GOING HOME, Part Three
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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PART FOUR

 

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CHAPTER THIRTY ONE

 

Kennedy hurried below to the gun deck and approached the lieutenant in charge, "Acting Lieutenant Kennedy reporting for duty, sir."

Harold Young had spent most of his life in the service, and served on three frigates before being transferred to Indefatigable. He turned and frowned at Archie. "Kennedy? The one who's been in prison for the last three years?"

"Two years, sir." Kennedy politely corrected.

"And you are supposed to help me?" As Young rolled his eyes and shook his head, Archie dropped his gaze, wishing he were a better, more competent officer.

Midshipman Murphy had heard the exchange between Young and Kennedy, and felt bad for the acting lieutenant. Young didn't have to be so rude. Murphy turned back to the porthole and shouted, "Spanish frigates, sir!"

"Frigates?" Young raised a brow.

"Two Spanish frigates!" Murphy announced, "Forty two guns each. Both cleared fer action, sir!"

Archie shivered and felt his stomach suddenly heave, <Oh Dear God, please help us!>

Young's eyes widened and he muttered, "We are out numbered!"

"They're gaining on us, Mr. Young!" Murphy glanced over his shoulder, "We'd better ready th' guns, sir!

"To do what?" Young complained, "We cannot fight two frigates as the same time!"

"We are not getting a choice in the matter, sir." Kennedy's voice was shaking, "We have to ready the guns, sir."

"We cannot fight two frigates at the same time, Kennedy!" Young shouted.

Archie recognized the panic in the man's voice, and the fear was evident in Kennedy's own voice as he said, "Mr. Young, the lives of everyone on this ship, and on Cassandra, depend on these guns firing. Now, please give the command to ready them, sir."

"The frigates are splitting up, sir." Murphy sounded frightened, "They're movin' t' opposite sides o' Indefatigable, Mr. Young! Please ready the guns!"

"We cannot fight them!" Young screamed, "Do you not understand that?!"

 

 

"Sir!" Horatio shouted, "They're separating, moving to larboard and starboard!" Everyone on the quarter-deck exchanged worried glances.

"They plan to destroy Indefatigable," Bracegirdle commented, "leaving Cassandra unprotected."

"Exactly." Pellew whispered.

"We're doomed!" Cleveland muttered.

 

 

"We have to started firing before the Spanish have a chance to, sir!" Archie was shaking, "If we don't fire first, we won't stand a chance, sir!"

"We don't stand a chance, you idiot!" Young snapped.

Archie wished with all his heart that Horatio were here, <He would know what to do!> "Mr. Young, you have to....!"

"I can't, dammit!" Young screamed at him hysterically, "I can't!"

"If you don't ready the guns, sir, we'll all die!" Archie's voice had risen almost a full octave and he was beginning to shake more violently, <What the hell is the matter with this man?!>

"WE CAN'T!" Young screamed, backing away, as the men on the gun deck exchanged confused glances. They had been in several battles with Young and could not understand why he was acting this way.

"Mr. Young....!" Murphy started, but Young screamed, "I CAN'T!!" He backed into the corner and kept screaming, "I can't!" over and over.

Oh God, what do I do?! Stunned, Kennedy stood trembling, his heart pounding in his chest.

"They're almost on us!" Murphy shouted and turned toward Young, only to find the man cowering in the corner. Murphy turned to Kennedy with a look of terror on his face, "What do we do, Mr. Kennedy?!"

Kennedy was shaking uncontrollably now and feared he might have a fit. He closed his eyes and saw the faces of the children. Archie took a deep shuddering breath, letting it out slowly. Then, opened his eyes, took another deep breath and, with as much authority as he could muster, shouted in a quivering voice, "Ready the guns! Prepared to fire as I command!" He couldn't believe those words were coming out of his mouth. He glanced at Young and thought anxiously, <How am I going to explain this to the captain?!>

 

 

The Spanish frigates began to come along both sides of the Indefatigable. As they did so, Indefatigable's guns began to fire, starting with the two guns closest to the stern on each side, and moving, every other gun, toward the bow. As the guns closest to the bow fired, the guns second from the stern fired in unison with them, and then continued in the same chain reaction as before, every other gun, moving toward the bow, but firing faster then before. As they continued to fire the guns in this fashion, the speed increased.

Within moments, Indefatigable's guns were inflicting far more damage to the enemy ships than the Spanish were able to repay, and they kept up this chain reaction assault until the Spanish frigates were forced to turn away.

 

As the men on the deck of Indefatigable began to cheer, Pellew looked at Bracegirdle, who's expression was as astonished as the captain's. "Mr. Cleveland," Pellew called to the midshipman, "Go to the gun deck and tell Mr. Young I want a report at once."

"Aye aye, sir." Cleveland scrambled below as ordered.

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Everyone on the gun deck was stunned, but not as much as Kennedy. Still shaking uncontrollably, Archie put his arm against the bulkhead, leaned his forehead on it and closed his eyes, breathing deeply in an attempt to calm himself and silently praying he would not have a fit.

Cleveland came running onto the gun deck and shouted, "Mr. Young, the captain wants a report right away." He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the lieutenant whimpering in the corner.

Murphy's gaze went from the cowering lieutenant, to the stunned acting lieutenant, then back to Cleveland, "Uh....I'll report to the captain."

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Murphy hurried to the quarter-deck and snapped to attention before the captain.

Pellew looked from him to the speechless Cleveland, then back again, "Where is Mr. Young?"

Murphy appeared to be frightened and hesitated.

"Answer me, Mr. Murphy!" Pellew ordered.

The young midshipman swallowed and stammered, "Uh..sir....he-he...uh...he's....still in the...corner, sir."

"In the corner?" Pellew's brows went up in surprise, "Why is he in the corner?"

Murphy became more frightened, and shook his head in disbelief, "I..uh.....I don-don't know, sir. He....he...just threw himself in the corner." Murphy's eyes widened, "He wouldn't give us any orders, sir!"

Pellew shot a frown at Bracegirdle, who looked just as baffled, then turned back to Murphy, "If Mr. Young was not giving orders, who was commanding the guns?"

"Mr. Kennedy was, sir." Murphy's eyes grew wider in admiration, "He ordered that every other gun fire from the stern to the bow at the same time on both sides of the ship, and ordered that each gun be reloaded immediately after firing, and fire as soon as they were loaded without waiting for his command. And it worked, sir! It really worked!"

Pellew and Bracegirdle exchanged astonished looks, while Horatio smiled in numbed disbelief and admiration.

When the captain finally found his voice, he said, "Mr. Murphy, tell Mr. Kennedy, and Mr. Young, I wish to see them both in my cabin. Now!"

"Aye aye, sir." Murphy dashed below again.

"Mr. Bracegirdle," Pellew said, "You will attend also." As the two headed down the steps, Hornblower was wishing he could join them to hear this. Archie had saved the ship! Both ships! Horatio was so proud of him, and couldn't wait to tell him so.

 

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CHAPTER THIRTY TWO

 

Pellew stood at the stern window waiting for the two officers to arrive. <Young better have a damn good reason for abandoning his station! Although there really is no excuse for abandoning one's post.> Bracegirdle stood near the wall, finding himself very impressed with Kennedy. Then came the knock at the door. "Come." Pellew called and turned to watch them enter.

Young entered first, followed by Kennedy, both looking very shaken. As they came to attention, Young said, "You wished to see us, sir?"

As Pellew approached the officers, and could see the younger of the two was violently trembling and dazed. He turned his stern gaze on the older officer, "Mr. Young, how did you come up with the idea of firing the guns the way you did?"

"Uh....uh....I..I..I...." Young stuttered. He had no idea how the guns had been fired, but assumed by the way Pellew asked the question that they had not been fired in the usual way.

"I want to know, Mr. Young." Pellew raised a brow.

"I....uh....I...don't know, sir." Young answered.

Pellew glanced at Kennedy, who was still shaking and staring straight ahead with dazed, frightened eyes. The captain looked back at Young, "I want a full report lieutenant."

"I'll...have it for you by morning, sir."

"I want a verbal report, Mr. Young." Pellew ordered, "And I want it now."

Young swallowed, "I....uh...I don't....really know where....the idea came from, sir. It...uh...just came to me."

<This man abandoned his post and is now trying to lie his way out of it?> Pellew's anger got the best of him, "DO NOT LIE TO ME, MR. YOUNG!"

His outburst made Kennedy jump, startling a soft cry from the youth.

<Damn!> Pellew reached out to calm the boy, but his touch only made the boy flinch away with a gasp.

"Mr. Bracegirdle," Pellew said calmly, "accompany Mr. Kennedy to the wardroom, and stay with him until I send for you."

"Yes, sir." Bracegirdle nodded, coming forward, "Come, Mr. Kennedy." He gently took the boy by the arm, ignoring sharp intake of breath and flinch, and led him out of the cabin.

Pellew took a deep breath, then turned back to Young, "Lieutenant, I want the truth and I will not ask again."

"I...." Young hesitated. Then hung his head in shame, "I....I panicked, sir."

"What did you do?" Pellew narrowed his eyes, waiting to see if Young was going to tell the truth.

"Nothing, sir." Young admitted in shame.

