GOING HOME, Part Four
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 FORTY ONE

As the seamen left, Pellew eyed his young officer few several moments, then cleared his throat, "How are you, Mr. Kennedy?"

Archie blushed and it took a few moments to answer, "Be-better, sir."

"I'm glad you got the rest you needed." Pellew said, "I would appreciate it if you would take better care of yourself, Mr. Kennedy. In the future, if you feel......*ill*, I want you to report to Mr. Bracegirdle or myself. Is that understood?"

"Yes, sir." Archie lowered his eyes, embarrassed.

"And please allow yourself sufficient time to rest each day." Pellew eyed the boy, noting that Kennedy would not look him in the eye, "I do not want you to exhaust yourself, Mr. Kennedy. You are a very valuable officer. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir." Archie brought his head up, but would not meet the captain's eyes.

"You may resume your duties tomorrow." Pellew told him, "Same arrangement as before."

"Aye aye, sir." Archie gave a quick nod

Pellew cleared his throat again, "There will be a hearing tomorrow morning at eleven reguarding Mr. Young's actions last night. We will need your testimony."

"Yes, sir." The fear returned to Kennedy's face.

"Relax, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew coaxed, "All you need to do is tell the truth."

"Yes, sir." Kennedy swallowed, still not meeting the captain's gaze.

<<Young abandoned the boy in the middle of a battle, yet Kennedy is reluctant to testify against the man?>> Pellew thought, <<The lad has a good heart.>> "Mr. Kennedy," Pellew lifted his chin, "you have your duty. Which means to tell the truth."

"Aye aye, sir." The expression that came to the young officer's face was a mixture of sadness and something that almost seemed like dread.

Pellew had to admire the boy's compassion. He did indeed have a very good heart. Pellew cleared his throat once more, and said, "I would also like to ask a favor of you."

Kennedy frowned, wondering what the captain could possibly want from him, other then his duty.

Pellew raised his brow, "Would you be so kind as to sing a few carols for the crew and passengers on Christmas day?"

Archie blinked, surpirsed, "Um..uh....Yes, sir. If you truly wish me to, sir."

"I look forward to it, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew smiled, "About two o'clock would be a good time. I would also like to have you for dinner on Christmas day."

Kennedy raised one slim brow and gave the captain a mock look of apprehension causing Pellew to smile at his choice of words, "Oh no, Mr. Kennedy! I do not mean to have you for dinner! I have a goose for Christmas dinner."

Bowles and Bracegirdle laughed.

Archie let his breath out loudly and relaxed, "Thank Heaven!" Then he snapped to attention, giving the captain an apologetic look, "Sir."

Pellew had regained his composure, but decided to tease the boy. He eyed Kennedy a moment, then said, "The officers and I would also consider it an honor if you would join us for a glass of brandy on Christmas day?" Archie's face suddenly went pale and the captain added, "Hopefully, you will not get drunk, Mr. Kennedy."

Bracegirdle and Bowles laughed aloud.

Archie stared at the captain with wide, anxious eyes, his mouth agape, and his cheeks almost red. Horatio wished he could think of something to say to interrupt the jesting he knew was causing his friend embarressment.

"I am teasing you." Pellew frowned at him, "Relax, boy!"

"Mr. Kennedy! Mr. Kennedy!" Two little voices shouted, and the officers turned around to see Anna and Mark Hamilton running across the deck.

Horatio was grateful for the distraction.

"Mr. Kennedy?" Anna said as she came to a stop in front of Archie, "Father sent us to see if you were ready for dinner?"

Kennedy glanced at Pellew.

"You are dismissed, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew told him.

"Thank you, sir." Archie turned and both children held their hands up for him to take.

Archie took Mark's hand, then gallantly offered Anna his arm, "Miss Anna?"

"Thank you, sir." Anna curtsied and took his arm like a proper little lady.

"Mr. Kenendy?" Mark asked as they walked away, "Are we allowed to see the gun deck?"

"I can ask the captain." Archie told him, "If he gives permission, I will take all of you to see it."

The boy cheered and Anne put her other hand on Archie's arm, looking up at him adoringly.

"If she were a little older," Bowles commented, "I've no doubt she would want Mr. Kennedy as her suitor."

"I believe Mr. Kennedy would be a good suitor for any young lady." Bracegirdle told him.

"Well, he will definately be a good father!" Bowles stated.

"Oh, yes!" Bracegirdle agreed, "He would make a good family man."

"Are you avoiding me, Horatio?" Valentina approached them, while Tatiana hung back a few steps.

"No, miss," Horatio turned his attention to her, "I'm not avoiding you."

"Well, I have been wishing to talk with you!" Valentina told him, "Mother and Father said they will allow you to be my suitor!"

Pellew, Bracegirdle, and Bolwes stared at Hornblower, dumbfounded.

"So," Valentina sighed heavily, "since Mr. Kennedy has been spirited away - AGAIN - would you do my sister and I the service of having dinner with us?"

"I would be honored, Miss Valen." Horatio smiled, then glanced at his captain, "If the captain has no futher need of me?"

"By all means, Mr. Hornblower," Pellew motioned toward the doorway below, "seeing to our guests is one of your duties." Edward could barely surpress a smile.

Valentina motioned for her sister to join them. Tatiana came forward and curtsied to Horatio.

"Sir." Horatio gave a nod to the captain, then to Bracegirdle and Bowles, "Gentlemen." Then he held out both arms, "Ladies?"

Valentina took his right arm, and Tatiana took his left. As the three walked off together, Bowles laughed. When the captain and first lieutenant looked at him, he said, "It would be very amusing if Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy married those two girls? They would be brothers, then."

"Like the rabbits in Mr. Kennedy's story." Bracegirdle laughed.

Pellew smiled, but his mind had gone back to his acting lieutenant. Two men, who did not really know Kennedy, could see that he had been neglected and abused. Pellew took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Kennedy's father had neglected him certainly. But had he abused the lad, as well? Or was the abuse done by Simpson?

After the captain had killed Simpson, Hornblower told Pellew what Simpson had done to him while he was aboard Justinian, and that Simpson had terrorized the other midshipmen as well.

Simpson had tried to kill Hornblower during the Papillion mission and, no doubt, assumed Kennedy would die when he was set adrift. <<Why did Simpson try to kill them?>> Pellew pondered that for several minutes before it came to him - Hornblower might have told Pellew the truth about Simpson, and might possibly have been able to convince Kennedy to speak up as well. Two witnesses would have distroyed Simpson. The only way only way the man could keep from being charged for his crimes was to make certain there was no one to speak against him.

 

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CHAPTER FORTY TWO

 

Horatio, Valentina, Archie, and Tatiana came up on deck after they had eaten. Valentina led Horatio away from her sister and Kennedy.

"It is a bit cool, is it not?" Valentina asked.

"Yes, it is." Horatio looked down at her and she moved closer to him, looking into his eyes. Valentina touched his cheek and he closed his eyes. When she pulled her hand back, he opened his eyes, reached out to caress her cheek. Then he moved closer to her. She put her hands on his shoulders and he slipped his arms around her. For a very long moment they just stared into each other's eyes. Then he leaned down and kissed her lips. She put her arms around him, taking the kiss deeper.

 

Across the deck, wrapped in the cloak Archie had gallantly given her to keep her warm, Tatiana listened intently to Archie telling of his first battle.

But she was not the only one listening to him. A short distance from the two, Matthews, Styels, and Ordrod were tending to their duties, and could not help overhearing.

"Tell me about last night." Tatiana smiled brightly.

Archie swallowed and, clearing his throat, said softly, "It was not exciting."

"But you were commanding the guns!" She said.

"I understand how frightened Mr. Young was." Archie shook his head, "Two enemy frigates. We really didn't stand a chance. It was foolish to think we could beat them."

"But you did!" She moved closer to him.

"But we should not have been able to." Archie told her, "I was just too......" Archie stopped not wanting to voice his fear to her. "There were too meny lives - passengers who didn't deserve to die - I had to try."

Matthews and Styles glanced at each other. Even though Kennedy had believed it hopeless, he tried anyway. You have to admire the lad's spirit. It's probably what kept driving him to try to escape even after he had been cruelly punished.

"You saved our lives, Archie!" She said softly, looking at him adoringly, "We would not be alive if you had not tried to beat them, if you had given up, like that other officer had." She took his face in her hands, sending a strange sensation through him, and he could hardly breathe. Smiling, she looked into his eyes, and said softly, "You are truly our hero. Just like the knights of Camelot." Unable to resist any longer, she pulled his face closer and gently kissed his lips.

Archie was not prepared for the kiss, or the feelign that suddenly flowed through him with it. He shivered inside, his heart beating faster, and he felt light headed.

Her lips slowly left his, and Archie stood, unable to think, move, or even speak. He thought he was going to melt to the deck.

"Valentina!" Ilya called, "Tatiana! Time to come below!"

"I must go, Archie." Tatiana tenderly kissed his lips again, "Good night, my sweet, brave knight." She turned and hurried across the deck.

 

Not far away, Valentina and Horatio kissed again, more passionately then before. When they broke off the kiss, she whispered, "Good night, Horatio. I love you."

Still holding her tightly, Horatio whispered, "I don't want to let you go."

