feel that way in the wardroom. The only other officers in the present were Bracegirdle, Captain Pendleton, and Marine Lieutenant Marcus.

Archie looked up and caught Horatio watching him. Taking a deep breath, Archie broke the silence between them, "Are you all right, Horatio?"

Horatio frowned, "Of course, Archie. I'm fine."

Now, it was Archie's turn to frown, "Well, you said you needed to talk to me. I thought you might be...." He hesitated a moment, "..well....you know........because of....of....her."

Horatio realized that Archie had thought Horatio needed him because he was grieving for Mariette, "Oh no, Archie! I....I'm.....I've not given that much thought."

"I'll bet!" Archie chuckled, remembering the girl Horatio had come on deck with, "She's very lovely!"

Archie's face blushed more the Horatio's as Hornblower gave his friend an annoyed look, "Miss Valentina...."

"..fancies you!" Archie finished with a smile, almost singing it.

Bracegirdle was sitting next to Hornblower and could not help quietly chuckling.

Irritated, Horatio slightly glanced at the lieutenant, then glared at Archie, who was snickering with his lips pressed shut.

"Well, at least I noticed she fancies me." Horatio retorted.

Archie stopped laughing and frowned, "What's that supposed to mean?"

<He does not know about Tatiana!> Horatio realized, then shook his head, "Nothing. I asked you to have dinner with me so I could thank you."

Archie blinked, confused, "For what?"

"Archie," Horatio said casually, "I have not thanked you for everything you have done for me since we've returned from Muzillac."

"Yes, you did."

Horatio frowned, "No, I did not."

"You did!" Archie insisted, "The day we got our orders to sail home, you said *thank you, Archie, for everything you have done for me since we've returned from Muzillac.*" Archie cocked his head, frowning, "Don't you remember, Horatio?"

"Oh." Horatio sighed and shook his head, "That was not a proper thank you for everything you have done for me. Archie, you have given no thought to yourself since we returned from Muzillac."

Swallowing the bite he had just taken, Archie said defensively, "Indeed I have!"

"You have not." Horatio pointed out to him, "You have been constantly looking after me and now you're filling in for Lieutenant Taylor at gunnery practice. You have not even taken the time to start studying for the lieutenant's examination."

"Oh." Archie admitted hesitantly, slowly, "Well....no. I've not really given it much thought." He took another bite.

Horatio suddenly brightened, "Let me help you study! It could be my way of thanking you for everything you've done for me!"

Archie rolled his eyes and swallowed his food, "Oh, Horatio! You do not have to repay me for being your friend." He shrugged cutting another piece of meat, "Besides, if we start tallying who owes who for what, I owe you much more then you owe me."

"What are you talking about, Archie?" Horatio stared at him.

"You saved my life." Archie told him.

"And you saved mine." Horatio took a sip of his coffee.

"You helped me in prison." Archie pointed out.

Horatio swallowed his coffee, "And you helped me."

"It's not the same thing, Horatio." Archie shook his head and said quietly, "I helped you recover. You kept me alive. There's a difference."

"You kept me alive at Muzillac." Horatio told him.

"Yes, I did." Archie nodded and, leaning across the table, dropped his voice to a whisper, "But you kept me sane."

Guilt getting the better of him, Horatio said, "You would not have been in that prison if I had not struck you and left you behind!"

Archie shrugged, "You did not have a choice, Horatio."

Archie's soft tone and acceptance stabbed Horatio's heart. "Archie, I should have found another way to quiet you." Horatio had never forgiven himself for striking Archie, especially after Archie was set adrift and everyone thought he was dead. Then when he found Archie alive and almost mad, it made his guilt even worse.

Now his guilt was so overwhelming he could not stop himself, "Archie, you have been more of a friend to me, than I have ever been to you! If I had truly been your friend, I would have been helping you get well in prison instead of walking with the duchess! And I was selfishly thinking of myself at Muzillac when I abandoned you at the bridge!" He shook his head, "Don't you see, Archie? Your being set adrift, imprisoned, punished, that damn hole and the state you were in afterwards....your despair....even your panicking at the bridge....all of it was my fault! Don't you understand that?!!"

Everyone in the wardroom had turned their attention to the two young officers, and Archie stared at Horatio in betrayed silence, all color drained from his face. Then, he quickly rose from the table and ran from the wardroom.

"Archie!" His chest tightening, Horatio rose and chased after him.

 

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

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

 

Kennedy did not stop running until he reached the cable tier, and Hornblower rushed in behind him, "Archie!"

"How could you?!" The hurt was evident in Archie's voice.

"Archie, I was only trying to...."

"..tell everyone what a pathetic excuse for an officer I am?!" Archie stared at him in hurt confusion.

Not understanding, Horatio frowned and asked, "Archie, what's wrong?"

"Can't you see how hard this is for me, Horatio?!"

There were tears in Archie's eyes now and Horatio felt sick. What I have I done?! He thought in puzzlement, and shook his head, "Archie, I...."

"When I was in prison, all I wanted was to be back aboard Indefatigable, to be back at my duties, to have people around...." Archie gave Horatio a questioning look, "Do you have any idea what it's like, after over a year of being alone, to have three hundred men around? I had no idea it was going to be this hard to return to the Indy - to my duties! I am doing the best I can, knowing that everyone is watching me, waiting for me to fail again....and you have to bring up my failures in front of everyone in the wardroom?! How could you do that to me, Horatio?!!" Shaking, Archie turned away and wiped his face.

Horatio stood in stunned silence for a moment. Then suddenly realized that this was the reason for Archie's odd expression the day they got their orders to sail. Archie has been struggling all this time, and never said a word. Finally, Horatio found his voice and swallowed, "Archie, I'm sorry. I ha...." Horatio stopped when Bracegirdle walked in.

The first lieutenant gave Hornblower a nod, and went straight to Kennedy. When he put his hands on the boy's shoulders, Archie flinched and lowered his head, but Bracegirdle did not remove his hands. Instead, he asked gently, "Are you all right, Mr. Kennedy?"

