The Holly and the Ivy
by Joan C.

Dear Friends,

This story is my Christmas present to you all. It expresses what I wish
for all of you this year; hope, happiness, and healing. I have been
given one of life's greatest gifts this year -- your friendship. Merry
Christmas, and a Happy and prosperous New Year.

With love,

Joan

NOTE: A special thanks to Sarah, our List Captain for her help, and for
allowing me to "borrow" Trudy Whitehall.

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

The Indefatigable limped into Spithead harbor the week before
Christmas. It was not nearly soon enough for Captain Sir Edward Pellew.
For six months after the disaster at Quiberon, they had been held on
Channel duty. Never mind that another damned peace treaty had been
signed, or that her sails were starting to rot on the yards, or that
her men were perishing for want of fresh food and water that was not
rank with algae. No, the Channel must be protected from God only knew
what, or for what reason. Pellew had a more than passing suspicion that
Lord Hood had been avoiding his outrage at the betrayal that had
awaited them in France. Finally, in desperation, Pellew had demanded
that they be relieved before the Indy was suitable for nothing more
than dredging out the harbor. And at last, someone in the Admiralty had
listened.

That much at least was over, he thought as he looked out over Spithead.
The Indefatigable was to be refurbished from stem to stern. That alone
would take several weeks, and once he arranged for the repairs, he
would be able to grab a few days leave for himself and for his
officers. They had all earned it; though those few days were hardly
recompense for what they had withstood. Bowles and Bracegirdle were as
doughty as they come, yet even they were weary of the sea.

And Hornblower ... Pellew's concern for his Lieutenant was warranted.
He had been devastated by Quiberon. He had lost a young love and much
of his innocence on the bridge at Muzillac. For the next six months, he
had endured the grinding Channel patrols, growing thinner and more
withdrawn by the day. It was not that he neglected his duties -- far
from it. Indeed, it seemed that those duties were what sustained him.
That and the steadfast companionship of young Kennedy. The thought of
Acting Lieutenant Kennedy caused another twinge of remorse in Pellew's
conscience.

It was a captain's duty to bring his young officers along, to nourish
their ambitions, to guide their growth so that when the time came, they
would be ready to assume command. Pellew feared he had been most remiss
in his attentions to Kennedy. True, he had many more pressing
responsibilities than that of mentor. Perhaps he had grown so used to
Hornblower's quick instincts, that he expected the same from Kennedy.
It was hardly a fair assumption. There was a distance in that young man
-- an impenetrable wall erected as a defense -- against what? Pellew
shook his head. Two years in a Spanish prison? Hornblower had let slip
just how devastating that had been -- it had nearly cost Kennedy his
sanity. And then there was the Justinian, and Mr. Simpson -- evils that
Pellew was ashamed to acknowledge. He suspected Hornblower knew that
story as well; but out of loyalty, and yes, love for Kennedy, would
never reveal it. Mr. Kennedy would have leave to go home as well, if he
would take it.

To effect that end, Pellew had resorted to strategy. In five minutes,
Mr. Kennedy would be at his door, and fifteen after that, Hornblower.
By appealing to their mutual protective instincts, he would have them
both off the Indefatigable and with their families for Christmas.

There was a knock on his door. Kennedy, no doubt. Pellew straightened
his weary shoulders. "Come."

Kennedy entered as if he were about to face a firing squad. Pellew
frowned into those apprehensive blue eyes until the boy glanced away in
confusion. "Mr. Kennedy, you have been in the Navy for nearly nine
years now, am I right?"

"Yes, sir."

Pellew saw the frantic pulse beating below Kennedy's jaw. He spoke with
unaccustomed gentleness. "Please, Mr. Kennedy, be at ease. This is not
an inquisition."

"No, sir." Archie's posture relaxed a trifle, but his gaze remained
fixed on the wall beyond Pellew's desk.

"In fact, I hope that what I am about to tell you will be welcome news.
I have granted you leave to return home for Christmas."

He did not receive the expected reaction. Kennedy turned a furious
shade of red, and then paled just as quickly. "T-that is very kind of
you, Sir. But I-I prefer to remain with the Indefatigable."

"You have no wish to see your family?" Pellew's brow rose dangerously.

"No, sir. We are not close. And I consider the Indefatigable to be my
home."

"And Mr. Hornblower?"

Archie was startled into meeting Pellew's eyes. "Horatio -- I mean
Lieutenant Hornblower? I don't know, sir. His father writes frequently
... He must wish to go home."

"I am afraid that he might not, Mr. Kennedy. Please, sit. I have a
commission for you -- one that I must insist you take up. I know that
you and Hornblower are close friends, and it is my most fervent wish
that he get away from this damned ship for a few days. I fear he will
not do so if he believes that you will stay on board."

"But, sir -- "

"Surely you can see that this is killing him, Mr. Kennedy!"

Archie nodded. He knew that to be true. He had spent sleepless nights,
knowing that Horatio was suffering and in pain just a few feet away,
and too proud to admit it. "Yes, sir. I believe it is." He swallowed.
"Very well, sir. I shall tell him that I am spending Christmas with my
family -- though I doubt he will believe it."

"Make him believe it, Mr. Kennedy. I hold you responsible for his
well-being."

"Yes, sir."

He left, looking like a man leaving the firing squad for the gallows.
Pellew sighed. The poor lad, he was carrying burdens that were much
too heavy for such young shoulders. And he had added another. Pellew's
head throbbed. Next, he had to deal with Hornblower. No easy task, for
his perception was much sharper, and his devotion to duty much stronger
than Kennedy's.

Hornblower came in shortly and stood before Pellew. God, the lad was
thin; his cheekbones were stark beneath his tan, his eyes hollowed with
lack of rest. But his backbone was ramrod straight and his chin
determined as he faced his Captain.

"You wished to see me, sir?"

"Yes, Mr. Hornblower. As you are undoubtedly aware, the Indefatigable
will be detained in Spithead for at least six weeks for refitting and
revictualling before our next assignment. Since the holidays are upon
us, I have arranged for you and some of the other officers to take
leave and return home."

"Home, sir?"

"Yes, to your father -- It has been three years, has it not?"

"Yes, sir. Since I came on board the Justinian. But with the work that
needs to be done --"
"Mr. Hornblower," Pellew interrupted impatiently. "There is a surfeit
of officers whose duty it is to prepare the fleet for assignment. They
will be in charge of this refit, not you. It is my express wish that
you take leave, is that clear?"

"Yes, sir. Sir, may I ask, what of Mr. Kennedy?"

"What of him?" Pellew turned away slightly so Hornblower would not see
him close his eyes in fervent prayer. Please, Lord. Let this be right
...

"Is he granted leave as well?"

"He is. However, he seems reluctant to take it, which is the other
reason I have asked you here. Surely, you must see that to remain on
board the Indefatigable for the next six weeks, will do him no good. He
has been nine years in the service -- and half of those spent in
misery."

Horatio, thinking of the Justinian and the Spanish prison, nodded.
"Yes, sir. I understand. But he will not return to his family."

"Then take him to yours! Just get him off this ship. I cannot afford to
lose him, Mr. Hornblower. Experienced officers will be in very short
supply if this fellow Bonaparte continues his rise to power. He is a
tyrant -- and I fear for England and the rest of the world if he is not
stopped."

"War, sir?"

"Yes, war. Of a length and a ferocity that has not been seen before."
Pellew's eyes were blazing now, firm in his convictions. "Mark my
words, Mr. Hornblower. You and Mr. Kennedy had best take your leave
now, for it may be a very long time before you have a chance for
another."