"You have to." She whispered back, laying her head against his chest, "You do not want Papa to think you are taken liberties, do you?"

"No." He whispered, stroking her long, soft hair.

"Say good night, Horatio."

"Good night, Valen." He whispered, releasing her. As she started to turn away, he pulled her back and kissed her again. Then released her and she hurried below. Horatio lingered for a moment, then started for his own cabin.

 

Archie had remained where he was, completely lost. <<How can a kiss make one feel so strange? Does everyone have this reaction when kissed on the lips, or is it just me?>> This kiss had effected him even more then the dark haired woman's kiss. He did not feel light headed when the dark haired woman had kissed him. He did not feel the same sensation with her touch that he had felt when Tatiana touched him. Archie closed his eyes, <<Why?>> He just did not understand.

"Mr. Kennedy?" The sudden sound of a voice behind him, made Archie jump and quickly turned around. "I am sorry, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew had spoken softly so as not to startle the boy and was dismayed that he still frightened him, "Are you all right?"

"I....I don't know, sir." Archie answered honestly, blinking nervously and breathing heavily, his hand on his chest.

Pellew stepped closer, "What is it, Mr. Kennedy?"

"I... can't think, sir." Archie whispered, "My heart is beating fast and I feel.....very strange."

Taking hold of Kennedy's arm, Pellew asked anxiously, "When did it start?"

"When Miss Tatiana kissed me, sir." Archie said bewildered.

The captain smiled, "That will do it to you, boy!"

Archie blinked in puzzlement at the captain, "Why, sir?"

Pellew gave Kennedy a skeptical look and asked irritably, "What did you father tell you?"

Swallowing, Archie lowered his head and said softly, "Nothing, sir."

"Nothing?" Pellew frowned and leaned down to look closely at Kennedy's face, but all he could see on that young face was shame. "Are you saying that your father did not talked to you about women before you left for the navy?"

"My father did not speak to me before I left, sir." Archie's tone remained soft.

"Why?" Pellew frowned.

Archie started to speak, but hesitated.

"Because of your.......condition?" Pellew asked carefully.

Archie squeezed his eyes shut, but could not bring himself to answer.

Pellew looked away. <<Lord Kennedy was so ashamed of his son's affliction that he did not even ready the boy for life?>> Edward thought sadly, <<How could a man be so cold to his own child?>>

<<*A ship's captain is like a father and the crew is his family.*>> Padorin's words echoed in the captain's mind. Sighing deeply, Pellew looked back at the boy before him. <<Right now, Archie Kennedy needs a father. But would he accept it? Or would he be too embarrassed?>> Pellew eyed the youth a few moments. <<I should at least offer.>> Clearing his throat, the captain asked slowly and gently, "Would you like me to....tell you about women, Mr. Kennedy?"

Archie's head quickly came up, not with the fear or humiliation that Pellew was expecting, but with pleading eyes, and his voice just above a whisper, "Would you, sir?"

Pellew was so surprised that Kennedy actually accepted the offer, it took a few moments for him to speak. "Yes." He said, "Yes, of course, lad. But not on deck. Let's go to my cabin."

"Yes, sir." Archie answered softly.

Pellew agreed with Hamilton's indignation reguarding Lord Kennedy's treatment of his youngest son. Here was a boy, who has probably suffered from these seizures most of his life, and needed his family. But he was rejected because of the family's embarrassment of his affliction. <<How could Kennedy not feel ashamed and worthless?>> Sighing heavily, he closed his eyes briefly, shaking his head.

"Is something wrong, sir?"

Pellew glanced at the young officer next to him with the true concnered for his captain on his face. Not wishing to make the lad worse, he smiled and shook his head, "No, son."

Archie nodded his understanding, but remained quiet.

Pellew opened the door to his cabin and gestured for Kennedy to go in, then followed. "Please sit, Mr. Kennedy."

"Yes, sir." Archie sat down. Folding his hands, he rested them in his lap and looked up at his captain, waiting.

And looking so young!

"No one has ever explained anything to you?" Pellew asked carefully.

"Before I left for the Navy, my uncle had written me a letter and told me to stay away from women, sir. He said he would explain why when I was older, but...." Archie dropped his gaze to the floor, "I....I've not heard from him since I recieved that letter, sir."

"I'm sorry, lad." Pellew gently patted Kennedy's shoulder. <<Kennedy had been a child when he joined the service.>> Edward wondered if anyone had explained any of the facts of life to this boy, and decided he would just to make certain Kennedy knows. Pellew took a deep breath, and quickly let it out, "I will just start at the beginning then."

Archie looked up at him and nodded, "Yes, sir."

The captain cleared his throat and paced the floor while he talked to Kennedy as if he were his own son. All the while, having the cold reality of this fine lad's sad life coming painfully into focus. Archie Kennedy had he been treated like a leper by his family because of his seizures, and there was no excuse for it. His condition was not something he had control over, yet he was treated as a disgrace by his family. The captain felt very ill over the callous treatment of this good boy.

 

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CHAPTER FORTY THREE

 

Edward was relieved to find that Kennedy was not completely in the dark on this subject. <<Thank God the lad had learned some things on his own!>> "When you are attracted to a young lady, a kiss, even a touch, can have that effect on you." Pellew finished.

Archie bit his lip and frowned in thought for a moment. "But, sir," Archie shook his head slightly, "I was not attracted to the dark haired woman."

"Dark haired woman?" Pellew realized he was talking about Chiara Borgia and turned slightly away to keep Kennedy from seeing his face. He did not want to have to explain his annoyance.

"Yes, sir." Archie appeared to be puzzled, "The day after we left Gibraltar, she was in the corridor when I was on my way to my cabin and she....she pushed me into the bulkhead and kissed me, sir. My heart beat and breathing did become faster, but I....she did not make me feel light headed. Or make me feel...." He shrugged, shaking his head, "I can not describe the feeling, sir."

Edward smiled slightly at that, "Most men cannot put that into words, lad. You see, Mr. Kennedy, men are....created to be affected by the contact of our opposites. Sometimes, even if we are not attracted to them. That....strange feeling you feel with Miss Padorin is caused by your attraction to her." Pellew barely suppressed the smile that was trying to come to his face at the thought that Archie Kennedy was experiencing first love. When no response came, he turned and asked, "Do you understand, lad?"

Archie nodded, without looking up, "Yes, sir."

"Good."

After several silent moments, Archie looked up at the captain with uncertainty back in his eyes, but Pellew could also see trust in them. "Sir? I...." He stopped suddenly, as if he realized what he was doing.

Pellew lifted his brows, "Yes, Mr. Kennedy?"

Archie took a deep breath and, keeping his eyes lowered, said very softly, "The hearing, sir......I was just as frightened as Mr. Young was."

Most men would not want to admit that to anyone, least of all their captain! Pellew nodded, "I believe everyone was frightened that night."

Archie looked up at that, <<Was the captain frightened?>>

Pellew sat down in the chair opposite of his, "However, Mr. Young panicked and abandoned his post."

"I've panicked during battle, sir." Archie lowered his head, but not before the captain caught the shame on his face, "At....at Muzillac, sir."

That's honesty! Pellew sat back in his chair, "Mr. Kennedy, I appreciate the courage it has taken for you to admit to this in my presence. And I have heard of that particular incident. I also heard that you acted in your panic. You did not retreat or hide. I understand your sympathy, lad, but you did not abandon your post. Mr. Young is not going to be punished because of his fear. He is to be punished because he abandoned his post during battle."

Pellew watched Kennedy taking in the information. "Mr. Kennedy," He said softly, "you have a very good heart. A compassionate heart. In the Navy, however, we are to put our personal feelings aside and do what is expected of us. And that is our duty, sir. Our duty to our king, to our country, and to our men. And our duty can be very difficult sometimes. But, we must remember that we our officers in His Majesty's Navy." Pellew frowned, <<Did I not just have this conversation with Hornblower?>> He smiled at Kennedy, "I taught this same lesson to Mr. Hornblower after the Quiberon mission."

When a look of surprise came to Archie's face, Pellew felt the need to add, "Mr. Hornblower is not really that far ahead of you, Mr. Kennedy." Just to boost the lad's confidence.

Archie smiled slightly at that, "Thank you, sir."

"Of course." Pellew eyed the boy a few moments. Well, he had to ask about this. Hopefully, Kennedy would not withdraw. "Mr. Kennedy," He paused and cleared his throat, then asked gently, "you knew you were going to have that fit last night, did you not?"

Archie lowered his head, "I'm sorry I lied to you, sir. Please forgive me."

"Yes." Pellew raised his chin and said slowly, "You did lie to me. You should be reprimanded."

Archie brought his head up and straightened to attention, "Aye, sir."

The captain spent a few silent moments in thought, then said, "I think you have been punished enough. What I want to know is; can you tell when you are going to have a seizure?"

"Most of the time, sir." Archie lowered his head, seeming very uncomfortable. Then shrugged, "Sometimes they just happen without warning, sir."

"I see." Pellew sighed heavily, "You have no cause to be ashamed, lad."

"Then why did it shame my family, sir?" There were tears in the blue eyes that met the captain's, his voice soft and full of pain, "My father would not speak to me after I had one. He would not even look at me." He lowered his gaze once more, "And my grandmother had me punished the first time I had one in front of her guests. My mother was furious, of course. But my grandmother insisted that I not be present when she had company."