"Nothing?" Pellew raised his brow dangerously, "Then who was commanding the gun deck?"

Young swallowed hard, "Mr. Kennedy did, sir."

"Mr. Young," Pellew folded his arms across his chest, trying to keep from smacking this man in the head the way he had seen Styles hit Oldroyd for acting like a fool. "You were the acting gunnery officer. It was your responsibility to take command of the guns in Mr. Taylor's absence. I sent Mr. Kennedy to the gun deck to help you, not to do you duty for you. If he was in command of the guns, where were you?"

This was it. Young had to tell the truth, "I was....in.......a corner, sir."

Pellew's anger deepened, "You abandoned your post and went to a corner?"

"I...uh...." There was no way to say it to keep it from sounding as bad as it was, "I did, sir."

His anger growing, Pellew locked his eyes on Young's and growled, "Mr. Young, how could you do that to your men? How could you do that to Mr. Kennedy? You have had experience in commanding the gun deck during battle. Mr. Kennedy has not." Pellew's voice was rising as he spoke until the last question was shouted, "How could you throw him into that position and hide in a corner? You are forty three years old! How could you abandon your men to an inexperienced, eighteen year old boy?!"

When Young didn't respond, Pellew demanded, "Answer me, Mr. Young! How could you, a grown man, cower in the corner?!"

After a long moment of silence, Young finally said, "I should not have, sir."

"You're damn right, you should not have!" Pellew closed his eyes and silently counted to ten. Finally opening his eyes, the captain glared angrily into Young's eyes, "You are confined to your quarters until further noticed. Dismissed."

"Aye aye, sir." Young turned and left the cabin, shaking.

Pellew clenched his fists and walked to the stern window, breathing deeply. He had to calm himself before speaking to Kennedy. This was not the lad's fault and he had no wish to take it out on him.

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Kennedy sat at the table in the wardroom with his arms folded in an attempt to calm his shivering without succeeding.

"Here, Mr. Kennedy, drink this." Bracegirdle sat a cup of grog down on the table in front of him.

Archie reached for the cup and had to take it with both shaking hands to keep from spilling it.

As he drank, Bracegirdle sat down next to him and said gently, "You are not in trouble, Mr. Kennedy."

Archie nodded, but could not stop his shivering.

Reaching out, Bracegirdle put his hand on Kennedy's shoulder and could feel how violently the boy was trembling. He asked quietly, "Are you all right, Mr. Kennedy?"

"I-I-I'm c-cold, sir." Archie whispered.

Bracegirdle got up and went to his cabin. When he returned, he was carrying his heavy winter cloak and draped it over Kennedy's shoulders, "This should help, lad."

Archie pulled the cloak around the front of him, closing his arms inside of it, "Th-thank you, sir."

"You're welcome, lad." Bracegirdle watch the boy a few moments. Before he could think of say anything, a marine came to the door, "Mr. Bracegirdle, the captain wishes to see you and Mr. Kennedy now."

"Thank you." Bracegirdle stood and, when Kennedy rose from the table and started to remove the cloak, asked, "Are you warm already?"

"No, sir." Archie answered.

"Then keep it on." Bracegirdle ordered and waited until Kennedy was next to him before starting for the captain's cabin.

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Pellew was still looking out the stern window when the first lieutenant finally knocked on the door. "Come." The captain called.

Bracegirdle walked in with Kennedy close behind.

Pellew could see their reflections in the window and frowned upon seeing Kennedy wearing a cloak that he had seen on Bracegirdle. He could also see how dazed and frightened the boy was, and decided to make this as easy as he could. After all, the lad did not volunteer to be put in the position of having to assume command. He turned and, as he walked toward the two officers, he could see the acting lieutenant was still violently shaking. "Mr. Kennedy, are you all right?" He asked gently.

As if he were half asleep, Archie blinked rapidly and said numbly, "Uh..I....I'm...cold, sir."

"Ah." Pellew raised his brow and gave a slight smile, "That is why you are wearing Mr. Bracegirdle's cloak." His expression became more gentle. "Relax, boy. You are not in trouble. I am sorry my outburst startled you."

Archie glanced at Bracegirdle, who smiled and winked at Kennedy, but remained silent.

"Come and sit, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew took the lad by the arm to lead him to a chair, feeling the trembling, but this time there was no flinch. <Is he finally starting to trust me?>

Archie sat down, wishing he could stop shivering, <Why am I so cold?>

Pellew sat down in a chair opposite Kennedy, "As I said, Mr. Kennedy, you are not in trouble. On the contrary, you are the champion of the day!" Pellew could not keep the astonishment from his face, "How did you get the guns to fire so quickly?"

Frowning, Kennedy blinked as if puzzled by the question and answered in a soft, quivering voice, "I ordered them to, sir."

It was said with such childlike innocence that Bracegirdle almost laughed aloud and put his hand over his mouth to keep his snicker from being heard.

Pellew as well, could not stop the smile that came to his face, "I know you ordered then to, Mr. Kennedy. What I would like to know is how you came up with that idea."

Archie swallowed, "I....we...were out numbered, sir. A ship on each side." The fear in his voice was clear and he spoke quickly, hoping to hide it, "If-if we didn't fire the guns fast enough we.....I didn't want the Spanish to fire on us first, sir! We had to protect the Cassandra! I hoped that....that if we could fire faster then the Spanish, we might stand a chance!"

"Well, Mr. Kennedy," Pellew said sincerely, "you have impressed me again!"

Archie stared, dazedly at the captain.

"You saved Indefatigable and Cassandra, sir!" Pellew smiled. Then watched Kennedy a few moments. The fear was gone from Kennedy eyes, but he was still dazed and violently shivering. Pellew got up and walked to his sideboard, poured a glass of brandy, and returned to his chair. He sat down and handed his acting lieutenant the glass, "Here, Mr. Kennedy."

Archie reached out and Pellew slipped the glass into the shaky hands. When the captain released the glass, Kennedy was shaking so hard that the brandy splashed on Pellew and himself. Looking horrified, Archie quickly said, in a trembling voice, "I-I-I'm sorry, sir!"

Pellew leaned forward and took Kennedy's shaking hands into his own to steady them, "It's all right, Mr. Kennedy. Just calm yourself."

Archie was trying to calm himself, but couldn't. Suddenly, he felt that familiar bitter taste in his mouth and knew he had to leave the captain's cabin. Now! Swallowing, he said, "I have to...um...." <What would get me out of here without my having to explain?> Then, it came to him, "I-I need....to use the head, sir."

"Of course, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew took the glass of brandy.

Archie stood up as the familiar white glare starting enveloping the cabin and turned toward the door, but he took only two steps before crying out and falling to the deck, convulsing.

 

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CHAPTER THIRTY THREE

 

Pellew dropped the glass and rushed to Kennedy, realizing the boy was having one of his *fits*. "Mr. Bracegirdle," The captain ordered as he pulled Kennedy into his arms to keep him from injuring his head, "find Mr. Hornblower at once and bring him here quickly. And quietly."

"Aye aye, sir." Bracegirdle hurried out of the room.

"Easy, lad, easy." Pellew hugged the boy to his chest, holding him tightly, "Relax, Mr. Kennedy." Bracegirdle had told him that he had heard Hornblower speaking soothingly to Kennedy during a fit one night - but Hornblower would not call him Kennedy. "Hush, Archie. Shhhh." He sat holding Kennedy, soothing the boy for so long, he lost track of the time.

Several minutes had passed and Kennedy's convulsions still had not diminished. Pellew prayed the fit would come to an end soon, and not because the muscles in his arms were hurting. He was more concerned about the pain the boy was in, or was going to be in when this fit finally subsided.

Bracegirdle and Hornblower entered quickly and stopped dead at the sight of the captain, sitting on the floor, holding Kennedy against him and softly soothing, "Easy, Archie. Relax. Hush, lad, hush."

After several more minutes, the convulsions finally began to weaken, and he captain silently thanked God for it.

As suddenly as the fit had started it came to an end with a final wrenching cry, then Archie slumped against Pellew's chest, unconscious.

Hornblower and Bracegirdle stood in shocked silence, while the captain eased Kennedy down to cradle the lad in his left arm. He looked down at the sweat soaked face. Kennedy looked so young and fragile. Pellew gently brushed the blond hair away from the boy's closed eyes, then pulled out his own handkerchief and tenderly wiped the sweat from Kennedy's face, careful of his bruised cheek. "Mr. Hornblower," Pellew called softly. When he received no response, he said a bit louder, "Lieutenant Hornblower."

Horatio blinked, "Sir?"

Looking up at the boy, Pellew asked, "Can you help me get Mr. Kennedy into my sleeping cabin?"

Still trying to pull himself out of the shock of seeing the captain holding Archie during his fit, Horatio had to order his body to move, "Um...yes, sir." He walked over to the two, bent down and slipped his arms under Archie's back and legs.

"I will help you, Mr. Hornblower." Pellew offered.

"I've carried Mr. Kennedy before, sir." Horatio told him as he lifted Archie into his arms.

"Mr. Bracegirdle, open the door." Pellew climbed to his feet, picking up Bracegirdle's cloak as he did so.

Bracegirdle opened the door and Horatio carried Archie into the cabin, with the lieutenant and captain following. "Put him on my bunk." Pellew instructed.

