The Heir of Kennedy Manor, Part Three
by Maryanne

"I just don't know, Horatio," Archie confessed quietly with
a soft sigh, his forehead creased in a frown of confusion.
He remained close beside his friend, speaking softly to avoid
eavesdroppers as he so often had to do lately. He tossed up
both hands, shaking his head as he walked. "I know the
dilemma my family can be in in this situation, but I just
don't know if I can go *back* there. Kennedy Manor is..." he
trailed off in a whisper, shaking his head sharply to toss
the dimmer shadowy thoughts back from his mind.

Horatio followed beside the young blond to the rail. "I
don't know, Archie. This has to be your decision alone," he
counseled.

Archie flicked his eyes sideways to capture his friend's for
a moment, before letting them rest and lifting his own gaze
to the lapping, dancing azure waves on the horizon beyond the
ships and sails of the port. He paused at the taffrail,
resting one knee up on the railing and gripped the rope of
the ratlines in his hand, lacing his fingers through the
widespread lines thoughfully. A soft, warm wind washed up
around them, stealing strands of dark blond from his queue.
"I know," he whispered after a few moments, emitting a soft
sigh with it. He turned, watching the older young man
thoughtfully, not admitting the worry edging deeper inside
him.

After another few moments of nearly intolerable silence,
Horatio finally broke through it like a knife, settling down
beside Archie as slowly the young blond sat on the rail,
still half-kneeling. "I don't know what to tell you. If you
think I can tell you what you should do, I can't." He shook
his head, holding Archie's eyes pointedly with his own dark
ones. "But I know you, and you wouldn't have summoned me
earlier if you didn't have another reason," he pointed out.

Archie felt a slight smile touch the corners of his mouth as
he dropped his eyes to the gentle waves lapping against the
planks of the ship's side. Leave it to Horatio to realize
things about him. "You're right," he admitted with a small
smile he couldn't suppress. He chuckled softly at himself.
He drew more serious quickly, a bit reluctant to continue.
"I need to ask you a... personal favor."

Dark eyebrows rose together above calm dark eyes but Horatio
said nothing, the small nod he gave, coupled with the slight
smile twitching at the corners of his mouth, a gentle urge to
continue.

Archie felt a warmth brushing up to his cheekbones, a small
flush as he spoke of almost embarassment. "I... um." He
paused, clearing his throat and re-starting. "Truth is, I
think I have to go back. It's not something I can explain to
you right now, Horatio, but-"

He was interrupted by a soft sigh of almost gentle
over-patience. "Archie," Horatio interjected warmly, audibly
almost little amused as well as the slight twinkle in his
eyes that lasted for only a second. "I am not asking. You
tell me whatever you wish to whenever you wish to. I am not
going to ask otherwise," he reassured.

Archie blinked in surprise, uncertain if he had just caught
a glimpse of good humor for once or if it was merely
fondness. He knew Horatio could laugh, he had seen it, but
it was rare. He dropped his eyes and nodded, giving his
friend a warm smile as his answer. "Thank you," he spoke
sincerely after a moment. "Now you realize you can decline
this offer if you want but... if I go back... would you come
with me?" He cringed, certain he sounded as though he were
begging.

Horatio was quiet, his eyes thoughtful as the young blond
felt them study him. But he never found Horatio's gaze to be
unnerving, or anything about him. At times he could be
ridiculously clumsy even, but Archie would be the first to
defend his friend's honor and intelligence. The words
brought him back from his train of thought. "Sounds as
though you've already decided," Horatio observed quietly.

Archie nodded, admitting the truth as his mind mulled across
the thoughts and possibilities. "In a way I have," he
whispered distantly, trailing off. He didn't want to return
to Kennedy Manor, but he could see his captain's point, and
this could be the only chance the British government could
ever have at uncovering a possible traitor in their midst.
He owed it to pride and country... to his ship, and
especially to Horatio. If Arthur Chesterson escaped justice
to continue smuggling plans to France and Spain, at the next
battle, there was a possibility that the Indefatigable might
be sent and destroyed, and with her, Horatio Hornblower. And
as a side note, Horatio had given him so much, it was time he
proved to himself he was worth as much as everyone thought.
But could he face Arthur again?

A hand touched his shoulder, drawing him once more within
the bounds of reality. He glanced up briefly to meet his
friend's eyes. "Are you alright?" Horatio asked, his eyes
tainted his definite worry. "You look greatly disturbed."

Archie nodded, shrugging his shoulder away uncomfortably.
"I'm fine."

The frown deepened. "You do not look so well. What's
troubling you?"

Archie felt a familiar snap-rush of anger inside himself,
breaking free of control. What was Horatio afraid of, a fit?
He snorted quietly to that thought, snapping fierce blue
eyes to his friend's unmercifully. "I told you, I'm fine,
Horatio!" he insisted impatiently, then quieted. He
shouldn't have struck out at him. "I apologize. I'm sorry,
I shouldn't attack you." The words were soft, inaudible but
to the other young man beside him.

Horatio appeared more than slightly confused, but he
appeared to leave it to rest. "So you are going then?" he
inquired calmly.

Archie nodded, and pulled himself slighty up with the
ratlines tangled around his hand. He lifted his eyes to the
swirling clouds that wisped and curled above. "I suppose I
have to." Finally, he held his friend's gaze beseechingly,
clenching his hand to keep from touching him. "But would you
please accompany me? If Pellew can spare you."

Horatio drew in a deep breath, obviously hesitant only a
moment after the question. "Oh, I don't know..."

Archie winced and almost laughed to himself. "Oh, please,
Horatio. Dear lord, you know how I hate to beg!"

There was a moment, then an honest smile and chuckle of
definite amusement from his friend. They both fought to
suppress their quiet laughter, until finally Horatio spoke,
his eyes still echoing the last traces of fond amusement.
"All right, my friend. I accept, but that *is* under the
condition if Captain Pellew wishes to spare me," he pointed
out.