He became quiet for several long moments, and Edward leaned forward to put his right hand on Archie's.

The youth lowered his head further, "My grandmother wanted me sent away, but my parents would not allow it. When my mother passed away, my grandmother arranged for me to be sent into the navy while my father was busy with my mother's funeral." He stopped.

Pellew could tell by his shaking that he was silently weeping. Moved, he reached up and put his right hand on Archie's bowed head, which only made him cry more, and Pellew realized that touch seemed to weaken Kennedy's resolve.

Suddenly, Archie moved away from the captain's hand, shaking his head, but not looking up, "I-I'm sorry, sir."

Pellew kept his hand on Kennedy's arm, "It's all right, son."

"No, sir." Archie pulled his arm away, "I...I didn't mean to...." He sniffed and composed himself, "I'm sorry, sir."

"You've nothing to apologize for, lad." Edward said, "It was cruel of your family to treat you the way they did."

Archie closed his eyes as his face contorted with pain, then he blinked rapidly, and said, "It's over now, sir."

Edward knew that it was not really over for the youth. But he also understood that Archie did not wish to talk about it anymore. He decided he would let Kennedy have his wish. "What is the longest amount of time that you have gone without having a seizure, Mr. Kennedy?"

Taking a deep breath, Archie let it out and raised his head, "Seven months, sir."

Seven months! Pellew blinked in surprise, then raised his brow, "Indeed? And when did this happen?"

"After I was transferred to Indefatigable, sir." Archie stated.

"You were...." Pellew frowned, "Are you saying they stopped when you were transferred?"

"About two," Archie said softly, "almost three weeks, after I came aboard they stopped, sir."

Pellew stared at the boy, amazed. He went seven months without a fit. That was good. "Do you know why they stopped?"

Archie's eyelids fluttered and he swallowed, his voice very soft, "I was happy, sir."

"You were happy?" Edward frowned, "You are not happy now?"

Archie closed his eyes, trying to keep his composure. Then he licked his lips, "I've not been here long enough to...to get settled again, sir."

"Yes. Yes, of course." Pellew nodded, "You did not have a seizure for seven months. That is very good, Mr. Kennedy. What caused them to start again?"

All the color drain from Archie's face as that look of horror returned.

 

 

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CHAPTER FORTY FOUR

 

Once again, Edward was stunned by the expression, and reached out to the boy, putting his hand on Archie's arm, "What is it, son?"

Shame came to Archie's face just before he lowered his head again, and he was beginning to shake.

Edward frowned, trying to think. <<What had happened that day?>> They had chased the Papillion until the shore batteries forced them to retreat. Then they picked up survivors.....

<<Justinian!>> Pellew realized, <<Jack Simpson. Once Kennedy was away from that man, the fits had stopped.>> Edward knew he would have to be very gentle with this. He made his voice soft and more fatherly, "Archie, tell me what Simpson did to you."

Archie's voice trembled as he asked, "Is...is that an order, sir?"

<<Good Lord! Does the boy truly believe I would force him to tell me?>> Keeping his own voice gentle, Pellew said, "No, sir. That is not an order. If you do not trust me enough to confide in me, I would never make you."

Archie's head come up and he appeared to be hurt by the captain's words, "I trust you, sir. I....I just....." He shook his head and lowered his gaze once more, "I do not wish to talk about it, sir."

"Very well." Edward decided not to pursue the matter. <<He has become comfortable enough to talk about his fits with me. Pellew thought, Perhaps in time.....>>

"Sir...." Archie's voice trembled as he said, "He was very.....cruel, sir."

"I know that he beat the midshipmen." Edward said, "But he hurt you more then he did the others, did he not?"

"Please, sir," Archie whispered, squeezing his eyes shut as he lowered his head, "do not make me say more."

Pellew had watched this boy go from the young officer he knew, to the terrified child he had been on Justinian, and Edward resisted the urge to pull Kennedy into his arms and hold him. He leaned forward and put his hands on Archie's shoulders, "Shhhh, lad. You do not have to speak of it any further."

Archie sobbed and pulled away again, "I'm...I'm sorry, sir." He sniffed again, then took a deep breath and composed himself.

Pellew was amazed by the boy's ability to pull himself together so quickly. "It's all right, son. You've nothing to apologize for."

"I never tried to fight back, sir." Archie whispered, "I was too terrified to try."

"You were wise not to fight back, lad." Edward told him, "It would have only angered Simpson more. He would have been more cruel to you."

"Mr. Hornblower fought back, sir."

Pellew could hear the shame in the boy's voice, "Yes, he did. And he could have been killed if Mr. Clayton had not intervened. You did the right thing, Archie. You kept yourself alive."

Still seeing the shame, Edward said, "It took a tremendous amount of strength to endure what you did. And I am in awe that a boy of your age - a mere child - had that kind of strength."

Archie shook his head and his voice trembled, "I-I was.....not strong, sir."

"Yes, you were." Archie's head came up at that, and Edward smiled at him, "You do not see yourself as you truly are. But I do."

Tears came to Archie's eyes and he swallowed, then blinked rapidly and said softly, "Thank you, sir."

Pellew cleared his throat, "We should get back to your seizures." Archie lowered his head again, but the captain went on, "I find it very promising that you went seven months without one. I believe that, with more confidence, these seizures will occur less often."

Archie looked up with such hope in his eyes, that Pellew's chest tightened. "You.....you believe my fits will go away, sir?"

"Yes, son." Edward stood and cleared his throat, "Would you care for a glass of brandy?"

"Oh, no, sir. Thank you, sir." Archie stood as well, "I do have the morning watch."

"Yes, of course." Pellew gave him a slight smile. The captain took a deep breath, "We do have one more problem we have not faced, Mr. Kennedy."

Puzzled, Archie frowned, "Sir?"

"We are, at present, without a gunnery officer." Pellew watched Kennedy as the truth set in.

<<Taylor is still in the sick berth,>> Archie realized, <<and Young is to be punished for abandoning his post. The ship would need a lieutenant for that duty.>>

"Mr. Kennedy," Pellew looked into the young blue eyes, "I have a commission for you." Archie snapped to attention and Edward fought to keep from smiling, "I wish for you to fill in as gunnery officer."

Blinking in disbelief, Archie spoke very slowly, "Me....sir? Do you not mean, Mr. Hornblower, sir?"

"No." Pellew said seriously, although he was thoroughly amused by the lad's reaction and was doing his best not to laugh, "I mean Acting Lieutenant Kennedy. The officer who saved this ship from destruction last night." He lifted his chin, "Will you accept this commission, sir?"

"Uh....I..." Archie shook his head and blinked rapidly as if to wake himself, then stiffened, "Aye....aye aye, sir." He swallowed and added slowly, "I shall endeavor not to disappoint you, sir."

This time, Pellew could not stop the smile that came to his face. So much like that boy he meet three years ago. "Thank you, Mr. Kennedy."

"Thank you for your trust in me, sir." Archie said sincerely.

<<Archie Kennedy has the honesty of a child.>> Pellew thought, then said, "Also, due to the hearing, there will be no gunnery practice tomorrow."

"Yes, sir." Archie answered softly.

"You should go to bed now." Pellew suggested, "Good night, Mr. Kennedy."

"Good night, sir." Archie started toward the door, then suddenly stopped and turned back, "Captain Pellew, sir?"

The captain glanced back at him, "Yes, Mr. Kennedy?"

"Thank you for...." Archie frowned, biting his lip as he tried to find the appropriate words. Then he licked his lips and softly said, "Thank you for doing my father's duty to me, sir."

Kennedy's choice of words made Pellew smile gently, "I am glad you trusted me enough to allow me to, lad."

Archie closed his eyes on his tears.

Pellew quickly moved to stand before Kennedy and put his hand on the boy's shoulder, "I apologize if I have hurt you, lad."

"Thank you, sir." Archie whispered, "But you did not cause my pain, sir."

"I am glad to hear it." Pellew told him, "You do not deserve pain. I am sorry that you have had to suffer." Archie lowered his head as low as he could, but the captain could feel the sobs.

Grieved by the pain that Kennedy was suffering, Edward slipped his arm around the boy's slumped shoulders, which only made him sob more. "There, there, my boy." He led Archie back to the chair.

"Maybe, you should have that glass of brandy. Humm?" Pellew eased him down into the chair.

"Yes, sir." Archie's voice trembling as he wiped his face, trying to gain control of his emotions. "I-I'm sorry, sir."

Pellew gave Archie's shoulder a gentle rub and a pat, before he walked over to his sideboard and poured a glass of brandy. Walking back, he sat down and handed Archie the glass, "Here, lad."

"Thank you, sir." Archie took a deep breath and began to slowly drink the brandy.

Pellew sat and watched him for several minutes, trying to think of a way to gain the boy's trust. But already Kennedy was starting to retreat again. Edward decided not to push. Kennedy had trusted him enough to accept his offer to explain about women and talk about his fits. And even admitted that Simpson had beaten him. That was enough for one night. Pellew could wait for another time to get more details. Very gently he said, "Finish your brandy, Mr. Kennedy."

"Yes, sir." Archie quickly downed what was in the glass.