"Yes, sir." Horatio lay Archie down as gently as he could and Pellew spread the cloak over Kennedy.

"Is he all right?" Bracegirdle asked worriedly.

"He will be unconscious for a while, sir." Horatio untied Archie's neckerchief and unbuttoned his shirt to make him more comfortable, "What...." Horatio looked up at Pellew, "What happened, sir?"

"He was quite shaken by the incident on the gun deck." Pellew told him, "He was shivering and said he was cold. He appeared to be very dazed. Could that have cause this?"

Horatio shrugged, "Probably, sir."

"What can we do for him?" Pellew asked, kneeling next to Horatio, near Kennedy's head and looking down at the unconscious boy.

"Nothing, sir." Horatio felt such a pain in his chest, knowing how humiliated Archie was going to be.

"I was not certain what I should do." Pellew said, "But I feared he might be hurt by his thrashing, so I held him."

"That is all you can do for him, sir." Horatio said sadly, "The fi....they....just have to run their course, sir."

Pellew sighed heavily. Then something occurred to him. "Is this the reason his family sent him away?" Pellew quickly turned to Hornblower with a look of disbelief, "They are ashamed of his fits?!"

Not wanting to betray Archie or lie, Horatio kept quiet, not taking his eyes from his friend's face.

"Surely, his family would not hold these fits against him." Bracegirdle said in distress, "It's not his fault he has them."

"No, it is not." Pellew looked down at the exhausted, bruised face, "But now I understand why he feels so ashamed."

"But they are not his fault!" Bracegirdle insisted, "He has no cause to be ashamed."

If only Archie could hear this. Horatio thought.

"He is ashamed, though." Pellew said sadly and, without thinking, reached out to brush Kennedy's blond hair away from his eyes, "Why has he had to have such a painful life?"

That did it! Horatio closed his eyes to keep tears from coming and lowered his head as far as he could, hoping the captain would notice.

Captain Edward Pellew never missed a thing. He made his voice soft and gentle, "It is hard when someone you love is suffering, or has suffered in the past, and still feels that pain. This is going to be very difficult for him, specially knowing this happened in my cabin in front of me. I know Mr. Kennedy will be horrified. He need not be, but I know he will. I do not think any less of him."

"Perhaps, if he heard you say that, sir," Horatio's voice choked out with an effort, "he may believe it."

Bracegirdle sighed heavily, "He is such a remarkable young man. And what he did with those frigates is nothing short of amazing!"

Pellew smiled at the thought, "Mr. Kennedy is amazing." But his expression turned to one of remorse, I do regret never taking the time to see that.

The three became silent, each to his own thoughts.

*Surely, you do not believe Mr. Kennedy sees himself as a crippled lamb?* Pellew's words echoed in his mind and he felt his heart breaking, A crippled lamb or an afflicted boy?

Poor Archie! Horatio thought, Why did he have to have a fit in front of the captain and Bracegirdle? Archie is going to be devastated! This is not going to do anything for his confidence. It is only going to sink him deeper in his doubts and shame.

Bracegirdle's heart went out to this boy. He has been struggling since he returned from prison and the story he told this evening confirmed it. The captain had been right when he said that Kennedy had been utterly and completely broken. However, Bracegirdle had to look at the other side of the coin; the lad's determination to help young Hornblower through his grief. And the way he handled the gun deck! It was obvious that Kennedy sees himself as being a *useless sheep*, but he is far from it. If only the boy could see himself as he really is.

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For the next hour and a half, the three officers discussed the battle and the possible reasons for Young's conduct.

Finally, Archie moaned softly. Horatio rushed to his friend's side. Pellew also came to his side, though not as quickly as Hornblower had, and Bracegirdle moved to stand next to the wall at the head of the bunk.

Did I have a fit? Archie thought, Yes. I only feel this way after a fit. Archie also knew someone had been there during the fit, holding him very tightly and speaking softly to him. "Horatio?" The whisper was so quiet, that Bracegirdle did not hear it because he was standing.

Horatio took Archie's hand, "I'm here, Archie."

Archie lightly gripped the hand in his, grateful to have someone near who cared for him. He felt so weak, and whispered, "How long have I been sleeping?"

"Over an hour." Horatio told him.

Archie sighed, "Horatio, what...." He took in a sharp breath, fear coming to his face, "Mr. Young wouldn't...."

"It's all right, Archie." Horatio began to stroke Archie's shoulder, trying to calm him, "It's all right."

"No!" Archie said softly, "He wouldn't....he wouldn't give any orders, Horatio!" Suddenly, Archie gripped Horatio's arm and his eyes flashed open.

Then saw the captain and realized what had happened. Ashamed, Archie closed his eyes and turned his face away, wishing he had been killed in battle, instead of having humiliated himself in front of the captain.

 

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CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR

 

Pellew sought desperately for something he could say to ease the boy's humiliation. "Mr. Kennedy, you have nothing to be ashamed of. I've known of your condition since you were set adrift, and I do not think any less of you because I have witnessed you having a fit."

Archie's eyes briefly glanced at the captain, but he kept his face turned away.

When he remained silent, Edward went on, "Mr. Kennedy, I am sorry that you have to suffer these siezures. But I do not want you to ever - EVER - think they make you less of a man. Because they do not. I never once thought that.

Horatio was not here. Archie thought to himself, It was not Horatio holding me. Suddenly, he turned his face to his captain and whispered brokenly, "You held me, sir."

"Yes, I did." Pellew caught Kennedy's face before the boy could turn it away again and Archie winced, "I am sorry, Mr. Kennedy!" The captain said softly, moving his hand from the bruised cheek to the lad's chin, "I did not mean to hurt you." Edward looked into those humiliated blue eyes, "Archie please do not look at your flaws, look at your achievements."

Archie? Kennedy thought, He's never used my Christian name before. My fit must have really disturbed him!

"The way you handled the gun deck during this evening's battle!" A look of amazement came to the captain's face, "You should be proud of yourself, Mr. Kennedy! If not for you, everyone on this ship and Cassandra, would be dead, or prisoners. You saved everyone on both ships. Not Mr. Young or Mr. Taylor. You, Acting Lieutenant Archie Kennedy did that. And try as I might, I cannot find words to adequately convey the depth of pride I feel for you! You have NOTHING to be ashamed of, sir.

"Thank you, sir." Was all Archie could manage to say as tears slowly slid down the side of his face.

"It is true, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew assured him.

Archie swallowed and closed his eyes. I'm so tired! Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes again and said softly, slowly, "Thank you for comforting me during my....during....it, sir. It helps to hear the sound of a voice." And to be held. He thought, I can't say that to the captain! Then he silently chastised himself, Really, Archie! The captain has been honest with you! He didn't have to tell you he held you! Archie's eyelids fluttered and he said softly, "The f..........they are not as...." He didn't want to use the word *terrifying* in front of the captain, so he chose another, "They are not as bad when...when I can....feel someone near. Thank you, sir."

"I wish there had been something more I could have done for you." Pellew said gently.

"You have done much more then you know, sir." Tears came to Archie's eyes again and he closed them. He swallowed, but his throat was so dry, swallowing did not help.

Edward looked at the young face below him, "Mr. Kennedy, you look exhausted."

Archie opened his eyes, "I...I'm always exhausted after a...." He still didn't want to use that word in front of the captain, "After....after it's over, sir."

Pellew nodded, "I want you to rest then, lad. You are relieved of duty tomorrow."

Archie had suffered fits before and worked the next day without the captain ever knowing about them. He didn't want special treatment because of his affliction. When Archie opened his mouth, Pellew gently put his hand over it to stop the protest he knew was coming. But the gesture brought memories of Simpson into Archie's mind and he panicked. Letting out a loud, but muffled whimper, Archie grabbed the captain's wrist with both hands.

"ARCHIE!" Shocked, Horatio caught Archie's wrists, "Archie, it's all right!"

Pellew quickly removed his hand, horrified that his gesture had brought that look of horror back to Kennedy's face, "I am terribly sorry, Mr. Kennedy! I did not mean to cause you more distress!"

Humiliation coming to the terrified face, Archie turned his head away, and stammered, "No, sir. I-I-I'm sorry for...."

"It was my fault, lad." Pellew spoke gently, hoping to calm him, "I should not have tried to stifle you."

"Sir...." Archie felt uncomfortable.

"Mr. Kennedy," Pellew said in a stern tone, "you have been over exerting yourself to the point of exhaustion, and I will not have that! You did not have enough time to recover from your imprisonment before our mission to Quiberon, and you have been watching over Mr. Hornblower since your return. And now, with the gunnery practice and the children as well as this fit, you are near exhaustion. I want you to report to the sick berth...." Pellew stopped in mid-sentence at the look that came to the bruised, young face. Kennedy actually appeared to be frightened by the suggestion.

"With respect, sir," Horatio offered quickly, "there is nothing Dr. Hepplewhite can do for him where the fits are concerned. And he really shouldn't take up a hammock in the sick berth if he's not sick."

Pellew nodded slowly and took a deep breath, "Very well. But you are to rest tomorrow, Mr. Kennedy. I want you lying down in your cabin and giving your body the rest it needs. That is an order, sir. And one I expect to be obeyed to the letter. Is that clear?"