Bracegirdle was sitting next to Horatio and had to have heard everything. Humiliated, Archie closed his eyes, wishing now that he had died in that prison. "I'm fine, sir." He whispered.

Bracegirdle walked around in front of the boy and cocked his head, "Really? You did not look fine before you ran from the wardroom."

"I..I...." Archie stammered, but could not speak. I'm a complete failure. He thought, And Horatio just let everyone know it!

"Mr. Kennedy," Bracegirdle said gently, "in the short time we've been together, I have noticed something very admirable in you; your determination. You have had a lot to overcome in the past few months, and I am amazed at your determination to overcome it all. I know how overwhelming it would be for me. And I have to admit, I would have chosen to go home to my family and try to recover from what you have been through. But you chose to return to duty."

Archie had to stifle a sob, but could not stop the tears, so he squeezed his eyes shut tighter.

Bracegirdle put his hands on Archie's shoulders again, "Everyone on this ship knows how long you were imprisoned alone, and that you were severely punished for your escape attempts. I believe this crew, like myself, admire your persistence. Most men would not have made five attempts, least of all, after being cruelly punished for them the way you had been. We all know you were in hell there, lad, and that you were very ill after you were released from that hole. No one thinks badly of you for falling into despair."

Archie's heart sank at the memories.

Bracegirdle continued in that same gentle tone, "I know it is hard to return to duties you feel you should be able to do without thinking. And I know no one has said this to you, even though one of us should have, but you are doing very well in your duties. Specially when one considers that you have not served on a ship for over two years."

This time Archie could not stifle his sob.

Bracegirdle squeezed Kennedy's shoulders gently, "I am proud of how well you are adjusting to shipboard life once more, Mr. Kennedy. And if you need to talk, or just need to be reassured...." Bracegirdle took Archie's chin in his hand and raised the boy's head. Tears were sliding down Archie's cheeks and Bracegirdle looked into the hurt blue eyes, "..please, come to me, lad. You are a remarkable young man. And one that I am honored to serve with."

Archie sobbed and bit his lip to keep it from trembling.

Bracegirdle moved closer to him, looking intently into Archie's tear filled eyes, and said gently, "Please believe in yourself, Mr. Kennedy, as we believe in you."

Archie swallowed, but did not take his eyes from Bracegirdle's. When the lieutenant raised a questioning brow, the boy licked his dry lips and whispered, "I will...." He swallowed again, "..do my best to, sir."

"Grand!" Bracegirdle smiled, "From what I have seen since you've been returned to us, Mr. Kennedy, your best is the best." He pulled Archie even closer and said, "But I will remind you, sir, that you cannot do your best if you do not eat properly." As Archie blushed, Bracegirdle gave him a wink, "Go finish your dinner, lad. No one in the wardroom thinks badly of you, I assure you."

Archie gave a slight smile, "Aye aye, sir."

Bracegirdle turned his eyes to Hornblower, who had been quietly observing the two officers, "You finish eating too, Mr. Hornblower. And both of you get some sleep." Bracegirdle smiled, "Good night, gentlemen."

"Good night, sir." Horatio said.

"Good night, Mr. Bracegirdle." Archie straightened himself, "And thank you, sir."

"You are quite welcome, Mr. Kennedy." Bracegirdle smiled affectionately at him and could not resist reaching out and giving Archie's wet cheek a gentle pat, before turning to walk away.

After the lieutenant was gone, Horatio stepped in front of Archie to keep him from leaving, "Archie, I am very sorry! I didn't know what you were going through. Why did you not tell me?"

"Tell you what, Horatio?" Archie asked defensively, wiping his face, "That I feared I would not be able to do my duties anymore? Duties that I did before you even joined the service!"

"Archie...."

"No, Horatio!" Archie snapped, "You can never understand how I feel! Never!" Archie shook his head, "And I do not expect you to understand. But I thought....as my friend....you would at least respect me enough not to mention my failings in front of others!"

"You're right, Archie." Horatio admitted, "That was very thoughtless of me, and I am sorry. Will you forgive me?"

"There are things that....cannot be mended with words, Horatio." Archie said softly.

Horatio could see the hurt in Archie's eyes, could hear it in his voice, and wondered if he had damaged their friendship beyond repair. "I would never deliberately hurt you, Archie." He said sincerely.

"I know." Archie whispered.

Horatio moved toward him, "I have never let anyone as close to me as I have you, Archie. Please believe that I care about you."

"I do not doubt that, Horatio." Archie gave a slight shrug and shook his head slowly, his voice a bit softer, "But there are....things....you will never understand. Things I cannot......could never....explain to you. You need to understand that, Horatio." Tears were in Archie's eyes again and Horatio could see that he was struggling to say these words. His voice trembled as he said softly, "You and I are not the same....and we never will be. I will never be you. And you can never understand me."

Horatio knew Archie was hurting, and still hurt from what Simpson had done to him, so he chose not to push Archie and hoped he had not destroyed their friendship. He cleared his throat and said gently, "I am sorry, Archie. I never meant to hurt you. I hope that someday you can find it in your heart to forgive me."

Archie closed his eyes, his lip trembling and he swallowed. Then whispered, "Of course I can forgive, Horatio. I know you didn't mean to hurt me."

"We should go and finish eating." Horatio suggested.

Archie nodded and started for the door with Horatio following. As they reached the doorway, Archie suddenly turned back so quickly that Horatio walked into him. "Archie!" Horatio frowned, taking a step backward.

Archie laughed, "I'm sorry, Horatio!"

It was worth it just to hear him laugh! Horatio thought.

Turning serious again, Archie licked his lips and said, "Horatio....I....I just wanted to say that....I would really...." He took deep breath, "I would really appreciate it if....if you would help me study for the lieutenant's examination." He raised a slim brow, trying not to look too hopeful, "If the offer still stands?"

Horatio put his hands on his friend's shoulders, looked directly into those blue eyes and, with complete sincerity, said, "I would be honored, Mr. Kennedy."

"Thank you, Mr. Hornblower." Archie give him a slight smile.