Pellew took the empty glass from Kennedy's hands, he stood and went back to the sideboard. He looked out of the window for several long minutes, trying to think of something he could say. When he finally did think of something and turned around, but stopped at the sight of his acting lieutenant.

Kennedy was slumped in the chair with his eyes closed.

Pellew raised a brow as he walked toward the chair, "Mr. Kennedy?"

No answer.

"Mr. Kennedy?" Even though it was said louder, there was still no answer.

Pellew sat down across from him and smiled. This boy did look like an angel! Specially sleeping. Edward cocked his head, <<How could his father not love him? In the short time I've taken attempting to get to know him, I have become fond of this boy. How could his own father have had him in his house for twelve years and not feel any affection for him?>>

 

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CHAPTER FORTY FIVE

 

Standing, Pellew gently put his hand on the boy's shoulder and lightly shook him, "Mr. Kennedy?"

Reaching up with one hand, Archie rubbed his face and moaned softly.

"Mr. Kennedy," Pellew said softly, "you should go to bed."

Archie yawned and stretched, then seemed to realize where he was and sat up quickly, his eyes wide, "Oh! Captain, sir! I'm sorry I fell asleep!

"Was it something I said?" Pellew teased with an amused smile.

"Uh....no, sir!" Archie was horrified, "I-I'm sorry, sir. I really am!"

"It's quite all right, lad. You need your sleep." Smiling warmly, Pellew took Archie by the arm and helped him to his feet, "But not in that chair. You would feel like hell in the morning. We can talk tomorrow."

"Yes, sir." Archie said as the captain took him to the door, "Thank you for the brandy, sir. And please accept my apologies for falling asleep while you were talking, sir."

"Don't worry about it, lad." Pellew told him, "Just get some sleep."

"Thank you for being so kind, sir." Archie smiled sleepily at his captain.

Those words made Pellew's heart ache. He smiled as he opened the door and said sincerely, "You are very welcome, son."

Archie gave the captain a very warm smile, "Good night, sir."

"Good night, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew smiled as he watched the boy go. Kennedy is, without a doubt, the most amusing officer I've ever had!

 

Archie walked to his cabin and stripped off his jacket and waistcoat. Then sat down on his bunk and took his shirt off, trying to remember what he had done with his night shirt. I didn't use it last night. He finally remembered, <<So where is it?>> He closed his eyes, wishing he had not had that brandy. Then he lay his head down on his pillow, <<I'll get up in a few moments and look for it.>>

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

December 14, 1795

Horatio awoke early to find Archie sleeping on his side, his legs and one arm hanging off the bunk, and his shirt on the floor. He had not even heard him come in. <<Where was he last night?>>

Horatio bent down to pick up Archie's shirt, and found himself looking directly at the scars on his friend's abdomen. He knew most of the scars had been made by the cat and cane. But some looked like they had been made with a knife. However, there was one odd shaped scar that Horatio could not identify. It was round. Perfectly round, and he was not certain he wanted to know what caused it. Closeing his eyes, he stood up, <<I hate you, Jack Simpson!>>

Archie moaned, rubbed his eyes, and then opened them. He sat up and stretched. He smiled as he raised a slim blond brow, "Are you planning to wear two shirts today, Horatio?"

"No." Horatio smiled in return and handed the shirt to his shipmate, "This one is yours. I found it on the floor."

Suddenly remembering last night, Archie gasped and snatched the shirt from Horatio's hand, pulling it in front of him.

"I'm sorry, Archie." Horatio said softly, "But I've known about the scars since prison"

Archie stared at his friend.

"After I had taken you to the gate in the rain," Horatio explained gently, "I had to get you out of your wet clothes. Don Massaredo had a clean night shirt brought in....I was not looking for the scars, Archie. And I want you to know I am sorry I found them." <<You have no idea how sorry!>> "Archie, I...." Horatio stopped when Archie buried his face in his shirt.

Horatio stood for a few moments, desperately trying to think of something to say, but nothing was coming to his mind.

"It was Simpson."

Horatio almost didn't hear Archie's muffled whisper. He knelt down in front of his friend, debating on whether or not to put his hand on Archie's arm, afraid of how it might be received. He cleared his throat and said softly, "I'm sorry, Archie."

"Why?" Archie whispered, "It was not your fault." He raised his head, "You said you knew Simpson had beaten me. Why didn't you tell me you knew about...." He took a deep, shuddering breath and let it out. Then shrugged, "I should have realized you knew about them. You would have had to have seen them when you bathed me. I should have known that."

"You were very ill, Archie." Horatio gently put his hand on Archie's arm and felt him tense, "You were not exactly aware of things then."

"I was aware that I wanted to die." Archie hung his head again.

"I don't think you really wanted to die, Archie." Horatio said softly, "I think you were suffering greatly, and just wanted it to end and, because you were so ill and not thinking clearly, you saw death as the only way to end it."

Archie raised his head and looked into the sincere brown eyes, "Really?"

Horatio smiled, reassuringly, "Yes, Archie."

"Thank you, Horatio." Archie whispered. <<Why does he care so much for me? Why did he care in prison? He didn't have to care. My family did not care, why did he? I was nothing to him but a shipmate. Would he have done the same for Hunter? He had pulled Simpson out of the water after Justinian sank.>> Archie's heart fell, <<Horatio Hornblower does everything out of duty. He even sees me as his duty.>> "I need to dress and eat before my watch." Archie whispered without emotion, "Could you excuse me, please?"

Horatio blinked, wondering what had happened. Archie was talking to him, then suddenly withdrew, and Horatio had no idea why. Standing, he stepped back.

Archie stood and dressed with his back to Horatio, knowing he was being watched. When he was dressed, he began looking around the cabin.

"What are you looking for?" Horatio asked easily.

"My cloak." Archie's voice was still lacking emotion.

Horatio walked to his sea chest and picked up his own cloak, "Here." He handed it to Archie, "You can use mine."

When Archie shook his head, Horatio moved behind him, and put the cloak over his friend's shoulders, "I don't want you to become ill, Archie. I can get it back when I come up on deck for my watch."

Archie swallowed and muttered an emotionless, "Thank you." Then left.

As the door closed, Horatio's heart sank, <<What did I miss? Why did he withdraw so quickly? Did I say something to cause this?>>

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

Hornblower was helping Bracegirdle ready the room for the hearing. Watching the boy, Bracegirdle realized something was bothering the young lieutenant, and asked gently, "Mr. Hornblower, what is amiss?"

"Sir?" Horatio looked up at the older man.

"I'm not blind, lad." Bracegirdle told him, "I can see that you are troubled by something, and we are going to need your mind here, not wandering elsewhere. Tell me what the problem is, so we can handle this hearing properly."

"It's...." Horatio glanced away, not wishing to discuss Archie's private business with anyone.

"It's Mr. Kennedy, is it not?" Bracegirdle asked softly.

Horatio looked at the older man, stunned, <<How did he know?>>

"Is he all right?" Bracegirdle cocked his head.

"Who?" Pellew asked as he walked in.

"Mr. Kennedy, sir." Bracegirdle answered.

Pellew turned to Horatio, "Is he all right, Mr. Hornblower?"

<<Damn, damn, damn!>> Horatio sighed and said hesitantly, "I am not really certain, sir. He..uh....he did not wish to talk this morning before he left for his watch."

Pellew knew by the boy's choice of words that there was more to it then that, but they did not have time to go into that right now. "Take your seats, gentlemen." Pellew ordered. As Hornblower and Bracegirdle moved to their allotted chairs, Pellew stayed where he was, and looked at both of them, "Gentlemen, we need to set aside our affection for Mr. Kennedy - and what happened to him that night - and judge solely on the evidence. Is that understood?"

"Aye aye, sir." Both officers answered.

"Good." Pellew took his own seat.

 

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CHAPTER FORTY SIX

 

Lieutenant Young walked into the cabin flanked by Marine Captain Pendleton and another marine. All three snapped to attention. Pellew glanced up at Young, trying to push the memory of how shaken Kennedy was that night and the boy's fit from his mind. He cleared his throat, "Mr. Young, you are being charged with deserting your post. Do you have anything to say in your own defence?"

"Yes, sir."

The officers glanced at each other, then back at Young in surprise. What could the man possibly say in his own defence? He deserted his post to hide in a corner. How could anyone defend that? Pellew sighed, "You may speak."

"Sir," Young started, "we were outnumbered. There was no way to beat them."

"And yet...." Pellew said simply, "we did."

"But we should not have been ably to beat them sir." Young insisted, "It goes against reality."

"Is this your defence, Mr. Young?" Pellew asked.

"Sir, don't you understand," Young shook his head, "there was no way to win."

Pellew raised his brow, "Then how did we survive?"

Young hesitated a moment, then said, "Dumb luck, sir."

Pendleton rolled his eyes.

"Dumb luck?" Pellew raised his brow again, "Or did God have mercy on us, and send His angels to protect us, knowing that our third lieutenant was going to cower in a corner leaving us defenseless?"

"Mr. Kennedy is not an angel, sir!" Young retorted.

"No one said he was, Mr. Young." Pellew frowned.

"You said God sent an angel to save this ship, sir." Young pointed out.

Pellew shook his head slightly, "I suggested that it was possible that God sent His angels to protect us, because our gunnery officer was not even trying to."

"You're talking about Kennedy!" Young said angrily.