Archie swallowed and nodded, "Aye aye, sir."

"You did well, Archie." Pellew told him with a smile, "Rest assured, you have made us all proud. You deserve a rest."

"Thank you, sir." Archie whispered.

"Mr. Hornblower," Pellew turned to his lieutenant, "will you assist Mr. Kennedy to his cabin, please?"

Horatio straightened, proudly, "It would be an honor, sir."

Smiling, Pellew slipped his arm behind Archie's back and helped him to sit up.

The captain was right; Archie was so exhausted he could not even see straight. He closed his eyes, but that only made him feel more tired. Opening his eyes, he tried to focus on Pellew and offered a salute, "Thank you, sir."

Pellew returned the salute, "You are very welcome, sir."

Horatio sat down beside Archie and put his arm around his friend's waist, feeling the flinch and hearing the quiet intake of breath. He smiled at Archie, "Shall we go?"

Archie gave a tired smile and whispered, "Aye aye, sir."

As the young officers stood up together, Kennedy nearly lost his balance and would have fallen to the floor if Hornblower had not had his arm around Archie's waist.

"Maybe, you should hold on to me." Horatio suggested.

"Yes, sir." Archie slipped his arm around Horatio's waist.

"Good night, sir." Horatio said to the captain, then nodded to the first lieutenant, "Good night, Mr. Bracegirdle."

Archie had not been aware that Bracegirdle was in the room. Now he felt even more embarrassed, Couldn't I just drop dead right now and be spared this humiliation?

"Good night, Mr. Hornblower." Bracegirdle nodded to the young lieutenant, then walked forward, put his hand out and said softly, "Mr. Kennedy....I am so very proud of you!"

Tears came to Archie's eyes again and he quickly blinked, dropping his gaze. He took the lieutenant's hand and whispered, "Thank you, sir."

"Thank *you*, Mr. Kennedy." Bracegirdle shook the boy's hand. Then took Kennedy's chin and, raising the boy's head, Bracegirdle smiled affectionately at him, and said gently, "Well done, Archie!" Bringing more tears to the blue eyes.

"Thank you, sir." Archie whispered and struggled to give the lieutenant a smile in return.

With a wink, Bracegirdle said softly, "Rest well, lad." Then removed his hand, so the young officers could leave.

As the door closed behind them Archie tried to pull away from Horatio, "I can make it on my own, Horatio."

"Archie...." Horatio did not release him.

"I'm not a complete invalid!" Archie said in irritation and tried to pull away again, "Let me go, Horatio."

"As you wish." Horatio sighed and released his friend.

Archie stiffly walked to their cabin, Horatio following him in silence. Once inside, Archie dropped into his bunk.

"Archie...."

"I need to sleep, Horatio." Archie said hoarsely before burying his face in his pillow.

Horatio sighed deeply, then said softly, "Good night, Archie."

As Horatio changed into his nightshirt, he could see Archie's body moving with each sob. He put out the lanterns and lay down on his own bunk. Has he not suffered enough?! Tears came to Horatio's eyes as he listened to the muffled sobs, knowing there was nothing he could do to ease Archie's pain.

 

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CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE

 

December 13, 1795

Archie was still sleeping when Horatio left for his watch. As the men began coming up on deck, Horatio heard them talking about last night's battle, and he was wishing Archie could hear them.

Bracegirdle walked up on deck and gave Horatio a nod, "Mr. Hornblower." Then he moved closer and asked quietly, "How is Mr. Kennedy?"

"He was sleeping when I left the cabin, sir." Horatio answered.

"Maybe he will get the rest he needs." Bracegirdle suggested, "I hope he feels better after he has rested."

"As do I, Mr. Bracegirdle." Pellew said.

"Good morning, sir." The lieutenants turned to the captain.

As the passengers came up on deck, the officers and men went about their duties and the children spent the entire morning sadly wandering about the deck.

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

The captain went to his cabin for the noon meal and after the meal, the passengers returned to the deck. The wind changed direction, and Bracegirdle sent Hornblower to inform the captain of the change.

Malcolm Hamilton caught Bracegirdle's attention, and the first lieutenant met him on the deck, "What can I do for you, Mr. Hamilton?"

"Would it be possible for me to speak with the captain, sir?" Malcolm asked.

"I believe so." Bracegirdle smiled slightly, "Come with me."

 

Bracegirdle knocked at the captain's door.

"Come." Pellew called.

"Sir," Bracegirdle saluted, "Mr. Hamilton would like to speak with you."

Pellew raised his brow, "Yes, Mr. Hamilton?"

When Hamilton spoke, he spoke slowly, "Captain? Sir, I know that Mr. Kennedy was sent to the gun deck during last night's battle." Malcolm took a deep breath, "Please, sir, tell me that his absence is due to duties below and that Mr. Kennedy was not injured last night."

"Oh, no, sir." Pellew realized that the families, specially the children, were worried about Kennedy, and shook his head, "No. Mr. Kennedy was not injured."

Malcolm didn't really appear to be holding his breath, until he relaxed and let it out on the captain's words, muttering, "Oh, thank God!"

"Mr. Kennedy is...." Pellew had no intentions of telling anyone of the boy's fits, "..indisposed, Mr. Hamilton." Seeing the worry still on the man's face, Edward sighed and gave a slight smile, "He is resting, sir."

Malcolm nodded, "Martha said she did not think he was feeling well. I hope the children did not cause this."

"Rest assured, sir," The captain said sincerely, "they did not."

"Well, he seemed as if he had been over exerting himself," Malcolm said, "and I would hate to think that we added to his exhaustion."

"You did not, Mr. Hamilton." Edward told him.

"We are all very fond of Mr. Kennedy." Malcolm smiled sadly, "And we would not want to cause him anymore pain then he has already had to suffer."

"What makes you believe Mr. Kennedy has suffered pain, sir?" Bracegirdle asked suspiciously.

"Have you never looked into his eyes, sir?" Malcolm asked, "You can see the hurt in them. God knows how he must have suffered, imprisoned at such a young age, and how terrified he must have been. It would be hard on an adult, but poor Mr. Kennedy was just a boy, barely old enough to shave...." He shook his head, sighing heavily, "And only God knows how his captors treated him. Judging by the fear and pain in his eyes, I would say they were quite cruel to him."

Horatio lowered his head and sighed, Everyone can see Archie's pain.

Malcolm went on, "Oh, I know Mr. Kennedy would never let anyone know how horrible it really was for him. But I imagine it was quite devastating for someone so young and sensitive to be isolated, and to have his life completely in the hands of his enemy. The thought of having my life in the hands of someone who hated me would be terrifying to me.....try to imagine actually having to be in the hands of someone who hates you at the age of sixteen."

Horatio immediately thought of Archie at the mercy of Jack Simpson.

"And on top of that," Malcolm continued, "the poor boy was feeling so rejected and abandoned."

That was a slap in the face to Hornblower and Pellew! Pellew had been feeling guilty for over looking Kennedy since the boy came aboard Indefatigable, and Horatio had been blaming himself for not noticing that Archie was having trouble settling into his station again.

The captain frowned, "What do you mean *rejected and abandoned*, sir?"

"His father is a lord, captain." Malcolm was unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice, "He could have had the boy released from prison if he had wanted to. He did not! Can you imagine how that must have hurt Mr. Kennedy? Knowing his father could take him away from his captors, away from the loneliness he was enduring - and possibly torture - but did not? You do not believe that Mr. Kennedy felt rejected and abandoned by his father? I know that broke the boy's heart! Even though he will probably never let anyone know how much." Malcolm became quiet a moment.

Horatio closed his eyes on his anguish, and Pellew felt his stomach heave, and followed suit until Hamilton spoke again.

"Why would his father not want to end his suffering?" Malcolm looked at the captain, "Why would he let his own son, who was still a child, suffer in the hands of the enemy, who was doing God only knows what to the boy, for two years?" Malcolm shook his head, an expression of disbelief on his face and tears in his eyes, "How could he not love Archie? Had he been my son, I would have moved Heaven and Earth to get him released! How could a father not help his own child?"

Feeling the same anguish Hamilton was feeling, Pellew said honestly, "I wish I knew, sir."

Malcolm Hamilton shook his head, "People like Mr. Kennedy are so very rare."

"People like Mr. Kennedy?" Bracegirdle echoed.

"I have watched Mr. Kennedy since we came aboard and I've yet to see the lad act in a selfish way." Malcolm told him, "He does not seem to take much time for himself. I doubt any of you can honestly say that you have never seen the pure goodness in Archie Kennedy."

The officers exchanged glances, but remained silent.

Malcolm looked back at Pellew, "Captain, would it be all right for me to look in on Mr. Kennedy this afternoon?" When Pellew opened his mouth, Malcolm quickly added, "Just to let him know he is missed, sir. He needs to know that he is loved."

"He's getting plenty of love from the children." Bracegirdle pointed out.

"Yes, he is." Malcolm smiled, "Heaven knows that boy needs it! No offence, gentlemen, I know the service does not coddle it's officers. But poor Mr. Kennedy had been alone for so long, and rejected by his father.....he needs love, and he obviously has no family to give it to him."

