Free Hosting

Free Web Hosting with PHP, MySQL, Apache, FTP and more.
Get your Free SubDOMAIN you.6te.net or you.eu5.org or...
Create your account NOW at http://www.freewebhostingarea.com.

Cheap Domains

Cheap Domains
starting at $2.99/year

check
Healing Hands
by Joan C.


The scent of the lilacs blooming outside the library window made Dr.
Julius Hornblower glance up from his book and smile. He drew in a deep
breath, grateful for the warmth of the spring air. The winter had been
long and hard, only brightened briefly at Christmas by an unexpected visit
>from Horatio and his friend Archie Kennedy. They had stayed for a week,
leaving the day after New Years to return to the Indefatigable; and the
winter had only seemed more bleak for their absence. Now, it was April,
and the lilacs smelled sweeter than they had in years.

Dr. Hornblower flexed his fingers and grimaced. Despite the warmth, his
arthritis was unrelenting. There were days when it was difficult for him
to hold a quill, much less practice medicine. He longed for the time when
he could pass his hands over a patient's body, and divine somehow, what
was wrong with them. To mend a broken bone, to bandage a wound, to deliver
a child; as he had been called to do on occasion when the birthing was too
hazardous for a midwife. All that was lost to him. Well, not entirely --
his mind was clear and sharp as ever, and his knowledge of medicines and
diagnostic skills was unimpaired. Dr. Blakely, the young physician who had
taken over his practice still consulted him on difficult cases, and a few
of his old patients, distrustful even after three years of Blakely's
services, sent for him to talk about their aches and pains. He no longer
was called out at midnight, or when the weather was treacherous, so
perhaps there were some advantages to being old and semi-retired.

With a sigh, he set down his book and reached for his cane. Damn his
aching knees! A bit of springtime sun might ease their complaints. Yes, a
short ride to the Whitehall's, and a game of chess with the Squire might
be just the thing to help him forget that he was damnably lonely. His eyes
went to the mantel and the portrait of his late wife. Well, Louisa, he
thought to her, I'm feeling a mite sorry for myself. Have you a
prescription for that? She had no answer, but for that entrancing smile
playing about her lips. It will not be long, my dear. Not long ...

Dr. Hornblower shook his head. Despite his aches, and his loneliness, he
was not quite ready to quit this mortal coil. He still had Horatio, and
that knowledge was reason enough to continue. He went into the hallway and
called for his housekeeper, Margaret Dabney.

She emerged from the kitchens, her apron and hands floury, her round face
flushed with heat from the ovens. "And what can I do for you, sir?" she
asked.

"I'm sorry, Margaret. I was just going to have John drive me over to the
Whitehall's. If anyone needs me -- " he broke off with a smile. "Never
mind. I shall return in an hour or so."

"Very good, sir."

His hour at the Whitehall's turned into nearly three, as the Squire
impressed him into a second game of chess after the doctor ran away with
the first. The two old friends were well-matched and comfortable with each
other; the game room of the manor was bright and warm, and as they
pondered the board between them, Dr. Hornblower could not help but think
that they were like two old dogs with white muzzles, lazing in the
afternoon sun. When the second game was over, they shook hands, and Dr.
Hornblower rose stiffly. "Well, Squire. A noble effort. So we end once
more in a draw."

"Aye, so it seems. Will ye not stay for supper, Julius?"

"And have Margaret read the riot act over my head for missing her fine
dinner? I think not! I value her cooking far to much to risk offending
her."

"What do you hear from that boy of yours?"

Dr. Hornblower shook his head. "Precious little. It seems the
Indefatigable spends far too much time out of touch with the fleet. They
have been in the Mediterranean for months, now. It is about time for them
to return home."

"Indeed it is. Well, if you happen to write to him, send him my regards."

"I will." And yet it seemed even as he spoke, that a shadow crossed his
mind. How many weeks had it been since Horatio's last letter? Dr.
Hornblower bade the Squire farewell, as John Dabney helped him into the
pony trap. He rode back to the house in silence, with that odd feeling of
premonition tugging at his mind, even as he tried to deny it.

He had no sooner hobbled in the front door, when Margaret hurried up to
him. "Oh sir, I'm right glad you've come home."

"What is it, Margaret?"

"It's that young Mr. Kennedy -- "

Dr. Hornblower blanched. "Archie Kennedy? Is he here, is he ill?" Oh, God
if that fragile young man had come to further harm --

"No, sir. But he is in your study. He arrived about half an hour ago. I've
given him something to eat. The lad looked fair worn out."

"Thank you, Margaret." Dr. Hornblower handed her his hat and went into the
library. "Archie?" The young man standing by the mantel turned to the
door, and as Dr. Hornblower caught sight of his haggard face, he could not
suppress a cry of alarm. "What is it? What is wrong?"

Archie struggled with his voice, knowing that it was on the verge of
breaking; and that once it broke, he would not be able to speak at all.
"Dr. Hornblower, I-I am not here for myself. I wish to God, I were!"

Dr. Hornblower staggered against a chair, and found himself gripping the
backrest to keep from sinking to his knees. "Horatio?" he whispered. "Dear
God, do not tell me he is dead!"

Archie did not know how Dr. Hornblower found the courage to give voice to
that unspeakable thought, for he could not. And was immediately grateful
that he did not have to. "No! Please, Dr. Hornblower, sit down, sir."
Archie went to his side and guided him carefully to his chair. "No,
Horatio is alive. But he has been wounded, and is gravely ill. Captain
Pellew felt you should be sent for ...."

"Oh God!" The doctor looked as if he would faint. Archie went quickly to
the table where a brandy decanter stood, and poured a glass. Kneeling
beside the doctor, he pressed it into his hand.

"Drink this, sir." He raised the glass to the doctor's lips, and after
several sips, some colour returned to his face, and his breathing slowed.
"Are you better now, sir?"

"Yes. Thank you, Archie." He patted Archie's hand. "It was the shock, that
is all." He seemed to gather his strength. "Tell me what happened."

Archie shook his head in despair. "Sir, I think we ought to leave as soon
as possible."

Dr. Hornblower felt as if a fist were squeezing his heart. "I will have
Mrs. Dabney pack for me, and we shall be on our way." He studied Archie's
pale face. The boy looked poorly, and the Doctor knew that exhaustion
would surely bring on of Archie's debilitating migraine headaches.
"Please, try to eat something, Archie, while you're waiting for me."

Archie thought how like Horatio, Dr. Hornblower was. Horatio was always
urging him to rest, to eat, to take care of himself -- more concerned with
Archie's welfare than his own, even in pain. Archie nodded in agreement.
"I will, sir. If it will ease your mind, I will tell you that Horatio is
in good hands."

"Hepplewhite!" Dr. Hornblower snorted contemptuously. "I know of that man!
Horatio has told me of his incompetence."

"No, not Dr. Hepplewhite. The Indefatigable has a new surgeon, sir. Dr.
Luis Sebastian."

"He sounds foreign."

Archie gave Dr. Hornblower a level look. "He is half-Spanish. But I tell
you, sir. Dr. Sebastian saved my life. I could not wish Horatio in better
hands, unless they were your own."

Some of the pain in Dr. Hornblower's breast eased. "Good. Thank you for
>telling me, Archie. I will be ready to leave shortly." He hobbled from the
room, slightly appeased by Archie's faith in Dr. Sebastian. However, he
feared that Archie had been so mistreated, that any doctor who was
reasonably competent must seem like a saviour to him. He would personally
hold Dr. Luis Sebastian responsible if Horatio were in any way harmed by
his care. He paused at the foot of the stairs. "Margaret!" he called. "I
need a portmanteau packed and ready in half an hour!"

******************
It was a six hour journey to Portsmouth. If Archie and Dr. Hornblower had
been required to take a public conveyance, it would have taken much
longer; but on hearing the news of Horatio's illness from John Dabney, the
Squire immediately offered the use of his coach and four.

Archie was grateful for the kindness, for he doubted Dr. Hornblower would
have been able to tolerate the journey if not for the well-sprung carriage
and cushioned interior. They were able to travel swiftly, and without
stopping for meals since Mrs. Dabney had packed a hamper with enough food
to keep them for a week; not to mention the delicacies she had tucked in
to speed Horatio's convalescence. She had shed tears a-plenty for the
young master, kissed Dr. Hornblower and Archie farewell, and stood in the
doorway, waving her handkerchief as the coach turned out of sight.

When they were settled at last, and on their way, Dr. Hornblower asked the
questions he had been dreading: how had Horatio been wounded, and what was
his condition? "Tell me straight, Archie," he urged. "I need to know."

Archie nodded. "We had finished a tour of duty and had received orders to
return to Portsmouth as part of a convoy escort. We were just into the Bay
of Biscay, when we ran afoul of a Spanish frigate." Archie drew a breath.
"It was not much of a fight, sir. The Spaniard was not well captained, and
rather ungainly. We disabled her handily, but she would not surrender --
and a boarding party was called for. H-Horatio was commanding one
division, and because Lieutenant Fellows had been wounded, I was given the
other." Archie's blue eyes were dark with memory, and Dr. Hornblower would
not urge him to speak until he was ready.

"It was a brief, hard fight, but there was no question that we would win.
Indeed, the order to strike the colours had been given ... Perhaps the
marksman on the fighting top did not hear the orders, or perhaps he was
just being malicious, but he fired down at us where we stood. I heard an
odd sound, and the next thing I knew, Horatio was sagging in my arms ..."
With an impatient, angry motion, Archie wiped the tears from his eyes. "It
could have just as easily been me! Perhaps it should have been ..."

"Nay, lad!" Dr. Hornblower reached over to lay a hand on Archie's
shoulder. "It was chance, only chance. It had nothing to do with you --
and I daresay, there was nothing you could have done to prevent it." He
sat back, hurting for his son, and for the young man sitting across from
him, who took things too much to heart. "Now, tell me of his wound, if you
can."