Archie's eyes sparkled slightly in the sunlight. The very
thought of Horatio being there with him eased many concerns
from his mind. As much as he hated to admit to leaning on
him, there were times when he knew he wasn't strong enough
and with the many memories Kennedy Manor held for him, he
already knew he could not face his father's home alone.
"Don't worry, my friend," he spoke quietly, untangling his
fingers and sliding off the rail to his feet as they both
went back to their business. "I'll think of something."

He almost didn't but caught Horatio's expression as the
other young officer walked away, not sure what to make of it.

 

**************************************************************
ttempted sleep,
it would be restless with the dreams and faces already
hanuting his memory.
He heard soft voices talking through the cabin door, one of
them familiarly Horatio's. After a moment, his friend ducked
through, a small smile touching his features for a brief
moments. Archie lay there on his side and flashed a small,
if not genuine smile of friendship in return. Horatio's
words took him off guard. "Archie, are you all right?
You've been terribly grim all evening."
He had noticed. **blast it..** Archie shifted position
restlessly again and lifted his shoulders in a small shrug.
"No... Just thoughtful." He managed to grace Horatio with a
real smile this time, though it was small. "The discussion
we had with the captain earlier... I'm just trying to ponder
it." He paused for a moment, as his friend fixed him with a
pointed stare. "Really, for heaven's sake, H'ratio! I'm
quite fine!" he teased.
After another second of studying thought, the dark-haired
young man nodded. "Alright." The younger officer watched
him strip down and fall back into bed, drawing his blanket
around himself. Archie watched him, his eyes unmoving for
minutes on end, then he slid out of the bedding and softly
blew across the top of the oil lamp, casting the cozy little
cabin into the shadows of night. A familiar voice reached to
him through the darkness, surprisingly warm. "Goodnight,
Archie..."
The blond nodded, his eyes watching the darkness of the low
ceiling. "Night, H'ratio," he whispered half-absently.
These were common words, offered to one another each night,
but at this moment, Archie could take no comfort in that. He
settled back underneath the blanket, forcing his eyes to
close and his mind to leave the problems of the past with
Chesterson to rest. Sooner or later, he had found he'd
drifted into an uneasy sleep, light and unrestful and Archie
slept fitfully as the night wore on...

Captain Sir Edward Pellew paced the length of his dimmed
cabin thoughtfully, the smooth wood around him gleaming
elegantly underneath the gentle glow of candlelight. He
clasped his hands behind his back and pursed his lips, his
forehead creasing in a frown. The Indefatigable lay at
anchor now, at Plymouth on their journey to Portsmouth and
gathering necessary supplies as gunpowder and ship rations,
with barrels of fresh water. He listened as he crossed the
cabin, to the familiar watchbell, and spared a glance out the
ornamental glass panes to the black midnight. After a
moment, he resumed his pace, his mind preoccupied with the
disturbing information Mr. Kennedy had so dutifully related
earlier regarding Arthur Chesterson.
Kennedy had appeared so disturbed, his easy manner shifting
restlessly, when he had broached the topic, and it brought
him to wonder what had happened between the two men in the
past. The reaction had been similar to that of whenever the
name Simpson was passed around the ship. Archie just seemed
to shudder and withdraw, his voice falling soft, and then
would usually have a fit thereafter. Pellew's frown deepened
to that thought. Where any other captain would have likely
decommissioned the young man, he had made a decision
eventually to let the suffering acting lieutenant stay. He
had never known a man who would loathe more having to return
home. The decision hadn't been without its doubts, but he
continued to watch young Kennedy, and he hadn't found a
problem large enough in his medical condition to give him up
yet. Also, if he had discharged him, he would have a problem
with Mr. Hornblower. Oh, he wasn't pampering a favorite pet
officer, but Mr. Hornblower was possibly the best officer who
had ever served under him in his career, and it would be such
a shame to see that change.
The two appeared to have a mutual need for each other,
Hornblower and Kennedy. Whether or not they realized it,
they seemed to need to lean on one another for stability and
when together, they were strong. The captain was right proud
to have them as his officers on his ship.
As for the problem with Mr. Chesterson, the information
Kennedy had given caused the possibility of him being a spy
or informant to grow larger in his mind. According to the
young officer, he had been brutal years ago, and had more
than once slandered the British services. Chesterson was a
childhood acquaintence of Kennedy who had abused him when he
was young. Archie had related no details, but the flash in
his eyes, the whitening slightly of his well-tanned face
caused Pellew to wonder, perhaps even suspect... The story
had been that after one particular attack toward Kennedy,
Chesterson has slipped away and vanished. That had been
eight years ago, according to Kennedy, and hadn't heard of
either the name or the man since. There were rumors circling
around that he had caused problems occasionally, once even in
a private court, but then he had always vanished yet again.
Pellew suspected he had left the country and changed his name
to make himself more elusive. Obviously, there was something
there to hide.
Pellew stopped in his pacing, standing tall and gazing
toward the splashing black, moonlit waters below of the
midnight bay. He might have to speak to Kennedy again, or
emplore one of his friends to. This sudden change to
uneasiness in the man alarmed him. The circumstances had a
chance to grow very ugly, unless Kennedy could be calmed.
Finally, the captain shook his head sharply with a sigh,
deeply perplexed. What had this man done to Archie that
could make him so bitter, so distressed?
It was best to let it rest for now; if Kennedy would have
any problems after such a deep discussion on the subject, he
knew the man was in Hornblower's very capable hands. And he
would leave it at that; he didn't want to know the deep
secrets of his men. But he couldn't help but wonder...