Lowering his head, Horatio closed his eyes in an attempt to keep tears from coming to them.

"So your family is trying to make up for that?" Bracegirdle asked.

"Oh, no, sir." Malcolm answered, "We really do love him. But I do fear it will break his heart when we have to leave. And I hate the thought of leaving him lonely once more."

"Lonely?!" Bracegirdle gestured around him, "On a ship with three hundred men?!"

"He could be surrounded by a million people and still be lonely." Malcolm told the first lieutenant, "If someone does not feel loved, sir, they do feel very lonely. I believe Mr. Kennedy feels a lot like the lamb in his story."

Damn! Horatio thought, Everyone knows that was about Archie?!

When the officers reacted to his suggestion, Malcolm explained, "Not that Mr. Kennedy is crippled or worthless, but he does feel as alone as that lamb did. And because of his father's rejection, he might even see himself as worthless. After all, his own father did not think he was worth helping."

Horatio's heart was breaking on those words, while Pellew was hit again by the guilt that he had been feeling over dismissing Kennedy when he first came aboard.

Malcolm continued with his thoughts, "And while all the other midshipmen he knew matured, and went on with their lives and their careers, Mr. Kennedy's life came to a complete stop. He did not have anyone to help him grow."

There was something none of the officers had ever even thought of. No wonder Kennedy seems so young! Pellew thought, He did not have the experiences the other midshipmen had that helped them mature.

 

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CHAPTER THIRTY SIX

 

"And as far as his career is concerned...." Malcolm took a deep breath, "He has been in the Navy for six years and is only an acting lieutenant. While is friend here," He gestured to Horatio, "has been in the service for three years and is a full lieutenant." Malcolm turned to Horatio, "And no matter how much he loves you, Mr. Hornblower, it does hurt him that his life stopped, while yours, and everyone else's, went on."

Horatio felt horrible, then blinked and asked, "Loves me?"

Malcolm smiled, cocking his head, "When you walked up to the table yesterday and he looked up at you, I saw the look on his face. He does love you, lieutenant. You seem to be the only one he has in his life."

That comment hurt Pellew.

Malcolm shook his head slowly and sighed, "What Mr. Kennedy really needs is for someone to hold him, and tell him that he did not deserve to be rejected so heartlessly by his father as if he were nothing more then a dog, or to be cruelly treated by his captors. He needs someone to tell him that he does matter. That he is not worthless. And that he is loved and will always be."

Closing his eyes, Horatio turned away, trying to stop the tears that were finally coming.

Malcolm turned back to Pellew and asked, "May I look in on him, captain?"

"Of course, you may, sir." Pellew answered.

"Thank you, sir." Malcolm smiled, then shook his head, his expression turning sad once more, "I cannot understand his father. I would be proud to have Mr. Kennedy as my son." He smiled slightly, "Good day, captain."

"Good day, Mr. Hamilton." Pellew said, "And thank you for you concern for Mr. Kennedy."

"I told you, sir," Malcolm smiled, "my family and I love him. We always will. I shell tell the others that Mr. Kennedy is going to be fine. Good day, gentlemen." He turned and left the cabin.

"I must return to my duties, sir." Bracegirdle saluted.

The captain returned the salute, "Dismissed." Then he turned to Horatio, "Mr. Hornblower, will go below and check on Mr. Kennedy?"

"Yes, sir."

"If he is not sleeping," Pellew instructed, "tell him he is allowed to come up on deck. I do not want him to feel as if he is being punished."

"Yes, sir." Horatio hurried below.

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

As Horatio made his way towards the shared cabin, he was thinking of everything Malcolm Hamilton had said. Archie loves me? Horatio knew Archie had raced across that bridge to save his life out of friendship, out of caring. In fact, since returning from Muzillac that fondness had grown. But love....?

The sight of their cabin pulled him out of his thoughts. He quietly opened the door and peeked in.

"I'm awake, Horatio."

As Horatio walked in, Archie rolled over and sat up, looking up at him, "Is your watch over?"

"Almost." Horatio decided not to tell his friend that he had taken Archie's watch as well as his own today, "How are you feeling?"

Archie made a face, lowering his gaze to his hands in his lap, "As well as can be expected."

"And that is?"

Taking a deep breath, Archie spoke slowly, "Humiliated. Ashamed. I don't think anything is ever going to be the same again. Horatio........I had a fit in front of the captain and Mr. Bracegirdle! The captain held me! How can I ever face them again?!"

Horatio sat down on the edge of Archie's bunk, "Listen to me, Archie. Everything the captain said to you last night, he had already said while you were unconscious. He and Mr. Bracegirdle said you had nothing to be ashamed of, and neither of them hold these fits against you. They don't think badly of you, Archie. I would not lie to you."

Archie only nodded.

"The captain said if you were awake that you can come up on deck." When Archie finally looked up, Horatio smiled, "He said he does not want you to feel as if you are being punished."

Archie gave a wry smile, "Or still in prison?"

Horatio gave a slight laugh and stood, "Come on."

"Oh, Horatio, I can't!" Archie buried his face in his hands.

"Archie," Horatio sat back down, "no one on this ship is ashamed of you. Except for you."

Archie looked up at him, surprised.

"You," Horatio said softly, "are the only one who thinks badly of you."

"Horatio," Archie whispered, "you cannot tell me that if you suffered from these fits, that you would not be humiliated if you had one in front of the captain."

"I cannot answer that, Archie." Horatio told him honestly, "Because I don't know what it is like to have those fits. I do know that I have heard nothing but praise for Mr. Kennedy since I woke up this morning. You should hear Matthews, Styles, and Oldroyd. Matthews and Styles have been bragging to everyone that they knew you when you were just a wee lad. And keep saying *My Mr. Kennedy did that!*. They are so proud of you, Archie."

Horatio laughed, "And Oldroyd keeps bragging of how you saved his life at Muzillac when you pulled him out of the line of fire! It's hard enough to gain the respect of seamen, but you have made them proud of you, Archie. And the men of the gunnery division....!" He shook his head and smiled, "To say nothing of Murphy, who speaks of you as if you are Nelson himself!"

Archie laughed and closed his eyes when they filled with tears.

Horatio put his hand on Archie's arm, "And I am so proud you."

Archie sobbed and lowered his head.

"So is the captain, Archie." Horatio told him, "And Mr. Bracegirdle. And Mr. Bowles. The entire ship can't stop talking about what you did. You truly have nothing to be ashamed of."

Archie remained quiet for several minutes. Still not looking up, he said softly, slowly, "Horatio.....I'm sorry about....about the way I acted last night when you were trying to help me. I was embarrassed, and should not have taken it out on you."

"Apology accepted, Mr. Kennedy." Horatio said quickly, knowing that if he said the apology was not needed, Archie would only argue with him. He stood, "Now, do you wish to come up on deck?"

"I also want to apologize for the other night...." Archie whispered, "I know you care about me, Horatio, and I...."

"It's all right, Archie." Horatio cut him off, "I accept your apology. And I'm sorry for not thinking of you and your feelings that night. Will you accept my apology?"

"Of course." Archie looked up, "I am sorry I overreacted."

"Let's just say...." Horatio smiled, "we both need to think before we speak. And we both regret not doing so."

Archie nodded and whispered, "Yes."

"Now, come on." Horatio gave Archie a pat on the shoulder, "Don't sit down here alone."

Archie threw the blanket off and stood up. Then looked down at his clothes. Making a face, Archie glanced up at Horatio, raising his brows, "I suppose I had ....better clean myself up first."

"All right. I'll see you on deck then." Horatio walked to the door.

"Horatio," Archie smiled at his friend when he turned back, "Thank you."

"You are welcome, Archie." Horatio smiled back as he opened the door, then pulled it shut to give Archie his privacy, and went back to the quarter-deck.

 

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

CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN

 

"Mr. Hornblower," Pellew walked up to him the moment Horatio set foot on the quarter-deck, and said quietly, "How is he?"

"He's....all right, sir." Horatio told him.

Pellew simply nodded. He could tell by the boy's hesitation that Kennedy was embarrassed about the previous night.

After about twenty minutes, the children let out a cheer. Bracegirdle and Bowles exchanged broad grins, and moved to look over the rail.

Joining them, the captain and Horatio looked down to see Kennedy surrounded by, not just the children, but by the adults as well. The men were patting him on the back and shoulders, and the women were embracing him, making the boy blush.

As Kennedy turned to start up the steps to the quarter-deck, Harvey wrapped his arms around Archie's leg, causing the latter to fall onto the steps. Harvey crawled on the acting lieutenant the moment he was down, and Archie started laughing.

Pellew was grateful to God for the laughter coming from the lad after last night's events.

As Malcolm pulled Harvey off Kennedy, the child protested, "I want Mr. Kendy!"

Still laughing, Archie rolled over to sit up on the steps, "Harvey, I have to report to the captain." As Archie stood, Harvey reached out for him.

"No!" Harvey pouted.

"You can bring him with you, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew hoped it could make it easier for Kennedy to face him without being embarrassed because of his fit last evening. As Kennedy obeyed, the captain sighed, wishing he could convince the boy that he need not be ashamed.

Archie carefully climbed the steps and stopped in front of the captain. Snapping to attention, and offering a salute - as best he could with a child in his arms, "Sir."