Archie sighed deeply. "I will tell you what Dr. Sebastian told me." He
closed his eyes and began reciting as from rote. "The ball first struck
Horatio's collarbone and fractured it. It was then deflected and passed
through his lung. He lost a lot of blood, sir. Dr. Sebastian said
something about an artery ..."

"Dear God!" Dr. Hornblower closed his eyes. The injury Archie described
was serious, possibly fatal. That knowledge hurt nearly as much as if the
ball had torn through his own flesh. "Was the ball removed?"

"Yes. Dr. Sebastian was able to cut it out." Dr. Hornblower made a small,
disgusted sound, and Archie hastened to defend the Indefatigable's
surgeon. "I tell you, Dr. Sebastian is no butcher! He is swift, sure, and
very gentle. I know this, because I would not be sitting here in this
coach if Dr. Sebastian were not as skilled as he is. Horatio withstood the
surgery very well." He spoke stoutly, but his eyes slid away from Dr.
Hornblower's searching gaze.

"There is more," Dr. Hornblower sighed. "Do not try to coddle me, Archie.
I think I can guess."

Archie shivered. "A fever, sir. One that will not break despite Dr.
Sebastian's care. Horatio is very weak. That is why Captain Pellew felt
you should come as quickly as possible." Archie's voice faded, and he
looked out of the window, as if he could see something besides the
gathering darkness.

Dr. Hornblower heard Archie's words echoing in his mind. Horatio is very
weak ... God, dear God, how shall I live if he does not? he asked
himself.

He was not a deeply religious man. Indeed, he had shunned organized
religion for many years, and had even abandoned his faith in God entirely
after Louisa's senseless death. He could not believe that a just, kind God
would take away the one person who had given meaning to his life, who had
loved him and borne him a son. But He had, leaving the doctor desolate and
grieving to the point of suicide. He had cut himself off from all
emotions, neglecting Horatio, and finally in desperation, sending him away
to school, so he would not be exposed to his father's black despair. By
the time Dr. Hornblower had seen some faint glimmer of hope, Horatio had
become a silent, solitary boy with a brilliant mind, and a wounded heart.
Such small steps they had taken towards reconciliation ... and now, would
God deny him that final solace? Dr. Hornblower had no faith that He would
not. With a sigh of deep despair, Dr. Hornblower covered his eyes, and
tried to shield his tears from Archie.

Then he felt Archie's warm, strong hand close over his. "He'll be all
right. He's very strong, and he will fight to live, I know he will."

"Yes, he will. He has much to live for." The doctor thought that if anyone
knew of that struggle to survive, it was Kennedy. He studied Archie for a
while, seeing something new in those fine, weary features. A peace that
had a fragile beginning over Christmas, and that seemed to have endured,
despite the scars of the past on that young heart. "Tell me more of this
Dr. Luis Sebastian, Archie. He seems to have earned your trust."

**********************************
As Captain Pellew entered the sick berth, he was struck anew by the change
in it since Dr. Sebastian had taken over from that sot, Hepplewhite.
Naturally, it was still dark, for there were no windows in the lower
decks, and after a battle, it still looked like a butcher's shambles, but
it did not stink like a charnel house, and the men who were carried there
no longer believed that they were being left there to die. The surgery was
now as clean as it could be, keeping with the standards Pellew set for the
rest of his ship. It was well lit, and the air smelled of the herbs Dr.
Sebastian steeped for infusions. And more often than not, the men walked
out healthier than they had been for a long time.

Yes, it was better than it had been, but it was still a place of pain and
illness. Pellew had never felt that more than he did now, with Hornblower
so frighteningly sick, and his own heart heavy with the knowledge that he
might die. Pellew paused for a moment, just over the threshold and uttered
a silent prayer that Horatio was still alive.

"Captain Pellew, sir. Won't you come in?" Dr. Luis Sebastian's manner was
as courtly as a grandee's. He was a tall, thin man with a kindly face and
long grey-flecked hair. The olive cast to his complexion testified to his
Spanish blood, but he had the heart of an English patriot. Personally,
Captain Pellew would not have cared if he were allied with the devil, as
long as he could heal Horatio.

Pellew nodded and approached quietly. He looked down at Hornblower's still
form. Poor lad, he thought. You didn't have much flesh to begin with, and
now you're but a shade. He laid a cool hand against Horatio's fevered
cheek. "Has there been any change?" he asked Sebastian.

"No, sir. There is no change for the better, but there is also no change
for the worse. As long as I can keep getting fluids down him, he will hold
his own." His dark eyes rested thoughtfully on his patient. "You have sent
for his father, no?"

"I have. I expect him any time now."

"That is good. Perhaps his father's voice will reach out to him and give
him strength."

"I must warn you, Dr. Sebastian, Dr. Hornblower may try to take over your
surgery, if he is anything like his son." Pellew's tired eyes crinkled a
bit with laughter.

"If he can help his son, he will be most welcome." Sebastian reached for a
cup of water, and raising Horatio's head, held it to his lips. "Mr.
Hornblower, " he whispered. "You must have something to drink, now."

The weighted lids opened and a small sound of pain escaped Hornblower's
parched lips. Pellew found himself turning away, unable to bear the boy's
agony. Pellew knew he should not consider Horatio a boy -- he had done a
man's work and more, but that was how he looked now; flushed with fever,
his dark hair tumbled, his mouth vulnerable and hurt. "Is there anything I
can do to help, Dr. Sebastian?" he asked, his voice rough with tears.

Sebastian's shoulders lifted. "Medically, no. But if you would sit with
him for a bit, talk to him of everyday things ... perhaps it will engage
his mind."

"Gladly, sir." Pellew took the chair vacated by the doctor. "You should
take some rest, Dr. Sebastian. God knows, you have earned it."

Sebastian would have denied it, but he was feeling the effects of too many
hours without sleep. He would be of no use to Hornblower if he were to
become ill himself. He touched Hornblower's forehead, wishing that he
could feel some reduction in the fever. There was none, but for now, there
was no immediate danger. "If you would make certain that he drinks that
water, sir, I would be most grateful."

Pellew nodded. "I will send word as soon as Dr. Hornblower arrives. Thank
you, Dr. Sebastian." The doctor seemed to vanish into the shadows. Pellew
slipped his hand behind Hornblower's head. "Come, lad. Have another sip."
He held the cup to Horatio's lips. They parted, and Pellew tipped a small
quantity of water into his mouth. "Swallow, easy ... easy. Good."

As Pellew eased his head back down, Horatio opened his eyes. "Sir?" There
was a hint of panic and shame in their depths. "Captain Pellew -- "

"Hush, now. T'is naught for you to worry about. Be easy, son." Another
sip, and then one more, before he drifted off again. Pellew sighed and
rubbed his aching eyes. He had been a frigate captain for nearly twenty
years; he had been at war for nearly half of that. Inevitably, men had
died. Friends had been lost. And along the way, Pellew believed himself to
have become inured to grief; only to find now, that he was not. When
Hornblower had been carried on board, covered in blood, Pellew had felt
his heart quail within him. Somehow, this boy, with his courage, his
brilliance, his doubts, and his vulnerabilities had become as beloved as a
son. Weary, Pellew bowed his head and prayed.

He did not know how much time had passed when the door to the sick berth
opened and Midshipman Cleveland looked in. "Captain Pellew, sir. I'm sorry
to disturb you. But there is a shore boat approaching. I believe it is Mr.
Kennedy and Dr. Hornblower."

Pellew's gaze sharpened. "Very good, Mr. Cleveland. I shall be up
presently."

Cleveland looked unhappily at Hornblower's still form. "Sir, how is he?"

"Dr. Sebastian says that he is holding his own, Mr. Cleveland. Thank you
for inquiring."

Cleveland nodded. "May I tell the others, sir? They've been wondering."

"Yes, of course. Mr. Cleveland, Dr. Hornblower is elderly, and I believe
troubled with arthritis. I suggest you rig a chair for him."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Cleveland left, and Pellew rose and stretched. His back cracked and he
grimaced. In a few years, they would have to haul him aboard in a chair,
he thought wryly. There was a loblolly boy tending to a seaman at the far
reaches of the sick berth, and Pellew spoke to him. "You, boy. Tell Dr.
Sebastian that Dr. Hornblower is coming on board."

"Aye, sir." The boy hurried to do his captain's bidding as Pellew swept
out of the sick berth. Up on deck, the chair had been lowered and Pellew
strained to see in the darkness. He could not distinguish much in the
light of the lanterns, but two figures moved dimly below. Kennedy helped
secure Dr. Hornblower in the chair, and gave the signal that it was ready
to be raised. Archie ascended the ladder nimbly, arriving at the port
before the chair reached the level of the deck, to find Pellew standing in
front of him.

"Welcome back, Mr. Kennedy."

"Thank you, sir. How is Hor - Mr. Hornblower, sir?"

"The same." When he saw the stricken look in Archie's eyes, he quickly
added. "But no worse. And the Doctor?"

Archie glanced over to where Seaman Styles was helping swing in the chair.
"He is very tired, sir. It was a difficult journey for him. But he will
see Horatio before he will take any comfort for himself."

"Of course. Thank you, Mr. Kennedy, for bringing him." When Archie
demurred, Pellew shushed him, seeing the shadows beneath the Lieutenant's
blue eyes. He was only lately recovered from illness himself, and looked
scarcely less fragile than Hornblower. "Get yourself below, sir. You will
need your rest. I cannot afford to lose you as well."
Archie would have asked to stop in sick berth, but hesitated to intrude on
what was to be a very private and painful moment for Horatio's father. He
touched his hat to Pellew. "Aye, aye, sir. I will. But, sir -- if I could
be informed of Horatio's condition ..." He half expected to be chastised
for his use of his friend's Christian name, but Pellew did not seem to
notice.