Turning, Archie headed for the wardroom and Horatio gently put his hand on Archie's back, as Archie had done to him as they left the bridge at Muzillac.

 

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN

 

December 11, 1795

Kennedy had been on watch since four o'clock that morning and was so cold! As the night faded away and day began to break, Archie stood and watched the sun come up. His nurse had been the one to show him the beautiful sunrises and sunsets when he was very small, and he still found them to be a wonder. The sun painted the dark blue water the most beautiful shades of gold, red and purple, while painting the sky lighter shades. It was so breathtaking it made Archie smile! His only regret was that he had no one to share it with. He used to watch the sunrise with his nurse, and the sunsets with his sisters and his mother, before she died.

Archie had been missing his mother since he met Mrs. Hamilton. To keep from becoming more melancholy then he already was, Archie turned and walked to the forward rail. The men were coming up on deck to begin their duties, and two men caught his attention. Seeing Matthews and Styles brought back memories of Justinian.

And Jack Simpson....

 

Justinian,
April 14, 1789

Twelve year old, Archie Kennedy had been on Justinian for a month now and was beginning to settle into his new life. He had always been eager to learn and was trying his best to absorb everything he could, but even though he was learning quickly and getting used to life on a ship, he was not really happy. All the other midshipmen were older then him.

Clayton seemed to like him, as did Cleveland, and even Heather was starting to warm up to him, but there was one midshipman Archie tried to avoid - Jack Simpson. He reminded Archie too much of his elder brother's friend John Campbell, and John had always been cruel to Archie. So he did his best to stay out of Simpson's way. The only ones Archie really trusted were the boy who showed him around the ship when he first came aboard; an eighteen year old midshipman named Robert Wallace, and Clayton.

One evening when Wallace was on leave, Archie was studying in the midshipmen's mess and became puzzled by something in the book he was reading. Just as he stood to go and ask Clayton for help, Simpson came in. Archie quickly moved away from where Simpson always sat, trying as he always did, not to draw Simpson's attention.

After rudely snapping at Heather, Cleveland, and Clayton, Simpson announced, "I think it's time for the inquisition. Heather, Cleveland, bring Mr. Kennedy."

Archie's head came up at that, as Clayton shook his head, "Jack, he's just a boy. He's not lived long enough to have done anything."

Remembering only two weeks ago, that Jack had grabbed him by the front of his shirt and attempted this inquisition, Archie got up and quickly left the mess. Simpson jumped up to follow.

Archie hurried up on deck and saw the sailing master. Hearing Simpson coming up behind him, Archie hurried to Bowles hoping he'd be safe from Simpson's inquisition. But what could he tell the sailing master? Realizing he still had the book in his hand, Archie quickly opened it, "Mr. Bowles, sir?"

Bowles turned and looked down at him, "Yes, Mr. Kennedy?"

"I was wondering if you could help me, sir?" Frowning, Archie shrugged and shook his head slightly, "I don't understand this, sir."

Bowles smiled at Kennedy. He admired the boy's eagerness to learn and was not about to stifle it. "Of course, Mr. Kennedy. Let me see it."

Archie handed him the book and Bowles led young Kennedy over to the nearest lantern. The sailing master looked at the book a moment, then sat down. He had Kennedy sit down next to him and began to explain it to him. The problem Archie was going to ask Clayton for help with before Simpson came into the mess, turned out to be his way to avoid Simpson.

After fifteen minutes of waiting, Simpson went below.

Bowles continued to help Archie for another twenty some minutes more, before he said, "I think that's enough for tonight. You need your sleep."

Not wanting to go to the midshipmen's berth, Archie shook his head, "I'm not sleepy, sir."

Bowles laughed, "You really like learning, don't you?!"

"Yes, sir." Archie answered honestly.

"Well, you can learn more tomorrow." Bowles stood and Kennedy stood with him. The sailing master handed the book back to Archie and turned him toward the doorway, "Tonight, you need to give your mind - and your body - a rest. Now to bed with you, lad!" He gave Archie a gentle swat on the backside, "Good night, Mr. Kennedy."

Archie was afraid to go below, but he never disobeyed orders, so he swallowed and said, "Good night, Mr. Bowles. And thank you, sir."

"My pleasure, lad." Bowles smiled at the boy and tossed his hair, "Rest well, Mr. Kennedy."

Taking a deep breath, Archie quietly made his way to the midshipmen's berth, silently praying Simpson had forgotten about him, or was asleep. Just before he got to the door a hand clamped over his mouth and he dropped his book. "I'll teach you to try and out smart me!" Simpson hissed.

Archie tried to shout, but his cry was muffled.

Grabbing the boy around the waist, Simpson picked him up and carried him further below.

Jack hauled the boy to the hold and threw him to the deck, "You're going to regret that!"

Frightened, Archie swiftly got to his feet and backed up as quickly and as far as he could until he hit the bulkhead. His heart was pounding so hard he knew Simpson had to hear it. "What did I do, Mr. Simpson?" Archie's voice trembled, "I'm sorry if I've offended you!"

"Oh, you will be sorry, boy!" Simpson said in a low, cold tone as he started towards Kennedy, "You will be very sorry!"

Archie squeezed into the corner and started sobbing, "I didn't mean to...."

"I am senior in the mess." Simpson cut him off sharply, wrapping a rope around his fist, "When I tell you to do something, you do it!"

"I will!" Archie whimpered, trying to squeeze further into the corner, "Please don't hurt me, Mr. Simpson!"

Simpson stopped in front of Kennedy and Archie panicked. "No!" He screamed and bolted from the corner past Simpson. Jack scrambled after him, catching him before he made it the doorway. Simpson threw the boy to deck, "I told you not to defy me!" He began striking Archie in the face, busting his lip and bruising his left cheek from his jaw to his temple.

Archie kicked Simpson as hard as he could, not even knowing where he had kicked the man. When Simpson fell to the deck, Archie rolled away from him, got to his feet and ran from the hold. Simpson got to his feet only moments later and chased after him.

Kennedy hurried into the midshipmen's berth, believing the other midshipmen would not let Simpson hurt him. He came to a stop next Clayton's hammock.