Pellew smiled, taking in both of them, "Well, Mr. Kennedy, it seems you have a new man among your men."

"More like my shadow, sir." Archie smiled, glancing at Harvey.

"I love you, Mr. Kendy." Harvey embraced him tightly, and Pellew could see Archie resisting the urge to embrace the boy back.

"Mr. Kennedy." Pellew gestured with his head to the child.

Archie gave a nod of understanding, and lovingly embraced the boy. Hamilton's words came back to the captain and officers as they watched Kennedy with the child.

Harvey broke off the embrace and looked into Archie's eyes, "You'll tell us a story now?"

Archie suddenly appeared stumped and glanced at the captain, uncertain..

Pellew raised his brow, "You did tell them you would finish that story you were telling last evening, Mr. Kennedy."

"May I, sir?" Archie asked.

"By all means, sir." Pellew gestured to the deck with a smile, "The children are waiting. Dismissed."

"Thank you, sir." Archie turned and carefully made his way down the steps as quickly as he could with Harvey in his arms.

"Sir," Bracegirdle asked quietly, "if everyone knows Mr. Kennedy feels like that lamb, why did you remind him of that story? Why make him feel bad - especially after last night?"

"I would like to hear how he plans to end this story, Mr. Bracegirdle." As Pellew started for the steps, he said over his shoulder, "Gentlemen, do you not want to hear it?"

"Yes, sir." Bracegirdle answered as he, Bowles and Hornblower followed the captain down the steps.

Archie was back on the gun barrel with Harvey and Dimitri on his lap, listening as the children reminded him where he had ended the story last night. Matthews and Styles moved a little closer to hear it.

"All right." Archie took a deep breath, "Peter was laying with his eyes closed until he felt something bump into his nose, and opened his eyes to see that Spice had carried the dogs' water bowl over so Peter could drink. The sheep gathered some grass for Peter to eat."

"They don't hate him!" Jacob cheered.

"No." Archie cleared his throat, "Peter had thought that they all hated and pitied him because he was crippled and worthless,"

Horatio closed his eyes, his chest hurting for his friend.

"But he was now wondering if he had been wrong." Archie went on, "After all, they were trying to help him. You see, the sheep and the dogs realized that if Michael thought the lamb was worth risking his own life for - twice - then Peter could not be as worthless as they had thought. So while Michael cleaned and wrapped Peter's leg, the sheep and dogs began to consider the new problem that Peter was now facing. The owner had said that if Peter became worse before the month was up, he would be killed and eaten by the owner's family. So, they decided that the sheep would walk instead of run, and that way, Peter would not be left behind. They would also have Peter in the middle of the flock so the owner would not see his hurt leg. If they kept his wounded leg a secret, Peter would not be killed."

"Did they do that?" Sarah asked.

"Yes, they did." Archie smiled, and the children cheered. "The sheep kept Peter in the middle of the flock, so the owner would not see that he was limping. The dogs did not bark at the sheep, which kept the sheep from being startled into running. They all helped Peter. Once the month was up, the owner told Michael he had done a good job with Peter, and he was proud of his son for his persistence. And so, Peter's back leg healed. And even though his front leg had never healed right, and he was never able to run again, the sheep and the dogs accepted Peter and continued to help him. And Peter found that they did not really hate him, and began to feel that he belonged there."

"So then what happened?" Davey asked.

Archie took a deep breath and smiled broadly, "Michael, Peter, the sheep and the dogs lived happily ever after."

The children cheered and applauded, and Archie's smiled grew wider.

Bracegirdle said quietly, "The ending he wants, no doubt."

"To be accepted." Bowles added.

"To belong." Pellew corrected sadly.

"To be loved." Came a comment from behind them.

The captain and officers turned to eye the young man standing there. He looked about the same age as Hornblower, with light brown hair and light brown eyes. He was perhaps an inch taller then Kennedy, and very handsome. The young man gave them a sad smile, his soft voice held only a hint of an Irish accent as he gave them a nod, "Dr. Dalen Leahy, gentlemen. People who have been abused need love more then the average person does." When they continued to eye him, Leahy turned his attention to Archie, "Mr. Kennedy was abused as a child."

"What makes you think he was abused?" Pellew asked.

"His reactions to others." Leahy explained, "And what I see in his eyes. Pain. Fear. Shame. And deep sadness. Someone he loved and trusted - possibly one of his parents - hurt him very deeply. I can see that betrayed look in his eyes. It's a look most children have when cruelly treated by a loved one. And the abuse started when he was too young to defend himself, and had no one to turn to for help, or was too frightened to tell anyone who might have been able to help him."

"If he knew someone could have helped...." Bowles started.

Leahy turned to Bowles, "An abuser makes his victim believe that no one can help, or will help him. That no one would take the victim's word over the abuser's. Even threatens to do worse to the child if he tells anyone. The child becomes more terrified of the abuser, and the abuse he may face if he tells anyone. A child who cannot fight back, who has no one to protect him, has no choice but to retreat inside himself. He puts his mind somewhere - anywhere - else to distance himself from the pain. From the abuser. Even if it's only in his mind."

Horatio stared at the young doctor. The man was describing Archie perfectly.

"The victim also becomes afraid to let anyone close to him." Leahy went on, "Afraid to be touched for fear of being hurt again. He's easily startled, and flinches away from even the most gentle touch."

Damn! Pellew closed his eyes and felt his heart sink, That is Kennedy!

"So, the victim puts up a barrier between himself and everyone else." Leahy explained, "An invisible wall, if you will - to keep from being hurt again. He trusted his parents and one of them betrayed him, hurting him so deeply that he trusts no one. I can see all of that in Mr. Kennedy."

So can I. Horatio squeezed his eyes shut on the tears that were threatening to come.

 

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CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT

 

"Mr. Kennedy loves those children, doctor." Bowles gestured to the children gathered around Kennedy, "He lets them close to him."

Leahy sighed deeply, "Children do not inflinct physical pain for cruel reasons. Adults on the other hand...." He took a deep breath, "Watch him with adults, sir....he is quite different." A smile came to the young doctor's face, "He reminds me of my sister's cat."

"Why does Mr. Kennedy remind you of a cat?" Bracegirdle asked.

Smiling, Leahy explained, "One day, my sister came in the house with scratches and bites all over her left arm. When Mother asked her what happened, she said she had found a kitten and was trying to help it. The next day, Hannah came in again with new scratches and bites, and mother gave her an ear full as she tended to Hannah's cuts. I asked my sister what it was she thought she was accomplishing by doing this everyday. She said the kitten needed help. I told her the kitten did not seem to want her help."

The officers snickered at that, as did Leahy, "She told me *It doesn't matter what he wants, it's what he needs that's important, and he needs my help, even though he doesn't want it.* And so everyday, Hannah would find that kitten and hold it, enduring the bites and scratches, in an attempt to tame it. Our mother was at her wits end with my sister. After four more days of this, Hannah came in bleeding again and Mother had had enough. She started giving Hannah a very stern speech, until we heard scratching at the door. Hannah smiled and shouted, *I knew it would work!* and opened the door. There was a lovely black kitten, about nine or ten months old at the door. The kitten went to Hannah the moment it saw her, and rubbed against her skirt, purring. And the two became inseparable."

"Why does that cat remind you of Mr. Kennedy?" Horatio asked.

"Because like that kitten," Leahy told him, "Mr. Kennedy's needs are not the same as what he wants. He does not want to let anyone close to him, but that is exactly what he needs. He needs to be loved."

The children started begging for another story, and Archie smiled, "One more."

The children cheered, then became quiet to hear the story, "This is the story of two rabbits. Daniel was the fastest and most clever rabbit in the group. Simon, the chief rabbit, was very fond of Daniel, and Daniel was loved by every rabbit in the group, except one."

The captain frowned at this. Bracegirdle and Bowles eyed each other, wondering if this story was going to have anything to do with Kennedy, or if it was just a story.

Archie went on with the story, "Rupert was jealous of Daniel. He was not fast or clever, and hated Daniel becuase all the other rabbits loved him. Rupert wanted to hurt Daniel, but knew he could never out smart him. However, Daniel had a brother, Will, who he had to take care of after their mother was killed by a cat. Rupert knew that if he hurt Will, Daniel would be hurt too."

"Now the rabbits were running out of food, and Simon told Daniel to find a new home with plenty of food for the group. Rupert waited until Daniel had left, then told Will that Daniel had been hurt and needed his help. Will followed Rupert into the forest. Daniel found a great spot on a farm with plenty of food and far enough from the farmer's house that they would be safe. He hurried back to tell Simon. While the rabbits discussed moving to the new field, Daniel hurried into the burrow to tell Will. But he could not find him. He ran back to the other rabbits and began asking if anyone knew where Will was. No one had seen Will leave, so they had no idea where to look for him."

"Meanwhile, Rupert had led Will deep into the forest and told Will that Daniel was lying at the bottom of a small hill, knowing there was a fox den there. When Will started toward the little hill, Rupert ran away as fast as he could. Will suddenly became frightened and wanted to go home. He turned around and started back the way he had came, but heard something behind him. He began to run and heard four paws hitting the ground behind him."

"The fox!" The children started shouting.