"No!" Pellew shot back, "I am talking about you, and what you did not do!"

"Sir, Kennedy....!"

"Is not the one this hearing is about Lieutenant Young, you are!" Pellew raised his voice, "Perhaps you can tell us what happened, lieutenant?"

"Yes, sir." Young said, "The men ran to the guns and were preparing for battle. Kennedy came in and claimed he was supposed to assist me. Murphy said there were two frigates and they were cleared for action."

"Mr. Young," Pellew eyed the man, "you said the men were preparing the guns. Was that before or after Kennedy came to the gun deck?"

"Uh..." He paused for several moments, then said, "They had started preparing the guns before he came, sir."

The captain took a deep breath and ordered, "Continue, Mr. Young."

"Yes, sir. Kennedy began to shout what he thought we should do. He just took command, sir."

"Mr. Kennedy took command from you?" Pellew frowned, "And you went to the corner?"

"Uh....well...I..uh....I...don't remember, sir." Young stammered.

"You don't remember?" Pellew raised his brow.

"No, sir." Young answered.

<<Does this man have no honor?>> Pellew thought, "Captain Pendleton, have Mr. Young escorted to the brig and send for Mr. Kennedy."

"Yes, sir." Pendleton turned to the other marine, who nodded and led Young out the door.

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

Kennedy walked into the room, looking very nervous and snapped to attention.

"Mr. Kennedy," Pellew instructed, "please give us a detailed report of what happened on the gun deck on the night of December twelfth."

"Aye aye, sir." Kennedy swallowed and cleared his throat, "I hurried to the gun deck as ordered and presented myself to Lieutenant Young." Archie hesitated.

"You must tell the truth, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew reminded him.

"Yes, sir." Archie's voice became soft as he said, "I introduced myself, and Mr. Young frowned at me, he repeated my name and said 'The one who's been in prison for the last three years?.' I told him it was two years, and he shook his head, and said 'And you're supposed to help me?' and rolled his eyes and shook his head again, as if he didn't believe I could."

The expression on Kennedy's face said what he had not; how that comment had made him feel.

"Mr. Murphy shouted that there were two Spanish frigates with forty two guns each, and that they were cleared for action. I....suddenly felt ill. Mr. Young muttered that we were outnumbered, and Mr. Murphy said that the enemy were gaining on us, and we needed to ready the guns. Mr...."

"Pardon me, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew interrupted, "Mr. Murphy suggested preparing the guns?"

"Yes, sir."

"When you came to the gun deck," Pellew asked, "were the guns not already prepared for action?"

"No, sir." Archie was becoming more nervous and it could be heard in his voice.

"Pleased continue, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew gave him a nod.

"Yes, sir." Archie took a deep breath, "When Mr. Murphy said that we needed to ready the guns, Mr. Young asked 'to do what?.' He said again that we couldn't fight two frigates at the same time. He....he was starting to panic. I reminded him that the lives of all those on board Indefatigable and Cassandra depended upon our guns firing, and I begged him to give the order to ready the guns."

"You begged him?" Pellew raised an eyebrow.

"Yes, sir. I fe....feared what would happened if we didn't take action, sir. He said we couldn't fight them. Murphy shouted that the ships were moving to opposite sides of Indefatigable, and again, asked Mr. Young to ready the guns. He just screamed that we couldn't fight them."

"Why did you yourself not give the order to ready the guns, Mr. Kennedy?" Pellew asked.

Archie appeared frightened by the question, he swallowed and cleared his throat, but his voice trembled, "I..I....could not assume command when he was the ranking officer, sir."

"And yet, you did assume command, did you not?" Pellew raised his chin.

The acting lieutenant paled, beginning to shake and lower his head, "Yes....yes, sir."

"Please continued, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew told him.

"Y-yes, sir." Archie took a deep breath, raised his head, and glanced at Horatio, who gave him a look of encouragement. His voice shaking, Archie stammered, "I..I..I told M..Mr. Young that....we should fire before the Spanish, that it was the only chance we had. He said...." Kennedy paused and lowered his eyes.

"I want to know his exact words, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew ordered.

Archie swallowed, "Yes, sir. He said 'we don't stand a chance, you idiot!'." He hesitated a moment, then went on, "I tried to plead with him again, but he just screamed 'I can't' at me. He seemed hysterical, sir." Archie's voice became soft and childlike as he spoke, "I...I didn't know what to do, sir."

"So you took command." Pellew stated.

"No, sir." Kennedy answered quietly.

"You did not assume command?" Pellew raised his brow, leaning forward, studying the boy.

"Not then, sir." Kennedy licked his lips and swallowed, "Mr. Murphy shouted that the ships were almost upon us." Archie's voice was trembling more as he spoke, "I..I didn't....know what else to do, sir. The enemy....I couldn't let the enemy fire on us, there were too many lives at stake. And when Mr. Young sat down in the corner crying, 'I can't!' and would not give the order to ready the guns, Mr. Murphy asked me what we were going to do...." His shaking was worse now, "I....we had to do something, sir." Archie looked at the captain, confused, "Did....did I....was it wrong for me to assume command, sir?"

Closing his eyes, Pellew took a deep breath, "Thank you, Mr. Kennedy. You are dismissed."

Archie's voice was very unsteady as he answered, "Ah....aye aye, sir." He turned and left the cabin.

 

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CHAPTER FORTY SEVEN

 

"Captain Pendleton, send for Mr. Murphy." Pellew ordered.

"Mr. Murphy," Pellew started, "I would like a detailed report of everything that took place on the gun deck the night of December twelfth."

"Aye aye, sir." The young man started, "Mr. Young ordered me t' keep an eye on the enemy out th' porthole. Mr. Kennedy came int' the gun deck and introduced himself and said that he was reporting fer duty. Mr. Young made a rude comment 'bout Mr. Kennedy having been in prison fer three years. Mr. Kennedy politely corrected that it was just a little over two years, and Mr. Young shook his head an rolled his eyes an' said 'And ye're supposed to help me?' as if he didn't believe Mr. Kennedy was capable." Murphy's tone turned sympathetic, "I saw Mr. Kennedy's face before he put his head down. Mr. Young didn' have t' be so rude. I turned back t' th' porthole an' reported t' Mr. Young that there were two Spanish frigates with forty guns each and cleared fer action. Mr. Young said we were out numbered. Mr. Kennedy looked as frightened as I was." Murphy frowned to himself, "He looked ill too. I told Mr. Young they were gainin' on us and we needed t' ready the guns. He asked...."

"Mr. Murphy," Pellew interrupted, "You told Mr. Young the guns needed to be prepared?"

"Uh....yes, sir." Murphy said softly.

Pellew frowned, "Let me get this straight, Mr. Murphy. Were the guns being prepared before Mr. Kennedy came onto the gun deck?"

"No, sir." Murphy answered, "Th' guns were never made ready until Mr. Kennedy ordered 'em t' be."

Pellew nodded and took a deep breath, "Please continue, Mr. Murphy."

"Aye, sir. When I told Mr. Young we needed t' ready th' guns, he asked, 't' do what?' says 'We can't fight two frigates at th' same time.' And Mr. Kennedy says 'We're not getting a choice in th' matter, sir. We have t' ready th' guns.' But Mr. Young shouted at him saying 'We can't fight two frigates at th' same time.' Mr. Kennedy told him that th' lives o' everyone on th' Indy an' th' Cassandra were depending on th' guns firing and begged Mr. Young t' ready th' guns, but Mr. Young just shouted, 'We can't!'. I informed Mr. Young that th' ships were moving t' opposite sides o' th' Indy. Poor Mr. Kennedy sounded very frightened. I know everyone on th' gun deck was. He told Mr. Young that we had t' ready th' guns. But Mr. Young screamed at Mr. Kennedy, 'We can't fight them, Kennedy! Don' you understand that?!' I could see Mr. Kennedy was shaking and he said, 'We have t' start firing before th' Spanish have a chance t', sir! If we don' fire first, we won' stand a chance, sir!' Mr. Young shouted, 'We don' stand a chance, you idiot!'. Mr. Kennedy started t' say something, but Mr. Young screamed at him, 'I can't, dammit! I can't!'"

"Mr. Kennedy said if Mr. Young didn' ready th' guns, we would all die. Mr. Young screamed, 'I can't!' I shouted Mr. Young's name, but he just kept screaming, 'I can't!' over and over, an' backed int' th' corner. I shouted that they were almost on us and asked Mr. Kennedy what we should do. I don' think Mr. Kennedy knew what to do, though. He was shaking real bad, and closed his eyes. After a few moments, he took a deep breath and let it out real slow. I think he was trying t' calm himself. Then he took another deep breath and opened his eyes and shouted 'Ready th' guns! Prepare t' fire as I command!' He didn' really sound t' sure o' what he was doing. I mean, his voice was real shaky and he was shaking some'in fierce. But Mr. Young wasn't doing anything and we had t' save th' ship. Mr. Kennedy ordered that every gun reload as fast as they could and fire as soon as they were loaded again. And it worked!"

Pellew blinked, then took a deep breath, "Thank you, Mr. Murphy. You are dismissed."

"Aye, sir." Murphy started toward the door. Then stopped and turned around, "Captain, sir?"

Pellew glanced up at the boy, "Yes, Mr. Murphy?"