The respondent fervor in his Lieutenant's eyes was more welcome to
Pellew than he could say. There was life in there yet. But it wanted
nurturing, and that was a task that belonged to his father, not to his
captain. "That is all, Mr. Hornblower."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

After he had gone, Pellew sank back in his chair with a sigh. He did
not know if he should be pleased or appalled at his ability to play his
lieutenants like fine violins.

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

Horatio stood in his cabin looking down at his meagre wardrobe spread
out on his cot. He did not possess a single shirt that did not have
frayed cuffs and a worn collar. His trousers were nearly through at
the knees and the seats were shiny with wear. Even his dress uniform
was in need of a thorough cleaning and mending. He would present a
sorry sight to his father. He sighed and turned to Archie, who was
leaning against the cabin wall.

"Well, there it is, the sum and total of my worldly possessions. Have
you packed yet?"

Archie examined the toes of his boots. "You needn't drag me along out
of pity, Horatio. I am perfectly capable of spending a few nights at an
Inn."

"For heaven's sake, Archie. Don't be a fool if you can help it!" He
cast his friend an irritable glance and began to fold his shirts.

"I don't want to intrude on your holiday! Your father doesn't know me
from Adam. He doesn't expect you, much less an inconvenient friend
tagging along."

Horatio paused in mid-motion. "My father is the kindest man imaginable.
He would never begrudge your presence. Indeed, I think he will welcome
it as it will prevent us from staring at each other over the dinner
table like utter strangers."

"You haven't quarreled?"

"No, not at all. But he has spent his entire life mending broken
bodies, while for the last three years, I have been doing my best to
blast them apart. I cannot see what we have in common, other than our
affinity for the game of whist. And I'm not even sure about that
anymore, it has been so long. Damn!" Horatio cursed as his finger
snagged in a ripped seam.

Archie grinned. "I will lend you a shirt, if you will promise that I
won't have to play whist with you and your father."

Horatio's rare, charming smile flashed out. "Done! Now, let's get you
packed and be off."


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

The snow fell silently on southern England that December twenty-third.
The flakes sifted down and glittered like shattered diamonds on the
bare lilac bushes outside the window of Dr. Julius Hornblower's
library. As he gazed out at the winter landscape, the doctor wished he
were young enough to appreciate the beauty; instead, he was forced to
favor arthritic knuckles and swollen knee joints. Damn, but getting old
was inconvenient. Inconvenient and lonely. Dr. Hornblower turned away
from the frosty scene and back to his warm fireplace. On Christmas, he
would have his neighbors, the Whitehall's for company, but tonight, he
was alone with his memories and his thoughts. He poured himself a glass
of Madeira and raised it to the portrait over the mantel. "My dear, it
has been nine Christmases without you. And three without Horatio. I
miss you both." He liked to imagine that Louisa Hornblower smiled back
at him.

As he settled in his favorite chair, he wondered where in the wide
world Horatio would be this holiday.
Somewhere between England and France, if his last letter had been any
indication. That had been nearly six weeks ago, and there had been
nothing since. Dr. Hornblower heaved a sigh. Hadn't it been enough for
the lad to spend months in a Spanish prison? And then there had been a
period of absolute silence; and a later confirmation in the Naval
Chronicle of a failed attempt to restore the Monarchy in France,
involving three of His Majesty's ships, including the Indefatigable.
Horatio had said very little of that. His last letters had been
peculiarly flat, which worried the Doctor. As a physician, he had
treated the ill in body as well as spirit; believing the two to be
entwined. And he feared Horatio's spirit was not well. But he was
young, and youth could heal nearly everything. Dr. Hornblower sipped
his wine, and as the warmth spread from his stomach to his limbs, his
eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep.

He was drawn awake by the sound of wagon wheels on the cobbles outside,
and a an exclamation from Margaret Dabney, his housekeeper. An
emergency? he wondered. Most of his practice had been taken over by a
younger, more able man, but Dr. Hornblower still retained a few of his
old patients. He sat up stiffly, reaching for the hawthorn walking
stick he preferred to a more elegant cane.

"Dr. Hornblower! Come quickly!" Margaret cried from the doorway.
"Hurry!"

I would hurry if I were able, he thought grumpily. There had better be
a reason for her agitation, and not just someone with a bloody nose. It
took several steps for his knees to cooperate fully. He shoved the
study door open, and stood blinking in the light.

Impressions registered before recognition: Two men wearing Naval
uniforms and cocked hats, long capes spangled with snow, and an aura of
youthful vigor that had been absent from this house for three years.
The taller of the two lifted his hat from his head, and a familiar,
beloved lock of hair fell over his forehead.

"Horatio!" The doctor gasped in disbelief. "Horatio -- Good God, I
cannot believe my eyes!" He came forward with his free hand extended to
grasp his son's shoulder. "You really are home?"

To his chagrin, the warmth of his father's greeting caused Horatio's
throat to swell with emotion. It was unexpected, awkward. He fought for
composure, cleared his throat, and nodded. "Yes, father. I am home --
at least for Christmas." He turned to Archie. "And this is my friend,
Lieutenant Archie Kennedy. Archie, this is my father, Dr. Julius
Hornblower."

Archie's hand was taken up by Dr. Hornblower, and feeling the swollen
joints of his knuckles, returned the clasp cautiously. "Sir, it is an
honor to meet you." He did not know what else to say. He had expected a
family resemblance, of course, but this was uncanny. With the lines
worn in the Doctor's thin face, and the silvery wings of hair at his
temples, he could have been looking at a portrait of Horatio forty
years hence. He had not anticipated this amiable greeting, either.
Being well acquainted with Horatio's reserve, he had expected the
Doctor to nod politely and quietly vanish from sight.

"Mr. Kennedy, welcome. I take it that you will be joining us for the
holidays?"

"Sir, if it is not convenient -- "

"Nonsense. I have ample room here, and Mrs. Dabney cooks enough for
eight, even when there is only one at the supper table. Take off your
cloaks, lads and come into the library where it is warm." He turned to
his housekeeper, who was dabbing her eyes with her apron. "Margaret,
bring up the remains of that meat pie from dinner, and bread, and some
cheese, as well. These young men must be famished. And have John take
their things upstairs. Mr. Kennedy in the front room, and Horatio in
his old room, if that is all right?"

Horatio smiled at the memory of his room beneath the eaves, that he had
thought never to see again. "Yes, of course." He canted his head toward
Archie, and they followed the Doctor into the library.

They were shortly settled in with glasses of brandy to warm them, and
Mrs. Dabney's repast to fill their empty stomachs. Dr. Hornblower did
not force conversation when they were so obviously hungry. He settled
back in his chair and covertly glanced up from the pages of the book he
pretended to be reading. He was a naturally observant man; a trait he
shared with his son. And his vision was sharp as ever. He noted with a
pang, Horatio's thinness, and the lines bracketing a mouth that still
held a gentle curve when he smiled. Horatio's eyes betrayed a weariness
that went far beyond physical exhaustion, and Dr. Hornblower feared
that he was to blame as much as experience for the changes wrought in
his son.

He turned his attention to Horatio's friend. He, too seemed worn to the
bone, and though not as thin as Horatio, he still looked as if a month
of good meals would do him no harm. Horatio had once written to Dr.
Hornblower of Archie's occasional seizures; and the doctor wondered if
that accounted for young Kennedy's taut nerves. His blue eyes were as
shadowed as Horatio's, but patient with it -- as if unhappiness and
stress were long companions. Not surprising, considering the history
Horatio had related. There had always been a slight reticence in
Horatio's letters about his friend; that there was more to the story,
Dr. Hornblower was certain.