"Yes, yes, of course," he replied absently and crossed the deck to greet
Dr. Julius Hornblower.

Pellew had often wondered what sort of man Julius Hornblower was; to have
fathered a son like Hornblower. A man of highest integrity beyond a doubt,
intelligent, serious, but not Pellew thought, demonstrative or emotional.
And solitary ... a man who had lost a wife, just as his son had lost a
mother, and had found no way to fill that void. Or who had filled it with
Medicine, as Horatio had filled it with the Navy. Physically, he knew the
doctor was elderly and somewhat frail. Severely rheumatic, Hornblower had
said.

Knowing all this, Pellew approached the doctor with some trepidation. He
watched as the doctor came from the shadows into the light; first a hand,
gnarled with arthritis, clutching a hawthorn walking stick, then a thin
body, slightly bent. As he raised his face to the light, Pellew nearly
gasped. Fine-boned, aristocratic, worn with pain, and damnably like that
of his son -- enough so that if Pellew had met him on the streets of
Portsmouth, he would have known him immediately to be kin to Horatio.
Pellew came forward and offered his hand. "Welcome aboard, Dr. Hornblower.
I wish we were meeting under more felicitous circumstances. Captain Sir
Edward Pellew at your service."

Julius Hornblower bowed his head. "Captain Pellew, sir." He extended his
own hand cautiously and was relieved when Pellew's clasp was tactfully
gentle. "I wish to see my son, please."

"Of course, if you will come this way, sir."

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

It was a trial for him to get down the narrow ladders and companionways;
under any other circumstances, it might have been impossible, but not when
he thought of Horatio. He ignored the pain in his knees and spine and
wished he could as easily ignore the sour fear in his stomach. It seemed
they were descending into the bowels of the ship; no light save for
lanterns, odors that were unavoidable even in a ship as well-maintained as
the Indefatigable, the creaking of the timbered hull. And everywhere, the
seamen of her crew. Dr. Hornblower was no stranger to ships, for early in
his practice he had worked near the Southwark docks and had been on board
many, but with the passage of years, those impressions had faded. He had
forgotten the darkness, the smells, the claustrophobic quarters. Dear God,
how could he have consigned Horatio to this? A boy who had to be lured
>from his books! The only solace Dr. Hornblower could take was that Horatio
clearly loved the Indefatigable. But if she were to cause his death ...
His unhappy musings were interrupted when Pellew finally halted in front
of a door. "This is the sick berth, Dr. Hornblower. I would warn you --"

Dr. Hornblower's dark eyes glittered in the lantern light. "I am a
physician, Captain Pellew. I have a fair idea of what I will see."

Pellew cleared his throat. "Yes, well if it is any comfort, Horatio has
been in excellent hands. Dr. Sebastian is very skilled."

The doctor smiled faintly. "So Archie Kennedy has told me. Thank you for
the reassurance."

"It is not given lightly. I would trust Sebastian with my own life. I
would not give your son's to an incompetent." Pellew swung the door open
and stood aside to let the Doctor pass. He did not follow, but returned to
the quarter-deck to seek the peace he so often found there in the night.

Dr. Hornblower crossed the threshold. His first thought was surprise,
that it should be so quiet. And that it should not smell like death. He
felt some of the despair lift from his heart. Two loblolly boys moved
among the hammocks slung from the ceiling. A tall, thin man in a bottle
green coat stood at a cot set aside for officers, no doubt. His back was
turned to the door, and Dr. Hornblower could not see his patient -- but
there was no need to see him. "Horatio!" he whispered, and came to his
son's bedside.

He had expected delirium, fevered ravings, evidence of pain; not this
stillness. Fear clutched at his breast. "Ah, God..." he breathed. "Horatio
..." He cursed his hand for shaking as he touched Horatio's forehead. Too
warm by far. His hand moved gently down Horatio's thin cheeks, shadowed by
beard, but still so young. "It's all right, son. I'm here. I'm here."

"Dr. Hornblower?" A soft, Spanish-tinged voice and a gentle touch on his
arm. "Your son is holding is own. I would be encouraged by that."

Dr. Hornblower straightened slowly. "Dr. Luis Sebastian?"

"Yes. You have heard of me?"

"Mr. Kennedy thinks very highly of you." He appraised Sebastian silently.
There was an air of calm competence about the man that pleased Dr.
Hornblower. "And I thank you for caring for him." His eyes returned to
Horatio, and the bandages that swathed his shoulder and chest. "What can
you tell me of my son's injuries?" he asked. "Archie gave me a brief
history, but I would have a professional evaluation."

Luis Sebastian noticed the Doctor was leaning heavily on his cane, and his
thin face was drawn with strain and fatigue. "Come, sit. Dr. Hornblower."
He took his arm and led him to a small table. "Allow me to offer you some
port? It is from Captain Pellew's stores, and quite acceptable."

"Yes, thank you." As he waited for Sebastian to join him, Dr. Hornblower
looked over the books and apothecary jars Sebastian kept at hand. The
texts were many that he had in his own library, and the labels on the jars
were comfortingly familiar. Apparently most of Hepplewhite's detritus had
left the Indefatigable when he did. He recalled several letters Horatio
had written home, describing with some disgust the treatments Hepplewhite
had offered. Bleeding and laudanum. And noxious tonics that contained
ingredients more likely to harm than heal. Dr. Hornblower shuddered. Thank
God, at least he did not have to deal with that sot!

Dr. Sebastian set a glass of ruby liquid at Dr. Hornblower's hand, and sat
opposite him with a sigh. "I wish that this had not happened, sir. Your
son is a most exceptional man. You should be very proud of him."

"I am, immeasurably." He took a swallow of wine, appreciating the warmth
and comfort it offered. "Tell me everything, Dr. Sebastian," he said
levelly.

Sebastian did, not flinching from the realities of what he saw as a
physician, and describing his procedures in detail. When he had finished,
Dr. Hornblower looked quite pale, but had not offered any medical
objections. "May I examine him?" he asked.

Whether or not it was wise, Sebastian could not refuse. This was not just
a father, this was a very fine physician -- he could divine that much from
Dr. Hornblower's questions. Together they went to the cot, and Dr.
Sebastian folded back the blankets over Horatio, carefully uncovering the
wounds from the original injury, and the subsequent surgery he had
performed. Horatio stirred and muttered in his sleep, his forehead
furrowed with pain.

Dr. Hornblower examined the injuries, telling himself all the while that
this was just another body, and yet knowing in his heart that it was his
own flesh that was torn, his own blood that was staining the bandages.
When Horatio whimpered, it cut like a sword. Finally, he could not deny
his emotions any longer, and turned away with a small cry, unable to bear
any more.

Dr. Sebastian shook his head. He re-bandaged Horatio's wounds, tucked the
blankets around his body, and went to stand beside Dr. Hornblower,
wondering which patient was more in need of comfort. "Dr. Hornblower, sir.
You need to rest. Please, accept my cabin for the night, you will be near
to your son, and will not have to climb those damned ladders again this
evening."

"Sir, I would stay with Horatio --" Dr. Hornblower protested.

Sebastian frowned severely at him. "And as a fellow physician I say that
you will not! One Hornblower as a patient is quite enough for any doctor.
You will take some rest, and I promise you that if there is any change at
all, I will not hesitate to wake you."

Surrender was difficult, but necessary; Dr. Hornblower acceded. He paused
at his son's bedside one more time, and then impulsively and with no care
what Dr. Sebastian thought, bent and kissed Horatio's forehead.
"Goodnight, son," he said softly, and was gratified when Horatio's lips
seemed to turn up in the very slightest of smiles.

Disclaimers still apply

****************************
Archie made every attempt to obey Captain Pellew's orders; he went to his
cabin, he lay on his cot, he closed his eyes, and out of utter exhaustion
managed to sleep for perhaps two hours. Then, with the immediate need for
rest satisfied, he tossed about for another hour, until he gave up. How
could he sleep when his truest friend -- the only undoubted friend he had,
was ill? He would not even think of the possibility that Horatio was
dying.

Deciding that sleep was but a pipe dream, he went to the sick berth and
peered through the cloudy glass. There was a lantern lit, but the wick was
turned down so low that it did not shed any real light, just a faint glow.
No one seemed to be moving about, so Archie quietly opened the door and
slipped inside.

There was no sign of Dr. Hornblower, and Dr. Sebastian sat at his table,
his head pillowed on his arms, fast asleep. Archie went to Horatio's side,
and sat on a stool left by the cot. Horatio's face was turned slightly,
his profile etched with light and shadow. His right arm was bound across
his chest to anchor his clavicle, but his left hand lay at his side, and
Archie took it in his. The skin felt hot and dry. He looked down at that
hand he cradled gently. Scholar's hands, that's what his old nurse would
have said about Horatio's. Not his own. He could still hear her speaking
as she scrubbed at his nails, trying to dislodge the dirt that all little
boys seemed to find. "Y've got the ands of a hard worker, Master Archie!
See that you put em to good use!"

Archie smiled at the memory. It was true; his palms were square, his
fingers blunt-tipped and capable. And frequently powder-stained since his
tenure as the gunnery officer. In contrast, Horatio's hands were
long-fingered and fine-boned. Despite the scars and nicks that marred
them, they were still elegant. How Horatio would hate that thought! He
would blush a furious shade of crimson and make a sarcastic remark at his
own expense, denying that there was anything at all elegant about his
person.