"Sir," Murphy cocked his head, "Johnson said that charges could be brought against Mr. Kennedy because he assumed command. It was not Mr. Kennedy's fault Mr. Young threw that fit, sir."

The officers were surprised by Murphy's word for Young's actions. Pellew looked at the young man, "Thank you, Mr. Murphy."

"Aye, sir." Murphy said softly and left the room.

Pellew let his breath out in a huff and sank back in his seat.

"His story is closer to Mr. Kennedy's then Mr. Young's." Bracegirdle commented.

Pellew nodded slowly, then looked at the marine captain, "I want every midshipman who was on the gun deck that night brought here one by one to testify."

"Yes, sir." Pendleton hurried out the door.

"Mr. Bracegirdle," Pellew turned to his first officer. He wanted Bracegirdle to check on Kennedy, to make certain the boy was not going to have one of his fits, but didn't know how to send him without it being obvious. Then it came to him, "find Mr. Kennedy and tell him he may entertain the children now since he has no gunnery practice today."
"Yes, sir."

As Bracegirdle stood and left the room, Pellew propped his elbows on the table, burying his face in his hands, while Hornblower clasped his hands together, resting them on the table top.

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

After looking on deck, Bracegirdle went to Kennedy's cabin and knocked.

"Come in." Came a muffled and very unsteady voice.

Bracegirdle opened the door to find Kennedy sitting on his bunk with his face buried in his hands, "Mr. Kennedy?"

Archie jumped to his feet and snapped to attention, "Sir?"

Bracegirdle gave him a warm, but concerned look, "Is all well with you, sir?"

Archie blinked, "Y..yes, sir." Then lowered his gaze and added, "I'm not....I'm not going to have a.....a fit, sir."

Bracegirdle moved closer to the boy, "You seemed somewhat worried."

Archie had looked up while the lieutenant spoke, then lowered his eyes again and, licking his lips, "Yes, sir. I..I am."

Bracegirdle put his hand on Archie's shoulder, "Don't be, Mr. Kennedy. You are not the one in trouble, remember?"

"But...." Archie raised his head, "I assumed command of the gun deck while the ranking officer was present."

"And had you not assumed command," Bracegirdle told him, "All those on this ship, and on Cassandra, who were not killed, would be in a Spanish prison." Bracegirdle felt the boy shudder on the last two words, and immediately felt remorse for reminding Kennedy of his imprisonment, "You are not in trouble, Archie."

Archie nodded.

"The captain sent me to tell you that you may entertain the children now, since you do not have gunnery practice."

Archie dropped his gaze to the floor, like a child who had just had his toy taking from him.

"This is not a punishment, Mr. Kennedy." Bracegirdle informed him, "In order to make the best decision at this hearing, we will need the testimony of the midshipmen who were on the gun deck that night, and this will take all day. You are not being punished, lad. Do you understand?"

Archie nodded without raising his head and said softly, "Yes, sir."

Bracegirdle gave a nod and removed his hand, "You can go up on deck, Mr. Kennedy. You don't have to sit here alone."

"I....was going to lie down for a little while, sir." Archie said softly.

"Very well." Bracegirdle sighed, "But, go up on deck in a couple of hours. Don't stay in here all day."

"Yes, sir." Archie answered.

Bracegirdle left the room, and Archie sank down on his bunk, took a deep breath, then lie down and closed his eyes.

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

The afternoon was spent with each midshipman telling their version of what had happened that night. After they had all finished testifying, Bracegirdle raised a brow and commented, "Did anyone besides me, notice that ALL their accounts were the same as Murphy's?"

"Yes." Pellew nodded, "And they are very exact on Young's choice of words."

Pellew turned to Hornblower, "Opinion, sir?"

Horatio cleared his throat, imagining that Archie was not involved in this, "Sir, Mr. Young's duty was to defend the ship. He did not ready the guns to fire. He failed to do his duty, sir."

Pellew eyed him a moment, then raised his brow, "And if Mr. Kennedy was not involved?"

"Sir," Horatio sat at attention, "you ordered us to conduct this hearing without allowing our affection for Mr. Kennedy, or his....fit....to influence our decision. I assure you, sir, my opinion is based on Mr. Young's actions alone."

Pellew nodded and turned to his first lieutenant, "Mr. Bracegirdle?"

"Sir," Bracegirdle said slowly, "Lieutenant Young did abandon his post during battle. I see no way of excusing that. Unless he was not in his right state of mind."

Pellew raised his brow and blinked, "Well, there's a question I never thought to ask." He took a deep breath, "Bring Mr. Young back in."

 

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CHAPTER FORTY EIGHT

 

Young stood to attention before the captain and lieutenants. "Mr. Young," Pellew started, "after hearing the testimony of the other witnesses from the gun deck, it is the decision of the officers present that you deserted your post during battle."

Young paled and swallowed, "Sir, the men are taking up for Kennedy because he got lucky when the Spanish broke off the attack!"

"Mr. Young," Pellew leaned forward, eyeing the man, "are you suggesting that all the witnesses are lying because Mr. Kennedy forced those two ships off?"

"Exactly, sir!" While Hornblower and Bracegirdle stared at the man dumbfounded, Pellew put his hand against his mouth, but stopped himself before he said <<Don't you even have enough decency to take your punishment like a man?!>> The captain started rubbing his temples. Then it struck him! He raised his head and locked eyes with the lieutenant, "Mr. Young, why did you abandon your post?"

"Sir?" Young frowned, fidgeting.

"Just answer that question." Pellew advised, "Tell me why."

Young became more fidgety.

"Can you answer that question, Mr. Young?" Pellew asked.

Young's mouth opened several times, but he said nothing.

"Very well." Pellew wrote in his journal. "Mr. Young, you are to report to the sick berth for a complete examination. This hearing will convene after Dr. Hepplewhite has had enough time to determine if you are in your right state of mind."

Young's mouth fell open.

"Captain Pendleton, have Mr. Young escorted to the sick berth." The captain ordered, "Mr. Bracegirdle accompany them, and inform Dr. Hepplewhite of my order."

"Yes, sir." Bracegirdle followed the men out of the room.

Horatio sat at the table in silence as Pellew gathered his papers. The captain glanced at him, "You are dismissed, Mr. Hornblower."

When the boy didn't respond, Pellew cleared his throat and said a bit louder, "Lieutenant Hornblower, you may go now."

"Sir?" Horatio looked up and started hesitantly, "Mr. Kennedy did assume command of the gun deck."

"And I thank God he did." Pellew shook his head and sighed, "Whatever the reason for Young's actions, he still deserted his post. It was Mr. Kennedy's duty to assume command if Young was unable to. There will be no charges against Mr. Kennedy."

Pellew watched Hornblower exhale in relief and silently prayed, <<Dear Lord, please watch over these two boys.>> He eyed Horatio a few more moments, then said, "I take it, you are upset about Mr. Kennedy?"

Horatio hesitated, then decided to give up, since it was so obvious to everyone, "Yes, sir. I don't know....he seems more....distant today, sir."

Pellew thought of last night and having to explain to Kennedy something he should have already known, and the look of shame on his handsome young face because he did not know. Edward closed his eyes and sighed. Then opened them and said gently, "Mr. Hornblower, I know you and Mr. Kennedy are close, but he is not like you. His life did come to a complete stop while he was in prison. He has not had the experiences, or help, he needed to mature. There are a lot of things you do not know about him. Things, no doubt, he would be embarrassed for you to know. If you want to be a good friend, lad, and if you really care about him, you will understand that, and allow him his privacy."

Horatio thought about Archie's scars and how embarrassed Archie had been, not just of the scars, but of how he had received them - being tortured, and unable to fight back.

"You can understand that, can you not, Mr. Hornblower?" Pellew asked.

Horatio nodded, "Yes, sir."

"Sometimes, lad," Pellew said very gently, slowly, "the best thing you can do for a friend, is to let him keep his dignity. And seeing as how Mr. Kennedy has had much of his dignity stripped from him recently, it would be very compassionate of you to allow him to keep some things private."

"Yes, sir." Horatio nodded again, "Thank you, sir."

Pellew smiled warmly and started for the door, then had an idea, stopped and turned back to his young lieutenant, "Mr. Hornblower, if you see Mr. Kennedy before I do, inform him that since he has no other duties today he may take the children, and any of the passengers who are interested, to see the gun deck." Then Edward seized the opportunity to tease the boy, "You may join them, if you wish. It will give you and Miss Padorin a chance to enjoy each other's company."

Caught completely off guard, Horatio blushed, his mouth opening slightly, and he blinked, embarrassed.

"So." Pellew said easily, "you are Miss Padorin's suitor?"

Horatio cleared his throat, trying to stop his blushing, "Yes, sir."

"Well, this is something I did not see coming." Pellew mused, "I knew Mr. Kennedy was going to fall, but I did not expect you to."

Horatio blinked, "Mr. Kennedy's in love, sir?"

"I believe so, Mr. Hornblower." Pellew smiled at the thought, "He certainly has all the symptoms of first love."

<<Damn!>> Horatio thought as Pellew turned and walked out, <<How can I be looking right at Archie and still miss what is so obvious to everyone else? What kind of friend am I?>> Horatio stood and left the cabin.