As if he had sensed Dr. Hornblower's regard, Archie finished his brandy
with a sigh and rose. "If you will excuse me, sir. I am afraid I shall
fall asleep in this chair, if I do not get to bed. Thank you for the
hospitality." He made a slight, formal bow to the Doctor and touched
Horatio lightly on the shoulder. "Good night, Horatio. Dr. Hornblower."

Horatio recognized tact when he saw it. Archie was no more likely to
sleep than he was, but had realized that Dr. Hornblower must desire
some moments of privacy with his son. Horatio half-wished Archie would
stay. He was not certain he was ready to face his father alone, but he
surrendered. "Good night, Archie. Sleep well."

When the door had closed softly, Dr. Hornblower held out his hand to
Horatio. "Stand up, boy. Let me look at you."

Horatio rose obediently, self-conscious before his father's gaze. Dr.
Hornblower nodded. "You've grown since we parted. A good three inches,
I'd say."

"Yes, sir."

"And you're too thin for it. Don't they feed you in that Navy of
yours?"

Horatio smiled. "Not very well, I'm afraid. Our stomachs have a low
ranking on the Admiralty's list of priorities."

"Humph. Mrs. Dabney will take care of that. She is already planning
meals to put some meat on your bones -- and your friend Kennedy's,
too."

"I can't say that we will object, sir." He sat back down and returned
Dr. Hornblower's study with one of his own, seeing the signs of aging
on his face. Foolishly, he had thought him immutable -- like rock, not
mortal flesh. "And you, father. Have you been well?" Horatio asked
quietly.

"Aye, well enough. The damned rheumatism is worse this time of year,
but other than that, I've kept hearty."

Then, as he had feared, an awkward silence descended between them.
Horatio drained his brandy glass, though he did not care much for
spirits. "I think I will go to bed, sir. It has been a long day."

"Yes." Dr. Hornblower cleared his throat. "Well, then. The morning will
come soon enough."

"Good night, father."

"Good night, Horatio." Then he was gone, and Dr. Hornblower sipped his
Madeira meditatively. "It is good to have you home," he whispered. "I
have missed you."

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

Horatio's room was as exactly as he had left it three years ago. He was
surprised that it seemed so much smaller than he remembered. Compared
to the tiny space allotted to junior Lieutenants on the Indefatigable,
it should have seemed a palace. He caught his reflection in the mirror,
and expected to see his seventeen year-old face, not the gaunt, weary
image he presented now. He thought himself an anachronism, and smiled
at his own conceit.

He undressed, hanging his uniform carefully over a chair and slipped
beneath the covers. How odd it was to be able to stretch the full
length of his lanky frame! Odder still, not to feel the sway of a ship
riding the waves, or hear the snores of other men, sleeping nearby. The
pillow beneath his cheek was smooth and smelled of lavender, not mildew
and lye. Horatio turned to it, inhaled the sweet fragrance and closed
his eyes. It was the first deep, dreamless sleep he had taken in more
than six months.

Across the hall, Archie was not as fortunate. He could not fault the
bed, which was the most comfortable he had lain in for years, or put
the blame on an empty stomach, for it was now full of Mrs. Dabney's
meat pie and Dr. Hornblower's brandy. He had closed his eyes,
determined that he would sleep, and from that point on, had been
unable to drift off. He lay awake, watching the patterns the moonlight
made on his ceiling, and absurdly conscious of the hollow ache of
loneliness that had lodged between his belly and breastbone. It was an
old companion. He recalled it from childhood, when he had thought that
curling himself into the smallest possible ball around his pillow could
stifle it. He had carried it with him into the Navy, where misery and
experience had given it such strength that he had sought to starve it,
and himself to death in a Spanish prison. And now, in this peaceful
room, it turned like a restless beast.

Horatio might be solitary; he might chastise himself and question his
worth, but despite their mutual reserve, Archie had no doubt that
Horatio and Dr. Hornblower loved each other. He could not mistake that
start of joy in the doctor's eyes when he recognized his son. Archie
had never been greeted like that in his entire life.

I cannot go on like this, he thought. So he lay awake in the soft, warm
bed, that should have lulled him like a mother's arms, and waited until
the light of the moon was replaced by the pale glow of dawn. Then he
dressed, and padded down the hall to Horatio's room. He opened the door
a crack and was greeted by the sound of Horatio's even breathing. His
face was just a white blur, but his long body was utterly relaxed, the
covers over him so smooth that it seemed he had not moved all night.
Archie smiled, thinking that Captain Pellew would have been pleased by
the sight.

Downstairs, the household was silent; all members partaking of the
bliss that had been denied him. Archie reached for his cloak and
wrapping himself in the familiar folds, went out into the chilly dawn.
The snow had ceased, and it crackled beneath his boots, as he paced
away from the house. When he had gone a distance, he turned to better
see the place Horatio called home. A square-built stone house, quite
plain, with white shutters at the windows, and a lilac bush near the
front door. Rambling roses climbing over a trellis framed the other
side. It was as neat a picture of England as Archie had ever seen. The
house reminded him of its occupants. They too seemed plain: bleak and
enduring as the grey stones; but warm at the heart, once you were
allowed inside.

***********

Despite his retirement, Dr. Hornblower remained an early riser. Years
of aborted sleep due to medical emergencies did not vanish merely
because the source had run dry. He tried to stay abed until he heard
Mrs. Dabney moving about, but this morning something else had waked
him. The sound of the eighth step that still creaked no matter how much
oil was applied, had prodded him from his sleep. Horatio? he wondered,
and hoped not.

After he had dressed and shaved, he went to Horatio's room. Sound
asleep still, looking not much older than he had as a child, save for
the sharply angled cheekbones and the shadow of dark beard. He would
not wake him; sleep was the best medicine for troubled hearts and weary
bodies. When Dr. Hornblower went down the steps, he took particular
care to avoid the eighth riser.

He and Mrs. Dabney nearly collided in the hall. "Good morning, Dr.
Hornblower! You're up a bit earlier than usual."

"I heard that damned stair creak again. Have John take another look at
it later."

"Yes, sir. Must have been young Mr. Kennedy coming down. Poor lad, out
walking in the cold already."

"Perhaps he is still on Navy time, Margaret."

"Or perhaps he could not sleep." She thrust out her ample bosom. "I
know the signs, sir."

"Mm, no doubt you do." Dr. Hornblower suppressed a smile at her
diagnosis, though he half agreed with her. "I daresay you had better
prepare enough breakfast to feed the fleet, Margaret."

He went into the dining room and seated himself with a sigh of
satisfaction. His newspaper was waiting for him at his place and a
steaming cup of coffee was at his elbow. His joints were not aching
abominably and his son was safe and sleeping in his bed. It was a fine
morning.

There was a slight draught from the door behind him, and the sharp,
fresh scent of snow. Mr. Kennedy had returned from his walk and was
shaking out his cloak. "Good morning, Mr. Kennedy! Come in and join me
for breakfast," the doctor invited.

"Good morning, sir." Archie entered the room hesitantly. "You don't
mind?"

"Not at all. Sit, lad. Mrs. Dabney has a feast planned. Will you take
coffee or tea?"

"Tea, sir. Horatio is still sleeping?"

"Yes. No doubt he needs it. And you, Mr. Kennedy, how was your rest?"
It was not a question that he asked merely to be polite. His medical
eye had already noted the young man's pallor and the bruised shadows
below his eyes. Obviously he had not slept last night -- and possibly
not for many nights before that. Last evening, the candlelight hat been
kind to him; in the harsh winter sun, he looked ill.

Archie knew that he could not lie to the doctor. He shook his head and
tried to shrug off the question. "You know what they say about strange
beds. Perhaps I have grown too used to the motion of the sea."