"You have to live, Horatio!" Archie whispered. He closed his eyes, and for
the first time in a very long time, he prayed. "Dear God, let him live
..." Prayer was something of a novelty to Archie. In that long, dark
despair that had claimed so much of his life, he had not believed himself
worthy of the Almighty's consideration. Even now, when hope was glimmering
ahead, he would not pray for himself. But for Horatio, surely God would
find some time to listen.

He was so lost in his thoughts, that he did not realize at first that
Horatio's hand had stirred in his. When the faint tug against his fingers
penetrated his consciousness, he was certain he had imagined it. Startled,
he looked up. Horatio's eyes were open.

"Hullo, Archie." Horatio's voice was cracked and husky, but blessedly
lucid.

"Horatio! My God ... Dr. Sebastian!" he called out softly. "Horatio ..."
But by the time Dr. Sebastian had risen and crossed to the cot, Horatio's
eyes had closed again. Archie looked up at the doctor, his disappointment
palpable in his voice. "He was awake, sir. He spoke to me. He knew me."

However, Dr. Sebastian was not displeased. He placed a hand on Horatio's
forehead and nodded. "Yes, I expect he will be waking more frequently. I
have been decreasing the laudanum now that his bleeding has stopped. That
he recognized you is indeed a good sign."

Archie rose as the watch bell chimed. "I have this watch, sir. Will you
send word please, if anything changes?"

Dr. Sebastian chuckled softly. "I believe the entire ship has requested
notification concerning Mr. Hornblower. Yes, I will send word, Mr.
Kennedy."

With one last searching look at his friend, Archie took up his hat and
left the sick berth.

*****************
It was the darkness that troubled Dr. Hornblower the most. When he woke
after a period of exhausted slumber, he had no knowledge of the time of
day. If not for the repeater watch he carried, he would have been as a
blind man. He found it disorienting. He struggled from Dr. Sebastian's
cot, aching in every joint and feeling ancient. The only light in the
cabin was provided by votive candles set on what looked suspiciously like
a shrine. Of course, Sebastian would be a Papist. Curiosity overcame his
initial disapproval. He studied the statue of the Virgin. She looked
familiar ... her expression, sweet and wistful, was uncannily like
Louisa's in her portrait. And why should she not, he thought. She was a
mother who had watched her son suffer. And yet, he could not pray to her,
but would speak to Louisa, and ask her intercession for Horatio. Angrily,
because his eyes had misted with tears, Dr. Hornblower turned away from
the little shrine.

There was a soft knock on the door, and when he opened it, one of the
loblolly boys stood there, a cheerful smile on his face and a basin of
steaming water in his hands. "Dr. Hornblower, sir. Dr. Sebastian thought
you might like to freshen up a bit, and invites you to join him for
coffee." With equal tact he informed the doctor of the sanitary
arrangements, and departed with a respectful knuckling of his forehead.
Despite the darkness, the odors, and the weight of concern on his mind,
the doctor was heartened. Captain Pellew was obviously a man who valued
efficiency and order; and he had instilled those virtues, and pride in
every man under his command. No wonder Horatio's eyes glowed when he spoke
of the Indefatigable.

His optimistic spirits faded when he stood beside Horatio's cot. He had
hoped to see signs of improvement, but there were none. If anything, he
seemed worse. The fever was burning away what little flesh he had to
spare, and the sight of the bruised shadows below his eyes, and the pallor
of his face, had Dr. Hornblower very concerned. He smoothed the tangle of
dark curls from his son's forehead, and nearly flinched at the heat he
felt coming from his skin. Where was Sebastian?

As if he had been conjured by Dr. Hornblower's thoughts, he appeared. He
held a cup in his hand, and the scent, bitter yet fresh, was very
familiar. Luis Sebastian saw the arch of Dr. Hornblower's brows, and read
his question. "Yes, it is willow bark, and feverfew."

"The willow bark will stimulate bleeding," Dr. Hornblower said softly.
"Are you certain it is safe?"

"I have been watching him closely through the night. I believe the risk is
worth taking if it will reduce his fever. That, I fear, is the primary
danger at the moment. I have decreased his laudanum, if he appears to be
more restless."

Dr. Hornblower seemed to be lost in thought as he gazed at his son. "Dr.
Sebastian, have you considered the cause of this fever?"

"An infection, certainly. But I cannot be sure if it is sepsis, or due to
his lung having been injured."

"Is it possible," Dr. Hornblower queried mildly, "That in your haste to
staunch the bleeding, which was of primary importance, sir; that you
might have overlooked some foreign matter in the wound? A shred of bloody
cloth would have been virtually indistinguishable from flesh."

Dr. Sebastian sighed. "It is possible. But to open that incision again,
and to probe would risk hemorrhage, and possible death. I had hoped that
would not be necessary."

"He is burning away before our eyes as you wait and hope, Dr. Sebastian."

"It is a great risk you propose."

The old man's thin shoulders straightened. "My son would ask the
mathematical odds, sir. I can only risk my heart. But both of us would
take that gamble on the chance that it might work, rather than wait until
all hope was lost."

"Hope is never lost, Dr. Hornblower." Luis Sebastian's dark eyes were deep
and comprehending. He knew from his conversations with Horatio, that the
lad was not willing to put himself in the hands of God, or at least not
the same deity Dr. Sebastian prayed to at night. Not that either
Hornblower was an atheist, but in those deep, scientific minds, there was
little place for absolute faith. "Tell me, Doctor. Do you pray?"

The expression on Julius Hornblower's face would have mirrored his son's
had he been asked the same question: pride, astonishment, resentment at
the inference that he did not -- and yet, at the same time, skepticism.
"Of course, I pray, Sebastian! I am not a heathen."

Dr. Sebastian shook his head and smiled. "Please, sir. I meant no offense.
You and your son, are so very much alike. But, tell me. When your
mathematical calculations, and your risks are measured, when reason no
longer offers options, how do you decide what path to take?"

To Sebastian's surprise, Julius Hornblower's dark eyes filled with tears.
"I love my son beyond all measure, and in my heart, I know what he would
wish me to do. That is what I trust -- that is my faith."

"And if you fail?"

"Then I will add that to all the other regrets of my life, and bear it
until I go to my grave."

The very desolation of those words struck to Sebastian's heart. "That is a
hard and lonely way, my friend, and offers very little comfort."

Dr. Hornblower did not reply. What comfort had the Lord been to him when
Louisa died? What comfort did he offer as Horatio lay in his fever? "Will
you consider the surgery?" he asked Sebastian. "Even if I had the stomach
for it, my hands no longer have the skill."

Sebastian crossed his arms and studied the planking at his feet. He was
reluctant; if the decision were his alone, he would wait. But that too,
was dangerous. How long could he delay? With every hour the fever burned,
the boy was weakened. If the cause of the fever were as Dr. Hornblower
suspected, not all the willow bark in the world would conquer the
inflammation. He heaved a sigh. "I will do it. However, we must tell
Captain Pellew. His depth of feeling for Horatio is like that of a father
-- I see this, even though he would hide it." He took Dr. Hornblower's
arm. "Come, we will go together."

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

"Are your certain there is no other alternative?" Captain Pellew asked
after he had listened in stunned silence to Luis Sebastian's report.
"Surely another day ..."

Dr. Sebastian shook his head. "We scarcely have another hour, Captain
Pellew. If we are to do this, it is best done before Mr. Hornblower loses
any more strength. I must agree with Dr. Hornblower, sir. I am afraid that
infusions and medicines are not sovereign remedies for what ails the lad."

Pellew studied Horatio's father. If the thought of cutting into that boy's
body troubled him, then it must be torture for Dr. Hornblower. A child of
his body, his flesh, was sick unto death, and salvation lay in a second,
deliberate wound. I could not do it, he thought. I can order two hundred
men into battle, but I am afraid to risk this one officer's life. He rose,
paced to his windows and looked out over the harbor. At least they were
anchored, and not at sea.

"I understand, Dr. Sebastian. I do not question your decision, as much as
I dread it. Thank you for telling me."

"I felt you should know, sir." Sebastian rose from his chair. "I must get
back to my patient, excuse me, Dr. Hornblower, Captain Pellew." He made a
slight bow of respect and left the cabin.

Pellew sighed. "Dr. Hornblower, I wished we could have met under happier
circumstances."

Dr. Hornblower considered the man before him. There were times when
reading Horatio's letters, he had actually felt jealous of Pellew.
Horatio's admiration for his captain had glowed through his words, leaving
an ache in his father's heart, as if he had failed his son in some way.
That Horatio loved him, he did not doubt, but what kind of father had he
been? Dry and academic, somewhat autocratic, and certainly distant. What a
waste of love! And this man before him, perhaps had more right to Horatio,
than he did. Dr. Hornblower cleared his throat, which seemed suddenly
tight. "Captain Pellew, thank you for everything you have done for
Horatio."

Pellew's brows flew up in surprise. "Thank me for what I have done for
him? No, sir. You have no need for me to tell you that your son is
extraordinary. I knew nearly from the beginning that he had a great future
ahead of him; and it has been nothing but an honour and a privilege to
watch him fulfill that promise in every way." He sat down at his table and
continued in a more gentle tone. "It grieves me more than I can say, to
know that he is so ill, and I so helpless. I cannot imagine what it must
cost you."

Grief and guilt, and more heartaches than you could count, he thought
silently. "It is hard, even as a doctor when a patient is suffering. When
it is your own child, it is nearly insuperable." He was surprised those
words came from his throat. He had not intended to reveal anything near as
intimate to Pellew. "I am sorry, sir." He reached for his cane and
struggled to his feet. "I must return to the sick berth. To help Dr.
Sebastian prepare."

Pellew nodded. "Yes, of course. Let me know the instant the surgery is
finished."

"Yes." Dr. Hornblower took a few steps towards the door, then turned back
to see Pellew, his head bowed, his hand obscuring his expression. "Sir, I
would have you know that Horatio ... that he believes you are an
exceptional captain, and a fine man."