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

Horatio opened the door to their cabin and found Archie sleeping, wrapped up in his blanket and Horatio's cloak. Smiling at the sight, the young lieutenant decided not to wake him and sat down on his own bunk. He leaned back against the wall and began to think.

Hamilton was right about Archie not being selfish. Since Muzillac, Archie had given Horatio all of his time to the point of nearly exhausting himself.

But Horatio had not been as generous to Archie.

When Archie had needed kindness and compassion in prison, Horatio was walking with Miss Cobham.

In truth, Archie's condition had been very unsettling to Horatio. Kennedy was deep in despair, unwilling to talk to Horatio, and unable to walk or to care for himself, and Horatio did not want to see Kennedy like that. When they had first met, Archie Kennedy had warmly welcomed him aboard Justinian with a broad smile and a humorous comment, then had shown Horatio to the midshipmen's berth and around the ship the next day with that same joyful smile. Kennedy was trying to be a friend to Horatio.

Of course, Horatio had found out that Archie also needed a friend. Archie was genuinely concerned for Horatio when told of the duel, and he was so excited when they were transferred to Indefatigable. And Horatio would never forget Archie's face after boarding his first enemy ship. That was how Horatio wanted to think of Archie Kennedy; enthusiastic, competent, and lively. Not helpless, weak, and in despair. Horatio did not want to see Kennedy that way. He had felt a tremendous guilt for having struck Archie, which led to his being captured and in this state, and seeing Kennedy like this only made that guilt worse. So Horatio had done his best to stay away from Kennedy, until that day he was forced to stay in the cell because of the rain. Archie had actually talked to him. But it wasn't until Archie was dying that Horatio became concerned for him. He had known Archie couldn't care for himself, and that Hunter loathed him. It had been out of guilt that Horatio had desperately tried to keep Archie alive. Guilt for striking him that night. Guilt for enjoying his walks outside of the prison while Archie was stuck in a cell he had been in for months - possibly years. And guilt for having left him in despair, and not making an attempt to help him out of it.

Horatio had done that to Archie Kennedy. Had allowed someone who had cared about him, and helped him when they were aboard Justinian, become sick to the point where he tried to end his own life.

<<I rejected Archie.>> Horatio thought, <<I should have been trying to pull him out of his despair. I should have been making certain sure that he was eating so he could have regained his strength. I should have made him feel that he was one of us. And looking back now, I understand why he did not believe it. I was not showing any concern for him, so why would he believe anyone cared.>> Horatio leaned forward, propping his elbow on his knees and supporting his head. <<How could I have done that to the one person who went out of his way to make me feel like I belonged on Justinian? How that must have hurt him!>>

And yet, while nursing Kennedy back to health, the still very weak Archie had managed to whisper with an exhausted smile 'Thank you for helping me, Horatio'. And when he had gained his strength, Archie had thanked him once more. He did not hold a grudge of any kind against Horatio. Not for striking him, or neglecting him, not even for abandoning him in that cell with Hunter. Archie's fondness for him had only deepened.

Archie was a true friend. A dear friend. A friend Horatio found he would not want to live without.

When had Archie become so dear to him?

Horatio thought on that for a few minutes, remembering how terrified he had become when he could not get a response from Archie that rainy day. And when Hunter said Kennedy had not been eating, Horatio actually felt his heart breaking.

When he had joined the Navy, Horatio had never intended to become close to anyone, nor did he want to. He was content in his solitude. But Archie had managed to achieve what no one had ever done before. Archie Kennedy had made his way into Horatio Hornblower's heart, and Horatio had no idea how he had done it, or even when! All he knew was that Archie had became as dear to Horatio as the only two people in this world Horatio had ever loved; his parents. Archie had become the brother Horatio never had.

But there was still a distance between them. A distance Horatio found himself hating. He had to find a way to be the friend that Archie Kennedy really needed.

 

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CHAPTER FORTY NINE

 

A knock came at the door, interrupting Horatio's thoughts, and waking Archie. With a moan, Archie rubbed his face, then said breathlessly, "Come in."

Bracegirdle walked in, seeing Hornblower first, then Kennedy wrapped in the cloak and blanket. As Horatio jumped to attention, Archie fought to untangle himself from his blanket and Horatio's cloak.

Bracegirdle tried his best not to laugh. Then seeing that Kennedy was beginning to lose his patience with the cloak and blanket, the first lieutenant smiled and said, "As you were, Mr. Kennedy. I just wanted to see if you had gone up on deck like I told you to?"

"Umm....I..I fell asleep, sir." Archie told him.

"Well, you should go up on deck." Bracegirdle suggested, "You should not stay shut in here all day."

"Sir," Horatio quickly said, "the captain told me to inform Mr. Kennedy that he could take the children to see the gun deck."

Archie looked surprised and glanced from Horatio to Bracegirdle, then back again.

"Well, in that case...." Smiling, Bracegirdle gestured toward the door with a wink, "your audience awaits you, Mr. Kennedy. Enjoy!"

"Yes, sir." Came Archie's response. At that, the first lieutenant turned and left the cabin.

Archie started trying to untangle himself from the cloak and blanket again. Horatio walked over and, without a word, helped him.

"Thank you." Archie said softly as he stood.

"You're welcome, Archie." Horatio gave him a slight smile.

"And thank you for the use of your cloak." Archie handed the cloak to Horatio.

"My pleasure." Horatio wanted to start a conversation with Archie, but after this morning, he was not certain how to. Horatio took a deep breath. <<How do I start?>> Clearing his throat, Horatio asked, "Where were you last night, Archie? I fell asleep waiting for you. I had something I wanted to tell you."

Archie bit his lip and was quiet a few moments. Then said hesitently, "I-I was with the captain."

Horatio blinked, <<With the captain?>> Pellew had never said a word.

Hoping to keep Horatio from questioning him as to why he was with the captain, Archie looked up at him, "What did you want to tell me, Horatio?"

Judging by the way Archie was acting, Horatio decided he would take the captain's advice and let Archie have his privacy. Taking a deep breath, he said slowly, "Archie, I think I'm in love."

"You're in love with Miss Valentina?" Archie asked.

"You know, Archie," Horatio smiled, pointing out playfully, "there are not too many available ladies on this ship. She asked her parents if I could be her suitor and they said yes."

Blinking, Archie moved his mouth several times as if to speak, but nothing came out. Finally, he closed his mouth, swallowed, then said, "You....are going to be her suitor?" A brilliant smile lit Archie's face, "Mr. Hornblower is going to become the suitor of a lovely young lady? I cannot believe it! When did you know?" Then he turned a bit more serious, "How did you know?!"

Horatio hesitated a few moments, "I do not really know, Archie. I enjoy talking to her, and I find her very interesting. I know I feel something for her. I....when I look into her eyes....I can't think. I can't speak. I just stare into her eyes and feel as if I could stare into them forever."

Archie's smile could not have gotten any bigger and Horatio was struck by how genuinely happy he was for him. It was as if Horatio's joy was Archie's joy too.

"So," Archie's expression was a mixture of joy and disbelief as he asked, "do you think you might consider matrimony?"

"I don't know." Horatio smiled, "I think I might, but I'm not certain. I do want a chance to know her better, to see if I really would want to spend my life with her."

"Horatio Hornblower's in love!" Archie was unable to contain his excitement any longer and laughed, "I can't believe it!"

Although Horatio was blushing, he was glad to see Archie so happy. And he was happy for Horatio. That was so amazing to the young lieutenant. Horatio swallowed and asked, "And what about you, Archie?"

Archie frowned slightly, while still keeping his grin, "Me?"

"I happen to know," Horatio folded his arms across his chest, "from a very reliable source....that Miss Tatiana Padorin is very taken with you and her parents said that you could be her suitor. So....?"

Archie suddenly looked very bashful as he blushed and lowered his head.

"Archie," Trying to keep from snickering, Horatio stepped closer, leaning down and eyeing his friend, "are you in love?"

"I don't know." Archie shrugged, blinking nervously.

"Captain Pellew believes you are." Horatio smiled.

All humor was gone from his face and voice when Archie asked, "The captain told you?"

"He said he believed you were experiencing first love." Horatio saw humiliation come to Archie's face.

Archie swallowed, "What else did he tell you?"

"He just said that he did not see my fancying Miss Valentina coming." Horatio told him, "But that he knew you were going to fall in love with Miss Tatiana."

"He....he didn't tell you what he and I talked about last night?" Archie asked, and Horatio could see how tense the acting lieutenant was.

"No." Horatio shook his head, "He never even told me he had spoken with you last night."

Horatio realized that whatever the captain and Archie had talked about, it was something Archie would feel embarrassed for Horatio to know. This is why the captain had told him to let Archie keep some things private. "I swear, Archie, I had no idea you even spoke to the captain last night. He never told me. My word on it."

Closing his eyes, Archie let his breath out and relaxed, then opened them and gave Horatio a slight smile. Both became quiet for several minutes.

The silence was very uncomfortable, but Archie finally broke it, "The captain has made me acting gunnery officer."

Horatio could not stop his excitement and grabbed his friend by the arms, "Archie, that's wonderful!"

Archie lowered his gaze and said softly, "I don't know if can do it, Horatio."

"Why?" Horatio frowned, but did not released his friend.

Archie looked up at him with fear and uncertainty back in his eyes and he whispered, "I'm frightened."