"Aye, perhaps." In his mind the doctor was asking himself the question:
dear Lord, what has happened to these boys to bring them to this state?
Horatio was half-dead with fatigue and care, and this lad was brittle
as old glass. One wrong touch and he would shatter into fragments. Was
this what war did to them? He had sent Horatio into the Navy believing
that it would be for his own welfare -- without consideration for the
price he would pay in return. It had been a bitter price, indeed.

Mrs. Dabney entered, interrupting Doctor Hornblower's unhappy
meditations. She fussed over Kennedy, heaping food on his plate --
eggs, bacon, ham, tiny browned potatoes and fresh scones served with
thick cream and jam. Archie's tired eyes brightened at the sight.
Despite everything, he was still a young man with a growing body and an
empty stomach. He had gone from prison food in Spain to shipboard
rations; to have this bounty bestowed on him was nearly overwhelming.

He did the feast justice, Dr. Hornblower granted. When he had finished,
there was at least a slight flush to his cheeks. He met Dr.
Hornblower's amused gaze, and the blush deepened. "That was wonderful,
sir. Thank you."
"You are welcome, Mr. Kennedy. As I told Horatio, Mrs. Dabney has made
it her mission in life to see that you are well fed."

"Then she has my fervent gratitude!" He smiled, and Dr. Hornblower saw
for the first time, the pure goodness in him, an innocence that nothing
had tarnished. Where was this boy's family, that he had nowhere to go
on Christmas? he wondered. And so he asked.

The smile faded quickly. "We are not close. They would not welcome me."

The answer took Dr. Hornblower aback. "But surely -- " he stopped. The
faint color had bled from Kennedy's cheeks and his blue eyes were dark
with misery and pain that was as physical as it was mental. "Are you
ill, son?" As quickly as he could, the doctor came to Archie's side.

"It's nothing, sir," Archie whispered. "A headache -- it happens
sometimes."

Doctor Hornblower held Archie's face between his cool hands. He
flinched away as if the touch hurt him. He was still, still as a
startled bird, and his pulse was jarring rapidly in his throat. Dr.
Hornblower looked into Archie's eyes and what he saw there confused him
deeply. Panic, yes; he could understand that. Sudden pain could catch
one off guard. But shame, and fear ... what place could they have? The
seizures. Lord, what else?

Dr. Hornblower could have cheerfully dispatched every soul he had
encountered who believed epilepsy was a curse from Satan. In the not
too distant past, victims had been burned at the stake as witches, and
all because their brains did not function in a normal fashion. It
disgusted him, a man of reason, to think that Kennedy's family would
turn their backs on him for so minor an affliction. He left Archie's
side and drew the curtains against the bright sunlight.

"Come, lad. Into the surgery. I can help you."


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

The surgery was a small, whitewashed room tucked at the back of the
house. The window, facing east allowed the best light. The only
furniture was a cot, a desk with a straight-backed chair, and the
examination table. Cabinets along the walls held supplies and medicine,
and it was clean. A world away from the sick-bay on a ship, buried in
the bowels of the orlop deck, fetid with old blood and the odors of
illness.

It seemed vaguely unreal to Archie. The morning light dazzled his eyes,
and he squinted and turned away. Dr. Hornblower immediately drew the
curtains over the window. "Sit you down, Mr. Kennedy."

Reluctantly, Archie obeyed. I have endured worse, he thought. Dr.
Hornblower is all kindness. And perhaps he can help ...

"Remove your coat, and lay back." Archie did, and closed his eyes. He
could hear water being splashed in a glass and stirred. He sat up
quickly, gasping at the pain. "Please, sir. Do not give me laudanum. I
cannot take it."

Dr. Hornblower came to his side, glass in hand. "Have you an
addiction?" he asked calmly, but with sharp assessment.

"No! N-no. I cannot bear the nightmares," Archie whispered. "Do not
make me take it. I would rather have the pain."

"Be at ease, lad. One advantage to being a country doctor is that you
are removed from the pervasive beliefs of so-called ëmodern' medicine.
I have learned that many a country matron has cures that they would
scoff at, but that do far less harm." He offered a glass holding a
murky liquid. "Tincture of willow bark. For some reason it has no equal
for headache. And no addictive qualities. Mrs. Dabney swears by it." He
smiled at Archie. "Unfortunately, it is as bitter as gall."

With Dr. Hornblower's arm supporting him, Archie choked down the
medicine. He sighed and closed his eyes. Dr. Hornblower looked down at
that pale, young face, and it grieved him that it should know such
pain.

"Have you had these headaches long?" he asked.

Archie nodded. "Yes. For years."

"Have you noticed visual disturbances? Nausea?"

"Exactly."

"Well, the diagnosis is easy. You suffer from migraine."

Archie groaned. "Megrims? Like a woman?"

Dr. Hornblower laughed softly. "The very same. But there is no shame in
it, Mr. Kennedy. Men are equally afflicted, but too proud to admit it.
I have heard that Nelson himself is tortured with them since the loss
of his eye. No one thinks the worse of him, I assure you!"

"And so I shall soldier on?" Archie said wryly.

"You may. However, you should rest awhile until the pain is gone. I
will give you a packet of powders to take with you when you leave. But
there is no cure. Good food, and adequate rest will do more to abate
them than any medicine. Apparently neither of which is available in the
Navy."

Archie felt Dr. Hornblower move from his side, and he sat up
cautiously. Mrs. Dabney's willow bark was working its magic. The fierce
pain had stopped, leaving just a dull throb. As he watched Dr.
Hornblower tidy his workspace, his heartbeat quickened slightly.
Surely, he could ask Dr. Hornblower about his seizures. Perhaps he even
knew of them through Horatio. Because he trusted Horatio, and because
he sensed the same honor in the doctor, Archie took that leap of faith.

"Are they connected in any way with my fits?"

Dr. Hornblower paused. There it was, clear. He drew a deep breath and
returned to the cot. The young man sitting beside him looked as if he
were awaiting a death warrant, not reassurance. Without the blue coat
giving him weight and authority, he seemed quite fragile.

"No. I think not, other than both being initiated by extreme
circumstances. Horatio tells me that you have not had one in nearly a
year. That is an encouragement."

Beside him, Archie shuddered. "I have had them for years, I cannot
remember a time without them. They are shameful! And when they are over
-- " He fought for words. "I feel sick, that I should have been so
weak. They terrify me. What if I should have one in battle -- in front
of my men?"

"Has that ever happened?" Dr. Hornblower asked.

"Once only." With Simpson at hand. The memory of it was nauseating.
Archie turned his face from the Doctor's. "I could have cost Horatio
his life!"

"But you did not." The thought of Horatio at risk was distressing.
However, Dr. Hornblower would not lay the blame on Archie's shoulders.
Clearly, he had suffered enough. "And you are not to flay yourself raw,
over it. You are not at fault." the doctor rose and paced slowly,
searching for some logical comfort that he could offer. "No one knows
the cause of this illness -- there may be many: injury, disease,
extreme mental and physical trauma ... " He paused, and his bright
eyes, so much like Horatio's stripped away Archie's defenses.

Archie's shoulders bowed and he buried his face in his hands. "Oh, God.
You do not know -- " He began shivering, and he could not stop. He had
nothing left; not pride, not shame, not fear. He only knew that a deep
tear had opened in his heart and was spilling out a river of pain.

Dr. Hornblower could not bear those wracking sobs. This boy was not
Horatio, self-contained even in grief, with reserves of strength to
spare. This was a creature wounded from birth -- battered by
circumstance, and left to slowly die. Such injuries would not heal
easily; nay, might never heal, but leave scars to seep infection for
years.