Clayton awoke and saw little Kennedy's face. Immediately, he realized what was going on. He also knew he could not stand up to Jack. Still, the sobbing boy standing next to him with tears streaming down his bruised and bleeding face made Clayton want to try.

Simpson quickly came down the steps then, like the predator he was, slowed his pace. "You are going to be very sorry you did that." He said coldly.

"Mr. Clay-ton," Archie was sobbing heavily, "Don-don't let...him hu-hurt me!"

"Heather! Cleveland!" Simpson shouted, "Time for the inquisition!" When neither of them made a move, he shouted louder, "NOW!"

"Jack, he's...." Cleveland started.

"NOW OR I'LL BEAT THE LOT OF YOU!!" Simpson ordered.

Archie quickly moved behind Clayton, hoping to be protected, but Clayton never moved as Cleveland and Heather grabbed the boy and dragged him to the mess, pushing him flat on his back over the table top. Clayton followed.

"Mr. Clay-ton," Archie begged between sobs, "Pl-please..h-h-help..me!"

One look from Simpson stopped Clayton when he started to move. Simpson walked toward Kennedy, who panicked and kicked Jack in the belly. As Simpson staggered back, Archie desperately struggled against the hands holding his wrists. Archie looked at Cleveland and Heather pleadingly, his face wet with tears and blood, and could hardly get the words out for sobbing, "Le-let me..go! Please! Please don't-don't let...h-him..hurt m-me!"

Heather closed his eyes, while Cleveland looked away. Neither of them wanted this to happen to little Kennedy, but they knew what Simpson would do if they did not obey.

As Simpson stood and started toward the table again, Archie looked at Clayton and screamed, "Please..help..me..Mi-ster..Clayt-on!"

Clayton started forward, but another glare from Simpson made him stop once more.

Terrified, Archie began to kick at Simpson again.

"Turn him over." Simpson ordered.

"I'm..sor-ry..Mist-er..Si-Simp-son!" Archie cried as Heather and Cleveland turned him over on his belly, "Pl-please..do-don't..hu-hurt..me!"

"It's too late for that, boy." Simpson rested his arms on Kennedy's small back, "You like learning so much?" Jack dropped his voice and said in an icy cold whisper that sent chills through Archie, "I'm going to teach you a lesson you will never forget."

 

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

 

Simpson began to beat Archie with the cat, occasionally asking him what his dirty little secret was. Archie's only answer was his cries of pain.

Becoming angry at Kennedy's stubborn refusal to speak, Simpson grabbed him by the hair and ripped the boy off the table, throwing him into the wall. As Archie fell to the floor he thought briefly about trying to run - but that was what had gotton him in this situation to begin with, wasn't it?

Simpson stood over Kennedy, "I'm waiting, boy! What is it you're tyring not to tell me?"

Archie considered giving a sarcastic answer, but figured it would only be worse for him if he did. Instead, he closed his eyes, lying as still as he could and trying to ignore has throbbing back. He began to silently prayed that someone would stop this.

Furious at Kennedy's lack of resistance, Simpson kicked him. Archie lost his breath and was unable to make any sound as Simpson began kicking him in the ribs.

"Jack," Clayton pleaded, "he's just a child!" Cleveland and Heather began begging Simpson to stop as well.

Simpson stopped kicking Kennedy and grabbed him by the front of his shirt and waistcoat, both of which tore as Simpson pulled the boy off the floor and slammed into into the wall. Archie's eyes came open when he hit the wall, but he could not focus them. Holding him by the throat, Simpson growled, "What is it, boy?! What are you trying so hard to hide?"

Archie started to believe he was going to die. Simpson was going to beat him to death here and now, and no one was going to stop it from happening! Oh please God, let this end soon! He silently prayed and, at the moment, he did not even care if the end meant his death, just as long as the pain stopped.

"Answer me, Kennedy!" Simpson shouted, slamming him against the wall again, forcing a cry out of the boy.

Archie's vision was becoming more blurry. Lord, please help me! He could barely keep his eyes open and decided it was not worth the effort to try. Letting his eyes close, Archie leaned his head back against the wall, hoping he would pass out.

Infuriated by Archie's quiet submission, Simpson began beating Kennedy unrelentingly even after the boy had lost consciousness and would have slipped to the floor if not for Simpson's hand under Kennedy's jaw.

Clayton, Heather, and Cleveland began to plead with Simpson to let them take Kennedy to the sick berth before it was too late. Suddenly, Archie began writhing and groaning even though unconscious. Startled, Simpson let Kennedy drop to the deck and jumped back. The midshipmen watched in shock as the boy voilently convulsed on the floor.

"What have you done to him, Jack?" Cleveland asked horrified.

An equally shocked Heather, shook his head, "He's dying!"

Simpson stood, watching in stunned silence.

When the fit finally came to an end, the midshipmen stood, staring at the unconscious boy on the deck.

Pulling himself out of his shock, Clayton approached Kennedy and saw that he was still breathing. He gently lifted the boy in his arms, which was not much of an effort. Kennedy was the size of most ten year olds. Feeling nauseous, Clayton took the child to the sick berth.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Justinian
April 16, 1789

Archie awoke two days later, unable to move for the pain.

Clayton came and, smiling gently, asked, "How are you, Archie?"

Archie turned his face away from him with a painful moan and closed his eyes.

Clayton understood. He should have helped the boy. But there was something he had to know, "That fit you had the night before last....what happened, Archie?"

Archie's face was so swollen that he could only whisper, bitterly out of the right side of his mouth, "How should I know. I was unconscious."

"Dr. Hepplewhite has no idea what caused that fit you went into." Clayton said, "Has it ever happened to you before?"

No! Archie thought, I won't tell you! I may have had a fit in front of them, but I will never tell them I've had fits before. I'm not going to give Simpson what he wants now that the beating is over. I'll just let them think whatever they want to think. I don't care. In fact, I'm not going to talk to anyone anymore unless I absolutely have to! Ever!

Archie spent two weeks in the sick berth recovering from that beating and when he was released, he was punished for fighting.