 

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

 

He was choking, being strangled..!! He felt it oncoming,
knew it was happening as hands ripped and tore at him from
all sides, scorning voice hissing as fingers dug like claws
in the breathless black. No! NOOOO!!!!!!!!! He tossed
around, fighting desperately to get away. He felt the
fingers around his neck and he coughed, choking. He couldn't
breathe! He was going to die! But he could only desperately
hope it was so before these men had their way! Voices
taunted him, echoing loudly, fists slamming hard into his
body all over. He cried out, moaning softly and coughing as
he tossed more, feeling the world spinning around him,
reality giving way! He couldn't even feel where he was
anymore!
Suddenly he was thrown, hard, lifeless, then other hands,
hands that evoked terror beyond belief, clawed at him,
ripping at his clothes. He silently screamed this time,
fighting for all he was worth as the black, torturous flashes
around him spun more furiously, abusing and racking his
entire body. He knew wahat was happening, and he lashed
dasperately, flailing for anyone's help... Help me, somebody
*please* help!!!! he cried silently. He was tossed and
thrown into a wave of blackness, drowning, still unable to
breathe, and choking. A name snapped into his mind, as hands
gripped him again, his shoulders, his chest, a weight
pressing in on him. He moaned again, wanting to scream.
Simpson, Simpson! No, please God, not Simpson!!! **Horatio,
help me!!!**
The weight remained, unmoving, then shaking him, new words
entering like echoes through the flashing blackness.
Words... he couldn't understand... a somehow familiar voice,
familiar presense... Then his name drifted, echoing through
his skull as he lay trembling, shuddering uncontrollably.
"Archie! Archie wake up, it's Horatio!" the urgent call
came, and suddenly his eyes snapped open, gasping to draw air
into his lungs as reality came snapping back. He didn't even
realize hid fingers were digging into his friend's bare
shoulder hard enough to claw, as he grasped for stability.
He lay there in silence, unable to bear closing his eyes and
trembling as Horatio knelt beside him, almost... guarding
him, protecting him. He drew in a deep, shuddering breath
and felt his body suddenly fall limp into soft trembling
shivers.
He swallowed, whispering shakily. "H-H'ratio..?"
A hand rested gently on his chest, over his rapidly beathing
heart firmly, his friend's face hovering close to his own.
He nodded, his eyes deepened in worry. "Yes. I'm here,
Archie," he assured calmly, quietly.
Archie concentrated on softly breathing, quieting his pulse
and the shivers involuntarily still gripping his body from
the seizure. After a moment he spoke again, brokenly. "Was
I... Was I having a-?"
A hand covered his mouth, accompanied by a soft shush.
"Yes. You were having a fit," he interrupted.
Archie took the hand in his own, tossing it away by the
wrist. He rolled over onto his side facing his friend to be
able to breathe better. He could still feel the shivers
trembling across his body, the blackened chill that still
gripped him. "I'm.. I'm..." He broke off, swallowing again
and took a deep breath, steadying his voice. "I'm sorry,
Horatio." He clenched his fist angrily. "Oh, why can't I
stop having these damned fits!"
Horatio paused, his eyes falling to the deck, his features
illuminated only barely by the glow of a single candle on the
small table between their beds. After moments of silence,
Horatio emitted a soft sigh. "I.. I do not know, Archie."
His eyes lifted, attempting to catch Archie's but he
carefully kept them averted. "Are you alright? You nearly
suffocated yourself," he asked, a hint of worry there.
Archie suppressed a shiver and burrowed his shoulder
underneath the single wool blanket for the familiar comfort.
"I am all right, Horatio, my friend," he assured softly. He
sighed and rolled over in frustration, his voice soft. "I
was dreaming again..." he whispered softly, a shadow of
words. He heard no response from Horatio, but somehow sensed
he was listening. This was unfair to him to dump on him, he
knew, but he could not rest. "It was from my past...
nightmares..." He paused, resting on his back and tilting
his head to nod to Horatio with a slight attempt at a dry,
humorless smile. "Simpson again. And..." he paused, drawing
a deep breath, "Arthur Chesterson."
The frown creasing Horatio's forehead deepened, as he sat
carefully on one of their chests beside the young blond in
the silent near-darkness. But the dark was never silent for
Archie; with it always came voices, and restless, if
pictureless dreams of silver mist... He couldn't recall a
night of peaceful sleep since young childhood. The quiet
words broke him from his trance. "I have to wonder sometimes
but... who is Chesterson? Why does he give you nightmares?"
Horatio wondered.
Archie breathed slow and deep, shuddering slightly as he
curled upright. He touched the tip of his tongue to his lips
for a moment, biting on it. He began slowly, tentatively.
"Arthur was... a man I knew in my childhood. A young man,
seventeen." He wished he didn't have to tell, but somehow he
needed to and at the moment Horatio was the only one he would
trust, but the words came slow, stuttered, hesitant. "He was
a friend of my eldest brother Edmund, and an aquaintance of
my other brother, Tobias. They would love to go...
hunting..." He swallowed hard, not wishing to say more.
A hand rested on his shoulder, quietly urging him on. "It's
alright. You don't have to tell me."
Archie blinked, startled and his eyes widened. "No! No, I
began, I might as well finish the tale." He paused, his eyes
drifting distant, his voice soft as he spoke the pictures of
memories slowly returning. "They always went hunting...
Hunting but not for the fair game; for the poor animals who
couldn't run. They would shoot them, not instantly killing
them but killing them slowly, exercising torture." His
throat tightened, his eyes burning bitterly. "I used to try
to get them to stop... I even saved a few. But then they
found out. Arthur was... furious. He had always been an
influence on Edmund. So he took me by the collar and..." He
broke off, shuddering once more and staring off distantly to
the close walls. He felt a familiar hand brush his arm and
gathered his final amount of courage to speak, though it came
as a whisper. "They.... beat me. Hard. Until I nearly
blacked out. And then Arthur tried to grab me and-" He
broke off abuptly, flushing at the very thought angrily,
inwardly terrified. He shook his head sharply. "I escaped,
but only because Tobias pointed out the danger if he were
caught. He never beat me again after that. But the look in
his eyes... I never forgot it." His eyes flashed bitterly.
"And I'll never forgive him for the rest of my life." He
snorted softly. "But at least he wasn't like Simpson."
Horatio was silent for a long time, and Archie's eyes
lifted, watching him shake his head. "Oh, Archie, I thought
Simpson... Oh," he whispered softly, simply.
Archie sighed again and gripped his friend's arm briefly.
"It's alright. I'll be fine, Horatio." Eyebrows rose
critically. "No, really, I mean it. I shouldn't go into a
fit again," he attempted to assure him, his eyes firmly
telling how he didn't want to talk any more about it. The
trembling had finally subsided, but his head ached painfully
in the familiar blackening aftermath of a seizure.
Eventually, Horatio nodded defeat, attempting a slight,
humorless smile that twitched terribly at the corners of his
mouth. His hand rested on Archie's, his eyes falling to his
hand. "All right. Let's go back to bed then, shall we?" he
suggested softly. Archie nodded his reply and rolled over
toward the wall, burying himself, still somehow cold from the
resurfaced memory. But no matter how hard he tried in the
deep night around them as the room once more was thrown into
blackness, he couldn't bear to close his eyes.
He glanced out toward the stars. "Help me," he whispered
softly.

