A Moment About a Moment
by Kristen Mara

Upon stepping out of his cabin, Hornblower found that the only other officer
in the wardroom was Kennedy. But when he saw the set of his friend's face,
he found himself wishing otherwise. The sea blue of those eyes was not calm
or sparkling with humour. Thoughts were swirling there like currents and
whirlpools, eating at him.

Hornblower had seen that expression a lot on this voyage, however had hoped
that their luck had now changed. The Captain was no longer an immediate
threat to Wellard or the rest of the crew, and the fort had been taken.
Hopefully this idea about taking one of the ship's guns up the cliff would
pay off too. Hornblower steeled himself and sat down next to Kennedy. He had
to take this opportunity to find out what was wrong - or rather what was
another in a long list of wrongs on the Renown. This would probably be the
last chance they had to be alone for a while.

"Archie, what is it?"

Kennedy looked him square in the eye. "There is something that I want an
explanation for. About our charging of the fort door. The Spanish were in
the process of closing it, but I reached it just in time. But then you
grabbed me by the shoulder and held me back."

Damn. Hornblower retreated behind his command face. "It was too late for us
to get inside."

"No, it was not," Kennedy fired back. "You knew it then and know it now. I
could have shoved my arm in the gap. Or my foot. Or -"

"And promptly lost either or both."

"I would have delayed the guards enough for the rest of you to get inside."

"You would have been cut to pieces in the process for sure." And that wasn't
all. Images came to Hornblower of his friend being crushed as the Spanish
kept trying to close the door. And then being trampled on by both sides in
the resulting melee.

Kennedy stood, eyes and voice ablaze. "I'm an officer, and I'm not a coward.
Not to mention that this is war, and we were on a mission: I was ready to
give my life!"

"Well, I wasn't ready to give your life!" Hornblower was unable to stop the
words and the feeling behind them ripping from him.

Silence. He dropped his gaze to the tabletop, glad that he had at least
stopped himself from jumping up to loom over Kennedy or from banging his
fist down on the table.

Kennedy sat down again. His voice was quiet, faintly laced with wryness.
"Well, I knew you didn't hold me back in an effort to claim all the glory."

Hornblower looked up then. The storm clouds seemed to have lessened a
little, and he attempted to use facts as a diversion. "We did end up taking
the fort."

"Not at first. You may have saved me, but how many others died due to the
Spanish picking them off as we all huddled against the wall?" Kennedy
pressed, with reluctant earnestness. "And how many more would have died if
you hadn't been lucky enough to see 'my friend' from the tower and work out
that there was a secret passage?"

"I am aware of that. I will carry their names for the rest of my life." But,
he thought, as guilty as I will feel about them, I can bear it. Your loss...

"Horatio, you can't make a choice like that again. I know either of us would
step in front of a bullet for the other, given the opportunity in a battle,
but this is different."

Hornblower knew he had pulled Kennedy out of the proverbial bullet's way,
knew the cost, and knew that there would be no winners in this conversation,
even as he was tempted to ask Kennedy just what *he* would have done if
their positions had been reversed.

There was a knock at the doorway and Wellard entered, all smiles.
"Lieutenant Bush's compliments, sirs. He said the men are ready to start
transferring the cannon ashore."

"Thank you, Mr Wellard. We will be along momentarily," Kennedy replied, and
together they watched the Midshipman leave, amused and gladdened by the
eagerness he was again displaying.

Hornblower waited to see if Kennedy was going to press their matter any
further, for now anyway, however his friend was already heading to follow
Wellard.

Then he stopped and turned. "Having said all that, Horatio, I also must say
this - thank you for saving my life."

Smiles broke out on their faces at the same time, as well as a major burst
of relief in Hornblower. The lieutenants exited together.

The End.