And then, Archie Kennedy became Jack Simpson's favorite target.

 

 

Indefatigable,
Decemeber 11, 1795

Archie closed his eyes and shuddered. He could still feel the pain. Still hear Jack Simpson's cold, menacing voice.

"Good morning, Mr. Kennedy."

Seized by fear, Archie cried out and instinctively recoiled away from the voice.

"Mr. Kennedy!" Shocked by the terror on the acting lieutenant's face, Pellew reached out and grabbed the boy's left wrist.

"No!" Archie whimpered, trying to pull away from the hand gripping him, his voice full of fear, "Don't!"

Tightening his grip, Pellew caught Kennedy's right arm, just above his elbow. Then moved his right hand into the same position on Kennedy's left arm. The captain could feel the boy trembling and saw that he had his eyes closed, "Mr. Kennedy, open your eyes!"

Taking in a sharp, shuddering breath, Archie opened his eyes, not even realizing he had them closed until then. He was breathing heavily and blinked rapidly, frowning at the captain. Then recognition dawned, "Captain Pellew?"

"Are you all right, Mr. Kennedy?!" Pellew asked concerned, easing his grip a bit.

"Uhh...." Archie looked around him, confused. That memory had been so real that he had forgotten where he was.

Pellew did not release him. Instead, he looked intently into Kennedy's frightened eyes and was shaken by the horror he saw in them, Dear God! What caused this?!

Seeing the expression on the captain's face, Archie lowered his head in shame and said in a soft, quivering voice, "Captain, sir....I-I'm sorry."

Deeply concerned now, Pellew stepped closer. Reaching up, he took Kennedy's chin in his left hand and raised his head, feeling the lad's pulse throbbing rapidly against his fingers. All sternness gone from his voice, Pellew asked quietly, "Mr. Kennedy, what's wrong?"

Archie closed his eyes and said very softly, "I'm-I'm sorry, sir. I...I-I was...." He could not tell the captain the truth.

Edward realized Kennedy was embarrassed by his severe involuntary reaction to the captain's greeting. But the horror in the boy's eyes....! Pellew just could not let that go, "Mr. Kennedy?"

Archie hesitated. He could not tell the captain about Simpson. He couldn't even talk to Horatio about Simpson, and Horatio knew what Simpson was like.

The captain completely dropped formality, making his voice and words as gentle as he possibly could in an attempt to reach this so unreachable boy, "What is troubling you, lad?"

The compassion in the captain's voice made Archie open his eyes, and he was surprised by the concern and kindness he saw in the dark eyes, "I-it...." He stammered, then tried to shrug it off, "It was just a....a very bad memory, sir."

"It must have been!" Pellew kept his tone soft, "You should try not to think of those memories, Mr. Kennedy."

"I....I know, sir." Archie admitted softly, lowering his eyes, and shrugged, "But, it....just came to me, sir."

"I know those kind of memories do, lad." Pellew put his right hand on the boy's shoulder, "But you should push them out of your mind as quickly as you can and not dwell on them. They will only make you feel worse."

Archie listened to Pellew intently, knowing what the captain was saying was true. He just wished he could rid himself of these horrible memories.

 

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

 

Still holding Kennedy's chin in his hand, Pellew studied him, feeling the lad trembling, his pulse quickly throbbing, and seeing the terror that was still on that young face. Why will he not be honest with me? Pellew sighed, then said gently, "Mr. Kennedy, I know you suffered greatly in those prisons. Sadly, those are memories that can never be taken away. Believe me, lad, I would take them from you in a heartbeat if I could to keep you from having to suffer them."

Archie blinked, surprised by those words, and the way they made him feel.

"And I know it will be hard to overcome what has happened to you." Pellew continued in the same soft tone, "I am grateful that you have Mr. Hornblower. Please, let him help you as I would if you trusted me."

Kennedy's suddenly looked hurt and he swallowed, "I....I do trust you, sir."

"Then talk to me, lad." Pellew said gently, "Do not hold these horrors inside. They will only destroy you, and I have no wish to lose you again, sir."

Standing this close with his hand on Archie's shoulder, almost embracing him, the captain did not seem as unapproachable as he used to seem. He seemed like a father. Archie had to resist a sudden urge to lay his head on the captain's shoulder and cry. Pellew was reaching out to him. Even sounding as if he cares about him. Then, Archie sighed inwardly. But surely someone had told the captain why I was left behind during the Papillion raid. Why would he care about a man who can't even complete a mission? Who has fits?

Pellew saw the shame that came to Kennedy's face just before he lowered his head, "Mr. Kennedy, you are a fine lad, and a good officer. Please do not doubt yourself."

Stunned, Archie's head snapped up and wondered if the captain really knew what he had been thinking. It had always seemed as if the man could actually read a man's mind.

"Will you do something for me, Mr. Kennedy?" Pellew asked.

Archie frowned slightly, not certain he wanted to answer. The captain has the power to make you do as he says. He doesn't have to ask you to. What is it that the captain would ask Archie to do rather then order him to?

Pellew did not wait for the boy's answer, "Try to see yourself, Mr. Kennedy, not as you believe others see you, but as they really see you. As a good, capable officer and an honorable young man."

Tears came to Archie's eyes and he quickly closed them, hoping the captain he not seen them.

Pellew did, but did not want to add to the lad's embarrassment, "Mr. Kennedy," Pellew waited until Archie's eyes met his again, "I would like you to come to my cabin this evening...." He shook his head as he felt the boy's pulse start to quicken again, "No need to fear, lad. It's nothing formal. Just dinner."

Once again, fear came into Kennedy's eyes, deepening Pellew's concern. The captain cocked his head and gently said, "You said you trust me, Mr. Kennedy."

"Uh..I...I do, sir." Archie said softly.

"Then join me for dinner this evening." Pellew smiled, "And relax. We do not have to talk about anything you do not wish to talk about."