Dr. Hornblower despaired; those were hurts that were beyond his medical
powers. But Horatio had allowed Archie into his solitary existence, and
that spoke worlds to him. He sat beside Archie, and prayed that he
could find the right words. "It's all right, lad. It will be all right.
You're safe enough with me," he soothed softly and pulled a blanket
around Archie's heaving shoulders. He could feel the tremendous
struggle being waged for control, but he did not encourage it. Better
by far that some of the poison be released. There were words in
Archie's agony, mostly incoherent, but in that torrent of sobs, Dr.
Hornblower could hear one clearly: Simpson.

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

It was sunlight that woke Horatio; the unexpected warmth on his
eyelids, for in his berth on the Indefatigable, there was no porthole
to allow in the light. His eyes fluttered open, focusing slowly on the
pattern of shadows cast on his ceiling. A ceiling, not the timbers of a
ship. The silence was wonderful, but it was odd not to hear the lap of
the waves against the timbers, the fall of footsteps on the deck
overhead, or the metallic clang of the ship's bell calling the watch.
It was strange, but he savored it, feeling more at peace that he had
for months. How long had he slept? Not long enough. He burrowed a bit
deeper into his covers.

His exhaustion was slightly appeased, but his hunger was not.
Reluctantly he dragged himself from his bed, called Mrs. Dabney for
some warm water to shave with, and began dressing. The soft knock on
his door announced the arrival of his water, and he opened it, smiling
at the housekeeper.

"Good morning, Margaret."

"Good morning, Master Horatio. Did you sleep well?"

"Extremely well, and extremely late. Is Mr. Kennedy awake?"

"Yes, sir. For hours." She set the bowl of water on his washstand. "To
tell the truth, sir. I don't think he slept at all, poor lad. And even
though he ate a good breakfast, he looked so peaked that Dr. Hornblower
took him back to his surgery."

Horatio cursed beneath his breath. It was his fault. Why hadn't he
noticed that Archie wasn't well? He scarcely had time to recover from
his stay in prison, when they had been sent on that fool's errand in
Quiberon. Instead, Horatio had depended on Archie's moral support for
weeks after Muzillac, selfishly taking strength from his unflagging
friendship, and giving precious little in return. He lathered up his
face and shaved, all the while castigating himself for a blind idiot.
When he had dressed, he went downstairs to the surgery.

There was a low murmur of voices from inside. He opened the door
slightly, and then stood as if frozen in place. Dr. Hornblower was
holding Archie in his arms, his crippled hand gentle on Archie's bright
hair, as Archie trembled with sobs. There were words in those sobs, but
it took only one to strike to Horatio's heart: Simpson.

He must have made some small sound of protest, or dismay, because Dr.
Hornblower saw him, and with a single gesture, indicated that he should
leave. Horatio closed the door, and leaned against the wall. He felt
as if he had just witnessed an unspeakable intimacy -- the laying bare
of a human soul. And with that pain, there came another: one that he
hated to give a name to, for it was even more shameful under the
circumstances; jealousy. And why? Because Archie, his best friend in
all the world, was at that moment, closer to his father than Horatio
had ever been in his life.

Horatio pushed himself angrily away from the wall, went to snatch his
cloak from its hook by the door, and nearly ran outside. He walked
quickly until the icy air began to sear his lungs, and his eyes burned
with tears. And then he stood, his chest heaving, just waiting for the
pain to subside, and blaming it all on the cold. It was easier that
way.

After a while, when the physical pain had eased, leaving only an ache
like a bruise on his heart, Horatio opened his eyes. He had stopped at
a low stone wall, and he sat there, listening to the sounds around him;
the wind, the rustling of the grasses, the crow of a rooster somewhere
in the distance. The land spread out before him. A milky blue sky
stretched over the snow-covered fields, some showing patches of dark
brown earth where it had melted or blown away, bisected by stone walls
or hedges. As he gazed out, he felt a measure of the same peace he felt
when looking out over the ocean. He recalled standing on the topmast
yardarm of the Indefatigable, the day after the disaster at Muzillac
and Mariette's death. He had climbed those riggings, hating every step,
but doing it because Pellew had ordered it. And when he had stood up at
last, his back straight, his eyes captured by the vast horizon, he had
felt some of his enormous grief lift. Archie had been with him,
kneeling at his side, with a smile as bright as the sun and as wide as
the horizon lighting his face. Pure joy, for such a brief time.

During the their imprisonment in Spain, when he had thought Archie
would die, Horatio had goaded him back to life by telling him that he
would not survive without his help. It had not been true then, but it
was true after Quiberon. In the night watches Horatio took when he
could not sleep, it was Archie who appeared at his side with coffee or
grog to warm him, and a bit of talk to chase the shadows away. As dark
as the following months had been, Archie had not allowed him to
despair. How could he begrudge Archie anything? How could he deny him
the comfort of a father's arms?

Horatio thought of Captain Pellew, who had let him weep after Quiberon.
He had known what to say to bring him ease, to help him to recover his
broken spirits. He had spoken of duty: to his king, to his country, to
his men. He had spoken of inspiration, and honor, knowing that Horatio
would take those words and use them to heal; and that he would be
stronger for that healing. Pellew had been Horatio's father, when he
had none. And now, perhaps Dr. Hornblower could do the same for Archie.

Horatio realized he was cold; a pure physical cold that would be
banished by a warm fire and hot tea. He drew a deep, cleansing breath
and set off back towards the house. He found it silent but for Margaret
Dabney, who took one look at him and clucked her disapproval. "And what
were you doing, out there in the cold? Look at you, Master Horatio,
shivering like a lamb."

Horatio smiled. "It is nothing hot food won't cure, Margaret." He saw
her face light up, and moved to counter over-enthusiasm. "But nothing
too fancy. Bread and whatever meat you have, and nice hot tea. In the
library, please."
"Yes, sir. And would you have a nice bit o' mince pie?"

Horatio was not fond of mince, but he had no wish to hurt Margaret's
feelings. After eating weevily biscuits, surely he could stomach mince
pie. "Your famous pie? Of course." He bent and kissed her wrinkled
cheek, and she blushed like a girl.

"Where is father?"

Margaret made a face. "Out to see old Mrs. Farmington. Not a thing
wrong with her but loneliness, and of course, off your father goes,
bless his heart."

On his way to the library, Horatio looked into the surgery. Archie was
sleeping, curled slightly on his side, but very still. Horatio's
remorse stirred, and he could not think of a thing he could do to help.



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

Dr. Hornblower returned to find Horatio brooding in front of the fire,
his long legs stretched out before him, and the remains of a meal at
his elbow. It did not look as if he had eaten a great deal. He realized
that he had not spoken a word to Horatio since the night before. He
knew more of what was in Archie Kennedy's heart than he knew of his own
son's. Still pondering that, he poured himself a small glass of
Madeira and sat in the chair opposite Horatio.

"Is Mr. Kennedy still sleeping?"

Horatio nodded. "Father, is he all right? Was it a fit?"

"No. Migraine. Does he have them often?"

"I do not know," he admitted, and felt immediate guilt for his selfish
ignorance. Certainly there were days that Archie was very quiet, when
he spent his free time closeted in his tiny cabin with no light
burning. And nights when he lay tense on his cot, scarcely moving.
"Probably more than he would ever let on. I should know," he said
bitterly.

"Can you feel his pain?" Dr. Hornblower asked sharply. "If he hides it
well, there is no reason you should."

"He would know if I were the one suffering."

"Horatio, you cannot take this on yourself." There was no response in
Horatio's eyes, and Dr. Hornblower knew that nothing he said would
release his son from that responsibility. A long silence grew longer,
as did the shadows. Finally, Dr. Hornblower posed the question that had
been troubling him all day.