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

Morning dawned among the ships at Portsmouth, the thickening
fog swirling and hazing the ships as a soft, cool blanket of
dreary mist billowed across the smooth, moisture-slickened
planks of the Indefatigable's main deck. It swept softly its
chill against roughened features, beading with the sweat on
sailors' skin as they worked steadily into the early morning
hours. The botswain's cry echoed through the thickening deep
soup, calling out routine orders for the crew. It was a
familiar music to Matthews' ears, not pleasant, but not
unpleasant either. He found life abord the Indefatigable to
be rather a good one, and found no reason to want to change
anything right at the moment.
Matthews was supervising the loading of their much-needed
extra supplies, not minding or even noticing the damp, deep
fog curling around them all. It did make working slightly
harder but he and the others were used to it, even if a man
could barely see his shipmate five yards ahead of his own
feet.
He turned his sea-grizzled face up towards the crate their
rigged crane pulled on board. "Steady there, Styles," he
warned, gesturing his hands for the other men to slowly ease
up on the rope and rest their precious gunpowder supply on
the deck. The rope jerked, and the wooden supply barrel
nearly falling but he and Styles managed to make it without
accident. He wiped the back of his arm across his face as
the other men hauled theit cargo down into the magazine and
cargo hold. He nodded to his shipmate. "Better go ën help
ëem, Styles." The large man followed the task and Matthews
left the rigged rope, crossing the deck. He heard more calls
now, near the boarding ramp and stood watching as a figure
slowly made its way through the fog up the ramp. He paused
beside another crewmate, resting his hands on the hips of his
begrimed sailor's trousers. He ignored the mist, his eyes
following the figure approaching the ship from below. A cry
sounded, a challenge from the sentry, but the words coming
back were hardly discernable. The stranger flashed some
papers to the sentry but what was written there remained a
mystery to the crewman.
"Wonder who ëe is," his fellow shipmate muttered.
Matthews shook his head, his forehead wrinkled in curiosity
and natural suspicion. "I dunno, but I'm aimin' to find
out," he declared back, crossing the deck toward the tall,
lanky fingure emerging from the fog, bundled in an overcoat
that was way too big. Not a man who spent much time around
ships, and not during early morning watch, that much was
obvious. He spoke as he approached the man who glanced about
himself uncomfortably, appearing definitely lost. "Sir?"
The man spun, then nodded quickly, his face flushed with a
greenish-looking pallor that confirmed Matthew's suspicions
that the man was definitely a land-lover. "Uh -- yes. Yes,
where could I find your captain. Captain Sir Edward Pellew?"
he requested. "I have papers signed from the Admiralty
themself that permits me to see him," he related quickly,
briefly flashing his papers, as though he had no clue of how
the seamen had nothing to do with politics.
Matthews nodded and pointed. "Go speak with Mr. Jenkins,
sir," he replied simply, stepping away from the man. He
watched the man show his papers once more, and it was as
though the king himself had spoken the order. The young boy
midshipman nodded and led the way toward the captain's cabin
with this strange man who had spoken of Admiralty orders.

 