Why did the captain give command of the Marie Gallant to Horatio? Archie had silently asked himself since that day. Because Horatio did not fear the captain. When called before Pellew, Horatio did not dread it as Archie did. Pellew could see fear in anyone. That was why Archie had not been chosen that day. And would never be chosen. How could the captain have faith in someone who was so fearful? Someone who has fits. Archie knew he was only made an acting lieutenant because the captain had no other officers. No doubt if I fail my lieutenant's examination, Pellew would never make me an acting lieutenant again. I'll be just like Clayton. Like Simpson. Archie suddenly felt sick in his stomach.

Pellew cleared his throat and Archie raised his eyes to his captain's. Archie realized he had never truly looked into the man's eyes before. He could see things that, until now, he would never have guessed he'd see in them; kindness, compassion, understanding. Why do I fear this man? Archie wondered.

True, Pellew was strong, stern, and had complete control of Archie's life. But Archie's life had always been controlled - by the Navy, by Simpson, by his captors. And this man was more kind then all of the others put together. Why should I fear him?

Archie swallowed, knowing the captain could feel it as he did so, and said in a voice that was not as firm as he had wished, "Uh...um...I would be honored to join you....for dinner, sir."

Pellew smiled warmly, his tone still gentle, "Very good, Mr. Kennedy. I shall look forward to it." He kept his hand on the lad's shoulder, still holding Archie's chin, "And I am very grateful to God to have you back."

A look of surprise came to Archie's face and Pellew's smile broadened, then he removed his hands as Bracegirdle and Bowles climbed the steps to the quarter-deck.

Archie quickly lowered his head, to compose himself.

"Captain." Smiling, Bracegirdle saluted, and after receiving one from his captain, he turned to Kennedy, "Mr. Kennedy, I trust you finished your dinner last evening?"

"Yes, sir." Archie turned to the first lieutenant, "Thank you, sir."

"You are welcome, Mr. Kennedy." Bracegirdle frowned, seeing the sun already climbing into the sky, "I missed the sunrise. Was it a good one?"

Smiling as he thought of it, Archie nodded, "It was lovely, sir."

"Well, it least someone got to enjoy it!" Bracegirdle said playfully.

The passengers came up on deck, and Archie glanced toward them, smiling as he saw the children.

Bracegirdle's smile widened at the sight of the children and he just could not resist. "Captain, sir," The lieutenant asked as stiffly as he could, a serious look on his face, "when did you commission Mr. Kennedy as ship's song leader and storyteller?" Bracegirdle had to fight hard to maintain his stern look as Kennedy glanced back to him, worried.

Pellew could barely suppress his smile, and Bowles had to turn away to keep the lad from seeing his grin.

Becoming nervous, Archie swallowed, not knowing what to say, and thought anxiously, Am I in trouble?

Seeing the expression that had come to Kennedy's face, Pellew did not want to add any more stress to the boy after what had happened earlier, and smiled, "Mr. Bracegirdle is teasing you, lad. I am actually pleased that you have kept the children out of trouble with your storytelling. God knows there are so many things on this ship children should not get into, and they could get hurt." Pellew clasped his hands behind his back, "I am not ordering you to do so, Mr. Kennedy, but if you wish to keep telling the children stories, I would arrange your hours of watch to be more accommodating."

Frowning, Archie bit his lip.

Pellew shrugged, "It's your decision, Mr. Kennedy." When no answer was forthcoming, Edward asked, "Do you wish to continue telling the children stories?"

Licking his lips, Archie cleared his throat, "I enjoy telling the children stories, sir."

"Good." Pellew gave him a nod, "Then I shall rearrange your hours of watch to leave you some freedom during the day to entertain the children."

Kennedy's frown deepened, "But sir....what about the other officers? Would it not be unfair for me to get special treatment?"

"Mr. Kennedy," Pellew looked into the boy's eyes intently, "it is the responsibility of this crew to see to the safety of the passengers whilst they are aboard. The children could get in trouble, or even harmed, if they roam about the ship. You keep them occupied, out of trouble, and out of harm with your stories. That is serving this ship and the passengers aboard her. It is in the best interest of Indefatigable and her passengers, if you were to keep the children occupied, even if only for a few hours." Edward waited, letting his words sink in. Then added with a look of amusement on his face, "And they so look forward to seeing you, Mr. Kennedy."

Blushing, Archie lowered his gaze again, looking so young.

Pellew eyed the boy. He seems so much like the boy he was when he first came aboard. "I will have your new hours of watch for you this evening at dinner, Mr. Kennedy. In the meantime," Pellew said as Hornblower walked up on the quarter-deck, "Your watch for this morning is over."

"Reporting for duty, sir." Horatio saluted his captain.

"Very good, Mr. Hornblower." The captain turned back to Kennedy, "You are dismissed, Mr. Kennedy."

"Aye aye, sir." Kennedy saluted the captain, then Bracegirdle and Bowles, "Gentlemen."

Bracegirdle gave him a wink, and Bowles gave him an affectionate smile.

Turning to Horatio, Kennedy bowed very gracefully with a smile, "Good morning, Mr. Hornblower."

"Good morning, Mr. Kennedy." Horatio smiled back.

Kennedy stepped around Hornblower and started down the steps. As he did so, the children cheered and ran to him.

Pellew and his officers moved to the rail to watch the children converge on the young acting lieutenant.

 

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CHAPTER NINETEEN

 

Kennedy and the children came up on deck, and Archie walked to the barrel and sat down. Harvey climbed on his lap the moment he sat, followed by Demitri. The rest of the children sat down in front of him and he began to tell them a story. Horatio saw Valentina and Tatiana move to stand closer to Kennedy. Tatiana almost swooning as Archie spoke.

"He must be a good storyteller." Bracegirdle mused.

"He is, sir." Horatio stated simply, remembering the story he had listened to.

"Is he, indeed?" Pellew raised his brow.

"Yes, sir." Horatio turned to the captain, "I listened to the story he told yesterday. It certainly held my attention. And I'm not as easily captivated as children, sir."

"What story was it?" Bracegirdle asked.

"I've never heard the one he told yesterday, sir." Horatio frowned, "But is was an interesting story."