"Yes." Archie told them, "Will was running toward home, but realized the fox would kill the other rabbits if it found them, so he quickly turned in another direction. He saw a row of thick bushes, and remembered Daniel had always told him that rabbits could slip through the branches no matter how thick the bushes were, but most larger animals could not. Will ran into the bushes, squeezed through the branches and heard the fox cry when it got stuck."

The children cheered, and Archie smiled, then took a deep breath, "Will kept running until he came to a stream. He was so thirsty that he had to stop and drink. When he finished, he realized it was getting dark and he had no idea how to get home."

The children started expressing sympathy for the lost rabbit.

"Will looked around and saw several large trees, and started to burrow deep under one. Once he had burrowed deep underground, Will curled up and wished that Daniel was there. He wished he was home. He wished he had never followed Rupert to begin with. Will had never been alone before, and was very frightened. He did not know how to get home, and knew Daniel did not know where to look for him, and he could not understand why Rupert had done this to him. He was so frightened and alone, with no hope of finding his way back home, or anyone ever find him, that he began to weep."

Matthews muttered to Styles, "I bet that's 'ow th' lad felt when 'e was set adrift and taken prisoner."

Styles nodded sadly and whispered, "Aye."

All the children expressed their sorrow for the little rabbit, while the captain and officers where still trying to figure out if this story had anything to do with Kennedy.

Hornblower however, thought that the rabbits, Rupert, Will, and Daniel seemed very familiar.

"What about Daniel?" Betsy asked, "Did he weep too?"

Archie nodded, "Rupert returned and told all the rabbits that Will was killed by a fox, but Daniel did not want to believe it. He was supposed to take care of Will. And now he was gone. Daniel ran into the burrow, to the place he had shared with his brother and began to weep. Simon decided that, because of the fox, they would move the next day. So the following morning, the rabbits followed Daniel to their new home."

"No!" Robin cried, "Will won't be able to find them if they move!"

Archie cocked his head, giving him a sympathetic smile, but continued with the story, "The rabbits moved to their new home where they had plenty of food, and they all thanked Daniel for finding this wonderful new home for them. And Rupert found that getting rid of Will did not change anything. Everyone still loved Daniel. He had the wrong rabbit killed, Rupert thought to himself, he should have gotten of Daniel killed instead. So the next day, Rupert began to wander around, looking for a predator that could kill Daniel."

The children protested at that, and Archie waited until he had their attention again, "Once he found one, he came back to the new burrow and told Daniel that he had found Will, but could not bring him back because Will was hurt. Daniel started following Rupert, and Simon did too. This was going to ruin Rupert's plan. The field he was taking Daniel to had a owl living in one of the trees. Rupert had planned to get Daniel into the field so the owl would get him. But now, he had no idea of how to get the owl to grab Daniel and not Simon."

"When they reached the field, Rupert told Daniel that Will was on the other side of the field, near the large oak tree. When Daniel started into the field, Simon ordered him to stop. He told Rupert to lead the way. You see, Simon was very wise, and he did not believe Rupert was telling the truth. Simon believed that Rupert had arranged for Will to be killed by the fox. So, he decided if this was a plot to get Daniel killed, Rupert should be the first one into the field. Rupert was afraid of the owl, but did not want Simon to know what he was trying to do, so he started out toward the oak tree."

"The owl was looking around, but did not see the rabbits because the grass was too tall. Rupert looked back to see Simon talking to Daniel, and his jealousy got the best of him. He made a loud sound to attract the owl so it could get Daniel. The owl took flight and swooped down...."

All the children gasped, and Archie smiled mischievously, "..and the owl snatched up Rupert!"

The children cheered and applauded, and Archie's grin broadened.

Once they settled down, Archie took up the story again, "Simon and Daniel hurried towards the trees to keep from being caught by another owl. They saw a burrow going under one of the trees, and Simon told Daniel they would hide there until it was dark. As Daniel slipped into the burrow he bumped into another rabbit."

"It's Will!" Sarah cried happily.

Archie smiled at her, then went on, "Will cringed when he felt something bumping into him. He thought it was a predator and was afraid it was going to eat him. Daniel saw it was Will, and called out his name. Will stopped weeping when he heard his brother and turned around to see him. The brothers had a very happy reunion. But Will was hungry, cold, and very sleepy. He had been far too frightened to sleep or find food for fear of predators. Daniel too, had been unable to sleep since Will disappeared. So Simon stayed near the opening of the burrow, waiting for dark, while the brothers snuggled up together and fell asleep. When the sun went down, Simon woke the brothers and led them home. And Daniel and Will were a family once more."

"And they lived happily ever after too!" Betsy announced.

"Yes, they did!" Archie smiled affectionately at her, "And that's the end of the stories for today."

Horatio closed his eyes, hurting for his friend. Then wondered why Archie would voice all of this in his stories, but would not talk to his own friend. Does he not trust me?

 

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CHAPTER THIRTY NINE

 

As the children each gave Kennedy a hug and kiss before going with their parents, Leahy told the officers, "Watch Mr. Kennedy."

Archie was smiling, and his affection could be seen clearly.

"Now watch him." Leahy said as the adults approached Kennedy. Still holding Harvey, Archie stood and his manner changed to one of uncertainty.

The officers watched as Malcolm Hamilton slipped his right arm over the boy's shoulders. Kennedy tensed, even though Hamilton's manner was as gentle as a loving father's.

Martha Hamilton approached him, reached out and tenderly touched Archie's right cheek. He closed his eyes and swallowed. Then she slipped her arm around the back of his neck and gently pull him to her, embracing him. After only a heartbeat, he returned the embrace.

"Hmm." Leahy cocked his head, "It was not his mother that hurt him."

Looking back at the doctor again, the officers frowned at him, suspiciously.

"He's not afraid of her touch." Leahy told them, "Mrs. Hamilton's touch is motherly. He accepts it. He wants it. He needs it. It was not his mother that hurt him."

As they broke off the embrace, she kissed his right cheek and, smiling at him, she lovingly caressed his cheek. Malcolm was still holding Kennedy and squeezed the boy affectionately, whispering something to him. Archie's expression changed to one of longing and he nodded. Malcolm smiled, squeezing the boy once more.

"The Hamiltons." Leahy mused aloud, "The loving family he desperately craves."

"What makes you think he desperately craves a family?" Bracegirdle asked.

"A *loving* family, sir." Leahy corrected, "And what makes me think he desperately craves it? Watch him with the Hamiltons. Obviously, he does not have a family that loves him, or he would not have been abused."

Pellew hated that word. Even more so at the thought that Archie Kennedy had been abused.

Horatio tensed as he saw Ivan approaching Archie. The young lieutenant cleared his throat and started forward.

Pellew had heard the young officer, and saw him starting off, then saw Ivan and hurried after Hornblower, with Bracegirdle and Bowles following.

"Mr. Kennedy," Ivan Padorin's deep voice boomed loudly.

Archie swallowed apprehensively and shifted Harvey away from the Russian. Malcolm pulled Kennedy closer to himself as if to protect him.

"Are you all right?" Ivan asked.

Archie frowned, puzzled, "Yes, sir."

"Does it feel as bad as it looks?" Ivan gestured to Kennedy's cheek.

"Oh." One hand went to his bruised cheek as Archie suddenly realized, then he made a face, "Uh..no...no, sir. It doesn't hurt at all."

"I'm glad." Harvey kissed Archie's right cheek.

"Thank you." Archie smiled and kissed the child's forehead in return.

"My family and I thank you for saving this ship and, in turn, saving us." Ivan said, "You have proved yourself to be every bit the honorable boy Mr. Hornblower said you are."

Archie felt a warm feeling in his chest at those words and could not stop the smile that came to his face. Horatio believes him to be honorable. Without even realizing it, Archie straightened himself to his full height.

Ivan looked back at Annika, then turned to Kennedy once more and cleared his throat, "Mr. Kennedy, my wife and I believe that you would be an acceptable suitor for our Tatiana."

Archie blinked, looking extremely uncomfortable.

Ivan offered Kennedy his hand, "You are a most honorable and decent boy."

Kennedy moved Harvey to his left arm to accept Ivan's hand, "Thank you, sir."

"Thank you for defending us, Mr. Kennedy." Ivan shook the boy's hand, then released it and walked away.

Martha reached over to get Harvey, but the child refused to go, "No! I'm staying with Mr. Kendy!"

"Harvey," Archie said softly, "you should not speak that way to your mother. She loves you, and when she tells you to do something, it is for your own good."

"But I want to stay with you!" Harvey protested.

"Well, if you cannot be good for your mother because of me," Archie told him, "then I'm a bad influence on you, and you should not be around me."

"No!" Harvey shook his head with tears in his eyes.

"Harvey," Archie said softly, "I do not want you to disobey your parents because of me."

Harvey started crying, "If I be good, will you still tell me stories?"

Archie closed his eyes, he did not want to hurt this little boy, "Only if you obey your parents."

"I will be good, Mr. Kendy!" Harvey threw his arms around Archie neck, "I promise to be good!"

It broke Archie's heart to make the little boy cry, but Archie did not want to be the cause of the child's disobedience. Archie opened his eyes, "You go with your mother, Harvey, and I will join you for dinner in the mess. All right?"