Pellew nodded, overcome and for a moment, at a loss for words. "My prayers
are with him, sir. And with you."

"Thank you, Captain Pellew." He hobbled out of the cabin and stood for a
moment, struggling with his own emotions. God, how his heart ached, it
felt fit to bursting in his chest. Once before, he had known such pain --
the night Louisa had died in his arms. He closed his eyes and thought he
would be ill, right there in the companionway outside Pellew's cabin. He
scarcely heard the quick steps coming towards him.

"Dr. Hornblower, sir! Are you all right?" Archie came to his side. "Do you
need help?"

His touch chased some of the darkness away, and Dr. Hornblower raised his
head. His eyes were clouded with tears, he could hardly see. "Is it you,
Archie?"

"Yes, sir. Here, take my arm. Can you walk?"

"Yes, I can walk, Archie." He straightened his back and smiled slightly.
"I did not mean to alarm you. I am all right."

"Sir, with all due respect, you are not." Archie's eyes suddenly widened.
"It isn't Horatio? Is he worse? Last night he spoke to me, he recognized
me!"

"He is not better. That fever will not leave him. Dr. Sebastian is
performing another surgery to evacuate the wound."

"Oh." Archie understood then, what the doctor was facing. "Poor Horatio.
But Dr. Sebastian will help him. I know he will. He helped me when I was
so ill, not very long ago. You must not worry on that account." He tucked
Dr. Hornblower's arm in his elbow, and together they started towards the
hatch leading to the lower deck. "Sir, may I sit with him during the
surgery? He stayed with me."

Dr. Hornblower shook his head. "He would not expect you to do that,
Archie."

"I know. I'm sure he would rather I didn't. But I owe it to him, sir. And
if you are concerned that I would not stand it well --"

"It is not the same as battle, Archie." Dr. Hornblower interrupted gently.

"I will be all right, sir. Please, let me do this for Horatio."

"Very well, if Dr. Sebastian agrees, you may stay." They had reached the
ladder to the lower decks, and Archie guided him with a sure and steady
hand until they stood outside the sick berth.

"May I see him now?" Archie asked. Dr. Hornblower nodded. He was ashamed
to admit that he was afraid to go inside, dreading that Horatio would be
much worse, and that not all the skill in the world would save him. But
Archie's blue eyes were fearless.

Dr. Sebastian stood by his table, his surgical instruments spread out
before him. A clean white apron covered his shirt. Dr. Hornblower thought
that he looked like a priest calling down the blessing of the Almighty on
his work. If only he could ...

He crossed to the table. The instruments gleamed softly in the lantern
light. They, and the cloth beneath them were spotless. A basin on the
table held steaming water that smelled somewhat alcoholic. As Dr.
Hornblower watched, Sebastian picked out several probes, a scalpel, and a
needle and put them in the basin. To most other physicians, it would have
seemed a slightly arcane ritual. But to Dr. Hornblower, it was reassuring.


"Is it time?" he asked.

"Nearly. I have given Horatio a strong dose of laudanum. I am hopeful it
will hold him unconscious for as long as I need. And now, I pray to God
that I am doing the right thing."

As do I, Dr. Hornblower thought. As do I ...

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

Dr. Sebastian gave orders to the sick berth attendants to move Horatio
from his cot to the firm surface of the table where he would do the
surgery. He did not make a sound, even though the pain must have been
cruel. Archie stood at his side. Despite his reassurances to Dr.
Hornblower, he felt lightheaded and anxious. What if something went wrong?
Could he bear the sight of Horatio's blood, could he be strong for his
friend who had always been so strong for him? Archie put his hand in his
coat pocket, and felt the small silver medal that Dr. Sebastian had given
to him. St. Adelaide, the patron of the neglected and abused. Thank God,
Horatio was neither. But at this moment, looking down at that finely drawn
and pale face, Archie knew that Horatio was lost; not beyond retrieval,
but still so very far away. He took the medal from his pocket, and closed
Horatio's unconscious fingers about it. "How on earth, I shall explain
this to you when you awake, I don't know. But I think you ought to have it
until then." He could have sworn Horatio's fingers tightened in response.

He glanced up to find Dr. Sebastian looking down at him, those great dark
eyes filled with sympathy and concern. "Are you certain you wish to do
this, Mr. Kennedy? He would not think any less of you, if you could not."

"No. I will stay," Archie said stubbornly. "What can I do?"

"Stand here, by his head. If he begins to struggle, you will have to hold
him down firmly. His broken clavicle must not move, if it does, it could
sever a blood vessel, and then we shall be in dire straits, indeed." He
turned to Dr. Hornblower, standing at his side. He too, was wearing an
apron over his clothing. "Will you hand me the instruments?"

Dr. Hornblower nodded. "Since that is all I can do." He set his jaw, and
for an instant looked so much like his son, that Dr. Sebastian had to
smile in recognition of the proud, stubborn spirit that was part of the
Hornblower character. "Be as gentle with him as I would be if I were in
your place."

Sebastian nodded, picked up the scalpel in his hands, and with a silent
prayer for skill, for compassion, and for strength, set the blade against
Horatio's skin.

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

It was over. Horatio lay still, the blanket smooth over his body, his
breathing heavy with laudanum. Dr. Sebastian was cleaning his instruments;
in the basin at his feet lay a few scraps of bloody cloth. Dr. Hornblower
had been right in his assessment; the force of the musket ball had driven
shreds of Horatio's uniform and shirt so deeply into the wound that
despite his care, Dr. Sebastian had missed them in his initial haste to
stop the bleeding.. It was only now, when he had some control over the
bleeding and not in the rush of emergency, that he had been able to
carefully probe and pull them free.

Dear God, he prayed. I am weary. He leaned on his table. There was nothing
more he could do. It was in God's hands now. He had sent Archie to Captain
Pellew to tell him that the surgery was over, and had urged Dr. Hornblower
to take a few hours of rest. The old gentleman had been steady as a rock
throughout the procedure. His medical knowledge was impressive, and his
eyes those of a much younger man. He had stood at Sebastian's side, with
his crippled hands red with his son's blood, and had seemed to sense
exactly where the irritating threads had lodged. If that was not a
miracle, then Sebastian had never seen one.

And Archie Kennedy. He had stayed the course, despite looking as white as
his shirt. But he would not desert his friend. He held him steady, with
firm, gentle hands and whispered soothing words, even though Horatio had
remained blessedly unconscious. Dr. Sebastian smiled. He had seen the
glint of a familiar silver medal in Hornblower's hand. Whether or not he
believed, the angels had been watching over him.

He finished washing his instruments and set them on a clean cloth to dry.
He emptied the bloody water into the slop basin, dried his hands, and took
up his watch at Hornblower's side. The laudanum should keep him still for
several hours yet. And though the fever still burned, it had not risen any
higher, and should not. Dr. Sebastian sighed, stretched out his long legs,
and closed his eyes.

He did not know how long he had dozed, but the sound of the sick berth
door opening, roused him. Captain Pellew stepped into the light.

"Well, doctor. How is he?"

"Sleeping easily, sir. He withstood the surgery well."

"And the fever?"

"It has not broken yet, but neither has it risen. I should know better in
a few hours."

Pellew wandered over to Hornblower's hammock and gazed down at him. "I
will tell Lieutenant Bracegirdle and Mr. Bowles that all is well. They
have been very worried." He laid a fatherly hand on Horatio's shoulder.
"Tell me, doctor. How is it that this one young man has come to mean so
much to this ship?"

Dr. Sebastian laughed softly. "If you will pardon the impertinence,
Captain Pellew. I believe you have only to look in the mirror to answer
that question."

Pellew cleared his throat. He could make no response to that, yet he was
oddly pleased. "And Dr. Hornblower?" he asked to change the subject.

"Resting. He must have been a remarkable physician in his prime. As unique
in his way as his son."

"Indeed. Thank you, Dr. Sebastian. I will pass the good news to the men."

It seemed that he did. If Dr. Sebastian had hoped to rest some more, those
hopes were dashed. Over the next hour, half the ship's crew peered into
the sick berth, hoping for news of Mr. Hornblower's condition, until Dr.
Sebastian firmly insisted that he could tolerate no more interruptions,
and asked to have a marine guard the door against all visitors, save the
Captain and Mr. Kennedy.

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

Dr. Hornblower relieved Sebastian after two hours of rest. He had not
slept well, waking from dreams of blood and panic, certain that Horatio
had died. And even though he knew his fears were driving his thoughts, he
would not be at ease until he saw Horatio.

Sebastian looked exhausted, his face gaunt and shadowed with grey stubble.
But what a job he had done! Dr. Hornblower had never seen a more skilled
surgeon, his hands so swift, so sure. Thank God for that, for Horatio
would not have survived a clumsy procedure. He touched Sebastian's
shoulder. "It is your turn to rest."

Sebastian gave him a weary smile. "And I will be most glad to do so." He
rose and stretched, his spine cracking. "I cannot be certain, but I
believe his fever may be down a bit."

Dr. Hornblower nodded. "That is what I had hoped to find. Dr. Sebastian --
I thank you once again. You are a remarkable surgeon."

Dr. Sebastian shrugged. "I have been given a gift, as have you. I hope I
have learned to use it well."

"You have indeed, sir." Dr. Hornblower smiled slightly. "Now, take you
some rest, Dr. Sebastian. I doubt any dire emergencies will arise with the
Indefatigable in port."

Sebastian laughed. "Then you do not know the English seaman very well, Dr.
Hornblower!" He gave Horatio a last glance. "Call me if you need me."