"Hmmm." Pellew clasped his hands behind his back and started for the steps, "I think I should like to hear this one." The captain went down the steps and forward past Kennedy and the children, then quietly came up behind Kennedy to listen without making the lad nervous.

 

Across the deck, Matthews and Styles watched Kennedy with the children. Matthews had lost his heart the moment Archie Kennedy came aboard Justinian, only twelve years of age with an angelic face. He was vivacious, kind, and sensitive. He also had quick wit, a good heart, and a smile that could warm the coldest day; ----which made him an easy target for Jack Simpson. And Kennedy was just too little to fight back no matter how hard he tried.

Matthews had watched Kennedy change after Simpson's cruelty started. With his heart broken and his spirit crushed, the boy had become quiet, withdrawn, and distant. Completely exhausted and numb from the constant tormenting, little Kennedy had simply given up. He suppressed his true nature, his ambition, his love of learning, everything.

The only expression on his face was the blank look of defeat. He would not even let his fear and sorrow show around the officers. Simpson had completely shattered the boy. Little Kennedy no longer lived, he only existed.

It had broken Matthews' heart to see that lively, sensitive child reduced to the almost lifeless boy he became, and to have been powerless to stop the abuse due to Simpson's threats.

Until Horatio Hornblower came aboard.

Matthews had feared that the abuse young Kennedy had taken from Simpson, the lack of compassion from those officers on Justinian, and the horror that the lad had endured in those prisons would turn the boy's heart to stone. And he found himself, not just relieved, but admiring the fact that not only had Kennedy survived it all, but he had survived it with his kind, gentle heart intact. And the way these children love him is a testimony to that, "Mr. Kennedy still 'as a good 'eart."

Aye." Styles agreed, eyeing the boy worriedly.

Seeing the anxiety on his friend's face, Matthews asked, "What's th' matter with ye?"

Styles gestured with chin towards Archie, "Mr. Kennedy."

" 'e's been through a 'ell o' a lot, Styles." Matthews frowned, "Don' be so 'ard on the lad."

"I know what e's been through." Styles had always felt guilty. He could have stopped Simpson from beating - no - Simpson was not just beating the poor boy, he was torturing young Kennedy! And Styles could have stopped it one night when Simpson was drunk. He had dragged little Kennedy to the hold and beat him. When the boy lost consciousness, Simpson left him on the deck and passed out before he could leave the hold. All Styles had to do was to throw Simpson overboard. If Simpson was ever found....well, all the midshipmen knew Simpson had been drinking that night, everyone would have to assume he simply fell over the side. Styles could have saved that poor boy from three more years of torment, if he had only had the courage to do it.

That was why Styles had never faulted Kennedy for any of the boy's weaknesses. Styles turned to Matthews, his expression one of concern and not the anger Matthews was expecting, "I'm jus'...." Styles hesitated, "Well....yesterday I found Mr. Kennedy against th' bulk'ead, pantin' an' lookin'....well....lookin' like 'e did jus' before 'e 'ad that fit the night we took the Papillion."

" 'e was gonna 'ave a fit?" Matthews became concerned, "Did 'e?"

"No." Styles shrugged, "Well, not that I seen. But....I don' think 'e's well. 'e didn' 'ave much time t' get over bein' in prison."

"Aye. An' 'e was in pretty bad shape there." Matthews eyed his friend, "So you care for Mr. Kennedy?"

"I never said I didn' care fer 'im!" Styles frowned at him, "If ye remember, I was th' one that carried 'im t' th' sick berth when that bastard....." He stopped so no one would hear, "I carried 'im more 'en once. Wasn't 'e's fault what 'appened t' 'im. 'e wasn't cut out fer this kind o' life."

Matthews turned to watch Kennedy for a few minutes more, "But 'e sure 'as become a good officer."

"Aye." Styles slowly nodded his head, "Wonder what 'e'd 'ave become if Simpson 'adn't...." Styles didn't finish his thoughts.

"Aye." Matthews said softly.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Archie spent the morning telling the children stories and, as the captain listened, he found that Hornblower was right; Kennedy was a good storyteller. When their parents finally made the children leave Kennedy and started taking them below for dinner, Harvey refused to leave Archie, "Come eat with me, Mr. Kendy?"

Archie smiled, "I would love to join you for dinner."

As Malcolm took Harvey and shooed their children below, Martha leaned down and kissed Archie's cheek, making him blush.

Archie stood and cleared his throat, "Ma'am, I must apologize for the way I acted....I mean....the way I reacted yesterday when Harvey said he loved me. I did not...." He lowered his head, "It....it's....been a long time since anyone has said....those words to me....a-and I...."

"What about your family?" Martha asked.

"My family...." Archie lost his voice. Keeping his head down, he took a deep breath, "My family is not close, ma'am."

Martha frowned and cocked her head "You have no one in your life who loves you enough to tell you so?"

Archie had raised his head when she started speaking, but closed his eyes and, lowering his head again, said very softly, "Not for several years, ma'am."

"Oh, dear," Martha put her hand on his cheek, "I cannot believe that! How could anyone know you and not love you? My husband's fellow workers in Gibraltar loved him so much they did not want him to leave. You cannot work with people without becoming fond of them."

"This is the Navy, ma'am." Archie shrugged, his voice still soft, "It...it's not the same thing."

"I'm sorry, honey." Martha gently caressed Archie's cheek, then took him by the arm and led him below.

Horatio saw Tatiana's face fall just before she lowered her head and Valentina put her hands on her hips, disappointed. Then Valentina put her arm around her sister and spoke to her. Whatever she said did not cheer the girl, but Tatiana nodded and they went below to eat.

Pellew had heard the conversation between Martha Hamilton and Archie Kennedy, and the pain in his chest made him wish he had not. Sighing heavily, he slowly walked back to the quarter-deck.

 

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CHAPTER TWENTY

 

In the mess, the girls saw Kennedy sitting with the Hamiltons and a little room left at the table. Harvey, as usual, was sitting on Archie's lap. Betsy was sitting on Archie's left side, Mark was on his right, and Anna was sitting next to Betsy. Malcolm and Martha were sitting across the table from them. The girls quickly got their food, then they carried their wooden trays to the table, and Valentina asked sweetly, "May we join you?"