"Who is Simpson?"

If he had reached over and slapped Horatio, he could not have shocked
him more. His breath drew in sharply, his eyes darkened until they were
nearly black. "What did Archie tell you?" he asked, his voice pointed
with anxiety, and Dr. Hornblower was certain, fear.

"Nothing! Good Lord, Horatio. You heard him. Just that name, over and
over. ëSimpson.' And don't tell me that you do not know, for I can see
that you do."

Horatio slumped in his chair, defeated and knowing that he would have
to be honest for Archie's sake, if not his own. "Jack Simpson was the
most evil man I have ever known, and I thank God every day that he is
rotting in the ground. Captain Pellew would not even bury him at sea."

"You have not answered my question, Horatio. What was he to you?"

Tormentor, murderer, traitor to honor, evil incarnate ... none of those
words quite described him. "He was nothing to me," Horatio said dully.
"Not even worth the powder I would have killed him with." He rose from
his chair, and for the first time in his life, poured himself a glass
of brandy willingly. He drank a few sips, feeling the bitter burn at
the back of his throat, that at least quelled his nausea. He thought of
the letters he had sent to Dr. Hornblower, those fantasies of
camaraderie and light hearts. God, how he had hated writing them! He
returned to his chair, and faced his father, this time with his eyes
well-opened and honest. "Nearly everything I have told you is a lie,"
he said. And then he told his father the truth.

He told him of the Justinian; of Simpson's return and the beating he
had suffered at his hands. He told him of being hung in the riggings
until he had nearly frozen to death, and of the duel that had resulted
in Clayton's murder. He told him, in a voice that was so cold and flat
that it scarcely seemed his own, of Archie's seizure and abandonment at
the Papillon, and he told him finally, of the last meeting. Of
Simpson's treachery, of the knife in the back that would have killed
him if not for Captain Pellew.

It was brutal. His voice was worn to a whisper when he had finished,
and his father had tears running down his cheeks. "Why?" Dr. Hornblower
asked, "Why did you not tell me? Did you think I would not have moved
heaven and earth to have you back with me? Did you think I wished you
dead? Dear God, Horatio! I am your father, and you are more precious to
me than life itself!"

Horatio was so stunned that he did not pause to weigh his words. "I did
not know. How could I? You never told me." It was so simple, he
thought. And now, it did not matter. Perhaps when he was ten, and sent
off to school after his mother's death; or three years ago when he had
left his father standing on the pier at Spithead and watched the
Justinian looming on the horizon; perhaps it might have mattered then.
But now he was an officer in His Majesty's Navy, and he would choose no
other life.

He stood up; tall, straight, and slim. Every inch the officer he was,
and hoped to be. He laid his hand on the doctor's thin shoulder. "You
could not have made a better choice for me, father. There is no place
else on earth I am happier than on the deck of the Indefatigable. You
must believe me."

His father's hand came up to cover his briefly. "Thank you, Horatio."

"I am going to see how Archie is doing."

Dr. Hornblower nodded. "He hasn't your strength, Horatio."

"Yes, he does. But that is his story to tell, not mine."

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

Archie opened his eyes. He felt very light, as if pain had hollowed out
his body, leaving only a shell. He turned his head towards the window
and saw Horatio standing there, his features etched and pale in the
afternoon sunlight. "Hello, Horatio." he whispered.

Horatio came to the bedside. "Are you feeling better?"

"Yes. The medicine your father gave me seems to have worked." He pushed
himself upright, and swung his legs over the side of the cot. "Now, if
I could find strength enough to walk ..."

"Just stay there, Archie. I'll have Mrs. Dabney set up something for
you. You must be starving." He left the room, and returned a few
minutes later with a tray of tea and light food. "You've avoided the
mince pie."

"I like mince pie, " Archie protested weakly. Still, the meal was
heartening. When he had finished, he no longer felt as insubstantial as
a dandelion puff. He sighed and moved the tray away. "Now, with a bath
and a shave, I should feel almost human," he commented and rose
unsteadily.

Horatio was at his side before Archie's knees buckled. He caught him
about the waist, and felt the quick, reflexive withdrawal from even his
touch. "For God's sake, Archie. Give yourself a few more minutes." He
guided him back to the cot. "There is something I have to tell you."

Over time, Archie had thought he had seen nearly every expression on
Horatio's face, but not this one. "What is it?"
"My father asked about Simpson."

If he had not been sitting, Archie was sure he would have collapsed. He
felt ill enough, certainly. "What did you tell him?"

"The truth, as far as I knew it." He drew a deep breath. "About his
brutality, Clayton's murder, the Papillon. The duel. I am glad now that
I did, and that it is over."

"What did he say?"

Horatio smiled crookedly. "We have determined that from this point on,
we shall be honest in our letters."

"Well, then it must be for the best." Archie saw beyond Horatio's
off-hand reply. Evidently a great deal more had been said. Even in the
fading light, he could read the relief in Horatio's face. There was a
new peace there, and Archie was envious of it. He also felt terribly
alone.

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

After the promised bath and shave, Archie dressed in his best uniform
and wandered downstairs to the library. Dr. Hornblower was there,
reading in front of the fire; Horatio was absent. When Archie inquired
about him, Dr. Hornblower smiled. "He went to pay a quick visit to the
Whitehalls. He and their daughter, Trudy, grew up together." The smile
broadened. "He will find her much changed." The doctor laid down his
book and peered into Archie's face. "How are you feeling now?"

"Recovering, sir. Thank you. You have been very kind."

"Nonsense. I would offer you a glass of wine, but in truth, I would not
suggest it."

Archie smiled. "Yes, doctor. I swear I will follow your advice to the
letter." He sat facing Dr. Hornblower. "But, I-I would apologize, sir.
For my weakness this morning. I was not quite sensible."

"Apologize? Nay, lad. No need. If there is anything I can do for you --
"

"You have done enough, sir!" Archie protested.

Dr. Hornblower knew that he had not. He had put a sticking plaster on a
death wound, that was all. He reached for his cane and paced to the
window. It was growing dark. Horatio should return soon. "You know, Mr.
Kennedy. I was not always a country doctor. I was trained in London,
and for five years I had my practice there. In the city proper -- the
docklands and Whitechapel. Not the most fashionable areas, by far. I
saw things there that would freeze your soul. Every evil man is capable
of, I saw and treated. There is not much in this world I have not dealt
with. And even here, in this quiet place, there is violence beneath the
surface."

Archie's heart began pounding heavily. "Sir?"

"For every grievous bodily wound, there is a wound to the heart, Mr.
Kennedy. I have seen men die of it. Even after the physical injury has
healed, that wounded heart will continue to bleed and fester. It cannot
be cured with herbs or decoctions. But if it is opened, if it is
granted relief from its smothering pain, it will heal and become whole
again."

Dr. Hornblower returned to his chair. He sat forward, his gnarled hands
open on his knees. "You have trusted me with your aching head, Mr.
Kennedy. Will you now trust me with your heart?"

Archie looked at those open hands, at the Doctor's dark eyes that were
so much like Horatio's. He bowed his head. The only person he had ever
trusted was Horatio, whose goodness and innate decency must have been
learned from his father. And yet he had been afraid to tell Horatio the
entire truth, for fear that he would turn away in disgust. He truly
could not live, if that happened. It was an enormous risk, more
frightening than facing a cannon aimed at his chest. Could he trust
this man? Could anything be worse than the hell that was slowly
devouring him? Years of empty agony yawned before him like a black
chasm. He drew a shuddering breath. His head came up slowly, his eyes
dry. And he began to talk.