"Archie, you've already had command of the gun deck." Horatio told him.

"What happens if I have a fit, Horatio?" Archie asked, "What happens if I panic?"

Horatio backed Archie to his bunk and sat him down on it, kneeling down in front of him, "Remember what I told you about being afraid of dying? That if you dwell on it, it might happen? Well, if you dwell on the thoughts that you might have a fit or panic, you will."

"The captain expects me to do that duty, Horatio." Archie buried his face in his hands, "I don't want to fail."

"You won't."

"How do you know?" Archie looked up again, "Horatio, I have failed at almost everything I have ever tried to do." His throat closed on him and he lowered his head. After several very long moments, he whispered, "I can't fail Captain Pellew."

"You won't, Archie."

Archie raised his head once more and sighed, "How can you be so certain?"

"Because," Horatio looked deep into the uncertain blue eyes, "you have a natural talent with the guns. And you work well with the men. They respect you, Archie. And the captain does too. He believes you can handle it. And I know you can."

"I want to believe you, Horatio." Archie said, fighting back the tears, "You have no idea how much I want to believe you! But I have believed before...." Archie turned his face away and, lowering his gaze, his voice whispered, "..only to have those beliefs shattered before my eyes like broken glass."

The pain in his friend's voice went straight to Horatio's heart.

 

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CHAPTER FIFTY

 

"Listen to me, Archie." Horatio said gently, "Captain Pellew would never have made you gunnery officer if he had any doubts that you could not do it."

A knock at the door stopped him from saying more. He stood, and opened the door to find Valentina smiling at him, "I have not seen you once today, so I thought I should come find out what happened to you."

"I was busy with the hearing." Horatio told her.

She nodded, "How is Mr. Kennedy? The children have been so lost without him."

Horatio glanced at Archie, "I don't think he was feeling very well, today."

"Oh." Valentina sounded disappointed, "He will be all right, will he not?"

"Yes, ma'am." Archie stood, "I just needed some rest. Thank you for your concern."

"Oh, you are very welcome, Mr. Kennedy." She said sincerely, "We have missed you. The day just seems so gloomy without you!"

Archie blushed, lowering his eyes. He was not used to compliments, least of all from such a lovely young woman! "I was....I was just getting ready to show the children - and anyone else who wishes - around the gun deck."

"Oh!" Valentina's face lit up, "And you can tell us about defeating the two enemy ships!"

Blushing even more, Archie quietly smiled at her.

"Are you going to join us, Horatio?" She asked.

"Yes, miss." Horatio bowed his head slightly.

"Wonderful!" She said, "I will go tell everyone! And I will see you both on deck!" She hurried down the corridor.

Horatio was so glad that she came when she did. She had lifted Archie's spirits considerably. He could tell how excited Archie was by the way he quickly put on his jacket, fumbling with the buttons. Then he grabbed his hat and asked, "Are you coming, Horatio?"

"Of course." Horatio grabbed his own hat and followed Archie out of the cabin.

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

Archie's attention was on the children, as usual and as he told them all about the guns, and how he had them fire during the battle. Horatio was so proud of him! He had done an outstanding job with the guns that night! <<Why can't Archie see that?>> Horatio thought sadly, and watching the way the children looked at Kennedy, <<Why can't he see the way they are looking at him? They see him as the hero he is. Why can't he see that?>>

And then there was Tatiana. Who was completely enchanted by Archie.

After they were finished with the tour of the gun deck, the children all gave Archie a hug before going with their parents. Malcolm and Martha embraced Kennedy, and Martha kissed his cheek before turning to leave. Then Tatiana took Archie by the arm, and led him up on deck, with Valentina and Horatio following. But Valentina led Horatio away from her sister and his friend.

Archie looked into Tatiana's eyes, <<She is so lovely!>> He thought, <<How can anyone so lovely like me? What does she see when she looks at me? A navy officer? How would she look at me if she knew about the fits? I should tell her before....before I give anymore of my heart to her.>>

Archie swallowed, took a deep breath, and said slowly, "Miss Tatiana, I have something I need to tell you." He lowered his head, unable to meet her eyes, "I have an af...." The word got caught his throat and he had to swallow and clear it to finish, "..affliction....it.......I...." Everyone who knew about his fits had either witnessed him having one, or was told by someone who had witnessed it. Archie had never told anyone. <<This is so hard!>> He thought, then licked his lips and said quickly, "I have fits."

"Fits?" She stared at him blankly.

"Yes." He kept his head down, not wanting to face her, "I........lose....control of my body and I....I...." He took a deep breath, "..fall to the ground, groaning and writhing uncontrollably."

She had bitten her lip while he was talking, pondering what he was saying. Then she realized, "Like Caesar."

"Huh?" Archie raised his head to stare at her, puzzled.

"Julius Caesar vould fall to the ground, vrithing and groaning." She told him.

Archie was stunned! <<Julius Caesar had fits like me?>>

She frowned up at him, "Vhy are you telling me abo...." Taking in a sharp breath, her eyes suddenly widened, "Are you going to have vone?! Vhat should I do?!"

"No!" He shook his head, "I'm not going to have one! I just....I just....thought you should know that....I do have them."

She let out her breath, putting her hand on her chest, panting.

"I am sorry. I did not mean to frightened you." Archie said sincerely, "I just thought you should know. You should tell your parents. I will understand should they feel that I would not be the....suitor they would wish for you."

She reached up and took his face in her hands, sending that tingling sensation through him again, "Did you believe that I would think less of you, Archie?"

He closed his eyes, her touch making him feel giddy.

"How could I think any less of the young man who saved our lives?" She said softly, "Caesar's men never thought any less of him. They followed him where ever he led. Your affliction does not make you any less of a man, Archie."

<<The captain's words!>> Those words made Archie open his eyes, and Tatiana pulled his face closer to hers and gently kissed his lips. He closed his eyes again and she slipped her arm around his neck, taking the kiss deeper.

 

Walking up on the quarter-deck, Pellew asked, "Anything to report?"

"It looks like spring, sir." Bracegirdle commented, thinking of what he had just seen on his return from attending to a task at the foremast. Seeing the captain's puzzlement, the first lieutenant quietly laughed and gestured toward the deck, "At least, it does forrard, sir."

Bracegirdle led Pellew to the deck, toward the the foc'sle. Then stopped and smiled, as he watched his captain.

On the larboard side, behind one of the great guns, Hornblower and Valentina were locked in a passionate kiss. While on the starboard side, also behind one of the guns, Miss Tatiana held Kennedy in a deep kiss. Obviously, the boys believed they would not be seen by others.

Pellew smiled at the sight of his young officers, <<Oh, the joy of young love!>>

Then a thought struck him, <<A lovely young lady kissing him, and Kennedy still tries to keep his distance. Other than his lips, Kennedy is not touching her at all. He truly is afraid to let - even her - close to him. Except for the children, Kennedy does try to keep his distance from everyone. Who caused this? His father or Simpson?>> Again Pellew could not help but wonder, <<What the hell did Simpson do to this poor boy?! Hornblower was beaten by Simpson, but he does not act this way.>>

With a heavy sigh, the captain turned and walked back to the quarter-deck with his first lieutenant.

 

Slowly ending this kiss, Tatiana looked deep into Archie's blue eyes , "I love you, Archie Kennedy. My sweet, brave knight."

As she caressed his cheek with the backs of her fingers, he kept his eyes closed, enjoying the sensation her touch brought, then frowned, <<She loves me? Why?>>

Seeing the expression on his face, Tatiana said, "My love is not blind. I know that no vone in this vorld is perfect. Only the Son of God was perfect and he was nailed to a cross out of jealousy."

Archie opened his eyes at that, and she smiled, "I admire you even more for telling me of your affliction. You are honest, Archie. Most men vould have tried to hide the truth. My mother is right about you - you are wery conscientious. And I appreciate it. But your affliction vill not change how I feel about you." She kissed his lips again, "Good night, my sweet, brave knight." She turned and walked across the deck, going below.

 

Bracegirdle eyed his captain a few moments, then asked quietly, "Sir? Is something troubling you?"

"Yes, Mr. Bracegirdle." Pellew gestured with his chin toward his acting lieutenant, "Mr. Kennedy."

"He looks all right to me, sir." Bracegirdle gave his captain a questioning glance.

Pellew sighed, heavily, "I want to understand him."

"It is very hard to gain his trust, sir." Bracegirdle admitted.

"How did Hornblower gain his trust?" Pellew wondered aloud.

"They are close in age, sir." Bracegirdle suggested, "But I believe he gained it while they were in prison."

"Yes." Pellew muttered, "While Hornblower nursed him back to health."

"It must have made Mr. Kennedy feel some sort of worthiness, sir." Bracegirdle said, remembering Kennedy's story, "After all, Mr. Hornblower refused to let him die, and helped him recover. Mr. Kennedy had to have felt that Mr. Hornblower cared."

"Mr. Hornblower has always cared for Mr. Kennedy." Pellew said, "Mr. Kennedy needs...."

When he stopped, Bracegirdle finished the sentence, "..to believe that someone cares for him."

"You are right." Pellew looked back to were Kennedy now stood alone, looking out to sea, "He does need love." Sighing deeply, Pellew turned and descended the steps from the quarter-deck.

 

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