"Of course, dear." Martha smiled at the girls as she and Malcolm moved to the end of the bench giving the girls room to sit down. Valentina let Tatiana set down first so she would be directly across from Kennedy.

"So, Mr. Kennedy," Malcolm asked, "how long have you been in the service?"

"Six years, sir." Archie took a bite of his lunch.

"Six years?!" Martha dropped her work, shaking her head, "Oh no, honey, you are much too young."

Blushing, Archie swallowed his food and smiled, "I've been in the Navy since I was twelve, ma'am."

Martha cocked her head, "How could your mother bear to let you go at that age? And to such a dangerous job as this?" She gestured around the room.

Archie's smile faded, "She died before it was arranged for me to join, ma'am."

"Is father a Navy man?" Malcolm took a bite of his food.

"No, sir." Archie answered uncomfortably, "He....he's a lord."

Malcolm frowned, confused, "And he wanted you in the Navy?"

"It....it was thought that it would be best, sir." Archie said softly.

"Thought it was be best for you?" Malcolm asked with indignation in his voice, "Or for him?"

Archie closed his eyes, not wanting to answer.

Martha looked at Kennedy sadly, "He did not want to have to raised you alone after your mother died, did he?"

That had never occured to Archie! He had always believed it was because of his fits, "I....I think only he....can answer that question, ma'am."

"So you came aboard as a cabin boy?" Malcolm asked.

Archie swallowed the bite he had just taken, "Uh....no, sir. It was arranged for me to go aboard my first ship as a midshipman."

"You joined as a midshipman," Malcome frowned, "been in the service for six years....and you're only an acting lieutenant?" He raised one brow.

Lowered his head, Archie took a deep breath and cleared his throat, "I was....I've been imprisoned for the last two years, sir. I just came back aboard Indefatigable two months ago."

"You were in prison?" Martha looked at him in disbelief, and Ivan Padorin, who was at the table behind them, heard her and began to listen closely to their conversation.

"Yes, ma'am." Archie played with the food on his plate, not looking up, "I was taken prisoner by the French after a night raid."

"You were captured in action!" Valentina was relieved that he was not imprisoned as a criminal, "How did you and your men escape?"

"I was captured alone, ma'am." Archie said quietly.

"You were imprisoned for two years alone?" Malcolm asked, "How did you keep from going mad?"

A mixed expression of sorrow and horror cross Archie's face as he looked up at the man, then quickly vanished, and he said very softly, "I was only alone for a little over a year."

"Oh, you poor child!" Martha said softly, sadly.

"Why did it take so long for your father to get you released?" Malcolm frowned, not understanding.

"He....my father....did not get me released, sir." Archie's gaze dropped to the table again as he quietly explained, "I had been held by the French for four months, then was sent to a prison in Spain. After being there for ten months, the Spanish captured a ship that was commanded by Mr. Hornblower. They did not know Mr. Hornblower and I had served together before I was captured, and they put him and another midshipman in the cell I was in."

"And Mr. Hornblower helped you escape!" Valentina's face lit up at the thought.

"Sort of, ma'am." Archie looked up at her, "The prison we were in was on the coast. There was a storm that forced a Spanish ship onto the rocks. Mr. Hornblower had given his word to our jailer that if Don Massaredo let us rescue the survivors, we would return to prison after we rescued those men. Which we did. So because we had risked our lives to save the lives of those shipwrecked men, who were our enemies, we were granted our freedom."

"Oh, thank God!" Martha let out a heavy sigh, but one thing concerned her, "How old were you when you were captured?"

Archie glanced down at his plate again, licked his lips, and said quietly, "Sixteen, ma'am."

"Oh, no!" Martha could imagine how horrible that would be for one so young, "You were too young!"

"Younger then I?" Tatiana was distressed, "Oh, how you must ha'e suffered all alone vith no vone to talk to!"

Archie looked up at her and, for the first time, noticed her. She had long, amber hair, green eyes, and a lovely face! Seeing the look on her face, Archie didn't want to add to her distress, so he shrugged and told her, "I have been through worse."

"Worse?!" Her expression went from distressed to horrified.

What can I say that w will not upset her? Archie thought. Then it came to him, "Battle is much more terrifying then imprisonment.

"Were you sad in prison?" Harvey looked up at Archie.

"Yes, I was." Archie told him truthfully.

"Did you weep?" Harvey asked, frowning.

Looking into those big, brown eyes that were so full of love and concern for him, Archie just could not lie to the child, "Yes, Harvey, I did weep in prison. A lot."

"I'm sorry." Looking as if he were going to cry, Harvey stood up on Archie's leg and kissed his cheek, then wrapped his little arms around Archie's neck.

Archie embraced the little boy, "I'm all right, Harvey. You have made me feel better."

Harvey looked into Archie's eyes, "I love you, Mr. Kendy."

With a small, silent laugh, Archie said sincerely, "I know you do, Harvey. That is why I feel better."

A figured carrying a plate of food approached the table, "May I join you?"

Archie glanced up and a brilliant smile came to his face at the sight of his friend, "Certainly, Horatio!"

"Betsy, come sit on my lap." Malcolm called. As Besty went to her father, Anna moved to her spot leaving the end free for Horatio.

As Horatio sat down directly across from Valentina, she snapped at him, "You!"

Horatio frowned at her irritated tone, "Miss?"

She shook her head, "You said there was not a lot to tell about Mr. Kennedy! You do not think being captured in action, imprisoned for over two years, rescuing men from a shipwreck, and being in battles are not a lot?!"

"Well...." Horatio shrugged, then thinking fast, said with a smile, "Mr. Kennedy is the storyteller." Archie smiled at his friend.

The rest of the meal was spent with Horatio and Archie telling how they rescued the shipwrecked Spaniards. After lunch, Harvey insisted on another story, and Archie just couldn't say no. Harvey clinged to Archie as he stood, and all of the children jumped to their feet to follow. Grinning broadly, Archie shrugged, "I guess it's storytime, again!"

 

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