Dr. Hornblower took the seat vacated by Sebastian. He was still tired,
aching in every joint, but he would not trade his place for all the ease
in the world. He touched Horatio's cheek and did not know if it were
wishful thinking on his part, or if it were cooler. He was still too hot,
by far. He had lost so much blood that the heat of the fever did not lend
much colour to his pale features. Dr. Hornblower took up a cup of water
and soaking a clean handkerchief, let a small stream of droplets fall on
Horatio's lips, and was gratified when they parted slightly to take in the
moisture. A small step; but life was made of many such steps.

Dr. Hornblower was suddenly transported in his mind to a time nearly
eleven years ago, when he had sat precisely thus; at Horatio's bedside,
and had performed the same task, praying that each drop of water placed on
his son's lips would be swallowed. Praying, because Louisa was still
alive. Two days later, when Horatio's fever had finally broken, Dr.
Hornblower had hurried to his wife's beside to tell her, and found her
dying, her heart fatally weakened by the same fever that had nearly killed
her son.

Julius Hornblower took his son's hand in his, and raised it to his lips.
"I could not save her, Horatio. And when she died, I thought nothing could
hurt me more. It has taken far too many years to realize that I was wrong.
For to lose you, would surely break the heart that I thought was dead
within me."

He gently caressed Horatio's hand, and was surprised when the lax fingers
opened to his touch, releasing a small silver medal. Dr. Hornblower held
it up to the light curiously. Surely this was not Horatio's! One of
Sebastian's saints, no doubt. He shook his head, and nearly set the medal
aside. But something made him reconsider. What harm could it do?
Sebastian's faith backed up a prodigious skill, no matter to whom he
prayed for help. Dr. Hornblower studied the medal in his palm, wondering
how it had come to be in Horatio's possession.

"It is Saint Adelaide, sir." Archie spoke softly. "It is mine."

"Yours, Archie?" Dr. Hornblower's brows arched exactly like Horatio's.

"Yes, sir." Archie's fair cheeks burned with a blush. "Dr. Sebastian gave
it to me when I was so ill. She is the patroness of those who have been
abused and neglected. Not that Horatio is in any way! But I could not
think of any other way to help him. I-I don't know why I should find it a
comfort, sir. But I do, and I thought that Horatio ..." His voice faded.
"Sir, if it offends you --"

"Offends! How should I be offended by any gesture of kindness and concern,
Archie? If your Saint Adelaide, or Sebastian's Virgin, or my own dear
Louisa can guard Horatio's life and bring him safely home, then I should
be the world's greatest fool to refuse such aid and comfort! Come, sit
with me. Perhaps Horatio can hear our voices."

Archie stayed with Dr. Hornblower for nearly an hour, wishing he could
will Horatio to consciousness. As he studied his friend's face, he sensed
a change. Horatio's breathing seemed lighter, easier. Perhaps it was just
the laudanum wearing off, but Archie remembered his own reactions to the
narcotic, waking in pain and confusion from nightmares that he could not
recall. He turned to ask Dr. Hornblower a question, but he had dozed off.
Not wishing to trouble him, Archie continued his watch, occasionally
squeezing a few drops of water on Horatio's lips, as the doctor had done.

Then, the last time he did so, Horatio stirred and sighed. His eyes
fluttered open briefly, then closed, weighted by his lashes. But in that
brief glimpse, there had been no pain, no dulling fever. A pearly sheen of
moisture filmed Horatio's forehead, and it was cool to Archie's touch. The
fever had broken.

He could scarcely believe it. He shook Dr. Hornblower's elbow. "Sir, sir.
Wake up! I think the fever's broken."

Dr. Hornblower started from a dream that was far less pleasant than the
reality. He blinked at Archie, "What?"

"The fever! It's gone. Please, sir. Have a look. Make certain I am right!"

He laid his hand against Horatio's cheek, then his forehead. It was true!
"Thank God, thank God!" His eyes brimmed with tears that fell unheeded
down his face. His heart was so full, that he could not express his
emotions. He looked down at Horatio, now deep in healing sleep, and knew
that he would not forget this moment for as long as he lived.

******************
A familiar aroma was the first sensation prodding Horatio to
consciousness. He felt as if he had been sleeping for an eternity, and
wondered why no one had called him to his watch. And why, in God's name
was he too lethargic to move?

Smoke. Not the homey scent of tobacco that had waked him, but of
gunpowder. He remembered taking a lungful of it ... and ... he grasped at
the elusive images that threatened to slip away. Some things remained --
boarding the ship with Archie at his side; the quick violent struggle to
subdue the enemy, and seeing her colours run down. He had been looking up
at them, and ... That was all his mind allowed him to recall. What had
happened then?

With an effort, he pulled himself to consciousness. For a moment, he saw
only the dazzle of lantern light, and it hurt him to look at it, so he
closed his eyes again. God, he was weak! He kept his eyes closed and took
a mental inventory of his body. He could see -- that was a start. And he
could hear the lap of waves, the creaking of timbers, the sounds of the
Indefatigable that were as familiar as his own voice. There was a dull
ache in his chest when he breathed, and his right arm ... Dear God, his
arm! His eyes flew open and he struggled to sit up as a bolt of pain shot
through his shoulder.

"Mr. Hornblower, you must not move!"

A firm, but gentle hand restrained him. Horatio sank back against his
pillows, and Dr. Sebastian's kindly face came into focus. "My arm?" he
whispered weakly.

Sebastian smiled. "Your arm is perfectly fine. I had to strap it to your
chest to splint your collarbone. That is why you cannot move it."

Horatio considered that information. "I was shot."

"Yes. The ball fractured your clavicle, and nipped a bit of your lung,
which is why it hurts you to breathe. You nearly bled to death, and then
an infection developed. You have been very ill."

"For how long?"

"Over a week. You do not remember anything?"

Horatio frowned. "I don't know. Dreams, I suppose." He smiled slightly.
"Archie was here, and Captain Pellew."

"Naturally. What else would you expect?"

"I thought my father was here." He gave Sebastian a wary glance, ashamed
to admit to delirium.

"You were not imagining him. Dr. Hornblower is here, resting at the
moment. He has been at your side for days."

"My father?" He could not believe it. "Why?"

Dr. Sebastian sighed, and patted Horatio's shoulder as if he were a child
of six. "We feared for your life, Horatio. You nearly died." He slipped
his arm behind Horatio's shoulders, raising him just slightly. "But you
are better now, and we must start building your strength, no?" He held a
cup of water to his lips. "Drink this, and rest. The next time you wake,
we will try some of that excellent beef tea provided by your father's
housekeeper."

Horatio's lips curved in a tired smile as he remembered Mrs. Dabney's
sovereign remedy for all ills. "Tell my father ... I look forward to
seeing him ..." And he drifted off.

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

Defenseless. It was odd to see that guarded, vivid face so quiet. Like
seeing again the child who had begged for stories at night, and who would
not sleep without his mother's kiss. Julius Hornblower very gently
smoothed Horatio's hair from his forehead, and was gratified to note that
the fever was completely gone. "I would take you home, son," he whispered.
"If you would let me."

Had Horatio opened his eyes, he would have been astonished at the
tenderness of his father's expression. But he slept on, oblivious, and
when he did awake, it was to find Dr. Hornblower reading one of Dr.
Sebastian's medical texts by the light of a lantern. He could not count
the times he had seen his father thus. Deeply absorbed in a book, the
light gilding his fine features. Those features had altered very little
over the years; his hair was greyer at the temples, the skin thinner and
more lined, the eyes more deeply shadowed, but in essentials, it was the
same. Horatio sighed, and Dr. Hornblower closed his book and came to him.

"Well, it's about time you woke up, Horatio." He stood with his arms
folded, and tried to disguise his delight and gratitude.

"I did not know you were here. I should have endeavored to wake sooner, if
I had." Horatio replied, laughter edging his voice.

But Dr. Hornblower did not return the jest. "You needed your rest." He
studied Horatio with medical intent. "How are you feeling now?"

Was he asking as a physician, or as a father? Horatio could not tell. His
eyes as they met his father's were defensive, apologetic. "Better."

"Don't lie to me, Horatio."

As a father, perhaps. Horatio closed his eyes. "Tired, weak. Hungry. I
would like to see Dr. Sebastian."

"Why?"

Horatio's mouth set in a stubborn line. "He is the ship's physician. I am
an officer on this ship." He was ashamed to admit to his father that there
were intimate things he needed. Things he did not want his father to do
for him. "Please, get him." And because he had closed his eyes, he did not
see the hurt, angry expression on his father's face.

After he had sent Dr. Sebastian to Horatio, Dr. Hornblower struggled up
the companionway to the deck. It was mid-afternoon; the sun was shining,
and the air was warm, despite the gusts of wind that picked up the winter
chill from the waters. He did not understand Horatio now, any more than he
had three years ago. At Christmas, they had reached a new rapprochement --
or so he had thought. And yet, Horatio was still wrapping himself in that
damned proud solitude. Dear Christ! How much time, how many years did they
have left?

He did not hear Dr. Sebastian come up on deck, until he was standing next
to him. "How is he?" he asked. "I had better ask you, for he will not
answer me."

Sebastian did not reply at once, but lit a cheroot and drew in the smoke.
"The wound seems to be healing well, without inflammation. Naturally, he
is weak and sore, but a few days rest, and he will be up and about. The
young mend quickly." He exhaled a cloud of smoke and watched the wind
carry it away.

"I could have told him that, given half the chance."

Sebastian cocked a dark eyebrow. "Ah, you are insulted that he asked for
me?"

Dr. Hornblower bristled. "I am no such thing! It is his damned pride!"

"Indeed? I rather thought it fear."

"Of his father?" he asked incredulously.

"My dear Dr. Hornblower, Horatio has fought so hard to be a man in your
eyes, that he cannot bear to be anything less. He is ashamed to be
dependent, even for so short a time, for fear he will lose your respect."