It was not an unusual story, his life. The son of landed aristocracy.
The third son, born flawed, and though not neglected, merely tolerated
until his presence became an embarrassment to his parents and siblings.
Sent off to the Navy at ten, to serve as a cabin boy, his service
guaranteed by money, despite his occasional seizures. He had been
unhappy, but resigned to this life forced on him. He adapted, matured.
Grew accustomed to the sea and its ways. The seizures diminished to the
point that they were nearly forgotten. By twelve, he was a Midshipman.
Then he was transferred to the Justinian.

Archie's voice grew quieter, the words harder to say, but he forced
himself to continue. He would not stop, even when his throat threatened
to close upon Simpson's name. He did not know at what point Dr.
Hornblower took his hands to still their trembling. Perhaps it was when
he spoke of Simpson's mounting violence, of the first brutal rape that
had left him bleeding and shamed; bereft of everything -- innocence,
trust, courage, self-respect. And of how afterwards, he could not speak
of it to anyone; but submit to Simpson at will until he was cast aside,
utterly broken and waiting for death. "No one could help me," he said,
finally meeting Dr. Hornblower's eyes. "Poor Clayton tried, but Simpson
had ways of torturing him, too. At least, he cared for me when the
seizures started again. But no one stood up to Jack until Horatio came.
If he had not, I would be dead -- by Jack Simpson's hand or my own. I
would be dead."

There it was: the words were said, the ugly truth lay open for
dissection. Archie closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the
chair. He could not look at Dr. Hornblower, could not bear to see what
he feared ... Pity, loathing, contempt for such weakness that could
not defend itself.

Dr. Hornblower went to the table where he kept decanters of wine and
brandy. He did not want Archie to see how shaken he was, or how angry.
No punishment less than Hell would suit the crime Simpson had committed
-- to rip a body and soul to shreds with such casual malice -- it went
beyond inhumanity. It was a great pity that Pellew had not rid the
world of that chancre before it had blighted the young man before him.
Yet, at the same time, he felt an enormous pride in Horatio, who had
the courage to stand against such mortal evil.

Dr. Hornblower poured a tiny amount of brandy in a glass and carried it
over to Archie. "Normally, I wouldn't advise going against my own
orders, but I think you need this, Mr. Kennedy."

Archie took the brandy, and his mouth twitched with a slight smile.
"After what I have just told you, you may call me Archie, sir." He knew
Dr. Hornblower was watching him, and he sighed, "Well, doctor. Will the
patient live?"
He looked so spent that Dr. Hornblower's heart ached. He laid his hand
on Archie's hair, as a father to a son. "I rather think that is up to
the patient to tell the doctor in this case."

Archie opened weary blue eyes. "The patient will live. I don't know
how, but he will live."

Dr. Hornblower seated himself with a sigh. He leaned forward, and
studied Archie as if gauging the depths of his soul. "To use a medical
analogy, you have been infected with this for a very long time. It will
not be an easy convalescence. You have been most cruelly used. You will
not heal overnight, nor should you believe that you will." He did not
know how else to warn him of the repercussions, physical and emotional,
of Simpson's abuse. "But you must not despair, lad. I have learned that
time and care can cure many ills. I am perhaps a better doctor than I
am a father, but I would be both to you, if you will let me."

For a moment, Archie was stunned by the overwhelming generosity offered
by Dr. Hornblower. If his hands had been filled with jewels, they would
have not been as precious as those words.


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

Horatio, coming from the Whitehall's in the long, blue twilight, paused
and glanced in the Library window. Archie and his father were seated
there, engaged in earnest conversation. Dr. Hornblower looked as if it
were a medical consultation; his hands, crippled as they were, still
graceful in motion, and Archie listening gravely until something in his
face changed, and he smiled; the wide, free smile that Horatio had seen
on the yardarm six months ago.

He came into the house bearing the scent of fresh air and the pine
boughs he had helped Trudy string over the Whitehall's mantel. Archie's
mouth still held a faint, happy curve as he greeted Horatio. Dr.
Hornblower went to the window on the pretense of drawing the drapes,
when what he really needed was a chance to compose himself and recover
from the emotions he had glimpsed in Archie's eyes for that brief
moment.

"And how did you find the Whitehalls, Horatio?" he asked when he was
confident in his voice.

"Very well. I had forgotten that it is Christmas Eve. Trudy was hanging
decorations. And the Squire asked if they would be seeing you in church
this evening?" Horatio posed the question with a hint of dry humor.
"Have you discovered religion, Father?"

Dr. Hornblower cleared his throat, and to his discomfiture felt his
cheeks grow warm. He'd be damned if he let on to Horatio that he had
gone to church nearly every Sunday just to pray for him. He drew
himself up as tall as his aching spine would allow. "I have learned
over the years, that it is not a bad idea for one's patients to believe
their doctor has God on his side. And yes, we will go to church this
Christmas Eve." He dared Horatio to remonstrate.

Archie looked from father to son and decided that this was no place for
him at the moment. He excused himself and went upstairs to his room.

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

Horatio looked into Dr. Hornblower's fierce brown eyes, and could not
help smiling. "Of course, sir. I never thought otherwise."

"So you've learned tact in the Navy, Horatio?"

This time he laughed outright, thinking of the many times Captain
Pellew had cast his hands up in despair at his Lieutenant's impulsive
responses. "Yes, father. I think I have. Though it is a struggle." He
paused for a moment. "We used to go to church with Mother on Christmas
Eve."

"Yes. You remember that?"

"A little. I remember mother singing. Odd, but music did not bother me
then." He smiled slightly. "I wish I had more memories. I still have
the locket that you gave me. Jack Simpson broke the chain, but I keep
it close."

"Good." Dr. Hornblower turned to the portrait over the mantel. Lousia
was looking at him as if urging him to say more. God knew there was
enough he had never told his son. "What would you like to know?" he
asked quietly.

Horatio thought of Mariette. She had meant something to him, though he
was not wise enough to give it a name. He had kissed her soft lips, had
promised to take her away from the danger and cruelty in Muzillac, and
she had died; leaving him alone, and confused. He did not know what
love was, what it meant, how it felt. Grief, that was different. He had
endured a world of grief. "Did you love each other?" It was not the
question he had intended to ask, and he looked at the doctor as if he
expected to be chastised for that affront.

How had he known? Dr. Hornblower shook his head. "It was not a love
match, Horatio. Not at first. Her father was a patient of mine; a
hopeless consumptive, unfortunately. When he died, your mother was left
with nothing. I was not young, and I wanted what most men want -- a
home, perhaps a family, someone to care if I lived or died. So we wed.
And what had been just fond regard, became love over time. We tried for
five years to have a child, and had given up all hope, when you were
born. A miracle, even in my medical mind. Your mother loved you so
much, Horatio. They were the happiest ten years of my life, watching
you grow, watching her care for you."

"And mine," Horatio sighed, remembering. "Why did you send me away? Was
I such a painful reminder of her?"

Dr. Hornblower was struck to the heart. "Is that what you thought, that
I could not bear to have you near me?" he asked.

Horatio did not answer. He did not need to; the pain in his eyes spoke
for him.

The realization was devastating. Had Horatio believed for all those
years that he was not wanted? Was that why he had not fought against
the commission Keene had offered? Dr. Hornblower knew there was no way
to answer those questions but with the blunt and bitter truth -- and
pray that Horatio would not hate him for it.

"My Christ, Horatio! You were a child, lately recovered from a near
fatal fever. And I was destroyed by Louisa's death. I admit to my
shame, that I could not care for myself, much less for you. I was
afraid that my neglect would do you irreparable harm, so I sent you to
school, thinking that there, you would be safer than with me. When I
emerged from my black despair, it was too late. You were already
showing great promise in your studies. How could I pull you away from
them? I would not jeopardize your future to salve my conscience!"