Captain Pellew's eyes glanced up to the knock on the door of
his cabin as he paused between words of writing in his log.
"Yes!" he called commandingly across the space.
"Jenkins, sir," a light young voice came back. "There's a
gentleman out here sent from the Admiralty. He has signed
papers from the Admiralty itself. He wishes to speak to
you."
Pellew sighed quietly, raising both eyebrows patiently and
replacing the sleek elegant black pen back in its inkwell,
setting the writing tool aside and folding his hands across
the table. "Bring him in."
The door unlatched and opened, and the young midshipman
stepped through and aside. The man behind him followed,
ducking and glancing his eyes about nervously through the
misted morning shadows cast about the cabin. His eyes
widened nervously, not quite a shifty personna on his more
than slightly pale, sickly features. Quite frankly, Pellew
wondered if he should see this man on deck merely to avoid
the possibility of a mess in his cabin. The man standing in
the doorway was unfamiliar to him, quite lanky and tall,
draped in an overcoat. After a few moments, the eyes finally
took their rest toward the captain. Pellew nodded to
Jenkins, who retreated and latched the cabin door closed
behind him. "Captain Pellew?" this unfamiliar man began
quickly, his eyebrows raising questioningly.
Yes," he replied simply, studying the figure standing before
him. He appreciated the calm composure the man held, despite
the fact that he appeared slightly seasick. His appraisal of
the man edged higher a notch, but barely.
The man's eyes closed briefly, a expression of relief, and a
small smile twitched the corners of his mouth faintly. "Then
it is an honor, sir, to be in your company." The captain
nodded briefly in acceptance of the praise. The tall young
man continued; yes he was young it occurred to him. Possibly
only a mere five years or less older than his Lieutenant
Hornblower. He withdrew a set of papers and dropped them
before the captain.
Pellew glanced over them, scanning the written permits that
allowed this man to be here, and the signatures attached to
them. His eyebrows rose slightly in surprise. This would
obviously be a matter of great importance for this young man
to have been sent with such high permission. He nodded
slowly, lifting his eyes from the paper to the other man's
somewhat suspiciously. "All right. State your business
here."
The young man extended his hand, the gesture met but only
briefly. "Charles Danhurst, sir. I am the son of the Earl
of Danhurst. I am here to ask a favor... It involves one of
your officers."
Pellew's brow creased and his lips drew together into a taut
frown. He gestured to the seat across the smooth table.
"Please, sit down, Mr. Danhurst." He paused for a moment,
then directly broached his concern. "You say it involves one
of my officers?"
Danhurst nodded once, slowly, his eyes raising slowly to
Pellew's own. "Yes, sir."
The captain's frown deepened in concern for what great
trouble this could possibly involve. Surely one night of
leave hadn't been enough as to create an uproar or problem.
He laced his fingers together on the table, meeting the other
man's regard carefully. "Which one?" he inquired.
Danhurst touched the tip of his tongue to his lips briefly,
his eyes and features almost uncertain to admit it.
"Lieutenant Archibald Kennedy, sir," he related quietly.
Captain Pellew's eyes widened, definitely concerned now, and
more than slightly alarmed. "Good God, sir! Mr Kennedy!
What has Kennedy done?" he demanded.
The young man raised both hands up, attempting to quiet him,
and inwardly that just infuriated Pellew further. "No no,
sir! You are mistaken!" Danhurst interrupted, a slight smile
on his features now. "Mr. Kennedy is not in trouble; I was
sent here to simply inquire after him. This is a family
matter."
The captain quieted, his eyes falling to the smooth polished
wood underneath his hands. He nodded in acceptance. "All
right, Mr. Danhurst," he began levelly. "Pray, continue."
The smile widened, a light briefly in the young man's dark
eyes, and he gave a curt nod. "Thank you, sir." He reached
into one pocket inside the overcoat and cloak, withdrawing
yet another folded piece of paper and unfolding between his
fingers. "I have a letter here from the Admiralty, allowing
me permission should Kennedy wish to return to Kennedy Manor,
for him to cut his commission short. He has permanent leave
from the British navy, should he desire it," Danhurst
continued.
Pellew's eyes narrowed slightly, drawing his lips tight
together in a thoughtful, taut line. He knew almost nothing
of Kennedy's past or Archie's relations, and the particulars
were a mystery to him. But it had never been a secret to
recognize Kennedy's slight apprehension and dread whenever
his home or family would be mentioned. Archie never longed
for home, he knew, and so he could never force himself to
directly order him to take his leave home. Whever Kennedy
went ashore, he generally remained fairly close to the ship,
as it seemed to be one of his sources of stability. The
captain drew in a deep breath and sighed quietly, rising to
his feet and clasping his hands behind his back as he paced
slowly to the window behind him. "I am sorry, Mr. Danhurst,"
he broke the silence nearly like a whip. He turned. "This
is a matter you have to bring up to Kennedy himself. This
must be his own decision."
Danhurst's eyes fell, nodding a little in quiet acceptance.
"I can accept that. Thank you, sir," he spoke quietly.
Pellew just stared at him.
"Mr Jenkins!" he suddenly called out and the latch clicked
open on the door as the young man instantly stepped through.
"Sir?"
"Pass the word for Mr. Kennedy," Pellew ordered, nodding the
lad off to do his job.
The boyish midshipman's eyes widened, startled. He bowed
away quickly to the task. "Aye aye, sir."

 

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

 