"My God! I am a doctor! I have done more for beggars at my doorstep."

"But Horatio is not a beggar. He is your son, and he would have you be
proud of him. You are not so different, for you fight letting him see
that you are in pain."

"I do not wish him to feel obliged to care for me."

"There, you have said it yourself. Neither of you will admit the
difference between love and obligation."

Dr. Hornblower looked out to sea and considered Sebastian's statement. The
truth of it was undeniable. He shook his head. "How is it that you, a
virtual stranger, see this so clearly, while I, his father am utterly
blind?"

"Some things are best seen at a distance."

"Do you have a family, Dr. Sebastian?"

A pause, another draw on the cheroot. "Like you, I am a widower. Alas, I
do not have the comfort of a child."

"You have my sympathy, sir. I did not mean to pry."

Sebastian shrugged. "It is an old grief, well-worn."

Dr. Hornblower comprehended perfectly. "Yes." He sighed. "Now, I will go
back to Horatio. Thank you for your insights, Dr. Sebastian." He paused,
his eyes bright. "As a colleague, may I call you Luis?"

Sebastian's lean face creased into a smile. "I would be honoured, Julius."
They did not shake hands, but inclined their heads in professional
courtesy and mutual pleasure.

When Dr. Hornblower returned to sick berth, he heard the sound of voices
from inside. He opened the door quietly. Horatio was not alone. Archie
Kennedy was sitting with him. Horatio had been propped up in the cot. He
wore a clean nightshirt, and his hair was tied back in a neat queue.
Archie held a bowl of steaming water on his lap, and a razor in his hand

"Are you sure you know how to do this?" Horatio asked warily.

"Done it every morning for years," Archie assured him. "Besides, as I see
it you have only two options: You can go about looking like a gaunt
hedgehog for a month of Sundays until your collarbone heals. Or, you can
try shaving yourself one-handed, risking further injury, which would
greatly displease Dr. Sebastian."

"Very well, but I warn you, Archie. I don't much care for the sight of my
own blood."

"I'm not fond of it either. You ruined a perfectly good shirt of mine, you
know." When Horatio made a move to protest, Archie gave him a stern look.
"Hold still! Or I will do some damage." Any further arguments from Horatio
were quelled by the liberal application of lather, and the scrape of the
razor.

Dr. Hornblower could not help smiling despite his envy. How easy it was
for Archie to offer his help to Horatio, and for Horatio to accept it.
Friendship did not hold the same strictures as parenthood, evidently.
Deciding that Horatio would be more comfortable if he did not intrude, Dr.
Hornblower retired into the companionway, where Captain Pellew found him a
few moments later.

"Dr. Hornblower, sir. Have you become lost on my ship?"

"No, not at all, Captain Pellew. Mr. Kennedy is attempting to play barber.
I hesitate to interrupt at this point."

"A delicate procedure, no doubt." Pellew peered through the window and
smiled at the sight of his two officers. Officers? Oh, they fought like
men, but in truth they were painfully young, and had both been far too
close to death for all their youth. He would let them have this untroubled
moment. Pellew straightened from the window. "Doctor, may I offer you a
glass of port? I have had little opportunity to play the genial host."

"That would be most welcome, sir."

Pellew adjusted his normally brisk pace to suit the doctor's slower
progress, as they made their way to his cabin. "I apologize, Dr.
Hornblower. A British man o' war is not an easy thing to navigate."

Dr. Hornblower breathed a sigh of relief as they emerged on deck and
entered Pellew's cabin. "Sir, no wonder your men enjoy such a state of
health! They are fit to run a marathon up a mountainside." He lowered
himself into the chair Pellew pulled up for him, and took the offered
glass of port gratefully.

Pellew raised his own glass in a toast. "Shall we drink to Lieutenant
Hornblower's complete recovery?"

"To Horatio," Dr. Hornblower echoed.

Captain Pellew looked out of the wide windows of his cabin. "You do not
need me to tell you how pleased I am that your son is better. Over the
last three years, he has proven his worth time and again, to me and to his
men. I have seldom seen the common seaman show such respect and concern
for an officer, as do the men he commands. His future in this Navy is
unlimited."

"If he survives." Dr. Hornblower said bitterly, when Pellew turned rather
sharply back to the cabin. "My apologies, Captain Pellew, but I speak as
his father. I should never have insisted that he enter the service."

Pellew frowned. "Do you expect him to quit the Navy, sir?"

Dr. Hornblower shook his head. "No. He has found his home here. His heart
is committed to the sea and its ways. I am afraid he would find his old
life insufferably dull by comparison. You need not look so worried, sir. I
will not take him away from the Indefatigable."

Pellew sighed. "I am relieved to hear that. However, I fear that his time
with me will come to an end soon."

"How so?"

Pellew smiled at the Doctor's query. "There is no finer ship in the Navy
to my mind. But the Indy is far from the only or the most important vessel
in the service. Horatio's next step up the ladder is service on a ship of
the line. He is very nearly ready, now. And once he has served on a
warship, it will be only a matter of time before he makes Commander. I
have no doubt that he will succeed brilliantly, if he will allow himself
that confidence."

"He has always taken his responsibilities to heart, Captain Pellew. At
times, far too much. But that is what has led him to be what he is --" He
saw Pellew's brows arch in surprise. "Ah, yes. I know him, sir. And there
are times when I wish he were different; it would save him a great deal of
grief. But then, he would not be the same man."

The two men sat and drank in silence for a moment, each lost in his
thoughts. Pellew spoke first, very softly. "I have two sons of my own, as
yet too young to take to sea."

"I must warn you, sir. Children have a habit of making surprising choices
with their lives," Dr. Hornblower chuckled. "I would have had a doctor,
and instead I have a warrior, in spite of himself." He set down his glass
and levered himself upright on his cane. "Captain Pellew, despite the
rather trying circumstances of our meeting, I cannot but bless the day God
plucked Horatio and Mr. Kennedy from the Justinian and placed them in your
care."

Pellew raised his own glass in a final toast. His eyes were gleaming with
laughter, and yes, perhaps something more. "I will say Amen, to that, sir.
Amen, indeed."

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

"Is that it?" Horatio asked, gingerly fingering his newly smooth chin.

"Yes! And not a single nick on your glorious countenance. I should start
offering my services for pocket change." Archie handed the shaving bowl
and razor to a waiting loblolly boy. "Shall we proceed to dinner? Let me
see, we shall start out with a cup of Mrs. Margaret Dabney's infamous beef
tea. And for your next course ..."

"Beef tea!" Horatio laughed, and then caught his breath as pain roused
with his laughter.

"Careful," Archie cautioned. He set a mug of steaming broth at Horatio's
elbow. "Can you handle this?"

Horatio nodded, grateful that he would not have to rely on Archie to spoon
feed him. He had only tolerated Archie's assistance with other matters,
because he had done the same for Archie when he had been so ill in the
Spanish prison. There was no pity in Archie's eyes, just a matter of fact
acceptance of Horatio's temporary incapacity. And when he was well, there
would be no need to acknowledge a debt, because Archie knew and understood
how difficult this was for him. Though in truth, he owed Archie everything
... Horatio took a sip of broth and considered his friend.

"I have something that belongs to you," he said quietly. On the table,
there."

Archie moved aside a book, and underneath it lay the small silver medal he
had pressed into Horatio's hand. His cheeks darkened with a blush, and he
took the medal back almost ashamedly. "T-thank you, Horatio." He sat back
down and turned the disk back and forth, letting it catch the light. "I
know you're probably wondering what on earth was I thinking, but ..."

"Archie ... you know I don't believe --" He sank back against the pillows,
suddenly exhausted. Archie's blond head was bent over the medal so that
Horatio could not see his expression.

"What don't you believe?" Archie asked softly. "That this piece of silver
has any power at all? That your father, Dr. Sebastian, and I found you
worth praying for? That you are alive because we did pray?"

Horatio's tired brain focused on the one phrase he found the most
astonishing. "My father prayed?" he asked, bemused at the thought.

"Of course he prayed! Maybe not to St. Adelaide or the Virgin --" Archie
broke off, knowing that he would never be able to explain this to Horatio.
He knew Horatio believed in God, he had heard him invoke the Lord's name
both in anger and in awe. But did he believe God listened? Or did he deny
everything but the most logical explanations or blind chance? Archie
studied the medal twinkling in his palm. There was nothing logical in
faith; but then, Archie had never found anything in life to be logical
other than sunrise and sunset. And he could no more explain faith to
Horatio, than Horatio could explain celestial navigation to him.

Archie sighed and looked up, ready to apologize to Horatio, but he was
asleep. Archie carefully pulled away the rolled blanket that Horatio had
been resting against, settled a pillow behind his head, and covered him.
"Rest well, Horatio," he whispered. "And you will be prayed for, whether
you like it or not."

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


*******************
Horatio woke sometime later to find Archie gone, but his place taken by
his father, reading as usual. "What time is it?" he asked.

Dr. Hornblower closed his book. "Nearly midnight. How are you feeling?"

"Better." He grinned. "And I do mean it this time."

"Good." Dr. Hornblower rose with a grunt. "I shall never be a sailor,
Horatio." He motioned to one of the sick berth attendants. "Will you go to
the galley and bring a cup of fresh broth for Lieutenant Hornblower?"

"Father, I --"

"No arguments, Horatio. You need to build up your strength. I want to see
you on your feet before I go home."

"Home?"

"Come now, lad. You didn't expect me to stay on board the Indy, did you?
I'm sure Captain Pellew will be glad to have me out from underfoot. As
will Dr. Sebastian. I have taken over his cabin far too long."