"But you would send me into the Navy without a qualm?"

"I believed it was right at the time! My only regret is that I did not
give you a chance to express your objections. I ask your forgiveness
only for that."

He was so fiercely proud, Horatio thought. It was one of his own worst
traits; one he battled against constantly. The Navy had both humbled
and exalted him. And in one heartbreaking afternoon on a bridge, it had
taught him that love and duty could not be equally served. His father
too, had faced that choice. Horatio had not known that before, and
would not have understood it as he did now. "Father -- "

Dr. Hornblower's hands clenched on the edge of the mantel. The flames
cast flickering lights across his worn face, and he looked old and
tired. Horatio crossed to him and prised his swollen fingers from the
wood. He held them lightly between his palms, wishing he could absorb
the pain. "There is nothing to forgive. How can I resent what you have
done for me?"

"There is nothing you would change?" Dr. Hornblower challenged.

Horatio's eyes grew distant. Would he have changed anything? The
Justinian, Clayton's needless death, months in a Spanish prison, the
futility of Quiberon ... All had been painful experiences, but not
without value. And there was much that he would not wish away for the
world. "Nothing," he said, and knew the instant he spoke that it was
the truth.

Dr. Hornblower felt a profound gratitude. It would have been so easy
for Horatio to hold a grudge. Many young men would have become bitter
and hardened. But Horatio ... Horatio was extraordinary. Aye, he had
always known it. Dr. Hornblower stared into the flames for a moment,
hoping the light would disguise his expression. When he looked up,
Horatio was lightly tracing the line of his mother's face on the
portrait, as the doctor had done countless times himself.

"What would she think of me, father?" he asked.

"She would be proud of you. As I am, Horatio. More than I can say."

Horatio's vision blurred with tears. He had never thought to hear those
words, and realized that he had been living to earn them for three
years. Pellew's praise was valuable and treasured, but his father's
regard was beyond price. "Thank you, sir."

Dr. Hornblower cleared his throat, and retreated from the mantel.
Emotions were damnable things, he thought. Surely to revel in them was
a sign of approaching senility. He poured two glasses of Madeira, and
took one to Horatio. They raised them in a silent toast. The crystal
rang as sweetly as the sound of bells drifting across the snow.

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

Upstairs, Archie lay on his bed for a while in complete lassitude. He
felt nothing, and wondered if he were numbed by the events of the day,
and if the pain would come rushing back like blood to a deprived limb.
He had promised Dr. Hornblower that he would live; but first he had to
make some sense of what that life would be.

For a very long time Archie had thought of himself as nothing more than
Jack Simpson's leavings; a pitiable creature of bone, blood, and nerves
that could scarcely tolerate the touch of another human being. But
Horatio had befriended him, Captain Pellew believed in him, and Dr.
Hornblower had heard the darkest secret of his heart, and had not been
repelled. Somewhere, some way, there had to be redemption, even for
him.

He heard the sound of church bells faintly in the distance. Christmas
Eve, and a service with Horatio and his father. He would rather not go.
He knew that he could plead a headache, but deceit was no way to repay
the kindness he had been shown. He rose with a sigh and went to the
mirror to order his clothing.

His reflection startled him. He might have been gazing at a stranger --
a fine-featured, haggard young man in uniform. The old despair came
flooding back. He would never be the officer Horatio was. He did not
know if he had the courage to try; or if he tried, where to find it.
The young man with the shadowed eyes gazed back as if offering him an
answer. Archie touched the lapels of his jacket. For years, it had been
nothing but a symbol of the abuse and degradation he had suffered. He
had worn it like a hair shirt, cherishing the raw pain, because it was
the only thing that he could feel. Horatio had shown him that it could
be a badge of honor as well. And the foundation on which to build a
life.

Archie looked into the mirror, not flinching from the reflected truth.
He was a realist. The scars Simpson had left on him, body and soul,
would never fade; but thanks to Dr. Hornblower they were no longer
suppurating wounds leaking poison. They would ache and burn, but they
would not bear him down to his grave.

He heard Horatio calling him. Archie straightened his shoulders,
retrieved his cocked hat from his trunk, and went down to celebrate
Christmas.

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

Horatio and Dr. Hornblower were waiting at the foot of the stairs.
Horatio was wearing his dress uniform, restored to glory by Mrs.
Dabney's attentions. Next to him, Archie felt insignificant. His jacket
still bore the white Midshipman's patches on the collar despite his
promotion to Acting Lieutenant. But his cloak hung as gracefully from
his shoulders, and he held his head as proudly as Horatio.

Mrs. Dabney was watching with tears in her eyes as Horatio helped Dr.
Hornblower on with his greatcoat, and fastened the collar, sparing his
father's fingers the task of fumbling with the clasp. When he had
finished, he unobtrusively offered Dr. Hornblower his support. Dr.
Hornblower turned to Archie with an inquisitive look. "Do you mind,
Archie? I fear with the snowfall, two strong arms would be welcome."

"I would be honored, sir." Archie took his place at the doctor's side,
and felt his hand, light and completely trusting, take his arm.

And so it was that Dr. Julius Hornblower entered church flanked by two
tall young men, resplendent in their Naval uniforms: one the child of
his body and soul, the other a son of his heart.

They filed into the pew, and soon the tiny church was filled with
parishioners. The garlands of holly and ivy were gilded by the warmth
of candlelight. Voices whispered, conveying the best wishes of the
season. A plump matron in red velvet seated herself at the organ and
the choir rose to begin the first carol.

Archie felt Horatio shift uncomfortably at his side. He glanced at his
friend's face. Horatio was wearing his most stoic Officer of the Watch
expression; painfully awaiting the start of the music that he could not
appreciate. Archie tried manfully to smother his grin. He looked away
before he lost his dignity and saw the young woman in the pew across
the aisle mimicking Horatio's glare to perfection. His grin burgeoned
despite his efforts. She turned her laughing eyes to him.

Violet. Violet eyes in a sweet heart-shaped face. A delectable mouth
above a pointed, stubborn chin. Then she was smiling at him, the mirth
in her eyes turning to something warm and serious, and a blush rose,
coloring her cheeks.

Archie's throat went dry and his heart began beating double-time. She
must be looking at Horatio, he thought. Women looked at Horatio like
that all the time -- as if he would notice that they were ready to fall
at his feet! He sneaked a sidelong glance to confirm his suspicions.
Those incredible eyes were still watching him. Curiously, Archie
wondered what she saw. A young man wearing an impressive uniform; a
smile, blue eyes that were weary and gentle. Not the scars, not the
damaged heart that was just learning to hope.

Then the music started, and the choir began singing. Beside him,
Horatio nudged his shoulder, half in irritation, and half in amusement.
Archie picked up his hymnal. The girl nodded encouragement. Archie
drew a breath and joined in, his light, even tenor blending in perfect
counterpoint to her soprano.

As the music soared, Dr. Hornblower studied the two young profiles next
to him. They were limned in candlelight; and beautiful. Horatio, sharp
and pure, his gaze seemingly fixed on his true north. Archie, innocent
and golden, his cheekbones stained with a blush as Trudy Whitehall,
bless her, smiled at him. Both were infinitely precious to him. It had
taken many years, and many regrets, to reach this moment. But that was
in the past, and this was a night to celebrate hope. Louisa had taught
him that it was not too late, never too late for love. Like Horatio,
Dr. Hornblower had no voice to lift in praise, but the words sang in
his heart.



"The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.

The holly bears a bark
as bitter as any gall;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all."

The End