Soft mist curled through the window, in gentle tendrils of
moisture and fog that caressed Archie's features. His senses
were brushed and instantly, tired cobalt eyes fluttered open
with a soft breath of a gasp from his throat. They glanced
about the small cabin, it's shadows, then lifted to the small
window, and the fog billowing by, brushing cool salty
moisture through the cabin. Archie remained motionless,
resting beneath the blankets.
A small smile tugged at one corner of his mouth slightly to
know that he had fallen asleep only covered in one, but
sometime or other during the night another warm blanket had
been laid on him. He knew Horatio cared, despite his claims
of doing nothing but for loyalty and duty. Another small
smile pulled gently at the corners of the blond's mouth. But
this time, he decided he wouldn't tease him about it.
After another few moments of stillness, he planted his hands
under himself and shoved himself to sit upright, tossing back
his head to throw back wayward strands of dark blond hair
that had come untied during the night. His gaze fell softly
to his friend's face, still asleep, and he shook his head
fondly, his eyes sparkling in almost amusement. Archie left
him resting, silently rolling up to his feet on the floor of
the small cabin and beginning to dress.
As he buttoned his waistcoat over the linen shirt, he heard
the stirring behind him and turned as brown eyes lifted
tiredly to his. The blond young man's eyes sparkled. "Good
morning, H'ratio. Welcome to the land of the living," he
teased softly in the shadows.
Horatio snorted quietly, though in his partially-awake state
he couldn't suppress the small smile of doubtful humor.
Archie's features lit up with a small grin in response, the
expression softening to just a smile for the most part to
keep the teasing more subtle. He watched his friend lever
himself up and give a heavy sigh, trying to awaken further.
"Good morning, Archie," Horatio replied blandly, though his
eyes did perhaps shine.
Archie grinned again and tossed his head back, stepping
toward him and gripping his shoulder briefly before
continuing to button the waistcoat and the jacket. He tied
back his hair in a smooth queue, while watching his friend
absently out of the corner of one eye. It was so pitifully
easy to tease him, to jest. He let it be and nodded briefly
toward Horatio, taking his leave from their cabin and walking
up toward the deck. As he climbed atop the deck from the
depths of the ship, he felt the cool, salty spray whisper
across his cheeks. Curls of fog drifted before his eyes,
dancing in the damp wind that flapped the sails.
"Pass the word for Mr. Kennedy!" a young man's voice
suddenly cried from above him on the quarterdeck, cracking
slightly in its urgency.
The answering calls drew nearer and Archie turned quickly,
snapping his eyes in slight concern up toward the young teen
Jenkins, uncertain about the pressing in his tone. "Here!"
he called in return. The calling ceased, as he continued.
"What is it, Mr. Jenkins?" he inquired quickly.
The young man ran fingers absently through short red hair,
then appeared to realize the mistake and dropped the hand,
curiosity in green eyes. "Um... there's a man from the
Admiralty here sir. Captain's talking with him now, but this
man wishes to speak directly to you," the boy related.
Archie's features pinched a little in a small frown of worry;
he hadn't found many of the direct calls from the Admiralty
or anyone for him to be spoken of as good news. He turned,
ducking past a pair of men and crossing the deck in a quick
stride toward the quarterdeck. "I'd wager it's important,"
Jenkins continued as he joined him, following beside and
slightly behind the senior officer.
Archie's eyes flicked sideways for a moment. "You can bet
on that," he agreed more quietly, pausing. He rested one
hand almost gently on the young teen's arm, an officer he
knew was only a few years his junior. He continued, guarding
his voice quietly, without issuing orders. "Would you please
go and personally summon Horatio for me? I believe I should
inform him of this." He knew it could hardly matter whether
he knew or not, but it helped his stability to imagine he
could always have someone to stand beside him should he need
it. On top of that, it seemed natural, almost alarmingly so
when he thought about it. **Then don't,** he reminded
himself.
Bare minutes later, he approached and paused hesitantly
before the door leading into his captain's privacy and cabin.
He moistened dry lips hesitantly, and cleared his throat,
rapping his knuckles politely against the sweet salt-smelling
wood. "It's Mr. Kennedy, sir," he announced quickly.
The words barely had time to leave his lips when a firm,
almost slightly warm, though he believed he was having
delusions there, voice replied. "Yes, come in!" Archie
obeyed, ducking halfway through the door and scanning the
shadows of the small room. His eyes rested on Pellew, eyes
widening slightly in silent question. The man's features
flickered annoyance for an instant. "Don't stand there until
you graft onto the deck, man! In or out, Mr. Kennedy!"
Archie obeyed with a slight flush, twisting through and
latching the door behind him. He had heard the slight tint
of honest amusement Pellew had offered in that last, and
could barely stifle a tiny smile of relief. Perhaps this
wasn't trouble. **Really, Archie, you're getting as bad as
Horatio!** he scolded himself. He would hate to call himself
a pessimist, but life had generally tended that way. He
tried his best to remain as optimistic as he could, though.
The captain continued, as cobalt blue eyes swept over to the
man seated across the polished table from his, then same
instant the man turned... "Mr. Kennedy, this is Mr. Danhurst.
He brought orders from the Admiralty itself, and this matter
concerns you-"
Archie barely hushed a soft gasp that escaped, his eyes
widening, genuinely startled as the other man's face met his.
"Charles?" he wondered in disbelief.
The other young man grinned, despite the slight tinge of
green in his pallor. "Archie! Lord, you look well,"
Danhurst appraised, his eyes falling across the blond,
dressed in full uniform, without the hat.
Archie's eyes twinkled in quiet mirth, recalling the many
pleasant days they had spent ogether in youth. "As do you,"
he offered softly, wondering what on earth had brought his
cousin to the Indefatigable. He heard a throat clearing
pointedly from his left, capturing his attention. Pellew's
expression was entirely too patient, and perplexed. "I'm
sorry, captain; it's just we know each other well. Charles
Danhurst, sir, is my cousin," he offered an explanation.
The captain nodded. "I see." He stood and stepped away
from them, pacing slowly across the cabin.
"So how *is* our naval Kennedy doing as of late?" Charles
finally inquired quietly, recapturing Archie's attention.
His gray eyes shone warmly, despite the shadows that mostly
hid them.
Archie shrugged slightly, perching himself carefully so as
to get off should the captain become vexed, on the edge of
the table. "Perhaps better than I ever have," he spoke
softly, his vision skimming across the deck wood panels. He
lifted his eyes slowly from the floor directly to his
cousin's quietly, serious. "Let's skip the unnecessary
small-talk. Why have you come?" he pressed.
Danhurst sighed softly and leaned back in his seat,
appearing to choose his words with articulate care. "I
responded at someone's request to ask permission from the
highest source, the Admiralty, if they may allow you long or
perhaps permanent leave."
"Permanent leave?" Archie interrupted, slightly alarmed.
"Do you mean leave his majesty's service?"
Charles drew in a deep breath and sighed, as the young
blond's mind pondered this, so many questions spiraling in
his mind, mingled with touched of his restless dreams of the
night before. "You might say that, yes..." He continued
quickly before Archie could slip in a word in edgewise.
"This concern's your father, Archie." The young lieutenant
silenced, the questioning alarm growing stronger inside him
as he allowed his cousin to go on. "Lord Kennedy... died
weeks ago. We attended his funeral nearly a month ago, and
he left a will."
Archie remained silent for a lengthened space, until the two
young men were growing intensely more uncomfortable. The
feelings inside himself nearly confused Archie, as they were
neither happy nor upset. He felt no sadness to the thought
of his father's death. The beast had virtually attempted to
send him to his own death years ago. Though he did have to
wonder how the man had died, and perhaps had he changed even
slightly..? "And?" he eventually prompted softly.
Charles cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Kennedy Manor,
as you know belonged to your father but was in a ghastly
state. Recently, certain persons have been attempting to
restore the place, but I fear we may not be able to support
it and our own estates and connections. What we need-"
"Is the rightful heir to take his place, right?" Archie
finished the sentence quickly, his eyes sharpening as his
forehead creased in a confused frown. His voice rose from
its soft manner now, somewhat louder. "Then why hasn't
Edmund taken his place!" he demanded, his eyes flashing anger
toward the brother he so despised.
Danhurst's hand rested on Archie's arm, his eyes growing
more quietly pointed, slowly smoothing ruffled feathers, so
to speak. "We haven't been able to locate either Edmund or
Tobias for months. I fear that should they be dead, there
can be only one person left to care for Kennedy Estate, and
that's you."
Archie eyed this man who had been a friend, a comrade, and
who was his close cousin carefully, wondering who those
ëcertain persons' were who had influenced him to come and
bring this matter up. Memories drifted back, pictures of
home, flash-feelings drifting to his senses from memory of
scolding, cruel jibing, and the fists of his elder brothers
on him. Pictures of how the joy and beauty of Kennedy Manor
had been stripped before a young boy's very eyes. The answer
was whispered after a few minutes, tightly. "Why?" He
brought his eyes back to his cousin's. "Why me, Charles?"
A calm voice echoed from behind him suddenly, splitting the
near-silence as though a boom. "You are reminded that you do
not have to accept this offer, Mr. Kennedy. But may I point
out a possibility should you accept?" Pellew interrupted,
crossing back through the fairly small space toward Archie.
The young blond turned, his eyes shining in question, as he
attempted best as he could to hide his feelings from his own
eyes. The captain continued. "If you should go back,
Archie. You could do your government and service a great
favor."
Archie was a bit surprised to hear his captain use his
shortened given name, for it wasn't customary for a captain
to know his men by first name. Much less speak to them as
such. The possibility he brought startled him equally. He
narrowed his eyes thoughtfully, studying Pellew sidelong in
uncertainty. "How so, sir?"
The captain waved a hand almost dismissively. "Didn't you
yourself tell me how acquainted you were with the Chesterson
family?" Archie nodded slowly, his bright blue eyes widening
as realization caught on even before the captain's next
words. "This could be a perfect and rare opportunity to
discover the truth about Arthur Chesterson. You could be our
eyes into this situation, Mr. Kennedy."
"Excuse me?" Charles queried, clearly confused.
"Later, Charles," Archie dismissed absently. He slid to his
feet from his perch, resting one hand thoughtfully on the
polished wood surface as he diverted his entire attention
toward Captain Pellew. He drew in a quick breath, whispering
a soft prayer. "Sir, are you trying to make me do this? If
so, then you might as well order me."
Pellew shook his head, meeting the blue gaze with a calm
commanding regard. "No. The choice is entirely up to you,
Archie."