Horatio opened his mouth to protest, but just then the attendant returned
with the broth. Dr. Hornblower tucked the rolled blanket behind Horatio's
back to support him, and set the tray across his lap. "Thank you, father."
With Dr. Hornblower's eye on him, he took several sips of the broth.
"Tell Mrs. Dabney that her beef tea is without compare."

Dr. Hornblower's eyes twinkled gravely. "I'm sure she will be gratified by
your praise. She was very worried. I sent word to her yesterday that you
were better. She would have packed her own bags and come to see you, if I
had not." He cleared his throat and looked away from Horatio's face before
he asked: "I don't suppose I can convince you to let me take you home to
convalesce?"

Horatio opened his mouth to deny that he needed special care -- and then
hesitated, because he had caught a glimpse of his father's unmistakable
longing. He was shaken by it, had not expected it. He thought of his
father's patient vigil at his bedside. "Father, earlier, when I asked for
Dr. Sebastian -- I - I think I hurt you. And I am sorry for it."

Dr. Hornblower shook his head. "No apology is necessary, Horatio. I
understand."

Horatio pleated the blankets in his fingers, weighing his words before he
spoke again. "Of course, it all depends on Captain Pellew, whether or not
I am able to leave the Indy -- but I would like to go home with you for a
while, father."

Dr. Hornblower had taken the empty cup from Horatio and had turned away,
so that Horatio could not see his father's expression, only the motion as
he straightened his shoulders and drew in a deep breath. "Good. We will
ask Dr. Sebastian when you will be able to travel."

Horatio smiled. "Don't you know?"

"I am not your doctor. You have said so yourself." But the hint of
laughter in his voice took all the sting from the words. Horatio felt a
wave of weakness wash over him. He tipped his head back and wished he did
not hurt so.

Dr. Hornblower saw the white look of pain about Horatio's eyes and mouth.
"Perhaps you should lay back down," he suggested tactfully. He settled
Horatio against the pillows and thought he looked very frail and
transparent. He touched his forehead, checking for a fever, and was
relieved when there was none evident. "I could give you some laudanum, if
the pain is too bad."

"No. It's better already." Horatio looked at the book laying on the table.
"What are you reading?"

"The Odyssey. You always enjoyed it." He picked it up and sat near
Horatio's cot. "Would you like me to read to you?"

Horatio's eyes warmed with pleasure. "Yes, I would." So Dr. Hornblower
read to his son, as he had not done for many years, and Horatio let the
words and his father's soft voice carry him to the wine dark seas. His
pain faded and his breathing drifted into the rhythm of sleep.

Dr. Hornblower paused, and realizing that Horatio no longer heard him, he
closed the book. He sat watching Horatio's quiet face, knowing that he had
come so close to losing him, and marvelling that he had not. "Thank you,
Louisa, for giving him back to me," he whispered softly.

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

The next morning, Captain Pellew came to see him. Horatio felt helpless,
skewered by Pellew's intense gaze, as if he had been found lacking in some
unexplained way. Yet he forced himself to stillness, and tried to meet
those dark eyes calmly. If Pellew noticed his discomfiture, he gave no
sign, but finally nodded and smiled.

"It's good to see you looking well, Mr. Hornblower. You are feeling
better?"

"Yes, sir." Horatio blushed. Sitting here in my nightshirt, trussed up
like a fowl. No, sir, I am not feeling better ... what else should I say?
"I wish to thank you, sir, for bringing my father."

Pellew was more than gratified to see the blood rise in Hornblower's face.
At last some colour, not that white, still look far too near death for
Pellew's comfort. "Not at all, lad, not at all. However, I have asked Dr.
Sebastian what is to be done with you." Pellew brows drew into a level
frown. "He believes it will be at least two weeks before you are well
enough to resume even limited duties. Therefore, on his recommendation, I
am granting you two weeks leave, away from the Indy."

"Sir, I --"

"Mr. Hornblower, I swear we will be here when you return!" Pellew gave him
an exasperated look. "Give your father a chance to take care of you. If
not for your sake, then for his. Your father needs you; he needs you to be
his son, not Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower of His Majesty's Navy."

"Yes, sir."

Pellew's frown eased. "I, on the other hand will expect Lieutenant Horatio
Hornblower to report for duty no more than two weeks from the time you
leave the Indy. So, rest up, lad, while you can."

Horatio smiled. "Aye, aye, sir." He knuckled his forehead in lieu of a
salute, which Pellew acknowledged with a curt nod of approval as he left
the sick berth. Two weeks? Horatio wondered. What on earth would he do
back home for two weeks? He yawned hugely. It seemed he would sleep. And
he did.

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

The summons from Captain Pellew took Archie by surprise. He was always
startled by a call to the Captain's cabin, but his anxiety had proven to
be unfounded most of the time, so he was not unduly concerned when he
entered, and was greeted not with a frown, but with a slight smile on
Pellew's face.

"You asked to see me, sir?"

"Yes. I have a commission for you, Mr. Kennedy. One that I trust you will
not find distasteful."

"Sir?"

"Mr. Hornblower will be going home for two weeks' convalescent leave.
Since Dr. Hornblower is hardly capable of managing the transport alone, I
would like you to accompany them."

"Aye, aye, sir." Archie was trying to suppress a smile. "I will be glad to
go with them."

"Good. You had better take a week's leave yourself. Just in case the
Doctor requires further assistance."

Archie failed to disguise his delight entirely. His blue eyes sparkled.
"Aye, aye, sir! Thank you, sir!"

"That is all, Mr. Kennedy." After Kennedy had closed the door, Pellew sat
back in his chair with a sigh. Lord, he was tired. But for the first time
in many days, he knew he would be able to sleep untroubled by a worried
heart. He had been neglecting his paperwork in a disgraceful fashion. He
was about to call for his clerk, when he changed his mind, and reached for
his inkwell, and a sheet of parchment instead. "My Dearest Wife ..." he
began to write. "With luck, and perseverance on my part, I may manage to
fit in a few days leave. My darling, you and our sons have been much on my
mind of late ..."

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

Three days later, Horatio was sitting up, shirtless, waiting impatiently
for Dr. Sebastian to finish examining him so that he could go home. He
winced as Sebastian's seeking fingers moved expertly over his collarbone,
but it was more in anticipation of pain, than actual discomfort.

At last, Sebastian sighed in satisfaction. "Very good, Mr. Hornblower. I
beg of you, however, do be careful. I do not wish to have you dislodge all
my elegant handiwork on your person."

Horatio smiled. "Sir, my father will have me packed in jeweler's cotton
the entire trip. Between him and Archie, I shall be quite secure." He
allowed the doctor to pull his shirt over his head, and put his good arm
through the sleeve. Actually, it was one of Mr. Bracegirdle's capacious
garments, to cover his strapped arm. But it felt wonderful to be dressed
at last. He had gotten out of bed for the first time the day before, and
had been appalled at his weakness. He would undoubtedly have to be swung
over to the jolly boat in a sling, like a crate of fragile eggs, but not
even that prospect could sour his mood. He slid from the cot and stood on
his unsteady legs. Lord, but the deck seemed a long way down.

Sebastian draped Horatio's blue tunic over his shoulders. "Well, you are
no longer my patient, sir."

Horatio held out his hand, "Dr. Sebastian, I haven't thanked you for
saving my life."

Sebastian's pleasure glowed in his dark eyes. "You are most welcome, Mr.
Hornblower. I admit, I have rarely been more gratified by a patient's
recovery. But I deserve only part of the credit."

"Yes, sir. I understand."

"Do you?" Dr. Sebastian smiled slightly. "I do not speak only of your
father; but also of Mr. Kennedy, who sat by your side, night after night,
and Captain Pellew, who was here whenever he could steal a moment to be
with you; and the men -- yes, they too, stopped by to wish you well." He
saw the blush rising in Horatio's face. "You did not know?"

Horatio shook his head. "I will thank them all, Dr. Sebastian." He reached
for his cocked hat. "Sir?"

"Yes, Mr. Hornblower?"

Horatio's brows knit in puzzlement. "Did you believe I would live when
your first saw me?"

"I hoped you would live. But belief does not come quite so easily as
hope."

He should not have expected a less enigmatic answer from Dr. Sebastian,
whose faith approached the mystical. "Would you say I had an even chance?"
he asked with a smile.

Dr. Sebastian laughed, then. "Yes, Mr. Hornblower. You had an even chance!
But I am certain it was more than fate which tipped the balance in your
favor! Come, let me help you to the deck. I would not have you back in my
sick berth before you even leave the ship."

Horatio came up on the deck of the Indy, with the sun bright and warm on
his face, and nearly blinding after days spent in the semi-darkness of
sick berth. He shielded his eyes with his hand and looked up to the
quarter-deck, where Captain Pellew and the other officers were standing.
He touched the brim of his hat solemnly, and to a man, they returned the
salute. Then, as he turned to the waist, he saw that the ship's company
had gathered. He stood there, in the sun, with his heart in his throat as
Matthews grinned at him and called for three cheers.

As the tumult died down, Styles came forward. "We're right glad to see
you, sir. Will you let me help you? Your da and Mr. Kennedy are waitin'
for you."

"Thank you, Styles." He resigned himself to the sling with uncommon grace,
and was shortly being settled in the jolly boat next to Archie and his
father. "Shall we be off?" he said.

"Aye, aye, Lieutenant Hornblower." Archie motioned to the coxswain. "Make
for shore, Cooper."

The oars dipped in the waters, and they pulled away from the
Indefatigable. Horatio regretted the two weeks he would be away from her,
for she had captured his heart. But he knew he would not begrudge the time
spent with his father. They had much to talk about. With a sigh, Horatio
closed his eyes and tipped his face to the sun.

"Are you all right, Horatio?" Dr. Hornblower asked.

Horatio smiled. "Yes, father. I am very well, indeed."


The End