"All right." Harvey kissed Archie's cheek again, "I love you."

Archie returned the kiss once more, then embraced the child, closing his eyes, "I love you too, Harvey."

When Archie opened his eyes, Martha smiled at him as she took the child into her arms, "We will see you at dinner, dear."

Archie smiled bashfully, "Yes, ma'am."

The Hamilton's did indeed love Kennedy, the captain and officers witnessed. And in only a week! How was Kennedy going to feel about them by the end of this voyage?

Malcolm squeezed Kennedy once more, then released him and followed his family below. The rest of the passengers came forward and shook Kennedy's hand, thanking him for saving the ship.

After the passengers had left Kennedy alone, the crewmen caught his attention. When he walked over to them, the men began to shake his hand, patting him on his back and shoulders, and congratulating him on a job well done.

Pellew watched Kennedy. The lad deserved the praise he was receiving. He had managed to find the courage to take command of a situation he should not have had to. Pellew had never thought Kennedy had that kind of strength. He had always seemed so fragile. And yet, he had survived being adrift for God knows how long, the punishments he received for trying to escape, the loneliness of the prisons, and he had found the courage to save Hornblower's life.

Kennedy had managed to keep most of himself hidden. And judging by Hornblower's reactions, Kennedy kept them hidden from his friend as well.

Why?

Why does Kennedy feel the need to distance himself from everyone, The captain wondered, except the children?

*Children do not inflict physical pain for cruel reasons*. Pellew squeezed his eyes shut, Oh Lord, everything Leahy said about an abused child fits Kennedy perfectly. But who abused him? Was it his father? Or did it happen on Justinian? Pellew could not rid his memory of the horror that came to Kennedy's face at the mention of Justinian. Pellew opened his eyes and watched Kennedy, What did Simpson do to this boy?

 

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CHAPTER FORTY

 

When the last of the men had left Kennedy, Matthews, Styles, and Oldroyd approached him. The captain and officers had moved behind Kennedy while the other men were congratulating him and could not help hearing the conversation.

"I can't believe ye beat two frigates, sir! Ye did a great job! A really great job, sir!" Oldroyd was shaking Kennedy's hand so heartily that Styles pulled him away, fearing he was going to hurt the acting lieutenant's arm.

Styles shook Kennedy's hand, "I'm so proud o' ye, sir!"

"Aye, sir." Matthews took Archie's hand in both of his, "Ye're as good an officer as I've ever seen, Mr. Kennedy."

Those words left Archie unable to speak. He swallowed, trying to find his voice to thank the older seaman, but could not get any words out.

Seeing Kennedy struggling for words, and said, "It's all right, Mr. Kennedy. Ye needn't say anythin'."

"Thank you, Mr. Styles." Archie smiled at the seaman, his voice quivering as he spoke, then he turned to Matthews, "And thank you, Mr. Matthews. You have no idea how much those words mean to me."

"They're true words, Mr. Kennedy." Matthews told him.

"Aye, sir." Styles added, "An' we mean every one of 'em."

Matthews looked into Archie's eyes, "Ye're a good officer, Mr. Kennedy. An' remember, sir, we ain't just Mr. 'ornblower's men. We're also yer's."

"Aye." Styles nodded, "Ye're one o' us, Mr. Kennedy."

Horatio's mouth slowly fell open, hearing Styles using the same words that he had used on Archie in prison.

"Ye were one o' us before Mr. 'ornblower joined the service." Styles told the young officer, "Matthews an' me, we're 'ere fer ye, sir."

Archie said softly, "You always were there for me, Styles, all those times......" He stopped, not wanting to finish that sentence aloud, "And you were the one next to me in that boat when I saw the Indy for the first time in two years." Those memories threatened to bring tears, so he swallowed and became quiet.

Pellew frowned. Matthews and Styles had served with Kennedy and Simpson. They probably knew more about Kennedy and Simpson than Hornblower did.

"Mr. Kennedy," Styles said quietly, "we know 'ow 'ard it was fer ye, sir. We know what ye suffered in prison, in that...." Styles quickly stopped, not wanting to remind the boy of that horrible hole he had been put in. "An' th' crew....well, it just weren't w'ole without ye, sir. We missed ye. Matthews and me....we'd 'ave never left that rat-'ole prison without ye, Mr. Kennedy." Archie quickly looked up at the seaman and Styles looked into the blue eyes sincerely, "Please believe me, sir."

"Aye, sir." Matthews smiled at the young officer, who was still much like the child he had met six years ago, "I know it ain't been easy on ye, comin' back t' the ship after all that time away, sir. But ye're easin' back int' it right nicely, if ye don' mind me sayin' so, sir. An' if there's anythin' Styles or me can do fer ye, don' be afraid t' ask, sir. We'll always be 'ere fer ye. Ye are one o' us, sir. Always 'ave been. An' always will be. Don' e'er doubt that, sir."

Closing his eyes, Archie said softly, "How could I ever doubt either of you, Mr. Matthews?" He was ashamed of the tears that were threatening to come. Ever since his imprisonment, he had had such a hard time controlling his emotions. I wish I could be more like Horatio.

"Mr. Kennedy, sir," Styles' said very softly, "Matthews an' me never thought badly o' ye. We 'ave always been fond o' ye, Mr. Kennedy. An' we 'ated what 'appened t' ye on Justinian. Ye, an' Matthews, and me, we've been through a lot t'gether, sir."

Too overwhelmed to speak, Archie only nodded. He took a deep breath and sniffed, then said softly, slowly, "Yes, we have been through a lot together, Styles. And I'm grateful to know you will both be here for me."

"Always, sir." Matthews said.

"Thank you, Mr. Matthews." Archie whispered, then sniffed again, "And you, Mr. Styles."

"An' me, sir." Oldroyd said, "I'm 'ere fer ye, too."

"Thank you, as well, Oldroyd." Archie smiled.

Oldroyd said hesitantly, "Sir, I know officers don'....but....well....th' rest o' th' lads 'ave asked me t' ask ye if ye'll consider joinin' them in a drink on Christmas day. But I'm also askin' if ye'll join Styles, an' Matthews, an' me - just us fer a drink on Christmas day too, sir?"

The captain and his officers were surprised the seaman would make such a request. Seaman and officers never crossed the invisible line and mingled. They were even more surprised by Kennedy's answer, when he said slowly in an unsteady voice, "I would be honored to drink with the three of you. You're good men. Men I am proud to serve with. And you can tell the rest of the men, I would be glad to share in a drink with them, as well."

The three men smiled at the young officer. Kennedy never seemed to realize that they was an invisible line. Or maybe he just did not care about it. He had always treated every man the same.

Murphy and Jones approached the acting lieutenant, "Mr. Kennedy, sir!" Murphy reached out a hand and Archie took it, "I can't believe ye beat two frigates, sir!"

"I didn't, Mr. Murphy."

Pellew sighed heavily, Why can't Kennedy see that he did that?

Archie shook the midshipman's hand, "We beat two frigates, Mr. Murphy. I could not have done it without the gun crews. I'm proud of the way all of you handled yourselves."

"Sir?" The boy asked, "The gun crews and I....we would....would ye....it would be an honor to us, Mr. Kennedy, if ye would join us for a drink on Christmas day, sir."

The captain and his officers exchanged amused glances and Bowles held up three fingers.

"Hey!" Oldroyd frowned, "We asked first!"

"Mr. Kennedy could join us, too." Murphy frowned back, "Just 'cause it was yer idea, doesn't mean we can't all enjoy Mr. Kennedy's company."

Midshipman Jones spoke up quickly, "Sir, the rest of the midshipmen would also be honored if you would share in a glass with us on Christmas, as well?"

Archie opened his mouth, but was so overwhelmed it took quite a few moments for him to be able to speak. He took a deep breath, "I would be....honored to drink with the gun crews and with the midshipmen on Christmas day."

"No, sir." Jones said before turning away, "The honor will be ours!"

"And ours too, Mr. Kennedy!" Murphy added before rushing to the waiting gun crews, who all but cheered when he told them what Kennedy had said.

"Four drinks." Archie muttered, "I hope I don't get drunk." He and the three seamen laughed.

"Maybe ye should drink with us last, sir." Styles suggested, "Then if ye do get drunk, we can take ye t' ye're cabin."

They laughed again, and Archie said, "I'm not little anymore, Styles. I'll probably be harder to carry now." Matthews and Styles laughed with Kennedy, amazed that he could laugh while remembering those horrible days on Justinian.

Suddenly, Oldroyd snapped to attention, looking past Kennedy and Styles. Matthews turned and saw the captain and officers and, he too, snapped to attention. Kennedy and Styles turned around, then did the same.

"As you were, gentlemen." The captain said.

The four relaxed a bit, but still stood straight, each wondering how long the captain and officers had been there, and how much of their conversation they had heard.

"Having a meeting, gentlemen?" Pellew asked gruffly.

"Uh, no, sir." Matthews said quickly, "We still 'ave some duties t' tend t'. We were just wantin' to congratulate Mr. Kennedy on a job well done, sir."

"Yes, it was a job well done." Pellew gave him a quick nod, "You may attend to your duties, then. Dismissed."

The three seamen knuckled their foreheads and returned to their duties.

 

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