 

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

Thunder rumbled its lonesome distant growl menacingly above as the
billowing clouds of gray and silver loomed ominously over the elegant
English countryside, highlighting the deep, rich tones of green yet
deeper. Never had Horatio once seen such luscious countryside though he
had been told; having lived his life in a far different part of England.
Though the thickening deep clouds whistled their wind through the distant
trees on the hill, spattering a sprinkle of raindrops down to brush
lightly against them. Horatio watched Archie's soft cobalt blue eyes
dreaming distantly through the carriage window in dim silence as the
thunder of horses' hooves added its simple, speedy cadence to the
underlying growl of thunder. Hooves struck both rock and rain-moistened
soft earth, as wheels ran across the stones in their journey now toward
his friend's boyhood home.

"Mr. Hornblower?" a voice not so unlike in age of his own broke amiably
into the solitude, capturing his attention. He glanced briefly to the
man, flickering his eyes from their quiet study of his friend toward the
shadowed outlines of their escort's features. The thought touched his
mind a moment later that the man had occasionally been speaking.

He dropped his eyes for a moment. "I am sorry, Mr. Danhurst. I confess
I wasn't listening," he spoke quietly, simply, meeting the other man's
eyes in a contemplative way.

One corner of Danhurst's mouth twitched upward in a slight, humored
smile, as he cast his own dark gaze out toward the gathering storm, as
the wind carried with it's gust the sound of rain pattering against the
landscape. "Oh, do not apologize, Mr. Hornblower!" he corrected amiably,
a twinkle in his shadow-darkened eyes. "ëTis perfectly understandable.
Look there," he pointed, leading Horatio's eyes toward the carriage
window Archie had perched himself beside in the small elegant box they
were riding in. "All you see around you now belongs to the Danhurst
Estate. And up there-" this time the hand pointed to the emerald hills
only a few small miles away, "-belongs to Kennedy Manor."

Horatio tilted his head in curiosity, allowing his eyes to partially
close in silent study, quiet interest. Indeed, this was lovely country,
though... he couldn't quite place the sharp yet earthy scent of more than
just the rain, but the wind carried a wildish scent from afar. He
allowed his gaze to trace paths along the edges of green, up beyond the
Danhurst estate toward the source of many of Archie's nightmares. He
found that his eyes had traveled to his friend's face, catching Archie's
features quiet in a sort of distant, melancholy silence. He allowed his
gaze to follow his friend's handsome features, feeling a slight hint of
concern. Archie had fallen back from his natural cheery self into a
strange sort of quiet he had rarely witnessed, but one he knew meant his
young blond companion was disturbed.

Danhurst continued gentlemanly as the cool storm gale swept stronger
through the open carriage window to brush against Horatio's somewhat cool
cheeks. "And not just those. Most of the highland land around here
belongs to the Kennedy Estate." A deepening, ominous rumble growled
above, the slightest flash of lightning breaking a path through gray
sharply before his eyes. He listened with most of his attention kept
there, but partially watching Archie. "The grounds are lovely and quite
extensive, don't you agree, Archie?"

Horatio watched as Archie stirred finally, glancing his brilliant blue
eyes from the landscape toward the other two young men. He nodded, his
few words strangely soft and distant. "Yes, they are...Loveliest in
England they say..."

Horatio's eyes narrowed slightly, frowning a bit as concern drew
stronger. "Archie are you quite alright? You've been so distant..." he
inquired quietly, choosing his words with care as to not upset him. He
attempted to press back to growing worry and inward thankfulness that
Captain Pellew could spare him for this journey, because it appeared
Archie might be needing that support.

Archie drew in a slow breath and released it in the softest of sighs, a
whisper as spatters of droplets sprinkle on the gust of wind. He managed
a slight smile, but his eyes took on a softer glow as they met Horatio's
privately and directly. "I am quite alright, H'ratio." The dark haired
young man almost thought he heard a lilt to his voice there. Archie's
eyes took on a familiar twinkle. "Thank you," he smiled.

Horatio felt a small smile touch his lips in response, then followed his
friend's gaze back toward Danhurst. "I dare say, the two of you don't
talk much," Charles pointed out agreeably, more than a trace of humor
lacing his voice.

Horatio was privately satisfied to see the brief smile of matching
amusement Archie flashed towards his cousin, even though he was still
unusually quiet. They rode on in silence toward the handsome gates
leading to the grand Danhurst Estate, listening to the quick, steady
cadence of hooves on the rain-moistened earth. He watched in quiet
intrigue, knowing and recognizing his own discomfort as they rode through
the gates down the grand drive up toward the regal house that he would be
horribly out of place but he determined firmly to himself that he would
do his best to exist in this society of Archie's. The carriage slowed as
the sprinkle of droplets strengthened into droplets of rain falling and
pattering against the stones.

As the carriage drew to a halt, Danhurst gathered his cloak about himself
and gestured toward the door the coachman unlatched and swung open. He
nodded amiably to his companions as he ducked through the opening to
splash to the thin mud below, puddled of rain. "Well, should you Archie
and your friend have afternoon tea with me?" he offered politely,
droplets of rain running off the surface of his coat and hat.

Horatio allowed his eyes to cast toward Archie's, which fell the moment
he glimpsed them. A faint smile twitched the corners of Archie's mouth,
though in truth, Horatio thought he had rarely seen his friend so weary.
The warmth was there however, though it felt more directed toward himself
than Charles Danhurst. After a moment, Archie lifted his shoulders in a
slight shrug. "If you insist, my dear cousin, I suppose we shall," he
accepted, ducking ahead of Horatio out into the rain below. A moment
later, the young lieutenant followed, grimacing to the thought that he
likely appeared slightly clumsy. Water splashed up as his feet touched
the ground. He could feel the rain from the thickening dark storm clouds
pelt his coat, droplets of moisture soaking into his clothing slowly,
though that was something he was fairly accustomed to.

Fingers touched his hand briefly, startling him, and he glanced his eyes
briefly toward his young blond friend. He caught a silent message in
cobalt blue eyes of gratitude but uncertainty, feeling a familiar hand
grip his own tightly for a moment before Archie stepped ahead up with his
cousin. As he followed, watching him, Horatio had a feeling this would
be a long, very uncomfortable afternoon that he would make a point to
abide for his friend's sake. Archie apparently needed a little support,
though he did not appear it as he laughed merrily in response to
something humorous that Danhurst must have said.

He ascended the few steps underneath the grand overhang and stepped
through the door the balding manservant opened for him, nodding absently
in a touch of politeness as his eyes swept across the grand foyer, and
the halls, narrow they might have been, but far more grand than anything
he had ever seen. This sort of livelihood belonged to the Admiralty
themseves, he believed, so he dared not touch or speak anything over the
soft, audible ticking from the elegant handcrafted clock on the elegant
doorway that led both toward the hall Danhurst and Archie retreated down
and a set of stairs. He gazed about himself, remembering the invitation
to tea after a moment and following his friend's path into the next room.

He paused as he entered, mid-step, dark eyes widening further as they
glanced about the room. It wasn't large by any incredible means, but
still elegant. He wasn't entirely not accustomed to elegance, but it was
no secret he hardly belonged in this society. He would learn, he knew;
Archie would see fit to teach him every trick of the trade. He felt a
slight smile touch the corners of his own mouth at that and crossed the
embroidered carpet toward the welcome warmth of the flames burning and
flickering in the fireplace. He held his hand above the warmth, feeling
the heat soak into the bones of his fingers.

"Do make yourself comfortable, Mr. Hornblower," Danhurst offered,
gesturing courteously to one of the chairs about the low coffee table of
polished wood. He continued to speak to Archie. "I decided to have tea
in this little study room as I shan't keep you two too long. You still
have a little travel ahead of you, but I would prefer it if the rain
stopped first."

Horatio felt the manservant's presence behind him and he shrugged off his
cloak and hat, reluctantly parting with them and watching the servant
carry them away. He heard a chuckle quietly above the crackling fire as
his eyes strayed toward the elegant window that constituted one wall.
Droplets of rain sprinkle down upon the glass panes, dripping off the
deep lush green of what appeared to be the Estate's garden.

Danhurst's voice pierced his thoughts. "Do please sit yourself, sir," he
prompted, the very startled humor in his eyes enough to cause Horatio to
blush as he did so. It wasn't the good-natured sparkle that touched
Archie's eyes often enough, this one was more ridiculing. Charles leaned
back in his seat, turning his head toward the other young guest. "My
word, Archie. Your friend doesn't have much experience in society, does
he?"

Horatio's eyes fell, as he grew inwardly more uncomfortable with this
other man's presence. Danhurst was young, but though Archie was just as
finely bred, Charles' aristocratic sense here on the estate made him
increasingly more discomforted. He lifted his gaze a moment later,
bringing it up to study Archie. The blond sent Danhurst a subtly sharp,
politely scolding glance. "Charles, remember, it is not polite to speak
of someone as if he weren't there when he's in the room with you.
Horatio is my friend," he defended.

Charles Danhurst nodded once in acceptance, as a maidservant entered the
room with a polished silver tray she set daintily on the table. She
curtsied, rewarded with a kind word from Archie, disappearing from the
hall through which she came. "Forgive me, Mr Hornblower."

After a moment, Horatio drew in a slow, steady breath, narrowing his eyes
slightly as he evenly regarded this young lord. "I accept your apology
and I do not wish to make any false pretences, sir. I am not entirely
familiar with this society, but I will learn," he spoke levelly. There
was a touch of sheer tenseness in the air about them for a few moments,
then it disappeared with Danhurst's nod of admiration. Horatio let out
the breath he'd been holding slowly in a soft sigh. He had a feeling he
had just won one society battle of many.

He caught the twinkle of friendship in Archie's cobalt blue eyes for a
moment. "Well," Archie addressed his cousin calmly. "Shall we have tea
then?"

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